“Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: ‘Charity is the bond of perfection;’ and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.” –St. Alphonsus de Liguori
“If you would make your salvation secure do not be satisfied with observing the commandments only, but add the practice of the counsels as far as your state will admit……The third degree of obedience is to follow divine inspirations. Good servants do not confine their obedience to the formal commands of their master, but promptly execute the least indication of his will, So should we act towards God. This is a subject, however, in which we are exposed to grave illusions by mistaking the whisperings of self-love or the suggestions of the devil for divine inspirations. Hence we must follow the counsel of St. John and “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God.” (1Jn. 4:1).
We have for our guidance in this respect, besides Holy Scripture and the teaching of the saints, this general rule: The service of God embraces two kinds of acts, one of which is of our own choice, the other of obligation. However meritorious works of our own choice may be, we must always select what is of obligation in preference to them. This is the teaching of the Holy Spirit: “Obedience is better than sacrifices.” (1Kg. 15:22). God first requires of us the faithful fulfillment of His word. When our obedience in this respect is perfect, we may follow the guidance of pious inspirations. This fidelity to the word of God comprises, first, obedience to the commandments, without which there is no salvation; secondly, obedience to our lawful superiors, for the Apostle tells us, “He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:2); thirdly, obedience to the laws of our state, whether it be the priesthood, religion, or marriage; and, fourthly, fidelity to practices which, though not of precept, greatly facilitate the observance of the commandments. For example, if you find, by daily reflecting upon your faults and by asking God to inspire you with the most efficacious means of correcting them, that you lead a more regular life, that you acquire more control over your passions, and that your heart becomes more inclined to virtue; while, on the other hand, your neglect of these precautions weakens your virtue, throws you back into many failings, and exposes you to the danger of relapsing into former evil habits. you cannot doubt that God calls you to these pious exercises. Experience has taught you that they are the means which He has chosen to enable you to overcome your sins and to prevent you from committing them again. God does not, it is true, formally command these practices, but He strongly exhorts you to embrace them if you would faithfully fulfill what He does command.
Again, if you find that you are self-indulgent and opposed to everything which disturbs you, and that this love of comfort hinders your spiritual progress and leads you to neglect good works because they are laborious and painful, while you indulge in culpable actions because they are attractive and pleasant, you must conclude that God calls you to practice mortification and to overcome your appetite for pleasure by penance and austerities. Examine all your propensities in this way, and you will easily discern what will be most profitable to you. Be always guided, however, in this respect, by the counsels of your superiors.
Thus we see that we are not always to choose what is best in itself, but what is best for us. Hence there are many excellent practices from which we would derive no advantage, either because they are above our strength or because God does not call us to embrace them. Then let us not soar above our state; let us aspire to what will strengthen us, not to what will overwhelm us. “Lift not up thy eyes to riches which thou canst not have,” says Holy Scripture, “because they shall make themselves wings like those of an eagle, and shall fly towards heaven.” (Prov. 23:5). – Ven. Louis of Granada
GOD’S WILL IN PLEASURE AND RECREATION
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men.” – Phillipians 4:4-5
We all know well the necessity of mortification and penance. However, some misunderstand certain principles, and imagine that it is always the more the better, and that it would always be please God more to deny ourselves something, rather than indulge. However, when mortification becomes a hindrance instead of a help, then it is not the will of God.
St. Jerome, whose proneness to austerity makes him an especially valuable authority on this point thus writes to Celantia: Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection. – Summa of the Christian Life, Ven. Louis of Granada
“I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work.” Now this relaxation of the mind from work consists in playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times.” – St. Augustine
“A joyful mind maketh age flourishing: a sorrowful spirit drieth up the bones”- Proverbs 17:22
“As a moth doth by a garment, and a worm by the wood: so the sadness of a man consumeth the heart” Proverbs 25:20
“Of sadness cometh death, and it overwhelmeth the strength, and the sorrow of the heart boweth down the neck.” – Ecclesiasticus 38:19
St. Thomas Aquinas says that pleasure induces happiness:
“….pleasure is a kind of repose of the appetite in a suitable good; while sorrow arises from something unsuited to the appetite. Consequently in movements of the appetite pleasure is to sorrow, what, in bodies, repose is to weariness, which is due to a non-natural transmutation; for sorrow itself implies a certain weariness or ailing of the appetitive faculty. Therefore just as all repose of the body brings relief to any kind of weariness, ensuing from any non-natural cause; so every pleasure brings relief by assuaging any kind of sorrow, due to any cause whatever.” – St Thomas Aquinas
It follows that too much mortification is a bad thing, since it can lead to a sorrowful spirit. So, some recreation is a good and virtuous thing, that should be taken insofar as the individual finds spiritual benefit from it. We see this advice from St. Thomas Aquinas’ five remedies against sadness:
1. The first remedy is granting ourselves something we like. (that of course, is something of lawful pleasure.
2. The second remedy is weeping. Saint Thomas says that a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened. (I-II q. 38 a. 2). Our melancholy gets worse if we have no way to give vent to our sorrow. Weeping is the soul’s way to release a sorrow that can become paralyzing. Jesus too wept.
3. The third remedy is sharing our sorrow with a friend. When we are sad, everything seems dark. A very effective antidote is opening our heart to a friend.
4. The fourth remedy against sadness is contemplating the truth. Contemplating the “fulgor veritatis” Saint Augustine speaks of, the splendor of truth in nature or a work of art or music, can be an effective balm against sadness.
RECREATION IN GOD’S CREATION
“Who can describe the beauty of the fields? What can our words convey of such splendor? But we have the testimony of Scripture, where the holy patriarch compares the blessing and grace of the saints with the sweet aroma of a fertile field: “Behold the smell of my son is as the smell of a plentiful field, which the Lord hath blessed.”
Who can portray the beauty of the purple violets, the white lilies, the blood-red rose? What artist could reproduce on his canvas a summer’s meadow with its flowers of various hues, some yellow, some rd, and others a mixture of many colors? Indeed, on cannot say what pleases him most, the color of the flower, the delicacy of its shape, or the sweet odor that comes from it. The eyes feast on the beautiful spectacle while the perfume of he flowers delights the sense of smell. Such is the grace and beauty which the Creator applies to Himself when He says: The beauty of the fields is in Me.”
Gaze upon the lily and note its dazzling whiteness. See how the slender stem rises gracefully and terminates in a chalice of lovely petals that protect and enclose grains of gold so that no harm may come to them. Wgat human artist could evrr make anything like it? The Saviour Himself praised the lilies of the field when He said tha not even olomon in all his glory was dressed as richly as one of these flowers…”
The provision and abundance of the things on this earth are a clear manifestation of the providence of God, who is a Father to His family. But what shall we say of the variety of beautiful flower, which do not serve for man’s sustenance but for his delight? What other reason is there for the carnations, marigolds, lilies, irises, biolets, and numerous other flowers that fill the gardens and cover the hills and fields and meadows? Consider their various colors, the beauty and artist try with which they are fashioned, the order and harmony of the leaves with which they are embellished and the delightful scents which many of them emit. Of what service are all these things, except to give man something on which he can feast his eyes? Even more, they give joy to the soul when, in contemplating the flowers, a man can recognize the beauty of God and the great care that He has shown for us in showering us with gifts.
God is not content merely with providing us with the necessities of life; He has created things for our recreation and delight. Not only did He desire that we should gaze upon the splendor of the stars on a serene night, but He desired also that we should enjoy the sight of the multicolored flowers against the fertile valleys and green plains, like another heaven splashed with flowery stars. Such beauty serves a double purpose: on the one hand, it arouses us to the praise of the Creator who made all these things, not for Himself or for the angels or for brute animals, but for the honest pleasure of men….”
“….All these things declare to us the sweetness and benignity of the sovereign Lord who had such a regard for men that He not only created a variety of foods, and other things necessary for man’s sustenance, but He took special care to create many different things for man’s honest recreation. So liberally did God provide for man that none of the bodily senses lacks its proper object in which it can delight. What greater proof of our Father’s love for us than the gratuitous blessings He has bestowed on us.” – Ven. Louis of Granada, Summa of the Christian Life
MODERATION IN AUSTERITIES
5. The fifth remedy suggested by Saint Thomas against sadness is bathing and sleeping. In order to alleviate a spiritual malady one will sometimes have to resort to a bodily remedy. “I had heard that the bath had its name [Balneum, from the Greek balaneion] . . . from the fact of its driving sadness from the mind.” And further on, he says: “I slept, and woke up again, and found my grief not a little assuaged”: and quotes the words from the hymn of Ambrose [Cf. Sarum Breviary: First Sunday after the octave of the Epiphany, Hymn for first Vespers], in which it is said that “Sleep restores the tired limbs to labor, refreshes the weary mind, and banishes sorrow.”
Sorrow, by reason of its specific nature, is repugnant to the vital movement of the body; and consequently whatever restores the bodily nature to its due state of vital movement, is opposed to sorrow and assuages it. Moreover such remedies, from the very fact that they bring nature back to its normal state, are causes of pleasure; for this is precisely in what pleasure consists, as stated above (I-II:31:1). Therefore, since every pleasure assuages sorrow, sorrow is assuaged by such like bodily remedies. – St Thomas Aquinas
“Just as man needs bodily rest for the body’s refreshment, because he cannot always be at work, since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor, so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work. Consequently when he goes beyond his measure in a certain work, he is oppressed and becomes weary, and all the more since when the soul works, the body is at work likewise, in so far as the intellective soul employs forces that operate through bodily organs. Now sensible goods are connatural to man, and therefore, when the soul arises above sensibles, through being intent on the operations of reason, there results in consequence a certain weariness of soul, whether the operations with which it is occupied be those of the practical or of the speculative reason. Yet this weariness is greater if the soul be occupied with the work of contemplation, since thereby it is raised higher above sensible things; although perhaps certain outward works of the practical reason entail a greater bodily labor. On either case, however, one man is more soul-wearied than another, according as he is more intensely occupied with works of reason. Now just as weariness of the body is dispelled by resting the body, so weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul: and the soul’s rest is pleasure, as stated above (I-II:25:2; I-II:31:1 ad 2). Consequently, the remedy for weariness of soul must needs consist in the application of some pleasure, by slackening the tension of the reason’s study.” – St Thomas Aquinas
“The measure of penance cannot be the same for all persons, or for the same person at all times, for on the one hand care must be taken lest the body become rebellious from over delicacy, and on the other lest it become unfitted for working in God’s service through excess of austerity. If the flesh make war against the spirit, the spirit must subdue it by extraordinary acts of penance; but if there be peace or truce between them, it must be treated with discretion, so that it may assist in working for God’s glory.” These were his lessons to Francis Borgia, who whilst still a secular used to be urged by his zeal into excessive austerities. True it is that meu’s self- love magnifies trifling penances, and makes them appear insupportable burdens; and on this account the saint used to recommend, that when
the flesh felt the smart so keenly, it should not be oppressed with such inflictions, but penances
should be changed and diminished till the just proportion is shown by right reason and the Divine assistance. “Penances ought also to be accommodated to the spiritual strength of the penitent, otherwise, and particularly if they produce illness, they alarm and fatigue a weak virtue, and instead of being moderated they are abandoned altogether’ Accordingly, when the saint was asked by Natale what he thought of a hermit named Antonio da Maiorca, who led a most severe life, he replied, ” Before three years are over he will abandon his solitude and his penance,” and so it proved, for Ignatius had discovered from a long discussion with the hermit that his inward virtue did not equal his external rigour. Life of St. Ignatius Loyola by Marcioni
Stefano Casanova was a young scholastic teaching in Tivoli. He was intent on the spiritual progress of his soul and, thus, practiced great mortification. The increasing physical weakness that he was beginning to feel, he attributed to the constant repression of his natural physical inclinations. St. Ignatius wrote this letter two him, just two week before his own death.
Dear Master Stefano:
The peace of Christ.
I received your letter, in which you put it down as a certainty that it is the repression of your sensuality which is robbing you of your strength and that you are determined to attend to the principal business of your soul. First, though it could easily be that this weakness of yours comes partly from such repression, I do not believe it to be the sole cause. There are also mental exercises, especially those undertaken immoderately and out of time, which also play a part. Continue to observe what I have previously told you, until you write again and permission is given you to bring about a change in that order.
This repression, however, can be done in two ways. One, when the reason enlightened by God becomes aware of a movement of sensuality or of the sensitive part of nature against God’s will, yielding to which would be a sin, you repress it through the fear and love of God. This is well done, even though some weakness should ensue or some bodily ill, since sin should not be committed for this or any other reason. There is another way of repressing this sensuality. You may be looking for some recreation, or anything else that is perfectly lawful, in which there is no sin, but out of a desire for mortification or love of the cross you deny yourself what is sought. This second way of repression is neither good for all, nor should it be used at all times. Rather, at times there will be more merit in taking some honest bodily recreation in order to be able to remain active for a long period in God’s service than in repressing oneself. From this you will understand that the first kind of repression is good for you, and that the second is not, even when you are eager to travel by the more perfect way and one that is more pleasing to God.
In every other detail I refer you to your confessor, to whom you will show this letter. I commend myself to your prayers.- From Rome, July 20, 1556.
GOD’S CALLING IN LIFE
A vocation is a call from God for the purpose of doing something. God says: “I wish this soul to sanctify itself in serving Me in such an occupation – St. Vincent de Paul
A true vocation is nothing other than the firm and constant will possessed by the person called, to want to serve God in the manner and in the place where the Divine Majesty calls her. This is the best mark one could have to know when a vocation is true. – St. Francis de Sales
An employer is pleased with the employee that does what he’s told, and does it well. He isn’t going to be pleased with someone who does what he wants, no matter how hard he works, or how well he does it. So it is with God. He has a life-plan, and a life-work for each of us, and that is what He wants us to do. Each has his place in God’s great world-plan. It may be great, or it may be simple and unseen and unappreciated by the world. Some are given great suffering to endure in patience, others to work day and night, others to stand up and be seen by the whole world, and still others to simply live day to day with average ups and downs. But all is in God’s plan, and all has a purpose.
“The counsels are helps to perfection, yet charity is always the supreme measure. A Commandment testifies a most entire and absolute will in him who gives it, but counsel only represents a will of desire: a commandment obliges us, counsel only invites us; a commandment makes the transgressors thereof culpable; counsel only makes such as do not follow it less worthy of praise; those who violate commandments deserve damnation, those who neglect counsels deserve only to be less glorified. There is a difference between commanding and recommending: in commanding we use authority to oblige, but in recommending we use friendliness to induce and incite: a commandment imposes necessity, counsel and recommendation induce to what is of greater utility: commandments correspond to obedience, counsels to credence: we follow counsel with intention to please, and commandments lest we should displease. And thence it is that the love of complacency which obliges us to please the beloved, consequently urges us to follow his counsels, and the love of benevolence, which desires that all wills and affections should be subjected unto him, causes that we not only will what he ordains, but also what he counsels and exhorts to: as the love and respect which a good child bears to his father make him resolve to live not only according to the commandments which his father imposes, but also according to the desires and inclinations which he manifests.
The counsels are indeed given for the benefit of him who is counseled, so that he may be perfect: “If you would be perfect,” said the Saviour, “go sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, and follow me.” But the loving heart does not receive a counsel for its utility, but to conform itself to the desire of him who gives the counsel, and to render him the homage due to his will. And God does not want each person to observe all the counsels, but only those that are appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, occasions, and abilities, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and in short, of all laws and all Christian actions, that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.
If your assistance is truly necessary to your father or mother to enable them to live, it is no time to practice the counsel of retiring into a monastery, for charity ordains that you now put into execution its command of honoring, serving, aiding and helping your father or your mother. Perhaps you are a prince, by whose posterity the subjects of your crown should be preserved in peace, and assured against tyranny, sedition, and civil wars; the occasion, therefore, of so great a good, obliges you to beget legitimate successors in a holy marriage. It is either not to lose chastity, or at least to lose it chastely, when for love of charity it is sacrificed to the public good. Are you weak and uncertain in your health, and does it require great support? Do not then voluntarily undertake actual poverty, for this is forbidden you by charity. Charity not only forbids fathers of families to sell all and give it to the poor, but also commands them honestly to gather together what is requisite for the support and education of wife, children and servants: as also it commands kings and princes to lay up treasures, which, being acquired by a laudable frugality, and not by tyrannical measures, serve as wholesome defenses against visible enemies. Does not S. Paul counsel such as are married, that, the time of prayer being ended, they should return to the well-ordered course of their married life?
The counsels are all given for the perfection of the Christian people, but not for that of each Christian in particular. There are circumstances which make them sometimes impossible, sometimes unprofitable, sometimes perilous, sometimes hurtful to some men, which is one of the reasons why Our Saviour said of one of the counsels, what he would have to be understood of them all: He that can receive it, let him receive it: as though he had said, according to S. Jerome’s exposition: he that can win and bear away the honor of chastity as a prize of renown, let him take it, for it is proposed to such as shall run valiantly. Not every one then is able, that is, it is not expedient for every one, to observe always all the counsels, for as they are granted in favor of charity, so is this the rule and measure by which they are put in practice.
When, therefore, charity so orders, monks and religious are drawn out of their cloisters to be made cardinals, prelates, parish-priests, yea sometimes they are even joined in matrimony for a kingdom’s repose, as I have already said. And if charity make those leave their cloister that had bound themselves thereto by solemn vow,—for better reason, and upon less occasion, one may by the authority of the same charity, counsel many to live at home, to keep their means, to marry, yea to turn soldiers and go to war, which is so perilous a profession.
Now when charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she directs some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another quit it, she is not bound to give account thereof to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in Christian laws, as it is written: charity can do all things; she has the perfection of prudence, according to that: charity does nothing wrongly. And if any would contest, and demand why she so does, she will boldly make answer: The Lord hath need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God. All must serve her and she none: no, she serves not her well-beloved, whose servant she is not, but his spouse, whom she does not serve, but love: for which cause we are to take our orders from her how to exercise counsels. To some she will appoint chastity without poverty, to others obedience and not chastity, to others fasting but not alms-deeds, to others alms-deeds and fasting, to others solitude and not the pastoral charge, to others intercourse with men and not solitude. In fine she is a sacred water, by which the garden of the church is fertilized, and though she herself have no color that can be called color, yet the flowers which she makes spring have each one its particular color. She makes Martyrs redder than the rose, Virgins whiter than the lily; some she dyes with the fine violet of mortification, others with the yellow of marriage-cares, variously employing the counsels, for the perfection of the souls who are so happy as to live under her conduct. (Treatise on the Love of God VIII, ch. 6)- St. Francis de Sales
“If a devout soul wishes to do something that is not contrary to the spirit of the Church or the mind of superiors and that may be for the glory of God our Lord, there may come a thought or temptation from without not to say or do it. Apparent reasons may be adduced for this, such as that it is motivated by vainglory or some other imperfect intention, etc. In such cases one should raise his mind to his Creator and Lord, and if he sees that what he is about to do is in keeping with God’s service, or at least not opposed to it, he should act directly against the temptation.” – St. Ignatius Loyola
”We must recollect that there is no vocation without its wearinesses, its bitternesses, and its trials; and moreover (except in the case of those who are wholly resigned to the will of God,) each one would willingly change his condition with that of others. Those who are Ministers, would fain be otherwise. They who are married, would they were not. They who are not, would they were. From whence proceeds this general discontentedness, if it be not a certain rebellion against constraint, and an evil spirit in us that makes each one think another’s condition better than his own?
But it is all one; and whosoever is not entirely resigned, but keeps on turning this way and that, never will find peace. When a person has a fever, he finds no place comfortable; he has not remained in one bed a quarter of an hour, before he wishes to be in another. It is not the bed which is in fault, but the fever, which torments him everywhere. And so a person who has not the fever of self-will, is contented everywhere and in all things, provided God be glorified. He cares not in what capacity God employs him, provided he can do therein His Divine will
But this is not all. We must not only do the will of God, but to be really devout, we must do it cheerfully, nay, joyfully. If I were not a Bishop, perhaps, knowing what I now do, I might wish not to be one. But being one, not only am I obliged to do all that this difficult vocation requires, but I must do it joyfully, and make it agreeable to myself to do it. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “Let every man in the vocation in which he is called, therein abide with God.”1
We cannot bear the crosses of others, but each one must bear his own; and that we may each bear our own, our Lord would that each should renounce himself; that is to say, his own will. “I wish this or that” I should be better here or there.” These are temptations. Our Lord knows best what is best for each one of us; let us do what He wills, and remain where He has placed us.
But you have asked me to give you a few practical rules for your guidance. Besides all I have told you above, you should, First, meditate every day, either in the morning or before dinner or supper, and especially on the Life and Death of our Lord, and you can make use of any book that may assist you. Your meditation should never last above half-an-hour; at the end of each always add a consideration of the obedience which our Lord exercised towards God His Father: for you will see that all He did was done in obedience to the will of God; and considering this will rouse you more earnestly to strive to learn His will yourself. Secondly, before you do or prepare to do any of those duties of your calling which are apt to irritate you, think of the saints of old, who joyfully endured great and grievous things,—some suffering martyrdom, some dishonor in this world; some binding up ulcers and fearful sores; some banishing themselves into the desert; some working among slaves in the galleys: and each and all to do something pleasing in the sight of God. And what are we called upon to do, approaching to such trials as these?
Thirdly, Often think that the real value of whatever we do, is proportioned by the conformity with which we do it to the will of God. If in merely eating or drinking I do it because it is the will of God that I should, I am doing what is more agreeable to Him, than if I were to do what should even cost me my life, without any such Divine intention.
Fourthly, I would advise you often during the day, beseech God that He would inspire you with a real love of your vocation, and that you should say, like St. Paul, when he was converted, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Wouldest Thou that I should serve Thee in the lowest office in Thy house? I will reckon myself here, too blest. Provided that I serve Thee, I care not in what capacity.” And coming more particularly to what is vexing you, say, “Wouldest Thou that I should do such-and-such a thing? Alas! O Lord, though I am not worthy, willingly will I do it:” and by these means you may greatly humble yourself; and oh, what a treasure you will obtain! Far, far greater, doubtless, than you can ever estimate!
Fifthly, I would wish that you should consider how many saints have been in your position of life and vocation, and how they all accommodated themselves to it with great meekness and resignation; as many in the Old Testament as in the New,—Sara, and Rebecca, and Elizabeth, and the holy Anna, and St. Paul, and hundreds of others; and let their example encourage you. We must love what God loves; and if He loves our vocation, let us love it also; and let us not amuse ourselves, by placing ourselves in the position of others. Let us diligently do our business. For each his own cross is not too much. Gently mingle the office of Martha with that of Mary, diligently doing the duties of your calling, often recollecting yourself, and placing yourself in spirit at the foot of the Cross, and saying, “My Lord, whether I run, or whether I stand still, or whatever I do, I am Thine, and Thou art mine. Thou art my first Love, my Spouse, and all that I do, it is for Thee, whatsoever it be.”
Further, every evening examine yourself, and throughout the day constantly raise ejaculatory prayers to God. I recommend, for your reading, the “Spiritual Combat.” Communicate, if possible, every week, and regularly attend the services of the Church on Sundays and Festivals. Remember also what I have often told you,—be just to yourself in the devoted life you are leading; I mean, let others, and especially those of your own family, see its blessed effects in yourself, and be led to honor it accordingly. We must always be careful not to make our devotion annoying to others. What we cannot do without annoyance, especially to those placed over us, we should leave undone: and believe me this spiritual self-denial and privation, so far from being displeasing to God, will be accepted by Him as such, and turn to your own profit. Deny yourself willingly; and in proportion as you are hindered from doing the good you desire, strive so much the more zealously to do what you do not desire. Perhaps it is difficult for you to resign yourself patiently and gladly to these privations, but in doing so, you will gain for yourself real benefit. In all commit your cares and trials, and contradictions, and whatever befalls you to God, comforting yourself in the thought, that He blesses those who are holy, or those who are striving to become so. Keep your heart ready to bear every sort of cross and disappointment with resignation, for the sake of Him Who has borne so much for us: and may He fill thy heart and be thy guide through life!
1 Cor 7:24.
Recognizing God’s Will in our most trifling actions, gives them great value. We must love nothing too ardently, not even virtues.)
Never regard the actual value of anything you do, but think only to Whose honor it is done: it is permitted by God’s wisdom; and if it is pleasing to Him, it little matters if it seems despicable in the eyes of others.
Strive day by day to become more pure in heart. Now this purity consists in estimating everything, and weighing everything in the balance of the sanctuary, which really is no other than the will of God.
Love nothing too passionately, I beseech you, not even virtue, which one overreaches sometimes by passing the limits of moderation. I do not know whether you understand me, but I think you do; I am speaking of your overeager desires and zeal.
It is not the especial property of roses to be white. Pink or red ones are sweeter and more beautiful; but it is the especial property of the lily. So, in like manner, let us be what we are, and let us, as we live, do the best we can to honor Him Whose workmanship we are.
One would laugh at a painter, who, wishing to draw a horse, should draw a bull; the work in itself might be perfect, but it would do little honor to the skill of the artist, who, intending one design, produced, unintentionally, a very different one. So let us be what God wills, provided that in our calling we are devoted to Him, and not striving to follow out of that calling what He has not appointed as our work; for if we were the most excellent creatures under heaven, what would it profit us, if it were in our own way to the neglect of that appointed us by God?
IN THE SMALL THINGS…..
It is foolish to spend a long time thinking about which of two good things is God’s will, when there is only a slight difference between them.
S. Basil says that God’s will is made clear unto us by his ordinances or commandments, and that then there is no deliberation to be made, for we are simply to do what is ordained; but that for the rest we have freedom to choose what seems good according to our liking; though we are not to do all that is lawful but only what is expedient, and to clearly discern what is expedient we are to follow the advice of our spiritual father. But, Theotimus, I am to warn you of a troublesome temptation which often crosses the way of such souls as have a great desire to do what is most according to God’s will. For the enemy at every turn puts them in doubt whether it is God’s will for them to do one thing rather than another; as for example, whether or not they should eat with a friend, whether they should wear gray or black clothes, whether they should fast Friday or Saturday, whether they should take recreation or abstain from it; and in this they lose much time, and while they are busy and anxious to find out what is the better, they unprofitably let slip the time for doing many good things, the effecting of which would be far more to God’s glory, than this distinguishing between the good and the better, which has taken up their time, could possibly be. We are not accustomed to weigh little money, but only valuable pieces: trading would be too troublesome and would devour too much time, if we were to weigh pence, halfpence, farthings and half-farthings. So we should not weigh every little action to know whether it is of more value than others; indeed there is often a kind of superstition in trying to make this examination; for to what end should we puzzle to know whether it were better to hear Mass in one church than in another, to spin than to sew, to give alms to a man rather than a woman? It is not good service to a master to spend as much time in considering what is to be done, as in doing the things which need to be done. We are to proportion our attention to the importance of what we undertake. It would be an ill-regulated carefulness to take as much trouble in deliberating over a journey of one day as over one of three or four hundred leagues. The choice of one’s vocation, the plan of some business of great consequence, of some work occupying much time, of some very great expenditure, the change of abode, the choice of society, and the like, deserve to be seriously pondered, in order to see what is most according to the will of God. But in little daily matters, in which even a mistake is neither of moment nor irreparable, what need is there to make a business of them, to scrutinize them, or to importunately ask advice about them? To what end should I put myself out to learn whether God would prefer me to say the Rosary or Our Lady’s Office, since there can be no such difference between them, that a great examination need be held; that I should rather go to visit the sick in the hospital than to Vespers, or would prefer me to go to a sermon rather than to a church where there is an indulgence? Generally there is no such noteworthy importance in the one more than the other that it is needful to make any great deliberation. We must walk in good faith and without minute consideration in such matters, and, as S. Basil says, freely choose what seems to us good, so as not to weary our spirit, lose time, and put ourselves in danger of disquiet, scruples, and superstition. But I mean always where there is no great disproportion between the two works, and where there is no considerable circumstance on one side more than on the other.
And even in matters of moment we are to have great humility, and not to think we can find out God’s will by force of examination and subtlety of discourse; but having implored the light of the Holy Spirit, applied our consideration to the seeking of his good-pleasure, taken the counsel of our director, and, perhaps, of two or three other spiritual persons, we must resolve and determine in the name of God, and must not afterwards question our choice, but devoutly, peacefully, and firmly keep and pursue it. And although the difficulties, temptations and the variety of circumstances which occur in the course of executing our design, might cause us some doubt as to whether we had made a good choice, yet we must remain settled, and not regard all this, but consider that if we had made another choice we had perhaps been a hundred times worse; to say nothing of our not knowing whether it be God’s will that we should be exercised in consolation or desolation, in peace or war. The resolution being once holily taken, we are never to doubt of the holiness of the execution; for unless we fail it cannot fail. To act otherwise is a mark of great self-love, or of childishness, weakness and silliness of spirit. (Treatise on the Love of God VIII, ch. 14)
FOLLOWING GOD’S WILL, YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL IN ALL OF YOUR UNDERTAKINGS.
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. St.Matt 6:33
FOLLOWING YOUR OWN WILL DOOMS YOU TOO FAILURE
If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God’s will. –St. Alphonsus de Ligouri
When shall it be that we shall taste the sweetness of the Divine Will in all that happens to us, considering in everything only His good pleasure, by whom it is certain that adversity is sent with as much love as prosperity, and as much for our good? When shall we cast ourselves undeservedly into the arms of our most loving Father in Heaven, leaving to Him the care of ourselves and of our affairs, and reserving only the desire of pleasing Him, and of serving Him well in all that we can?
–St. Jane Frances de Chantal
HOW TO KNOW GOD’S WILL FOR YOU
FROM THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES OF ST IGNATIUS LOYOLA
It is God who must work in the soul during the Spiritual Exercises
He who is giving the Exercises ought not to urge him who is receiving them more to poverty or to a promise than to their opposites, nor more to one state or way of life than to another. For although outside the Exercises, we can lawfully and meritoriously urge every one who is probably fit, to choose continence, virginity, the religious life, and all manner of evangelical perfection, still in the Spiritual Exercises, in seeking the divine will, it is more fitting and much better that the Creator and Lord Himself should communicate Himself to his devout soul, inflaming it with his love and praise, and disposing it for the way in which it will be better able to serve him in the future. So he who is giving the Exercises should not turn or incline to one side or the other, but standing in the center like a balance, should allow the Creator to act immediately with the creature, and the creature with its Creator and Lord. (Spiritual Exercises, Fifteenth note)
If one is to make a good choice during the Spiritual Exercises, one must first of all be indifferent as regards the different ways of life, or even, be more inclined to follow Christ’s way of life.
It must first of all be insisted that a person entering upon the elections do so with total resignation of will; and if possible, that he reach the third degree of humility, in which for his own part he is more inclined, should it be for the equal service of God, toward that which is most in accord with the counsels and example of Christ our Lord. (Directory for the Spiritual Exercises, n. 17)
More signs are required to choose marriage than to choose religious life
Greater signs from God are needed for the commandments than for the counsels, inasmuch as Christ our Lord advises the counsels and points out the difficulty in the ownership of property that is possible in the commandments.( Directory for the Spiritual Exercises, n. 9)
Outside the Spiritual Exercises we may lawfully and meritoriously urge every one who is probably fit, to choose continence, virginity, the religious life, and all manner of evangelical perfection. (Spiritual Exercises, n. 15–see above.)
The goal of the Spiritual Exercises is mainly to choose a state of life
The matter proposed for deliberation is: first, whether the counsels or the commandments; secondly, if the counsels, then whether inside or outside a religious institute; thirdly, if in a religious institute, which one; fourthly, after that, when and how. If it is the commandments, then in what station or manner of life, etc. (Directory for the Spiritual Exercises, n. 22)
How a choice of a state of life is to be made
In every good election, as far as depends on us, the eye of our intention ought to be simple, only looking at what we are created for, namely, the praise of God our Lord and the salvation of our soul. And so I ought to choose whatever I do, that it may help me for the end for which I am created, not ordering or bringing the end to the means, but the means to the end: as it happens that many choose first to marry, which is a means, and secondarily to serve God our Lord in the married life, which service of God is the end.. So, too, there are others who first want to have benefices, and then to serve God in them. So that those do not go straight to God, but want God to come straight to their disordered tendencies, and consequently they make a means of the end, and an end of the means. So that what they had to take first, they take last; because first we have to set as our aim the wanting to serve God, — which is the end, — and secondarily, to take a benefice, or to marry, if it is more suitable to us, — which is the means for the end. So, nothing ought to move me to take such means or to deprive myself of them, except only the service and praise of God our Lord and the eternal salvation of my soul.
Four points regarding the choice to be made
First Point. It is necessary that everything about which we want to make an election should be indifferent, or good, in itself, and should be allowed within our Holy Mother the hierarchical Church, and not bad nor opposed to her.
Second Point. There are some things which fall under unchangeable election, such as are the priesthood, marriage, etc. There are others which fall under an election that can be changed, such as are to take benefices or leave them, to take temporal goods or rid oneself of them.
Third Point. In the unchangeable Election which has already been once made — such as marriage, the priesthood, etc. — there is nothing more to choose, because one cannot release himself; only it is to be seen to that if one have not made his election duly and ordinately and without disordered tendencies, repenting let him see to living a good life in his election. It does not appear that this election is a Divine vocation,(15) as being an election out of order and awry. Many err in this, setting up a perverse or bad election as a Divine(16) vocation; for every divine vocation is always pure and clear, without mixture of flesh, or of any other inordinate attachment.
Fourth Point. If some one has duly and ordinately made election of things which are under election that can be changed, and has not yielded to flesh or world, there is no reason for his making election anew, but let him perfect himself as much as he can in that already chosen.
Three times for making a choice
The first time is when God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that without doubting, or being able to doubt, the devout soul follows what is shown it, as St. Paul and St. Matthew did in following Christ our Lord.
The second time is when one gets enough light and knowledge by experience of consolations and desolations, and by the experience of the discernment of various spirits.
The third time is quiet, when one considers, first, for what purpose man is born—namely, to praise God our Lord and to save his soul—and desiring this, chooses as a means to this end, a life or state within the limits of the Church, in order that he may be helped in the service of his Lord and the salvation of his soul.
I said time of quiet, when the soul is not acted on by various spirits, and uses its natural powers freely and tranquilly.
If election is not made in the first or the second time, two ways follow as to this third time for making it.
It contains six Points.
First Point. The first Point is to put before me the thing on which I want to make election, such as an office or benefice, either to take or leave it; or any other thing whatever which falls under an election that can be changed.
Second Point. It is necessary to keep as aim the end for which I am created, which is to praise God our Lord and save my soul, and, this supposed, to find myself indifferent, without any inordinate propensity; so that I be not more inclined or disposed to take the thing proposed than to leave it, nor more to leave it than to take it, but find myself as in the middle of a balance, to follow what I feel to be more for the glory and praise of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul.
Third Point.To ask of God our Lord to be pleased to move my will and put in my soul what I ought to do regarding the thing proposed, so as to promote more His praise and glory; discussing well and faithfully with my intellect, and choosing agreeably to His most holy pleasure and will.
Fourth Point. To consider, reckoning up, how many advantages and utilities follow for me from holding the proposed office or benefice for only the praise of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul, and, to consider likewise, on the contrary, the disadvantages and dangers which there are in having it. Doing the same in the second part, that is, looking at the advantages and utilities there are in not having it, and likewise, on the contrary, the disadvantages and dangers in not having the same.
Fifth Point. After I have thus discussed and reckoned up on all sides about the thing proposed, to look where reason more inclines: and so, according to the greater inclination of reason, and not according to any inclination of sense, deliberation should be made on the thing proposed.
Sixth Point. such election, or deliberation, made, the person who has made it ought to go with much diligence to prayer before God our Lord and offer Him such election, that His Divine Majesty may be pleased to receive and confirm it, if it is to His greater service and praise.
Second way (rules for election)
It contains four Rules and one Note.
First Rule. The first rule is that that love which moves me and makes me choose such a thing should descend from above, from the love of God, in such a manner that he who chooses feels first in himself that that love, more or less, which he has for the thing which he chooses, is only for his Creator and Lord.
Second Rule. The second, to set before me a man whom I have never seen nor known, and desiring all his perfection, to consider what I would tell him to do and elect for the greater glory of God our Lord, and the greater perfection of his soul, and I, doing likewise, to keep the rule which I set for the other.
Third Rule. The third, to consider, as if I were at the point of death, the form and measure which I would then want to have kept in the way of the present election, and regulating myself by that election, let me make my decision in everything.
Fourth Rule. The fourth, looking and considering how I shall find myself on the Day of Judgment, to think how I would then want to have deliberated about the present matter, and to take now the rule which I would then wish to have kept, in order that I may then find myself in entire pleasure and joy.
Note. The above-mentioned rules for my eternal salvation and peace having been taken, I will make my election and offering to God our Lord, conformably to the sixth Point of the First Way of making election. (Spiritual Exercises, nn. 169-187)
Discernment of Spirits
I presuppose that there are three kinds of thoughts in me, namely: one which is my own, which springs from my mere liberty and will; and two others, which come from without, one from the good spirit, and the other from the bad. (Spiritual Exercises, n. 32)
Rules for the Discernment of Spirits
The first rule: It is proper to God and to his Angels in their movements to give true gladness and spiritual joy, taking away all sadness and disturbance which the enemy causes. To the latter it is proper to fight against such spiritual gladness and consolation, bringing apparent reasons, subtleties and continual deceptions.
Second rule: It belongs to God our Lord alone to give consolation to the soul without any preceding cause, for it is the property of the Creator to enter, go out, and cause movements in the soul, bringing it all into love of his Divine Majesty. I say without cause, that is, without any previous perception or knowledge of any object through which such consolation would come, through one’s acts of understanding and will.
Third rule: With cause, as well the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends: the good Angel for the profit of the soul, that it may grow and rise from good to better, and the evil Angel, for the contrary, and later on to draw it to his damnable intention and wickedness.
Fourth rule: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.
Fifth rule: We ought to note well the course of our thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away the peace, tranquility and quiet which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our progress and eternal salvation.
Sixth rule: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.
Seventh rule: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone.
And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse.
The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.
Eighth rule: When the consolation is without cause, although there be no deceit in it, as being of God our Lord alone, as was said; still the spiritual person to whom God gives such consolation, ought, with much vigilance and attention, to look at and distinguish the time itself of such actual consolation from the following, in which the soul remains warm and favored with the favor and remnants of the consolation past; for often in this second time, through one’s own course of habits and the consequences of the concepts and judgments, or through the good spirit or through the bad, he forms various resolutions and opinions which are not given immediately by God our Lord, and therefore they have need to be very well examined before entire credit is given them, or they are put into effect. (Spiritual Exercises, nn. 329-36)
The greater a good is, the readier we should be to choose it; and once chosen, the greater should be our delight in it. And when this relish and delight is spiritual and eternal, there can be no reason for finding sadness or uneasiness in it. And this is true whether the joy belong to us or to our neighbor. Union of will between the creature and the Creator is the greatest good in this life, but it becomes much greater and a possession without end in the vision of the life to come. A good such as this last must be the object of our choice, preference, and desire, and must be accepted when it is offered by the Giver of all good, because it means the end of all our ills, the endless plenitude of grace and glory, and the ultimate expression of God’s will. (Letter 131)
It seems that sometimes one is strictly obliged to follow a vocation
Not everyone can be a religious. The Lord says, “He who can take it, let him take it” (Mt 19:12), giving to be understood that there are some who cannot, and that those who can take it, if they want to be perfect, or in a certain sense even if they want simply to be saved, are obliged to take it, for it appears to be a precept inasmuch as he says, “He who can take it, let him take it”—in a case where they judge that they would be unable to keep the law of God our Lord in the world, or where the obviousness of their calling obliges them to follow it. (Directory dictated to P. Vitoria, n. 21).