Brookline Carmel Bulletin
The Interior Life
One human soul is, in its essence, the same as any other. They do not differ in structure of mode of operation. Naturally speaking, every soul is good because it partakes, in a limited way, of the attributes of God. Again, naturally speaking, every soul has its ‘life’. But whether a soul is good or bad from the moral point of view depends upon the things that occupy the faculties of the soul. And when the soul ceases to concern itself with external objects, then the soul is leading an ‘interior’ life.
The higher faculties of the soul are its intellect and its will. In popular language, the mind and heart. Subsidiary faculties are memory and imagination. The proper object of the mind is Reality under the aspect of truth. The proper object of the heart is Reality under the aspect of goodness.
By its very nature the mind goes perpetually in search of knowledge. Through the instrumentality of ideas and concepts it takes possession of and assimilates Reality to itself. Then it knows the Truth. The mind is also an ‘appreciative’ faculty. It is able to discern the relative worth of existing things and constructs a scale of values, putting everything in its proper place in that hierarchy.
The function of the heart is to love. The mechanism of love is a mysterious thing. The most we can say is that the heart embraces whatever is presented to it as good and assimilates itself to the object of its love. Thus reality abides in the soul by way of knowledge and the soul abides in Reality by way of love.
Unfortunately, the heart is blind. It cannot discover for itself what is objectively good. On the other hand it is extremely susceptible to suggestion. It needs only to be told that a certain object is good, and immediately it embraces it and loves it. The heart finds itself, also, subject to suggestion from divers quarters, and often receives contradictory information concerning the goodness of certain things. It is free, therefore, to believe – and love – what it will.
Though it remains free to choose which of its advisors to believe, the heart is inclined to give in to the loudest and most insistent solicitor (just like any timid little housewife). It has as its advisors the sense and appetites (which proclaim the goodness and lovableness of creatures), the ego (which solicits on its own behalf) and the mind illumined by faith (which proclaims the goodness and lovableness of God). Since the heart is incapable of dividing its affection, it must have a predominant love to which it subordinates all other good things, and loves all other good things only in so far as they support it in its pursuit of its predominant love. Thus the senses and appetites, self and God (Who speaks through faith and reason) are all trying to convince the heart that they represent the Supreme Good. They vie for possession of the entire heart.
The senses and appetites make the most noise; at times they are violent in their demands. God is always speaking to the heart, but He never speaks above a gentle whisper. He never uses violence. Self is the most “cagey” of the three. It is able to throw in its lot with either of the others. In a spiritual man, however, it often pretends to be helping faith and reason enshrine God in the heart, but in reality is seeking to enthrone itself.
When a person’s heart is ‘confirmed’ in its predominant love, then he is either a saint or a sinner. He is a saint if his predominant love is God. He is a sinner if he loves self or some other creature above all things. Whether saint or sinner, though, he is capable of leading an intense interior life, which proceeds in this wise:
The heart commands the memory to recall all the proofs of the goodness of the predominant love and all the benefits derived there from. The imagination is commanded to conjure up all the sensations and sentiments it experiences in the presence of the beloved and which engender a delightful sense of fulfillment. The mind, in its turn, is commanded to seek out new proofs of the supreme lovableness of the predominant love and better ways to enjoy it. All these things serve to nourish love, causing the affections of the heart to grow fervent and pour themselves out upon the beloved. The body and its faculties are not neglected. They are made to subject themselves entirely to the interests of the one predominant love. It very likely happens, also, that the person is urged from within to exercise himself in an ‘apostolate’, that is, he tries to induce others to join him in the cult of his first love.
Most of us are neither saints nor sinners (in the sense referred to above). Perhaps the struggle for control of our heart is a seesaw affair: now one, now another gains the upper hand. Or perhaps God reigns supreme, but His reign is rendered insecure by the still powerful appeal of pride and the senses. Thus we can better understand the traditional meaning of the term ‘interior life’. It is that activity of the soul geared to assist God win a complete victory over His competitors. Prayer and self-denial are its vitals. Prayer habituates the mind, memory and imagination to preoccupation with Divine Realities. Consequently, the heart is inflamed with love for God, and for Jesus Christ. Eventually the heart is conformed in this love. Self-denial silences the clamor of the senses, detaches the heart from the grip of self, and makes the soul master of the body and its faculties. Then the entire human complex can be bent to the service of God; it enters upon an apostolate.
To foster the interior life the soul must betake itself occasionally into silence and solitude. There, the mind can strengthen its union with God in Faith; there the heart unites itself more closely to God in Charity. There the soul can do reconnaissance. It is able to take note of the progress of the struggle; it can learn the relative strength and position of the protagonists. There it is able to determine what means it shall use to second the efforts of faith and reason once it has returned to its work-a-day world.
(The foregoing is an oversimplification of the workings of our psychological mechanism. Nevertheless, it provides a means of interpreting those deep-seated fears, hopes, joys, desires which well up occasionally into our consciousness.)
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