The Love of Jesus Christ : Part 8
To obtain perseverance in good, we must not trust in our resolutions and in the promises we have made to God; if we trust in our own strength, we are lost. All our hope of preserving the grace of God must be placed in the merits of Jesus Christ, and thus, trusting in his help, we shall persevere till death, though we were attacked by all our enemies in earth and hell. Sometimes we find ourselves so cast down in mind, and so assaulted by temptations, that we seem almost lost; let us not then lose courage, nor abandon ourselves to despair; let us go to the Crucified, and he will hold us up.
The Lord permits his saints sometimes to find themselves in tempests and fears. St. Paul says that the afflictions and terrors which he suffered in Asia were so overpowering that he became weary of life; meaning that he was so, so far as he depended on his own strength, in order to teach us that God, from time to time, leaves us in desolations, in order that we may know our misery, and, distrusting ourselves, may humbly have recourse to his goodness, and gain from him strength not to fall. More clearly he expresses the same in another place, We are cast down, but we peristi not. We find ourselves oppressed with sadness and passions, but do not abandon ourselves to despair; we are tossed about on the water, but do not sink, because the Lord, by his grace, gives us strength against our enemies. But the Apostle exhorts us ever to bear before our eyes that we are weak, and prone to lose the treasure of divine grace, and that all our strength for preserving it comes not from ourselves but from God: We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the loftiness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves.’
Let us, then, be firmly persuaded that in this life we must ever beware of placing any confidence in our own works. Our strongest armor with which we shall ever win the victory over the assaults of hell is prayer. This is the armor of God of which St. Paul speaks: Put on the armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places. Therefore, take unto you the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one; and take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God), by all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the Spirit. ‘
Let us pause and weigh well these various expressions. Stand, having your loins girt about with truth? There the Apostle alludes to the military girdle with which soldiers gird themselves as a token of the fidelity which they have sworn to their sovereign. The girdle which the Christian must put on is the possession of the truth of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, in accordance with which we must repress all inordinate passions, especially those of impurity, which are the most dangerous of all.
Having on the breastplate of justice? The Christian’s breastplate is a good life, without which he will have little strength to resist the assaults of his foes.
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace? The military shoes which the Christian ought to wear, in order that he may go speedily where it is necessary, unlike those whose feet are bare, and who walk slowly, is the possession of a mind prepared to embrace in practice, and to teach by example, the holy maxims of the Gospel.
In all things taking the shield of faith? The shield with which the soldier of Christ must defend himself against the fiery darts (that is, darts which pierce like fire) of the enemy is a steady faith, strengthened with holy hope, and especially with divine charity. The helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit? The helmet, as St. Anselm teaches us, is the hope of eternal salvation; and, lastly, the sword of the Spirit, our spiritual sword, is the divine word, by which God repeatedly promises to hear those who pray to him. Seek, and it shall be given you? He that seeketh, receiveth? Call to Me, aid I will hear thee? Call Me, and I will deliver thee?
Wherefore the Apostle continues, By all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints? Thus, prayer is the most powerful of the arms with which the Lord gives us victory over our evil passions and the temptations of hell; but this prayer must be made in the spirit; that is, not with the mouth only, but with the heart. Moreover, it must last through our life, — “at all times;” for as the struggle endures, so must our prayers. It must be urgent and repeated; if the temptation does not yield at the first prayer, we must repeat it a second, third, or fourth time ; and if it still continues, we must add sighs, tears, importunity, vehemence, as if we would do violence to God, that he may give us the grace of victory. This is what the Apostle’s words, ” with all in- stance and supplication,” mean. The Apostle adds, ” for all saints,” which means that we are not to pray for ourselves alone; but for the perseverance of all the faithful who are in the grace of God, and especially of priests, that they may labor for the conversion of unbelievers and all sinners, repeating in our prayers the words of Zacharias, To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.’
It is of great use for resisting our enemies in spiritual combats, to anticipate them in our meditations, by preparing ourselves to do violence to them to our utmost power, on all occasions when they may suddenly come upon us. Thus the saints have been able to preserve the greatest mildness, or at least not to reply by a single word, and not to be disturbed when they have received a great injury, a violent persecution, a severe pang in body or in mind, the loss of property of great value, the death of a much-loved relative. Such victories are ordinarily not acquired without the aid of a life of long dis- cipline, without frequenting sacraments, and a continual exercise of meditation, spiritual reading, and prayer. Therefore these victories are with difficulty obtained by those who have not taken great heed to avoid dangerous occasions, or who are attached to the vanities or pleas- ures of the world, and practise very little the mortifica- tion of the senses; by those, in a word, who live a soft and easy life. St. Augustine says that in the spiritual life, “first, pleasures are to be conquered, then pains;” meaning that a person who is given to seek the pleasures of the senses will scarcely resist a great passion or temptation which assails him; a man who loves too much the esteem of the world will scarcely endure a grave affront without losing the grace of God.
It is true that we must look for all our strength to live without sin, and to do good works, not from ourselves, but from the grace of Jesus Christ; but we must take great care not to make ourselves weaker than we are by nature through our own fault. The defects of which we take no account will cause the divine light to fail, and the devil will become stronger against us. For example, a desire to display to the world our learning, rank, or vanity in dress, or the seeking of any superfluous pleasure, or resentment at every inattentive word or action, or a wish to please everyone, though at the loss of our spiritual profit, or neglect of works of piety through the fear of man, or little acts of disobedience towards our Superiors, little murmurings, trifling but cherished aver- sions, trivial falsehoods, slight attacks upon our neighbor, loss of time in gossip, or the indulgence of curiosity, — in a word, every attachment to earthly things, and every act of inordinate self-love, can serve as a help to our enemy to drag us over some precipice; or, at least, this defect deliberately consented to will deprive us of that abundance of divine help without which we may find ourselves fallen into ruin.
We grieve when we find ourselves so dry in spirit and desolate in prayer, in Communions, and in all our devout exercises; but how can God make us enjoy his presence and loving visits while we are thus niggardly and inattentive to him? He that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly} If we cause him so much displeasure, how can we expect to enjoy his heavenly consolations?
If we do not detach ourselves in everything from earth, we shall never wholly belong to Jesus Christ, and where shall we go to protect ourselves? Jesus, by his humility, merited for us the grace of conquering pride ; by his poverty he merited strength for us to despise earthly goods ; and by his patience, constancy in overcoming slights and injuries. “What pride,” writes St. Augus- tine, ” could have been healed, if not healed by the humility of the Son of God? what avarice, except by the poverty of Christ? what anger, except by the Saviour’s patience?” But if we are cold in the love of Jesus Christ, and neglect to pray continually to him to help us, and nourish in our hearts any earthly affection, with difficulty shall we persevere in a good life. Let us pray, let us pray always. With prayer we shall obtain every thing.
Saviour of the world! O my only hope! by the merits of Thy Passion, deliver me from every impure desire which may hinder me from loving Thee as I ought. May I be stripped of all desires that savor of the world; grant that the only object of my desires may be Thyself, who art the sovereign good, and the only good that is worthy of love. By Thy sacred wounds heal my infirmities, give me grace to keep far from my heart every love which is not for Thee, who deservest all my love. O Jesus, my love! Thou art my hope. O sweet words ! sweet consolation! Jesus, my love, Thou art my hope!
Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, Benziger Brothers, 1887, pg 353-359
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