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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

The Interior Witness

From the Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great

The interior witness

Weak-minded persons are frequently diverted toward pursuing exterior happiness when the breath of popular favor accompanies their good actions. So they give up their own personal choices, preferring to remain at the mercy of whatever they hear from others. Thus, they rejoice not so much to become but to be called blessed. Eager for praise, they give up what they had begun to be; and so they are severed from God by the very means by which they appeared to be commendable in God.

But sometimes a soul firmly strives for righteousness and yet is beset by other’s ridicule. It does what is admirable but it gets only mockery. It might have gone out of itself because of other’s praise; it returns to itself when repelled by their abuse. Finding no resting-place without, it cleaves more intensely to God within. All its hope is fixed on its Creator, and amid all the ridicule and abuse it invokes its interior witness alone.

Those who are afflicted in this way grow closer to God the more they turn away from human popularity. They straightway pour themselves out in prayer, and, pressured from without, they are refined with a more perfect purity to penetrate what is within.

In this context, the words of Job apply: Whoever is mocked by his friend, as I am, shall call upon God, and He shall hear him. For while the wicked reproach the just, they show them whom they should look to as the witness of their actions. Thus afflicted, the soul strengthens itself by prayer; it is united within to One who listens from on high precisely because it is cut off externally from the praise of others. Again, we should note how appropriately the words are inserted: as I am, because there are some people who are both oppressed by human mockery and are yet deprived of God’s favorable hearing. For when the mockery is done to a person’s own sin, it obviously does not produce the merit that is due to virtue.

The simplicity of the just is laughed to scorn. It is the “wisdom” of this world to conceal the heart with stratagems, to veil one’s thoughts with words so as to make what is false appear true and what is true appear false. On the other hand it is the wisdom of the just never to pretend anything for show; always to use words to express one’s thoughts; to love the truth as it is and to avoid what is false; to do what is right without reward; to be more willing to put up with evil than to perpetrate it; not to seek revenge for wrong; and to consider as gain any insult for truth’s sake. But this guilelessness is laughed to scorn, for the virtue of innocence is held as foolishness by those duped by this world. Anything that is done out of innocence they doubtless consider to be stupidity, and whatever truth approves of, in practice is called folly by their worldly “wisdom”.

—Saint Gregory the Great, pope
(Office of Readings, Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time


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