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Of Running into Opposite Extremes.
1. Our soul is sometimes full of sensible devotion, and this devotion may come from God, by a divine gift, and it may be stirred up by a simulation of the enemy of souls. Now in this heat of devotion, whether from God or from his own working, the enemy exhorts the soul to make indiscreet vows or rash oaths, that when the devotion is gone trouble may succeed at being thus involved, and perhaps the promises may be broken.
On the contrary, he at other times condemns all vows as indiscreet, and so he prevents a man from making holy vows against sins to which he is exceedingly prone, and by which he is vehemently tempted. This he does to sink him deeply and irretrievably in the mire.
2. The devil sometimes moves persons to chide others in passion, and so lose the fruit that might be expected. Some again he persuades to pass over in silence the defects and sins of others, which they are bound in charity to lay bare and reprehend, and he persuades them that it is a charitable mildness, whereas, really, it is the ruin of all virtue.
3. The souls of some are filled by the old enemy with countless scruples. He fills their consciences full of doubts and over-strictness. By this means he takes away their courage to do good works, and he causes that oftentimes they should sin. For though a thing be good, yet if by an erroneous conscience we judge it to be bad, and still do it, to us it is sin. The enemy has another worse end to compass, namely, to get him who sins to fall into despair, judging himself to be reprobate, and to be a damned soul, seeing that he commits sin so often and so easily, and that he can in no way fulfil what he fancies that God commands him.
The devil acts just in the opposite way with others, getting them to sin freely with a secure and wide conscience, so that they neither fear to sin, and after having sinned they have no repentance.
A third method of the enemy is to make the conscience broad till the sin is committed, and afterwards to exaggerate the offence, showing its heinousness, and its enormity. Sometimes again he fills the conscience with fears where it has no right to fear. And in this he is like those who, when boys are passing along the road, cry out to them, “You’ll fall, you’ll fall,” so that through their fear they may really stumble and fall. For to some the enemy cries out continually, “You are going wrong, you are committing sin, you are sure to be damned.” Thus he disturbs the peace and quiet of the conscience, so that such can neither pray, nor set about any good work rightly. Now by this means he strongly urges often to commit sin boldly, so as to get rid of these scruples and fears by a large conscience: and this is a danger much more fatal and wicked, for thus an unbridled audacity is assumed, which cares for no precept, and judges nothing to be unlawful.
Now in all these temptations the middle pathway should be kept, wise and discreet persons should be consulted, recourse should be had to prayer, and above all things we should have a confidence in God mixed with a great humility, hoping in His sweet mercy.
4. Sometimes the devil infuses into the soul a most wonderful sweetness, having an appearance of devotion, that a man may rest altogether in this delicious enjoyment, not really loving God, and not rendering Him service, except only to get this delight by it.
But, again, at another time he will make the service of God hard and irksome exceedingly, filling the spirit with sadness, so that it shall seem that God has abandoned the soul. With this idea a man gives up his prayer, and turns to fleshly pleasures, to get from them some consolation. Thus those who love God with a love pure and unfeigned, and those who merely cleave to Him for their own pleasure, are proved and made known.
5. Some persons fancy they have a great spirit of prayer. So, instead of doing that work which is their duty, or fulfilling some other thing for those with whom they live, leaving all other occupations, even those that are a duty, they wait upon God. Now this is a trick of the devil, that in this leisure he may the more easily fill the mind with unclean thoughts, or motions of rancour and anger, or temptations of vain glory, or the abominable itch of singularity.
The devil often makes a person value the good which is done of their own will, and which is in no way necessary, far higher than even a tiling which is of obligation, and necessary to salvation. There are people who would rather break a fast of the Church, than one which they have set for themselves.
On the contrary, the devil urges some to continual active work, so that they may never be able to recollect themselves, or to make a faithful examen of their conscience. But moderation in both prayer and work is best, taking each by turns, so as to temper the one by the other.
6. On pretext of a zeal for truth, for justice, or public utility, the old enemy gets people to speak ill of their neighbour, and to do him a serious injury, their real motive being anger or spite. Sometimes the good or safety of others is made the plea, for the devil urges that a man’s way of going on is likely to be dangerous to others, and his malice ought to be published, that they may be on their guard, and not to warn them would be against charity.
Now this fashion of dealing is highly risky, for those who are not the judges of others, and are not in the appointed position to punish them. Besides, to tell such like evils behind a person’s back, to those who can in no way profit the person, or hinder the evils, what good can it do?
Now, on the opposite side, the devil, sometimes by fears, through envy, or detraction, gets people to hold their tongues about a man’s wicked ways, to his own ruin and the horrible destruction of the souls of others. The road then is full of snares, and it requires great discrimination to walk with safety, and escape the dangers.
7. The adversary of man sometimes offers to the mind pleasing fleshly thoughts, telling him that there is no danger in dwelling on them some little while, he has only to withhold all consent to any plea« sure in them. Thus he gets a man to dally with the thoughts, and so burns and inflames his mind with them, that they stick to him like pitch, and he has hard to do to shake them off at last. There is no more wholesome plan therefore than to deny them all entrance at the very outset. Sometimes such hurtful thoughts arise from too close a study of the state of a person’s married relations, by one who is single.
On the other hand, the minds of some are so flooded by the enemy with vivid imaginations of unclean thoughts that they believe they are sinning continually. For these thoughts come in whilst they are saying their office, and praying to God. This, the enemy says, is horrible wickedness. He therefore exhorts them to give their attention to nothing else but this one thing, to root out completely these vile imaginations. The wicked one knows very well that one might just as well expect to be able to hold the wind in one’s fist, as to have power to banish completely, root and branch, every foul imagination, without hope of return.
It is not a mortal sin when foul thoughts touch the mind, but only when we consent to embrace them with pleasure, and to rejoice in them, our will favouring them. When they displease us, and are hateful to us, and we have a horror of them, then there is no danger of mortal sin. We ought to know that in work time, and when doing business affairs, we cannot expect to have the same still serenity of mind as after a longish period of quiet. To seek for it is a vain labour, and only a temptation. These bad thoughts are often better put to flight by neglecting them, and giving no attention to them, than by battling against them. Occupy the mind with other things, and they will presently go of themselves.
8. It happens sometimes that the devil persuades a man to be too careful of his good fame, on the ground that to act otherwise would be to be cruelly savage towards himself. Now this over-carefulness leads to countless evils, for whenever such an one hears some fault has been imputed to him, he straightway takes up the cudgels in his own defence, bringing forward excuses for his conduct, and praising all his actions, giving reasons for why he acts in this manner, and fancying by so doing to shut the mouths of men. Now this is impossible.
One who acts like this falls thereby into various evils, into anger, impatience, arrogance, and perturbation of mind. In order to maintain his own innocence he sometimes accuses others, or reveals things which it was his duty to keep strictly secret. By the same temptation he is led into hypocrisy and simulation, by imagining that others are ever occupied in scanning all his works. He does not wish to get the applause of the world; all his aim, he thinks, is to give good example, and secure himself from infamy. And he argues that when his good name stands unhurt, men will esteem his example more, and get more profit from his words. An opposite temptation to this is to hold cheap all that men may say or think of one. We are neither worse nor better for the opinion of men. So a man will say sometimes: A sin is just the same sin whether it be open or secret. By this people fall into a very careless way of living, and they justify themselves, saying, God knows my conscience, that is enough for me; let others say and think as they have a mind.
See, then, how hard it is to escape both snares, and so to walk on the right path as to be caught neither by the one nor by the other, for both are indeed most hurtful. . First, then, every one ought to consider what sort of a work it is he would do, good or bad. For if it be bad, by doing it openly he sins far more grievously. And in this case he is bound to hide it, not through pride, but to take from others an occasion of temptation, as also of evil speaking.
If the thing is good, but he knows that others, seeing it, may judge it to be evil, and that they would be brought so to judge from simplicity, or from not knowing the thing he does, or its motive; then, if the work is not necessary to salvation, it should be left undone for the time, or else its nature and goodness should be explained. Sometimes, however, a person’s judgment of a thing comes from sheer malice; for there are some people that hate to see the virtue of another. There is nothing but what they try their tooth on. No attention is to be paid to these, for it is impossible to shut the mouths of such. There is no use in defending one’s character against them.
Here it may be remarked that, as the Apostle teaches, God has been very often pleased to do sublime works by means of persons who were ignorant and of no parts, and who were in no esteem; more often indeed than by others. So a man ought not to wish that the good he does may be commended, and much less should he blow his own trumpet, and sound forth his own praise. All is to be left to God, who from nothing knows how to work great and marvellous things. Besides, we often see that the more careful a person is to make his innocence shine clear, or to bring his good into notice, the less is he esteemed or cared for by others. He profits himself far less, and others far less, in the ways of God.
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