Consider first, how our Lord, rejoicing in the Holy Ghost, Matt. xi. 25, &c., addressed himself to his heavenly Father in these words: 'I give thanks to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things (the great truths of the gospel) from the wise and prudent (of this world), and hast revealed them to little ones.’ And learn thou, my soul, to admire and adore in this, the wonderful ways of the wisdom of God, who ever resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble, and therefore withdraws and hides himself and his truths from such as are puffed up with the conceit of their own wit or learning, or any other talents, whether natural or acquired; whilst he discovers his secrets to the little and humble, fills their souls with his heavenly light, and works his greatest wonders in them and by them. Thus he did with regard to his Apostles, and thus we shall generally find, that the humble and simple have been instruments in the hand of God, of all the great works he has wrought in the conversion and sanctification of souls. O blessed be his name for ever, who thus delights in showing his power in weak vessels, and chooses the contemptible things of this world to confound our pride! O teach me, dear Lord, to be ever little and humble!
Consider 2ndly, how sweetly our Lord, on the same occasion, invites us to himself; saying, 'Come to Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’ Alas we all labour in this vale of tears: 'The days of this world are short and evil, full of sorrows and miseries, where man is defiled with many sins, ensnared with many passions, assaulted with many fears, disquieted with many cares, dissipated with many curiosities, entangled with many vanities, surrounded with many errors, broken with many hardships and fatigues, troubled with many temptations.’ Kempis. And is not this labouring and being heavy laden? Yes, there is, 'a heavy yoke, indeed, upon the children of Adam, from their coming out of their mother’s womb, until the day of their burial into the mother of all.’Ecclus. xl. 1. But what remedy then for all these evils? We must run to Christ, and he will refresh us; he will comfort and relieve us. We must take up his yoke upon us, and he will rescue us from the slavery of sin and Satan; he will qualify all our other labours and miseries; he will give us the victory over all our passions and temptations and we shall find rest to our souls. For his yoke is sweet, and his burden light.
Consider 3rdly, that our Lord here invites us also to learn of him, to take him for our master and to become his scholars. A great honour indeed, to have the Son of God come down from heaven to be our teacher! But what then are we to learn of so great a master? Are we to learn of him to make heaven and earth; or to rule and govern the whole universe? Or, are we to learn of him to work all kind of miracles, and to raise the dead to life? O no: but we are to learn of him to be meek and humble of heart. This is the great lesson the King of heaven came down to teach us. In learning this we shall find a remedy for all our evils. No one but he could effectually teach us this lesson. Could we even raise the dead to life, it would be all nothing, without learning to be meek and humble of heart, and overcoming passion and pride.
Conclude, O my soul, to comply henceforward with this sweet summons and invitation of thy dear Lord, and to run to him, and to put thyself in his service: that with his gracious assistance, thou mayest cast off from thy shoulders the heavy yoke of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and take up his light yoke, and rest in him for ever.
It is patience which both commends and keeps us to God. It is patience, too, which assuages anger, which bridles the tongue, governs the mind, guards peace, rules discipline, breaks the force of lust, represses the violence of pride, extinguishes the fire of enmity, checks the power of the rich, soothes the want of the poor, protects a blessed integrity in virgins, a careful purity in widows, in those who are united and married a single affection. It makes men humble in prosperity, brave in adversity, gentle towards wrongs and contempts. It teaches us quickly to pardon those who wrong us; and if you yourself do wrong, to entreat long and earnestly. It resists temptations, suffers persecutions, perfects passions and martyrdoms. It is patience which firmly fortifies the foundations of our faith.
The Spiritual Combat by Father Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
CHAPTER I "Novi coronabitur nisi qui legitime certaverit." 2Timothy 2:5
(None is vanquished in this spiritual combat but he who ceases to struggle and loses confidence in God.
"He does not receive the Victor's Crown unless he fights well" - 2Timothy 2:5)
Of the Essence of Christian Perfection - Of the Struggle Requisite for its Attainment -
And of the Four Things Needful in this Conflict
Would you attain in Christ the height of perfection, and by a nearer and nearer approach to God become one spirit with Him? Before undertaking this greatest and noblest of all imaginable enterprises, you must first learn what constitutes the true and perfect spiritual life. For many have made it to consist exclusively in austerities, maceration of the flesh, hair-shirts, disciplines, long vigils and fasts, and other like bodily hardships and penance's. Others, especially women, fancy they have made great progress therein, if they say many vocal prayers, hear many Masses and long Offices, frequent many churches, receive many communions. Others (and those sometimes among cloistered religious) are persuaded that perfection depends wholly upon punctual attendance in choir, upon silence, solitude, and regularity. And thus, some in these, others in various similar actions, suppose that the foundations of perfection may be laid.
But it is not so indeed; for as some of these are means to acquire grace, others fruits of grace, they cannot be held to constitute Christian perfection and the true life of grace. They are unquestionably most powerful means, in the hands of those who use them well and discreetly, of acquiring grace in order to gain strength and vigor against their own sinfulness and weakness, to defend themselves against our common enemies, to supply all those spiritual aids so necessary to all the servants of God, and especially to beginners in the spiritual life. Again, they are fruits of grace in truly spiritual persons, who chastise the body because it has offended its Creator, and in order to keep it low and submissive in His service; who keep silence and live solitary that they may avoid the slightest offense against their Lord, and converse with heaven; who attend divine worship, and give themselves to works of piety; who pray and meditate on the life and passion of our Lord, not from curiosity or sensible pleasure, but that they may know better and more deeply their own sinfulness, and the goodness and mercy of God, _ enkindle ever more and more within their hearts the love of God and the hatred of themselves, following the Son of God with the Cross upon their shoulders in the way of self_abnegation; who frequent the holy sacraments, to the glory of His Divine Majesty, to unite themselves more closely with God, and to gain new strength against His enemies.
But these external works, though all most holy in themselves, may yet, by the fault of those who use them as the foundation of their spiritual building, prove a more fatal occasion of ruin than open sins. Such persons leave their hearts unguarded to the mercy of their own inclinations, and exposed to the lurking deceits of the devil, who, seeing them out of the direct road, not only lets them continue these exercises with satisfaction, but leads them in their own vain imagination to expatiate on the delights of paradise, and to fancy themselves to be borne aloft amidst the angelic choir and to feel God within them. Sometimes they find themselves absorbed in high, or mysterious, and ecstatic meditations, and, forgetful of the world and of all that it contains, they believe themselves to be caught up to the third heaven.
But the life and conversation of such Persons prove the depth of the delusion in which they are held, and their great distance from the perfection after which we are inquiring; for in all things, great and small, they desire to be preferred and placed above others; they are wedded to their own opinion, and obstinate in their own will; and blind to their own faults, they are busy and diligent observers and critics of the deeds and words of others.
But touch only with a finger their point of honor, a certain vain estimation in which they hold themselves and would have others to hold them, interrupt their stereotyped devotions, and they are disturbed and offended beyond measure.
And if, to bring them back to the true knowledge of themselves and of the way of perfection, Almighty God should send them sickness, or sorrow, or persecution (that touchstone of His servants' loyalty, which never befalls them without His permission or command), then is the unstable foundation of their spiritual edifice discovered, and its interior, all corroded and defaced by pride, laid bare; for they refuse to resign themselves to the will of God, to acquiesce in His always righteous though mysterious judgments, in all events, whether joyful or sorrowful, which may befall them; neither will they, after the example of His Divine Son in His sufferings and humiliation, abase themselves below all creatures, accounting their persecutors as beloved friends, as instruments of God's goodness, and cooperators with Him in the mortification. perfection, and salvation of their souls.
Hence it is most certain that such persons are in serious danger; for, the inward eye being darkened, wherewith they contemplate themselves and these their external good works, they attribute to themselves a very high degree of perfection; and thus puffed up with pride they pass judgment upon others, while a very extraordinary degree of God's assisting grace is needed to convert themselves. For the open sinner is more easily converted and restored to God than the man who shrouds himself under the cloak of seeming virtue.
You see, then, very clearly that, as I have said, the spiritual life consists not in these things. It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the goodness and the greatness of God, and of our nothingness and inclination to all evil; in the love of Him and the hatred of ourselves, in subjection, not to Him alone, but for love of Him, to all His creatures; in entire renunciation of all will of our own and absolute resignation to all His divine pleasure; and furthermore, willing and doing all this purely for the glory of God and solely to please Him, and because He so wills and merits thus to be loved and served.
This is the law of love, impressed by the hand of the Lord Himself upon the hearts of His faithful servants; this is the abnegation of self which He requires of us; this is His sweet yoke and light burden; this is the obedience to which, by His voice and His example, our Master and Redeemer calls us. In aspiring to such sublime perfection you will have to do continual violence to yourself by a generous conflict with your own will in all things, great or small, until it be wholly annihilated; you must prepare yourself, therefore, for the battle with all readiness of mind; for none but brave warriors shall receive the crown.
This is indeed the hardest of all struggles; for while we strive against self, self is striving against us, and therefore is the victory here most glorious and precious in the sight of God. For if you will set yourself to trample down and exterminate all your unruly appetites, desires, and wishes, even in the smallest and most inconsiderable matters, you will render a greater and more acceptable service to God than if you should discipline yourself to blood, fast more rigorously than hermits or anchorites of old, or convert millions of souls, and yet voluntarily leave even one of these evils alive within you. For although the conversion of souls is no doubt more precious to the Lord than the mortification of a fancy, nevertheless nothing should in your sight be of greater account than to will and to do that very thing which the Lord specially demands and requires of you. And He will infallibly be better pleased that you should watch and labor to mortify your passions than if, consciously and willfully leaving but one alive within you, you should serve Him in some other matter of greater importance in itself.
Now that you see wherein Christian perfection consists, and that it requires a continual sharp warfare against self, you must provide yourself with four most sure and necessary weapons, in order to secure the palm and gain the victory in this spiritual combat. These are:
Distrust of self, Trust in God; Spiritual exercises; Prayer.
So necessary is self-distrust in this conflict, that without it you will be unable, I say not to achieve the victory desired, but even to overcome the very least of your passions. And let this be well impressed upon your mind; for our corrupt nature too easily inclines us to a false estimate of ourselves; so that, being really nothing, we account ourselves to be something, and presume, without the slightest foundation, upon our own strength.
This is a fault not easily discerned by us, but very displeasing in the sight of God. For He desires and loves to see in us a frank and true recognition of this most certain truth, that all the virtue and grace which is within us is derived from Him alone, Who is the fountain of all good, and that nothing good can proceed from us, no, not even a thought which can find acceptance in His sight.
And although this very important self-distrust is itself the work of His Divine Hand, and is bestowed upon His beloved, now by means of holy inspirations, now by sharp chastisements and violent and almost irresistible temptations, and by other means which we ourselves do not understand; still it is His will that we on our part should do all in our power to attain it. I therefore set before you four methods, by the use of which, in dependence always on Divine grace, you may acquire this gift.
The first is, to know and consider your own vileness and nothingness, and your inability of yourself to do any good, by which to merit an entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
The second, continually to ask it of the Lord in fervent and humble prayer; for it is His gift. And in order to reach its attainment we must look upon ourselves not only as destitute thereof, but as of ourselves incapable of acquiring it. Present yourself, therefore, continually before the Divine Majesty, with an assured faith that He is willing of His great goodness to grant your petition; wait patiently all the time which His Providence appoints, and without doubt you shalt obtain it.
The third is, to stand in fear of your own judgment about yourself, of your strong inclination to sin, of the countless hosts of enemies against whom you are incapable of making the slightest resistance, of their long practice in open warfare and secret stratagem, of their transformations into angels of light, and of the innumerable arts and stares which they secretly spread for us even in the very way of holiness.
The fourth is, whenever you art overtaken by any fault, to look more deeply into yourself, and more keenly feel your absolute and utter weakness; for to this end did God permit your fall, that, warned by His inspiration and illumined by a clearer light than before, you may come to know yourself, and learn to despise yourself as a thing unutterably vile, and be therefore also willing to be so accounted and despised by others. For without this willingness there can be no holy self-distrust, which is founded on true humility and experimental self-knowledge.
This self-knowledge is clearly needful to all who desire to be united to the Supreme Light and Uncreated Truth; and the Divine Clemency often makes use of the fall of proud and presumptuous men to lead to It; justly suffering them to fall into some faults which they trusted to avoid by their own strength, that they may learn to know and absolutely distrust themselves.
Our Lord is not, however, wont to use so severe a method, until those more gracious means of which we have before spoken have failed to work the cure designed by His Divine Mercy. He permits a man to fall more or less deeply in proportion to his pride and self-esteem; so that if there were no presumption (as in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary), there would be no fall.
Therefore, whenever you shall fall, take refuge at once in humble self-knowledge, and beseech the Lord with urgent entreaties to give you light truly to know yourself, and entire self-distrust, lest you should fall again. perhaps into deeper perdition.
Self-distrust, necessary as we have shown it to be in this conflict, is not alone sufficient. Unless we would be put to flight, or remain helpless and vanquished in the hands of our enemies, we must add to it perfect trust in God, and expect from Him alone succor and victory. For as we, who are nothing, can look for nothing from ourselves but falls, and therefore should utterly distrust ourselves; so from our Lord may we assuredly expect complete victory in every conflict. To obtain His help, let us therefore arm ourselves with a lively confidence in Him.
And this also may be accomplished in four ways:
First, by asking it of God.
Secondly, by gazing with the eye of faith at the infinite wisdom and omnipotence of God, to which nothing is impossible or difficult, and confiding in His unbounded goodness and unspeakable willingness to give, hour-by-hour and moment-by-moment, all things needful for the spiritual life, and perfect victory over ourselves, if we will but throw ourselves with confidence into His Arms. For how shall our Divine Shepherd, Who followed after His lost sheep for three-and-thirty years with loud and bitter cries through that painful and thorny way, wherein He spilt His Heart's Blood and laid down His life _ how shall He refuse to turn His quickening glance upon the poor sheep which now follows Him in obedience to His commands, or with a desire (though sometimes faint and feeble) to obey Him! When it cries to Him piteously for help, will He not hear, and laying it upon His Divine Shoulders, call upon His friends and all the angels of heaven to rejoice with Him? For if our Lord ceased not to search most diligently for the blind and deaf sinner, the lost drachma of the gospel, till He found him; can He abandon him who, like a lost sheep, cries and calls piteously upon his Shepherd? And if God knocks continually at the heart of man, desiring to enter in and sup there, and to communicate to it His gifts, who can believe that when that heart opens and invites Him to enter, He will turn a deaf ear to the invitation, and refuse to come in?
Thirdly, the third way to acquire this holy confidence is, to call to mind that truth so plainly taught in Holy Scripture, that no one who trusted in God has ever been confounded.
The fourth, which will serve at once towards the attainment of self-distrust and of trust in God, is this: when any duty presents itself to be done, any struggle with self to be made, any victory over self to be attempted, before proposing or resolving upon it, think first upon your own weakness; next turn, full of self-distrust, to the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God; and in reliance upon these, resolve to labor and to fight generously. Then, with these weapons in your hands, and with the help of prayer (of which we shall speak in its proper place), set yourself to labor and to strive.
Unless you observe this order, though you may seem to yourself to be doing all things in reliance upon God, you will too often find yourself mistaken; for so common is a presumptuous self-confidence, and so subtle are the forms it assumes, that it lurks almost always even under an imagined self-distrust and fancied confidence in God.
To avoid presumption as much as possible, and in order that all your works may be wrought in distrust of self and trust in God, the consideration of your own weakness must precede the consideration of God's omnipotence; and both together must precede all your actions.
CHAPTER IV How a man may know whether he is active in
Self-Distrust and Trust in God
The presumptuous servant often supposes that he has acquired self-distrust and trust in God when the case is far otherwise.
And this will be made clear to thee by the effect produced on thy mind by a fall. If thou art so saddened and disquieted thereby as to be tempted to despair of making progress or doing good, it is a sure sign that thy trust is in self and not in God. For he who has any large measure of self-distrust and trust in God feels neither surprise, nor despondency, nor bitterness, when he falls; for he knows that this has arisen from his own weakness and want of trust in God. On the contrary, being, rendered thereby more distrustful of self, more humbly confident in God, detesting above all things his fault and the unruly passions which have occasioned it, and mourning with a quiet, deep, and patient sorrow over his offense against God, he pursues his enterprise, and follows after his enemies, even to the death, with a spirit more resolute and undaunted than before.
I would that these things were well considered by certain persons so called spiritual, who cannot and will not be at rest when they have fallen into any fault. They rush to their spiritual father, rather to get rid of the anxiety and uneasiness which spring from wounded self-love than for that purpose which should be their chief end in seeking him, to purify themselves from the stain of sin, and to fortify themselves against its power by means of the most Holy Sacrament of Penance.
Chapter V Of the Error of Many, Who Mistake Pusillanimity for a Virtue
Many also deceive themselves in this way, they mistake the fear and uneasiness which follow after sin for virtuous emotions; and know not that these painful feelings spring from wounded pride, and a presumption which rests upon confidence in themselves and their own strength. They have accounted themselves to be something, and relied unduly upon their own powers. Their fall proves to them the vanity of this self-dependence, and they are immediately troubled and astonished as at some strange thing, and are disheartened at seeing the prop to which they trusted suddenly give way.
This can never befall the humble man, who trusts in his God alone, and in nothing presumes upon himself. Though grieved when he falls into a fault, he is neither surprised nor disquieted; for he knows that his own misery and weakness, already clearly manifest to himself by the light of truth, have brought all this upon him.
Chapter VI Further directions how to attain Self-Distrust
and Trust in God
Since our whole power to subdue our enemies arises principally from self-distrust and trust in God, I will give you some further directions to enable you, by the Divine Assistance, to acquire it. Know, then, for a certain truth, that neither all gifts, natural or acquired, nor all graces given gratis, nor the knowledge of all Scripture, nor long habitual exercise in the service of God, will enable us to do His will, unless in every good and acceptable work to be performed, in every temptation to be overcome, in every peril to be avoided, in every Cross to be borne in conformity to His will, our heart be sustained and up-borne by an especial aid from Him, and His hand be outstretched to help us. We must, then, bear this in mind all our life long, every day, every hour, every moment, that we may never indulge so much as a thought of self-confidence.
And as to confidence in God, know that it is as easy to Him to conquer many enemies as few; the old and experienced as the weak and young.
Therefore we will suppose a soul to be heavy-laden with sins, to have every possible fault and every imaginable defect, and to have tried, by every possible means and every kind of Spiritual Exercise, to forsake sin and to practice holiness. We will suppose this soul to have done all this, and yet to have failed in making the smallest advance in holiness, nay, on the contrary, to have been borne the more strongly towards evil.
For all this she must not lose her trust in God, nor give over her spiritual conflict and lay down her arms, but still fight on resolutely, knowing that none is vanquished in this spiritual combat but he who ceases to struggle and loses confidence in God, whose succor never fails His soldiers, though He sometimes permits them to be wounded. Fight on, then, valiantly; for on this depends the whole issue of the strife; for there is a ready and effectual remedy for the wounds of all combatants who look confidently to God and to His aid for help; and when they least expect it they shall see their enemies dead at their feet.
Chapter VII Of Spiritual Exercises, and first of the Exercise of the Understanding, which must be kept guarded against ignorance and curiosity
If in this warfare we are provided with no weapons except self-distrust and trust in God, needful as both these are, we shall not only fail to gain the victory over ourselves, but shall fall into many evils. To these, therefore, we must add the use of Spiritual Exercises, the third weapon named above.
And these relate chiefly to the Understanding and the Will.
As regards the Understanding, we must guard against two things which are apt to obscure it.
One is ignorance, which darkens it and impedes it in acquiring the knowledge of truth, the proper object of the understanding. Therefore it must be made clear and bright by exercise, that so it may be able to see and discern plainly all that is needful to purify the soul from disorderly passions, and to adorn it with saintly virtues.
This light may be obtained in two ways. The first and most important is prayer, imploring the Holy Ghost to pour it into our hearts. This He will not fail to do, if we in truth seek God alone and the fulfillment of His holy will, and if in all things we submit our Judgment to that of our spiritual father.
The other is, to exercise ourselves continually in a true and deep consideration of all things, to discover whether they be good or evil, according to the teaching of the Holy Ghost, and not according to their outward appearance, as they impress the senses or are judged of by the world.
This consideration, if rightly exercised will teach us to regard as falsehood and vanity all which the blind and corrupt world in so many various ways loves, desires, and seeks after. It will show us plainly that the honors and pleasures of earth are but vanity and vexation of spirit; that injury and infamy inflicted on us by the world bring true glory, and tribulations contentment; that to pardon our enemies and to do them good is true magnanimity, and an act which likens us most nearly to God; that to despise the world is better than to rule it; that voluntary obedience for the love of God to the meanest of His creatures is greater and nobler than to command mighty princes; and that the mortification and subjugation of our most trifling appetite is more glorious than the reduction of strong cities, the defeat of mighty armies, the working of miracles, or the raising of the dead.
Of the causes which hinder us from right discernment of things,
and of the method which we must adopt for enabling us to understand the aright
THE reason that we do not rightly discern all the things above-mentioned, and many others also, is, that we conceive hatred or love of them on their first appearance. By this means our understanding is clouded, so that it cannot judge of them rightly.
Lest thou fall into this delusion, be well advised, as far as possible, to keep thy will pure, and free from inordinate affection for anything whatsoever.
When any object then is presented to thee, view it with thine understanding, and consider it maturely, before thou be moved by hatred to refuse it, if it be thing contrary to thine inclinations, or by love to desire it, if it be thing pleasing to them. For then the understanding, being unclouded by passion, will be free, and clear, and able to perceive the truth, and to discover the evil which lurks behind delusive pleasure, and the good which is veiled under the semblance of evil.
But if the will be first bent to love or to hate any thing, the understanding will be unable to exercise right judgment upon it. For this affection, which will thus have intruded itself, so obscures the under standing, that it sees the object as other than it is and so representing it to the will, influences it, con trary to every rule and law of reason, to love or to hate it with greater intensity than before.
By this affection the understanding gradually comes to be more and more darkened and, thus darkened, it makes the thing seem more than ever hateful or lovely to the will.
Hence if the rule here laid down be not observed, (a rule which is of the utmost importance in the exercise of which we have been speaking,) these two faculties, the understanding and the will, noble and excellent as they are, will soon sink downwards, in miserable round, from darkness into thicker darkness, and from error into deeper error.
Guard thyself most vigilantly then, my daughter, from all unruly affection for anything whatsoever, the true character whereof thou shalt not have first examined and tested by the light of the understanding, and chiefly by that of grace and of prayer, and by the judgment of thy spiritual father. And this would have thee observe the more carefully with regard to any outward works which are good and holy, because in these, as such, more than in other acts, there is the greater danger, on our part, of deception and indiscretion.
Hence thou mayest take no little hurt from some circumstance of time, or place, or degree, or respect for authority as is known to many who have incurred great danger in the practice of commendable and most holy exercises
Another method to prevent deception of the understanding
Curiosity is another vice from which the mind must be free. If we indulge in vain, frivolous, or sinful dreams, our minds will become incapable of choosing the proper mortification of our disorderly affections.
All earthly things, except those absolutely necessary, must die through our complete disregard for them, even though they are not wrong in themselves. We must control our minds and not permit them to wander aimlessly about. Our minds must become insensible to mundane projects, to gossip, to the feverish search for news. Our indifference to the affairs of this world must give them a dream-like quality.
The same holds true for Heavenly things. We must be discreet and humble. Our greatest ambition must be to see the crucified Christ always before us, His life and death, what efforts He demands of us.
Seek nothing beyond this. It will please the Divine Master. His real friends ask only for those things that will enable them to fulfill His commissions. Any other desire, any other quest, is but self-love, spiritual pride, an encirclement by the devil.
Such a disciplined conduct is well fortified against the assaults of the devil. When this skilled opponent sees the fervor of persons beginning spiritual exercises and the fixed resolution of their wills, he insinuates his subtleties into their understanding. A breakthrough here permits him to push his way to the will. He is then the master of both these faculties.
As a feint, he inflates their imagination in moments of prayer, suggesting elevated sentiments. He works particularly on those who are curious and discerning by nature, who are subject to self-conceit and are fond of their own schemes. His aim, of course, is to amuse them with idle dreams and the sensible pleasure they afford so that, drugged with a false sense of appreciation of God, they may forget to cleanse their hearts, to examine themselves, and to practice mortification. In this way they become inflated with pride, and they idolize their own understanding.
Having become accustomed to consult no one but themselves, they finally are persuaded that they no longer need the advice or assistance of others.
It is a deadly, an almost incurable disease. It is much more difficult to remedy pride of the understanding than that of the heart. As soon as pride of the heart is discovered by the intelligence, it can be removed by a voluntary submission to proper authorities. But if a persons imagines, and persists in maintaining, that he is wiser than his superiors, how will his deception be shattered?
How will he discover his error? To whose judgment will he submit so long as he considers himself wiser than the rest of the world?
If the understanding, the searchlight of the soul, which alone can discover and rectify the vanity of the heart, is itself blinded and swollen with pride, who is able to cure it?
If the light changes to darkness, if the leader is treacherous, what will happen to the rest?
Be on guard, therefore, against such a fatal attack. Never let it overwhelm your minds.
We must train ourselves to conform to the judgment of others. Without carrying our notions of spirituality too high, let us become enamored with the folly and simplicity recommended so highly by the Apostle; then shall we surpass Solomon himself in wisdom.
Consider first, how God calls upon us, by his Prophet, in the lesson of this day: 'Be converted to me,’ saith he, 'with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning - and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God,’ Joel ii. 12,13. Christians, hearken to this summons from heaven. O let it sink deep into your souls; and if this day you hear the voice of God sweetly inviting you, turn to him in good earnest; now at this holy season harden not your hearts, lest provoked by your impenitence he turn away from you, and you die in your sins. O let us repeat and amend, as we are admonished by the Church on this day, whilst we have time, lest being overtaken by death, which is ever following at our heels, we should seek for time of penance, and not be able to find it.
Consider 2ndly, the meaning of the ashes which are put on our heads this day with these words: 'Remember that thou art dust; and into the dust thou shalt return.’ Sackcloth and ashes were the ancient habit of penitents. The Ninevites by fasting in sack-cloth and ashes found mercy. Let these ashes then, which we receive on our heads at the beginning of this penitential fast, be a lesson to us to enter upon it with the like penitential spirit. They are an emblem of contrition and humility; let us receive them with a contrite and humble heart. They are also a remembrance of our mortality, of our frail composition, and of our hasty return to our mother earth. O let us think well on this, and renounce henceforward our unhappy pride and presumption; O let us make good use of this our time, and prepare for that moment which shall ere long send away our souls into another region, and turn our bodies into dirt and dust.
Consider 3rdly, Christian soul, those words, as if, they were addressed to thee: ‘Yet forty days and Nineve shall be destroyed,’ Jonas iii. 4. Alas have not thy sins, like those of Nineve, called to heaven this long time for vengeance? And hast thou not too much reason to fear, lest the mercy which thou hast so long abused should now quickly give place to justice, and should suffer thee to die in thy sins? Perhaps this is the last reprieve that God will grant thee. In all appearance the good use, or the abuse of these forty days, may determine thy lot for an eternity.
Conclude then to spare no pains to avert the judgment that hangs over thy head, and so spend these forty days of reprieve in suing for mercy, after the manner God has appointed, that is, by fasting, weeping, and mourning, that thou mayest effectually find it.
The exercise of the will. The end to which all of our actions, interior and exterior, should be directed
We have spoken concerning the necessity of regulating one's understanding. It is necessary also to control one's will so that it is not abandoned to its own inclinations, but it is conformed entirely to the will of God.
It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our action under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.
Here will arise the greatest struggle with our nature, constantly thirsty for its own pleasure. Even in lofty spiritual undertakings, it seeks its own satisfaction, residing there without the least scruple, since there is no apparent evil. The following is the result. We begin acts of religion not from the sole motive of doing the will of God, but for a sensible pleasure that often accompanies such acts.
The illusion is still more subtle as the object of our affection is more commendable in itself. Who would imagine that self-love, criminal as it is, should prompt us to unite ourselves to God? That in our desire to possess Him we should pursue our own interests rather than His glory and the accomplishment of His will, which should be the only motive for those who love Him, seek Him, and profess to keep His laws?
If we desire to avoid such a dangerous obstacle, we must accustom ourselves not to desire or execute anything unless it is through the impulse of the Holy Spirit, combined with a pure intention of honoring Him Who desires to be not only the first Principle, but also the last End of our every word and action, through the observance of the following method.
As soon as an opportunity presents itself to perform such a good action, we must prevent our heart from seizing on it before we have considered God. This will enable us to know whether it coincides with His will, and whether we desire it solely because it is pleasing to Him.
When our will is controlled and directed in this way by the will of God, it is motivated only with the desire to conform entirely to Him, and to further His glory. The same method is to be followed in rejecting whatever is contrary to His will. The first move is to raise our minds to God to know what is displeasing to Him, and then be satisfied that in its rejection we conform to His holy will.
We must remember that it is extremely difficult to discover the deceptions of our fallen nature. It is always fond of making itself, for very questionable motives, the focal point of all things; it flatters by persuading us that in all our actions our only motive is to please God. What we accept or reject, then, is actually done to please ourselves, while we erroneously imagine that we act out of a desire to please, or a dread of displeasing, our Sovereign Lord.
The most effective remedy against evil is purity of heart. Everyone engaged in the spiritual combat must be armed with it, discarding the old man and putting on the new. The remedy is applied in this way. In everything that we undertake, pursue, or reject, we divest ourselves of all human considerations, and do only what is conformable to the will of God.
It may happen that in many things we do, and especially in the interior impulses of the heart, or in swiftly transient exterior actions, we may not always be conscious of the influence of this motive. But at least we should be so disposed that virtually and habitually we act from the viewpoint of pleasing God.
In more prolonged activities this virtual intention is not sufficient. It should be frequently renewed and developed to its full stature in purity and fervor. Without this, we run the great risk of deception by
self-love, which always prefers the creature to the Creator and so deceives that, in a short time, we are imperceptibly drawn from our primary intention. Well meaning but vulnerable persons generally set out with no other purpose than to please God. But by degrees they permit themselves, without knowing it, to be lured away by vanity. They for get the Divine will which first influenced them and are completely absorbed in the satisfaction afforded by their actions, and in the advantages and rewards they expect. If it happens that, while they think they are accomplishing, great things, Providence permits them to be interrupted by sickness or some accident, they are immediately dissatisfied, criticizing everyone about them, and sometimes even God Himself. This is clear evidence that the motive, the force behind their actions was bad.
Anyone who acts under the influence of Divine grace and only to please God is indifferent as to his course of action. Or, if he is inclined to some particular activity, he completely submits to Providence the manner and time of doing it. He is perfectly resigned to whatever success attends his undertakings, and his heart desires nothing but the accomplishment of the Divine will.
Therefore, let everyone examine himself, let him direct all his actions to this most excellent and noble end. If he discovers that he is performing a work of piety in order to avoid punishment, or to gain the rewards of the future life, he should establish as the end of his undertaking the will of God, Who requires that we avoid hell and gain Heaven.
It is not within man's power to realize the efficacy of this motive. The least action, no matter how insignificant, performed for His sake, greatly surpasses actions which, although of greater significance, are done for other motives.
For example, a small alms, given solely in honor of God, is infinitely more agreeable to Him than if, from some other motive, large possessions are abandoned, even if this is done from a desire to gain the kingdom of heaven. And this, in itself, is a highly commendable motive, and worthy of our consideration.
The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first. With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures. The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that Divine Object. In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory.
In conclusion, there is a final way of acting in complete accordance with this very excellent and elevated motive. This is fervently to petition our Lord for grace and frequently to consider the infinite benefits He has already given us, and which He continues to bestow every moment from an undeserved and disinterested affection.
Consider first, how much fasting is recommended to us in the word of God by the great example of Christ and of his Saints, as well of the Old as of the New Testament; how we are there called upon to turn to God with fasting, Joel ii.; how the greatest sinners have there found mercy by fasting, Jonas iii.; how we are there taught that all Christ’s children are to fast during his absence from us, St. Matt. ix. 15; and that the devil is not to be cast out but by prayer and fasting, St. Mark ix. 28. Man fell from God originally by intemperance; he returns to him by fasting. The gratifying of our sensual appetite betrays us both to the flesh and to the devil; we overcome them both by fasting; by which (as the Church daily inculcates in the preface for Lent) God restrains our vices and passions, elevates our souls to himself and bestows upon us his heavenly gifts and graces. O happy fasting which drivest away all our evils, healest both soul and body, and bringest us to our Sovereign God!
Consider 2ndly, that there are three great advantages found in fasting. First, it appeases the wrath of God provoked by our sins; inasmuch as by fasting for them we acknowledge our guilt, and take part with his justice, in condemning and punishing ourselves. For there is nothing sooner moves God to show us mercy than the homage we pay to his justice, by exercising a wholesome severity against the wretch that has dared to offend God. O let us conceive a just indignation against this sinful flesh! Let us not spare the traitor that has so often betrayed us into sin! Let a penitential fast be our regular exercise.
Consider 3rdly, that another great advantage of fasting is that we are enabled by it to overcome our passions and concupiscences. Fasting, when performed with a due spirit, humbles the soul exceedingly, and consequently restrains the irregular motions of all the passions that are the daughters of pride. It keeps the flesh in subjection, by depriving it of the principal nourishment of its rebellions and disorders, and obliges it to submit to the spirit. And, which is a third advantage, in proportion to its weakening the passions of the flesh, it gives strength and vigour to the soul; sets it at liberty from the clogs that hinder its free application to heavenly truths; and enables it to fly upwards towards God, by purer prayer and contemplation.
Conclude to set a due value on this wholesome exercise, which has been the favourite of all the Saints, and has greatly contributed to make them the favourites of heaven. But take care that your fasting be accompanied with its proper attendants, that it may be such a fast as God hath chosen.
FRIDAY AFTER ASH-WEDNESDAY : ON THE RULES OF FASTING
Consider first, that fasting, according to the present discipline of the Church, implies three things. First, we are to abstain from flesh meat on fasting days; secondly, we are to eat but one meal in the day; and thirdly, we are not to take that meal till about noon. The ancient discipline of the Church was more rigorous, both in point of the abstinence, and in not allowing the meal in Lent till the evening. These regulations are calculated to mortify the sensual appetite by penance and self-denial. If you find some difficulty in the observance of them, offer it up to God for your sins. Fasting is not designed to please, but to punish. Your diligent compliance on this occasion with the laws of your mother the Church will also give an additional value to your mortifications, from the virtue of obedience.
Consider 2ndly, that we must not content ourselves with the outward observance of these regulations that relate to our diet on fasting days, but we must principally have regard to the inward spirit, and what we may call the very soul of the fast, which is a penitential spirit; without this the outward observance is but like a carcass without life. This penitential spirit implies a deep sense of the guilt of our sins; a horror and a hearty sorrow for them; a sincere desire to return to God, and to renounce our sinful ways for the future; and particularly a readiness of mind to make the best satisfaction we are capable of to divine justice by penancing ourselves for our sins. Fasting, performed in this spirit, cannot fail of moving God to mercy. O my soul, let thy fasting be always animated with this spirit
Consider 3rdly, that fervent prayer and alms-deeds also, according to each one’s ability, ought to be the inseparable companions of our fasting. These three sisters should go hand-in-hand, Tob. xii. 8, to help us in our warfare against our three mortal enemies, the flesh, the world, and the devil. The practice of these three eminent good works we must oppose to that triple concupiscence which reigns in the world, and by means of which Satan maintains his unhappy reign. By fasting we overcome the lusts of the flesh by alms-deeds we subdue the lusts of the eyes, by which we are apt to covet the mammon of the world, and its empty toys; and by fervent and humble prayer we conquer the pride of life, and put to flight the devil, the king of pride. O let us never forget to call in these powerful auxiliaries to help us in our warfare. Let alms-deeds and prayer ever accompany our fasts.
Conclude to follow these rules, if you desire your fast should be acceptable; if you fail in them, it will not be such a fast as God hath chosen.
SATURDAY AFTER ASH-WEDNESDAY : ON THE GREAT FAST OF A CHRISTIAN
Consider first, that the great and general fast of a Christian is to abstain from sin. This fast obliges all sorts of persons, young and old, sick and healthy, at all times and in all places. To pretend to fast, and yet to go on in wilful sin, is a mockery rather than a fast. What were the Pharisees the better for their fasting, while their souls were corrupted with pride, covetousness, malice, and hypocrisy? Did not God reject the fast of the Jews, (Isaias lviii.) because on the days of their fasting, they continued to provoke him by their customary sins? And will he be better pleased with us, if we in pretending to fast are guilty of the like disorders? No certainly. If then we would fast to the purpose, ‘Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and then he will have mercy upon him.’ Isaias lv. 7.
Consider 2ndly, that the true Christian fast should not only put a restraint upon the sensual appetite, in point of eating, but also extend itself to a more general mortification of every one of the senses and faculties, in and by which, we have been liable to intemperance or excess. The eyes, the ears, the tongue, and so of all the rest, ought likewise to fast from curiosity, sensuality, vanity, carnal pleasures, idle conversations, theatrical shows, and other worldly and sensual diversions unbecoming a serious Christian penitent at all times, but much more so on days of fasting. But especially we are warned, Isaias lviii. 3, on the days of our fasting, to fast from our own will, humour, and passion, as that which of all things is the most opposite to the fast which God hath chosen. O my soul, see thou take good notice of this lesson; beware lest thou break thy fast, by indulging self-will, pride, and passion.
Consider 3rdly, and weigh well the description given by the prophet Isaias, ch. lviii., of the fast that is acceptable to the Lord, and of its happy effects in the soul. ‘Is not this,’ said the Lord, 'the fast that I have chosen? Loose the bands of wickedness - and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house; when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, &c., if thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to keep that which is good for nothing. Then thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness: and the Lord will give thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with brightness: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain whose waters shall not fail.’
Conclude ever to make it the great business of thy fast to break thy bonds asunder, and to put away from thee the chains of sin, and then, by exercising works of mercy, thou thyself shalt be entitled to mercy, and to all that is good.
Consider first, that a fast of forty days has been recommended by the law and the prophets, and sanctified by the example of Christ himself. Moses fasted forty days, (Exod. xxiv. 18,) whilst he conversed with God in the mountain, when he received the divine law. And again, when the people had sinned, he returned to the Lord, to the mountain, and fasted other forty days, Exod. xxxiv. 28. Elias fasted forty days in the wilderness, before he came to the mountain of God, where he was favoured with the vision of God, as far as man is capable of seeing him in this life, 3 Kings xix. 8. Christ our Lord, before he entered upon his mission of preaching his Gospel, retired into a wilderness and there employed forty days in prayer and fasting, St. Matt. iv. 2. How happy shall we be, if, by imitating according to our small ability, these great examples, we may also draw near to God, by this forty days’ fast of Lent! But then, in order to this, we must join, as they did, retirement and much prayer with our fasting.
Consider 2ndly, that the forty days fast of Lent amongst Christians, is primitive and apostolical: it began with Christianity itself, and with Christianity has been received by all people and nations which have received the faith and law of Christ. Embrace then, O my soul, this solemn penitential fast, this apostolical practice, this precious remnant of primitive discipline. But see it be with a penitential spirit. 'Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation,' 2 Cor. vi. 2. Take thou care not to receive so great a grace in vain. These forty days, if thou make good use of them, will be happy days to thee. 'O seek the Lord whilst he may be found, call upon him while he is near.' Isaias lv. 6
Consider 3rdly, that the great business of Lent is to do penance for our sins, to go daily with Magdalene to the feet of Christ, to wash them in spirit with penitential tears, to make our confession to him, and to lay down all our sins at his feet, begging that he would cancel them with his precious blood; to renounce them for ever, to detest them, and bewail them in his sight; to offer him our poor hearts with all our affections, in order to make him the best amends we can for our past disloyalties, by loving him with all our power for the time to come, that, as he said of Magdalene, St. Luke vii. 47, 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much,' so he may also say of us. In this spirit we should make a daily offering of our fasting, and of all other self-denials and penitential exercises of this time, to be united to the passion and death of the Son of God, and so to be accepted of, through him, in satisfaction for our sins. O do this, my soul, during these forty days, and thou shalt live.
Conclude to make good use of this holy time, in which mercy flows. O admire and adore that mercy which has endured thee so long, and which presses thee now, at least, to return to thy God. O take care lest, provoked by thy impenitence, he cut thee off in thy sins
Monday, First week in Lent On the ends of the institution of Lent
Consider first, that besides the great business of doing penance for the sins of the year, and of our whole lives, which is the main design of Lent, it is also instituted to be, in a particular manner, a time of devotion, in which we may worthily commemorate the sufferings and death of our Redeemer, and make them the subject of our daily meditation; in which also we may, by more than ordinary recollection and prayer, dispose our souls for duly celebrating the great Paschal solemnity, and imitating therein the resurrection of the Son of God, and in which we may in such manner cleanse and purify our souls by spiritual exercises as to be fit to approach worthily (as the Church commands us) to the divine mysteries at Easter. See, my soul, thou keep Lent in such a manner as to answer these ends.
Consider 2ndly, that Lent is a time which God particularly claims for himself as being the tithe of the year, which therefore ought to be set aside for him; and in the law he appointed that the tithes of all things should be sanctified to him, Levit. xxvii. And surely nothing could be more just than that we should offer our tithes at least to him that gives us all. How justly then, does he require of us the tithes of our years, by our dedicating these forty days, in a special manner, to his service? How religiously, then, and how holily, ought we to spend this time of Lent, that our performances may answer the great design of consecrating the tithe of the year to the divine service? An offering made to God ought to be without blemish: let our Lent offering be such.
Consider 3rdly, that the time of Lent ought to be for people that live in the world what a spiritual retreat is for regular communities; that is, a time in which, retiring as much as can be from the noise and distractions of the world, they may enter into themselves, and take a serious view of the whole state of their interior. Now is the time for them to see and examine how the soul stands affected, with relation to her God, to her neighbours, and to herself; how she acquits herself of all her duties, as well those incumbent on all Christians as those that are proper to her respective calling, or those relative to those under her charge. Now is the time to search diligently after such secret sins as are apt to lie lurking in the soul, disguised by some pretext of good, or wrapt up under the folds of self-love. In a word, now is the time to acquire a true knowledge of ourselves, in order to apply a proper remedy to all our evils, and to lay a solid foundation of a good life for the future.
Conclude to answer, in the best manner thou art able, all these ends of the institution of Lent, and particularly apply thyself at this time to take as it were in pieces the whole method of thy life, and to reform all that thou findest amiss.
Tuesday, First week in Lent On the Examination of the state of our interior
Consider first, the dreadful mischiefs that follow from our not knowing the true state of our own souls! Alas! what would it avail us to have all other sciences, and to know all things else, if we should not know what passes within ourselves, and so should want this most necessary of all sciences, the knowledge of ourselves? Ah! how many are there in the world who pass their whole lives in mortal sin, and yet, for want of looking into themselves, are not aware of it! How many imagine themselves to be alive, 'and have the name of being alive, and yet are dead!' Apoc. iii. 1. How many imagine their souls to be rich and wealthy, and to stand in need of nothing, and they know not that in the very truth, and in the sight of God, 'they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!'Apoc. iii. 17. 'O from my hidden sins cleanse me, O Lord; and from the sins of others spare thy servants.' Ps. xviii. 13.
Consider 2ndly, that to prevent so great an evil every Christian ought often to examine into the true state of his interior, and consider seriously what are the real dispositions of his soul, especially with regard to his God. He cannot be in the state of grace, or in the way of salvation, if he love not God above all things. Reflect, O my soul, is there nothing thou lovest more than God? Is there nothing that takes place of him in thy affections? How comes it, then, that commonly God is so seldom thought on in the course of the day? How comes it that upon every occasion worldly honour, temporal interest, sensual pleasures, the gratifying thyself or the world, make thee turn thy back on him? The true lover is ever thinking on the subject of his love, and never better content than when in company and conversing with his beloved. Is thy love of God such as this? Art thou resolutely determined, for no consideration whatever, for no honour, no interest, no pleasure, no human respect, no fear, no love - for nothing, in fine, that the world can give or take away, to be disloyal to thy God? If not, the love of God is not in thee, and thou art none of his. This is the best rule by which thou mayest know whether thou really lovest God or not. But then, to know thy true disposition in this regard, examine thy works: 'If you love me,' saith the Lord, 'Keep my commandments.' St. John xiv. 15.
Consider 3rdly, that thou must also examine, how thy soul stands affected with regard to thy neighbour. For here is another great branch of the Christian duty, in which his soul is no less interested, and in which too many deceive themselves; O my soul, art thou just in thy thoughts, words, and works, to thy neighbour? Dost thou live up to the rules of charity in this regard? Art thou not censorious in thy judgments, bitter in thy speeches, hasty and passionate in thy carriage to him? Dost thou never injure him in his reputation by backbiting and detraction, in his honour by affronts, in his friends by tale-bearing, and in the peace of his mind by derision or contempt? Art thou just in all thy dealings with him? Dost thou pay his dues? Dost thou keep any thing from him unjustly? Dost thou do by him, in whatever station of life he may be, as thou wouldest be done by, if thou wert in his place? Is there no rancour in thy heart against any one soul upon earth? No secret hatred, malice, or envy? Examine thyself well upon all these heads, in which millions affect to deceive themselves to their eternal perdition.
Conclude to labour seriously for the knowledge of thyself; that thou mayest effectually amend thy life and secure thy soul. For why shouldest thou suffer thyself to be any longer blindfolded by passion, or affected ignorance, with evident danger of falling down the dreadful precipice which leads to a miserable eternity.