The Differences Between the Pleasures of the Body and Soul

by admin on December 9, 2012

THEY that eat me shall yet hunger, an,d they that drink me shall yet thirst (Ecclus. xxiv. 29), says the Holy Ghost, speaking of divine wisdom; and St. Gregory says that there is this difference between the pleasures of the body and those of the soul, that the former we desire with great impatience when we have them not, and when we have got them, we make but little account of them. There in the world a man desires the headship of a college or a profes­sor’s chair; on gaining it, he at once reckons nothing of it and sets his eyes on a bigger thing. Give him a canonry or an auditorship; no sooner is he installed than he is weary of it and begins to desire something higher, a place in the royal council, and after that a bishopric; nor even with that is he satisfied, but at once has his eye on a higher post, and reckons nothing of what he has gained nor finds any satisfaction therein.

But with spiritual things it is just the other way; when we have them not, then they disgust and nauseate us; but when we have them and possess them, then we value them more and desire them more, and all the more, the more we taste them. And the saint gives the reason of this differ­ence : When we gain and hold temporal goods and gratifica­tions, then we better appreciate their insufficiency and imperfection; and when we see that they afford us no full satisfaction, nor the content that we expected, we make light of what we have attained and remain athirst and desirous of something greater, thinking to find there the satisfaction that we desired; but we are much mistaken, for the same will be our condition after having gained this thing or the other. Nothing in this world will be able to fulfill our aspirations, as Christ our Redeemer said to the Samaritan woman: Everyone who drinketh of this water shall thirst again (John iv. 13). You may drink again and again of the water that is here; a little way farther on you will thirst again. The water of the satisfactions and gratifications that the world affords cannot quench or slake our thirst; but spiritual good things and delights, when they are attained, are then loved and desired more, because then their worth and value are better known; and the more perfectly we possess them, the more we shall hunger and thirst after them.

When a man has had no experience of spiritual things, nor has ever begun to taste them, it is no wonder, says St. Gregory, that he does not desire them; for who can love and desire what he does not know and has had no experience of what it tastes like?   So the Apostle St. Peter says:  ye have tasted how sweet the Lord is (I Peter ii. 3). And the prophet: Taste and see how sweet the Lord is (Psalm xxxiii. 9).   When you have begun to taste God and spiritual things, you will find in them such sweetness and delight that you will lick your fingers over them.   That is what the Wise Man says in these words: He that eats and drinks of me, the more he eats, the more shall he hunger after me; and the more he drinks, the more shall he thirst after me.   The more you give yourself to spiritual things and to God, the more hunger and thirst after them shall you feel.

But, someone will say, how does this agree with what Christ said to the Samaritan woman? Here Christ says: He that shall drink of the water that I will give, shall no more thirst (John iv. 13). In that other place the Holy Ghost says by the mouth of the Wise Man that the more we drink, the more we shall thirst. How does the one text agree with the other? The saint’s reply is that what Christ said to the Samaritan woman must be taken to mean that he who shall drink of the living water which He there promises shall no longer thirst after sensual and worldly delights, since the sweetness of spiritual things and of God shall make them appear to him insipid. St. Gregory says: “As to one who has eaten honey all other things appear insipid, so when a man comes to taste of God and spiritual things, all the things of the world offend him and seem to him nauseous and sour”—Sicut post gustum mellis omnia videntur insipida, ita gustato spiritu desipit omnis caro. But what the Wise Man says in that other place—They that eat of me shall still hunger and they that drink of me shall still thirst (Ecclus. xxiv. 29)—is to be understood of those same spiritual things, meaning that the more one tastes of God and spiritual things, the more he will hunger and thirst after them, because he will better know their value and have better experience of their sweetness and deliciousness, and so will have more desire of them. Thus the saints reconcile these two passages.

But how make this agree with what Christ says in St. Matthew (v. 6) : Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill? Here He says that they who hunger and thirst after justice shall have their fill; that other passage from the Wise Man says that they who eat and drink thereof shall still hunger and still thirst; how are these two things compatible, to go on being still hungry and thirsty and to have their fill? To this there is a very good answer. This is the privilege and excellence of spiritual good things, that, while filling, they excite hunger, and while satisfying our heart, they excite thirst. It is a fullness attended with hunger and a hunger attended with fullness  This is the marvel, the dignity, and grandeur of these good things, that they satisfy and fill the heart, yet in such a manner that we always remain with hunger and thirst after them; and the more we go on tasting and eating and drinking of them, the more that hunger and thirst grows. But this hunger is not painful, but satisfying; and this thirst is not fatiguing or exhausting, but further refreshing and causing in the heart a great satisfaction and joy. In truth, fullness and satisfaction, perfect and complete, shall be in heaven, according to that word of the prophet: Then, 0 Lord, thou wilt fill me completely, and I shall be enraptured and satisfied, when I shall see thee clearly in glory: then shall thy servants “be inebriated with the abun­dance of the good things of thy house (Psalm xvi. 15; xxxv. 9).   But there in glory, says St. Bernard on these words, the sight of God will fill our souls in such a manner that we shall always remain hungry and thirsty.    This glorious vision of God will never pall upon us; we shall feel ever a new joy in seeing and rejoicing in God, even as though that were our first day and our first hour in heaven.    So St. John says in the Apocalypse that he saw the blessed standing before the throne of the Lamb with grand music and rejoicing; and they sang as it were a new canticle (Apoc. xiv. 3).   This canticle and this divine manna will be ever new to us and will give us new relish, and we shall ever be in new wonderment, saying, Manhu, what is this? (Exod. xvi. 15).   Such also are spiritual things on earth —inasmuch as they are a participation of those in heaven— that while they sate and satisfy and fill the heart, they do so in such a manner that we continue hungering and thirsting after them, a hunger and thirst that grows upon us; the more we give ourselves over to them and the more we taste and enjoy them, the more this very hunger is a repletion, and this very thirst is a great refreshment and satisfaction.   All this should help us to have a high esteem and appreciation of spiritual things and such an inflamed desire and affection for them that, forgetting and despising all the things of the world, we come to say with St. Peter: Lord, it is good for us to be here (Matt. xvii. 4).

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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