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Friday, August 17, 2007

Renouncing All Things

1. If we want God to take possession of our souls, we must drive out every inordinate affection to earthly things. It is not possible for God to dwell within us if we are still attached to sin or preoccupied with worldly aims.

God should reign supreme in us and inspire all our desires and actions. This can never happen if we retain an attachment to deliberate sin, even if it is not grave sin. In the case of venial sin, it is not so much the sin which prevents God from ruling us absolutely as the attachment to sin.

It is possible for anybody to fall through human weakness, for the just man falls seven times and rises again (Prov. 24:16). It is when we remain willingly in the state of sin that we offend God and weaken our faith and charity. At such times it is as if Jesus were asleep within us, as He slept in the boat during the storm on the lake of Galilee, when the terrified Apostles cried out: Lord, save us! We are perishing! (Mt. 8:25) We must keep ourselves free from all trace of sin if we wish to remain intimately united with God and to be governed only by Him.

2. Another necessary condition for Christ's reign in our souls is that we should destroy our love of self. Our Lord charged us: If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mt. 16:24). It is easier to renounce the goods of this world than it is to deny ourselves. It is so difficult to renounce one's own ego that at first sight it seems impossible. Nevertheless, God demands this of us if we intend to be perfect Christians and to be completely free to dedicate ourselves to Him.

God wishes to be absolute master of our souls because this is His right as our Creator and Redeemer. If we succeed in conquering our self-love and in desiring only whatever is pleasing to God, we shall find liberty and peace. We shall be able to claim with St. Paul: It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20).

3. Self-renunciation involves also the surrender of other attachments, such as the love of worldly honours, ambition, the desire for success, and many other affections which would hinder us from living the life of God. When we have arrived at a state of indifference to illness or health, wealth or poverty, life or death, we shall be able to say that we have completely renounced self, because God alone will reign within us. When we have striped ourselves of all alien affections, God will be our absolute Sovereign and we shall be really rich.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lapses into Sin

1. When we have spent many years fighting our evil inclinations, praying, and forming resolutions, it saddens us when we fall into grave sin once again. A lapse like this can be very discouraging and can make us feel that it is impossible to resist temptation. We may even feel that we are not destined by God to enjoy everlasting happiness. This is a very dangerous temptation which could lead us into ruin. It is part of the tactics of the devil to tempt us to sin and, when we have fallen, to persuade us that our fall was unavoidable and that we may as well resign ourselves to sinning because we are predestined to hell.

Predestination is a gigantic theological problem which has tormented the minds and consciences of many. It is a difficult question, but in practice it can be answered in a few words. It is certain that God...wishes us all to be saved (I Tim. 2:4). It is certain that God became man and shed His precious blood for our salvation. How then could we be predestined to hell? How could we be denied the graces necessary for salvation? Our constant falls do not indicate that God has abandoned us, but show that we have abandoned Him. If we sincerely do everything of which we are capable, God will not deny us His assistance.

2. Away, then, with all thoughts of discouragement. Let us ask humbly for forgiveness every time we fall, for God understands our weakness. Then let us begin again with confidence in God's grace.

But why, we may ask, does God permit us to fall time and time again without giving us the grace to resist? In such a case we must accept the mystery of God's dealings with us. God often allows us to fall in order to humble us and to make us realise that we are powerless without Him. Pride is often the cause of our sins, and our pride must be curbed. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Cf. James 4:6). Instead of giving in to discouragement, therefore, we should acknowledge our own weakness and pray again to God to help us.

3. There are other explanations for our repeated lapses into sin. Sometimes we do not resist temptation immediately and it takes root in our souls. We may neglect to pray for God's assistance. We may have neglected to avoid the occasions of sin and have played about with danger. We may not be sufficiently determined to make any sacrifice rather than commit sin.

Let us consider our lapses and we shall discover that they can be explained in one of these ways. There is no need to lose confidence in God, therefore. Rather should we renew our good resolutions and reinforce them by constant prayer. Nobody who prays continually can keep falling into sin.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

1. It is generally believed that Our Blessed Lady died, since she would not have wished to escape death any more than her divine Son did. Our Lord, however, had seen her sharing in His agony and death upon Mount Calvary, and He willed that her own death would be so peaceful as hardly to justify the name.

The just die in the love of God and the martyrs died for the love of God. But Mary died consumed by the love of God. It was not disease which brought an end to her life, but love. Her love for Jesus was more ardent and more perfect than that of any other creature. She loved Him when she held Him in lier arms in the stable at Bethlehem, when she fled with Him into Egypt, and when she offered Him in the temple to His heavenly Father. She loved Him when she found Him after He had been lost and when she looked after Him in their home at Nazareth. She loved Him as she followed Him to His death on Calvary. She loved him in the joy of His Resurrection and, subsequently, of His Ascension into Heaven. Jesus desired her to remain o ii earth for a while to comfort the infant Church and to initiate the loving patronage which she would exercise over it in Heaven. Her love grew from day to day until it entirely consumed her and her immaculate heart could no longer contain it. Mary fulfilled in a most perfect manner the Creator's command to His creatures to love Him with all their hearts and with all their strength. Consequently, her love reached such a peak that her soul in its final ecstasy glided from her body.

Let us ask our Mother, Mary, to help us to die with the love and grace of God in our hearts, and with the names of Jesus and Mary on our lips.



2. Even as Christ by His own power rose from the grave, so by reason of His intervention the soul of Mary was reunited, after a short separation, with her body, and she was taken up body and soul into everlasting glory. It was fitting that this privilege should have been bestowed on the Mother of God. It would have been unbecoming for the immaculate flesh in which the divine body of Jesus was formed to have been allowed to corrupt in the grave. It was fitting, too, that she who was to be proclaimed Queen of Angels and of men should have come immediately to her throne of glory with her humanity integral and unimpaired. Her resurrection was, moreover, the reward of her virginal purity. From the first moment of her conception she was preserved free from original sin and from every evil inclination, and throughout her life she had advanced farther and farther in the way of perfection.

We shall rise one day also, O Blessed Mother. Grant in your Krcat love for us that we may so imitate your example as to deserve to rise in glory and to be associated with you in everlasting happiness.

3. After she had risen, Mary was gloriously taken up into Heaven. Jesus has ascended into Heaven by His own power, but Mary was borne aloft by the Angels, whose Queen she was soon to be proclaimed. She reigns in Heaven with her divine Son and looks down in love and mercy on her exiled children, whom she is ever ready to assist. She was the humblest and most exalted of creatures (Dante, Par. XXXIII, 2) for when told that she was to be the Mother of God, she desired to be called His handmaid. Humility is the Mother of all the virtues even as pride is the source of all the vices. If we wish to share in Mary's triumph, we must first of all share in her humility. Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, Jesus has said, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11). God resists the proud, we are reminded by the Apostle James, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). The glorious Assumption of Mary contains a lesson in humility for all of us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Christian Joy

1. Christianity is neither sad nor pessimistic. On the contrary, it is the harbinger of great joy, (Luke 2:10) to quote the expression used by the Angels when they announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Obviously, this joy is something quite distinct from sensible pleasure. It is the spiritual happiness which accompanies an innocent life, sorrow for sin, or suffering bravely borne for the love of God.

Any other form of earthly happiness can never be more than a partial and transitory pleasure, incapable of satisfying the human heart completely. When Christianity urges us to be detached from worldly objects, however, it does not condemn the joys of the present life. The historian Tacitus was very far from the truth when, in the description in his Annals of the burning of Rome at the time of Nero, he accused the Christians of hating the human race, although not of having set fire to the city. Although the teaching of Christianity is preoccupied with the joys of Heaven, it does not frown upon legitimate worldly pleasures.

Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were in the power of the devil. (Act 10:38) He loved to give joy to others and sanctified the marriage feast of Cana by His presence and by working His first miracle there. He restored happiness to the widow of Naim by raising her son to life, and to Martha and Mary by giving them back their brother, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. He spent His entire life giving happiness to others.

There is only one kind of merriment which Christianity cannot countenance, and that is the inordinate pleasure which leads to sin or is the result of sin. This kind of pleasure has no kinship with spiritual joy. It is a momentary exaltation which soon disappears and leaves behind disillusionment and remorse. It leads inevitably to sorrow; this is a chastisement from God which can only become meritorious if it is offered up in expiation. The end of joy may be sorrow, (Prov. 14:13) says the Book of Proverbs. For this reason let us seek spiritual joys, not those which lead to sin nor those which are the result of sin.

2. In his letters St. Paul frequently exhorts the early Christians to be joyful. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. (Phil. 4:4) The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindliness... (Cf. Gal. 5:22) But we are to remember that the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:20-22)

St. Paul emphasises that this joy need not be lost in times of tribulation. I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our troubles. (2 Cor. 7:4) In the life of a Christian, joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive, but complement and perfect one another.

This does not mean that Christianity essentially transforms human nature and banishes the pangs of suffering. It means simply that everything in human nature is purified and elevated so that it may be deserving of Heaven, where true and lasting happiness is to be found. Be fervent in spirit, says St. Paul, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, (Rom. 12:12) and as sorrowful, always rejoicing. (2 Cor. 6:10)

3. If we live good lives, hoping for a Heavenly reward and guided by the action of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we shall possess this spiritual joy. Once we possess it, it will be erased neither by temptation nor by suffering nor by persecution, as long as our faith remains firm and steadfast. The sincere Christian accepts pleasure and pain with equal readiness because he places everything in God's hands.This explains what Jesus had in mind when He said: Blessed are you poor . . . Blessed are you who hunger . . . Blessed are you who weep . . . Blessed shall you be when men hate you and when they shut you out and reproach you . . . (Luke 6:20-22) The Saints were happy in spite of suffering and persecution. We must try at least to achieve that spirit of complete resignation to God's will which is always rewarded by peace of soul.

Work and Worry (August 13)

1. When we recite the Lord's Prayer, we say with confidence "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." This does not mean, however, that we renounce in a spirit of fatalism all right to action and initiative on our part.

Faith, says St. James, unless it has works, is dead in itself. (James 2: 17-26) The same applies to charity. (James 2: 13-17)

Faith and charity must be accompanied by action, which should always be inspired by the interior life. But our external activity should never be allowed to quench the flame of the divine life within us. If this should happen, our labour would grow sterile and would receive no blessing from God.

We should work hard, but should always act as if death might come at any moment. In other words, we should not become completely absorbed in our work, but should keep before our minds the ideals of the glory of God, our own sanctification, and the salvation of our neighbour. If our efforts seem to be successful, we should thank God. But if all our work appears to be in vain we should thank Him, just the, same, for such things happen with God's permission. Providence often guides events in its own way for the promotion of Gods's glory and for our greater good, which can be achieved through our humiliation as well as through our success.

If our spiritual outlook is in conformity with these principles, we shall be able to preserve our peace of mind, no matter how busy we may be.

2. There are many people who claim that they are working, for God and for souls. In fact, they do work hard and make great sacrifices, but at the first sign of failure they are disappointed and discouraged. Why is this? It is because they only believed that they were working for God and for His Church, whereas in their heart and soul they were more influenced by self-love and by a desire for the praise and approval of others. Their motives were not completely disinterested, and their sacrifices were not made entirely for God. Therefore they were disturbed by visions of success in human terms and were agitated at the prospect of failure.

The Saints worked hard also, but they never worried. They were always calm, because their attention was focused on Heaven rather than on themselves. As long as we work entirely for God and accept as His will the outcome of our efforts, everything will go well for us even when it seems to be going badly.

3. Some people imagine that they are not working properly unless they are worrying and fretting and attracting the attention of others. This kind of approach results in more agitation than action. These people are working more for worldly glory than for the glory of God, and their best efforts are ruined by self love. They have received their reward, (Mt. 6:2-5) and they cannot hope to be rewarded in the next life.

We should aim at a purity of intention which will inspire us to do everything for the love of God. We should rememberthat the internal action of grace is what matters most in the life of a Christian. If that is lacking, all our external activity is worthless in the sight of God.

Christian Optimism (August 12)

1. There are two kinds of optimism. The first is the optimism of worldlings who expect nothing but pleasure from life. They run away from anything which smacks of sacrifice or self-control, and as a result virtue is completely outside their grasp. Their motto is the "carpe diem" of the poet Horace. (Horace, Carm. I, 2:8) Living for the day in this fashion, they seem to uphold the philosophy which the Book of Wisdom puts on the lips of the foolish: Come, let us enjoy the good things that are real, and use the freshness of creation avidly. Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no springtime blossom pass us by. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds ere they wither; let no meadow be free from our wantonness. (Wisdom 2:6-8)

This kind of optimism is an inversion of true human values. It is the result of the domination which man's lower instincts can sometimes acquire over his reason. But because our natural longing for what is good can never be completely stifled, this pleasant epicurean approach always leaves in its wake a sense of disillusionment.

Sooner or later this optimism is converted into pessimism. Human pleasure must always turn to sorrow, and at this stage, unless some miracle of divine grace intervenes, the spirit rebels and falls prey to despair. It is true that most of us will have avoided the worst excesses of the epicurean outlook, but we may have developed a distortedly comfortable and selfish approach to life. If this is so, we should remember that our lives are in conflict with Christian principles.

Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, Jesus said, t remains alone. But fit dies, it brings forth much fruit. (Cf. John 12:44) Unless you repent, you will all perish. (Luke 13:5) The kingdom o f heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force. (Mt. 11:12) If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

Let us consider whether our lives are in accordance with this teaching.

2. There is also a Christian optimism, for Christianity is essentially optimistic. The Jansenist conception of Christianity as a gloomy and fearfully exacting creed is quite erroneous. Jesus has told us that His yoke is easy and His burden light, and St. Paul speaks of the arrival of the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour. (Titus 3:4) We have only to recall the parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep, and Christ's encounters with Mary Magdalen and the repentant adulteress.

Christianity, then, is not opposed to the principles of natural goodness; it does not frown upon the blessings of life, on normal human affections, and on the love of beauty. Whatever things are true, says St. Paul, whatever honourable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things. (Cf. Phil. 4:8) Christian teaching does not hold that our natural inclinations are evil, for they are forces which can be channelled to lead us towards holiness.

3. Sin alone is essentially evil, because it offends God, our Supreme Good, and separates us from Him. Even sin is only a evil in so far as it is a deliberate act in which we find pleasure
mid continued satisfaction. But if it is washed away by tears of repentance and by sacramental Confession, even sin becomes a source of goodness, for it leads us back to God.

Christianity makes everything good and meritorious, even suffering. Only Christianity can give us an explanation of suffering, which can be employed by our acceptance of it as a valuable means of expiation and sanctification.

Only in Christianity can the human heart find satisfaction and peace. Christian optimism abhors the malice of sin, lightens our, sufferings, and moderates our pleasures. It helps us to see God's image in all creatures, gives us joy in life and hope in the hour' of death. In this sense, let us be optimists.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Parable of the Talents

1. Let us meditate on the parable concerning the talents. A lord was preparing to go abroad and before he departed he called together his servants. He distributed his assets among them in proportion to their ability, giving five talents to the first, two to the second, and one to the third.

After a long time the master returned and asked his servants to render an account of the money entrusted to them. Those who had received, respectively, the five and the two talents returned the capital to their lord along with the profits which they had made, so that in fact each was able to hand back double the sum originally entrusted to him. Their master praised their fidelity and zeal and rewarded them more handsomely than they could ever have expected.

Finally, the man who had received only one talent appeared and said: Master, I know that thou art a stern man; thou reapest where thou hast not sowed and gatherest where thou hast not winnowed; and as I was afraid, I went away and hid thy talent in the earth; behold, thou hast what is thine. The master's reply was stern. Wicked and slothful servant! thou didst know that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I have not winnowed! Thou shouldst therefore have entrusted my money to the bankers, and on my return I should have got back my own with interest. Take away therefore the talent from him and ... cast him forth into the darkness outside, where there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. (Cf. Mt. 25:14-30)

The meaning of this parable is clear. We are all servants to whom our heavenly Father has entrusted various talents. Some have been given more than others. By our own labour and industry we must all make profitable use of the talents which we have received. The ungrateful and slothful servant who does not make good use of his talents will be severely punished. But a happy reward awaits the good and faithful servant who has worked zealously all his life for his Master's interests until the talents which he has received have produced an increase of sanctity in himself and in others.

2. As a general rule, God gives us three kinds of talents. These are (i) material, like health or riches; (ii) intellectual and moral, such as intelligence, personality, and ability; and (iii) supernatural, like divine grace, a vocation, or extraordinary powers. God distributes lavishly all these talents, to whomsoever He pleases and in accordance with His own hidden designs.

We have no right, therefore, to envy the talents of others nor to be discontented with our own. Rather should we be grateful to God for whatever He has given us and remember that sufferings and deprivations may also be used as a means of self-sanctification. If we cheerfully accept and offer to God our lack of certain talents, we can gain great merit.

3. We should never complain about the amount which we have received. It would be more appropriate to tremble at the thought of how much we have received. If anyone has received very little, he will have to account for very little. But a man who has received a great deal is responsible before God for the manner in which he has employed all the gifts entrusted to him.

Our own pride and spirit of ostentation is responsible for any discontent which we may feel concerning our state in life and our abilities. But if we are chiefly concerned for the glory of God and for our eternal salvation, then it will not matter to us how much we have received. Let us be satisfied with the position in life in which God has placed us. Let those of us who are not exceptionally talented thank God for the little we have received, but if we have been endowed with a great many gifts, let us anxiously consider how we are employing them. In either case, let us work hard to make the best possible use of the talents which God has granted to us.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Mystery of Life

1. "Life," said the poet Tommaseo, "is only a remembrance, a hope, and a passing moment."

How true this is. This life which preoccupies us so much is only a point of time which continually passes and evades us. We live on memories and on hopes, but in reality our life is no more than an elusive period of time flowing into the ocean of eternity.

Yesterday we did not exist, and tomorrow we shall be no more. Yesterday God called us forth from nothingness, and tomorrow He will summon us from this fleeting existence in order to reward or punish us in eternity. It is the great mystery of life that so much depends on a vanishing moment of time.

We have two alternatives. We can direct our course in life towards God, in which case we shall one day be happy with Him for ever. Or we can travel in the opposite direction in pursuit of sensual satisfaction and transitory worldly success, in which case we shall one day be rejected by God and shall be doomed to everlasting unhappiness.

Let us reflect on the importance of our choice.

2. We know that the past can never return and that the future is so uncertain that it may not even exist for us. We realise that our life is nothing more than a passing moment. If we meditate on these truths, how can we be attached to worldly objects Even if we could attain the objects of our desire, they would soon be snatched away from us.

Let us aim at those lasting values which are not passing,which can remain with us during life, comfort us at death, and accompany us into eternity. We know what these substantial values are-holiness, the grace of God, the conquest of our sensible appetites, and the final enjoyment of God in Heaven. These things do not pass away, but will remain with us for ever.

3. These reflections reveal to us the transience of this life and make sorrows and hardship seem easier to endure, and even welcome if we know how to offer them to God. What difference will the sufferings of a past existence make?

What will remain tomorrow of the trials which we have encountered today? Only a consoling memory, as long as we have offered them to God. Let us examine all our affections, desires and sufferings in the light of eternity. Viewed in that relationship, they can all become a source of self-sanctification.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rash Judgment

1. Instead of examining their own consciences in the presence of God, there are many people who are always prepared to judge the thoughts and actions of others. Do you belong to this category? Reflect for a while on the words of the Gospel.

Do not judge, said Christ, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you. But why dost thou see the speck in thy brother's eye, and yet dost not consider the beam in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, "let me cast out the speck from thy eye"; and behold, there is a beam in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thy own eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the speck from thy brother's eye. (Mt. 7:1-5)

These severe words condemn rash judgments; they also impose on us the obligation of correcting our own faults rather than censuring those of others. We are warned, moreover, that if we judge others harshly, the Divine judge will treat us with equal severity.

A judgment is rash when it is formed without any sure basis and without necessity. It is a difficult thing to penetrate the secrets of the human heart and conscience. Only God can do it with absolute certainty. St. Bernard remarked that anyone who .judges others rashly is usurping a right which belongs to Almighty God. How can we possibly guess at the motives and intentions of our fellow-men?

It is fairer and kinder to be ready to excuse our fellow-men and to appreciate their good qualities. We should leave it to God to judge their deficiencies and occupy ourselves with making amendment for our own sins.

2. Rash judgments are sometimes formed quite thoughtlessly. At other times they are the product of malice, envy, pride, or hatred. Even when they are lightly arrived at, they are sinful because they are opposed to the law of charity. When they are the result of one of the passions mentioned, they are far more gravely sinful, because they presuppose the intention of injuring our neighbour. Rash judgments like this rarely remain enclosed in the mind, but are expressed openly with consequent damage to the character of the victim.

It is easy to progress from lighter faults to grave sin in this matter. A rash judgment soon becomes a slander, and a sin against charity soon becomes a sin against justice involving an obligation to make reparation.

3. Let us contemplate Jesus as our model. While He was hanging from the Cross, He looked down compassionately upon His jeering enemies. Not only did He pray for them and forgive them, but He even made excuses for them to His heavenly Father. Father, forgive them, fir they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:24)

It is still the same. Very often when people commit sin they do so because they have not reflected about what they are doing.

For this reason we should always be kind in our judgments and prudent about expressing them. A harsh judgment can cause irreparable damage to our brother's character, whereas a kind word can lead him back from the path of evil.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More About Almsgiving

1. The description of the Last judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel would shock many people if they were to read it. The principles in accordance with which Christ will pronounce sentence are inescapably clear. Did you feed and clothe the poor for My sake, He will ask, because you recognised Me in them? If you have done so, you will certainly be saved. If you have neglected to do so, you will be condemned for all eternity. Christ does not ask about anything else, because everything else is subordinate to the precept of charity. Where there is charity, everything else follows. Where charity is lacking there is nothing else, because Christianity is synonymous with charity. Charity, says St. Paul, is the bond of perfection. (Col. 3:14)

If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, St. Paul says elsewhere, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal . . . and if I have, all faith so as to move mountains yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor . . . yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing. (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So our eternal salvation depends on our charity. But it must be charity in action, not merely in words. He who has the goods of this world, says St. John, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1st Epistle of St. John, 3:17) Charity must be expressed in almsgiving and good works, for otherwise it would be a matter of idle talk which would be powerless to save us.

Our almsgiving should not be dictated simply by natural feelings of compassion, however, nor by mere philanthropy. It should be pre-eminently a religious act, springing from supernatural motives. Because we see the person of Christ in the poor man, we should love and help him as we should our Divine Redeemer, of Whose Mystical Body he is a suffering member. This is real Christian charity.

A proud man may also be liberal in giving away money in order to draw attention to himself. But this is not Christian almsgiving, which is never the product of self-love but of the love of God. Let us be more generous in giving, therefore, but let us always give from the supernatural motive of Christian charity.

2. We should often read and contemplate passages in praise of charity and almsgiving which are contained in the Sacred Scriptures. Give that which remains as alms, and behold, all things are clean to you. (Luke 11:41) Alms delivereth from death; and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting. (Tob. 12:9) Redeem thou thy sins with alms and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. (Dan. 4:24) My son, rob not the poor man of his livelihood: force not the eyes of the needy to turn away. (Ecclus. 4:1) Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins. (Ecclus. 3:29) Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful ... Give, and it shall be given to you ... For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you. (Luke 6:36-38) For judgment is without mercy to him who has not shown mercy ... And if a brother or a sister be naked and in want of daily food, and one of you say to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," yet you do not give them what is necessary for the body, what does it profit? So faith too, unless it has works, is dead in itself. (James 2:13-17)

3. Let us give away as much as we can in charity, therefore. It does not matter whether we can afford to give a large sum or a very small amount; the important thing is to give. God knows our inmost thoughts; He can judge how detached we are from worldly goods, and if He sees that we are prepared to share them willingly with the unfortunate poor for His sake, He will reward us one day. But if we are avaricious and indifferent to the sufferings of others, He will condemn us to everlasting punishment.

There is one act of charity which we can all perform, even if we are poor. We can pray for those who never pray, for hardened sinners, for heretics, for those who persecute the Church, for the Missions, for the sick and dying, and for the souls in Purgatory. This is a spiritual almsgiving of which we are all capable. Besides prayer, there are all the other spiritual works of mercy from which to choose.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Almsgiving

1. The view has been expressed that almsgiving is useless and degrading. It is useless, it has been said, because the implementation of social justice should be sufficient to provide for theneeds of everybody; and it is degrading, it has been held, because it places the poor man in a position of inferiority to the rich man, and makes him beg for that which is really his right.

This is a false line of reasoning. Social justice can and should do a great deal to achieve a more equal distribution of wealth among men. But social justice cannot do everything.

Until the end of the world the weak will always succumb in the battle of life before the energy and enterprise of the strong. There will always be unfortunates who by reason of some tragic accident are unable to fend for themselves. No matter what form it takes, the State will not be able to provide fully for the disabled and infirm.

There will always be plenty of scope for Christian charity, which does not proceed with the measured stride of justice but with the swift wings of the love of God. It seeks out sorrows which need to be assuaged and wants which need to be relieved. There will always be suffering and want upon earth. The poor you have always with you, (Mt. 26:11) Jesus has told us.

It cannot be said that almsgiving is degrading because it makes the receiver inferior to the giver. This may be so if alms are given from motives of mere philanthropy. But when almsgiving is accompanied by charity and understanding and the donor sees in the poor man the person of Jesus Christ, there is no difference of status between the two individuals. They are brothers who wish to love and help one another, since both are members of the mystical Body of Christ. In this case it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Christian almsgiving is the fulfilment of an obligation and is a source of merit for the giver. As for the receiver, not only are his wants relieved, but he is the means by which his wealthier brother can acquire merit and fulfil his obligations.

2. Even if it is not very great, wealth is a dangerous thing. It is a burden which hampers us spiritually unless it is enriched by charity. Of itself, wealth is opposed to the spirit of the Gospel.In the Church of God, therefore, the only fitting role which rich men can assume is to place their abundance at the service of charity and become the servants of the poor.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that wealth can be an instrument of virtue and that it is only in this sense that it can be called good. If it impedes the practice of virtue, then it is evil. (Contra Gentes, 111:134) Let us make good use of our assets, therefore, and give generously to those who are in need without allowing our motives to become tainted with self-interest.

Sell what you have and give alms, said Christ. Make for yourselves purses that do not grow old, a treasure unfailing in heaven where neither thief draws near nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:33) It is the possession of this kind of treasure that will comfort us at the hour of death.

3. We must be detached from the goods of this world because they are corruptible and cause us to forget God. Even if we have been placed in easy circumstances, let us be poor in spirit. We can be poor in spirit by giving alms from motives of Christian charity. We need the mercy of God, and Our Lord has told us that He will be merciful only to those who show mercy to others.

We need God's forgiveness for all our sins, and the Holy Spirit assures us that our iniquities are redeemed by almsgiving. Redeem thou thy sins with alms and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. (Dan. 4:24) Almsgiving is a means to our personal sanctification.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Riches and Poverty

1. There is a striking contrast between the luxurious living of wealthy people who waste their money on pleasure and amusement and the abject poverty of those who are without food, clothing and shelter. This is in complete contradiction of the Gospel message which has proclaimed that we are all brothers.

Extravagance is always self-centred, whereas Christianity is the creed of love. Sumptuous living cannot be justified by an appeal to the right to own private property, for it is a shameless betrayal of the Gospel spirit of fraternal charity. When St. Thomas is defending the right to private property, he adds at once: "In regard to the use of it, however, a man should notregard material goods as belonging entirely to himself, but ... should be ready to share them with others in their necessity." (Summa, II-II, q. 66, a. 2.) If such maxims which derive their inspiration from the Gospel were put into practice, there would be neither excessive wealth nor excessive poverty in the world today.

It is true that there would still be poverty, but destitution would disappear.

Poverty is good in that it makes us detached from worldly things and helps us to think more about the next life. But destitution is really a social crime, for it is the result of human egoism and can breed hatred and spiritual degradation.

"Poverty," writes Péguy, "is decent. It does not dress in rags ... Its dwelling is tidy, healthy, and affords a welcome. It can have a change of linen once a week. It is not emaciated nor hungry ... It is not good for anyone to live in easy circumstances; on the contrary, it is much better always to feel the goad of necessity ..." (La guerre et la paix, p. 338)

It was in this sense that Jesus blessed the poor and condemned the rich. He is referring to the poor man who has enough to supply his needs, is detached from worldly possessions, uses his poverty to assist him in his journey towards Heaven, and is happy or at any rate content. But He condemns the rich man who squanders his wealth on selfish amusement and is deaf to the entreaties of those in need.

After twenty centuries of Christianity the violent contrast still exists in modern society. If we have any reason to reproach ourselves, let us try now to make up for our deficiencies.

2. We must face this unfortunate fact. One half of the world is living in luxury while the other half lives in squalor. Worse still, both the inanity and arrogance of the wealthy and the degradation and abjectness of the destitute extinguish the light of the Gospel and drown the voice of conscience.

Who is at fault? We must all share the blame, for nobody has ever fully implemented the Gospel teaching, which alone contains a complete solution for the problems of the human race. A great deal of want and misery would disappear if all those whose assets exceed what they need for themselves remembered that they arc obliged to love their neighbour as themselves. They would then take heed of the precept: Give that which remains as alms. (Luke 11:41) We should all examine ourselves rigidly on this point, because we could all do far more to help the needy, whom we do not love, unfortunately, as much as we love ourselves.

3. In this matter as in all others, we have a great deal to learn from the Saints. Not only did they give to the poor whatever was superfluous to themselves, but they deprived themselves even of the necessaries of life because they saw in their destitute fellow-men the person of Jesus Christ. They really loved their neighbour as themselves, and more than themselves, in fact, for the sake of the love of God. For this reason they enjoyed clothing the naked and feeding the hungry whenever it was in their power to do so.

We may not be capable of doing exactly the same because we have not reached the same height of perfection. But we must remember that the precept to "give that which remains as alms" applies also to us. If there is somebody in grave need whom we have the means of helping, we are obliged to do so by the command of the Gospel. It is the same Gospel which warns us that if we fail to do so, the Divine Judge will one day condemn us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sacred Images

1. There are two extremes to be avoided in venerating the images of Christ and the Saints. In emulation of the ancient heresy of the Iconoclasts, there are some who regard the veneration of images as a superstitious and idolatrous practice. In support of their view they quote from the Book of Exodus: You shall not carve idols for yourselves ... you shall not bow down before them or worship them. (Exodus 20:4-5)

The equivocation is obvious. This prohibition refers to the images of false gods, not to the images of Saints. It is the worship of idols which is forbidden, not devotion to the Saints. There are examples in the Old Testament of the veneration of images and symbols indicating the presence of God, such as the Ark of the Covenant, adorned by two cherubim of beaten gold, (Exodus 25:18) and the bronze serpent mounted by Moses on a pole in the desert. (Num. 21:8)

From the early days of the church there existed in the Catacombs representations of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and the Martyrs, and the fact that they were adorned with haloes is a clear indication of the veneration with which they were regarded by the faithful. The historian Eusebius specifically mentions a bronze statue erected in honour of the Saviour, before which the faithful prayed and were sometimes awarded with miracles.

Contrary to the accusations of some Protestants, therefore, this practice is not a novelty introduced by the Roman Church. Moreover, the honouring of images is not idolatry because it is not a direct adoration, but a relative and indirect veneration. Homage is not paid to the actual statues or pictures, but to Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, whom the images represent.

"The images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God. And of other saints are to be kept with honour in places of worship especially; and to them due honour and veneration is to be paid -not because it is believed that there is any divinity or power intrinsic to them for which they are reverenced, nor because it is from them that something is sought, nor that a blind trust is to be attached to images as it once was by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols; but because the honour which is shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent." (Council of Trent, Session 25)

The cult of images has, therefore, a solid theological foundation. "We make images of holy men," as St. Cyril of Alexandria expressed it, "not to adore them as Gods, but as a reminder and a stimulus to ourselves to imitate them. Moreover, we make images of Christ so that our love for Him may be more easily aroused.", (In Ps., 113:16) Besides being theologically correct, the practice is also useful.

2. The opposite extreme of over-superstitious veneration of images must also be avoided. As St. Gregory the Great observed, sacred images should be regarded as a means of impressing on simple minds the virtues which they ought to emulate. Sometimes, however, the ignorance of the faithful in this regard needs to be corrected.

It is not unusual to enter a church and to see crowds of people around statues of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, laying flowers at their feet and lighting innumerable candles. Meanwhile, the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament is deserted. Excessive homage can be paid to particular images, in such a manner as to suggest that the piety of the worshippers is directed towards the material images themselves rather than towards the Redeemer or our Divine Mother or the Saints. We must be careful to ensure that our devotion does not become corrupted by superstition.

3. Apart from avoiding the two extremes of behaviour which have been mentioned, we should cultivate a proper respect for the images of saintly men who have benefited mankind. If we can cherish so dearly the portraits of our parents, how much more should we revere the images of Christ, Our Lady and the Saints? We should kneel before them and imagine that the loved ones are present whom they represent. As we are praying, we should remember the virtues of those to whom we pray and resolve to follow in their footsteps.

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**Not included in Cardinal Bacci's book

St. Theodore Studite

"Nowhere did Christ order that even the briefest word be written about Him. Nonetheless, His image was sketched in writing by the apostles and preserved for us to the present. So, what is represented on the one hand with paper and ink, is likewise represented on the icon with various colors and different materials."

- Refutation 1, ch. 10, PG 99, 340 D

"...from the moment Christ is born of a Mother who can be depicted, He naturally has an image which corresponds to that of His mother. If He could not be represented by art, this would mean that he was not born of a Mother who can be depicted, but was born only of the Father and that He was not Incarnate. But this contradicts the whole divine economy of our salvation."

- Refutation 3, ch. 2, sec. 3. PG 99, col. 417C

St. John of Damascus

"If you have understood that the Incorporeal One became man for you, then it is evident that you can portray His human image. Since the Invisible One became visible by assuming a human body, you can make a picture of Him who was seen.

Since He who has neither body, nor form, nor quantity nor quality, who transcends all grandeur by the very excellence of His nature, who, being of divine nature, assumed the condition of a slave, "He thus reduced Himself to quantity and quality by clothing Himself with human features; therefore, paint on wood and present Him for contemplation, who desired to become visible."

- Discourse in Defense of Divine Images, PG 94, col. 1239

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Crucifix

1. I determined not to know anything among you, wrote St. Paul to the Corinthians, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)

It was St. Paul's boast that, while the Jews were looking for signs and the Greeks were searching for wisdom, he continued to preach about Christ on the Cross. The Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks look for 'wisdom'; but we, for our part, preach a crucified Christ-to the Jews indeed a stumbling-block and to the Gentiles foolishness.

Christian doctrine and Christian living are centred around Jesus Crucified. Unfortunately, in modern times as in the time of St. Paul, the Crucifix is either ignored and forgotten or attacked as a symbol of folly.

There is no need to be amazed at this. When the holy old man, Simeon, took Jesus in his arms, he made the prophecy that this Child would be a sign that shall be contradicted. (Luke 2:34) The world is proud of its scientific and technical progress, whereas the Crucifix is the symbol of the lowliness to which God Himself descended for love of us. The world is looking for pleasure and voluptuousness, whereas the Crucifix preaches to us the spirit of sacrifice and the purifying value of suffering. The world is fond of ease, riches and honours; the Crucifix demonstrates the depths of the love of God, Who became man for our sakes, suffered and died to redeem us from sin, taught us fraternal love, and commanded us to carry our cross daily if we wished to follow Him.

We must choose whether to follow Jesus Crucified or to follow the world. The world can only give us a vain and passing satisfaction, while the Crucifix can give us the peace of a good conscience, even in the midst of sorrow and trouble, and the hope of lasting happiness in the next life.

2. The Crucifix is the open book in which men can read of God's infinite love for them. The Saints wept before the Crucifix because they realised that the sufferings and death of the Redeemer were the result of sin, and so they learned to avoid sin at all costs. They meditated on the last words of Jesus dying on the Cross, words which so clearly illustrated His infinite mercy towards us.

We should follow the example of the Saints in this devotion. Let the Crucifix be the most precious object in our homes, and let us love to hold it in our hands. Let it recall for us the tragedy of Mount Calvary, when Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the Cross, was raised up to suffer indescribable agonies, forgave his executioners and forgave us our sins, pardoned the penitent thief, and bequeathed to us the last treasured possession which was left to Him, His most holy Mother.

Let us weep for our sins and increase in love for our divine Redeemer. When we are oppressed by the weight of our own cross, we shall look at the Crucifix and find comfort. When we are tempted, we shall grasp the Crucifix and turn away with horror from thoughts of sin and ingratitude.

The Crucifix will teach us, as it taught the Saints, the lesson of charity towards God and towards our neighbour. It will teach us to hate sin and to love virtue. If we cherish it during life, it will be our consolation to kiss the Crucifix at the moment of death.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Holy Death

1. Now and again it is useful for Christians to dedicate a day to meditation on the subject of death. It is useful because it is easy to regard our own death as something theoretical and remote, whereas in fact we ought always to be prepared to die since it is at an hour that you do not expect the Son of Man is coming. (Luke 12:40) It may be at the hour when we are least expecting it that Godwill come to take us, and it will be on our spiritual state at this hour that our eternity will depend.

We know neither when nor where death will surprise us. It may be to-day, it may be in a few years. It may come suddenly, or maybe after a long illness. We may be in bed or in the middle of a street, in hospital or at home. Finally, we may be resigned, comforted by the presence of a priest and by the reception of the last sacraments, or we may be alone and deprived of these consolations.

It is essential, therefore, to be always prepared, fortified by faith, charity and good works. If we are really prepared, it will not matter when, where, or how death comes, for it will be to us like the good Sister Death of St. Francis of Assisi. It will release us from this corrupt mortal flesh and open to us the gates of everlasting happiness. Then we shall fly joyfully into the arms of our Creator and Redeemer Whom we have tried hard to love and serve.

But if we are not prepared, what then? How bitter it will be to have to leave the world to which we have become so attached. What remorse we shall feel at the remembrance of our innumerable sins, badly confessed and never attoned for, and at the realisation that we have failed to do so much good which we could have done, whereas now we shall have to appear before the Eternal judge with nothing to offer.

2. When we meditate on death, then, we should resolve to remain always prepared. Besides this, we should make an act of perfect resignation to the will of God, accepting from Him whatever illnesses He may ask us to endure and whatever kind of death He has destined for us. We should promise to accept everything as long as He will allow us to die in the state of grace.

We should frequently offer to God, as a guarantee of our love and as satisfaction for our sins and negligences, the sufferings with which we shall be afflicted during our last illness. We shall be comforted in our final hours by the remembrance of thistotal offering of ourselves which we have so often repeated. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we shall be able to pray: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; yet not as I will, but as thou willest. (Mt. 26:39)

3. During our meditation on death we should seize the opportunity of asking God for the favour of dying with the consolation of the last sacraments. Let us pray that in our final moments we may be comforted and reassured by the sacramental absolution and blessing of the priest at our bedside, and that Jesus may visit us once more in the Blessed Eucharist to revive our faith, hope, and love, and to strengthen us for our journey into eternity. Finally, let us pray that, before we have lost consciousness, Extreme Unction may heal our spiritual scars, make us worthy to see God, and assist us to pass peacefully from this vale of tears into everlasting happiness.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

How to Remain Aware of the Presence of God

1. It is useful to consider the ways in which we can develop a constant and effective awareness of the presence of God. The first way in which we can do this is by cultivating a lively faithwhich will help us to see God everywhere. Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord? (Jer. 23:24)

This kind of faith should deepen our sense of God's presence and inspire in us sentiments of love and gratitude which will guide us in all our actions. We cannot expect that we shall be able to remain in a state of constant contemplation of God, for this is the privilege enjoyed by the blessed in Heaven, for whom faith has been replaced by the Beatific Vision. We must be satisfied with exciting in ourselves as often as possible the active awareness of God's presence. This should be a quiet and peaceful process, not involving undue mental effort or anxiety.

We should be able to attend quite naturally to our work and other obligations, and we should be helped and consoled in this by directing our thoughts to God from time to time in order to offer ourselves to Him. This can easily be done by means of frequent ejaculatory prayer, by renewing at regular intervals our intention of doing everything for the love of God, and by being prepared to endure in complete acceptance of the Divine Will all the hardships and trials of the day. Whenever it is possible, moreover, we should escape from the care and confusion of the world into a quiet church. Here we can kneel in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist and express in intimate prayer our love for Him and our desire to serve Him.

2. Another way of increasing our sense of the presence of God is to perceive Him in all His creatures. St. Thērhse of the Child Jesus loved to contemplate the image of her Creator in the flowers of the field and in the stars of the firmament.

God has created all things for our benefit and He is present in all things. He sees what use we make of them and can judge whether we employ them to honour Him, Who is our beginning and our end. The ray of divine beauty which shines in every created thing should attract us towards its Creator and cause us to adore and serve Him. Whenever we meet a learned and holy person, moreover, the reflection of God's power and goodness is even more compelling. "Learn to love the Creator in the creature," says St. Augustine, "lest the thing which He has made should grip you, and you should lose Him by Whom you also were created." (In Ps., 19)

In other words, let us learn to see the Creator in all His creatures so that these may not enslave us and cause us to lose Him Who is our highest Good.

3. The third way of remaining attentive to the presence of God is to contemplate Him living in ourselves. While it is true that God is present everywhere, He dwells in a special manner in the human soul, which is the masterpiece of creation. When our souls are adorned with His grace, His delight in us is unbounded. I will dwell and move among them. I will be their God and they shall be my people. (2 Cor. 6:16) Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

God dwells among us, therefore, and lives in us as in so many temples. We should recognise His presence and listen to His voice; furthermore, we should adore Him, love Him, and pray to Him. Then we can sincerely claim to belong entirely to Him.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Awareness of the Presence of God

1. The cultivation of a continual awareness of the presence of God is such a useful practice that many writers regard it as the fundamental principle of the spiritual life. As St. Alphonsus de' Liguori points out, it obliges us to do three things: (1) To preserve ourselves completely free from sin; (2) To practise virtue in every possible way, and (3) To seek a closer and more loving contact with God. (Al. Div. Servizio, III, 1, 3)

The realisation of the presence of God is a particularly good way of subduing our passions and conquering temptation. "If we were always aware of God's presence within us," writes St. Thomas, "we should never, or hardly ever, sin." (Opusc. 58, c. 2)

It is unlikely that a man who is committing sin adverts to the fact that God is watching him and could intervene to punish him at any moment. He has forgotten the presence of God, his Creator and Redeemer, Who has been so good to him and Who will one day be his judge. His mind has been darkened and his heart led astray by the deceptive pleasures of this world.

God is far from the sinner because the sinner ignores His inspirations and advice and has, in short, rejected Him. The unhappy man will never find peace in this world and is doomed to eternal unhappiness in the, next.

"If we remained always in the presence of God," wrote St. John Chrysostom, "we should neither conceive nor do anything evil." (Homil. 8, ad Phil., 2.)

2. The presence of God, moreover, encourages us to do our best to acquire all the virtues. When He is always before our eyes we have no difficulty in recognising that He is the supreme Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

Let us seek to please God, therefore, by obeying His command­ments and inspirations. If we wish to be worthy of His presence, let us seek to adorn our souls with His grace, which is ours for the asking. Our awareness of God's presence should not be a passive state. It should enliven our faith and increase our love for Him.

Do we realise how poor and pitiful we are in the sight of God? Let us ask Him to make us holy. If we are troubled by temptations, let us ask Him for the strength to conquer them. If we are worn out by suffering, let us ask Him to help and console us.

3. If we remind ourselves constantly of the presence of God, we shall always be closely united to Him. Union with God should be the result of our love for Him, for it is an unfailing rule of love that it increases with the nearness of the beloved. If we live in the presence of God and contemplate Him as the perfection of beauty, truth and goodness, we shall be moved to love Him more and more. Our love, moreover, will generate in us the ardent desire of an even closer intimacy with Him.

This sacred union will bring us great peace and tranquillity in all the vicissitudes of life, a serenity which will be reflected in our personality and in our conduct for the edification of our fellow-men.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Things

1. Very few people are destined to great things by Almighty God. Most of us must offer ourselves in the relatively un­important walks of life in which we have been placed by Providence. Only some of the Saints were endowed with exceptional virtues and miraculous powers which attracted the attention and admiration of the world. In the normal course of events Christian perfection must be acquired little by little through the practice of ordinary virtues and unspectacular good actions. There is always scope for these. An upsurge of anger can be suppressed from the motive of the love of God and of our neighbour. We can behave courteously towards people who are unsympathetic towards us or who offend us by their un­mannerly conduct. We can combat pride by acts of humility and egoism by acts of charity. We can mortify ourselves in speech, in behaviour, and at table, and we can give alms to the poor, good advice to the ignorant, and comfort to the afflicted.

All these virtuous actions are insignificant in the eyes of men, but they are great in the sight of God. The blades of grass and the flowers in the meadow are tiny things, but joined together they constitute the pasture which provides nourishment for the herds and flocks. Let us perform these small actions every day and so cultivate the ordinary virtues. We shall attract the attention and favour of God, Who will help us to advance step by step towards the peak of Christian perfection.

2. Just as there are very ordinary acts of virtue, so there are very ordinary sins. But it would be rash to regard acts of deception, vanity and impatience as insignificant. Every deliberate sin is an offence against God, our highest good and our Redeemer.

How can God be indifferent to these ungrateful violations of His law? After all, even as He has assured us that a cup of cold water given in His name to a thirsty man will have its reward, (Cf. Mt. 10:42) so He has assured us that not even the slightest trace of sin can enter into eternal glory. We shall not be condemned to Hell for venial sins alone, but we shall suffer a decline in grace and shall be obliged to expiate our sins either in this life or in Purgatory.

3. Our eternal salvation will probably be determined by these ordinary acts of virtue and these ordinary sins. Jesus compared the kingdom of Heaven to a mustard-seed which grows into a tree. Similarly, many Saints began their spiritual ascent by following up one simple inspiration, and many souls, perhaps, have found themselves condemned as a result of having neglected the commonplace virtues and inspirations.

Ordinary virtue may develop into heroic virtue, but if a man has neglected to train himself to act well in small matters, how will he behave in a time of great spiritual trial? Experience also teaches us that smaller vices can develop into great vices. He who wastes the little he has will be stripped bare. (Ecclus. 19:1) A man who is not faithful to God in little things will not be faithful in greater things. We are either going up or down in the way of perfection; it is almost impossible to stand still. If we sincerely wish to make progress, let us resolve to avoid the least suggestion of sin and to enrich ourselves daily by tiny acts of virtue.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Other Ways of Resisting Temptation

1. After prayer, humility is the best weapon in our struggle against temptation.

God wishes us to realise that we are incapable of a single good thought or action without His assistance. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God. (2 Cor. 3:5) God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) We cannot conquer temptation without the grace of God, and God only gives His grace to the humble. He allows us to be troubled by temptation in order to humble us, and if He perceives that we are still proud He allows us to fall by denying us His grace. Many of our falls, especially sins of impurity, are the result of pride.

Let us be humble, therefore, and recognise our own nothing­ness. At the same time, let us have complete confidence in God. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13) We must be humble not only in the sight of God, but also in the presence of men. What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou boast as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Cor. 3:5) Pride and ambition are links in a chain which secures us in the bondage of sin.

2. The third method is to avoid the occasions of sin. Anyone who places himself without grave reasons in the proximate occasion of sin is certain to fall. He who loves danger, the Holy Spirit warns us, will perish in it. (Ecclus. 3:27) It is useless for a man to pray when he is exposing himself needlessly and voluntarily to the danger of sinning. He cannot expect God to hear his prayers, for this is presumption, not confidence in God.

On the other hand a man may be obliged to expose himself to the risk of temptation in the course of his job or for some other strong reason. In this case, he can be sure of God's assistance, but he should fortify himself by fervent prayer and by taking all the precautions necessary to minimise the danger. Where temptations against holy purity are involved, it is especially necessary to avoid even the slightest occasion of sin when that is possible. As St. Francis de Sales was accustomed to say, there are certain battles which can only be won by soldiers who are prepared to retreat.

3. Very often it is impossible to flee from temptation, and there is no alternative but to face up to it.

We cannot face up to every kind of temptation in precisely the same manner. Pride, for example, may be assailed not merely by thinking about our own weakness, but also by performing acts of humility. We can counter irritability by remaining silent and by behaving gently and patiently. We can quench the desire for revenge by doing good to our enemies. In short, we can combat each temptation by performing good actions opposed to the vice towards which we are being drawn.

There are certain temptations, however, which it is wiser not to confront directly. If we allow ourselves to come face to face with impure thoughts and suggestions, for example, our senses are further aroused and the battle becomes harder than ever. God's grace should be implored from the outset and our good resolutions should be renewed. Then we should direct our attention to other thoughts and pursuits which are capable of holding our interest. If the temptations are particularly violent, voluntary mortification may be helpful and even necessary.

Once we have triumphed, we shall be rewarded with spiritual peace.