Taken from THE HOLY EUCHARIST
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
He that loves Jesus Christ avoids Lukewarmness, and seeks Perfection; the Means of which are: 1. Desire; 2. Resolution; 3. Mental Prayer; 4. Communion; 5. Prayer.
ST. GREGORY, in his explanation of these words, "dealeth not perversely," says that charity, giving herself up more and more to the love of God, ignores whatever is not right and holy. [Mor. 1. 10, c. 8.] The Apostle had already written to the same effect, when he calls charity a bond that unites the most perfect virtues together in the soul. Have charity, which is the band of perfection. [Col. iii. 14.] And whereas charity delights in perfection, she consequently abhors that lukewarmness with which some persons serve God, to the great risk of losing charity, Divine grace, their very soul, and their all.
It must be observed that there are two kinds of tepidity or lukewarmness: the one unavoidable, the other avoidable.
I. From the lukewarmness that is unavoidable, the Saints themselves are not exempt; and this comprises all the failings that are committed by us without full consent, but merely from our natural frailty. Such are, for example, distractions at prayers; interior disquietudes, useless words, vain curiosity, the wish to appear, tastes in eating and drinking, the movements of concupiscence not instantly repressed, and such like. We ought to avoid these defects as much as we possibly can; but, owing to the weakness of our nature, caused by the infection of sin, it is impossible to avoid them altogether. We ought, indeed, to detest them after committing them, because they are displeasing to God; but, as we remarked in the preceding chapter, we ought to beware of making them a subject of alarm or disquietude. St. Francis de Sales writes as follows: "All such thoughts as create disquietude are not from God, Who is the Prince of peace; but they proceed always from the devil, or from self-love, or from the good opinion which we have of ourselves." [Lettre 51.] Such thoughts, therefore, as disturb us must be straightway rejected, and made no account of.
It was said also by the same Saint, with regard to indeliberate faults, that as they were involuntarily committed, so are they cancelled involuntarily. An act of sorrow, an act of love, is sufficient to cancel them. The Venerable Sister Mary Crucified, a Benedictine nun, saw once a globe of fire, on which a number of straws were cast, and were all forthwith reduced to ashes. She was given to understand by this figure that one act of Divine love, made with fervor, destroys all the defects that we may have in our soul. The same effect is produced by the holy Communion; according to what we find in the Council of Trent, where the Eucharist is called "an antidote by which we are freed from daily faults." Thus the like faults, though they are indeed faults, do not hinder perfection-----that is, our advancing toward perfection because in the present life no one attains perfection before he arrives at the Kingdom of the blessed.
II. The tepidity, then, that does hinder perfection is that tepidity which is avoidable when a person commits deliberate venial faults; because all these faults committed with open eyes can effectually be avoided by the Divine grace, even in the present life. Wherefore St. Teresa said: "May God deliver you from deliberate sin, however small it may be." [Way of Per. ch. 42.] Such, for example, are willful untruths, little detractions, imprecations, expressions of anger, derisions of one's neighbor, cutting words, speeches of self-esteem, animosities nourished in the heart, inordinate attachments to persons of a different sex. "These are a sort of worm" (wrote the same Saint) "which is not detected before it has eaten into the virtues." [Inter. Castle, ch. 3.] Hence, in another place, the Saint gave this admonition: "By means of small things the devil goes about making holes for great things to enter." [Found. ch. 29.]
We should therefore tremble at such deliberate faults; since they cause God to close His hands from bestowing upon us His clearer lights and stronger helps, and they deprive us of spiritual sweetnesses; and the result of them is to make the soul perform all spiritual exercises with great weariness and pain; and so, in course of time, she begins to leave off prayer, Communions, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and novenas; and, in fine, she will probably leave off all, as has not infrequently been the case with many unhappy souls.
This is the meaning of that threat which our Lord makes to the tepid: Thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot: but because thou art lukewarm . . . I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth. [Apoc. iii. 15, 16.] How wonderful! He says, I would thou wert cold! What! and is it better to be cold, that is, deprived of grace, than to be tepid?
Yes, in a certain sense it is better to be cold; because a person who is cold may more easily change his life, being stung by the reproaches of conscience; whereas a tepid person contracts the habit of slumbering on in his faults, without bestowing a thought, or taking any trouble to correct himself; and thus he makes his cure, as it were, desperate. St. Gregory says, " Tepidity which has cooled down from fervor, is a hopeless state." [Past. p. 3, adm. 35.] The Ven. Father Louis da Ponte said that he had committed many defects in the course of his life; but that he never had made a truce with his faults. Some there are who shake hands with their faults, and from that springs their ruin; especially when the fault is accompanied with some passionate attachment of self-esteem, of ambition, of liking to be seen, of heaping up money, of resentment against a neighbor, or of inordinate affection for a person of different sex. In such cases there is great danger of those hairs, as it were, becoming chains, as St. Francis of Assisi said, which will drag down the soul to Hell. At all events, such a soul will never become a Saint, and will forfeit that beautiful crown, which God had prepared for her, had she faithfully corresponded to grace. The bird no sooner feels itself loosed from the snare than it immediately flies; the soul, as soon as she is loosed from earthly attachments, immediately flies to God; but while she is bound, though it be but by the slightest thread, it is enough to prevent her from flying to God. Oh, how many spiritual persons there are who do not become Saints, because they will not do themselves the violence to break away from certain little attachments!
All the evil arises from the little love they have for Jesus Christ. Those who are puffed up with self-esteem; those who frequently take to heart occurrences that fall out contrary to their wishes; who practice great indulgence towards themselves on account of their health; who keep their heart open to external objects, and the mind always distracted, with an eagerness to listen to, and to know, so many things that have nothing to do with the service of God, but merely serve to gratify private curiosity; who are ready to resent every little inattention from others, and consequently are often troubled, and grow remiss in prayer and recollection. One moment they are all devotion and joy, the next all impatience and melancholy, just as things happen, according to or against their humor; all such persons do not love Jesus Christ, or love Him very little, and cast discredit on true devotion.
But suppose anyone should find himself sunk in this unhappy state of tepidity, what has he to do? Certainly it is a hard thing for a soul grown lukewarm to resume her ancient fervor; but our Lord has said, that what man cannot do, God can very well do. The things that are impossible with man, are possible with God. [Luke xviii. 27.] Whoever prays and employs the means is sure to accomplish his desire.
The means to cast off tepidity, and to tread in the path of perfection, are five in number: 1. The desire of perfection; 2. The resolution to attain it; 3. Mental prayer; 4. Frequent Holy Communion; 5. Prayer.
1. Desire of Perfection
The first means, then, is the desire of perfection. Pious desires are the wings which lift us up from earth; for, as St. Laurence Justinian says, desire "supplies strength, and renders pain more light:" [De Disc. mon, c. 6.] on the one hand it gives strength to walk towards perfection, and on the other hand it lightens the fatigue of the journey. He who has a real desire of perfection fails not to advance continually towards it; and so advancing, he must finally arrive at it, On the contrary, he who has not the desire of perfection will always go backwards, and always find himself more imperfect than before. St. Augustine says, that "not to go forward in the way of God is to go backward." [Ep. 17. E. B. app.] He that makes no efforts to advance will find himself carried backward by the current of his corrupt nature.
They, then, who say "God does not wish us all to be Saints" make a great mistake. Yes, for St. Paul says, This is the Will of God, your sanctification. [1 Thess. iv, 3.] God wishes all to be Saints, and each one according to his state of life: the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular; the priest as a priest; the married as married; the man of business as a man of business; the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life.
Most beautiful, indeed, are the instructions which my great patroness St. Teresa gives on this subject. She says, in one place, "Let us enlarge our thoughts; for hence we shall derive immense good." Elsewhere she says: "We must beware of having poor desires; but rather put our confidence in God, in order that, by forcing ourselves continually onwards, we may by degrees arrive where, by the Divine grace, so many Saints have arrived." [Life, ch. 13.] And in confirmation of this she quoted her own experience, having known how courageous souls make considerable progress in a short period of time. "Because," said she, "the Lord takes as much delight in our desires, as if they were put into execution." In another place she says: "Almighty God does not confer extraordinary favors, except where His love has been earnestly sought after." [Way of Per. ch. 35.] Again, in another passage, she remarks: "God does not fail to repay every good desire even in this life, [Life, ch. 4.] for He is the friend of generous souls, provided only they do not trust in themselves." [Life, ch. 13.] This Saint herself was endowed with just such a spirit of generosity; so that she once even said to our Lord, that were she to behold others in Paradise enjoying Him more than herself, she should not care; but were she to behold anyone loving Him more than she should love Him, this she declared she knew not how she could endure. [Rib. 1. 4. c. 10.]
We must, therefore, have a great courage: The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him. [Lam. iii. 25.] God is surpassingly good and liberal towards a soul that heartily seeks Him. Neither can past sins prove a hindrance to our becoming Saints, if we only have the sincere desire to become so. St. Teresa remarks: "The devil strives to make us think it pride to entertain lofty desires, and to wish to imitate the Saints; but it is of great service to encourage ourselves with the desire of great things, because, although the soul has not all at once the necessary strength, yet she nevertheless makes a bold fight, and rapidly advances," [Life, ch. 13.]
The Apostle writes: To them that love God, all things work together unto good. [Rom. viii. 28.] And the gloss or ancient commentary adds "even sins;" even past sins Can contribute to our sanctification, inasmuch as the recollection of them keeps us more humble, and more grateful, when we witness the favors which God lavishes upon us, after all our outrages against Him. I am capable of nothing (the sinner should say), nor do I deserve anything; I deserve nothing but Hell; but I have to deal with a God of infinite bounty, Who has promised to listen to all that pray to Him. Now, as He has rescued me from a state of damnation, and wishes me to become holy, and now proffers me His help, I can certainly become a Saint, not by my own strength, but by the grace of my God, Who strengthens me: I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me. [Phil. iv. 13] When, therefore, we have once good desires, we must take courage, and trusting in God, endeavor to put them in execution; but if afterwards we encounter any obstacle in our spiritual enterprises, let us repose quietly on the will of God. God's will must be preferred before every good desire of our own. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi would sooner have remained void of all perfection than possess it without the will of God.
The second means of perfection is the resolution to belong wholly to God. Many are called to perfection; they are urged on towards it by grace, they conceive a desire of it; but because they never really resolve to acquire it, they live and die in the ill-odor of their tepid and imperfect, life. The desire of perfection is not enough, if it be not followed up by a stern resolve to attain it. How many souls feed themselves on desires alone, but never make withal one step in the way of God! It is of such desires that the wise man speaks when he says: Desires kill the slothful. [Prov. xxi. 25] The slothful man is ever desiring, but never resolves to take the means suitable to his state of life to become a Saint. He says: "Oh, if I were but in solitude, and not in this house! Oh, if I could but go and reside in another monastery, I would give myself entirely up to God!" And meanwhile he cannot support a certain companion; he cannot put up with a word of contradiction; he is dissipated about many useless cares; he commits a thousand faults of gluttony, of curiosity, and of pride; and yet he sighs out to the wind: "Oh, if I had but!" or "Oh, if I could but!" etc. Such desires do more harm than good; because some regale themselves upon them, and in the meantime go on leading a life of imperfection. It was a saying of St. Francis de Sales: "I do not approve of a person who, being engaged in some duty or vocation, stops to sigh for some other kind of life than is compatible with his actual position, or for other exercises unfitted for his present state; for it merely serves to dissipate his heart, and makes him languish in his necessary duties." [Introd. ch. 37.]
We must, therefore, desire perfection, and resolutely take the means towards it. St. Teresa says: "God only looks for one resolution on our part, and will afterwards do all the rest Himself: [Found. ch. 28.] the devil has no fear of irresolute souls." [Way of Perf. ch. 24.] For this reason mental prayer must be used, in order to take the means which lead to perfection. Some make much prayer, but never come to a practical conclusion. The same Saint said: "I would rather have a short prayer, which produces great fruits, than a prayer of many years, wherein a soul never gets further than resolving to do something worthy of Almighty God." [Life, ch. 39.]
And elsewhere she says: "I have learned by experience that whoever, at the beginning, brings himself to the resolution of doing some great work, however difficult it may be, if he does so to please God, he has no reason to be afraid."
The first resolution must be to make every effort, and to die rather than commit any deliberate sin whatever, however small it may be. It is true that all our endeavors, without the Divine assistance, cannot enable us to vanquish temptations; but God wishes us on our part frequently to use this violence with ourselves, because then he will afterwards supply us with his grace, will succor our weakness, and enable us to gain the victory. This resolution removes from us every obstacle to our going forward, and at the same time gives us great courage, because it affords us an assurance of being in the grace of God. St. Francis de Sales writes: "The best security we can possess in this world of being in the grace of God, consists not indeed in feeling that we have His love, but in a pure and irrevocable abandonment of our entire being into His hands, and in the firm resolution of never consenting to any sin, either great or small." [Spirit, ch. 9.] This is what is meant by being of a delicate conscience. Be it observed, that it is one thing to be of a delicate conscience, and another to be of a scrupulous conscience. To be of a delicate conscience is requisite to become a Saint; but to be scrupulous is a defect, and does harm; and on this account we must obey our directors, and rise above scruples, which are nothing else but vain and unreasonable alarms.
Hence it is necessary to resolve on choosing the best, not only what is agreeable to God, but what is most agreeable to Him, without any reserve. St. Francis de Sales says: "We must start with a strong and constant resolution to give ourselves wholly to God, and protest to Him that for the future we wish to be His without any reserve, and then we must afterwards often renew this same resolution." [Love of God, B. 12. ch, 8.] St. Andrew Avellini made a vow to advance daily in perfection. It is not necessary for everyone who wishes to become a Saint to make it the matter of a vow; but he must endeavor every day to make some steps forward in perfection. St. Laurence Justinian has written: "When a person is really making way, he feels in himself a continual desire of advancing; and the more he improves in perfection, the more this desire increases; because as his interior light increases each day more and more, he seems to himself always to be wanting in every virtue, and to be doing no good at all; and if, per chance, he is aware of some good he does, it always appears to him very imperfect, and he makes small account of it. The consequence is, he is continually laboring to acquire perfection without ever feeling wearied."
And we must begin quickly, and not wait for the morrow. Who knows whether we shall afterwards find time or not! Ecclesiastes counsels us: Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly. [Eccles. ix 10.] What thou canst do, do it quickly, and defer it not; and he adduces the reason why: For neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge shall be in Hell, whither thou art hastening. [Ibid.] Because in the next life there is no more time to work, nor free will to merit, nor prudence to do well, nor wisdom or experience to take good counsel by, for after death what is done is done.
A nun of the convent of Torre de Specchi in Rome, whose name was Sister Bonaventura, led a very lukewarm sort of life There came a religious, Father Lancicius, to give the spiritual exercises to the nuns, and Sister Bonaventura, feeling no inclination to shake off her tepidity, began to listen to the exercises with no good will. But at the very first sermon she was won by Divine grace, so that she immediately went to the feet of the Father who preached, and said to him, with a tone of real determination, "Father, I wish to become a Saint, and quickly a Saint." And by the assistance of God, she did so; for she lived only eight months after that event, and during that short time she lived and died a Saint.
David said: And I said, now have I begun. [Ps. lxxvi. 11.] So likewise exclaimed St. Charles Borromeo: "Today I begin to serve God." And we should act in the same way as if we had hitherto done no good whatever; for, indeed, all that we do for God is nothing, since we are bound to do it. Let us therefore each day resolve to begin afresh to belong wholly to God. Neither let us stop to observe what or how others do. They who become truly Saints are few. St. Bernard says: "One cannot be perfect without being singular." If we would imitate the common run of men, we should always remain imperfect, as for the most part they are. We must overcome all, renounce all, in order to gain. all. St. Teresa said: "Because we do not come to the conclusion cf giving all our affection to God, so neither does He give all His love to us." [Life, ch. 11.] Oh, God, how little is all that is given to Jesus Christ, Who has given His Blood and His life for us! "However much we give," says the same Saint, "is but dirt, in comparison of one single drop of blood shed for us by our Blessed Lord." [Ibid. ch. 39.] The Saints know not how to spare themselves, when there is a question of pleasing a God Who gave Himself wholly, without reserve, on purpose to oblige us to deny Him nothing.
St. John Chrysostom wrote: "He gave all to thee, and kept nothing for Himself." God has bestowed His entire Self upon thee; there is, then, no excuse for thee to behave reservedly with God. He has even died for us all, says the Apostle, in order that each one of us may live only for Him Who dies for us: Christ died for all; that they also who live may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them. [2 Cor. v. 15.]