On the Feast of St Agatha, or the Holy virgins
That which is needful for a true virgin, that she may be pleasing unto God, for Whose sake she has despised the kingdom of the world; that which may be sung of every holy virgin.

Regnum mundi, et omnem ornatum saecus contempsi, propter

amorem Domini mei, Jesu Christi.

"The kingdom of this world and all secular adornments have I held in contempt, for the love of my Master Jesus Christ."

These words are sung by the Holy Church in the person of every spiritual spouse of Christ, who has given herself to Him that she may be ever faithful in doing His will and service. Now mark, dear children, what qualifications such a bride and virgin of God must possess, who desires to be pleasing and acceptable unto God; so that, at last, He may espouse her unto Himself for ever; when her soul will be so completely united with Him, that she will never again be parted from Him throughout eternity, nor He from her.

The first qualification is, that a virgin cannot please God, unless she despises the kingdom of this world and all its pomp. She must diligently guard against pride, vain-glory, the desire to please people outwardly, either in her person with the adornment of clothes, or with any fleeting things. She must leave all these for God's sake; and not only the things pertaining to the body, but also to the mind; the spiritual world and all its adornments, which consist of pride, vain-glory, a good outward appearance, and spiritual words out of a worldly heart; in excessive joys of the heart in spiritual gifts or virtues, or satisfaction in personal goodness. These things happen to and befall the virgins of Christ in so many ways, that it is not easy to say how the Enemy dares to deceive these pure hearts.

The second qualification is, that she must guard herself diligently against worldly customs and conduct, and against all harmful habits, both outwardly and inwardly. She must not be proud in heart of haughty in bearing before other people; she must not boast nor hold herself in high esteem because she is wise or prudent, nor try to defend herself when she is despised or oppressed; but with modest and soft words and demeanour, and in all lowliness, she must set herself to acknowledge and cure her faults.

The third qualification is, that it is not enough for her to know that she must suffer; she must also resign herself completely in all that vexes her and brings her trouble. She must help to work in God's vineyard with patience, in the pure ground of a humble heart, in which God only dwells; for God only dwells in the heart of a virgin who abases herself, from the ground of her heart, in humility, beneath God and all men, and, if it must be, even unto death. By this complete self-annihilation a human being may win from and obtain from God all that he needs; and more still; for God comes to meet such with all His grace, and exalts them with all the honour with which He has honoured His Saints.

The fourth qualification. It is necessary for a good virgin, in this life, to be chastened, despised, rejected, ill-used and rebuked, even as the Canaanitish woman was treated by Christ. And thus He treats, even now, all His chosen ones, who are especially dear to Him, and on whom He will lavish His especial grace. Inwardly He will chastise them severely, and treat them hardly; and outwardly also He ordains that they shall be trodden under foot by everyone; men shall speak evil of them; and they shall be despised in their own eyes with wanton falsehood. Then will the virgin of Christ despise herself utterly, and suppress herself in true humility, and rejoice in it for the sake of God, and think of herself as unworthy of all this suffering, thanking God that He has thus especially endowed her as His own.

The fifth qualification. It also appertains to such a virgin, that she would not only be despised here of men, but that she should also despise herself, and suffer patiently all that happens to her, concealing it in her heart and complaining to no one. We often see virgins ready in words to despise themselves before men, saying: "We are all sinners," who would nevertheless take it very ill, if anyone else said it of them; and thus we discover that it is all pride. A virgin who is not humble at heart may be known, when anything happens to her untowardly, though it were only a word; for she is indignant at once, she is offended with what is said to her, and begins to excuse herself immediately. She cannot bear anyone to say anything that is insulting to her honour, or that would cause her to be despised; and yet she wishes to be considered humble. No, dear child, all the contempt and scorn that a man is ready to pour out upon himself has no real ground in humility; but, when he is despised and scorned by another who is his equal, or still more, by one who is his inferior, he is cut to the quick; and then a man will learn to know how little humble and patient he really is.

The sixth qualification. A good virgin never wastes her time by any neglect or carelessness; but, her heart filled with longing and devotion, she meditates on the Sufferings of her beloved Lord Jesus, and His Five Wounds; she knows of nothing better that she can do; for nothing can be more useful to her than to spend her time in meditation on the Life and Sufferings of our Lord, for Whom she has forsaken all things. It is the nature of all good virgins to spend the whole of their lives in work, both outwardly and inwardly, for the glory of God; to pray for the salvation of all men; and to offer themselves up for the infirmities of the common people, both the evil and the good. If the virgin of Christ be left to herself, all love and devotion to God being withdrawn from her; if thus, bare, poor and miserable, she still serves God; then God is honoured by her, and has peculiar delight in her.

The seventh qualification. She must look to God, and think only of Him in all her occupations; and she must be indifferent to all outward things; and she must do what is right, as though she did nothing, while she looks upon all real afflictions as though they did not concern her. Such an handmaid of the Lord desires to suffer shame and scorn from all men, to the glory of God, and desires neither power nor honour. She cannot exempt herself from anything, for the Holy Ghost directs her. At times such people are obliged to take precedence of others; but then they do it with great courtesy and great humility, and carry out that which Christ said: "Let him that is the greater among you become as he that serveth."

The eighth qualification. This virgin of Christ must fight against all earthly transitory things, honour and desires. As soon as these desires begin to lose their strength in her heart, she will be attacked by spiritual pride; that is by self-satisfaction, and the desire for temporal honour, which can really be driven out by none other but by God. For, however holy a man may be, he will have to fight to the end, and chiefly against spiritual pride. Although in these truly humble virgins neither pride nor covetousness, nor hatred can find a resting-place, yet they are nevertheless much tempted at times by idleness, appetite and unholy thoughts, which arise from their nature, and are the temptations of the flesh, which have not as yet been overcome; and this temptation is very useful to them. For, because these lovers of God care for nothing but suffering, shame, and all that is painful, both outwardly and inwardly, for the sake of the love of Christ, and seek only visions of God and inner delight, finding therein more joy and satisfaction than in all the eternal consolation that all created things could give them, therefore no temptation can be hurtful to them. Neither will any impulse to sin from lower motives affect them, for their will and their desire is that they may always have something to suffer, and that in true humility they may be found well-pleasing unto God, Who loves them. That we may thus preserve this state of virginity, may God help us. Amen.

sermon vii our ladys candle-mass
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