THE SINNER'S GUIDE
Venerable Louis of Granada
Remedies against Pride
We have already called the deadly or capital sins the sources of all iniquity. They are the roots of the mighty tree of vice, and if we can destroy them the trunk and branches must soon decay. With them, therefore, we shall begin, following the example of Cassian and other spiritual writers, who were so firmly convinced that if they could only rout these enemies the defeat of the others would be an easy task.
St. Thomas gives us a profound reason for this. All sin, he says, proceeds from self-love, for we never commit sin without coveting some gratification for self. From self-love spring those three branches of sin mentioned by St. John: "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jn. 2:16), which are love of pleasure, love of riches, and love of honors. Three of the deadly sins, lust, gluttony, and sloth, spring from love of pleasure, pride springs from love of honors, and covetousness from love of riches. The remaining two, anger and envy, serve all these unlawful loves. Anger is aroused by any obstacle which prevents us from attaining what we desire, and envy is excited when we behold anyone possessing what our self-love claims. These are the three roots of the seven deadly sins, and consequently of all the others. Let these chiefs be destroyed and the whole army will soon be routed. Hence we must vigorously attack these mighty giants who dispute our entrance to the promised land.
The first and most formidable of these enemies is pride, that inordinate desire of our own excellence, which spiritual writers universally regard as the father and king of all the other vices. Hence Tobias, among the numerous good counsels which he gave his son, particularly warns him against pride: "Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind or in thy words, for from it all perdition took its beginning." (Job. 4:14). Whenever, therefore, you are attacked by this vice, which may justly be called a pestilence, defend yourself with the following considerations:
First reflect on the terrible punishment which the angels brought upon themselves by one sin of pride. They were instantly cast from Heaven into the lowest depths of Hell. Consider how this fall transformed Lucifer, the prince of the angelic hosts, and the bright and beautiful star surpassing in splendor the sun itself. In one moment he lost all his glory, and became not only a demon but the chief of demons. If pure spirits received such punishment, what can you expect, who are but dust and ashes? God is ever the same, and there is no distinction of persons before His justice.
Pride is as odious to Him in a man as in an angel, while humility is equally pleasing to Him in both. Hence St. Augustine says, "Humility makes men angels, and pride makes angels devils." And St. Bernard tells us, "Pride precipitates man from the highest elevation to the lowest abyss, but humility raises him from the lowest abyss to the highest elevation. Through pride the angels fell from Heaven to Hell, and through humility man is raised from earth to Heaven."
After this, reflect on that astonishing example of humility given us by the Son of God, who for love of us took upon Himself a nature so infinitely beneath His own, and "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:8). Let the example of your God teach you, O man, to be obedient. Learn, O dust, to humble yourself. Learn, O clay, to appreciate your baseness. Learn from your God, O Christian, to be "meek and humble of heart." (Matt. 11:29). If you disdain to walk in the footsteps of men, will you refuse to follow your God, who died not only to redeem us but to teach us humility? Look upon yourself and you will find sufficient motives for humility. Consider what you were before your birth, what you are since your birth, and what you will be after death. Before your birth you were, for a time, an unformed mass; now a fair but false exterior covers what is doomed to corruption; and in a little while you will be the food of worms. Upon what do you pride yourself, O man, whose birth is ignominy, whose life is misery, whose end is corruption? If you are proud of your riches and worldly position, remember that a few years more and death will make us all equal. We are all equal at birth with regard to our natural condition; and as to the necessity of dying, we shall all be equal at death, with this important exception: that those who possessed most during life will have most to account for in the day of reckoning.
"Examine," says St. Chrysostom, "the graves of the rich and powerful of this world, and find, if you can, some trace of the luxury in which they lived, of the pleasures they so eagerly sought and so abundantly enjoyed. What remains of their magnificent retinues and costly adornments? What remains of those ingenious devices destined to gratify their senses and banish the weariness of life? What has become of that brilliant society by which they were surrounded1 Where are the numerous attendants who awaited their commands? Nothing remains of their sumptuous banquets. The sounds of laughter and mirth are no longer heard; a somber silence reigns in these homes of the dead. But draw nearer and see what remains of their earthly tenements, their bodies which they loved too much. Naught but dust and ashes, worms and corruption."
This is the inevitable fate of the human body, however tenderly and delicately nurtured. Ah! Would to God that the evil ended here! But more terrible still is all that follows death: the dread tribunal of God's justice; the sentence passed upon the guilty; the weeping and gnashing of teeth; the tortures of the worm that never dies; and the fire which will never be extinguished.
Consider also the danger of vainglory, the daughter of pride, which as St. Bernard says, enters lightly but wounds deeply. Therefore, when men praise you, think whether you really possess the qualities for which they commend you. If you do not, you have no reason to be proud. But if you have justly merited their praise, remember the gifts of God, and say with the Apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1Cor. 15:10). Humble yourself, then, when you hear the song of praise, and refer all to the glory of God. Thus you will render yourself not unworthy of what He bestows upon you. For it is incontestable that the respect men pay you, and the good for which they honor you, are due to God. You rob Him, therefore, of all the merit which you appropriate to yourself. Can any servant be more unfaithful than one who steals his master's glory? Consider, moreover, how unreasonable it is to rate your merit by the inconstant opinion of men who today are for you, and tomorrow against you; who today honor you, and tomorrow revile you. If your merit rests upon so slight a foundation, at one time you will be great, at another base, and again nothing at all, according to the capricious variations of the minds of men.
Oh, no; do not rely upon the vain commendations of others, but upon what you really know of yourself. Though men extol you to the skies, listen to the warnings of your conscience and accept the testimony of this intimate friend rather than the blind opinion of those who can judge you only from a distance and by what they hear. Make no account of the judgments of men, but commit your glory to the care of God, whose wisdom will preserve it for you and whose fidelity will restore it to you in the sight of angels and men.
Be mindful also, O ambitious man, of the dangers to which you expose yourself by seeking to command others, How can you command when you have not yet learned to obey? How can you take upon yourself the care of others when you can hardly account for yourself? Consider what a risk you incur by adding to your own sins those of persons subject to your authority. Holy Scripture tells us that they who govern will be severely judged, and that the mighty shall be mightily tormented. (Cf. Wis. 6:6). Who can express the cares and troubles of one who is placed over many? We read of a certain king who, on the day of his coronation, took the crown in his hands, and, gazing upon it, exclaimed, "O crown richer in thorns than in happiness, did one truly know thee he would not stoop to pick thee up even if he found thee lying at his feet."
Again, O proud man, I would ask you to remember that your pride is displeasing to all – to God, who resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble (Cf. James 4:6); to the humble, who hold in horror all that savors of arrogance; and to the proud themselves, who naturally hate all who claim to be greater than they. Nor will you be pleasing to yourself. For if it ever be given to you in this world to enter into yourself and recognize the vanity and folly of your life, you will certainly be ashamed of your littleness. And if you do not correct it here, still less satisfaction will it afford you in the next world, where it will bring upon you eternal torments.
St. Bernard tells us that if we truly knew our hearts we would be displeasing to ourselves, which alone would make us pleasing to God; but because we do not know ourselves we are inflated with pride and therefore hateful in His sight. The time will come when 'we shall be odious to God and to ourselves – to God because of our crimes, and to ourselves because of the punishment they will bring upon us. Our pride pleases the devil only; for as it was pride which changed him from a pure and beautiful angel into a spirit of malice and deformity, he rejoices to find this evil reducing others to his unhappy state.
Another consideration which will help you acquire humility is the thought of the little you have done purely for God. How many vices assume the mask of virtue! How frequently vainglory spoils our best works! How many times actions which shine with dazzling splendor before men have no beauty before God! The judgments of God are different from those of men. A humble sinner is less displeasing in His sight than a proud just man, if one who is proud can be called just.
Nevertheless, though you have performed good works, do not forget your evil deeds, which probably far exceed your works of virtue, and which may be so full of faults and so negligently performed that you have more reason to ask to be forgiven for them than to hope for reward. Hence St. Gregory says: "Alas for the most virtuous life, if God judge it without mercy, for those things upon which we rely most may be the cause of the greatest confusion to us. Our bad actions are purely evil, but our good actions are seldom entirely good, but are frequently mixed with much that is imperfect. Your works, therefore, ought to be a subject of fear rather than confidence, after the example of holy Job, who says, 'I feared all my works, knowing that thou didst not spare the offender. '" (Job 9:28).
Since humility comes from a knowledge of ourselves, pride necessarily springs from ignorance of ourselves. Whoever, therefore, seriously desires to acquire humility must earnestly labor to know himself. How, in fact, can he be otherwise than humbled who, looking into his heart with the light of truth, finds himself filled with sins; defiled with the stains of sinful pleasures; the sport of a thousand errors, fears, and caprices; the victim of innumerable anxieties and petty cares; oppressed by the weight of a mortal body; so forward in evil and so backward in good? Study yourself, then, with serious attention, and you will find in yourself nothing of which to be proud.
But there are some who, though humbled at the sight of their failings, are nevertheless excited to pride when they examine the lives of others whom they consider less virtuous than themselves. Those who yield to this illusion ought to reflect, though they may excel their neighbors in some virtues, that in others they are inferior to them. Beware, then, lest you esteem yourself and despise your neighbor because you are more abstemious and industrious, when he is probably much more humble, more patient, and more charitable than you. Let your principal labor, therefore, be to discover what you lack, and not what you possess.
Study the virtues which adorn the soul of your neighbor rather than those with which you think yourself endowed. You will thus keep yourself in sentiments of humility, and increase in your soul a desire for perfection. But if you keep your eyes fixed on the virtues, real or imaginary, which you possess, and regard in others only their failings, you will naturally prefer yourself to them, and thus you will become satisfied with your condition and cease to make any efforts to advance.
If you find yourself inclined to take pride in a good action, carefully watch the feelings of your heart, bearing in mind that this satisfaction and vainglory will destroy all the merit of your labor. Attribute no good to yourself, but refer everything to God. Repress all suggestions of pride with the beautiful words of the great Apostle: "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1Cor. 4:7). When your good works are practices of supererogation or perfection, unless your position requires you to give an example, do not let your right hand know what your left hand does, for vainglory is more easily excited by good works done in public.
When you feel sentiments of vanity or pride rising in your heart, hasten to apply a remedy immediately. One that is most efficacious consists in recalling to mind all your sins, particularly the most shameful. Like a wise physician, you will thus counteract the effect of one poison by another. Imitate the peacock, and when you feel yourself inflated with pride turn your eyes upon your greatest deformity, and your vanity will soon fall to the ground. The greater your position the greater should be your humility, for there is not much merit in being humble in poverty and obscurity. If you know how to preserve humility in the midst of honors and dignities you will acquire real merit and virtue, for humility in the midst of greatness is the grandest accompaniment of honors, the dignity of dignities, without which there is no true excellence. If you sincerely desire to acquire humility you must courageously enter the path of humiliation, for if you will not endure humiliations you will never become humble. Though many are humbled without diminishing their pride, humiliation, as St. Bernard tells us, is nevertheless the path to humility, as patience is the path to peace, and study to learning. Be not satisfied, therefore, with humbly obeying God, but be subject to all creatures for love of Him. (Cf. 1Pet. 2:13).
In another place St. Bernard speaks of three kinds of fear with which he would have us guard our hearts. "Fear," he says, "when you are in possession of grace, lest you may do something unworthy of it; fear when you have lost grace, because you are deprived of a strong protection; and fear when you have recovered grace, lest you should again lose it." Thus you will never trust to your own strength; the fear of God which will fill your heart will save you from presumption.
Be patient in bearing persecution, for the patient endurance of affronts is the touchstone of true humility. Never despise the poor and abject, for their misery should move us to compassion rather than contempt. Be not too eager for rich apparel, for humility is incompatible with a love of display. One who is too solicitous about his dress is a slave to the opinions of men, for he certainly would not expend so much labor upon it if he thought he would not be observed. Beware, however, of going to the other extreme and dressing in a manner unsuited to your position. While claiming to despise the approbation or notice of the world, many secretly strive for it by their singularity and exaggerated simplicity. Finally, do not disdain humble and obscure employments. Only the proud seek to avoid these, for the man of true humility deems nothing in the world beneath him.
Remedies against Covetousness
Against Covetousness in General
Covetousness is an inordinate desire for riches. Hence we regard as covetous not only the man who steals, but also the man who passionately longs for another's goods or too eagerly clings to his own. With great force St. Paul condemns this vice and declares it the source of all iniquity:
"They that will become rich fall into temptation and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition; for the desire of money is the root of all evil." (1Tim. 6:9-10).
When you are assailed by this vice, arm yourself with the following considerations: Remember that Our Lord and Saviour, at His coming into this world, disdained to possess riches, which are the object of your desires. On the contrary, He so loved poverty that He chose for His Mother not a rich and powerful queen, but a poor and humble Virgin. He willed to be born, not in a palace, but in a bleak stable, the manger of which, covered with a little straw, was His only couch.
During His life upon earth He never ceased to manifest His love for poverty and His contempt for riches. For His Apostles He chose not the princes of great houses, but poor and ignorant fishermen. What greater presumption can there be than that of a base worm coveting riches, when the Creator of the universe became so poor for love of him!
Consider, moreover, your own vileness, since you are willing for a gross and perishable interest to sacrifice your immortal soul, created to the image of God and redeemed by His Blood, compared with which the whole world is nothing. God would not give His life for this material world, but He gave it for the soul of man. How much greater, therefore, must be the value of a soul! True riches do not consist in silver, or gold, or precious stones, but in virtue, the inseparable companion of a good conscience. Set aside the vain opinions of men, and you will see that these precious metals are such only by the judgment of the world, Will you, who are a Christian, become a slave to that which even pagan philosophers despised? "He who guards his riches like a slave is their victim," says St. Jerome; "but he who throws off their yoke possesses them as their lord and master."
Consider also these words of Our Saviour: "No man can serve two masters, God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24). Man cannot freely rise to God and the contemplation of His beauty while he is breathless in the pursuit of riches. A heart filled with material and earthly pleasures can never know spiritual and divine joys. No; it is impossible to unite what is false with what is true; what is spiritual with what is carnal; what is temporal with what is eternal; they can never dwell together in one heart.
There is another truth of which you must not lose sight: The more worldly prosperity you enjoy, the more destitute you are likely to be of spiritual riches, for an abundance of this world's goods leads you to trust in them rather than in God. Oh! That you knew the misery which such prosperity prepares for you! The desire of more which springs from the love of riches is a torment which far exceeds the pleasure we derive from their possession. It will entangle you in a thousand temptations, fill you with cares, and under the delusive image of pleasure plunge you into renewed sin and prove an inexhaustible source of trouble and disquiet. Again, riches are acquired only at the expense of pain and labor; they are preserved only by care and anxiety; and they are never lost without bitter vexation and grief. But, worse than all this, they are rarely accumulated without offence against God; for, as the proverb says, "A rich man is either a wicked man or a wicked man's heir."
Moreover, all the riches of the world, did you possess them, would never satisfy the desires of your heart. They would only excite and increase them. However great the possessions you accumulate, there will be a continual void within you; you will never cease to long for more. In its pursuit of worldly possessions your poor heart fruitlessly exhausts itself, for it will never find content. It drinks deeply at the fountains of pleasure, yet its thirst is never appeased. Its enjoyment of the possessions it has already acquired is destroyed by an insatiable thirst for more. Marveling at the covetousness of the human heart, St. Augustine asks: "Whence is it that man is so insatiable in his desires, while brutes observe a measure in theirs? They seek their prey only when they feel the cravings of hunger, and after this is appeased they are satisfied and rest. But the covetousness of the rich knows no limit; it is never satisfied, but is perpetually seeking more."
Has not experience shown you also that where there are great riches there are many to consume, to steal, or to squander them? If you would free yourself from all the anxiety consequent on these cares, put yourself in the hands of God and fully confide in His providence, for He never forsakes those who trust in Him. Since He has subjected man to the necessity of seeking food, He will not permit him to perish from hunger. Could God, who cares for the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, be indifferent to the necessities of one of His noblest creatures? Life is short; every moment brings us nearer to death. Why, then, lay up so much provision for so short a journey? Why burden yourself with so many possessions which must necessarily impede your progress?
When you will have reached the end of your earthly pilgrimage, poor in this world's goods, your wealth of real treasure will far exceed that of the covetous, whose lives have been spent in accumulating riches. How different will be the account exacted of you, and how readily you will part from the little you may have of the goods of earth, because you always esteemed them at their true value! But the rich and the covetou, in addition to the terrible account which will be required of them, will be rent with anguish at parting from that wealth which they loved and adored during life.
Besides the reflections I have suggested, I would ask: For whom are you amassing these goods? Do you not know that you must leave this world as poor and naked as you entered it? (Cf. Job 1:21). Think of this, says St. Jerome, and it will be easy for you to despise the riches of this world. (Cf. Ad Paulin. in Prol.Bib.). Beware, then, lest in the pursuit of these you lose the treasures of eternity.
Death will rob you of all your earthly possessions; your works, good and bad, will alone accompany you beyond the tomb. If this dread hour finds you unprepared, great will be your misfortune. All that remains to you will then be distributed into three portions, your body will become the food of worms; your soul the victim of demons, and your wealth the prey of eager and perhaps ungrateful or extravagant heirs. Ah! Dear Christian, follow the counsel of Our Saviour; share your wealth with the poor, that it may be borne before you into the kingdom which you hope to enjoy. What folly to leave your treasures in a place of banishment whither you will never return, instead of sending them before you to that country which is intended for your eternal home!
Again, I would remind you that God, as a wise and sovereign Ruler, has appointed some of His children the depositaries of His power and the dispensers of His benefits, to guide and maintain the others. If you are of the number of those who from their surplus possessions must contribute to the support of the poor, do you think that you are justified in expending upon yourself what has been given to you for the benefit of others? "The bread which you withhold," says St. Basil, "is the food of the poor; the garments you conceal should clothe the naked; the gold you accumulate is the portion of the needy." Therefore, you rob the poor whenever you refuse to succor them from your abundance. The riches you have received from God are meant to remedy human misery, not to be the instruments of a bad life. Therefore, do not let your prosperity cause you to forget the Author of all your blessings, and let not those blessings be a subject of vainglory. Do not, I conjure you, prefer a land of exile to your true country. Do not convert into obstacles what is meant to aid you on your journey; and do not make of the succors of life instruments of eternal death. Be content with the condition in which God has placed you, bearing in mind the words of the Apostle: "Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content." (1Tim. 6:8).
"A servant of God," says St. Chrysostom, "should never seek by his dress to gratify his vanity or indulge his flesh; his only object should be to comply with the necessities and requirements of his condition. Seek ye, therefore, first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. 6:33).
Remember also that it is not poverty but the love of poverty which is a virtue. Hence all who voluntarily forsake wealth bear a striking resemblance to Our Saviour, who, being rich with the riches of God, became poor for love of us. They who are compelled to live in poverty, but bear it with patience, never coveting the wealth which is denied them, convert their necessity into a meritorious virtue. As the poor by their poverty conform themselves to Jesus Christ, so the rich by their alms can conform their hearts to the merciful Heart of this Divine Model, who in His lowly crib received not only the shepherds with their simple tokens of affection, but also the wise and powerful men of the East, who came to lay at His feet the treasures of their gold and frankincense and myrrh.
If, then, God has given you wealth, bestow it generously on the poor, assured that it will be laid up for you as treasure in the kingdom of Heaven; but if you waste the means God has given you, you must not expect to find any before you when you leave this life. Unless such a disposition is made of your possessions, how can you call them good, since you cannot bear them with you and enjoy them in your true home? Lay up, then, by a worthy use of your worldly wealth, a store of spiritual possessions, which alone are truly good, and of which, unless you freely surrender them, not even death can deprive you.
Against the unjust Detention of Another's Goods
In connection with the evil of which we are treating, let us say a few words on the sin of retaining the goods of another. Theft consists not only in unjustly taking what belongs to another, but also in unlawfully retaining it against the owner's will. Our intention to restore it later will not suffice if we are able to do it at once, for we are obliged to make restitution as soon as possible. Inability to make immediate restitution justifies us in deferring it; while continued poverty, if so great as to afford us no means, excuses us entirely, for God does not require what is impossible.
We cannot better explain this doctrine than by the words of St. Gregory: "Remember that the riches you have unlawfully acquired remain in this world, but the sins you committed in obtaining them will accompany you into the next. How great is your folly, then, to leave your profit here and to take only your loss with you-to afford others gratification in this world while you endure everlasting sufferings in the world to come!" (Epist. ad Just).
The folly of covetousness goes still further, and causes you to sacrifice yourself, your body and your soul, to your miserable possessions. You are like a man who, to save his coat, exposes his body to be pierced with a dagger. In what does your conduct differ from that of Judas, if for a little money you will sell justice, divine grace, your soul itself? The hour of death, at the latest, will compel you to make restitution if you would save your soul. How incomprehensible, then, is the mad folly which prompts you to accumulate your unlawful gains, and, by living in sin, confessing in sin, approaching the Holy Table in sin, completely deprive yourself of spiritual treasures which are incomparably superior to all the wealth of this world! Is he not devoid of reason who acts in this manner? Endeavor, therefore, to pay what you owe, even to the smallest sum, and permit no man to suffer by your neglect. (Cf. Deut. 24:15). Do not detain the laborer's wages. (Cf. Tob. 4:15). Do not compel him to seek and plead for what justly belongs to him, that he may not have reason to say that it was more difficult to obtain his wages than to earn them.
If you have the duties of executor to fulfill, beware of defrauding departed souls of help due them, lest their expiation may be prolonged because of a neglect for which you must some day heavily atone. Pay your dependants regularly, and let your accounts be carefully kept, that they may give rise to no disputes or claims after your death. Do not wholly leave to those who survive you the execution of your last wishes, but fulfill them yourself as far as you are able; for if you are careless of your own affairs, how can you expect others to be more diligent?
Make it a point of honor to owe no man, and you will thus enjoy peaceful slumbers, a quiet conscience, a contented life, and a happy death. The means of acquiring these precious results is to control your desires and appetites and to govern your expenditure by your income, not by your caprices. Our debts proceed from our ill-regulated, uncontrolled desires more than from our necessities, and consequently moderation is more profitable than the largest revenues. Let us be convinced that the only real riches, the only real treasures, are those which the Apostle bids us seek when he tells us to fly covetousness and pursue justice, godliness, faith, charity, patience, and mildness, for godliness with contentment is great gain. (Cf. 1Tim. 6:6,11). Be contented with the position in which God has placed you. Man would always enjoy peace did he accept the portion which God gives him; but, seeking to gratify ambition or cupidity, which craves more than God has given him, he exposes himself to trouble and disquiet, for real happiness or success can never be known by one who strives against the will of God.
Remedies against Lust
Lust is an inordinate desire of unlawful pleasures. It is a vice most widely spread in the world; one that is most violent in its attacks, most insatiable in its cravings. Hence St. Augustine says that the severest warfare which a Christian has to maintain is that in defense of chastity, for such combats are frequent, and victories rare.
Whenever you are assailed by this shameful vice resist it with the following considerations: Remember, first, that this disorder not only stains your soul, purified by the Blood of Christ, but defiles your body, in which the thrice Holy Body of Christ has been placed, as in a shrine. If it be a sacrilege to defile a material temple dedicated to God's service, what must it be to profane this living temple, which God has chosen for His dwelling? For this reason the Apostle tells us: "Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth is without the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." (1Cor. 6:18). Consider, secondly, that this deplorable vice necessarily involves scandal to numerous souls and the spiritual ruin of all who participate in your crime. This thought will cause the sinner to suffer the greatest remorse at the hour of death; for if in the Old Law God required a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Cf. Ex. 21:23-24), what satisfaction can be offered Him for the destruction of so many souls, purchased at the price of His Blood?
This treacherous vice begins in pleasure, but ends in an abyss of bitterness and remorse. There is nothing into which man is more easily drawn, but nothing from which he is with more difficulty freed. Hence the Wise Man compares an impure woman to a deep ditch, a narrow pit, to show how easily souls fall into this vice, but with what difficulty they are extricated. Man is first allured by its flattering aspect, but when he has assumed the sinful yoke, and particularly when he has cast aside all shame, it requires almost a miracle of grace to deliver him from his degrading bondage. For this reason it is justly compared to a fisherman's net, which the fish easily enter, but from which they rarely escape. Learn, too, how many sins spring from this one vice; for during this long captivity of the soul how often is God offended by thoughts, words, and desires, if not by actions?
The evils which it brings in its train are no less numerous than the sins it occasions. It robs man of his reputation-his most important possession, for there is no vice more degrading or more shameful. It rapidly undermines the strength, exhausts the energy, and withers the beauty of its victim, bringing upon him the most foul and loathsome diseases. It robs youth of its freshness, and hurries it into a premature and dishonorable old age, It penetrates even to the sanctuary of the soul, darkening the understanding, obscuring the memory, and weakening the will. It turns man from every noble and honorable work, burying him so deeply in the mire of his impurities that he can neither think nor speak of anything but what is vile.
Nor are the ravages of this vice confined only to man himself. They extend to all his possessions. There is no revenue so great that the exactions and follies of impurity will not exhaust; for it is closely allied to gluttony, and these two vices combine to ruin their victim. Men given to impurity are generally addicted to intemperance, and squander their substance iri rich apparel and sumptuous living. Moreover, their impure idols are insatiable in their demands for costly jewels, rich adornments, rare perfumes, which gifts they love much better than they love the donors, their unfortunate victims. The example of the prodigal son, exhausting his inheritance in these pleasures, shows how terrible is such a passion.
Consider, further, that the more you indulge in these infamous gratifications, the more insatiable will be your desire for them, the less they will satisfy you. It is the nature of these pleasures to excite the appetite rather than appease it. If you consider how fleeting is the pleasure and how enduring its punishment, you will not for a moment's enjoyment sacrifice the unspeakable treasure of a good conscience in this life and the eternal happiness of Heaven in the next. St. Gregory, therefore, has truly said that the pleasure is momentary, but the suffering is eternal. (Moral. 9,44).
Consider also the nobility and the value of virginal purity, which this vice destroys. Virgins begin here below to live as angels, for the beauty of these glorious spirits is reflected in the splendor of their chastity. "Living in the flesh," says St. Bernard, "and despising its allurements is more angelic than human." (In Nat. Virg.).
"Virginity," says St. Jerome, "is the virtue which, amid the corruption of this mortal life, best represents the perfection of immortal glory. It brings before us the happy condition of the celestial City, where there is no marrying, and gives us a foretaste of eternal joy." (De Virginitatis Laude). Hence virginity is specially rewarded in Heaven. St. John tells us that virgins follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. (Cf. Apoc. 14:4). They have risen above their fellow men in their imitation of Christ. They will therefore be more closely united to Him for all eternity, and will find in the spotless purity of their bodies a source of ineffable joy.
Virginity not only renders man like unto Christ, but makes him the temple of the Holy Spirit. For this Divine Lover of purity abhors whatever is defiled, and delights to dwell in chaste souls. The Son of God, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, so loved purity that He wrought His greatest miracle to preserve the purity of His Virgin Mother. If you have suffered the loss of this beautiful virtue, learn from the temptations which wrought the evil to guard against a second fall.
If you have not preserved the gift of chastity in the perfection in which God gave it to you, endeavor to restore the beauty of the Creator's work by giving yourself to His service with a zeal and fervor born of deep gratitude for forgiven sin, and with an ardent desire to repair the past. "It often happens," says St. Gregory, "that one who was tepid and indifferent before his fall becomes, through repentance, a strong and fervent soldier of Christ." (Past., p1). Finally, since God continued to preserve your life after you had so basely offended Him, profit by this benefit to serve Him and make reparation for your sins, lest another fall should be irremediable.
Besides these general remedies there are others more special, and perhaps more efficacious. The first of these is vigorously to resist the first attacks of this vice. If we do not resist it in the beginning, it rapidly acquires strength and gains an entrance to our souls. "When a taste for sinful pleasures," says St. Gregory, "takes possession of a heart, it thinks of nothing but how to gratify its inordinate desires." (Moral. 21,7). We must, then, struggle against it from the beginning by repelling every bad thought, for by such fuel is the flame of impurity fed. As wood nourishes fire, so our thoughts nourish our desires; and, consequently, if the former be good, charity will burn in our breast – but if they are bad, the fire of lust will certainly be kindled.
In the second place, we must carefully guard our senses, particularly the eyes, that they may not rest upon anything capable of exciting sinful desires. A man may inflict a deep wound upon his soul by inconsiderately turning his eyes upon a dangerous object. Prudently guard your eyes in your intercourse with the other sex, for such glances weaken virtue.
Hence we are told by the Holy Ghost: "Look not round about thee in the ways of the city. Turn away thy face from a woman dressed up, and gaze not upon another's beauty." (Ecclus. 9:7-8). Think of Job, that great servant of God, of such tried virtue, who kept so vigilant a guard over his senses that, in the expressive language of Scripture, he made a covenant with his eyes not so much as to think upon a virgin. (Cf. Job 31:1). Behold also the example of David, who, though declared by God to have been a man after His own Heart, yet fell into three grievous crimes by inconsiderately looking upon a woman.
Be no less watchful in protecting your ears from impure discourses. If unbecoming words are uttered in your presence, testify your displeasure by at least a grave and serious countenance; for what we hear with pleasure we learn to do with complacency. Guard with equal care your tongue. Let no immodest words escape you; for "evil communications," says the Apostle, "corrupt good morals." (1Cor. 15:33). A man's conversation discovers his inclination, for, to quote the words of the Gospel, from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Endeavor to keep your mind occupied with good thoughts and your body employed in some profitable exercise, "for the devil," says St. Bernard, "fills idle souls with bad thoughts, so that they may be thinking of evil if they do not actually commit it."
In all temptations, but particularly in temptations against purity, remember the presence of your guardian angel and of the devil, your accuser, for they both witness all your actions, and will render an account of them to Him who sees and judges all things. If you follow this counsel, how can you, before your accuser, your defender, and your Judge, commit a base sin, for which you would blush before the lowest of men? Remember also the terrible tribunal of God's judgment and the eternal flames of Hell; for as a greater pain makes us insensible to a less, so the thought of the inexhaustible fire of Hell will render us insensible to the fire of concupiscence.
In addition to all this, be very guarded in your intercourse with women, and beware of continuing alone with one for any length of time; for, according to St. Chrysostom, the enemy attacks men and women more vigorously when he finds them alone. He is bolder when there are no witnesses present to thwart his artifices. Avoid the society of women who are not above suspicion, for their words inflame the heart, their glances wound the soul, and everything about them is a snare to those who visit them with imprudent familiarity. Be mindful of the example of the elders (Cf. Dan. 13), and let not old age render you less prudent. Do not trust to your own strength; and let not a habit of virtue inspire you with presumptuous confidence. Let there be no improper interchange of presents, visits, or letters, for these are so many snares which entangle us and reawaken dangerous affections. If you experience any friendship for a virtuous woman let your intercourse be marked by grave respect, and avoid seeing her too often or conversing too familiarly with her. But, as one of the most important remedies is avoiding dangerous occasions, we. shall give an example from the Dialogues of St. Gregory to show you with what prudence holy souls guard this angelic virtue.
There lived in the province of Mysia a holy priest who was filled with the fear of God, and who governed his church with zeal and wisdom. A very virtuous woman had charge of the altar and church furniture. This holy soul the priest loved as a sister, but he was as guarded in his intercourse with her as if she were his enemy. He never permitted her to approach him or converse familiarly with him, or enter his dwelling, thus removing all occasions of familiarity; for the saints not only reject unlawful gratifications, but forbid themselves even innocent pleasures when there is the slightest indication of danger to the soul. For this reason the good priest would never allow her to minister to him, even in his extreme necessities.
At an advanced age, after he had been 40 years in the sacred ministry, he fell gravely ill, and was soon almost at the point of death. As he lay in this condition, the good woman, wishing to discover whether he still lived, bent over him and put her ear to his mouth to listen to his breathing. The dying man, perceiving her, indignantly exclaimed, "Get thee hence, woman! Get thee hence! The fire still glows in the embers. Beware of kindling it with straw!" As she withdrew he seemed to gain new strength, and raising his eyes, he cried out with a loud voice, "Oh! Happy hour! Welcome, my lords, welcome! I thank you for deigning to visit so poor a servant. I come! I come!" He repeated these words several times, and when they who were present asked him to whom he spoke, he said with astonishment, "Do you not see the glorious Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul?" And, raising his eyes, he again cried, "I come! I come!" and as he uttered these words he gave up his soul to God.
An end so glorious was the result of a prudent vigilance which cannot be too highly extolled; and such confidence at the hour of death seemed a fitting reward for one who during life had been filled with a holy fear of God. (Dial. 4,11).
Remedies against Envy
Envy consists in grieving at another's good or repining at another's happiness. The envious man looks with hatred upon his superiors who excel him, upon his equals who compete with him, upon his inferiors who strive to equal him. Saul's envy of David and the Pharisees' envy of Christ could only be satisfied by death; for it is the character of this cruel vice to stop at nothing until it has compassed its end. Of its nature it is a mortal sin, because, like hatred, it is directly opposed to charity. However, in this, as in other sins, there are degrees which do not constitute a mortal sin, as, for example, when hatred or envy is not grave, or when the will does not fully consent.
Envy is a most powerful, a most injurious vice. It is spread all over the world, but predominates particularly in the courts of kings and in the society of the rich and powerful. Who, then, can be free from its attacks? Who is so fortunate as to be neither the slave nor the object of envy? From the beginning of the world history abounds with examples of this fatal vice. It was the cause of the first fratricide which stained the earth, when Cain killed Abel. (Cf. Gen. 4). It existed between the brothers Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and the latter fell a victim to the envy of the former. Behold its effects in the brothers of Joseph, who sold him as a slave. (Cf. Gen. 37); in Aaron and Mary, the brother and sister of Moses. (Cf. Num. 12). Even the disciples of Our Lord, before the coming of the Holy Ghost, were not wholly free from it.
Ah! When we see such examples, what must we expect to find among worldlings, who are far from possessing such sanctity, and who are seldom bound to one another by any ties? Nothing can give us an idea of the power of this vice or the ravages it effects. Good men are its natural prey, for it attacks with its poisoned dart all virtue and all talent. Hence Solomon says that all the labors and industries of men are exposed to the envy of their neighbors. (Cf. Eccles. 4:4).
Therefore, you must diligently arm yourself against the attacks of such an enemy, and unceasingly ask God to deliver you from it. Let your efforts against it be firm and constant. If it persevere in its attacks, continue to oppose an obstinate resistance, and make little account of the unworthy sentiments it suggests. If your neighbor enjoys a prosperity which is denied you, thank God for it, persuaded that you have not merited it or that it would not be salutary for you. Remember, moreover, that envying the prosperity of others does not alleviate your own misery, but rather increases it.
To strengthen your aversion to this vice, make use of the following reflections: Consider, first, what a resemblance the envious man bears to the devils, who look with rage upon our good works and the heavenly reward we are to receive for them. They have no hope of the happiness of which they would deprive us, for they know that they have irretrievably lost it; but they are unwilling that beings created out of dust should enjoy honors of which they have been dispossessed. For this reason St: Augustine says, "May God preserve from this vice not only the hearts of all Christians, but of all men, for it is the special vice of devils, and one which causes them the most hopeless suffering." The crime of Satan is not theft or impurity, but enviously seeking, after his fall, to make man imitate his rebellion. This is truly the feeling which actuates the envious.
Oftentimes the prosperity of others is no prejudice to them; they could not profit by what they strive to take from their neighbor; but they would have all equally miserable with themselves. If, then, the possessions which you envy in another could not be yours were he dispossessed of them, why should they be a cause of grief to you? When you envy the virtue of another you are your own greatest enemy; for if you continue in a state of grace, united to your neighbor through charity, you have a share in all his good works, and the more he merits the richer you become. So far, therefore, from envying his virtue, you should find it a source of consolation. Alas! Because your neighbor is advancing, will you fall back? Ah! If you would love in him the virtues which you do not find in yourself, you would share in them through charity; the profit of his labors would also become yours.
Consider, moreover, how envy corrodes the heart, weakens the understanding, destroys all peace of soul, and condemns us to a melancholy and intolerable existence. Like the worm which eats the wood in which it is engendered, it preys upon the heart in which it was given birth. Its ravages extend even to the countenance, whose paleness testifies to the passion which rages within. This vice is itself the severest judge against its victim, for the envious man is subjected to its severest tortures. Hence certain authors have termed it a just vice, not meaning that it is good, for it is a most heinous sin, but meaning that it is its own greatest punishment.
Consider, again, how opposed is the sin of envy to charity, which is God, and to the common good, which everyone should promote to the best of his ability; for when we envy another's good, when we hate those to whom God unceasingly manifests His love, when we persecute those whom He created and redeemed, do we not, at least in desire, strive to undo the work of God?
But a more efficacious remedy against this vice is to love humility and abhor pride, which is the father of envy. A proud man, who cannot brook a superior or an equal, naturally envies all who appear to excel him, persuading himself that he descends in proportion as another rises. Hence the Apostle says, "Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another." (Gal. 5:26). In other words, let us destroy the root of envy, which is vainglory.
Let us wean our hearts from worldly honors and possessions, and seek only spiritual riches, for such treasures are not diminished when enjoyed by numbers, but, on the contrary, are increased. It is otherwise with the goods of the earth, which must decrease in proportion to the numbers who share them. For this reason envy finds easy access to the soul which covets the riches of this life, where one necessarily loses what another gains.
Do not be satisfied with feeling no grief at the prosperity of your neighbor, but endeavor to benefit him all you can, and the good you cannot give him ask God to grant him. Hate no man. Love your friends in God, and your enemies for God. He so loved you while you were still His enemy that He shed the last drop of His Blood to save you from the tyranny of your sins.
Your neighbor may be wicked, but that is no reason for hating him. In such a case imitate the example of a wise physician, who loves his patient, but hates his disease. We must abhor sin, which is the work of man, but we must always love our neighbor, who is the work of God. Never say in your heart: "What is my neighbor to me? I owe him nothing. We are bound by no ties of blood or interest. He has never done me a favor, but has probably injured me." Reflect rather on the benefits which God unceasingly bestows upon you, and remember that all He asks in return is that you be charitable and generous, not to Him, for He has no need of you or your possessions, but to your neighbor, whom He has recommended to your love.
Remedies against Gluttony
Gluttony is an inordinate love of eating and drinking. Our Saviour warns us against this vice, saying, "Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life." (Lk. 21:34).
When you feel the promptings of this shameful disorder, subdue them by the following considerations: Call to mind that it was a sin of gluttony which brought death into the world, and that it is the first and most important passion to be conquered, for upon the subjugation of this vice depends your victory over all others. We cannot successfully battle with enemies abroad when the forces within us are in a state of rebellion. Thus we see that the devil first tempted Our Saviour to gluttony, wishing to make himself master of the avenue through which all other vices find an easy entrance.
Consider also Our Saviour's extraordinary fast in the desert and the many other rigorous mortifications which He imposed upon His Sacred Body, not only to expiate our excesses, but to give us a salutary example. How, then, can you call yourself a follower of Christ, if, when He fasts, you abandon yourself to the gross pleasures of the table? He refuses no labor, no suffering, to redeem you, and you will do nothing for your own salvation!
If you find abstinence difficult, think of the gall and vinegar which were given to Our Saviour on the cross; for as St. Bernard tells us, there is no food so unpleasant that it may not be made palatable by mingling it with this bitter draught. Frequently reflect upon the terrible austerities and wonderful fasts observed by the Fathers of the desert; how they fled from the world to remote solitude, where, after the example of Christ, they crucified their flesh with all its irregular appetites, and, sustained by God's grace, subsisted for many years on no other food but roots and herbs. Behold how these men imitated their Divine Model; behold what they thought necessary to reach Heaven. How can you gain this same Heaven by the path of gross and sensual pleasures? Think of the innumerable poor who are in need of bread; and at the sight of God's liberality to you, blush to make the gifts of His bounty instruments of gluttony. Consider, again, how often the Sacred Host has rested upon your tongue, and do not permit death to enter by that gate through which life is conveyed to your soul.
We may say of gluttony what we have said of impurity, that its pleasures are equally restricted and fleeting. Yet earth, sea, and air seem unable to gratify this passion, for many crimes are perpetrated, the poor are defrauded and oppressed, and little ones compelled to suffer hunger, to satisfy the sensuality of the great. It is deplorable to think that for the gratification of one sense man condemns himself body and soul to eternal suffering. What incomprehensible folly to flatter with such delicate care a body which is destined to be the food of worms! For this miserable body you neglect your soul, which will appear before the tribunal of God as poor in virtues as its earthly companion is rich in sensual pleasures. Nor will the body escape the punishment to which the soul will be condemned. Having been created for the soul, it will share its sufferings. Thus by neglecting the nobler part of your being to devote yourself to the inferior, you lose both and become your own executioner.
To excite in your heart a salutary fear of this vice, recall to mind what is related in the Gospel of Lazarus, of his poverty, of his hunger which craved the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, and how he was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom; while the rich man, who fed upon delicacies and was clothed in purple and me linen, was buried in the depths of Hell. Moderation and gluttony, temperance and excess, will not reap the same fruit in the next world. To patient suffering will succeed ineffable happiness, and sensual pleasures will be followed by eternal misery. What remains to you now of the pleasures of your guilty excesses? Nothing but remorse of conscience, which will be the principal torture of the life to come. All that you have lavished upon your ungoverned appetite you have irrevocably lost, but that which you have given away to the poor is still yours, for its merit is laid up in the kingdom of Heaven.
That you may not be deceived by the snares of this vice disguised as necessities, govern your appetite by reason, not by inclination. Remember that your soul can never rule the flesh, if it be not itself submissive to God. This submission will be the rule and foundation of its empire. Let God command our reason; let reason direct the soul, and the soul will be able to govern the body. By observing this wise order decreed by the Creator, the whole man will be reformed. But when the soul rebels against reason, and reason against God, the body will soon rebel against the soul.
If tempted by gluttony, remember that you have already tasted its pleasures and that they endured but a moment. They passed like a dream, except that while the light of day dispels the images of the night, the remorse for gluttony remains long after its pleasure has departed. But overcome this enemy, and you will experience consolation and peace. Therefore, the following wise saying has justly become celebrated: "If you find difficulty in the performance of a virtuous action, the trouble is soon past and the virtue remains; but if you take pleasure in committing a base action, its pleasure disappears, but its shame continues with you." (Aul. Gel., Noct. Attic. 8,15).
Remedies against Anger and Hatred
Anger is an inordinate desire of revenge. Against this vice the Apostle strongly speaks: "Let all bitterness and anger, and indignation and clamor, and blasphemy be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ." (Eph. 4:31-32). And Our Saviour Himself tells us: "Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matt. 5:22).
When this furious enemy assails you, let the following considerations help you overcome its movements: Consider, first, that even beasts live at peace with their kind. Elephants do not war upon one another; sheep live peaceably in one fold; and cattle go together in herds. We see the cranes taking by turns the place of guard at night. Storks, stags, dolphins, and other creatures do the same. Who does not know of the friendship between the ants and the bees'! Even the wildest animals live united among themselves, One lion is rarely known to attack another, neither will a tiger devour one of his kind. Yes, even the infernal spirits, the first authors of all discord, are united in a common purpose – the perversion of mankind. Man alone, for whom peace is most fitting, lives at enmity with his fellow men and indulges in implacable hatred. All animals are born with weapons for combat. The bull has horns; the boar has tusks; the bird has a beak and claws; the bee has a sting, and even the tiny fly or other insect has power to bite. But man, destined to live at peace with his fellow creatures, comes into the world naked and unarmed. Reflect, then, how contrary to your rightful nature it is to seek to be revenged upon one of your kind, to return evil for evil, particularly by making use of weapons which nature has denied you.
In the second place, a thirst for vengeance is a vice which befits only savage beasts. You belie your origin, you disgrace your descent, when you indulge in ungovernable rage, worthy only of a wild animal. Ælian tells of a lion that had been wounded by an African in a mountain defile. A year after, when this man passed the same way in the suite of King Juba, the lion, recognizing him, rushed among the royal guards, and, before he could be restrained, fell upon his enemy and tore him to pieces. Such is the model of the angry, vindictive man. Instead of calming his fierce rage by the power of reason, that noble gift which he shares with the angels, he abandons himself to the blind impulse of passions which he possesses in common with the brutes.
If it be hard to subdue your anger, excited by an injury from one of your fellow creatures, consider how much more God has borne from you and how much He has endured for you. Were you not His enemy when He shed the last drop of His Blood for you? And behold with what sweetness and patience He bears with your daily offenses against Him, and with what mercy and tenderness He receives you when you return to Him.
If anger urges that your enemy does not deserve forgiveness, ask yourself how far you have merited God's pardon. Will you have God exercise only mercy toward you, when you pursue your neighbor with implacable hatred? And if it be true that your enemy does not deserve pardon from you, it will be equally true that you do not deserve pardon from God. Remember that the pardon which man has not merited for himself, Christ has superabundantly merited for him. For love of Him, therefore, forgive all who have offended you.
Be assured, moreover, that as long as hatred predominates in your heart you can make no offering which will be acceptable to God, who has said: "If thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift." (Matt. 5:23-24). Hence you can realize how grievous is the sin of enmity among men, since it causes an enmity between God and us, and destroys the merit of all our good works. "We gain no merit from good works," says St. Gregory, "if we have not learned to endure injuries with patience." (Moral. 21:16).
Consider also that the fellow creature whom you hate is either a just man or a sinner. If a just man, it is certainly a great misfortune to be the declared enemy of a friend of God. If a sinner, it is no less deplorable that you should undertake to punish the malice of another by plunging your own soul into sin. And if your neighbor in his turn seeks vengeance for the injury you inflict upon him, where will your enmities end? Will there be any peace on the earth?
The Apostle teaches us a more noble revenge when he tells us "not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good" (Rom. 12:21 ) – that is, to triumph by our virtues over .the vices of our brethren. In endeavoring to bc revenged upon a fellow creature you are often disappointed and vanquished by anger itself. But if you overcome your passion, you gain a more glorious victory than he who conquers a city. Our noblest triumph is won by subduing ourselves, by subjecting our passions to the empire of reason, ,
Besides these, reflect on the fatal blindness into which this passion leads man. Under the cover of justice or right, how often does it drive him to excesses which cause him a lifelong remorse!
The most efficacious, the sovereign remedy against this vice is to pluck from your heart inordinate love of self and of everything that pertains to you. Otherwise the slightest word or action directed against you or your interests will move you to anger. The more you are inclined to this vice the more persevering you should be in the practice of patience. Accustom yourself, as far as you can, calmly to face the contradictions and disappointments you are likely to encounter, and their effect upon you will thus be greatly diminished.
Make a firm resolution never to speak or act under the influence of anger, nor to heed any suggestions, however plausible, which your heart may urge at such moments. Never act until your anger has subsided, or until you have once or twice repeated the Our Father or some other prayer. Plutarch tells of a wise man who, on taking leave of a monarch, advised him never to speak or act in anger, but to wait until he had repeated to himself the letters of the alphabet. Learn a lesson from this, and avoid the evil consequences of acting from the impulse of anger.
Though there is no time more unfavorable for action, yet there is no time in which we feel ourselves more strongly impelled to act than when in anger. This is an additional reason for opposing, with all our strength, the suggestions of this passion. For as a man intoxicated with wine is incapable of acting according to reason, and afterwards repents of what he has done in such a condition, so a man beside himself with passion, intoxicated with anger, is incapable of any action of which he will not repent in his calmer moments. Anger, wine, and sensuality are evil counselors. "Wine and women," says Solomon, "make wise men fall off." (Ecclus. 19:2). By wine he means not only the liquor which stupefies the intellect, but all violent passion which blinds the judgment. Bear in mind also that you are held responsible for sins committed in such a state. Another very salutary remedy is to turn your thoughts to other things when excited to anger, and to endeavor to banish from your mind the subject which irritates you; for if you take away the fuel of a fire the flame soon expires. Endeavor also to love him with whom you are forced to be forbearing, for patience which is not accompanied with love, being only exterior, is often changed into hatred. Hence, when the Apostle tells us that charity is patient, he immediately adds that it is kind (Cf. 1Cor. 13:4); for true charity loves those whom it patiently endures. Finally, if you have excited the anger of your neighbor, quietly withdraw until his passion has subsided, or at least answer him with mildness, for "a mild answer breaketh wrath." (Prov, 15:1).
Remedies against Sloth
Sloth is a reluctance to attend to duty, and, according to Cassian, it is especially a weariness or distate for spiritual things. The peril to which this vice exposes us is clearly set forth in these words of Our Saviour: "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and shall be cast into the fire." (Matt. 7:19). Against its evil effects He again warned His disciples when, exhorting them to diligence, the opposite of sloth, He told them to watch and pray, for they knew not when the Lord of the house would come. (Cf. Mk. 13:35).
Therefore, if this shameful vice attack you, banish it by the thoughts we are about to suggest.
First call to mind the extraordinary labors which Our Lord endured for you; the many sleepless nights He spent in prayer for you; His weary journeys from city to city, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, and raising the dead. How ardently, how unceasingly He devoted Himself to the work of our redemption! Consider particularly how, at the time of His Passion, He bore upon His bruised and bleeding shoulders the heavy weight of His cross for love of you. If the God of majesty labored thus to deliver you, will you refuse to cooperate in your own salvation? When this tender Lamb endured such rude labors to free you from your sins, will you endure nothing to expiate them? Remember, too, the weary labors of the Apostles, who preached the Gospel to the whole world. Think of the sufferings endured by the martyrs, confessors, virgins, anchorites, and by all who are now reigning with Christ. It was by their teaching and their toil that the Faith of Christ spread through the known world and that the Church has been perpetuated to the present day.
Turn your eyes towards nature, and you will find nothing idle. The heavens, by their perpetual motion, unceasingly proclaim the glory of their Creator. The sun, moon, and stars, with all the brilliant planets which people almost infinite space, daily follow their courses for the benefit of man. The growth of plants and trees is continual until they have attained their appointed strength and proportions, Behold the untiring energy with which the ant labors for its winter's food; with which the bees toil in building their hives and storing them with honey. These industrious little creatures will not allow an idler to exist among them; the drones are all killed. Throughout nature you find the same lesson.
Will not man, therefore, blush for a vice which the instinct of irrational creatures teaches them to avoid? To what labor do not men condemn themselves for the acquisition of perishable riches, the preservation of which, when they are obtained, is an ever-increasing source of care and anxiety! You are striving for the kingdom of Heaven. Will you show less energy, will you be less diligent, in toiling for spiritual treasures, which can never be taken from you?
If you will not profit by time and strength to labor now, a day will come when you will vainly seek these present opportunities. Sad experience tells us how many have thus been disappointed. Life is short, and obstacles to good abound. Do not; therefore, let the promptings of sloth cause you to lose advantages which will never return, for "the night cometh when no man can work." (Jn. 9:4).
The number and enormity of your sins demand a proportionate penance and fervor to satisfy for them. St. Peter denied his Master three times, but never ceased to weep for his sin, though he knew it had been pardoned. St. Mary Magdalen to the end of her life likewise bewailed the disorders of her youth, though she heard from Our Saviour's lips these sweet words: "Thy sins are forgiven thee." Numerous are the examples of those who, returning to God, continued during life to do penance for their sins, though many of them had offended God far less grievously than you.
You daily heap up your sins; and can you consider any labor too severe to expiate them? Oh! Profit by this time of grace and mercy to bring forth fruits worthy of penance, and by the labors of this life to purchase the eternal repose of the next. Our works in themselves are paltry and insignificant, but united to the merits of Christ they acquire infinite value in the sight of God. The labor endures but a short time; the reward will continue for eternity. We are told of a saint who was wont to exclaim at the striking of the clock: "O my God! Another hour has flown – one of those hours sent me in which to work out my salvation, and for which I must render an account to Thee." Let his example inspire us with a determination to profit by the time which is given us to lay up works for eternal life.
If overwhelmed with labors, remember that we must enter Heaven by the way of tribulation, and that he only will be crowned who strives lawfully. (Cf. 2Tim. 2:5). If tempted to abandon the struggle, remember that it is written: "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved." (Matt. 10:22). Without this perseverance, our labor will neither bear fruit nor merit reward. Our Saviour would not descend from the cross when asked by the Jews, for the work of our redemption was not yet accomplished. If, then, we desire to follow in the footsteps of our Divine Model, let us labor to the end with unwearied zeal. Is not the reward which awaits us eternal? Let us continue to do penance; let us carry our cross after Christ. What will it avail us to have weathered the storms and triumphed over the perils of the sea of life, if we suffer shipwrecks as we are about to enter the port of eternal rest?
Let not the duration or difficulty of the labors alarm you. God, who calls you to combat, will give you victory. He sees your weakness; He will support you when you falter, and He will reward you when you conquer. Reanimate your failing courage, not by comparing the difficulties of virtue with the pleasures of vice, but by comparing the labor which precedes virtue with the trouble which surely follows vice. Place side by side the fleeting pleasure of sin and the eternal happiness of virtue, and you will see how preferable is God's service to the fatal repose to which sloth allures you.
Yet do not allow victory to render you indolent, for success often lulls us into a dangerous confidence. Never abandon your arms; for your enemies never sleep, and life without temptations is as impossible as a sea of perpetual calm. A man is usually tempted most at the beginning of a good life, for the devil has no need to tempt those who have abandoned themselves to his control. But he is unceasing in his efforts against those who have resolved to give themselves to God. Therefore, let him never find you unprepared, but, like a soldier in an enemy's country, be always ready for combat.
If you are sometimes wounded, beware of throwing away your arms and surrendering in dismay. Rather, imitate those brave warriors whom the shame of defeat spurs to more heroic resistance and greater deeds of valor. Thus you will rise from a fall with new strength. You will see the enemy to whom you were formerly submitted now flying before you. And if, as it may happen in battle, you are repeatedly wounded, do not lose heart, but remember that the valor of a soldier does not consist in escaping wounds, but in never surrendering. We do not call a combatant defeated when he is covered with wounds, but when he loses courage and abandons the field. And when you are wounded lose no time in applying a remedy; for one wound is more easily cured than two, and a fresh wound more quickly than one that has been inflamed by neglect. Do not be satisfied with resisting temptation, but gather from it greater incentives to virtue, and with the assistance of God's grace you will reap profit rather than harm from the attacks of the enemy.
If you are tempted to gluttony or sensuality, retrench something from your usual repasts, even though they in no way exceed the limits of sobriety, and give yourself with more fervor to fasting and other practices of devotion. If you are assailed by avarice, increase the amount of your alms and the number of your good works. If you feel the promptings of vainglory, lose no opportunity of accepting humiliations. Then, perhaps, the devil may fear to tempt you, seeing that you convert his snares into occasions of virtue, and that he only affords you opportunities of greater good. Above all things fly idleness. Even in your hours of relaxation do not be wholly unoccupied. And, on the other hand, do not be so absorbed in your labors that you cannot from time to time raise your heart to God and treat with Him in prayer.
Other Sins to be avoided
On Taking the Name of God in Vain
Besides the seven capital sins of which we have been treating, there are others which a good Christian should avoid with equal diligence.
The first is taking God's name in vain. This sin directly attacks the majesty of God and is more grievous than any of which we could be guilty against our neighbor. And this is true not only when we swear by God's holy name, but when we swear by the cross, by the saints, or by our own salvation. Any of these oaths, if taken falsely, is a mortal sin. Holy Scripture frequently speaks of the heinousness of such offenses against God. It is true that if one swears inadvertently to what is false the offense is not a mortal sin, which requires the full knowledge of the intellect and the full assent of the will. But this restriction does not apply to those who have a habit of confirming their statements by careless oaths without making any effort to correct themselves. Those who swear in this way, without weighing the import of their words, are culpable for this very negligence. Nor will it avail them to urge that the intention of swearing to what is false was furthest from their thoughts. They persevere in a bad habit without any attempt to overcome it, and therefore they must bear its consequences.
A Christian, if he would not constantly expose himself to the guilt of mortal sin, should earnestly endeavor to conquer a habit so pernicious. To this end let him follow the counsel given us by Our Saviour, and which St. James repeats in these words: "Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no; that you fall not under judgment." (James 5:12). By these words we are taught the danger of contracting a habit of careless swearing which may eventually lead us to swear falsely, and so to fall under the sentence of eternal death. Swearing in "truth, judgment, and justice" (Jer. 4:2), as the prophet declares, is the only swearing that is justifiable. That is, we should swear only to what is true in a just cause, and with deliberation.
But we should not be satisfied with merely shunning the vice of taking God's name in vain; we should excite a horror of it in our children and servants, and reprove it whenever we encounter it. If at times we inadvertently fall into it, we should impose upon ourselves some penance of a prayer, or an alms, not only to punish ourselves, but to impress on our minds the determination of avoiding it in the future.
All that has been said applies especially to blasphemy and perjury. Beware also of that vice known as cursing. The Name at whose mention "every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell should bow down" in reverence (Phil. 2:10) should be used only with devotion and affection. Strive, therefore, to speak with piety of the holy Name of God, and do what you can by your prayers, your exhortations, and your example to banish the terrible evil of which we have been speaking.
On Detraction and Raillery
The abominable sin of detraction is so prevalent at the present day that there is scarcely a society, a family, an individual not guilty of it. There are some persons so perversely inclined that they cannot bear to hear any good of another, but are always alive to their neighbor's faults, always ready to tear his character to pieces.
To excite in your heart a salutary hatred of this detestable and dangerous vice, consider the three great evils which it involves. First, it always borders upon mortal sin, even when it is not actually such. From criticisms and censures, with which people generally begin, we easily fall into detraction or calumny. Detraction is committed when we tell another's real faults; calumny, when the fault we mention is not real, but the invention of our malicious lies. Thus, though we may not be guilty of calumny, how often does it happen that a person, from criticizing the failings of others which are generally known, is gradually led to mention some hidden and grave sin which robs him of his reputation and his honor! That the fault revealed is true in no manner saves the detractor from the guilt of mortal sin.
The descent to such a crime is easy; for when the tongue of the detractor is started, and a desire to embellish his story seizes him, it is as difficult to restrain him as to extinguish a fire fanned by a high wind, or to stop a horse when he has taken the bit in his teeth and is dashing madly on. It is the fear of this evil which led the author of Ecclesiasticus to cry out: "Who will set a guard before my mouth and a sure seal upon my lips, that I fall not by them, and that my tongue destroy me not?" (Ecclus. 22:33). He keenly realized the difficulties in the way, knowing, as Solomon says, that "it is the part of man to prepare the soul, and of the Lord to govern the tongue." (Prov. 16:1).
The second evil of this vice consists in the threefold injury which it inflicts – namely, on the one who speaks, on him who listens with approval, and on the victim who is assailed in his absence.
In addition to this, the person who complacently listens to detraction is frequently a talebearer. To ingratiate himself with the victims of the detraction he carries to them all that has been said against them, and thus excites enmities which are seldom extinguished, and which sometimes end even in bloodshed. "The whisperer and the double-tongued is accursed," we are told in the Sacred Scriptures, "for he hath troubled many that were at peace." (Ecclus. 28:15).
To teach us the baneful effects of this insidious vice, the Holy Ghost compares it at one time to the swift blow of a "sharp razor" (Ps. 51:4); at another time to the bite of the poisonous asp, (Cf. Ps. 13:3), which disappears, but leaves its venom in the wound. With reason, then, did the author of Ecclesiasticus say: "The stroke of a whip maketh a blue mark, but the stroke of the tongue will break the bones." (Ecclus. 28:21).
The third evil of this vice is the horror it inspires and the infamy which it brings upon us. Men fly from a detractor as naturally as they would from a venomous serpent. "A man full of tongue," says Holy Scripture, "is terrible in his city, and he that is rash in his word shall be hateful." (Ecclus. 9:25). Are not these evils sufficient to make you abhor a vice so injurious and so unprofitable? Why will you make yourself odious in the sight of God and men for a sin from which you can reap no advantage? Remember, moreover, that in no other vice do we so quickly form a habit, for every time we speak with others we expose ourselves to the danger of relapsing.
Henceforward consider your neighbor's character as a forbidden tree which you cannot touch. Be no less slow in praising yourself than in censuring others, for the first indicates vanity and the second a want of charity. Speak of the virtues of your neighbor, but be silent as to his faults. Let nothing that you say lead others to think that he is naught but a man of virtue and honor. You will thus avoid innumerable sins and much remorse of conscience; you will be pleasing to God and men; and you will be respected by all as you respect others. Put a bridle upon your tongue and learn to withhold an angry word when your heart is moved. Believe me, there is no control more difficult and at the same time more noble and advantageous than that which a wise man exercises over his tongue. Do not think yourself guiltless because you artfully mingle your malicious insinuations with words of praise. In this respect the detractor is like the surgeon, who soothingly passes his hand over the vein before piercing it with the lancet: "His words are smoother than oil, and the same are darts." (Ps. 54:22).
To refrain from speaking ill of others is always a virtue, but it is a still greater virtue to refrain from reviling those who have injured us; for the greater the injured feeling which prompts us to speak, the greater is our generosity in resisting it.
Nor is it sufficient not to indulge in detraction; you must also endeavor to avoid hearing it. Be faithful to the counsel of the Holy Spirit, who tells you to "hedge in thy ears with thorns, and hear not a wicked tongue." (Ecclus. 28:28). Observe that you are not told to hedge in your ears with cotton, but with thorns, that you may not only repel the words of the detractor, but that you may pierce him, and, by showing him a grave countenance, teach him how displeasing to you is his conduct.
"The north wind driveth away rain," says Solomon, "as doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue." (Prov, 25:23). Impose silence, therefore, upon the detractor, if he be your inferior or one whom you can reprove without offense. If you cannot do this, prudently endeavor to turn the conversation, or show by the severity of your countenance that his conversation is not pleasing to you. Beware of hearing the detractor with smiling attention, for you thus encourage him, and consequently share in his guilt. It is a grievous offense to set fire to a house, but it is scarcely less culpable to stand idly by witnessing its destruction instead of aiding in extinguishing the flames.
But of all detractions, that which is directed against virtuous persons is the most sinful. It not only injures the person assailed, but tends to discourage others who are beginners in virtue, while it confirms the cowardice of those who will not risk our censures by striving to do good. For what would be no scandal or stumbling block to the strong may prove an insurmountable obstacle to the weak. If you would appreciate the evil of this kind of scandal, reflect upon these words of Our Saviour: "He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:6). Avoid, therefore, as you would a sacrilege, all scandalous reflections upon persons consecrated to God. If their conduct furnish matter for censure, nevertheless continue to respect the sacred character with which they are invested, for it is of them that Our Saviour has said: "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of my eye." (Zach. 2:8).
All that we have said of detraction applies with still more reason to those who make others the object of derision and raillery; for this vice, besides having all the evil consequences of the first two, presupposes pride, presumption, and contempt for one's neighbor. In the Old Law God especially warns us against it: "Thou shalt not be a detractor, nor a whisperer among the people." (Lev. 19:16). We have no need to insist upon the enormity of this vice; what we have said on the subject of detraction is sufficient.
On Rash Judgments
Those who are addicted to detraction and raillery do not confine themselves to what they know, but indulge in suppositions and rash judgments. When they no longer find matter to censure they invent evil intentions, misinterpret good actions, forgetting that Our Saviour has said: "Judge. not, that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you judge you shall be judged." (Matt. 7:1-2). Here also the offense may frequently be a mortal sin, particularly when we venture to judge in a matter of grave importance upon. very slight evidence. If it be only a suspicion, not a real judgment, it may be only a venial sin, because the act has, not been completed. Even by suspicion, however, a mortal sin can be committed by suspecting virtuous persons of enormous crimes.
On the Commandments of the Church
Besides these sins against the Commandments of God there are those against the commandments of the Church, which also impose upon us a grave obligation. Such are the precepts to hear Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to confess our sins at least once a year, and to receive the Holy Eucharist at Easter or thereabouts; to pay tithes to our pastor, and to observe the days of fasting and abstinence prescribed by the Church. The precept of fasting is binding from the age of 21 and upwards; that of abstinence obliges all who have attained the age of reason. The sick, the convalescent, nursing women, women in pregnancy, those whose labors are severe, and those who are too poor to afford one full meal a day, are exempt from the law of fasting. There may be other lawful reasons for dispensation, for which the faithful ought to apply to their pastor or confessor, and not take it upon themselves to set aside the law of the Church.
The difference between abstinence and fasting should be remembered. By fasting we mean eating only one full meal in the day, with a slight collation in the evening. By abstinence we mean giving up the use of flesh-meat. It should be borne in mind, therefore, on Ember days and at other times of fast, that the law is not fulfilled by simply abstaining from meat. Unless you are excused by some of the reasons given above or by dispensation, you must observe the fast by eating only one full meal, with the collation in the evening, and a warm drink, with a cracker or small piece of bread, in the morning.
In regard to hearing Mass, we must endeavor to be present at the Holy Sacrifice not only in body but in mind, with silence and recollection, having our thoughts fixed upon the mystery of the altar, or upon some other pious subject. The recital of devout prayers, especially the Rosary, is an excellent means of keeping ourselves united with God. If we are at the head of a house we must be careful to see that all under our charge hear Mass, not only on Sundays, but also on holy days. Too much laxity regarding holy days is apt to prevail among those who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. They should remember that the obligation to hear Mass on a holy day is the same as the obligation to hear it on Sunday. Consequently, they must make serious and sincere efforts to comply with this duty. To attend an early Mass may involve the loss of a little sleep, but they should remember that these holy days occur but seldom, and that they must do something to atone for their sins and to merit the kingdom of Heaven. Parents and employers will have a severe account to render to God if they cause or permit those confided to their care to neglect this sacred duty. When there is a just reason, such as the care of the sick or any other pressing necessity which prevents Mass, we are released from the obligation.
Though the sins of which we have been treating are those which we should avoid with most care, yet do not think that you are dispensed from vigilance in regard to venial sins. I conjure you not to be one of those ungenerous Christians who make no scruple of committing a sin because it is venial. Remember these words of Holy Scripture: "He that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little." (Ecclus. 19:1). "Do not despise venial sins because they appear trifling," says St. Augustine, "but fear them because they are numerous. Small animals in large numbers can kill a man. Grains of sand are very small, yet, if accumulated, they can sink a ship. Drops of water are very small, yet how often they become a mighty river, a raging torrent, sweeping everything before them!"
The holy Doctor goes on to observe that though no number of venial sins can constitute a mortal sin, yet these slighter failings predispose us to greater faults, which often become mortal. St. Gregory observes with equal truth that slight faults are sometimes more dangerous than greater ones, for the latter, when we behold their hideousness, awaken remorse and resolutions of amendment; but the former make less impression on us, and thus, by easily relapsing into them, we soon contract a strong habit.
Finally, venial sin, however slight, is always prejudicial to the soul. It weakens our devotion, troubles the peace of our conscience, diminishes the fervor of charity, exhausts the strength of our spiritual life, and obstructs the work of the Holy Ghost in our souls. I pray you then to do all in your power to avoid these sins, for there is no enemy too weak to harm us if we make no resistance. Slight anger, gluttony, vanity, idle words and thoughts, immoderate laughter, loss of time, too much sleeping, trivial lies or flatteries – such are the sins against which I would particularly warn you. Great vigilance is required against offenses of this kind, for occasions of venial sin abound.
Shorter Remedies against Sins, particularly the Seven Deadly Sins
The means we have already suggested will suffice to strengthen you in virtue and arm you against vice. The following short considerations, however, you can use with advantage at the moment of temptation. They were found among the writings of a man of great sanctity, who had himself experienced their efficacy.
In temptations to pride he would say: When I reflect upon the depth of humility to which the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, descended for love of me, I feel that, however profound a contempt men may have for me, I yet deserve to be still more humbled and despised.
When attacked by covetousness he would think: Having once understood that nothing but God can satisfy the heart, I am convinced of the folly of seeking anything but this supreme Good.
In assaults against purity he would reflect: To what a dignity has my body been raised by the reception of the Holy Eucharist! I tremble, therefore, at the sacrilege I would commit by profaning with carnal pleasures this temple in which God has chosen to dwell.
Against anger he would defend himself by saying: No injury should be capable of moving me to anger when I reflect upon the outrages I have offered my God.
When assailed by temptations to hatred he would answer the enemy: Knowing the mercy with which God has received me and pardoned my sins, I cannot refuse to forgive my greatest enemy.
When attacked by gluttony he would say: I call to mind the vinegar and gall which were offered to Our Saviour on the cross, and shall I not blush if I do not deny my appetite or endure something for the expiation of my sins?
In temptations to sloth he would arouse himself by the thought: Eternal happiness can be purchased by a few years of labor here below; shall I, then, shrink from any toil for so great a reward?
In a word which some attribute to St. Augustine, and others to St. Leo, we find similar remedies which are equally efficacious. The author shows us on one side the allurements with which each vice solicits us, and on the other the arguments with which we must resist it.
Pride is the first to address us, in the following deceitful language: You certainly excel others in learning, eloquence, wealth, rank, and many other things. Being so superior, therefore, you have every reason to look down upon them. Humility answers: Remember that you are but dust and ashes, destined, as rottenness and corruption, to become the food of worms; and were you all that you imagine, the greater your dignity the greater should be your humility if you would escape a miserable fall. Does your power equal that of the angels who fell? Do you shine upon earth as Lucifer shone in Heaven? If pride thrust him from such a height of glory to such an abyss of misery, how can you, a slave to the same pride, expect to rise from your wretchedness to the honor from which he fell?
Vainglory speaks thus: Yes, do all the good you can, but publish it, so that the world may regard you as a man of great virtue and treat you with consideration and respect, Fear of God answers: It is great folly to devote to the acquisition of temporal renown that which can obtain for you eternal glory. Endeavor to hide your good actions, and if they appear in spite of your efforts to conceal them it will not be accounted vanity in you when you have no desire to display them.
Hypocrisy counsels: Assume the good qualities you do not possess, and make men think you better than you are, that you may not excite their contempt. Sincerity answers: It is better to be virtuous than to try to appear so. By attempting to deceive others you will only cause your own ruin.
Rebellion and Disobedience argue: Why should you be subject to those who are your inferiors? It is your place to command and theirs to obey, for they are inferior to you in wisdom and virtue. It suffices to obey the laws of God; you have no need to be bound by the commands of man. Submission and Obedience answer: The law of God obliges you to submit to the authority of man. For has not God said, "He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me" (Lk. 10:16)? Nor can you urge that this injunction is only to be observed when he who commands is wise and virtuous, for the Apostle says, "There is no power but from God; and those that are, are ordained of God." (Rom. 13:1). Therefore, your duty is not to criticize those in authority, but to obey them.
Envy whispers: In what are you inferior to such men whom others extol? Why should you not enjoy the same and even greater consideration, for you excel them in many things? It is unjust that they should be ranked as your equals; with much less reason should they be placed above you. Brotherly Love answers: If your virtue exceeds that of others it is safer in obscurity, for the greater the elevation to which a man is raised, the greater is the danger of his fall. If the possessions of others equal or exceed yours, in what does it prejudice you? Remember that by envying others you only liken yourself to him of whom it is written: "By the envy of the devil death came into the world; and they follow him that are of his side." (Wis. 2:24-25).
Hatred says: God cannot oblige you to love one who contradicts and opposes you, who continually speaks ill of you, ridicules you, reproaches you with your past failings, and thwarts you in everything, for he would not thus persecute you if he did not hate you. True Charity answers: We must not, because of these deplorable faults, cease to love the image of God in our fellow creatures.
Did not Jesus Christ love His enemies who nailed Him to the cross? And did not this Divine Master, before leaving the world, exhort us to imitate His example? Drive, then, from your heart the bitterness of hatred and yield to the sweetness of fraternal charity. Independently of your eternal interests, which impose this duty upon you, there is nothing sweeter than love, and nothing more bitter than hatred, which preys like a cancer on the heart of its victim, where it was first engendered.
Detraction exclaims: It is impossible to be silent any longer about the faults of such a one. Is not concealment condoning them and rendering ourselves partakers of them? Charity, which appreciates the duty of fraternal correction, answers: You must neither publish your neighbor's sins nor be accessory to them; but reprove him with mildness and patiently bear with him. Moreover, it is the part of wisdom sometimes to ignore the faults of another until a favorable opportunity occurs for warning him against them.
Anger cries out: How can you bear such affronts? It does not become you to submit calmly to such injuries. If you do not resent them you will be insulted with impunity. Patience answers: Reflect upon the ignominy Our Saviour endured for you, and there is no wrong which you will not bear with meekness. Remember also these words of St. Peter: "Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. Who, when he was reviled, did not revile; when he suffered, he threatened not." (1Pet. 2:21,23).
Consider also how trifling are our sufferings compared to the torments He endured for us. He was buffeted, scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, covered with ignominy, and nailed to a cross. And, though all these were borne for us, yet how quickly we are enraged by a trifling word or a slight incivility!
Hardness-of-heart urges: It profits nothing to speak kindly to stupid, ignorant men who will probably presume upon your kindness and become insolent. Meekness answers: Do not hearken to such thoughts, but heed the words of the Apostle: "The servant of the Lord must not wrangle, but be mild towards all men." (2Tim. 2:24). Inferiors should endeavor with no less care to bear themselves with meekness and respect towards their superiors, and beware of presuming, as many do, upon the kindness and gentleness of those in authority.
Presumption and Imprudence argue thus: God witnesses your actions; what do you care, then, how they affect others? Prudence answers: You owe a duty of edification to your neighbor, and your actions should furnish him no reason to suspect evil. Beware, therefore, of scandalizing another, even in acts that are good but misunderstood. If the reproofs of your neighbor are well-founded, humbly acknowledge your fault; if you are guiltless, avow your innocence with no less sincere humility.
Sloth and Indolence suggest: If you apply yourself to study, prayer, meditation, and tears you will injure your eyes. If you prolong your vigils and fasts you will weaken your body and unfit yourself for spiritual exercises. Industry and Zeal answer: Who has assured you many years for the performance of these good works? Are you sure of tomorrow, or even of the present moment? Have you forgotten these words of Our Saviour. "Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour" (Matt. 25:13)? Arise, then, and cast aside this indolence which has seized you, for the kingdom of Heaven, which suffers violence, is not for the slothful, but for the violent who will bear it away. (Cf. Matt. 11:12).
Covetousness insinuates: Do not give any of your possessions to strangers, but keep them for yourself and your own. Mercy answers: Remember the lesson of the covetous rich man of the Gospel who was clothed in purple and fine linen; he was not condemned for taking what did not belong to him, but for not giving from his abundance. (Cf. Lk. 16:22). From the depth of Hell he begged for a drop of water to quench his thirst; but it was denied him, because he had refused to the poor man at his gate even the crumbs which fell from his table.
Gluttony urges: God created all these things for us, and he who refuses them despises the benefits of God. Temperance answers: True, God created these things for our maintenance, but He willed that we should use them with moderation, for He has also imposed upon us the duty of sobriety and temperance. It was principally a disregard of these virtues which brought destruction upon the city of Sodom. (Cf. Ezech. 16:49). Therefore, a man, even when enjoying good health, should consult necessity rather than pleasure in the choice of his food. He has perfectly triumphed over this vice who not only limits the quantity of his food, but who denies himself delicacies except when necessity, charity, or politeness prompts him to accept them.
Loquacity tells us: It is no sin to talk much if you say no evil, as, on the contrary, it does not free you from fault to allege that your words are few if what you have said is bad, Discreet Reserve answers: That is true; but great talkers seldom fail to offend with the tongue. Hence the Wise Man says, "In the multitude of words there shall not want sin." (Prov. 10:19). And if you are so fortunate as to avoid injurious words against your neighbor, you will hardly avoid idle words, for which, however, you must render an account on the last day. Be reserved and moderate, therefore, in your speech, that a multiplicity of words may not entangle you in sin.
Impurity counsels thus: Profit now by the pleasures life offers you, for you know not what may happen tomorrow; it is unreasonable to restrict the pleasures of youth, which passes like a dream. If God had not willed us the enjoyment of these pleasures, He never would have created us as we are. Chastity answers: Be not deceived by such illusions. Consider what is prepared for you. If you live pure lives on earth you will be rewarded hereafter with ineffable and eternal joys. But if you abandon yourself to your impure desires you will be punished by torments equally unspeakable and eternal. The more sensible you are of the fleeting nature of these pleasures, the more earnestly you should endeavor to live chastely; for wretched indeed is that hour of gratification which is purchased at the expense of endless suffering.
All that we have said in the preceding pages will furnish you with spiritual arms to triumph over your enemies. If you follow these counsels you will take the first step in virtue; that is, you will extirpate your vices. Thus will you defend your soul, the citadel which God has confided to your care, and in which He wills to take up His abode. If you defend it resolutely and faithfully you will enjoy the presence of this heavenly Guest, for the Apostle tells us that "God is charity, and he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him." (l Jn. 4:16). Now, he abides in charity who does nothing to destroy this virtue, which perishes only by mortal sin, against which the preceding considerations may be applied as a preventive or remedy.
Index to The Sinner's Guide