Some Helpful Thoughts on Spiritual Progress BY REV. EDWARD F. GARESCHE, SJ.
THE FOOL OF THE HOUSE
IF MAN were a being solely of memory, intelligence, and will, without either imagination or feeling to sway and influence his actions, life would be a much simpler if much less interesting affair, and being good (so it seems to us poor mortals) would be a far easier matter all around. Our memory, after all, is a most benevolent and agreeable faculty—it preserves so conveniently the things we have need to recall. We can manage our memory very well indeed, and when it does become troublesome to us by bringing up thoughts that are perverse and vexatious, the annoyance they give us is usually not from the memory itself, but from the storms they stir up in the imagination and feeling.
The intellect, too, gives us very little trouble, except by reason of its limitations. There is no pain in thinking, and if sometimes to think deeply and intently does weary or torture us, it is not the intellect that is the seat of the annoyance and fatigue, but our bodily powers, the feelings, the imagination and the nerves, which are exercised along with our thought. The will also, that most lordly power of choosing, that rules over all the others, is likewise a pleasant and altogether profitable faculty in itself. Whatever trouble, annoyance, or pain we feel in its exercise is due not so much to the will itself as to the pulling and tugging of our imagination and feelings, which will never be quiet, but, like a leash of dogs, are constantly pulling their master, the will, now this way, now that, throwing the will off its balance and making it difficult for it to choose as it should, according to the calm dictates of the intelligence and in the clear and quiet light that is furnished it by the memory.
The imagination and the feelings ! What a nuisance they are, to put the thing mildly ! As a quaint but very apt French proverb puts it, they are the fools of the household. The will is like the man of the family—strong, serious, grave—ruling, when it is let alone, with firmness and decision. The intellect is like the woman of the household, ruled by the will, yet influencing it most profoundly; directed in its actions by the will, yet gently and wisely swaying it by swift intuitions and delicate perceptions; guiding, yet following; the queen of the soul's house, as the old schoolmen used to say, who leads and ministers to the blind king, the will.
But the imagination and the feelings! They are the freakish children of the household, wild, whimsical, and inconstant; rushing now to this extreme, now to that; changeable from day to day; now pulling down the shades of the windows and plunging the whole house into darkness and sadness, now opening doors and windows to the wild winds of passion; now singing songs of hope and desire that set the air thrilling with unquiet longing, now playing sad tunes of fear and apprehension that freeze the will and trouble the intellect with future sorrows that may never come to be. If you will reflect on your life thus far, what a huge part you will find that feeling and imagination have played in all your cares, sorrows, misdeeds, and errors ! If you had lived according to the dictates of reason alone and listened only to the calm, quiet promptings that memory and intelligence gave you, you might have kept the law of God inviolate, for reason constantly assures us, enlightened as it is by faith, that to serve God is alone the purpose of our being, and that to love, reverence, and praise Him is the sole and lasting happiness of man on earth.
Therefore, when opportunities came to you of serving God in a singularly perfect way, of giving up, let us say, some worldly advantage for His love, you would have seized upon the chance for self-sacrifice, if you acted from reason alone, with as much joy as a miser feels in his gold. If you had listened to your reason alone you never would have sinned so often and so carelessly. For again, reason enlightened by faith tells us that sin is the one great evil in the universe, and that nothing in life can compensate for the shame and the wrong of a single sin. The most unreasonable of human actions is that by which one offends the infinite God, whom it is impossible to deceive, whose vigilance it is hopeless to avoid, whose justice is as infinite as His power, and who is worthy in Himself of all the gratitude, obedience, and ardent love of our hearts.
Our holy Faith gives us such a clear, simple and secure view of the universe, a view that only God's own wisdom could impart! The world is a place of pilgrimage; we are wayfarers to the heavenly kingdom. Our whole business on earth is to go forward in the love, praise, and service of God. All things on earth, our own body and soul, the friends, the wealth, the opportunities that God gives us, are all to be used to help us forward in His service, and to be given up, without a murmur, nay, with actual joy, however good or pleasant they may seem in themselves, if they interfere or fail to help us toward the great goal to which we all are journeying. This is the notion of life that our intelligence, instructed and enlightened by the teachings of faith, presents to us. Why, then, do we turn aside after the things of the world, neglect our clear duty to ourselves and to God, ruin our lives, and spoil, so far as we can, the harmony of the universe by sin?
A chief cause of our follies and the source of most of the disorders in our lives are precisely these two fools of the household—our imagination and our feelings. They are forever disturbing the soul with illusive fancies, sudden impulses, ill-ordered desires. When you sin, it is because the feeling of the moment has obscured your sense of duty, because some imaginary good is being dangled before you by your imagination, because some vivid image of a present good is being so alluringly presented to your mind by that picture-faculty, the imagination. Thus your sober judgment is disturbed, the eternal truths are obscured, your will is misled into seizing the apparent benefit which the imagination represents as present and easy to obtain, and it turns away from the true but distant joys which have been sometime its aim and its aspiration when the intelligence has presented to it the love and service of God and the hope of heaven.
So, too, the feelings are constantly luring us into sin unless we can keep them in check by careful ward and watchful discipline. Feelings of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth—how easily can these betray us into the deadly sins of which they bear the names! Analyze the mistakes you have made in your life, the faults you have committed, the follies you have been guilty of, and see how many of them were due to the sad victory of your feelings over what your intelligence told you in regard to the will of God and His law.
All this is a rather melancholy indictment of the imagination and the feelings. If they are so harmful and deceiving, why have we been given them at all? Is it the part of wisdom to crush the imagination and to stifle the feelings'? Should we be better off without any feelings or imagination at all ? The very questions suggest their answer. It is not the imagination, but its misuse that harms us; not the feelings, but their excess that leads us astray. It is the bad training of these faculties which we have to regret in our past life and to remedy in the future. There is a very ancient and hackneyed, but very just and true, comparison which likens the feelings and the imagination to spirited horses which to be useful have to be tamed and trained. The more spirited and lively they are, the more useful they may be made, if only they
learn to carry and pull instead of running wild. The more vivid and strong our imagination and feelings are, the more they may be made to carry us forward on the road to heaven, if only we train them well, drive them carefully, and keep an eye upon them, as a good driver does on a spirited horse, lest they kick over the traces or get the bit between their teeth.
The greatest of the saints have been men of strong imagination and feelings. So have the greatest sinners. In the one case the powers of the imagination and feelings have been controlled and used in the wars of God; in the other they have run wild and carried their masters strongly and swiftly to destruction. They are as powerful for justice as for perdition, as strong for heaven as for hell. Indeed, the careers of some of the saints show very vividly both the good and the evil of the feelings and imagination. St. Augustine's carried him far in wickedness before he learned to rule and drive them by God's grace until they bore him even more swiftly on the ways of sanctity. St. Ignatius had many a doleful hour before he learned the art of spiritual exercise to control the fancy and the feelings, and he has systematized the art, until anyone with good will can follow in his way and "conquer self" so as to order all his life not by vain imaginations nor selfish feelings, but by the law of Grod.
Indeed, to recur to our former comparison, the task of ordering the household of our soul is not so unlike that of the careful father and mother of a household in ruling their little, but sometimes turbulent, domain. The will, like a prudent father, must listen to the quiet promptings of the intelligence and be firm and strong in keeping steady sway and following conscience, which is reason interpreting the law of God. The intellect must be the mistress of the soul, guided by the will, and supreme over both feelings and imagination, her warnings heeded and her behests obeyed. The imagination and feelings are to be treated like headlong and impulsive children, fed on strong and nourishing food, restrained from excesses, disciplined to good and orderly habits, trained and encouraged, wisely taught and guided, until the waywardness and lawlessness, that are in them since the sad fall of Adam made the sense and the imagination of man prone to evil from his youth, are trained and purged away. Then we shall act, not from the wild rushes of feeling nor the empty allurements of the imagination, but with a disciplined will and a calm and temperate mind, guided by reason, which in turn is enlightened by faith.