The sun’s rays give light while giving warmth and warmth while giving light. Inspiration is a heavenly ray that brings into our hearts a warm light that makes us see the good, and fires us on to its pursuit. All that lives upon earth is dulled by the winter’s cold, but with the return of vital heat in the springtime, all things get back their movement. Ground animals run more swiftly; birds fly higher and sing more gaily; plants more pleasingly put forth their leaves and flowers. Without inspiration our souls would live idle, sluggish, useless lives, but with the coming of the divine rays of inspiration, we feel a light mingled with a life-giving warmth that enlightens our understanding and awakens and animates our will by giving it the strength to will and do the good that pertains to eternal salvation.
When God had formed the human body out of “the slime of the earth,” as Moses says, “He breathed into it the breath of life, and man was made into a living soul”— that is, into a soul which gave life, movement, and activity to the body. This same eternal God breathes and infuses into our souls the inspirations of supernatural life to the end, as says the great apostle, that they may become “a life-giving spirit” — that is, a spirit that makes us live, move, feel, and work the works of grace. Hence He who has given us being also gives us operation.
Man’s breath warms things it enters into: witness the Shunammite woman’s child, upon whose mouth the prophet Elisha placed his own mouth and breathed upon him, and his flesh grew warm. Experience makes this warming power evident. But with regard to God’s breath, not only does it warm, but it gives perfect light, since His divine Spirit is an infinite light. His vital breath is called inspiration because by it, supreme goodness breathes upon us and inspires in us the desires and intentions of His heart.
The means of inspiration that God uses are infinite. St. Anthony, St. Francis, St. Anselm, and a thousand others often received inspirations from the sight of creatures. Preaching is the ordinary means of inspiration. However, men whom the Word does not help are taught by tribulation, according to the words of the prophet, “And affliction shall give understanding of what you hear.” That is, those who hear God’s threats against the wicked and do not correct themselves shall learn the truth by the result and effects and shall become wise by feeling affliction.
St. Mary of Egypt was inspired by the sight of an image of our Lady; St. Anthony, by hearing the Gospel read at Mass; St. Augustine, by hearing an account of St. Anthony’s life; the Duke of Gandia, by seeing the dead empress; St. Pachomius, by seeing an example of charity; the Blessed Ignatius of Loyola, by reading the lives of the saints.
When I was a youth in Paris, two students, one of whom was a heretic, heard the bell for matins sound in the Carthusian monastery after they had passed a night of debauchery in the Faubourg St. Jacques. When the heretic asked why the bell was ringing, his companion told him of the devotion with which monks celebrated the sacred office in that holy monastery. “O God,” he said, “how different is the conduct of those religious from our own! They perform the office of angels, while we perform that of beasts!”
He desired the next day to see by experience what he had learned from his companion’s account, and found those fathers in their stalls, standing like marble statues in a row of niches, motionless, devoid of all movement but that of chanting the Psalms, which they did with truly angelic attention and devotion as is the custom of their holy order. The result was that that poor youth was completely carried away with admiration and was filled with the greatest consolation at seeing God so well adored among Catholics. He resolved, and afterward put it into effect, to place himself in the bosom of the Church, the true and unique spouse of Him who had sent His inspiration even to the infamous litter of abomination where He had lain.
Oh, how happy are they who keep their hearts open to holy inspirations! They never lack the graces necessary to them in order to live well and devoutly according to their conditions, and to fulfill in a holy way the duties of their professions. Just as God, by the ministry of nature, gives to each animal instincts needed for its preservation and the exercise of its natural properties, so too, if we do not resist God’s grace, He gives to each of us the inspirations needed to live, work, and preserve ourselves in the spiritual life.
“Ah, Lord,” said the faithful Eliezer, “Behold, I stand here at this spring of water, and the daughters of the inhabitants of this city will come out to draw water. Therefore, the maid to whom I shall say, ‘Let down the pitcher that I may drink,’ and she shall answer, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also,’ she it is whom you have chosen for your servant Isaac.” Eliezer does not express any desire for water except for himself, but the fair Rebecca was obedient to the inspiration that God and her own kindness gave her and also offered water to his camels. For this deed she was made the spouse of holy Isaac, fair daughter of the great Abraham, and ancestral mother of the Savior.
Souls not content merely with doing what the Divine Spouse requires of them by His commandments and counsels, but who are prompt to follow sacred inspirations, are truly those whom the eternal Father has prepared to be spouses of His beloved Son. With regard to the good Eliezer, since he could not otherwise distinguish among the daughters of Haran — that is, the town of Nahor — which one among them was destined for his master’s son, God enabled him to recognize her by means of inspiration. When we do not know what to do and men’s help is lacking to us in our perplexities, then God inspires us. If we are humbly obedient, He does not permit us to fall into error.
Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from St. Francis de Sales’ Finding God’s Will for You, available from Sophia Institute Press.