THE PRACTICE OF THE CHRISTIAN VIRTUES.
THE PRACTICE OF THE CHRISTIAN VIRTUES.
1. The Practice of Humility.
No one can please God without being humble, for he cannot bear the proud. He has promised to hear those who pray to him; but if a proud man prays to him, the Lord hears him not; to the humble, on the contrary, he dispenses his graces: God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.1 Humility is of two kinds; humility of affection, and humility of the will. The former consists in the conviction we have of our own wretchedness, so that we can neither know nor do anything but what is evil. All that we have and do that is good comes from God. Let us come now to the practice of humility. With regard, then, to the humility of the affections, first, we must put no confidence in our own strength, nor in our own resolutions; but we must be always diffident and fearful of ourselves: With fear and trembling work out your salvation.2 St. Philip Neri said: “He who fears not is sure to fall.” Secondly, we must not glory in things that belong to us, as in our natural abilities, in our actions, in our birth, in our relatives, and the like. It is therefore well never to speak of our actions, except to point out where we have been wrong. And it is better not to speak of ourselves at all, either for good or bad; because, even when we blame ourselves, it is often an occasion of vain-glory, by making us think that we shall be praised, or at least be considered humble, and thus humility becomes pride. Thirdly, let us not be angry with ourselves after we have committed a fault. That would not be humility, but pride; and it is even a device of the devil to take away all our confidence, and make us leave off following a good life. When we see that we have fallen, we should say with St. Catharine of Genoa: “Lord, these are the fruits of my own garden.” Then let us humble ourselves, and rise up immediately from the fault we have committed by an act of love and contrition, resolving not to fall into the same fault again, and trusting in the help of God. And if we unhappily do fall again, we must always do the same. Fourthly, when we see others fall, we are not to wonder; rather let us compassionate them; and let us thank God, praying him to keep his hand over us; otherwise the Lord will punish us by permitting us to fall into the same sins, and perhaps worse. Fifthly, we must always consider ourselves as the greatest sinners in the world; even when we know that others have sinned more than we; because our sins having been committed after we had received so many favors, and had been enlightened by so many graces, will be more displeasing to God than the faults of others, though they may be more numerous. St. Teresa writes that we must not think we have made any progress in the way of perfection if we do not esteem ourselves worse than every one else, and desire to be considered the last of all.
The humility of the will consists in being pleased when we are despised by others. Any one who has deserved hell, deserves to be trodden under foot by the devils forever. Jesus Christ desires that we should learn of him to be meek and humble of heart: Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.3 Many are humble in word, but not in heart. They say: “I am worse than all: I deserve a thousand hells.” But when any one reproves them, or says a word that displeases them, they immediately take umbrage. They are like hedgehogs, which put out their bristles as soon as they are touched. But how is it—you say you are worse than all, and yet you cannot bear a word? “He who is truly humble,” says St. Bernard, “esteems himself good for nothing, and desires to be considered good for nothing by others as well.”
In the first place, then, if you wish to be truly humble, when you receive an admonition, receive it in good part, and thank the person who admonishes you. St. Chrysostom says, “When the just man is corrected, he is sorry for the error he has committed; but the proud man is sorry that the error should be known.” The saints, when they are accused, even wrongfully, do not justify themselves, except when to defend themselves is necessary to avoid giving scandal: otherwise they are silent, and offer all to God.
In the second place. when you receive any affront, suffer it patiently, and increase in love towards the person who has ill-treated you. This is the touchstone by which you may know whether a person is humble and holy. If he resents an injury, even though he may work miracles, you may say that he is an empty reed. Father Balthazar Alvarez said that the time of humiliation is the time to gain treasures of merits. You will gain more by peaceably suffering contempt, than you could do by fasting ten days on bread and water. Humiliations which we inflict on ourselves are good; but those which we accept from the hands of others are worth much more, because in these last there is less of self and more of God; therefore, when we know how to bear them the merit is greater. But what can a Christian pretend to do if he cannot bear to be despised for the sake of God? How much contempt did not Jesus Christ suffer for us! Buffetings, derisions, scourging, and spitting in his face! Ah! if we loved Jesus Christ, not only should we not show resentment for injuries, but we should rejoice at seeing ourselves despised as Jesus Christ was despised.
2. The Practice of Mortification.
If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.4 This is all that any one who wishes to be a follower of Jesus Christ has to do. The denying of one’s self is the mortification of self-love. Do we wish to be saved? We must then conquer all to make sure of all. How miserable is the soul that allows itself to be guided by self-love! Mortification is of two kinds—internal and external: by interior mortification we have to study to conquer. our passions, and especially our most predominant one. A person who does not overcome his predominant passion is in great danger of being lost; whereas he who has overcome that will easily conquer all the others. Some, however, allow one vice to predominate in themselves, and think that they are good, because they do not see in themselves vices which others have. But what does it matter?” says St. Cyril: “one leak is sufficient to sink the ship.” Nor will it suffice to say, I cannot abstain from this vice;” a resolute will conquers all; that is, of course, with the assistance of God, who will never fail us.
External mortification has to do with conquering the sensual appetites. Worldly people call the saints cruel when they deny their bodies all satisfaction of the senses and chastise them with hair-shirts, disciplines, and other penances. “But,” says St. Bernard, “they are in reality much more cruel to themselves, who condemn themselves to burn forever in hell-fire for the sake of the short and miserable pleasures of this life.” Others say that all forbidden pleasures should be denied to the body; but they despise external mortifications, saying, that interior mortification is what is required; that is, the mortification of the will. Yes, it is principally necessary to mortify the will, but the mortification of the flesh is also necessary; because, when the flesh is not mortified, it will be hard to be obedient to God. St. John of the Cross said, that any one who taught that external mortification was not necessary, ought not to be believed, even though he worked miracles. But let us come to the practice of it.
In the first place, the eyes must be mortified. The first arrows which wound the soul, and often kill it, enter through the eyes. The eyes are, as it were, grappling-irons of hell, which drag souls, as if by main force, into sin. A certain Pagan philosopher voluntarily put out his eyes to free himself from impurity. It is not lawful for us to pluck out our eyes, but we ought to make them blind by means of mortification; otherwise we shall find it difficult to keep ourselves chaste. St. Francis de Sales said: “You must close the gates, if you do not wish the enemy to enter into the citadel.” We must then abstain from looking at any object that may give occasion to temptation. St. Aloysius Gonzaga did not dare to raise his eyes to look even at his own mother; and when by chance our eyes light on some dangerous object, let us take care not to fix them on it. “It is not so much the mere seeing,” says St. Francis de Sales, “but the inspecting and continuing to look, that is the cause of ruin.” Let us then be very careful in mortifying our eyes; because many are now in hell on account of sins committed with the eyes.
In the second place, we must mortify our tongue, by abstaining from words of detraction, or of abuse, or of obscenity. An impure word spoken in conversation, even in jest, may prove a scandal to others, and be the cause of a thousand sins arising from it. And it should be observed, that sometimes a word of double meaning, said in a witty way, does more harm than a word openly impure.
In the third place, we must mortify the taste. St. Andrew Avellini said that, in order to begin to live a good Christian life, a man must begin by the mortification of his palate. And St. Francis de Sales said: “We must eat to live, not live to eat.” Many seem to live only to eat, and thus they destroy the health both of their soul and body. For the most part costiveness, diarrhœa, and other illnesses are caused by the vice of gluttony. But the worst is, that intemperance in eating and drinking is often the cause of incontinence. Cassian writes that it is impossible that a man who is satiated with food and heating drinks—as wine, brandy, and the like—should not feel many impure temptations. “But how is this?” says such a one; “must I eat no more?” Yes, my good friend, we must eat to preserve our life, but like rational beings, not as brutes. Especially if you desire to be free from impure temptations, abstain from eating overmuch meat, and from overmuch wine. The Scripture says: Give not wine to kings.5 By a king is meant one who brings his flesh under the dominion of reason. Much wine makes us lose our reason, and involves not only the vice of drunkenness, which is certainly a mortal sin, but also that of impurity. Regret not having sometimes to fast or to abstain, especially on a Saturday, in honor of the Most Holy Mary. Many do so on bread and water; this you can at least do on the vigils of the seven principal feasts of Our Lady. I pray you to observe at least the fasts of obligation. Some go beyond fifteen or twenty ounces at collation, and say: “It is sufficient if I am not satisfied.” No, it is not enough; the most that can be taken on the evenings of fast days of obligation is eight ounces; and even that has grown up by custom; for in olden times food could be taken only once a day.
In the fourth place, we must mortify our hearing and our touch: the hearing, by avoiding listening to immodest and scandalous conversations; the touch, by using all possible caution, as well in regard to others as in regard to ourselves. Some say it is nothing, that they only do it in jest; but who, I ask, would play with fire?
3. The Practice of Charity towards our Neighbor.
He who loves God, loves his neighbor also; but he who loves not his neighbor, neither does he love God; for the divine precept says, That he who loveth God, loves also his brother.6 We must also love our neighbor in heart as well as in deed. And how much are we to love him? Here is the rule: Love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul, . . . and thy neighbor as thyself.7 We must, then, love God above all things. and more than ourselves; and our neighbor as ourselves. So that, as we desire our own good, and take delight in it when we have it, and, on the contrary, are sorry for any evil that may happen to us, so also we must desire our neighbor’s good, and rejoice when he obtains it; and, on the other hand, we must be sorry for his misfortunes. So, again, we must neither judge nor suspect evil of our neighbor, without good grounds. And this is what constitutes interior charity.
External charity consists in our words and actions towards our neighbor. As to words, first we must abstain from the least shadow of detraction. A detractor is hateful to God and man. On the contrary, he who speaks well of every one is beloved by God and men; and when the fault cannot be excused, we must at least excuse the intention. Secondly, let us be careful not to repeat to any one the evil that has been said of him by another; because sometimes long enmities and revenge arise from such things. The Scripture says, he who sows discord is hated by God. Thirdly, we must take care not to wound our neighbor, by saying anything that may hurt him; even were it only in jest. Would you like to be laughed at in the same way as you laugh at your neighbor? Fourthly, let us avoid disputes: sometimes on account of a mere trifle quarrels are begun, which end in abuse and rancor. We have also to guard against the spirit of contradiction, which some indulge when they gratuitously set themselves to contradict everything. On such occasions give your opinion, and then be quiet. Fifthly, let us speak gently to all, even to our inferiors; therefore let us not make use of imprecations or abuse. And when our neighbor is angry with us, and is somewhat abusive, let us answer meekly, and the quarrel will be at an end: A mild answer breaketh wrath.8 And when we are annoyed by our neighbor, we must be careful not to say anything; because our passion will then make us go too far: it will make us exaggerate; but afterwards we shall certainly be sorry for it. St. Francis de Sales says, “I was never angry in my life, that I did not repent of it shortly afterwards.” The rule is to be silent as long as we feel ourselves disturbed. And when our neighbor continues to be irritated, let us reserve the correction till another time, even though it should be necessary; because for the moment our words would not convince, and would do no good.
With regard also to the charity of our actions towards our neighbor: first, it is practised by aiding him as we best may. Let us remember what the Scripture says: For alms deliver from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness.9 Almsgiving, then, saves us from sin and from hell. By alms is understood any assistance which it is in our power to render to our neighbor. The kind of almsgiving which is the most meritorious is to help the soul of our neighbor, by correcting him gently and opportunely, whenever we can. And let not us say with some, “What doth it signify to me?” It does signify to one who is a Christian. He who loves God, wishes to see him loved by all.
Secondly, we must show charity towards the sick, who are in greater need of help. Let us make them some little present, if they are poor. At least let us go and wait on them and comfort them, even though they should not thank us for doing so; the Lord will reward us.
Thirdly, we must above all show charity to our enemies. Some are all kindness with their friends; but Jesus Christ says, Do good to thou that hate you.10 By this you may know that a man is a true Christian, if he seeks to do good to those who wish him evil. And if we can do nothing else for those who persecute us, let us at least pray that God will prosper them, according as Jesus commands us: Pray for them that persecute you.11 This is the way the saints revenged themselves. He who pardons any one who has offended him, is sure of being pardoned by God; since God has given us the promise: Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.12 Our Lord said one day to the Blessed Angela of Foligno, that the surest sign of a soul being loved by God, is when it loves a person who has offended it.
Fourthly, let us also be charitable to our neighbors who are dead, that is, to the holy souls in purgatory. St. Thomas says, that if we are bound to help our neighbors who are alive, we are also bound to remember them when dead. Those holy prisoners are suffering pains which exceed all the sufferings of this life; and nevertheless are in the greatest necessity, since they cannot possibly help themselves. A Cistercian monk once said to the sacristan of his monastery; “Help me, brother, by your prayers, when I can no longer help myself.” Let us then endeavor to succor these holy souls, either by having Masses said for them, or by hearing Masses for them, by giving alms, or at least by praying, and applying indulgences in their behalf; they will show themselves grateful by obtaining great graces for us, not only when they reach heaven, if they arrive there sooner through our prayers, but also in purgatory.
4. The Practice of Patience.
St. James says, that patience is the perfect work of a soul: And patience hath a perfect work.13 It is by patience that we gain heaven. This earth is a place where we can gain merit; therefore it is not a place of rest, but of labors and sufferings; and it is for this end that God makes us live here, that by patience we may obtain the glory of paradise. Every one has to suffer in this world; but he who suffers with patience suffers less and saves himself, while he who suffers with impatience suffers more and is damned. Our Lord does not send us crosses that he may see us lost, as some impatient people say, but that we may be thereby saved, and inherit more glory in heaven. Sorrows, contradictions, and all other tribulations, when accepted with patience, become the brightest jewels in our heavenly crown. Whenever, then, we are in affliction, let us console ourselves and thank God for it, since it is a sign that God wishes us to be saved, by chastising us in this life, where the chastisements are but slight and short, so as not to punish us in the next, where the chastisements are cruel and eternal. Woe to the sinner who is prosperous in this life! it is a sign that God has reserved for him eternal punishment.
St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said: “All sufferings, however great, become sweet when we look at Jesus on the cross.” And St. Joseph Calasanctius: “He who cannot suffer for Jesus Christ, does not know how to gain Jesus Christ for his own.” He, then, who loves Jesus Christ bears patiently all external crosses—sickness, pains, dishonor, loss of parents and friends; and all interior crosses—afflictions, weariness, temptations, and desolation of spirit, and he bears them all in peace. On the other hand, he who is impatient and angry when he is in tribulation, what does he do? He does but increase his suffering, and adds to his punishments in the next life. St. Teresa says in her writings: “The cross is felt by those who drag it after them by force; but he who embraces it with a good will does not feel it.” Hence St. Philip Neri also said: “In this world there is no purgatory; it is either heaven or hell: he who bears tribulation with patience is in heaven, but he who does not, is in hell.” Let us proceed to the practice.
First, patience must be practised in sickness. The time of sickness is a time for testing the devotion of people, whether it is of lead or of gold. Some are pious and cheerful when they are in good health; but when they are visited by any illness, they lose their patience, complain of everything, and give themselves up to melancholy, and commit a thousand other faults. Their gold turns out to be lead. St. Joseph Calasanctius said: “If sick people were patient, we should hear no more complaints.” Some complain and say: “But as long as I am in this state, I cannot go to church, nor to Communion, nor to Mass; in short, I can do nothing.” You say you can do nothing. You do everything when you do the will of God. Tell me, why do you want to do those things you have named? Is it to please God? This is the good pleasure of God, that you should embrace with patience all you have to endure, and should leave everything else that you wish to do alone. “God is served,” writes St. Francis de Sales,” more by suffering than by any other works we can do.”
If our sickness be dangerous, then especially must we accept it with all patience, being willing to die should the end of our life be really at hand. Nor should we say: “But I am not now prepared; I should like to live a little longer to do penance for my sins.” And how do you know that if you were to live on you would do penance, and would not fall into greater sins? How many there are who, after recovering from some mortal illness, have become worse than they were before, and have been lost; while, perhaps, if they had died then, they would have been saved! If it is the will of God that you should leave this world, unite yourself to his holy will, and thank him for allowing you the help of the holy Sacraments. and accept death with tranquillity abandoning yourself into the arms of his mercy. This compliance with the divine will, by accepting death, will be sufficient to insure your eternal salvation.
In the second place, we must accept also with patience the death of our relatives and friends. Some on the death of a relative are so inconsolable, that they leave off saving their prayers, frequenting the sacraments, and all their devotions. Such a one goes so far as even to be angry with God, and to say: “Lord, why hast Thou done this?” What rashness is this! Tell me, what does all your grief profit you? Do you perhaps think to do pleasure to the dead person? No; what you are doing is displeasing to him as well as to God. He desires that, with regard to his death, you should become more united with God, and should pray for him if he is in purgatory.
In the third place, let us accept the poverty which God sends us. When you are in want even of the necessaries of life, say: “My God, Thou alone art sufficient for me.” One such act will gain treasures for us in paradise. He who possesses God has every good. In the same way let us embrace with patience the loss of property, the failure of our expectations, or even the loss of those who were helping us. Let us be resigned at such times to the will of God, and God will help us; and if he should not then help us as we should wish, let us be content with whatever he may do, because he will do it to try our patience, that he may enrich us with greater merits and the goods of heaven.
In the fourth place, we must accept patiently contempt and persecutions. You will say: “But what evil have I done, that I should be so persecuted? Why have I had to suffer such an affront?” ‘My brother, go and say this to Jesus Christ oh the cross, and he will answer: “And I, what have I done, that I should have to suffer such sorrow and ignominy, and this death of the cross?” If, then, Jesus Christ has suffered so much for the love of you, it is no great thing that you should suffer this little for the love of Jesus Christ. Particularly if you have ever during your life committed some grievous sin, think that you deserve to be in hell, where you would have to suffer much greater contempt and persecution from the devils. If also you should be persecuted for having done good, rejoice exceedingly. Hear what Jesus Christ says: Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake.14 Let us be convinced of the truth of what the Apostle says, that he who would live united with Jesus Christ in this world must be persecuted.
In the fifth place, we must practise patience also in spiritual desolations, which are the heaviest afflictions for a soul that loves God. But God in this way proves the love of his beloved ones. At such times let us humble ourselves and be resigned to the will of God, putting ourselves entirely into his hands. Let us be most careful also not to leave off any of our devotions, our prayers, frequenting of the sacraments, our visits to the Blessed Sacrament, or our spiritual reading. As we do everything then with weariness and trouble, it seems to us to be all lost, but it is not so: while we persevere in all these things, we work without any satisfaction to ourselves; but it is very pleasing to God.
In the sixth and last place, we must practise patience in temptations. Some cowardly souls, when a temptation lasts a long time, are disheartened, and will sometimes even say: God, then, desires my damnation. No; God permits us to be tempted, not for our damnation, but for our advantage, that we may then humble ourselves the more, and unite ourselves more closely to him, by forcing ourselves to resist, redoubling our prayers, and thereby acquiring greater merits for heaven. And because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee.15 Thus was it said to Tobias. Every temptation which we overcome gains for us fresh degrees of glory, and greater strength to resist future temptations. Nor does God ever permit us to be tempted beyond our strength: And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.16
We should, however, beg our Lord to deliver us from temptations; notwithstanding, when they come, let us resign ourselves to his holy will, beseeching him to give us strength to resist. St. Paul was troubled with carnal temptations, and he prayed to God to deliver him from them; but the Lord said to him: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity.17 In sensual temptations especially the first precaution to be taken is to remove ourselves as far as possible from all occasions, and then immediately to have recourse to Jesus Christ for help, not trusting in our own strength. And when the temptation continues, let us not cease to pray, saying: “Jesus, help me! Mary, ever Virgin, assist me!” The mere invocation of these all-powerful names of Jesus and Mary will suffice to defeat the most violent assaults of hell. It is also of great use to make the sign of the cross on our forehead, or over our heart. By the sign of the cross, St. Anthony Abbot overcame similar attacks of the devil. It is also a very good thing to acquaint your spiritual father with your temptations. St. Philip Neri used to say: “A temptation which is manifested is half overcome.”
5 The Practice of Conformity to the Will of God.
All sanctity consists in loving God; and the love of God consists in fulfilling his holy will. In this is our life: And life in His good will.18 And he who is always united with the will of God is always in peace; for the divine will takes away the bitterness of every cross. By saying, God wills it so, God has so willed, holy souls find peace in all their labors: Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad.19 You say: Everything goes wrong with me; God sends me all kinds of misfortunes. Things go wrong with you, my friend, because you make them go wrong; if you were to be resigned to the will of God, all would go well, and for your good. The crosses which God sends you are misfortunes, because you make them misfortunes; if you would take them with resignation, they would no longer be misfortunes, but riches for paradise. Ven. Balthazar Alvarez says: “He who in his troubles resigns himself with peacefulness to the divine will, runs to God post-haste.” Let us now come to the practice.
And first, let us resign ourselves in the sicknesses which befall us. Worldly people call illnesses misfortunes, but the saints call them visitations of God and favors. When we are ill we ought certainly to take remedies in order to be cured, but we should always be resigned to whatever God disposes. And if we pray for restoration to health, let it always be done with resignation, otherwise we shall not obtain the favor. But how much do we not gain when we are ill by offering to God all we suffer! He who loves God from his heart does not desire to be cured of his illness in order not to suffer, but he desires to please God by suffering. It was this love which made the scourge, the rack, and the burning pitch sweet to the holy martyrs. We must also be especially resigned in mortal sickness. To accept death at such a time, in order that the will of God may be fulfilled, merits for us a reward similar to that of the martyrs, because they accepted death to please God. He who dies in union with the will of God makes a holy death; and the more closely he is united to it, the more holy death does he die. The Venerable Blosius declares that an act of perfect conformity to the will of God at the hour of death not only delivers us from hell, but also from purgatory.
Secondly, we must also unite ourselves to the will of God with regard to our natural defects, as want of talents, being of low birth, weak health, bad sight, want of ability for affairs, and the like. All that we have is the free gift of God. Might he not have made us a fly or a blade of grass? A hundred years ago were we anything but nothingness? And what more do we want? Let it suffice that God has given us the power of becoming saints. Although we may have little talent, poor health, and may be poor and abject, we may very well become saints through his grace if we have the will. Oh, how many unfortunate beings have been damned on account of their talents, their health, high birth, riches or beauty! Let us then be content with what God has done for us; and let us thank him always for the good things he has given us, and particularly for having called us to the holy faith; this is a great gift, and one for which few are found to thank God.
Thirdly, we must resign ourselves in all adversities that may happen to us, as the loss of property, of our expectations, of our relatives; and in the attacks and persecutions we may meet with from men. You will say: But God does not will sin; how is it that I must resign myself when some one calumniates me, wrongs me, attacks and defrauds me? That cannot happen by the will of God. What a deception is this! God does not will the sin of such a one; he permits it: but, on the other hand, he does will the adversity which you suffer by means of this person. So that it is our Lord himself who sends you that cross, though it comes to you by means of your neighbor; therefore even in these cases you must embrace the cross as coming from God. Nor let us seek to find out a reason for such treatment. St. Teresa says: “If you are Willing to bear only those crosses for which you see a reason, perfection is not for you.”
Fourthly, we must be resigned in aridity of soul; if, when we say our prayers, make our Communions, visit the Blessed Sacrament; etc., all seems to weary and give us no comfort, let us be satisfied in knowing that we please God, and that the less satisfaction we feel ourselves in our devotions the more pleasure do we give him. At no time can we know better our own insufficiency and misery than in the time of aridity; and therefore let us humble ourselves in our prayers, and put ourselves with resignation into God’s hands, and say: “Lord, I do not deserve consolations; I desire nothing but that Thou have pity on me; keep me in Thy grace, and do with me what Thou wilt.” And so doing, we shall gain more in one day of desolation than in a month of tears and sensible devotion. And generally speaking, this should be the continual tenor of our prayers, offering ourselves to God, that he may do with us as he pleases; saying to him in our prayers, our Communions, and in the visit: “My God, make me do Thy will.” In doing the will of God we shall do everything. For this end let us accustom ourselves to have always on our lips the ejaculation: Fiat voluntas tua! “Thy will be done,” even in the least things we do; for instance, if we snuff out a candle, break a glass, or stumble over something, let us always repeat; “May the will of God be done!” When we lose any of our possessions, or when one of our relatives dies, or anything else of the same sort happens to us, let us say: “O Lord, it is Thy will, it is my will also.” And when we fear any temporal ill, let us say: “O Lord, I will whatever Thou willest.” Thus we shall be very pleasing in the sight of God, and shall be always in peace.
6. The Practice of Purity of Intention.
Purity of intention consists in doing everything with the sole view of pleasing God. The good or bad intention with which an action is performed renders it good or bad before God. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi says: “God rewards actions according to the amount of purity of intention with which they are done.” Let us examine the practice of it.
In the first place, in all our exercises (of devotion), let us seek God and not ourselves: if we seek our own satisfaction we cannot expect to receive any reward from God. And this holds good for all spiritual works. How many labor and exhaust themselves in preaching, hearing confessions, serving at the altar, and in doing other pious works; and because in these they seek themselves and not God, they lose all! When we seek neither approbation nor thanks from others for what we do, it is a sign that we work for God’s sake: as also when we are not vexed at the good we undertake not succeeding; or when we rejoice as much at any good that is done by others, as if it had been done by ourselves. Further, whenever we have done some good in order to please God, let us not torment ourselves in endeavoring to drive away vain-glory; if we are praised for it; it is enough to say: “To God be the honor and glory.” And let us never omit doing any good action which may be edifying to our neighbor, through fear of vain-glory. Our Lord wishes us to do good even before others, that it may be profitable to them: So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.20 Therefore when you do good, have first the intention of pleasing God; and secondly, that also of giving a good example to your neighbor.
In the second place, in our bodily actions; whether we work, eat, drink, or amuse ourselves with propriety, let us do all in order to please God. Purity of intention may be called the heavenly alchemy, which changes iron into gold; by which is meant, that the most trivial and ordinary actions when done to please God become acts of divine love. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi used to say: “A person who performs all his actions with a pure intention will go straight to paradise.” A holy hermit, before putting his hand to any work, used to raise his eyes to heaven, and keep them fixed there for a short time; and when he was asked what he was doing, he answered: “I am taking my aim, so that I may not miss the mark.” Let us also do in like manner: before beginning any action, let us make sure of our aim, and say: “Lord, I do this to please Thee.”
7. Rules for avoiding tepidity.
Souls that make no account of venial sins, and give themselves up to tepidity, without a thought of freeing themselves from it, live in great danger. We do not here speak of those venial sins that are committed by mere frailty, such as useless or idle words, interior disquietudes, and negligence in small matters; but we speak of venial sins committed with full deliberation, above all when they are habitual. St. Teresa writes thus: “From all deliberate sin, howsoever small it may be, O Lord, deliver us!” Ven. Alvarez used to say: “Those little backbitings, dislikes, culpable curiosity, acts of impatience and intemperance, do not indeed kill the soul, but they so weaken it, that when any great temptation takes it unexpectedly, it will not have strength enough to resist, and will consequently fall.” So that as on the one hand deliberate venial sins weaken the soul, so on the other do they deprive us of the divine assistance; for it is but just that God should be sparing with those who are sparing towards him: He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly.21 And that is what a soul that has received special graces from God has the most reason to fear. Still more ought it to fear lest such faults should be caused by some passionate attachment, as of ambition, or avarice, or of aversion, or inordinate affection towards any person. It happens not unfrequently to souls that are in bondage to some passion, as it does to gamblers, who, after losing many times, at the last throw say, “Let us risk everything;” and so finish by losing all they have. In what a miserable state is that soul which is the slave of some passion; for passion blinds us, and lets us no longer see what we are doing. Let us now come to the practice of what we have to do, in order to be able to deliver ourselves from the wretched state of tepidity.
It is necessary in the first place to have a firm desire to get out of this state. The good desire lightens our labor, and gives us strength to go forward. And let us rest assured that he who makes no progress in the way of God will always be going back; and he will go back so far that at last he will fall over some precipice. Secondly, let us try to find out our predominant faults to Which we are most attached, whether it be anger, ambition, or inordinate affection to persons or things: a resolute will overcomes all with the help of God. Thirdly, we must avoid the occasion, otherwise all our resolutions will fall to the ground. And lastly, we must above all be diffident of our own strength, and pray continually with all confidence to God, begging him to help us in the danger in which we are, and to deliver us from those temptations by which we shall fall into sin; which is the meaning of the petition, Ne nos inducas in tentationem—“Lead us not into temptation.” He who prays obtains: Ask, and you shall receive.22 This is a promise of God, and can never fail; therefore we must always pray, always pray; and let us never leave off repeating, “We must pray always, we must pray always; my God help me, and that soon!”
8. The Practice of Devotion towards the Great Mother of God.
As regards this devotion, I hope that the reader is fully persuaded that, in order to insure eternal salvation, it is most important to be devout to the Most Holy Mary. And if he should wish to be still more convinced of it, I would beg him to read the book I have written, called The Glories of Mary. We shall here speak only of the practices you may observe, that you may obtain the protection of this sovereign Lady. First, every morning and evening, when you rise and before you go to bed, say three Hail Marys, adding this short prayer: “By thy pure and immaculate conception, O Mary, make me pure in body and holy in soul!” And put yourself beneath her mantle, that she may keep you that day or that night from sin. And every time you hear the clock strike, say a Hail Mary; do the same whenever you go in or out of the house, and when you pass by any picture or statue of the Blessed Virgin. So also when you begin and finish any of your occupations, such as your study, work, eating, or sleeping, never omit to say a Hail Mary. Secondly, say the Rosary, meditating on the mysteries, every day, at least five decades. Many devout people also say the Office of Our Lady; it would be well to say at least the Little Office of the Name of Mary, which is very short, and composed of five short psalms. Thirdly, say an Our Father and Hail Mary every day to the ever-blessed Trinity in thanksgiving for the graces that have been bestowed upon Mary. The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to a person that this devotion was very pleasing to her. Fourthly, fast on bread and water every Saturday in honor of Mary, or at least on the vigils of her seven feasts; or at least fast in the ordinary way, or eat only of one dish, or abstain from something you like. In short, make use of some kind of mortification on Saturdays, and on the above-named vigils, for the sake of this Queen, who, as St. Andrew of Crete says, repays these little things with great graces. Fifthly, pay a visit every day to some image of your patroness, and ask her to give you holy perseverance and the love of Jesus Christ. Sixthly, let no day pass without reading a little about Our Lady, or else say some prayer to this Blessed Virgin. For this purpose we have here put seven prayers to Mary, for the seven days of the week (see Chap. II. §7). Seventhly, make the novenas for the seven principal feasts of Mary, and ask your confessor to tell you what devotions and mortifications you should practise during those nine days: say at least nine Hail Marys and Glory be to the Father, and beg her each day of the novena to give you some special grace that you need. Lastly, often recommend yourself to this divine Mother during the day, and particularly in time of temptation, saying at such times, and often repeating with great affection, “Mary, help me! help me, my Mother!” And if You love Mary, try to promote devotion to this great Mother of God among your relatives friends, and servants.
9. On the Practice of Certain Means by which we may acquire the Love of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ ought to be our whole love. He is worthy of it, both because he is a God of infinite goodness, and because he has loved us to such an excess, that he died for us. Oh, how great are our obligations to Jesus Christ! All the good we enjoy, all our inspirations, calls, pardons, helps, hopes, consolations, sweetnesses, and loving affections, come to us through Jesus Christ. Let us see by what means we are to acquire this love of Jesus Christ.
In the first place, we must desire to have this love of Jesus Christ, and we must, therefore, often ask him to give it us, especially in our prayers, in our Communions, and in the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. And this grace must also be sought for at the hands of the ever-blessed Mary, from our guardian angel and our holy patrons, that they may enable us to love Jesus Christ. St. Francis de Sales says that the grace of loving Jesus Christ contains all other graces in itself; because he who truly loves Jesus Christ cannot be wanting in any virtue.
In the second place, if we wish to acquire the love of Jesus Christ, we must detach our hearts from all earthly affections; divine love will find no place in a heart that is full of this world. St. Philip Neil used to say; “The love we give to creatures is all so much taken from God.”
In the third place, we must often exercise ourselves, especially when we pray, in making acts of love to Jesus Christ. Acts of love are the fuel with which we keep alive the fire of holy charity. Let us make acts of love and complacency, saying;,” My Jesus, I rejoice that Thou art infinitely happy, and that Thy eternal Father loves Thee as much as himself!” Of benevolence; “I wish my Jesus, that all could know and love Thee!” Of predilection, as: “My Jesus, I love Thee more than all things! I love Thee more than myself!” Let us also often make acts of contrition, which are called acts of sorrowful love.
In the fourth place, if any one wishes to make sure of being inflamed with love towards Jesus Christ, let him often try to meditate on his Passion. It was revealed to a holy solitary, that no exercise was more efficacious in enkindling love, than the consideration of the sufferings and ignominy which Jesus Christ endured for love of us. I say, it is impossible that a soul, meditating often on the Passion of Christ, should be able to resist his love. It was for this that, although he could have saved us by one drop of his blood, nay even by a single prayer, he chose to suffer so much, and to shed all his blood, that he might attract all hearts to love him; therefore he who meditates on his Passion does what is very agreeable to him. Do you, then, often make your meditation on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do so at least every Friday, the day on which he died for the love of us. For this purpose I have written many meditations on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially the Darts of Fire,23 which speak of the love which Jesus Christ has borne us in the great work of our redemption.
1“Deus superbis resistit; humilibus autem dat gratiam.” – James, iv. 6.
2“Cum metu et tremore vestram salutem operamini.” – Phil. ii. 12.
3“Discite a me, quia mitis sum et humilis corde.” – Matt. xi. 29.
4“Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam. et sequatur me.” – Matt. xvi. 24.
5“Noli regibus dare vinum.” – Prov. xxxi. 4.
6“Qui diligit Deum, diligat et fratrem suum.” – John, iv. 2.
7“Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo: . . . et proximum tuum sicut teipsum.” – Luke. x. 27.
8“Responsio mollis frangit iram.” – Prov. xv. 1.
9“Eleemosyna ab omni peccato et a morte liberat, et non patietur animam ire in tenebras.” – Tob. iv. 11.
10“Benefacite his qui oderunt vos.” – Matt v. 44.
11“Orate pro persequentibus et calumniantibus vos.” – Matt. v. 44.
12“Dimittite, et dimittemini.” – Luke, vi. 37.
13“Patientia autem opus perfectum habet.” – James. i. 4.
14“Beati, qui persecutionem patiuntur propter justitiam.” – Matt. v. 10.
15“Quia acceptus eras Deo, necesse fuit ut tentatio probaret te.” – Tob. xii. 13.
16“Fidelis autem Deus est, qui non patietur vos tentari supra id quod potestis: sed faciet etiam cum tentatione proventum.” – 1 Cor. x. 13.
17“Sufficit tibi, Paule, gratia mea; nam virtus in infirmitate perficitur.” – 2 Cor. xii. 9.
18“Et vita in voluntate ejus.” – Ps. xxix. 6.
19“Non contristabat iustum, quidquid ei acciderit.” – Prov. xii. 21.
20“Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus, ut videant opera vestra bona, et glorificent Patrem vestrum.” – Matt. v. 16.
21“Qui parce seminat, parce et metet.” – 2 Cor. ix. 6.
22“Petite et accipietis.” – John. xvi. 24.
23These will be found in Volume IV. of the ascetical works. – ED.