A Year with the Saints – 15 January

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Two mistakes I find common among spiritual persons. One is that they ordinarily measure their devotion by the consolations and satisfactions which they experience in the way of God, so that if these happen to be wanting, they think they have lost all devotion. No, this is no more than a sensible devotion. True and substantial devotion does not consist in these things, but in having a will resolute, active, ready, and constant not to offend God, and to perform all that belongs to His service. The other mistake is that if it ever happens to them to do anything with repugnance and weariness, they believe they have no merit in it. On the other hand, there is then far greater merit; so that a single ounce of good done thus by a sheer spiritual effort, amidst darkness and dullness and without interest, is worth more than a hundred pounds done with great facility and sweetness, since the former requires a stronger and purer love. And how great soever may be the aridities and repugnance of the sensible part of our soul, we ought never to lose courage, but pursue our way as travelers treat the barking of dogs. Saint Francis de Sales

A pious matron desiring to know what class of souls was most acceptable to the Lord, He gratified her wish by the following vision. One morning she was hearing Mass when, after the Elevation, she saw Jesus in the form of a most lovely Child, who began to walk about the altar. Thence He descended to a place where three devout nuns were kneeling at its foot. He took one of them by the hand and gave her many caresses. Then approaching the second, He raised her veil and gave her a slight blow on the cheek, and left her as if in anger; but soon returning, and finding her in grief and affliction, He devoted Himself to consoling her with a thousand endearments. Finally, He came to the third, and, with an appearance of great wrath, took her by the arm and drove her away from the altar, loading her with blows, and even tearing the hair from her head, while she bore all with great calmness, humbling herself and blessing God. Then Jesus, turning to the matron, said: “You must know that the first one is weak in virtue, and very changeable; therefore, to confirm her in the good way, I show Myself altogether amiable and kind; otherwise, she would leave it. The second is more perfect, yet she needs to experience, from time to time, some spiritual sweetness. But the third is so firm and constant in My service, that whatever adversity may come to her, she will not allow herself to be withdrawn from it, and she is My best beloved.”

Saint Philip Neri, in order to save his penitents from the first of these mistakes, used to tell them that in the spiritual life there are three degrees. The first, which is called animal, includes those who follow the sensible devotion which God usually gives to beginners, in order that, drawn by this delight as animals are by sensible objects, they may give themselves to the spiritual life. The second, which is called the life of man, is led by those who without sensible consolation fight for virtue against their own passions, which is the true characteristic of man. The third is called the angelic life. Those have arrived at it who, after long struggles in subduing their own passions, receive from God a life calm and tranquil and, as it were, angelic even in this world. And if anyone perseveres in the second degree, God will not fail, in His own time, to raise him to the third.

MLA Citation