#407. Once we have formed deep convictions concerning the obligation of
tending to perfection, it remains but to seek and use the means that lead
thereto. It is question here of the general means, common to all souls
desirous of spiritual progress. In the second part we shall treat of the
special means proper to the different stages of the spiritual life.
These means are interior or exterior. The former are dispositions or acts
of the soul itself that gradually raise it toward God. The latter comprise
besides these acts, exterior helps which aid the soul in this elevation. It
is important to give first a brief survey of these means.
#408. I. Among the interior means there are four that must be considered
here: (1) The desire of perfection which is the first step forward, giving
us the impulse needed to overcome obstacles.
(2) The knowledge of God and of self. Since it is question of Uniting the
soul to God, the better these two terms are known, the easier will be the
task of effecting such union: May I know Thee, O Lord, that I may love
Thee, may I know myself that I may despise myself !
(3) Conformity to God's will. To surrender our will to that of God is the
most genuine token of love and the most effective means of uniting
ourselves to the source of all perfection.
(4) Prayer viewed in its wider sense. as adoration and petition, mental or
vocal, private or public, any elevation of the soul to God. It unites all
our interior faculties to God, our memory and imagination, our mind and
will, and even our outward actions inasmuch as they are an expression of
our spirit of prayer.
II. The exterior means of perfection may likewise be reduced to four
(1) Direction. Just as God has instituted a visible authority to govern His
Church externally, so He has willed that souls be led by an experienced
spiritual guide, who may help them to avoid danger, and further and direct
(2) A rule of life, which approved by such a director further extends his
influence over souls.
(3) Conferences, exhortations, and spiritual reading. Well chosen, these
put us in contact with the teachings and the example of the Saints and lead
us to follow in their footsteps.
(4) The sanctification of our relations with others, with parents, friends,
or business-associates. This enables us to direct toward God not merely our
pious exercises, but all our actions and our duties of state.
I. Interior Means: Desire of Perfection, Knowledge of God and of Self,
Conformity to the Divine Will and Prayer
II. Exterior Means: Direction, A Rule of Life, Spiritual Readings and
Conferences and Sanctification of Social Relations
ART. I. INTERIOR MEANS OF PERFECTION
I. The Desire of Perfection
#409. The first step toward perfection is the sincere, ardent and constant
desire to attain it. We shall examine, (1) its nature, (2) its necessity
and efficacy, (3) its qualities, (4) the means of fostering it.
n1. ST. FR. DE SALES, "Devout Life," P. I. C. I-III; "The Love of God," Bk.
XII, c. 2-3: ALVAREZ DE PAZ, "De vita spirit.," t. I, 1. V: RODRIGUEZ,
"Practice of Christian Perfection," P. I, Tr. I, "On the Esteem of
Perfection;" LE GAUDIER, "De Vie spirituelle," Fevr. 1920, p. 296;
SCARAMELLI-STOCKMAN, "Manual of Christ, Perfection" P. I, art. 2.
1. The Nature of this Desire
#410. (1) Desire in general is a movement of the soul toward the good that
is absent. It differs, therefore, from joy which is the satisfaction coming
from the actual possession of a good. There are two kinds of desire: one is
a feeling or passionate impulse toward a sensible good that is absent; and
the other, the rational desire, is an act of the will tending toward some
spiritual good. At times this rational desire reacts upon our sensibility
and is thus mixed with feeling. In the supernatural order our good desires
are influenced by divine grace, as we have said above.
#411. (2) The desire of perfection, then, may be defined as an act of the
will, which, under the influence of grace, ever seeks after spiritual
progress. It may be at times accompanied by pious sentiments that intensify
it, but this element is not necessary.
n1. See remark of St. THOMAS, Ia IIae, q. 30, a. I, ad I.
##412. (3) This desire is born of the combined action of God's grace and
the human will. From all eternity God loves us, and by that very fact,
desires to unite Himself to us: "I have loved thee with an everlasting
love; therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee." His unfailing
love follows us, pursues us, as if His own happiness were incomplete
without us. Then, when our own soul illumined by faith looks into itself,
it finds an immense void that nothing but the Infinity of a God itself can
fill: "Thou hast made us unto Thyself, O God, and our heart finds no rest
until it rests in Thee." Our soul, then, sighs after God, after His
love, after perfection: " As the hart panteth after the fountains of water;
so my soul panteth after Thee, O Lord... for Thee my soul hath
thirsted." Since on earth this longing will never be satisfied, for here
this divine union can never be complete, it follows that if we place no
obstacle in the way this desire will constantly grow.
n1. "Jerem.," XXXI, 3.
n2. ST. AUGUST., "Confessions" Bk. I, n. I.
n3. "Ps." XLI, 2; LXII, 2.
#413. (4) Unfortunately, obstacles abound that tend to stifle, or at least,
to weaken this desire. Such are the threefold concupiscence (which we have
described above, n. 193), the fear of the difficulties to be overcome and
of the continued efforts required for co-operation with grace and for
spiritual progress. Hence, we must thoroughly convince ourselves of the
necessity of this desire and take the means to foster it.
II. The Necessity and Efficacy of the Desire for Perfection
#414. (1) Its Necessity. The desire for it is the first step toward
perfection, the indispensable condition for attaining it. The road to
perfection is arduous and implies constant and energetic efforts, for as we
have remarked, no one can make progress in the path of God's love without
sacrifice, without struggling against the threefold concupiscence and
against the law of least resistance. No one ever enters upon any steep,
rugged path unless he is possessed of an ardent desire of arriving at the
goal; and were he to set out on such a path he would soon abandon it.
Likewise, no one starts on the way to perfection or perseveres in it unless
sustained by a strong desire to reach the end.
A) Hence, everything in the Sacred Scriptures tends to inspire in us this
desire. The Gospels as well as the Epistles are a continual exhortation to
perfection. This we have shown in treating of the obligation of tending to
perfection; the object of the texts that establish this obligation is to
stimulate the desire of pressing forward. What other purpose can they have?
They present to us as the ideal the imitation of the divine perfections;
they propose to us Jesus Christ Himself as our model; they recount His
virtues; they urge us to follow His example. Does not all this inspire us
with the desire of perfection?
#415. B) The Church's Liturgy has the same aim. By setting forth in the
course of the liturgical year the various phases of Our Lord's life, it
makes us give expression to the most ardent longings for the coming of
Christ's kingdom in the souls of men during the season of Advent; for His
growth in our hearts, at Christmastide and the Epiphany; for penitential
exercises, through the Lenten period, as a preparation for Easter graces;
for an intimate union with God, through the Pascal time, and for the gifts
of the Holy Ghost, from Whit-Sunday till the end of the cycle. Thus, all
through the year the Sacred Liturgy, in one form or another, quickens our
desire for spiritual growth.
# 416. C) The experience gained from reading the lives of the Saints or
from the actual direction of souls shows us that without the oft-renewed
desire for perfection, there is no progress in the spiritual life. St.
Teresa makes us well aware of this fact: "Let us not stifle our desires.
This is highly important. Let us firmly believe that with the divine help
and our own efforts we, too, can in the course of time obtain what so many
Saints, aided by God, finally attained. Had they never conceived such
desires, had they not little by little carried them into execution, they
would never have risen so high... Oh! how important it is in the spiritual
life to rouse oneself to great things !" The Saint herself offers us a
striking example of this. As long as she was not determined to break all
the bonds that interfered with her flight towards the heights of
perfection, she painfully dragged along the way of mediocrity; from the day
she resolved to give herself entirely to God, she advanced wondrously.
n1. "Life by Herself," C, XIII.
#417. The practice of direction corroborates the teaching of the Saints.
Generous souls possessed of a humble and persistent desire to advance in
the way of perfection relish and employ the means we suggest to them. If,
on the contrary, such desire is lacking, or exists but feebly, we readily
observe that the most urgent exhortations produce but little effect.
Spiritual nourishment, like food for the body, profits but those who hunger
and thirst. God heaps His gifts upon those who crave them, but allots them
with measured hand to those who do no. prize them: "He hath filled the
hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away."
n1. "Luke" I, 53.
#418. (2) Efficacy of the desire for perfection. This desire is a real
force that makes us grow in holiness.
a) Psychology demonstrates that an idea deeply impressed tends to elicit a
corresponding act. This is the more true, when the thought is accompanied
by the desire, for the latter already constitutes an act of the will which
sets our faculties in motion. Hence, to desire perfection is to tend
towards it, and to tend towards perfection is to begin to attain it. To
desire to love God is already to love Him, since God sees the heart and
takes into account all our intentions. Hence, Pascal's profound words:
"Thou wouldst not seek me, hadst thou not found me ". Now, to desire is to
seek, and he who seeks finds: "For every one that seeketh findeth."1
n1. "Matth.," VII, 8.
#419. b) Furthermore, in the supernatural order, desire constitutes a
prayer, an elevation of the soul towards God, a sort of spiritual communion
which lifts our soul towards Him and draws Him to us. Now, God delights in
granting our prayers, especially when their object is our sanctification,--
the most ardent desire of His Heart: "For this is the will of God, your
sanctification."1 Thus God, in the Old Testament, urges us to seek after,
to pursue wisdom, that is to say, virtue, making the most wondrous promises
to those that hearken to his voice, and granting wisdom to those that
earnestly desire it: "Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me:
and I called upon God, and the Spirit of wisdom came upon me."2 In the
Gospels, Our Lord invites us to quench in Him our spiritual thirst: "If any
man thirst, let him come to me and drink."3 The more ardent our desires,
the more abundant the graces we receive, for the Source of living water is
n1. "Thess." IV, 3.
n2. "Wisdom," VII, 7; cfr. "Prov." I, 10-13.
n3. "John," VII, 37. As St. Thomas remarks (I,q. 12, a. 6), desire renders
the soul more fit -- better disposed -- for the reception of the desired
##420. c) Lastly, desire dilates the soul and so renders it more apt for
the reception of divine communications. There is in God such a fullness of
goodness and of graces, that the measure of His bounty is to a great extent
in proportion to our capacity to receive. The more we expand our soul by
earnest and ardent desires, the more capable it becomes of receiving of the
fullness of God: " I opened my mouth and drew unto myself the Spirit...
Open thy mouth wide, and will fill it."1
n1. "Ps." CXVIII, 131; LXXX, II.
III. The Qualities Which the Desire for Perfection Should Possess
To attain such happy results, the desire for perfection must be
supernatural, predominant, persevering, and practical.
#421. (1) It must be supernatural in its motive as well as in its
a) Supernatural in its motive, that is to say, based upon reasons furnished
by faith, which reasons we have already explained: the nature and the
excellence of the Christian life and of Christian perfection, the glory of
God, the edification of the neighbor, the welfare of our soul, etc.
b) Supernatural in its principle, in the sense that it must be conceived
under the influence of grace, which alone can impart to us the light that
will make us understand and relish such motives, and the strength required
to act in accordance with our convictions. Since grace is obtained through
prayer, we must ask insistently of God that He increase in us this desire
#422. (2) It must be predominant: in other words, it must outdo in
intensity any other desire. Since perfection is in reality the hidden
treasure, that pearl of great price which must be bought at any cost, and
since each degree of Christian perfection is attended by a corresponding
degree of glory, of the Beatific Vision and of love, the same must be
longed for and sought after in preference to any thing else whatsoever . "
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and his justice.1
n1. "Matth.," VI, 33.
#423. (3) It must be persevering. To seek perfection is a long and arduous
work calling for constant progress. Hence the desire to do better must be
renewed frequently. Our Lord tells us, therefore, not to look backwards
over the distance traversed, or to cast complacent eyes upon the results of
past efforts: "No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is
fit for the kingdom of God."1 On the contrary we must look ahead, as St.
Paul tells us, to see the way we must yet travel and redouble our effort,
like the runner who stretches forth his arm the better to reach hold of the
goal: " Forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself
to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the
supernatural vocation."2 St. Augustine lays great stress upon this same
truth; he says that to halt is to fall back, to tarry in the contemplation
of the way we have traveled is to lose our vigor. The motto of perfection
is to go ever forward, to aim ever higher: "Linger not on the way, stray
not from it... Always strive, always move, always advance."3
n1. "Luke, IX, 6 2.
n2. "Philip," III, 13-14.
n3. ST AUGUSTINE, Sermon 169, n. 18.
We must not consider the good we have achieved but the good that is yet to
be accomplished; we must not look to those who do less than ourselves, but
to those who do better, to the fervent, to the Saints, and above them all
to Jesus Himself, our True Model. Then, the more we progress the further we
seem from the goal, just because we realize the better how lofty that goal
However, there must be an entire absence of anything like over-eagerness,
impatience, and, above all, anything like presumption in our desires.
Violent efforts are of short duration, and the presumptuous soon lose heart
after the first failures. What really makes for our progress is a calm and
oft-renewed desire based on convictions and on the omnipotence of grace.
#424. (4) Then, desire becomes practical and efficacious, because it is
directed not towards an ideal that is impossible to realize, but towards
the means that lie within our reach. There are souls possessed of
magnificent, but purely speculative ideals, souls who aspire to high
perfection the while they neglect the means that lead thereto. Herein lurks
a twofold danger: we may fancy we have attained perfection, simply because
we dream of it, and thus fall into pride; or we may come to a standstill
and fail. We must instead, bear in mind the saying that he who wills the
end wills also the means. We must recall that it is fidelity in little
things that ensures fidelity in greater things, and that our desire for
perfection should bear on our present duties, however trifling they may be,
since the faithful accomplishment of these will guarantee fidelity in those
of greater moment. "He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful
also in that which is greater."1 To pretend to desire perfection and then
relegate to the morrow the efforts that should accompany such desire, to
wish to sanctify oneself through the performance of great actions and then
take no heed of ordinary ones, is to labor under a double illusion, which
reveals either a lack of sincerity or an ignorance of psychology. High
ideals are, no doubt, required, but so also is their immediate and
n1. "Luke" XVI, 10.
IV. Means to Stimulate this Desire for Perfection
#425. (1) Based upon supernatural convictions, the desire for perfection
takes root and grows chiefly through meditation and prayer. It is necessary
then first of all to reflect on the great truths we have explained in the
foregoing chapters, on the greatness of this life which God Himself
communicates to us, on the beauty and the wealth of a soul that cultivates
it, on the delights which God has in store for it in heaven. It is
necessary to meditate on the lives of those Saints who grew the more in
holiness as their longing for perfection gained daily in constancy and
ardor That such meditation may be made more fruitful, we must join to it
prayer which, drawing God's grace upon the soul, makes our convictions
concerning the need of perfection deeper and more vital.
#426. (2) There are certain favorable circumstances, in which the action of
grace is more keenly felt. A wise spiritual director will know how to
profit by them in order to awaken in his penitents the desire for
a) From the first dawn of reason, God invites the child to give himself to
Him. How important it is that parents and confessors avail themselves of
these divine solicitations to stimulate and direct the impulses of young
hearts ! This is true of the time of First Communion, of the moment when
the signs of vocation first appear or a choice of life is to be made; of
the time when one enters college, seminary, or novitiate; or of the time
when one receives the sacrament of matrimony. On all these occasions, God
grants special graces to which it is important to correspond with a
#427. b) The same is true of the time of retreat The prolonged periods of
recollection, the instructions, the readings and the examinations of
conscience, and the prayers offered, above all, the more abundant graces
then received, contribute to the strengthening of our convictions, to a
better knowledge of our state of conscience, to the more sincere abhorrence
of our faults and their causes, whilst new, more practical and more
generous resolutions are suggested, giving us a new impetus-toward
perfection. Thus it has come to pass in recent years that more frequent
retreats1 have formed among the clergy and the faithful choice men whose
one ambition is that of advancing in the spiritual life. Spiritual
directors in seminaries, likewise, know the wonderful effects produced in
their students by the general retreats and the retreats for ordination.
Then it is that generous desires for a better life are conceived, renewed
or intensified. We must, then, profit by these opportunities to answer
God's appeal and begin or perfect the reformation of our life.
n1. A. BOISSEL, "Retraites fermees, pratique et theorie."
#428. e) Providential trials, physical or moral, such as illness, death,
moral suffering, evil turns of fortune are often accompanied by interior
graces that urge us on to a more perfect life. Provided we take advantage
of these ordeals to turn to God, they wean us from earthly things, purify
our soul through suffering, inspire us with a yearning for Heaven and for
perfection which is the way to Heaven.
#429. d) Lastly, there are times when the Holy Spirit produces interior
movements in the soul, inclining it towards a life of greater perfection.
He enlightens us on the vanity of human things, on the happiness flowing
from a more complete gift of self to God, and urges us to greater efforts.
We must profit by these interior graces to hasten our progress.
#430. 3c There are Spiritual Exercises which by their very nature tend to
awaken in us the desire for perfection. These are:
a) The particular examen, which obliges us each day to study ourselves in
regard to some one special point, not only in order to ascertain our
failings or successes, but above all to renew our determination to advance
in the practice of such or such a virtue. (N. 468.)
b) The systematic practice of Confession with a view to correct such or
such a fault (n. 262).
c) The monthly and annual retreats that come to renew our desire of doing
#431. In making use of these various means we shall continually or at least
habitually keep our wills fixed on the end to be attained, spiritual
progress. Then, upheld by God's grace, we shall more easily triumph over
obstacles. No doubt, there will be slight failings now and then, but
spurred on by the desire of advancing, we shall courageously resume our
march, and our little setbacks, by exercising us in humility, will serve
but to draw us nearer to God.
II. The Knowledge of God and the Knowledge of Self
#432. Since perfection consists in the union of the soul with God, it
becomes evident that in order to effect this union, we must be acquainted
with its two terms, God and the soul. The knowledge of God will lead us
directly to love: May I know Thee, that I may love Thee. The knowledge of
self, by making us realize the worth of all the good wherewith God has
endowed us, will awaken in us a corresponding sense of gratitude; while the
sight of our miseries and our faults, by making us conceive a just contempt
of self, will engender in us true humility: May I know myself in order that
I may despise myself. Divine love will be the result, for it is on the
ruins of self-love that the love of God is built.
I. The Knowledge of God1
#433. In order to love God it is necessary first of all to know Him.2 The
more profound our consideration of His perfections, the more ardent the
love of our heart for Him; for, all is loveliness in Him. In Him is found
the fullness of being, of beauty, of goodness and of love: God is love.
This much is evident. It remains to determine: (1) What we must know of God
in order to love Him, and (2) How to come to that affectionate knowledge of
(1) WHAT WE MUST KNOW OF GOD
Concerning God, we must know whatever can render Him admirable and lovable.
We must learn of His existence, His nature, His attributes, His works,
above all, His inner life and His relations with us. Nothing that concerns
the Godhead is foreign to devotion; the most abstract truths themselves
have an affective aspect which is a very great aid to our piety. Let us see
this with the help of a few instances taken from philosophy and theology.
n1. FABER, "Creator and Creature," "The Precious Blood," "Bethlehem;"
NEWMAN "Grammar of Assent" and other works (See word God in Index to the
Works of CARD. NEWMAN by RICKABLE, S.J.); BELLORD, "Meditations on Dogma;"
BRAN-CHEREAU, "Meditations," vol. I, Med. I-VI; HEDLEY, "Retreat," IV_V;
HOGAN, "Clerical Studies," C. IV; A. I; SCOTT, S.J., "God and Myself;"
BOSSUET , "De la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-mene; Elevations sur els
mysteres; Mediations sur l'Evangile;" L. BAIL, "Theologie affective;"
LESSIUS, "De perfectionibus moribusque divinis; P. D'ARGENTAN, "Les
Grandeurs de Dieu;" CONTENSON, "Theologia mentis et cordis;" BEAUDENOM,
"Les Sources de la Piete;" SAUVE, "Dieu intime, Jesus intime, L'homme
intime," etc.; P. SAUDREAU, O.P., "Les divines paroles;" M. D'HERBIGNY, "La
Theologie du revele," ch. VII-XI; P. R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, "Dieu, son
existence, sa nature," 1920.
n2. Contrary propositions of Molinos were condemned, DENZ-BANN. 1226, 1329.
#434. A) Philosophical Truths.1 a) The metaphysical proofs of the existence
of God seem abstract enough, and yet they are inexhaustible treasures of
marvelous considerations leading to divine love: God, the Changeless Prime
Mover, Pure Act, is the origin of all movement. Hence, we cannot move if
not in Him and through Him. He must be, therefore, the first principle of
all our actions. If He is our first principle, He shall be our last end: "
I am the beginning and the end. " God is the First Cause of all beings, of
whatever of good there is in us, of our faculties, of our acts. To Him
alone, therefore, be all honor and glory! God is the Necessary Being, the
Only Necessary Being. He is then the only good to be sought. All other
things are contingent, accessory, transient, useful solely inasmuch as they
lead us to this Only Necessary Being. God is Infinite Perfection .
creatures are but the faint reflection of His beauty. He is then, the Ideal
to pursue: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is
perfect."2 We must set no limits to our perfection: "I am infinite," said
Almighty God to St. Catherine of Sienna, "and I seek infinite works, that
is, an infinite sense of love."3
n1. See especially JOYCE, "Natural Theology."
n2. "Matth.," V, 48; cfr. Commentary of IV Lateran Council. (Densinger,
n3. "Dialog" I, p. 40.
#435. b) If we pass thence to the divine nature, even the little we know of
it is sufficient to wean us from all created things and raise us up to God.
He is the fullness of being: "I am Who am." Hence, mine is but a borrowed
existence, incapable of .subsisting by itself, and I must acknowledge my
utter dependence upon the Divine Being. This it was that God wished to
teach St. Catherine of Sienna when He said to her: "Learn, my daughter,
what you are and what I am... You are that which is not, and I am He Who
is."1 What a lesson in humility! What a lesson in love!
n1. "Vie," by RAYMOND DE CAPOUE, trad. Cartier, t. I, p. 71.
#436. e) We learn the same lesson from the consideration of the divine
attributes. There is not one that if well meditated upon does not act as a
stimulus to our love in one form or another. The simplicity of the Godhead
moves us to the practice of singleness of purpose or purity of intention,
which causes us to tend directly to God, to the exclusion of every
inordinate thought of self. His immensity, which encompasses and pervades
our being, is the foundation of that practice so dear and so profitable to
pious souls, the exercise of the presence of God. His eternity detaches us
from all things that pass away with time, by recalling that whatever is not
eternal is nothing. His unchangeableness aids us in the midst of human
vicissitudes to maintain that peace of mind so necessary to a close and
abiding union with Him. His perpetual activity spurs us on to action,
preventing us from lapsing into indifference or into a sort of dangerous
apathy or quietism. His omnipotence, ministering to His unbounded wisdom
and His merciful goodness, inspire us with a filial trust that becomes a
singular aid to prayer and to a holy abandonment of ourselves to Him. His
holiness makes us hate sin and cherish that purity of heart which leads to
a familiar union with Him: " Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall
see God." The soundest foundation of our faith rests upon His infallible
truthfulness. His beauty, His goodness, His love, captivate our heart,
giving rise to outpourings of love and gratitude. Thus it is that saintly
persons love to lose themselves in the contemplation of the Divine
attributes and by gazing adoringly upon God's perfections, to draw them in
a measure into their own hearts.
#437. B) Holy souls delight above all in the contemplation of revealed
truths, all of which refer to the history of the Divine Life: its source in
the Most Holy Trinity, its first bestowal by the creation and
sanctification of man, its restoration through the Incarnation, its actual
diffusion through the Church and the Sacraments, its final consummation in
Heaven. Each of these mysteries enraptures and inflames souls with love for
God, for Jesus Christ, for their brethren and for all things divine.
#438. a) The source of divine life is the Blessed Trinity. God, the very
plenitude of being and of love, eternally regards His Own Self. Out of this
contemplation He brings forth His Word, the Word that is His Son, distinct
from, yet in all things equal to Him, His own living and substantial image.
He loves that Son and is in turn loved by Him; and from this mutual love
proceeds the Holy Ghost, distinct from the Father and the Son yet equal in
all things to Both. And this is the life wherein we share!
#439. b) Because He is infinitely good, God wills to communicate Himself to
other beings. This He does by creating and above all by sanctifying men. By
creation we are God's servants, which already constitutes a high honor.
Indeed, what a cause for wonder, for gratitude, for love, that God should
have thought of me from all eternity, that He should have chosen me out of
billions of possible beings in order to bring me into existence and bestow
upon me life and intelligence ! But what shall I say of His calling me to
share in His own divine life? Of His having adopted me as a child, having
destined me for the clear vision of His essence and for His undivided love?
Is not this the consummation of charity? Is not this a great motive-power
urging us to love Him without measure or stint?
#440. c) Through the fault of our first parents we lost our right to this
participation in the divine life, and of ourselves we had not the power to
regain it. But behold ! The Son of God sees our plight, becomes a man like
ourselves and is thus constituted the Head of a mystical body whose members
we are; He atones for our sins by His sorrowful Passion and His death on
the Cross, reconciles us to God and makes that life He has drawn from the
bosom of His Father flow once more into our souls. Can there be a stronger
appeal to make us love the Word-made-Flesh, to urge us to unite ourselves
to Him and through Him to the Father?
#441. d) To facilitate this union, Jesus remains among us. He abides with
us through His Church, that transmits and explains His teachings; through
His Sacraments, mysterious channels of grace, giving the life divine. He
dwells among us, above all, in the Holy Eucharist wherein He at once
perpetuates His Presence, His merciful action, and His Sacrifice: His
Sacrifice through the Holy Oblation of the Mass, wherein in a mysterious
manner He renews His immolation; His merciful action, through Holy
Communion, wherein He comes to us with all the treasures of grace to
perfect our souls and impart to them His own virtues; His abiding Presence,
willingly imprisoned day and night within the Tabernacle, where we can
visit Him, converse with Him, glorify with Him the Most Blessed Trinity,
find health for all our spiritual miseries, and consolation in sorrow and
discouragement: "Come to me all you that labor and are burdened: and I will
n1. "Matth.," XI, 28.
#442. e) This is but the dawn of the noonday light of eternity, wherein we
shall see God face to face, as He sees Himself, and shall love Him with a
perfect love. In Him we shall behold and love whatever is good, whatever is
noble. We came from God by creation; we return to Him by glorification. In
glorifying Him we find perfect happiness.
Dogma is, then, the true source of real devotion.
(2) MEANS OF ARRIVING AT THIS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
#443. Three principal means are at our disposal in order to acquire this
affective knowledge of God: (1) the devout study of philosophy and
theology; (2) meditation or mental prayer; (3) the habit of seeing God in
A) The Devout Study of Theology.1 One may study philosophy and theology in
two ways: merely with the mind, as one would study mathematics or any other
secular science, or with mind and heart. It is the latter that begets
godliness. When St. Thomas plunged into the depths of the great
philosophical and theological questions, he studied them not as a Greek
sage would, but as a disciple and lover of Christ. According to his
expression, theology treats of divine things and of acts inasmuch as they
lead us to a perfect knowledge of God, in which eternal happiness
consists.2 This is why his piety was even more wonderful than his
knowledge. The same was true of St. Bonaventure and other great
theologians. Of course, the most of them have not gone into devout
considerations concerning the great mysteries of our faith which they
sought but to explain and prove, yet it is from these very truths that
godliness springs Whoever studies them in the spirit of faith, cannot but
admire and love Him Whose grandeur and goodness theology reveals. This
holds especially if we know how to avail ourselves of the gets of knowledge
and of understanding. The former lifts us up from creatures unto God
disclosing to us their relations with the Divinity; the latter makes us
penetrate to the very heart of revealed truths, to discern their marvelous
With the aid of these lights, the devout theologian will know how to rise
from the contemplation of the most speculative truths to acts of adoration,
of wonder, of gratitude and of love, which spring spontaneously from the
study of Christian dogmas. These acts, far from paralyzing his intellectual
activities, will but quicken and sharpen them; for one studies better, with
more diligence and greater perseverance, whatever one loves. One discovers
depths which the intellect alone could not sound, and draws inferences
which broaden the field of theology, whilst nourishing piety.
n1. The Church has condemned the assertion of Molinos that a theologian is
not as well disposed for contemplation as an ignorant man (DENZ.-BANN.,
1284). FATHER FABER writes: Is not all doctrine practical? Is it not the
first use of dogmatic theology to be the basis of sanctity...? He who
separates dogmatics from ascetics seems to assert this proposition: The
Knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ was not meant primarily to make us
holy... " (FABER "Spiritual Conferences," "Conf. on Death," 3, p. 137).
(Theology) "is the best fuel of devotion, the best fuel of divine love...
If a science tells of God, yet does not make the listener's heart burn
within him, it must follow either that the science is no true theology, or
that the heart which listens is stupid and depraved. In a simple and loving
heart, theology burns like a sacred fire." (FABER, "The Precious Blood," C.
n2. "Sum theol." I, q. I, a 4.
#444. B) Meditation must accompany study. We do not meditate sufficiently
upon Christian dogmas, or we confine our consideration to their secondary
aspects. We must not hesitate to take the very essence of these dogmas as
the subject of our meditations. Then it is that the light of faith, under
the influence of grace, reaches such heights and pierces such depths as the
intellect alone could never discern. We find proof of this fact in the
writings of unlettered persons, who having been raised to contemplation,
have left us appreciations concerning God, Christ our Lord, His doctrines
and Sacraments, that actually rival those of the most exalted theologians.
And did not St. Thomas say that he had learned more from his Crucifix than
from the works of Doctors? The reason for it is that God speaks more
readily in the silent peacefulness of prayer; and that His Word, then
better understood, enlightens the mind, enkindles the heart and sets the
will in action. Then it is, likewise, that the Holy Spirit deigns to
impart, over and above the gifts of knowledge and understanding, that of
wisdom, which gives a relish for the truths of faith, causes us to love
these truths and live by them, and thus establishes a very close union
between God and the soul. This is well described by the author of the
Imitation in the following words: " Happy is the soul that heareth the Lord
speaking within her, and receiveth from His mouth the word of comfort."1
The repeated and affectionate remembrance of God is but the prolongation of
the happy effects of our mental prayer. The frequent thought of God
increases our love for Him, and this love deepens and refines our
n1. "Imit." Bk. III, c. I.
#445. C) Then it is that we acquire the habit of rising more easily from
the creature to the Creator, and of seeing God in all His works, in things,
persons and events. The basis of this practice is " the divine
exemplarism," taught by Plato, perfected by St. Augustine and St. Thomas,
elucidated by the school of St. Victor, and taken up by the French school
of the Seventeenth Century.1 All beings have existed in the divine thought
before their creation. God has begotten them in His mind before bringing
them forth and He has willed that they reflect, in various degrees, His
divine perfections. If, therefore, we regard created things, not only with
the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the soul, by the light of faith,
we shall see there three things:
a) All creatures, according to their degree of perfection, are an image, a
likeness of God; all proclaim God for their Maker and bid us join in praise
of Him, since their own being, all their beauty and goodness, is but a
created and finite participation in the divine essence.
b) Intelligent creatures in particular, raised as they are to the
supernatural order, are images, living likenesses of God, sharing, though
in a finite way, in His intellectual life. Since all the baptized are
Christ's members, it is Christ that we must see in them: Christ in all.
c) All events, propitious or adverse, are designed in the mind of God to
perfect the supernatural life wherewith He has endowed us, and to
facilitate the recruitment of the elect, so much so, that we can profit by
everything unto sanctification.
We must add, however, that in the order of time, souls go first to Jesus
Christ. It is through Him that they go to the Father, and once they have
reached God, they never cease to hold themselves in the closest bonds of
union with Jesus.
n1. see especially "La Journee Chretienne" of FATHER OLIER where this
doctrine is wonderfully applied.
CONCLUSION: THE EXERCISE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD 1
#446. The affective knowledge of God leads us to the holy exercise of the
presence of God. We shall now note briefly the foundation, the practice,
and the advantages of this exercise.
A) Its foundation is the doctrine of God's omnipresence. God is everywhere,
not only by His all-contemplating vision and His all-pervading action, but
likewise, by His substance. As St. Paul told the Athenians: "In Him we
live, and move, and are."2 This is true from both the natural and the
supernatural point of view. As Creator, after having given us our being and
our life, He preserves us and quickens our faculties by His concurrence. As
Father, He begets us unto the supernatural life, which is a participation
in His own, He co-operates with us as principal cause in its preservation
and its growth, and He is thus intimately present in us, within the very
center of our soul, yet without ceasing to be distinct from us. As we have
said above (n. 92), it is the Triune God that lives in us: the Father, Who
loves us as His children, the Son Who deals with us as His brethren, and
the Holy Ghost Who gives us both His gifts and Himself.
B) The Practice of This Exercise. To find God, then, we need not seek Him
in the heavens. a) We find Him close by in the creatures round about us. It
is there that we look for Him at the outset. One and all suggest to us some
divine perfection, but it is especially so of those creatures which,
endowed with intellect, are the dwelling places of the Living God (n. 92).
These constitute for us the steps, as it were, of a ladder by which we
ascend to Him. b) We know, moreover, that God is near those that
confidently invoke Him: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon
Him,"3 and our soul delights to call to Him now by ejaculatory prayers, now
by long supplications. c) Above all we recall the fact that the Three
Divine Persons dwell within us4 and that our heart is a living tabernacle,
a Heaven, wherein They give Themselves to us even now. It is enough, then,
simply to recollect ourselves, to enter within the inner Sanctuary of our
soul, as St. Catherine of Sienna calls it, and contemplate with the eyes of
faith the Divine Guest Who deigns to abide there. Then shall we live under
His gaze, under His influence; then shall we adore Him and co-operate with
Him in the sanctification of our souls.
n1. S. THOM, I., q. 8, a. 3; LESSIUS, "De perfectionibus moribusque
divinis," lib. II; RODRIGUEZ, "Practice of Christian Perfection," Part 1,
Treatise VI; P. PINY, O. P., "La Presence de Dieu;" P. PLUS, S J., "God in
us," "Living With God," "In Christ Jesus"; S. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introd. to
a Devout Life," P. II, c II, XII, XIII; VAUBERT "How to Walk before God;"
"Spiritual Combat," c. 21-23; MATURIN, "Principles of the Spiritual Life,"
p. 116-138; HAMON, "Medit.,m" Vol. V, p. 95-125; CURSUS ASCETICUS, Vol. II,
p. 308-317; HEDLEY, "Retreat for Priests," II.
n2. "Acts," XVII, 28.
n3. "Ps." CXLIV, 18.
n4. See C. I, a I.
#447. C) It is easy to see the advantages of this exercise for our
a) It makes us carefully avoid sin. Who shall dare offend the majesty of
God while realizing that God actually dwells within him, with His infinite
holiness that cannot endure the least blemish, with His infinite justice
obliging Him to punish the slightest fault, with His power to punish the
guilty, above all with His goodness, forever seeking our love and our
b) It stimulates our zeal for perfection. If a soldier fighting under the
eyes of his commander is inspired to multiply his feats of valor, should we
not be ready to undergo the most strenuous labors, to make the greatest
efforts when conscious that not only does the eye of God watch us in our
struggle, but that His victorious arm ever sustains us? Could we lag, when
encouraged by the immortal Crown He holds out to us, and above all, by the
greater love He bestows on us as a reward?
c) What great trust does not this thought inspire in us! Whatever may be
our trials, our temptations, our weariness and our weakness, are we not
assured of final victory, when we recall that He, Who is All-powerful, Whom
nothing can resist, dwells within us and invests us with His power?
Doubtless, we may sustain partial reverses and experience excruciating
anguish, yet we are certain that, supported by Him, we shall conquer, and
that even our crosses will but make us grow in God's love and multiply our
d) Lastly, what a joy for us is the thought that He Who is the Joy of the
Elect, and Whom we shall see one day face to face, is even now our portion,
Whose presence and conversation we may enjoy all day long!
The knowledge and the habitual thought of God are, therefore, most
sanctifying. The same is true of the knowledge of self.
The knowledge of God leads us directly to love Him, since He is infinitely
lovable. The knowledge of self helps us indirectly to love God by
disclosing to us the absolute need we have of Him, in order to perfect the
qualities with which He has endowed us and to heal our deep miseries. We
shall explain: (1) the necessity of self-knowledge, (2) its object, (3) the
means of obtaining it.
n1. MATURIN, "Self-knowledge and Self-discipline"; RODRIGUEZ, "Christian
Perfection," P. 1. tr. VII; S. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introd. to a Devout
Life," P. II, X, XI, P. V, III-VII- MEYER, "Science of the Saints," Vol. I,
Lessons l, XIII, XVI; FABER, "Spiritual Conferences," "Self-deceit;" CLARE,
"The Science of the Spiritual Life;" SCARAMELLI-STOCKMAN, "Manual of
Christian Perfection," P. I, a. X.
(1) THE NECESSITY OF SELF KNOWLEDGE
A few words will convince us of this.
#448. A) If we lack self-knowledge, it is morally impossible to perfect
ourselves. The reason is that we then entertain illusions concerning our
state, and, according to our character or our changing moods, we fall
either into a presumptuous optimism that makes us believe we are already
perfect, or into discouragement that causes us to exaggerate our faults. In
either case, the result is almost identical--inaction, lack of sustained
effort, carelessness. Besides, how can we correct faults with which we are
not acquainted or of which we have at best but an imperfect knowledge? How
undertake the cultivation of virtues, of qualities of which we have but a
vague and confused notion?
#449. B) An honest and accurate knowledge of ourselves on the contrary, is
an incentive to perfection. The good qualities we discover move us to thank
God and to show our gratitude by generous co-operation with His grace. Our
defects and the realization of our helplessness show us how much we have
yet to accomplish, and how important it is to lose no opportunity of
advancing. Then we profit by all occasions to uproot or, at least, to
weaken, mortify, overcome our vices and to foster and further the growth of
our good qualities. Conscious of our weakness, we humbly beg of God the
grace of advancing each day; and, upheld by trust in Him, we cling to the
desire and the promise of success; This is what excites and steadies our
(2) THE OBJECT OF SELF KNOWLEDGE
#450. General Remarks. That this knowledge be more profitable, it should
extend to all that is ours, qualities and defects, natural and supernatural
endowments, likes and dislikes, our personal history, our faults, our
efforts, our progress; all this to be studied, not in a pessimistic frame
of mind, but with due impartiality, with a right conscience enlightened by
a) We should then candidly, without any sort of false humility, ascertain
what are the good qualities that Almighty God has dealt out to us, not,
indeed, to glory therein, but to thank the Giver and to cultivate His
gifts. These are the talents He has entrusted to us and of which He will
ask an account. The field to be explored, then, is vast indeed, comprising
as it does all our natural and supernatural gifts: those things which we
hold directly from God, and those we have received from our parents; those
we owe to our Christian education and those that are the results of our own
efforts sustained by grace.
#451. b) We must, at the same time, face with courage the sight of our
miseries and our faults. Drawn forth from nothing, thither forever we tend.
We can neither subsist nor act, except by the ever-present concurrence of
God. Drawn to evil by a threefold concupiscence (N. 193 and foll.), we have
added new strength to our evil tendencies by our actual sins, and by the
evil habits resulting from them. We must humbly acknowledge this fact and,
without losing heart, set to work with the help of divine grace to heal
these wounds by the practice of Christian virtue and thus approach the
perfection of Our Heavenly Father.
#452. Practical Applications. To guide ourselves in this study we may
examine successively our natural and supernatural endowments, following a
sort of questionnaire that will facilitate our task.
A) Our Natural Gifts. Regarding the natural gifts, we may ask ourselves,
before God, what are our outstanding tendencies. In this we may adopt the
following practical, if not strictly philosophical order.1
n1. In an Appendix will be found a brief study on character that will aid
us in this study of self. Cf. DOSDA. "L 'Union avec Dieu," t. I, IIe p.,
#453. a) As regards the sensitive appetites. Is-feeling predominant with
us, or is it reason and will? There is within all of us this mixture of the
higher and the lower, but not in the same proportion. Is our love a matter
of sentiment rather than of devotedness and will? Do we control our
exterior senses, or are we under their sway? What power do we hold over our
imagination and our memory? Are not these faculties excessively flighty and
often engaged in empty daydreaming? Are our passions properly directed and
controlled? Is sensuality our ruling passion, or is it pride or vanity? Are
we apathetic, soft, listless, sluggish? If we are slow by nature, do we, at
least, persevere in our efforts?
#454. b) As regards the mind. What sort of mind do we possess ? Is it quick
and clear but superficial, or slow but deep? Do we belong to the
intellectual, reflective type, or do we belong to the class of practical
men, who study in order to love and to act? How do we set about the work of
cultivating our mind? Do we do so with earnestness or with unconcern,
steadily, or by fits and starts? What results do we obtain? What are our
methods of study? Could we improve upon them? Are our judgments biased by
our feelings? Are we obstinate in our opinions? Can we listen with an open
mind to those who hold views different from ours?
#455. c) As regards the will. Is our will weak and inconstant, or is it
strong and persevering ? What do we do to train it? The will should reign
supreme over the other faculties, but it cannot do so unless we use great
tact and make great efforts. What do we do to assure the control of the
will over our exterior and interior senses, over the activities of our
mind? What do we do to strengthen, to steady the will? Have we strong
convictions? Do we renew these frequently? Do we strengthen our will power
by fidelity in little things, and by the small sacrifices of daily life?
#456. d) As regards character. Our character is of capital importance in
what concerns our relations with the neighbor. A good disposition, the gift
of getting along with others, is a powerful asset to zeal, and a bad
disposition one of the greatest obstacles. A man of character is one who,
having the courage of his convictions, strives resolutely and perseveringly
to live up to them. A good character is that harmonious combination of
kindness and firmness, of meekness and strength, of frankness and tact that
elicits the esteem and the love of those with whom it comes in contact. A
bad character is one which is lacking in frankness, in kindness, in tact or
in firmness, or which, by allowing egoism to hold sway, is rude in its
manner and makes itself repulsive, at times hateful to others. Here then,
we have an important element for study.
#457. e) As regards habits. Habits result from a repetition of the same
acts, and they make the repetition of these acts easy and pleasant. It is
important to study such habits as we have already acquired, in order to
strengthen them, if they are good, to uproot them, if they are bad. What we
shall say in the second part of this treatise about the capital sins and
the virtues, will be of help to us in this inquiry.
#458. B) Our supernatural gifts. Penetrated as our faculties are by the
supernatural, we would not gain a complete knowledge of ourselves if we did
not take account of the supernatural gifts God has imparted to us. These we
have described above (n. 119 and foll.). God's grace however takes sundry
forms in its way of working,1 and it is important that we study its special
action upon our soul.
a) We must examine the attraction grace makes us feel for such or such a
virtue. Our sanctification, in fact, depends on the docility wherewith we
follow these motions of grace.
I) There are decisive moments in life when God speaks in clearer and more
urgent tones. To hearken to His Voice and follow His inspirations is of the
2) We should ask ourselves whether there be among the attractions we feel,
one that is predominant, stronger than the others, oft-recurring, drawing
us toward a particular kind of life, toward a certain kind of prayer,
toward some determined virtue. We shall thus find the special way wherein
God wishes us to walk. It is important that we enter it, for it is there
that we shall receive the fullness of grace.
n1. "I Peter", IV, 10
#459. b) Besides discovering our attractions, we must also take cognizance
of the resistance we offer to grace, of our failings, of our sins, in order
to regret them with all sincerity, make amends and avoid them in the
future. This is a painful, humiliating study, especially if carried out
honestly and minutely, but it is a most profitable one; for, on the one
hand, it is a great aid in the practice of humility, and on the other, it
throws us with perfect trust on the merciful love of God, Who alone has the
power to heal our weaknesses.
(3) THE MEANS OF OBTAINING SELF-KNOWLEDGE
#460. Self-knowledge is difficult to attain. a) Attracted as we are by
outward things, we hardly care to enter into ourselves to scrutinize that
unseen miniature world; we care even less, proud as we are, about
discovering our faults.
b) Our interior acts are extremely complex. There is within us, as St. Paul
says, the lower life of the flesh and the higher life of the spirit and
often turbulent conflict ensues between them. In order to sift what
proceeds from nature, what from grace, what is willful, and what is not a
great deal of attention is required, a great deal of insight, of honesty,
of courage, of perseverance. The light comes but gradually--a bit of
knowledge leads to more, and this prepares the way for deeper insight.
#461. Since it is through examinations of conscience that we come to know
ourselves, we shall give, in order to facilitate this exercise, some
general rules, offer a method, and suggest the dispositions with which
these examinations should be made.
#462. A) General Rules. a) In order to perform this examination well, we
must first of all invoke the light of the Holy Ghost, Who " searcheth the
reins and the hearts " of men, and beg Him to show us the inmost recesses
of our soul by bestowing upon us the gift of knowledge, one of whose
functions is to help us know ourselves and thus to lead us to God.
b) Next, we must bring before us the perfect Exemplar, Jesus, Whom we must
resemble more and more every day, and we must adore and admire not only His
exterior acts, but above all, His interior dispositions. By the light which
the contrast between ourselves and our Divine Model will give, our faults
and imperfections will be the more clearly discerned. Nor shall we be
disheartened at the sight, for Jesus is also the Healer of souls Whose one
anxiety is to dress our wounds and heal them. To make our confession to
Him, so to speak, and humbly ask His forgiveness is an excellent practice.
#463. C) Then comes the moment to enter into our inmost soul. From outward
actions we pass on to the hidden causes from which they spring, our
interior dispositions. Thus, if we have failed in charity, we shall ask
ourselves whether it was through thoughtlessness, envy, jealousy,
talkativeness, or from a desire to be witty.
Then to estimate the morality of the act, and to determine our
responsibility, we must ask ourselves whether it was actually willful, or
willful in cause; performed with full consciousness of its malice, or with
only a half-advertence; with full consent of the will, or with a half-
consent. At the outset, all this is rather obscure, but it gradually
To be even more impartial in our judgments, it is good to place ourselves
in the presence of the Sovereign Judge, and to hear Him say to us, kindly,
indeed, but with supreme authority: "Render an account of thy stewardship."
Then we shall endeavor to answer as frankly as on the last day we shall
wish to have done.
#464. At times, it is useful, especially for beginners, to make this
examination in writing, so as to concentrate attention better and to be
able to compare the results obtained each day and each week. Should anyone
do so, however, care must be taken to avoid anything that savors of self-
seeking, any studied elegance of style, and the danger of having such
memoranda fall under the eyes of others. If we use a record with
conventional signs, we must be on our guard against routine or shallowness.
At all events, a time generally arrives when the better course is to
discard such means and candidly examine ourselves under the eye of God
immediately after the performance of the principal actions of the day, and
make a general review of these in the evening.
#465. In this, as in all else, we shall follow the counsel of a wise
spiritual director, and ask him to help us to come to a better knowledge of
ourselves. Experienced and impartial observer, he generally sees better
than we do ourselves the depths of our conscience, and thus is more
competent to judge the true character of our acts.
#466. B) Methods for the examination of conscience. Every one acknowledges
that these have been greatly perfected by St. Ignatius. In his Spiritual
Exercises, he carefully differentiates between the general and the
particular examination. The former bears upon all the actions of the day,
the latter upon one special point, a fault to be corrected, a virtue to be
cultivated. Both may, however, be made together. In this case, one will
limit the general examination to a summary glance over the day's actions in
order to discover the chief faults, passing directly on to the particular
examination which is far more important.
#467. a) The general examination, which every good Christian should make in
order to know and to improve himself, comprises five points, says St.
I) "The first point is to return thanks to God Our Lord for the benefits
received." This is an excellent exercise, at once consoling and
sanctifying, for it brings into relief our ingratitude, thus preparing the
way for contrition, and at the same time it sustains our confidence in
2) "The second is to ask grace to know the sins and cast them out." If we
want to know ourselves it is in order to reform ourselves, but we
accomplish neither without the helping grace of God.
3) "The third, to demand of the soul an account from the hour of rising to
the present examen, taking hour by hour or period by period; and first of
thought, then of word, and afterwards of deed, in the same order that has
been mentioned for the Particular Examen."
4) "The fourth is to ask pardon of God Our Lord for the faults." In fact,
we must not lose sight of this, that sorrow is the principal element of the
examination and that this sorrow is mainly the work of grace.
5) "The fifth is to purpose amendment with His grace." This resolution, to
be practical, should bear upon the means of reform. He who wills the end,
wills also the means. The recitation of the Our Father is a fitting
conclusion for this examination, bringing before our eyes the glory of God
which we must seek, and uniting us to Jesus Christ in our supplication for
the pardon of our sins and for the grace of avoiding them in the future.
n1. "Spiritual Exercises," 1st week. The words within the quotation marks
belong to St. Ignatius' own text; translation is by Father RICKABY, S J.,
"The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius."
n2. Here the method of S. Sulpice adds the adoration, that is to say all
those acts by which we adore, praise, bless, love and express our gratitude
to God; we place ourselves then in the presence of Jesus Christ, our model
and our Judge, as has been explained above, n. 462.
#468. b) The particular examination,1 in the judgment of St. Ignatius, is
of greater moment than the general one, and of even more importance than
meditation itself, because it enables us to run down, one by one, our
defects and thus overcome them the more easily. Besides, if we examine
ourselves thoroughly on some important virtue, we not only acquire that
virtue, but all the others related thereto. Thus, whilst we advance in the
practice of obedience, we perform at the same time acts of humility, of
mortification, and we exercise ourselves in the spirit of faith. Likewise,
to acquire the virtue of humility means that we are perfecting ourselves in
the practice of obedience, of the love of God, of charity, since pride is
the chief obstacle to the exercise of these virtues. There are, however,
rules for the choice of the subject of examination, and for the manner of
n1. MEYER, "Science of the Saints," Vol. I, Lesson XIV.
#469. The choice of a subject. 1) In general we must attack our predominant
fault by striving to practice the contrary virtue. This fault is, as a
matter of fact, the great stumbling block, the great leader of the opposing
forces. If it is conquered, the entire host is routed.
2) Once the subject is determined upon, we must attack first the outward
manifestations of the particular fault so as to do away with whatever
offends or scandalizes the neighbor. Thus, if charity be the subject
chosen, we must begin by suppressing words and actions contrary to this
3) Then, we must without great delay pass to the subject of the hidden
cause of our faults. This may be, for instance, feelings of envy, a desire
to be brilliant in our conversation, etc...
4) It is important not to limit our efforts to this negative side, that is,
to the struggle against faults, but we must carefully cultivate the
opposite virtue. Here, to suppress means to replace.
5) Lastly, in order to make more certain of our progress, we should
carefully divide the subject of our examinations in accordance with the
different degrees of a virtue, so as not to cover the whole field, but
merely those acts that more exactly correspond to our individual needs.
Thus, as regards humility, one should practice, first, what may be called
self-effacement or forgetfulness of self; speaking but little, giving
others the opportunity to speak by means of discreet questions, loving to
be unnoticed, to lead a hidden life etc...
#470. The manner of performing the particular Examen.1
St. Ignatius tells us that this particular examen involves three periods of
the day and two examinations of conscience.
The first time is that in the morning, as soon as the man rises, he ought
to purpose to be carefully on his guard against that particular sin, or
defect, of which he wishes to correct and amend himself
The second, after dinner, the man ought to beg of God what he wants, to
wit, the grace to remember how often he has fallen into that particular sin
or defect, and to amend himself in future; and thereupon let him make the
first examen, taking account of his soul of that particular thing proposed,
whereof he wishes to correct and amend himself, ranging through the time
hour by hour, or period by period, beginning from the hour that he rose
even to the hour and moment of the present examen; and let him score on the
top line of the figure as many dots as are the times that he has fallen
into that particular sin or defect; and afterwards let him purpose anew to
amend himself until the next examen that he shall make.
The third time, after supper, the second examen shall be made also from
hour to hour, beginning from the first examen until the present second
examen, and let him score on the second line of the same figure as many
dots as shall answer to the times that he has fallen into that particular
sin or defect.
n1. From the translation of the Spiritual Exercises of S. Ignatius, by
Father Joseph Rickaby, S. 1.
#471. HERE FOLLOW FOUR ADDITIONS FOR THE SPEEDIER REMOVAL OF THAT SIN OR
The first Addition is that, as often as the man falls into that sin or
particular defect, he puts his hand to his breast, grieving that he has
fallen,--which may be done even in presence of company without their
noticing what he is doing.
The second, since the first line of the figure represents the first examen,
and the second the second examen, let him observe at night whether there is
any improvement from the first line to the second, that is, from the first
examen to the second.
The third- to compare the second day with the first, that is, the two
examens of the second day with the other two of the day previous, and see
whether from the one day to the other there has been improvement.
The fourth Addition; to compare one week with another, and see whether
there has been improvement in the present week upon the former.
We must observe that the first great _ which follows signifies Sunday; the
second smaller signifies Monday ; the third Tuesday, and so of the rest.
#472. This method may, at first sight, appear somewhat complex; in actual
practice, it proves less so. Should one be unable to devote to it such a
notable space of time as indicated above, one can condense the essential
features of these acts within a shorter period, for instance, ten minutes
at night. If one foresees that it cannot be performed in the evening, a
part of the time given to visiting the Blessed Sacrament may be set apart
#473. C) The Dispositions that should attend this examination. That the
examination of conscience general or particular, may be effective in
uniting us more closely to God, it must be accompanied by sentiments or
dispositions that are, so to speak, its soul. We shall note the principal
ones: gratitude, sorrow, purpose of amendment, and prayer.
a) First in order is a lively sense of gratitude toward God, Who all
through the day has encompassed us about with His paternal Providence,
protected us against temptation, and guarded us from innumerable sins.
Without the aid of His grace, we should have fallen into many a fault. We
should overflow with gratitude, thanking Him in a practical way--by putting
His divine gifts to better use.
#474. b) Such a sentiment will beget a sincere sorrow, all the more
profound, as we have abused so many benefits received, offending so good
and so merciful a Father. Out of this sorrow a sincere humility is born.
Realizing from our own experience our frailty, our helplessness, our
unworthiness, we accept with joy the confusion we feel at the sight of our
repeated failures; we are happy to exalt the boundless mercies of a Father
ever ready to forgive; and we rejoice that our misery serves to proclaim
the infinite perfection of our God. These dispositions are not a passing
mood; rather they abide with us through the spirit of penance, calling
often to mind the thought of our faults: "My sin is ever before me!"1
n1. "Ps." L, 5.
#475. e) The firm determination to atone for sin and to reform our lives
will follow: to atone by acts of penance, which we take care to impose upon
ourselves in order to deaden in us the love of pleasure, the source of our
sins; to reform our lives by determining the means we shall employ, in
order to lessen the number of our faults. Such determination must carefully
exclude presumption, which by having us rely too much on our own will and
our own strength, would deprive us of manifold graces and expose us to
additional imprudences and further falls. On the other hand, our
determination must rest confidently upon the omnipotence and the infinite
goodness of God, ever willing to come to our aid when we acknowledge our
#476. d) It is to implore this divine help that we conclude the examination
with a prayer, all the more humble, all the more earnest, now that the
sight of our sins has made us more distrustful of self. Realizing that of
ourselves we are incapable of avoiding sin and still more incapable of
rising up to God by the practice of virtue, we rely on the infinite merits
of Jesus Christ, and cry out to God from the depths of our wretchedness, to
come unto us, to lift us from the mire of our sins, and to raise us up to
Himself It is through these dispositions rather than by a minute scrutiny
of our faults that our souls are gradually transformed under the influence
#477. In this way, then, the knowledge of God and of self cannot but
promote the intimate and affectionate union between the soul and God. He is
infinite perfection, and we are absolute poverty. Hence, there is between
the two a certain contact.--He has all that we need, and we need -that He
has. He stoops down to us to surround us with His love and His favors,
whilst we tend toward Him as toward the One Being Who alone can supply for
our deficiencies, the One Who alone can make up for our weakness. Our
thirst for happiness and for love is quenched only in Him, Who with His
love satiates our heart and all its longings, giving us at once both
perfection and bliss. Let us repeat these well-known words: "May I know
Thee O Lord, that I may love Thee; may I know myself, that I may despise
III. Conformity to the Divine Will1
#478. The knowledge of God not only unites our mind to that of God, but it
also leads to love, because all in God is lovable. By showing us the need
we have of God the knowledge of self makes us ardently long for Him and
throws us into His arms. Conformity to the divine will, however, unites us
even more intimately and directly to Him Who is the source of all
perfection. In fact, it subordinates and unites our will to God, thus
placing our ruling faculty at the service of the Sovereign Master. It may
be said that our degree of perfection corresponds to the extent to which we
conform to the will of God. In order that this be better understood we
shall explain: (1) the nature of this conformity, (2) its sanctifying
n1. P. DE CAUSSADE, "Abandonment to Divine Providence," Part. I, 1. I.; LE
GAUDIER op. cit., P. III, sect. II; St. FR. DE SALES, "The Love of God,"
Bks. VIII-IX; DESURMONT, Oeuvres, t. II, sur "La Providence;" MGR. GAY,
"Christian Life and Virtue," XI, XIV; DOM V. LEHODEY, "Le Saint Abandon," I
Partie, TISSOT, "The Interior Life" Part. II; DREXELIUS, "The Heliotropium
or Conformity of the Human will to the Divine."
1. Nature of Conformity to the Will of God
#479. By conformity to the divine will we understand the absolute and
loving submission of our will to that of God, whether it be His "signified
will" or His will of "good pleasure."
As a matter of fact, God's will manifests itself to us under a twofold
aspect: a) as the moral norm of our actions, clearly intimating what we
must do in virtue of His commandments or His counsels; b) as the ruling
principle that governs all things with wisdom, directing the course of
events so as to make them work together unto His glory and the salvation of
men, and made known to us by the providential events that take place in or
The first is called the signified will of God, since it proclaims in clear
terms what we must do. The second is called the good pleasure of God in the
sense that God's will is here manifested by providential events to which we
must submit. In practice, then, conformity to God's will means doing God's
will and submitting to God's will.
We shall explain: (1) what is the signified will of God; (2) what is His
will of good pleasure; (3) what degree of submission this latter includes.
(1) THE SIGNIFIED WILL OF GOD OR OBEDIENCE TO GOD'S WILL
#480. Conformity to God's signified will consists in willing all that God
manifests to us of His intentions. Now, says St. Francis de Sales:
"Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills
that we should believe, the goods He will have us hope for, the pains He
will have us dread, what He will have us love, the commandments He will
have us observe and the counsels He desires us to follow. And this is
called God's signified will, because He has signified and made manifest
unto us that it is His will and intention that all this should be believed,
hoped for, feared, loved and practiced."1
This will of God, then, according to the holy Doctor2 includes four things:
the commandments of God and of the Church, the counsels, the inspirations
of grace, and, for Religious, the Constitutions and the Rules.
n1. "Treatise of the Love of God," Bk. VIII, c 3, (Mackey's translation
n2. "Spiritual Conf." XV.
#481. a) God, being our Sovereign Lord, has the right to give us commands.
Since He is infinitely wise and infinitely good, He commands nothing that
is not conducive at once to His glory and our own happiness. We must, then,
willingly and unquestioningly submit ourselves to His laws: the natural
law, the positive divine law, ecclesiastical law, or a just civil law; for
as St. Paul says, all lawful authority comes from God, and to obey
Superiors within the limits of their authority is to obey God Himself, just
as to resist them would be to offer resistance to Him: "Let every soul be
subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those
that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power
resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves
damnation."1 We do not inquire here in what cases disobedience to the
various laws constitutes a grave or a light sin; this we have done in our
treatise on Moral Theology. Suffice it to say that from the point of view
of perfection, the more faithful and Christlike is our observance of law,
the closer is our approach unto God, since law is the expression of His
will. We may add that duties of state come within the category of
commandments. They are, as it were, particular precepts incumbent upon us
by reason of our special vocation and the special offices God has confided
Sanctification, then, is impossible without the observance of the
commandments and the fulfillment of the duties of our state. To neglect
them under the pretext of performing works of supererogation is a dangerous
illusion, a veritable aberration, for it is evident that commands take
precedence over counsels.
n1. "Rom.," XIII, 1-2.
#482. b) The observance of the counsels is of itself not necessary for
salvation, nor does it fall under a direct and explicit command. But, as we
have already said in speaking of the obligation of striving after
perfection (n. 353), in order to remain in the state of grace, we must at
times perform certain good works over and above the strict requirements of
the law, that is to say, exercise ourselves in the practice of the
counsels. This constitutes an indirect obligation based upon the principle
that he who wills the end, wills also the means.
When it is question of perfection, however, we proved in n. 338, that one
cannot sincerely and effectively seek it without observing some counsels,
such as are in accord with our condition in life. Thus, a married person
may not carry out in practice those counsels which would go counter to the
discharge of marital or parental duties. A priest in the ministry may not
lead the life of a Carthusian. However, when we aim at perfection, we must
be resolved to do more than that to which we are strictly bound. The more
generous we are in giving ourselves over to the practice of the counsels
compatible with the duties of our state, the closer we draw unto Our Lord,
for such counsels are the expression of His designs upon us.
#483. e) The same must be said of the inspirations of grace, when they are
clear and are submitted to the control of our spiritual director. One may
say that these are so many particular counsels addressed to individual
No doubt, care must be taken to refer them in the main to the judgment of
our spiritual director lest we should become an easy prey to illusion.
Ardent, passionate souls readily persuade themselves that they hear the
voice of God, when in truth it is the voice of their own passions
suggesting such or such a dangerous practice. Punctilious or scrupulous
souls would mistake for divine inspirations what is but the product of a
feverish imagination, or even a diabolical suggestion, calculated to induce
discouragement. Cassian relates many such instances in his Conferences on
"Discretion,"1 and experienced directors of souls know how the imagination
does at times suggest practices morally impossible and directly at variance
with the fulfillment of the duties of state, all colored by the appearance
of divine inspiration. Such suggestions create trouble. If we yield to
them, we make ourselves ridiculous; we waste and make others waste much
valuable time. If we withstand them, we think we rebel against God, we
yield to discouragement and end by surrendering to laxness. A certain
control, then, is necessary and the rule to follow is this: if it be
question of customary things generally done by fervent persons living under
the same circumstances as we do, of things that do not trouble the soul, we
may do them without hesitation and later on mention them to our director;
but if it is question, on the contrary, of things extraordinary, even in
the least degree, of things not usually done by devout souls, let us wait
till we have consulted our spiritual adviser and, in the meantime, fulfill
with all generosity our duties of state.
n1. Second Conference, c. 5-8.
#484. With this limitation, it is evident that any one seeking perfection
ought to lend a ready ear to the voice of the Holy Ghost speaking within
his soul: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me,"1 and he should
without delay and without sparing himself comply with God's demands:
"Behold, I come to do thy will, O God".2 This is nothing more than
correspondence to grace, and it is precisely this willing and steadfast co-
operation that makes us perfect: "And we helping do exhort you that you
receive not the grace of God in vain."3 This is, in fact, the very
characteristic of perfect souls, that they hearken to and carry out in
practice these divine inspirations: "I do always the things that please
#485. d) As to those that live in communities, the more generously they
obey their rules and constitutions, the more perfect they are. These rules
are means of perfection which the Church has explicitly or implicitly
approved and to the observance of which a Religious binds himself on
entering the community. Undoubtedly, to fail through weakness in certain
details of some rules does not of itself constitute a sin. However, often a
more or less sinful motive enters into such willful negligences, and the
violation of rules, even when not sinful, certainly deprives us of a
priceless opportunity for the acquisition of merit. It ever remains true
that to observe one's rule is the safest means of accomplishing God's will
and of living for Him: "He who lives by rule, lives unto God." To fail
willfully in this matter, with no good reason for it, is an abuse of grace.
Thus it is that obedience to God's signified will is the normal way of
(2) CONFORMITY TO GOD'S WILL OF GOOD PLEASURE, OR SUBMISSION TO GOD'S WILL
#486. This conformity consists in submitting oneself to all providential
events willed or allowed by God for our own greater good, and chiefly for
a) It rests upon this basis, that nothing happens without God's order or
permission, and that God, being infinite Perfection and infinite Goodness,
cannot will or permit anything but for the good of the souls He has
created, although this is not always apparent to our eyes. This is what
Tobias said in the midst of his afflictions and the reproaches of his wife:
"Thou are just, O Lord... and all thy ways mercy and truth and judgment."1
This is what Wisdom proclaims: "But thy Providence, O Father, governeth...
She reacheth therefore from end to end mightily and ordereth all things
sweetly."2 This is also what St. Paul teaches: "To them that love God, all
things work together unto good."3
But in order to understand this teaching we must take the point of view of
faith and of eternity, of the glory of God and the salvation of men. If we
look only at the present life and its earthly happiness, we cannot
understand the designs of God, Who has willed that we undergo trials here
below in order to reward us in Heaven. All things are subordinated to this
end. Present evils are but means of purifying our soul, of grounding it in
virtue, and occasions of acquiring merits, all in view of God's glory, the
ultimate end of all creation.
n1. "Tob.," III, 2.
n2. "Wisd," XIV, 3; VIII, I.
n3. "Rom.," VIII, 28.
#487. b) It is our duty, then, to submit ourselves to God in all the events
of life, happy or unhappy, midst public calamities or private ills, whether
we are lashed by the hand of nature or gripped by that of want and
suffering, in sorrows or in joys, in the unequal distribution of gifts
natural and supernatural, in failure or success, in desolation or in
consolation, in sickness or in health, in life or in death with its
attendant suffering and uncertainties. In the words of holy Job: "If we
have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive
evil."1 Commenting upon these words, St. Francis de Sales2 cannot but
admire their beauty: "O God! How this word is great with love! He ponders,
Theotimus, that it was from the hand of God that he had received the good,
testifying that he had not so much loved goods because they were good, as
because they came from the hand of the Lord; whence he concludes that he is
lovingly to support adversities since they proceed from the hand of the
same Lord, which is equally to be loved when it distributes afflictions and
when it bestows consolations." And, indeed, it is affliction that enables
us to over the more genuine proof of our love for God. To love Him when He
lavishes His favors upon us is an easy task; but it is only a perfect love
that accepts ills at His Hands, for they cannot be loved except for the
sake of Him Who sends them.
n1. "Job.," II, 10.
n2. "The Love of God," Bk. IX, c. 2. (Mackey's translation, p. 370.)
#488. The duty of submission under trial to the good pleasure of God is a
duty of justice and obedience, for God is Our Supreme Lord and Master, Who
wields all authority over us. It is a duty inspired by wisdom, since it
would be folly to wish to elude the action of Providence, whilst in humble
resignation we find our peace. It is a duty urged by our own interest,
because God's will merely puts us to the test that we may be exercised in
virtue and acquire merit. It is a duty imposed, above all, by love, which
is the gift of self, even to immolation.
#489. e) To facilitate this submission to the divine will for souls who are
not as yet schooled in the love of the Cross, it is always good to offer
them some means of assuaging their sufferings. We can point out two
remedies, the one negative, the other positive, I) The first is not to
aggravate sufferings by employing false tactics. There are persons who
occupy themselves in gathering together in their minds all their ills,
past, present, and to come, until their weight seems insupportable. It is
the contrary that we must do: "Enough for the day is the evil thereof."1
Instead of reopening past wounds, we must never give them a thought, unless
it be to note the profit derived from them: increase of merit, growth in
virtue, more strength to bear pain. Thus is suffering soothed, for ills
only vex us when we heed them: slander, calumny, injuries hurt us only as
long as we brood over them.
As to the future, it is irrational to let it prey upon the mind. True, it
is the part of wisdom to foresee it and provide for it, in the measure that
we are able, but to brood in advance over the ills that may befall us, to
be saddened by them, is a loss of time and sheer waste of energy. Such ills
may never come to pass; if they do come, then will be the time to bear them
with the help of grace which will be given us for that purpose. Just now we
have not such grace and, left to our own forces, we shall surely succumb
under the weight of a self-imposed burden. Is it not wiser to abandon
ourselves into the arms of Our Heavenly Father, and to drive out
relentlessly any wicked thought or evil fancy that would force upon our
minds the ills of the future and of the past?
n1. "Matth.," VI, 34.
#490. 2) The positive remedy consists in reflecting, when we suffer, upon
the great advantages of suffering Pain is a teacher and a source of merit.
As a teacher, it is a source of light, a source of power: of light, for it
reminds us that we are exiles on the way home and that we cannot entertain
ourselves gathering the flowers of consolation, since our true bliss is in
Heaven; of power, for while pleasure-seeking dulls activity, undermines
courage, and leads to disgraceful surrenders, suffering, not indeed in
itself, but by reason of the reaction it produces, tends to reinforce our
energies, and develops in us manly virtues.
#491. Suffering is also a source of merit for us and for others. Patiently
borne for God's sake and in union with Jesus Christ, it merits for us an
eternal recompense, a fact which St. Paul forever kept before the eyes of
the early Christians: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are
not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in
us...1...that which is momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for
us an eternal weight of glory."2 For the benefit of generous souls he adds
that in suffering with Jesus, they fulfill what is wanting to His passion
and contribute with Him to the welfare of the Church: "I fill up those
things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His
body, which is the Church."3 This is a consequence of the doctrine of our
incorporation into Christ (n. 142 and foll.). These thoughts, indeed, do
not deliver us from pain, but they do lessen in no small measure its
bitterness, by making us realize its fruitfulness.
Everything, then, invites us to conform our will to that of God, even in
the midst of trials.
n1. "Rom.," VIII, I8.
n2. "Cor.," IV, I7.
n3. "Coloss.," I, 24.
(3) DEGREES OF CONFORMITY, OF SUBMISSION TO GOD'S WILL
#492. St. Bernard distinguishes three degrees of this virtue, corresponding
to the three stages of Christian perfection: " The beginner, moved by fear,
patiently bears the Cross of Christ; the one who has already made some
progress on the road to perfection, inspired by hope, carries it
cheerfully; the perfect soul, consumed by love, embraces it ardently."1
A) Beginners, upheld by the fear of God, do not indeed love pain, but
rather seek to escape it. However, they choose to suffer rather than to
offend God and, though groaning under the weight of the Cross, they endure
it in patience, they are resigned.
B) Those who have already made some progress, are sustained by the hope and
the desire of heavenly things, and, though they do not yet seek the Cross,
they willingly carry it with a certain joy, knowing that each new pang
represents an additional degree of glory: "Going, they went and wept,
casting their seeds. But coming, they shall come with joyfulness carrying
C) The perfect, led by love, go further. To glorify the God they love, to
become more like our Lord, they go forth to meet the Cross, they long for
it and embrace it lovingly, not because it is in itself lovable, but
because it offers them the means of proving their love for God and for
Christ. Like the Apostles, they rejoice that they are counted worthy to
suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. Like St. Paul, they rejoice in their
This last degree is called holy abandonment, to which we shall return later
when we speak of the love of God.4
n1. Serm. S. Andreae, 5.
n2. "Ps." CXXV, 6-7.
n3. "Following of Christ," Bk. III, c. 17, Bk. II, c. XI-XII.
n4. S. FR. DE SALES, "The Love of God," Bk. IX, c. 15.
I I. The Sanctifying Power of Conformity to the Will of God
#493. From what has already been said, we reach the evident conclusion that
conformity to God's will cannot but sanctify us, since it makes our will
one with God's and, by that very fact, unites all our other faculties to
Him, Who is the source of all sanctity. The better to realize this, let us
see how it purifies us, reforms us, and make us like unto Jesus Christ.
#494. (1) This conformity to the divine Will purifies us. Already in the
Old Dispensation God often said that He is ready to forgive all sins and to
restore the soul to the stainless splendor of-its pristine purity, if it
but undergo a change of heart or will: "Wash yourselves: be clean. Take
away the evil of your devices from my eyes. Cease to do perversely. Learn
to do well... If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as
snow."1 Now, to conform our wills to that of God, is assuredly to cease to
do evil, and to learn to do good. Is not this the meaning of that oft
repeated text: "For obedience is better than sacrifices."2 In the New Law,
Our Lord declares from the very moment of His entry into the world that it
is with obedience that He will replace all the sacrifices of the Ancient
Law: "Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold, I
come... that I should do thy will, O God."3 And, in truth, it is by
obedience unto the immolation of self that He has redeemed us: "He was made
obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross."4 In the same way, it is
through obedience and through the acceptance of God-ordained trials in
union with Christ that we shall atone for our sins and cleanse our soul.
#495. (2) This conformity works out our reformation. What has deformed us
is the disordered love of pleasure, to which through malice or through
weakness we have yielded. Conformity to the divine will cures this malice
a) It cures our malice. This malice is the result of our attachment to
creatures and, especially, of our attachment to our own judgment and our
own will. Now, by conforming our will to that of God, we accept His
judgments as the standard of ours, His commandments and His counsels as the
rule of our will. Thus we wean ourselves from creatures and from self and
rid ourselves from such attachments.
b) It cures our weakness, the source of so many failings. Instead of
relying on our own frail selves, we make through obedience the Omnipotent
God our support: He gives us His own strength enabling us to overcome even
the severest temptations: "I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth
me."1 When we do His will, He takes His good pleasure in doing our own by
granting our petitions and helping our weakness.
Thus freed from our malice and weakness, we no longer sin deliberately
against God and we gradually effect the reformation of our lives.
n1. "Phil.," IV, 13.
#496. (3) Through this conformity, we make our wills one with Christ's. a)
The truest, the closest, the most far reaching union that can exist is that
between two wills. Through conformity to the divine will, we unite our will
to that of Jesus Christ Whose food was to do the will of His Father.1 Like
Jesus and with Jesus we desire but what He wills and that all the day long.
This is the fusion of two wills. We are one with Him, we adopt His views,
His sentiments, His choices: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in
Christ Jesus;"2 and soon we can make our own the word of St. Paul: "I live,
now not I, but Christ liveth in me."3
n1. "John," IV, 34.; VI, 38 VIII, 29.
n2. "Philip," II, 5.
n3. "Galat.," II, 20.
#497. b) In submitting our will, we yield and unite to God all the other
faculties which are under its sway; hence, we yield and unite unto Him our
whole soul, which by degrees conforms itself to the will and wishes of the
Master. Thereby the soul acquires one by one all the virtues of Our Lord.
What we have said of charity, n. 318, can also be said of conformity to the
divine will; that like charity it embodies all other virtues. In the words
of St. Francis de Sales: "Abandonment is the virtue of virtues. It is the
cream of love, the fragrance of humility, the merit, it seems to me, of
patience and the fruit of perseverance."1 Hence, Our Lord calls by the
tender names of brother and sister and mother those who do the will of His
Father: "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he
is my brother and sister and mother."2 He repeatedly declares that the true
test of love is doing God's will: "If you love me, keep my commandments...
not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of
heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in Heaven, he shall
enter into the kingdom of heaven."3
#498. Conformity to the divine will, then, is one of the most effective
means of sanctification. Hence, we cannot but end with these words of St.
Theresa: "The sole concern of him who has but entered into the way of
prayer, --keep it in mind, it is very important--must be to strive
courageously to conform his will to that of God... Herein lies, whole and
entire, the highest perfection to which we can attain. The more perfect
this accord is, the more do we receive from the Lord and the greater is our
progress."1 She adds that she herself had wished to live in this way of
conformity without being raised to rapturous transports and ecstasies, so
firm was her conviction that the path of conformity was all-sufficient to
the most exalted perfection.
n1. "Interior Castle," Second Mansion.
#499. Prayer embodies and completes all the preceding acts. It is itself a
desire for perfection, since no one would sincerely pray who did not wish
to become better. It presupposes some knowledge of God and of self, since
it establishes relations between the two. It conforms our will to that of
God, since any good prayer contains, explicitly or implicitly, an act of
submission to Our Sovereign Master. Prayer, moreover, perfects all these
acts, by bringing us in all humility before the Majesty of God, in order to
adore Him, and to implore new graces that will enable us to grow in
perfection. We shall, then, explain: (1) the nature of prayer; (2) its
efficacy as a means of perfection; (3) the way in which our lives are
transformed into a habitual prayer.
n1. St. THOM,, IIa IIae, q. 83-84; SUAREZ, "De Religione," Tr. IV, lib. I,
"De Oratione;" ALVAREZ DE PAZ, t. III, lib. I; St. ALPH. DE LIGUORI, "The
Great Means of Prayer," St. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout Life," P. II- GROU,
"How to Pray" MESCHLER, "Three Fundamental Principles of the Spiritual
Life," P. I; "Spiritual Combat," c. 44-52; HEDLEY, "Retreat," XXI; "Retreat
for Priests" IX, X, P. MONSABRE, "La Priere, Philosophie et Theologie de la
priere,"; P. R.RAMIERE, "L'Apostolat de la priere"; P. SERTILLANGES, "La
Priere," 1917. References to Works on Mental Prayer will be given in the
Second Part of this Work.
1. The Nature of Prayer
#500. We use the word prayer here in the widest sense of the term, as an
elevation of the soul to God. We shall explain: (1) The notion of prayer.
(2) Its various forms (3) The perfect prayer, The Lord 's Prayer.
(1) WHAT PRAYER IS
#501. In the Fathers we find three definitions of prayer that complete one
another. 1) In its broadest signification it is, says St. John Damascene,1
an elevation of the soul to God. St. Augustine had stated before him that
prayer is the soul's affectionate guest of God.2 2) In a narrower sense it
has been defined as the asking of seemly things from God.3 3) To set forth
the relations that prayer establishes between God and the soul, it has been
represented as a familiar conversation with God.4 All these aspects of
prayer are true and, by uniting them, we may define prayer as an elevation
of our soul to God to offer Him our homage and ask His favors, in order to
grow in holiness for His glory. This definition we shall explain.
n1. "De Fide Orthod.," 1. III, c. 24, P. G., XCIV, 1090.
n2. "Serm,". IX, n. 3.
n3. S. JOHN DAMASCENE, ibidem.
n4. S. GREG. NYS, Orat. 1, de Orat. Domini, P. G., XLIV, 1124
#502. The term elevation is a metaphor indicating the effort we make to
detach ourselves from creatures and from self in order to fix our thoughts
on God Who not only surrounds us, but dwells in our inmost soul. As we are
only too prone to let our faculties roam over a multitude of subjects, it
requires an effort to snatch them away from these vain and alluring goods
and center them on God. Such elevation is termed a colloquy, because
prayer, whether it takes the form of worship or of petition, calls for an
answer on the part of God and thus implies a sort of conversation with Him,
even if it be of the briefest duration.
Our first act in this conversation, evidently, must be to render to God
religious homage, just as we begin by saluting those persons with whom we
hold converse. It is only after having acquitted ourselves of this
fundamental duty that we may present our requests. Many forget it, and this
is the reason why their petitions are less favorably answered. Even when we
ask for the graces of sanctification and salvation, we must not lose sight
of our principal purpose, the glory of God. Whence, the last words of our
definition "for his glory."
(2) THE VARIOUS FORMS OF PRAYER
#503. A) Considering the twofold end of prayer, we distinguish the prayer
of worship, and the prayer of petition.
a) Prayer of Worship. This includes adoration, due to God as our Sovereign
Master; thanksgiving, because God is likewise our Benefactor; and
reparation, because we have offended Him.
I) The first sentiment that imposes itself when we raise our soul to God is
that of adoration, that is to say, an acknowledgment of God's supreme
dominion and of our absolute dependence. All creation adores God after its
own manner, but inanimate nature lacks both an intellect to grasp Him, and
a heart to love Him. It must be content to display before our gaze its own
harmony, its activities, its beauty: "It cannot see -- it reveals itself;
it cannot adore--it brings us to our knees, loath to have us ignore the God
it cannot apprehend... But man, a breath divine within a body of clay,
possessed of reason and intelligence and capable of knowing God, both
through his natural powers and through the agency of creation, is urged by
his own self and by all creatures to bow before God in humble adoration.
For this reason is man, himself a microcosm, placed in this world, that
contemplating this universe and, as it were, gathering it all up in
himself, he may refer himself and all things to God alone. So much so, that
man is made to contemplate the visible things of this creation only in
order that he may adore the Invisible Being Who brought them out of nothing
by the omnipotence of His power."1 In other words, man is the pontiff of
creation upon whom it devolves to glorify God in his own name and in that
of a]l creatures. This duty man fulfills by acknowledging "that God is
perfection itself and hence incomprehensible; that God is Supreme; that God
is Goodness... We are instinctively drawn to revere what is perfect,... to
depend on that which is supreme,... to cling to what is good."2
n1. BOSSUET, "Sermon sur le culte de Dieu."
n2. BOSSUET, 1 cit.
#504. Thus it is that mystics delight to adore in creatures the power, the
majesty, the beauty, the activity, the fecundity of God hidden in them: "My
God, I adore Thee in all Thy creatures, Thou the real, the sole strength
that bears this mighty world. Without Thee, nothing would be; nothing does
subsist outside of Thee. I love Thee, O my God, and praise Thy Majesty
shown forth in all creation. All that I behold, O God, but reveals to me
the mystery of Thy beauty unknown to mortal eyes... I adore the splendor of
Thy glory, the grandeur of Thy majesty that outshines the noon day sun a
thousand times. I adore the fecundity of Thy power, more wonderful by far
than that disclosed by the starry skies."1
n1. OLIER, "Journee chret.," II p.
#505. 2) Adoration is followed by thanksgiving. God is not merely Our Lord
and Master but our great Benefactor, to Whom we owe all that we are, all
that we have, whether in the order of nature or of grace. Therefore, He has
a right to everlasting gratitude from us who forever receive new favors at
His Hand. Hence, the Church daily calls upon us, just before the Canon of
the Mass, to thank Almighty God for all His gifts, and chiefly for that
which embodies all others, the Holy Eucharist: "Let us give thanks to the
Lord Our God. It is truly meet and just, right and salutary to offer
thanks..."1 Hence, the Church also places on our lips formulas of
thanksgiving: "We give Thee thanks for the greatness of Thy glory."2 In so
doing, she but follows the example of Christ, Who often gave thanks to the
Father; she but carries out the instructions of St. Paul, who invites us to
give thanks to the Most High for all His blessings: "In all things give
thanks, for this is the will of God...3 Thanks be to God for His
unspeakable gift."4 Generous souls need not be reminded of this duty. They
feel themselves impelled by the thought of the divine favors to give vent
again and again to the gratitude that overflows their heart.
n1. Preface of the Mass.
n2. "Gloria in excelsis Deo."
n3. "I Thess.," V, 18.
n4. "II Cor.," IX, 15.
#506. 3) In our present state of fallen nature, a third duty forces itself
upon us -- that of expiation and of reparation. We have but too often
offended God's infinite majesty, using His gifts to offend Him. This
constitutes an injustice requiring as full a reparation as we are able to
offer. It consists of three principal acts: the humble acknowledgment of
our faults; a sincere sorrow for them; the courageous acceptance of the
trials God in His goodness may see fit to send us. If we desire to act with
generosity, we shall add thereto the offering of ourselves as expiatory
victims in union with the Victim of Golgotha. Then we may humbly beg and
hope for pardon and ask for further graces.
#507. b) The Prayer of Petition. Asking of God for what we need is itself
homage rendered to Him, to His power, to His goodness, to the efficacious
operation of His grace; it is an act of confidence that honors Him to Whom
it is offered.1 The reasons for prayer of petition are, on the one side,
the love God bears His creatures, His children, and, on the other, the sore
need we have of His help.
Inexhaustible source of all good, God longs to communicate it to souls:
goodness tends to communicate itself. Being our Father, God desires nothing
so much as to give us His life and increase it in our souls. The better to
attain this purpose He sent to earth His Only-Begotten Son, Who came full
of grace and truth purposely to fill us with His treasures. Nay more, He
invites us to ask for His graces, and promises to grant them: "Ask and you
shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto
you."2 We are, therefore, certain of pleasing God by presenting our
requests to Him.
n1. ST. THOMAS, IIa- IIae, q. 83, a. 3.
n2. "Matth.," VII, 7.
#508. Besides, we stand in sore need of God's help. Whether in the order of
nature or in the order of grace, we are poor, steeped in poverty. Depending
of necessity upon God, even in the order of nature, we cannot so much as
preserve the very existence He has given us; we are at the mercy of
physical causes, themselves depending on God. In vain we may protest that
we possess brain and sinews, and that we are well able with our strength
and our energy to draw from the earth the things we need for our
subsistence. That brain, those sinews, are sustained by God; they can work
only with His concurrence. The earth flowers not, save when watered by the
rain He sends; it produces nothing, save when quickened by the warmth of
His glowing sun. And how many forces of destruction can wreck the fruit of
man's work and man's care!
Our dependence upon God in the supernatural order is more absolute still.
We need light to guide us, and who will give it to us if not the Father of
lights? We need courage and strength to follow the light; who will give
these except He Who is All-Powerful? What else then can we do but implore
the help of Him Whose one desire is to succor us?
#509. Let no one say that His omniscience is aware of all that is necessary
and useful to us. St. Thomas answers that no doubt, out of pure liberality,
God does bestow upon us innumerable benefits unasked, unsought, but that
there are some which He will grant only at our request, and this for our
own good, namely, that we should place our confidence in Him and come to
acknowledge Him as the source and origin of all our goods.1 When we pray,
we cherish the hope of being heard and we are less exposed to forget God.
As it is, we forget Him all too often; what would it be, if we should never
feel the need of recurring to Him in our distress ?
It is for very good reasons then that God demands of us prayer in the form
n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 2, ad e. -- Cfr. MONSABRE, "La
Priere", 1906, p. 54-55.
#510. B) From the point of view of form, we can distinguish between mental
and vocal, private and public prayer.
a) From the point of view of expression, prayer is mental or vocal,
according as it takes place wholly within the soul, or is given outward
I) Mental prayer is a silent intercourse of the soul with God. "I will pray
with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding."1 Every interior
act of the mind or of the heart that tends to unite us to God, such as
recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, the loving
thought of God, contemplation, a longing of the heart for God-- all these
may be called by the name of mental prayer. All these acts, even our
examination of conscience, the purpose of which is to make our soul less
unworthy of Him Who dwells in it, raise us up to God. All of these deepen
our convictions, exercise us in virtue, and constitute our training for
that heavenly life that is nothing else but an eternal, loving
contemplation of the Godhead. Mental prayer is likewise the very food and
the soul of vocal prayer. 2.
n1. "I Cor., " XIV, 15.
n2. In the Second Part of this work we shall return to the subject of
mental prayer indicating which kind is in harmony with each of the three
#511. 2) Vocal prayer finds expression in word and act. It is frequently
mentioned in our Sacred Books, which call upon us to proclaim God's praises
by word of mouth, with lip and tongue: "I have cried to the Lord with my
voice... O Lord, thou wilt open my lips and my mouth shall declare thy
praise."1 But why thus express our sentiments, since God reads them in the
depths of our heart? It is in order to honor Him not only with the soul,
but also with the body, and, above all, with that word which He has given
us to express our thought. This is the teaching of St. Paul, who after
showing that Jesus died for us outside the walls of Jerusalem, invites us
to come out of ourselves and join our Mediator, in order to offer unto God
a sacrifice of praise, the homage of our lips: "By Him, therefore, let us
offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of
lips confessing to His name."2 Vocal prayer, moreover, stimulates devotion
by the very utterance of the words: "That man may rouse himself by word of
mouth to devout prayer."3 Psychology, indeed, shows that gestures intensify
the acts of the heart. Finally, it works unto the edification of our
neighbor; for, seeing or hearing others pray devoutly increases our own
n1. "Ps," III. 5; L, 17.
n2. "Hebr.," XIII, 15.
n3. ST. THOMAS. "In Libr. Sentent.," distinct. XV, q. 4, a. 4.
#512 . b) Vocal prayer may be private or public, according as it is offered
in the name of an individual or of society. We have elsewhere proved that
society as such owes God social homage, since it must acknowledge Him as
its Sovereign Master and Benefactor. This is why St. Paul urged the early
Christians to unite, not only with one heart, but with one voice in
praising God with Jesus Christ:" That with one mind and with one mouth, you
may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."1 Our Lord had
already exhorted His disciples to come together in order to pray, promising
to come to them and sponsor their requests: "For where there are two or
three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them."2 If
this is true of the gathering of one or two, how much truer is it when a
multitude comes together to thank God in an official manner! St. Thomas
says that the power of prayer is then irresistible: "The prayers of the
many cannot go unheeded, when they unite in one."3 Just as a father who
would not yield to the request of a son is moved by the united requests of
all his children, so Our Heavenly Father cannot resist the sweet violence
of the united prayers of a great number of His children.
n1. "Rom.," XV, 6.
n2. "Matth.," XVIII, 20.
n3. "Commentar. in Matth.," c. XVIII
#513. It is important, therefore, that Christians should often join in
common prayer and worship. This is why the Church calls them on the Lord's
Day and on holy days to assist at the great public prayer, the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass, and at other religious services.
#514. Since, however, the Church cannot gather her faithful children every
day, and since nevertheless God deserves perennial praise, she commits to
her priests and religious the discharge of this grand duty of public
prayer. This they fulfill several times a day through the recitation of the
Divine Office, which they perform, not in a private capacity, but in the
name of the entire Church, and on behalf of all mankind. Hence, it is
important that they unite themselves to the perfect worship offered to God
by the Incarnate Word, in order to give glory to God through Him, with Him,
and in Him, and ask at the same time all the graces that the Christian
(3) THE LORD'S PRAYER
#515. Among all the prayers we recite, private or public, there is none so
beautiful as that taught us by Our Lord Himself--the Our Father.
A) We find therein, first of all, an appropriate introduction which ushers
us into God's presence and excites our confidence: Our Father Who art in
Heaven. The very first step in prayer is to draw nigh unto God. The word
Father places us at once before Him, Who is pre-eminently the Father Who
has adopted us as children. We face then the God Who surrounds us with the
same love wherewith He loves His Son. And that Father is in Heaven; that
is, He is all-powerful, He is the source of all graces, hence we are
impelled to invoke Him with a filial trust that knows no bounds, for we are
His offspring; all brethren, because children of the same God: Our Father.
#516. B) The object of the prayer follows. We ask for as we desire, and in
the order in which we should desire it: a) We place the principal end
before all else--God's glory: "Hallowed be Thy Name," that is to say, may
Thy Name be known and proclaimed blessed. b) Then comes the secondary end--
the growth of God's kingdom within us, which is the preparation for our
entry into the Kingdom of Heaven: "Thy Kingdom come." c) Next, we ask for
the essential means for attaining this twofold end, that is, conformity to
the Divine Will: "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
We ask, after that, for the secondary means. -- This request constitutes
the second part of the Our Father. d) First, the positive means--our daily
sustenance, food for the body and food for the soul; we need one and the
other, if we are to subsist and grow: "Give us this day our daily bread."
e) Lastly, we beg the negative means, which comprise 1) the remission of
sin--the only real evil, which is forgiven us in the measure that we
ourselves pardon others: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us." 2) The removal of trials and temptations to which we
could fall victims: " Lead us not into temptation. " 3) The removal of
physical evils, of the miseries of life so far as they constitute an
obstacle to our sanctification: "But deliver us from evil. Amen."
A sublime prayer, since every word of it refers to God's glory, and yet so
simple that it is within the reach of all; for whilst glorifying God, we
ask for all the things that are most useful to us.
Hence, the Fathers and the Saints have taken delight in commenting1 on this
prayer, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent gives an extended and
solid explanation of it.
n1. Many of these commentaries are found in HURTER'S, "Opuscula Patrum
selecta," t. II; cf "Sum. Theol.," IIIa 1IIae, q. 83, a 9; ST. THERESA,
"The Way of Perfection;"; P. MONSABRE, "La Priere Divine, le Pater."
II. The Efficacy of Prayer for Sanctification
#517. The sanctifying power of prayer is such that the Saints never tired
of saying that he lives well who prays well. Prayer produces three
marvelous effects : 1) it detaches us from creatures, 2) it unites us
entirely to God, 3) it gradually transforms us into God.
#518. (1) It detaches us from creatures in so far as they are an obstacle
to our union with God. This effect of prayer follows from its very nature
as an elevation of the heart to God. In order to be raised up to God we
must first loosen the bonds that fasten us to creatures. Drawn by these,
and by the alluring pleasures they hold out to us, dominated moreover by
selfishness, we cannot free ourselves except by breaking the shackles that
fetter us to earth. Nothing works this happy deliverance more effectively
than the elevation of the soul to God through prayer, for in order to think
of Him and of His glory, in order to love Him, we are constrained to forget
self and creatures with their deceitful allurements. Once we are nigh unto
Him, united to Him in intimate converse, then His infinite perfections, His
loving kindness, and the sight of His heavenly riches, complete the
liberation of the soul: "How wretched the earth when I gaze upon the
heavens!" We hate mortal sin more and more, for it would turn us away
altogether from God. We detest venial sin because it would impede our
ascent towards Him, and we deplore even imperfections, since they would
cool our intimacy with Him. We are likewise schooled to a more vigorous
strife against the disordered inclinations latent within our nature,
because of the realization that they tend to make us wander away from God.
#519. (2) Prayer moreover makes our union with God more complete and more
perfect day by day.
A) More complete. Prayer lays hold of all our faculties, in order to unite
them to God. a) It seizes the higher faculties of our soul: the mind, by
absorbing it in the thought of divine things; the will, by directing it
toward the Glory of God and the welfare of souls; the heart, by permitting
it to pour out its love into a Heart ever open, loving, ever merciful, and
enabling it to produce affections that cannot be but sanctifying. b) It
seizes the lower faculties of the soul, by helping us to fasten upon God
and Our Lord, our imagination, our memory, our emotions, and even our
passions in so far as they are capable of good. c) It even takes possession
of our body, helping us to mortify our outward senses, which so often lead
us astray, and to regulate our exterior according to the dictates of
B) More perfect. Prayer, as just described, produces in the soul acts of
religion born of faith, sustained by hope and vivified by love: " Faith
believes, hope and love pray, but these could not exist without faith;
hence it is, that faith also prays."1 Is there anything nobler, anything
more sanctifying than these acts of the theological virtues? Prayer,
likewise, presupposes the performance of acts of humility, of obedience, of
fortitude, of constancy, so that it is not difficult to see that the holy
exercise of prayer unites our soul to God in a most perfect manner.
n1. ST. AUGUSTINE, "Enchirid.," VII.
#520. (3) No wonder, then, that through it, the soul is gradually
transformed into God. Prayer causes, so to speak, a mutual exchange between
us and God: whilst we offer Him our homages and our requests, He stoops
down to us and bestows upon us His graces.
A) The mere consideration of His divine perfections, the mere fact of
admiring them and taking in them a genuine delight, draws them into us
through the desire we thus feel of sharing in them. Little by little our
soul feels, as it were, all pervaded, possessed by that Simplicity, that
Goodness, that Holiness, that Serenity which God would fain communicate to
#521. B) Then God stoops down to hearken to our prayers and to bestow upon
us His graces in abundance. The more we honor Him, the greater is His
concern in sanctifying a soul that seeks His glory. We can ask a great
deal, provided we do so with humility and confidence. He can refuse nothing
to humble souls who care more for His interests than for their own. He
gives them light to show them the emptiness, the nothingness of human
things; He draws them to Himself by revealing Himself to them as the
Supreme Good, the origin of all good; He strengthens and steadies their
will that they may will nothing, love nothing, but what is worthy. We
cannot but conclude with St. Francis de Sales:1 "If prayer be a colloquy, a
discourse or a conversation of the soul with God, by it then we speak to
God, and He again speaks to us; we aspire to Him and breathe in Him, and He
reciprocally inspires us and breathes upon us." Happy exchange! It shall be
altogether to our advantage, since its ultimate end is no other than the
transformation of ourselves into God, by making us share in His thoughts
and His perfections!
n1. "The Love of God," Bk. VI, c. I. (Mackey's translation).
III. How We Can Transform Our Actions Into Prayers
#522. since prayer is such an effective means of sanctification, we should
frequently and perseveringly make use of it. Our Lord said: "We ought
always to pray and not to faint."1 St. Paul teaches the same doctrine both
by word and example: "Pray without ceasing.. Making a remembrance of you in
our prayers without ceasing." 2 How are we, however, to pray without
ceasing, the while we discharge our duties of state? Is not this
impossible? We shall see that it is simple, once we have learned to
regulate our lives. To accomplish it, two things are required: (1) that we
perform a certain number of spiritual exercises in harmony with our state
of life; (2) that we turn our ordinary actions into prayer.
n1. "Luke," XVIII, I.
n2. "I Thess.," V, 17; I, 2.
#523. (1) Spiritual Exercises. In order to foster a life of prayer, first
of all, a certain number of spiritual exercises re necessary, the extent
and duration of which will vary In accordance with our duties of state.
Here we shall speak of such as are proper to priests and religious, leaving
to directors of souls the care of adapting this program to the laity.
Three different sets of spiritual exercises school the priestly soul to
prayer: in the morning, meditation and Holy Mass present to us the ideal we
are to pursue and aid us to realize it; throughout the day, the Divine
Office, devout readings and some great Catholic devotions help to keep up
in the soul the habit of prayer; in the evening the examination of
conscience will cause us to note and correct our failures.
#524. A) The morning exercises are sacred in character. Priests and
religious can not dispense with them without giving up real concern for
perfection. a) It is meditation, the loving thought of God, that, above
all, recalls to mind the ideal we must ever keep before our eyes and pursue
with all our strength. This ideal is no other than the one pictured for us
by the Divine Master: "Be you, therefore, perfect as also your Heavenly
Father is perfect,"1 So we must place ourselves in the presence of God, the
source and exemplar of all perfection; in the presence of Our Lord Jesus
Christ, Who has realized in the world this ideal of perfection and has
merited for us the grace of imitating His virtues. After offering Him our
homage, we draw Him unto us by becoming one with Him in thought, through
the formation of deep-seated convictions regarding the special virtue we
want to practice; we then draw this virtue from His heart into our own by
earnest prayers that obtain for us the grace of actually practicing it.
Finally, we humbly, but resolutely, co-operate with the grace received by
making the generous resolve of practicing the said virtue during the course
of the day.2 b) Holy Mass confirms us in this disposition by placing before
our eyes, in our hands, and at our disposal, the Sacred Victim we are to
imitate. Holy Communion causes His thoughts, His sentiments, His interior
dispositions, His graces and His Divine Spirit to penetrate our own souls
there to abide the day long. We are priests, then, in order to act, and our
action vivified by His influence will be an unceasing prayer.
n1. "Matth.," V, 48.
n2. This we shall explain later when treating of the method of prayer.
#525. B) That this be so, it is necessary that from time to time there be
exercises renewing and promoting our union with God. a) This will be
effected by the recitation of the Divine Office, so aptly styled by St.
Benedict God's Work, wherein, in union with the perfect worship of God by
Jesus Christ, we shall glorify Him and implore His graces for ourselves and
for the entire Church. After the Holy Sacrifice, this is the most important
act of the day. b) Another exercise fostering our union with God is the
reading of Holy Scripture and the lives of the Saints, the perusal of which
will once more place us in close contact with God and His Saints. e) Lastly
come what may be called the essential Catholic devotions that nourish
piety, such as the visit to the Blessed Sacrament--a heart-to-heart talk
with Jesus--and the recitation of the beads, through which we are
privileged to hold familiar conversation with Mary and to consider devoutly
the mysteries of her life and her virtues.
#526. C) At night, the two examinations, general and particular, will take
place. These we shall turn into a humble and sincere confession to the
Great High Priest, and into a means of seeing to what extent we have
realized in the course of the day the ideal conceived in the morning. Alas!
we shall ever find a discrepancy between our resolutions and their
realization; but without any loss of heart, we shall retire to rest with a
sense of trust in God, abandoning ourselves into His arms, determined to
greater effort on the morrow.
Weekly, or at least fortnightly confession, together with the monthly
retreat--a summary review of the month-- will complete the work of our
daily examination of conscience and be the occasion of a spiritual renewal.
#527. (2) This is the sum-total of spiritual exercises, that prevent us
from losing sight of God's holy presence for any considerable time. What
shall we do, however, to fill in the time between these various exercises
and to transform all our actions into prayer? St. Paul answered this
question when he wrote: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you
do, do all to the glory of God... All whatsoever you do in word or in work,
all things do ye in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."1 St. Augustine and
St. Thomas tell us how this can be done; the former tells us to convert our
life, our actions, our occupations, our meals, even our repose, into a hymn
of praise unto God's glory: "Let the harmony of thy life ever rise as a
song, so that thou mayest never cease to praise.. . If thou wilt give
praise, sing, then, not only with thy lips, but sweep the chords upon the
psalter of good works, thou dost give praise when thou workest, when thou
eatest and drinkest, when thou liest to rest, when thou sleepest, thou
givest praise even if thou holdest thy peace."2 The latter briefly
expresses the same thought: "Man prays so long as he directs his whole life
It is love that directs our whole life towards God. The practical means of
giving all our actions this direction, is to offer each of them to the Most
Blessed Trinity in union with Jesus Christ living in us, and in accordance
with His intentions (n. 248).
n1. "Cor.," X, 31, Col. III, 17.
n2. "In Psalm," CXLVI, n. 2.
n3. "Comment. in Rom.," c. I, lect. 5.
#528. Father Olier shows the importance of performing our actions in union
with Jesus. He explains first how the Son of God is within us in order to
sanctify us.1 "He dwells in us not only through His immensity, as the
Word...but also as the Christ, through His grace, in order to make us
partakers of His unction and of His divine life. Jesus Christ is within us
to sanctify both ourselves and our works and to fill all our faculties with
His own Self. He wills to be the light of our mind, the fire of love in our
hearts, the might and strength of all our faculties, in order that in Him
we may have power to know and to fulfill the desires of God, His Father,
whether it be to work for His honor or to suffer and endure all things unto
His glory." Father Olier then explains how the actions we perform of
ourselves and for ourselves are defective: " Because of our corrupted
nature, our intentions and our thoughts tend toward sin and, should we
decide to act of ourselves and follow the bent of our own sentiments, our
works would be of sin."2 His conclusion is, therefore, that we must
renounce our own intentions so as to unite ourselves to those of Jesus:
"You see thereby what great care you must take to renounce, upon
undertaking any action, all your sentiments, all your wishes, all your own
thoughts, all your desires, in order to enter, according to the word of St.
Paul, into the sentiments and the intentions of Jesus Christ: For let this
mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."3
When our actions endure for some time, it is useful to renew this offering
by an affectionate gaze upon our Crucifix, or better, upon Jesus living
within us, and to raise our soul to God through oft-repeated ejaculations.
In this manner our actions, even the most commonplace, will become a
prayer, an elevation of the soul to God, and we shall thereby comply with
the teaching of Jesus: "We ought always to pray and not to faint."4
n1. "Catech. Int. Life," Part. II, Lesson X. --Cfr. FATHER CHARLES, S.J.
"Prayer for all Times."
n2. "Catech. Int. Life," Part. II, Lesson VI.
n3. "Philip.," II, 5.
n4. "Luke," XVIII, 1.
#529. Here then we have four interior means of perfection that tend at once
to glorify God and perfect the soul. The desire to be perfect is, in fact,
a first flight toward God, a first step toward holiness. The knowledge of
God draws God down to us and helps us give ourselves to Him through love.
The knowledge of self shows us the need we have of God and stimulates in us
the desire of receiving Him in order to fill the void that exists within
us. Conformity to His will transforms us into Him. Prayer lifts us up to
Him while it draws unto us His perfections, making us share in them in
order to render us like unto Him. All leads us to God, because all proceeds
ART. II. THE EXTERIOR MEANS OF PERFECTION
#530. These means can be reduced to four principal ones: spiritual
direction that provides safe guidance, a rule of life, which is the sequel
and the complement of spiritual direction; spiritual reading, and devout
exhortations, which present to us the ideal to follow; the sanctification
of our social relations, which enables us to supernaturalize our dealings
with the neighbor.
I. Spiritual Direction1
Two points, chiefly, are to be elucidated: (1) The moral necessity of
spiritual direction; (2) the means required to insure its success.
I. Moral Necessity of Spiritual Direction
Direction, although not absolutely necessary for the sanctification of
souls, is one of the normal means of spiritual progress. Authority, and
reason based on experience, demonstrate this.
(1) PROOF FROM AUTHORITY
#531. A) God, Who established His Church as a hierarchical society, has
willed that souls be sanctified through submission to the Sovereign Pontiff
and to the Bishops in things external, and to confessors in things
internal. When Saul was converted, Our Lord, instead of directly
manifesting to him His designs, sent him to Ananias to learn from this
man's lips what he was to do. Cassian, St. Francis de Sales and Leo XIII
argue from this fact to show the necessity of direction. "God," says Leo
XIII, "in His infinite Providence has decreed that men for the most part
should be saved by men; hence He has appointed that those whom He calls to
a loftier degree of holiness should be led thereto by men, ' in order that,
' as Chrysostom says, ' we should be taught by God through men. ' We have
an illustrious example of this put before us in the very beginning of the
Church, for although Saul, who was breathing threatenings and slaughter,
heard the voice of Christ Himself, and asked from Him, "Lord, what wilt
Thou have me to do" he was nevertheless sent to Ananias at Damascus: "Arise
and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do."
This manner of acting has invariably obtained in the Church. All without
exception who in the course of ages have been remarkable for science and
holiness have taught this doctrine. Those who reject it, assuredly do so
rashly and at their peril."2
n1. CASSIANUS, "Collationes," coll. II, c. I-I3; ST. JOHN CLIMACUS, "L
Echelle du Paradis," 4e Degre, n. 5-12; GODINEZ, "Praxis Theol. Mysticae,"
lib. VIII, c. I; SCHRAM, "Instit. theol. mysticae," P. II, cap. 1, 327-353;
St. FR. DE SALES, "Introd. to a Devout Life," Part 1, ch. 4; TRONSON,
"Traite de l'obeissance," IIe Partie; FABER "Growth in Holiness," Ch.
XVIII; H. NOBLE, O. P., "Lacordaire apotre et directeur des juenes gens,
1910; DESURMONT, "Charite sacerdotale," 183-225; "Catholic Encyclopedia,
Direction;" F. VlNCENT, S. Francois de Sales, Derecteur d' Ames;" ABBE
D'AGNEL et Dr D ESPINEY, "Direction de conscience," 1922, V. RAYMOND O. P.,
"Spiritual Director and Physician," 1917.
n2. Apostolical Letter "Testem Benevolentia", Jan. 22, 1899. From The Great
Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, P. 447.
#532. B) Unable to quote all the authorities, we shall briefly review a few
witnesses that can be considered representatives of ascetical theology.
Cassian, who had spent long years among the monks of Palestine, of Syria,
and of Egypt, has set down their teachings together with his own in two
works. In the first, the Book of Institutions, he urgently exhorts the
young cenobites to open their heart to the elder charged with the direction
of their life; to disclose to him without false shame their most secret
thoughts, and to submit themselves entirely to his decision as to what is
good and what is evil.1 He treats this point again in his Conferences, and,
after showing the dangers to which those who do not seek counsel from their
elders expose themselves, he affirms that the best means to overcome
temptations even the most dangerous, is to disclose them to a wise
counselor. This he says on the authority of St. Anthony and the Abbot
What Cassian teaches to the Monks of the West, St. John Climacus instils
into those of the East by his "Ladder of Paradise." To beginners he says
that those who wish to leave the land of Egypt for the Promised Land and
subdue their disorderly passions, stand in need of another Moses to serve
them as a guide. To those that are advanced he declares, that in order to
follow Christ and enjoy the holy liberty of the children of God, one must
humbly deliver the care of one's soul to a man that is the representative
of the Divine Master; and that such a one must be chosen with care, because
he must be obeyed in all simplicity, in spite of the shortcomings that may
be detected in him; for the sole danger lies in following one's own
n1. CASSIANUS, "De Caenobiorum institut.," I, IV, c. 9; P. L. XLIX, 161.
n2. "Id. Collationes," II, 2, 5, 7, 10-11; P. L. XLIX, 526, 529, 534, 537,
n3. "Scala Paradisi," Grad. I, IV; P. G. LXXXVIII, 636, 680-681.
#533. For the period of the Middle Ages, two authorities will suffice. St.
Bernard wants the novices to have a guide, a foster-father to enlighten
them, direct them, console them, and encourage them.1 To more advanced
souls, like Ogier, the Canon Regular, he declares that whoever constitutes
himself his own guide, becomes a disciple of a fool. He adds: "I know not
what others think about themselves on this matter; for myself, I speak from
experience and I hesitate not to say that I find it easier and safer to
direct many others than I do to guide myself."2 In the Fourteenth Century,
the eloquent Dominican, St. Vincent Ferrer, stated that spiritual direction
had ever been the practice of souls that wished to make progress, and he
gave the following reason: " He who has an adviser whom he absolutely obeys
in all things, will succeed much more easily and quickly than he could if
left to himself, even if endowed with quick intellect and possessed of
learned spiritual books."3
n1. "De Diversis," sermo VIII, 7.
n2. Epist., LXXXVII, 7.
3. "De Vita Spirituali," II Part, ch. 1.
#534. It was not only in communities that this need of a spiritual guide
was felt, but likewise in the world. The letters of St. Jerome, of St.
Augustine, and of other Fathers, to widows, virgins, and other persons
living in the world, are ample proof of it.1 It is therefore with good
reason that St. Alphonsus in explaining the duties of a confessor declares
that one of the most important of these duties is that of directing devout
Besides, reason itself, enlightened by faith and by experience, shows us
the necessity of a spiritual director in order to advance in the way of
n1. See the instances given by FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C. XVIII.
n2. "Praxis confessarii," n. 121-127.
(2) PROOF FROM REASON BASED ON THE NATURE OF SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
#535. A) Progress in holiness is a long and painful ascent over a steep
path bordered by precipices. To venture thereon without an experienced
guide is highly imprudent. It is extremely easy to deceive oneself as
regards one's own condition. We are unable to gaze eye to eye upon
ourselves, says St. Francis de Sales; we cannot be impartial Judges in our
own case, by reason of a certain complacency, " so veiled, so unsuspected
that the keenest insight alone can discover its existence; those who suffer
from it are not aware of it unless some one points it out to them."1 Hence,
he concludes that we need a spiritual physician to make a sound diagnosis
of our state of soul and to prescribe the most effective remedies: "Why
should we wish to constitute ourselves directors of our own souls when we
do not undertake the management of our bodies. Have we not noticed that
physicians, when ill, call other physicians to determine what remedies they
n1. "Devout Life," Part. III, c. 28.
n2. "Sermons recuellis," pour la fete de N. D. des Neiges, t. IX, p. 95.
#536. B) The better to understand this need, we have but to explain briefly
the chief dangers one encounters in each of the three ways leading to
a) Beginners must be on their guard against relapses and, in order to avoid
them, they must undergo a long and rigorous penance in proportion to the
number and gravity of their faults. Some of them, soon forgetting their
past, want to enter forthwith into the path of love. Such presumption is
frequently followed by a withdrawal of sensible consolations, by
discouragement and fresh falls. Others give themselves without discretion
to bodily mortifications, take therein a vain complacency, impair their
health, and then, under pretense of taking proper care of it, fall into a
state of relaxation. It is, therefore, important that an experienced
director hold the former to the spirit and the practice of penance, and
check the latter in their impetuous ardor.
Another danger for beginners is spiritual aridity, following the withdrawal
of sensible consolations. In this state a soul imagines itself abandoned by
God, gives up its exercises of piety, which now appear useless, and falls a
prey to lukewarmness. Who will be able to forestall this danger? Only a
wise spiritual director, who, during the season of consolations, will give
warning that these do not last forever, and, at the time of aridity, will
comfort this soul by explaining that there is nothing better than such
trials for the strengthening of virtue and the purifying of love.
#537. b) In the illuminative way, a guide is still needed, in order to
discern which are the virtues especially suited to this or that person in
particular, as well as the means of practicing these virtues, and the
proper method of self-examination. When a soul becomes a prey to that sense
of weariness experienced upon the discovery that the way of perfection is
longer and more arduous than imagined, it is hard to see what can prevent
this feeling from degenerating into lukewarmness, if not the fatherly
affection of a director who will be able to recognize the difficulty,
obviate discouragement, console the penitent, urge him to new efforts and
make him discern the fruits to be gained from such a trial courageously
#538. c) Direction becomes even more necessary in the unitive way. To enter
herein, one must cultivate the gifts of the Holy Ghost by a generous and
constant docility to the inspirations of grace. But to distinguish divine
inspirations from those that proceed from nature, or from the Evil One, the
counsel of a wise and disinterested adviser is oftentimes required. This is
all the more necessary when one undergoes the first passive trials, when
aridity, weariness, fear of God's judgments, besetting temptations,
inability to reason in meditation, and contradictions from without burst
all together upon a desolate soul and cast it into the greatest turmoil. It
is evident that a pilot is indispensable to guide the disabled craft to
safety. A spiritual director is equally necessary for one enjoying the
delights of contemplation. This state presupposes so much discretion,
humility, docility and, above all, so much prudence in harmonizing
passivity with activity, that it becomes morally impossible not to go
astray without the advice of an expert guide. This is why St. Theresa used
to open her soul with such candor to her spiritual directors; this is why
St. John of the Cross often insisted on the necessity of disclosing to him
everything. "God," says he, "so desires that man place himself under the
direction of another, that He absolutely does not want to see us give full
assent to the supernatural truths He Himself imparts, before they have
issued out of the mouth of man."1
n1. "Sentences et avis apirituels," n. 229, ed. "Hoornaert," p. 372.
#539. To sum up what has been said, we can do no better than quote the
words of Fr. Godinez: " Hardly ten in a thousand called by God to
perfection heed the call; of a hundred called to contemplation, ninety-nine
fail to respond. It must be acknowledged that one of the principal causes
is the lack of spiritual directors. Under God, they are the pilots that
conduct souls through this unknown ocean of the spiritual life. If no
science, no art, how simple soever, can be learned well without a master,
much less can any one learn this high wisdom of evangelical perfection,
wherein such great mysteries are found. This is the reason why I hold it
morally impossible that a soul could without a miracle or without a master,
go through what is highest and most arduous in the spiritual life, without
running the risk of perishing. "
#540. It may be said, therefore, that the normal way to advance in the
spiritual life is to follow the counsels of a wise spiritual adviser. As a
matter of fact, fervent souls so understand it and seek direction in the
tribunal of penance. When of late years a need was felt for a select body
of truly devout and earnest Catholics, no better means of forming it was
found than a strong direction given in Sodalities, vacation-camps and above
all in regular retreats. Direction, then, is one of the normal means of
I I. Rules to Insure the Success of Spiritual Direction
That spiritual direction be profitable, (1) its object must be clearly
determined; (2) the co-operation of both director and penitent must be
(1) OBJECT OF SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
#541. A) General Principle. The object of spiritual direction consists in
all that has a bearing upon the spiritual formation of souls. Confession
limits itself to the accusation of faults; direction goes far beyond this.
It reaches the causes of sin, deep-rooted inclinations, temperament,
character, acquired habits, temptations, imprudences. This, in order to
discover the right remedies, such as go to the very roots of the evil. In
order to combat defects the better, direction in also concerned with
virtues opposed to them, the virtues common to all Christians and those
special to each particular class of persons. It includes the means most apt
to foster the practice of these virtues: spiritual exercises such as mental
prayer, the particular examination, devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament,
to the Sacred Heart, the Blessed virgin, which supply us with spiritual
arms to force our way onward in the practice of virtue. It deals with
vocation, and, once this question is settled, with the duties peculiar to
each state of life. Hence, it is clear that the field of direction is very
#542. B) Applications. a) In order to guide a person wisely, the spiritual
director must be acquainted with the chief features of his past life, his
habitual faults, his efforts to correct them, the results obtained, so that
he sees clearly what is left to be done. He must, likewise, know his
present dispositions, his likes and dislikes, the temptations , he
undergoes and the method employed to overcome them, the virtues he feels
the greatest need of, and the means used, to acquire them. The director
must know all this in order to give proper advice.
b) Then it is that the director can more easily form a plan ,of direction,
a flexible plan, adaptable to the actual condition of the penitent and
calculated to foster his spiritual progress. It is impossible to lead all
souls in the same way; a director must take them as they are, and lead them
gradually through the various stages along the steep path of perfection. He
must realize that some are more eager and more generous, others more calm,
more slow, that all are not called to attain the same degree of perfection.
#543. There is, however, a progressive order to be followed which gives a
certain measure of unity to spiritual direction:
I) From the outset it is important that souls should be taught to sanctify
all their ordinary actions by the practice of union with Our Lord (n. 248).
This holds good for their whole life and the Director must insist on it
again and again showing how such practice is grounded on the spirit of
faith so indispensable in these days of rampant naturalism.
2) The purification of the soul, through the practice of penance and
mortification, should never cease altogether; penitents should be often
brought back to it, taking into account their state of mind, so as to vary
the exercise of these virtues.
3) Humility is a fundamental virtue, which must be inculcated almost from
the beginning, and penitents must be frequently reminded of it at all the
stages of the spiritual life.
4) Fraternal charity, because so often violated, even by devout people,
should be insisted upon in the examinations of conscience and m confession.
5) Habitual union with our Lord, our model and co-worker, cannot be too
frequently emphasized, for it is one of the most effective means of
6) A thing to be cultivated with care, because so necessary in this our
day, is manliness or strength of character, based upon strong convictions,
and with it, honesty and loyalty which cannot be separated from it.
7) In an epoch of proselytism like ours, zeal is of paramount importance
and a spiritual director should keep in view the formation of select souls
who will be of help to the priest in the innumerable details connected with
As for the rest, one has but to bear in mind what we shall say when
explaining the three ways.
(2) DUTIES OF THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR AND OF THE PENITENT
Direction will not produce any profitable results, unless both director and
penitent work together in all earnestness.
1) Duties of the Spiritual Director
#544. St. Francis de Sales1 declares that a spiritual director must have
three principal qualities: "He must be full of charity, of knowledge and of
prudence: if he lacks one of these, there is danger."
A) The charity wherewith he must be filled is a supernatural and paternal
affection that makes him see in his penitents so many spiritual children
confided to his care by God Himself so that he may cause Jesus Christ and
His virtues to grow in them: "My little children of whom I am in labor
again until Christ be formed in you."2
a) Hence, he surrounds them all with the same thoughtfulness and care,
making himself all things to all, in order to sanctify all ù spending his
time, his efforts and himself to form in them the Christian virtues. In
spite of himself, no doubt, he will at times feel drawn more to some than
to others, but he will not allow his natural likes or dislikes to govern
him, being careful to avoid sentimental affections that would tend to
create attachments, at first innocent, then distracting and finally
dangerous both to his good name and to his virtue. Father Olier rightly
says that to wish to attach to oneself the hearts made to love God,
constitutes a sort of treason: "Spiritual directors have been chosen by Our
Lord to go forth to conquer kingdoms, that is to say, the hearts of men,
which belong to Him, which He has bought by the shedding of His Blood, and
in which He wants to establish His reign. What an ingratitude! What a
fraud! What an outrage! What a betrayal! if instead of offering those
hearts to Him as to their lawful sovereign, they constitute themselves
their lords and masters."3 Such conduct would be equivalent to placing a
well-nigh insurmountable obstacle in the way of one's own spiritual
progress and in that of one's penitents, for God does not want a divided
n1. "Introduction to a Devout Life," P. I, C. IV.
n2. "Galat.," IV, 19.
n3. "L''Esprit d'un directeur des ames," p. 60-61. Father Olier often
returns to this subject in this little work.
#545. b) Kindliness on the part of the spiritual director must not mean
weakness. It must, on the contrary, be coupled with firmness and frankness.
The director must have the courage to give sound, fatherly warnings, to
point out to his penitents their defects, and not allow himself to be
directed by them. There are persons very demure, yet very clever, who want
to have a spiritual director, but on condition that he accommodate himself
to their tastes and fancies. Such seek after approbation rather than
guidance. To be on guard against this abuse that might involve his own
conscience, the spiritual director must not let himself be swayed by the
schemes and maneuvers of such penitents; he must remember that he
represents Our Lord Himself, and resolutely render his decisions according
to the rules of perfection and not according to the wishes of his
#546. c) It is chiefly in directing women that one must be reserved and
firm. A man of wide experience, Father Desurmont,1 writes as follows on
this subject: "Let there be none of those affectionate words, none of those
tender expressions, no private talks except those absolutely indispensable.
Let there be nothing savoring of feeling, either in manner or gesture, nor
the least shadow of familiarity. As to conversations, no more than is
necessary; as to dealings outside of matters of conscience, only those that
have a recognized serious purpose. As much as possible, let there be no
direction outside the confessional, and no correspondence. They must not be
made even to suspect that one is personally interested in them. Their
mentality is so constituted that if they be led to think themselves the
object of a particular regard or affection, almost without fail, they
descend to a natural plane, be it through vanity or sentimentality." The
same author adds: "Generally speaking, it is best that they be not
conscious of being directed at all. Woman has the defects of her qualities:
she is instinctively pious, but she is likewise instinctively proud of her
piety. The adornment of the soul affects her no less than that of the body.
For her to know that one wishes to adorn her with virtues, ordinarily
constitutes a danger." One should, then, direct them without acquainting
them with the fact, and give them counsels of perfection as if it were the
common ordinary thing for the welfare of souls.
n1. "La Charite sacerdotale," t. II, 196.
#547. B) In the spiritual director, devotedness must be accompanied by the
knowledge of ascetical theology so necessary to confessors, n. 36. He will,
therefore, never tire of reading and re-reading spiritual authors,
correcting his judgments by their standards, and comparing his own method
with that of the Saints.
#548. C) Above all, prudence and a sound judgment are needed in order to
direct souls not according to one's own ideas, but according to the motions
of grace, the temperament and character of the penitents, and their
a) Father Libermann rightly remarks that the spiritual director is but an
instrument in the hands of the Holy Ghost.2 He should, therefore, first of
all, apply himself to gain through discreet questions a knowledge of the
action this Divine Spirit has upon the soul." I consider it a capital point
in spiritual direction, " he writes, "to discover the dispositions whereby
a soul is animated..., to perceive how far you can urge it, to allow grace
full scope, to distinguish true from false attractions, and prevent souls
from going astray or running to excesses. " In another letter he adds: "The
spiritual director having once ascertained God's action in a soul, has
nothing else to do but to guide it that it may obey the promptings of
grace... He must never attempt to inspire a soul With his personal tastes
and individual attractions, nor lead it after his own way of acting, or his
own peculiar point of view. A director that would thus act, would often
turn souls from God's own guidance and oppose the action of divine grace in
He adds, however, that this applies to souls who work earnestly to attain
perfection. As to those that are sluggish and lukewarm, the initiative must
be taken by the director, who will, by his exhortations, his counsels, his
rebukes, and all the means which his zeal suggests, strive to stir them out
of their spiritual torpor.
n1. This is exactly what St. Francis de Sales practiced as shown by F.
VINCENT, op. cit., p, 439-481.
n2. "La direction spirituelle," d'apres les ecrits et les exemples du "Ven.
Libermann," 2e edit., p. 10-22.
#549. b) The prudence in question here is, therefore, a supernatural
prudence, fortified by the gift of counsel, which a spiritual director
should ever beg of the Holy Spirit. He will invoke Him especially in
difficult cases, repeating in his heart the "Veni Sancte Spiritus" before
rendering any important decision. Having consulted the Holy Ghost, he will
listen with attention and childlike simplicity to the answer whispered to
his soul, and communicate it to his penitent: "As I hear, so I judge. And
my judgment is just."1 In this wise, a director will in truth become the
instrument of the Holy Spirit--a joint instrument with God--and his
ministry will be fruitful.
This care to take counsel with the Most High will not hinder the director
from making use of all the means prudence will place at his command to
acquire a thorough knowledge of his penitent. For this knowledge, he will
not rely merely on the penitent's words; he will study his conduct, and
without subscribing to all his judgments, will weigh these in accordance
with the rules of prudence.
n1. "John," V, 30.
#550. C) Let prudence guide the spiritual director not only in giving
counsel, but in all matters connected with the practice of direction. 1) He
should devote no more time than is necessary to this duty of his ministry,
important as it is. He should hold no protracted conversations, nor indulge
in idle talk, nor ask indiscreet questions. He should limit himself to what
is of real profit to souls. Brief advice to the point, the clear exposition
of one of the means of perfection, will well occupy a penitent for a
fortnight or a month. More, the director will strive so to lead souls that
before long they may be, not indeed self-sufficient, but may rest satisfied
with briefer spiritual direction, and be able to resolve their ordinary
problems by means of the general principles imparted to them.
2) Although the spiritual direction of youths and men can be carried on
anywhere, that of women demands greater reserve. Ordinarily, it should be
given only in the confessional, and this briefly, without allowing them to
go into useless details. We belong to all, time is limited and should not
be wasted. We must, no doubt, I)e patient, giving each soul all the
required time, but bearing in mind the while that there are other souls who
also need our ministrations.
2) The Duties of Penitents
#551. Penitents will see in their spiritual director the person of Our Lord
Himself. If it is true that all authority comes from God, it is more so of
the authority the priest exercises over consciences in the confessional.
The power of binding and loosing, of opening and closing the gates of
Heaven, of guiding souls in the paths of perfection, is a divine power and
cannot reside outside of him who is the lawful representative, the
ambassador of Christ. "For Christ's therefore we are ambassadors, God as it
were exhorting by us."1 This is the principle from which all duties toward
a spiritual director flow -- respect, trust, docility.
n1. "II Cor.," V, 20.
#552. A) The director must be respected as the representative of God,
clothed as he is with God's authority in what regards our most intimate and
most sacred relations with God. Hence, if he has his shortcomings, let us
not dwell on them, but simply regard his authority and his mission. A
penitent will thus carefully avoid any criticism whereby the filial respect
due his director is lost or lessened. He should likewise avoid excessive
familiarity, hardly compatible with true respect. This respect will be
tempered by an affection that is frank and genuine, but full of reverence,
an affection of a child for his father, an affection that excludes the
desire of being singularly loved, and the petty jealousies issuing from
such desire. "In a word, this friendship should be strong and sweet, holy,
all sacred, wholly divine and entirely spiritual."1
n1. ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introduction to a Devout Life," Part. 1, C. IV.
#553. B) A second duty toward the spiritual director is filial trust and
perfect openness of heart. "Open your heart to him with all sincerity and
fidelity, manifesting clearly the state of your conscience without fiction
or dissimulation; by this means your good actions will be examined and
approved, and your evil ones corrected and remedied... Place great
confidence in him, but let it be united with a holy reverence, so that the
reverence may not diminish the confidence, nor the confidence the
reverence."1 We are to open our heart to him, then, with full confidence,
making known to him our temptations and our weaknesses, that he may help us
conquer the former and heal the latter; we must submit to his approbation
our desires and resolutions; we must tell him of the good we strive to
accomplish, that he may help us to do even more; of our good purposes that
he may examine them, and suggest the means of realizing them, in a word of
whatever has a bearing on the spiritual welfare of our soul. "The better he
knows us, the more will he be able to counsel us wisely, to encourage,
comfort and fortify us, in such wise, that after taking leave of him, we
can repeat the words of the disciples at Emmaus : Was not our heart burning
within us, whilst he spoke...?"2
n1. "ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introduction to the Devout Life," P. I, C. IV.
n2. "Luke," XXIV, 32.
#554. There are persons who, though willing enough to be thus perfectly
open, through a sort of timidity or reserve do not know how to make known
their state of soul. Let them speak of this to their spiritual director,
who will help them with pertinent questions and, if need be, have them read
some book or other that will enable them to come to a better knowledge of
themselves and to analyze the state of their souls. Once the ice is broken,
such intimate communications will be made with greater ease.
Others there are who, on the contrary, are liable to talk overmuch and to
turn spiritual direction into pious prattle. These must remember that a
priest's time is limited, that others wait their turn and may grow
impatient of delay. They should, therefore, set a limit and leave less
important matters for some future meeting.
#555. C) Docility in listening to and carrying out of a director's advice
must accompany this frankness. There is nothing less supernatural than to
wish him to enter into our views, nothing more hurtful to the welfare of
our soul, for then it is not the will of God we seek, but our own, with
this aggravating circumstance, that we abuse a God-given means in order to
attain our selfish purposes. Our only desire must be to know God's will
through the agency of our spiritual director and not to extort his approval
through more or less clever devices. One may deceive a spiritual director,
but not Him Whom he represents.
Doubtless, it is our duty to make known to him our likes and our dislikes,
and if we foresee serious difficulties in carrying out his advice, we must
candidly mention them to him. Once this has been done, we must submit to
his decision, or if we think it unwise, seek another director. Strictly
speaking, our spiritual director may be mistaken, but we make no mistake in
obeying him, except, of course, were he to give counsel opposed to faith or
n1. "This obedience to our director is a stumbling-block to many of us. I
cannot think it would be so if we had a clear idea of it or, which is the
same thing, an unexaggerated idea of it... A spiritual director is not a
monastic superior... The superior's jurisdiction is universal, the
director's only where we invite it or he asks it and we accord it... If we
disobey a superior, we sin; it would require very peculiar and unusual
circumstances to make disobedience to our director any sin at all. FABER,
"Growth in Holiness," C,XVIII.
#556. D) Only a grave reason and mature reflection should determine us to
seek another spiritual guide. There should be in direction a certain
continuity that cannot exist if changes be frequently made.
a) Some persons tired of listening to the same counsels, especially if
these bear upon things disagreeable to nature, or led through curiosity,
change confessors in order to see what the attitude of another will be.
Others do the same through inconstancy, finding it impossible to hold for
any length of time to the same practices. Others are inspired by vanity,
wishing to go to one who enjoys a greater reputation, or who is more in
vogue, or to one who will probably flatter them. Some change through a kind
of restlessness that causes them to be ever dissatisfied with what they
have and to dream of an imaginary perfection. Again, some do so, through an
ill-regulated desire of opening their soul to different confessors, so as
to engage their interest or to be reassured. Lastly, some change through a
false shame, to hide from their regular confessor some humiliating
weaknesses. Evidently, these motives are not sufficient, and one must learn
to brush them aside, if one wishes to make consistent progress in the
#557. b) On the other hand, we must remember the growing insistence
wherewith the Church safeguards the freedom individuals must enjoy in the
choice of a confessor; hence, if there be good reasons to have recourse to
another, one must not hesitate to do so. What are the chief reasons? I) If
in spite of all our efforts we cannot have towards our director the
respect, the confidence, and the openness above mentioned, even if there be
little or no grounds for such state of mind;1 for in such a case, we could
derive no profit from his counsels. 2) Should we have any grounded fears
that our director would deter us from perfection, because of his too
natural views, or because of a too strong and too sentimental affection he
has shown on some occasions. 3) If we should detect in him a lack of the
necessary knowledge, prudence or discretion.
Such cases are rare, it is true; but should they occur, we must remember
that spiritual direction is productive of good only if there exist between
director and penitent real co-operation and mutual trust.
n1. P. LIBERMANN, op. cit., p. 131.
II. A Rule of Life1
#558. A rule of life extends the influence of the director, by imparting to
the penitent principles and rules that will enable the latter to sanctify
all his acts through obedience, and that will provide him with a norm of
conduct at once sound and safe. We shall explain: (1) its utility; (2) its
qualities; (3) the manner of keeping it.
n1. ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introd. to A Devout Life," Part. I, C. III,
Part. III C. XI; TRONSON, "Manuel du Seminariste;" ID., "Traite de
l'obeissance," III' Partie RIBET, "L'Ascetique," ch. XLI; KEATING, "The
Priest, His Character and Work," P. I, C. II; "The Secret of Sanctity," C.
I. Utility of a Rule of Life
Useful even to laymen who seek holiness in the world, a rule of life is of
still greater importance to members of religious communities and to priests
in the ministry. It is no less conducive to personal sanctification than to
the sanctification of the neighbor.
#559. (1) Its utility as a means of personal sanctification. In order to
sanctify ourselves we must make good use of our time, supernaturalize our
acts, and follow a certain program of perfection. Now, a rule of life
wisely made with the help of our spiritual director secures for us this
A) It enables us to make a better use of our time. Let us actually compare
the life of a person that follows a rule with that of another that does
a) He that lives without a rule inevitably wastes a great deal of time: 1)
He hesitates as to what is the best thing to do. Time is spent in
deliberation, in weighing the reasons for and against, and, as in many
cases there are no decisive reasons on either side, he is liable to remain
inactive; then, natural inclinations gain the upper hand and he runs the
risk of being led by curiosity, pleasure or vanity. 2) He neglects a
certain number of duties, for having neither foreseen nor determined the
acceptable time and place for their fulfillment, he no longer finds time to
perform them all. 3) These negligences engender inconstancy. At times he
makes vigorous efforts to steady himself, while at other times he
surrenders to his native indolence, and this, just because he has no fixed
rule that would act as a corrective to the fickleness of his nature.
#560. b) The man who holds to a well-defined rule of life saves
considerable time: 1) He wastes no time in hesitation. He knows exactly
what he is to do, and when he is to do it. Even if his schedule is not
mathematically detailed, at least it sets off time-periods and lays down
principles with regard to religious exercises, recreation, work, etc... 2)
There is little or nothing unforeseen, for even should the unusual occur,
he has already provided for it by determining beforehand exercises that may
be shortened and the manner of making up for them. At all events, as soon
as these exceptional circumstances cease to exist, he immediately comes
back to his rule. 3) Inconstancy likewise vanishes. The rule urges him to
do always what is prescribed, and that every day and at every hour of the
day. Thus, habits are formed that, give continuity to his life and assure
his perseverance; his days are full days, teeming with good works and
#561. B) A rule of life enables us to supernaturalize all our actions. a)
They are performed through obedience, and this virtue adds its own special
merit to that which is proper to every virtuous act. It is in this sense
that the saying obtains, that he who lives by rule lives unto God; since it
means the constant fulfillment of His holy will. Faithfulness to a rule
has, besides, a decided educative value. Instead of caprice and disorder
that run rampant in an ill ordered life, duty and strength of will prevail,
and as a consequence, order and system. The will submits to God, and our
inferior faculties yield their obedience to the will. This is a gradual
return to the state of original justice.
b) With a rule of life, it is easy to infuse supernatural motives into all
our actions. The mere fact of conquering our tastes and whims puts order
into our life and directs our actions towards God. Moreover, a good rule
provides for a brief thought of God before every action of any importance,
and for the forming of a supernatural intention. Thus each and every one of
our actions is explicitly sanctified and becomes an act of love. What a
great measure of merit can be thus gained each day!
#562. C) A rule gives us a program of sanctification. a) What we have
described already constitutes such a program, and by following it, we march
on to perfection; it is none other than the highway of conformity to the
Divine Will so extolled by God's Saints (n. 493-498).
b) Moreover, no rule of life is complete that does not single out the
virtues best adapted to the individual penitent's condition in life and to
his state of soul. Of course, this program will be subject now and then to
change by reason of new needs that arise, but all this will be done in
agreement with the spiritual director.
#563. (2) A rule of life cannot but promote the sanctification of the
neighbor. To sanctify others, we must join prayer to action, make good use
of the time devoted to works of zeal, and give good example. This is
exactly what is done by the man who is faithful to his rule.
A) In his well-regulated life he finds the practical means of combining
prayer with action. Convinced that the soul of zeal is an interior life, he
takes care that his rule devotes a certain portion of time to prayer, Holy
Mass, thanksgiving, and all other exercises indispensable as spiritual food
to the soul (n. 523).
This does not prevent him from devoting a good measure of his time to works
of zeal. Having learned how to make a wise distribution of time (n. 560),
he knows how to spare it whilst doing all things in an orderly and
methodical manner. Fixed hours are devoted to the divers kinds of parochial
work, like confessions and the administration of the Sacraments. The
faithful, once they know these arrangements, readily abide by them, happy
to know just when they may call on the priest in their various needs.
#564. B) Furthermore, the faithful are edified by the example of
punctuality and regularity which they observe in the priest. They cannot
help thinking, and repeating that he is a man of duty, ever faithful to the
rules laid down by ecclesiastical authorities. When they listen to him urge
from the pulpit or in the confessional obedience to the laws of God and of
the Church, they feel drawn more by the force of his example than by his
words, and they become in turn more faithful in their observance of the
A priest that lives up to his rule sanctifies in this manner both himself
and the neighbor. This is true also of those of the laity who devote
themselves to works of zeal.
I I. Qualities of a Rule of Life
That a rule be productive of these happy results, it must be devised with
the help of our spiritual director; it must be at once flexible and firm;
it must grade one's duties according to their relative importance.
#565. (1) It must be devised with the help of our spiritual director.
Prudence and obedience require this: a) prudence, because to draw up a
practical rule of life, great discretion and experience are needed in order
to see not only what may be good in itself, but also what is good for this
particular individual; what is advisable in his case, what is beyond his
strength, what is timely and what is not, considering his circumstances.
Few, indeed, are those that can unaided settle all these things wisely. b)
Besides, one of the advantages of a rule of life is to give us occasions to
practice the virtue of obedience. This would never be the case if we were
its sole framers and did not submit it to a lawful authority.
#566. (2) The rule must be firm enough to sustain the will, yet elastic
enough to be adaptable to the various circumstances arising in real life,
which not unfrequently foil our calculations.
a) It will have the necessary, firmness if it embodies all that is needed
to fix, at least in principle, the time and the manner of performing our
spiritual exercises, of fulfilling our duties of state, and of practicing
the virtues proper to our condition in life.
#567. b) It will possess the required elasticity if, once these points have
been determined, it leaves a certain freedom of action as to changes of
time, substitution of practices not essential in themselves by their
equivalents, and if it makes allowance even for the shortening of exercises
at the demand of charity or of some other duty, the more so if the
religious exercises be completed at some later time.
This elasticity should especially apply, according to the wise remark of
Saint John Eudes,1 to forms of prayer and the manner of offering our
actions to God: "I beg you to notice that the practice of all practices,
the secret of secrets, the devotion of devotions, is not to attach oneself
exclusively to any one particular practice or exercise of devotion. Take
care, on the contrary, in all your exercises and all your actions to give
yourself up to the Holy Spirit of Jesus with humility, confidence, and
detachment from all things, so that, finding you detached from your own
spirit and from your own devotion and dispositions He may have full power
and liberty to act in you as He desires, to inspire you with such
dispositions and sentiments of devotion as He shall judge well, and to lead
you by the ways which are pleasing to Him. "
n1. "The Reign of Jesus," p. 148.
#568. (3) The rule must give each duty its own relative importance for
there is a hierarchy in our duties: a) God must evidently hold the first
place; then come the welfare of our soul and the sanctification of the
neighbor. Assuredly there is no real conflict between these duties; on the
contrary they will, if we desire it, blend most harmoniously; for to
glorify God means simply to know and love Him. But to know and to love God
is to sanctify oneself, and also to sanctify others by making them know and
love Him. If, however, one should devote his entire time to works of zeal
to the detriment of the great duty of prayer, he would evidently be
neglecting the most efficacious means of zeal. It is likewise evident that
should any one neglect his personal sanctification, he would very soon be
lacking in genuine zeal for that of others. So, if we are careful first to
give to God the portion of time that should be consecrated to Him and to
reserve the necessary time for our essential spiritual exercises, the means
of working out our own sanctification, then our works of zeal will most
assuredly bear abundant fruit. Therefore, the first and the last moments of
the day should be devoted to God and to our soul. Then we can safely give
ourselves to works of zeal, stopping however from time to time to raise our
mind and heart to God. Our whole life will thus be divided between prayer
and works of zeal.
b) However, in urgent circumstances we must be guided by another principle:
that the more necessary comes first. A case in point would be that of an
urgent sick call; a priest leaves all else to attend to this. Still, while
on the way he should strive to occupy his mind with holy thoughts, which
will take the place of whatever spiritual exercise was then to be
III. The Manner of Keeping a Rule of Life
#569. That a rule be sanctifying, it must be observed entirely and in a
(1) It must be observed in its entirety, that is to say, fully, in all its
parts, and with punctuality. If we pick and choose among the various
points of our rule, and this without reasonable cause, we shall carry out
those that cost us less and omit those that are more difficult. We should
thus lose the chief advantages to be derived from the exact observance of a
rule, for even in the points we should observe we would be in danger of
acting from caprice or self-will. The rule, then, must be kept in its
totality and to the letter, as far as possible. If for some grave reason
this cannot be done, we must abide by the spirit of the rule and do all,
that is, morally speaking, within our power.
#570. There are two faults to be avoided here: scrupulosity and laxity. 1)
Let there be no scruples. As long as there is a serious reason to dispense
with a given point of the rule, to postpone it or to substitute an
equivalent for it, let it be done without misgivings. Thus an urgent duty,
a sick-call for instance, is sufficient to dispense from the visit to the
Blessed Sacrament, should no time be left for it; one may easily supply for
it by communing with Our Eucharistic Lord on the way. The same may be said
of a mother's care of her children; it dispenses her from her regular
communion, when it is impossible to harmonize this with the other duty.
Spiritual communion, in that case can take the place of sacramental
2) Neither let there be laxity. A lack of mortification, the mere desire to
prolong conversations without necessity, curiosity, etc., are not adequate
reasons for deferring the performance of a given exercise, at the risk of
omitting it altogether. Likewise, if the accomplishment of certain duties
in the usual manner becomes impossible, we must strive to comply therewith
in another way. Thus a priest who is obliged to take the Holy viaticum
during his time of meditation, will try to turn the fulfillment of this
duty into an affective prayer, by offering his homages to the God of the
Eucharist Who rests upon his heart.
#571. Punctuality is an integral part of the observance of a rule of life.
Not to begin an exercise at the prescribed moment, and that without a
reason, already constitutes an act of resistance to grace, which admits of
no delays; it is to run the risk of omitting or at least shortening this
exercise from lack of time. If it is question of some public exercise of
the ministry, a delay often means considerable inconvenience to the
faithful; on the part of a teacher lack of punctuality sets before the
students a bad example which they are but too prone to follow.
#572. (2) The rule must be observed in a Christian manner, that is to say,
with supernatural motives, in order to do the Will of God, and thus give
Him the most genuine proof of our love. This singleness of purpose is the
soul of a rule; it gives to each of our actions its true worth, by
transforming them all into acts of obedience and love. In order to practice
this singleness of purpose, we must reflect a moment before acting, ask
ourselves what our rule demands of us at the time, and then regulate our
conduct thereby With the view of pleasing God: "I do always the things that
please Him." Thus the keeping of a rule will enable us to live constantly
for God: "He who lives by rule, lives unto God."
III. Spiritual Readings and Conferences1
#573. Readings or conferences complete the spiritual direction of souls. A
spiritual book is in reality a written direction. An exhortation is oral
direction addressed to several. We shall explain: (1) their utility; (2)
the dispositions requisite to profit by them.
n1. ST BONAVENTURE. "De modo studendi in S. Scriptura;" MABILLON, "Des
etudes monastiques" IIe Part., ch. II, III, XVI; LE GAUDIER, op. cit, P. V,
sect. I; TRONSON, "Manue," IIe Part., Ent. I, XV, XVI; RIUET, "Ascetique,"
Ch. XLIV; D. COLUMBA MARMION, "Le Christ ideal du moine," p. 519-524; ST.
FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introd. to a Devout Life." p. II. C 17; FABER,
"Spiritual Conferences," A Taste for Reading; HEDLEY, "Retreat," c. XXX; A.
BARRY-O'NEILL, "Priestly Practice," VI.
I. The Utility of Spiritual Readings and Spiritual Conferences
#574. A) The Reading of Holy Scripture, especially of the New Testament,
evidently holds the first place.1
a) Truly pious souls take their delight in the Gospels. I) Therein they
find Our Lord's teachings and examples. Nothing schools them better to a
solid piety; nothing draws them more powerfully to the imitation of the
Should we ever have understood the meaning of humility, of meekness, of the
bearing of injuries, of virginal chastity, of fraternal charity unto the
immolation of self, had we not read and pondered the example as well as the
instructions of the Master concerning these virtues? True, pagan
philosophers, especially the Stoics, had written beautiful pages upon some
of these; yet how great is the contrast between their literary
disquisitions and the persuasive call of the Master? Theirs, we feel, is
the art of the rhetorician, and often the pride of the moralist, exalting
himself above the masses: "I loathe and shun the common herd." In Our Lord
we behold perfect simplicity as He shrinks not from the lowly multitude, a
perfect sincerity as He practices what He preaches and seeks not His
personal glory, but the glory of Him that sent Him.
2) For devout souls, moreover, each utterance, each act of the Master holds
a special grace that facilitates the practice of the virtues they set
before us. In reading the Gospels, such souls worship the Divine Word- and
they beg Him to enlighten them to make them understand, relish, and live
His teachings. This sort of reading is a meditation, a loving conversation
with Jesus, and souls emerge from it determined more than ever to follow
Him Who is the object of their admiration and their love.
b) The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles likewise supply food for our
piety. They are the teachings of Jesus lived by His Disciples; explained,
commented upon, and adapted to the needs of the faithful by those to whose
care He entrusted the perpetuation of His work . There is nothing more
tender or more stimulating than this first commentary on the Gospel.
n1. "The Following of Christ," Book I, C V.
#575. c) In the Old Testament: I) There are parts that should be in the
hands of every one. Such are the Psalms. "The Psalter," says Lacordaire,1
"was our forefathers' manual of piety; it was found on the table of the
poor and it lay on the kneeling-bench of kings. Today, it is still in the
hands of the priest a treasure whence he draws the inspiration that leads
him to the altar, the Ark of Refuge wherewith he ventures into the perils
of the world and into the desert land of meditation." It is the most
excellent of Prayer-books wherein we find in a language that always lives
and never grows old, the most beautiful expressions of admiration,
adoration, filial reverence, gratitude and love, together with the most
ardent supplications, midst situations the most varied and trying: the
appeals of the just to God when harassed by persecution, the bitter cry of
the repentant sinner from a broken and humbled heart; the note of hope for
a merciful pardon and the promises of a better life. To read and reread
them, to ponder them and to make their sentiments our own is surely a
highly sanctifying occupation.2
2) The Sapiential Books may likewise be read with profit by pious souls.
They will find therein besides the urgent calls of Uncreated Wisdom to a
worthier life the exposition of the great virtues we are to practice in our
relations to God, the neighbor, and ourselves.
3) As for the Historical and Prophetical Books, to read them to advantage a
certain preparation is required. We must see in them above all God's
providential action over the chosen people in order to keep them from
falling into idolatry and to recall them again and again, despite their
estrangement, to the worship of the true God, to the hope of a Deliverer,
to the practice of justice, of equity, of charity, especially towards the
poor and the oppressed. Having been thus initiated, we find in these books
most inspiring pages. If the weaknesses of the servants of God are therein
recorded together with their good works, it is to remind us of the frailty
of human nature and of God s wonderful mercy, so full of forgiveness to
n1. "Letters to Young Men,", 2nd Letter.
n2. Numerous commentaries facilitate the understanding of the Psalms. Among
the most recent are those of BOYLAN, C. FILLION. BARRY and HUGUENY, O. P.,
whose object is to give both the literal and spiritual sense in view of the
devout recitation of the Divine Office.
#576 . B) Spiritual writers, if we choose the best, especially from among
the Saints, are for us masters and mentors.
a) They are masters, who having learned and lived the science of the
Saints, can impart to us an understanding of and a taste for the principles
and the rules of perfection They strengthen in us the conviction of our
obligation to aim at sanctity; they point out to us the means to be
employed, showing the effectiveness of these in their own lives; they
exhort, encourage, and induce us to follow in their footsteps.
They are all the more helpful, since they are ever available. With the help
of our spiritual director we can choose those best suited to our state of
soul and hold converse with them as long as we will. We find excellent ones
among them, adapted to the different states of soul and answering the needs
of the moment. Our chief concern is to make a good choice and to read them
with the earnest desire of profiting by them.
#577. b) They are likewise most benevolent mentors who reveal to us our
defects with great discretion and kindness. They do this by placing before
us the ideal we are to follow, enabling us by the light of this spiritual
mirror to recognize our good qualities and our defects, the stages we have
reached and those we have yet to traverse in the pursuit of perfection.
Thus we are easily led to self-examination and to generous resolutions.
No wonder, then, that the reading of spiritual books and of the lives of
the Saints has brought about conversions such as those of Augustine and
Ignatius Loyola, and led to the highest degrees of perfection souls that
would have otherwise never risen above mediocrity.
#578. C) Spiritual Conferences have a double advantage over the reading of
spiritual books. a) Designed as they are for a special class of persons,
they are better adapted to their peculiar needs. b) The appeal of the
spoken word is stronger and, all things being equal, its power is greater
than that of the written word, better calculated to carry conviction to
souls: the eye, the living voice, the gesture, bring out the import of the
thought expressed. But that this be so, the speaker has to drink at the
purest sources, be deeply convinced of what he says and beg God Almighty to
bless and vivify his words. His hearers. Likewise, must be possessed of the
II. Requisite Dispositions in order to Profit by Spiritual Readings and
n1. J. GAUDERON, "La Lecture Spirituelle d'apres les principes de S. Jean
Etudes, Vie spirit.," juin 1921, p. 185-202.
#579. The real purpose of spiritual reading is to sustain in us the spirit
of prayer. It is one of the forms of meditation, one of the ways of holding
converse with God, with the writer or the speaker as interpreter.
#580. (1) To draw real profit from these readings and conferences a great
spirit of faith is required, making us see God Himself in the writer or
speaker: "God as it were exhorting by us."1 This will be easy if the author
or preacher is himself imbued with the teachings of the Gospel and can say
in all truth that his doctrine is not his own, but that of Jesus Christ:
"My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.2
Let the pious reader or the devout hearer offer up to God a fervent prayer
asking Our Lord to vouchsafe to speak to his heart through the Holy Ghost.
Let him, moreover, be on his guard against curiosity, which seeks to learn
novelties rather than to profit spiritually. He must beware of vanity,
which prompts one to seek acquaintance with things spiritual in order to be
able to speak about them and thus gain a reputation. He must beware of
censoriousness, which prompts one to listen or read, not in order to gain
profit but to criticize the matter or the literary form of the discourses.
His sole purpose must be his spiritual gain.
n1. "II Cor.," V, 20.
n2. "John," VII, 16.
#581. (2) A second requisite is a sincere desire to sanctify oneself. The
fact is that we derive advantage from such readings and conferences in the
measure in which we seek therein our own sanctification. Hence we must:
a) hunger and thirst for perfection, listening or reading with an alert
mind that yearns after the word of God a mind that applies to itself, not
to others, what it reads or hears, the better to assimilate it and carry it
out in practice. We then find abundant food for the soul whatever may be
the subject treated, for all things hold together in the spiritual life.
What applies directly to beginners can be easily adapted to the more
advanced; what is said for the latter constitutes the ideal of the former,
and what has a bearing on the future enables us to form resolutions in the
present, thus preparing ourselves for the duties that will fall to us later
on. Thus victory over future temptations is prepared by the vigilance we
exercise here and now. We can always draw profit in the present from
whatever we hear or read especially, if we hearken to the inward voice that
speaks to our inmost soul, if we have ears to hear: "I will hear what the
Lord God will speak in me."1
n1. "Ps." LXXXIV, 9.
#582. b) This is the reason why we should read slowly, as St. John Eudes
advises:1 "Stop to consider, ponder, and relish the truths that make the
greater appeal to you, in order to fix them in your mind, therefrom to
elicit acts and affections." When this is realized, spiritual reading and
conferences become a prayer; little by little the thoughts and sentiments
we either read or hear penetrate the soul, and we form the desire and pray
for the grace of putting them into practice.
n1. "The Reign of Jesus," P. II, XV.
#583. (3) A third requirement is the earnest effort to begin to practice
what is read or heard. This was St. Paul's recommendation to his readers:
"Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law
shall be justified,"1 St. Paul but comments here on the words of the Master
Who in the parable of the Sower declares that they profit by the word of
God "who in a good and perfect heart hearing the word, keep it and bring
forth fruit in patience."2
We should, then, imitate St. Ephrem, of whom it is said: "He reproduced in
his life what he had read in the sacred pages."3 Light is given to us for
action, and our first act should be an effort to live according to the
instruction received: "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only."4
n1. "Rom.," II, 13.
n2. "Luc.," VIII, 15.
n3. ENNODIUS, in ejus vita.
n4. "James," I, 22.
IV. The Sanctification of Our Social Relations
#584. Thus far we have spoken of the soul's relations with God, under the
guidance of a spiritual director. It is clear, however, that our relations
extend to many other persons as well, to our relatives, to our friends, and
to those with whom we come in contact by reason of our position in life and
of the share we take in works of zeal. All these relations can and should
be sanctified and thus contribute to strengthen our spiritual life. In
order to facilitate the sanctification of these relations, we shall explain
the general principles that should govern them and we shall point out some
of the principal applications.
I. General Principles
#585. (1) In God's initial plan, creatures were designed to raise us up to
God by reminding us that He is the Author and the Exemplary Cause of all
things. since the Fall, however, creatures so attract us that if we are not
on our guard they will turn us away from God, or at least retard our
progress towards Him. We must then react against this tendency, and by the
spirit of faith and of sacrifice make use of persons and things as means to
#586. (2) Among the relations we have with others, there are those that are
willed by God, such as those born of family-ties or imposed by our duties
of state. These relations must be maintained and supernaturalized. One is
not relieved from duties imposed by the natural law because one aspires to
perfection; on the contrary, one is thereby obliged to fulfill them in a
more perfect manner. These relations must, however, be supernaturalized by
being directed toward our last end, God. The best way to accomplish this is
to look upon those with whom we come in contact as the children of God, our
brethren in Christ, respecting and loving them because they possess
qualities which are the reflection of the divine perfections, and because
they are destined to share in God's life and in His glory. In this way, it
is God Whom we esteem and love in them.
#587. (3) There are, on the other hand, relations which are dangerous or
bad, Which tend to lead us into sin either by stirring up within us the
spirit of the world or by creating in US an inordinate attachment to
creatures by reason of the sensible or sensuous pleasure we find in their
company. It is our duty to flee from such occasions as far as we can, and,
if it be impossible to avoid them, it is incumbent upon us to remove them
morally (to make the danger remote) by fortifying our will against the
disordered attachment to such persons. To act otherwise is to hazard our
sanctification and our salvation, for " he that loveth danger, shall perish
in it."1 The greater our desire for perfection, the more must we flee from
dangerous occasions, as we shall explain later when speaking of faith,
charity, and the other virtues.
n1. "Eccli.," III, 27.
#588. (4) Lastly, there are relations which in themselves are neither good
nor bad. They are merely indifferent. Such are visits, conversations,
recreations. These may by reason of circumstance and motive be rendered
useful or harmful. A soul striving after perfection will by purity of
intention and by a spirit of moderation turn all such relations into good.
First of all, we must seek those only which are truly conducive to the
glory of God, the welfare of souls, or to the relaxation which health of
body and mind requires. Then, in the enjoyment of, these we must exercise
prudence and reserve, and thus conform all our relations to the order
willed by God. Hence, we must not indulge in long, idle conversations Which
constitute a loss of time and an occasion of fostering pride and lessening
brotherly love, nor must we give ourselves to protracted and violent
amusements that fatigue the body and depress the spirit.1 In short, let us
ever keep before us the standard laid down by St. Paul: "All whatsoever you
do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving
thanks to God and the Father by Him."1
n1. Concerning the sanctification of visits, conversations, recreations,
journeys, cf, TRONSON, "Particular Exam." LXXVIII-XC.
n2. "Coloss.," III, 17.
II. Sanctification of Family-Relations
#589. Nature is not destroyed, but perfected by grace. Family ties are God-
given. He has willed that men increase and multiply through the sanctioned
and indissoluble union of man and woman and that this bond be further
strengthened by their offspring. Hence, the most intimate and most tender
relations between husband and wife, parent and child. These the sacramental
grace of marriage helps to supernaturalize.
(1) THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPTION OF THE RELATIONS BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE1
#590. By His presence at the marriage-feast of Cana, and by raising
Christian wedlock to the dignity of a Sacrament, Our Lord taught husband
and wife that their union can be sanctified, and He merited for them that
A) Before marriage, a truly Christian love, a tender and ardent love, pure
and supernatural, has made their hearts one, and prepared them to bear
bravely the heavy burdens of parenthood. The flesh and the devil will no
doubt attempt to inject into this love a sensual element that might
threaten virtue. However, the betrothed sustained by the reception of the
Sacraments, learn to control such influences and to supernaturalize their
mutual affection by realizing that every worthy sentiment comes from God
and should be referred to Him.
n1. St. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout Life," Part. III, C. XXXVIII, XXXIX;
GERRARD, "Marriage and Parenthood;" D HULST-CONWAY, "The Christian Family."
KANE S. J., "The Plain Gold Ring."
#591. B) The sacramental grace of marriage, whilst uniting their hearts in
an indissoluble bond, refines and purifies their love. They will ever keep
in mind the words of St. Paul admonishing them that their union is the
image of the mysterious union between Christ and His Church.
"Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: because the
husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. He is
the savior of his body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ: so
also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your
wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for it:
that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word
of life: that He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having
spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without
blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies...
Nevertheless let everyone of you in particular love his wife as himself:
and let the wife fear her husband."1 Hence, there should be between husband
and wife a mutual respect and a mutual love that reproduce as far as
possible the love of Christ for the Church. The wife must render obedience
to the husband in all things lawful. The husband is bound to cherish and
protect the wife. These are the duties outlined by the Apostle for the
Christian husband and wife.
n1. "Ephes,." V, 22-33.
#592. C) When. God blesses them with children, they receive these as a
sacred trust from His hand, loving them not merely as their own offspring,
but as children of God, Christ's members, heirs-to-be of eternal glory.
They ever surround them with their devoted care and solicitude. They give
them a Christian education, intent upon forming in them the very virtues of
Christ. With this aim in view, they exercise the authority committed to
them by God, with tact, thoughtfulness, strength and meekness. They do not
lose sight of the fact that they are God's representatives, and they avoid
that weakness which would spoil their children, that selfishness which
would delight in children as in so many playthings and fail to inure them
to labor and virtue. With God's help and the aid of carefully chosen
teachers, they will help them to grow to the fullness of Christian manhood,
thus exercising a sort of priesthood within the sacred precincts of the
home. Thus, they will be counted worthy of the blessing of God Almighty and
of the gratitude of their offspring.
(2) DUTIES OF CHILDREN TOWARDS THEIR PARENTS
#593. A) The grace that hallows the relations of Christian parents
perfects, likewise, and supernaturalizes the duties of respect, love and
obedience which children must render to them.
a) That grace makes us see in our parents the representatives of God and
His authority. To them, under Him, we owe our life, its preservation, its
guidance. Our respect for them, therefore, reaches veneration. We revere in
them their participation in the Fatherhood of God, "of whom all paternity
in heaven and earth is named."1 In them we pay homage to His authority, to
His perfections, to God Himself.
b) Their attachment, their kindness, their solicitude are for us a
reflection of the divine goodness, and our filial love in turn grows in
intensity, rising to such perfect devotedness, that we are ready to
sacrifice ourselves in their behalf and, if need be, lay down our lives to
save them. Hence, we give them, to the full extent of our resources, all
the temporal and spiritual assistance they need.
c) Seeing in them the representatives of the divine authority, we do not
hesitate to render them obedience in all things, following the example of
Our Lord, Who during thirty years of His life on earth was subject to Mary
and to Joseph.2 This obedience knows no other bounds than those set by God
Himself: we must obey God rather than men, and hence, in what regards our
soul and particularly in what pertains to our vocation, we must rather
follow the advice of our confessor, after acquainting him with home
conditions. In this again we but follow Our Lord's example, Who, to His
Mother's question of why He had remained in Jerusalem, made answer: "Did
you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"3 Thus the rights
and duties of each are safeguarded.
n1. "Ephes.," III, 15.
n2. "Luke," II, 51,
n3. "Luke," II, 49.
#594. B) By entering the ranks of the clergy we quit the world and, in a
sense, the family. This, in order to form part of the great ecclesiastical
family and to consecrate ourselves henceforward, and before all else, to
the glory of God, the good of souls and the welfare of the Church. The
interior sentiments of respect and love for our parents are not suppressed;
rather they are refined. Their outward expression, however, from now on is
subordinated to our duties of state. We must not, in order to please our
parents, do anything that would interfere with our ministry. Our first duty
is to busy ourselves with the things of God. Hence, if their views, their
words, their demands go counter to the claims of our service to souls, we
shall sweetly and lovingly, yet firmly, make them understand that in what
relates to our duties of state we are dependent on God and our
ecclesiastical superiors.1 We shall continue, however to honor, to love,
and to aid our parents to the full extent compatible with the duties of our
office. These principles apply all the more to those who enter a religious
order or congregation.2
n1. A. CHEVRIER, "Le Veritable Disciple," 1922, p. 101-112.
n2. RODRIGUEZ, "Practice of Christian Perfection," P. II, Treatise V.
III. Sanctification of Friendship
Friendship can become a means of sanctification or a serious obstacle to
perfection accordingly as it is supernatural or merely natural and
sentimental in character. We shall treat, then :(1) of true friendship, (2)
of false friendship (3) of that friendship wherein there is an admixture of
the supernal and the sentimental.
(1) TRUE FRIENDSHIP1
We shall explain its nature and its value.
#595. A) Its Nature. a) Friendship being an interchange, a mutual
communication between two persons, it receives its character chiefly from
the variety of the communications themselves and from the diversity of the
things communicated. This is very well explained by St. Francis de Sales.2
"The more exquisite the virtues are, which shall be the matter of your
communications, the more perfect shall your friendship also be. If this
communication be in the sciences, the friendship is very commendable; but
still more so, if it be in the moral virtues: in prudence, discretion,
fortitude and justice. But should your reciprocal communications relate to
charity, devotion and Christian perfection good God, how precious will this
friendship be! It will be excellent, because it comes from God; excellent,
because it tends to God; excellent, because its very bond is God;
excellent, because it shall last eternally in God. Oh how good it is to
love on earth as they love in heaven; to learn to cherish each other in
this world, as we shall do eternally in the next?"
In general, then, true friendship is an intercourse between two souls with
the purpose of procuring each other's good. It stays within the limits of
moral goodness if the good mutually shared belongs to the natural order.
Supernatural friendship, however, stands on a far superior plane. It is the
intimate intercourse of two souls, who love each other in God and for God
with a view of aiding each other to attain the perfection of that divine
life which they possess. The ultimate end of this friendship is God's
glory, the proximate end their own spiritual progress, and the bond of
union between the two friends is Our Lord. This was the thought of the
Blessed Ethelred: "We are two, you and I, and I trust a third One is with
us, Christ." Lacordaire thus renders this thought: "I can no longer love
any one without reaching the soul behind the heart and having Jesus Christ
as our common possession."3
n1. ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout Life," Part. III, c. 17-22; RIBET,
"Ascetique," ch. XLIII, p, 437-441, 448-451; AD. A DENDERWINDEKE, "Comp,
Theol. asceticae," 1921, n. 437-439; ROUZIC, "De l' Amitie;" MARCETTEAU,
"The Young Seminarian s Manual," p. 401-411.
n2. "Devout Life," Part. III, c. 19.
n3. P. CHOCARNE, "Vie de Lacordaire," t, II, ch. XV.
#596. b) Thus, supernatural friendship instead of being passionate, all-
absorbing, exclusive after the manner of sentimental friendship, is marked
by calm reserve and mutual trust. It is a calm, self-possessed affection
precisely because it is rooted in the love of God and shares in His virtue.
For the same reason it is unwavering; it grows, unlike the love that is
founded on passions and which tends to grow cool. With it goes a prudent
reserve. Instead of seeking familiarities and endearments like sentimental
friendship, it is full of respect and reserve, for it seeks nothing but
spiritual good. This reserve does not exclude confidence. Because there is
mutual esteem and because one sees in the other a reflection of the divine
perfections, there arises a strong mutual trust. This leads to an intimate
intercourse since each longs to share in the spiritual qualities of the
other, thus establishing an exchange of thoughts, of views, and a
communication of holy desires for perfection. Because such friends desire
each other's perfection they do not fear to point out their respective
defects and to offer mutual help for their correction. This mutual
confidence excludes all suspicion and uneasiness and does not allow the
friendship to become all-absorbing or exclusive. One does not take it amiss
that one's friend should have other friends, but one is rather glad of it
for his sake and the sake of others.
#597. B) The value of such friendship is evident. a) It has been praised by
the Holy Ghost: " A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath
found him hath found a treasure... A faithful friend is the medicine of
life and immortality."1 Our Lord Himself has given us an example in His
friendship for St. John, who was known as " the disciple whom Jesus
loved."2 St. Paul had friends to whom he was deeply attached; he sorrowed
at their absence; meeting them again was his sweetest consolation; and he
was comfortless because, contrary to his expectation, he failed to find
Titus: "Because I found not Titus my brother."3 He rejoiced upon finding
him again: "God comforted us by the coming of Titus... we did the more
abundantly rejoice for the joy of Titus." 4 We see also the affection he
had for Timothy, whose very presence did him so much good and helped him to
do good unto others. Thus he called him his "fellow laborer,''5 his
"dearest son,"6 his "brother,"7 his "beloved son."8 Christian antiquity,
likewise, furnishes us with illustrious examples, among which one of the
best known is that of St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen.9
n1. "Eccles.," VI, 14-16.
n2. "John," XIII, 23.
n3. "II Cor.," II, 13.
n4. "II Cor.," VII, 6, 13.
n5. "Rom.," XVI, 21.
n6. "I Cor.," IV, 17.
n7. "II Cor.," I, I.
n8. "I Tim.," 1, 2
n9. ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, loc. cit., c. 19, refers to many others.
#598. b) True friendship has three important advantages, especially for the
priest in the ministry.
I) A friend is a protection for virtue, a strong defense We must needs open
our hearts to an intimate confidant. At times our spiritual director
answers the purpose, but not always; his friendship paternal in nature, is
not the fraternal intimacy we crave. We need an equal to whom we can speak
with perfect freedom. If we do not find such a one, we are liable to be
betrayed into indiscreet disclosures to persons unworthy of our trust, and
such confidences have their dangers for those who make and for those who
2) A friend is also a sympathetic counselor to whom we willingly bring our
doubts and offer our difficulties in order that he may help us to reach a
solution. He is likewise a mentor, prudent and devoted, who observing our
ways and aware of what is said of us, will tell us the truth and save us
from many an act of imprudence.
3) Lastly, a friend is a comforter who will listen with sympathy to the
story of our sorrows, and who will find in his heart words of comfort and
#599. The question has been asked whether or not such friendships should be
encouraged in communities. It may be feared that they will be detrimental
to the affection which should unite all the members and that they will be
the cause of jealousies. Assuredly, care must be taken that such
friendships do not interfere with the charity due to all, that they be
supernatural and be kept within the limits set by Superiors. With these
provisions, friendship retains in communities all the advantages described
above, since religious as well as others need the counsel, comfort and
protection that a friend alone can give. However, in communities more than
elsewhere, all that savors of false friendship must be avoided with jealous
(2) FALSE FRIENDSHIP
We shall speak of its nature and dangers, and of the remedies to be
#600. A) Its Nature. a) False friendship has for its foundation external or
shallow qualities, and for its purpose the enjoyment of the sight and
charms of its object. Hence, fundamentally it is but a sort of masked
egotism, since one loves the other because of the pleasure he finds in his
company. Undoubtedly, he is ready to be of service to him, but this again
in view of the pleasure he experiences ill drawing the other closer to
b) St. Francis de Sales distinguishes three types of false friendships:
carnal friendship in which one seeks voluptuous pleasure; sentimental
friendship, based mainly on the appeal outward qualities make to the
emotions, "such as the pleasure to behold a beautiful person, to hear a
sweet voice, to touch, and the like;"1 foolish friendship, which has no
other foundation than those empty accomplishments styled by shallow minds
virtues and perfections, such as graceful dancing, clever playing,
delightful singing, fashionable dressing, smiling glances, a pleasing
n1. ST FRANCIS DE SALES, loc. cit., C. 17.
#601. c) These various kinds of friendship generally begin with adolescence
and are born of the instinctive need we feel of loving and being loved.
Often they are a kind of deviation of sexual love. In the world such
friendships arise between young men and women and go by the name of "fond-
love."1 In cloistered communities they exist between persons of the same
sex and are styled particular friendships. Such affections are at times
kept up in mature life; thus there are men who feel sentimental affection
toward boys because of their youthful and attractive appearance, their
frankness and openness of character, and the charm and winsomeness of their
n1. ST FRANCIS DE SALES, loc. cit., c. 18.
#602. d) The characteristics whereby sentimental friendships may be
recognized are gathered from their origin, development, effects.
1) Their origin is sudden and vehement because they proceed from a natural
and instinctive sense of sympathy. They rest upon exterior and showy
qualities. They are attended by strong and, at times passionate feelings.
2) Their development is fostered by conversations at times insignificant
but affectionate, at others, fond and dangerous. In certain communities
furtive glances take the place of familiar conversations.
3) These friendships are impetuous, all-absorbing and exclusive; the
illusion that such affection will last forever is often brusquely destroyed
by separation and the forming of new attachments.
#603. B) The dangers of such friendships are apparent.
a) They constitute one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual progress. God
Who does not want a divided heart begins by making interior reproaches to
the soul and, if it hearkens not to His voice, He gradually withdraws,
leaving the soul without light and inward consolations. In proportion as
the attachments grow, the spirit of recollection is lost, peace of soul
vanishes, as well as relish for spiritual exercises and love of work.
b) Hence a great loss of time: the absorbing thought of the friend hinders
both mind and heart from devoting themselves to piety and to serious work.
c) All this ends in dissatisfaction and discouragement; sentimentality
gains control over the will, which loses its strength and languishes.
d) It is at this point that dangers threatening purity arise. One would
wish, indeed, not to trespass the bounds of propriety, yet fancying that
friendship confers certain rights, one indulges in familiarities of a more
and more questionable character. Now the descent is swift, and he who risks
the danger will end by perishing in it.
#604. C) The remedies against such friendships are:
a) To resist them in their beginnings. It is all the easier then, for the
heart is not yet deeply attached. A few energetic efforts succeed,
especially if one has the courage to mention the matter to one's director
and to accuse oneself of the least failings in that regard. If one waits
too long, the process of disentangling the heart will prove far more
b) To root out these affections successfully, radical measures must be
taken: " You must cut them, break them, tear them; amuse not yourself in
unraveling these criminal friendships; you must tear and rend them
asunder."2 So it is not enough to renounce intercourse with one to whom we
are thus attached, but we must not even deliberately think of him; and
should it be impossible to avoid all association with him, we shall on
these occasions show courtesy and charity, but never indulge in any
confidences or bestow any special marks of affection.
c) The better to insure success, positive means must be used. Let one's
activities be wholly devoted to the fulfillment of the duties of state, and
when, in spite of all, the object of such affections presents itself
unsought to the mind, this should be made the occasion of eliciting acts of
love toward God: "One is my beloved, One is my troth forever." We thereby
profit by temptation itself to increase within us the love of Him Who alone
is worthy to possess our hearts.
n1. The following is Ovid's remark in "De Remediis Amoris:"
"Principiis obsta, sero medicina paratur
Cum mala per longas invaluere moras".
n2. "Devout Life," loc, cit., C. XXI.
(3) FRIENDSHIP AT ONCE SUPERNATURAL AND SENTIMENTAL
#605. At times it happens that there is in our friendships a mixture of the
sentimental with the morally good and the supernatural. One truly desires
the supernatural good of a friend and at the same time craves the joy of
his company and his words, sorrowing overmuch at his absence. This is well
described by St. Francis de Sales: "They begin with virtuous love, with
which, if not attended to with the utmost discretion, fond love will begin
to mingle itself, then sensual love, and afterwards carnal love; yea, there
is even danger in spiritual love, if we are not extremely on our guard;
though in this it is more difficult to be imposed upon because its purity
and whiteness makes the spots and stains which Satan seeks to mingle with
it more apparent and therefore when he takes this in hand he does it more
subtilely, and endeavors to introduce impurities by almost insensible
n1. "Devout Life," loc. cit., C. XX.
#606. Here again we must watch over the heart and take effective means so
as not to be carried as it were insensibly down this dangerous grade.
a) If it is the good element that predominates, one may continue such a
friendship whilst purifying it. For this, one must first of all forego what
would foster sentiment like frequent and affectionate conversations,
familiarity, etc. From time to time one must deny oneself meetings
otherwise in order, and be willing to shorten conversations that cease to
be useful. In this way one gains control of sentiment and wards off danger.
b) If the element of sentiment predominates, one must for a considerable
period of time renounce any special relations with the said friend beyond
the strictly necessary, and when one must meet him one should abstain from
speaking in terms of affection. Sentiment is thus allowed to cool; one
waits for a renewal of relations until calm is restored to the soul. The
renewed association then takes on a different character. Should it be
otherwise, it must be severed forever.
c) In any case the results of our examination must be put to profit so that
they may redound to a further strengthening of our love for Jesus Christ.
We must protest that we want to love only in Him and for Him, and we should
read frequently chapters VII and VIII of the second book of the Following
of Christ. It is thus that temptations will become for us a source of
IV. Sanctification of Social and Business Relations1
#607. Professional relations are a means of sanctification or an obstacle
to our spiritual progress, according to the view we take of our duties of
state and the manner in which we discharge them. In reality the duties
imposed by our calling are in themselves in harmony with the will of God.
If we fulfill them with the intention of obeying God and of regulating our
life according to the laws of prudence, justice and charity, they are an
aid to our sanctification.2 If, on the contrary, we have no other end in
view than to secure position and wealth by the discharge of our
professional duties in defiance of the laws of conscience, such relations
become a source of sin and scandal.
A) A first duty then is to accept the profession to which God's Providence
has led us as the expression of His will and to abide therein as long as we
have no reasons justifying a change. It is part of the divine economy that
there should be a diversity of arts, trades, and professions, and when we
have found a place in any of them through a series of providential
happenings, we may rightly believe that we are where God wills us to be. We
make an exception when for prudent and lawful reasons we are convinced that
it is our duty to effect a change, for whatever is in harmony with right
reason lies within God's providential scheme. Therefore, whether we be
employers or employees, industrialists or merchants, whether farmers or
financiers, our duty is to carry on our activities so as to do the will of
God, and conduct them according to the rules of justice, equity and
charity. After this, nothing prevents us from sanctifying our actions by
directing them to the ultimate end, a fact which does by no means exclude
the secondary end we have in view, namely that of earning enough to provide
for ourselves and those dependent upon us. As a matter of fact, Saints have
sprung from each and every situation in life.
n1. A. DESURMONT, "La saintete dans les relations sociales, Oeuvres," t.
XI, p. 272 and foll.; "Charite Sacerdotale," t. II, 205-213.
n2. BOURDALOUE in his second sermon "for the Feast of All Saints" shows how
the Saints have sanctified their respective stations in life and profited
by their condition to arrive at a high degree of perfection.
#608. B) Our numberless activities and relations tend of themselves to fill
our mind and thus to turn our thoughts from God. Hence, oft-renewed efforts
are required on our part to offer to Him and so supernaturalize our
ordinary actions. This we have noted above, n. 248.
#609. C) Besides, since we move in a rather dishonest world, where
regardless of the laws of justice man greedily vies with man for honor and
for gain, it is important that we remind ourselves of the fact that we are
to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and use for the
attainment of our purposes only legitimate means. The best standard for
judging what is permissible and what is not, is to observe the behavior of
honorable Christian men of the same profession. There are accepted ethics
in every profession. We cannot change them without incurring and causing
others to suffer considerable damage.
Standards generally followed by good Christian men in the profession can be
followed safely until by common agreement a change for the better can be
effected without compromising lawful interests.1 But we must never be led
into imitating the practices and following the counsels of traders or
producers who, devoid of conscience, mean to attain to wealth at any cost,
even at the expense of justice. Their success does not justify us in
employing similar, unlawful means. A Christian who would follow in their
footsteps would be a stumbling block to others. We must seek first the
kingdom of God and His justice, and all other things shall be added unto
n1. Thus, standard wages for the same kind of work in the same locality are
determined by norms which an employer could not set aside without incurring
such losses that would soon bring his business to a stand-still
n2. "Matth.," VI, 33.
#610. D) Thus understood and thus fulfilled, professional duties will prove
a great aid to our spiritual progress, since they take up most of our time
and most of our activity each day. Our Lord has shown us by His example
that the most homely occupations, such as manual labor, can contribute to
our personal sanctification and the spiritual welfare of our brethren.
Therefore, if a laborer or a business man observes the rules of prudence,
of justice, of fortitude, of temperance, of equity and of charity,
numberless opportunities are offered to him daily for the practice of all
the Christian virtues, the acquisition of all manner of merit, as well as
for the edification of the neighbor. This is what has happened in the past,
what is done today by fathers and mothers in the home, by employers and
employees, by young and old, who by honesty in their work and in their
dealings, elicit respect for the religion they profess and use their
influence in the exercise of zeal.
V. Sanctification of Works of Zeal
#611. That works of zeal may be for us a means of sanctification is not
difficult to understand. However, there are those who find therein a cause
of distraction, of spiritual loss, even an occasion of sin and a source of
reprobation. Let us recall the words of a social worker to Dom Chautard:
"It is my overeagerness that has brought on my fall."1 There are persons
who allow themselves to become so absorbed by an active life, that they no
longer find time for their most essential spiritual exercises. Hence, a
moral break-down giving the passions a new lease of life and paving the way
for lamentable surrenders. In every case where the interior life is
lacking, little personal merit is acquired, whilst outward activities
secure but meager results since God's grace cannot render fruitful a
ministry from which prayer has all but disappeared, Outward works must
needs be vivified by the spirit of prayer.
n1. "The True Apostolate," p. 67.
#612. A) The first thing to remember is that the means employed in the
exercise of zeal differ in effectiveness and importance; there exists among
them a hierarchy, the most effective being prayer and sacrifice. Example
follows next in order, word and action holding the last place. The example
of Our Lord is enough to convince us of this. His whole life was one of
continual prayer and sacrifice. He began by practicing what He taught
others, leading a hidden life for thirty years before He would give Himself
to a public ministry of but three years' duration. Let us bear in mind the
course taken by the Apostles, who committed to deacons the discharge of
sundry works of charity, that they might give themselves more freely to
prayer and the preaching of the Gospel: "But we will give ourselves
continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."1 Let the words of
St. Paul resound in our ears: "Neither he that planteth is anything, nor he
that watereth: but God that giveth the increase."2
Prayer, then, will hold the first place in our life (n. 470). We shall make
no surrender of the essential exercises of piety such as meditation,
thanksgiving after Mass, the devout recitation of the Divine Office,
examination of conscience, the explicit offering of our actions to God,
fully persuaded that we thereby render greater service to souls than if we
gave ourselves entirely to works of zeal. A shepherd of souls will be, as
S. Bernard says, a reservoir not a mere conduit. The latter merely passes
on what it receives, the former, being first filled, gives constantly of
its overflow: "If thou hast wisdom, thou shalt prove a fountain-spring and
not a channel."3
n1. "Acts," VI, 4.
n2. "I Cor.," III, 7.
n3. ST. BERNARDUS, "In Cantica," sermo XVIII, 3.
#613. B) To aim at creating a chosen group of devout souls without,
however, neglecting the multitudes, will likewise help us to keep before
our minds the absolute need of an interior life. We feel that we cannot
succeed in this unless we are interior men. The study we make of the
spiritual life, the advice we give to others, the virtuous practices we try
to inculcate, will perforce lead us to a life of prayer and of sacrifice.
But to attain our end, we must be generous enough to live by the advice we
give to others. Then we need not fear laxity and lukewarmness. In fact, not
a few priests have been brought to live an interior life, through their
interest in leading chosen souls to strive after perfection.
#614. C) In the doctrinal or moral instructions we give our flock, we must
follow a definite plan enabling us to present the whole field of Christian
truth and Christian virtue. The preparation of such instructions will
nourish our piety, for what we preach to others that we shall aspire to
#615. D) Lastly, in the ordinary course of our parochial ministry, on the
occasion of baptisms, marriages, funerals sick-calls, visits of condolence
and even social calls, we must ever remember that we are priests and
apostles, that is to say, servants of souls. Therefore, after a few
expressions of good will, we should not hesitate to raise minds and hearts
towards God. Priestly conversation must always suggest the higher, the
nobler things of life.
These are the various means whereby our interior life is preserved and
strengthened. Our ministry vivified by grace yields fruit a hundred-fold:
"He that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit."1
Thus, all our relations with our neighbor can and must be supernaturalized.
All become then the occasion of further growth in virtue and of a
development within us of that divine life of which we have received
n1. "John," XV, 5.
#616. We have reached the end of the first part of our work, namely, The
Principles of the Supernal Life. All we have said flows logically from the
truths of our faith; all can be reduced to unity: God is our end, Jesus-
Christ is our Mediator and the Christian life is the gift of God to the
soul and the gift of the soul to God.
(1) It is God's Gift to the Soul. From all eternity the Most Holy Trinity
has loved us and predestined us to that supernatural life which is a
participation in the life of God. This Adorable Trinity living in our souls
is both the efficient and the exemplary cause of that life, whilst the
supernatural organism that enables us to elicit Godlike acts, is the work
of the same Triune God.
The Incarnate Word, however, is the meritorious cause as well as the most
perfect model of our supernatural life. Conformed to our weakness, He is
man like unto us, without ceasing to be God. He is our friend, our brother,
nay more, the Head of a mystic body whose members we are. Because Mary,
associated as she is in the work of our Redemption, cannot be separated
from her Son, she stands as the first stepping stone to Jesus, just as
Jesus is the necessary Mediator with the Father. The Saints and Angels who
form part of God's vast family aid us by their prayers and their example.
#617. (2) In order to correspond to God's loving kindness, we give
ourselves entirely to Him, fostering that life so freely bestowed. We
develop it by struggling against the concupiscence that remains in us; by
eliciting supernatural acts which besides meriting an increase of divine
life cause us to acquire good habits, that is, virtues; and by receiving
the Sacraments, which add to our merits a sanctifying power that comes from
The very essence of perfection is the love of God unto the immolation of
self. To fight and annihilate within us the old Adam, that the new Adam,
Jesus Christ, may live in us, is the task before us. In pursuing this work,
that is, in making use of the means of perfection, we tend constantly
toward God through Jesus Christ.
The desire for perfection is, fundamentally, but the generous answer of the
soul to God's tender love. Such a desire brings us to the knowledge and the
love of Him Who is all love, "God is love"; to a knowledge of self, that we
may all the more forcibly feel the need we have of God and may entrust
ourselves into His merciful arms. This love is shown by a conformity, to
the full extent of our powers, to the will of God as manifested by His laws
and His counsels, as made known by the events of life, propitious or
adverse, all of which help us to love God the more. This love is, likewise,
shown by prayer which becoming habitual constantly elevates the soul toward
God. Even the exterior means lead us to God, for spiritual direction, a
rule of life and spiritual reading are calculated to bring us into
compliance with His will, whilst the relations by which we are brought into
contact with others in whom we see a reflection of the divine perfections
bring us to Him Who is the Source and Center of all things. since in the
employment of all these means we constantly have before our eyes Jesus, our
Model, our Co-worker, our Life, we are transformed into Him, into true
Christians, for a true Christian is another Christ.
Thus is gradually realized the ideal of perfection outlined by Father Olier
for his disciples at the beginning of the "Pietas Seminarii": "To live
wholly unto God in Christ Jesus Our Lord, in such wise, that the Spirit of
His Son may enter into our inmost soul," and that we, like St. Paul, may
have a right to say: "I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me."