No one will argue that the world we live in has become increasingly fast-paced. Technology has shortened the time needed to do almost anything—while, paradoxically, adding more stress and less time back into our lives.
We are people of restless hearts, living in a busy age, surrounded by a cacophony of noises that bombard us all day long. Often we dart through this loud, speeding world trying to find something or someone that can satisfy the deep longing at the center of our being. That which is good, true, and beautiful in our world can certainly make us happy. But at some point our hearts need further reassurance, because there is a deep space within each of us that cannot be filled by finite matter, things, or people. It can only be filled by God.
- Germana Santos, FSP, introduction to Secrets of the Spirit
“It can only be filled by God.” Yet even knowing that, we often see God as a last resort, the One we turn to when nothing else works. We don’t phrase it that baldly, of course; we tell ourselves that we can solve our problems, simplify our lives, feel better about ourselves and the world around us, and that asking God for help is somehow reserved for true emergencies.
But that isn’t how God sees it. Time and time again, in Scripture and through the saints’ voices, we hear God saying: “Turn to me.”
One person who understood the need to turn to God in all things was Archbishop Luis Maria Martinez, who, ordained at a very early age, spent his apostolate wisely guiding his people as primate archbishop of Mexico City. His books, The Sanctifier, Secrets of the Interior Life, and Only Jesus, have become spiritual classics, and we’ve collected some of his insights in Secrets of the Spirit, a volume in Pauline Books & Media’s Classic Wisdom Collection.
An inexhaustible love! Who understands this mystery of happiness? Everything on earth runs out: joy and sorrow, fecundity and life itself. All created things, however beautiful, however perfect, have a limit, a measure, an end. We are so accustomed to finish things and use them up that we do not comprehend the mystery of an inexhaustible love. In its endless desire for love, our heart glimpses infinite love as one dimly glimpses the vast firmament when the spirit wanders from star to star in the immensity of the night.
One of the secrets of the spirit is to recognize the bond of love that exists because God has reached out to us, has loved us so much that he asked his Son to die for us. Once we have a sense of how inexhaustible, how great, how limitless that love is, then we can open ourselves up, then we can truly invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Martinez helps us enter into this awareness through the experience of human love, and pointing to the loss that we feel when a loved one dies, or leaves us; everyone has experienced the amazement that the world keeps turning anyway. But he doesn’t stop there: even the experience of that kind of love is shallow and pale when compared to God’s love.
There is no comparison between the solitariness produced by human love and that which divine love demands, for there is no comparison between these two loves. Human love is shallow, divine love is profound. The first is partial and fragmentary; it never completely embraces the heart. The second is entire, absorbing, unparalleled. Human love has its own tint, and excludes at least all affections of that shade, but divine love embraces all colors, and consequently it excludes all other loves.
How else can we invite the Spirit into our hearts? One of the other problems with modern life that adds to our stress and unhappiness is the fact that we own things. Stuff. Possessions. And more often than not, one possession leads to another. You buy a microwave oven, and then you need microwave-safe dishes, and an upgrade to a fancier or larger or somehow “better” oven, and before you know it, that oven is dictating what you buy and how you prepare meals. Or perhaps you buy a new car, and you lie in bed at night, vigilant less its alarm goes off, concerned that it will be taken from you, thinking only of the potential loss of the car instead of the joy you get from driving it.
So not only does one possession lead to another, eventually your possessions will end up possessing you. You make decisions based on what you own rather than on what you believe. You need a bigger house, a storage unit, an addition in which to put all the possessions that you’re accumulating… then a better alarm, an expensive monitoring system, fear and concern that someone is going to take your possessions from you. It sounds a lot like your possessions are overpowering who you are!
Martinez recognized this danger:
Our Lord taught us in so clear and so precise a manner that, if we are to achieve perfection, an absolute renunciation of all things of this world is necessary. We must root out from our hearts everything that is not the love of God or that does not have its origin in this love. This is the truth he set as the foundation of his doctrine in his sermon on the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The kingdom of heaven is union with God. It is all-consuming love; it is full participation in the life of God. And the kingdom of God is for the poor, for those who renounce themselves, for those who have sold all that they possessed, for those who find themselves in the holy and divine nakedness of poverty and of love. (…)
For it is impossible to reach holiness without renouncing our possessions, without freeing our hearts of them. God will not take full possession of our hearts until they have been freed of everything else. As long as the root of the last disorderly affection that abides in us is not pulled out, the love of God cannot reign with full sovereignty.
All this isn’t to say that Martinez thinks it’s easy. On the contrary, life is fraught with difficulties, filled with tension and anxiety. It’s the nature of living on the planet. But one of the secrets of the spirit is to keep always in mind that there is another world, a better world, awaiting us. If there is no rest and tranquility on earth, be comforted, because one day you will discover total rest, total tranquility, as you live in God.
Heaven is complete rest in God, because earth is always a place of labor, vicissitudes, and sorrow. The soul sighs to be freed from the anxieties of this life, as Saint Paul desired: “[M]y desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23). But God, the divine friend, is pleased to grant to souls that love him an experience of beatitude on this earth, in the heaven of his heart—is not that incomparable heart a heaven?—by inviting them to the repose of purity, love, and peace within himself.
Our poor heart longs for that rest because we are born for heaven. The work, pain, and sufferings of this world do not constitute the definitive atmosphere of our soul. Our atmosphere is rest in God and it is formed by those divine elements of which I have spoken: light, purity, love, and peace.
Secrets of the Spirit is a book to be treasured, to slip into a pocket or purse and read everywhere—at the laundromat, on the train, waiting for a meeting to begin. With all of the pressures we live with daily, having access to Martinez’ wisdom in words that we can take to heart every day…is priceless.