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OF THE INDIFFERENCE WHICH WE ARE TO HAVE AS TO OUR ADVANCEMENT IN VIRTUES.
God has ordained that we should employ our whole endeavours to obtain holy virtues, let us then forget nothing which might help our good success in this pious enterprise. But after we have planted and watered, let us then know for certain that it is God who must give increase to the trees of our good inclinations and habits, and therefore from his Divine Providence we are to expect the fruits of our desires and labours, and if we find the progress and advancement of our hearts in devotion not such as we would desire, let us not be troubled, let us live in peace, let tranquillity always reign in our hearts. It belongs to us diligently to cultivate our heart, and therefore we must faithfully attend to it, but as for the plenty of the crop or harvest, let us leave the care thereof to our Lord and Master. The husbandman will never be reprehended for not having a good harvest, but only if he did not carefully till and sow his ground. Let us not be troubled at finding ourselves always novices in the exercise of virtues, for in the monastery of a devout life every one considers himself always a novice, and there the whole of life is meant as a probation; the most evident argument, not only that we are novices, but also that we are worthy of expulsion and reprobation, being, to esteem and hold ourselves professed. For according to the rule of this Order not the solemnity but the accomplishment of the vows makes the novices professed, nor are the vows ever fulfilled while there remains yet something to be done for their observance, and the obligation of serving God and making progress in his love lasts always until death. But after all, will some one say, if I know that it is by my own fault my progress in virtue is so slow, how can I help being grieved and disquieted? I have said this in the Introduction to a Devout Life,411411IV. 11. but I willingly say it again, because it can never be said sufficiently. We must be sorry for faults with a repentance which is strong, settled, constant, tranquil, but not troubled, unquiet or fainthearted. Are you sure that your backwardness in virtue has come from your fault? Well then, humble yourself before God, implore his mercy, fall prostrate before the face of his goodness and demand pardon, confess your fault, cry him mercy in the very ear of your confessor, so as to obtain absolution; but this being done remain in peace, and having detested the offence, embrace lovingly the abjection which you feel in yourself by reason of delaying your advancement in good.
Ah! my Theotimus, the souls in Purgatory are there doubtless for their sins, and for sins which they have detested and do supremely detest, but as for the abjection and pain which remain from being detained in that place, and from being deprived for a space of the enjoyment of the blessed love which is in Paradise, they endure this lovingly, and they devoutly pronounce the canticle of the Divine justice; Thou art just, O Lord, and thy judgment is right.412412Ps. cxviii. 137. Let us therefore await our advancement with patience, and instead of disquieting ourselves because we have so little profited in the time past, let us diligently endeavour to do better in the time to come.
Behold, I beseech you, this good soul. She has greatly desired and endeavoured to throw off the slavery of anger; and God has assisted her, for he has quite delivered her from all the sins which proceed from anger. She would die rather than utter a single injurious word, or let any sign of hatred escape her, and yet she is subject to the assaults and first motions of this passion, that is, to certain startings, strong movements and sallies of an angry heart, which the Chaldaic paraphrase calls stirrings (tremoussements), saying: Be stirred and sin not;—where our sacred version says: Be angry and sin not.413413Ps. iv. 5. In effect it is the same thing, for the prophet would only say that if anger surprise us, exciting in our hearts the first stirrings of sin, we should be careful not to let ourselves be carried further into this passion, for so we should offend. Now, although these first movements and stirrings be no sin, yet the poor soul that is often attacked by them, troubles, afflicts and disquiets herself, and thinks she does well in being sad, as if it were the love of God that provoked her to this sadness. And yet, Theotimus, it is not heavenly love that causes this trouble, for that is never offended except by sin; it is our self-love that desires to be exempt from the pains and toils which the assaults of anger draw on us. It is not the offence that displeases us in these stirrings of anger, there being none at all committed, it is the pain we are put to in resisting which disquiets us.
These rebellions of the sensual appetite, as well in anger as in concupiscence, are left in us for our exercise, to the end that we may practise spiritual valour in resisting them. This is that Philistine, whom the true Israelites are ever to fight against but never to put down; they may weaken him, but never annihilate him. He only dies with us, and always lives with us. He is truly accursed, and detestable, as springing from sin, and tending towards sin: wherefore, as we are termed earth, because we are formed of earth and shall return to earth, so this rebellion is named sin by the great Apostle, as having sprung from sin and tending to sin, though it never makes us guilty unless we second and obey it. Whereupon he exhorts us that we permit it not to reign in our mortal body to obey the concupiscence thereof.414414Rom. vi. 12. He prohibits not the sentiment of sin, but the consenting to it. He does not order us to hinder sin from coming into us and being in us, but he commands that it should not reign in us. It is in us when we feel the rebellion of the sensual appetite, but it does not reign in us unless we give consent unto it. The physician will never order his feverish patient not to be athirst, for that would be too great a folly; but he will tell him that though he be thirsty he must abstain from drinking. No one will tell a woman with child not to have a longing for extravagant things, for this is not under her control, but she may well be told to discover her longings, to the end that if she longs for hurtful things one may divert her imagination, and not let such a fancy get a hold on her brain.
The sting of the flesh, an angel of Satan, roughly attacked the great S. Paul, in order to make him fall into sin. The poor Apostle endured this as a shameful and infamous wrong, and on this account called it a buffeting and ignominious treatment, and petitioned God to deliver him from it, but God answered him: Paul, my grace is sufficient for thee, for virtue is made perfect in infirmity.4154152 Cor. xii. 9. Thereupon this great holy man said in acquiescence:—Gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me. But take notice, I beseech you, that there is sensual rebellion even in this admirable vessel of election, who in running to the remedy of prayer teaches us that we are to use the same arms against the temptations we feel. Note further that Our Lord does not always permit these terrible revolts in man for the punishment of sin, but to manifest the strength and virtue of the Divine assistance and grace. Finally, note that we are not only not to be disquieted in our temptations and infirmities, but we are even to glory in our infirmity that thereby God's virtue may appear in us, sustaining our weakness against the force of the suggestion and temptation: for the glorious Apostle calls the stings and attacks of impurity which he endured his infirmities, and says that he glories in them, because, though he had the sense of them by his misery, yet through God's mercy he did not give consent to them.
Indeed, as I have said above, the church condemned the error of certain solitaries, who held that we might be perfectly delivered even in this world from the passions of anger, concupiscence, fear, and the like. God wills us to have enemies, and it is also his will that we should repulse them. Let us then behave ourselves courageously between the one and the other will of God, enduring with patience to be assaulted, and endeavouring with courage by resistance to make head against, and resist our assailants.
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