SERMON: Sermon 47, by Johannes Tauler

Divisiones ministrationum sunt, idem autem spiritus. . .

There are different kinds of gifts, though it is the same Spirit
(1 Corinthians 12:6)

Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle: “There are different kinds of gifts, though it is the same Spirit who is imparted to each man to make the best advantage of it.”  It is one and the same Spirit who works equally in all things.  We all receive a revelation so that we may use it to our best profit and advantage.  To one is given the gift of knowledge, that he may expound the faith, through the same Spirit who works differently in someone else.  Saint Paul lists a great number of gifts, which are all the work of one and the same Spirit, and on the whole he mentions those which bear witness to the faith.

In times past the Holy Spirit worked wondrous things in those who loved him in testimony to the faith; great signs and manifold prophecies came to pass.  There is less need of these today.  Know, however, that nowadays there is less genuine faith alive among Christians than there is among pagans and Jews.

Let us now consider the words of Saint Paul: “There are different kinds of gifts though it is the same Spirit who performs them.”  Beloved, you can observe in the natural order that the body has many different parts and senses, and how each particular part, whether it is eye, ear, mouth, hand, or foot, has its own special functions, its own work to perform.  There can be no question of one wanting to perform the work of the other, or to be anything other than what God has meant it to be.  Now, we too are all one body and Christ is its head.  In this body the parts are very different from one another.  One of us is an eye, another is a hand, someone else is a foot, a mouth, or an ear.  The eyes in the body of Holy Christendom are the spiritual masters; that is something you need not concern yourselves with.  But we ordinary Christians ought to examine carefully what is our work to which our Lord has called and invited us, and what the grace is the Lord has granted us, because every service or activity,  however insignificant, is a grace, and it is the same Spirit which produces them all for the use and profit of mankind.

Let us start with the humblest task: One person knows how to spin, another how to make shoes; some people are good at practical things, which they perform to best advantage; others are not.  All these graces are God-given, the work of his Spirit.

Believe me, if I were not a priest and a religious, I should be very proud to make shoes, and I should try to make them as best as I can, and I should be glad to earn my living with my own hands.

Beloved, foot or hand must not want to be an eye.  Everyone ought to do that work to which God has called him, no matter how modest.  Thus each of our Sisters has her own work entrusted to her.  Some of them can sing beautifully, and they are responsible for the Divine Office.  This is all the work of God’s Spirit.  Saint Augustine said: “God is unvarying, divine and simple, and yet works in all things in diverse ways.  He is one in all, and all in one.”  There is no task so small, so insignificant or menial, that it is not a proof of God’s special grace.  Everyone should do for his neighbor what his neighbor cannot do as well for himself, and that way, by his love, grace gives way to grace.  You may be sure of this: If we are not giving and helpful to our neighbor, we shall have to account for it before God, for as the gospel tells us, everyone will have to give an account of his stewardship.  Each one of us must return to our brothers as best as he can what he has received from God.

Why is it, then, there is so much grumbling, everyone complaining that his word stands in the way of his sanctification?  It is God who gave him his work, and God never put a hindrance in our way.  Why are people so discontented and dissatisfied?  Is not all work imparted to man by God’s Spirit?  And yet we do not see it that way and we remain disappointed. You must know that it is not the work that causes your trouble but the disordered way in which you go about it.  If you did your work, as you easily could, and as you certainly should, meaning God alone and not yourself, you would not be anxious to please or afraid to displease anyone; you would not be asking for your own profit or pleasure, because you would seek God’s glory alone in all your activities.  If you looked at it that way, neither reproach nor scruples could trouble you.  Any spiritual person ought to be ashamed of doing his work in such a disordered way, and with so little purity of intention, that it openly causes him anxiety.  This only shows that the works were not done in God nor were they caused by genuine and pure love for God and for the benefit of his neighbor.  If you remain content in your work it will be a proof, to you and to others, that you have been keeping your eye on God alone.

When our Lord reproved Martha, it was not because of her work – it was good and holy – but because she was overly concerned.

We must perform good and useful work, in whatever way it comes to us; the care, however, should be left to God.  We ought to do our work meticulously, silently, and with inward recollection.  With such a disposition we shall draw God into it, for the eyes of our soul will be turned inward, devoutly and lovingly.  And always we should examine our motives and rectify our intentions.  We must listen to the Holy Spirit, whether he prompts us to rest or to work, and then be faithful to his promptings.  If he wishes us to rest, let us rest; if he wishes us to work, then let us do it with good cheer.  When we come across the old and sick and inform, let us anticipate their needs and rush to their aid; we should vie with one another for the privilege to perform a work of love, always bearing the other’s burdens.  You may be sure that if you fail to do this, God will take the task away from you and give it to someone else who will do it promptly, and you will be left useless and empty of virtue and grace.  And if while you are at work you feel God’s hidden touch, give it all your attention without neglecting your work.  Learn to draw God into your activities and do not remove yourself from his touch.

This, my Beloved, is the way to practice the virtues.  For practice we must, if we are to become masters.  Do not expect, however, that God will infuse you with virtues without any effort on your part.  Never believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will simply flow into a person who has not been bent on acquiring virtue.  Such virtue counts for very little unless it has been learned by intense effort, within as well as without.

There was once a farmer who fell into a state of rapture while threshing corn; if an angel had not come and held the flail, he would have certainly struck himself.  And yet you are asking forever to be given free time for contemplation, or at least this is what you say.  And yet there is a lot of laziness in this.  Everyone wants to be an eye; all want to contemplate and no one wants to perform the work.

I know a man much favored by God’s grace: All his days he has been a ploughman.  He has followed the plough for forty years, and that is what he does to this day.  He once asked our Lord whether he should give up work and go and sit in church.  The answer was: No, he did not want that.  He wanted him to go on earning his bread with the sweat of his brow to the honor of his most precious blood.

A man ought to find some suitable time, during the day or night, to sink into his depth, each according to his own fashion.  Let those noble creatures who are wholly steeped in God, without the aid of sensible images, do that; that is their way.  And let the others do whatever suits them best, spending a good hour in spiritual exercises, each according to his own fashion, for we cannot all be eyes and give ourselves up to contemplation.

Let them devote themselves to those spiritual exercises to which they have been called, and let them do this with deep love, in peace and purity of heart, according to God’s wish.  When we serve God according to his will, we shall receive an answer according to our own will.  But if we serve him according to our own human will, God will not answer according to our own, but according to his, God’s will.

From such self-denial is born an essential peace, the fruit of all our exercises of virtue.  You may be sure that a peace which does not grow out of this is a false peace.  It must be practiced actively and passively: The peace that arises from your interior life, no one will be able to take from you.

Along come the conceited people with their pretensions: They have their own theories, and they want to judge everyone accordingly.  Forty years they have spent in the religious life and they still do not know what they are about.  They are much bolder than I am.  I have been called to teach, but when I listen to such people I wonder in what state they are and how they arrive at their conclusions.  But even then I do not pass judgment, and I turn to our Lord; and if I fail to receive an answer, I say to them: “My dear people, address yourselves to the Lord!  He will judge you aright.”  You,  however, wish to assign a place to everyone and judge them according to your private opinions.

Now the worms begin to eat away at the tender plant that was meant to grow in God’s garden.  And those others will say: “This is not the customary way, it must be some new fad and it smacks of novelty.”  What they forget is that God’s ways are mysterious and hidden to them.  How surprised will they, who are so sure of themselves now, be one the day of judgment?

Saint Paul teaches that it is the Spirit who bestows the gift of discerning knowledge.  Who, do you think, are the people on whom God has conferred that gift?  You may be certain that they are those far advanced in the spiritual life, so far that it pervades their very being.  They have withstood the most terrifying and severe temptations as well as the attacks of the evil one, attacks so fierce that they shook them through bone and marrow.  These are the people who possess the gift of discerning knowledge.  If they want to avail themselves of this gift and observe others, they recognize right away whether it is God’s Spirit that is at work in them, which path will lead to their sanctification and what may hinder their progress.

Alas, we forfeit truth in such a pernicious way; and we do this for the sake of such trivialities.  As a result we incur the loss of the most sublime truth now and forever, throughout God’s eternity.  What we neglect now will never be ours.

May God help us to perform the work to which his Spirit has called us, each according to the revelation he has received.




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