On Progress in Virtue.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On Progress in Virtue.
Represent to yourself, my soul, the Saviour standing in His indescribable majesty, teaching the people who are assembled around Him; or imagine yourself to be kneeling in solitude and silence before the tabernacle, in presence of your God, who, hidden beneath the eucharistic veil, graciously addresses to you this loving exhortation: “Be you perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (St. Matt. v. 48.) It is indeed a great, a holy, but a most difficult task which our Lord proposes to us. To attain the goal He sets before us demands much toil and labor. We must not stand idle for a single moment, and indeed it is the bounden duty of every Christian, of every Priest and Religious more especially, to advance daily in virtue. Now at the close of the week meditate seriously upon this, your daily task.
1st. Consider that as in the order of nature, so in the order of grace, in the spiritual life, nothing can remain stationary. One must either advance or recede, increase or decrease, become better or worse. Everywhere we find this law in force, whether we look at nature or our own spiritual being. Everything in the world is subject to continual change, and man most of all, for of him Job says: “Man fleeth as a shadow and never continueth in the same state.” (Job xiv. 2.) Wherefore since nothing in the world continues for any time in the same condition, and this rule applies equally to the spiritual life, you will do well to lay to heart this admonition that Cassian gives: “We must devote ourselves with unceasing assiduity and continual anxiety to the acquisition of virtue lest, instead of increasing, we should decrease in it. The human mind is not capable of remaining ever in one and the same posture; that is to say, it is impossible that it should neither grow in virtue nor suffer loss. He who does not become greater becomes less; for as soon as the desire ceases to go onward and make progress, he is exposed to the danger of receding.” Just as the wheel of a lathe we quote St. Bernard’s words runs back when it is left to itself, so a man must of necessity go backward if he ceases to go forward in virtue. If the saints speak thus, my soul, it is evident that the complaint which is so often heard from your lips: “I do not know how it is, but I am always where I was,” cannot be true; and even if you were content to stand still, and said with the monk of old: “I will stay as I am” St. Bernard would reply to you as he did to him: “Thou dost desire what is impossible, for what is there in the world which has any permanence?”
2d. Consider that those who make no progress in justice cannot possibly please God. Open the Scriptures, and on every page you will find exhortations to strive after perfection, to advance in virtue. Nay more, our Lord attaches a sentence of condemnation to the nonobservance of this command. What had the idle servant done that his lord should reject him? He is accused of no wicked act; he had not squandered the talent, he only laid it by without making any use of it. Why then was he to be punished? For this reason: because the money entrusted to him by his lord was found in his possession in its original amount; he had not gained anything to add to the sum. St. Chrysostom explains in a forcible manner why such a one could not be pleasing to God. Listen to what he says on this point: “If a husbandman, in all other respects a worthy man, were to persist in letting his hands lie idle in his lap, and would not plow or sow, would he not richly deserve to be reprimanded? Or if one of your hands were paralyzed, so that you could not use it, should you not consider this a great calamity, though it did not cause you any pain? Again: What worse thing can be said of a piece of land than that it is sterile and yields no fruit, even when it is well tilled and cultivated? Now if the field of your heart, though it be industriously tilled and moistened with the dew of so many graces, proves such an ungrateful and barren soil that it produces no fruit, is not that most sad and deplorable?” Lay to heart what the saint here says, and for the future, in order that you may please God more, do not only examine your conscience in regard to the sins you have committed, but see what progress you have made in virtue and in a godly life.
3d. Consider that he is not worthy of the name of a monk who does not advance in sanctity. Thus to make progress is the duty, the task, the calling of the Religious. This is the distinction between those who live in the cloister and those who live in the world; the latter will be saved if they simply keep the commandments of God. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (St. Matt. xix. 17); thus our Lord spoke to the rich young man. But in order to be perfect, it was necessary for him to do more, and that he certainly did not do. The Religious should desire to be perfect, he ought to be perfect. “His state,” as St. Thomas teaches, “is a state of perfection, not because at the time of embracing it he is expected to be perfect, but because it is his paramount duty to strive after perfection. He is no true Religious who does not do his utmost to attain it; because he neglects to do the one thing for which he entered the cloister.” Meditate upon these words of the Angelic Doctor, my soul; ask yourself whether you really deserve the name of a monk, of a nun; ask yourself whether during the three, the ten, the twenty years or more of your Religious life, you have fulfilled this duty, the duty of ever advancing in virtue. Perhaps you have good reason to strike your breast; perhaps after this examination of your conscience you will for the first time know what it is to feel truly humble, to think little of yourself, and you will send up to Heaven the fervent prayer: “Lord, let the figtree alone this year also until I dig about it and dung it, if happily it bear fruit.” Lose no time in setting about this work of digging.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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