One of the most remarkable characteristics of all forms of organic life is the power of adapting itself to the circumstances in which it is placed. It will endeavour under the most altered conditions to live, and in order to live it will resort to all kinds of contrivances, sometimes effecting such changes in its outward appearance that none but a trained eye could detect its identity. And yet with all these adaptations it will preserve its identity.
Man possesses this power in perhaps a higher degree than any other form of life. He can find his home in any country, in any climate, under an almost infinite variety of conditions. He can live and adapt himself to circumstances involving the most violent contrasts, and soon settle down and find the means of making himself at home. The change of the temperature by a few degrees of greater heat or cold will kill many of the lower forms of life. But man can pass from the sunny plains of the South to the ice-fields of the North and is soon at home in his new abode. He who has been brought up in riches and luxury can adapt himself to poverty, and one who has never known a day's illness, when health is lost, in a few months settles down to the life of an invalid. And with all these external changes there are corresponding changes in the person himself, no doubt, both inward and outward, but they do not affect his identity. The young man goes forth to the battle of life brave and strong and comes back aged, worn and disappointed, bearing the scars of many a conflict and many a defeat, with powers of t mind and body decayed, yet through all these changes the man is the same.
And this power of adaptability is at once the hope and the despair of all who seek to do men good. It is the hope, because they know, however low a man may have sunk, if he will but struggle to rise he can find his home and his happiness in better things. It is the despair, because they know, however high a man may have risen, he is capable, if he falls, of making himself at home in his degradation and his sin. There are on all sides men who have risen and are happy in a life that once seemed impossible, and men who have sunk from all that was noblest to a life of shame, and still in their way are happy.
But man has other needs and another life beside that of his physical nature. He is something more than an animal and needs more than food and shelter. He may have every comfort and luxury that life can supply and be miserable, or he may be living in want and suffering and solitude and be happy. We can never judge of a person merely by his physical surroundings. A healthy body and a plentiful supply of the good things of this world are no necessary indications of a happy life.
For the life of man is above all things a mental life. He can never rid himself of the companions of his mind. He is not the mere creature of his outward circumstances. There are other surroundings that are far more intimate and closer to him, than any external things, however nearly they may touch upon him. These things can but touch the surface of his being, his thoughts enter into the sanctuary of his soul. Lazarus in his outward wretchedness and squalor was in better company than Dives in his purple and fine linen. The beast is wholly dependent upon what he finds around him, Man can live a life practically independent of most of these things. In the utmost solitude he can gather around him a company of his closest and most intimate friends, and in the crowded thoroughfares of life he can be alone with them. You may tell a man by his friends, but there are no friends so intimate as his thoughts. If you know the companions of his mind you will know what kind of man he is.
It is not the sufferings or the consolations of life that directly affect character, but it is the thoughts which men call around them at such times. No external thing can in itself affect the inner life of the soul. Men are material, the soul is spiritual. We often attribute to such things some moral characteristic, but in themselves they are neither good nor bad. The same things do harm to one person and good to another - suffering has been a curse to some and a blessing to others; poverty has closed the door of heaven to some, to others it has been the source of beatitude. The value of these things can only be understood by the thoughts which they are the occasion of the soul calling around it. Some trouble comes into a person's life, and instantly there gathers around him, through the door opened by that trouble, a crowd of thoughts, anger, rebellion, bitterness, discontent, and at the same time thoughts of penitence, acceptance, the example of our Lord. The outward trouble has thrown open an unseen door into the spiritual world, and in flow this mixed crowd of thoughts, swarming around the soul and clamouring for a hearing, and it must choose amongst them all which it will listen to and which it will reject, and by that choice it rises or falls. One person chooses thoughts that heal, encourage and strengthen him, another those that stir him to bitterness and revolt. The morality lies not in the thing but in the person.
The contrast between the outward occasion and the inward choice is often startling - those things to which we are wont to attribute beneficent results producing not uncommonly the very reverse, and the things which we consider evils sometimes being the source of great moral blessings; or again, the same things producing evil in one man and good in another. Two people fall under the same calamity - it destroys the faith of one, it is the turning-point in the life of the other, and the occasion that first leads him to look to God. We can never foretell the moral effect which any combination of circumstances or events will produce upon any one, not even on those whom we think we know best; men go down under circumstances in which our knowledge of them would have led us to predict with confidence that they would rise, and rise when we expect them to fall. Nay, we cannot anticipate their effect upon ourselves. We have occasionally been amazed to find that something to which we looked forward with confidence as a blessing has in the event proved very much the reverse. Such instances show that these external things are in themselves unmoral, neither good nor bad, and if we look within ourselves at any such crisis we shall see very clearly that the moral effect is to be traced to the thoughts which they suggest and are the occasion of our choosing.
Could we look through the outward happenings in the world of sense to the results in the spiritual world in which the soul lives, our eyes would see strange sights. Some event, it may be of little moment, a word, a look, a suggestion, the presence of some person, and the magic result. It seems to open an unseen door through which the strangest rabble crowd in and press around the soul, and a very babel of voices urge, entreat and argue, quarrelling and pushing forward for a hearing. And what a crowd! Some drawn from the lowest slums of the spiritual world, vulgar, low-born, degraded, suggesting everything that is base and unworthy; others with clear, calm voices that pierce through the tumult, pressing some specious fallacy in well-clothed ailment; others pressing forward, claiming a hearing as they have so often been heard before; and others again of noble form and gentle mien, waiting for a look, a word of recognition that they may drive this noisy crowd away and speak words of inspiration and courage. And the soul must choose, and what it chooses it will probably choose again and again, till that chosen thought gains the right of entrance, and closes the door to all others, and becomes the constant companion of the soul, and in every event great and small it enters and takes its place, instructing its pupil as to its meaning, interpreting it, explaining it, its hidden purpose, its power for good or evil, or misrepresenting it and making the good seem evil and the evil good, and gradually becoming master of its whole life, the moulder of its character.
Indeed, it is true. These secret and unseen companions of the soul, intangible and volatile as they are, affect our whole view of men and things around us. The hard, substantial facts of life are interpreted by them, they become plastic In their hands, and change their appearance and colouring at their bidding. These phantom forms that rise out of the darkness and return to it again, colourless, impalpable, ethereal, that speak in inarticulate whispers and touch us with ghostly hands, they are more real to us than the solid earth and the strong mountains. They can veil the heavens for us and take the brightness out of the sunshine and deepen the shadows at noonday or make the darkest day seem bright. For they come from the same land whence the soul comes, they are of closer kinship than any material thing can be; and it is the mind that sees, not the eye, it is in the light that bums within that all outward things are seen. Amidst the pleasant laughter and genial companionship of friends some thought silently enters, holds up its lantern and casts its pale light around, and seen in that light all is suddenly turned to ashes, the voices lose their ring and the laughter becomes hollow and cheerless; one thought in an instant has changed the whole scene from life to death.
It is thus in the thoughts which men choose as their companions on their way through the world that the key to their interpretation of life is to be found Different men view the same things in different ways. And the same men in the course of a few years alter their whole view of life. They have simply changed their companions on the road. Indeed the breaking with one set of people and the forming ties of friendship with others of a different type is often but the outward evidence and result of a hidden and inward change of the more intimate friendships of the mind. How can one who has learnt to take delight in thoughts that are low and degrading care any longer to associate with the high-minded? And who that has fought and conquered the evil desires that once enslaved him will care longer to associate with the boon companions of his past degradation?
It is then in the light of our thoughts that we see and interpret the people and things around us. By a change of thoughts we change our view of life. It often seems to change the very people with whom we have to do. A feeling of resentment has sometimes the effect of apparently changing the expression of another's face. And the same people look very different to the cynic and to the man of gentle and kindly feeling. It is undoubtedly true that the lines and shadows on the faces of those about us deepen or grow lighter under the changing thoughts within our own minds; we are astonished again and again to find how a person's face grows more attractive, becomes sometimes wholly transformed as acquaintance kindles into friendship and friendship into affection. Even the tones of the voice, even the meanings of the words that are spoken, have a different sound and receive a different interpretation from the changing moods of the person who hears them. It sometimes seems impossible that some simple kindly meant words should be misunderstood, but to the ears of one person the voice sounds insincere and the words receive the colouring and interpretation that comes from a mind filled with bitterness and antagonism. Surely there are not a few who look back upon misunderstandings, broken friendships, and some of the greatest mistakes in life, mistakes that it is now toe late to rectify, and see clearly that the cause of them had no objective existence; it sprang wholly from their own subjective attitude of mind which led to a false interpretation of words that were spoken and things that were done. Others who heard and saw and knew things as they were, sought in vain to explain, but it is the mind that sees, and the mind in its bitterness was out of tune with the world.
And so, again, a bad man sees evil everywhere and a good man sees the world radiant with goodness. "To the pure all things are pure, and to the impure nothing is pure, but even their own conscience and heart is defiled," and because of the defilement of the heart everything looks defiled. Two men go through the same streets, see the same scenes and people, yet the impression left upon the mind of each is different. The impression is the result of what their minds looked for.
But what wonder that our thoughts affect our judgment of men and things outside when they affect our judgments of ourselves. Many of us appear to ourselves to be wholly different people from what we really are. A few words overheard in childhood have been to some the beginning of a romance which they wove about themselves and which coloured their whole conception of themselves through all the years that followed, and even some very rude awakenings to the reality have only caused a few hours of pain, till they could readjust themselves to the shock, and fall back into their wonted thoughts. A parent's misconception of his child has often settled down upon him as a dark cloud that prevented him from ever knowing himself as he was in truth. And again, the constant companionship of some morbid self-conscious thought has hindered the usefulness and stunted the growth of many a life once full of promise. And many a man who has always rewarded himself in the cold chilling light of self-depreciation and timidity has wrapped his talent in a napkin and done nothing for the world or for himself.
But if adaptability is the condition of life, and we can adapt ourselves with such extraordinary versatility to the changing conditions of our physical surroundings, we can do so to an infinitely greater degree to our mental and spiritual. There is a limit to the power of endurance of heat or cold, yet men can adapt themselves to the constant presence of thoughts that chill every hope and ambition and blight every noble desire. The same man may rise up to the contemplation of God and live in the Communion of Saints, and find his joy only in those things that are pure and holy and of good report, and within a few years he may turn from all this and choose for his companions the spirit of evil and delight himself in all uncleanness. He may do this and preserve his identity, adapting himself to the companions of his choice. In two short years at most Judas Iscariot had run through all the scale of spiritual experience from the highest to the lowest. In but a few years the narrow Pharisee with his exclusive views of Jewish privilege and his scorn for the Gentile world, breaks away from the traditions and training of his youth and cries, "In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free," henceforth he rejoices to see the God of the Jews as the God of the whole world, and the Messias not as a deliverer of one small people only but as the Saviour of the human race.
Yes, we have always to remember for good or for evil this almost unlimited power of the human mind to adapt itself with comparative ease to the presence of thoughts once unknown or hated. The constant presence of an uncongenial companion, the hostility of one whose path we have crossed, the feeling that one has a grievance, such things are often the occasion of thoughts that with terrible rapidity take possession of the mind and leave the impress of their presence upon the character.
There are many who have fallen from a childhood and early youth of spotless purity into a life of sin. There are men of business who have never diverged from the path of honesty till after middle life. There are men who knew nothing of the vice of intemperance till long after their characters and habits were formed and their position seemed well secured. To such persons the memory must still be clear of the first approach of the temptation that was later to take so firm a hold upon them, of the recoil of the mind from it, with terror and repulsion, and yet with a kind of horrible fascination. How it came again and again and stood at the door of the soul waiting its admission with a kind of insolent assurance that if it waited long enough it would have its way. How by degrees the mind was seized with a kind of tremulous excitement at its approach and bid it begone in tones of less confidence. And how it gradually became habituated to its presence outside the soul, feeling its influence though never yet allowed deliberately to cross the threshold. And then how it seemed to gain a certain strange influence over the various faculties, exciting an unaccountable curiosity and forcing them as it were to look at it if only that they might realise how hateful it was. And then how at last it pushed open the door in a moment when conscience was off" its guard and entered, and in an instant demoralised the whole household of the soul, loosened the passions, won over the imagination and hypnotised the will, and though it was driven out and the doors barred against it, in that moment of its entry it had made allies for itself, and now the passions and again the imagination would loosen the bolts and the will itself would open the door for it, and so it entered without let or hindrance, with an ever-weakening protest from conscience, till at last it gained possession, presided in the council chamber of the soul, cowed and silenced reason and took the reins of government into its own hands.
Thus does the mind gradually become habituated and finally controlled by thoughts that once were alien to its whole training and habit.
We have indeed the power of refusing admission to them. In this matter we are certainly free to choose our friends. We are not responsible for the presence of a thought that we instantly repel. In the pressure of the crowd that is constantly coming and going no doubt some thought occasionally passes the guard of conscience in disguise, and such can but be expelled the moment it reveals itself
But as time goes on the power of choice becomes less free. The stream narrows and the currents become stronger. It is just as with human friendships, with advancing years men make fewer friends, but cling all the closer to those they have. They become a part of their life, and the rights of friendship are strong.
In early youth the manifold interests of life, the versatility of the mind, the morning freshness that rests upon the world, make life very complex - its currents flow forth in many directions. But as time goes on it becomes more simple, the passions, the desires, the friends, the interests, become fewer, but all the more concentrated and intense. The many streams of youth flowing in deepen the channel and increase the volume of the river, and it is hard to change its course.
So it is with the mind; its choices have been made long ago, the claims of the thoughts that have been its companions for years are exacting and they will not easily yield to a dismissal They know the ways of the house of the soul, they claim the right of old friends to come and go as they will, and if they are barred out they will force an entry. A thought that once could have been expelled easily and with scorn, dominates the soul now with insolent contempt and lords it over its cringing and frightened master. The elasticity and buoyancy of youth are over, the mind has no longer the rebound that once it had, nor the power of casting off its old associates. "When thou wast younger thou didst gird thyself and didst walk where thou wouldest, but when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not" - the silken threads of thought and act have woven themselves into strong ropes of habit which bind and shape the character.
Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
The character, therefore, will depend upon the thoughts. I am what I think. I am what I think even more than what I do, for it is the thought that interprets the action. An act in itself good may become even bad by the thought that inspired it. A cup of cold water given in the name of Christ will be blessed, while "if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, I am nothing". A kindly person is one whose thoughts are kindly, a bitter person one whose thoughts are bitter. A man who fights against the first approach of every evil thought is not likely to yield to sin in the hour of temptation, but one who has allowed his mind to become habituated to such thoughts will find in the hour of assault that the citadel of his soul is betrayed. If Eve had not looked at the fruit of the forbidden tree, thought about it, and desired it, she would not have yielded. There is always an inner struggle and an inner yielding long before there is the outer, a yielding of the soul in thought before there is a yielding of the body in act. The startling moral collapse of some one well known and highly esteemed, which so often sends a shock of horror and amazement through the community, is only the last act in a long, silent and unseen drama. The evil deed that showed the world it had mistaken its man, really did but disclose the secret of his character; he did not become bad by doing the deed, he did the deed because he was already bad.
It is behind the veil m the silent world of thought that life's greatest battles have to be fought and lost or won, with no human eye to witness, no voice to cheer or encourage. There the strong citadel of the soul stands, a solitary outpost on the confines of the kingdom of God, and bears the brunt of ceaseless assaults and there the costly edifice of some seemingly compact and well-built character falls tottering to its ruin.
Clothed in these shadowy and illusive forms the mighty forces of right and wrong do battle around the will; while the fair world smiles in the joyous sunshine and the merry voices of children are heard in the streets.
What a contrast there often is between the outward calm and the inner storm. The quiet life spent in the narrow routine of domestic duties, which seems so sheltered, so peaceful, so ignorant of evil - who knows? Inwardly it may be the prey to wild thoughts of revolt and ambition, hungering for the excitement of the great world that has only been seen in feverish dreams; or daily doing battle with naked passions that lift it to the heavens and cast it down to hell. For no outward barriers can limit the soul or bar the door to the thoughts that seek to enter.
It is not where a person is that matters, but what he is thinking about. The whole edifice of the spiritual life may be tottering to its ruin and the enemy rushing in like a flood while the subject of this terrible disaster is on his knees and uttering the sacred words of prayer.
It is within, therefore, that the great battle of life must be fought; it is within, with our own thoughts, that we must struggle if we would see the world of men and things as it really is.
Our character, therefore, will largely depend upon the practice of that inner discipline by which we shall be enabled to gain control over our thoughts. Till we have done something in this direction we must always have the feeling of insecurity; we cannot feel sure of ourselves; for we do not know whither our thoughts may lead us, or what they may induce us to do. The external restraint that we put upon ourselves may give way any moment from the pressure from within. A storm of bitter thoughts will find vent in words perhaps when we least desire it, or long-indulged thoughts of sensuality may in one unguarded moment lead to an act that causes exposure and ruin.
We must strive, therefore, to gain control over our thoughts, guarding the approaches of the mind, that amidst the crowd that is constantly coming and going none may escape our vigilance, and, above all, that none may be permitted to assert an independent authority.
And yet such a task, reasonable and natural as it seems, is not easy. For quite independent of the inherent difficulty of exercising this constant vigilance, and of the fact that when we begin to take the work seriously in hand, already the mind has formed its habits, and we find that many a thought enters unbidden and refuses to go when ordered, or if it goes returns almost before we are aware, and that some have enslaved the imagination and others the reason and others the heart, and that these faculties revolt against the commands we put upon them and try to push aside the guards we set up and to open the door to them themselves. Besides all this, there is another difficulty, still greater and fraught with more serious danger. There is the danger that arises from the exceeding delicacy and sensitiveness of the mind itself. It will not bear any unwonted strain. And any undue introspection induces a morbid condition which not unfrequently has more disastrous results than the lack of discipline itself. It has sometimes happened that an earnest effort to gain control over a mind long unused to discipline, suddenly exercised without due caution and discretion, not only defeats its own purpose, but brings on a mental paralysis which makes all concentrated thought impossible, or so overstrains the machinery as to endanger mental balance.
And therefore the effort to control the thoughts must be practised with great caution. The desired results will never be gained by strained endeavours to drive away certain thoughts that have become habitual. I think it has been the experience of most of those who have tried this method that the thoughts definitely refuse to go- nay, that such violent efforts to banish them only give them a firmer hold. You cannot, for instance, get rid of self-consciousness by trying, however hard, not to think of yourself. The thinking that you must not think of yourself only results in thinking of yourself all the more. You are as a matter of fact watching yourself all the time, The effort not to be proud will not necessarily lead you one step in the direction of humility. Humility is a very much more positive and vital thing than the absence of pride.
There is a better way. The positive rather than the negative way. Let not your mind be overcome with evil, "but overcome evil by good". The emptying the mind of evil is not the first step towards filling it with good. It is not a step in that direction at all. If you succeeded in emptying your mind of every undesirable thought, what then? You cannot empty it and then begin to fill it with better thoughts. No, you must empty it of evil by filling it with good. Nature abhors a vacuum. You drive out darkness by filling the room with light If you would fill a glass with water you do not first expel the air, you expel the air by pouring in water. And in the moral life there is no intermediate state of vacuum possible in which, having driven out the evil, you begin to bring in good. As the good enters it expels the evil.
Therefore the effort of the soul must be to fill the mind so full of healthy thoughts that there is no room for others - trying not so much not to think of what is evil as to think of what is good.
The mind is ever working, never at rest. It will feed upon whatever food is given it. If it is given wholesome food, it will develop and grow strong. If it is given unhealthy food, it will grow morbid and sickly. If it is given no food, it will feed upon itself and wear itself out.
Mental sloth, inaction, a lack of any intellectual interest, leaves the mind open to become the prey of any thoughts that may enter, or turns it in upon itself If it were kept in a healthy activity and its interests were constantly engaged, a great deal of mischief would be avoided. And this consideration should not be forgotten, or ignored on the ground that any work of restoration or penitence can only be done by the grace of God That is perfectly true; apart from Him we can do nothing. But the use of Divine grace never dispenses us from the exercise of prudence and common-sense. If you are ill in body, prayer and faith do not prevent the use of medicine and proper diet, nor do you need less such natural remedies for the ailments of the mind.
He therefore who would overcome any habit of evil thoughts must do so indirectly rather than directly, trying not so much not to indulge in anger as to fill the mind with loving and kindly thoughts, meeting discontent by rejoicing in the Will of God, self-consciousness by wrapping oneself round in the Presence of God - turning as promptly as possible to think of something bracing when one is conscious of the presence or approach of evil.
This, and the constant effort to keep the mind interested and occupied about healthy subjects that it can enjoy without strain or weariness, will do much to recover it from the ill effects of the lack of discipline. It is a great matter to know how to give it relaxation without laxity, and by its studies and recreations to prepare it for prayer and the more strenuous work of life. A mind that has a wide reach of interests and is constantly kept busy will have no time and no care for morbid thoughts. And the mind that is constantly fed on healthy and nourishing food will turn away from poison however daintily served.
All this, it will be perceived, can be done with little introspection or self-analysis. It is based on the wisest of all systems, that Nature works best if she is not too closely watched. A person who is always anxious about his health will never be healthy. Nature knows her own laws, and it is not good to interfere too much even for the sake of putting them right It is not an unknown experience that torturing scruples may take the place of mental laxity and a ceaseless introspection, which is the enemy of all freshness and spontaneity. We must take heed that in the efforts to overcome one evil we do not fall into a worse. We have to change the habit of the mind without giving it any undue shock, to keep it well in hand without seeming to watch it, to bring it under control without enslaving it and while seeming to leave it in perfect liberty. And to do this we need to have some confidence in its power to rectify itself if it be healthily fed and duly exercised.
But once more. If we would get our thoughts under control and discipline them to the best purpose, we shall soon find that it is not with our thoughts alone that we have to deal. Thoughts are the product of the mind, as acts are the product of the body.
If a man desires to do the best work in his power, it is not merely the work he must consider, but the body by which the work is done. One may devote all one's attention to the work in hand with very poor results, because it is the instrument which does the work which is out of order and needs repairing.
And it is the same with the thoughts. As is the mind, so are the thoughts. Any defect in the mind discloses itself at once in the thoughts. A healthy, vigorous mind will produce healthy thoughts, and a diseased mind morbid thoughts. We often act like men who wonder at the badness of their work and try to improve it, but do not realise that the cause of it is ill-health and that they cannot do better till they are stronger. And we wonder at our thoughts that they are so unworthy, so feeble, or so little under control, but we do not realise that the fault lies in the unhealthy or untrained condition of the mind. It will never do better work till its health and training are improved.
Now, in the original design of God the mind of man was one, all its powers co-operating for the well-being of the person and all guiding and aiding the will in its choice of God. As we look down into the depths of our being we are conscious of dumb, blind movements of passion and feeling and excitement. We feel that there is a world of unexpressed desire, of inarticulate thought, which lives without any act of our own, wherein all the elements of life are striving for utterance. It is the seething, tumultuous spring of the soul's life. We hear it like the voice of many waters, we feel it like the dumb pulses of a struggling life. It lives without any action of the will; we cannot tell whence it comes or whither it goes. Then from this source the stream of life goes forth in two directions - into the field of knowledge and into the field of love. On the one side in search of all that is to be known, and on the other towards all that is to be loved. These two streams were intended ever to flow together and intermingle. Into the hot currents of passion and feeling the cooling waters of reason were to flow, tempering and calming them. And the cold stream of reason was to be warmed by the hot waters that flow from the heart The heart was to kindle with its warmth the pale light of reason. And the light of the reason was to illuminate and control the blind impulses of the heart. Thus love should be reasonable, and reason should be aglow with love.
But in our fallen nature these two powers which were intended to co-operate for the well-being of the person tend to drift apart. The intellect becomes separated from the affections, speculation from practice, pure reason from the moral life. The reason acts alone and as if it were sufficient to itself; and love uncontrolled and unguided by reason goes forth as a blind impulse, a passionate outburst, and, losing its lustre, its sullen fires smoulder in the senses, consuming the whole nature.
We need, therefore, by constant discipline to bring these two out-flowing streams together and to mingle their waters. Do not be content to know the Truth; rouse your heart to love it. Do not be content with an unintelligent love of the beauty of Truth; know it, study it, think of it. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole mind."
Indeed, the devout Catholic will find in his holy religion the best of all schools of discipline. He will not be content with an ignorant delight in the beauty of his Faith, and he will find it scarcely possible for long to rest in a cold intellectual study of it, for here the heart sets the brain on fire, and the more he knows the more he loves, and every new throb of his heart opens some hitherto unseen door into a deeper knowledge, and the warm and luminous stream of these intermingling waters bears him on their strong currents from faith to sight. For when these two separate insincerity and untruth must be the consequence, and where one or other controls the mind, it will fail to see things as they really are.
It is a terrible thing to let the heart live its own life separate from the intellect. To know what is true and to love what is false. To feed the mind upon one thing and the heart upon another. To let the life of the heart drift into a different channel from that of the head - nay, to let it live upon that which the head condemns. Such a divorce between the two powers, which should co-operate and help one another, leads finally to a double life of falseness and insincerity in which each goes its own way, and the cold and loveless intellect and the passionate and unreasoning heart rend the inner life in twain. Who can trust the judgment of such a mind. What wonder if its decisions are misleading; and what must be the condition of the inner life of one in whom the radiant forms of truth and the base desires of uncontrolled passion have come to terms and live peacefully together.
But again. If one of these two sides be unduly developed to the detriment of the other, the mind will suffer in consequence and will fail to gain the full knowledge of the truth. For the heart is needed even for the acquisition of knowledge. There are secrets that can never be disclosed save on the condition of love. The poet has a revelation to give which is wholly unknown to science. Love opens the eye to see what the unaided reason never could see, or if it did, could not understand. No one ever yet knew another thoroughly who did not first love him. It is not merely that love transforms and idealises, it reveals. "He that loves not knows not God." If therefore the intellect be unduly developed to the neglect of the heart, the intellect itself will find that there are certain fields of knowledge dosed against it to which the heart alone can supply the key.
And certainly one who has lived the life of the affections to the neglect of the intellect will never experience the highest enjoyment of the affections. For there is such a thing as intellectual love - a love that springs from and blends with knowledge; such a love as that which we can imagine a man of science who is also a poet to have for Nature. Such love as our Lord commands us to exercise towards Himself when He says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole mind".
We should therefore discipline ourselves by the cultivation of that side in which we are defective - stirring our hearts to love what we know - "while I was thus musing the fire kindled"; or forcing our minds to acquire deeper knowledge of what we love, that the whole mind being brought to bear upon the whole truth, as a flawless mirror, it reflects it as it is.
But once more. The soul stands midway between the past and the future. The light of the present falls for the moment upon it, but only for a moment; in an instant the present becomes the past And the past sinks into the darkness and cannot return, the future is shrouded in darkness and cannot be foreseen. But for the light of the passing moment the soul's life would seem to be surrounded on all sides with darkness; like the bird that flies through the lighted chamber coming from the night and returning to it again.
Yet man must look backwards and forwards. He cannot live in the fleeting present. Out of the past come the experiences, the warnings, the lessons which are to guide him, and if he cannot see some little way into the future he will stand trembling upon the edge of the light of the present, too timid and fearful to press on. He must look backwards and forwards if he is to make the best use of the moment The currents of the past must press him forward, the eager anticipations of the future must draw him onwards.
God has given him two great powers - one which looks backwards into the farthest past and stores up its treasures, the other which presses forward and lifts the veil overhanging the future. These two powers are memory and imagination. Without memory we should gain no experience, acquire no knowledge. We should have momentary visions of swiftly passing scenes, rising for an instant into view and plunging into the darkness. Life would be a bewildering scene of kaleidoscopic changes, each vision isolated and disconnected. Like one hurrying through some strange country at breathless speed, never able to pause and consider and draw lessons from what he sees, for each moment's vision stands alone. By memory we turn the great search light of the mind upon the past and dispel the darkness; and wherever the circle of that light is turned the past is seen again, not it may be in the warm colours of the living day, but in the pale yet penetrating light in which memory clothes it. By memory we can accumulate the wisdom and experience of past ages, and store our minds with knowledge and daily increase its treasures. And the voices of the past call to us in the chamber of the memory with words of warning, encouragement and instruction, urging us forward, holding us back, and pointing out to us the way.
And by imagination we can peer into the future. We can see the goal at which we aim, the rest for which we labour. We can make the unseen more real than the seen, and things which are not than those which are. We can anticipate events long before they come to pass, and see visions in a flash which take years to carry out and realise. Without imagination the hands fall heavy at the side, the feet are weighted with lead, the mind gropes forward through the darkness and stumbles at every step. We light the torch of the imagination and walk with steady step and kindling eye into a future bathed in its light.
Thus we can look backward and forward, and in the wisdom of the past and the anticipation of the future tread with head erect and wide-eyed vision the path that is set before us.
Yet these two great powers given us by God to aid us in our earthly sojourn can be abused, and become not the spring of progress but a source of stagnation and failure.
It is possible to use both memory and imagination as instruments of self-indulgence, as an end in themselves, and not as means to help the soul onward.
There are those who find in the memory no stimulant to action, no lesson or warning for the present, but a chamber of pale dreams and ghostly forms where they spend listless hours of sadness or regret, and from which they come forth unmanned and spent and incapable of action. They live in the past, not in the present or future. They live in it, not to learn any lessons but to indulge themselves, breathing in those faded perfumes which like narcotics deaden and stupefy the powers, unfitting them for the work of life. Who that has passed middle life does not know the danger of turning the chamber of memory into a place of shadowy dreams and vain regrets and weary longings? Where the heart exhausts its strength by the passion of its yearning for what can never be again, and the mind grows weary in thinking what it might have done, and old deeds buried in the years rise and lift accusing eyes that make the heart grow sick with despair. Who does not know what it is to come forth from such memories unmanned and exhausted, and feeling their ghostly and unhealthy shadows rob the very sunshine of its sweetness.
And imagination, too. It can be abused and become a source of self-indulgence and a hindrance rather than a help to life.
It is the greatest of all the powers - the creative faculty, the power of vision - by which things are first seen and then made real. It saw the world's great buildings before a stone was cut in the quarry. It has heard music that the skill of the musician has sought in vain to reproduce, and seen forms of beauty of which the greatest works of art are but a faint shadow. Its visions have led science on to its great discoveries, anticipating with giant strides the slow processes of the reason. It has planned the battle and secured the victory for the great general before the first blow was struck. It has anticipated every forward step that the human race has ever taken, painting the vision in vivid colours before the eye of the seer, who having seen urges men forward to make the vision real It has stood from the dawn of our race beckoning us onward, like some great magician filling the air with sights and sounds that seem like dreams but stir men's minds to thought and their hands to action.
And so if we draw from the treasury of the memory the wisdom of the past, imagination urges us ever forward; it is "the sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go".
And this great power that transforms life and creates new worlds can be, and is by not a few, prostituted to be the source of idle amusement and self-indulgence. There are many who do not try to make real the creations of their imagination or use them as a stimulant to action, but who turn to them from the realities of life; who live in a dreamland of their own fancy which becomes to them more real than the facts of life itself; who use this great gift as the handmaid of their vanity or sensuality, and fly for refuge from the demands of life into a world of unreality and dreams. The power which has acted as one of the greatest stimulants to urge men forward is used by such people as a drug under whose soothing influence they are content to dream away their existence.
It is the office of mental discipline to recover the powers of the mind for the work for which they were given, and to restore to them their proper balance and unity. And this can only be done in its fulness in the service of God. With heart and head united, and each helping the work of the other; with the roots sunk deep into the past, and life enriched and urged forward by all the wisdom and warnings of memory, and imagination lifting its burning torch and making vivid and real what has been revealed to faith - the action of the will will be invigorated, and the soul will press forward to the prize of its high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- text taken from , by Father Basil William Maturin