THE SINNER'S GUIDE
Venerable Louis of Granada
The Three Kinds of Virtues
in which the Fullness of Justice Consists;
and first, Man's Duty to Himself
Our Threefold Obligation to Virtue
Having spoken at length of the sins which profane and degrade the soul, let us now turn to the virtues which elevate and adorn it with the spiritual treasures of justice, It belongs to justice to render to everyone his due: to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves. If we faithfully acquit ourselves of these duties to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves, we fulfill the obligations of justice and thus become truly virtuous.
To accomplish this great work let your heart be that of a son towards God, that of a brother towards your neighbor, and that of a judge towards yourself. In this, the prophet tells us, the virtue of man consists: "I will show thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requireth of thee; Verily, to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God." (Mich. 6:8). The duty of judgment is what man owes to himself; the duty of mercy what he owes to his neighbor; and to walk carefully before God is the duty he owes to his Creator.
The Reformation of the Body
Charity, it is truly said, begins at home. Let us, therefore, begin with the first obligation mentioned by the prophet – the duty of judgment which man must exercise towards himself. Every just judge must enforce order and discipline in the district over which he exercises jurisdiction. Now, the kingdom over which man rules is divided into two distinct parts: the body with all its organs and senses, and the soul with all its affections and powers. Over all these he must establish the empire of virtue, if he would faithfully perform his duty to himself.
To reform the body and bring it under the dominion of virtue, the first thing to be acquired is a modest and decorous bearing. "Let there be nothing in your carriage, your deportment, or your dress," says St. Augustine, "capable of scandalizing your neighbor, but let everything about you be conformable to the purity and sanctity of your profession." Hence a servant of God should bear himself with gravity, humility, and sweetness, that all who approach him may profit by his example and be edified by his virtues. The great Apostle would have us, like fragrant plants, giving forth the sweet perfume of piety and filling all about us with the odor of Jesus Christ. (Cf. 2Cor. 2:15).
Such, indeed, should be the effect of the words, the actions, and the bearing of those who serve God, so that none who draw near to them can resist the sweet attraction of sanctity. This is one of the principal fruits of a modest and recollected deportment. It is a mute but eloquent teaching, which draws men to the love of virtue and the service of God. Thus do we fulfill the precept of Our Saviour: "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16). The prophet Isaias also tells us that God's servants should be plants bearing fruits of righteousness and virtue, the beauty of which will lead men to extol the power of their Creator. (Cf. Is. 61:3). This does not mean that our good works must be done to gain the applause of men, for, as St. Gregory tells us, "a good work may be public only while its intention remains a secret between God and the soul. The example we thus afford our brethren destroys neither the merit of humility nor the desire to please only God." (Moral. 29,18).
Another fruit which we derive from this exterior modesty is a greater facility in preserving the recollection, devotion, and purity of the soul. The interior and the exterior man are so closely united that good or evil in one is quickly communicated to the other. If order reign in the soul, its effect is experienced in the body; and the body, if disturbed, renders the soul likewise restless. Each may in all respects be considered a mirror of the other, for the actions of one are faithfully represented in the other. For this reason a composed and modest bearing must contribute to interior recollection and modesty, while a restless exterior must be incompatible with peace of soul. Hence the Wise Man tells us: "He that is hasty with his feet shall stumble." (Prov. 19:2). Thus would he teach us that he whose exterior is wanting in that calm gravity which is the distinctive mark of God's servants must inevitably stumble and frequently fall.
A third effect of the virtue we are considering is to communicate to man a composure and gravity befitting any office he may fill. We behold an example of this in Job, who tells us that the light (the dignity) of his countenance never fell to the earth. (Cf. Job 29:24). And speaking of the authority of his bearing, he says: "The young men saw me and hid themselves, and the old men rose up and stood. The princes ceased to speak, and laid the finger on their mouth. The rulers held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to their throat." (Job 29:8-10). But the gravity and dignity of this holy man were mingled with so much sweetness and mercy that, as he tells us, when seated as a king with his army about him he was a comforter to them that mourned. (Cf. Job 25).
Wise men condemn this want of modest gravity less as a fault in itself than as a mark of levity; for, as we have already observed, an unreserved and frivolous exterior indicates an uncontrolled and ill-regulated interior. Hence the author of Ecclesiasticus says: "The attire of the body, and the laughter of the teeth, and the gait of the man show what he is." (Ecclus. 19:27). "As the faces of them that look therein shine in the water," says Solomon, "so the hearts of men are laid open to the wise" by their exterior acts. (Prov. 27:19).
Such are the benefits which result from a grave and modest deportment. We cannot but deplore the conduct of those who, through human respect, laugh and jest with a freedom unbecoming their profession, and allow themselves indulgences which deprive them of many of the fruits of virtue. "A religious," says St. John Climachus, "should not abandon his fasts through fear of falling into the sin of vainglory." Neither should fear of the world's displeasure cause us to lose the advantages of gravity and modesty in our conduct; for it is as unreasonable to sacrifice a virtue through fear of offending men as it would be to seek to overcome one vice by another.
The preceding remarks apply to our manners in general. We shall next treat of the modesty and sobriety which we should observe at table.
The first thing to be done for the reformation of the body is to put a rigorous curb on the appetites and to refrain from immoderate indulgence of any of the senses. As myrrh, which is an exceedingly bitter substance, preserves the body from corruption after death, so mortification preserves it during life from the corruption of vice. For this reason we shall consider the efficacy of sobriety, or temperance – a virtue upon which all the others depend, but which is very difficult to attain because of the resistance of our corrupt nature.
Read, then, the words in which the Holy Spirit deigns to instruct us in this respect: "Use as a frugal man the things that are set before thee, lest if thou eatest much thou be hated. Leave off first for manners' sake, and exceed not lest thou offend. And if thou sittest among many, reach not thy hand out first of all, and be not the first to ask for drink." (Ecclus. 31:19-21). Here are rules worthy of the Sovereign Master, who wills that we should imitate in our actions the decorum and order which reign in all His works. St. Bernard teaches us the same lesson in these words: "In regard to eating there are four things to be regulated: the time, the manner, the quantity, and the quality. The time should be limited to the usual hours of our repast; the manner should be free from that eagerness which makes us appear absorbed in what is set before us; the quantity and quality should not exceed what is granted others, except when a condition of health manifestly requires delicacies." (Ep. ad Fratres de Monte Dei.).
In forcible words, supported by appropriate examples, St. Gregory declares the same sentiments: "It belongs to abstinence not to anticipate the ordinary time of meals, as Jonathan did when he ate the honeycomb (Cf. 1Kg. 14:27); not to desire the greatest delicacies, as the Israelites did in the desert when they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt (Cf. Exod. 16:3); not to wish for the choicest preparation of food, as the people of Sodom (Cf. Gen. 19); and not to yield to greediness, as Esau did (Cf. Gen. 25:33) when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage." (Moral. 30,27).
Hugh of St. Victor tells us we must be very attentive to our deportment at table, always observing a certain modesty of the eyes and a reserve of speech. There are some, he says, who are no sooner seated at table than their uncontrolled appetite is manifested by their bearing: Their eyes eagerly scan the whole board; they rudely help themselves before others, and seize upon the nearest dish, regardless of all save self. They approach the table as a general approaches a fort which he is to assail, as if they were considering how they can most quickly consume all that lies before them. (Discip. Monast.). Control these disgraceful indications of a degrading vice, and overcome the vice itself by restricting the quantity and quality of your food. Bear these wise counsels in mind at all times, but particularly when the appetite is stimulated by hunger, or by rare and sumptuous viands which prove strong incentives to gluttony.
Beware of the illusions of this vice, which St. John Climachus tells us is most deceptive. At the beginning of a repast it is so clamorous that it would seem that no amount could satisfy our hunger; but if we are firm in resisting its unruly demands, we shall see that a moderate portion is sufficient for nature.
An excellent remedy against gluttony is to bear in mind when we go to table that there are, as a pagan philosopher says, two guests to be provided for: the body, to which we must furnish the food which its necessity craves; and our soul, which we must maintain by the virtues of self-denial and temperance. A no less efficacious remedy is to compare the happy fruits of abstinence with the gross pleasures of gluttony, which will enable us to appreciate the folly of sacrificing such lasting advantages for such pernicious and fleeting gratifications.
Remember, moreover, that of all the pleasures of the senses those of taste and feeling are the lowest. We have them in common with all animals, even the most imperfect, while there are many which lack the other three, seeing, hearing, and smelling. These former senses, tasting and feeling, are not only the basest, but their pleasures are the least enduring, for they vanish with the object which produced them.
Add to these considerations the thought of the sufferings of the martyrs, and the fasts and mortifications of the saints, Think, too, of your many sins which must be expiated; of the pains of Purgatory; of the torments of Hell. Each of these things will tell you how necessary it is to take up the cross, to overcome your appetites, and to do penance for the sinful gratifications of the past. Remember, then, the duty of self-denial; prepare for your necessary meals with such reflections before your mind, and you will see how easy it will be to observe the rules of moderation and sobriety.
Though this great prudence is necessary in eating, how much more is required in drinking! There is nothing more injurious to chastity than the excessive use of wine, in which, as the Apostle says, there is luxury. (Cf. Eph. 5:18), It is at all times the capital enemy of this angelic virtue; but it is particularly in youth that such indulgence is most fatal. . Hence St. Jerome says that wine and youth are two incentives to impurity. (Ad Eustoch, de Cust. Virg.). Wine is to youth what fuel is to fire. As oil poured upon the flames only increases their intensity, so wine, like a violent conflagration, heats the blood, enkindling and exciting the passions to the highest pitch of folly and madness. Witness the excesses into which man is led by hatred, love, revenge, and other passions, when stimulated by intoxicating liquors. The natural effect of this fatal indulgence is to counteract all the results of the moral virtues. These subdue and control the baser passions, but wine excites and urges them to the wildest licentiousness. Judge, therefore, with what vigilance you should guard against the attacks of such an enemy.
Remember, too, that by wine is meant every kind of drink capable of robbing man of the use of his reason or his senses. A philosopher has wisely said that the vine bears three kinds of grapes: one for necessity, one for pleasure, and one for folly. In other words, wine taken with moderation supports our weakness; beyond this limit it only flatters the senses; and drunk to excess it produces a species of madness. Heed no inspiration or thought which you have reason to think is excited by wine, the worst of evil counselors.
Avoid with equal care all disputes or arguments at table, for they are often the beginning of grave quarrels. Be no less moderate in speech than in the indulgence of your appetite; for, as Holy Scripture tells us, "there is no secret where drunkenness reigneth." (Prov. 31:4). We shall find rather unbridled tongues, immoderate laughter, vulgar jokes, violent disputes, the revelation of secrets, and many other unhappy consequences of intemperance.
Another evil against which I would warn you is dwelling upon the merits of certain dishes, and condemning others because they are not so delicate. How unworthy it is of man to fix his mind and heart on eating and drinking with such eagerness that the burden of his conversation is on the excellent fish of such a river, the luscious fruit of such a country, and the fine wines of such a region! This is a clear proof that he has lost sight of the true end of eating, which is to support nature, and that, instead of devoting to this work the senses destined for it, he debases his heart and his intelligence to make them also slaves of his gluttony.
Avoid with especial care all attacks upon your neighbor's character. The malicious rapacity which prompts us to tear our neighbor's reputation in pieces was justly condemned by St. John Chrysostom as a species of cannibalism: "Will you not be satisfied with eating the flesh of animals? Must you devour human flesh by robbing another of his good name?" St. Augustine had so great a horror for this vice, from which so few tables are free, that he inscribed on the walls of his dining room the following lines:
"This board allows no vile detractor place
Whose tongue will charge the absent with disgrace."
- Vita Aug; c. 22 -
Still another point to which I wish to direct your attention is the warning given by St. Jerome, that it is better to eat moderately every day than to fast for several days and then to eat to excess. A gentle rain, he says, in proper season benefits the earth, but violent floods only devastate it. (Ep, 7 ad Loec.).
Finally, let necessity, not pleasure, govern you in eating and drinking. I do not say that you must allow your body to want for nourishment. Oh, no; like any animal destined for the service of man, your body must be supported. All that is required is to control it, and never to eat solely for pleasure, We must conquer, not destroy, the flesh, says St. Bernard; we must keep it in subjection, that it may not grow proud, for it belongs to it to obey, not to govern. (Ep. ad FF, de Monte Dei.).
This will suffice to show the importance of this virtue. But he who would learn more of the happy fruits of temperance, and its salutary effects not only upon the soul but even upon health, life, honor, and happiness, may read a special treatise on this subject which we have added to our book on meditation and prayer.
The Government of the Senses
The next step in the reformation of the body is the government of the senses. These are the avenues which a Christian should guard with special care, particularly the eyes, which, in the language of Holy Scripture, are the windows through which death enters to rob us of life. Persons desirous of making progress in prayer should be very vigilant in guarding this sense, for this watchfulness not only promotes recollection, but is a most efficacious means of preserving chastity. Without this guard they are a prey to all the vanities which surround them, and which take such possession of the imagination that it is impossible to banish them during prayer. This is the reason of the modesty of the eyes which devout souls observe. Not only do they avoid images which could tarnish the purity of their hearts, but they resolutely turn their eyes from curious objects and worldly vanities, that their mind and heart may be free to converse with God without distraction, and to advance in the knowledge of spiritual things. Prayer is so delicate an exercise that it is impeded not only by sinful images, but also by the representation of objects otherwise harmless in themselves.
The sense of hearing requires a no less vigilant guard, for through it we learn a multitude of things which weary, distract, and even defile the soul. We should protect our ears not only from evil words, but from frivolous conversations, worldly gossip, and idle discourses. During meditation we suffer from a want of vigilance in this respect, for these things are great obstacles to recollection, and persistently interpose between God and the soul in time of prayer.
Little need be said of the sense of smell, for an inordinate love of perfumes and sweet essences is so sensual and so effeminate that most men are ashamed of it, for this is a gratification in which few but women indulge.
The Government of the Tongue
Here is a subject upon which there is much to be said, for we are told in Holy Scripture that "death and life are in the power of the tongue." (Prov. 18:21). From this we can understand that the happiness or misery of every man depends upon the use he makes of this organ.
St. James asserts this truth no less strongly when he says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body, We put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also ships, whereas they are great and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm whithersoever the force of the governor willeth. So the tongue also is, indeed, a little member and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." (James 3:2-6). To govern this great instrument for good we must bear in mind, when we speak, four things: of what we speak, how we speak, the time we speak, and the object for which we speak.
In regard to the first point, what we speak, remember the counsel of the Apostle: "Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. All uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be so much as named among you, as becometh saints, or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility." (Eph. 4:29 and 5:3-4). As the sailor always bears with him a chart indicating the shoals and rocks which could wreck his vessel, so should the Christian bear with him these counsels of the Apostle indicating the shoals of speech which could wreck him in his voyage to eternity. Be no less careful in guarding a secret which has been confided to you, for the betrayal of a trust is one of the vilest faults into which the tongue can lead us.
In regard to the second point, how we are to speak, let us observe a just medium between silence and talkativeness, between timidity and self-sufficiency, between frivolity and pomposity; always speaking with becoming gravity, moderation, sweetness, and simplicity. Beware of haughtily asserting and obstinately persisting in your statements, for this fault gives rise to disputes which wound charity and destroy the peace of the soul. It is the part of a generous nature to yield in such contentions, and a prudent man will follow the counsel of the inspired writer: "In many things be as if thou wert ignorant, and hear in silence and withal seeking." (Ecclus. 32:12).
Consider also the necessity of observing when you speak, and always endeavor to select a suitable time: "A parable coming out of a fool's mouth shall be rejected, for he doth not speak it in due season." (Ecclus. 20:22).
Finally, we must consider the end for which we speak. There are some whose only purpose is to appear learned. Others desire to parade their wit and conversational powers. The first are thus led into hypocrisy and deceit, and the second become the sport of self-love and vanity. It does not suffice, therefore, that our conversation be good in itself – it must be directed to some good end, such as the glory of God or the profit of our neighbor.
In addition to this we must also consider the persons to whom we speak. For example, it does not become the young to engross the conversation in the presence of their elders, nor the ignorant in the presence of the learned, nor lay persons in the presence of ecclesiastics or religious. When you have reason to think that your words may be untimely or presumptuous, be silent. All persons are not capable of judging correctly in these points, and therefore, in doubt, the wisest course is a prudent silence. We shall thus conform to all the rules we have been considering; for, as the Wise Man says, "Even a fool, if he will hold his peace, shall be counted wise; and if he close his lips, a man of understanding." (Prov. 17:28).
The Mortification of the Passions
Having thus regulated the body and all its senses, the most important reformation still remains to be effected, which is that of the soul with all its powers. Here the first to present itself is the sensitive appetite which comprises all our natural affections: love, hatred, joy, sorrow, fear, hope, anger, and other sentiments of a like nature. This appetite is the inferior part of the soul, which gives us our strongest resemblance to irrational animals, because, like them, it is guided solely by inclination. Nothing degrades us more or leads us further from God. Hence St. Bernard says that if we take away self-love, by which he understands all the movements of the sensitive appetite, there will be no longer any reason for the existence of Hell. (De Resurrectione Dni., Serm. 3).
The sensitive appetite is the arsenal which supplies sin with its most dangerous arms. It is the vulnerable part of the soul, a second Eve, frail and inconstant, heeding the wiles of the old serpent and dragging with her in her fall the unhappy Adam – that is, the superior part of the soul, the seat of the will and the understanding. Original sin is here manifested in all its power. Here the malignity of its poison is concentrated. Here is the field of man's combats, defeats, and victories. Here is the school in which virtue is exercised and trained, for all our courage, all our merit consists in overcoming the blind passions which spring from the sensitive appetite.
This is why our soul is represented sometimes as a vine needing the careful pruning of the husbandman; sometimes as a garden from which the gardener must diligently uproot the weeds of vice to give place to the plants of virtues. It should be the principal occupation of our lives, therefore, to cultivate this garden, ruthlessly plucking from our soul all that can choke the growth of good. We shall thus become true children of God, guided by the motions of the Holy Ghost. We shall thus live as spiritual men, following the guidance of grace and the dictates of reason, and not as those carnal men who, following the irrational animals, obey only the impulse of passion. This subjection of the sensitive appetite is the mortification so much commended in Scripture; the death to which the Apostle so frequently exhorts us; the practice of justice and truth so constantly extolled by David and the other prophets. Therefore, let it be the object of all our labors, all our prayers, and all our j pious exercises.
Each one should carefully study his own disposition and inclinations, in order to place the most vigilant guard on the weakest side of his nature. We must wage constant war against all our appetites, but it is particularly necessary to combat the desire of honors, of riches, and of pleasures, for these are the roots of all evil.
Beware, too, of that pride which bears with no opposition. It is a fault which prevails among persons of elevated station accustomed to command, and to deny themselves no caprice. To conquer it, learn to deny yourself innocent gratifications, that you may more easily sacrifice those which are unlawful. Learn to bear contradictions with a dignity and patience worthy of a creature who was not made for the things of this world, but who aspires to immortality. Such exercises will render us skillful in the use of spiritual weapons, which require no less practice than is necessary for the proper management of material arms. Much more important, however, is a skillful use of the former, for a victory over self, over pride, or over any passion far outweighs all the conquests of the world. Humble yourself, then, in the performance of lowly and obscure works, regardless of the world's opinion; for what can it take from us, or what can it give us, when our inheritance is God Himself?
The Reformation of the Will
One of the most efficacious means of effecting this reformation is to strengthen and adorn the superior will – that is, the rational appetite – with humility of heart, poverty of spirit, and a holy hatred of self. If we possess these, the labor of mortification is easily accomplished. Humility, according to the definition of St. Bernard, is contempt of self founded on a true knowledge of our baseness. The effect of this virtue is to pluck from our heart all the roots of pride as well as all love of earthly honors and dignities. It inspires us to seek the lowest place, persuading us that had another received the graces we enjoy he would have been more grateful and would have used them more profitably for the glory of God. It is not sufficient that man cherish these sentiments in his heart; they should also be evident in his deportment and surroundings, which, regardless of the world's opinion, should be as humble and simple as his position will admit. And while he maintains the dignity due to his station his heart should ever be ready to submit not only to superiors and equals, but even to inferiors for the love of God.
The second disposition required to strengthen and adorn the will is poverty of spirit, which consists in a voluntary contempt for the things of this world, and in a perfect contentment in the position in which God has placed us, however poor and lowly it may be. This virtue effectually destroys cupidity, and affords us so great a peace and contentment that Seneca did not hesitate to affirm that he who closed his heart to the claims of unruly desires was not inferior in wealth or happiness to Jupiter himself. By this he signified that as man's misery springs from unfulfilled desires, he may be said to be very near the summit of happiness who has learned to subdue his desires so that they cannot disturb him.
The third disposition is a holy hatred of ourselves. "He that loveth his life shall lose it," says Our Saviour, "and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal." (Jn. 12:25). By this hatred of self Our Lord did not mean that wicked hatred in which they indulge who yield to despair, but that aversion which the saints experienced for their flesh, which they regarded as the source of many evils and as a great obstacle to good. Hence they subjected it to the empire of reason, and denied its inordinate desires, that it might continue a humble servant and willing helper of the soul.
If we treat it otherwise we shall realize these words of the Wise Man: "He that nourisheth his servant delicately from his childhood, afterwards shall find him stubborn." (Prov. 29:21 ). This hatred of self is our chief instrument in the work of salvation. It enables us to uproot and cast from us all our evil inclinations, however much nature may rebel. Without it how could we strike rude blows, penetrate to the quick with the knife of mortification, and tear from our hearts objects upon which our affections are centered? Yes, the arm of mortification, which draws its force as much from hatred of self as from love of God, enables us to treat our failings with the firmness of a skillful physician, and relentlessly to cut and burn with no other thought than to rid the soul of every evil tendency. Having developed this subject in the Memorial of a Christian Life, we shall not here speak of it at greater length.
The Government of the Imagination
Besides these two faculties of the sensitive appetite there are two others, imagination and understanding, which belong to the intellect. The imagination, a less elevated power than the understanding, is of all the faculties the one in which the effects of original sin are most evident, and which is least under the control of reason. It continually escapes our vigilance, and like a restless child runs hither and thither, sometimes flying to the remotest corners of the world before we are aware of its ramblings. It seizes with avidity upon objects which allure it, persistently returning after we have withdrawn it from them. If, therefore, instead of controlling this restless faculty, we treat it like a spoiled child, indulging all its caprices, we strengthen its evil tendencies, and in time of prayer we shall vainly seek to restrain it. Unaccustomed to pious objects, it will rebel against us.
Knowing the dangerous propensities of this power, we should vigilantly guard it and cut off from it all unprofitable reflections. To do this effectually we must carefully examine the thoughts presented to our minds, that we may sec which we shall admit and which we shall reject. If we are careless in this respect, ideas and sentiments will penetrate our hearts and not only weaken devotion and diminish fervor, but destroy charity, which is the life of the soul.
We read in Holy Scripture that while his doorkeeper, who should have been cleansing wheat, fell asleep, assassins entered the house of Isboseth, son of Saul, and slew him. (Cf. 2Kg. 4). A like fate will be ours if we permit sleep to overcome our judgment, which should be employed in separating the chaff from the grain-that is, good thoughts from evil thoughts. While unprotected, bad desires, the assassins of the soul, in this manner are able to enter and rob us of the life of grace.
But this vigilance not only serves to preserve the life of the soul, but most efficaciously promotes recollection in prayer; for as a wandering and uncontrolled imagination is a source of much trouble in prayer, so a subdued imagination accustomed to pious subjects sweetens our conversation with God.
The Government of the Understanding
We have now come to the greatest and noblest of the faculties, the understanding, which raises man above all visible creatures, and in which he most resembles his Creator. The beauty of this power depends upon that rare virtue, prudence, which excels all others. In the spiritual life prudence is to the soul what the eyes are to the body, what a pilot is to a vessel, what a head is to a commonwealth. For this reason the great St. Anthony, in a conference with several holy monks on the excellence of the virtues, gave the first place to prudence, which guides and controls all the others.
Let him, therefore, who desires to practice the other virtues with profit earnestly endeavor to be guided by prudence in all things. Not limited to any special duty, it enters into the fulfillment of all duties, into the practice of all virtues, and preserves order and harmony among them. Having the foundation of faith and charity, it first belongs to prudence to direct all our actions to God, who is our last end. As self-love, according to a holy writer, seeks self in all things, even the holiest, prudence is ever ready to examine what are the motives of our actions, whether we have God or self as the end of what we do.
Prudence also guides us in our intercourse with our neighbor, that we may afford him edification and not give him scandal. To this end it teaches us to observe the condition and character of those about us, that we may more wisely benefit them, patiently bearing with their failings and closing our eyes to infirmities which we cannot cure.
"A wise man," says Aristotle, "should not expect the same degree of certainty in all things, for some are more susceptible of proof than others. Nor should he expect the same degree of perfection in all creatures, for some are capable of a perfection which is impossible in others. Whoever, therefore, would force all lives to the same standard of virtue would do more harm than good."
Prudence also teaches us to know ourselves, our inclinations, our failings, and our evil tendencies, that we may noc presume upon our strength, but recognizing our enemies, perseveringly combat them. It is this virtue also which enables us wisely to govern the tongue by the rules which we have already given, teaching us when to be silent and when to speak. Prudence likewise guards us against the error of opening our minds to all whom we may meet, or of making confidants of others without due reflection. By putting a just restraint upon our words, it saves us from too freely expressing our opinion and thereby committing many faults,
Thus we are kept constantly reminded of the words of. Solomon: "A fool uttereth all his mind; a wise man deferreth and keepeth it till afterwards." (Prov. 29:11). Prudence also forearms us against dangers, and strengthens us by prayer and meditation to meet all the accidents of life. This is the advice of the sacred writer: "Before sickness take a medicine." (Ecclus. 18:20).
Whenever, therefore, you expect to participate in entertainments, or to transact business with men who are easily angered, or to encounter any danger, endeavor to foresee the perils of the occasion and arm yourself against them. Prudence guides us in the treatment of our bodies, causing us to observe a just medium between excessive rigor and immoderate indulgence, so that we may neither unduly weaken the flesh nor so strengthen it that it will rule the spirit.
It is also the duty of prudence to introduce moderation into all our works, even the holiest, and to preserve us from exhausting the spirit by indiscreet labor. We read in the rules of St. Francis that the spirit must rule our occupations, not he ruled by them. Our exterior labors should never cause us to lose sight of interior duties, nor should devotion to our neighbor make us forget what we owe to God. If the Apostles, who possessed such abundant grace, deemed it expedient to renounce the care of temporal things in order to devote themselves to the great work of preaching and other spiritual functions (Cf. Acts 6:2-4), it is presumption in us to suppose that we have strength and virtue capable of undertaking many arduous labors at one time.
Finally, prudence enlightens us concerning the snares of the enemy, counseling us, in the words of the Apostles, "to try spirits if they be of God," "for Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." (1Jn. 4:1 and 2Cor. 11:14). There is no temptation more to be feared than one which presents itself under the mask of virtue, and there is none which the devil more frequently employs to deceive pious souls. Inspired and guided by prudence, we shall recognize these snares; we shall be restrained by a salutary fear from going where there is danger, but animated by a holy courage tc conquer in every struggle; we shall avoid extremes; we shall endeavor to prevent our neighbor from suffering scandal, but yet we shall not be daunted by every groundless fear; we shall learn to despise the opinions of the world, and not to fear its outcries against virtue, remembering, with the Apostle, that if we please men we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ. (Cf. Gal. 1:10).
Prudence in Temporal Affairs
The virtue of prudence is no less efficacious in the direction of temporal affairs. It preserves us from serious, and sometimes from irremediable, errors which not unfrequently destroy both our material and spiritual welfare. To escape this double misfortune, here are the counsels which prudence suggests: The first is that of the Wise Man, who says: "Let thy eyes look straight on, and let thy eyelids go before thy steps." (Prov. 4:25). In other words, look at the enterprise you are about to undertake, and do not rashly enter upon it. First recommend it to God; then weigh all its circumstances, and the consequences which are likely to follow from it; seek counsel of just minds concerning it; deliberate upon the advice you receive, and reflect upon your resolution before acting upon it.
In a word, beware of the four great enemies of prudence; precipitation, passion, obstinate persistence in our own opinions, and vanity. Precipitation admits no reasoning; passion blinds us; obstinancy turns a deaf ear to all counsel; and vanity ruins everything.
It also belongs to prudence to observe a just medium in all things, for extremes are no less opposed to virtue than to truth. Let not the faults of a few lead you to condemn the multitude, nor should the virtues of a few lead you to suppose that all are pious. Follow the guidance of reason in all things, and do not allow yourself to be hurried to extremes by passion or prejudice. This latter failing is apt, moreover, to dispose us favorably towards what is old, and give us a dislike for what is new. Prudence guards us against this, for age can no more justify what is bad than novelty can condemn what is good. Let us esteem things not for their age, but for their merit. A vice of long standing is only more difficult to eradicate, and a virtue of recent growth has only the fault of being unknown.
Beware also of appearances. There are few who have not been taught by experience how deceptive these often are.
Finally, let us be thoroughly convinced that as reflection and gravity are the inseparable companions of prudence, so rashness and levity ever accompany folly. Therefore, we must guard against these two faults at all times, but particularly in the following cases: in believing everything that is reported, for this indicates levity of mind; in making promises, in which we often bind ourselves beyond our means; in giving, in which liberality often makes us forget justice; in forming resolutions which from want of consideration often lead us into errors; in conversation, in which so many faults may be committed; and in temptations and anger, which shows the folly of man. "He that is patient," says Solomon, "is governed with much wisdom, but he that is impatient exalteth his folly." (Prov. 14:29).
Means of Acquiring this Virtue
Not the least important means of acquiring this virtue is the experience of our own failures and the success of others, from which we may gather wise lessons of prudence. For this reason the past is said to be a wise counselor, for today learns from yesterday. "What is it that hath been? The same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? The same that shall be done." (Eccles. 1:9). But a still more efficacious means of becoming prudent is humility, for pride is the greatest obstacle to this virtue. "Where pride is, there also shall be reproach," the Holy Ghost tells us; "but where humility is, there also is wisdom." (Prov. 11:2). And throughout the Scriptures we are frequently reminded that God instructs the humble and reveals His secrets to the lowly.
Humility, however, does not require us to yield blindly to all opinions or indiscreetly to follow every counsel. This is not humility, but weakness and instability, against which the author of Ecclesiasticus warns us: "Be not lowly in thy wisdom, lest being humbled thou be deceived into folly." (Ecclus. 13:11). By this we should understand that a man must resolutely maintain the truth and vigorously support justice, not allowing himself to be carried away by contrary opinions.
Finally, devout and humble prayer will afford us powerful aid in acquiring the virtue of prudence. For the principal office of the Holy Ghost being to enlighten the understanding with the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and counsel, the greater the humility and devotion with which we present ourselves before this Divine Spirit, the greater will be the grace we shall receive.
Man's Duty to his Neighbor
Man's duty towards his neighbor is embraced in the practice of charity and mercy. Read Holy Scriptures and you will appreciate the importance of these virtues. The writings of the prophets, Apostles, and evangelists abound with counsels concerning them.
God teaches us in Isaias that one of the duties of justice is charity to our neighbor. Thus when the Jews exclaimed: "Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded; have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice?" God answers: "In the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors. You fast for debates and strife, and strike with the fist wickedly. Is this such a fast as I have chosen? Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen – loose the bands of wickedness; undo the bundles that oppress; let them that are broken go free; and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and harborless into thy house. When thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, and give thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with brightness." (Is. 58). The prophet continues to the end of the chapter to declare the blessings with which God will reward this charity to our neighbor.
Behold how highly the great Apostle extols the virtue of charity; how strongly he recommends it; how minutely he enumerates its advantages. He gives it the first place among the virtues, and tells us that it is the bond of perfection, the end of the commandments, and the fulfillment of the law, (Cf. 1Cor. 13:13; Col. 3:14; ITim. 1:5; Rom. 13:8; Gal, 5:14).
It would be difficult to say more in praise of charity. Certainly these words of the Apostle must suffice to make you love and practice this virtue, if you desire to be pleasing to God.
Charity was also a favorite virtue with the beloved disciple. He frequently mentions it in his epistles, with the highest praise and commendation. And not only in his writings but in his discourse did he display the same devotedness to this virtue. So frequently did he repeat to his disciples the touching words, "My little children, love one another," that at last, as St. Jerome tells us, they became somewhat weary of always hearing the same, and asked him: Good master, why do you always give us this one command? His answer, says St. Jerome, was worthy of John: "Because it is the command of the Lord; and if you do this alone it will suffice." (De ScriptoribusEccles.). Without doubt, therefore, he who desires to please God must fulfill this great precept of charity, not only in word but also in deed, "He that hath the substance of this world," says St. John, "and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1Jn. 3:17-18).
Among the works comprised in charity to our neighbor the following are the most important: advice, counsel, succor, forbearance, pardon, edification. These are so strongly linked with charity that the practice of them indicates the progress we have made in the practice of charity.
There are Christians who pretend to love their neighbor, but their charity goes no further than words. Others are willing to give advice, but no more substantial proof of their charity. Others will perform both these duties, but will not refrain from resenting an injury, or will refuse to bear with the infirmities of their neighbor, forgetting that the Apostle tells us: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2).
Others, again, while not resenting an injury, continue to harbor it in their hearts and will not freely pardon it. Finally, many fulfill all these obligations, yet in their words or conduct they fail to give their neighbor that edification which is the most important duty of charity. Let us diligently examine our hearts and our actions, and learn how far we fulfill the precepts of this virtue.
It may be said that he who simply loves his neighbor possesses the first degree of charity; he who gives him good counsel possesses the second; he who assists him in poverty or distress possesses the third; he who patiently bears an injury possesses the fourth; he who freely pardons it, the fifth; and he who in addition to all these fulfills the duty of edification to his neighbor has attained the highest degree of charity.
The works of which we have just been treating are what are called positive acts of charity, which teach us what we ought to do for our neighbor. Besides these there are others, called negative duties, which indicate what we must avoid in our intercourse with our neighbor. Such are judging rashly, speaking evil, using abusive or insulting language, injuring his honor or reputation, and giving scandal by words or evil counsel. If you would fulfill the law of charity, avoid all these.
To reduce to practice what we have said, let your love for your neighbor be like that of a mother for her child. See with what devotion a good mother cares for her child; how prudently she counsels him in danger; how faithfully she assists him in his necessities; how ingenious she is in regard to his faults, sometimes patiently bearing them, at other. times justly punishing them, or again prudently ignoring them. How earnestly she rejoices in his prosperity; how deeply she grieves at his misfortune as if it were her own! How zealous she is for his honor and advancement; how fervently she prays for him; how cheerfully she denies herself to give to him; how utterly she forgets herself in her care of him! Your charity would be perfect did it resemble this. Though you may not attain this degree, you must nevertheless aspire to it, for the higher you aim the more noble will be your conduct.
You will doubtless urge that you cannot feel such affection for one who is a stranger to you. But you should not regard your neighbor as a stranger. Behold in him rather the image of God, the work of His divine hands, and a living member of Christ. (Cf. Rom. 12:5). Hence St. Paul tells us that when we sin against our neighbor we sin against Christ. (Cf. ICor. 8:12). Look on your neighbor, therefore, not as a man but as Christ Himself, or one of His living members; for though he is not so in body, he is truly so by participation in the spirit of Christ, and by the reward which is promised to us, for Christ assures us that He will consider as done to Himself all that we do to our neighbor.
Think of the affection which ties of blood establish between creatures, and blush to let nature influence you more powerfully than grace. You will doubtless urge that your relatives are descended with you from the same ancestor, and that the same blood flows in your veins. Remember, however, that there are closer and stronger bonds uniting us as brethren in Christ. In God we have one Father; in the Church one mother; and in Jesus Christ one Lord and Saviour. One faith springs from the same source which enlightens all Christians and distinguishes them from the rest of men.
The object of our hope is the same kingdom, where we shall have but one heart and one soul. Baptism has made us children of the same Father, brothers and heirs of the same inheritance. Our souls are nourished with the same Food, the adorable Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who makes us one with Himself. Finally, we are united in a participation of the same Holy Spirit, who dwells in us by faith alone or by the union of faith and grace, communicating to us life and strength. Behold the union which exists between the members of the same body, however diverse their functions, because they are animated by one soul! How much greater should be the union between the faithful who are animated by the same Divine Spirit, the Holy Ghost Himself!
But, above all, ever keep before your eyes the incomparable example of Our Saviour's love for us. Why did He love us with so much tenderness, devotion, and generosity, if not to encourage us by His example, and oblige us by His benefits faithfully to fulfill the precept which He has imposed upon us? "A new commandment I give unto you," were His parting words to His Apostles on the night before He suffered; "that you love one another, as I have loved you." (Jn. 13:34). Having treated this subject at greater length in a work on Prayer and Meditation, I would refer the reader to it for a more complete development of this virtue.
Man's Duty to God
Man's Duties in General
The third and noblest obligation of justice comprises man's duty to God, which includes the practice of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, and of that virtue called religion, which has for its object the worship due to God.
To love God with the affection of a dutiful son is the most secure way of fulfilling this obligation, as the most effective means of discharging the other duties of justice is to be to ourselves an upright judge, and to our neighbor a kind and watchful mother.
Consider, then, how a good son manifests his love for his father. How great is his devotion, his fear, his reverence for him! How faithfully he obeys him; how zealously and disinterestedly he serves him! With what confidence he goes to him in all his necessities! With what submission he accepts his corrections! How patiently he bears his reproofs! Only serve God with such a heart, and you will faithfully fulfill this obligation of justice.
But to attain these dispositions the following virtues seem to me indispensable: love, holy fear, confidence, zeal for the glory of God, purity of intention, the spirit of prayer, gratitude, conformity to the will of God, humility, and patience in tribulation.
The Love of God
Our first duty is to love God, as He has commanded us, with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole strength. (Cf. Deut. 6:5). All our faculties must cooperate in loving and serving this great Master: the understanding by frequently thinking of Him; the will by loving Him; the passions by turning their strength to His service; the senses and members by zealously executing whatever His love prescribes.
As the Memorial of a Christian Life contains a treatise on this subject, we refer the reader to it for a more complete discussion of this virtue.
The Fear of God
After love comes fear, which in fact springs from love. For the greater our love for another, the greater is our fear not only of losing him but of offending him. See how carefully a good son avoids anything that could displease his father, or a loving wife all that could displease her husband. This fear is the guardian of innocence, and for this reason we should deeply engrave it in our souls, praying with David that the Lord may pierce our flesh with His holy fear. (Cf. Ps.1l8:l20). This pious monarch desired that even his flesh should be penetrated with this salutary fear, that. piercing his heart like a thorn, it might unceasingly warn him against all that could lead him to offend God, the object of his love and fear. It was for this reason that the inspired author wrote, "The fear of the Lord driveth out sin." (Ecclus. l :27).
The effect of this fear is not only to make us avoid actions that are positively sinful, but even those that may lead us into evil or endanger our virtue. These words of Job, "I feared all my works, knowing that thou didst not spare the offender" (Job 9:28), testify how deeply this sentiment was imprinted in his soul.
If we are penetrated with this salutary fear it will be manifest in our bearing when we enter God's house, and particularly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We shall beware of irreverently talking or gazing about us as it we were unconscious of the dread Majesty in whose temple we are.
The love of God, as we have already said, is the first source of this fear. Servile fear, however, which is the fear, not of a son, but of a slave, is, in a measure, profitable, for it introduces filial fear as the needle introduces the thread. But we shall strengthen and confirm this sentiment of holy fear by reflecting upon the incomprehensible majesty of God, the severity of His judgments, the rigor of His justice, the multitude of our sins, and particularly our resistance to divine inspirations.
Confidence in God
To fear we must also join confidence. Like a child who fears no danger in his father's protecting arms, we must cast ourselves into the arms of our Heavenly Father, confident that those Hands which sustain the heavens are all powerful to supply our necessities, to uphold us in temptation, and to turn all things to our profit. And why should we not have confidence in God? Is He not the most powerful as well as the most tender of fathers? If your want of merit and the number of your sins alarm and discourage you, fix your thoughts upon the goodness of God, upon His adorable Son, our Redeemer and Mediator, who died to expiate our sins.
When you are crossing a rapid stream, and the turbulence of the waters makes you dizzy, instead of looking down at the torrent you look above, and your steadiness is restored. Do likewise when disturbed by the fears we have mentioned. Do not dwell upon your unworthiness or your failings, hut raise your eyes to God and consider the infinite goodness and mercy with which He deigns to apply a remedy to all our miseries. Reflect-upon the truth of His words, for He has promised to help and comfort all who humbly and confidently invoke His sacred name. Consider also the innumerable benefits which you have hitherto received from His paternal hand, and let His bounty in the past inspire you to trust the future to Him with renewed hope.
Above all, consider the merits and sufferings of Christ, which are our principal title to God's grace and mercy, and which form the treasure whence the Church supplies the necessities of her children. It was from a confidence inspired by such motives that the saints drew that strength which rendered them as firm as Mount Sion, and established them in the holy city whence they never could be moved. (Cf. Ps. 124:1). Yet, notwithstanding these powerful reasons for hope, it is deplorable that this virtue should still be so weak in us. We lose heart at the first appearance of danger, and go down into Egypt hoping for help from Pharaoh (Cf. Is. 30:2) – that is, we turn to creatures instead of God. There are many servants of God who zealously devote themselves to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, but few who possess the confidence with which the virtuous ï Susanna was animated, even when condemned to death and led to execution. (Cf. Dan. 13). Read the Holy Scriptures, particularly the Psalms and the writings of the prophets, and you will find abundant motives for unfailing hope in God.
Zeal for the Glory of God
Zeal consists in promoting the honor of God and striving to advance the fulfillment of His will on earth, even as it is ' accomplished in Heaven. If we love God we cannot but be pierced with grief to behold so many not only neglecting to obey His holy will, but even acting in a manner directly opposed to it. Full of this zeal was David when he cried out,
"The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up." (Ps. 68:10). Strive to imitate him, doing what you can by word and example, as well as by prayer, to increase the honor of God through the salvation of souls. Thus may you hope to receive that mark, mentioned by the prophet, which will sign you as one of the elect of God. (Cf. Ezech. 9:4).
Purity of Intention
This virtue, which is intimately connected with zeal, enables us to forget ourselves in all things, and to seek first the glory of God and the accomplishment of His good pleasure, persuaded that the more we sacrifice our own interests in His service, the greater advantage and blessing we shall reap. For this reason we must examine the motives of all our actions, that we may labor purely for God, since nothing is more subtle than self-love, which insinuates itself into every work, unless we maintain a constant guard. Many who now seem rich in good works will be found very poor at the day of judgment for lack of this pure intention. This is the virtue which Our Lord symbolized when He said: "The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome." (Matt. 6:22-23).
We often see men in high positions lead irreproachable lives, carefully avoiding anything unbecoming the dignity of their station; but, in many cases, what is the motive which animates them? They see that virtue befits their position, and consequently they practice it, in order to discharge the duties of their office in a manner that will seem becoming, or to secure promotion to still greater dignities. Thus the principle of their actions is not the fear or the love of God, or obedience to His divine will, but their own interest. Such virtue may deceive men, but in the eyes of God it is as smoke; it is only the shadow of justice.
The practice of the moral virtues and the most severe mortifications are meritorious before God only inasmuch as they are animated by His Divine Spirit.
The temple of Jerusalem contained nothing which was not either of gold or covered with gold. It is no less fitting that in our souls, the living temples of the Divinity, there should be nothing that is not charity or animated by it. Let us bear in mind that God values the intention more than the action, and that the simplest work becomes noble when performed with a noble intention, while the greatest will be of little value if performed from an indifferent motive.
By endeavoring to acquire this purity of intention we shall follow the example and counsel of Our Saviour, who tells us to love as He has loved (Cf. Jn. 13:34) – that is, purely and disinterestedly. Happy is he who imitates this noblest characteristic of the divine love. Rapid will be his growth in the likeness of God, and consequently in His love, for resemblance usually begets love. Let us rid ourselves of human respect, and, keeping God ever before our eyes, let us not suffer selfish or worldly motives to mar the merit of our good works and rob us of their reward, which is Heaven and the possession of God Himself.
As it is a difficult undertaking to acquire this virtue, we must earnestly ask it of God, especially in the Lord's Prayer, frequently repeating with fervor, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Beg of Him to grant you grace to imitate on earth the purity and devotion with which the heavenly choirs bless and fulfill His adorable will.
Having in another work treated more fully of this subject, I would here only urge you to turn to God in childlike prayer whenever afflictions or temptations come upon you. Strive, moreover, to maintain the spirit of prayer, and thus you will preserve a continual recollection of God. You will live in His presence, and His love will abide in your heart. Finally, prayer will enable you most faithfully and frequently to testify your filial reverence and love for your Heavenly Father.
Gratitude, which should be in our hearts and on our lips, is a virtue which excites us to praise God unceasingly for all His benefits: "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth. Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may sing thy glory, thy greatness all the day long." (Ps. 33:1 and 70:8). Since God not only gives us life, but continues to preserve it, protecting us, lavishing blessings on us, and causing all creatures to serve our necessities and desires, is it not just that we should continually praise Him?
Thanksgiving, therefore, should be the first of all our exercises, and, according to St. Basil, it should form the beginning of all our prayers. Morning and evening, and at all times, we should render thanks to God for His many benefits, general and particular, of nature and of grace; but, above all, for the incomprehensible benefits of Redemption and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Let us bear in mind that in all these blessings He sought only our welfare. He could expect nothing; He desired nothing from us. Out of pure love for us He gave us all.
Obedience is a virtue which renders us most pleasing to God, for it embraces the perfection of justice. We distinguish in this virtue three degrees: The first is obedience to the commandments of God, the second to His counsels, the third to His inspirations. The first is absolutely necessary for salvation; the second facilitates the observance of the commandments, for if we neglect the counsels, as far as our state permits, we risk violating the precepts. If, for instance, you avoid needlessly affirming the truth with an oath, you will more easily escape perjury. If you avoid all contentions you will assuredly secure peace and charity. If you renounce your own worldly possessions, you will not be tempted to covet those of your neighbor. If you return good for evil, you will be saved from the passion of revenge. Thus we see that the counsels form the bulwarks which guard the commandments.
If you would make your salvation secure do not be satisfied with observing the commandments only, but add the practice of the counsels as far as your state will admit. In traversing a rapid river you do not cross it in a direct line, for if you did so you would be borne beyond the place at which you wished to land. Rather, you go higher up the stream to have the advantage of the tide, and thus secure a safe passage to the point at which you desire to embark. Do likewise in spiritual things. Aim higher than is necessary, so that if you fail you may at least reach the mark of what is indispensable for salvation.
The third degree of obedience, as we have said, consists in fidelity to divine inspirations. Good servants do not confine their obedience to the formal commands of their master, but promptly execute the least indication of his will, So should we act towards God. This is a subject, however, in which we are exposed to grave illusions by mistaking the whisperings of self-love or the suggestions of the devil for divine inspirations. Hence we must follow the counsel of St. John and "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God." (1Jn. 4:1).
We have for our guidance in this respect, besides Holy Scripture and the teaching of the saints, this general rule: The service of God embraces two kinds of acts, one of which is of our own choice, the other of obligation. However meritorious works of our own choice may be, we must always select what is of obligation in preference to them.
This is the teaching of the Holy Spirit: "Obedience is better than sacrifices." (1Kg. 15:22). God first requires of us the faithful fulfillment of His word. When our obedience in this respect is perfect, we may follow the guidance of pious inspirations.
This fidelity to the word of God comprises, first, obedience to the commandments, without which there is no salvation; secondly, obedience to our lawful superiors, for the Apostle tells us, "He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:2); thirdly, obedience to the laws of our state, whether it be the priesthood, religion, or marriage; and, fourthly, fidelity to practices which, though not of precept, greatly facilitate the observance of the commandments.
For example, if you find, by daily reflecting upon your faults and by asking God to inspire you with the most efficacious means of correcting them, that you lead a more regular life, that you acquire more control over your passions, and that your heart becomes more inclined to virtue; while, on the other hand, your neglect of these precautions weakens your virtue, throws you back into many failings, and exposes you to the danger of relapsing into former evil habits. you cannot doubt that God calls you to these pious exercises. Experience has taught you that they are the means which He has chosen to enable you to overcome your sins and to prevent you from committing them again. God does not, it is true, formally command these practices, but He strongly exhorts you to embrace them if you would faithfully fulfill what He does command.
Again, if you find that you are self-indulgent and opposed to everything which disturbs you, and that this love of comfort hinders your spiritual progress and leads you to neglect good works because they are laborious and painful, while you indulge in culpable actions because they are attractive and pleasant, you must conclude that God calls you to practice mortification and to overcome your appetite for pleasure by penance and austerities. Examine all your propensities in this way, and you will easily discern what will be most profitable to you. Be always guided, however, in this respect, by the counsels of your superiors.
Thus we see that we are not always to choose what is best in itself, but what is best for us. Hence there are many excellent practices from which we would derive no advantage, either because they are above our strength or because God does not call us to embrace them. Then let us not soar above our state; let us aspire to what will strengthen us, not to what will overwhelm us. "Lift not up thy eyes to riches which thou canst not have," says Holy Scripture, "because they shall make themselves wings like those of an eagle, and shall fly towards heaven." (Prov. 23:5).
Among those acts which we are free to do or not to do, some are performed in public, others in secret. The former procure us temporal pleasure or advantage, while the latter bring no such reward. In general, prefer what is done in secret without any temporal recompense. You will thus preserve yourself from the snares of self-love, which, as we have already said, insinuates itself into the holiest actions. For this reason a certain man remarkable for his piety was accustomed to say, "Do you know where God is? He is where you are not." By this he meant that where self-interest has not penetrated, there only can God be sought and found.
We do not counsel you to follow this rule so rigidly as to exclude good deeds that are public or profitable. Oh, no; that would be a reprehensible extreme, for very often there is great merit in overcoming the promptings of self-love to which these deeds expose us. Our intention is only to warn you against the artifices of self-love, that you may ever distrust it, particularly when it presents itself under the mask of virtue.
These three degrees which constitute the perfection of obedience seem to be indicated in these words of the Apostle: "Be not conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:2). The observance of the commandments is good; the practice of the counsels is acceptable; and fidelity to divine inspirations is perfect. When one has learned to practice these three degrees he has attained the perfection of obedience.
Another virtue, which may be considered a fourth degree of obedience, is conformity to the divine will in all things, This enables us to accept from the hands of God, with equal submission, honor or ignominy, obscurity or renown, stripes or caresses, health or sickness, life or death; for we look, not at our chastisements, but at Him who inflicts them through love of us. An earthly father loves his child when he corrects him no less than when he caresses him. Does his love bear any comparison to the love of the Heavenly Father? Let us realize, then, that all that comes from His hand is for our welfare, and we shall become so firmly established in submission to His holy will that He may mold us according to His good pleasure, as clay in the hands of the potter.
Thus we shall no longer live for ourselves, but for God. We shall be happy only in accomplishing His divine will, in doing all things, in bearing all things for His glory, and acting at all times as His submissive servants. Such were the sentiments of David when he said, "I am become as a beast before thee, and I am always with thee." (Ps. 72:23). A beast of burden goes not where he wills, nor rests when he pleases, but lives in complete obedience to his master. A Christian should live in like submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.
Let us not forget, however, that this submission to God, and this promptness in obeying Him, must ever be accompanied by prudence and judgment, so that we may not mistake our own will for that of God. In most cases let us distrust what flatters our own inclinations, and proceed with more confidence when we are acting contrary to our personal interests.
This is the most pleasing sacrifice we can make to God. In other sacrifices we offer Him only our possessions. In this we immolate ourselves. St. Augustine says that though God is the Lord of all that exists, yet it is not everyone who can say with the Psalmist, "O Lord! I am thy servant" (Ps. 115:16), but those only who have renounced their own will and consecrated themselves to His service. There is, moreover, no better disposition for attaining the perfection of a Christian life.
As God in His infinite goodness is ever ready to overwhelm us with His graces when we offer no obstacle to His merciful designs, whoever is perfectly confined to His will can justly expect an abundance of His favors. Yes, God will treat him with great liberality, and will make him, like another David, a man after His own Heart.
Patience in Afflictions
To arrive at perfect obedience to God's will, there is no more efficacious means than patience under sufferings of every kind. "My son," says Solomon, "reject not the correction of the Lord, and do not faint when thou art chastised by him; for whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth, and as a father in the son he pleaseth himself." (Prov. 3:11-12).
St. Paul quotes these words and develops them at considerable length in his Epistle to the Hebrews: "Persevere," he says, "under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons, for what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Moreover, we have had fathers of our flesh for instructors, and we reverenced them. Shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:7-9).
Since, then, it is the duty of a good father to correct and reprove his children, it is the duty of a good son patiently to endure the correction and accept it as a proof of love, This is the lesson which the Son of the Eternal Father taught when He said to St. Peter, "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (Jn. 18:11). Were the chalice of suffering offered us by another hand we might with reason refuse it; but the knowledge that it is sent by the wisest and tenderest of Fathers should suffice to make us accept it without hesitation. Nevertheless there are Christians, perfectly conformed to the divine will in prosperity, whose submission vanishes at the approach of adversity. They are like cowards, who vaunt their courage in time of peace, but throw down their arms and fly at the first sound of battle. Life is full of combats and trials. Strengthen your soul, therefore, by salutary reflections, that in the hour of conflict you may be perfectly submissive to the divine will.
Remember that the sufferings of this life bear no proportion to the rewards of the next. The happiness of Heaven is so great, so unspeakable, that we would gladly purchase one hour of its enjoyment by the sacrifice of all earthly pleasures and by the endurance of all earthly sorrows. But we have not to buy it even at this rate, for, as the Apostle says, "that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." (2Cor. 4:17).
Consider also the different effects of prosperity and adversity. The former inflates us with pride; the latter humbles and purifies us. In prosperity we often forget to whom we owe all that we are; but adversity usually brings us to the feet of our Creator. Prosperity often causes us to lose the fruits of our best actions; but adversity enables us to expiate our past failings, and preserves us against future relapses. If you are afflicted by sickness, consider that God has doubtless permitted this to preserve you from the abuse you might have made of your health; for it is better to languish under bodily sufferings than gradually to destroy the life of the soul by sin.
Certainly God, who is so merciful, takes no pleasure in our afflictions, but in His love He sends us these necessary remedies to cure our infirmities. Thus suffering purifies the stains of sinful pleasures, and the privation of innocent gratifications expiates unlawful indulgence. He punishes us in this world, that He may reward us in the next; He treats us with merciful rigor here to save us from His wrath in eternity. Hence St. Jerome says that God's anger against sinners is never more terrible than when He seems to forget them during life. It was through fear of such a misfortune that St. Augustine prayed, "Here, O Lord, burn, here cut, that Thou mayst spare me in eternity."
Behold how carefully God guards you, that you may not abandon yourself to your evil inclinations. When a physician finds the condition of his patient hopeless he indulges him in all his caprices, but while there is any hope of recovery he rigidly restricts him to a certain diet and forbids him all that could aggravate his malady. In like manner, parents refuse their children the money they have accumulated only for them when they find they are squandering it in play and riotous living. Thus are we treated by God, the sovereign Physician and most loving Father of us all, when He sends us trials and privations.
Consider also the sufferings which Our Saviour endured from creatures. He was bruised, and buffeted, and spat upon. With what patience He bore the mockery of the multitude! With what resignation he drank the bitter draught of vinegar and gall! How willingly He embraced the death of the cross to deliver us from eternal death! How, then, can you, a vile worm of the earth, presume to complain of sufferings which you have justly merited by your sins – those sins for which the spotless Lamb of God was immolated? He would teach us by His example that unless we strive for the mastery legitimately – that is, courageously and perseveringly – we shall not be crowned. (Cf. 2Tim. 2:5).
Moreover, let me appeal to your self-interest. Will you not at least make a virtue out of necessity? You must suffer. You cannot escape it, for it is a law of your nature. Can you resist the almighty power of God when He is pleased to send you afflictions? Knowing these truths, and knowing that your sins deserve more than you can bear, why will you struggle against your trials? Why not bear them patiently, and thus atone for your sins and merit many graces? Is it not madness to try to escape them, and thereby lose the blessings they can give, receiving instead a weight of impatience and misery which only adds to the load you must carry? Stand prepared, then, for tribulations, for what can you expect from a corrupt world, from a frail flesh, from the envy of devils, and from the malice of men, but contradictions and persecutions?
Act, therefore, as a prudent man, and arm yourself against such attacks, proceeding with as much caution as if you were in an enemy's country, and you will thus gain two important advantages: First, the trials against which you are forearmed will be easier to bear, for "a blow which we have anticipated," says Seneca, "falls less heavily." And this agrees with the counsel of Wisdom: "Before sickness take a medicine." (Ecclus. 18:20).
Secondly, by anticipating in a spirit of resignation the afflictions which God may send you, you offer a sacrifice like that of Abraham, about to immolate his son. Nothing, in fact, is more pleasing to God, nothing is more meritorious for us, than the resignation with which we prepare ourselves to accept all the trials that may come upon us, either from the hand of God or the wickedness of men. Though these sufferings may never reach us, yet our good intention will be rewarded in the same way as if we had borne them. Thus was Abraham rewarded as if he had really sacrificed his son, because he was ready to do so in obedience to God.
Be not afraid, therefore, of tribulations, for unto these are you called. (Cf. IPet. 3:9,14). Remember that you are as a rock in the midst of the ocean. The winds and waves of the world will beat against you, but you remain unshaken. To do good and to suffer are, according to St. Bernard, the duties of the Christian life. The latter is the more difficult. Prepare yourself, then, to fulfill it with courage.
Let us observe, in conclusion, that theologians distinguish three degrees in this virtue. The first consists in patiently bearing afflictions; the second in desiring to suffer for the love of God; and the third in rejoicing to suffer for the same motive. In the patience of Job we find an example of the first degree. The ardent desire of the martyrs to suffer for Christ affords us proof of the second. The joy which filled the hearts of the Apostles because they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Christ is a bright example of the third. (Cf. Acts 5:41). St. Paul had attained this sublime height when he gloried in his tribulations. (Cf. Rom. 5:3). In this he was nobly followed by many of the early Christians, as we learn from his Epistle to the Corinthians, whom he tells of the grace given to the Macedonians which caused them to experience abundance of joy in much tribulation. (Cf. 2Cor. 8:2). This is the highest degree of virtue, but it is not commanded us.
A faithful servant of Christ will not, however, rest satisfied with the first degree, but will strive unceasingly to reach the second and even the third.
What we have said on this subject must not be interpreted to mean that we should rejoice at the sufferings of others, Oh, no; charity requires us to sympathize with others in affliction, especially with our kindred and with the Church. The mortifications we impose on ourselves must not be extended to others, but should render us even more considerate towards them.
The Obligations of our State
We shall here briefly consider the importance of fidelity to the duties of our state, which vary according to our position. The duties of one who governs, for example, are very different from those of one in subjection; the duties of a religious are very different from those of the father of a family.
According to the Apostle, those who govern must be vigilant in labor and in all things. (Cf. 2Tim. 4:5). This watchfulness is generally proportioned to the value of the object and to the danger which surrounds it. Now, there is nothing of greater value, and at the same time nothing more exposed to danger, than a soul. Consequently nothing requires greater vigilance than the care which must be bestowed by one who is charged with so important a trust.
The principal duty of a subordinate is to behold God in his superiors and to pay them prompt and entire obedience. If a monarch order me to obey his minister, do I not obey the monarch by obeying the minister? In like manner, when God orders me to obey my superiors do I not obey Him by submitting to them? This is the teaching of St. Paul: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords, as to Christ." (Ephes. 6:5).
There are three degrees in this virtue. The first consists in simply doing what we are commanded, the second in doing it willingly, and the third in submitting our judgment to that of our superiors by "bringing into captivity our understanding unto the obedience of Christ." (2Cor. 10:5). Many fulfill the commands of a superior, but with reluctance, Others obey, but murmur and disapprove the command. Others, in fine, cheerfully obey and heartily approve whatever order they receive.
Endeavor that such may be your obedience, bearing in mind the words of Our Saviour: "He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me." (Lk. 10:16). Refrain from all murmuring against superiors, that you may not deserve the reproach addressed by Moses to the Israelites: "Your murmuring is not against us, but against the Lord." (Exod. 16:8). Beware of despising those in authority, lest God should say to them, as He did to Samuel: "They have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them." (1Kg. 8:7). Serve them with truth and sincerity, that you may never hear the terrible words of the Apostle: "Thou hast not lied to men, but to God" (Acts 5:4), and that you may never incur the malediction which fell upon Ananias and Saphira for their duplicity.
Let married women faithfully acquit themselves of the duties of their household, discharging all their obligations to their husband and children, that they may thus be free to attend to practices of piety without neglecting what they owe their family. That would be a worthless devotion which would occupy the time which should be given to domestic affairs.
Let fathers of families reflect upon the terrible affliction which the high priest Heli drew upon himself by neglecting to chastise his children. Sudden death came upon himself and his sons, and the priesthood was withdrawn from his family forever. (Cf. 1Kg. 4). As the sins of children are to a certain degree attributable to parents, the perdition of a child not infrequently involves the condemnation of the parents. How can he be called a true father who, having begotten his son for this world, fails to train him for the kingdom of Heaven? Therefore, advise and correct your children. Guard them from evil associates. Give them wise and virtuous masters. Teach them to love virtue, and let them, like Tobias, be inspired from their infancy with the fear of God. (Cf. Tob. 2:13).
Do not gratify their whims, but curb their wills that they may become truly submissive. Be no less solicitous in providing for their spiritual than their corporal wants; for it is unreasonable to suppose that the duty of parents extends no further than that of birds and beasts, whose only care is to feed and nourish their young. Fulfill the duties of a father in a manner becoming a Christian, a true servant of God, and thus you will bring up your children heirs to Heaven, and not slaves of Hell.
Heads of families with servants to govern should bear in mind these words of the Apostle: "If any man have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." (1Tim. 5:8). The members of their household form the sheep of the flock which has been confided to them, and for which they must one day render an account. Precious are they in the sight of the Lord, because they have been redeemed by the Passion of His Divine Son, through whose Blood every human being has received a nobility higher than all the honors of earth.
A good master, therefore, will carefully endeavor to abolish among his servants all public vices, such as quarreling, gambling, swearing, and especially sins of impurity. He will sec that they are instructed in the principles of their faith, and that they are enabled to observe the commandments of God and of the Church, particularly the precepts to hear Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and to keep the fasts and abstinence prescribed by the Church, unless they are lawfully dispensed or excused.
The Relative Importance and Values of the Virtues
A merchant about to purchase precious stones should learn something of their relative value, if he would make a wise selection. In like manner, a Christian should have some knowledge of the intrinsic merit of each virtue to aid him in making a proper choice.
The virtues of which we have been treating may be divided into two classes, the first of which includes the more interior and spiritual virtues, the other those which are exterior or sensible.
To the first belong the three theological virtues, which have God for their immediate object; and the virtues which facilitate the accomplishment of our duty to God, such as humility, chastity, mercy, patience, prudence, devotion, poverty of spirit, contempt of the world, denial of our own will, love of the cross and mortification, with many others to which we here give the name of virtue in the broadest acceptation of the term. These are called interior and spiritual, because their action is chiefly within the soul, Nevertheless they are often manifested to the world, as we see, for instance, in the virtues of charity and religion, which produce a number of exterior works to the praise and glory of God.
The exterior virtues are fasting, mortification, pious reading, vocal prayer, chanting of the Psalms, pilgrimages, hearing Mass, assisting at the offices of the Church, with all the outward ceremonies and practices of a Christian or religious life. Though these virtues, like the others, have their seat in the soul, yet their action is always exterior, while the acts of the spiritual virtues, faith, hope, charity, humility, contemplation, contrition, or repentance, are often entirely within.
There is no doubt that the virtues of the first class are more meritorious and pleasing to God than those of the second. "Woman, believe me," said Our Saviour to the woman at the well, that "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit, and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth." (Jn. 4:21,23-24).
For this reason David, describing the beauty of the Church and that of a soul in the state of grace, says that all her glory is within in golden borders, clothed round about with variety. (Cf. Ps. 44:14). And the great Apostle, writing to Timothy, says: "Exercise thyself unto godliness, for bodily exercise is profitable to little; but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1Tim. 4:7-8). According to St. Thomas, godliness here signifies the worship of God and charity to our neighbor, while bodily exercise means fasting and other austerities.
This is a truth of which even the pagan philosophers were not ignorant. Aristotle has written very little of God, yet in one of his works he expresses himself thus: "If the gods take any interest in human things, as we have reason to believe they do, there is no doubt that they take most pleasure in what bears most resemblance to themselves – that is, in man's spirit or mind; hence they who adorn their minds with a knowledge of truth, and their souls with the beauty and harmony of virtue, must be most pleasing to them."
The celebrated physician Galen expresses the same thought. Writing upon the structure of the human frame, and the different relations and functions of its various parts, in which the wisdom and power of the Sovereign Artisan are particularly manifest, he is overcome with admiration, and, abandoning the language of science for that of religion, he exclaims, "Let others honor the gods with offerings of hecatombs. [Sacrifices of 100 oxen or cattle offered by the pagans to their deities.] As for me, I shall honor them by proclaiming the greatness of their power, which so readily executes all that their wisdom ordains; and their infinite goodness, which refuses nothing to their creatures, but abundantly provides for all their needs."
Such are the words of a pagan philosopher. Let us refer them to the true God; and what more can a Christian say? The great Galen unconsciously repeats the words of God's prophet: "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than holocausts." (Osee 6:6). The hecatomb of the pagan may be considered as the imitation of the holocaust of the Jew.
From the praise bestowed upon the interior virtues we must not conclude that the others are of little value. Though not so noble as the former, they are nevertheless most efficacious in acquiring and preserving them. For example, retreat and solitude guard us from innumerable sights and sounds which endanger the peace of our conscience, and imperil our chastity. We are all sensible of the importance of silence in preserving devotion, and avoiding those faults into which we are led by excessive conversation. "In the multitude of words," says Solomon, "there shall not want sin." (Prov. 10:19). Fasting, when performed in a state of grace, besides being a meritorious act of the virtue of temperance, as it is at all times, also expiates our sins; subdues the inclinations of the flesh; repels our enemy; disposes us for prayer, pious reading, and meditation; and preserves us from the excesses, quarrels, and passions awakened by inordinate indulgence. As for pious reading, the recitation of the Psalms, assisting at the divine office, and hearing sermons, it is evident that these acts of the virtue of religion are most efficacious in enlightening the understanding and inflaming the will with a desire for spiritual things.
To acquire and preserve this precious virtue of devotion, which of itself disposes us for the practice of all other virtues, we must watch over ourselves with special vigilance. So little suffices to make us lose this delicate virtue. Frivolous conversations, excessive mirth, immoderate indulgence at table, slight anger, unnecessary disputes, curiosity and eagerness to see and hear what does not concern us, besides many similar faults, while not grave in themselves; weaken, and sometimes destroy, the spirit of devotion. To preserve the intense heat communicated to it by the fire, iron must be kept continually in the furnace – or, at least, it must seldom be withdrawn. Otherwise it will quickly resume its former temperature. In like manner, if we would keep our hearts inflamed with the fire of devotion, we must remain closely united to God by the practices we have mentioned.
These reflections will show us the importance of the second class of virtues, and the relation which they bear to the others. The virtues of the first class form the end; the virtues of the second are the means to attain this end. The first may be said to be the health of the body; the second, the medicine to obtain it. The first may be regarded as the spirit of religion, the second as its body – though absolutely necessary for its welfare.
By observing the counsels we have here laid down you will avoid two equally lamentable errors. One was that of the Pharisees in the time of Christ, and the other is that of certain heretics of the present day. The Pharisees, carnal and ambitious men, accustomed to the literal observance of a law then framed for a carnal people, disregarded true justice and interior virtues, and were satisfied, according to the expression of the Apostle, with "an appearance of godliness." (2Tim. 3:5). Under a virtuous exterior they concealed a corrupt and wicked heart.
The heretics of our day, endeavoring to avoid this error, fe(1 into the opposite extreme and preached contempt for exterior practices. But the Catholic Church preserves a happy medium between both, and, while maintaining the superiority of the interior virtues, recognizes the merit and advantage of those that are exterior, just as in a well-governed commonwealth each one enjoys the merit and prerogatives which belong to him.
Four Important Corollaries of the preceding Doctrine
The Necessity of Exterior as well as Interior Virtues
From the preceding principles we can deduce four consequences of great importance in the spiritual life. The first is that a true servant of God must not be content to seek interior virtues only, though they are the noblest, but must also add the practice of exterior virtues, both to preserve the first, and perfectly to fulfill the obligations of justice. Neither the soul without the body nor the body without the soul constitutes man. In like manner, true Christianity is neither wholly interior nor wholly exterior. The union of both classes of virtues is as necessary to the perfection of the spiritual life as the union of soul and body is to the perfection of the natural life. For as the body receives its life and dignity from the soul, so the exterior virtues receive their life and merit from our interior dispositions, particularly from charity. Therefore, he who would become a perfect Christian must remember that the interior and exterior virtues are as inseparable as soul and body, the treasure and the chest, the vine and its support – that is, the spiritual virtues and their defenses, the exterior works of piety. Otherwise he will lose the first, without which he can reap no profit from the second. Let him ever bear in mind these words of Holy Scripture: "He that feareth God neglecteth nothing, and he that contemneth small things shall fall little by little." (Eccles. 7:19 and Ecclus. 19:1). The plague of gnats in Egypt was succeeded by that of flies. Beware, then, lest in despising the sting of gnats – that is, of small faults you may fall a victim to flies – that is, to mortal sin. (Cf. Ex. 8).
Discernment in the Pursuit of Virtue
As men will sacrifice more for the purchase of gold than silver, and will do more to preserve an eye than a finger, so we, guided by the spirit of discernment, should make more effort to acquire the greater virtues than those that are of less importance. If we invert this order, we introduce confusion into the kingdom of our soul. Therefore, while recommending the exterior virtues of recollection, modesty, silence, and fasting, we would exhort you with no less zeal to the practice of the interior virtues of humility, charity, prayer, devotion, and love of your neighbor.
Exterior faults being evident to others, we consider them of greater moment than interior defects, and pay more attention to their amendment. Moreover, the exterior virtues, besides attracting more attention, excite more esteem than the practice of hope, charity, humility, fear of God or contempt for the world, though these interior virtues are more pleasing in the sight of God. "For man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart." (1Kg. 16:7). Therefore, as love of praise is one of the strongest and most subtle passions, beware lest it cause you to seek the virtues which are most esteemed by men, to the neglect of the interior virtues, which are more acceptable to God.
Virtues that are Less must sometimes yield to those that are Greater
When we are obliged to choose between two commandments, we should follow the more important. Observe the same rule with regard to the virtues. Whenever you are in doubt as to which you should adopt, the lesser must give place to the greater, if you would avoid confusion. The holy Fathers, says St. Bernard, have established many practices proper to preserve and increase charity. While these practices attain this end they should be rigidly observed, but if at any time they conflict with charity, it is only just that they should be modified, or omitted by proper authority, for others which will more efficaciously promote this virtue. It would certainly be most unreasonable to observe, through a motive of charity, practices which charity itself condemned. Let such practices, therefore, be faithfully observed as long as they promote charity, but no longer. (De Proecepto et Dispen., c.4). In support of this doctrine the great Doctor cites two pontifical decrees, one of Pope Gelasius and the other of Pope Leo.
True and False Justice
A fourth consequence worthy of note is that there are two kinds of justice, one false and the other true. True justice is that which embraces both the interior and the exterior virtues. False justice is that which is satisfied with a few exterior practices, while neglecting the interior virtues, such as love of God, humility, and devotion. This was the justice of the Pharisees, to whom Our Saviour addressed these terrible words of reproach and condemnation: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanness. … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all filthiness." (Matt. 23:23,25,27). Such is the justice so frequently condemned in the Scriptures. Speaking in God's name, Isaias says: "This people glorify me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they have feared me with the commandment and doctrines of men." (Cf. Is. 29:13). And again: "Offer sacrifice no more in vain: incense is an abomination to me. … My soul hateth your new moons, and your solemnities … I am weary of bearing them." (Is. 1:13-14).
What is the meaning of these words? Does God condemn acts which He Himself commanded under the severest penalties? Does He condemn the practices of that beautiful virtue, religion, the object of which is to honor and worship Him? Assuredly not; but He condemns the insincerity of His people who content themselves with the exterior observance of the law to the neglect of true justice. This He declares, for, after reproaching them with the mockery of their hollow ceremonies and practices, He tells them, "Wash yourselves, be clean, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes: cease to do perversely. Learn to do well … relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow … and if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool." (Is. 1:16-18).
In still stronger language the prophet again denounces exterior practices that are not actuated by interior virtue: "He that sacrificeth an ox, is as if he slew a man; he that killeth a sheep in sacrifice, as if he should brain a dog; he that offereth an oblation, as if he should offer swine's blood; he that remembereth incense, as if he should bless an idol." (Is. 66:3).
Why, O Lord, these terrible words? Why didst Thou repute as abominable those sacrifices which Thou hadst formerly commanded'? "All these things," I hear Thee say, "have they chosen in their ways, and their soul is delighted in their abominations." (Is. 66:3).
Behold the nothingness of exterior practices which are not animated by an interior spirit of virtue, but which are done solely according to the ways of men. "Take away from me the tumult of thy songs," God says by the prophet Amos, '"and I will not hear the canticles of thy harp." (Amos 5:23). Even more strongly does He reject these works, speaking though Malachias: "I will scatter upon your face the dung of your solemnities." (Mal. 2:3). Do not these suffice to show us how little value exterior virtues have when not animated by the love and fear of God, and by hatred of sin, which are the foundations of true justice?
Still another reason which causes God to repel these external observances, comparing sacrifice to murder, incense to idolatry, chanting to discordant noise, solemn feasts to dung, is not only the want of merit in these practices when devoid of an interior spirit, but the fact that they frequently inflate us with pride, excite in us contempt for others, and inspire us with a false security, a fatal confidence, which effectually hinders all amendment for one who is satisfied with his condition and does not desire a change.
The prayer, or rather boasting, of the Pharisee, is a proof of this: "'O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess." (Lk. 18:11-12). Does not this so-called prayer illustrate the three dangers against which we warned you? His pride and presumption exclaim: "I am not as the rest of men"; his contempt of others says: "I am not as this publican"; and his false security shows itself in the thanks which he gives to God for the life he leads, and in which he believes himself safe from all evil.
Besides that gross hypocrisy which is the pretence of virtue made by those who know they are wicked, but who strive to conceal their vices, there is a more refined and more dangerous hypocrisy, which affects many who deceive themselves as well as others by a false show of justice. Like the Pharisee, they imagine they are virtuous, but they are far from true holiness.
Such hypocrisy is the result of that miserable piety which consists of external practices only. Solomon condemned it when he said, "There is a way which seemeth just to a man, but the ends thereof lead to death." (Prov. 14:12). Further on he includes this vice among the four evils which he says exist in the world: "There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. A generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their fìlthiness. A generation whose eyes are lofty, and their eyelids lifted up on high. A generation that for teeth hath swords, and grindeth with their jaw teeth, to devour the needy from off the earth, and the poor from among men." (Prov. 30:11-14).
You cannot fail to recognize among these the unhappy victims of self-deception, who, like the Pharisees, believe themselves pure when they are filled with corruption.
This false confidence is so dangerous that there is much more hope for a hardened sinner who recognizes his condition than for one who thus deceives himself. Acknowledging our failings is the first step towards amendment. But how can a sick man be cured who maintains that he is well, and therefore refuses all remedies? For this reason Our Saviour declares to the Pharisees that publicans and sinners shall go before them into the kingdom of Heaven. (Cf. Matt. 21:31 ). And He utters the same truth still more forcibly in the Apocalypse: "I would thou wert cold or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." (Apoc. 3:15-16).
You marvel, doubtless, why a soul that is cold should be less displeasing to God than one that is lukewarm. The reason for this is that coldness, or the state of the sinner devoid of all virtues, is more easily cured than lukewarmness, which represents the man of few virtues, and these only exterior practices without the life of charity. The man who is loaded with sins can be brought to realize his malady, and so induced to take the proper remedies. But the man who is lukewarm rests on that false security which, as was the case with the Pharisee, leads him to believe that he possesses all the treasures of virtue. Though these soulless practices avail him naught, he will not realize his sad state, and consequently will take no measures for amendment.
To know that this is the true meaning of the text, read what follows: "Thou sayest, I am rich and made wealthy, and I have need of nothing; and thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." (Apoc. 3:17). Do not these words again describe the Pharisee, who thanks God for his spiritual riches when he is poor, destitute of all virtue, inflated with pride, and blind to his own failings?
There is nothing in Holy Scripture more frequently extolled than this true justice, nothing more frequently condemned than this pharisaical justice. Hence we have dwelt at some length on the excellence of the first and the danger of the second. For human nature is the same today as it was in the time of the prophets and the Apostles, whose teachings on this subject are contained in the Scriptures. We have the same inclinations, the same inheritance of original sin, and consequently our vices and failings must be the same, for like causes produce like effects.
The carnal Jews believed that they fulfilled their duty to God by a literal observance of fasts and ceremonies. Many Christians of the present day resemble them, for they hear Mass on Sundays, assist at sermons and the divine offices, daily recite a number of vocal prayers, and even fast on Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and yet they are no less eager in the pursuit of worldly honors and in gratifying their passions. They are no less subject to anger than others who observe none of these practices. They forget the obligations of their state; they are careless of the salvation of their children and servants; they readily yield to feelings of hatred and revenge; they harbor resentment for trifling offenses, and refuse to speak to their neighbor; they withhold the wages of their servants and defraud their creditors, If their honor or interest be touched, the hollowness of their virtue will soon be apparent. Many of them are profuse in prayers, but very sparing in alms.
Others could never be persuaded to forego the observance of abstinence on Wednesdays and days of devotion; but yet they indulge with impunity in detraction and calumny. They scruple to eat the flesh of animals which God does not prohibit them, but they do not hesitate to prey upon the honor and reputation of their neighbor, which God wishes to be sacred to every Christian. These and similar inconsistencies are frequent in our day among persons of every class.
That you may profit by the preceding counsels, let each one study his own spiritual condition, that he may learn the remedies which will profit him most. There are general directions which apply to all, such as those pertaining to charity, humility, patience, or obedience. Others, again, are special and apply only to certain classes and certain conditions. For example, it is necessary to recommend to a scrupulous person greater freedom of conscience; to one who is lax, greater restraint. With a timid soul, inclined to discouragement, we must treat of the divine mercy, while a presumptuous soul should be led to reflect on the divine justice.
Those who give themselves wholly to exterior practices should be made to cultivate interior virtues, while those who are entirely devoted to the latter should be taught the value of the former when animated by the proper dispositions. They will thus learn to appreciate the merit of both kinds of virtue, and therefore to avoid the extremes into which many fall who devote themselves so closely to one as to neglect the other.
The interior virtues, however, especially the fear of God and a hatred of sin, must be particularly cultivated. Happy is he in whose soul these virtues are deeply engraved. He may build without fear upon such a foundation, for these virtues are the beginning of true justice. But without them he is a blind and miserable soul, however numerous his exterior practices of piety.
The Different Vocations in the Church
The virtues of the Christian life being very numerous, a good Christian does not necessarily give himself to all with the same ardor. Some prefer to cultivate the virtues which have God for their direct object, and therefore embrace a contemplative life. Others prefer the virtues which enable them to be most useful to their neighbor, and consequently choose an active life. Others, in fine, prefer the virtues which more directly benefit their own souls, and therefore enter the monastic life. Again, as all virtues are means of acquiring grace, different persons adopt different means, Many seek to obtain it by fasting and like austerities; others by almsgiving and works of mercy, and others by prayer and meditation. Of this latter exercise there are also different methods, which vary according to the character of souls or the subjects chosen. The best kind of meditation is always that from which one derives most profit and devotion.
In this matter beware of a grave error into which pious persons sometimes fall. Deriving much profit from certain means, many imagine that there are no others which lead to God. Consequently they would enforce the same methods upon everyone, and think all in error who follow a different path. Thus, one who gives himself wholly to prayer thinks it the only means of salvation. Another, given to fasting and corporal mortification, sees no merit in any other practices of piety. Those who lead contemplative lives imagine that all who are engaged in an active life are in great danger, and even go so far as to hold exterior virtues in contempt.
The followers of the active life, having no experience of all that passes between God and the soul in the sweet calm of contemplation, do not sufficiently appreciate its value, and approve it only as far as it includes the practice of exterior works. One who gives himself exclusively to mental prayer is very apt to think any other form of prayer unprofitable; and, on the contrary, he who has devoted himself to vocal prayer will often argue that it is more meritorious because it is more laborious.
Thus each one, impelled by ignorance or unconscious pride, extols himself by commending the practices to which he is most given. Just as a savant will praise the science which is the object of his study, and depreciate the merit of all others, so many extol one virtue at the expense of all the rest. The orator will tell you that there is nothing comparable to eloquence; the astronomer, that there is nothing superior to the study of the heavenly bodies. In fact, the theologian, the linguist, the philosopher, the commentator, will each in his turn offer good reasons to prove the preeminence and incontestable superiority of the science he professes.
Similar, though less open, is the struggle between the advocates of the different virtues; each one would have his method prevail over that of others, believing that as it has proved profitable to him, it must prove so to all. Hence arise unfavorable judgments upon the lives of others, divisions and disputes among brethren. Such was the error of the Corinthians in the early ages of the Church. They had been favored with different graces, and each one extolled his own above the rest. The gifts of prophecy, of tongues, of interpreting the Scripture, of working miracles, were each preferred by those who had received them. (Cf. 1Cor. 12).
There is no more efficacious argument against this illusion than that of the Apostle, who declares that all graces and gifts are equal as to their source, for they proceed from the same Holy Spirit, though they differ in their object. "In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (1Cor. 12:13), says the Apostle. Belonging thus to the same Head, we all partake of His dignity and glory, and in this we are equally His members, though there is a diversity of gifts and duties among us.
This diversity should not cause us to look with disfavor on those who seem less gifted, for each has his value as a member of Christ. Thus the members of the human body have not the same duties, but yet each has its own peculiar power that another does not possess. All are important, because all are necessary for the general good. "If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" (1Cor. 12:15-16). In this manner the Apostle speaks to the Corinthians, and continues his comparison to prove that we must not be misled by our preferences to judge that whoever differs from us is not right, or that gifts differing from ours have not an important place in the designs of God.
This diversity is due partly to nature and partly to grace. We say that it is due partly to nature; for though grace is the principle of every spiritual being, yet it is shaped according to the condition of the soul in which it dwells, just as water takes the form of the vessel into which it is poured. Thus, calm, peaceful temperaments are more naturally suited to a contemplative life; those of an ardent, energetic nature are better fitted for an active life; while persons of strong, robust health find more profit in a laborious life of penance, Thus is the marvelous goodness of God made manifest, Desiring to communicate Himself to all, He has willed that the ways which lead to Him should be proportioned to the diversities in the characters and conditions of men.
Grace is the second cause of this variety which the Holy Spirit, the Author of all grace, has created for the greater beauty and perfection of His Church. As the different senses and members are requisite for the beauty and perfection of the human body, so a diversity of graces is necessary for the complete harmony and beauty of the Church. If the faithful all practiced the same virtues, how could they be called a body, which necessarily consists of different members'? "If the whole body," says the Apostle, "were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? And if they all were one member, where would be the body." (1Cor. 12:17,19).
We find the same beautiful variety in the works of nature, where the Sovereign Creator wisely apportions all gifts or qualities so that the lack of one perfection is compensated by the possession of another. The peacock, which has a most discordant note, possesses a beautiful plumage; the nightingale delights the ear, but has no charms for the eye; the horse bears us where we will and is valuable in camp and field, but is rarely used for food; the ox is useful for farm and table, but has scarcely any other qualities to recommend him; fruit trees give us food, but have little value for building; forest trees yield no fruit, but afford us the necessary material for erecting our dwellings. Thus we do not find all qualities or all perfections united in one creature, but that variety among them which constitutes the beauty of nature and binds them to one another by a mutual and necessary dependence.
God has willed that the order and beauty which we admire in nature should exist in the works of grace. For this reason He has endowed His Church with that variety of virtues which form a most symmetrical body, a most beautiful world, the most perfect harmony. Hence some of the members of this great body give themselves to a life of contemplation; others to an active life, to obedience or penance, to religious studies, to the service of the sick and the poor, or to other works of mercy.
We find the same variety in the religious orders of the Church; all aspire to the same end but pursue different paths. Some follow the way of penance; others that of poverty. Some choose a contemplative life; others an active life. Some labor in the midst of the world; others seek obscurity and solitude. The rules of one prescribe a certain revenue; those of another the strictest poverty. Nevertheless they are all animated by the same spirit, all pursue the same end. This variety extends even to the members of the same order; for while certain religious are engaged in the choir, others study in their cells; others devote themselves to manual labor; others hear confessions; while others are engaged in the temporal affairs of the community.
What, then, are al1 these but the several members of one body, the different notes of one grand harmony, the various elements which contribute to the beauty and perfection of the Church? Why has the lute several chords, the organ numerous pipes, but to produce greater variety and harmony? For this reason the patriarch Jacob gave his son Joseph the coat of many colors (Cf. Gen. 37:3), and God commanded that the curtains of the tabernacle should be of violet, purple, and scarlet twice dyed, diversified with embroidery. (Cf. Ex. 26:1 ). In both of these objects we behold an image of that beautiful variety which prevails in the Church.
Let us, then, beware of judging others because their virtues are not ours, or of expecting all to follow the same path. This would be destroying the body of the Church, rending the coat of Joseph. It would be exacting the duty of the eyes, or the hands, or the feet, from all the members of the body. In the words of the Apostle, if the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing; or if it were the ear, where would be the eyes? Can the eyes reproach the feet for being blind, or the feet reproach the eyes for not bearing the burden of the body? No; it is necessary that the feet toil on the ground, and that the eyes be above them, protected from all that could fatigue or sully them. Nor is the duty of the eyes, notwithstanding their repose, less important than that of the feet.
The work of the pilot who stands at the helm is no less necessary than that of the sailors who manage the ropes and sails. We must not judge of an action by the labor it requires, but by its value and the effects it produces. Thus, you would not say that the work of a laborer is more important in a commonwealth than that of the statesman who wisely directs the government.
If we seriously weigh these considerations, we shall learn to respect all vocations. We shall not reproach the hand for not being the foot, nor the foot for not being the hand. We shall understand the truth of the Apostle's words when he tells us that the beauty and perfection of the body result from the diversity of its members.
The Vigilance and Care necessary in the Practice of Virtue
Since the rule of life which we have proposed includes so many counsels and so many virtues, and since our intelligence is incapable of embracing a multitude of things at one time, it will be well to apply ourselves to the practice of one virtue which, in a measure, comprehends the rest, or supplies for all that may be wanting to them. Such is the virtue of continual vigilance in all our words and actions.
An ambassador about to address a king studies not only what he will say, but how he will say it, and strives to regulate his gestures and his whole bearing so that he may present himself to the monarch in the most becoming manner, With more reason a Christian, who is the subject of the King of kings, must watch over himself at all times, whether he speaks or is silent, at prayer or at table, at home or abroad. He must measure all his actions, all his words, by the law of his Divine Master.
We find this virtue of vigilance frequently recommended in the sacred Scriptures. "Keep thyself and thy soul carefully." (Deut. 4:9). "Walk solicitous with thy God." (Mich. 6:8). That is, be careful to avoid everything contrary to His will. The many eyes of the mysterious creatures mentioned in Ezechiel also represent the vigilance with which we must guard our soul. (Cf. Ezech. 1-18).
Besides the many dangers to which we are exposed, the difficulty and delicacy of the work of salvation render this vigilance indispensable, particularly for one who aspires to the perfection of the spiritual life. For to live in union with God, to abide in the flesh and yet to be free from its corruption, and to preserve one's self from the snares of the world "without offense unto the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:10) require not only the assistance of grace but the greatest vigilance over ourselves. Follow in this respect the wise counsel of Seneca: "Always imagine yourself in the presence of one for whom you entertain the greatest respect, and refrain from all that you would not do in His presence." (Epist. 25 ).
A no less salutary practice is to live as if each day were the last of our lives, and the evening were to bring us before the tribunal of God to render an account of all our actions. But the most efficacious means of all is to walk continually in the presence of God, who is everywhere, and to act in all things with obedience due to so great a Master, who is the Witness and the Judge of all our works. Frequently implore the grace to avoid all that would render us unworthy of His divine presence.
Thus the vigilance which we here counsel has two ends: First, to fix the eyes of our soul upon God, and unceasingly to offer Him on the altar of our hearts a sacrifice of adoration, respect, praise, devotion, thanksgiving, and love; secondly, to watch over all our thoughts, words, and actions, that we may in all things follow the guidance of His will. Though this vigilance is not easily acquired, nevertheless we must endeavor to practice it as uninterruptedly as possible. Corporal exercises are no obstacle to it, for with fidelity to the practice of it the heart will always be free to withdraw from them for awhile, and seek its repose in the wounds of Jesus Christ.
The Courage necessary in the Practice of Virtue
The Necessity of Courage
The preceding chapter furnishes us with eyes to discern our duty, and this chapter will furnish us with arms or courage to perform it.
There are two obstacles to virtue which vigilance and courage will overcome. The first is the difficulty of discerning what is good from what is evil; and the second is the labor of embracing the former and overcoming the latter, Vigilance meets the first difficulty; fortitude the second. These two virtues are indispensable, for without vigilance we are blind, without courage we are helpless.
The courage of which we are here treating is not the cardinal virtue of fortitude which calms our fears and strengthens us in affliction, but is rather a disposition of the soul which enables us to triumph over all obstacles to good. For this reason it ever accompanies virtue, sword in hand to vanquish all her foes.
As the blacksmith requires a hammer to beat the hard iron and shape it according to his will, so do we need courage, the spiritual hammer, with which we overcome the difficulties in the road to virtue and fashion our souls after our divine Model. Without this quality we can no more pursue virtue than a blacksmith can work without his hammer.
For what virtue is there that can be acquired without effort? Consider them one after another: prayer, fasting, temperance, obedience, poverty of spirit, chastity, humility and you will find that all present some difficulty springing from self-love, the world, or the devil.
Therefore, if you sincerely desire to advance in virtue, consider the words spoken to Moses, by the God of all virtue and strength, as directly addressed to you: "Take this rod in thy hand, wherewith thou shalt do the signs" that will deliver My people. (Cf. Ex. 4:17). Be assured that as the rod of Moses enabled him to effect the glorious deliverance of the children of Israel, so the rod of courage will enable you to work no less striking wonders, and to free yourself from your enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Keep this rod, therefore, ever in your hand, for without it you will be utterly helpless.
Avoid, too, an illusion into which beginners in the spiritual life frequently fall. Having read in certain books of the ineffable consolations of the Holy Spirit, and the joys of God's service, they persuade themselves that the path of virtue is filled with delights, and therefore, instead of entering it armed to meet their enemies, they set out as if for a festival. Truly the love of God is full of sweetness, but the way which leads to it contains much that is bitter, for self-love must first be conquered, and there is nothing harder to nature than to fight against it and all that it claims. This is the lesson we should learn from the prophet, who says, "Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit up, O Jerusalem." (Is. 52:2). Shake thyself from the dust of earthly affections; arise and combat before thou canst sit and rest.
It is also true that God favors with ineffable consolations souls who faithfully labor for Him, and renounce the pleasures of the world for those of Heaven. But this absolute renunciation is necessary, for while we refuse to sacrifice the joys of this life we shall seek in vain for the joys of the Holy Spirit. The manna was given to the children of Israel only when they had consumed the food which they brought with them from Egypt.
If, then, we do not arm ourselves with courage, our pursuit of virtue will be fruitless. Rest is attained only through labor; victory only through combat; joy only through tears; and the sweetness of God's love only through hatred of self. For this reason the Holy Spirit, throughout the Proverbs of Solomon, so frequently condemns sloth and negligence and so strongly commends vigilance and courage as the safeguards of virtue.
Means of acquiring Courage
Solomon had reason to exclaim: "Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her." (Prov. 31:10). What, then, shall we do to acquire courage, which is of such importance and which is no less difficult than the other virtues?
We must first reflect upon the priceless merit of courage, for a quality which helps us acquire all virtues must be inestimable in value.
Men are chiefly driven from the practice of virtue by the difficulties it presents. "The slothful man saith: There is a lion in the way, and a lioness in the roads. The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh, saying: Better is a handful with rest than both hands full with labor and vexation of mind." (Prov. 26:13 and Eccles. 4:5-6). If, therefore, the obstacles to virtue discourage us and turn us from good, what is more necessary for us than courage? And who will regret any effort to acquire an aid which will strengthen him to conquer the kingdom of virtue, and, after it, the kingdom of Heaven? "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." (Matt. 11:12). Finally, courage conquers self-love, which gives place to the love of God, or rather God Himself, "for he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him." (1Jn. 4:16).
Stimulate your courage, moreover, by contemplating the fortitude of so many Christians who cheerfully embraced poverty, mortification, humiliations, for love of Christ. Many of them so loved suffering that they sought it as eagerly as the worldling seeks pleasure, or as the merchant seeks gain, preferring poverty to riches, hunger to abundance, labors and the cross to rest and comfort. The Church daily presents for our consideration such heroic souls, not only that we may worthily honor them, but that we may be excited to imitate them.
Consider, too, the greatness of courage, the heroism, displayed by the martyrs. There is no kind of torture or suffering which they did not endure. Some were burned alive; others were torn to pieces by wild beasts; many had their flesh torn from their bodies with red-hot pincers; some were cast into caldrons of boiling oil; others were compelled to walk barefoot on burning coals, or were tied to the tails of wild horses and dragged through thickets and briars or over sharp stones. It would be almost impossible to enumerate all the tortures invented by the malice of devils to conquer the courage of the servants of God. We read of a martyr in Nicodemia who was scourged so cruelly that every blow brought away a piece of the flesh, leaving the bones exposed to view, and into these cruel wounds the executioner poured salt and vinegar; and, finding that life was not yet extinct, they laid the mangled body upon a slow fire, turning it from side to side with iron hooks until the soul took its flight to God. Read the lives of those brave soldiers of Christ, and your courage will be reanimated; you will grow ashamed of the little you have done for God or your soul.
They were human as well as we are. Their bodies were as sensitive as ours to sufferings. They had the same God to assist them; they hoped for the same reward to which we aspire. If eternal life cost them so much, shall we refuse to mortify the irregular desires of the flesh to attain this blessed end? Shall we not have the courage to fast one day, when we see them almost dying of hunger? Shall we refuse to remain for a short time on our knees in prayer, when they continued to pray for their enemies during long hours of agony, even when nailed to the cross? Shall we refuse to resist our inclinations and passions, when they unhesitantly abandoned their bodies to the tortures of the executioner! They endured without murmuring the solitude and suffering of dark prisons, and shall we refuse our soul a few moments solitude in prayer each day to amend the past and to prepare for the future. If they submitted their bodies to the rack, to the wheel, to fire and the sword, shall we refuse to chastise ours for the love of Christ?
If these examples do not move you, lift your eyes to the cross and contemplate Him who hangs there in torments for love of you. "Think diligently," says the Apostle, "upon him that endured such opposition, that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds." (Heb. 12:3).
It is a marvelous example in every respect. For if we consider His sufferings, none could be greater; if we consider the Victim, none could be more noble; if we consider the motive, it was the highest degree of love; for He who was Innocence itself suffered and died to redeem us from our iniquities. The heavens were filled with awe at the spectacle; the earth trembled; the rocks were rent; all nature was moved.
Will man alone be insensible and refuse to imitate the example which God came on earth to give? Shall we be so ungrateful, so slothful, so presumptuous as to wish to win Heaven by a life of luxurious ease when suffering and labor were the portion of God on earth and of all His followers?
Hear the words in which St. Paul describes the sufferings of those faithful servants of Christ, the prophets, the Apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, the virgins, and all the saints: "Others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned; they were cut asunder; they were tempted; they were put to death by the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: of whom the world was not worthy; wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth." (Heb. 11:36-38). If such were the lives of the saints and of Him who was the Saint of saints, what reason have you to think that you can reach Heaven by the way of pleasure and amusement? If you would share their glory, you must participate in their labors. If you would reign with them in Heaven, you must suffer with them on earth.
May these considerations reanimate your courage dear Christian, and stimulate you to follow, as far as your grace will enable you, such bright examples.
We cannot, therefore, better conclude this work than in the words of Our Saviour: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk. 9:23). In this brief counsel you will find a summary of His divine doctrine, and the secret of attaining the perfection taught in the Gospel. Thus, while the body may be a prey to hardships and labors, the soul will enjoy a paradise of peace, and this interior sweetness will enable you cheerfully to embrace all the sufferings of the exterior life.
Index to The Sinner's Guide