Introduction to the Devout Life
by Saint Francis de Sales
Bishop and Prince of Geneva
COUNSELS AND PRACTICES SUITABLE FOR THE SOUL'S
GUIDANCE FROM THE FIRST ASPIRATION AFTER A DEVOUT LIFE TO THE POINT WHEN IT ATTAINS A
CONFIRMED RESOLUTION TO FOLLOW THE SAME.
What true Devotion is
You aim at a devout life, dear
child, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's
Divine Majesty. But seeing that the small errors people are wont to commit in the
beginning of any undertaking are apt to wax greater as they advance, and to become
irreparable at last, it is most important that you should thoroughly understand wherein
lies the grace of true devotion;--and that because while there undoubtedly is such a true
devotion, there are also many spurious and idle semblances thereof; and unless you know
which is real, you may mistake, and waste your energy in pursuing an empty, profitless
Arelius was wont to paint all his pictures with the features and
expression of the women he loved, and even so we all color devotion according to our own
likings and dispositions. One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be
leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart
is full of bitterness;--and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even
with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor's
blood, through slander and detraction.
Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers
daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating,
conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors. This man freely opens his
purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards
those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but
will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are
conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.
When Saul's servants sought to take David, Michal induced them to suppose that the
lifeless figure lying in his bed, and covered with his garments, was the man they sought;
and in like manner many people dress up an exterior with the visible acts expressive of
earnest devotion, and the world supposes them to be really devout and spiritual-minded,
while all the time they are mere lay figures, mere phantasms of devotion.
But, in fact, all true and living devotion presupposes the love of
God;--and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not
always of the same kind; for that Love shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us
acceptable to His Divine Majesty;--when it strengthens us to do well, it is called
Charity;--but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do
well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion.
The ostrich never flies,--the hen rises with difficulty, and achieves
but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swallow, are continually on
the wing, and soar high;--even so sinners do not rise towards God, for all their movements
are earthly and earthbound. Well-meaning people, who have not as yet attained a true
devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slowly
and heavily; while really devout men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and
In short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by
means of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and lovingly; and
just as charity leads us to a general practice of all God's Commandments, so devotion
leads us to practice them readily and diligently. And therefore we cannot call him who
neglects to observe all God's Commandments either good or devout, because in order to be
good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must further be very ready and
apt to perform the deeds of love. And forasmuch as devotion consists in a high degree of
real love, it not only makes us ready, active, and diligent in following all God's
Commands, but it also excites us to be ready and loving in performing as many good works
as possible, even such as are not enjoined upon us, but are only matters of counsel or
Even as a man just recovering from illness, walks only so far as he is
obliged to go, with a slow and weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far
as God commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of devotion,
and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of
God's Commands, and hastens gladly along the paths of heavenly counsels and inspirations.
The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and
flame;--love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is fanned into a
flame;--and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager,
energetic and diligent, not merely in obeying God's Commandments, but in fulfilling His
Divine Counsels and inspirations.
The Nature and Excellence of Devotion
Those who sought to discourage the Israelites from going up to the
Promised Land, told them that it was "a land which eateth
up the inhabitants thereof;" that is,
that the climate was so unhealthy that the inhabitants could not live long, and that the
people thereof were "men of a great stature,"
who looked upon the new-comers as mere locusts to be devoured. It is just so, my daughter,
that the world runs down true devotion, painting devout people with gloomy, melancholy
aspect, and affirming that religion makes them dismal and unpleasant. But even as Joshua
and Caleb protested that not only was the Promised Land a fair and pleasant country, but
that the Israelites would take an easy and peaceful possession thereof, so the Holy Spirit
tells us through His Saints, and our Lord has told us with His Own Lips, that a devout
life is very sweet, very happy and very lovable.
The world, looking on, sees that devout persons fast, watch and pray,
endure injury patiently, minister to the sick and poor, restrain their temper, check and
subdue their passions, deny themselves in all sensual indulgence, and do many other things
which in themselves are hard and difficult. But the world sees nothing of that inward,
heartfelt devotion which makes all these actions pleasant and easy.
Watch a bee hovering over the mountain thyme;--the juices it gathers are
bitter, but the bee turns them all to honey,--and so tells the worldling, that though the
devout soul finds bitter herbs along its path of devotion, they are all turned to
sweetness and pleasantness as it treads;--and the martyrs have counted fire, sword, and
rack but as perfumed flowers by reason of their devotion. And if devotion can sweeten such
cruel torments, and even death itself, how much more will it give a charm to ordinary good
We sweeten unripe fruit with sugar, and it is useful in correcting the
crudity even of that which is good. So devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which
takes away all bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from disagreeing
with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of presumption; it keeps the
oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from
the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing dew
in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to profit alike by honor and
contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness with an even mind, and fills men's hearts with a
Ponder Jacob's ladder:--it is a true picture of the devout life; the two
poles which support the steps are types of prayer which seeks the love of God, and the
Sacraments which confer that love; while the steps themselves are simply the degrees of
love by which we go on from virtue to virtue, either descending by good deeds on behalf of
our neighbor or ascending by contemplation to a loving union with God.
Consider, too, who they are who trod this ladder; men with angels'
hearts, or angels with human forms. They are not youthful, but they seem to be so by
reason of their vigor and spiritual activity. They have wings wherewith to fly, and attain
to God in holy prayer, but they have likewise feet wherewith to tread in human paths by a
holy gracious intercourse with men; their faces are bright and beautiful, inasmuch as they
accept all things gently and sweetly; their heads and limbs are uncovered, because their
thoughts, affections and actions have no motive or object save that of pleasing God; the
rest of their bodies is covered with a light shining garment, because while they use the
world and the things of this life, they use all such purely and honestly, and no further
than is needful for their condition --such are the truly devout. Believe me, dear child,
devotion is the sweetest of sweets, the queen of virtues, the perfection of love. If love
is the milk of life, devotion is the cream thereof; if it is a fruitful plant, devotion is
the blossom; if it is a precious stone, devotion is its brightness; if it is a precious
balm, devotion is its perfume, even that sweet odor which delights men and causes the
angels to rejoice.
Devotion is suitable to every Vocation and
When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after
its kind; and even so He bids Christians,--the
living trees of His Church,--to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his
kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each--the noble, the
artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice
must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each
individual. I ask you, my child, would it be fitting that a Bishop should seek to lead the
solitary life of a Carthusian? And if the father of a family were as regardless in making
provision for the future as a Capuchin, if the artisan spent the day in church like a
Religious, if the Religious involved himself in all manner of business on his neighbor's
behalf as a Bishop is called upon to do, would not such a devotion be ridiculous,
ill-regulated, and intolerable? Nevertheless such a mistake is often made, and the world,
which cannot or will not discriminate between real devotion and the indiscretion of those
who fancy themselves devout, grumbles and finds fault with devotion, which is really
nowise concerned in these errors.
No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it
perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is,
you may be sure, a spurious devotion. Aristotle says that the bee sucks honey from flowers
without damaging them, leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them;--but true
devotion does better still, for it not only hinders no manner of vocation or duty, but,
contrariwise, it adorns and beautifies all. Throw precious stones into honey, and each
will grow more brilliant according to its several color:--and in like manner everybody
fulfills his special calling better when subject to the influence of devotion:--family
duties are lighter, married love truer, service to our King more faithful, every kind of
occupation more acceptable and better performed where that is the guide.
It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the
soldier's guardroom, the mechanic's workshop, the prince's court, or the domestic hearth.
Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious
and monastic life, cannot be practiced in these outer vocations, but there are various
other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the
paths of perfection. The Old Testament furnishes us examples in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
David, Job, Tobias, Sarah, Rebecca and Judith; and in the New Testament we read of Saint
Joseph, Lydia and Crispus, who led a perfectly devout life in their trades:--we have Saint
Anne, Martha, Saint Monica, Aquila and Priscilla, as examples of household devotion,
Cornelius, Saint Sebastian, and Saint Maurice among soldiers;--Constantine, Saint Helena,
Saint Louis, the Blessed Amadaeus, and Saint Edward on
the throne. And we even find instances of some who fell away in solitude,-- usually so
helpful to perfection,--some who had led a higher life in the world, which seems so
antagonistic to it. Saint Gregory dwells on how Lot, who had kept himself pure in the
city, fell in his mountain solitude. Be sure that wheresoever our lot is cast we may and
must aim at the perfect life.
The Need of a Guide for those who
would enter upon and advance in the Devout Life
When Tobias was bidden to go to Rages, he was willing to obey his
father, but he objected that he knew not the way;--to which Tobit answered, "Seek thee a man which may go with thee;" and even so,
daughter, I say to you, If you would really tread the paths of the devout life, seek some
holy man to guide and conduct you. This is the precept of precepts, says the devout
Avila,--seek as you will you can never so surely discover God's Will as through the
channel of humble obedience so universally taught and practiced by all the Saints of olden
When the blessed Teresa read of the great penances performed by Catherine of Cordova,
she desired exceedingly to imitate them, contrary to the mind of her Confessor, who
forbade her to do the like, and she was tempted to disobey him therein. Then God spoke to
Teresa, saying, "My child, thou art on a good and safe
road;-- true, thou seest all this penance, but verily I esteem thy obedience as a yet
greater virtue;" --and thenceforth Saint Teresa so greatly loved the
virtue of obedience, that in addition to that due to her superiors, she took a vow of
special obedience to a pious ecclesiastic, pledging herself to follow his direction and
guidance, which proved an inexpressible help to her. And even so before and after her many
pious souls have subjected their will to God's ministers in order the better to submit
themselves to Him, a practice much commended by Saint Catherine of Sienna in her
The devout Princess Saint Elisabeth gave an unlimited obedience to the venerable
Conrad; and one of the parting counsels given by Saint Louis to his son ere he died was,
"Confess thyself often,--choose a single-minded, worthy
confessor, who is able wisely to teach thee how to do that which is needful for thee; a
faithful friend," we are told in Holy Scripture, "is a strong defense, and he that hath found such a one hath found a
treasure;"and again: "A faithful friend is
the medicine of life; and they that fear the Lord shall find him." These
sacred words have chiefly reference, as you see, to the immortal life, with a view to
which we specially need a faithful friend, who will guide us by his counsel and advice,
thereby guarding us against the deceits and snares of the Evil
One:--he will be as a storehouse of wisdom to us in our sorrows, trials
and falls; he will be as a healing balm to stay and soothe our heart in the time of
spiritual sickness,--he will shield us from evil, and confirm that which is good in us,
and when we fall through infirmity, he will avert the deadly nature of the evil, and raise
us up again.
But who can find such a friend? The Wise Man answers:--"He
that feareth the Lord:" that is to say,
the truly humble soul which earnestly desires to advance in the spiritual life. So,
daughter, inasmuch as it concerns you so closely to set forth on this devout journey under
good guidance, do you pray most earnestly to God to supply you with a guide after His Own
Heart, and never doubt but that He will grant you one who is wise and faithful, even
should He send you an angel from Heaven, as He sent to Tobias.
In truth, your spiritual guide should always be as a heaven-sent angel to
you;--by which I mean that when you have found him, you are not to look upon him, or trust
in him or his wisdom as an ordinary man; but you must look to God, Who will help you and
speak to you through this man, putting into his heart and mouth that which is needful to
you; so that you ought to hearken as though he were an angel come down from Heaven to lead
you thither. Deal with him in all sincerity and faithfulness, and with open heart;
manifesting alike your good and your evil, without pretense or dissimulation. Thus your
good will be examined and confirmed, and your evil corrected and remedied; --you will be
soothed and strengthened in trouble, moderated and regulated in prosperity.
Give your guide a hearty confidence mingled with sacred reverence, so
that reverence in no way shall hinder your confidence, and confidence nowise lessen your
reverence: trust him with the respect of a daughter for her father; respect him with the
confidence of a son in his mother. In a word, such a friendship should be strong and
sweet; altogether holy, sacred, divine and spiritual. And with such an aim, choose one
among a thousand, Avila says;--and I say among ten thousand, for there are fewer than one
would think capable of this office. He must needs be full of love, of wisdom and of
discretion; for if either of these three be wanting there is danger. But once more I say,
ask such help of God, and when you have found it, bless His Holy Name; be steadfast, seek
no more, but go on simply, humbly and trustfully, for you are safe to make a prosperous
The First Step must be Purifying the Soul
"The flowers appear on the earth,"
says the Heavenly Bridegroom, and the time for pruning and cutting is come. And what, my
child, are our hearts' flowers save our good desires? Now, so soon as these begin to
appear, we need the pruning-hook to cut off all dead and superfluous works from our
conscience. When the daughter of a strange land was about to espouse an Israelite, the law
commanded her to put off the garment of her captivity, to pare her nails, and to shave her
head; even so the soul which aims at the dignity of
becoming the spouse of Christ, must put off the old man, and put on the new man, forsaking
sin: moreover, it must pare and shave away every impediment which can hinder the Love of
God. The very first step towards spiritual health is to be purged from our sinful humors.
Saint Paul received perfect purification instantaneously, and the like grace was conferred
on Saint Magdalene, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Pelagia, and some others, but this
kind of purgation is as miraculous and extraordinary in grace as the resurrection of the
dead in nature, nor dare we venture to aspire to it. The ordinary purification, whether of
body or soul, is only accomplished by slow degrees, step by step, gradually and painfully.
The angels on Jacob's ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they did not fly,
but went in due order up and down the steps of the ladder. The soul which rises from out
of sin to a devout life has been compared to the dawn, which does not banish darkness
suddenly, but by degrees. That cure which is gradually effected is always the surest; and
spiritual maladies, like those of the body, are wont to come on horseback and express,
while they depart slowly and on foot. So that we must needs be brave and patient, my
daughter, in this undertaking. It is a woeful thing to see souls beginning to chafe and
grow disheartened because they find themselves still subject to imperfection after having
made some attempt at leading a devout life, and well-nigh yielding to the temptation to
give up in despair and fall back; but, on the other hand, there is an extreme danger
surrounding those souls who, through the opposite temptation, are disposed to imagine
themselves purified from all imperfection at the very outset of their purgation; who count
themselves as full-grown almost before they are born, and seek to fly before they have
wings. Be sure, daughter, that these are in great danger of a relapse through having left
their physician too soon. "It is but lost labor to rise up
early and late take rest," unless the Lord prosper all we do.
The work of the soul's purification neither may nor can end save with life
itself;--do not then let us be disheartened by our imperfections,--our very perfection
lies in diligently contending against them, and it is impossible so to contend without
seeing them, or to overcome without meeting them face-to-face. Our victory does not
consist in being insensible to them, but in not consenting to them. Now to be afflicted by
our imperfections is certainly not to consent thereto, and for the furtherance of humility
it is needful that we sometimes find ourselves worsted in this spiritual battle, wherein,
however, we shall never be conquered until we lose either life or courage. Moreover,
imperfections and venial sins cannot destroy our spiritual life, which is only to be lost
through mortal sin; consequently we have only need to watch well that they do not imperil
our courage. David continually asks the Lord to strengthen his heart against cowardice and
discouragement; and it is our privilege in this war that we are certain to vanquish so
long as we are willing to fight.
The First Purification, namely, from Mortal Sin
The first purification to be made is from sin;--the means whereby to
make it, the sacrament of penance. Seek the best confessor within your reach, use one of
the many little books written in order to help the examination of conscience. Read some such book carefully, examining point by point
wherein you have sinned, from the first use of your reason to the present time. And if you
mistrust your memory, write down the result of your examination.
Having thus sought out the evil spots in your conscience, strive to detest them, and to
reject them with the greatest abhorrence and contrition of which your heart is
capable;--bearing in mind these four things:--that by sin you have lost God's Grace,
rejected your share in Paradise, accepted the pains of Hell, and renounced God's Eternal
Love. You see, my child, that I am now speaking of a general confession of your whole
life, which, while I grant it is not always necessary, I yet believe will be found most
helpful in the beginning of your pursuit after holiness, and therefore I earnestly advise
you to make it. Not infrequently the ordinary confessions of persons leading an everyday
life are full of great faults, and that because they make little or no preparation, and
have not the needful contrition. Owing to this deficiency such people go to confession
with a tacit intention of returning to their old sins, inasmuch as they will not avoid the
occasions of sin, or take the necessary measures for amendment of life, and in all such
cases a general confession is required to steady and fix the soul. But, furthermore, a
general confession forces us to a clearer self-knowledge, kindles a wholesome shame for
our past life, and rouses gratitude for God's Mercy, Which has so long waited patiently
for us;--it comforts the heart, refreshes the spirit, excites good resolutions, affords
opportunity to our spiritual Father for giving the most suitable advice, and opens our
hearts so as to make future confessions more effectual. Therefore I cannot enter into the
subject of a general change of life and entire turning to God, by means of a devout life,
without urging upon you to begin with a general confession.
The Second Purification, from all Sinful
All the children of Israel went
forth from the land of Egypt, but not all went forth heartily, and so, when wandering in
the desert, some of them sighed after the leeks and onions,--the fleshpots of Egypt. Even
so there are penitents who forsake sin, yet without forsaking their sinful affections;
that is to say, they intend to sin no more, but it goes sorely against them to abstain
from the pleasures of sin;--they formally renounce and forsake sinful acts, but they turn
back many a fond lingering look to what they have left, like Lot's wife as she fled from
Sodom. They are like a sick man who abstains from eating melon when the doctor says it
would kill him, but who all the while longs for it, talks about it, bargains when he may
have it, would at least like just to sniff the perfume, and thinks those who are free to
eat of it very fortunate.
And so these weak cowardly penitents abstain awhile from sin, but
reluctantly;-- they would faint be able to sin without incurring damnation;--they talk
with a lingering taste of their sinful deeds, and envy those who are yet indulging in the
like. Thus a man who has meditated some revenge gives it up in confession, but soon after
he is to be found talking about the quarrel, averring that but for the fear of God he
would do this or that; complaining that it is hard to keep the Divine rule of forgiveness;
would to God it were lawful to avenge one's self! Who can fail to see that even if this
poor man is not actually committing sin, he is altogether bound with the affections
thereof, and although he may have come out of Egypt, he yet hungers after it, and longs
for the leeks and onions he was wont to feed upon there! It is the same with the woman
who, though she has given up her life of sin, yet takes delight in being sought after and
admired. Alas! of a truth, all such are in great peril.
Be sure, my daughter, that if you seek to lead a devout life, you must not
merely forsake sin; but you must further cleanse your heart from all affections pertaining
to sin; for, to say nothing of the danger of a relapse, these wretched affections will
perpetually enfeeble your mind, and clog it, so that you will be unable to be diligent,
ready and frequent in good works, wherein nevertheless lies the very essence of all true
devotion. Souls which, in spite of having forsaken sin, yet retain such likings and
longings, remind us of those persons who, without being actually ill, are pale and sickly,
languid in all they do, eating without appetite, sleeping without refreshment, laughing
without mirth, dragging themselves about rather than walking briskly. Such souls as I have
described lose all the grace of their good deeds, which are probably few and feeble,
through their spiritual languor.
How to effect this Second Purification
The first inducement to attain
this second purification is a keen and lively apprehension of the great evils resulting
from sin, by means of which we acquire a deep, hearty contrition. For just as contrition,
(so far as it is real,) however slight, when joined to the virtue of the Sacraments,
purges away sin; so, when it becomes strong and urgent, it purges away all the affections
which cling around habits of sin. A moderate, slight hatred makes men dislike its object
and avoid his society; but when a violent, mortal hatred exists, they not only abhor and
shun the person who excites it, but they loathe him, they cannot endure the approach of
his relations or connections, nor even his likeness or anything that concerns him. Just so
when a penitent only hates sin through a weakly although real contrition, he will resolve
to avoid overt acts of sin; but when his contrition is strong and hearty, he will not
merely abhor sin, but every affection, every link and tendency to sin. Therefore, my
daughter, it behooves us to kindle our contrition and repentance as much as we possibly
can, so that it may reach even to the very smallest appearance of sin. Thus it was that
the Magdalen, when converted, so entirely lost all taste for her past sin and its
pleasures, that she never again cast back one thought upon them; and David declared that
he hated not only sin itself, but every path and way which led thereto. This it is which
is that "renewing of the soul" which the
same Prophet compares to the eagle's strength.
Now, in order to attain this fear and this contrition, you must use the
following meditations carefully; for if you practice them steadfastly, they (by God's
Grace) will root out both sin and its affections from your heart. It is to that end that I
have prepared them: do you use them one after another, in the order in which they come,
only taking one each day, and using that as early as possible, for the morning is the best
time for all spiritual exercises;--and then you will ponder and ruminate it through the
day. If you have not as yet been taught how to meditate, you will find instructions to
that purpose in the Second Part.
First Meditation - Of Creation
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
Ask Him to
inspire your heart.
Consider that but a few years since you were not
born into the world, and your soul was as yet non-existent. Where
wert thou then, O my soul? The world was already old, and yet of thee there was no sign.
you out of this nothingness, in order to make you what you are, not because He had any
need of you, but solely out of His Goodness.
the being which God has given you; for it is the foremost being of this visible world,
adapted to live eternally, and to be perfectly united to God's Divine Majesty.
Affections and Resolutions
Humble yourself utterly before God, saying with the
Psalmist: O Lord, I am nothing in respect of Thee--what am I,
that Thou shouldst remember me? O my soul, thou wert yet lost in that abyss of
nothingness, if God had not called thee forth, and what of thee in such a case?
Give God thanks: O Great
and Good Creator, what do I not owe Thee, Who didst take me from out that nothingness, by
Thy Mercy to make me what I am? How can I ever do enough worthily to praise Thy Holy Name,
and render due thanks to Thy Goodness?
Confess your own shame: But
alas, O my Creator, so far from uniting myself to Thee by a loving service, I have
rebelled against Thee through my unruly affections, departing from Thee, and giving myself
up to sin, and ignoring Thy Goodness, as though Thou hadst not created me.
thyself before God: O my soul, know that the Lord He is thy God,
it is He that hath made thee, and not thou thyself. O God, I am the work of Thy Hands;
henceforth I will not seek to rest in myself, who am nought. Wherein hast thou to glory,
who art but dust and ashes? how canst thou, a very nothing, exalt thyself? In order to my
own humiliation, I will do such and such a thing,--I will endure such contempt;--I will
alter my ways and henceforth follow my Creator, and realize that I am honored by His
calling me to the being He has given; I will employ it solely to obey His Will, by means
of the teaching He has given me, of which I will inquire more through my spiritual Father.
Thank God: Bless the Lord,
O my soul, and praise His Holy Name with all thy being, because His Goodness called me
forth from nothingness, and His Mercy created me.
Offer: O my God, I offer
Thee with all my heart the being Thou hast given me, I dedicate and consecrate it to Thee.
Pray: O God, strengthen me
in these affections and resolutions. Dear Lord, I commend me, and all those I love, to Thy
neverfailing Mercy. Our Father, . . . etc.
At the end of your meditation linger a while, and gather, so to say, a
little spiritual bouquet from the thoughts you have dwelt upon, the sweet perfume whereof
may refresh you through the day.
Second Meditation - Of the
End for which we were Created
Place yourself before God.
Ask Him to
inspire your heart.
God did not bring you into the world because He had
any need of you, useless as you are; but solely that He might show forth His Goodness in
you, giving you His Grace and Glory. And to this end He gave you understanding that you
might know Him, memory that you might think of Him, a will that you might love Him,
imagination that you might realize His mercies, sight that you might behold the marvels of
His works, speech that you might praise Him, and so on with all your other faculties.
Being created and placed in the world for this
intent, all contrary actions should be shunned and rejected, as also you should avoid as
idle and superfluous whatever does not promote it.
how unhappy they are who do not think of all this,--who live as though they were created
only to build and plant, to heap up riches and amuse themselves with trifles.
Affections and Resolutions
Humble yourself in that hitherto you have so little
thought upon all this: Alas, my God, of what was I thinking when
I did not think of Thee? what did I remember when I forgot Thee? what did I love when I
loved Thee not? Alas, when I ought to have been feeding on the truth, I was but filling
myself with vanity, and serving the world, which was made to serve me.
Abhor your past life: I
renounce ye, O vain thoughts and useless cogitations, frivolous and hateful memories; I
renounce all worthless friendships, all unprofitable efforts, and miserably ungrateful
self-indulgence, all pitiful compliances.
Turn to God: Thou, my God
and Savior shalt henceforth be the sole object of my thoughts; no more will I give my mind
to ideas which are displeasing to Thee. All the days of my life I will dwell upon the
greatness of Thy Goodness, so lovingly poured out upon me. Thou shalt be henceforth the
delight of my heart, the resting-place of all my affections. From this time forth I will
forsake and abhor the vain pleasures and amusements, the empty pursuits which have
absorbed my time;--the unprofitable ties which have bound my heart I will loosen
henceforth, and to that end I will use such and such remedies.
Thank God, Who has made you for so gracious an end: Thou hast made me, O Lord, for Thyself, that I may eternally enjoy the
immensity of Thy Glory; when shall I be worthy thereof, when shall I know how to bless
Thee as I ought?
Offer: O Dearest Lord, I offer Thee all my affections and resolutions, with
my whole heart and soul.
Pray: I entreat Thee, O God, that Thou wouldest accept my desires and
longings, and give Thy Blessing to my soul, to enable me to fulfill them, through the
Merits of Thy Dear Son's Precious Blood shed upon the Cross for me. Our Father, . . . etc.
Gather your little spiritual bouquet.
Third Meditation - Of the
Gifts of God
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
Ask Him to
inspire your heart.
Consider the material gifts God has given you--your
body, and the means for its preservation; your health, and all that maintains it; your
friends and many helps. Consider too how many persons more deserving than you are without
these gifts; some suffering in health or limb, others exposed to injury, contempt and
trouble, or sunk in poverty, while God has willed you to be better off.
the mental gifts He has given you. Why are you not stupid, idiotic, insane like many you
know of? Again, God has favored you with a decent and suitable education, while many have
grown up in utter ignorance.
Further, consider His spiritual gifts. You are a
child of His Church, God has taught you to know Himself from your youth. How often has He
given you His Sacraments? What inspirations and interior light, what reproofs, He has
given to lead you aright; how often He has forgiven you, how often delivered you from
occasions of falling; what opportunities He has granted for your soul's progress! Dwell
somewhat on the detail, see how Loving and Gracious God has been to you.
Affections and Resolutions
Marvel at God's Goodness. How good He has been to
me, how abundant in mercy and plenteous in loving-kindness! O my
soul, be thou ever telling of the great things the Lord has done for thee!
your own ingratitude. What am I, Lord, that Thou rememberest me?
How unworthy am I! I have trodden Thy Mercies under foot, I have abused Thy Grace, turning
it against Thy very Self; I have set the depth of my ingratitude against the deep of Thy
Grace and Favor.
Kindle your gratitude. O
my soul, be no more so faithless and disloyal to thy mighty Benefactor! How should not my
whole soul serve the Lord, Who has done such great things in me and for me?
Go on, my daughter, to refrain from this or that
material indulgence; let your body be wholly the servant of God, Who has done so much for
it. Set your soul to seek Him by this or that devout practice suitable thereto. Make
diligent use of the means provided by the Church to help you to love God and save your
soul. Resolve to be constant in prayer and seeking the Sacraments, in hearing God's Word,
and in obeying His inspirations and counsels.
Thank God for the clearer knowledge He has given you
of His benefits and your own duty.
Offer your heart and all its resolutions to Him.
Ask Him to strengthen you to fulfill them faithfully
by the Merits of the Death of His Son. OUR FATHER, etc.
Gather the little spiritual bouquet.
Fourth Meditation - On Sin
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
Ask Him to
inspire your heart.
Consider how long it is since you first began to
commit sin, and how since that first beginning sin has multiplied in your heart; how every
day has added to the number of your sins against God, against yourself and against your
neighbor, by deed, word, thought and desire.
your evil tendencies, and how far you have followed them. These two points will show you
that your sins are more in number than the hairs of your head, or the sand on the
sin, consider your ingratitude towards God, which is in itself a sin enfolding all the
others, and adding to their enormity; consider the gifts which God has given you, and
which you have turned against the Giver; especially the inspirations you have neglected,
and the promptings to good which you have frustrated. Review the many Sacraments you have
received, and see where are their fruits. Where are the precious jewels wherewith your
Heavenly Bridegroom decked you? With what preparation have you received them? Reflect upon
the ingratitude with which, while God sought to save you, you have fled from Him and
rushed upon destruction.
Affections and Resolutions
Humble yourself in your wretchedness. O my God, how dare I come before Thine Eyes? I am but a corrupt being,
a very sink of ingratitude and wickedness. Can it be that I have been so disloyal, that
not one sense, not one faculty but has been sullied and stained;--not one day has passed
but I have sinned before Thee? Was this a fitting return for all my Creator's gifts, for
my Redeemer's Blood?
Ask pardon;--throw yourself at the Lord's Feet as
the prodigal son, as the Magdalene, as the woman convicted of adultery. Have mercy, Lord, on me a sinner! O Living Fountain of Mercy, have
pity on me, unworthy as I am.
Resolve to do better.
Lord, with the help of Thy Grace I will never again give myself up to sin. I have loved it
too well;--henceforth I would abhor it and cleave to Thee. Father of Mercy, I would live
and die to Thee.
In order to put away past sin, accuse yourself
bravely of it, let there not be one sinful act which you do not bring to light.
Resolve to make every effort to tear up the roots of
sin from your heart, especially this and that individual sin which troubles you most.
In order to do this, resolve steadfastly to follow
the advice given you, and never think that you have done enough to atone for your past
Thank God for having waited till now for you, and
for rousing these good intentions in your heart.
Offer Him all your heart to carry them to good
Pray that He would strengthen you.
Fifth Meditation - Of Death
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
yourself to be on your deathbed, in the last extremity, without the smallest hope of
Consider the uncertainty as to the day of your
death. One day your soul will quit this body--will it be in summer or winter? in town or
country? by day or by night? will it be suddenly or with warning? will it be owing to
sickness or an accident? will you have time to make your last confession or not? Will your
confessor or spiritual father be at hand or will he not? Alas, of all these things we know
absolutely nothing; all that we do know is that die we shall, and for the most part sooner
than we expect.
Consider that then the world is at end as far as you
are concerned, there will be no more of it for you, it will be altogether overthrown for
you, since all pleasures, vanities, worldly joys, empty delights will be as a mere
fantastic vision to you. Woe is me, for what mere trifles and unreality's I have ventured
to offend my God? Then you will see that what we preferred to Him was nought. But, on the
other hand, all devotion and good works will then seem so precious and so sweet:--Why did
I not tread that pleasant path? Then what you thought to be little sins will look like
huge mountains, and your devotion will seem but a very little thing.
Consider the universal farewell which your soul will
take of this world. It will say farewell to riches, pleasures, and idle companions; to
amusements and pastimes, to friends and neighbors, to husband, wife and child, in short to
all creation. And lastly it will say farewell to its own body, which it will leave pale
and cold, to become repulsive in decay.
Consider how the survivors will hasten to put that
body away, and hide it beneath the earth--and then the world will scarce give you another
thought, or remember you, any more than you have done to those already gone. "God rest his soul!" men will say, and that is all. O
death, how pitiless, how hard thou art!
Consider that when it quits the body the soul must
go at once to the right hand or the left. To which will your soul go? what side will it
take? none other, be sure, than that to which it had voluntarily drawn while yet in this
Affections and Resolutions
Pray to God, and throw yourself into His Arms. O Lord, be Thou my stay in that day of anguish! May that hour be
blessed and favorable to me, if all the rest of my life be full of sadness and trial.
Despise the world. Forasmuch
as I know not the hour in which I must quit the world, I will not grow fond of it. O dear
friends, beloved ones of my heart, be content that I cleave to you only with a holy
friendship which may last for ever; why should I cling to you with a tie which must needs
I will prepare for the hour of death and take every
precaution for its peaceful arrival; I will thoroughly examine into the state of my
conscience, and put in order whatever is wanting.
Thank God for inspiring you with these resolutions;
offer them to His Majesty; entreat Him anew to grant you a happy death by the Merits of
His Dear Son's Death. Ask the prayers of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. Our Father, . . . etc.
Gather a bouquet of myrrh.
Sixth Meditation - On Judgment.
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
to inspire you.
When the time comes which God has appointed for the
end of this world, and after many terrible signs and warnings, which will overwhelm men
with fear,--the whole earth will be destroyed, and nothing then left.
Afterwards, all men, save those already risen, shall
rise from the dead, and at the voice of the Archangel appear in the valley of Jehoshaphat.
But alas, with what diverse aspects! For some will be glorious and shining, others
horrible and ghastly.
Consider the majesty with which the Sovereign Judge
will appear surrounded by all His Saints and Angels; His Cross, the Sign of Grace to the
good and of terror to the evil, shining brighter than the sun.
This Sovereign Judge will with His awful word,
instantly fulfilled, separate the evil and the good, setting the one on His Right Hand,
the other on His Left--an eternal separation, for they will never meet again.
This separation made, the books of conscience will
be opened, and all men will behold the malice of the wicked, and how they have contemned
God; as also the penitence of the good, and the results of the grace they received.
Nothing will be hid. O my God, what confusion to the one, what rejoicing to the other!
Consider the final sentence of the wicked. "Depart from Me,
ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Dwell upon these awful words.
"Go," He says--for ever discarding these
wretched sinners, banishing them for ever from His Presence. He calls them "cursed;" O my soul, what a curse; a curse involving
all other maledictions, all possible evil, an irrevocable curse, including all time and
eternity; condemning them to everlasting fire. Think what that eternity of suffering
Then consider the sentence of the good. "Come," the Judge says--O blessed loving word with
which God draws us to Himself and receives us in His Bosom. "Blessed
of My Father"--O blessing above all blessings! "inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world."
O my God, and that Kingdom will know no end!
Affections and Resolutions
soul, at the thought. O God, who will be my stay in that hour when the pillars of the
earth are shaken?
Abhor your sins, which alone can cause you to be
lost when that fearful day comes. Surely I will judge myself now, that I be not judged;--I
will examine my conscience, accuse, condemn, punish myself, that the Judge may not condemn
me then. I will confess my faults, and follow the counsels given me.
Thank God for having given you means of safety in
that terrible day, and time for repentance. Offer Him your heart, and ask for grace to use
it well. Our Father, . . . etc.
Gather your bouquet.
Seventh Meditation - Of Hell
Place yourself in
Humble yourself, and ask His Aid.
Picture to yourself a dark city, reeking with the
flames of sulfur and brimstone, inhabited by citizens who cannot get forth.
Even so the lost are plunged in their infernal
abyss;--suffering indescribable torture in every sense and every member; and that because
having used their members and senses for sin, it is just that through them they should
suffer now. Those eyes which delighted in impure vicious sights, now behold devils; the
ears which took pleasure in unholy words, now are deafened with yells of despair;--and so
on with the other senses.
Beyond all these sufferings, there is one greater
still, the privation and pain of loss of God's Glory, which is for ever denied to their
vision. If Absalom cared not to be released from exile, if he might not see his father's
face, how much sorer will it be to be deprived for ever
of the blessed vision of God?
how insupportable the pains of Hell will be by reason of their eternal duration. If the
irritating bite of an insect, or the restlessness of fever, makes an ordinary night seem
so long and tedious, how terrible will the endless night of eternity be, where nought will
be found save despair, blasphemy and fury!
Affections and Resolutions
Prophet's descriptions of the terrors of the Lord, and
ask your soul whether it can face them--whether you can bear to lose your God for ever?
that you have repeatedly deserved to do so. Resolve henceforth to act differently, and to
rescue yourself from this abyss. Resolve on distinct definite acts by which you may avoid
sin, and thereby eternal death.
thanks, offer yourself, pray.
Eighth Meditation - On Paradise
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
Represent to yourself a lovely calm night, when the
heavens are bright with innumerable stars: add to the beauty of such a night the utmost
beauty of a glorious summer's day,-- the sun's brightness not hindering the clear shining
of moon or stars, and then be sure that it all falls immeasurably short of the glory of
Paradise. O bright and blessed country, O sweet and precious place!
Consider the beauty and perfection of the countless
inhabitants of that blessed country;-- the millions and millions of angels, Cherubim and
Seraphim; the glorious company of Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and saints. O
blessed company, any one single member of which surpasses all the glory of this world,
what will it be to behold them all, to sing with them the sweet Song of the Lamb? They
rejoice with a perpetual joy, they share a bliss unspeakable, and unchangeable delights.
Consider how they enjoy the Presence of God, Who
fills them with the richness of His Vision, which is a perfect ocean of delight; the joy
of being for ever united to their Head. They are like happy birds, hovering and singing
for ever within the atmosphere of divinity, which fills them with inconceivable pleasures.
There each one vies without jealousy in singing the praises of the Creator. "Blessed art Thou for ever, O Dear and Precious Lord and Redeemer, Who
dost so freely give us of Thine Own Glory," they cry; and He in His turn
pours out His ceaseless Blessing on His Saints. "Blessed
are ye,--Mine own for ever, who have served Me faithfully, and with a good courage."
Affections and Resolutions
Admire and rejoice in the Heavenly Country; the
glorious and blessed New Jerusalem.
Reprove the coldness of your own heart for having
hitherto so little sought after that glorious abode. Why have I
so long lingered indifferent to the eternal happiness set before me? Woe is me that, for
the sake of poor savorless earthly things, I have so often forgotten those heavenly
delights. How could I neglect such real treasures for mere vain and contemptible earthly
earnestly after that blessed abode. Forasmuch, O Dear Lord, as
Thou hast been pleased to turn my feet into Thy ways, never will I again look back. Go
forth, my soul, towards thy promised rest, journey unweariedly to that hoped-for land;
wherefore shouldest thou tarry in Egypt?
Resolve to give up such and such things, which
hinder you on the way, and to do such others as will help you thitherwards.
Give thanks, offer, pray.
Ninth Meditation - On the Choice upon
you between Heaven and Hell
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
yourself before Him, and ask His inspiration.
Imagine yourself alone with your good angel in an
open plain, as was Tobit on his way to Rages. Suppose the Angel to set before you
Paradise, full of delights and joys; and on the other hand Hell, with all its torments.
Contemplate both, kneeling in imagination before your guardian Angel. Consider that you
are most truly standing between Hell and Paradise, and that both the one and the other are
open to receive you, according to your own choice.
Consider that the choice you make in this life will
last for ever in the next.
Consider too, that while both are open to receive
you according to your choice, yet God, Who is prepared to give the one by reason of His
Justice, the other by reason of His Mercy, all the while desires unspeakably that you
should select Paradise; and your good Angel is urging you with all his might to do so,
offering you countless graces on God's part, countless helps to attain to it.
Consider that Jesus Christ, enthroned in Heaven,
looks down upon you in loving invitation: "O beloved one,
come unto Me, and joy for ever in the eternal blessedness of My Love!"
Behold His mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness--"Courage,
my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation."
Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the millions of holy souls who long
after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their
song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the
world would have you think. "Press on boldly, dear friend,"--they
cry. "Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came
hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any
this world can give."
O Hell, I abhor thee now and for ever; I abhor thy griefs and
torments, thine endless misery, the unceasing blasphemies and maledictions which thou
pourest out upon my God;--and turning to thee, O blessed Paradise, eternal glory, unfading
happiness, I choose thee for ever as my abode, thy glorious mansions, thy precious and
abiding tabernacles. O my God, I bless Thy Mercy which gives me the power to choose--O
Jesus, Savior, I accept Thine Eternal Love, and praise Thee for the promise Thou hast
given me of a place prepared for me in that blessed New Jerusalem, where I shall love and
bless Thee for ever.
Dwell lovingly upon the example set before you by
the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and strive to follow where they point you. Give
yourself up to your guardian Angel, that he may be your guide, and gird up your courage
anew to make this choice.
Tenth Meditation - How the Soul
chooses the Devout Life.
Place yourself in the Presence of God.
yourself before Him, and ask His aid.
Once more imagine yourself in an open plain, alone
with your guardian Angel, and represent to yourself on the left hand the Devil sitting on a high and mighty throne,
surrounded by a vast troop of worldly men, who bow bareheaded before him,
doing homage to him by the various sins they
commit. Study the countenances of the miserable courtiers of that most abominable
king:--some raging with fury, envy and passion, some murderous in their hatred;--others
pale and haggard in their craving after wealth, or madly pursuing every vain and
profitless pleasure;--others sunk and lost in vile, impure affections. See how all alike
are hateful, restless, wild: see how they despise one another, and only pretend to an
unreal self-seeking love. Such is the miserable reign of the abhorred Tyrant.
On the other hand, behold Jesus Christ Crucified,
calling these unhappy wretches to come to Him, and interceding for them with all the Love
of His Precious Heart. Behold the company of devout souls and their guardian Angels,
contemplate the beauty of this religious Kingdom. What lovelier than the troop of virgin
souls, men and women, pure as lilies:-- widows in their holy desolation and humility;
husbands and wives living in all tender love and mutual cherishing. See how such pious
souls know how to combine their exterior and interior duties;--to love the earthly spouse
without diminishing their devotion to the Heavenly Bridegroom. Look around--one and all
you will see them with loving, holy, gentle countenances listening to the Voice of their
Lord, all seeking to enthrone Him more and more within their hearts.
They rejoice, but it is with a peaceful, loving, sober joy; they love, but
their love is altogether holy and pure. Such among these devout ones as have sorrows to
bear, are not disheartened thereby, and do not grieve overmuch, for their Savior's Eye is
upon them to comfort them, and they all seek Him only.
Surely you have altogether renounced Satan with his
weary miserable troop, by the good resolutions you have made;--but nevertheless you have
not yet wholly attained to the King Jesus, or altogether joined His blessed company of
devout ones:--you have hovered betwixt the two.
The Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, Saint Louis, Saint
Monica, and hundreds of thousands more who were once like you, living in the world, call
upon you and encourage you.
Crucified King Himself calls you by your own name: "Come, O
my beloved, come, and let Me crown thee!"
O world, O vile company,
never will I enlist beneath thy banner; for ever I have forsaken thy flatteries and
deceptions. O proud king, monarch of evil, infernal spirit, I renounce thee and all thy
hollow pomp, I detest thee and all thy works.
And turning to Thee, O
Sweet Jesus, King of blessedness and of eternal glory, I cleave to Thee with all the
powers of my soul, I adore Thee with all my heart, I choose Thee now and ever for my King,
and with inviolable fidelity I would offer my irrevocable service, and submit myself to
Thy holy laws and ordinances.
O Blessed Virgin Mother of
God, you shall be my example, I will follow you with all reverence and respect. O my good
Angel, bring me to this heavenly company, leave me not until I have reached them, with
whom I will sing for ever, in testimony of my choice, "Glory be to Jesus, my
How to make a General Confession
Such meditations as these, my
daughter, will help you, and having made them, go on bravely in the spirit of humility to
make your general confession;--but I entreat you, be not troubled by any sort of
fearfulness. The scorpion who stings us is venomous, but when his oil has been distilled,
it is the best remedy for his bite;--even so sin is shameful when we commit it, but when
reduced to repentance and confession, it becomes salutary and honorable. Contrition and
confession are in themselves so lovely and sweet-savored, that they efface the ugliness
and disperse the ill savor of sin. Simon the leper called Magdalene a sinner, but our Lord turned the discourse to the perfume of her
ointment and the greatness of her love. If we are really humble, my daughter, our sins
will be infinitely displeasing to us, because they offend God;--but it will be welcome and
sweet to accuse ourselves thereof because in so doing we honor God; and there is always
somewhat soothing in fully telling the physician all details of our pain.
When you come to your spiritual father, imagine yourself to be on Mount Calvary, at the
Feet of the Crucified Savior, Whose Precious Blood is dropping freely to cleanse you from
all your sin. Though it is not his actual Blood, yet it is the merit of that outpoured
Blood which is sprinkled over His penitents as they kneel in Confession. Be sure then that
you open your heart fully, and put away your sins by confessing them, for in proportion as
they are put out, so will the Precious Merits of the Passion of Christ come in and fill
you with blessings.
Tell everything simply and with straightforwardness, and thoroughly
satisfy your conscience in doing so. Then listen to the admonitions and counsels of God's
Minister, saying in your heart, "Speak, Lord, for Thy
servant heareth." It is truly God to Whom you hearken, forasmuch as He
has said to His representatives, "Whoso heareth you,
heareth Me." Then take the following protest, as a summary of your
contrition, having carefully studied and meditated upon it beforehand; read it through
with as earnest an intention as you can make.
A hearty Protest made with the object of
confirming the Soul's resolution to serve God,
as a conclusion to its acts of Penitence.
I, the undersigned,--in the
Presence of God and of all the company of Heaven, having considered the Infinite Mercy of
His Heavenly Goodness towards me, a most miserable, unworthy creature, whom He has
created, preserved, sustained, delivered from so many dangers, and filled with so many
blessings; having above all considered the incomprehensible mercy and loving-kindness with
which this most Good God has borne with me in my sinfulness, leading me so tenderly to
repentance, and waiting so patiently for me till this-- (present) year of my life,
notwithstanding all my ingratitude, disloyalty and faithlessness, by which I have delayed
turning to Him, and despising His Grace, have offended Him anew; and further, remembering
that in my Baptism I was solemnly and happily dedicated to God as His child, and that in
defiance of the profession then made in my name, I have so often miserably profaned my
gifts, turning them against God's Divine Majesty;--I, now coming to myself prostrate in
heart and soul before the Throne of His Justice, acknowledge and confess that I am duly
accused and convicted of treason against His Majesty, and guilty of the Death and Passion
of Jesus Christ, by reason of the sins I have committed, for which He died, bearing the
reproach of the Cross; so that I deserve nothing else save eternal damnation.
But turning to the Throne of Infinite Mercy of this Eternal God, detesting
the sins of my past life with all my heart and all my strength, I humbly desire and ask
grace, pardon, and mercy, with entire absolution from my sin, in virtue of the Death and
Passion of that same Lord and Redeemer, on Whom I lean as the only ground of my hope. I
renew the sacred promise of faithfulness to God made in my name at my Baptism; renouncing
the devil, the world, and the flesh,
abhorring their accursed suggestions, vanities and lusts, now and for all eternity. And
turning to a Loving and Pitiful God, I desire, intend, and deliberately resolve to serve
and love Him now and eternally, devoting my mind and all its faculties, my soul and all
its powers, my heart and all its affections, my body and all its senses, to His Will. I
resolve never to misuse any part of my being by opposing His Divine Will and Sovereign
Majesty, to which I wholly immolate myself in intention, vowing ever to be His loyal,
obedient and faithful servant without any change or recall. But if unhappily, through the
promptings of the enemy, or human infirmity,
I should in anywise fail in this my resolution and dedication, I do most earnestly resolve
by the grace of the Holy Spirit to rise up again so soon as I shall perceive my fall, and
turn anew, without any delay, to seek His Divine Mercy. This is my firm will and
intention,--my inviolable, irrevocable resolution, which I make and confirm without any
reserve, in the Holy Presence of God, in the sight of the Church triumphant, and before
the Church militant, which is my mother, who accepts this my declaration, in the person of
him who, as her representative, hears me make it. Be pleased, O Eternal, All-Powerful, and
All-Loving God,-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to confirm me in this my resolution, and
accept my hearty and willing offering. And inasmuch as Thou hast been pleased to inspire
me with the will to make it, give me also the needful strength and grace to keep it. O
God, Thou art my God, the God of my heart, my soul, and spirit, and as such I acknowledge
and adore Thee, now and for all eternity. Glory be to Jesus.
Conclusion of this First Purification.
Having made this resolution, wait
attentively, and open the ears of your heart, that you may in spirit hear the absolution
which the Lord of your soul, sitting on the throne of His Mercy, will speak in Heaven
before the Saints and Angels when His Priest absolves you here below in His Name. Be sure
that all that company of blessed ones rejoice in your joy, and sing a song of untold
gladness, embracing you and accepting you as cleansed and sanctified. Of a truth, my
daughter, this is a marvelous deed, and a most blessed bargain for you, inasmuch as giving
yourself to His Divine Majesty, you gain Him, and save yourself for eternal life. No more
remains to do, save to take the pen and heartily sign your protest, and then hasten to the
Altar, where God on His side will sign and seal your absolution, and His promise of
Paradise, giving Himself to you in His Sacrament, as a sacred seal placed upon your
renewed heart. And thus, dear child, your soul will be cleansed from sin, and from all its
affections. But forasmuch as these affections are easily rekindled, thanks to our
infirmity and concupiscence (which maybe mortified, but which can never be altogether
extinguished while we live), I will give you certain counsels by the practice of which you
may henceforth avoid mortal sin, and the affections pertaining thereto. And as these
counsels will also help you to attain a yet more perfect purification, before giving them,
I would say somewhat concerning that absolute perfection to which I seek to lead you.
The Necessity of Purging away all tendency to
As daylight waxes, we, gazing
into a mirror, see more plainly the soils and stains upon our face; and even so as the
interior light of the Holy Spirit enlightens our conscience, we see more distinctly the
sins, inclinations and imperfections which hinder our progress towards real devotion. And
the selfsame light which shows us these blots and stains, kindles in us the desire to be
cleansed and purged therefrom.
You will find then, my child, that besides the mortal sins and their
affections from which your soul has already been purged, you are beset by sundry
inclinations and tendencies to venial sin; mind, I do not say you will find venial sins,
but the inclination and tendency to them. Now, one is quite different from the other. We
can never be altogether free from venial sin,--at least not until after a very long
persistence in this purity; but we can be without any affection for venial sin. It is
altogether one thing to have said something unimportant not strictly true, out of
carelessness or liveliness, and quite a different matter to take pleasure in lying, and in
the habitual practice thereof. But I tell you that you must purify your soul from all
inclination to venial sin;--that is to say, you must not voluntarily retain any deliberate
intention of permitting yourself to commit any venial sin whatever. It would be most
unworthy consciously to admit anything so displeasing to God, as the will to offend Him in
anyway. Venial sin, however small, is displeasing to God, although it be not so
displeasing as the greater sins which involve eternal condemnation; and if venial sin is
displeasing to Him, any clinging which we tolerate to mortal sin is nothing less than a
resolution to offend His Divine Majesty. Is it really possible that a rightly disposed
soul can not only offend God, but take pleasure therein?
These inclinations, my daughter, are in direct opposition to devotion, as inclinations
to mortal sin are to love:--they weaken the mental power, hinder Divine consolations, and
open the door to temptations;--and although they may not destroy the soul, at least they
bring on very serious disease. "Dead flies cause the
ointment to send forth a stinking savor," says the Wise Man. He means
that the flies which settle upon and taste of the ointment only damage it temporarily,
leaving the mass intact, but if they fall into it, and die there, they spoil and corrupt
it. Even so venial sins which pass over a devout soul without being harbored, do not
permanently injure it, but if such sins are fostered and cherished, they destroy the sweet
savor of that soul--that is to say, its devotion. The spider cannot kill bees, but it can
spoil their honey, and so encumber their combs with its webs in course of time, as to
hinder the bees materially. Just so, though venial sins may not lose the soul, they will
spoil its devotion, and so cumber its faculties with bad habits and evil inclinations, as
to deprive it of all that cheerful readiness which is the very essence of true devotion;
that is to say, if they are harbored in the conscience by delight taken therein. A
trifling inaccuracy, a little hastiness in word or action, some small excess in mirth, in
dress, in gaiety, may not be very important, if these are forthwith heeded and swept out
as spiritual cobwebs;--but if they are permitted to linger in the heart, or, worse still,
if we take pleasure in them and indulge them, our honey will soon be spoilt, and the hive
of our conscience will be cumbered and damaged. But I ask again, how can a generous heart
take delight in anything it knows to be displeasing to its God, or wish to do what offends
It is needful to put away all Inclination for
Useless and Dangerous Things
Sports, balls, plays,
festivities, pomps, are not in themselves evil, but rather indifferent matters, capable of
being used for good or ill; but nevertheless they are dangerous, and it is still more
dangerous to take great delight in them. Therefore, my daughter, I say that although it is
lawful to amuse yourself, to dance, dress, feast, and see seemly plays,--at the same time,
if you are much addicted to these things, they will hinder your devotion, and become
extremely hurtful and dangerous to you. The harm lies, not in doing them, but in the
degree to which you care for them. It is a pity to sow the seed of vain and foolish tastes
in the soil of your heart, taking up the place of better things, and hindering the soul
from cultivating good dispositions. It was thus that the Nazarites of old abstained not
merely from all intoxicating liquors, but from grapes fresh or dried, and from vinegar,
not because these were intoxicating, but because they might excite the desire for
fermented liquors. Just so, while I do not forbid the use of these dangerous pleasures, I
say that you cannot take an excessive delight in them without their telling upon your
devotion. When the stag has waxed fat he hides himself amid the thicket, conscious that
his fleetness is impaired should he be in need to fly; and so the human heart which is
cumbered with useless, superfluous, dangerous clingings becomes incapacitated for that
earnest following after God which is the true life of devotion. No one blames children for
running after butterflies, because they are children, but is it not ridiculous and pitiful
to see full-grown men eager about such worthless trifles as the worldly amusements before
named, which are likely to throw them off their balance and disturb their spiritual life?
Therefore, dear child, I would have you cleanse your heart from all such tastes,
remembering that while the acts themselves are not necessarily incompatible with a devout
life, all delight in them must be harmful.
All Evil Inclinations must be purged away
Furthermore, my daughter, we have
certain natural inclinations, which are not strictly speaking either mortal or venial
sins, but rather imperfections; and the acts in which they take shape, failings and
deficiencies. Thus Saint Jerome says that Saint Paula had so strong a tendency to
excessive sorrow, that when she lost her husband and children she nearly died of grief;
that was not a sin, but an imperfection, since it did not depend upon her wish and will.
Some people are naturally easy, some oppositions; some are indisposed to accept other
men's opinions, some naturally disposed to be cross, some to be affectionate--in short,
there is hardly any one in whom some such imperfections do not exist. Now, although they
be natural and instinctive in each person, they may be remedied and corrected, or even
eradicated, by cultivating the reverse disposition. And this, my child, must be done.
Gardeners have found how to make the bitter almond tree bear sweet fruit, by grafting the
juice of the latter upon it, why should we not purge out our perverse dispositions and
infuse such as are good? There is no disposition so good but it may be made bad by dint of
vicious habits, and neither is there any natural disposition so perverse but that it may
be conquered and overcome by God's Grace primarily, and then by our earnest diligent
endeavor. I shall therefore now proceed to give you counsels and suggest practices by
which you may purify your soul from all dangerous affections and imperfections, and from
all tendencies to venial sin, thereby strengthening yourself more and more against mortal
sin. May God give you grace to use them.
CONTAINING SUNDRY COUNSELS AS TO UPLIFTING THE
SOUL TO GOD IN PRAYER AND THE USE OF THE SACRAMENTS.
The Necessity of Prayer
PRAYER opens the
understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly
Love--nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will
from its perverse affections. It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good
desires to send forth fresh shoots, which washes away the soul's imperfections, and allays
the thirst of passion.
But especially I commend earnest mental prayer to
you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you
contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you
will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His. He is the Light of the
world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He
is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest;--He is the Living
Fountain of Jacob's well, wherein we may wash away every stain. Children learn to speak by
hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so
if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and
intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like
Himself. Believe me, my daughter, there is no way to God save through this door. Just as
the glass of a mirror would give no reflection save for the metal behind it, so neither
could we here below contemplate the Godhead, were it not united to the Sacred Humanity of
our Savior, Whose Life and Death are the best, sweetest and most profitable subjects that
we can possibly select for meditation. It is not without meaning that the Savior calls
Himself the Bread come down from Heaven;--just as we eat bread with all manner of other
food, so we need to meditate and feed upon our Dear Lord in every prayer and action. His
Life has been meditated and written about by various authors. I should specially commend
to you the writings of Saints Bonaventure, Bellintani, Bruno, Capilla, Grenada and Da
Give an hour every day to meditation before
dinner;--if you can, let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered,
and fresh after the night's rest. Do not spend more than an hour thus, unless specially
advised to do so by your spiritual father.
If you can
make your meditation quietly in church, it will be well, and no one, father or mother,
husband or wife, can object to an hour spent there, and very probably you could not secure
a time so free from interruption at home.
prayer, whether mental or vocal, by an act of the Presence of God. If you observe this
rule strictly, you will soon see how useful it is.
It may help
you to say the Creed, Lord's Prayer, etc., in Latin, but you should also study them
diligently in your own language, so as thoroughly to gather up the meaning of these holy
words, which must be used fixing your thoughts steadily on their purport, not striving to
say many words so much as seeking to say a few with your whole heart. One Our Father said
devoutly is worth more than many prayers hurried over.
The Rosary is a useful devotion when rightly used,
and there are various little books to teach this. It is well, too, to say pious Litanies,
and the other vocal prayers appointed for the Hours and found in Manuals of devotion,--but
if you have a gift for mental prayer, let that always take the chief place, so that if,
having made that, you are hindered by business or any other cause from saying your wonted
vocal prayers, do not be disturbed, but rest satisfied with saying the Lord's Prayer, the
Angelic Salutation, and the Creed after your meditation.
If, while saying vocal prayers, your heart feels
drawn to mental prayer, do not resist it, but calmly let your mind fall into that channel,
without troubling because you have not finished your appointed vocal prayers. The mental
prayer you have substituted for them is more acceptable to God, and more profitable to
your soul. I should make an exception of the Church's Offices, if you are bound to say
those by your vocation--in such a case these are your duty.
If it should happen that your morning goes by
without the usual meditation, either owing to a pressure of business, or from any other
cause, (which interruptions you should try to prevent as far as possible,) try to repair
the loss in the afternoon, but not immediately after a meal, or you will perhaps be
drowsy, which is bad both for your meditation and your health. But if you are unable all
day to make up for the omission, you must remedy it as far as may be by ejaculatory
prayer, and by reading some spiritual book, together with an act of penitence for the
neglect, together with a steadfast resolution to do better the next day.
A short Method of Meditation. And
first, the Presence of God, the First Point of Preparation
It may be, my daughter, that you
do not know how to practice mental prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected
now-adays. I will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it, until such time
as you may read sundry books written on the subject, and above all till practice teaches
you how to use it more perfectly. And first of all, the Preparation, which consists of two
points: first, placing yourself in the Presence of God; and second, asking His Aid. And in
order to place yourself in the Presence of God, I will suggest four chief considerations
which you can use at first.
First, a lively earnest realization that His
Presence is universal; that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there
is no place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence, so that, even as
birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where we will, meet with that
Presence always and everywhere. It is a truth which all are ready to grant, but all are
not equally alive to its importance. A blind man when in the presence of his prince will
preserve a reverential demeanor if told that the king is there, although unable to see
him; but practically, what men do not see they easily forget, and so readily lapse into
carelessness and irreverence. Just so, my child, we do not see our God, and although faith
warns us that He is present, not beholding Him with our mortal eyes, we are too apt to
forget Him, and act as though He were afar; for, while knowing perfectly that He is
everywhere, if we do not think about it, it is much as though we knew it not. And
therefore, before beginning to pray, it is needful always to rouse the soul to a steadfast
remembrance and thought of the Presence of God. This is what David meant when he
exclaimed, "If I climb up to Heaven, Thou art there, and if
I go down to hell, Thou art there also!" And
in like manner Jacob, who, beholding the ladder which went up to Heaven, cried out, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not" meaning thereby that he had not thought of it; for assuredly
he could not fail to know that God was everywhere and in all things. Therefore, when you
make ready to pray, you must say with your whole heart, "God
is indeed here."
way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call to mind that God is not only
present in the place where you are, but that He is very specially present in your heart
and mind, which He kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of
your heart, Spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul animates the whole body, and every
member thereof, but abides especially in the heart, so God, while present everywhere, yet
makes His special abode with our spirit. Therefore David calls Him "the Strength of my heart;" and
Saint Paul said that in Him "we live and move and have our
being." Dwell upon this thought until
you have kindled a great reverence within your heart for God Who is so closely present to
The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our
Lord, Who in His Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all
Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings
He keeps watch. Nor is this any mere imagination, it is very truth, and although we see
Him not, He is looking down upon us. It was given to Saint Stephen in the hour of
martyrdom thus to behold Him, and we may well say with the Bride of the Canticles, "He looketh forth at the windows, showing Himself through the lattice."
The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary
imagination, picturing the Savior to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if He were beside
you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and fancy that we see or hear them at our
side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no
longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but as a veil from behind
which the Present Savior beholds and considers us, although we cannot see Him as He is.
Make use of one or other of these methods for placing yourself in the Presence of God
before you begin to pray;--do not try to use them all at once, but take one at a time, and
that briefly and simply.
Invocation, the Second Point of Preparation
Invocation is made as follows: your soul, having realized God's
Presence, will prostrate itself with the utmost reverence, acknowledging its unworthiness
to abide before His Sovereign Majesty; and yet knowing that He of His Goodness would have
you come to Him, you must ask of Him grace to serve and worship Him in this your
meditation. You may use some such brief and earnest words as those of David:
"Cast me not away from Thy Presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from
"Show me Thy Ways, O Lord, and teach me Thy paths."
"Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy Law: yea, I shall keep it with
my whole heart."
"I am Thy servant, O grant me understanding."
Dwell too upon the thought of your guardian Angel, and of the Saints connected with the
special mystery you are considering, as the Blessed Virgin, Saint John, the Magdalene, the
good thief, etc., if you are meditating in the Passion, so that you may share in their
devout feelings and intention,--and in the same way with other subjects.
The Third Point of Preparation, representing the
Mystery to be meditated to Your Imagination
Following upon these two ordinary
points, there is a third, which is not necessary to all meditation, called by some the local representation, and by others the interior picture. It is simply kindling a vivid picture of
the mystery to be meditated within your imagination, even as though you were actually
beholding it. For instance, if you wish to meditate upon our Lord on His Cross, you will
place yourself in imagination on Mount Calvary, as though you saw and heard all that
occurred there during the Passion; or you can imagine to yourself all that the Evangelists
describe as taking place where you are. In the same way, when you meditate upon death,
bring the circumstances that will attend your own vividly to mind, and so of hell, or any
subjects which involve visible, tangible circumstances. When it is a question of such
mysteries as God's Greatness, His Attributes, the end of our creation, or other invisible
things, you cannot make this use of your imagination. At most you may employ certain
comparisons and similitudes, but these are not always opportune, and I would have you
follow a very simple method, and not weary your mind with striving after new inventions.
Still, often this use of the imagination tends to concentrate the mind on the mystery we
wish to meditate, and to prevent our thoughts from wandering hither and thither, just as
when you shut a bird within a cage, or fasten a hawk by its lures. Some people will tell
you that it is better to confine yourself to mere abstract thought, and a simple mental
and spiritual consideration of these mysteries, but this is too difficult for beginners;
and until God calls you up higher, I would advise you, my daughter, to abide contentedly
in the lowly valley I have pointed out.
Considerations, the Second Part of Meditation
After this exercise of the
imagination, we come to that of the understanding; for meditations, properly so called,
are certain considerations by which we raise the affections to God and heavenly things.
Now meditation differs therein from study and ordinary methods of thought which have not
the Love of God or growth in holiness for their object, but some other end, such as the
acquisition of learning or power of argument. So, when you have, as I said, limited the
efforts of your mind within due bounds,--whether by the imagination, if the subject be
material, or by propositions, if it be a spiritual subject,--you will begin to form
reflections or considerations after the pattern of the meditations I have already sketched
for you. And if your mind finds sufficient matter, light and fruit wherein to rest in any
one consideration, dwell upon it, even as the bee, which hovers over one flower so long as
it affords honey. But if you do not find wherewith to feed your mind, after a certain
reasonable effort, then go on to another consideration,--only be quiet and simple, and do
not be eager or hurried.
The Third Part of Meditation, Affections and
Meditation excites good desires in the will, or sensitive part of the
soul,--such as love of God and of our neighbor, a craving for the glory of Paradise, zeal
for the salvation of others, imitation of our Lord's Example, compassion, thanksgiving,
fear of God's wrath and of judgment, hatred of sin, trust in God's Goodness and Mercy,
shame for our past life; and in all such affections you should pour out your soul as much
as possible. If you want help in this, turn to some simple book of devotions, the Imitation of Christ, the Spiritual
Combat, or whatever you find most helpful to your individual wants.
But, my daughter, you must not stop short in general affections, without turning them
into special resolutions for your own correction and amendment. For instance, meditating
on Our Dear Lord's First Word from the Cross, you will no doubt be roused to the desire of
imitating Him in forgiving and loving your enemies. But that is not enough, unless you
bring it to some practical resolution, such as, "I will not
be angered any more by the annoying things said of me by such or such a neighbor, nor by
the slights offered me by such an one; but rather I will do such and such things in order
to soften and conciliate them." In this way, my daughter, you will soon
correct your faults, whereas mere general resolutions would take but a slow and uncertain
The Conclusion and Spiritual Bouquet
The meditation should be
concluded by three acts, made with the utmost humility.
First, an act of thanksgiving;--thanking God for the
affections and resolutions with which He has inspired you, and for the Mercy and Goodness
He has made known to you in the mystery you have been meditating.
Secondly, an act of oblation, by which you offer
your affections and resolutions to God, in union with His Own Goodness and Mercy, and the
Death and Merits of His Son.
The third act is one of petition, in which you ask
God to give you a share in the Merits of His Dear Son, and a blessing on your affections
and resolutions, to the end that you may be able to put them in practice.
You will further pray for the Church, and all her Ministers, your
relations, friends, and all others, using the Our Father as the most comprehensive and
necessary of prayers.
Besides all this, I bade you gather a little bouquet of devotion, and what
I mean is this. When walking in a beautiful garden most people are wont to gather a few
flowers as they go, which they keep, and enjoy their scent during the day. So, when the
mind explores some mystery in meditation, it is well to pick out one or more points that
have specially arrested the attention, and are most likely to be helpful to you through
the day, and this should be done at once before quitting the subject of your meditation.
Some Useful Hints as to Meditation
Above all things, my daughter, strive when your meditation is ended
to retain the thoughts and resolutions you have made as your earnest practice throughout
the day. This is the real fruit of meditation, without which it is apt to be unprofitable,
if not actually harmful--inasmuch as to dwell upon virtues without practicing them lends
to puff us up with unreality's, until we begin to fancy ourselves all that we have
meditated upon and resolved to be; which is all very well if our resolutions are earnest
and substantial, but on the contrary hollow and dangerous if they are not put in practice.
You must then diligently endeavor to carry out your resolutions, and seek for all
opportunities, great or small. For instance, if your resolution was to win over those who
oppose you by gentleness, seek through the day any occasion of meeting such persons
kindly, and if none offers, strive to speak well of them, and pray for them.
When you leave off this interior prayer, you must be careful to keep your
heart in an even balance, lest the balm it has received in meditation be scattered. I
mean, try to maintain silence for some brief space, and let your thoughts be transferred
gradually from devotion to business, keeping alive the feelings and affections aroused in
meditation as long as possible. Supposing some one to have received a precious porcelain
vessel, filled with a most costly liquid, which he is going to carry home; how carefully
he would go, not looking about, but watching steadfastly lest he trip or stumble, or lest
he spill any of the contents of his vessel. Just so, after meditation, do not allow
yourself forthwith to be distracted, but look straight before you. Of course, if you meet
any one to whom you are bound to attend, you must act according to the circumstances in
which you find yourself, but even thus give heed to your heart, so as to lose as little as
possible of the precious fruits of your meditation. You should strive, too, to accustom
yourself to go easily from prayer to all such occupations as your calling or position
lawfully require of you, even although such occupations may seem uncongenial to the
affections and thoughts just before forming part of your prayer. Thus the lawyer should be
able to go from meditation to his pleading, the tradesman to his business, the mistress of
a family to the cares of her household and her wifely duties, so calmly and gently as not
to be in any way disturbed by so doing. In both you are fulfilling God's Will, and you
should be able to turn from one to the other in a devout and humble spirit.
It may be that sometimes, immediately after your preparation, your
affections will be wholly drawn to God, and then, my child, you must let go the reins, and
not attempt to follow any given method; since, although as a general rule your
considerations should precede your affections and resolutions, when the Holy Spirit gives
you those affections at once, it is unnecessary to use the machinery which was intended to
bring about the same result. In short, whenever such affections are kindled in your heart,
accept them, and give them place in preference to all other considerations. The only
object in placing the affections after the points of consideration in meditation, is to
make the different parts of meditation clearer, for it is a general rule that when
affections arise they are never to be checked, but always encouraged to flow freely. And
this applies also to the acts of thanksgiving, of oblation and petition, which must not be
restrained either, although it is well to repeat or renew them at the close of your
meditation. But your resolutions must be made after the affections, and quite at the end
of your meditation, and that all the more because in these you must enter upon ordinary
familiar subjects and things which would be liable to cause distractions if they were
intruded among your spiritual affections.
Amid your affections and resolutions it is well occasionally to make use
of colloquies, and to speak sometimes to your Lord, sometimes to your guardian Angel, or
to those persons who are concerned in the mystery you are meditating, to the Saints, to
yourself, your own heart, to sinners, and even to the inanimate creation around, as David
so often does in the Psalms, as well as other Saints in their meditations and prayers.
Concerning Dryness in Meditation
Should it happen sometimes, my
daughter, that you have no taste for or consolation in your meditation, I entreat you not
to be troubled, but seek relief in vocal prayer, bemoan yourself to our Lord, confess your
unworthiness, implore His Aid, kiss His Image, if it be beside you, and say in the words
of Jacob, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me;"
or with the Canaanitish woman, "Yes, Lord, I am as a dog
before Thee, but the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table."
Or you can take a book, and read attentively till such time as your mind
is calmed and quickened; or sometimes you may find help from external actions, such as
prostrating yourself folding your hands upon your breast, kissing your Crucifix,--that is,
supposing you are alone. But if, after all this, you are still unrelieved, do not be
disturbed at your dryness, however great it be, but continue striving after a devout
attitude in God's Sight. What numbers of courtiers appear a hundred times at court without
any hope of a word from their king, but merely to pay their homage and be seen of him.
Just so, my daughter, we ought to enter upon mental prayer purely to fulfill our duty and
testify our loyalty. If it pleases God's Divine Majesty to speak to us, and discourse in
our hearts by His Holy Inspirations and inward consolations, it is doubtless a great
honor, and very sweet to our soul; but if He does not vouchsafe such favors, but makes as
though He saw us not,--as though we were not in His Presence,--nevertheless we must not
quit it, but on the contrary we must remain calmly and devoutly before Him, and He is
certain to accept our patient waiting, and give heed to our assiduity and perseverance; so
that another time He will impart to us His consolations, and let us taste all the
sweetness of holy meditation. But even were it not so, let us, my child, be satisfied with
the privilege of being in His Presence and seen of Him.
Besides your systematic
meditation and your other vocal prayers, there are five shorter kinds of prayer, which are
as aids and assistants to the great devotion, and foremost among these is your morning prayer, as a general preparation for all
the day's work. It should be made in this wise:
Thank God, and adore Him for His Grace which has
kept you safely through the night, and if in anything you have offended against Him, ask
Call to mind that the day now beginning is given you
in order that you may work for Eternity, and make a steadfast resolution to use this day
for that end.
Consider beforehand what occupations, duties and
occasions are likely this day to enable you to serve God; what temptations to offend Him,
either by vanity, anger, etc., may arise; and make a fervent resolution to use all means
of serving Him and confirming your own piety; as also to avoid and resist whatever might
hinder your salvation and God's Glory. Nor is it enough to make such a resolution,--you
must also prepare to carry it into effect. Thus, if you foresee having to meet some one
who is hot-tempered and irritable, you must not merely resolve to guard your own temper,
but you must consider by what gentle words to conciliate him. If you know you will see
some sick person, consider how best to minister comfort to him, and so on.
Next, humble yourself before God, confessing that of
yourself you could carry out nothing that you have planned, either in avoiding evil or
seeking good. Then, so to say, take your heart in your hands, and offer it and all your
good intentions to God's Gracious Majesty, entreating Him to accept them, and strengthen
you in His Service, which you may do in some such words as these: "Lord, I lay before Thee my weak heart, which Thou dost fill with good
desires. Thou knowest that I am unable to bring the same to good effect, unless Thou dost
bless and prosper them, and therefore, O Loving Father, I entreat of Thee to help me by
the Merits and Passion of Thy Dear Son, to Whose Honor I would devote this day and my
All these acts should be made briefly and heartily, before you leave your
room if possible, so that all the coming work of the day may be prospered with God's
blessing; but anyhow, my daughter, I entreat you never to omit them.
Evening Prayer and Examination of Conscience
As I have counseled you before
your material dinner to make a spiritual repast in meditation, so before your evening meal
you should make at least a devout spiritual collation. Make sure of some brief leisure
before suppertime, and then prostrating yourself before God, and recollecting yourself in
the Presence of Christ Crucified, setting Him before your mind with a steadfast inward
glance, renew the warmth of your morning's meditation by some hearty aspirations and
humble upliftings of your soul to your Blessed Savior, either repeating those points of
your meditation which helped you most, or kindling your heart with anything else you will.
As to the examination of conscience, which we all should make before going to bed, you
know the rules:
Thank God for having preserved you through the day
you have conducted yourself through the day, in order to which recall where and with whom
you have been, and what you have done.
If you have
done anything good, offer thanks to God; if you have done amiss in thought, word, or deed,
ask forgiveness of His Divine Majesty, resolving to confess the fault when opportunity
offers, and to be diligent in doing better.
Then commend your body and soul, the Church, your
relations and friends, to God. Ask that the Saints and Angels may keep watch over you, and
with God's Blessing go to the rest He has appointed for you. Neither this practice nor
that of the morning should ever be omitted; by your morning prayer you open your soul's
windows to the sunshine of Righteousness, and by your evening devotions you close them
against the shades of hell.
On Spiritual Retirement
This is a matter, dear daughter,
to which I am very anxious to win your attention, for in it lies one of the surest means
of spiritual progress. Strive as often as possible through the day to place yourself in
God's Presence by some one of the methods already suggested. Consider what God does, and
what you are doing;--you will see His Eyes ever fixed upon you in Love incomparable.
"O my God," you will cry out, "why cannot I always be looking upon Thee, even as Thou lookest on me?
why do I think so little about Thee? O my soul, thy only resting-place is God, and yet how
often dost thou wander?" The birds have nests in lofty trees, and the
stag his refuge in the thick coverts, where he can shelter from the sun's burning heat;
and just so, my daughter, our hearts ought daily to choose some resting-place, either
Mount Calvary, or the Sacred Wounds, or some other spot close to Christ, where they can
retire at will to seek rest and refreshment amid toil, and to be as in a fortress,
protected from temptation. Blessed indeed is the soul which can truly say, "Thou, Lord, art my Refuge, my Castle, my Stay, my Shelter in the storm
and in the heat of the day."
Be sure then, my child, that while externally occupied with business and
social duties, you frequently retire within the solitude of your own heart. That solitude
need not be in any way hindered by the crowds which surround you-- they surround your
body, not your soul, and your heart remains alone in the Sole Presence of God. This is
what David sought after amid his manifold labors;--the Psalms are full of such expressions
as "Lord, I am ever with Thee. The Lord is always at my
right hand. I lift up mine eyes to Thee, O Thou Who dwellest in the heavens. Mine eyes
look unto God."
There are few social duties of sufficient importance to prevent an
occasional retirement of the heart into this sacred solitude. When Saint Catherine of
Sienna was deprived by her parents of any place or time for prayer and meditation, Our
Lord inspired her with the thought of making a little interior oratory in her mind, into
which she could retire in heart, and so enjoy a holy solitude amid her outward duties. And
henceforward, when the world assaulted her, she was able to be indifferent, because, so
she said, she could retire within her secret oratory, and find comfort with her Heavenly
Bridegroom. So she counseled her spiritual daughters to make a retirement within their
heart, in which to dwell. Do you in like manner let your heart withdraw to such an inward
retirement, where, apart from all men, you can lay it bare, and treat face-to-face with
God, even as David says that he watched like a "pelican in
the wilderness, or an owl in the desert, or a sparrow sitting alone upon the housetop." These words have a sense beyond their literal meaning, or
King David's habit of retirement for contemplation;--and we may find in them three
excellent kinds of retreats in which to seek solitude after the Savior's Example, Who is
symbolized as He hung upon Mount Calvary by the pelican of the wilderness, feeding her
young ones with her blood. So again His Nativity in a
lonely stable might find a foreshadowing in the owl of the desert, bemoaning and
lamenting; and in His Ascension He was like the sparrow rising high above the dwellings of
men. Thus in each of these ways we can make a retreat amid the daily cares of life and its
When the blessed Elzear, Count of Arian-en Provence, had been long
separated from his pious and beloved wife Delphine, she sent a messenger to inquire after
him, and he returned answer, "I am well, dear wife, and if
you would see me, seek me in the Wounded Side of our Dear Lord Jesus; that is my sure
dwelling-place, and elsewhere you will seek me in vain." Surely he was a
true Christian knight who spoke thus.
Aspirations, Ejaculatory Prayer and Holy Thoughts
We retire with God, because we
aspire to Him, and we aspire in order to retire with Him; so that aspiration after God and
spiritual retreat excite one another, while both spring from the one Source of all holy
thoughts. Do you then, my daughter, aspire continually to God, by brief, ardent upliftings
of heart; praise His Excellence, invoke His Aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of
His Cross, adore His Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix
your inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a little child to
its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant nosegay, upraise Him in your soul as a
standard. In short, kindle by every possible act your love for God, your tender,
passionate desire for the Heavenly Bridegroom of souls. Such is ejaculatory prayer, as it
was so earnestly inculcated by Saint Augustine upon the devout Proba; and be sure, my
daughter, that if you seek such nearness and intimacy with God your whole soul will imbibe
the perfume of His Perfections. Neither is this a difficult practice,--it may be
interwoven with all our duties and occupations, without hindering any; for neither the
spiritual retreat of which I have spoken, nor these inward upliftings of the heart, cause
more than a very brief distraction, which, so far from being any hindrance, will rather
promote whatever you have in hand. When a pilgrim pauses an instant to take a draught of
wine, which refreshes his lips and revives his heart, his onward journey is nowise
hindered by the brief delay, but rather it is shortened and lightened, and he brings it
all the sooner to a happy end, pausing but to advance the better.
Sundry collections of ejaculatory prayer have been put forth, which are
doubtless very useful, but I should advise you not to tie yourself to any formal words,
but rather to speak with heart or mouth whatever springs forth from the love within you,
which is sure to supply you with all abundance. There are certain utterances which have
special force, such as the ejaculatory prayers of which the Psalms are so full, and the
numerous loving invocations of Jesus which we find in the Song of Songs. Many hymns too
may be used with the like intention, provided they are sung attentively. In short, just as
those who are full of some earthly, natural love are ever turning in thought to the
beloved one, their hearts overflowing with tenderness, and their lips ever ready to praise
that beloved object; comforting themselves in absence by letters, carving the treasured
name on every tree;--so those who love God cannot cease thinking of Him, living for Him,
longing after Him, speaking of Him, and faint would they grave the Holy Name of Jesus in
the hearts of every living creature they behold. And to such an outpour of love all
creation bids us--nothing that He has made but is filled with the praise of God, and, as
says Saint Augustine, everything in the world speaks silently but clearly to the lovers of
God of their love, exciting them to holy desires, whence gush forth aspirations and loving
cries to God. Saint Gregory Nazianzen tells his flock, how, walking along the seashore, he
watched the waves as they washed up shells and sea weeds, and all manner of small
substances, which seemed, as it were, rejected by the sea, until a return wave would often
wash part thereof back again; while the rocks remained firm and immovable, let the waves
beat against them never so fiercely. And then the Saint went on to reflect that feeble
hearts let themselves be carried hither and thither by the varying waves of sorrow or
consolation, as the case might be, like the shells upon the seashore, while those of a
nobler mold abide firm and immovable amid every storm;--whence he breaks out into David's
cry, "Lord, save me, for the waters are gone over my soul;
deliver me from the great deep, all Thy waves and storms are gone over me;"
for he was himself then in trouble by reason of the ungodly usurpation of his See by
When Saint Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe, heard Theodoric, King of the Goths, harangue a
general assembly of Roman nobles, and beheld their splendor, he exclaimed, "O God, how glorious must Thy Heavenly Jerusalem be, if even earthly
Rome be thus!" And if this world can
afford so much gratification to mere earthly lovers of vanity, what must there be in store
hereafter for those who love the truth?
We are told that Saint Anselm of Canterbury, (our mountains may glory in being his
birthplace) was much given to such thoughts. On one occasion a hunted hare took refuge
from imminent death beneath the Bishop's horse, the hounds clamoring round, but not daring
to drag it from its asylum, whereat his attendants began to laugh; but the great Anselm
wept, saying, "You may laugh forsooth, but to the poor
hunted beast it is no laughing matter; even so the soul which has been led astray in all
manner of sin finds a host of enemies waiting at its last hour to devour it, and
terrified, knows not where to seek a refuge, and if it can find none, its enemies laugh
and rejoice." And so he went on his way, sighing.
Constantine the Great wrote with great respect to Saint Anthony, at which his religious
expressed their surprise. "Do you marvel,"
he said, "that a king should write to an ordinary man?
Marvel rather that God should have written His Law for men, and yet more that He should
have spoken with them Face-to-face through His Son." When Saint Francis
saw a solitary sheep amid a flock of goats; "See,"
said he to his companion, "how gentle the poor sheep is
among the goats, even as was Our Lord among the Pharisees;" and seeing a
boar devour a little lamb, "Poor little one,"
he exclaimed, weeping, "how vividly is my Savior's Death
set forth in thee!"
A great man of our own day, Francis Borgia, then Duke of Candia, was wont to indulge in
many devout imaginations as he was hunting. "I used to
ponder," he said, "how the falcon returns
to one's wrist, and lets one hood its eyes or chain it to the perch, and yet men are so
perverse in refusing to turn at God's call." Saint Basil the Great says
that the rose amid its thorns preaches a lesson to men. "All
that is pleasant in this life" (so it tells us mortals) "is mingled with sadness--no joy is altogether pure--all enjoyment is
liable to be marred by regrets, marriage is saddened by widowhood, children bring anxiety,
glory often turns to shame, neglect follows upon honor, weariness on pleasure, sickness on
health. Truly the rose is a lovely flower," the Saint goes on to say,
"but it moves me to sadness, reminding me as it does that for
my sin the earth was condemned to bring forth thorns."
Another devout soul, gazing upon a brook wherein the starlit sky of a calm summer's
night was reflected, exclaims, "O my God, when Thou callest
me to dwell in Thy heavenly tabernacles, these stars will be beneath my feet; and even as
those stars are now reflected here below, so are we Thy creatures reflected above in the
living waters of Thy Divine Love." So another cried out, beholding a
rapid river as it flowed, "Even thus my soul will know no
rest until it plunge into that Divine Sea whence it came forth!" Saint
Frances, as she knelt to pray beside the banks of a pleasant streamlet, cried out in
ecstasy, "The Grace of my Dear Lord flows softly and
sweetly even as these refreshing waters" And another saintly soul,
looking upon the blooming orchards, cried out, "Why am I
alone barren in the Church's garden!" So Saint Francis of Assisi,
beholding a hen gathering her chickens beneath her wings, exclaimed, "Keep me, O Lord, under the shadow of Thy Wings" And
looking upon the sunflower, he ejaculated, "When, O Lord,
will my soul follow the attractions of Thy Love?" And
gathering pansies in a garden which are fair to see, but scentless, "Ah," he cried out, "even
so are the thoughts of my heart, fair to behold, but without savor or fruit!"
Thus it is, my daughter, that good thoughts and holy aspirations may be drawn from all
that surrounds us in our ordinary life. Woe to them that turn aside the creature from the
Creator, and thrice blessed are they who turn all creation to their Creator's Glory, and
make human vanities subservient to the truth. "Verily,"
says Saint Gregory Nazianzen, "I am wont to turn all things
to my spiritual profit."
Read the pious epitaph written for Saint Paula by Saint Jerome; it is marvelous therein
to see how she conceived spiritual thoughts and aspirations at every turn.
Now, in the practice of this spiritual retreat and of these ejaculatory
prayers the great work of devotion lies; it can supply all other deficiencies, but there
is hardly any means of making up where this is lacking. Without it no one can lead a true
contemplative life, and the active life will be but imperfect where it is omitted; without
it rest is but indolence, labor but weariness,--therefore I beseech you to adopt it
heartily, and never let it go.
Of Holy Communion, and how to join in it
So far I have said nothing
concerning the Sun of all spiritual exercises, even the most holy, sacred and Sovereign
Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist,--the very center point of our Christian
religion, the heart of all devotion, the soul of piety;--that Ineffable Mystery which
embraces the whole depth of Divine Love, by which God, giving Himself really to us,
conveys all His Graces and favors to men with royal magnificence.
Prayer made in union with this Divine Sacrifice has untold power; through
which, indeed, the soul overflows with heavenly grace, and leaning on her Beloved, becomes
so filled with spiritual sweetness and perfume, that we may ask in the words of the
Canticles: "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness
like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the
Strive then to your utmost to be present every day at this holy
Celebration, in order that with the priest you may offer the Sacrifice of your Redeemer on
behalf of yourself and the whole Church to God the Father. Saint Chrysostom says that the
Angels crowd around it in adoration, and if we are found together with them, united in one
intention, we cannot but be most favorably influenced by such society. Moreover, all the
heavenly choirs of the Church triumphant, as well as those of the Church militant, are
joined to our Dear Lord in this divine act, so that with Him, in Him, and by Him, they may
win the favor of God the Father, and obtain His Mercy for us. How great the blessing to my
soul to contribute its share towards the attainment of so gracious a gift!
If any imperative hindrance prevents your presence at this sovereign
sacrifice of Christ's most true Presence, at least be sure to take part in it spiritually.
If you cannot go to Church, choose some morning hour in which to unite your intention to
that of the whole Christian world, and make the same interior acts of devotion wherever
you are that you would make if you were really present at the Celebration of the Holy
Eucharist in Church.
In order to join in this rightly, whether actually or mentally, you must
give heed to several things:
In the beginning, and before the priest goes up to
the Altar, make your preparation with his--placing yourself in God's Presence, confessing
your unworthiness, and asking forgiveness.
Until the Gospel, dwell simply and generally upon
the Coming and the Life of our Lord in this world.
From the Gospel to the end of the Creed, dwell upon
our Dear Lord's teaching, and renew your resolution to live and die in the faith of the
Holy Catholic Church.
From thence, fix your heart on the mysteries of the
Word, and unite yourself to the Death and Passion of our Redeemer, now actually and
essentially set forth in this holy Sacrifice, which, together with the priest and all the
congregation, you offer to God the Father, to His Glory and your own salvation.
Up to the moment of communicating, offer all the
longings and desires of your heart, above all desiring most earnestly to be united for
ever to our Savior by His Eternal Love.
From the time of Communion to the end, thank His
Gracious Majesty for His Incarnation, His Life, Death, Passion, and the Love which He sets
forth in this holy Sacrifice, entreating through it His favor for yourself, your relations
and friends, and the whole Church; and humbling yourself sincerely, devoutly receive the
blessing which our Dear Lord gives you through the channel of His minister.
If, however, you wish to follow your daily course of meditation on special
mysteries during the Sacrifice, it is not necessary that you should interrupt yourself by
making these several acts but it will suffice that at the beginning you dispose your
intention to worship and to offer the holy Sacrifice in your meditation and prayer; since
every meditation includes all the abovenamed acts either explicitly or implicitly.
Of the other Public Offices of the Church
Furthermore, my daughter, you should endeavor to assist at the
Offices, Hours, Vespers, etc., as far as you are able, especially on Sundays and
Festivals, days which are dedicated to God, wherein we ought to strive to do more for His
Honor and Glory than on others. You will greatly increase the fervor of your devotion by
so doing, even as did Saint Augustine, who tells us in his Confessions, that in the early
days of his conversion he was touched to the quick, and his heart overflowed in happy
tears, when he took part in the Offices of the Church. Moreover (let me say it here once
for all), there is always more profit and more consolation in the public Offices of the
Church than in private acts of devotion, God having willed to give the preference to
communion in prayer over all individual action. Be ready to take part in any
confraternities and associations you may find in the place where you are called to dwell,
especially such as are most fruitful and edifying. This will be pleasing to God; for
although confraternities are not ordained, they are recommended by the Church, which
grants various privileges to those who are united thereby. And it is always a work of love
to join with others and take part in their good works. And although it may be possible
that you can use equally profitable devotions by yourself as in common with
others,--perhaps even you may like doing so best,--nevertheless God is more glorified when
we unite with our brethren and neighbors and join our offerings to theirs.
I say the same concerning all public services and prayers, in which, as
far as possible, each one of us is bound to contribute the best example we can for our
neighbor's edification, and our hearty desire for God's Glory and the general good of all
How the Saints are united to us
Inasmuch as God continually sends
us inspirations by means of His Angels, we may fitly send back our aspirations through the
same channel. The souls of the holy dead, resting in Paradise, who are, as our Lord
Himself has told us, "as the Angels in Heaven," are also united to us in their prayers. My child, let us
gladly join our hearts with these heavenly blessed ones; for even as the newly-fledged
nightingale learns to sing from the elder birds, so by our sacred communing with the
Saints we shall learn better to pray and sing the praises of the Lord. David is
continually uniting his prayers with those of all the Saints and Angels.
Honor, revere and respect the Blessed Virgin Mary with a very special
love; she is the Mother of our Sovereign Lord, and so we are her children. Let us think of
her with all the love and confidence of affectionate children; let us desire her love, and
strive with true filial hearts to imitate her graces.
Seek to be familiar with the Angels; learn to realize that they are
continually present, although invisible. Specially love and revere the Guardian Angel of
the Diocese in which you live, those of the friends who surround you, and your own.
Commune with them frequently, join in their songs of praise, and seek their protection and
help in all you do, spiritual or temporal.
That pious man Peter Faber, the first companion of Saint Ignatius, and the
first priest, first preacher and first theological teacher of the Company of the Jesuits,
who was a native of our Diocese, once passing through
this country on his way from Germany, (where he had been laboring for God's Glory,) told
how great comfort he had found as he went among places infested with heresy in communing
with the guardian Angels thereof, whose help had often preserved him from danger, and
softened hearts to receive the faith. He spoke with such earnestness, that a lady who,
when quite young, heard him, was so impressed, that she repeated his words to me only four
years ago, sixty years after their utterance, with the utmost feeling. I had the happiness
only last year of consecrating an altar in the place where it pleased God to give that
blessed man birth, the little village of Villaret, amid the wildest of our mountains.
You will do well to choose out for yourself some individual Saint, whose
life specially to study and imitate, and whose prayers may be more particularly offered on
your behalf. The Saint bearing your own baptismal name would seem to be naturally assigned
How to Hear and Read God's Word
Cultivate a special devotion to God's Word, whether studied privately
or in public; always listen to it with attention and reverence, strive to profit by it,
and do not let it fall to the ground, but receive it within your heart as a precious balm,
thereby imitating the Blessed Virgin, who "kept all these
sayings in her heart." Remember that
our Lord receives our words of prayer according to the way in which we receive His words
You should always have some good devout book at hand, such as the writings of Saints
Bonaventure, Gerson, Denis the Carthusian, Blosius, Grenada, Stella, Arias, Pinella, Da
Ponte, Avila, the Spiritual Combat, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome's
Epistles, or the like; and daily read some small portion attentively, as though you were
reading letters sent by the Saints from Paradise to teach you the way thither, and
encourage you to follow them. Read the Lives of the Saints too, which are as a mirror to
you of Christian life, and try to imitate their actions according to your circumstances;
for although many things which the Saints did may not be practicable for those who live in
the world, they may be followed more or less. Thus, in our spiritual retreats we imitate
the solitude of the first hermit, Saint Paul; in the practice of poverty we imitate Saint
Francis, and so on. Of course some Lives throw much more light upon our daily course than
others, such as the Life of Saint Theresa, which is most admirable, the first Jesuits,
Saint Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, Saint Louis, Saint Bernard, Saint Francis,
and such like. Others are more the subjects of our admiring wonder than of imitation, such
as Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Simeon Stylites, Saint Catherine of Genoa, and Saint
Catherine of Sienna, Saint Angela, etc., although these should tend to kindle a great love
of God in our hearts.
How to receive Inspirations
By inspirations I mean all drawings, feelings, interior reproaches,
lights and intuitions, with which God moves us, preventing our hearts by His Fatherly love
and care, and awakening, exciting, urging, and attracting them to goodness, to Heavenly
love, to good resolutions, in short, to whatever tends to our eternal welfare. This it is
of which we read in the Canticles, when the Bridegroom knocks at the door, awakens His
beloved, calls upon her, seeks her, bids her eat of His honey, gather the fruit and
flowers of His garden, and let Him hear her voice, which is sweet to Him.
Let me make use of an illustration of my meaning. In contracting a marriage, the bride
must be a party to three separate acts: first, the bridegroom is proposed to her;
secondly, she entertains the proposal; and thirdly, she gives her consent. Just so when
God intends to perform some act of love in us, by us, and with us; He first suggests it by
His inspiration; secondly, we receive that inspiration; and thirdly, we consent to it:
for, like as we fall into sin by three steps, temptation, delectation, and consent, so
there are three steps whereby we ascend to virtue; inspiration, as opposed to temptation;
delectation in God's inspiration, as opposed to that of temptation; and consent to the one
instead of to the other. Were God's inspirations to last all our lives, we should be
nowise more acceptable to Him, unless we took pleasure therein; on the contrary, we should
rather offend Him as did the Israelites, of whom He says that they "grieved Him for forty years long, refusing to hear His pleadings, so
that at last" I "swear in My wrath that
they should not enter into My rest." And
(to recur to my first illustration) one who has long been devoted to his lady-love, would
feel greatly injured if, after all, she would not consent to the alliance he seeks.
The delight we take in God's inspirations is an important step gained
towards His Glory, and we begin at once to please Him thereby; for although such
delectation is not the same thing as a full consent, it shows a strong tendency thereto;
and if it is a good and profitable sign when we take pleasure in hearing God's Word, which
is, so to say, an external inspiration, still more is it good and acceptable in His Sight
when we take delight in His interior inspirations. Such is the delight of which the Bride
says, "My soul melted within me when my Beloved spake." And so, too, the earthly lover is well satisfied when he sees
that his lady-love finds pleasure in his attentions.
But, after all, consent only perfects the good action; for if we are
inspired of God, and take pleasure in that inspiration, and yet, nevertheless, refuse our
consent to His inspiration, we are acting a very contemptuous, offensive part towards Him.
We read of the Bride, that although the voice of her Beloved touched her heart, she made
trivial excuses, and delayed opening the door to Him, and so He withdrew Himself and
"was gone." And
the earthly lover, who had long sought a lady, and seemed acceptable to her, would have
the more ground for complaint if at last he was spurned and dismissed, than if he had
never been favorably received.
Do you, my daughter, resolve to accept whatever inspirations God may
vouchsafe you, heartily; and when they offer themselves, receive them as the ambassadors
of your Heavenly King, seeking alliance with you. Hearken gently to their propositions,
foster the love with which you are inspired, and cherish the holy Guest. Give your
consent, and let it be a full, loving, steadfast consent to His holy inspirations; for, so
doing, God will reckon your affection as a favor, although truly we can confer none upon
Him. But, before consenting to inspirations which have respect to important or
extraordinary things, guard against self-deception, by consulting your spiritual guide,
and let him examine whether the inspiration be real or no; and that the rather, because
when the enemy sees a soul ready to hearken to inspirations, he is wont to set false
delusions in the way to deceive it,--a snare you will not fall into so long as you humbly
obey your guide.
Consent once given, you must carefully seek to produce the intended
results, and carry out the inspiration, the crown of true virtue; for to give consent,
without producing the result thereof, were like planting a vine without meaning it to bear
fruit. All this will be greatly promoted by careful attention to your morning exercises,
and the spiritual retirement already mentioned, because therein you learn to carry general
principles to a special application.
Our Savior has bequeathed the Sacrament of Penitence and Confession
to His Church, in order that therein we may be cleansed
from all our sins, however and whenever we may have been soiled thereby. Therefore, my
child, never allow your heart to abide heavy with sin, seeing that there is so sure and
safe a remedy at hand. If the lioness has been in the neighborhood of other beasts she
hastens to wash away their scent, lest it should be displeasing to her lord; and so the
soul which has ever so little consented to sin, ought to abhor itself and make haste to
seek purification, out of respect to His Divine Gaze Who beholds it always. Why should we
die a spiritual death when there is a sovereign remedy available?
Make your confession humbly and devoutly every week, and always, if you can, before
communicating, even although your conscience is not burdened with mortal sin; for in
confession you do not only receive absolution for your venial sins, but you also receive
great strength to help you in avoiding them henceforth, clearer light to discover your
failings, and abundant grace to make up whatever loss you have incurred through those
faults. You exercise the graces of humility, obedience, simplicity and love, and by this
one act of confession you practice more virtue than in any other.
Be sure always to entertain a hearty sorrow for the sins you confess,
however small they are; as also a steadfast resolution to correct them in future. Some
people go on confessing venial sins out of mere habit, and conventionally, without making
any effort to correct them, thereby losing a great deal of spiritual good. Supposing that
you confess having said something untrue, although without evil consequences, or some
careless words, or excessive amusement;-- repent, and make a firm resolution of amendment:
it is a mere abuse to confess any sin whatever, be it mortal or venial, without intending
to put it altogether away, that being the express object of confession.
Beware of unmeaning self-accusations, made out of a mere routine, such as,
"I have not loved God as much as I ought; I have not prayed
with as much devotion as I ought; I have not loved my neighbor as I ought; I have not
received the Sacraments with sufficient reverence;" and the like. Such
things as these are altogether useless in setting the state of your conscience before your
Confessor, inasmuch as all the Saints in Paradise and all men living would say the same.
But examine closely what special reason you have for accusing yourself thus, and when you
have discovered it, accuse yourself simply and plainly of your fault. For instance, when
confessing that you have not loved your neighbor as you ought, it may be that what you
mean is, that having seen some one in great want whom you could have succored, you have
failed to do so. Well then, accuse yourself of that special omission; say, "Having come across a person in need, I did not help him as I might
have done," either through negligence, or hardness, or indifference,
according as the case may be. So again, do not accuse yourself of not having prayed to God
with sufficient devotion; but if you have given way to voluntary distractions, or if you
have neglected the proper circumstances of devout prayer--whether place, time, or
attitude--say so plainly, just as it is, and do not deal in generalities, which, so to
say, blow neither hot nor cold.
Again, do not be satisfied with mentioning the bare fact of your venial
sins, but accuse yourself of the motive cause which led to them. For instance, do not be
content with saying that you told an untruth which injured no one; but say whether it was
out of vanity, in order to win praise or avoid blame, out of heedlessness, or from
obstinacy. If you have exceeded in society, say whether it was from the love of talking,
or gambling for the sake of money, and so on. Say whether you continued long to commit the
fault in question, as the importance of a fault depends greatly upon its continuance:
e.g., there is a wide difference between a passing act of vanity which is over in a
quarter of an hour, and one which fills the heart for one or more days. So you must
mention the fact, the motive and the duration of your faults. It is true that we are not
bound to be so precise in confessing venial sins, or even, technically speaking, to
confess them at all; but all who aim at purifying their souls in order to attain a really
devout life, will be careful to show all their spiritual maladies, however slight, to
their spiritual physician, in order to be healed.
Do not spare yourself in telling whatever is necessary to explain the
nature of your fault, as, for instance, the reason why you lost your temper, or why you
encouraged another in wrong-doing. Thus, some one whom I dislike says a chance word in
joke, I take it ill, and put myself in a passion. If one I like had said a stronger thing
I should not have taken it amiss; so in confession, I ought to say that I lost my temper
with a person, not because of the words spoken so much as because I disliked the speaker;
and if in order to explain yourself clearly it is necessary to particularize the words, it
is well to do so; because accusing one's self thus simply one discovers not merely one's
actual sins, but one's bad habits, inclinations and ways, and the other roots of sin, by
which means one's spiritual Father acquires a fuller knowledge of the heart he is dealing
with, and knows better what remedies to apply. But you must always avoid exposing any one
who has borne any part in your sin as far as possible. Keep watch over a variety of sins,
which are apt to spring up and flourish, often insensibly, in the conscience, so that you
may confess them and put them away; and with this view read Chapters VI., XXVII., XXVIII.,
XXIX., XXXV. and XXXVI. of Part III., and Chapter VII. of Part IV., attentively.
Do not lightly change your Confessor, but having chosen him, be regular in
giving account of your conscience to him at the appointed seasons, telling him your faults
simply and frankly, and from time to time--say every month or every two months, show him
the general state of your inclinations, although there be nothing wrong in them; as, for
instance, whether you are depressed and anxious, or cheerful, desirous of advancement, or
money, and the like.
Of Frequent Communion
It is said that Mithridates, King
of Pontus, who invented the poison called after him, mithridate, so thoroughly impregnated
his system with it, that when eventually he tried to poison himself to avoid becoming the
Romans' slave, he never could succeed. The Savior instituted the most holy Sacrament of
the Eucharist, really containing His Body and His Blood, in order that they who eat it
might live for ever. And therefore whosoever receives it frequently and devoutly, so
strengthens the health and life of his soul, that it is hardly possible for him to be
poisoned by any evil desires. We cannot be fed by that Living Flesh and hold to the
affections of death; and just as our first parents could not die in Paradise, because of
the Tree of Life which God had placed therein, so this Sacrament of Life makes spiritual
death impossible. The most fragile, easily spoilt fruits, such as cherries, apricots, and
strawberries, can be kept all the year by being preserved in sugar or honey; so what
wonder if our hearts, frail and weakly as they are, are kept from the corruption of sin
when they are preserved in the sweetness ("sweeter than
honey and the honeycomb") of the Incorruptible Body and Blood of the Son
of God. O my daughter, those Christians who are lost will indeed have no answer to give
when the Just Judge sets before them that they have voluntarily died the spiritual death,
since it was so easy for them to have preserved life and health, by eating His Body which
He gave them for that very end. "Miserable men!"
He will say, "wherefore would ye die, with the Bread of
Life itself in your hands?"
As to daily Communion, I neither commend nor condemn it; but with respect
to communicating every Sunday, I counsel and exhort every one to do so, providing the mind
has no attachment to sin. So says Saint Augustine, and with him I neither find fault nor
unconditionally commend daily Communion, leaving that matter to the discretion of every
person's own spiritual Guide; as the requisite dispositions for such frequent Communion
are too delicate for one to advise it indiscriminately. On the other hand, these very
special dispositions may be found in sundry devout souls, and therefore it would not be
well to discourage everybody. It is a subject which must be dealt with according to each
individual mind; it were imprudent to advise such frequent Communion to all, while, on the
other hand, it would be presumptuous to blame any one for it, especially if he therein
follows the advice of some wise director. Saint Catherine of Sienna, when blamed for her
frequent Communions, under the plea that Saint Augustine neither commended nor condemned
daily Communion, replied gently, "Well, then, since Saint
Augustine does not condemn it, neither, I pray you, do you condemn it, and I shall be
content." But Saint Augustine earnestly exhorts all to communicate every
Sunday. And as I presume, my daughter, that you have no attachment either to mortal or
venial sins, you are in the condition which Saint Augustine requires; and if your
spiritual Father approves, you may profitably communicate more frequently. Nevertheless,
there are various hindrances which may arise, not so much from yourself, as from those
among whom you live, which may lead a wise director to tell you not to communicate so
often. For instance, if you are in a position of subjection, and those whom you are bound
to obey should be so ignorant or so prejudiced, as to be uneasy at your frequent
Communions, all things considered, it may be well to show consideration for their
weakness, and to make your Communion fortnightly; only, of course, where there is no
possible way of overcoming the difficulty otherwise. But one cannot give any general rule
on such a point, each person must follow the advice of their own spiritual Guide; only
this much I will say, that monthly Communions are the very fewest which any one seeking to
serve God devoutly can make.
If you are discreet, neither father nor mother, husband nor wife, will
ever hinder you from communicating frequently, and that because on the day of your
Communion you will give good heed always to be more than usually gentle and amiable
towards them, doing all you can to please them, so that they are not likely to prevent
your doing a thing which in nowise inconveniences themselves, unless they were most
particularly unreasonable and perverse, in which case, as I have said, your Director might
advise you to yield. There is nothing in the married life to hinder frequent Communion.
Most certainly the Christians of the Primitive Church communicated daily, whether married
or single. Neither is any malady a necessary impediment, except, indeed, anything
producing constant sickness.
Those who communicate weekly must be free from mortal sin, and also from
any attachment to venial sin, and they should feel a great desire for Communion; but for
daily Communion people should furthermore have conquered most of their inclinations to
evil, and no one should practice it without the advice of their Spiritual Guide.
How to Communicate
Begin your preparation
over-night, by sundry aspirations and loving ejaculations. Go to bed somewhat earlier than
usual, so that you may get up earlier the next morning; and if you should wake during the
night, fill your heart and lips at once with sacred words wherewith to make your soul
ready to receive the Bridegroom, Who watches while you sleep, and Who intends to give you
countless gifts and graces, if you on your part are prepared to accept them. In the
morning rise with joyful expectation of the Blessing you hope for, and (having made your
Confession) go with the fullest trust, but at the same time with the fullest humility, to
receive that Heavenly Food which will sustain your immortal life. And after having said
the sacred words, "Lord, I am not worthy,"
do not make any further movement whatever, either in prayer or otherwise, but gently
opening your mouth, in the fullness of faith, hope, and love, receive Him in Whom, by
Whom, and through Whom, you believe, hope, and love. O my child, bethink you that just as
the bee, having gathered heaven's dew and earth's sweetest juices from amid the flowers,
carries it to her hive; so the Priest, having taken the Savior, God's Own Son, Who came
down from Heaven, the Son of Mary, Who sprang up as earth's choicest flower, from the
Altar, feeds you with that Bread of Sweetness and of all delight. When you have received
it kindle your heart to adore the King of our Salvation, tell Him of all your own personal
matters, and realize that He is within you, seeking your best happiness. In short, give
Him the very best reception you possibly can, and act so that in all you do it may be
evident that God is with you. When you cannot have the blessing of actual Communion, at
least communicate in heart and mind, uniting yourself by ardent desire to the Life-giving
Body of the Savior.
Your main intention in Communion should be to grow, strengthen, and abound
in the Love of God; for Love's Sake receive that which Love Alone gives you. Of a truth
there is no more loving or tender aspect in which to gaze upon the Savior than this act,
in which He, so to say, annihilates Himself, and gives Himself to us as food, in order to
fill our souls, and to unite Himself more closely to the heart and flesh of His faithful
If men of the world ask why you communicate so often, tell them that it is
that you may learn to love God; that you may be cleansed from imperfections, set free from
trouble, comforted in affliction, strengthened in weakness. Tell them that there are two
manner of men who need frequent Communion--those who are perfect, since being ready they
were much to blame did they not come to the Source and Fountain of all perfection; and the
imperfect, that they may learn how to become perfect; the strong, lest they become weak,
and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick that they may be healed, and the sound
lest they sicken. Tell them that you, imperfect, weak and ailing, need frequently to
communicate with your Perfection, your Strength, your Physician. Tell them that those who
are but little engaged in worldly affairs should communicate often, because they have
leisure; and those who are heavily pressed with business, because they stand so much in
need of help; and he who is hard worked needs frequent and substantial food. Tell them
that you receive the Blessed Sacrament that you may learn to receive it better; one rarely
does that well which one seldom does. Therefore, my child, communicate frequently,--as
often as you can, subject to the advice of your spiritual Father. Our mountain hares turn
white in winter, because they live in, and feed upon, the snow, and by dint of adoring and
feeding upon Beauty, Goodness, and Purity itself in this most Divine Sacrament you too
will become lovely, holy, pure.
CONTAINING COUNSELS CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF
How to select that which we should chiefly
The queen bee never takes wing without being surrounded by all her
Subjects; even so Love never enters the heart but it is sure to bring all other virtues in
its train; marshaling and employing them as a captain his soldiers; yet, nevertheless,
Love does not set them all to work suddenly, or equally, at all times and everywhere. The
righteous man is "like a tree planted by the water-side,
that will bring forth his fruit in due season;" inasmuch
as Love, watering and refreshing the soul, causes it to bring forth good works, each in
season as required. There is an old proverb to the effect that the sweetest music is
unwelcome at a time of mourning; and certain persons have made a great mistake when,
seeking to cultivate some special virtue, they attempt to obtrude it on all occasions,
like the ancient philosophers we read of, who were always laughing or weeping. Worse still
if they take upon themselves to censure those who do not make a continual study of this
their pet virtue. Saint Paul tells us to "rejoice with them
that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep;" and
Charity is patient, kind, liberal, prudent, indulgent.
At the same time, there are virtues of universal account, which must not only be called
into occasional action, but ought to spread their influence over everything. We do not
very often come across opportunities for exercising strength, magnanimity, or
magnificence; but gentleness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are graces which ought to
color everything we do. There may be virtues of a more exalted mold, but at all events
these are the most continually called for in daily life. Sugar is better than salt, but we
use salt more generally and oftener. Consequently, it is well to have a good and ready
stock in hand of those general virtues of which we stand in so perpetual a need.
In practicing any virtue, it is well to choose that which is most according to our
duty, rather than most according to our taste. It was Saint Paula's liking to practice
bodily mortifications with a view to the keener enjoyment of spiritual sweetness, but
obedience to her superiors was a higher duty; and therefore Saint Jerome acknowledges that
she was wrong in practicing excessive abstinence contrary to the advice of her Bishop. And
the Apostles, whose mission it was to preach the Gospel, and feed souls with the Bread of
Life, judged well that it was not right for them to hinder this holy work in order to
minister to the material wants of the poor, weighty as that work was also. Every calling
stands in special need of some special virtue; those required of a prelate, a prince, or a
soldier, are quite different; so are those beseeming a wife or a widow, and although all
should possess every virtue, yet all are not called upon to exercise them equally, but
each should cultivate chiefly those which are important to the manner of life to which he
Among such virtues as have no special adaptation to our own calling,
choose the most excellent, not the most showy. A comet generally looks larger than the
stars, and fills the eye more; but all the while comets are not nearly so important as the
stars, and only seem so large to us because they are nearer to us than stars, and are of a
grosser kind. So there are certain virtues which touch us very sensibly and are very
material, so to say, and therefore ordinary people give them the preference. Thus the
common run of men ordinarily value temporal almsgiving more than spiritual; and think more
of fasting, exterior discipline and bodily mortification than of meekness, cheerfulness,
modesty, and other interior mortifications, which nevertheless are far better. Do you
then, my daughter, choose the best virtues, not those which are most highly esteemed; the
most excellent, not the most visible; the truest, not the most conspicuous.
It is well for everybody to select some special virtue at which to aim,
not as neglecting any others, but as an object and pursuit to the mind. Saint John, Bishop
of Alexandria, saw a vision of a lovely maiden, brighter than the sun, in shining
garments, and wearing an olive crown, who said to him, "I
am the King's eldest daughter, and if thou wilt have me for thy friend, I will bring thee
to see His Face." Then he knew that it was pity for the poor which God
thus commended to him, and from that time he gave himself so heartily to practice it, that
he is universally known as Saint John the Almoner. Eulogius Alexandrinus desired to devote
himself wholly to God, but he had not courage either to adopt the solitary life, or to put
himself under obedience, and therefore he took a miserable beggar, seething in dirt and
leprosy, to live with him; and to do this more thoroughly, he vowed to honor and serve him
as a servant does his lord and master. After a while, both feeling greatly tempted to part
company, they referred to the great Saint Anthony, who said, "Beware
of separating, my sons, for you are both near your end, and if the Angel find you not
together, you will be in danger of losing your crowns."
Saint Louis counted it a privilege to visit the hospitals, where he used
to tend the sick with his own royal hands. Saint Francis loved poverty above all things,
and called her his lady-love. Saint Dominic gave himself up to preaching, whence his Order
takes its name. Saint Gregory the Great specially
delighted to receive pilgrims after the manner of faithful Abraham, and like him
entertained the King of Glory under a pilgrim's garb. Tobit devoted himself to the
charitable work of burying the dead. Saint Elizabeth, albeit a mighty princess, loved
above all things to humble herself. When Saint Catherine of Genoa became a widow, she gave
herself up to work in an hospital. Cassian relates how a certain devout maiden once
besought Saint Athanasius to help her in cultivating the grace of patience; and he gave
her a poor widow as companion, who was cross, irritable, and altogether intolerable, and
whose perpetual fretfulness gave the pious lady abundant opportunity of practicing
gentleness and patience. And so some of God's servants devote themselves to nursing the
sick, helping the poor, teaching little children in the faith, reclaiming the fallen,
building churches, and adorning the altar, making peace among men. Therein they resemble
embroidresses who work all manner of silks, gold and silver on various grounds, so
producing beautiful flowers. Just so the pious souls who undertake some special devout
practice use it as the ground of their spiritual embroidery, and frame all manner of other
graces upon it, ordering their actions and affections better by means of this their chief
thread which runs through all.
"Upon Thy Right Hand did stand the Queen in a vesture of
gold wrought about with diverse colors."
When we are beset by any particular vice, it is well as far as possible to make the
opposite virtue our special aim, and turn everything to that account; so doing, we shall
overcome our enemy, and meanwhile make progress in all virtue. Thus, if I am beset with
pride or anger, I must above all else strive to cultivate humility and gentleness, and I
must turn all my religious exercises,--prayer, sacraments, prudence, constancy,
moderation, to the same object. The wild boar sharpens its tusks by grinding them against
its other teeth, which by the same process are sharpened and pointed; and so when a good
man endeavors to perfect himself in some virtue which he is conscious of specially
needing, he ought to give it edge and point by the aid of other virtues, which will
themselves be confirmed and strengthened as he uses them with that object. It was so with
Job, who, while specially exercising the virtue of patience amid the numberless
temptations which beset him, was confirmed in all manner of holiness and godly virtues.
And Saint Gregory Nazianzen says, that sometimes a person has attained the height of
goodness by one single act of virtue, performed with the greatest perfection; instancing
Rahab as an example, who, having practiced the virtue of hospitality very excellently,
reached a high point of glory. Of course, any such
action must needs be performed with a very exceeding degree of fervor and charity.
The same Subject continued
Saint Augustine says very
admirably, that beginners in devotion are wont to commit certain faults which, while they
are blamable according to the strict laws of perfection, are yet praiseworthy by reason of
the promise they hold forth of a future excellent goodness, to which they actually tend.
For instance, that common shrinking fear which gives rise to an excessive scrupulosity in
the souls of some who are but just set free from a course of sin, is commendable at that
early stage, and is the almost certain forerunner of future purity of conscience. But this
same fear would be blamable in those who are farther advanced, because love should reign
in their hearts, and love is sure to drive away all such servile fear by degrees.
In his early days, Saint Bernard was very severe and harsh towards those
whom he directed, telling them, to begin with, that they must put aside the body, and come
to him with their minds only. In confession, he treated all faults, however small, with
extreme severity, and his poor apprentices in the study of perfection were so urged
onwards, that by dint of pressing he kept them back, for they lost heart and breath when
they found themselves thus driven up so steep and high an ascent. Therein, my daughter,
you can see that, although it was his ardent zeal for the most perfect purity which led
that great Saint so to act, and although such zeal is a great virtue, still it was a
virtue which required checking. And so God Himself checked it in a vision, by which He
filled Saint Bernard with so gentle, tender, and loving a spirit, that he was altogether
changed, blaming himself heavily for having been so strict and so severe, and becoming so
kindly and indulgent, that he made himself all things to all men in order to win all.
Saint Jerome tells us that his beloved daughter, Saint Paula, was not only
extreme, but obstinate in practicing bodily mortifications, and refusing to yield to the
advice given her upon that head by her Bishop, Saint Epiphanius; and furthermore, she gave
way so excessively to her grief at the death of those she loved as to peril her own life.
Whereupon Saint Jerome says: "It will be said that I am
accusing this saintly woman rather than praising her, but I affirm before Jesus, Whom she
served, and Whom I seek to serve, that I am not saying what is untrue on one side or the
other, but simply describing her as one Christian another; that is to say, I am writing
her history, not her panegyric, and her faults are the virtues of others."
He means to say that the defects and faults of Saint Paula would have been looked upon as
virtues in a less perfect soul; and indeed there are actions which we must count as
imperfections in the perfect, which yet would be highly esteemed in the imperfect. When at
the end of a sickness the invalid's legs swell, it is a good sign, indicating that natural
strength is returning, and throwing off foul humors; but it would be a bad sign in one not
avowedly sick, as showing that nature was too feeble to disperse or absorb those humors.
So, my child, we must think well of those whom we see practicing virtues,
although imperfectly, since the Saints have done the like; but as to ourselves we must
give heed to practice them, not only diligently, but discreetly, and to this end we shall
do well strictly to follow the Wise Man's counsel, 1 and
not trust in our own wisdom, but lean on those whom God has given as our guides. And here
I must say a few words concerning certain things which some reckon as virtues, although
they are nothing of the sort--I mean ecstasies, trances, rhapsodies, extraordinary
transformations, and the like, which are dwelt on in some books, and which promise to
raise the soul to a purely intellectual contemplation, an altogether supernatural mental
altitude, and a life of pre-eminent excellence. But I would have you see, my child, that
these perfections are not virtues, they are rather rewards which God gives to virtues, or
perhaps, more correctly speaking, tokens of the joys of everlasting life, occasionally
granted to men in order to kindle in them a desire for the fullness of joy which is only
to be found in Paradise. But we must not aspire to such graces, which are in nowise
necessary to us in order to love and serve God, our only lawful ambition. Indeed, for the
most part, these graces are not to be acquired by labor or industry, and that because they
are rather passions than actions, which we may receive, but cannot create. Moreover, our
business only is to become good, devout people, pious men and women; and all our efforts
must be to that end. If it should please God further to endow us with angelic perfection,
we should then be prepared to become good angels; but meanwhile let us practice, in all
simplicity, humility and devotion, those lowly virtues to the attainment of which our Lord
has bidden us labor,--I mean patience, cheerfulness, self-mortification, humility,
obedience, poverty, chastity, kindness to our neighbor, forbearance towards his failings,
diligence, and a holy fervor. Let us willingly resign the higher eminences to lofty souls.
We are not worthy to take so high a rank in God's service; let us be content to be as
scullions, porters, insignificant attendants in His household, leaving it to Him if He
should hereafter see fit to call us to His own council chamber. Of a truth, my child, the
King of Glory does not reward His servants according to the dignity of their office, but
according to the humility and love with which they have exercised it. While Saul was
seeking his father's asses, he found the kingdom of Israel: 1 Rebecca
watering Abraham's camels, became his son's wife: Ruth gleaning after Boaz' reapers, and
lying down at his feet, was raised up to become his bride. Those
who pretend to such great and extraordinary graces are very liable to delusions and
mistakes, so that sometimes it turns out that people who aspire to be angels are not
ordinarily good men, and that their goodness lies more in high-flown words than in heart
and deed. But we must beware of despising or presumptuously condemning anything. Only,
while thanking God for the pre-eminence of others, let us abide contentedly in our own
lower but safer path,--a path of less distinction, but more suitable to our lowliness,
resting satisfied that if we walk steadily and faithfully therein, God will lift us up to
"Ye have need of patience, that, after
ye have done the Will of God, ye might receive the promise," says Saint
Paul; and the Savior said, "In
your patience possess ye your souls." The
greatest happiness of any one is "to possess his soul;"
and the more perfect our patience, the more fully we do so possess our souls. Call often
to mind that our Savior redeemed us by bearing and suffering, and in like manner we must
seek our own salvation amid sufferings and afflictions; bearing insults, contradictions
and troubles with all the gentleness we can possibly command. Do not limit your patience
to this or that kind of trial, but extend it universally to whatever God may send, or
allow to befall you. Some people will only bear patiently with trials which carry their
own salve of dignity,--such as being wounded in battle, becoming a prisoner of war, being
ill-used for the sake of their religion, being impoverished by some strife out of which
they came triumphant. Now these persons do not love tribulation, but only the honor which
attends it. A really patient servant of God is as ready to bear inglorious troubles as
those which are honorable. A brave man can easily bear with contempt, slander and false
accusation from an evil world; but to bear such injustice at the hands of good men, of
friends and relations, is a great test of patience. I have a greater respect for the
gentleness with which the great Saint Charles Borromeo long endured the public reproaches
which a celebrated preacher of a reformed Order used to pour out upon him, than for all
the other attacks he bore with. For, just as the sting of a bee hurts far more than that
of a fly, so the injuries or contradictions we endure from good people are much harder to
bear than any others. But it is a thing which very often happens, and sometimes two worthy
men, who are both highly well-intentioned after their own fashion, annoy and even
persecute one another grievously.
Be patient, not only with respect to the main trials which beset you, but
also under the accidental and accessory annoyances which arise out of them. We often find
people who imagine themselves ready to accept a trial in itself who are impatient of its
consequences. We hear one man say, "I should not mind
poverty, were it not that I am unable to bring up my children and receive my friends as
handsomely as I desire." And another says, "I
should not mind, were it not that the world will suppose it is my own fault;"
while another would patiently bear to be the subject of slander provided nobody believed
it. Others, again, accept one side of a trouble but fret against the rest--as, for
instance, believing themselves to be patient under sickness, only fretting against their
inability to obtain the best advice, or at the inconvenience they are to their friends.
But, dear child, be sure that we must patiently accept, not sickness only, but such
sickness as God chooses to send, in the place, among the people, and subject to the
circumstances which He ordains;--and so with all other troubles. If any trouble comes upon
you, use the remedies with which God supplies you. Not to do this is to tempt Him; but
having done so, wait whatever result He wills with perfect resignation. If He pleases to
let the evil be remedied, thank Him humbly; but if it be His will that the evil grow
greater than the remedies, patiently bless His Holy Name.
Follow Saint Gregory's advice. When you are justly blamed for some fault
you have committed, humble yourself deeply, and confess that you deserve the blame. If the
accusation be false, defend yourself quietly, denying the fact; this is but due respect
for truth and your neighbor's edification. But if after you have made your true and
legitimate defense you are still accused, do not be troubled, and do not try to press your
defense--you have had due respect for truth, have the same now for humility. By acting
thus you will not infringe either a due care for your good name, or the affection you are
bound to entertain for peace, humility and gentleness of heart.
Complain as little as possible of your wrongs, for as a general rule you may be sure
that complaining is sin; the rather that self-love
always magnifies our injuries: above all, do not complain to people who are easily angered
and excited. If it is needful to complain to some one, either as seeking a remedy for your
injury, or in order to soothe your mind, let it be to some calm, gentle spirit, greatly
filled with the Love of God; for otherwise, instead of relieving your heart, your
confidants will only provoke it to still greater disturbance; instead of taking out the
thorn which pricks you, they will drive it further into your foot.
Some people when they are ill, or in trouble, or injured by any one, restrain their
complaints, because they think (and that rightly) that to murmur betokens great weakness
or a narrow mind; but nevertheless, they exceedingly desire and maneuver to make others
pity them, desiring to be considered as suffering with patience and courage. Now this is a
kind of patience certainly, but it is a spurious patience, which in reality is neither
more nor less than a very refined, very subtle form of ambition and vanity. To them we may
apply the Apostle's words, "He hath whereof to glory, but
not before God." A really patient man
neither complains nor seeks to be pitied; he will speak simply and truly of his trouble,
without exaggerating its weight or bemoaning himself; if others pity him, he will accept
their compassion patiently, unless they pity him for some ill he is not enduring, in which
case he will say so with meekness, and abide in patience and truthfulness, combating his
grief and not complaining of it.
As to the trials which you will encounter in devotion (and they are certain to arise),
bear in mind our dear Lord's words: "A woman, when she is
in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the
child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world." You, too, have conceived in your soul the most gracious of
children, even Jesus Christ, and before He can be brought forth you must inevitably
travail with pain; but be of good cheer, for when these pangs are over, you will possess
an abiding joy, having brought such a man into the world. And He will be really born for
you, when He is perfected in your heart by love, and in your actions by imitating His
When you are sick, offer all your pains and weakness to our Dear Lord, and ask Him to
unite them to the sufferings which He bore for you. Obey your physician, and take all
medicines, remedies and nourishment, for the Love of God, remembering the vinegar and gall
He tasted for love of us; desire your recovery that you may serve Him; do not shrink from
languor and weakness out of obedience to Him, and be ready to die if He wills it, to His
Glory, and that you may enter into His Presence.
Bear in mind that the bee while making its honey lives upon a bitter food;
and in like manner we can never make acts of gentleness and patience, or gather the honey
of the truest virtues, better than while eating the bread of bitterness, and enduring
hardness. And just as the best honey is that made from thyme, a small and bitter herb, so
that virtue which is practiced amid bitterness and lowly sorrow is the best of all
Gaze often inwardly upon Jesus Christ crucified, naked, blasphemed,
falsely accused, forsaken, overwhelmed with every possible grief and sorrow, and remember
that none of your sufferings can ever be compared to His, either in kind or degree, and
that you can never suffer anything for Him worthy to be weighed against what He has borne
Consider the pains which martyrs have endured, and think how even now many
people are bearing afflictions beyond all measure greater than yours, and say, "Of a truth my trouble is comfort, my torments are but roses as
compared to those whose life is a continual death, without solace, or aid or consolation,
borne down with a weight of grief tenfold greater than mine."
On Greater Humility
Elisha bade the poor widow "borrow vessels, even empty vessels not a few, and pour oil into all
those vessels;" and so in order to
receive God's Grace in our hearts, they must be as empty vessels--not filled with
self-esteem. The swallow with its sharp cry and keen glance has the power of frightening
away birds of prey, and for that reason the dove prefers it to all other birds, and lives
surely beside it;--even so humility drives Satan
away, and cherishes the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit within us, and for that reason
all the Saints--and especially the King of Saints and His Blessed Mother--have always
esteemed the grace of humility above all other virtues.
We call that vainglory which men take to themselves, either for what is
not in them, or which being in them is not their own, or which being in them and their own
yet is not worthy of their self-satisfaction. For instance, noble birth, favor of great
men, popular applause, all these are things nowise belonging to ourselves, but coming from
our forefathers, or the opinion of others. Some people are proud and conceited because
they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat, and are expensively dressed, but who
can fail to see their folly, or that if any one has reason to be proud over such things,
it would be the horse, the bird, and the tailor! Or what can be more contemptible than to
found one's credit on a horse, a plume, or a ruff? Others again pride themselves upon
their dainty mustaches, their well-trimmed beard or curled hair, their white hands, or
their dancing, singing and the like; but is it not a petty vanity which can seek to be
esteemed for any such trivial and frivolous matters? Then again, some look for the world's
respect and honor because they have acquired some smatterings of science, expecting all
their neighbors to listen and yield to them, and such men we call pedants. Others make
great capital of their personal beauty, and imagine that every one is lost in admiration
of it; but all this is utterly vain, foolish and impertinent, and the glory men take to
themselves for such matters must be called vain, childish and frivolous.
You may test real worth as we test balm, which is tried by being distilled
in water, and if it is precipitated to the bottom, it is known to be pure and precious. So
if you want to know whether a man is really wise, learned, generous or noble, see if his
life is molded by humility, modesty and submission. If so, his gifts are genuine; but if
they are only surface and showy, you may be sure that in proportion to their
demonstrativeness so is their unreality. Those pearls which are formed amid tempest and
storm have only an outward shell, and are hollow within; and so when a man's good
qualities are fed by pride, vanity and boasting, they will soon have nothing save empty
show, without sap, marrow or substance.
Honor, rank and dignity are like the saffron, which never thrives so well as when
trodden under foot. Beauty only attracts when it is free from any such aim. Self-conscious
beauty loses its charm, and learning becomes a discredit and degenerates into pedantry,
when we are puffed up by it.
Those who are punctilious about rank, title or precedence, both lay themselves open to
criticism and degradation, and also throw contempt on all such things; because an honor
which is valuable when freely paid, is worthless when sought for or exacted. When the
peacock opens his showy tail, he exhibits the ugliness of his body beneath; and many
flowers which are beautiful while growing, wither directly we gather them. And just as men
who inhale mandragora from afar as they pass, find it sweet, while those who breathe it
closely are made faint and ill by the same, so honor may be pleasant to those who merely
taste it as they pass, without seeking or craving for it, but it will become very
dangerous and hurtful to such as take delight in and feed upon it.
An active effort to acquire virtue is the first step towards goodness; but
an active effort to acquire honor is the first step towards contempt and shame. A
well-conditioned mind will not throw away its powers upon such sorry trifles as rank,
position or outward forms--it has other things to do, and will leave all that to meaner
minds. He who can find pearls will not stop to pick up shells; and so a man who aims at
real goodness will not be keen about outward tokens of honor. Undoubtedly every one is
justified in keeping his own place, and there is no want of humility in that so long as it
is done simply and without contention. Just as our merchant-ships coming from Peru with
gold and silver often bring apes and parrots likewise, because these cost but little and
do not add to the weight of a cargo, so good men seeking to grow in grace can take their
natural rank and position, so long as they are not engrossed by such things, and do not
involve themselves in anxiety, contention or ill-will on their account. I am not speaking
here of those whose position is public, or even of certain special private persons whose
dignity may be important. In all such cases each man must move in his own sphere, with
prudence and discretion, together with charity and courtesy.
On Interior Humility
To you however, my daughter, I
would teach a deeper humility, for that of which I have been speaking is almost more truly
to be called worldly wisdom than humility. There are some persons who dare not or will not
think about the graces with which God has endowed them, fearing lest they should become
self-complacent and vain-glorious; but they are quite wrong. For if, as the Angelic Doctor
says, the real way of attaining to the Love of God is by a careful consideration of all
His benefits given to us, then the better we realize these the more we shall love Him; and
inasmuch as individual gifts are more acceptable than general gifts, so they ought to be
more specially dwelt upon. Of a truth, nothing so tends to humble us before the Mercy of
God as the multitude of His gifts to us; just as nothing so tends to humble us before His
Justice as the multitude of our misdeeds. Let us consider what He has done for us, and
what we have done contrary to His Will, and as we review our sins in detail, so let us
review His Grace in the same. There is no fear that a perception of what He has given you
will puff you up, so long as you keep steadily in mind that whatever is good in you is not
of yourself. Do mules cease to be clumsy, stinking beasts because they are used to carry
the dainty treasures and perfumes of a prince? "What hast
thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if
thou hadst not received it?" On the
contrary, a lively appreciation of the grace given to you should make you humble, for
appreciation begets gratitude. But if, when realizing the gifts God has given you, any
vanity should beset you, the infallible remedy is to turn to the thought of all our
ingratitude, imperfection, and weakness. Any one who will calmly consider what he has done
without God, cannot fail to realize that what he does with God is no merit of his own; and
so we may rejoice in that which is good in us, and take pleasure in the fact, but we shall
give all the glory to God Alone, Who Alone is its Author.
It was in this spirit that the Blessed Virgin confessed that God had done "great things" to her; only
that she might humble herself and exalt Him. "My soul doth
magnify the Lord," she said, by reason of the gifts He had given her.
We are very apt to speak of ourselves as naught, as weakness itself, as the offscouring
of the earth; but we should be very much vexed to be taken at our word and generally
considered what we call ourselves. On the contrary, we often make-believe to run away and
hide ourselves, merely to be followed and sought out; we pretend to take the lowest place,
with the full intention of being honorably called to come up higher. But true humility
does not affect to be humble, and is not given to make a display in lowly words. It seeks
not only to conceal other virtues, but above all it seeks and desires to conceal itself;
and if it were lawful to tell lies, or feign or give scandal, humility would perhaps
sometimes affect a cloak of pride in order to hide itself utterly. Take my advice, my
daughter, and either use no professions of humility, or else use them with a real mind
corresponding to your outward expressions; never cast down your eyes without humbling your
heart; and do not pretend to wish to be last and least, unless you really and sincerely
mean it. I would make this so general a rule as to have no exception; only courtesy
sometimes requires us to put forward those who obviously would not put themselves forward,
but this is not deceitful or mock humility; and so with respect to certain expressions of
regard which do not seem strictly true, but which are not dishonest, because the speaker
really intends to give honor and respect to him to whom they are addressed; and even
though the actual words may be somewhat excessive, there is no harm in them if they are
the ordinary forms of society, though truly I wish that all our expressions were as nearly
as possible regulated by real heart feeling in all truthfulness and simplicity. A really
humble man would rather that some one else called him worthless and good-for-nothing, than
say so of himself; at all events, if such things are said, he does not contradict them,
but acquiesces contentedly, for it is his own opinion. We meet people who tell us that
they leave mental prayer to those who are more perfect, not feeling themselves worthy of
it; that they dare not communicate frequently, because they do not feel fit to do so; that
they fear to bring discredit on religion if they profess it, through their weakness and
frailty; while others decline to use their talents in the service of God and their
neighbor, because, forsooth, they know their weakness, and are afraid of becoming proud if
they do any good thing,--lest while helping others they might destroy themselves. But all
this is unreal, and not merely a spurious but a vicious humility, which tacitly and
secretly condemns God's gifts, and makes a pretext of lowliness while really exalting
self-love, self-sufficiency, indolence, and evil tempers. "Ask
thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above." So spake the prophet to King Ahaz; but he answered, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord."
Unhappy man! He affects to show exceeding reverence to God, and under a pretense of
humility refuses to seek the grace offered by the Divine Goodness. Could he not see that
when God wills to grant us a favor, it is mere pride to reject it, that God's gifts must
be accepted, and that true humility lies in obedience and the most literal compliance with
His Will! Well then, God's Will is that we should be perfect, uniting ourselves to Him,
and imitating Him to the utmost of our powers. The proud man who trusts in himself may
well undertake nothing, but the humble man is all the braver that he knows his own
helplessness, and his courage waxes in proportion to his low opinion of himself, because
all his trust is in God, Who delights to show forth His Power in our weakness, His Mercy
in our misery. The safest course is humbly and piously to venture upon whatever may be
considered profitable for us by those who undertake our spiritual guidance.
Nothing can be more foolish than to fancy we know that of which we are really ignorant;
to affect knowledge while conscious that we are ignorant is intolerable vanity. For my
part, I would rather not put forward that which I really do know, while on the other hand
neither would I affect ignorance. When Charity requires it, you should readily and kindly
impart to your neighbor not only that which is necessary for his instruction, but also
what is profitable for his consolation. The same humility which conceals graces with a
view to their preservation is ready to bring them forth at the bidding of Charity, with a
view to their increase and perfection; therein reminding me of that tree in the Isles of
Tylos, which closes its beautiful carnation blossoms at
night, only opening them to the rising sun, so that the natives say they go to sleep. Just
so humility hides our earthly virtues and perfections, only expanding them at the call of
Charity, which is not an earthly, but a heavenly, not a mere moral, but a divine virtue;
the true sun of all virtues, which should all be ruled by it, so that any humility which
controverts charity is unquestionably false.
I would not affect either folly or wisdom; for just as humility deters me from
pretending to be wise, so simplicity and straightforwardness deter me from pretending to
be foolish; and just as vanity is opposed to humility, so all affectation and pretense are
opposed to honesty and simplicity. If certain eminent servants of God have feigned folly
in order to be despised by the world, we may marvel, but not imitate them; for they had
special and extraordinary reasons for doing extraordinary things, and cannot be used as a
rule for such as we are. When David danced more than was
customary before the Ark of the Covenant, it was not with the intention of affecting
folly, but simply as expressing the unbounded and extraordinary gladness of his heart.
Michal his wife reproached him with his actions as folly, but he did not mind being "vile and base in his own sight," but declared himself
willing to be despised for God's Sake. And so, if you should be despised for acts of
genuine devotion, humility will enable you to rejoice in so blessed a contempt, the cause
of which does not lie with you.
Humility makes us rejoice in our own
But, my daughter, I am going a step further, and I bid you everywhere
and in everything to rejoice in your own abjection. Perhaps you will ask in reply what I
mean by that. In Latin abjection
means humility, and humility means abjection, so that when Our Lady says in the Magnificat
that all generations shall call her blessed, because God hath regarded the low estate of
His handmaiden, she means that He has accepted her
abjection and lowliness in order to fill her with graces and favors. Nevertheless, there
is a difference between humility and abjection; for abjection is the poverty, vileness and
littleness which exist in us, without our taking heed to them; but humility implies a real
knowledge and voluntary recognition of that abjection. And the highest point of humility
consists in not merely acknowledging one's abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not
from any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God's Divine Majesty,
and to esteem one's neighbor more highly than one's self. This is what I would have you
do; and to explain myself more clearly, let me tell you that the trials which afflict us
are sometimes abject, sometimes honorable.
Now many people will accept the latter, but very few are willing to accept the former.
Everybody respects and pities a pious hermit shivering in his worn-out garb; but let a
poor gentleman or lady be in like case, and they are despised for it,--and so their
poverty is abject. A religious receives a sharp rebuke from his superior meekly, or a
child from his parent, and every one will call it obedience, mortification, wisdom; but
let a knight or a lady accept the like from some one, albeit for the Love of God, and they
will forthwith be accused of cowardice. This again is abject suffering. One person has a
cancer in the arm, another in the face; the former only has the pain to bear, but the
latter has also to endure all the disgust and repulsion caused by his disease; and this is
abjection. And what I want to teach you is, that we should not merely rejoice in our
trouble, which we do by means of patience, but we should also cherish the abjection, which
is done by means of humility.
Again, there are abject and honorable virtues; for the world generally despises
patience, gentleness, simplicity, and even humility itself, while, on the contrary, it
highly esteems prudence, valor, and liberality. Sometimes even there may be a like
distinction drawn between acts of one and the same virtue--one being despised and the
other respected. Thus almsgiving and forgiveness of injuries are both acts of charity, but
while every one esteems the first, the world looks down upon the last. A young man or a
girl who refuses to join in the excesses of dress, amusement, or gossip of their circle,
is laughed at and criticized, and their self-restraint is called affectation or bigotry.
Well, to rejoice in that is to rejoice in abjection. Or, to take another shape of the same
thing. We are employed in visiting the sick--if I am sent to the most wretched cases, it
is an abjection in the world's sight, and consequently I like it. If I am sent to those of
a better class, it is an interior abjection, for there is less grace and merit in the
work, and so I can accept that abjection. If one has a fall in the street, there is the
ridiculous part of it to be borne, as well as the possible pain; and this is an abjection
we must accept.
There are even some faults, in which there is no harm beyond their abjection, and
although humility does not require us to commit them intentionally, it does require of us
not to be disturbed at having committed them. I mean certain foolish acts, incivilities,
and inadvertencies, which we ought to avoid as far as may be out of civility and decorum,
but of which, if accidentally committed, we ought to accept the abjection heartily, out of
humility. To go further still,--if in anger or excitement I have been led to use unseemly
words, offending God and my neighbor thereby, I will repent heartily, and be very grieved
for the offense, which I must try to repair to the utmost; but meanwhile I will accept the
abjection and disgrace which will ensue, and were it possible to separate the two things,
I ought earnestly to reject the sin, while I retained the abjection readily.
But while we rejoice in the abjection, we must nevertheless use all due and lawful
means to remedy the evil whence it springs, especially when that evil is serious. Thus, if
I have an abject disease in my face, I should endeavor to get it cured, although I do not
wish to obliterate the abjection it has caused me. If I have done something awkward which
hurts no one, I will not make excuses, because, although it was a failing, my own
abjection is the only result; but if I have given offense or scandal through my
carelessness or folly, I am bound to try and remedy it by a sincere apology. There are
occasions when charity requires us not to acquiesce in abjection, but in such a case one
ought the more to take it inwardly to heart for one's private edification.
Perhaps you will ask what are the most profitable forms of abjection. Unquestionably,
those most helpful to our own souls, and most acceptable to God, are such as come
accidentally, or in the natural course of events, because we have not chosen them
ourselves, but simply accepted God's choice, which is always to be preferred to ours. But
if we are constrained to choose, the greatest abjections are best; and the greatest is
whatever is most contrary to one's individual inclination, so long as it is in conformity
with one's vocation; for of a truth our self-will and self-pleasing mars many graces. Who
can teach any of us truly to say with David, "I had rather
be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness"? None, dear child, save He Who lived and died the scorn of
men, and the outcast of the people, in order that we might be raised up. I have said
things here which must seem very hard to contemplate, but, believe me, they will become
sweet as honey when you try to put them in practice.
How to combine due care for a Good Reputation
Praise, honor, and glory are not bestowed on men for ordinary, but
for extraordinary virtue. By praise we intend to lead men to appreciate the excellence of
certain individuals; giving them honor is the expression of our own esteem for them; and I
should say that glory is the combination of praise and honor from many persons. If praise
and honor are like precious stones, glory is as an enamel thereof. Now, as humility
forbids us to aim at excelling or being preferred to others, it likewise forbids us to aim
at praise, honor, and glory; but it allows us to give heed, as the Wise Man says, to our
good name, and that because a good name does not imply any one particular excellence, but
a general straightforward integrity of purpose, which we may recognize in ourselves, and
desire to be known as possessing, without any breach of humility. Humility might make us
indifferent even to a good reputation, were it not for charity's sake; but seeing that it
is a groundwork of society, and without it we are not merely useless but positively
harmful to the world, because of the scandal given by such a deficiency, therefore charity
requires, and humility allows, us to desire and to maintain a good reputation with care.
Moreover, just as the leaves of a tree are valuable, not merely for
beauty's sake, but also as a shelter to the tender fruit, so a good reputation, if not in
itself very important, is still very useful, not only as an embellishment of life, but as
a protection to our virtues, especially to those which are weakly. The necessity for
acting up to our reputation, and being what we are thought to be, brings a strong though
kindly motive power to bear upon a generous disposition. Let us foster all our virtues, my
daughter, because they are pleasing to God, the Chief Aim of all we do. But just as when
men preserve fruits, they do not only conserve them, but put them into suitable vessels,
so while Divine Love is the main thing which keeps us in the ways of holiness, we may also
find help from the effects of a good reputation. But it will not do to be over-eager or
fanciful about it. Those who are so very sensitive about their reputation are like people
who are perpetually physicking themselves for every carnal ailment; they mean to preserve
their health, but practically they destroy it; and those who are so very fastidious over
their good name are apt to lose it entirely, for they become fanciful, fretful, and
disagreeable, provoking ill-natured remarks.
As a rule, indifference to insult and slander is a much more effectual
remedy than resentment, wrath, and vengeance. Slander melts away beneath contempt, but
indignation seems a sort of acknowledgment of its truth. Crocodiles never meddle with any
but those who are afraid of them, and slander only persists in attacking people who are
disturbed by it.
An excessive fear of losing reputation indicates mistrust as to its
foundations, which are to be found in a good and true life. Those towns where the bridges
are built of wood are very uneasy whenever a sign of flood appears, but they who possess
stone bridges are not anxious unless some very unusual storm appears. And so a soul built
up on solid Christian foundations can afford to despise the outpour of slanderous tongues,
but those who know themselves to be weak are for ever disturbed and uneasy. Be sure, my
daughter, that he who seeks to be well thought of by everybody will be esteemed by nobody,
and those people deserve to be despised who are anxious to be highly esteemed by ungodly,
Reputation, after all, is but a signboard giving notice where virtue
dwells, and virtue itself is always and everywhere preferable. Therefore, if it is said
that you are a hypocrite because you are professedly devout, or if you are called a coward
because you have forgiven an insult, despise all such accusations. Such judgments are the
utterances of foolish men, and you must not give up what is right, even though your
reputation suffer, for fruit is better than foliage, that is to say, an inward and
spiritual gain is worth all external gains. We may take a jealous care of our reputation,
but not idolize it; and while we desire not to displease good men, neither should we seek
to please those that are evil. A man's natural adornment is his beard, and a woman's her
hair; if either be torn out they may never grow again, but if only shaven or shorn, they
will grow all the thicker; and in like manner, if our reputation be shorn or even shaven
by slanderous tongues (of which David says, that "with lies
they cut like a sharp razor"), there is no need to be disturbed, it will
soon spring again, if not brighter, at all events more substantial. But if it be lost
through our own vices or meanness or evil living, it will not be easily restored, because
its roots are plucked up. And the root of a good name is to be found in virtue and
honesty, which will always cause it to spring up afresh, however it may be assaulted. If
your good name suffers from some empty pursuit, some useless habit, some unworthy
friendship, they must be renounced, for a good name is worth more than any such idle
indulgence; but if you are blamed or slandered for pious practices, earnestness in
devotion, or whatever tends to win eternal life, then let your slanderers have their way,
like dogs that bay at the moon! Be sure that, if they should succeed in rousing any evil
impression against you (clipping the beard of your reputation, as it were), your good name
will soon revive, and the razor of slander will strengthen your honor, just as the
pruning-knife strengthens the vine and causes it to bring forth more abundant fruit.
Let us keep Jesus Christ Crucified always before our eyes; let us go on
trustfully and simply, but with discretion and wisdom, in His Service, and He will take
care of our reputation; if He permits us to lose it, it will only be to give us better
things, and to train us in a holy humility, one ounce of which is worth more than a
thousand pounds of honor. If we are unjustly blamed, let us quietly meet calumny with
truth; if calumny perseveres, let us persevere in humility; there is no surer shelter for
our reputation or our soul than the Hand of God. Let us serve Him in good report or evil
report alike, with Saint Paul; so that we may cry out
with David, "For Thy Sake have I suffered reproof, shame
hath covered my face."
Of course certain crimes, so grievous that no one who can justify himself
should remain silent, must be excepted; as, too, certain persons whose reputation closely
affects the edification of others. In this case all theologians say that it is right
quietly to seek reparation.
Gentleness towards others and Remedies
The holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition,
is made of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are emblematic of two
virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord Himself, and which He has specially
commended to us, as though they, above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate
Him: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek
and lowly in heart." Humility makes our
lives acceptable to God, meekness makes us acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before,
sinking to the bottom of all liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it
does to the top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and
excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says Saint Bernard, comes to
perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful.
Give heed, then, daughter, that you keep this mystic chrism of gentleness and humility
in your heart, for it is a favorite device of the Enemy
to make people content with a fair outside semblance of these graces, not examining their
inner hearts, and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far
otherwise. And this is easily perceived, because, in spite of their ostentatious
gentleness and humility, they are stirred up with pride and anger by the smallest wrong or
contradiction. There is a popular belief that those who take the antidote commonly called
"Saint Paul's gift," do
not suffer from the viper's bite, provided, that is, that the remedy be pure; and even so
true gentleness and humility will avert the burning and swelling which contradiction is
apt to excite in our hearts. If, when stung by slander or ill-nature, we wax proud and
swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness and humility are unreal, and mere
artificial show. When the Patriarch Joseph sent his brethren back from Egypt to his
father's house, he only gave them one counsel, "See that ye
fall not out by the way." And so, my
child, say I to you. This miserable life is but the road to a blessed life; do not let us
fall out by the way one with another; let us go on with the company of our brethren
gently, peacefully, and kindly. Most emphatically I say it, If possible, fall out with no
one, and on no pretext whatever suffer your heart to admit anger and passion. Saint James
says, plainly and unreservedly, that "the wrath of man
worketh not the righteousness of God." Of
course it is a duty to resist evil and to repress the faults of those for whom we are
responsible, steadily and firmly, but gently and quietly. Nothing so stills the elephant
when enraged as the sight of a lamb; nor does anything break the force of a cannon ball so
well as wool. Correction given in anger, however tempered by reason, never has so much
effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being
naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and
whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.
When a monarch visits a country peaceably the people are gratified and flattered; but if
the king has to take his armies through the land, even on behalf of the public welfare,
his visit is sure to be unwelcome and harmful, because, however strictly military
discipline may be enforced, there will always be some mischief done to the people. Just so
when reason prevails, and administers reproof, correction, and punishment in a calm
spirit, although it be strict, every one approves and is content; but if reason be
hindered by anger and vexation (which Saint Augustine calls her soldiers) there will be
more fear than love, and reason itself will be despised and resisted. The same Saint
Augustine, writing to Profuturus, says that it is better to refuse entrance to any even
the least semblance of anger, however just; and that because once entered in, it is hard
to be got rid of, and what was but a little mote soon waxes into a great beam. For if
anger tarries till night, and the sun goes down upon our wrath (a thing expressly
forbidden by the Apostle), there is no longer any way of getting rid of it; it feeds upon
endless false fancies; for no angry man ever yet but thought his anger just.
Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine
one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is
overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give
anger ever so little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily works in
its body wherever it can once introduce its head. You will ask how to put away anger. My
child, when you feel its first movements, collect yourself gently and seriously, not
hastily or with impetuosity. Sometimes in a law court the officials who enforce quiet make
more noise than those they affect to hush; and so, if you are impetuous in restraining
your temper, you will throw your heart into worse confusion than before, and, amid the
excitement, it will lose all self-control.
Having thus gently exerted yourself, follow the advice which the aged Saint Augustine
gave to a younger Bishop, Auxilius. "Do,"
said he, "what a man should do." If you
are like the Psalmist, ready to cry out, "Mine eye is
consumed for very anger," go on to say,
"Have mercy upon me, O Lord;" so that God
may stretch forth His Right Hand and control your wrath. I mean, that when we feel stirred
with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed
about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, "Peace,
be still." But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers
against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence.
Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you
are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards
the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what
you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a
good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is
an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.
Moreover, when there is nothing to stir your wrath, lay up a store of meekness and
kindliness, speaking and acting in things great and small as gently as possible. Remember
that the Bride of the Canticles is described as not merely dropping honey, and milk also,
from her lips, but as having it "under her tongue;" that is to say, in her heart. So we must not only speak
gently to our neighbor but we must be filled, heart and soul, with gentleness; and we must
not merely seek the sweetness of aromatic honey in courtesy and suavity with strangers,
but also the sweetness of milk among those of our own household and our neighbors; a
sweetness terribly lacking to some who are as angels abroad and devils
On Gentleness towards Ourselves
One important direction in which
to exercise gentleness, is with respect to ourselves, never growing irritated with one's
self or one's imperfections; for although it is but reasonable that we should be
displeased and grieved at our own faults, yet ought we to guard against a bitter, angry,
or peevish feeling about them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they
have been angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic
state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the way for a
fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one's
self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by
its own imperfection. What we want is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults.
A judge gives sentence more effectually speaking deliberately and calmly than if he be
impetuous and passionate (for in the latter case he punishes not so much the actual faults
before him, but what they appear to him to be); and so we can chasten ourselves far better
by a quiet steadfast repentance, than by eager hasty ways of penitence, which, in fact,
are proportioned not by the weight of our faults, but according to our feelings and
inclinations. Thus one man who specially aims at purity will be intensely vexed with
himself at some very trifling fault against it, while he looks upon some gross slander of
which he has been guilty as a mere laughing matter. On the other hand, another will
torment himself painfully over some slight exaggeration, while he altogether overlooks
some serious offense against purity; and so on with other things. All this arises solely
because men do not judge themselves by the light of reason, but under the influence of
Believe me, my daughter, as a parent's tender affectionate remonstrance has far more
weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if
we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment,
its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and
For instance:--Let me suppose that I am specially seeking to conquer
vanity, and yet that I have fallen conspicuously into that sin;--instead of taking myself
to task as abominable and wretched, for breaking so many resolutions, calling myself unfit
to lift up my eyes to Heaven, as disloyal, faithless, and the like, I would deal pitifully
and quietly with myself. "Poor heart! so soon fallen again
into the snare! Well now, rise up again bravely and fall no more. Seek God's Mercy, hope
in Him, ask Him to keep you from falling again, and begin to tread the pathway of humility
afresh. We must be more on our guard henceforth." Such a course will be
the surest way to making a steadfast substantial resolution against the special fault, to
which should be added any external means suitable, and the advice of one's director.
If any one does not find this gentle dealing sufficient, let him use sterner
self-rebuke and admonition, provided only, that whatever indignation he may rouse against
himself, he finally works it all up to a tender loving trust in God, treading in the
footsteps of that great penitent who cried out to his troubled soul: "Why art thou so vexed, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted
within me? O put thy trust in God, for I will yet thank Him, Which is the help of my
countenance, and my God."
So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself
deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marveling that you fell;--there is no
cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you
should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep
trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.
We must attend to the Business of Life
carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety
The care and diligence due to our
ordinary business are very different from solicitude, anxiety and restlessness. The Angels
care for our salvation and seek it diligently, but they are wholly free from anxiety and
solicitude, for, whereas care and diligence naturally appertain to their love, anxiety
would be wholly inconsistent with their happiness; for although care and diligence can go
hand in hand with calmness and peace, those angelic properties could not unite with
solicitude or anxiety, much less with over-eagerness.
Therefore, my daughter, be careful and diligent in all your affairs; God,
Who commits them to you, wills you to give them your best attention; but strive not to be
anxious and solicitous, that is to say, do not set about your work with restlessness and
excitement, and do not give way to bustle and eagerness in what you do;--every form of
excitement affects both judgment and reason, and hinders a right performance of the very
thing which excites us.
Our Lord, rebuking Martha, said, "Thou art
careful and troubled about many things." If
she had been simply careful, she would not have been troubled, but giving way to disquiet
and anxiety, she grew eager and troubled, and for that our Lord reproved her. The rivers
which flow gently through our plains bear barges of rich merchandise, and the gracious
rains which fall softly on the land fertilize it to bear the fruits of the earth;--but
when the rivers swell into torrents, they hinder commerce and devastate the country, and
violent storms and tempests do the like. No work done with impetuosity and excitement was
ever well done, and the old proverb, "Make haste slowly,"
is a good one, Solomon says, "There
is one that laboreth and taketh pains, and maketh haste, and is so much the more behind;" we are always soon enough when we do well. The bumble bee
makes far more noise and is more bustling than the honey bee, but it makes naught save
wax--no honey; just so those who are restless and eager, or full of noisy solicitude,
never do much or well. Flies harass us less by what they do than by reason of their
multitude, and so great matters give us less disturbance than a multitude of small
affairs. Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them
methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with
confusion, you will only cumber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of
perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.
In all your affairs lean solely on God's Providence, by means of which
alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with
Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him you will always
obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not
to your own individual judgment.
Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its
father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside
hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world's goods with one hand, always let the
other be fast in your Heavenly Father's Hand, and look round from time to time to make
sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad. Beware of letting
go, under the idea of making or receiving more--if He forsakes you, you will fall to the
ground at the first step. When your ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing,
let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and if the work be such as to require your
undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators who
make for the haven they would attain, by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon
the deeps on which they sail. So doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and
your work will be blessed.
Love alone leads to perfection,
but the three chief means for acquiring it are obedience, chastity, and poverty. Obedience
is a consecration of the heart, chastity of the body, and poverty of all worldly goods to
the Love and Service of God. These are the three members of the Spiritual Cross, and all
three must be raised upon the fourth, which is humility. I am not going here to speak of
these three virtues as solemn vows, which only concern religious, nor even as ordinary
vows, although when sought under the shelter of a vow all virtues receive an enhanced
grace and merit; but it is not necessary for perfection that they should be undertaken as
vows, so long as they are practiced diligently. The three vows solemnly taken put a man
into the state of perfection, whereas a diligent observance thereof brings him to
perfection. For, observe, there is a great difference between the state of perfection and
perfection itself, inasmuch as all prelates and religious are in the former, although
unfortunately it is too obvious that by no means all attain to the latter. Let us then
endeavor to practice these three virtues, according to our several vocations, for although
we are not thereby called to a state of perfection, we may attain through them to
perfection itself, and of a truth we are all bound to practice them, although not all
after the same manner.
There are two kinds of obedience, one necessary, the other voluntary. The
first includes a humble obedience to your ecclesiastical superiors, whether Pope, Bishop,
Curate, or those commissioned by them. You are likewise bound to obey your civil
superiors, king and magistrates; as also your domestic superiors, father, mother, master
or mistress. Such obedience is called necessary, because no one can free himself from the
duty of obeying these superiors, God having appointed them severally to bear rule over us.
Therefore do you obey their commands as of right, but if you would be perfect, follow
their counsels, and even their wishes as far as charity and prudence will allow; obey as
to things acceptable, as when they bid you eat, or take recreation, for although there may
be no great virtue in obedience in such a case, there is great harm in disobedience. Obey
in things indifferent, as concerning questions of dress, coming and going, singing or
keeping silence, for herein is a very laudable obedience. Obey in things hard,
disagreeable and inconvenient, and therein lies a very perfect obedience. Moreover, obey
quietly, without answering again, promptly, without delay, cheerfully, without reluctance;
and, above all, render a loving obedience for His Sake Who became obedient even to the
death of the Cross for our sake; Who, as Saint Bernard says, chose rather to resign His
Life than His Obedience.
If you would acquire a ready obedience to superiors, accustom yourself to yield to your
equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing wrong is involved, without arguing or
peevishness; and adapt yourself easily to the wishes of your inferiors as far as you
reasonably can, and forbear the exercise of stern authority so long as they do well.
It is a mistake for those who find it hard to pay a willing obedience to
their natural superiors to suppose that if they were professed religious they would find
it easy to obey.
Voluntary obedience is such as we undertake by our own choice, and which is not imposed
by others. Persons do not choose their own King or Bishop, or parents--often not even
their husband; but most people choose their confessor or director. And whether a person
takes a vow of obedience to him (as Saint Theresa, beyond her formal vow to the Superior
of her Order, bound herself by a simple vow to obey Father Gratian), or without any vow
they resolve to obey their chosen spiritual guide, all such obedience is voluntary,
because it depends upon our own will.
Obedience to lawful superiors is regulated by their official claims. Thus, in all
public and legal matters, we are bound to obey our King; in ecclesiastical matters, our
Bishop; in domestic matters, our father, master or husband; and in personal matters which
concern the soul, our confessor or spiritual guide.
Seek to be directed in your religious exercises by your spiritual father,
because thereby they will have double grace and virtue;--that which is inherent in that
they are devout, and that which comes by reason of the spirit of obedience in which they
are performed. Blessed indeed are the obedient, for God will never permit them to go
Purity is the lily among virtues--by it men approach to the Angels.
There is no beauty without purity, and human purity is chastity. We speak of the chaste as
honest, and of the loss of purity as dishonor; purity is an intact thing, its converse is
corruption. In a word, its special glory is in the spotless whiteness of soul and body.
No unlawful pleasures are compatible with chastity; the pure heart is like the mother
of pearl which admits no drop of water save that which comes from Heaven,--it is closed to
every attraction save such as are sanctified by holy matrimony. Close your heart to every
questionable tenderness or delight, guard against all that is unprofitable though it may
be lawful, and strive to avoid unduly fixing your heart even on that which in itself is
right and good.
Every one has great need of this virtue; those living in widowhood need a
brave chastity not only to forego present and future delights, but to resist the memories
of the past, with which a happy married life naturally fills the imagination, softening
and weakening the will. Saint Augustine lauds the purity of his beloved Alipius, who had
altogether forgotten and despised the carnal pleasures in which his youth was passed.
While fruits are whole, you may store them up securely, some in straw, some in sand or
amid their own foliage, but once bruised there is no means of preserving them save with
sugar or honey. Even so the purity which has never been tampered with may well be
preserved to the end, but when once that has ceased to exist nothing can ensure its
existence but the genuine devotion, which, as I have often said, is the very honey and
sugar of the mind.
The unmarried need a very simple sensitive purity, which will drive away
all over-curious thoughts, and teach them to despise all merely sensual satisfactions. The
young are apt to imagine that of which they are ignorant to be wondrous sweet, and as the
foolish moth hovers around a light, and, persisting in coming too near, perishes in its
inquisitive folly, so they perish through their unwise approach to forbidden pleasures.
And married people need a watchful purity whereby to keep God ever before them, and to
seek all earthly happiness and delight through Him Alone, ever remembering that He has
sanctified the state of holy matrimony by making it the type of His own union with the
The Apostle says, "Follow peace with all
men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" by which holiness he means purity. Of a truth, my daughter,
without purity no one can ever see God; nor can any hope
to dwell in His tabernacle except he lead an uncorrupt life; and
our Blessed Lord Himself has promised the special blessing of beholding Him to those that
are pure in heart.
How to maintain Purity
Be exceedingly quick in turning aside from the slightest thing
leading to impurity, for it is an evil which approaches stealthily, and in which the very
smallest beginnings are apt to grow rapidly. It is always easier to fly from such evils
than to cure them.
Human bodies are like glasses, which cannot come into collision without risk of
breaking; or to fruits, which, however fresh and ripe, are damaged by pressure. Never
permit any one to take any manner of foolish liberty with you, since, although there may
be no evil intention, the perfectness of purity is injured thereby.
Purity has its source in the heart, but it is in the body that its material results
take shape, and therefore it may be forfeited both by the exterior senses and by the
thoughts and desires of the heart. All lack of modesty in seeing, hearing, speaking,
smelling, or touching, is impurity, especially when the heart takes pleasure therein.
Saint Paul says without any hesitation that impurity and uncleanness, or foolish and
unseemly talking, are not to be "so much as named" among Christians. The bee not only shuns all carrion, but
abhors and flies far from the faintest smell proceeding therefrom. The Bride of the
Canticles is represented with "hands dropping with myrrh."
a preservative against all corruption; her "lips are like a
thread of scarlet," the type of modest words; her
eyes are "dove's eyes,"
clear and soft; her "nose is as the tower of
Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus" an incorruptible wood; her ears
are hung with earrings of pure gold; and even so the devout soul should be pure, honest
and transparent in hand, lip, eye, ear, and the whole body.
Remember that there are things which blemish perfect purity, without being in
themselves downright acts of impurity. Anything which tends to lessen its intense
sensitiveness, or to cast the slightest shadow over it, is of this nature; and all evil
thoughts or foolish acts of levity or heedlessness are as steps towards the most direct
breaches of the law of chastity. Avoid the society of persons who are wanting in purity,
especially if they are bold, as indeed impure people always are. If a foul animal licks
the sweet almond tree its fruit becomes bitter; and so a corrupt pestilential man can
scarcely hold communication with others, whether men or women, without damaging their
perfect purity--their very glance is venomous, and their breath blighting like the
basilisk. On the other hand, seek out good and pure men, read and ponder holy things; for
the Word of God is pure, and it will make those pure who study it; wherefore David likens
it to gold and precious stones. Always abide close to Jesus Christ Crucified, both
spiritually in meditation and actually in Holy Communion; for as all those who sleep upon
the plant called Agnus castus become pure and chaste, so, if you rest your heart upon Our
Dear Lord, the Very Lamb, Pure and Immaculate, you will find that soon both heart and soul
will be purified of all spot or stain.
On Poverty of Spirit amid Riches
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the Kingdom of God;" and if
so, woe be to the rich in spirit, for theirs must be the bitterness of hell. By rich in
spirit I mean him whose riches engross his mind, or whose mind is buried in his riches. He
is poor in spirit whose heart is not filled with the love of riches, whose mind is not set
upon them. The halcyon builds its nest like a ball, and leaving but one little aperture in
the upper part, launches it on the sea, so secure and impenetrable, that the waves carry
it along without any water getting in, and it floats on the sea, superior, so to say, to
the waves. And this, my child, is what your heart should be--open only to heaven,
impenetrable to riches and earthly treasures. If you have them, keep your heart from
attaching itself to them; let it maintain a higher level, and amidst riches be as though
you had none,--superior to them. Do not let that mind which is the likeness of God cleave
to mere earthly goods; let it always be raised above them, not sunk in them.
There is a wide difference between having poison and being poisoned. All apothecaries
have poisons ready for special uses, but they are not consequently poisoned, because the
poison is only in their shop, not in themselves; and so you may possess riches without
being poisoned by them, so long as they are in your house or purse only, and not in your
heart. It is the Christian's privilege to be rich in material things, and poor in
attachment to them, thereby having the use of riches in this world and the merit of
poverty in the next.
Of a truth, my daughter, no one will ever own themselves to be avaricious;--every one
denies this contemptible vice;--men excuse themselves on the plea of providing for their
children, or plead the duty of prudent forethought;--they never have too much, there is
always some good reason for accumulating more; and even the most avaricious of men not
only do not own to being such, but sincerely believe that they are not; and that because
avarice is as a strong fever which is all the less felt as it rages most fiercely. Moses
saw that sacred fire which burnt the bush without consuming it, but
the profane fire of avarice acts precisely the other way,--it consumes the miser, but
without burning, for, amid its most intense heat, he believes himself to be deliciously
cool, and imagines his insatiable thirst to be merely natural and right. If you long
earnestly, anxiously, and persistently after what you do not possess, it is all very well
to say that you do not wish to get it unfairly, but you are all the time guilty of
avarice. He who longs eagerly and anxiously to drink, though it may be water only, thereby
indicates that he is feverish. I hardly think we can say that it is lawful to wish
lawfully to possess that which is another's;--so doing we surely wish our own gain at the
expense of that other? and he who possesses anything lawfully, surely has more right to
possess it, than we to obtain it? Why should we desire that which is his? Even were the
wish lawful, it is not charitable, for we should not like other men to desire what we
possess, however lawfully. This was Ahab's sin when he sought to acquire Naboth's vineyard
by lawful purchase, when Naboth lawfully desired to keep it himself;--he coveted it
eagerly, continually, and anxiously, and so doing he displeased God.
Do not allow yourself to wish for that which is your neighbor's until he wishes to part
with it,--then his wish will altogether justify yours,-- and I am quite willing that you
should add to your means and possessions, provided it be not merely with strict justice,
but kindly and charitably done. If you cleave closely to your possessions, and are
cumbered with them, setting your heart and thoughts upon them, and restlessly anxious lest
you should suffer loss, then, believe me, you are still somewhat feverish;--for fever
patients drink the water we give them with an eagerness and satisfaction not common to
those who are well.
It is not possible to take great pleasure in anything without becoming attached to it.
If you lose property, and find yourself grievously afflicted at the loss, you may be sure
that you were warmly attached to it;--there is no surer proof of affection for the thing
lost than our sorrow at its loss.
Therefore, do not fix your longings on anything which you do not possess;
do not let your heart rest in that which you have; do not grieve overmuch at the losses
which may happen to you;--and then you may reasonably believe that although rich in fact,
you are not so in affection, but that you are poor in spirit, and therefore blessed, for
the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.
How to exercise real Poverty, although
The painter Parrhasius drew an
ingenious and imaginative representation of the Athenians, ascribing sundry opposite
qualities to them, calling them at once capricious, irascible, unjust, inconstant,
courteous, merciful, compassionate, haughty, vain-glorious, humble, boastful, and
cowardly;--and for my part, dear daughter, I would faint see united in your heart both
riches and poverty, a great care and a great contempt for temporal things.
Do you take much greater pains than is the wont of worldly men to make
your riches useful and fruitful? Are not the gardeners of a prince more diligent in
cultivating and beautifying the royal gardens than if they were their own? Wherefore?
Surely because these gardens are the king's, to whom his gardeners would fan render an
acceptable service. My child, our possessions are not ours,--God has given them to us to
cultivate, that we may make them fruitful and profitable in His Service, and so doing we
shall please Him. And this we must do more earnestly than worldly men, for they look
carefully after their property out of self-love, and we must work for the love of God. Now
self-love is a restless, anxious, over-eager love, and so the work done on its behalf is
troubled, vexatious, and unsatisfactory;--whereas the love of God is calm, peaceful, and
tranquil, and so the work done for its sake, even in worldly things, is gentle, trustful,
and quiet. Let us take such a quiet care to preserve, and even when practicable to
increase, our temporal goods, according to the duties of our position,--this is acceptable
to God for His Love's Sake.
But beware that you be not deceived by self-love, for sometimes it counterfeits the
Love of God so cleverly that you may mistake one for the other. To avoid this, and to
prevent a due care for your temporal interests from degenerating into avarice, it is
needful often to practice a real poverty amid the riches with which God has endowed you.
To this end always dispose of a part of your means by giving them heartily to the poor;
you impoverish yourself by whatever you give away. It is true that God will restore it to
you, not only in the next world, but in this, for nothing brings so much temporal
prosperity as free almsgiving, but meanwhile, you are sensibly poorer for what you give.
Truly that is a holy and rich poverty which results from almsgiving.
Love the poor and poverty,--this love will make you truly poor, since, as Holy
Scripture says, we become like to that we love. Love makes lovers equal. "Who is weak and I am not weak?" says
St. Paul? He might have said, Who is poor and I am not poor?
For it was love which made him like to those he loved; and so, if you love the poor, you
will indeed share their poverty, and be poor like them.
And if you love the poor, seek them out, take pleasure in bringing them to
your home, and in going to theirs, talk freely with them, and be ready to meet them,
whether in Church or elsewhere. Let your tongue be poor with them in converse, but let
your hands be rich to distribute out of your abundance. Are you prepared to go yet
further, my child? not to stop at being poor like the poor, but even poorer still? The
servant is not so great as his lord; do you be the servant of the poor, tend their sickbed
with your own hands, be their cook, their needlewoman. O my daughter, such servitude is
more glorious than royalty! How touchingly Saint Louis, one of the greatest of kings,
fulfilled this duty; serving the poor in their own houses, and daily causing three to eat
at his own table, often himself eating the remains of their food in his loving humility.
In his frequent visits to the hospitals he would select those afflicted with the most
loathsome diseases, ulcers, cancer, and the like; and these he would tend, kneeling down
and bare-headed, beholding the Savior of the world in them, and cherishing them with all
the tenderness of a mother's love. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary used to mix freely with the
poor, and liked to dress in their homely garments amid her gay ladies. Surely these royal
personages were poor amid their riches and rich in poverty.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Day of
Judgment the King of prince and peasant will say to them, "I
was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat, I was naked, and ye clothed Me; come, inherit the
Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
Everybody finds themselves sometimes deficient in what they need, and put to
inconvenience. A guest whom we would fain receive honorably arrives, and we cannot
entertain him as we would; we want our costly apparel in one place, and it all happens to
be somewhere else; all the wine in our cellar suddenly turns sour; we find ourselves
accidentally in some country place where everything is wanting, room, bed, food,
attendance; in short, the richest people may easily be without something they want, and
that is practically to suffer poverty. Accept such occurrences cheerfully, rejoice in
them, bear them willingly.
Again, if you are impoverished much or little by unforeseen events, such as storm,
flood, fire, drought, theft, or lawsuit; then is the real time to practice poverty,
accepting the loss quietly, and adapting yourself patiently to your altered circumstances.
Esau and Jacob both came to their father with hairy hands, but
the hair on Jacob's hands did not grow from his skin, and could be torn off without pain;
while that on Esau's hands being the natural growth of his skin, he would have cried out
and resisted if any one had torn it off. So if our possessions are very close to our
heart, and storm or thief tear them away, we shall break forth in impatient murmurs and
lamentations. But if we only cleave to them with that solicitude which God wills us to
have, and not with our whole heart, we shall see them rent away without losing our sense
of calmness. This is just the difference between the clothing of men and beasts; the
beast's clothing grows on its flesh, and man's is only laid on so that it may be laid
aside at will.
How to possess a rich Spirit amid real Poverty
But if you are really poor, my daughter, for God's sake be so in
spirit; make a virtue of necessity, and turn that precious stone poverty to its true
value. The brilliancy thereof is not perceived in this world, but nevertheless it is very
Patience then! You are in good company. Our Dear Lord, Our Lady, the Apostles,
numberless Saints, both men and women, were poor, and although they might have been rich,
disdained to be so. How many great ones of this world have gone through many difficulties
to seek holy poverty amid hospitals and cloisters! What pains they took to find it, let
Saint Alexis, Saint Paula, Saint Paulinus, Saint Angela, and many another witness; whereas
to you, my child, it has come unasked--you have met poverty without seeking it--do you
then embrace it as the beloved friend of Jesus Christ, Who was born, lived and died in
poverty, and cherished it all His Life.
There are two great privileges connected with your poverty, through which you may
acquire great merit. First, it is not your own choice, but God's Will alone, which has
made you poor. Now, whatever we accept simply because it is God's Will is acceptable in
His Sight, so long as we accept it heartily and out of love;--the less of self, the more
of God,--and a singlehearted acceptance of God's Will purifies any suffering very greatly.
The second privilege is, that this poverty is so very poor. There is a
be-praised, caressed poverty, so petted and cared for, that it can hardly be called poor
like the despised, contemned, neglected poverty which also exists. Now, most secular
poverty is of this last kind, for those who are involuntarily poor, and cannot help
themselves, are not much thought of, and for that very reason their poverty is poorer than
that of religious, although religious poverty has a very special and excellent grace,
through the intention and the vow by which it is accepted.
Do not complain then of your poverty, my daughter,--we only complain of that which is
unwelcome, and if poverty is unwelcome to you, you are no longer poor in spirit. Do not
fret under such assistance as is needful; therein lies one great grace of poverty. It were
over-ambitious to aim at being poor without suffering any inconvenience, in other words,
to have the credit of poverty and the convenience of riches.
Do not be ashamed of being poor, or of asking alms. Receive what is given
you with humility, and accept a refusal meekly. Frequently call to mind Our Lady's journey
into Egypt with her Holy Child, and of all the poverty, contempt and suffering they
endured. If you follow their example you will indeed be rich amid your poverty.
On Friendship: Evil and Frivolous Friendship
Foremost among the soul's affections is love. Love is the ruler of
every motion of the heart; drawing all to itself, and making us like to that we love.
Beware, then, my daughter, of harboring any evil affection, or you too will become evil.
And friendship is the most dangerous of all affections, because any other love may exist
without much mental communication, but as friendship is founded thereon, it is hardly
possible to be closely bound by its ties to any one without sharing in his qualities.
All love is not friendship, for one may love without any return, and
friendship implies mutual love. Further, those who are bound by such affection must be
conscious that it is reciprocal,-- otherwise there may be love but not friendship; and
moreover, there must be something communicated between the friends as a solid foundation
Friendship varies according to these communications, and they vary
according to that which people have to communicate. If men share false and vain things,
their friendship will be false and vain; if that which is good and true, their friendship
will be good and true, and the better that which is the staple of the bond, so much the
better will the friendship be. That honey is best which is culled from the choicest
flowers, and so friendship built upon the highest and purest intercommunion is the best.
And just as a certain kind of honey brought from Pontus is poisonous, being made from
aconite, so that those who eat it lose their senses, so the friendship which is based on
unreal or evil grounds will itself be hollow and worthless.
Mere sensual intercourse is not worthy of the name of friendship; and were
there nothing more in married love it would not deserve to bear the name; but inasmuch as
that involves the participation of life, industry, possessions, affections, and an
unalterable fidelity, marriage, when rightly understood, is a very real and holy
Whatever is founded on mere sensuality, vanity, or frivolity, is unworthy
to be called friendship. I mean such attractions as are purely external; a sweet voice,
personal beauty, and the cleverness or outward show which have great weight with some. You
will often hear women and young people unhesitatingly decide that such an one is very
delightful, very admirable, because he is good-looking, well-dressed, sings, or dances, or
talks well. Even charlatans esteem the wittiest clown amongst them as their best man. But
all these things are purely sensual, and the connections built on such foundation must be
vain and frivolous, more fitly to be called trifling than friendship. They spring up
chiefly among young people, who are easily fascinated by personal attractions, dress, and
gossip--friendships in which the tailor and hairdresser have the chief part. How can such
friendships be other than short-lived, melting away like snow wreaths in the sun!
On Frivolous Attachments
Such foolish attachments between
man and woman without any matrimonial intentions as are called amourettes,--mere
abortions, or rather phantoms of friendship,--must not, idle and empty as they are,
profane the name of friendship or love. Yet such frivolous, contemptible attractions often
snare the hearts of both men and women, and although they may end in downright sin, there
is no such intention on the part of their victims, who consciously do but yield to foolish
trifling and toying. Some such have no object beyond the actual indulgence of a passing
inclination; others are excited by vanity, which takes pleasure in captivating hearts;
some are stimulated by a combination of both these motives. But all such friendships are
evil, hollow, and vain; evil, in that they often lead to sinful deeds, and draw the heart
from God, and from the husband or wife who is its lawful owner; hollow, in that they are
baseless and without root; vain, in that neither gain, honor, nor satisfaction can come
from such. On the contrary, nothing comes of them but a loss of time and credit, and
unreasoning excitement, mistrust, jealousy, and perturbation.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen speaks very wisely on this subject, admonishing
vain women, and his words are equally applicable to men:-- "Your
natural beauty will suffice your husband, but if it is exhibited to all, like a net spread
before birds, what will be the end? You will be taken by whoever admires you, looks and
glances will be exchanged, smiles and tender words, at first hesitatingly exchanged, but
soon more boldly given and received. Far be it from me to describe the end, but this much
I will say, nothing said or done by young men and women under such circumstances but is
perilous. One act of levity leads to another, as the links in a chain."
They who tamper with such things will fall into the trap. They fancy that they only mean
to amuse themselves, but will not go too far. Little you know, forsooth! The tiny spark
will burst into a flame, and, overpowering your heart, it will reduce your good
resolutions to ashes, and your reputation to smoke. "Who
will pity a charmer that is bitten with a serpent?" asks the Wise Man; and with him I ask, Do you, in your folly, imagine that you
can lightly handle love as you please? You think to trifle with it, but it will sting you
cruelly, and then every one will mock you, and laugh at your foolish pretension to harbor
a venomous serpent in your bosom, which has poisoned and lost alike your honor and your
soul. What fatal blindness this to stake all that is most precious to man! Yes, I say it
advisedly, for God desires to have us only for the sake of our soul, or the soul through
our will, and our will for love's sake. Surely we have not by any means a sufficient store
of love to offer God, and yet in our madness and folly we lavish and waste it on vain
frivolous objects, as though we had enough and to spare.
Our Dear Lord, Who demands naught save our love in return for our
creation, preservation and redemption, will require a strict account of the senseless way
in which we have frittered and wasted it. If He will call us to account for idle words,
how will it be with respect to idle, foolish, pernicious friendships? Husbandmen know that
the walnut tree is very harmful in a vineyard or field, because it absorbs the fatness of
the land and draws it away from the other crops; its thick foliage overshadows and
deprives them of sunshine; and, moreover, it attracts passers-by, who tread down and spoil
all that is around while striving to gather its fruit. So with these foolish love affairs
and the soul; they engross it, so that it is unable to bring forth good works; their
superfluous foliage--flirtations, dallyings and idle talk--consume profitable time; and,
moreover, they lead to so many temptations, distractions, suspicions, and the like, that
the heart becomes altogether crushed and spoiled. Such follies not only banish Heavenly
Love, they likewise drive out the fear of God, enervate the mind, and damage reputation.
They may be the plaything of courts, but assuredly they are as a plague spot of the heart.
Of Real Friendship
Do you, my child, love every one
with the pure love of charity, but have no friendship save with those whose intercourse is
good and true, and the purer the bond which unites you so much higher will your friendship
be. If your intercourse is based on science it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises
from a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond of your
mutual liking be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, God knows how very precious a
friendship it is! Precious because it comes from God, because it tends to God, because God
is the link that binds you, because it will last for ever in Him. Truly it is a blessed
thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here
which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to
all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to
share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them. Such as
these may well cry out, "Behold, how good and joyful a
thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity!" Even
so, for the "precious ointment" of
devotion trickles continually from one heart to the other, so that truly we may say that
to such friendship the Lord promises His Blessing and life for evermore.
To my mind all other friendship is but as a shadow with respect to this,
its links mere fragile glass compared to the golden bond of true devotion. Do you form no
other friendships. I say "form," because
you have no right to cast aside or neglect the natural bonds which draw you to relations,
connections, benefactors or neighbors. My rules apply to those you deliberately choose to
make. There are some who will tell you that you should avoid all special affection or
friendship, as likely to engross the heart, distract the mind, excite jealousy, and what
not. But they are confusing things. They have read in the works of saintly and devout
writers that individual friendships and special intimacies are a great hindrance in the
religious life, and therefore they suppose it to be the same with all the world, which is
not at all the case. Whereas in a well-regulated community everyone's aim is true
devotion, there is no need for individual intercourse, which might exceed due limits;--in
the world those who aim at a devout life require to be united one with another by a holy
friendship, which excites, stimulates and encourages them in well-doing. Just as men
traversing a plain have no need to hold one another up, as they have who are amid slippery
mountain paths, so religious do not need the stay of individual friendships; but those who
are living in the world require such for strength and comfort amid the difficulties which
beset them. In the world all have not one aim, one mind, and therefore we must take to us
congenial friends, nor is there any undue partiality in such attachments, which are but as
the separation of good from evil, the sheep from the goats, the bee from the drone--a
No one can deny that our Dear Lord loved Saint John, Lazarus, Martha, Magdalene, with a
specially tender friendship, since we are told so in Holy Scripture; and we know that
Saint Paul dearly loved Saint Mark, Saint Petronilla, as Saint Paul Timothy and Thecla. Saint Gregory Nazianzen boasts continually of his friendship
with the great Saint Basil, of which he says: "It seemed as
though with two bodies we had but one soul, and if we may not believe those who say that
all things are in all else, at least one must affirm that we were two in one, and one in
two --the only object that both had being to grow in holiness, and to mold our present
life to our future hopes, thereby forsaking this mortal world before our death."
And Saint Augustine says that Saint Ambrose loved Saint Monica by reason of her many
virtues, and that she in return loved him as an Angel of God.
What need to affirm so unquestionable a fact! Saint Jerome, Saint
Augustine, Saint Gregory, Saint Bernard, and all the most notable servants of God, have
had special friendships, which in nowise hindered their perfection. Saint Paul, in
describing evil men, says that they were "without natural
affection," i.e. without friendship.
And Saint Thomas, in common with other philosophers, acknowledges that friendship is a
virtue, and he certainly means individual friendships, because he says that we cannot
bestow perfect friendship on many persons. So we see that the highest grace does not lie
in being without friendships, but in having none which are not good, holy and true.
Of the Difference between True and False
Take notice, my child, that the
honey of Heraclyum, which is so poisonous, altogether resembles that which is wholesome,
and there is great danger of mistaking one for the other, or of mixing them, for the
virtue of one would not counteract the harmfulness of the other. We must be on our guard
not to be deceived in making friendships, especially between persons of the opposite
sexes, for not infrequently Satan deludes
those who love one another. They may begin with a virtuous affection, but if discretion be
lacking, frivolity will creep in, and then sensuality, till their love becomes carnal;
even in spiritual love there is a danger if people are not on the watch, although it is
not so easy to be deluded therein, inasmuch as the very purity and transparency of
spiritual affection show Satan's stains more promptly. Consequently, when he seeks to
interpose, he does it stealthily, and strives to insinuate impurity almost imperceptibly.
You may distinguish between worldly friendship and that which is good and
holy, just as one distinguishes that poisonous honey from what is good--it is sweeter to
the taste than ordinary honey, owing to the aconite infused;-- and so worldly friendship
is profuse in honeyed words, passionate endearments, commendations of beauty and sensual
charms, while true friendship speaks a simple honest language, lauding naught save the
Grace of God, its one only foundation. That strange honey causes giddiness; and so false
friendship upsets the mind, makes its victim to totter in the ways of purity and devotion,
inducing affected, mincing looks, sensual caresses, inordinate sighings, petty complaints
of not being loved, slight but questionable familiarities, gallantries, embraces, and the
like, which are sure precursors of evil; whereas true friendship is modest and
straightforward in every glance, loving and pure in caresses, has no sighs save for
Heaven, no complaints save that God is not loved sufficiently. That honey confuses the
sight, and worldly friendship confuses the judgment, so that men think themselves right
while doing evil, and assume their excuses and pretexts to be valid reasoning. They fear
the light and love darkness; but true friendship is clear-sighted, and hides
nothing--rather seeks to be seen of good men. Lastly, this poisonous honey leaves an
exceeding bitter taste behind; and so false friendship turns to evil desires, upbraidings,
slander, deceit, sorrow, confusion and jealousies, too often ending in downright sin; but
pure friendship is always the same--modest, courteous and loving--knowing no change save
an increasingly pure and perfect union, a type of the blessed friendships of Heaven.
When young people indulge in looks, words or actions which they would not
like to be seen by their parents, husbands or confessors, it is a sure sign that they are
damaging their conscience and their honor. Our Lady was troubled when
the Angel appeared to her in human form, because she was alone, and he spoke to her with
flattering although heavenly words. O Savior of the world, if purity itself fears an Angel
in human shape, how much more need that our impurity should fear men, although they take
the likeness of an Angel, if they speak words of earthliness and sensuality!
Remedies against Evil Friendships
How are you to meet the swarm of
foolish attachments, triflings, and undesirable inclinations which beset you? By turning
sharply away, and thoroughly renouncing such vanities, flying to the Savior's Cross, and
clasping His Crown of thorns to your heart, so that these little foxes may not spoil your
vines. Beware of entering into any manner of treaty with
the Enemy; do not delude yourself by listening to him while intending to reject him. For
God's Sake, my daughter, be firm on all such occasions; the heart and ear are closely
allied, and just as you would vainly seek to check the downward course of a mountain
torrent, so difficult will you find it to keep the smooth words which enter in at the ear
from finding their way down into the heart. Alcmeon says (what indeed Aristotle denies)
that the goat breathes through its ears, not its nostrils. I know not whether this be so,
but one thing I know, that our heart breathes through the ear, and that while it exhales
its own thoughts through the mouth, it inhales those of others by the ear. Let us then
carefully guard our ears against evil words which would speedily infect the heart. Never
hearken to any indiscreet conversation whatsoever--never mind if you seem rude and
uncourteous in rejecting all such. Always bear in mind that you have dedicated your heart
to God, and offered your love to Him; so that it were sacrilege to deprive Him of one
particle thereof. Do you rather renew the offering continually by fresh resolutions,
entrenching yourself therein as in a fortress;--cry out to God, He will succor you, and
His Love will shelter you, so that all your love may be kept for Him only.
If unhappily you are already entangled in the nets of any unreal
affection, truly it is hard to set you free! But place yourself before His Divine Majesty,
acknowledge the depth of your wretchedness, your weakness and vanity, and then with all
the earnestness of purpose you can muster, arrest the budding evil, abjure your own empty
promises, and renounce those you have received, and resolve with a firm, absolute will
never again to indulge in any trifling or dallying with such matters.
If you can remove from the object of your unworthy affection, it is most desirable to
do so. He who has been bitten by a viper cannot heal his wound in the presence of another
suffering from the like injury, and so one bitten with a false fancy will not shake it off
while near to his fellow-victim. Change of scene is very helpful in quieting the
excitement and restlessness of sorrow or love. Saint Ambrose tells a story in his Second
Book on Penitence, of a young man, who coming home after a long journey quite cured of a
foolish attachment, met the unworthy object of his former passion, who stopped him,
saying, "Do you not know me, I am still myself?"
"That may be," was the answer, "but I am not myself:"--so thoroughly and happily was
he changed by absence. And Saint Augustine tells us how, after the death of his dear
friend, he soothed his grief by leaving Tagaste and going to Carthage.
But what is he to do, who cannot try this remedy? To such I would say,
abstain from all private intercourse, all tender glances and smiles, and from every kind
of communication which can feed the unholy flame. If it be necessary to speak at all,
express clearly and tersely the eternal renunciation on which you have resolved. I say
unhesitatingly to whosoever has become entangled in any such worthless love affairs, cut
it short, break it off--do not play with it, or pretend to untie the knot; cut it through,
tear it asunder. There must be no dallying with an attachment which is incompatible with
the Love of God.
But, you ask, after I have thus burst the chains of my unholy bondage,
will no traces remain, and shall I not still carry the scars on my feet--that is, in my
wounded affections? Not so, my child, if you have attained a due abhorrence of the evil;
in that case all you will feel is an exceeding horror of your unworthy affection, and all
appertaining thereto; no thought will linger in your breast concerning it save a true love
of God. Or if, by reason of the imperfection of your repentance, any evil inclinations
still hover round you, seek such a mental solitude as I have already described, retire
into it as much as possible, and then by repeated efforts and ejaculations renounce your
evil desires; abjure them heartily; read pious books more than is your wont; go more
frequently to Confession and Communion; tell your director simply and humbly all that
tempts and troubles you, if you can, or at all events take counsel with some faithful,
wise friend. And never doubt but that God will set you free from all evil passions, if you
are steadfast and devout on your part. Perhaps you will say that it is unkind, ungrateful,
thus pitilessly to break off a friendship. Surely it were a happy unkindness which is
acceptable to God; but of a truth, my child, you are committing no unkindness, rather
conferring a great benefit on the person you love, for you break his chains as well as
your own, and although at the moment he may not appreciate his gain, he will do so by and
by, and will join you in thanksgiving, "Thou, Lord, hast
broken my bonds in sunder. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will
call upon the Name of the Lord."
Further Advice concerning Intimacies
Friendship demands very close
correspondence between those who love one another, otherwise it can never take root or
continue. And together with the interchange of friendship, other things imperceptibly
glide in, and a mutual giving and receiving of emotions and inclinations takes place;
especially when we esteem the object of our love very highly, because then we so entirely
open our heart to him, that his influence rules us altogether, whether for good or evil.
The bees which make that oriental honey of which I spoke, seek to gather naught save
honey, but with it they suck up the poisonous juices of the aconite on which they light.
So here, my child, we must bear in mind what our Savior said about putting out our money
to the exchangers; we must seek to make a good exchange,
not receiving bad money and good alike, and learning to distinguish that which is valuable
from what is worthless, since scarcely any one is free from some imperfection, nor is
there any reason why we should adopt all our friend's faults as well as his friendship. Of
course we should love him notwithstanding his faults, but without loving those faults;
true friendship implies an interchange of what is good, not what is evil. As men who drag
the river Tagus sift the gold from its sands and throw the latter back upon the shore, so
true friends should sift the sand of imperfections and reject it.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen tells us how certain persons who loved and admired
Saint Basil were led to imitate even his external blemishes, his slow, abstracted manner
of speaking, the cut of his beard, and his peculiar gait. And so we see husbands and
wives, children, friends, who, by reason of their great affection for one another,
acquire--either accidentally or designedly--many foolish little ways and tricks peculiar
to each. This ought not to be; for every one has enough imperfections of their own without
adding those of anybody else, and friendship requires no such thing; on the contrary, it
rather constrains us to help one another in getting rid of all sorts of imperfections. Of
course we should bear with our friend's infirmities, but we should not encourage them,
much less copy them.
Of course I am speaking of imperfections only, for, as to sins, we must
neither imitate or tolerate these in our friends. That is but a sorry friendship which
would see a friend perish, and not try to save him; would watch him dying of an abscess
without daring to handle the knife of correction which would save him. True and living
friendship cannot thrive amid sin. There is a tradition that the salamander extinguishes
any fire into which it enters, and so sin destroys friendship. Friendship will banish a
casual sin by brotherly correction, but if the sin be persistent, friendship dies out,--it
can only live in a pure atmosphere. Much less can true friendship ever lead any one into
sin; our friend becomes an enemy if he seeks to do so, and deserves to lose our
friendship, and there is no surer proof of the hollowness of friendship than its
profession between evil-doers. If we love a vicious person, our friendship will be vicious
too; it will be like those to whom it is given.
Those who draw together for mere temporal profit, have no right to call
their union friendship; it is not for love of one another that they unite, but for love of
There are two sayings in Holy Scripture on which all Christian friendship
should be built: --that of the Wise Man, "Whoso feareth the
Lord shall direct his friendship aright;" and that of Saint James, "The friendship of the world is enmity with God."
On The Practice of Bodily Mortification
It has been said that if one writes a word on an almond, and then
replace it carefully in its husk, and sow it, all the fruit borne by that tree will be
marked by the word so inscribed. For my own part, I never could approve of beginning to
reform any one by merely external things,--dress, the arrangement of hair, and outward
show. On the contrary, it seems to me that one should begin from within. "Turn ye to Me with all your heart;" "My son, give Me thine heart;" for
as the heart is the fount whence all our actions spring, they will be according to what it
is. And the Heavenly Bridegroom, calling the soul, says, "Set
Me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm." Yes verily, for
whosoever has Jesus Christ in his heart will soon show it in all his external actions.
Therefore, my daughter, above all things I would write that precious and Holy Name Jesus in your heart, certain that having done so,
your life--like the almond tree in the fable--will bear the stamp of that Saving Name in
every act; and if the Dear Lord dwells within your heart, He will live in your every
action, and will be traced in every member and part of you, so that you will be able to
say with Saint Paul, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth
in me." In a word, whosoever gains the heart has won the whole man. But
this heart needs to be trained in its external conduct, so that it may display not merely
a true devotion, but also wisdom and discretion. To this end I would make one or two
If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered
by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing
the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter
to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body
subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy
nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast. The early Christians
selected Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as days of abstinence. Do you follow therein
according as your own devotion and your director's discretion may appoint.
I am prepared to say with Saint Jerome (to the pious Leta) that I
disapprove of long and immoderate fasting, especially for the young. I have learnt by
experience that when the colt grows weary it turns aside, and so when young people become
delicate by excessive fasting, they readily take to self-indulgence. The stag does not run
with due speed either when over fat or too thin, and we are in peril of temptation both
when the body is overfed or underfed; in the one case it grows indolent, in the other it
sinks through depression, and if we cannot bear with it in the first case, neither can it
bear with us in the last. A want of moderation in the use of fasting, discipline and
austerity has made many a one useless in works of charity during the best years of his
life, as happened to Saint Bernard, who repented of his excessive austerity. Those who
misuse the body at the outset will have to indulge it overmuch at last. Surely it were
wiser to deal sensibly with it, and treat it according to the work and service required by
each man's state of life.
Fasting and labor both exhaust and subdue the body. If your work is
necessary or profitable to God's Glory, I would rather see you bear the exhaustion of work
than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, who dispenses those who are called to
work for God or their neighbor even from her prescribed fasts. One man finds it hard to
fast, another finds it as hard to attend the sick, to visit prisons, to hear confessions,
preach, minister to the afflicted, pray, and the like. And the last hardship is better
than the other; for while it subdues the flesh equally, it brings forth better fruit. And
as a general rule it is better to preserve more bodily strength than is absolutely
necessary, than to damage it more than is necessary.
Bodily strength can always be lowered if needful, but we cannot restore it
at will. It seems to me that we ought to have in great reverence that which our Savior and
Redeemer Jesus Christ said to His disciples, "Eat such
things as are set before you." To my
mind there is more virtue in eating whatever is offered you just as it comes, whether you
like it or not, than in always choosing what is worst; for although the latter course may
seem more ascetic, the former involves greater submission of will, because by it you give
up not merely your taste, but your choice; and it is no slight austerity to hold up one's
likings in one's hand, and subject them to all manner of accidents.
Furthermore, this kind of mortification makes no show, inconveniences no
one, and is admirably adapted to social life. To be always discarding one dish for
another, examining everything, suspicious as to everything, making a fuss over every
morsel--all this to my mind is contemptible, and implies too much thought of meats and
platters. To my mind there was more austerity in Saint Bernard's drinking oil by mistake
for wine or water than if he had deliberately drunk wormwood, for it showed that he was
not thinking of what he drank. And the real meaning of those sacred words, "Eat such things as are set before you," lies in such
an indifference to what one eats and drinks. I should make an exception of any food which
is unwholesome, or likely to be injurious to the mind's energies, such as certain hot,
spiced, or stimulating dishes; as also on certain occasions when nature requires to be
refreshed and invigorated in order to perform the work needful for God's Glory. At all
times a constant habitual moderation is better than occasional excessive abstinence,
alternated with great indulgence. The discipline has a surprising effect in rousing the
taste for devotion, if used moderately. The body is greatly subdued by the use of the hair
shirt, but it is not fit for ordinary people, married persons, those who are delicate, or
who have to bear considerable fatigue. On certain days of special penitence it may be
used, subject to the counsel of a judicious confessor.
Every one must take so much of the night for sleep, as his constitution,
and the profitable performance of his day's work, requires. Holy Scripture continually
teaches us that the morning is the best and most profitable part of the day, and so do the
examples of the Saints and our natural reason. Our Lord Himself is called the Sun, risinig
upon the earth, and our Lady the Day-star; and so I think it is wise to go to sleep early
at night in order to be ready to waken and rise early. Moreover, that is the pleasantest,
the freshest, and the freest hour of the day,--the very birds stimulate us to rise and
sing God's praises. Early rising promotes both health and holiness.
Balaam saddled his ass and went to meet Balak, but his heart was not right with God,
and therefore the Angel of the Lord stood in the way, with a sword in his hand to kill
him, had not the ass three times turned out of the way as though she were restive; whereat
Balaam smote her with his staff, until at last she fell down beneath him, and her mouth
being miraculously opened, she said unto him, "What have I
done unto thee that thou hast smitten me these three times?" Then
Balaam's eyes were opened, and he saw the Angel, who said to him, "Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass? unless she had turned from me
surely now I had slain thee, and saved her alive." Then Balaam said to
the Angel of the Lord, "I have sinned, for I knew not that
thou stoodest in the way against me."
Do you see, my daughter, it was Balaam who did wrong, but he beat the poor ass, who was
not to blame. It is often so with us. A woman's husband or child is ill, and forthwith she
has recourse to fasting, the discipline, and hair shirt, even as David did on a like
occasion. But, dear friend, you are smiting the ass! you afflict your body, which can do
nothing when God stands before you with His sword unsheathed. Rather correct your heart,
which idolizes your husband, and has indulged your child, letting him give way to pride,
vanity, and ambition. Or, again, a man falls often into fleshly sins, and the voice of
conscience stands before him in the way, rousing him to a holy fear. Then recollecting
himself, he begins to abuse his flesh for betraying him, he deals out strict fasts, severe
discipline, and the like, to it, and meanwhile the poor flesh might cry out like Balaam's
ass, Why smitest thou me? It is you yourself, O my soul, that are guilty. Wherefore do you
force me into evil, using my eyes, and hands, and lips for unholy purposes, and tormenting
me with evil imaginations? Do you entertain only good thoughts, and I shall feel no unholy
impulses, frequent none save pious people, and I shall not be kindled with guilty fire.
You cast me yourself into the flames, and bid me not to burn! you fill my eyes with smoke,
and wonder that they are inflamed! But God bids you deal chiefly with your heart, for that
is the chief offender. When a man suffers from the itch, there is less need to bathe him,
and cleanse the surface, than to purify his blood; and so, in order to purge our vices, no
doubt it is well to mortify the flesh, but above all it is necessary to purify the
affections and renew the heart. Make it a rule then never to undertake any bodily
austerities without the advice of your spiritual guide.
Of Society and Solitude
Either to seek or to shun society is a fault in one striving to lead
a devout life in the world, such as I am now speaking of. To shun society implies
indifference and contempt for one's neighbors; and to seek it savors of idleness and
uselessness. We are told to love one's neighbor as one's self. In token that we love him,
we must not avoid being with him, and the test of loving one's self is to be happy when
alone. "Think first on thyself," says
Saint Bernard, "and then on other men." So
that, if nothing obliges you to mix in society either at home or abroad, retire within
yourself, and hold converse with your own heart. But if friends come to you, or there is
fitting cause for you to go forth into society, then, my daughter, by all means go, and
meet your neighbor with a kindly glance and a kindly heart.
Bad society is all such intercourse with others as has an evil object, or
when those with whom we mix are vicious, indiscreet, or profligate. From such as these
turn away, like the bee from a dunghill. The breath and saliva of those who have been
bitten by a mad dog is dangerous, especially to children or delicate people, and in like
manner it is perilous to associate with vicious, reckless people, above all to those whose
devotion is still weakly and unstable.
There is a kind of social intercourse which merely tends to refresh us after more
serious labor, and although it would not be well to indulge in this to excess, there is no
harm in enjoying it during your leisure hours.
Other social meetings are in compliance with courtesy, such as mutual
visits, and certain assemblies with a view to pay respect to one another. As to these,
without being a slave to them, it is well not to despise them altogether, but to bear
one's own due part in them quietly, avoiding rudeness and frivolity. Lastly, there is a
profitable society;--that of good devout people, and it will always be very good for you
to meet with them. Vines grown amid olive trees are wont to bear rich grapes, and he who
frequents the society of good people will imbibe some of their goodness. The bumble bee
makes no honey alone, but if it falls among bees it works with them. Our own devout life
will be materially helped by intercourse with other devout souls.
Simplicity, gentleness and modesty are to be desired in all society;--there are some
people who are so full of affectation in whatever they do that every one is annoyed by
them. A man who could not move without counting his steps, or speak without singing, would
be very tiresome to everybody, and just so any one who is artificial in all he does spoils
the pleasure of society; and moreover such people are generally more or less
self-conceited. A quiet cheerfulness should be your aim in society. Saint Romuald and
Saint Anthony are greatly lauded because, notwithstanding their asceticism, their
countenance and words were always courteous and cheerful. I would say to you with Saint
Paul, "Rejoice with them that do rejoice;" and again, "Rejoice in the
Lord always; let your moderation be known unto all men." And if you would
rejoice in the Lord, the cause of your joy must not only be lawful, but worthy; and
remember this, because there are lawful things which nevertheless are not good; and in
order that your moderation may be known, you must avoid all that is impertinent and
uncivil, which is sure to be wrong. Depreciating this person, slandering another, wounding
a third, stimulating the folly of a fourth--all such things, however amusing, are foolish
I have already spoken of that mental solitude into which you can retire when amid the
greatest crowd, and furthermore you should learn to like a real material solitude. Not
that I want you to fly to a desert like Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Paul, Saint Anthony,
Arsenius, or the other hermits, but it is well for you to retire sometimes within your own
chamber or garden, or wheresoever you can best recollect your mind, and refresh your soul
with good and holy thoughts, and some spiritual reading, as the good Bishop of Nazianzum
tells us was his custom. "I was walking alone,"
he says, "at sunset, on the seashore, a recreation I am
wont to take in order somewhat to lay aside my daily worries." And Saint
Augustine says that he often used to go into Saint Ambrose' room--his door was open to
every one,--and after watching him absorbed in reading for a time, he would retire without
speaking, fearing to interrupt the Bishop, who had so little time for refreshing his mind
amid the burden of his heavy duties. And we read how when the disciples came to Jesus, and
told Him all they had been doing and preaching, He said to them, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile."
On Modesty in Dress
Saint Paul expresses his desire that all Christian women should wear
"modest apparel, with shame-facedness and sobriety;" --and for that matter he certainly meant that men should do
so likewise. Now, modesty in dress and its appurtenances depends upon the quality, the
fashion and the cleanliness thereof. As to cleanliness, that should be uniform, and we
should never, if possible, let any part of our dress be soiled or stained. External
seemliness is a sort of indication of inward good order, and God requires those who
minister at His Altar, or minister in holy things, to be attentive in respect of personal
As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in these points must depend upon
various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move in, and the special
occasion. Most people dress better on a high festival than at other times; in Lent, or
other penitential seasons, they lay aside all gay apparel; at a wedding they wear wedding
garments, at a funeral, mourning garb; and at a king's court the dress which would be
unsuitable at home is suitable. A wife may and should adorn herself according to her
husband's wishes when he is present;--if she does as much in his absence one is disposed
to ask in whose eyes she seeks to shine? We may grant somewhat greater latitude to
maidens, who may lawfully desire to attract many, although only with the view of
ultimately winning one in holy matrimony. Neither do I blame such widows as purpose to
marry again for adorning themselves, provided they keep within such limits as are seemly
for those who are at the head of a family, and who have gone through the sobering sorrows
of widowhood. But for those who are widows indeed, in heart as well as outwardly,
humility, modesty and devotion are the only suitable ornaments. If they seek to attract
men's admiration they are not widows indeed, and if they have no such intention, why
should they wear its tokens? Those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down
their signboard. So, again, every one laughs at old women who affect youthful graces,--
such things are only tolerable in the young.
Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you.
There is a certain disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress; but at the
same time avoid all vanity, peculiarity, and fancifulness. As far as may be, keep to what
is simple and unpretending--such dress is the best adornment of beauty and the best excuse
for ugliness. Saint Peter bids women not to be over particular in dressing their hair.
Every one despises a man as effeminate who lowers himself by such things, and we count a
vain woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what she has becomes smothered among
her trinkets and furbelows. They say that they mean no harm, but I should reply that the devil will contrive to get some harm out of it
all. For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in
the company, but the least fine or splendid, and adorned, as Saint Peter says, with "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." Saint Louis
said that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position, so that
good and sensible people should not be able to say they are over-dressed, or younger gayer
ones that they are under-dressed. But if these last are not satisfied with what is modest
and seemly, they must be content with the approbation of the elders.
Of Conversation; and, first, how to Speak of
Physicians judge to a great
extent as to the health or disease of a man by the state of his tongue, and our words are
a true test of the state of our soul. "By thy words thou
shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned," the Savior
says. We are apt to apply the hand quickly to the place where we feel pain, and so too the
tongue is quick to point out what we love.
If you love God heartily, my child, you will often speak of Him among your relations,
household and familiar friends, and that because "the mouth
of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment."
Even as the bee touches naught save honey with his tongue, so should your lips be ever
sweetened with your God, knowing nothing more pleasant than to praise and bless His Holy
Name,--as we are told that when Saint Francis uttered the Name of the Lord, he seemed to
feel the sweetness lingering on his lips, and could not let it go. But always remember,
when you speak of God, that He is God; and speak reverently and with devotion,--not
affectedly or as if you were preaching, but with a spirit of meekness, love, and humility;
dropping honey from your lips (like the Bride in the Canticles) in devout and pious words,
as you speak to one or another around, in your secret heart the while asking God to let
this soft heavenly dew sink into their minds as they hearken. And remember very specially
always to fulfill this angelic task meekly and lovingly, not as though you were reproving
others, but rather winning them. It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner
is, and how much it wins hearts.
Take care, then, never to speak of God, or those things which concern Him,
in a merely formal, conventional manner; but with earnestness and devotion, avoiding the
affected way in which some professedly religious people are perpetually interlarding their
conversation with pious words and sayings, after a most unseasonable and unthinking
manner. Too often they imagine that they really are themselves as pious as their words,
which probably is not the case.
Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to
Saint James says, "If any man offend
not in word, the same is, a perfect man." Beware most watchfully against
ever uttering any unseemly expression; even though you may have no evil intention, those
who hear it may receive it with a different meaning. An impure word falling upon a weak
mind spreads its infection like a drop of oil on a garment, and sometimes it will take
such a hold of the heart, as to fill it with an infinitude of lascivious thoughts and
temptations. The body is poisoned through the mouth, even so is the heart through the ear;
and the tongue which does the deed is a murderer, even when the venom it has infused is
counteracted by some antidote preoccupying the listener's heart. It was not the speaker's
fault that he did not slay that soul. Nor let any one answer that he meant no harm. Our
Lord, Who knoweth the hearts of men, has said, "Out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." And
even if we do mean no harm, the Evil One
means a great deal, and he will use those
idle words as a sharp weapon against some neighbor's heart. It is said that those who eat
the plant called Angelica always have a sweet, pleasant breath; and those who cherish the
angelic virtues of purity and modesty, will always speak simply, courteously, and
modestly. As to unclean and light-minded talk, Saint Paul says such things should not even
be named among us, for, as he elsewhere tells us, "Evil
communications corrupt good manners."
Those impure words which are spoken in disguise, and with an affectation of reserve,
are the most harmful of all; for just as the sharper the point of a dart, so much deeper
it will pierce the flesh, so the sharper an unholy word, the more it penetrates the heart.
And as for those who think to show themselves knowing when they say such things, they do
not even understand the first object of mutual intercourse among men, who ought rather to
be like a hive of bees gathering to make honey by good and useful conversation, than like
a wasps' nest, feeding on corruption. If any impertinent person addresses you in unseemly
language, show that you are displeased by turning away, or by whatever other method your
discretion may indicate.
One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirizes and turns everything
to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and has sometimes punished it in a marked manner.
Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit, as contempt and
depreciation of one's neighbor, and where satire and ridicule exist contempt must be.
Therefore contempt is a grievous sin, and our spiritual doctors have well said that
ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word against our neighbor, inasmuch as when
we offend him in any other way, there may still be some respect for him in our heart, but
we are sure to despise those whom we ridicule.
There is a light-hearted talk, full of modest life and gaiety, which the
Greeks called Eutrapelia, and which we should call
good conversation, by which we may find an innocent and kindly amusement out of the
trifling occurrences which human imperfections afford. Only beware of letting this seemly
mirth go too far, till it becomes ridicule. Ridicule excites mirth at the expense of one's
neighbor; seemly mirth and playful fun never lose sight of a trustful, kindly courtesy,
which can wound no one. When the religious around him would faint have discussed serious
matters with Saint Louis at meal-times, he used to say, "This
is not the time for grave discussion, but for general conversation and cheerful
recreation,"--out of consideration for his courtiers. But, my daughter,
let our recreation always be so spent, that we may win all eternity through devotion.
Of Hasty Judgments
"Judge not, and ye shall not be
judged," said the Savior of our souls; "condemn
not, and ye shall not be condemned;" and the Apostle Saint Paul, "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will
bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the
hearts." Of a truth, hasty judgments are most displeasing to God, and
men's judgments are hasty, because we are not judges one of another, and by judging we
usurp our Lord's own office. Man's judgment is hasty, because the chief malice of sin lies
in the intention and counsel of the heart, which is shrouded in darkness to us. Moreover,
man's judgments are hasty, because each one has enough to do in judging himself, without
undertaking to judge his neighbor. If we would not be judged, it behooves us alike not to
judge others, and to judge ourselves. Our Lord forbids the one, His Apostle enjoins the
other, saying, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not
be judged." But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse these
precepts, judging our neighbor, which is forbidden on all sides, while rarely judging
ourselves, as we are told to do.
We must proceed to rectify rash judgments, according to their cause. Some hearts there
are so bitter and harsh by nature, that everything turns bitter under their touch; men
who, in the Prophet's words, "turn judgment to wormwood,
and leave off righteousness in the earth." Such
as these greatly need to be dealt with by some wise spiritual physician, for this
bitterness being natural to them, it is hard to conquer; and although it be rather an
imperfection than a sin, still it is very dangerous, because it gives rise to and fosters
rash judgments and slander within the heart. Others there are who are guilty of rash
judgments less out of a bitter spirit than from pride, supposing to exalt their own credit
by disparaging that of others. These are self-sufficient, presumptuous people, who stand
so high in their own conceit that they despise all else as mean and worthless. It was the
foolish Pharisee who said, "I am not as other men are."
Others, again, have not quite such overt pride, but rather a lurking little satisfaction
in beholding what is wrong in others, in order to appreciate more fully what they believe
to be their own superiority. This satisfaction is so well concealed, so nearly
imperceptible, that it requires a clear sight to discover it, and those who experience it
need that it be pointed out to them. Some there are who seek to excuse and justify
themselves to their own conscience, by assuming readily that others are guilty of the same
faults, or as great ones, vainly imagining that the sin becomes less culpable when shared
by many. Others, again, give way to rash judgments merely because they take pleasure in a
philosophic analysis and dissection of their neighbors' characters; and if by ill luck
they chance now and then to be right, their presumption and love of criticism strengthens
Then there are people whose judgment is solely formed by inclination; who always think
well of those they like, and ill of those they dislike. To this, however, there is one
rare exception, which nevertheless we do sometimes meet, when an excessive love provokes a
false judgment concerning its object; the hideous result of a diseased, faulty, restless
affection, which is in fact jealousy; an evil passion capable, as everybody knows, of
condemning others of perfidy and adultery upon the most trivial and fanciful ground. In
like manner, fear, ambition, and other moral infirmities often tend largely to produce
suspicion and rash judgments.
What remedy can we apply? They who drink the juice of the Ethiopian herb Ophiusa imagine that they see serpents and horrors
everywhere; and those who drink deep of pride, envy, ambition, hatred, will see harm and
shame in everyone they look upon. The first can only be cured by drinking palm wine, and
so I say of these latter,--Drink freely of the sacred wine of love, and it will cure you
of the evil tempers which lead you to these perverse judgments. So far from seeking out
that which is evil, Love dreads meeting with it, and when such meeting is unavoidable, she
shuts her eyes at the first symptom, and then in her holy simplicity she questions whether
it were not merely a fantastic shadow which crossed her path rather than sin itself. Or if
Love is forced to recognize the fact, she turns aside hastily, and strives to forget what
she has seen. Of a truth, Love is the great healer of all ills, and of this above the
rest. Everything looks yellow to a man that has the jaundice; and it is said that the only
cure is through the soles of the feet. Most assuredly the sin of rash judgments is a
spiritual jaundice, which makes everything look amiss to those who have it; and he who
would be cured of this malady must not be content with applying remedies to his eyes or
his intellect, he must attack it through the affections, which are as the soul's feet. If
your affections are warm and tender, your judgment will not be harsh; if they are loving,
your judgment will be the same. Holy Scripture offers us three striking illustrations.
Isaac, when in the Land of Gerar, gave out that Rebecca was his sister, but when Abimelech
saw their familiarity, he at once concluded that she was his wife. A
malicious mind would rather have supposed that there was some unlawful connection between
them, but Abimelech took the most charitable view of the case that was possible. And so
ought we always to judge our neighbor as charitably as may be; and if his actions are
many-sided, we should accept the best. Again, when Saint Joseph found that the Blessed
Virgin was with child, knowing her to be pure and holy,
he could not believe that there was any sin in her, and he left all judgment to God,
although there was strong presumptive evidence on which to condemn her. And the Holy
Spirit speaks of Saint Joseph as "a just man."
When a just man cannot see any excuse for what is done by a person in whose general worth
he believes, he still refrains from judging him, and leaves all to God's Judgment. Again,
our Crucified Savior, while He could not wholly ignore the sin of those who crucified Him,
yet made what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance. And
so when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what compassion we may
for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives we can find, as ignorance or
Are we never, then, to judge our neighbor? you ask. Never, my child. It is God Who
judges criminals brought before a court of law. He uses magistrates to convey His sentence
to us; they are His interpreters, and have only to proclaim His law. If they go beyond
this, and are led by their own passions, then they do themselves judge, and for so doing
they will be judged. It is forbidden to all men alike, as men, to judge one another.
We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of something wrong. Rash
judgment always presupposes something that is not clear, in spite of which we condemn
another. It is not wrong to have doubts concerning a neighbor, but we ought to be very
watchful lest even our doubts or suspicions be rash and hasty. A malicious person seeing
Jacob kiss Rachel at the well-side, or Rebecca accepting
jewels from Eleazer, a stranger, might have suspected
them of levity, though falsely and unreasonably. If an action is in itself indifferent, it
is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil, unless there is strong circumstantial
evidence to prove such to be the case. And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory
inferences from an action which may be blameless.
Those who keep careful watch over their conscience are not often liable to form rash
judgments, for just as when the clouds lower the bees make for the shelter of their hive,
so really good people shrink back into themselves, and refuse to be mixed up with the
clouds and fogs of their neighbor's questionable doings, and rather than meddle with
others, they consecrate their energies on their own improvement and good resolutions.
No surer sign of an unprofitable life than when people give way to
censoriousness and inquisitiveness into the lives of other men. Of course exception must
be made as to those who are responsible for others, whether in family or public life;--to
all such it becomes a matter of conscience to watch over the conduct of their fellows. Let
them fulfill their duty lovingly, and let them also give heed to restrain themselves
within the bounds of that duty.
From rash judgments proceed
mistrust, contempt for others, pride, and self-sufficiency, and numberless other
pernicious results, among which stands forth prominently the sin of slander, which is a
veritable pest of society. Oh, wherefore can I not take a live coal from God's Altar, and
touch the lips of men, so that their iniquity may be taken away and their sin purged, even
as the Seraphim purged the lips of Isaiah. He who could
purge the world of slander would cleanse it from a great part of its sinfulness!
He who unjustly takes away his neighbor's good name is guilty of sin, and is bound to
make reparation, according to the nature of his evil speaking; since no man can enter into
Heaven cumbered with stolen goods, and of all worldly possessions the most precious is a
good name. Slander is a kind of murder; for we all have three lives--a spiritual life,
which depends upon the Grace of God; a bodily life, depending on the soul; and a civil
life, consisting in a good reputation. Sin deprives us of the first, death of the second,
and slander of the third. But the slanderer commits three several murders with his idle
tongue; he destroys his own soul and that of him who hearkens, as well as causing civil
death to the object of his slander; for, as Saint Bernard says, the Devil has possession both of the slanderer and of those
who listen to him, of the tongue of the one, the ear of the other. And David says of
slanderers, "They have sharpened their tongues like a
serpent; adders' poison is under their lips." Aristotle
says that, like the forked, two-edged tongue of the serpent, so is that of the slanderer,
who at one dart pricks and poisons the ear of those who hear him, and the reputation of
him who is slandered.
My daughter, I entreat you never speak evil of any, either directly or indirectly;
beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbor, of needlessly disclosing
his real faults, of exaggerating such as are overt, of attributing wrong motives to good
actions, of denying the good that you know to exist in another, of maliciously concealing
it, or depreciating it in conversation. In all and each of these ways you grievously
offend God, although the worst is false accusation, or denying the truth to your
neighbor's damage, since therein you combine his harm with falsehood.
Those who slander others with an affectation of good will, or with
dishonest pretenses of friendliness, are the most spiteful and evil of all. They will
profess that they love their victim, and that in many ways he is an excellent man, but all
the same, truth must be told, and he was very wrong in such a matter; or that such and
such a woman is very virtuous generally, but and so on. Do you not see through the
artifice? He who draws a bow draws the arrow as close as he can to himself, but it is only
to let it fly more forcibly; and so such slanderers appear to be withholding their
evil-speaking, but it is only to let it fly with surer aim and go deeper into the
listeners' minds. Witty slander is the most mischievous of all; for just as some poisons
are but feeble when taken alone, which become powerful when mixed with wine, so many a
slander, which would go in at one ear and out at the other of itself, finds a
resting-place in the listener's brain when it is accompanied with amusing, witty comments.
"The poison of asps is under their lips."
The asp's bite is scarcely perceptible, and its poison at first only causes an irritation
which is scarcely disagreeable, so that the heart and nervous system dilate and receive
that poison, against which later on there is no remedy.
Do not pronounce a man to be a drunkard although you may have seen him drunk, or an
adulterer, because you know he has sinned; a single act does not stamp him forever. The
sun once stood still while Joshua and the children of Israel avenged themselves upon their
enemies; and another time it was darkened at mid-day
when the Lord was crucified; but no one would therefore
say that it was stationary or dark. Noah was drunk once, and Lot, moreover, was guilty of
incest, yet neither man could be spoken of as habitually given to such sins; neither would
you call Saint Paul a man of blood or a blasphemer, because he had blasphemed and shed
blood before he became a Christian. Before a man deserves to be thus stigmatized, he must
have formed a habit of the sin he is accused of, and it is unfair to call a man passionate
or a thief, because you have once known him steal or fly into a passion. Even when a man
may have persisted long in sin, you may say what is untrue in calling him vicious. Simon
the leper called Magdalene a sinner, because she had once lived a life of sin; but he
lied, for she was a sinner no longer, but rather a very saintly penitent, and so our Lord
Himself undertook her defense.
The Pharisee looked upon the publican as a great sinner,--probably as unjust,
extortionate, adulterous; but how mistaken he was,
inasmuch as the condemned publican was even then justified! If God's Mercy is so great,
that one single moment is sufficient for it to justify and save a man, what assurance have
we that he who yesterday was a sinner is the same to-day? Yesterday may not be the judge
of today, nor today of yesterday: all will be really judged at the Last Great Day. In
short, we can never affirm a man to be evil without running the risk of lying. If it be
absolutely necessary to speak, we may say that he was guilty of such an act, that he led
an evil life at such and such a time, or that he is doing certain wrong at the present
day; but we have no right to draw deductions for today from yesterday, nor of yesterday
from today; still less to speak with respect to the future.
But while extremely sensitive as to the slightest approach to slander, you must also
guard against an extreme into which some people fall, who, in their desire to speak evil
of no one, actually uphold and speak well of vice. If you have to do with one who is
unquestionably a slanderer, do not excuse him under the expressions of frank and
free-spoken; do not call one who is notoriously vain, liberal and elegant; do not call
dangerous levity's mere simplicity; do not screen disobedience under the name of zeal, or
arrogance of frankness, or evil intimacy of friendship. No, my child, we must never, in
our wish to shun slander, foster or flatter vice in others; but we must call evil evil,
and sin sin, and so doing we shall serve God's Glory, always bearing in mind the following
If you would be justified in condemning a neighbor's sin, you must be sure
that it is needful either for his good or that of others to do so. For instance, if light,
unseemly conduct is spoken of before young people in a way calculated to injure their
purity, and you pass it over, or excuse it, they may be led to think lightly of evil, and
to imitate it; and therefore you are bound to condemn all such things freely and at once,
unless it is obvious that by reserving your charitable work of reprehension to a future
time, you can do it more profitably.
Furthermore, on such occasions it is well to be sure that you are the most
proper person among those present to express your opinion, and that your silence would
seem in any way to condone the sin. If you are one of the least important persons present,
it is probably not your place to censure; but supposing it to be your duty, be most
carefully just in what you say,--let there not be a word too much or too little. For
instance, you censure the intimacy of certain people, as dangerous and indiscreet. Well,
but you must hold the scales with the most exact justice, and not exaggerate in the
smallest item. If there be only a slight appearance of evil, say no more than that; if it
be a question of some trifling imprudence, do not make it out to be more; if there be
really neither imprudence nor positive appearance of evil, but only such as affords a
pretext for malicious slander, either say simply so much, or, better still, say nothing at
all. When you speak of your neighbor, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor in the
surgeon's hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so carefully, as to
insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said. And finally, when you are
called upon to blame sin, always strive as far as possible to spare the sinner.
Public, notorious sinners may be spoken of freely, provided always even
then that a spirit of charity and compassion prevail, and that you do not speak of them
with arrogance or presumption, or as though you took pleasure in the fall of others. To do
this is the sure sign of a mean ungenerous mind. And, of course, you must speak freely in
condemnation of the professed enemies of God and His Church, heretics and schismatics,--it
is true charity to point out the wolf wheresoever he creeps in among the flock. Most
people permit themselves absolute latitude in criticizing and censuring rulers, and in
calumniating nationalities, according to their own opinions and likings. But do you avoid
this fault; it is displeasing to God, and is liable to lead you into disputes and
quarrels. When you hear evil of anyone, cast any doubt you fairly can upon the accusation;
or if that is impossible, make any available excuse for the culprit; and where even that
may not be, be yet pitiful and compassionate, and remind those with whom you are speaking
that such as stand upright do so solely through God's Grace. Do your best kindly to check
the scandal-bearer, and if you know anything favorable to the person criticized, take
pains to mention it.
Further Counsels as to Conversation
Let your words be kindly, frank,
sincere, straightforward, simple and true; avoid all artifice, duplicity and pretense,
remembering that, although it is not always well to publish abroad everything that may be
true, yet it is never allowable to oppose the truth. Make it your rule never knowingly to
say what is not strictly true, either accusing or excusing, always remembering that God is
the God of Truth. If you have unintentionally said what is not true, and it is possible to
correct yourself at once by means of explanation or reparation, do so. A straightforward
excuse has far greater weight than any falsehood.
It may be lawful occasionally to conceal or disguise the truth, but this
should never be done save in such special cases as make this reserve obviously a necessity
for the service and glory of God. Otherwise all such artifice is dangerous; and we are
told in Holy Scripture that God's Holy Spirit will not abide with the false or
double-minded. Depend upon it there is no craft half so profitable and successful as
simplicity. Worldly prudence and artifice belong to the children of this world; but the
children of God go straight on with a single heart and in all confidence;--falsehood,
deceit and duplicity are sure signs of a mean, weak mind.
In the Fourth Book of his Confessions, Saint Augustine spoke in very strong terms of
his passionate devotion to a friend, saying that they had but as one soul, and that after
his friend's death his life was a horror to him, although he feared to die. But later on
these expressions seemed unreal and affected to him, and he withdrew them in his
Retractations. You see how sensitive that great mind was
to unreality or affectation. Assuredly straightforward honesty and sincerity in speech is
a great beauty in the Christian life. "I said I will take
heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue." "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips."
It was a saying of Saint Louis, that one should contradict nobody, unless
there was sin or harm in consenting; and that in order to avoid contention and dispute. At
any rate, when it is necessary to contradict anybody, or to assert one's own opinion, it
should be done gently and considerately, without irritation or vehemence. Indeed, we gain
nothing by sharpness or petulance.
The silence, so much commended by wise men of old, does not refer so much to a literal
use of few words, as to not using many useless words. On this score, we must look less to
the quantity than the quality, and, as it seems to me, our aim should be to avoid both
extremes. An excessive reserve and stiffness, which stands aloof from familiar friendly
conversation, is untrusting, and implies a certain sort of contemptuous pride; while an
incessant chatter and babble, leaving no opportunity for others to put in their word, is
frivolous and troublesome.
Saint Louis objected to private confidences and whisperings in society,
especially at table, lest suspicion should be aroused that scandal was being repeated.
"Those who have anything amusing or pleasant to say,"
he argued, "should let everybody share the entertainment, but if they want to speak
of important matters, they should wait a more suitable time."
Of Amusements and Recreations: what are
We must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some
recreation also. Cassian relates how Saint John the Evangelist was found by a certain
hunter amusing himself by caressing a partridge, which sat upon his wrist. The hunter
asked how a man of his mental powers could find time for so trifling an occupation. In
reply, Saint John asked why he did not always carry his bow strung? The man answered,
Because, if always bent, the bow would lose its spring when really wanted. "Do not marvel then," the Apostle replied, "if I slacken my mental efforts from time-to-time, and recreate myself,
in order to return more vigorously to contemplation." It is a great
mistake to be so strict as to grudge any recreation either to others or one's self.
Walking, harmless games, music, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc.,
are such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of ordinary
discretion, which keep every thing within due limits of time, place, and degree. So again
games of skill, which exercise and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets,
running at the ring, chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good. Only one
must avoid excess, either in the time given to them, or the amount of interest they
absorb; for if too much time be given up to such things, they cease to be a recreation and
become an occupation; and so far from resting and restoring mind or body, they have
precisely the contrary effect. After five or six hours spent over chess, one's mind is
spent and weary, and too long a time given to tennis results in physical exhaustion; or if
people play for a high stake, they get anxious and discomposed, and such unimportant
objects are unworthy of so much care and thought. But, above all, beware of setting your
heart upon any of these things, for however lawful an amusement may be, it is wrong to
give one's heart up to it. Not that I would not have you take pleasure in what you are
doing,--it were no recreation else,--but I would not have you engrossed by it, or become
eager or over fond of any of these things.
Of Forbidden Amusements
Dice, cards, and the like games
of hazard, are not merely dangerous amusements, like dancing, but they are plainly bad and
harmful, and therefore they are forbidden by the civil as by the ecclesiastical law. What
harm is there in them? you ask. Such games are unreasonable:--the winner often has neither
skill nor industry to boast of, which is contrary to reason. You reply that this is
understood by those who play. But though that may prove that you are not wronging anybody,
it does not prove that the game is in accordance with reason, as victory ought to be the
reward of skill or labor, which it cannot be in mere games of chance. Moreover, though
such games may be called a recreation, and are intended as such, they are practically an
intense occupation. Is it not an occupation, when a man's mind is kept on the stretch of
close attention, and disturbed by endless anxieties, fears and agitations? Who exercises a
more dismal, painful attention than the gambler? No one must speak or laugh,--if you do
but cough you will annoy him and his companions. The only pleasure in gambling is to win,
and this cannot be a satisfactory pleasure, since it can only be enjoyed at the expense of
your antagonist. Once, when he was very ill, Saint Louis heard that his brother the Comte
d'Anjou and Messire Gautier de Nemours were gambling, and in spite of his weakness the
King tottered into the room where they were, and threw dice and money and everything out
of the window, in great indignation. And the pure and pious Sara, in her appeal to God,
declared that she had never had dealings with gamblers.
Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous
Dances and balls are things in
themselves indifferent, but the circumstances ordinarily surrounding them have so
generally an evil tendency, that they become full of temptation and danger. The time of
night at which they take place is in itself conducive to harm, both as the season when
people's nerves are most excited and open to evil impressions; and because, after being up
the greater part of the night, they spend the mornings afterwards in sleep, and lose the
best part of the day for God's Service. It is a senseless thing to turn day into night,
light into darkness, and to exchange good works for mere trifling follies. Moreover, those
who frequent balls almost inevitably foster their Vanity, and vanity is very conducive to
unholy desires and dangerous attachments.
I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles of
food, such as mushrooms and the like--the best are not good for much; but if eat them you
must, at least mind that they are properly cooked. So, if circumstances over which you
have no control take you into such places, be watchful how you prepare to enter them. Let
the dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity and good intentions. The doctors say (still
referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of them, and that but seldom, for, however well
dressed, an excess is harmful. So dance but little, and that rarely, my daughter, lest you
run the risk of growing over fond of the amusement.
Pliny says that mushrooms, from their porous, spongy nature, easily imbibe
meretricious matter, so that if they are near a serpent, they are infected by its poison.
So balls and similar gatherings are wont to attract all that is bad and vicious; all the
quarrels, envyings, slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected
in the ballroom. While people's bodily pores are opened by the exercise of dancing, the
heart's pores will be also opened by excitement, and if any serpent be at hand to whisper
foolish words of levity or impurity, to insinuate unworthy thoughts and desires, the ears
which listen are more than prepared to receive the contagion.
Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements are for the most part dangerous;
they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a
multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent
in their use.
To return to the medical simile;--it is said that after eating mushrooms
you should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls you should frame pious
thoughts which may counteract the dangerous impressions made by such empty pleasures on
your heart. Bethink you, then:
That while you were dancing, souls were groaning in
hell by reason of sins committed when similarly occupied, or in consequence thereof.
Remember how, at the selfsame time, many religious
and other devout persons were kneeling before God, praying or praising Him. Was not their
time better spent than yours?
while you were dancing, many a soul has passed away amid sharp sufferings; thousands and
tens of thousands were lying all the while on beds of anguish, some perhaps untended,
unconsoled, in fevers, and all manner of painful diseases. Will you not rouse yourself to
a sense of pity for them? At all events, remember that a day will come when you in your
turn will lie on your bed of sickness, while others dance and make merry.
that our Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, saw all that was passing. Did
they not look on with sorrowful pity, while your heart, capable of better things, was
engrossed with such mere follies?
you were dancing time passed by, and death drew nearer. Trifle as you may, the awful dance
of death 1 must come, the real pastime of men, since
therein they must, whether they will or no, pass from time to an eternity of good or evil.
If you think of the matter quietly, and as in God's Sight, He will suggest many a like
thought, which will steady and strengthen your heart.
When to use such Amusements rightly
If you would dance or play
rightly, it must be done as a recreation, not as a pursuit, for a brief space of time, not
so as make you unfit for other things, and even then but seldom. If it is a constant
habit, recreation turns into occupation. You will ask when it is right to dance or play?
The occasions on which it is right to play at questionable games are rare; ordinary games
and dances may be indulged in more frequently. But let your rule be to do so chiefly when
courteous consideration for others among whom you are thrown requires it, subject to
prudence and discretion; for consideration towards others often sanctions things
indifferent or dangerous, and turns them to good, taking away what is evil. Thus certain
games of chance, bad in themselves, cease to be so to you, if you join in them merely out
of a due courtesy. I have been much comforted by reading in the Life of Saint Carlo
Borromeo, how he joined in certain things to please the Swiss, concerning which ordinarily
he was very strict; as also how Saint Ignatius Loyola, when asked to play, did so. As to
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, she both played and danced occasionally, when in society,
without thereby hindering her devotion, which was so firmly rooted that, like the rocks of
a mountain lake, it stood unmoved amid the waves and storms of pomp and vanity which it
Great fires are fanned by the wind, but a little one is soon extinguished
if left without shelter.
We must be Faithful in Things Great and Small
The Bridegroom of the Canticles says that the Bride has ravished His
heart with "one of her eyes, one lock of her hair." In all the human body no part is nobler either in mechanism
or activity than the eye, none more unimportant than the hair. And so the Divine
Bridegroom makes us to know that He accepts not only the great works of devout people, but
every poor and lowly offering too; and that they who would serve Him acceptably must give
heed not only to lofty and important matters, but to things mean and little, since by both
alike we may win His Heart and Love.
Be ready then, my child, to bear great afflictions for your Lord, even to
martyrdom itself; resolve to give up to Him all that you hold most precious, if He should
require it of you;--father, mother, husband, wife, or child; the light of your eyes; your
very life; for all such offering your heart should be ready. But so long as God's
Providence does not send you these great and heavy afflictions; so long as He does not ask
your eyes, at least give Him your hair. I mean, take patiently the petty annoyances, the
trifling discomforts, the unimportant losses which come upon all of us daily; for by means
of these little matters, lovingly and freely accepted, you will give Him your whole heart,
and win His. I mean the acts of daily forbearance, the headache, or toothache, or heavy
cold; the tiresome peculiarities of husband or wife, the broken glass, the loss of a ring,
a handkerchief, a glove; the sneer of a neighbor, the effort of going to bed early in
order to rise early for prayer or Communion, the little shyness some people feel in openly
performing religious duties; and be sure that all of these sufferings, small as they are,
if accepted lovingly, are most pleasing to God's Goodness, Which has promised a whole
ocean of happiness to His children in return for one cup of cold water. And, moreover,
inasmuch as these occasions are for ever arising, they give us a fertile field for
gathering in spiritual riches, if only we will use them rightly.
When I read in the Life of Saint Catherine of Sienna of her ecstasies and
visions, her wise sayings and teaching, I do not doubt but that she "ravished" her Bridegroom's heart with this eye of
contemplation; but I must own that I behold her with no less delight in her father's
kitchen, kindling the fire, turning the spit, baking the bread, cooking the dinner, and
doing all the most menial offices in a loving spirit which looked through all things
straight to God. Nor do I prize the lowly meditations she was wont to make while so humbly
employed less than the ecstasies with which she was favored at other times, probably as a
reward for this very humility and lowliness. Her meditations would take the shape of
imagining that all she prepared for her father was prepared for Our Lord, as by Martha;
her mother was a symbol to her of Our Lady, her brothers of the Apostles, and thus she
mentally ministered to all the Heavenly Courts, fulfilling her humble ministrations with
an exceeding sweetness, because she saw God's Will in each. Let this example, my daughter,
teach you how important it is to dedicate all we do, however trifling, to His service. And
to this end I earnestly counsel you to imitate that "virtuous
woman" whom King Solomon lauds, who
"layeth her hands" to all that is good and
noble, and yet at the same time to the spindle and distaff. Do you seek the higher things,
such as prayer and meditation, the Sacraments leading souls to God and kindling good
thoughts in them, in a word, by all manner of good works according to your vocation; but
meanwhile do not neglect your spindle and distaff. I mean, cultivate those lowly virtues
which spring like flowers round the foot of the Cross, such as ministering to the poor and
sick, family cares, and the duties arising therefrom, and practical diligence and
activity; and amid all these things cultivate such spiritual thoughts as Saint Catherine
intermingled with her work.
Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily; and our
Lord Himself has told us that "he that is faithful in that
which is least is faithful also in much." If
you do all in God's Name, all you do will be well done, whether you eat, drink or sleep,
whether you amuse yourself or turn the spit, so long as you do all wisely, you will gain
greatly as in God's Sight, doing all because He would have you do it.
Of a Well-Balanced, Reasonable Mind
Reason is the special characteristic of man, and yet it is a rare
thing to find really reasonable men, all the more that self-love hinders reason, and
beguiles us insensibly into all manner of trifling, but yet dangerous acts of injustice
and untruth, which, like the little foxes in the Canticles, spoil
our vines, while, just because they are trifling, people pay no attention to them, and
because they are numerous, they do infinite harm. Let me give some instances of what I
We find fault with our neighbor very readily for a small matter, while we pass over
great things in ourselves. We strive to sell dear and buy cheap. We are eager to deal out
strict justice to others, but to obtain indulgence for ourselves. We expect a good
construction to be put on all we say, but we are sensitive and critical as to our
neighbor's words. We expect him to let us have whatever we want for money, when it would
be more reasonable to let him keep that which is his, if he desires to do so, and leave us
to keep our gold. We are vexed with him because he will not accommodate us, while perhaps
he has better reason to be vexed with us for wanting to disturb him. If we have a liking
for any one particular thing, we despise all else, and reject whatever does not precisely
suit our taste. If some inferior is unacceptable to us, or we have once caught him in
error, he is sure to be wrong in our eyes whatever he may do, and we are for ever
thwarting, or looking coldly on him, while, on the other hand, some one who happens to
please us is sure to be right. Sometimes even parents show unfair preference for a child
endowed with personal gifts over one afflicted with some physical imperfection. We put the
rich before the poor, although they may have less claim, and be less worthy; we even give
preference to well-dressed people. We are strict in exacting our own rights, but expect
others to be yielding as to theirs;--we complain freely of our neighbors, but we do not
like them to make any complaints of us. Whatever we do for them appears very great in our
sight, but what they do for us counts as nothing. In a word, we are like the Paphlagonian
partridge, which has two hearts; for we have a very tender, pitiful, easy heart towards
ourselves, and one which is hard, harsh and strict towards our neighbor. We have two
scales, one wherein to measure our own goods to the best advantage, and the other to weigh
our neighbors' to the worst. Holy Scripture tells us that lying lips are an abomination
unto the Lord, and the double heart, with one measure
whereby to receive, and another to give, is also abominable in His Sight.
Be just and fair in all you do. Always put yourself in your neighbor's place, and put
him into yours, and then you will judge fairly. Sell as you would buy, and buy as you
would sell, and your buying and selling will alike be honest. These little dishonesties
seem unimportant, because we are not obliged to make restitution, and we have, after all,
only taken that which we might demand according to the strict letter of the law; but,
nevertheless, they are sins against right and charity, and are mere trickery, greatly
needing correction--nor does any one ever lose by being generous, noble-hearted and
courteous. Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbor, whether your
heart is right towards him, as you would have his towards you, were things reversed--this
is the true test of reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for making
the Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, "Does it
not behoove me to strive to be such an emperor towards my subjects as I should wish to
meet with were I a subject?"
Everyone grants that we must
guard against the desire for evil things, since evil desires make evil men. But I say yet
further, my daughter, do not desire dangerous things, such as balls or pleasures, office
or honor, visions or ecstasies. Do not long after things afar off; such, I mean, as cannot
happen till a distant time, as some do who by this means wear themselves out and expend
their energies uselessly, fostering a dangerous spirit of distraction. If a young man
gives way to overweening longings for an employment he cannot obtain yet a while, what
good will it do him? If a married woman sets her heart on becoming a religious, or if I
crave to buy my neighbor's estate, he not being willing to sell it, is it not mere waste
of time? If, when sick, I am restlessly anxious to preach or celebrate, to visit other
sick people, or generally to do work befitting the strong, is it not an unprofitable
desire, inasmuch as I have no power to fulfill it? and meanwhile these useless wishes take
the place of such as I ought to have,-- namely, to be patient, resigned, self-denying,
obedient, gentle under suffering,--which are what God requires of me under the
circumstances. We are too apt to be like a sickly woman, craving ripe cherries in autumn
and grapes in spring. I can never think it well for one whose vocation is clear to waste
time in wishing for some different manner of life than that which is adapted to his duty,
or practices unsuitable to his present position--it is mere idling, and will make him
slack in his needful work. If I long after a Carthusian solitude, I am losing my time, and
such longing usurps the place of that which I ought to entertain--to fulfill my actual
duties rightly. No indeed, I would not even have people wish for more wit or better
judgment, for such desires are frivolous, and take the place of the wish every one ought
to possess of improving what he has. We ought not to desire ways of serving God which He
does not open to us, but rather desire to use what we have rightly. Of course I mean by
this, real earnest desires, not common superficial wishes, which do no harm if not too
Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon you well--it is an
abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent
desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention from present duties,
which would be profitable however trifling in themselves. We are apt to fight African
monsters in imagination, while we let very petty foes vanquish us in reality for want of
Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to meet them
bravely, and to resist them when they come.
Too great variety and quantity of food loads the stomach, and (especially
when it is weakly) spoils the digestion. Do not overload your soul with innumerable
longings, either worldly, for that were destruction,--or even spiritual, for these only
cumber you. When the soul is purged of the evil humors of sin, it experiences a ravenous
hunger for spiritual things, and sets to work as one famished at all manner of spiritual
exercises;--mortification, penitence, humility, charity, prayer. Doubtless such an
appetite is a good sign, but it behooves you to reflect whether you are able to digest all
that you faint would eat. Make rather a selection from all these desires, under the
guidance of your spiritual father, of such as you are able to perform, and then use them
as perfectly as you are able. When you have done this, God will send you more, to be
fulfilled in their turn, and so you will not waste time in unprofitable wishes. Not that I
would have you lose any good desires, but rather treat them methodically, putting them
aside in one corner of your heart till due time comes, while you carry out such as are
ripe for action. And this counsel I give to worldly people as well as those who are
spiritual, for without heeding it no one can avoid anxiety and over-eagerness.
Counsels to Married People
Marriage is a great Sacrament
both in Jesus Christ and His Church, and one to be honored to all, by all and in all. To
all, for even those who do not enter upon it should honor it in all humility. By all, for
it is holy alike to poor as to rich. In all, for its origin, its end, its form and matter
are holy. It is the nursery of Christianity, whence the earth is peopled with faithful,
till the number of the elect in Heaven be perfected; so that respect for the marriage tie
is exceedingly important to the commonwealth, of which it is the source and supply.
Would to God that His Dear Son were bidden to all weddings as to that of Cana! Truly
then the wine of consolation and blessing would never be lacking; for if these are often
so wanting, it is because too frequently now men summon Adonis instead of our Lord, and
Venus rather than Our Lady. He who desires that the young of his flock should be like
Jacob's, fair and ring-straked, must set fair objects before their eyes; and he who would
find a blessing in his marriage, must ponder the holiness and dignity of this Sacrament,
instead of which too often weddings become a season of mere feasting and disorder.
Above all, I would exhort all married people to seek that mutual love so
commended to them by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. It is little to bid you love one
another with a mutual love,---turtle-doves do that; or with human love,--the heathen
cherished such love as that. But I say to you in the Apostle's words: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church.
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord." It was God
Who brought Eve to our first father Adam, and gave her to him to wife; and even so, my
friends, it is God's Invisible Hand Which binds you in the sacred bonds of marriage; it is
He Who gives you one to the other, therefore cherish one another with a holy, sacred,
The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you glue
together two pieces of deal, provided that the glue be strong, their union will be so
close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than where it is joined. Now
God unites husband and wife so closely in Himself, that it should be easier to sunder soul
from body than husband from wife; nor is this union to be considered as mainly of the
body, but yet more a union of the heart, its affections and love.
The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another. In
olden times finger-rings were wont to be graven as seals. We read of it in Holy Scripture,
and this explains the meaning of the marriage ceremony, when the Church, by the hand of
her priest, blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man in token that she sets a seal on
his heart by this Sacrament, so that no thought of any other woman may ever enter therein
so long as she, who now is given to him, shall live. Then the bridegroom places the ring
on the bride's hand, so that she in her turn may know that she must never conceive any
affection in her heart for any other man so long as he shall live, who is now given to her
by our Lord Himself.
The third end of marriage is the birth and bringing up of children. And herein, O ye
married people! are you greatly honored, in that God, willing to multiply souls to bless
and praise Him to all Eternity, He associates you with Himself in this His work, by the
production of bodies into which, like dew from Heaven, He infuses the souls He creates as
well as the bodies into which they enter.
Therefore, husbands, do you preserve a tender, constant, hearty love for
your wives. It was that the wife might be loved heartily and tenderly that woman was taken
from the side nearest Adam's heart. No failings or infirmities, bodily or mental, in your
wife should ever excite any kind of dislike in you, but rather a loving, tender
compassion; and that because God has made her dependent on you, and bound to defer to and
obey you; and that while she is meant to be your helpmeet, you are her superior and her
head. And on your part, wives, do you love the husbands God has given you tenderly,
heartily, but with a reverential, confiding love, for God has made the man to have the
predominance, and to be the stronger; and He wills the woman to depend upon him,--bone of
his bone, flesh of his flesh,--taking her from out the ribs of the man, to show that she
must be subject to his guidance. All Holy Scripture enjoins this subjection, which
nevertheless is not grievous; and the same Holy Scripture, while it bids you accept it
lovingly, bids your husband to use his superiority with great tenderness, loving-kindness,
and gentleness. "Husbands, dwell with your wives according
to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel."
But while you seek diligently to foster this mutual love, give good heed that it do not
turn to any manner of jealousy. Just as the worm is often hatched in the sweetest and
ripest apple, so too often jealousy springs up in the most warm and loving hearts,
defiling and ruining them, and if it is allowed to take root, it will produce dissension,
quarrels, and separation. Of a truth, jealousy never arises where love is built up on true
virtue, and therefore it is a sure sign of an earthly, sensual love, in which mistrust and
inconstancy is soon infused. It is a sorry kind of friendship which seeks to strengthen
itself by jealousy; for though jealousy may be a sign of strong, hot friendship, it is
certainly no sign of a good, pure, perfect attachment; and that because perfect love
implies absolute trust in the person loved, whereas jealousy implies uncertainty.
If you, husbands, would have your wives faithful, be it yours to set them the example.
"How have you the face to exact purity from your wives,"
asks Saint Gregory Nazianzen, "if you yourself live an
impure life? or how can you require that which you do not give in return? If you would
have them chaste, let your own conduct to them be chaste. Saint Paul bids you possess your
vessel in sanctification; but if, on the contrary, you teach them evil, no wonder that
they dishonor you. And ye, O women! whose honor is inseparable from modesty and purity,
preserve it jealously, and never allow the smallest speck to soil the whiteness of your
Shrink sensitively from the veriest trifles which can touch it; never
permit any gallantries whatsoever. Suspect any who presume to flatter your beauty or
grace, for when men praise wares they cannot purchase they are often tempted to steal; and
if any one should dare to speak in disparagement of your husband, show that you are
irrecoverably offended, for it is plain that he not only seeks your fall, but he counts
you as half fallen, since the bargain with the new-comer is half made when one is
disgusted with the first merchant.
Ladies both in ancient and modern times have worn pearls in their ears, for the sake
(so says Pliny) of hearing them tinkle against each other. But remembering how that friend
of God, Isaac, sent earrings as first pledges of his love to the chaste Rebecca, I look
upon this mystic ornament as signifying that the first claim a husband has over his wife,
and one which she ought most faithfully to keep for him, is her ear; so that no evil word
or rumor enter therein, and naught be heard save the pleasant sound of true and pure
words, which are represented by the choice pearls of the Gospel. Never forget that souls
are poisoned through the ear as much as bodies through the mouth.
Love and faithfulness lead to familiarity and confidence, and Saints have
abounded in tender caresses. Isaac and Rebecca, the type of chaste married life, indulged
in such caresses, as to convince Abimelech that they must be husband and wife. The great
Saint Louis, strict as he was to himself, was so tender towards his wife, that some were
ready to blame him for it; although in truth he rather deserved praise for subjecting his
lofty, martial mind to the little details of conjugal love. Such minor matters will not
suffice to knit hearts, but they tend to draw them closer, and promote mutual happiness.
Before giving birth to Saint Augustine, Saint Monica offered him repeatedly to God's
Glory, as he himself tells us; and it is a good lesson for Christian women how to offer
the fruit of their womb to God, Who accepts the free oblations of loving hearts, and
promotes the desires of such faithful mothers: witness Samuel, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint
Andrea di Fiesole, and others. Saint Bernard's mother,
worthy of such a son, was wont to take her new-born babes in her arms to offer them to
Jesus Christ, thenceforward loving them with a reverential love, as a sacred deposit from
God; and so entirely was her offering accepted, that all her seven children became Saints. And when children begin to use their reason, fathers and
mothers should take great pains to fill their hearts with the fear of God. This the good
Queen Blanche did most earnestly by Saint Louis, her son; witness her oft-repeated words,
"My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal
sin;" words which sank so deeply into the saintly monarch's heart, that
he himself said there was no day on which they did not recur to his mind, and strengthen
him in treading God's ways.
We call races and generations Houses; and the Hebrews were wont to speak of the birth
of children as "the building up of the house;"
as it is written of the Jewish midwives in Egypt, that the Lord "made them houses;" whereby we learn that a good house
is not reared so much by the accumulation of worldly goods, as by the bringing up of
children in the ways of holiness and of God; and to this end no labor or trouble must be
spared, for children are the crown of their parents. Thus
it was that Saint Monica steadfastly withstood Saint Augustine's evil propensities, and,
following him across sea and land, he became more truly the child of her tears in the
conversion of his soul, than the son of her body in his natural birth.
Saint Paul assigns the charge of the household to the woman; and consequently some hold
that the devotion of the family depends more upon the wife than the husband, who is more
frequently absent, and has less influence in the house. Certainly King Solomon, in the
Book of Proverbs, refers all household prosperity to the care and industry of that
virtuous woman whom he describes.
We read in Genesis that Isaac "entreated the Lord for
his wife, because she was barren;" or as the Hebrews read it, he prayed
"over against" her,--on opposite sides of
the place of prayer,--and his prayer was granted. That is the most fruitful union between
husband and wife which is founded in devotion, to which they should mutually stimulate one
another. There are certain fruits, like the quince, of so bitter a quality, that they are
scarcely eatable, save when preserved; while others again, like cherries and apricots, are
so delicate and soft, that they can only be kept by the same treatment. So the wife must
seek that her husband be sweetened with the sugar of devotion, for man without religion is
a rude, rough animal; and the husband will desire to see his wife devout, as without it
her frailty and weakness are liable to tarnish and injury. Saint Paul says that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving
wife is sanctified by the husband;" because
in so close a tie one may easily draw the other to what is good. And how great is the
blessing on those faithful husbands and wives who confirm one another continually in the
Fear of the Lord!
Moreover, each should have such forbearance towards the other, that they never grow
angry, or fall into discussion and argument. The bee will not dwell in a spot where there
is much loud noise or shouting, or echo; neither will God's Holy Spirit dwell in a
household where altercation and tumult, arguing and quarreling, disturb the peace.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen says that in his time married people were wont to
celebrate the anniversary of their wedding, and it is a custom I should greatly approve,
provided it were not a merely secular celebration; but if husbands and wives would go on
that day to Confession and Communion, and commend their married life specially to God,
renewing their resolution to promote mutual good by increased love and faithfulness, and
thus take breath, so to say, and gather new vigor from the Lord to go on steadfastly in
The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed
The marriage bed should be undefiled, as the Apostle tells us, i.e. pure, as it was when it was first instituted in the
earthly Paradise, wherein no unruly desires or impure thought might enter. All that is
merely earthly must be treated as means to fulfill the end God sets before His creatures.
Thus we eat in order to preserve life, moderately, voluntarily, and without seeking an
undue, unworthy satisfaction therefrom. "The time is short,"
says Saint Paul; "it remaineth that both they that have
wives be as though they had not, and they that use this world, as not abusing it."
Let every one, then, use this world according to his vocation, but so as
not to entangle himself with its love, that he may be as free and ready to serve God as
though he used it not. Saint Augustine says that it is the great fault of men to want to
enjoy things which they are only meant to use, and to use those which they are only meant
to enjoy. We ought to enjoy spiritual things, and only use those which are material; but
when we turn the use of these latter into enjoyment, the reasonable soul becomes degraded
to a mere brutish level.
Counsels to Widows
Saint Paul teaches us all in the person of Saint Timothy when he
says, "Honor widows that are widows indeed."
Now to be "a widow indeed" it is
1. That the widow be one not in body only, but in heart also; that is to say, that she
be fixed in an unalterable resolution to continue in her widowhood Those widows who are
but waiting the opportunity of marrying again are only widowed in externals, while in will
they have already laid aside their loneliness. If the "widow
indeed" chooses to confirm her widowhood by offering herself by a vow to
God, she will adorn that widowhood, and make her resolution doubly sure, for the
remembrance that she cannot break her vow without danger of forfeiting Paradise, will make
her so watchful over herself, that a great barrier will be raised against all kind of
temptation that may assail her. Saint Augustine strongly recommends Christian widows to
take this vow, and the learned Origen goes yet further, for he advises married women to
take a vow of chastity in the event of losing their husbands, so that amid the joys of
married life they may yet have a share in the merits of a chaste widowhood. Vows render
the actions performed under their shelter more acceptable to God, strengthen us to perform
good works, and help us to devote to Him not merely those good works which are, so to say,
the fruits of a holy will, but to consecrate that will itself; the source of all we do, to
Him. By ordinary chastity we offer our body to God, retaining the power to return to
sensual pleasure; but the vow of chastity is an absolute and irrevocable gift to Him,
without any power to recall it, thereby making ourselves the happy slaves of Him Whose
service is to be preferred to royal power. And as I greatly approve the counsels of the
two venerable Fathers I have named, I would have such persons as are so favored as to wish
to embrace them, do so prudently, and in a holy, steadfast spirit, after careful
examination of their own courage, having asked heavenly guidance, and taken the advice of
some discreet and pious director, and then all will be profitably done.
2. Further, all such renunciation of second marriage must be done with a
single heart, in order to fix the affections more entirely on God, and to seek a more
complete union with Him. For if the widow retains her widowhood merely to enrich her
children, or for any other worldly motive, she may receive the praise of men, but not that
of God, inasmuch as nothing is worthy of His Approbation save that which is done for His
Sake. Moreover, she who would be a widow indeed must be voluntarily cut off from all
worldly delights. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead
while she liveth," Saint Paul says. A
widow who seeks to be admired and followed and flattered, who frequents balls and parties,
who takes pleasure in dressing, perfuming and adorning herself, may be a widow in the
body, but she is dead as to the soul. What does it matter, I pray you, whether the flag of
Adonis and his profane love be made of white feathers or a net of crape? Nay, sometimes
there is a conscious vanity in that black is the most becoming dress; and she who thereby
endeavors to captivate men, and who lives in empty pleasure, is "dead while she liveth," and is a mere mockery of
"The time of retrenchment is come, the voice of the
turtle is heard in our land." Retrenchment
of worldly superfluity is required of whosoever would lead a devout life, but above all,
it is needful for the widow indeed, who mourns the loss of her husband like a true
turtle-dove. When Naomi returned from Moab to Bethlehem, those that had known her in her
earlier and brighter days were moved, and said, "Is this
Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi (which means beautiful and agreeable),
call me Mara, for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the
Lord hath brought me home again empty." Even
so the devout widow will not desire to be called or counted beautiful or agreeable, asking
no more than to be that which God wills,--lowly and abject in His Eyes.
The lamp which is fed with aromatic oil sends forth a yet sweeter odor when it is
extinguished; and so those women whose married love was true and pure, give out a stronger
perfume of virtue and chastity when their light (that is, their husband) is extinguished
by death. Love for a husband while living is a common matter enough among women, but to
love him so deeply as to refuse to take another after his death, is a kind of love
peculiar to her who is a widow indeed. Hope in God, while resting on a husband, is not so
rare, but to hope in Him, when left alone and desolate, is a very gracious and worthy
thing. And thus it is that widowhood becomes a test of the perfection of the virtues
displayed by a woman in her married life.
The widow who has children requiring her care and guidance, above all in what pertains
to their souls and the shaping of their lives, cannot and ought not on any wise to forsake
them. Saint Paul teaches this emphatically, and says that those who "provide not for their own, and specially for those of their own house,
are worse than an infidel;" but if her
children do not need her care, then the widow should gather together all her affections
and thoughts, in order to devote them more wholly to making progress in the love of God.
If there is no call obliging her in conscience to attend to external secular matters
(legal or other), I should advise her to leave them all alone, and to manage her affairs
as quietly and peacefully as may be, even if such a course does not seem the most
profitable. The fruit of disputes and lawsuits must be very great indeed before it can be
compared in worth to the blessing of holy peace; not to say that those legal entanglements
and the like are essentially distracting, and often open the way for enemies who sully the
purity of a heart which should be solely devoted to God.
Prayer should be the widow's chief occupation; she has no love left save for God,--she
should scarce have ought to say to any save God; and as iron, which is restrained from
yielding to the attraction of the magnet when a diamond is near, darts instantly towards
it so soon as the diamond is removed, so the widow's heart, which could not rise up wholly
to God, or simply follow the leadings of His Heavenly Love during her husband's life,
finds itself set free, when he is dead, to give itself entirely to Him, and cries out,
with the Bride in the Canticles, "Draw me, I will run after
Thee." I will be wholly Thine, and seek nothing save the "savor of Thy good ointments."
A devout widow should chiefly seek to cultivate the graces of perfect modesty,
renouncing all honors, rank, title, society, and the like vanities; she should be diligent
in ministering to the poor and sick, comforting the afflicted, leading the young to a life
of devotion, studying herself to be a perfect model of virtue to younger women. Necessity
and simplicity should be the adornment of her garb, humility and charity of her actions,
simplicity and kindliness of her words, modesty and purity of her eyes,--Jesus Christ
Crucified the only Love of her heart.
Briefly, the true widow abides in the Church as a little March violet,
shedding forth an exquisite sweetness through the perfume of her devotion,
ever concealing herself beneath the ample leaves of her heart's lowliness, while her
subdued coloring indicates her mortification. She dwells in waste, uncultivated places,
because she shrinks from the world's intercourse, and seeks to shelter her heart from the
glare with which earthly longings, whether of honors, wealth, or love itself, might dazzle
her. "Blessed is she if she so abide,"
says the holy Apostle.
Much more could I say on this subject, but suffice it to bid her who seeks to be a
widow indeed, read Saint Jerome's striking Letters to Salvia, and the other noble ladies
who rejoiced in being the spiritual children of such a Father. Nothing can be said more,
unless it be to warn the widow indeed not to condemn or even censure those who do resume
the married life, for there are cases in which God orders it thus to His Own greater
Glory. We must ever bear in mind the ancient teaching, that in Heaven virgins, wives, and
widows will know no difference, save that which their true hearts' humility assigns them.
One Word to Maidens
O ye virgins, I have but a word
to say to you. If you look to married life in this life, guard your first love jealously
for your husband. It seems to me a miserable fraud to give a husband a worn-out heart,
whose love has been frittered away and despoiled of its first bloom instead of a true,
whole-hearted love. But if you are happily called to be the chaste and holy bride of
spiritual nuptials, and purpose to live a life of virginity, then in Christ's Name I bid
you keep all your purest, most sensitive love for your Heavenly Bridegroom, Who, being
Very Purity Himself, has a special love for purity; Him to Whom the first-fruits of all
good things are due, above all those of love.
Saint Jerome's Epistles will supply you with the needful counsels; and
inasmuch as your state of life requires obedience, seek out a guide under whose direction
you may wholly dedicate yourself, body and soul, to His Divine Majesty.
CONTAINING NEEDFUL COUNSELS CONCERNING SOME
We must not trifle with the Words of Worldly
Directly that your worldly
friends perceive that you aim at leading a devout life, they will let loose endless shafts
of mockery and misrepresentation upon you; the more malicious will attribute your change
to hypocrisy, designing, or bigotry; they will affirm that the world having looked coldly
upon you, failing its favor you turn to God; while your friends will make a series of
what, from their point of view, are prudent and charitable remonstrances. They will tell
you that you are growing morbid; that you will lose your worldly credit, and will make
yourself unacceptable to the world; they will prognosticate your premature old age, the
ruin of your material prosperity; they will tell you that in the world you must live as
the world does; that you can be saved without all this fuss; and much more of the like
My daughter, all this is vain and foolish talk: these people have no real regard either
for your bodily health or your material prosperity. "If ye
were of the world," the Savior has said, "the
world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out
of the world, therefore the world hateth you."
We have all seen men, and women too, pass the whole night, even several in succession,
playing at chess or cards; and what can be a more dismal, unwholesome thing than that? But
the world has not a word to say against it, and their friends are nowise troubled. But
give up an hour to meditation, or get up rather earlier than usual to prepare for Holy
Communion, and they will send for the doctor to cure you of hypochondria or jaundice!
People spend every night for a month dancing, and no one will complain of being the worse;
but if they keep the one watch of Christmas Eve, we shall hear of endless colds and
maladies the next day! Is it not as plain as possible that the world is an unjust judge;
indulgent and kindly to its own children, harsh and uncharitable to the children of God?
We cannot stand well with the world save by renouncing His
approval. It is not possible to satisfy the world's unreasonable demands: "John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye
say he hath a devil. The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold a
gluttonous man, and a winebibber, the friend of publicans and sinners."
Even so, my child, if we give in to the world, and laugh, dance, and play as it does, it
will affect to be scandalized; if we refuse to do so, it will accuse us of being
hypocritical or morbid. If we adorn ourselves after its fashion, it will put some evil
construction on what we do; if we go in plain attire, it will accuse us of meanness; our
cheerfulness will be called dissipation; our mortification dullness; and ever casting its
evil eye upon us, nothing we can do will please it. It exaggerates our failings, and
publishes them abroad as sins; it represents our venial sins as mortal, and our sins of
infirmity as malicious. Saint Paul says that charity is kind, but the world is unkind;
charity thinks no evil, but the world thinks evil of every one, and if it cannot find
fault with our actions, it is sure at least to impute bad motives to them,--whether the
sheep be black or white, horned or no, the wolf will devour them if he can.
Do what we will, the world must wage war upon us. If we spend any length of time in
confession, it will speculate on what we have so much to say about! if we are brief, it
will suggest that we are keeping back something! It spies out our every act, and at the
most trifling angry word, sets us down as intolerable. Attention to business is avarice,
meekness mere silliness; whereas the wrath of worldly people is to be reckoned as
generosity, their avarice, economy, their mean deeds, honorable. There are always spiders
at hand to spoil the honey-bee's comb.
Let us leave the blind world to make as much noise as it may,--like a bat molesting the
songbirds of day; let us be firm in our ways, unchangeable in our resolutions, and
perseverance will be the test of our self-surrender to God, and our deliberate choice of
the devout life.
The planets and a wandering comet shine with much the same brightness, but
the comet's is a passing blaze, which does not linger long, while the planets cease not to
display their brightness. Even so hypocrisy and real goodness have much outward
resemblance; but one is easily known from the other, inasmuch as hypocrisy is short-lived,
and disperses like a mist, while real goodness is firm and abiding. There is no surer
groundwork for the beginnings of a devout life than the endurance of misrepresentation and
calumny, since thereby we escape the danger of vainglory and pride, which are like the
midwives of Egypt, who were bidden by Pharaoh to kill the male children born to Israel
directly after their birth. We are crucified to the world, and the world must be as
crucified to us. It esteems us as fools, let us esteem it as mad.
The need of a Good Courage
However much we may admire and
crave for light, it is apt to dazzle our eyes when they have been long accustomed to
darkness; and on first visiting a foreign country, we are sure to feel strange among its
inhabitants, however kindly or courteous they may be. Even so, my child, your changed life
may be attended with some inward discomfort, and you may feel some reaction of
discouragement and weariness after you have taken a final farewell of the world and its
follies. Should it be so, I pray you take it patiently, for it will not last,--it is
merely the disturbance caused by novelty; and when it is gone by, you will abound in
consolations. At first you may suffer somewhat under the loss what you enjoyed among your
vain, frivolous companions; but would you forfeit the eternal gifts of God for such things
as these? The empty amusements which have engrossed you hitherto may rise up attractively
before your imagination, and strive to win you back to rest in them; but are you bold
enough to give up a blessed eternity for such deceitful snares? Believe me, if you will
but persevere you will not fail to enjoy a sweetness so real and satisfying, that you will
be constrained to confess that the world has only gall to give as compared with this
honey, and that one single day of devotion is worth more than a thousand years of worldly
But you see before you the mountain of Christian perfection, which is very
high, and you exclaim in fearfulness that you can never ascend it. Be of good cheer, my
child. When the young bees first begin to live they are mere grubs, unable to hover over
flowers, or to fly to the mountains, or even to the little hills where they might gather
honey; but they are fed for a time with the honey laid up by their predecessors, and by
degrees the grubs put forth their wings and grow strong, until they fly abroad and gather
their harvest from all the country round. Now we are yet but as grubs in devotion, unable
to fly at will, and attain the desired aim of Christian perfection; but if we begin to
take shape through our desires and resolutions, our wings will gradually grow, and we may
hope one day to become spiritual bees, able to fly. Meanwhile let us feed upon the honey
left us in the teaching of so many holy men of old, praying God that He would grant us
doves' wings, so that we may not only fly during this life, but find an abiding
resting-place in Eternity.
Of Temptations, and the difference between
experiencing them and consenting to them
Picture to yourself a young
princess beloved of her husband, to whom some evil wretch should send a messenger to tempt
her to infidelity. First, the messenger would bring forth his propositions. Secondly, the
princess would either accept or reject the overtures. Thirdly, she would consent to them
or refuse them. Even so, when Satan, the
world, and the flesh look upon a soul espoused to the Son of God, they set temptations and
suggestions before that soul, whereby:
Sin is proposed to it.
Which proposals are either pleasing or displeasing
to the soul.
The soul either consents, or rejects them.
In other words, the three downward steps of temptation, delectation, and
consent. And although the three steps may not always be so clearly defined as in this
illustration, they are to be plainly traced in all great and serious sins.
If we should undergo the temptation to every sin whatsoever during our whole life, that
would not damage us in the Sight of God's Majesty, provided we took no pleasure in it, and
did not consent to it; and that because in temptation we do not act, we only suffer, and
inasmuch as we take no delight in it, we can be liable to no blame. Saint Paul bore long
time with temptations of the flesh, but so far from displeasing God thereby, He was
glorified in them. The blessed Angela di Foligni underwent terrible carnal temptations,
which move us to pity as we read of them. Saint Francis and Saint Benedict both
experienced grievous temptations, so that the one cast himself amid thorns, the other into
the snow, to quench them, but so far from losing anything of God's Grace thereby, they
greatly increased it.
Be then very courageous amid temptation, and never imagine yourself conquered so long
as it is displeasing to you, ever bearing in mind the difference between experiencing and
consenting to temptation, --that difference being, that
whereas they may be experienced while most displeasing to us, we can never consent to them
without taking pleasure in them, inasmuch as pleasure felt in a temptation is usually the
first step towards consent. So let the enemies of our salvation spread as many snares and
wiles in our way as they will, let them besiege the door of our heart perpetually, let
them ply us with endless proposals to sin,--so long as we abide in our firm resolution to
take no pleasure therein, we cannot offend God any more than the husband of the princess
in my illustration could be displeased with her because of the overtures made to her, so
long as she was in no way gratified by them. Of course, there is one great difference
between my imaginary princess and the soul, namely, that the former has it in her power to
drive away the messenger of evil and never hear him more, while the latter cannot always
refuse to experience temptation, although it be always in its power to refuse consent. But
how long soever the temptation may persist, it cannot harm us so long as it is unwelcome
But again, as to the pleasure which may be taken in temptation
(technically called delectation), inasmuch as our souls have two parts, one inferior, the
other superior, and the inferior does not always choose to be led by the superior, but
takes its own line,--it not infrequently happens that the inferior part takes pleasure in
a temptation not only without consent from, but absolutely in contradiction to the
superior will. It is this contest which Saint Paul describes when he speaks of the "law in my members, warring against the law of my mind," and of the "flesh lusting
against the spirit."
Have you ever watched a great burning furnace heaped up with ashes? Look at it some ten
or twelve hours afterwards, and there will scarce be any living fire there, or only a
little smoldering in the very heart thereof. Nevertheless, if you can find that tiny
lingering spark, it will suffice to rekindle the extinguished flames. So it is with love,
which is the true spiritual life amid our greatest, most active temptations. Temptation,
flinging its delectation into the inferior part of the soul, covers it wholly with ashes,
and leaves but a little spark of God's Love, which can be found nowhere save hidden far
down in the heart or mind, and even that is hard to find. But nevertheless it is there,
since however troubled we may have been in body and mind, we firmly resolved not to
consent to sin or the temptation thereto, and that delectation of the exterior man was
rejected by the interior spirit. Thus though our will may have been thoroughly beset by
the temptation, it was not conquered, and so we are certain that all such delectation was
involuntary, and consequently not sinful.
Two striking Illustrations of the same
This distinction, which is very important, is well illustrated by the
description Saint Jerome gives of a young man bound to a voluptuous bed by the softest
silken cords, and subjected to the wiles and lures of a treacherous tempter, with the
express object of causing him to fall. Greatly as all his senses and imagination must
inevitably have been possessed by so vehement an assault, he proved that his heart was
free and his will unconquered, for, having physical control over no member save his
tongue, he bit that off and spat it out at his foe, a foe more terrible than the tyrant's
Saint Catherine of Sienna has left a somewhat similar record. The Evil One having obtained permission from God to
assault that pious virgin with all his strength, so long as he laid no hand upon her,
filled her heart with impure suggestions, and surrounded her with every conceivable
temptation of sight and sound, which, penetrating into the Saint's heart, so filled it,
that, as she herself has said, nothing remained free save her most acute superior will.
This struggle endured long, until at length Our Lord appeared to her, and she exclaimed,
"Where wert Thou, O most Dear Lord, when my heart was so
overwhelmed with darkness and foulness?" Whereupon He answered, "I was within
thy heart, My child." "How could that be,
Lord," she asked, "when it was so full of
evil? Canst Thou abide in a place so foul?" Then our Lord replied, "Tell Me, did these evil thoughts and imaginations give thee pain or
pleasure? didst thou take delight, or didst thou grieve over them?" To
which Saint Catherine made answer, "They grieved me
exceedingly." Then the Lord said, "Who,
thinkest thou, was it that caused thee to be thus grieved, save I Myself, hidden within
thy soul? Believe Me, My child, had I not been there, these evil thoughts which swarmed
around thy soul, and which thou couldst not banish, would speedily have overpowered it,
and entering in, thy free will would have accepted them, and so death had struck that
soul; but inasmuch as I was there, I filled thy heart with reluctance and resistance, so
that it set itself steadfastly against the temptation, and finding itself unable to
contend as vigorously as it desired, it did but experience a yet more vehement abhorrence
of sin and of itself. Thus these very troubles became a great merit again to thee, and a
great accession of virtue and strength to thy soul."
Here, you see, were the embers covered over with ashes, while temptation
and delectation had entered the heart and surrounded the will, which, aided only by the
Savior, resisted all evil inspirations with great disgust, and a persevering refusal to
consent to sin. Verily the soul which loves God is sometimes in sore straits to know
whether He abideth in it or no, and whether that Divine Love for which it fights is
extinguished or burns yet. But it is the very essence of the perfection of that Heavenly
Love to require its lovers to endure and fight for Love's sake, without knowing even
whether they possess the very Love for which and in which they strive.
Encouragement for the Tempted Soul
God never permits such grievous
temptations and assaults to try any, save those souls whom He designs to lead on to His
own living, highest love, but nevertheless it does not follow as a natural consequence
that they are certain to attain thereto. Indeed, it has often happened that those who had
been steadfast under violent assaults, failing to correspond faithfully to Divine Grace,
have yielded under the pressure of very trifling temptations. I would warn you of this, my
child, so that, should you ever be tried by great temptations, you may know that God is
showing special favor to you, thereby proving that He means to exalt you in His Sight; but
that at the same time you may ever be humble and full of holy fear, not overconfident in
your power to resist lesser temptations because you have overcome those that were greater,
unless by means of a most steadfast faithfulness to God.
Come what may in the shape of temptation, attended by whatsoever of
delectation,--so long as your will refuses consent, not merely to the temptation itself,
but also to the delectation, you need have no fear,--God is not offended. When any one has
swooned away, and gives no sign of life, we put our hand to his heart, and if we find the
slightest fluttering there, we conclude that he still lives, and that, with the help of
stimulants and counter-irritants, we may restore consciousness and power. Even so,
sometimes amid the violence of temptation the soul seems altogether to faint away, and to
lose all spiritual life and action. But if you would be sure how it really is, put your
hand on the heart. See whether heart and will yet have any spiritual motion; that is to
say, whether they fulfill their own special duty in refusing consent to and acceptance of
temptation and its gratification; for so long as the power to refuse exists within the
soul, we may be sure that Love, the life of the soul, is there, and that Jesus Christ, our
Lord and Savior, is within, although, it may be, hidden; and that by means of steadfast
perseverance in prayer, and the Sacraments, and confidence in God, strength will be
restored, and the soul will live with a full and joyous life.
When Temptation and Delectation are Sin
That princess, whom we have
already taken as an illustration, was not to blame in the unlawful pursuit we supposed to
be made of her, because it was against her will; but if, on the contrary, she had in any
way led to it, or sought to attract him who sought her, she were certainly guilty of the
pursuit itself; and even if she withheld her consent, she would still deserve censure and
punishment. Thus it sometimes happens that temptation in itself is sin to us, because we
have ourselves brought it upon us. For instance, if I know that gaming leads me to passion
and blasphemy, and that all play is a temptation to me, I sin each and every time that I
play, and I am responsible for all the temptations which may come upon me at the gaming
table. So again, if I know that certain society involves me in temptation to evil, and yet
I voluntarily seek it, I am unquestionably responsible for all that I may encounter in the
way of temptation therein.
When it is possible to avoid the delectation arising out of temptation, it is always a
sin to accept it, in proportion to the pleasure we take, and the amount of consent given,
whether that be great or small, brief or lasting. The princess of our illustration is to
blame if she merely listens to the guilty propositions made to her but still more so if,
after listening, she takes pleasure in them, and allows her heart to feed and rest
thereupon; for although she has no intention of really doing that which is proposed, her
heart gives a spiritual consent when she takes pleasure in it, and it must always be wrong
to let either body or mind rest on anything unworthy,--and wrongdoing lies so entirely in
the heart's co-operation, that without this no mere bodily action can be sin.
Therefore, when you are tempted to any sin, examine whether you
voluntarily exposed yourself to the temptation, and if you find that you have done so by
putting yourself into its way, or by not foreseeing the temptation, as you ought to have
done, then it is sin; but if you have done nothing to bring about the temptation, it is
not in anywise to be imputed to you as sin.
When the delectation which attends temptation might have been avoided, but
has not been avoided, there is always a certain amount of sin according to the degree to
which we have lingered over it, and the kind of pleasure we have taken in it. If a woman
who has not willfully attracted unlawful admiration, nevertheless takes pleasure in such
admiration, she is doing wrong, always supposing that what pleases her is the admiration.
But if the person who courts her plays exquisitely on the lute, and she took pleasure, not
in the personal attentions paid to herself, but in the sweetness and harmony of the music,
there would be no sin in that, although it would be wrong to give way to any extent to her
pleasure, for fear of its leading on to pleasure in the pursuit of herself. So again, if
some clever stratagem whereby to avenge me of an enemy is suggested, and I take no
satisfaction and give no consent to the vengeance, but am only pleased at the cleverness
of the invention, I am not sinning; although it were very inexpedient to dwell long upon
it, lest little by little I should go on to take pleasure in the thought of revenge.
Sometimes we are taken by surprise by some sense of delectation following so closely
upon the temptation, that we are off our guard. This can be but a very slight venial sin,
which would become greater if, after once we perceive the danger, we allow ourselves to
dally with it, or question as to admitting or rejecting it,--greater still if we
carelessly neglect to resist it;--and if we deliberately allow ourselves to rest in any
such pleasure, it becomes very great sin, especially if the thing attracting us be
unquestionably evil. Thus it is a great sin in a woman to allow herself to dwell upon any
unlawful affections, although she may have no intention of ever really yielding to them.
Remedies for Great Occasions
So soon as you feel yourself
anywise tempted, do as our little children when they see a wolf or a bear in the
mountains. Forthwith they run to the protection of their father or mother, or at least cry
out for help. Do you fly in like manner to God, claiming His compassion and succor,--it is
the remedy taught us by our Lord Himself: "Pray that ye
enter not into temptation"
If, nevertheless, the temptation persists or increases, hasten in spirit to embrace the
Holy Cross, as though you beheld Jesus Christ Crucified actually Present. Make firm
protests against consenting, and ask His Help thereto; and, so long as the temptation
lasts, do you persist in making acts of non-consent. But while making these acts and these
protests, do not fix your eyes on the temptation,--look solely on Our Lord, for if you
dwell on the temptation, especially when it is strong, your courage may be shaken. Divert
your mind with any right and healthy occupation, for if that takes possession and fills
your thoughts, it will drive away temptation and evil imaginations.
One great remedy against all manner of temptation, great or small, is to open the heart
and lay bare its suggestions, likings, and dislikings, to your director; for, as you may
observe, the first condition which the Evil One
makes with a soul, when he wants to seduce
it, is silence. Even as a bad man, seeking to seduce a woman, enjoins silence concerning
himself to her father or husband, whereas God would always have us make known all His
inspirations to our superiors and guides.
If, after all, the temptation still troubles and persecutes us, there is nothing to be
done on our side save to persist in protesting that we will not consent; for just as no
maiden can be married while she persists in saying "No",
so no soul, however oppressed, can be guilty while it says the same.
Do not argue with your enemy, and give
but one answer,--that with which Our Lord confounded him, "Get
thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only
shalt thou serve." Just as the pure wife would make no reply, and cast no
glance on the foul seducer who strove to lead her astray, but would straightway fly from
him to her husband's side, not arguing, but cleaving to her lawful lord in renewed
fidelity;--so the devout soul when assailed by temptation should never trifle with it by
answer or argument, but simply fly to the Side of Jesus Christ, its Bridegroom; renewing
its pledges of unchanging devotion and faithfulness to Him.
How to resist Minor Temptations
While it is right to resist great
temptations with invincible courage, and all such victories will be most valuable, still
there is perhaps more absolute profit to our souls in resisting little ones. For although
the greater temptations exceed in power, there are so infinitely more in number of little
temptations, that a victory over them is fully as important as over the greater but rarer
ones. No one will question but that wolves and bears are more dangerous than flies, but
they do not worry and annoy us, or try our patience as these do. While is not a hard thing
to abstain from murder, but it is very difficult to avoid all passing fits of anger, which
assail us at every moment. A man or woman can easily keep from adultery, but it is less
easy to abstain from all words and glances which are disloyal. While is easy to keep from
stealing another man's goods, but often difficult to resist coveting them; easy to avoid
bearing false witness in direct judgment, difficult to be perfectly truthful in
conversation; easy to refrain from getting drunk, difficult to be absolutely sober; easy
not to wish for a neighbor's death, difficult not to wish anything contrary to his
interests; easy to keep from slander, difficult to avoid all contempt.
In short, all these minor temptations to anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy,
levity, vanity, duplicity, affectation, foolish thoughts, and the like, are a perpetual
trial even to those who are most devout and most resolute; and therefore, my daughter, we
ought carefully and diligently to prepare for this warfare. Be assured that every victory
won over these little foes is as a precious stone in the crown of glory which God prepares
for us in Paradise. So, while awaiting and making ready for a stedfast and brave
resistance to great temptations should they come, let us not fail diligently to fight
against these meaner, weaker foes.
How remedy Minor Temptations
Now as to all these trifling
temptations of vanity, suspicion, vexation, jealousy, envy, and the like, which flit
around one like flies or gnats, now settling on one's nose,--anon stinging one's
cheek,--as it is wholly impossible altogether to free one's-self from their importunity;
the best resistance one can make is not to be fretted by them. All these things may worry
one, but they cannot really harm us, so long as our wills are firmly resolved to serve
Therefore despise all these trivial onslaughts, and do not even deign to
think about them; but let them buzz about your ears as much as they please, and flit
hither and thither just as you tolerate flies;--even if they sting you, and strive to
light within your heart, do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or
arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and
specially making acts of the Love of God. If you will take my advice, you will not toil on
obstinately in resisting them by exercising the contrary virtue, for that would become a
sort of struggle with the foe;--but, after
making an act of this directly contrary virtue (always supposing you have time to
recognize what the definite temptation is), simply turn with your whole heart towards
Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet. This is the best way to conquer
the Enemy, whether in small or great
temptations; for inasmuch as the Love of God contains the perfection of every virtue, and
that more excellently than the very virtues themselves; it is also the most sovereign
remedy against all vice, and if you accustom your mind under all manner of temptation to
have recourse to this safety-place, you will not be constrained to enter upon a worryingly
minute investigation of your temptations, but, so soon as you are anywise troubled, your
mind will turn naturally to its one sovereign remedy. Moreover, this way of dealing with
temptation is so offensive to the Evil One,
that, finding he does but provoke souls to
an increased love of God by his assaults, he discontinues them.
In short, you may be sure that if you dally with your minor, oft-recurring
temptations, and examine too closely into them in detail, you will simply stupefy yourself
to no purpose.
How to strengthen the Heart against
Examine from time to time what
are the dominant passions of your soul, and having ascertained this, mold your life, so
that in thought, word and deed you may as far as possible counteract them. For instance,
if you know that you are disposed to be vain, reflect often upon the emptiness of this
earthly life, call to mind how burdensome all mere earthly vanities will be to the
conscience at the hour of death, how unworthy of a generous heart, how puerile and
childish, and the like. See that your words have no tendency to foster your vanity, and
even though you may seem to be doing so but reluctantly, strive to despise it heartily,
and to rank yourself in every way among its enemies. Indeed, by dint of steady opposition
to anything, we teach ourselves to hate even that which we began by liking. Do as many
lowly, humble deeds as lie in your power, even if you perform them unwillingly at first;
for by this means you will form a habit of humility, and you will weaken your vanity, so
that when temptation arises, you will be less predisposed to yield, and stronger to
Or if you are given to avarice, think often of the folly of this sin,
which makes us the slave of what was made only to serve us; remember how when we die we
must leave all we possess to those who come after us, who may squander it, ruin their own
souls by misusing it, and so forth. Speak against covetousness, commend the abhorrence in
which it is held by the world; and constrain yourself to abundant almsgiving, as also to
not always using opportunities of accumulation. If you have a tendency to trifle with the
affections, often call to mind what a dangerous amusement it is for yourself and others;
how unworthy a thing it is to use the noblest feelings of the heart as a mere pastime; and
how readily such trifling becomes mere levity. Let your conversation turn on purity and
simplicity of heart, and strive to frame your actions accordingly, avoiding all that
savors of affectation or flirting.
In a word, let your time of peace,--that is to say, the time when you are
not beset by temptations to sin,--be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your
natural difficulties, and if opportunities for their exercise do not arise, go out of your
way to seek them, and by so doing you will strengthen your heart against future
Anxiety of Mind
Anxiety of mind is not so much an
abstract temptation, as the source whence various temptations arise. Sadness, when
defined, is the mental grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments;--whether the
evil be exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance,
dryness, depression or temptation. Directly that the soul is conscious of some such
trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in. Then we at once begin to try to get rid
of it, and find means to shake it off; and so far rightly enough, for it is natural to us
all to desire good, and shun that which we hold to be evil.
If any one strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of God, he will strive
patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for deliverance rather to God's Goodness and
Providence than to his own industry or efforts; but if self-love is the prevailing object
he will grow hot and eager in seeking relief, as though all depended more upon himself
than upon God. I do not say that the person thinks so, but he acts eagerly as though he
did think it. Then if he does not find what he wants at once, he becomes exceedingly
impatient and troubled, which does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse,
and so he gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins to fancy
that there is no cure for his trouble. Thus you see how a disturbance, which was right at
the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety goes on into an excessive distress, which is
This unresting anxiety is the greatest evil which can happen to the soul,
sin only excepted. Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin a commonwealth, and make
it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious,
it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the
temptations of the Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an
old proverb) in troubled waters.
Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to
obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing tends so greatly to enhance the one or
retard the other as over-eagerness and anxiety. Birds that are captured in nets and snares
become inextricably entangled therein, because they flutter and struggle so much.
Therefore, whensoever you urgently desire to be delivered from any evil, or to attain some
good thing, strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit,--steady your judgment
and will, and then go quietly and easily after your object, taking all fitting means to
attain thereto. By easily I do not mean carelessly, but without eagerness, disquietude or
anxiety; otherwise, so far from bringing about what you wish, you will hinder it, and add
more and more to your perplexities. "My soul is always in
my hand, yet do I not forget Thy Law," David
says. Examine yourself often, at least night and morning, as to whether your soul is
"in your hand;" or whether it has been
wrested thence by any passionate or anxious emotion. See whether your soul is fully under
control, or whether it has not in anywise escaped from beneath your hand, to plunge into
some unruly love, hate, envy, lust, fear, vexation or joy. And if it has so strayed,
before all else seek it out, and quietly bring it back to the Presence of God, once more
placing all your hopes and affections under the direction of His Holy Will. Just as one
who fears to lose some precious possession holds it tight in his hand, so, like King
David, we ought to be able to say, "My soul is always in my
hand, and therefore I have not forgotten Thy Law."
Do not allow any wishes to disturb your mind under the pretext of their being trifling
and unimportant; for if they gain the day, greater and weightier matters will find your
heart more accessible to disturbance. When you are conscious that you are growing anxious,
commend yourself to God, and resolve steadfastly not to take any steps whatever to obtain
the result you desire, until your disturbed state of mind is altogether quieted;--unless
indeed it should be necessary to do something without delay, in which case you must
restrain the rush of inclination, moderating it, as far as possible, so as to act rather
from reason than impulse.
If you can lay your anxiety before your spiritual guide, or at least
before some trusty and devout friend, you may be sure that you will find great solace. The
heart finds relief in telling its troubles to another, just as the body when suffering
from persistent fever finds relief from bleeding. It is the best of remedies, and
therefore it was that Saint Louis counseled his son, "If
thou hast any uneasiness lying heavy on thy heart, tell it forthwith to thy confessor, or
to some other pious person, and the comfort he will give will enable thee to bear it
Of Sadness and Sorrow
Saint Paul says that "godly sorrow
worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh
death." So we see that sorrow may be
good or bad according to the several results it produces in us. And indeed there are more
bad than good results arising from it, for the only good ones are mercy and repentance;
whereas there are six evil results, namely, anguish, sloth, indignation, jealousy, envy
and impatience. The Wise Man says that "sorrow hath killed
many, and there is no profit therein," and
that because for the two good streams which flow from the spring of sadness, there are
these six which are downright evil.
The Enemy makes use of sadness to try
good men with his temptations:--just as he
tries to make bad men merry in their sin, so he
seeks to make the good sorrowful amid their works of piety; and while making sin
attractive so as to draw men to it, he
strives to turn them from holiness by making it disagreeable. The Evil
One delights in sadness and melancholy, because they are his own characteristics. He
will be in sadness and sorrow through all Eternity, and he
would fain have all others the same.
The "sorrow of the world" disturbs the
heart, plunges it into anxiety, stirs up unreasonable fears, disgusts it with prayer,
overwhelms and stupefies the brain, deprives the soul of wisdom, judgment, resolution and
courage, weakening all its powers; in a word, it is like a hard winter, blasting all the
earth's beauty, and numbing all animal life; for it deprives the soul of sweetness and
power in every faculty.
Should you, my daughter, ever be attacked by this evil
spirit of sadness, make use of the following remedies. "Is any among you afflicted?" says Saint James, "let him pray." Prayer
is a sovereign remedy, it lifts the mind to God, Who is our only Joy and Consolation. But
when you pray let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, all tend to
love and trust in God. "O God of Mercy, most Loving Lord,
Sweet Savior, Lord of my heart, my Joy, my Hope, my Beloved, my Bridegroom."
Vigorously resist all tendencies to melancholy, and although all you do may seem to be
done coldly, wearily and indifferently, do not give in. The Enemy
strives to make us languid in doing good by depression, but when he
sees that we do not cease our efforts to work, and that those efforts become all the more
earnest by reason of their being made in resistance to him,
he leaves off troubling us.
Make use of hymns and spiritual songs; they have often frustrated the Evil One in his
operations, as was the case when the evil spirit
which possessed Saul was driven forth by music and psalmody. It is well also to occupy
yourself in external works, and that with as much variety as may lead us to divert the
mind from the subject which oppresses it, and to cheer and kindle it, for depression
generally makes us dry and cold. Use external acts of fervor, even though they are
tasteless at the time; embrace your crucifix, clasp it to your breast, kiss the Feet and
Hands of your Dear Lord, raise hands and eyes to Heaven, and cry out to God in loving,
trustful ejaculations: "My Beloved is mine, and I am His.
A bundle of myrrh is my Well-beloved, He shall lie within my breast. Mine eyes long
sore for Thy Word, O when wilt Thou comfort me! O Jesus, be Thou my Savior, and
my soul shall live. Who shall separate me from the Love of Christ?"
Moderate bodily discipline is useful in resisting depression, because it rouses the
mind from dwelling on itself; and frequent Communion is specially valuable; the Bread of
Life strengthens the heart and gladdens the spirits.
Lay bare all the feelings, thoughts and longings which are the result of your
depression to your confessor or director, in all humility and faithfulness; seek the
society of spiritually-minded people, and frequent such as far as possible while you are
suffering. And, finally, resign yourself into God's Hands, endeavoring to bear this
harassing depression patiently, as a just punishment for past idle mirth. Above all, never
doubt but that, after He has tried you sufficiently, God will deliver you from the trial.
Of Spiritual and Sensible Consolations, and how
to receive them
The order of God's Providence maintains a perpetual vicissitude in
the material being of this world; day is continually turning to night, spring to summer,
summer to autumn, autumn to winter, winter to spring; no two days are ever exactly alike.
Some are foggy, rainy, some dry or windy; and this endless variety greatly enhances the
beauty of the universe. And even so precisely is it with man (who, as ancient writers have
said, is a miniature of the world), for he is never long in any one condition, and his
life on earth flows by like the mighty waters, heaving and tossing with an endless variety
of motion; one while raising him on high with hope, another plunging him low in fear; now
turning him to the right with rejoicing, then driving him to the left with sorrows; and no
single day, no, not even one hour, is entirely the same as any other of his life.
All this is a very weighty warning, and teaches us to aim at an abiding
and unchangeable evenness of mind amid so great an uncertainty of events; and, while all
around is changing, we must seek to remain immovable, ever looking to, reaching after and
desiring our God. Let the ship take what tack you will, let her course be eastward or
westward, northern or southern, let any wind whatsoever fill her sails, but meanwhile her
compass will never cease to point to its one unchanging lodestar.
Let all around us be overthrown, nay more, all within us; I mean let our
soul be sad or glad, in bitterness or joy, at peace or troubled, dry and parched, or soft
and fruitful, let the sun scorch, or the dew refresh it; but all the while the magnet of
our heart and mind, our superior will, which is our moral compass, must continually point
to the Love of God our Creator, our Savior, our only Sovereign Good. "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto
the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's. Who shall separate us from
the Love of Christ?" Nay, verily,
nothing can ever separate us from that Love;--neither tribulation nor distress, neither
death nor life, neither present suffering nor fear of ills to come; neither the deceits of
evil spirits nor the heights of satisfaction, nor the depths of sorrow; neither tenderness
nor desolation, shall be able to separate us from that Holy Love, whose foundation is in
Christ Jesus. Such a fixed resolution never to forsake God, or let go of His Precious
Love, serves as ballast to our souls, and will keep them steadfast amid the endless
changes and chances of this our natural life. For just as bees, when overtaken by a gust
of wind, carry little pebbles to weight themselves, in order that they may resist the
storm, and not be driven at its will,--so the soul, which has firmly grasped the
Unchanging Love of God, will abide unshaken amid the changes and vicissitudes of
consolations and afflictions,--whether spiritual or temporal, external or internal.
But let us come to some special detail, beyond this general doctrine:
I would say, then, that devotion does not consist in
conscious sweetness and tender consolations, which move one to sighs and tears, and bring
about a kind of agreeable, acceptable sense of self-satisfaction. No, my child, this is
not one and the same as devotion, for you will find many persons who do experience these
consolations, yet who, nevertheless, are evil-minded, and consequently are devoid of all
true Love of God, still more of all true devotion.
When Saul was in pursuit of David, who fled from him into the wilderness
of En-gedi, he entered into a cave alone, wherein David and his followers were hidden; and
David could easily have killed him, but he not only spared Saul's life, he would not even
frighten him; but, letting him depart quietly, hastened after the King, to affirm his
innocence, and tell him how he had been at the mercy of his injured servant. Thereupon
Saul testified to the softening of his heart by tender words, calling David his son, and
exalting his generosity; lifting up his voice, he wept, and, foretelling David's future
greatness, besought him to deal kindly with Saul's "seed
after him." What more could Saul have
done? Yet for all this he had not changed his real mind, and continued to persecute David
as bitterly as before.
Just so there are many people who, while contemplating the Goodness of
God, or the Passion of His Dear Son, feel an emotion which leads to sighs, tears, and very
lively prayers and thanksgivings, so that it might fairly be supposed that their hearts
were kindled by a true devotion;--but when put to the test, all this proves but as the
passing showers of a hot summer, which splash down in large drops, but do not penetrate
the soil, or make it to bring forth anything better than mushrooms. In like manner these
tears and emotions do not really touch an evil heart, but are altogether fruitless;
--inasmuch as in spite of them all those poor people would not renounce one farthing of
ill-gotten gain, or one unholy affection; they would not suffer the slightest worldly
inconvenience for the Sake of the Savior over Whom they wept. So that their pious emotions
may fairly be likened to spiritual fungi,--as not merely falling short of real devotion,
but often being so many snares of the Enemy,
who beguiles souls with these trivial
consolations, so as to make them stop short, and rest satisfied therewith, instead of
seeking after true solid devotion, which consists in a firm, resolute, ready, active will,
prepared to do whatsoever is acceptable to God.
A little child, who sees the surgeon bleed his mother, will cry when he
sees the lancet touch her; but let that mother for whom he weeps ask for his apple or a
sugar-plum which he has in his hand, and he will on no account part with it; and too much
of our seeming devotion is of this kind. We weep feelingly at the spear piercing the
Crucified Savior's Side, and we do well,-- but why cannot we give Him the apple we hold,
for which He asks, heartily? I mean our heart, the only love-apple which that Dear Savior
craves of us. Why cannot we resign the numberless trifling attachments, indulgences, and
self-complacency's of which He faint would deprive us, only we will not let Him do so;
because they are the sugar-plums, sweeter to our taste than His Heavenly Grace? Surely
this is but as the fondness of children;--demonstrative, but weak, capricious,
unpractical. Devotion does not consist in such exterior displays of a tenderness which may
be purely the result of a naturally impressionable, plastic character; or which may be the
seductive action of the Enemy, or an
excitable imagination stirred up by him.
these tender warm emotions are sometimes good and useful, for they kindle the spiritual
appetite, cheer the mind, and infuse a holy gladness into the devout life, which
embellishes all we do even externally. It was such a taste for holy things that made David
cry out, "O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea,
sweeter than honey unto my mouth." And
assuredly the tiniest little comfort received through devotion is worth far more than the
most abundant delights of this world.
The milk of the Heavenly Bridegroom, in other words His spiritual favors, are sweeter
to the soul than the costliest wine of the pleasures of this world, and to those who have
tasted thereof all else seems but as gall and wormwood. There is a certain herb which, if
chewed, imparts so great a sweetness that they who keep it in their mouth cannot hunger or
thirst; even so those to whom God gives His Heavenly manna of interior sweetness and
consolation, cannot either desire or even accept worldly consolations with any real zest
or satisfaction. It is as a little foretaste of eternal blessedness which God gives to
those who seek it; it is as the sugar-plum with which He attracts His little ones; as a
cordial offered to strengthen their heart; as the first-fruits of their future reward.
The legend tells us that Alexander the Great discovered Arabia Felix by means of the
perfumes carried by the winds across the ocean upon which he sailed, reviving his courage
and that of his comrades. And so the blessings and sweetnesses, which are wafted to us as
we sail across the stormy sea of this mortal life, are a foretaste of the bliss of that
Ever-blessed Heavenly Home to which we look and long.
perhaps you will say, if there are sensible consolations which are undoubtedly good and
come from God, and at the same time others which are unprofitable, perilous, even harmful,
because they proceed from mere natural causes, or even from the Enemy
himself, how am I to know one from the other, or distinguish what is most
profitable even among those which are good? It is a general rule, with respect to the
feelings and affections, that their test is in their fruits. Our hearts are as trees, of
which the affections and passions are their branches, and deeds and acts their fruits.
That is, a good heart, of which the affections are good, and those are good affections
which result in good and holy actions. If our spiritual tenderness and sweetness and
consolation make us more humble,--patient, forbearing, charitable and kindly towards our
neighbors,--more earnest in mortifying our own evil inclinations and lusts, more diligent
in our duties, more docile and submissive to those who have a claim to our obedience, more
simple in our whole manner of life,--then doubtless, my daughter, they come from God. But
if this sweetness and tenderness is sweet only to ourselves, if we are fanciful, bitter,
punctilious, impatient, obstinate, proud, presumptuous, harsh towards our neighbor, while
reckoning ourselves as half-made saints, indocile to correction or guidance, then we may
be assured our consolations are spurious and hurtful. A good tree will bring forth none
save good fruit.
If we are favored with any such sweetness, we must
humble ourselves deeply before God, and beware of being led to cry out "How good I am!" No indeed, such gifts do not make us
any better, for, as I have already said, devotion does not consist in such things; rather
let us say, "How good God is to those who hope in Him, and
to the souls that seek Him!" If a man has sugar in his mouth, he cannot
call his mouth sweet, but the sugar; and so although our spiritual sweetness is admirable,
and God Who imparts it is all good, it by no means follows that he who receives it is
good. Let us count ourselves but as little children, having need of milk, and believe that
these sugar-plums are only given us because we are still feeble and delicate, needing
bribes and wiles to lead us on to the Love of God.
But, as a general rule, we shall do well to receive all such graces and
favors humbly, making much of them, not for their own importance, but rather because it is
God's Hand which fills our hearts with them, as a mother coaxes her child with one
sugar-plum after another. If the child were wise, he would prize the loving caresses of
his mother, more than the material sugar-plum, however sweet.
So while it is a great thing to have spiritual sweetnesses, the sweetest
of all is to know that it is the loving parental Hand of God which feeds us, heart, mind
and soul, with them. And, having received them humbly, let us be diligent in using them
according to the intention of the Giver. Why do you suppose God gives us such sweetness?
To make us kinder one to another, and more loving towards Him. A mother gives her child a
sweetmeat to win a kiss; be it ours reverently to kiss the Savior Who gives us these good
things. And by kissing Him, I mean obeying Him, keeping His Commandments, doing His Will,
heeding His wishes, in a word, embracing Him tenderly, obediently, and faithfully.
So the day on which we have enjoyed some special spiritual consolation
should be marked by extra diligence and humility. And from time to time it is well to
renounce all such, realizing to ourselves that although we accept and cherish them humbly,
because they come from God, and kindle His Love in our hearts, still they are not our main
object, but God and His Holy Love;--that we seek less the consolation than the Consoler,
less His tangible sweetness than our sweet Savior, less external pleasure than Him Who is
the Delight of Heaven and earth; and with such a mind we should resolve to abide steadfast
in God's Holy Love, even if our whole life were to be utterly devoid of all sweetness; as
ready to abide on Mount Calvary as on Mount Tabor; to cry out, "It
is good for us to be here," whether with our Lord on the Cross or in
Lastly, I advise you to take counsel with your director concerning any unusual flow of
consolations or emotions, so that he may guide you in their wise usage; for it is written,
"Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for
Of Dryness and Spiritual Barrenness
So much for what is to be done in times of spiritual consolations.
But these bright days will not last for ever, and sometimes you will be so devoid of all
devout feelings, that it will seem to you that your soul is a desert land, fruitless,
sterile, wherein you can find no path leading to God, no drop of the waters of Grace to
soften the dryness which threatens to choke it entirely. Verily, at such a time the soul
is greatly to be pitied, above all, when this trouble presses heavily, for then, like
David, its meat are tears day and night, while the Enemy strives to drive it to despair,
crying out, "Where is now thy God? how thinkest thou to
find Him, or how wilt thou ever find again the joy of His Holy Grace?"
What will you do then, my child? Look well whence the trial comes, for we
are often ourselves the cause of our own dryness and barrenness. A mother refuses sugar to
her sickly child, and so God deprives us of consolations when they do but feed
self-complacency or presumption. "It is good for me that I
have been in trouble, for before I was troubled I went wrong." So if we neglect to gather up and use the treasures of God's
Love in due time, He withdraws them as a punishment of our sloth. The Israelite who
neglected to gather his store of manna in the early morning, found none after sunrise, for
it was all melted. Sometimes, too, we are like the Bride of the Canticles, slumbering on a
bed of sensual satisfaction and perishable delight, so that when the Bridegroom knocks at
the door of our heart, and calls us to our spiritual duties, we dally with Him, loath to
quit our idle and delusive pleasures, and then He "withdraws
Himself, and is gone," and "when I sought
Him, I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me no answer." Of a
truth we deserved as much for having been so disloyal as to have rejected Him for the
things of this world. If we are content with the fleshpots of Egypt we shall never receive
heavenly manna. Bees abhor all artificial scents, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit is
incompatible with the world's artificial pleasures.
Again, any duplicity or unreality in confession or spiritual intercourse with your
director tends to dryness and barrenness, for, if you lie to God's Holy Spirit, you can
scarcely wonder that He refuses you His comfort. If you do not choose to be simple and
honest as a little child, you will not win the child's sweetmeats.
Or you have satiated yourself with worldly delights; and so no wonder that spiritual
pleasures are repulsive to you. "To the overfed dove even
cherries are bitter," says an old proverb; and Our Lady in her song of
praise says, "He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He hath sent empty away." They who abound in earthly
pleasures are incapable of appreciating such as are spiritual.
If you have carefully stored up the fruits of past consolations, you will
receive more; "to him that hath yet more shall be given,"
but from him who has not kept that which he had, who has lost it through carelessness,
that which he hath shall be taken away, in other words, he will not receive the grace
destined for him. Rain refreshes living plants, but it only brings rottenness and decay to
those which are already dead. There are many such causes whereby we lose the consolations
of religion, and fall into dryness and deadness of spirit, so that it is well to examine
our conscience, and see if we can trace any of these or similar faults. But always
remember that this examination must not be made anxiously, or in an over-exacting spirit.
Thus if, after an honest investigation of our own conduct, we find the cause of our
wrongdoing, we must thank God, for an evil is half cured when we have found out its cause.
But if, on the contrary, you do not find any particular thing which has led to this
dryness, do not trifle away your time in a further uneasy search, but, without more ado,
and in all simplicity, do as follows:
yourself profoundly before God, acknowledging your nothingness and misery. Alas, what am I when left to myself! no better, Lord, than a parched
ground, whose cracks and crevices on every side testify its need of the gracious rain of
Heaven, while, nevertheless, the world's blasts wither it more and more to dust.
God, and ask for His Gladness. "O give me the comfort of
Thy help again! My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."
"Depart, O ye unfruitful wind, which parcheth up my soul,
and come, O gracious south wind, blow upon my garden." Such loving
desires will fill you with the perfume of holiness.
Go to your confessor, open your heart thoroughly,
let him see every corner of your soul, and take all his advice with the utmost simplicity
and humility, for God loves obedience, and He often makes the counsel we take, specially
that of the guides of souls, to be more useful than would seem likely; just as He caused
the waters of Jordan, commended by Elijah to Naaman, to cure his leprosy in spite of the
improbability to human reason.
But, after all, nothing is so useful, so fruitful
amid this dryness and barrenness, as not to yield to a passionate desire of being
delivered from it. I do not say that one may not desire to be set free, but only that one
ought not to desire it over-eagerly, but to leave all to the sole Mercy of God's special
Providence, in order that, so long as He pleases, He may keep us amid these thorns and
longings. Let us say to God at such seasons, "O my Father,
if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;"--but let us add heartily,
"Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done,"
and there let us abide as trustingly as we are able. When God sees us to be filled with
such pious indifference, He will comfort us with His grace and favor, as when He beheld
Abraham ready to offer up his son Isaac, and comforted him with His blessing. In every
sort of affliction, then, whether bodily or spiritual, in every manner of distraction or
loss of sensible devotion, let us say with our whole heart, and in the deepest submission,
"The Lord gave me all my blessings, the Lord taketh them
away, blessed be the Name of the Lord." If we persevere in this humility,
He will restore to us His mercies as he did to Job, who ever spake thus amid all his
my daughter, amid all our dryness let us never grow discouraged, but go steadily on,
patiently waiting the return of better things; let us never be misled to give up any
devout practices because of it, but rather if possible, let us increase our good works,
and if we cannot offer liquid preserves to our Bridegroom, let us at least offer Him dried
fruit--it is all one to Him, so long as the heart we offer be fully resolved to love Him.
In fine weather bees make more honey and breed fewer grubs, because they spend so much
time in gathering the sweet juices of the flowers that they neglect the multiplication of
their race. But in a cold, cloudy spring they have a fuller hive and less honey. And so
sometimes, my daughter, in the glowing springtide of spiritual consolations, the soul
spends so much time in storing them up, that amid such abundance it performs fewer good
works; while, on the contrary, when amid spiritual dryness and bitterness, and devoid of
all that is attractive in devotion, it multiplies its substantial good works, and abounds
in the hidden virtues of patience, humility, self-abnegation, resignation and
Some people, especially women, fall into the great mistake of imagining
that when we offer a dry, distasteful service to God, devoid of all sentiment and emotion,
it is unacceptable to His Divine Majesty; whereas, on the contrary, our actions are like
roses, which, though they may be more beautiful when fresh, have a sweeter and stronger
scent when they are dried. Good works, done with pleasurable interest, are pleasanter to
us who think of nothing save our own satisfaction, but when they are done amid dryness and
deadness they are more precious in God's Sight. Yes indeed, my daughter, for in seasons of
dryness our will forcibly carries us on in God's Service, and so it is stronger and more
vigorous than at a softer time. There is not much to boast of in serving our Prince in the
comfort of a time of peace, but to serve Him amid the toils and hardness of war, amid
trial and persecution, is a real proof of faithfulness and perseverance. The blessed
Angela di Foligni said, that the most acceptable prayer to God is what is made forcibly
and in spite of ourselves; that is to say, prayer made not to please ourselves or our own
taste, but solely to please God;--carried on, as it were, in spite of inclination, the
will triumphing over all our drynesses and repugnances. And so of all good works;--the
more contradictions, exterior or interior, against which we contend in their fulfillment,
the more precious they are in God's Sight; the less of self-pleasing in striving after any
virtue, the more Divine Love shines forth in all its purity.
A child is easily moved to fondle its mother when she gives it sweet
things, but if he kisses her in return for wormwood or camomile it is a proof of very real
affection on his part.
Let me illustrate what I have said by an anecdote of Saint Bernard.
It is common to most beginners in God's Service, being as yet
inexperienced in the fluctuations of grace and in spiritual vicissitudes, that when they
lose the glow of sensible devotion, and the first fascinating lights which led them in
their first steps towards God, they lose heart, and fall into depression and
discouragement. Those who are practiced in the matter say that it is because our human
nature cannot bear a prolonged deprivation of some kind of satisfaction, either celestial
or earthly; and so as souls, which have been raised beyond their natural level by a taste
of superior joys, readily renounce visible delights when the higher joys are taken away,
as well as those more earthly pleasures, they, not being yet trained to a patient waiting
for the true sunshine, fancy that there is no light either in heaven or earth, but that
they are plunged in perpetual darkness. They are just like newly-weaned babes, who fret
and languish for want of the breast, and are a weariness to every one, especially to
Just so it fell out with a certain Geoffroy de Peronne, a member of Saint Bernard's
community, newly dedicated to God's Service, during a journey which he and some others
were making. He became suddenly dry, deprived of all consolations, and amid his interior
darkness he began to think of the friends and relations he had parted from, and of his
worldly pursuits and interests, until the temptation grew so urgent that his outward
aspect betrayed it, and one of those most in his confidence perceiving that he was sorely
troubled, accosted him tenderly, asking him secretly, "What
means this, Geoffroy? and what makes thee, contrary to thy wont, so pensive and sad?"
Whereupon Geoffroy, sighing heavily, made answer, "Woe is
me, my brother, never again in my life shall I be glad!"
The other was moved to pity by these words, and in his fraternal love he
hastened to tell it all to their common father Saint Bernard, and he, realizing the
danger, went into the nearest church to pray for Geoffroy, who meanwhile cast himself down
in despair, and, resting his head on a stone, fell asleep. After a while both rose up, the
one full of grace won by prayer, the other from his sleep, with so peaceful and gladsome a
countenance, that his friend, marveling to see so great and unexpected a change, could not
refrain from gently reproaching him for his recent words. Thereupon Geoffroy answered,
"If just now I told thee that I should never more be glad,
so now I promise thee I will never more be sad!" Such was the result of
this devout man's temptation; but from this history I would have you observe:
That God is
wont to give some foretaste of His heavenly joys to beginners in His Service, the better
to wean them from earthly pleasures, and to encourage them in seeking His Divine Love,
even as a mother attracts her babe to suck by means of honey.
nevertheless it is the same Good God Who sometimes in His Wisdom deprives us of the milk
and honey of His consolations, in order that we may learn to eat the dry substantial bread
of a vigorous devotion, trained by means of temptations and trials.
sometimes very grievous temptations arise out of dryness and barrenness, and that at such
times these temptations must be steadfastly resisted, inasmuch as they are not of God; but
the dryness must be patiently endured, because He sends that to prove us.
must never grow discouraged amid our inward trials, nor say, like Geoffrey, "I shall never be glad;" but through the darkness we
must look for light; and in like manner, in the brightest spiritual sunshine, we must not
presume to say, "I shall never be sad."
Rather we must remember the saying of the Wise Man, "In the
day of prosperity remember the evil." It
behooves us to hope amid trials, and to fear in prosperity, and in both circumstances
always to be humble.
That it is
a sovereign remedy to open our grief to some spiritual friend able to assist us.
And, in conclusion, I would observe that here, as everywhere, our Gracious God and our
great Enemy are in conflict, for by means of
these trials God would bring us to great purity of heart, to an entire renunciation of
self-interest in all concerning His Service, and a perfect casting aside of self-seeking;
but the Evil One seeks to use our troubles
to our discouragement, so as to turn us back to sensual pleasures, and to make us a
weariness to ourselves and others, in order to injure true devotion. But if you will give
heed to the above instructions you will advance greatly towards perfection amid such
interior trials, concerning which I have yet one word to say. Sometimes revulsions and
dryness and incapacity proceed from bodily indisposition, as when excessive watching, fasting, or overwork produce weariness, lassitude, heaviness,
and the like; which, while wholly caused by the body, interfere greatly with the soul, so
intimately are they linked together. When this is the case, you must always remember to
make marked acts of virtue with your higher will, for, although your whole soul may seem
to be sunk in drowsy weariness, such mental efforts are acceptable to God. At such a time
you may say with the Bride of the Canticles, "I sleep, but
my heart waketh." And, as I have
already said, if there is less enjoyment in such efforts, there is more virtue and merit.
But the best remedy under the last-named circumstances is to reinvigorate the body by some
lawful recreation and solace.
Saint Francis enjoined his religious to use such moderation in their labors as never to
impair the fervor of their minds. And speaking of that great Saint, he was himself once
attacked by such deep depression of mind that he could not conceal it; if he sought to
associate with his religious he was unable to talk; if he kept apart he only grew worse;
abstinence and maceration of the flesh overwhelmed him, and he found no comfort in prayer.
For two years he continued in this state, as though altogether forsaken of God, but after
humbly enduring the heavy storm, his Savior restored him to a happy calm quite suddenly.
From this we should learn that God's greatest servants are liable to such
trials, so that less worthy people should not be surprised if they experience the same.
CONTAINING COUNSELS AND PRACTICES FOR RENEWING AND
CONFIRMING THE SOUL IN DEVOTION.
It is well yearly to renew Good Resolutions by
means of the following Exercises
The first point in these
exercises is to appreciate their importance. Our earthly nature easily falls away from its
higher tone by reason of the frailty and evil tendency of the flesh, oppressing and
dragging down the soul, unless it is constantly rising up by means of a vigorous
resolution, just as a bird would speedily fall to the ground if it did not maintain its
flight by repeated strokes of its wings. In order to this, my daughter, you need
frequently to reiterate the good resolutions you have made to serve God, for fear that,
failing to do so, you fall away, not only to your former condition, but lower still; since
it is a characteristic of all spiritual falls that they invariably throw us lower than we
were at the beginning. There is no clock, however good, but must be continually wound up;
and moreover, during the course of each year it will need taking to pieces, to cleanse
away the rust which clogs it, to straighten bent works, and renew such as are worn. Even
so, any one who really cares for his heart's devotion will wind it up to God night and
morning, and examine into its condition, correcting and improving it; and at least once a
year he will take the works to pieces and examine them carefully;--I mean his affections
and passions,--so as to repair whatever may be amiss. And just as the clock maker applies
a delicate oil to all the wheels and springs of a clock, so that it may work properly and
be less liable to rust, so the devout soul, after thus taking the works of his heart to
pieces, will lubricate them with the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. These
exercises will repair the waste caused by time, will kindle your heart, revive your good
resolutions, and cause the graces of your mind to flourish anew.
The early Christians observed some such practice on the Anniversary of our
Lord's Baptism, when, as Saint Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzen, tells us, they renewed the
profession and promises made in that Sacrament. It were well to do the like, my child,
making due and earnest preparation, and setting very seriously to work.
Having then chosen a suitable time, according to the advice of your
spiritual father, and having retired somewhat more than usual into a literal and spiritual
solitude, make one, two, or three meditations on the following points, according to the
method I set before you in Part II.
Meditation on the Benefit conferred on us by
God in calling us to His Service
1. Consider the points on which you are about to renew your
that you have forsaken, rejected, detested and renounced all mortal sin for ever.
that you have dedicated and consecrated your soul, heart and body, with everything
appertaining thereto, to the Service and Love of God.
that if you should unhappily fall into any sin, you would forthwith rise up again, with
the help of God's Grace.
Are not these worthy, right, noble resolutions? Consider well within your soul how
holy, reasonable and desirable an act it is to renew them.
2. Consider to Whom you make these promises; for if a deliberate promise
made to men is strictly binding, how much more those which we make to God. "My heart is inditing of a good matter. I will not forget Thee,"
David cried out.
3. Consider before Whom you promised. It was before the whole Court of Heaven. The
Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, your Guardian Angel, Saint Louis, the whole Company of the
Blessed, were looking on with joy and approbation, beholding, with love unspeakable, your
heart cast at your Savior's Feet and dedicated to His Service. That act of yours called
forth special delight in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and it will now be renewed if you on your
part heartily renew your good resolutions.
4. Consider how you were led to make those resolutions. How good and gracious God was
then to you! Did He not draw you by the tender wiles of His Holy Spirit? Were not the
sails by which your little bark was wafted into the haven of safety those of love and
charity? Did not God lure you on with His Heavenly Sweetness, by Sacraments, prayer, and
pious books? Ah, my child, while you slept God watched over you with His boundless Love,
and breathed thoughts of peace into your heart!
5. Consider when God led you to these important resolutions. It was in the flower of
your life, and how great the blessing of learning early what we can never know soon
enough. Saint Augustine, who acquired that knowledge when he was thirty years old,
exclaimed, "Oh, Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new,
too late I loved Thee! Thou wert within and I abroad: Thou wert with me, but I was not
with Thee." Even so you may say, "Oh,
Blessedness of ancient days, wherefore did I not appreciate Thee sooner!"
You were not yet worthy of it, and yet God gave you such grace in your youth;--therefore
say with David, "Thou, O God, hast taught me from my youth
up until now; therefore will I tell of Thy wondrous works." Or if you who read should not have known Him till old age,
bethink you how great His Grace in calling you after you had wasted so many years; how
gracious the Mercy which drove you from your evil courses before the hour of death, which,
had it found you unchanged, must have brought you eternal woe.
Consider the results of this call; you will surely find a change for the better,
comparing what you are with what you were. Is it not a blessing to know how to talk with
God in prayer, to desire to love Him, to have stilled and subdued sundry passions which
disturbed you, to have conquered sundry sins and perplexities, and to have received so
many more Communions than formerly, thereby being united to the Great Source of all
eternal grace? Are not all these things exceeding blessings? Weigh them, my child, in the
balances of the sanctuary, for it is God's Right Hand which has done all this: "The Right Hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence, the Right Hand of
the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works
of the Lord" with heart, lips and
After dwelling upon all these considerations, which will kindle abundance
of lively affections in you, you should conclude simply with an act of thanksgiving, and a
hearty prayer that they may bring forth fruit, leaving off with great humility and trust
in God, and reserving the final results of your resolution till after the second point of
this spiritual exercise.
Examination of the Soul as to its Progress in the
This second point is somewhat lengthy, and I would begin by saying
that there is no need for you to carry it out all at once. Divide it by taking your
conduct towards God at one time, all that concerns yourself another time, all that
concerns your neighbor, and fourthly, the examination of your passions. It is neither
necessary nor expedient that you make it upon your knees, always excepting the beginning
and the end, which includes the affections. The other points of self-examination you may
make profitably when out walking, or better still, in bed, that is, if you can keep wide
awake and free from drowsiness; but to do this you must read them over carefully
beforehand. Anyhow, it is desirable to go through this second point in three days and two
nights at the most, taking that season which you can best manage; for if you go through it
at too distant intervals you will lose the depth of impression which ought to be made by
this spiritual exercise. After each point of examination observe wherein you have failed,
and what is lacking to you, and in what you have chiefly failed, so that you may be able
to explain your troubles, get counsel and comfort, and make fresh resolutions. It is not
necessary entirely to shun all society on the days you select for this work, but you must
contrive a certain amount of retirement, especially in the evening, so as to get to bed
somewhat earlier than usual, with a view to that rest, bodily and mental, which is so
important for serious thought. And during the day make frequent aspirations to Our Lord,
Our Lady, the Angels, and all the Heavenly Jerusalem. Everything must be done with a heart
full of God's Love, and an earnest desire for spiritual perfection. To begin this
yourself in the Presence of God.
Holy Spirit, and ask light of Him, so that you may know yourself, as Saint Augustine did,
crying out, "Lord, teach me to know Thee, and to know
myself;" and Saint Francis, who asked, "Who
art Thou, Lord, and who am I?" Resolve not to note any progress with any
self-satisfaction or self-glorification, but give the glory to God Alone, and thank Him
duly for it.
Resolve, too, that if you should seem to yourself to have made but little
progress, or even to have gone back, that you will not be discouraged thereby, nor grow
cool or indolent in the matter; but that, on the contrary, you will take fresh pains to
humble yourself and conquer your faults, with God's Help.
Then go on to examine quietly and patiently how you have conducted
yourself towards God, your neighbor and yourself, up to the present time.
Examination of the Soul's Condition as
1. What is the aspect of your heart with respect to mortal sin? Are
you firmly resolved never to commit it, let come what may? And have you kept that
resolution from the time you first made it? Therein lies the foundation of the spiritual
2. What is your position with respect to the Commandments of God? Are they acceptable,
light and easy to you? He who has a good digestion and healthy appetite likes good food,
and turns away from that which is bad.
3. How do you stand as regards venial sins? No one can help committing
some such occasionally; but are there none to which you have any special tendency, or
worse still, any actual liking and clinging?
4. With respect to spiritual exercises--do you like and value them? or do
they weary and vex you? To which do you feel most or least disposed, hearing or reading
God's Word, meditating upon it, calling upon God, Confession, preparing for Communion and
communicating, controlling your inclinations, etc.? What of all these is most repugnant to
you? And if you find that your heart is not disposed to any of these things, examine into
the cause, find out whence the disinclination comes.
5. With respect to God Himself--does your heart delight in thinking of God, does it
crave after the sweetness thereof? "I remembered Thine
everlasting judgments, O Lord, and received comfort," says David. Do you feel a certain readiness to love Him, and a definite
inclination to enjoy His Love? Do you take pleasure in dwelling upon the Immensity, the
Goodness, the Tenderness of God? When you are immersed in the occupations and vanities of
this world, does the thought of God come across you as a welcome thing? do you accept it
gladly, and yield yourself up to it, and your heart turn with a sort of yearning to Him?
There are souls that do so.
6. If a wife has been long separated from her husband, so soon as she sees him
returning, and hears his voice, however cumbered she may be with business, or forcibly
hindered by the pressure of circumstances, her heart knows no restraint, but turns at once
from all else to think upon him she loves. So it is with souls which really love God,
however engrossed they may be; when the thought of Him is brought before them, they forget
all else for joy at feeling His Dear Presence nigh, and this is a very good sign.
7. With respect to Jesus Christ as God and Man--how does your heart draw to Him? Honey
bees seek their delight in their honey, but wasps hover over stinking carrion. Even so
pious souls draw all their joy from Jesus Christ, and love Him with an exceeding sweet
Love, but those who are careless find their pleasure in worldly vanities.
8. With respect to Our Lady, the Saints, and your Guardian Angel--do you love them
well? Do you rejoice in the sense of their guardianship? Do you take pleasure in their
lives, their pictures, their memories?
9. As to your tongue--how do you speak of God? Do you take pleasure in speaking His
Praise, and singing His Glory in psalms and hymns?
10. As to actions--have you God's visible glory at heart, and do you
delight in doing whatever you can to honor Him? Those who love God will love to adorn and
beautify His House. Are you conscious of having ever given up anything you liked, or of
renouncing anything for God's Sake? for it is a good sign when we deprive ourselves of
something we care for on behalf of those we love. What have you ever given up for the Love
Examination of your Condition as regards
1. How do you love yourself? Is it a love which concerns this life
chiefly? If so, you will desire to abide here for ever, and you will diligently seek your
worldly establishment,--but if the love you bear yourself has a heavenward tendency, you
will long, or, at all events you will be ready to go hence whensoever it may please our
2. Is your love of yourself well regulated? for nothing is more ruinous
than an inordinate love of self. A well-regulated love implies greater care for the soul
than for the body; more eagerness in seeking after holiness than aught else; a greater
value for heavenly glory than for any mean earthly honor. A well regulated heart much
oftener asks itself, "What will the angels say if I follow
this or that line of conduct?" than what will men say.
3. What manner of love do you bear to your own heart? Are you willing to
minister to it in its maladies? for indeed you are bound to succor it, and seek help for
it when harassed by passion, and to leave all else till that is done.
4. What do you imagine yourself worth in God's Sight? Nothing, doubtless,
nor is there any great humility in the fly which confesses it is nought, as compared with
a mountain, or a drop of water, which knows itself to be nothing compared with the sea, or
a cornflower, or a spark, as compared with the sun. But humility consists in not esteeming
ourselves above other men, and in not seeking to be esteemed above them. How is it with
you in this respect?
5. In speech--do you never boast in any way? Do you never indulge in
self-flattery when speaking of yourself?
6. In deed--do you indulge in anything prejudicial to your health,--I mean
useless idle pleasures, unprofitable night-watches, and the like?
Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards
Husband and wife are bound to
love one another with a tender, abiding, restful love, and this tie stands foremost by
God's order and Will. And I say the same with respect to children and all near relations,
as also friends in their respective degrees. But, generally speaking, how is it with you
as concerning your neighbor? Do you love him cordially, and for God's Sake? In order to
answer this fairly, you must call to mind sundry disagreeable, annoying people, for it is
in such cases that we really practice the Love of God with respect to our neighbors, and
still more towards them that do us wrong, either by word or deed. Examine whether your
heart is thoroughly clear as regards all such, and whether it costs you a great effort to
love them. Are you quick to speak ill of your neighbors, especially of such as do not love
you? Do you act unkindly in any way, directly or indirectly, towards them? A very little
honest self-dealing will enable you to find this out.
Examination as to the Affectations of the
I have dwelt thus at length on
these points, on a due examination of which all true knowledge of our spiritual progress
rests; as to an examination of sins, that rather pertains to the confessions of those who
are not eager to advance. But it is well to take ourselves to task soberly concerning
these different matters, investigating how we have been going on since we made good
resolutions concerning them, and what notable faults we have committed. But the summary of
all is to examine into our passions; and if you are worried by so detailed an
investigation as that already suggested, you may make a briefer inquiry as to what you
have been, and how you have acted, in some such manner as this:-- In your love of God,
your neighbor, and yourself.
In hatred for the sin which is in yourself, for the sin which you find in others, since
you ought to desire the extirpation of both; in your desires concerning riches, pleasure,
In fear of the perils of sin, and of the loss of this world's goods; we fear the one
too much and the other too little.
In hope, fixed overmuch it may be on things of this world and the creature; too little
on God and things eternal.
In sadness, whether it be excessive concerning unimportant matters.
In gladness, whether it be excessive concerning unworthy objects.
In short, examine what attachments hinder your spiritual life, what passions engross
it, and what chiefly attracts you.
It is by testing the passions of the soul, one by one, that we ascertain
our spiritual condition, just as one who plays the lute tries every string, touching those
which are discordant, either raising or lowering them. Thus having tried our soul as to
love, hate, desire, fear, hope, sadness and joy, if we find our strings out of tune for
the melody we wish to raise, which is God's Glory, we must tune them afresh with the help
of His Grace, and the counsel of our spiritual father.
The Affections to be excited after such
When you have quietly gone through each point of this examination,
and have ascertained your own position, you will excite certain feelings and affections in
your heart. Thank God for such amendment, however slight, as you may have found in
yourself, confessing that it is the work of His Mercy Alone in you.
Humble yourself deeply before God, confessing that if your progress has been but small,
it is your own fault, for not having corresponded faithfully, bravely and continually to
the inspirations and lights which He has given you in prayer or otherwise.
Promise to praise Him for ever for the graces He has granted to you, and
because He has led you against your will to make even this small progress.
Ask forgiveness for the disloyalty and faithlessness with which you have answered Him.
Offer your whole heart to Him that He Alone may rule therein. Entreat Him to keep you
faithful to Himself.
Ponder over the examples of the Saints, the Blessed Virgin, your guardian
Angel and patron Saint, Saint Joseph, etc.
Reflections suitable to the renewal of Good
After you have made this
self-examination, and having conferred with some holy director as to your shortcomings and
their remedies, you will do well to pursue the following considerations, taking one daily
as a meditation, and giving to it the time usually so spent; always making the same
preparation and kindling the same affections as you learnt to use before meditating in
Part I. Above all, placing yourself in the Presence of God, and earnestly asking His Grace
to confirm you and keep you steadfast in His Holy Love and Service.
First Consideration--of the Worth of Souls
Consider how noble and excellent a thing your soul is, endowed with
understanding, capable of knowing, not merely this visible world around us, but Angels and
Paradise, of knowing that there is an All-Mighty, All-Merciful, Ineffable God; of knowing
that eternity lies before you, and of knowing what is necessary in order so to live in
this visible world as to attain to fellowship with those Angels in Paradise, and the
eternal fruition of God.
Yet more;---your soul is possessed of a noble will, capable of loving God, irresistibly
drawn to that love; your heart is full of generous enthusiasm, and can no more find rest
in any earthly creation, or in aught save God, than the bee can find honey on a dunghill,
or in aught save flowers. Let your mind boldly review the wild earthly pleasures which
once filled your heart, and see whether they did not abound in uneasiness and doubts, in
painful thoughts and uncomfortable cares, amid which your troubled heart was miserable.
When the heart of man seeks the creature, it goes to work eagerly,
expecting to satisfy its cravings; but directly it obtains what it sought, it finds a
blank, and dissatisfied, begins to seek anew; for God will not suffer our hearts to find
any rest, like the dove going forth from Noah's ark, until it returns to God, whence it
came. Surely this is a most striking natural beauty in our heart;--why should we constrain
it against its will to seek creature love?
In some such ways might you address your soul: "You
are capable of realizing a longing after God, why should you trifle with anything lower?
you can live for eternity, why should you stop short in time? One of the sorrows of the
prodigal son was, that, when he might have been living in plenty at his father's table, he
had brought himself to share the swine's husks. My soul, you are made for God, woe be to
you if you stop short in anything short of Him!" Lift up your soul with
thoughts such as these, convince it that it is eternal, and worthy of eternity; fill it
with courage in this pursuit.
Second Consideration--on the Excellence of Virtue
Consider that nothing save
holiness and devotion can satisfy your soul in this world: behold how gracious they are;
draw a contrast between each virtue and its opposite vice; how gracious patience is
compared with vengeance; gentleness compared with anger; humility with pride and
arrogance; liberality with avarice; charity with envy; sobriety with unsteadiness. It is
one charm of all virtues that they fill the soul with untold sweetness after being
practiced, whereas vice leaves it harassed and ill at ease. Who would not speedily set to
work and obtain such sweetness?
In the matter of evil, he who has a little is not contented, and he who has much is
discontented; but he who has a little virtue is gladsome, and his gladness is for ever
greater as he goes on. O devout life! you are indeed lovely, sweet and pleasant; you can
soften sorrows and sweeten consolations; without you good becomes evil, pleasure is marred
by anxiety and distress; verily whoso knows what you are may well say with the woman of
Samaria, "Lord, give me this water," an aspiration often uttered by Saint Theresa and Saint
Catherine of Genoa.
The Example of the Saints
Consider the example of the
Saints on all sides, what have they not done in order to love God and lead a devout life?
Call to mind the Martyrs in their invincible firmness, and the tortures they endured in
order to maintain their resolutions; remember the matrons and maidens, whiter than lilies
in their purity, ruddier than the rose in their love, who at every age, from childhood
upward, bore all manner of martyrdom sooner than forsake their resolutions, not only such
as concerned their profession of faith, but that of devotion; some dying rather than lose
their virginity, others rather than cease their works of mercy to the sick and sorrowful.
Truly the frail sex has set forth no small courage in such ways. Consider all the Saintly
Confessors, how heartily they despised the world, and how they stood by their resolutions,
taken unreservedly and kept inviolably. Remember what Saint Augustine says of his mother
Monica, of her determination to serve God in her married life and in her widowhood; and
Saint Jerome and his beloved daughter Saint Paula amid so many changes and chances. What
may we not achieve with such patterns before our eyes? They were but what we are, they
wrought for the same God, seeking the same graces; why may not we do as much in our own
state of life, and according to our several vocations, on behalf of our most cherished
resolutions and holy profession of faith?
The Love which Jesus Christ bears to us
Consider the Love with which our
Dear Lord Jesus Christ bore so much in this world, especially in the Garden of Olives and
on Mount Calvary; that Love bore you in mind, and through all those pains and toils He
obtained your good resolutions for you, as also all that is needful to maintain, foster,
strengthen and consummate those resolutions. How precious must the resolutions be which
are the fruits of our Lord's Passion! and how dear to my heart, since they were dear to
that of Jesus! Savior of my soul, Thou didst die to win them for me; grant me grace sooner
to die than forget them. Be sure, my daughter, that the Heart of our most Dear Lord beheld
you from the tree of the Cross and loved you, and by that Love He won for you all good
things which you were ever to have, and amongst them your good resolutions. Of a truth we
have all reason like Jeremiah to confess that the Lord knew us, and called us by our name
or ever we were born, the more that His Divine Goodness
in its Love and Mercy made ready all things, general and individual, which could promote
our salvation, and among them our resolutions. A woman with child makes ready for the babe
she expects, prepares its cradle, its swaddling clothes and its nurse; even so our Lord,
while hanging on His Cross, prepared all that you could need for your happiness, all the
means, the graces, the leadings, by which He leads your soul onwards towards perfection.
Surely we ought ever to remember this, and ask fervently: Is it possible that I was
loved, and loved so tenderly by my Savior, that He should have thought of me individually,
and in all these details by which He has drawn me to Himself? With what love and gratitude
ought I to use all He has given me? The Loving Heart of my God thought of my soul, loved
it, and prepared endless means to promote its salvation, even as though there were no
other soul on earth of which He thought; just as the sun shines on each spot of earth as
brightly as though it shone nowhere else, but reserved all its brightness for that alone.
So Our Dear Lord thought and cared for every one of His children as though none other
existed. "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me,"
Saint Paul says, as though he meant, "for me alone, as if
there were none but me He cared for."
Let this be graven in your soul, my child, the better to cherish and
foster your good resolutions, which are so precious to the Heart of Jesus.
The Eternal Love of God for us
Consider the Eternal Love God has borne you, in that, even before our
Lord Jesus Christ became Man and suffered on the Cross for you, His Divine Majesty
designed your existence and loved you. When did He begin to love you? When He began to be
God, and that was never, for He ever was, without beginning and without end. Even so He
always loved you from eternity, and therefore He made ready all the graces and gifts with
which He has endowed you. He says by His prophet, "I have
loved thee" (and it is YOU that He means) "with
an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." And amid these drawings of His Love He led you to make these
resolutions to serve Him.
What must resolutions be which God has foreseen, pondered, dwelt upon from
all eternity? how dear and precious to us! Surely we should be ready to suffer anything
whatsoever rather than let go one particle of the same. The whole world is not worth one
soul, and the soul is worth but little without its good resolutions.
General Affections which should result from these
Considerations, and Conclusion of the Exercise
O precious resolutions! ye are as the lovely tree of life planted by
God's Own Hand in the midst of my heart, a tree which my Savior has watered with His
Blood. Rather would I die a thousand deaths than suffer any blast of wind to root you
up--neither vanity, nor pleasure, nor wealth, nor sorrows shall ever overthrow my
Lord, Thou hast planted and nurtured this tree in Thy Bosom, but how many souls there
are which have not been thus favored, how can I ever sufficiently acknowledge Thy Mercy?
Blessed and holy resolutions, if I do but keep you, you will keep me! if you live in my
soul, my soul will live in you. Live ever, then, ye resolutions, which have an eternity of
your own in God's Mercy, live ever in me, and may I never forsake you.
Next, you must particularize the necessary means for maintaining your good
resolutions, determining to use them diligently,--such as frequency in prayer, in
Sacraments, in good works; the amendment of the faults you have already discovered,
cutting off occasions of sin, and following out carefully all the advice given you with
this view. Then, take breath as it were in a renewed profession of your resolutions, and,
as though you held your heart in your hands,--dedicate, consecrate, sacrifice, immolate it
to God, vowing never to recall it, but leave it for ever in His Right Hand of Majesty,
prepared everywhere and in all things to obey His Commands. Ask God to renew your will, to
bless your renewed resolutions and to strengthen them. While your heart is thus roused and
excited, hasten to your spiritual father, accuse yourself of any faults which you have
discovered since you made your general confession, and receive absolution as you did at
the first. Make your protest and sign it in his presence, and then lose no time in uniting
your renewed heart to its Creator and Savior, in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Impressions which should remain after this
On the day you make this renewal
of your resolutions, and on those immediately following, you should often repeat with
heart and voice the earnest words of Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Catherine of
Genoa, and others like-minded, "I am not mine own, whether
I live or whether I die, I am the Lord's. There is no longer any me or mine, my 'me' is
Jesus, my 'mine' is to be His. Thou world, wilt ever be thyself, and hitherto I have been
myself, but henceforth I will be so no more." We shall indeed not be
ourselves any more, for our heart will be changed, and the world which has so often
deceived us will in its turn be deceived in us; our change will be so gradual that the
world will still suppose us to be Esau, while really we are Jacob.
All our devout exercises must sink into the heart, and when we come forth
from our meditation and retirement it behooves us to tread warily in business or society,
lest the wine of our good resolutions be heedlessly spilt; rather let it soak in and
penetrate every faculty of the soul, but quietly, and without bodily or mental excitement.
An Answer to Two Objections which may be made to
The world will tell you, my
child, that all these counsels and practices are so numerous, that anybody who tries to
heed them can pay no attention to anything else. Verily, my dear daughter, if we did
nothing else we should not be far wrong, since we should be doing all that we ought to do
in this world. But you see the fallacy? If all these exercises were to be performed every
day they would undoubtedly fill up all our time, but it is only necessary to use them
according to time and place as they are wanted. What a quantity of laws there are in our
civil codes and digests! But they are only called into use from time to time, as
circumstances arise, not every day. Besides, for that matter, David, king as he was, and
involved in a multiplicity of complicated affairs, fulfilled more religious duties than
those which I have suggested; and Saint Louis, a monarch unrivaled in time of peace or
war, who was most diligent in the administration of justice and in ruling his country,
nevertheless was wont to hear two masses daily, to say vespers and compline with his
chaplain, and to make his meditation daily. He used to visit the hospitals every Friday,
was regular at confession, took the discipline, often attended sermons and spiritual
conferences, and withal he never lost any opportunity of promoting the public welfare, and
his court was more flourishing and notable than that of any of his predecessors. Be bold
and resolute then in performing the spiritual exercises I have set before you, and God
will give you time and strength for all other duties, yea, even if He were to cause the
sun to stand still, as He did in Joshua's time. We are
sure always to do enough when God works with us.
Moreover, the world will say that I take it for granted that those I address have the
gift of mental prayer, which nevertheless every one does not possess, and that
consequently this book will not be of use to all. Doubtless it is true that I have assumed
this, and it is also true that every one has not the gift of mental prayer, but it is a
gift which almost every one can obtain, even the most ignorant, provided they are under a
good director, and will take as much pains as the thing deserves to acquire it. And if
there are any altogether devoid of this gift (which I believe will very rarely be the
case), a wise spiritual father will easily teach them how to supply the deficiency, by
reading or listening to the meditations and considerations supplied in this book or
Three Important and Final Counsels
On the first day of every month renew the resolution given in Part I.
after meditation, and make continual protestation of your intention to keep it, saying
with David, "I will never forget Thy Commandments, for with
them Thou hast quickened me." And
whenever you feel any deterioration in your spiritual condition, take out your protest,
and prostrating yourself in a humble spirit, renew it heartily, and you will assuredly
find great relief.
Make open profession of your desire to be devout; I will not say to be
devout, but to desire it; and do not be ashamed of the ordinary, needful actions which
lead us on in the Love of God. Acknowledge boldly that you try to meditate, that you would
rather die than commit a mortal sin; that you frequent the Sacraments, and follow the
advice of your director (although for various reasons it may not be necessary to mention
his name). This open confession that you intend to serve God, and that you have devoted
yourself deliberately and heartily to His Holy Love, is very acceptable to His Divine
Majesty, for He would not have any of us ashamed of Him or of His Cross. Moreover, it cuts
at the root of many a hindrance which the world tries to throw in our way, and so to say,
commits us to the pursuit of holiness. The philosophers of old used to give themselves out
as such, in order to be left unmolested in their philosophic life; and we ought to let it
be known that we aim at devotion in order that we may be suffered to live devoutly. And if
any one affirms that you can live a devout life without following all these practices and
counsels, do not deny it, but answer meekly that your infirmity is great, and needs more
help and support than many others may require.
Finally, my beloved child, I entreat you by all that is sacred in heaven and in earth,
by your own Baptism, by the breast which Jesus sucked, by the tender Heart with which He
loves you, and by the bowels of compassion in which you hope--be steadfast and persevere
in this most blessed undertaking to live a devout life. Our days pass away, death is at
hand. "The trumpet sounds a recall," says
Saint Gregory Nazianzen, "in order that every one may make
ready, for Judgment is near." When Saint Symphorian was led to his
martyrdom, his mother cried out to him, "My son, my son,
remember life eternal, look to Heaven, behold Him Who reigns there; for the brief course
of this life will soon be ended." Even so would I say to you: Look to
Heaven, and do not lose it for earth; look at Hell, and do not plunge therein for the sake
of this passing life; look at Jesus Christ, and do not deny Him for the world's sake; amid
if the devout life sometimes seems hard and dull, join in Saint Francis' song:
"So vast the joys that I await,
No earthly travail seemeth great."
Glory be to Jesus, to Whom, with the Father and the Holy
Ghost, be honor and glory, now and ever, and to all Eternity.