The following is an excerpt from our newest title, Given to Loveby St. Ambrose.
Seek Christ where the Church seeks him.
49. Daughters, we must seek Christ in the same place where the Church seeks him, that is, on the mountains of good fra- grance. These mountains, the heights of good deeds, exhale the sweet fragrance of holiness from their pinnacles of merit. Christ flees from the streets, the meeting places of men, and
the noise of the marketplace, according to what is written: “Thy bridegroom with thee, hasten away like gazelle or fawn that spurns the scented hill underfoot” (Song 8:14). An object of hate to the snakes that crawl on the earth, fleeing the haunts of what lies low, an enemy of reptiles, he cannot live except on the heights of the virtues. He cannot dwell except among those daughters of the Church who are able to say: “We are Christ’s incense offered to God” (2 Cor 21:15). The odor of death attaches to those who are on the road to death, but life-giving perfume to those whose vivid faith exhales the Lord’s resurrection.
50. Those are the mountains of spices which received the body of the Lord Jesus, bound “in winding cloth with spices” (Jn 19:40). Those who have believed that Jesus died, was bur- ied and rose again, have reached the high summit of faith with its pinnacles of virtue. Where, then, are we to look for Christ? In the prudence of the priestly heart.
51. We have said that Christ is to be sought in the desert. He himself gives us yet another direction: “Wild rose on the lowland plain, wild lily on the mountain slopes, a lily among the brambles” (Song 2:1–2). In that, you have another place where the Lord likes to pass his time; in fact, not just one place but several. “Wild rose of the plain”: he frequents the open simplicity of a pure mind. “Wild lily on the mountain slopes”: the flower of Christ is the flower of lowliness, not of rich living, not of pleasures, not of wantonness; rather, the flower of simplicity, the flower of humility. “A lily among the brambles”: is it not among the roughness of hard labor and sorrow of soul that the flower of sweetest perfume grows? God is appeased by a heart of sorrow.
52. This is the desert, my daughters, which leads to a kingdom. This also is the desert which blooms like the lily, according to
what is written down: “Thrills the barren desert with rejoic- ing; the wilderness takes heart and blossoms fair as the lily” (Is 35:1). In that desert, daughters, the good tree is fruitful; it brings forth fruit that is wholesome, spreads wide the branches of its good deeds, and its top reaches up into the divine. Close to it all others are fruitful, for the writing is: “As an apple tree in the wild woodland, such is he my heart longs for, matched with his fellows” (Song 2:3). At this the Church may rejoice and say in her joy: “Shade cool to rest under, fruit sweet to the taste” (Song 2:3).
53. Yes, the Church, rejoicing at the results of our faith, may say: “Lead me into the banquet-hall, set in battle-order my love.” (Song 2:4) Love cannot exist without faith, for the Church has three securities: hope, faith, and charity. When hope leads, and faith is firmly founded, love is set in order, and the Church is united.
54. You have learned, then, where you may look for Christ. Now learn too how you are to induce him to come look- ing for you. Rouse up the Holy Spirit, saying (Cant. 4.16): “North wind, awake; wind of the south, awake and come; blow through this garden of mine and set its fragrance all astir. Into his garden then let my true love come and taste his fruit.” The garden of the Word is the blossoming love of the devout soul and the fruit in the garden is virtue.
55. So he comes. Whether you eat or whether you drink, so long as you invoke Christ, he will come to you, saying (Prov 9:5): “Come and eat at my table, come and drink of the wine I have brewed for you.” Even when you are asleep, he comes and knocks at your door, comes and puts his hand through the window. But he does not always come; and he does not come to everybody, but only to that soul which can say, “Ah, but my shift (garment) I have laid it by in the night.”
(Song 5:3). In the night of this world, you must put off, like a garment, the life of the flesh. Remember that the Lord him- self put off his garment of flesh that he might triumph for you over the dominations and powers of this world.
56. (Song 5:3): “I have laid it by; how can I put it on again?” That is what the soul devoted to God says. She so puts off the mundane acts of the body that she would no longer know how to put them on again if she so wished. ‘How can I put it on again?’: with what dread, with what shame, with what memories? The new habit of good does away completely with the old habit of imperfection.
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