Though the following excerpt comes from a book that was written for those in religious life the preface of English edition of The True Spouse of Jesus Christ says the following: “The saint himself tells us that his book is suitable not only to nuns, but also to all members of the religious state, in that which refers to the observance of the vows, regular discipline, and the perfection of their state. As for the practice of Christian virtues, the work will be found highly useful even for seculars.”
The True Spouse of Jesus Christ
by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Chapter VII – Interior Mortification, or Abnegation of Self-Love
- There are two sorts of self-love—the one good, the other pernicious. The former is that which makes us seek eternal life—the end of our creation. The latter inclines us to pursue earthly goods, and to prefer them to our everlasting welfare, and to the holy will of God. “The celestial Jerusalem,” says St. Augustine, “is built up by loving God so as to contemn one self: but, the earthly city is raised by loving self so as to despise Almighty God.” (Lib. 14, de civ. c. 28.) Hence Jesus Christ has said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” (Mat. xvi. 24.) Christian perfection, then, consists in self-abnegation. Whoever denies not himself, cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ. “The augmentation of charity,” says St. Augustine, “is the diminution of cupidity: the perfection of charity is its destruction.” (Lib. lxxxiii. qu. 36.) The less, then, a Christian indulges passion, the more he will love God: and, if he seeks nothing but God, he will then possess perfect charity. But, in the present state of corrupt nature, it is not possible to be altogether exempt from the molestation of self-love. Jesus alone, among men, and Mary alone, among women, have been free from its suggestions. All the other saints had to combat their irregular passions. The principal and the only care of a religious should be, to restrain the inordinate inclinations of self-love. “To regulate the motions of the soul is,” as St. Augustine says, “the office of interior mortification.”
- Unhappy the soul that suffers herself to be ruled by her own inclinations. “A domestic enemy,” says St. Bernard, “is the worst of foes.” (De Anim. cap. 15.) The devil and the world continually seek our destruction; but self-love is a still more dangerous enemy. “Self-love,” says St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzis, “is like a worm which corrodes the roots of a plant; deprives us not only of fruit, but of life.” (Vita par. 3.) In another place she says: “Self-love is the most deceitful of all enemies: like Judas, it betrays us with the hiss of peace. Whoever overcomes it, conquers all. He that cannot cut it off by a single stroke, should, at least, endeavour to destroy it by degrees.” We must pray continually in the language of Solomon: “Give me not over to a shameless and foolish mind.” (Eccl. xxiii. 6.) 0 my God, do not abandon me to my foolish passions that seek to destroy, in my soul, your holy fear, and even to deprive me of the use of my reason.
- Our whole life must be one continued contest. “The life of man upon earth,” says Job, “is a warfare.” (Job. vii. 1.) Now, he that is placed in the front of battle must be always prepared for an attack: as soon as he ceases to defend himself, he is conquered. And here it is necessary to remark, that the soul should never cease to combat her passions, however great her victories over them may have been: for, human passions, though conquered a thousand times, never die. “Believe me,” says St. Bernard, “that, after being cut off, they bud forth again; and, after being put to flight, they return.” (In Can. Ser. 58.) Hence, by struggling with concupiscence, we can only render its attacks less frequent, less violent, and more easy to be subdued. A certain monk complained to the Abbot Theodore, that he had contended for eight years with his passions, and that still they were not extinguished. “Brother,” replied the Abbot, “you complain of this warfare of eight years. and I have spent seventy years in solitude, and during all that time I have not been, for a single day, free from assaults of passion.” We shall be subject during our mortal lives to the molestation of our passions. “But,” as St. Gregory says, “it is one thing to look at these monsters, and another to shelter them in our hearts.” (Mor. lib. vi. cap. 16.) It is one thing to hear their roar, and another to admit them into our souls, and suffer them to devour us.
- The human soul is a barren soil in which useless and noxious herbs constantly spring up: we must therefore, by the practice of holy mortification, continually hold the mattock in our hands, to root them up, and banish them from our hearts; otherwise, our souls shall become a wild uncultivated waste covered with briers and thorns. “Conquer yourself,” was an expression always on the lips of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the text of his familiar discourses to his religious. Conquer self-love, and break down your own wills. Few of those who practise prayer, (he would say,) become saints, because few of them endeavour to overcome themselves. “Of a hundred persons,” says the Saint, “devoted to prayer, more than ninety are self-willed.” Hence he preferred a single act of mortification of selfwill to long prayer accompanied with many spiritual consolations. “What does it avail,” says Gilbert, “to close the gates, if famine—the internal enemy—produce general affliction 1” (Serm. 26, in Cant.) What does it profit us to mortify the exterior senses, and to perform exercises of devotion, while, at the same time, we cherish in our hearts rancour, ambition, attachment to selfwill and to self-esteem, or any other passion which brings ruin on the soul?
- St. Francis Borgia says, that prayer introduces the love of God into the soul, but mortification prepares a place for it, by banishing from the heart earthly affections—the most powerful obstacles to charity. Whoever goes for water to the fountain, must cleanse the vessel of the earth which it may contain; otherwise he will bring back mire instead of water. “Prayer without mortification,” says Father Balthassar Alvarez, “is either an illusion, or lasts but for a short time.” And St. Ignatius asserts, that a mortified Christian acquires a more perfect union with God in a quarter of an hour’s prayer, than an unmortified soul does by praying for many hours. Hence, whenever he heard that any one spent a great deal of time in prayer, he said: “It is a sign that he practises great mortification.”
- There are some religious who perform a great many exercises of devotion, who practise frequent communion, long prayers, fasting, and other corporal austerities, but make no effort to overcome certain little passions—for example, certain resentments, aversions, curiosity, and certain dangerous affections. They will not submit to any contradiction; they will not give up attachment to certain persons, nor subject their will to the commands of their superiors, or to the holy will of God. What progress can they make in perfection? Unhappy souls! they shall be always imperfect: always out of the way of sanctity. “They,” says St. Augustine, “run well, but out of the way.” They imagine they run well, because they practise the works of piety which their own selfwill suggests; but they shall be for ever out of the way of perfection, which consists in conquering self. “Thou shalt advance,” says the devout a Kempis, “in proportion to the violence thou shalt have offered to thyself.” I do not mean to censure vocal prayer, or acts of penance, or the other spiritual works. But, because all exercises of devotion are but the means of practising virtue, the soul should seek in them only the conquest of her passions. Hence, in our communions, meditations, visits to the blessed Sacrament, and other similar exercises, we ought always to beseech Almighty God to give us strength to practise humility, mortification, obedience, and conformity to his holy will. In every Christian, it is a defect to act from a motive of self-satisfaction. But, in a religious who makes a particular profession of perfection and mortification, it is a much greater fault. “God,” says Lactantius, “calls to life by labour: the devil, to death by delights.” (Lib. vi. de Prov. cap. 18.) The Lord brings his servants to eternal life by mortification; but the devil leads sinners to everlasting death, by pleasure and self-indulgence.
- Even works of piety must be accompanied with a spirit of detachment; so that whenever our efforts are unsuccessful, we will not be disturbed, and when our exercises of devotion are prohibited by the superior, we will give them up with cheerfulness. Selfattachment of every kind hinders a perfect
union with God. We must therefore seriously and firmly resolve to mortify our passions, and not to submit to be their slaves. External as well as interior mortification is necessary for perfection: but with this difference, that the former should be practised with discretion; the latter without discretion, and with fervour. What does it profit us to mortify the body while the passions of the heart are indulged? “Of what use is it,” says St. Jerome, “to reduce the body by abstinence, if the soul is swelled with pride ?—or to abstain from wine, and to be inebriated with hatred 1” (Epis. ad Lsetanziam.) It is useless to chastise the body by fasting, while pride inflates the heart to such a degree, that we cannot bear a word of contempt, or the refusal of a request. In vain do we abstain from wine, while the soul is intoxicated with anger against all who thwart our designs, or oppose our inclinations. No wonder, then, that St. Bernard deplored the miserable state of religious who wear the external garb of humility, and, at the same time, inwardly cherish their passions. “They,” says the Saint, “are not divested of their vices— they only cover them by the outward sign of penance.”
- By attention to the mortification of self-love we shall become saints in a short time, and without the risk of injury to health: for, since God is the only witness of interior acts, they will not expose us to the danger of being puffed up with pride. Oh! what treasures of virtue and of merits are laid up by stifling, in their very birth, those little inordinate desires and affections; those bickerings; those suggestions of curiosity; those bursts of wit and humour; and all similar effects of self-love. When you are contradicted, give up your opinion with cheerfulness, unless the glory of God require that you maintain it. When feelings of self-esteem spring up in your heart, make a sacrifice of them to Jesus Christ. If you receive a letter, restrain your curiosity, and abstain from opening it for some time. If you desire to read the termination of an interesting narrative, lay aside the book, and defer the reading of it to another time. When you feel inclined to mirth, to pull a flower, or to look at any object, suppress these inclinations for the love of Jesus Christ, and deprive yourself, for his sake, of the pleasure of indulging them. A thousand acts of this kind may be performed in the day. Father Leonard of Port Maurice relates, that a servant of God performed eight acts of mortification in eating an egg, and that it was afterwards revealed to her, that, as the reward of her self-denial, eight degrees of grace, and as many degrees of glory, were bestowed upon her. It is also narrated of St. Dositheus, that, by similar mortifications of the interior, he arrived, in a short time, at a high degree of perfection. Though unable, in consequence of bodily infirmities, to fast, or to discharge the
other duties of the community, he attained so perfect an union with God, that the other monks, struck with wonder at his sublime sanctity, asked him what exercises of virtue he performed. “The exercise,” replied the Saint, “to which I have principally attended, is the mortification of all selfwill.”
- Blessed Joseph Calasanctius used to say, that “the day which is spent without mortification, is lost.” To convince us of the necessity of mortification, the Redeemer has chosen a life of perfect self-denial, full of pains and ignominy, and destitute of all sensible pleasure. Hence, he is called by Isaias, “a man of sorrows.” He might have saved the world, amid the enjoyment of honours and delights; but he preferred to redeem it by sorrows and contempt. “Who having joy set before him, endured the cross.” (Heb. xii. 2.) To give us an example, he renounced the joy which was set before him, and embraced the cross. “Reflect, again, and again,” says St. Bernard, “on the life of Jesus, and you will find him always on the cross.” The Redeemer revealed to St. Catherine of Bologna that the sorrows of his passion commenced in his mother’s womb. For his birth, he selected the season, the place, and the hour most calculated to excite pain. During life, he chose to be poor, unknown, despised: and, dying, he preferred the most painful, the most ignominious, and the most desolate of all sorts of death which human nature could suffer. St. Catherine of Sienna used to say, that as a mother takes the bitterest medicine to restore the health of the infant she suckles, so Jesus Christ has assumed all the pains of life to heal the infirmities of his children.
- Thus, he invites all his followers to accompany him to the mountain of myrrh; that is, of bitterness and of sorrows. “I will go to the mountain of myrrh.” (Can. iv. 6.) “Do you come” says St. Peter Damian, “to Jesus crucified? If you do, you must come already crucified, or to be crucified.” (Ser. 1, de exalt. S. cruce.) If, 0 sacred spouse, you come to embrace your crucified Saviour, you must bring with you a heart already crucified, or to be crucified. Speaking especially of his virginal spouses, Jesus Christ said to blessed Baptist Varani: “The crucified Bridegroom, desires a crucified spouse.” Hence, to be the true spouses of Jesus, religious must lead lives of continual mortification and self-denial. “Always bearing about in our body, the mortification of Jesus.” (2 Cor. iv. 10.) They must never seek their own will or pleasure, in any action or desire, but the glory of Jesus Christ, crucifying, for his sake, all their inclinations. “They that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences.” (Gal. v. 24.) Religious, if they expect to be recognised as the spouses of the Redeemer, must transfix all their passions.
- Let us now see what are the means by which the spirit of interior mortification may be acquired. The first means is, to discover the passion which predominates in our heart, and which most frequently leads us into sin; and, then, to endeavour to conquer it. St. Gregory says, that, to overcome the devil, we must avail ourselves of the artifices by which he seeks our destruction. He labours continually to increase in us the violence of the passion to which we are most subject; and, we must direct our attention principally to the extirpation of that passion. Whoever subdues his predominate passion will easily conquer all other evil inclinations: but, he that is under its sway, can make no progress in perfection. “Of what advantage,” says St. Ephrem, “are wings to the eagle when her foot is chained?” Oh! how many religious are there who, like the royal eagle, are capable of lofty flights in the way of God, and who, because they are bound by earthly attachments, never advance in holiness. St. John of the cross says, that a slender thread is sufficient to fetter a soul who flies not with eagerness to her God. Besides, he that submits to the tyranny of any passion, not only does not go forward in the way of virtue, but is exposed to great danger of being lost. If a religious does not subdue her ruling passion, all other mortifications will be unprofitable. Some despise worldly riches, but are full of self-esteem. If they do not endeavour to bear the humiliations which they receive, their contempt of mammon will profit them but little. Others, on the contrary, are patient and humble, but enslaved to the love of money. If they do not mortify the desire of wealth, their patience and humility in bearing with contempt, will be of little use to them.
- Resolve, then, 0 sacred virgin, to subdue the evil inclination which is most predominant in your heart. A resolute will, aided by the grace of God, (which is never wanting,) conquers all difficulties. St. Francis de Sales was very prone to anger; but, by continual violence to himself, he became a model of meekness and of sweetness. We read in his life that he bore, without murmur or complaint, the injuries and calumnies which, to try his patience, were, by the divine permission, heaped upon him. As soon as one passion is subdued, we must endeavour to overcome the others: for, a single unmortified passion will be sufficient to lead the soul to destruction. St. Joseph Calasanctius asserts that, while a single passion reigns in the heart, though all the others should have been extirpated, the soul shall never enjoy tranquility. “A ship,” says St. Cyril, “however strong and perfect it may be, will be unsafe, while the smallest hole remains in the bottom.” (Ap. S. Augus. Ep. 206.) And St. Augustine says: “Trample under foot passions already subdued, and transfix those that still offer resistance.” (In cap. 8, Rom.) If you wish to be a saint, I advise you to entreat the superior and director to point out the way in which you ought to walk. Tell them not to spare you, but to contradict your inclinations, as often as they shall judge it useful to you. “Be of an upright and perfect will,” says that great servant of God, Cardinal Petrucci. St. Teresa relates, that she derived more advantage from one of her confessors, who sought on all occasions to oppose her desires, than from all the others. She adds, that she was frequently tempted to leave him; and that, as often as she yielded to the suggestion of the devil, God rebuked her severely. “Every time,” says the Saint, “I resolved to leave him, I felt within me a rebuke more painful than the conduct of my confessor towards me.”
- The second means to obtain the spirit of interior mortification is, to resist the passions, and to beat them down before they acquire strength. If any of them become strong by habitual indulgence, the subjugation of it will be exceedingly difficult. “Lest cupidity,” says St. Augustine, “should gain strength, strike it to the ground whilst it is weak.” (In Ps. 136.) Sometimes it will happen that a religious will feel inclined to make use of an angry expression, or to entertain an affection for a certain person. If she do not resist these desires in the beginning, the slight wound, inflicted by her consent to them, will soon become incurable. “Unless,” says St. Ephrem, “yon quickly take away the passions, they produce an ulcer.” (De Perfec.) One of the ancient monks, as we learn from St. Dorotheus, (Serai. 11,) has beautifully illustrated this doctrine. He commanded one of his disciples to pluck up a young cypress: the disciple executed the command without difficulty. The superior, then, told him to pull up another tree of greater growth: to perform this task, all the strength of the young monk was necessary. Lastly, the venerable Father commanded the disciple to tear up a tree which had taken deep root. In obedience to this precept the young religious exerted all his strength; but his efforts were fruitless.^—the tree was immoveable. Behold, said the old man, how easily our passions are eradicated in the beginning, and how difficult it is to conquer them after they have acquired strength and vigour by evil habits. This truth is confirmed by daily experience. A religious, when she receives an insult, feels within a motion of resentment; if, in the beginning, she stifles the spark, and silently offers to God the sacrifice of her feelings, the fire is extinguished; she escapes unhurt; and even acquires merit before the Lord. But, if she yield to the impulse of passion; if she pause to reflect on the insult she has received, and manifest externally the feelings of her soul; that spark of resentment will soon he kindled into a flame of hatred. Another religious entertains a certain little attachment towards a certain person; if, in the beginning, she avoid the company of that person, the affection will vanish; but, if she encourage the attachment, it will, in a short time, become sinful and mortal. We must therefore abstain with the greatest care from nourishing our passions—the monsters that would devour us.
- The next means is, as Cassian says, to endeavour to change the object of our passions, that thus the pernicious and vicious desires of the heart may become salutary and holy. Some are inclined to an inordinate love of all from whom they receive a favour. They should seek to change the object of this propensity, and to turn their affections to God who is infinitely amiable, and who has bestowed the most inestimable blessings upon them. Others are prone to anger: they ought to direct their resentment against their own sins, which have done them more injury than all the devils in hell could inflict upon them. Others pant after honours and temporal goods: they should aspire to the goods and honours of God’s eternal kingdom. But, to practise successfully this means of conquering our passions, frequent meditation on the truths of faith, frequent spiritual lectures, and frequent reflections on the eternal maxims, are indispensably necessary. And above all, it is necessary to impress deeply on the mind certain fundamental spiritual maxims—such as: God alone deserves to be laved: sin is the only evil which we ought to hate: whatever God wills is good: all worldly goods shall have an end: the most insignificant action, performed for God’s sake, is more profitable than the conversion of the whole world effected from any other motive than the love of God; it is necessary to do what, at the hour of death, we would wish to have done: we ought to live on this earth as if there were nothing in existence but ourselves and God. He, whose mind is continually filled with holy maxims, suffers little molestation from earthly objects, and is always strong enough to resist his corrupt inclinations. The saints have kept their souls always occupied with the truths of eternity, and thus, in the time of temptation, have been almost insensible to the goods or the evils of this life. To conquer self-love, and to shake off the tyranny of passion, we must, above all things, pray without ceasing, and continually ask of God the assistance of his grace. He that prays obtains all God’s gifts: “For every one that asketh receiveth.” (Luke, xi. 10.) We ought especially to beg the gift of divine love: for, to him who loves God nothing is difficult. Meditation and reflection assist us greatly in the practice of virtue: but, in the observance of the divine commands, a single spark of the love of God affords more help than a thousand reflections and considerations. Acts of virtue which proceed from reflection, are accompanied with labour and violence; but, he that loves, is not fatigued by doing what pleases his beloved: “He that loves labours not.”
O my God, after so many graces, so many communions, and so many good examples of companions; after so many interior lights and loving invitations, my whole soul should, at this moment, be one flame of divine love. But, notwithstanding all your favours, I am still as imperfect, and miserable as ever. Nothing has been wanting on your part: the fault is entirely mine, and is to be ascribed to the obstacles which I have opposed to your grace by obeying my passions. I see, O my Jesus, that my life has not given glory to you, but has rather brought dishonour on your name, by exhibiting to others one of your spouses so attached to the world and to herself. You have taken me from the world, and I have loved it more than even seculars. O Lord, have mercy upon me: do not abandon me, for I desire to amend. I repent, with my whole heart, of all the insults which, for the indulgence of my pleasures, I have offered to you. I desire to begin to love you from this moment. I have abused your patience too long: but now I love you with my whole soul. From this day forward, you shall be the only object of my affections. I desire to leave all, and to do everything in my power to please you. Shew me your will, and assist me to execute it: I am ready to please you in all things. Do not permit me to be any longer insensible to the excessive love by which you have obliged me to love you. I am willing to be deprived of every earthly consolation, and to suffer every cross which you will please to send me. Dispose of me as you please. I desire and hope to belong to you entirely and forever. I desire you alone, and nothing more. Mary, my mother, beg of your Son to hear me: for he denies you nothing.
On detachment from selfwill.
Nothing is more injurious to religious who have consecrated their will to Jesus Christ, than to be guided by the dictates of selfwill. Hence, to guard against selfwill—one of the worst enemies of the spirit, the founders of every religious order have prescribed, in their constitutions, the vow of obedience. Nothing but selfwill can separate us from God. Neither all the men upon earth, nor all the devils in hell, can deprive us of his grace. “Let selfwill cease,” says St. Bernard, “and there will be no hell.” (De ord. vitse.) Let men give up their own wills, and, for them, there shall be no hell, It is selfwill that destroys all virtues. St. Peter Damian calls it “the great destroyer of all virtues;” and St. Anselm says, that “the will of God is the fountain of all good, and the will of man the source of all evil.” And, what fruit can be expected from the disciple who chooses a master destitute of reason? “Whoever,” says St. Bernard, “constitutes himself his own master, becomes the disciple of a fool.” St. Antony used to say, that self-love is that wine which inebriates man, so as to render him incapable of comprehending the value of virtue, or evil of sin.
- St. Augustine asserts, that “the devil has been made a devil by selfwill.” It is principally by selfwill that Satan seeks to effect the perdition of religious. Cassian relates, that the Abbot Achilles, being asked by his disciples with what arms the devil fights against religious, replied, that he employs pride against the great; avarice against merchants; intemperance against youth; but, that his principal weapons against religious, are, their own wills; that, with these he attacks, and frequently defeats them. The Abbot Pastor says, that “the demons do not contend with us when our wills become devils.” (Apud. Ruf. lib. 3.) When we do our own will, the enemy ceases to combat us: because then our wills are devils, and more injurious to us than all the devils in hell. St. John Climacus (quoted by Gerson,) says, that he who, despising the authority of his superior, wishes to direct himself, does not require a devil to tempt him; because, he is become a devil to himself. (Gers. de vis. cap. 3.)
- “Go not,” says the Holy Ghost, “after thy lusts, but turn from thy own will.” (Eccl. xviii. 30.) Do not follow your own desires, but fly from the indulgence of selfwill. This precept is directed, in a particular manner, to religious who have sacrificed their wills to God, by promising obedience to their rule and to their superior. As God should be the only object of their affection, so obedience is the only means by which they can obtain his love. To be the fruit of obedience is the highest perfection which the actions of religious can attain. The venerable Catherine of Cardona, having left the Spanish court, retired into a desert, where she lived for many years in the practice of penitential austerities, the very recital of which would fill the mind with horror. In her life, it is related that, seeing one day a Carmelite Friar carrying through obedience a bundle of wood, and knowing by inspiration that he murmured interiorly against the command of his superior, she thus addressed him: “Brother, carry with alacrity these fagots: and be assured, that, by this act of obedience, you shall merit a greater reward than I have deserved by all my penances.” But, as the works of religious derive from obedience the highest degree of perfection, so by selfwill they are rendered most imperfect and defective. Hence Tritemius says, that nothing is more hateful to the devil than the practice of obedience. “The devil detests nothing more than obedience.” (In prol. Reg. S. Bon.) Speaking of obedience, St. Teresa says, “that satan knows that it is the remedy of the soul, and therefore he labours hard to prevent its attainment.” When St. Francis de Sales was devising the rules for the nuns of the Visitation, a certain person said that they ought to be barefooted. “You,” replied the saint, “wish to commence with the feet, but Twill begin with the head.” St. Philip Neri continually impressed on his penitents that sanctity consists in the mortification of selfwill. “You will,” says St. Jerome, “advance in proportion as you deny your own will.” Your progress in virtue will be proportional to your denial of selfwill. It was, because they knew that they could not offer to God a more agreeable sacrifice than that of their own wills by the vow of obedience, that so many priests and bishops, who led exemplary lives in the world, retired into the cloister to live under obedience.
- 0 how happy the religious who, at the hour of death, can say with the Abbot John, “/ have never done my own will.” St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzis used to say, that the only means of dying a happy death is to submit with simplicity to the direction of a superior. “To crucify all her desires is,” says Cassian, “the end of a religious.” The religious, then, who does not attend to the mortification of selfwill, cannot be called a religious, but a sacrilegious violator of her profession. What greater sacrilege than to take back the will which has been once consecrated to God? “There is not,” says St. Bernard, “a more heinous sacrilege, than to resume .power over a will once offered to God.” The Holy Ghost has declared, by the mouth of Samuel, that to violate obedience, and to follow self-will in contempt of authority, is a species of idolatry. “It is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel; and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey.” (1 Kings, xv. 23.) St. Gregory applies this passage, in a particular manner, to the disobedience of religious. “It is,” says the Saint, “like the sin of witchcraft to rebel, because they believe the inventions of their own pride, and resist the counsels of their prelates.” (S. Greg. in loc. cit.) The sin of religious who despise the commands of superiors, and follow the dictates of self-love, is like the crime of idolatry; because they, in a manner, adore selfwill as their God. Hence St. Basil ordained, that monks who were attached to their own wills, should, like lepers, be separated from the rest of the community, lest others might be infected by their bad example.
- Blessed Charlotte used to say, that the mortification of self-will is more meritorious than the renunciation of all the riches of the world. And here it is right to observe, that sanctity depends on the abnegation of self-will, not only in what is imperfect or indifferent, but also in the exercises which are in themselves holy; as, for example, prayer, almsdeeds, acts of penance, and other works of piety. Cassian remarks, that acts of virtue performed through self-will and disobedience, are productive. of the worst consequences: because, sinful actions which wear the appearance of holiness, are corrected only with the greatest difficulty. “Vices,” he says, “which appear to be virtues, are the most irremediable.” (Cass. Coll. iv. cap. 20.) Religious who desire to attain sanctity by following self-will, are to be numbered among those unhappy souls who, on the day of judgment, will say to Jesus Christ: “Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded?” (Is. lviii. 3.) To them the Judge will answer, that their works were performed to please themselves rather than to do the will of God, and that therefore they deserve no reward. “Behold,” he will say, “in the day of your fast your own will is found.” (Ibid.) Oh! how great, then, is the evil of self-will which vitiates and destroys the most perfect actions. “Great,” says Bernard, “is the evil of self-will, which renders your good works unprofitable to you.” But, on the other hand, to be the result of obedience, is an infallible sign that an action is pleasing to God. Nicephorus relates, that when the superiors of St. Simon Stylites wished to ascertain if his extraordinary and singular mode of life were pleasing to God, they commanded him to come down from his pillar and to live with the other monks. On hearing the precept, the saint instantly stretched out his foot to descend, but was told by his superiors to persevere in his austerities, which he proved by his obedience to be acceptable before God. It is necessary, then, to seek even holy things without attachment to self-will. St. Francis de Sales used to say: “I desire but a few things; and for these I am not solicitous.” He wished for them, not through self-love, but to please God, and was therefore prepared to give them up as soon as he knew they were not conformable to the holy will of God.
- O how great is the peace of a religious whose desires are the dictates of obedience. St. Dositheus having consecrated his whole will to obedience, enjoyed continual peace. Fearing that, in this peace, there was some delusion of the enemy, he one day said to his superior, St. Dorotheus: “Father, tell me why it is, that I experience such tranquillity as to be free from every earthly desire?” “My son,” replied the Father, ” this peace is altogether the fruit of obedience.” And what can make religious more content than to know, with certainty, that in all their actions they do the will of God? They can say with the Prophet: “We are happy, O Israel! because the things that are pleasing to God, are made known to us.” (Bar. iv. 4.) We enjoy constant happiness; because, being obedient in all things, we are certain of doing in all the will of our Spouse. “Oh! what sweetness,” says Mary Magdalene de Pazzis, “is contained in this single word—the will of God.” St. Peter Damian says, that “he who has rejected his own will, has thrown off a most grievous burden. What tyrant,” continues the Saint, “more cruel than self-will?” A religious cannot be subject to a more galling tyranny than the domination of her own wall: for, her inclinations will lead her to seek after things which cannot be had in the cloister: fruitless desires will keep her in perpetual misery and agitation of mind, and she shall suffer within herself a little hell. “Of what use,” says St. Eutichius, “are the silence and repose of a habitation, if the inhabitants be disturbed by the struggling of passions 1 Of what use is external serenity, if the tempest rage within?” (Horn. 9, ad monac.) . What will it profit a religious to live in the retirement of the cloister, if her heart be agitated by the violence of her passions?— without, indeed, there will be a calm; but within a storm.
- And from what source arise all our troubles? Do they not spring from attachment to our own inclinations? “Whence,” says St. Bernard, “is disturbance of mind, if not from following self will.”‘ Cassian relates, that the ancient Fathers were accustomed to say that the religious who does not conquer self-will, cannot persevere in religion: certainly, she cannot persevere with profit and with peace. Attachment to self-will is the only reason why many religious lead an unhappy life. One is unhappy, because she cannot have the confessor or the superior of her choice: another, because she desires an office, and it is not given to her. She is so discontented, that the superiors, to put an end to her complaints, accede to her wishes> and still she is not content. How can she expect to enjoy peace, when, instead of practising obedience, she obliges her superiors to submit to her desires. Others are disturbed, because an occupation, opposed to their inclinations, is assigned to them: others, because they are forbidden to keep up a certain communication or correspondence with their friends. Others, because some disagreeable precept is imposed upon them: they are displeased, and endeavour to excite against the superior the aversion of their relatives, and even of the community, and thus produce endless scandal and disorder. Their crime would merit the chastisement of two monks, who refused to receive as their abbot a holy man called Philibert: one of them was struck with lightning, the other suddenly attacked with a mortal disease. “Have .peace with your prelates” says St. Bernard: “do not detract, nor willfully listen to others detracting them: for, God punishes inferiors, in a special manner, for this vice, and even in the present life.” (Opusc. ad quid ven.) And St. Gregory says, that “the works of superiors, though they may appear reprehensible, are not to be struck with the sword of the tongue.” (In registror. lib. xii. c. 3.) “Thou shalt not,” says the Lord, “speak ill of the Gods.” (Exod. xxii. 28.) You shall not censure the conduct of your superiors, who hold the place of God in your regard.
- Attend to what Mary Magdalen, while in an ecstacy, said of the evil done to religious by self-love: “I see,” says that great Saint, “a multitude of souls among whom there is (me who, at the time of communion, is wholly recollected; but before the lapse of an hour, something occurs which is opposed to her inclinations, and she is thrown into confusion and agitation. I see another who, during the holy Mass, burns with divine love; but, when reminded of a fault, she will not acknowledge it: in her, pride and self-love reign. Another appears to rival St. Anthony by the rigour of her austerities; but, if her penances be prohibited, she is pertinacious, and will not obey. Another is reserved and mortified in the refectory; but she takes complacency in her mortifications, and desires to be esteemed more holy than her companions. In discretion, she perceives excess; and imputes to immoderate zeal the absence of any thing which she desires. Another will appear in the parlour, to surpass St. Augustine by her wisdom; and, to manifest her own perfection, will. exhibit, in. her conversation, an extraordinary degree of prudence. Others are ready to forego, in the exercises of charity, every personal advantage, but wish to be thanked for their services, and to be praised by all their companions.” Of such religious, the Lord once said to the same saint: “They desire my spirit, but they desire it in a manner, and at a time pleasing to themselves, and thus become unfit to receive it.”
- But, let us return to ourselves. If you, O blessed sister, wish to become a saint, seek to overcome, as much as possible, your own will; adopt the rule of religious who love perfection; never do anything for your own satisfaction; but, do all to please God: by this means you cut off all vain desires^ and all evil inclinations. Worldlings continually seek the gratification of their own wishes; but the saints constantly endeavour to mortify self-will, and to find occasions of self-denial. St. Andrew Avellini, as we read in his office, bound himself by an express vow to resist continually his own will. You should, at least, prescribe to yourself to deny your own will a certain number of times in the day. Repeat often the words by which St. Bernard was accustomed to excite his fervour in God’s service: “Bernard, for what purpose have you come here? Say to yourself: have I entered religion to do my own will? If I wished to live according to my own inclinations, I should have remained in the world. At my profession, I consecrated my will to God by the vow of obedience: why should I now seek to indulge it? Why am I disturbed when not permitted to follow my own will? Be not troubled, then; when your requests are refused, and when a duty painful to self-love is imposed upon you: but remember, that by your obedience you will merit a greater reward, and will make greater progress in virtue, than you would, by many spontaneous acts of penance and devotion. A great servant of God used to say, that to perform a single act of abnegation of self-will, is more profitable than to build a thousand hospitals. Have continually before your eyes the words of the venerable Father Anthony Torres, to a religious who was one of his penitents: “A soul entirely consecrated to God, loves nothing; wants nothing; seeks nothing; desires nothing.”
- I will conclude this chapter by an extract from a letter of the same venerable author, to a religious whom he wished to detach from herself and from all created objects, and whom he exhorted to dedicate herself entirely to God: “Since the Lord gives you so many occasions of suffering and of desolation, endeavour to improve in charity, which is said to be as strong as death. Study to strengthen divine love in your soul, so that it may disengage your heart from all creatures, from all human respect, from all that is prized by the world, from your own desires, and from all self. love; that there may be nothing in you to prevent your thoughts, your desires, and your affections, from being entirely directed to your beloved. Let the heart sigh after the beloved; let the will rest only on him: let the thoughts be wholly fixed on him. Let every motion of the body, let every act of your life, be for and with the beloved. To attain the love of your beloved, I advise you to renounce, every day before the crucifix, every object of your affections, all honours, interests, consolation*, and relatives, and to protest that you desire no other glory than his ignominies; no riches but his charity; no other convenience than the cross } that you desire him only, your dear and beloved Spouse. When you walk in the garden, or look up to the heavens, invite frequently and with your whole heart, all creatures to the love of your beloved. Avoid all conversation; give up every employment which is not pleasing to him; omit every action which will not redound to the glory of your Spouse.”
Ah, my God, my Lord, and my Spouse! you have loved me so much, and have given me a will to love you, and I have so often employed this will in offending and insulting you. If I were not convinced that you are a God of infinite mercy, I should lose all hope of recovering your grace which I have unfortunately lost. By my ingratitude, I deserved to have been long since abandoned by you. But, I see that your light still assists me, and I know that you still call me your love. Behold, O Lord, I do not wish to continue any longer in my ingratitude, or to resist any longer your invitation. I offer to you my whole being: receive an unfaithful soul who, for so many years, has despised your love, but who now desires to love you, and to belong entirely to you. Assist me, O my Jesus; give me a sorrow for my sins, which will fill my soul with pain and anguish for having outraged so good and so amiable a God. Unhappy me, if, after the lights which you now give me, I betray you again. How can you bear with me any longer? The fear of again offending you afflicts my soul. Ah, Lord! do not permit me to be evermore separated from you. Chastise me as you please, but not by permitting me to lose your grace. If you see that I shall ever turn my back upon you, take me out of life, at this moment, in which I hope to enjoy your friendship. Of what use will life be to me, if, by living, 1 continue to offend you? O Mary, my hope, obtain for me the grace of perseverance, or of instant death.
Chapter VIII – On the external mortification of the senses
The poor children of Adam must, till death, live in continual warfare: “For,” says the Apostle, “the flesh lusteth against the spirit.” (Gal. v. 17.) The flesh desires what the spirit dislikes; and the spirit pants for what the flesh abhors. Now, since it is peculiar to irrational creatures to place all their happiness in. sensual enjoyment, and to the angels to seek only the accomplishment of God’s will, surely if we attend to the observance of the divine commands, we shall, as a learned author justly says, be transformed into angels: but, if we fix our affections on the gratifications of sense, we shall sink to the level of the brute creation. If the soul do not subdue the body, the flesh will conquer the spirit. To maintain his seat on a furious steed, and to escape danger, the horseman must hold a tight rein; and to avoid the corruption of the flesh, we must keep the body in perpetual restraint. We must treat it as a physician treats a patient, to whom he prescribes nauseous medicine, and to whom he refuses palatable food. Cruel indeed must be the physician who gives to a sick man noxious draughts, because they are pleasing to the taste, and who does not administer useful remedies, because they are bitter and disgusting. And great is the cruelty of the sensual, when, to escape some trifling corporal pain in this life, they expose their souls and bodies to eternal torments in the next. “Such charity” says St. Bernard, “is destructive of charity: such mercy is full of cruelty; because it serves the body so as to destroy the soul.” (Apol. ad Guiliel.) The false love of the flesh destroys the true charity which we owe to ourselves: inordinate compassion towards the body is full of cruelty, because, by indulging the flesh, it kills the soul. Speaking of sensualists who deride the mortifications of the saints, the same Father says: “If we are cruel in crucifying the flesh, you, by sparing it, are far more cruel.” (Ser. 10, in Ps. Qui hab.) Yes, for. by the pleasures of the body in this life, you shall merit for soul and body inexpressible torments for ever in the next. A solitary who had emaciated his body by very rigorous austerities, being asked why he treated his body so badly, replied: “/ only chastise what chastises me.” I torment the enemy who persecutes my soul, and who seeks my destruction. The Abbot Moses being once censured for his severity toward his body, replied: “Let the passions cease, and I will also cease to mortify my flesh.” When the flesh ceases to molest me, I shall cease to crucify its appetites.
- If, then, we wish to be saved, and to please God, we must take pleasure in what the flesh refuses, and must reject what the flesh demands. Our Lord once said to St. Francis of Asaisium: “If you desire my love, use bitters as sweets, and sweets as bitters.” Some will say that perfection does not consist in mortification of the body, but in the abnegation of the will. To them I answer with Father Pinamonti, that the fruit of the vineyard does not consist in the surrounding hedge; but still, if the hedge be taken away, you will seek in vain for the produce of the vine. “Where there is no hedge,” says the Holy Ghost, “the possession shall be spoiled.” (Ec. xxxvi. 27.) So ardent was the desire of St. Lewis Gonzaga to crucify his flesh, that, although weak in health, he sought nothing but mortifications and penitential rigours: and, to a person who once said that sanctity does not consist in corporal works of penance, but in the denial of self-will, he answered in the words of the Redeemer: “These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone.” (Mat. xxiii. 23.) He meant to say that, to keep the flesh in subjection to reason, the mortification of the body is necessary, as well as the denial of the will. “/ chastise my body,” says St. Paul, “and bring it into subjection.” (1 Cor. ix. 27.) The flesh, when indulged, will be brought with difficulty to obey the divine law. Hence, St. John of the cross, speaking of certain spiritual directors who despisei and discourage external penance, says, that ‘f he who inculcates loose doctrine regarding the mortification of the flesh, should not be believed, though he confirmed his preaching by miracles
- The world and the devil are very powerful enemies; but our own body, because it is a domestic enemy, is a still more dangerous antagonist. “A domestic enemy” says St. Bernard, “is the worst of foes.” (De anima. c. 15.) A town that is besieged has more to apprehend from the enemies that are within, than from those that are without the walls; because it is far more difficult to ward off the attacks of the former, than those of the latter. St. Joseph Calasanctius used to say, that “we should pay no more attention to the body than to the vilest rag.” Such indeed has been the practice of the saints. As the indulgence of the body by sensual pleasures is the sole and constant study of worldlings, so the continual mortification of the flesh is to the saints the only object of their care and of their desires. St. Peter of Alcantara, was accustomed to say to his body: 0 my body, keep your peace »,I shall give you no rest here below; pains and torments shall be your portion in this life,; when we shall be in paradise, you will then enjoy that repose which shall never end. Similar was the practice of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzis, who, on the bed of death, stated that she did not remember to have ever taken pleasure in any other object than in God alone. If we read the lives of the saints, and see the works of penance which they performed, we shall be ashamed of the delicacy and of the reserve with which we chastise the flesh. In the lives of the ancient fathers, (lib. i. in Vit. S. Euphros.) we read of a large community of nuns who never tasted fruit or wine. Some of them took food only once in two days; others never eat a meal, except after two or three days of rigorous abstinence: all were clothed, and even slept in haircloth. I do not require such austerities from religious of the present day: but is it too much for them to take the discipline several times in the week ?—to wear a chain round the body till the hour of dinner ?—not to approach the fire on some day in each week, and during novenas of devotion ?—. to abstain from fruit and sweetmeats ?—and, in honour of the mother of God, to fast every Saturday on bread and water, or at least” to be content with one dish?
- But you will say: I am weak, and ‘my director forbids me to practise any corporal austerity. Obey your confessor; but take care to embrace with peace all the troubles of your infirmities, and all the inconveniencies arising from the heat or cold of the seasons. If you cannot chastise your body by positive rigours, abstain, at least, from some lawful pleasures. St. Francis Borgia, when amusing himself in hawk-hunting, used to cast down his eyes when he saw the hawk about to spring upon its prey. St. Lewis Gonzaga always turned away his eyes from the objects of curiosity exhibited at the festivities at which he might be present. Why cannot you practise similar mortifications? If denied lawful pleasures, the body will not dare to seek forbidden indulgence: but, if continually gratified by every innocent enjoyment, it will soon draw the soul into sinful gratification. Besides, that great servant of God, Father Vincent Carafa, of the society of Jesus, used to say, that the Almighty has given us the goods of the earth, not only that we may enjoy them, but also that we may have the means of pleasing him by offering to him his own gifts, and by voluntarily renouncing them for his sake. It is true, indeed, that certain innocent pleasures assist our weakness and prepare us for spiritual exercises; but it is likewise true, that sensual pleasures poison the soul by attaching her to creatures. Hence, like poison, they must be used sparingly. Poisons, when properly prepared and taken with moderation, are sometimes conducive to health: and sensual delights, because they are poisonous remedies, must be taken with great caution and reserve, without attachment to them, only through necessity, and to be better able to serve God.
- Besides, for the recovery of bodily health, you must take care never to impair the strength of the soul, which will be always weak as long as the flesh is not mortified. “I compassion’ ate” says St. Bernard, “the infirmities of the body: but the infirmity of the soul should be an object of greater alarm.” (Eph. 321.) I pity the infirmities of the body, but feel greater commiseration for the more dangerous maladies of the soul.” Oh! how often is bodily weakness made the pretext for unnecessary indulgence. “We leave the choir,” says St. Teresa, “today, because the head aches; on tomorrow, because it had ached; and on the day after, lest it should ache.” (Cam. di Per. c. 10.) Hence, in the next chapter, she thus addresses her dear children: “You have entered religion, not to indulge the flesh, but to die for Jesus Christ. If we do not resolve to disregard the want of health, we shall do nothing. What injury will death do to us? How often have our bodies molested us? Shall not we torment them in return?” St. Joseph Calasanctius says: “Wo to the religious who loves health more than sanctity.” St. Bernard considered it indecent in a religious to take strong medicine: for them, he said, decoctions of herbs should be sufficient. I do not require this of you; but I say, that small indeed must be the spiritual progress of the religious who is continually seeking physicians and remedies; who is sometimes not content with the prescription of the ordinary physician; and who, by her discontent, disturbs the whole community. “Men” says Salvian, “devoted to Christ, are weah, and wish to be so: if they were robust, they could with difficulty be saints.” All, and particularly religious, who consecrate themselves to the love of Jesus Christ, are weak in body, and desire to continue in their infirmities: were they strong and vigorous, it would be difficult for them to attain sanctity. The truth of this observation appears from the lives of St. Teresa, St. Rose, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzis, and other saints. The venerable Beatrix of the Incarnation, the first spiritual daughter of St. Teresa, though afflicted with pains and infirmities, was accustomed to say, that she would not exchange her condition for that of the happiest princess on earth. Such was her patience, that, in the greatest sufferings, she never uttered a word of complaint. Hence a sister once said to her: “You are like one of those wretched paupers who languish for want of food, but continue to endure the. pains of hunger rather than submit to the shame of manifesting their poverty.” If bodily weakness renders us unable to practise corporal austerities, let us at least learn from her example, to embrace with joy the infirmities with which Almighty God visits us. If borne with patience, they will conduct us to perfection better than voluntary works of penance. St. Sincletica used to say, that “as corporal maladies are cured by medicine, so the diseases of the soul arc healed by the infirmities of the body.” (In Vit. Pat. 1. Hi. c. 36.)
- Oh! how profitable to the spirit are the mortifications of the flesh. They detach the heart from sensual pleasures which wound the soul, and frequently deprive her of life. “The wounds of charity,” says Origen, “make us insensible to the wounds of the flesh.” (In Cant. c. 3.) Moreover, by mortifications we atone, in this life, for the pains due to our sins. He that has offended God, though the offence may be pardoned, must, either by expiatory works in this life, or by the pains of purgatory in the next, make satisfaction for the temporal punishment due to sin after the remission of its guilt. His sufferings in purgatory will be infinitely greater than any torments which he could endure on earth. “They shall be in very great tribulation, unless they do penance from their deeds.” (Apoe. ri. 22.) They who will not have expiated their sins, shall suffer the sharpest torments in the other world. St. Antony relates, that an angel proposed to a sick man, the choice of being confined in purgatory for three days, or of being condemned to a continuation of his infirmities for two years. The sick man chose the three days in purgatory; but scarcely had an hour elapsed in that place of torments, when he began to complain of the angel for having condemned him to a purgation not of three days, but of many years. What, replied the angel, your body is still warm, and you speak of having spent years in purgatory. If, blessed sister, you wish to suffer in peace, imagine that you have still to live fifteen or twenty years, and say: this is my purgatory: it is the spirit rather than the body that I must conquer.
- Mortifications raise the soul to God. St. Francis de Sales used to say, that a soul cannot ascend to the throne of God, unless the flesh is mortified and depressed. There are many beautiful remarks on this subject in the works of St. Teresa. “It would be folly,” says this great Saint, “to think that God admits to his familiar friendship, those who seek their own ease. Sensuality and prayer are incompatible. Souls who truly love God, cannot desire repose.”
- Mortifications merit great glory in heaven. If “every one who striveth for the mastery” abstains from whatever is calculated to diminish his strength, and thus endanger the conquest of a miserable earthly crown, how much more should we deny the flesh for the attainment of an eternal kingdom ?” And they indeed,” says St. Paul, “that they may receive a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one.” (I Cor. ix. 25.) St. John saw all the saints with “palms in their hands.” (Apoc. vii. 9.) From this passage we learn, that all the elect must be martyrs, either by the sword of the tyrant, or by the voluntary crucifixion of the flesh. But while we meditate on the necessity of works of penance, we should, at the same time, remember that the pains of this life bear no proportion to the eternal glory that awaits us in paradise. “The sufferings of this life,” says St. Paul, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that .shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. viiu 18.) The few transitory mortifications which we practise here below, will produce complete and everlasting felicity. “For,” says the Apostle, “that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an exceeding weight of glory” (2 Cor. iv. 17.)
- Let us then animate our faith: our pilgrimage on earth will not be of long duration: our home is eternity. The glory which we shall there enjoy, will be proportioned to the mortifications we shall have practised here. St. Peter says the saints are the living stones of which the celestial Jerusalem is built . But before they are translated to the city which is above, they must be polished by the salutary chisel of penance. “The wholesome chisel often went; many a saving stroke was spent; and the architect dealt heavy blows, the stones to polish, that compose this pile.” (In officioded, Eccles.) Let us consider each act of selfdenial as a work which will prepare us for paradise, This thought’ will sweeten all out pains and all our toils. How pleasing is the fatigue of a journey to him who is assured that he shall obtain possession of all the territory through which he travels? It is related in the “Spiritual Meadow,” that a certain monk was anxious to exchange his cell for another nearer to the fountain from which he was accustomed to draw water. But, as he was one day going to the fountain, he heard his steps counted by a person behind him. Turning round he saw a young man, who said: I am an angel: I reckon your steps, that none of them may be without a reward. The monk immediately abandoned the intention of changing his cell; and even wished it to be more distant from the water, that he might be able to acquire greater merit.
- Mortified religious enjoy peace and content in this life, as well as in the next. What greater happiness can a soul possess than to know, that by her mortifications she pleases God? The very privation of -carnal pleasures, and even the pains of penance, are so many spiritual delights to a loving soul. Love cannot be at rest. He that loves God, cannot live without giving continual proofs. of his affection. Now, a soul cannot give a stronger proof of her love for God, than the voluntary renunciation of earthly pleasures for his sake, and the oblation of her pains to him. A Christian enamoured of Jesus Christ, feels no pain in his penitential works. “He that loves,” says St Augustine, “labours not.” .(in Manual.) “Who,” says St. Teresa, “can behold his God covered with wounds and harassed by persecutions, without embracing and even desiring a portion of his Saviour’s sufferings?” Hence St. Paul exclaimed, that he wished for no other delight or glory than the cross of the Redeemer. “God forbid, that 1 should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal. vi. 14.) Again he says, that the crucifixion of the flesh is the test by which the true lovers of Jesus Christ may be known. “They that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.” (Gal. v. 24.) Worldlings go in search of sensual gratifications; but the followers of Christ seek only corporal austerities. In conclusion, blessed sister, imagine that death is at hand, and that as yet you have done but little for paradise. Strive from this day forward to mortify yourself as much as possible, at least by abstinence from the pleasures which selflove seeks. Endeavour to profit of every opportunity of mortification. “Let not the part of a good gift overpass you.” (Ecc. xiv. 14.) Consider every occasion of self-denial as a gift which God bestows upon you, that you may be able to merit greater glory in another life. And remember that what can be done today, cannot be performed tomorrow: for time past, never returns.
- To animate your fervour in the practice of mortification, I shall here place before your eyes, in his own words, what St. John Climacus saw in a monastery called the Prison of Penitents: “/ saw,” says the Saint, (in Scala Par. Grad.) “some of them standing the whole night in the open air, to overcome sleep. I saw others with their eyes fixed on heaven, and with tears begging mercy from God. Others stood with their hands bound behind their shoulders, and their heads bowed down, as if they were unworthy to raise their eyes to heaven. Others remained on ashes, with their heads between their knees, and beat the ground with their forehead. Others deluged the floor with their tears. Others stood in the burning rays of the sun. Others, parched with thrist, were content with taking a few drops of water to prevent death. Others took a mouthful of bread, and then threw it out, saying, that he who has been guilty of beastly actions, is unworthy of the food of men. Some had their cheeks furrowed by continual streams of tears; and others had their eyes punctured. Others struck their breast with such violence that they began to spit blood. And I saw all with faces so pallid and emaciated, that they appeared to be so many corpses.” The Saint then concludes by saying that, notwithstanding their fall, he considered them, on account of their penitential rigours, more happy than those who had never sinned, and never done penance. What shall be said of them who have fallen and have never atoned for their crime by expiatory works?
O my Spouse, assist me and give me strength, that for the future I may serve you better than I have done for the past. Hitherto I have sought the gratification of my senses and of self-love, but have been regardless of offending you. But for the future, I desire only to please you who are so deserving of all my love. For the love of me, you have chosen a life of continual pains and sorrows. You have spared nothing to draw me to your love: and shall I continue to be as ungrateful as I have been for so many years? No, my Jesus, it shall not be so; I have sinned enough in my past life. Pardon me all my transgressions. I am sorry for them, and repent with my whole heart of all the displeasure I have given you by my irregular life. I now love you with my whole soul, and desire to do all that I can to please you in all things, and without reserve. Through my director, make known to me your will. I now propose, and hope with the assistance of your grace, to fulfill your will in all things. My beloved Redeemer, replenish my memory with holy thoughts, that I may always remember the sorrows which you have endured for my sake. Inflame my will with holy affections, that I may seek only what pleases you, and may desire only the accomplishment of your will, and to belong entirely to you. Grant, 0 Lord, that I may love you, and that I may love you ardently. For, if I love you, all pains will be sweet and agreeable to me. Holy Virgin Mary, my mother, assist me to please God during the remainder of my life. In you I place all my hope.
On the mortification of the eyes, and on modesty in general.
- Almost all our rebellious passions spring from unguarded looks: for, generally speaking, it is by the sight that all inordinate affections and desires are excited. Hence holy Job “made a covenant with his eyes, that he would not so much as think upon a virgin.” (C. xxxi. v. 1.) Why did he say, that he would not so much as think upon a virgin? Should he not have said that he made a covenant with his eyes, not to look at a virgin? No, he very properly said that he would not think upon a virgin; because thoughts are so connected with looks, that the former cannot be separated from the latter; and therefore, to escape the molestation of evil imaginations, he resolved never to fix his eyes on a woman. St. Augustine says: “The thought follows the look; delight comes after the thought; and consent after delight.” From the look, proceeds the thought; from the thought the desire; (for, as St. Francis de Sales says, what is not seen is not desired,) and to the desire succeeds the consent. If Eve had not looked at the forbidden apple, she should not have fallen; but, because “she saw that it was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and beautiful to behold, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.” (Gen. iii. 6.) The devil first tempts us to look, then to desire, and afterwards to consent.
- St. Jerome says, that satan “requires only a beginning on our fart.” If we commence, he will complete our destruction. A deliberate glance at a person of a different sex, often enkindles an infernal spark, which consumes the soul. “Through the eyes,” says St. Bernard, ” the deadly arrow of love enters.” (Ser. 13.) The first dart which wounds and frequently robs chaste souls of life, finds admission through the eyes. By them, holy David fell. By them was Solomon, once the inspired of the Holy Ghost, drawn into the greatest abominations. O how many are lost by indulging their sight. The eyes must be carefully guarded by all who expect not to be obliged to join in the lamentation of Jeremiah;, “My eye hath wasted my soul.” ( Jer. Thren,, iii. 51.) By the introduction of sinful affections, my eyes have destroyed my soul. Hence St. Gregory says, that “the eyes, because they draw us to sin, must be depressed.” (Mor. Lv xxi. c. 2t) If not restrained, they will become instruments of hell, to force the soul to sin almost against her will. He that looks at a dangerous object, continues the saint, “begins to will what he willed not.” It was this the inspired writer intended to express, when he said of Holofernes, that “the beauty of Judith made his soul captive.” (Jud. xvi. 11.)
- Seneca says, that “blindness is a part of innocence;” and Tertullian relates, that a certain Pagan philosopher, to free himself from impurity, plucked out his eyes. Such an act would be unlawful; but he that desires to preserve chastity, must avoid the sight of objects calculated to excite unchaste thoughts. “Gaze not about,” says the Holy Ghost, “upon another’s beauty * * * hereby lust is enkindled as a fire.” (Ecc. ix. 8, 9.) Gaze not upon another’s beauty: for, from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up. Hence St. Francis de Sales used to say, that “they who wish to exclude an enemy from the city, must heap the gates locked.”
- Hence, to avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects. After being a novice for a year, St. Bernard could not tell whether his cell was vaulted. In consequence of- never raising his eyes from the ground, he never knew that there were but three windows to the church of the monastery in which; he spent his noviciate. He once, without perceiving the lake, walked along its banks for nearly an entire day: hearing his companions speak about it, he asked when they had seen it. St. Peter of Alcantara kept his eyes constantly cast down, so that he did not know the brothers with whom he conversed: it was by the voice, and not by the countenance, that he was able to recognise them. The saints were particularly cautious not to look at persons of a different sex. St. Hugh, when compelled to speak with women, never looked at them in the face. St. Clare would never fix her eyes on the face of a man. She was greatly afflicted, because, when raising her eyes at the elevation to see the consecrated host, she once involuntarily saw the countenance of the priest. St. Lewis Gonzaga never looked at his own mother in the face. It is related of St. Arsenius, that a noble lady went to visit him in the desert, to beg of him to recommend her to God. When the saint perceived that his visitor was a yeoman, he turned away from her. She then said to him: Arsenius, since you will neither see nor hear me, at least remember me in your prayers. No, replied the saint, but I will beg of God to make me forget you, and never more to think of you.
- From these examples may be seen the folly and temerity of some religious who, though they have not the sanctity of a St, Clare, still gaze around from the terrace, in the parlour, and in the church, upon every object that presents itself, even on persons of a different sex. And notwithstanding their unguarded looks, they expect to be free from temptations and from the danger of sin. For having once looked deliberately at a woman who was gathering ears of corn, the Abbot Pastor was tormented, for forty years, by temptations against chastity. (Dial. L. c. 20.) St. Gregory states, that the temptation, to conquer which St. Benedict rolled himself in thorns, arose from one incautious glance at a female. St. Jerome, though living in a cave, in continual prayer and macerations of the flesh, was terribly molested by the remembrance of ladies whom he had long before seen in Rome. Why should not similar molestations be the lot of religious who wilfully and without reserve, fix their eyes on persons of a different sex ?” It is not,” says St. Francis de Sales, “the look, so much as the repetition of it, that proves fatal. “If” says St. Augustine, “our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one.” (In reg. iii. e. 21.) Father Manareo, when taking leave of St. Ignatius for a distant place, looked steadfastly in his face: for this look he was corrected by the saint. From the conduct of St. Ignatius on this occasion, we learn that it is not becoming in religious to fix their eyes on the countenance of a person even of the same sex, particularly when the person is young. But I do not see how looks at young persons of a different sex can be excused from the guilt of a venial fault, or even from mortal sin, when there is proximate danger of criminal consent. “It is not lawful,” says St. Gregory, “to behold what it is not lawful to covet.” The evil thought which proceeds from looks, though it should be rejected, never fails to leave a stain upon the soul. Brother Ruggiero, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with females, replied: that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgression. (Lib. i. conform. S. Fran. 2.)
- The indulgence of the eyes, if not productive of bad passions, at least destroys recollection during the time of prayer. For, the images and sensations excited by the objects seen before, or by the wanderings of the eyes, during prayer, will occasion a thousand distractions, and banish all recollection from the soul. It is certain that, without recollection, a religious can pay but little attention to the practice of humility, patience, mortification, or of the other virtues. Hence it is her duty to abstain from all looks of curiosity, which distract her mind from holy thoughts. Let her eyes be directed only to objects which raise the soul to God. St. Bernard used to say, that to fix the eyes upon the earth, contributes to keep the heart in heaven. “Where,” says St. Gregory, ” Christ is, there modesty is found” (Epis. 193.) Wherever Jesus Christ dwells by love, there modesty is practised. However, I do not mean to say that the eyes should never be raised, or never fixed on any object. No; but they ought to be directed only to what inspires devotion, to sacred images, and to the beauties of creation, which elevate the soul to the contemplation of the Divinity. Except in looking at such objects, a religious should in general keep the eyes cast down, and particularly in places where they may fall upon dangerous objects. In conversing with men, she should never roll the eyes about to look at them, and much less to look at them a second time.
- To practise modesty of the eyes, is the duty of a religious, not only because it is necessary for her own improvement in virtue, but also, because it is necessary for the edification of others. God only knows the human heart: man sees only the exterior actions, and by them he is edified or scandalized. “A man,” says the Holy Ghost, “is known by his look.” (Ecc. xix. 26.) By the countenance the interior is known. Hence, like the baptist, a religious should be “a burning and shining light.” (John, v. 35.) She ought to be a torch burning with charity, and shining resplendent by her modesty, to all who behold her. To’ religious the following words of the Apostle are particularly applicable i ‘.’ We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” (1 Cor. iv. 9.) And again: “Let your modesty be known to all men: the Lord is nigh.” (Phil. iv. 5.) Religious are attentively observed by the angels and by men; and therefore their modesty should be made manifest before all: if they do not practise modesty, terrible shall be the account which they must render to God on the day of judgment. O what devotion does a modest religious inspire by keeping her eyes always cast down? St. Francis of Assisium once said to his companion that he was going out to preach. After walking through the town, with his eyes fixed on the ground, he returned to the convent. His companion asked him when he would preach the sermon. We have, replied the Saint, by the modesty of our looks, given an excellent instruction to all who saw us. It is related of St. Lewis Gonzaga, that when he walked through Rome, the students would stand in the streets to observe and admire his modesty.
- St. Ambrose says, that, to men of the world, the modesty of the saints is a powerful exhortation to virtue. “The look of a just man is an admonition to many.” (In Ps. 118.) The Saint adds: “How delightful is it to do good to others by your appearance” It is related of St. Bernardine of Sienna, that even when a secular, his presence was sufficient to restrain the licentiousness of his young companions, who, as soon as they saw him, were accustomed to give to each other,. notice of, his coming. On his arrival, they became silent, or changed the subject of ^heir conversation. It is likewise related of St. Gregory of Nissa, and of St. Ephrem, that their very appearance inspired piety, and that the sanctity. and modesty of their exterior edified and improved all who beheld them. When Innocent the second visited St. Bernard at Clairvaux, such was the exterior modesty of the saint and of his monks, that the Pope and his cardinals were moved to tears of devotion. Surius relates a very extraordinary feet of St. Lucian, a monk and martyr. (Die 7. Jan.) By his modesty he induced so many Pagans to embrace the faith, that the emperor Maxiroinian, fearing that he should be converted to Christianity by the appearance of the saint, would not allow the holy man to be brought within his view; but spoke to him from behind a screen. That our Redeemer was the first who taught, by his example, modesty of the eyes, may, as a learned author remarks, be inferred from the holy evangelists, who say that, on some occasions, he raised his eyes. “And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples.” (Luc. vi. 20.) “When Jesus therefore had lifted up his eyes.” (John, vi. 5.) From these passages we may conclude that the Redeemer ordinarily kept his eyes cast down. Hence the Apostle, praising the modesty of the Saviour, says: “/ beseech you, by the mildness and modesty of Christ.” (2 Cor. x. 1.) I shall conclude this subject with what St. Basil said to his monks: If, my children, we desire to raise the soul towards heaven, let us direct the eyes towards the earth. From the moment we awake in the morning let us pray continually, in the words of holy David: “Turn away my eyes, that they may not behold vanity” (Ps. cxviii. 37.)
On modesty in general.
- We must practise modesty, not only in our looks, but also in our whole deportment, and particularly in our dress, our walk, our conversation, and all similar actions. Modesty of dress is not incompatible with neatness or cleanliness. But, how disedifying is the conduct of the religious who attends too much to the neatness of her person, and to the fineness or richness of her apparel ?—who wears superfluous ornaments?—whose dress is made in a manner calculated to attract notice?—and whose whole appearance exhibits nothing but worldly vanity? Speaking of seculars, St. Cyprian says, that “females, decorated with gold, necklaces, and precious stones, lose the ornaments of the soul.” (De hab. vir. lib. iv.) What would the saint have thought of religious who imitate worldlings in the vanity of their dress? “The ornaments of a woman are,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen, “to be conspicuous for probity; to converse with the divine oracles: to seek wool and take hold of the spindle; and to keep at restraint on her eyes and on her lips.” (Adver. mul. se orn.) Yes, the ornaments of holy women are probity of life; continual conversation with God by prayer; constant labour; and a perpetual guard over the eyes and the tongue, by modesty, and by silence.
- A religious should be modest in her walk. “Let your gait,” says St. Basil, “be neither slow, nor vehement” (Ep. ad Greg.) Your walk, to be modest, must be grave; neither too quick, nor too slow. A religious must practise modesty in sitting. She must avoid every slothful posture: she must abstain from crossing the feet, and from putting one leg on the other. She must be modest at meals, by taking her food without avidity, and without rolling her eyes around in all directions, as if to observe how, and what the others eat.
- Above all, a religious must be modest in her conversation, by abstaining from all words unbecoming the religious state. She must be persuaded that all words which savour of the world, are indecorous in a religious. “If” says St. Basil, “a worldling make use of scurrilous expressions, he is not noticed. But, if a man who professes to lead a perfect life, appear to depart in the slightest degree from his duty, he is instantly remarked by all.” (In reg. qu. 22.) In a secular, no one observes indecent words, because they are common in the world: but, if religious who profess to aspire to sanctity, be guilty of the smallest impropriety, universal attention is immediately directed to their conduct. To observe modesty in words at the common recreations, you must attend to the following rules:—First, you must abstain from all murmuring, even against manifest abuses. Secondly, you must never interrupt a person who is speaking. “And,” says the Holy Ghost, “interrupt not others in the midst of their discourse.” (Ecc. xi. 8.) How scandalous is it to see a religious engrossing to herself the whole conversation ?—to see her ready to stop the sisters in the middle of a word, or of a sentence, and thus show her pride by pretending to know every thing, and by constituting herself mistress of all? Such conduct is a source of great annoyance to all who join in the conversation. However, every religious should speak occasionally during the hours of recreation, and particularly when the others are silent: for, should all abstain from speaking, the end of the rule which prescribes recreation, would be frustrated. But modesty requires, particularly from the young, that, after speaking as much as will be necessary for the ends of the recreation, they shew a stronger inclination to listen than to speak. The best rule, then, is to speak when others are silent, and to be silent when others are speaking. Thirdly, you must abstain from certain jests and jocose remarks on the real and known defects of others: for, such jokes offend the persons to whom they are applied. Fourthly, you must never utter a word of self-praise: when you are praised by others, you must raise your heart to God, and change the subject of conversation; and, when you are contradicted or ridiculed, you must not be angry. Whenever the companions of St. John Francis Regis made him the subject of their jests at recreation, he endeavoured with great good humour, to keep up the conversation, that, by being the object of their laughter, he might contribute to their amusement. Fifthly, you must speak always in a low tone, and never in such a manner as to offend the ears of others. “Let no one,” says St. Ambrose, “offend by too loud a voice.” (Lib. i. de off. c. 18.) Sixthly, you must observe modesty and moderation in laughter. St. Gregory relates, that the mother of God appeared once to a devout virgin, called Musa, and told her that, without restraining immoderate laughter, she would not please Jesus Christ. “They who seek after piety,” says St. Basil, “must take care not to pour forth their souls in laughter.” (In reg. ques. 17.) All who aspire to perfection, should avoid excessive laughter. Moderate laughter, which shews the serenity of the soul, is neither a violation of decorum, nor opposed to devotion. A religious should always present an appearance of modesty and devotion; but not of sadness and melancholy. By appeasing sad and afflicted, she dishonours religion, and gives all who behold her to understand, that sanctity, instead of infusing peace and joy, fills the soul with sorrow and bitterness. But, by a cheerful countenance, she encourages others to the practice of piety. Two courtiers (Rosign. verita Et.) of a certain monarch, having witnessed the joy with which an aged monk remained in solitude, renounced the world, and betook themselves to his retreat. Seventhly and lastly, you must not speak of things of the world; such as marriages, feasts, comedies, or of splendid dresses: you must not speak of eating, nor praise or censure the dishes that are brought to table. St. Francis de Sales used to say, that ” a man of spirit never thinks of the table but when. he sits at it.” When religious hear unseemly discourses, they should, like St. Lewis Gonzaga, propose some useful question, or take occasion, from what is said, to introduce some pious subject of conversation. To be able to converse with his companions on spiritual subjects during recreation, he was accustomed to spend, each day, half an hour in reading the life of a saint, or some other book of devotion. When among the juniors, he was the first to introduce a religious subject: when with priests, or with his seniors, he proposed a case of conscience, as if for his own information, and thus succeeded in making the conversation turn upon holy things. In a short time his companions knew that he did not relish any but pious conversation, and therefore they sought on every occasion to gratify his wishes: should they happen to be discoursing on any other subject, when he came among them, they would immediately begin to speak on God. Every one is inclined to speak continually of what he tenderly loves. St. Ignatius of Loyola appeared not to know how to speak of any thing but God, and was therefore called the Father who speaks always of God.
My Jesus, pardon me, for your mercy’s sake, the numberless faults which I have committed for want of sufficient modesty, and of which I now repent with my whole heart. All my defects have arisen from my little love of you. I acknowledge that I do not deserve mercy: but your wounds and your death encourage and oblige me to hope. O my God! how often have I insulted you?—and with what tenderness have you pardoned all my sins? I have promised to be faithful to you, and still I have returned to my sins! Shall I wait till you abandon me to my tepidity, and thus to eternal misery? I desire, O Lord, to amend; and I place all my confidence in you, and propose to seek continually your assistance to be faithful to you. Hitherto I have trusted in my own resolutions, and have neglected to recommend myself to Thee. This self-confidence and neglect of prayer have been the cause of my past sins. Eternal Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me and assist me; give me grace to recommend myself to Thee in all my wants. I love Thee, O my Sovereign Good, and desire to love Thee with all my strength; but without Thee I can do nothing. Give me Thy love : give me holy perseverance. I hope for all things from Thy infinite goodness. O Mary, Mother of God, thou knowest how much I confide in thee ; assist me ; have pity on me.
On the mortification of the appetite.
- St. Andrew Avellini said, that he who wishes to advance in perfection, should begin zealously to mortify the appetite. “It is impossible,” says St. Gregory, “to engage in the spiritual conflict, without the previous subjugation of the appetite.” (Mor. L. xxx. e. 13.) Father Raggacci, in his “Treatise on the one thing necessary,” asserts, that the greater part of external penance consists in the mortification of the palate. Since the mortification of the taste consists in abstinence from food, must we then abstain altogether from eating? No: it is our duty to preserve the life of the body, that we may be able to serve God as long as he wills us to remain on earth. But, as Father Vincent Caraffa used to say, we should attend to the body with the same feelings of disgust, as a powerful monarch would perform, by compulsion, the meanest work of a servant. “To live,” says St. Francis de Sales, “we must eat; but we should not live as if for the purpose of eating.” Some, like beasts, appear to live only for the gratification of the palate. “A man,” says St. Bernard, “becomes a beast, by loving what beasts love.” Whoever, like brute animals, fixes his heart on the indulgence of the appetite, falls from the dignity of a spiritual and rational creature, and sinks to the level of senseless beasts. Unhappy Adam, for the pleasure of eating an apple, is “compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them.” In another place, St. Bernard says that, on seeing Adam forget his God and his eternal salvation, for the momentary gratification of his palate, the beasts of the fields, if they could speak, would exclaim: “Behold, Adam is become one of us.” (In Cant. Ser. 35.) Hence St. Catherine of Sienna used to say, that, “without mortifying the taste, it is impossible to preserve innocence, since it was by the indulgence of his appetite, that Adam fell.” Ah! how miserable is the condition of those “whose God is their belly?” (Phil. iii. 19.)
- How many have lost their souls by intemperance? In his Dialogues, (lib. iv. c. 38,) St. Gregory relates, that, in a monastery of Sienna, there was a monk who led a very exemplary life. When he was at the point of death, the religious, expecting to be edified by his last moments, gathered around him. “Brethren,” said the dying man, “when you fasted, I eat in private, and therefore I have been already delivered over to satan who now deprives me of life, and carries away my soul.” After these words, he expired. The same saint relates, in another place, (dial. 1. c. 4,) that a certain nun, seeing in the garden a very fine lettuce, pulled and eat it, in opposition to her rule. She was instantly possessed by a devil who tormented her grievously. Her companions called to her aid the holy Abbot Equitius, at whose arrival the demon exclaimed: ” What evil have I done? I sat upon the lettuce: she came and eat it.” The holy man, by his commands, compelled the evil spirit to depart. In the Cistercian Records, (Vine spec. his. lib. vii. c. 108,) we read, that St. Bernard, once visiting his novices, called aside a brother whose name was Acardo, and said that a certain novice, to whom he pointed, would, on that day, fly from the monastery. The saint begged of Acardo to watch the novice, and to prevent his escape. On the following night, Acardo saw a demon approach the novice, and by the savoury smell of a roasted fowl, tempt him to desire forbidden food. The unhappy young man awoke, and, yielding to the temptation, took his clothes, and prepared to leave the monastery. Acardo endeavoured, in vain, to convince him of the dangers to which he would be exposed in the world. Overcome by gulosity, the unhappy man obstinately resolved to return to the world: there (the narrator adds) he died miserably. t:
- Let us then take care not to be conquered by this brutal vice. St. Augustine says, that food is necessary for the support of life: but, like medicine, it should be taken only through necessity. Intemperance is very injurious to the body as well as the soul. It is certain, that excess in eating is the cause of almost all the diseases of the body. Apoplexy, diarrhea, head-aches, complaints of the stomach and bowels, and innumerable other maladies, spring from the immoderate use of food. But, the diseases of the body are only a small part of the evils that flow from intemperance: its effects on the soul are far more disastrous. This vice, according to St. Thomas, (2. 2. qu. 148, a. 6,) in the first place, darkens the soul, and renders her unfit for spiritual exercises, but particularly for prayer. As fasting prepares the mind for the contemplation of God, and of eternal goods, so intemperance diverts it from holy thoughts. St. Chrysostom says, that the glutton, like an overloaded ship, moves with difficulty; and that, in the first storm of temptation, he is in danger of being lost.
- “Take,” says St. Bernard, “even bread with moderation, lest a loaded stomach should make you weary of prayer.” (In Cant. Ser. 66.) And again he says: “If you compel a person who takes a heavy meal, to watch, you will extort from him wailing, rather than singing.” (Apol. ad Guiliel.) Hence, it is the duty of religious to eat sparingly, and particularly at supper: for, in the evening a false appetite is frequently created by the acid produce of the food taken at dinner. Whoever satisfies his appetite in the evening, is exposed to great danger of excess; and, in consequence of indigestion, will frequently feel his stomach overburdened in the morning, and his head so stupid and confused, that he will not be able to say an Ave Maria. Do not imagine that the Almighty will, at the time of prayer, infuse his consolations into the souls of those who, like senseless beasts, seek delight in the indulgence of the appetite. “Divine consolation,” says St. Bernard, “is not given to those who admit any other delight.” (Ser. 6, de Ascen.) Celestial consolations are not bestowed on those who go in search of earthly pleasures.
- Besides, he who gratifies the taste, will readily indulge the other senses: for, having lost the spirit of recollection, he will easily commit faults, by indecent words, and by unbecoming gestures. But the greatest evil of intemperance is, that it exposes chastity to great danger. “Repletion of the stomach,” says St. Jerome, “is the hotbed of lust.” (In Jov.) Excess in eating is a powerful incentive to incontinence. Hence Cassian says, that “it is impossible for him who satiates his appetite, not to experience conflicts” (Inst. lib. ix. c. 13.) The intemperate cannot expect to be free from temptations against purity. To preserve chastity, the saints practised the most rigorous mortifications of the appetite. “The devil” says St. Thomas, “vanquished by temperance, does not tempt to lust.” When his temptations to indulge the palate are conquered, he ceases to provoke incontinence.
- He that attends to the abnegation of the appetite, makes continual progress in virtue. That the mortification of the palate will facilitate the conquest of the other senses, and enable us to employ them in acts of virtue, may be inferred from the following prayer of the church: “O God who, by this bodily fast, extinguishest our vices, elevatest our understanding, bestowest on us virtue and its reward.” (Preface for Lent) By fasting, the Lord enables the soul to subdue her passions, to raise her affections above the earth, to practise virtue, and to acquire merits for eternity. Worldlings say: God has created the goods of this earth for our use and pleasure. Such is not the language of the saints. The venerable Vincent Caraffa, of the ‘society of Jesus, used to say, that God has given us the goods of the earth, not only that we may enjoy them, but also that we may have the means of thanking him, and shewing him our loyalty by the voluntary renunciation of his gifts, and by the oblation of them to his glory. To abandon, for God’s sake, all worldly enjoyments, has always been the practice of holy souls. The ancient monks, as St. Jerome relates, thought it a great defect to make use of food dressed with fire. Their daily sustenance consisted in a pound of bread. St. Lewis Gonzaga, though always sickly, fasted three times in the week on bread and water. St. Francis Xavier, during his missions, was satisfied each day with a few grains of toasted rice. St. John Francis Regis, in his greatest fatigues, took no •other food than a little flour steeped in water. The daily support of St. Peter. of Alcantara, was but a small quantity of broth. We read, in the life of the venerable brother John Joseph of the cross, who lived in our own days, and with whom I was intimately acquainted, that, for twenty-four years, he fasted very often on bread and water, and never eat any thing but bread and a little herbs or fruit. When commanded, on account of his infirmities, to use warm food, he took only bread dipped in broth. When the physician ordered him to take a little wine, he mixed it with his broth, to increase the insipidity of his scanty repasts I do not mean to say that, to attain sanctity, it is necessary for nuns to imitate these examples: but I assert, that whoever is attached to the pleasures of the table, or does not seriously attend to the mortification of. the appetite will never make progress in virtue. In religious communities there are generally two refections in the day: hence, they who neglect the mortification of the taste, will daily commit a thousand faults.
- Let us now come to the practice of denying the appetite. In what is it to be mortified? St. Bonaventure answers: “In the quantity, the qualify, and the manner.” (De prof. Rel. L. if.- c. 47.)
In the quality, adds the saint, by seeking not what is delicate, but what is simple. The saint says in another place that small is the progress of the religious who is not .,content with what is . offered to her, but requires that. it be prepared, in a different manner, or seeks more palatable food. A mortified religious is satisfied with what is placed before her; and, instead of seeking after delicacies, she selects, among all the dishes that may be presented to her, the least palatable, provided it be not prejudicial to health. Such was the practice of St. Lewis Gonzaga, who always chose what was most disagreeable to the taste. “Wine and flesh,” says St. Clement of Alexandria, “give strength indeed to the body, but they render the soul languid.” (Strom. 1. vii.) From the sacred canons we learn, that formerly monks Were not permitted even to taste flesh. “To a monk, the privilege of tasting flesh is not granted” (Deeonsec. Dist. 5.) Speaking of himself,, S(;»: Bernard says: “I abstain from flesh lest I should cherish the vices of the flesh.” (,Ser..,6p,,yin Cant,) “Give not wine to kings” says, the wise man. (Prov. xxxi. 4.) By kings, in this place, we are to understand not the monarchs of the earth, but the servants of God, who rule their wicked passions and subject them to reason, . In. another place, Solomon says: “Who hath woe?…Surely they that pass their time in wine, and study to drink off their cups.” (Prov. xxiii. 30.) . Since then the word wo, in the sacred scriptures, according to St. Gregory, signifies everlasting misery/ wo, eternal wo, shall be the lot of all who are addicted to wine! Because “wine is a. luxurious thing,” (Prov. xx. 1,) and incites to incontinence. “My first advice,” says St_ Jerome, in one of his epistles to the virgin. Eustoehia, “is, that the spouse of Christ fly from wine as from poison. Wine and youth are a twofold incentive to pleasure.” (Ep, 22,). If you desire to preserve the chastity which becomes the spouse of Jesus, avoid wine as poison: wine and youth impel, with double ardour, to unlawful pleasures. From the words of the holy doctor we may infer, that he who has not enough of courage, or of bodily strength, to abstain altogether from flesh, and from wine, should, at least use them with great moderation: otherwise, he must be prepared for continual molestation from temptations against
- A mortified religious would also do well to abstain from superfluous seasonings which serve only to gratify the palate. The seasonings used by the saints were ashes, aloes, and wormwood. I do not require such mortifications of you; nor do I recommend very extraordinary fasts. On the contrary, it is, according to Cassian, (De Coenob. inst. 1. 5, c. 23.) the duty of all that are not solitaries, and that live in Community, to avoid, as a source of much vain glory, whatever is not conformable to the common usages of the monastery. “Where,” says St. Philip Neri, “there is a common table, all should eat of what is served up.” Hence he frequently exhorted his disciples, ” to avoid all singularity as the origin of spiritual pride.” But, a courageous religious finds opportunities of practising mortification without allowing it to appear to others. St. John Climacus partook of whatever was laid before him: but his refection consisted in tasting rather than in eating what was offered to him; and thus, by his abstemiousness, he practised continual mortification of the appetite without the danger of vanity. St. Bernard used to say, that he who lives in community, will take more pleasure in fasting once, while his companions at table take their ordinary repast, than in fasting seven times with them. However, religious may, without the danger of vain glory, occasionally perform very rigorous mortifications; for example, by living on bread and water on Fridays, Saturdays, on the vigils of the Blessed Virgin, and on similar occasions: for, such fasts are ordinarily practised by fervent religious.
- If, on account of bodily infirmity, or through want of fervour, you do not practise rigid fasts, you should at least not complain of the common fare, and should be content with whatever is brought to table. St. Thomas never asked for particular food, but was always satisfied with what was placed before him, and eat of it with great moderation. Of St. Ignatius, we read that he never refused any dish, and never complained that the food was not well dressed, or well seasoned. It is the duty of the superior to provide the community with wholesome food: but a religious should never complain when what is laid before her is rear or overdone; when it is scanty, smoked, insipid, or too highly seasoned with salt. The poor, provided they receive what is necessary for the support of life, take what is offered to them without conditions or complaints: and, a religious should, in like manner, accept whatever is laid before her as an alms from Almighty God.
- With regard to the quantity, St. Bonaventure says, that “food ought not to be taken too often, or in excess, but in such a quantity that it may be a refection, and not a burden to the body.” Hence, the rule of all who seek perfection is, never to eat to satiety. “Let your repast be moderate,” says St. Jerome,, “so that the stomach will never be replete.” (Ep. 22. ad Eust.) Some religious fast one day, and eat to excess on the next. St. Jerome says, that it is better to take always a reasonable quantity of food, than to fast sometimes, and afterwards commit excess. The same holy doctor remarks, that satiety is to be avoided in the use, not only of delicacies, but also of the coarsest food.” (In Jov. lib. ii.) If a nun commit excess, it matters not whether she eat of partridges, or of pulse: the bad effects of her intemperance are the same in both cases. St. Jerome’s rule for determining the quantity of food is, that a person should always rise from table in such a state, that he may be able to apply immediately to prayer or to study. “When” says the holy doctor, “you eat, think that it will be your duty to pray or to read immediately after.” (Ep. ad Furiam.) An ancient Father used to say, that “he who eats a great deal, and is still hungry, will receive a greater reward than the man who eats little, and is satiated.” Cassian relates, (Ins. 1. v. c. 26,) that, to comply with the duty of hospitality, a certain monk was one day obliged to sit at table very often with strangers, and to partake of the refreshment prepared for them; and that after all, he got up the last time with an appetite. This is the best and most difficult sort of mortification. For it is easier to abstain altogether from certain meats, then, after having tasted them, to eat but little.
- He who desires to practise moderation in eating, would do well to diminish his meals gradually, till, by experience, he ascertains the quantity of food necessary for the support of the body. It was in this manner that St. Dorothy trained his disciple, St. Dositheus, to the just practice of mortification. But the most secure means of removing all doubts and scruples with regard to fasts and abstinence is, to follow the advice of your director. St. Bernard says, that mortifications which are performed without the permission of one’s confessor, are not meritorious, because they are the fruit of a criminal presumption. “What is done without the permission of the spiritual father, will be regarded as presumption, and shall not be rewarded.” (In reg. c. 49.) All, but particularly nuns, should make it a general rule to «at sparingly at supper, even when there is some apparent necessity for a plentiful meal: for, in the evening all are subject to a false appetite, and therefore a slight excess will occasion, on the following morning, headaches, fullness of the stomach, and by consequence, a repugnance and incapacity for all spiritual exercises,
- Abstinence from drink, except at meals, may be safely observed by all, unless when, in particular circumstances, such as in the heats of summer, the want of liquid might be prejudicial to health. However, St. Lawrence Justinian, even in the burning heats of summer, never drank out of meals: and to those who asked how he could bear the thirst, he replied: “How shall I be able to bear the burning thirst of purgatory, if I cannot now abstain from drink?” On fast days, the ancient Christians abstained from drink till the hour of their repast, which was always taken in the evening. Such is the practice of the Turks, at the present day, during their fasts of lent. We should, at least, observe the rule which is universally prescribed by physicians, not to take any drink for four or five hours after dinner.
- With regard to the manner of eating, St. Bonaventure says, that food should not be taken unseasonably, nor inordinately, but religiously. Food should not be taken unseasonably; that is, before the hours prescribed for the community. To a penitent who could not abstain from eating till the hour of meals, St. Philip Neri said: “Child, if you do not correct this defect, you shall never advance in virtue.” “Blessed,” says the Holy Ghost, “is the land, whose princes eat in due season.” (Ecc. x. 17.) And happy the monastery whose members never eat out of the hours of meals. When St. Teresa heard that some of her nuns had asked permission from the provincial to keep eatables in their cells, she reproved them very severely: “Your request,” said the saint, “if granted, would lead to the destruction of the monastery.”
- To avoid the fault of taking your food inordinately, you must be careful not to eat with avidity, with eagerness, or with haste. “Be not greedy in your feasting,” says the Holy Ghost. (Ecc. xxxvii. 32.) Your object in eating must be to support the strength of the body, and to be able to serve the Lord. To eat through mere pleasure, cannot be excused from the guilt of venial sin. For, Innocent XI. has condemned the proposition which asserts, that it is not a sin to eat or to drink from the sole motive of satisfying the palate. However, it is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But, it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the coarsest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault. In the lives of the Fathers it is related, that, though the same food was served to all the monks of a certain monastery, a holy bishop saw some of them feasting on honey, others on bread, and others on mire. (Lib. de Provid. c. 25.) By this vision he was given to understand, that the first eat with a holy fear of violating temperance, and were accustomed, at meals, to raise their souls to God by holy aspirations: that the second felt some delight in eating, but still returned thanks to God for his benefits ,* and, that the third eat for the mere gratification of the taste.
- To practise temperance, in the manner of eating, you must not perform indiscreet fasts which would render you unable to serve the community, or to •observe your rule. Transported with a certain fervour, by which the Almighty animates their zeal for virtue, beginners are often very indiscreet in their fasts and other works of penance. Their rigours sometimes bring on infirmities, which disqualify them for the duties of the community, and sometimes make them give up all exercises of piety. Discretion is necessary in all things. A master who entrusts a servant with the care of a horse will be equally displeased, whether the animal be rendered unfit for use, by an excess or by a want of food. St. Francis de Sales used to say to his Nuns of the Visitation, that “continual moderation is better than fits of violent abstinence interspersed with occasional excesses. Besides, such abstinences make us esteem ourselves more holy than others who do not practise them.” It is certainly the duty of all to avoid indiscretion: but it has been justly remarked by a great spiritual master— and the remark deserves attention—that the spirit seldom deceives us by suggesting excessive mortifications; while the flesh, under false pretences, frequently claims commiseration, and procures an exemption from what is displeasing to its propensities.
- Abstinence from delicacies agreeable to the taste, and in some measure injurious to health, is a very useful mortification. It will also be very profitable to refrain from the fruits which come first into season; and, throughout the year, from some particular fruit determined by lot: to abstain once or twice in the week from all fruit, and every day from a portion of what is laid before you: to deny yourself some delicacy, or merely to taste it, and say with St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzis, that it is not useful for you; and to leave, every day, according to the advice of St. Bernard, a part of what is most pleasing to the palate. “Let every one,” says the saint, “offer at table something to God.” (In reg. c. 49.) It will be very salutary to check for some time the desire of drinking or of eating what is before you; and to abstain from wine, spirits, and spices. Such abstinence is particularly adapted to young persons. The preceding mortifications may be practised without pride, or injury to health. It is not necessary to perform all of them. Let each person observe the abstinences which her superior or director permits. It is certainly better to practise small and frequent works of penance, than to perform rare and extraordinary fasts, and afterwards lead an unmortified life. With regard to the other acts of self-denial which may be practised in the refectory, observe the directions given in the 24th chapter, which treats of the rule of life.
My dear Redeemer, I am so tepid and full of defects, that I am ashamed to appear before you. Had I corresponded with your graces, 1 should now be a seraph by the ardour of my love. But I am more imperfect than ever. How often have I promised to become a saint, and to consecrate myself entirely to you? But my promises have been so many treasons. I console myself with the reflection, that I have to deal with Infinite goodness. Do not abandon me, 0 Lord, but continue to strengthen me: for I desire to amend, by the assistance of your grace. I do not wish to resist the love which you bear to me: I see that you wish me to become a saint; and, to please you, I desire to sanctify my soul. I promise to mortify my senses particularly by abstaining from certain pleasures. (Name them.) Ah, my Jesus, I know that, to gain my heart, you have done too much: great indeed should be my ingratitude, if I denied you any thing, or loved you but little. I do not wish to be any longer ungrateful. You have been infinitely good to me: I shall not be ungenerous to you as I have hitherto been- I love you, O my Spouse: I am sorry for all the displeasure I have given you. Pardon me, and assist me to be faithful to you. O Mary, you have always been faithful to God: obtain for me the gift of fidelity to his graces during the remainder of my life.
On the mortification of the senses of hearing, of smell, and of touch.
The sense of hearing must be mortified by not listening to indecent words, to murmurings, or to worldly conversations, which fill the mind with a thousand thoughts and images, that afterwards distract and disturb the soul in prayer and in the other exercises of devotion. Should you ever happen to be present at such discourses, endeavour to cut them short by proposing some useful question. If that be not sufficient, you ought either to retire, or remain silent, and cast down your eyes, to shew how much you dislike such language. To mortify the smell, you must abstain from the use of perfumes and of scented waters: such delicacies are unbecoming even in worldlings. Animated by the spirit of charity and mortification, the saints feel as much delight in the offensive odours which surround the sick and the infected, as they would, in a garden of the most fragrant flowers. Let it be your study to imitate their example, and to bear patiently the disagreeable smell which you may experience in the rooms of the sick. With regard to the touch, you must take the greatest care to avoid all, even the smallest defects: for, every fault committed by the indulgence of that sense, exposes the soul to eternal death. I cannot explain myself fully on this subject: I shall only say that, to preserve the precious jewel of purity, religious should observe all possible modesty and caution, not only towards others, but also towards themselves. Even in his last agony, St. Peter of Alcantara would not allow any of his brethren to touch any part of his body. Feeling himself touched by one of them, he exclaimed: “Withdraw, touch me not; I am still alive, and may still offend God.” This sense of touch must be kept under the greatest restraint, by external mortifications, of which I shall now speak.
- These mortifications are reduced to four heads—to fasts, haircloths, disciplines, and watchings. In the preceding section, enough has been said of fasting. Haircloths are of various kinds: some are made of strong or coarse hair; the others are bands or chains of brass or iron wire. The former may be injurious to persons of a delicate constitution: for, as Father Scaramelli justly remarks, (torn. i. tract. 2, ar. 1, c. 4,) they inflame the flesh, and weaken the stomach, by drawing its natural heat to the external surface of the body. The latter may be worn on the arms, legs, or shoulders, without injury to the health; but not on the breast, or around the body. These are the ordinary species of haircloths, and may be safely used by all. Far different from them were the haircloths worn by the saints. D. Sancia Carriglio, the celebrated penitent of Father M. Avila, wore a shirt of coarse hair, which reached from the neck to the knees. St. Rose of Lima used a long hair shirt, interwoven with needles, and carried a broad iron chain round her loins. St. Peter of Alcantara wore on his shoulders a large plate of iron, which was so rough, and covered with sharp projections, that it kept the flesh in a state of continual laceration. Would it then be too much for you to wear a small band of iron from morning till the hour of dinner?
- Disciplines, or flagellations, are a species of mortification strongly recommended by St. Francis de Sales, and universally adopted in religious communities of both sexes. All the modern saints, without a single exception, have continually practised this sort of penance. It is related of St. Lewis Gonzaga, that he often scourged himself unto blood, three times in the day. And, at the point of death, not having sufficient strength to use the lash, he besought the provincial to have him disciplined from head to foot. Surely, then, it would not be too much for you to take the discipline once in the day, or, at least, three or four times in the week. However, the practice of this penance should be regulated by the confessor.
- Lastly, vigils or watchings consist in the retrenchment of sleep. It is related of St. Rose, that, to prevent sleep, and thus be able to spend the night in prayer, she tied her hair to a nail fastened in the wall. When she was overcome by sleep, the inclination of the head caused pain sufficient to awake her. Of St. Peter of Alcantara we read, that for forty years he slept but an hour, or, at the most, an hour and a half, each night; and, that he might not be overcome by sleep, he lay with his head on a piece of wood fixed in the wall of his cell. Such austerities cannot be practised by all, or without a special grace. Indeed, watching is a species of penance, in which great moderation and discretion should be observed. Severe watchings generally render us unfit for the exercise of the mental faculties, for the recitation of the office, for prayer, and spiritual reading. St. Charles Borromeo, in consequence of watching during the night, was sometimes overcome by sleep, even during public functions, and was therefore obliged to prolong the time for rest. However, they who pretend to virtue, should not, like brute animals, give to their body all the repose which the flesh desires. It is necessary to take as much rest as is requisite, and no more. Generally speaking, females require less sleep than men. In general, five, or at the most, six hours’ sleep, is sufficient for females. At least, O blessed sister, be careful to rise at the first sound of the morning bell, and not to remain, like the sluggard, turning about in bed, after having heard the signal for rising. St. Teresa used to say, that a religious should leap out of bed the instant she hears the bell.
- The saints have not only curtailed the time for sleep, but have also practised various mortifications in the manner of taking repose. St. Lewis Gonzaga was accustomed to scatter fragments of wood and of stones over his bed. St. Rose of Lima lay on the trunks of trees, the space between which, was filled with broken earthen ware. The venerable St. Mary Crucified, of Sicily, used a pillow of thorns. These austerities are extraordinary, and are not adapted to all persons. But, a religious should not seek a bed of down: if a straw bed be not injurious to her health, why should she require a mattress of hair?—or, if a single mattress be sufficient for her, why does she make use of two?
- To bear with patience the excessive heat or cold of the seasons, is a very useful mortification of the sense of touch. St. Peter of Alcantara went barefooted and bareheaded throughout the winter; and never wore more than a single coat, which was generally torn. You cannot practise such rigours: but, would it be too much for you. to refrain from approaching the fire during the winter? St. Lewis Gonzaga, even when he lived in Lombardy, where the cold is very intense, never approached the fire. You can, at least on one day in the week, bear with patience> and accept as a penance from the hands of God, the cold and heat of the seasons. St. Francis Borgia, on his arriving one night at a college in the country, found the gates locked, and was therefore obliged to remain all night under the snow, which fell heavily. In the morning the religious expressed great regret at what had happened. Be assured, replied the saint, that, though I suffered much in the body, I have been greatly consoled in spirit by the reflection, that God rejoiced at my pains: it appeared to me, that God himself sent me from heaven those drops of snow which fell upon me.
My beloved Redeemer, I blush to appear before you with so many attachments to earthly pleasures. During life, you thought of nothing but of suffering for me. But, forgetful of your pains, and of your love for me, I have hitherto attended only to my own gratification. In my past life I have had nothing of the character of a religious, and of your spouse, except the habit and the name. I would deserve to be banished from this holy place, where you have favoured me with so many lights and graces, which I have always repaid with ingratitude. I have certainly made many good purposes; and though I have frequently promised, I have not fulfilled them. O my Jesus, give me strength: I desire to do something for you before I die. If I were now to die, how unhappy should I be? You prolong my life, that I may become a saint. I desire to be perfect: I love you, O my God and my Spouse; and I desire to love you as becomes your spouse. I wish to think only of pleasing you. Pardon me all the offences I have hitherto offered to you: I detest them with my whole heart. O God of my soul, to gratify myself I have insulted you, my treasure and my life, who have loved me so much. Assist me to give myself entirely to you from this day forward. Holy Virgin Mary, my hope, come to my aid, and obtain for me the grace to do something for God before the hour of my death.