Let us represent to ourselves Jesus standing submissively in Pilate’s house, where for love of us He was stripped of all His garments, one after the other, by soldiers, the ministers of His death. Not satisfied with this, they took His very skin from him, tearing it off by blows of their staves and whips. Later, His soul was in like manner stripped of its body and His body of its life by the death He endured upon the Cross. But after three days had passed, by His most holy Resurrection, His soul put on again His glorious body, and His body, its immortal skin. Then, too, He clothed Himself in various garments; now those of a gardener or a pilgrim, or of some other kind, according as the salvation of men and the glory of God required.
Love did all this. It is love also that, entering a soul to make it happily die to itself and live again in God, strips it of all human desires and self-esteem, which is as closely fixed to our spirit as skin to flesh. At length it denudes that soul of its dearest affections, such as those it had for spiritual consolations, devout exercises, and perfect virtue, which seemed to be the very life of a devout soul.
At such times the soul is right to cry out, “I have put off my garments: shall I put them on again? I have washed my feet of affections of every kind: shall I defile them again? Naked I came forth from the hand of God, and naked I shall go back again. The Lord gave me many desires, the Lord has taken them away; blessed be His holy name.” Yes, the same Lord who makes us desire those virtues at the beginning of our course and makes us practice them amid all eventualities is He who takes away affection for virtues and all spiritual exercises to the end that, with tranquility, purity, and simplicity, we may have affection for nothing but the good pleasure of His divine majesty.
Judith, the beautiful and chaste, kept her costly festive robes stored away in a closet, but had no liking for them and never wore them during her widowhood except at the time when, by God’s inspiration, she went out to destroy Holofernes. In like manner, although we have learned virtuous practices and devout exercises, we must have no affection for them, nor reclothe our hearts with them except only insofar as we know that such is God’s good pleasure. Just as Judith always wore mourning garments except on that occasion when God willed that she be dressed with pomp, so also we must remain peaceably clothed with misery and abjection amid our imperfections and infirmities until God raises us up to the practice of excellent actions.
We cannot long remain in such nakedness, stripped of every kind of affection. Hence, according to the advice of the holy apostle, after we have put off the garments of the old Adam, we must put on the clothing of the new man; that is, of Jesus Christ. Having renounced all things — yes, even affection for virtue — so as to desire among them and all other things only what God’s good pleasure will grant, we must clothe ourselves anew with various affections, perhaps with the very ones we have renounced and given up. But we must put them on again, no longer because they are agreeable, profitable, and honorable to us, and suited to satisfy our self-love, but because they are agreeable to God, profitable to His honor, and destined for His glory.
Eliezer carried earrings, bracelets, and new garments for the maiden whom God had prepared for his master’s son. In fact, he presented them to the virgin Rebecca as soon as he knew it was she. There must be new garments for the Savior’s spouse. If out of love for Him, she has stripped herself of her old affection for parents, country, home, and friends, she must now take on a completely new affection. She must love all these in due order, no longer according to human considerations, but because the heavenly Spouse wills, commands, and intends it so and has established such an order in charity.
If we have once stripped off our old affection for spiritual consolation, devout exercises, practice of virtues, and even our own advancement in perfection, then we must put on another completely new affection, no longer loving all those graces and heavenly favors because they perfect and adorn our spirit, but because in them our Lord’s name is sanctified in His kingdom, and His good pleasure glorified.
It is thus that St. Peter clothes himself in prison; not by his own decision, but in the way the angel commands him. He girds himself, next puts on his sandals, and then his other garments. Stripped in a moment of all affections, the glorious St. Paul says, “Lord, what will You have me do?” That is: “What do You want me to love, now that You have thrown me to the ground and have made my own will die within me?”
Ah, Lord, put your good pleasure in its place, and teach me to do Your will, for You are my God.
The man who has forsaken all things for God must take back nothing except as God wills it. He does not nourish his body except as God ordains, so that it may serve the soul. He makes further studies only to serve his neighbor and his own soul in accordance with God’s intention. He no longer practices virtues according to his own preferences, but according to God’s desire.
God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. He did so, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days, as some say, or for three years, as others think. Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again.
We, too, must strip ourselves of all affections, both little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then at the proper time, we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked upon the Cross with our divine Savior and afterward rise again with Him in the new man. “Love is strong as death,” to enable us to forsake all things. It is as magnificent as the Resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor.