THE PREDOMINANT PASSION
We must endeavour, above all, to find out what is our predominant passion. He who conquers it conquers all his passions; he who allows himself to be overcome by it is lost. God commanded Saul to destroy all the Amalecites, along with all their animals and all their property. He destroyed everything that was vile or cheap, but spared the life of King Agag, and preserved all that was valuable and beautiful. And Saul and the people spared Agag and the rest of the flocks of sheep … and all that was beautiful, and would not destroy them; but everything that was vile and good for nothing, that they destroyed (1 Kings xv. 9). In this Saul was afterwards imitated by the Scribes and Pharisees, to whom our Lord said: Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law, judgment, and mercy, and faith (Matt. xxiii. 23). They were careful to pay the tithe of things of least value, and neglected the more important things of the Law, such as justice, charity to their neighbour, and faith in God. Some persons act in a similar manner; they abstain from certain defects of minor importance, and, at the same time, allow themselves to be ruled by their predominant passion; but if they do not destroy this passion they never shall gain the victory of salvation. The King of Syria commanded the captains of his cavalry to kill the King of Israel only, and not to mind the others. Fight ye not with small or great, but with the King of Israel only (2 Par. xviii. 30). They obeyed the order, slew King Achab, and gained the victory.
We must imitate the captains of Syria: unless we kill the king — that is, the predominant passion — we shall never be able to obtain salvation. The passion which brings man under its sway first blinds him and prevents him from seeing his danger. Now, how can a blind man, led by a blind guide, such as passion, which follows not reason, but sensuality, possibly avoid falling into some abyss? If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit (Matt. xv. 14). St. Gregory says that it is a common artifice of the devil to inflame daily more and more our predominant passion, and thus he brings us into many horrible excesses. Through passion for a kingdom Herod spilled the blood of so many innocent babes at Bethlehem; through love for a woman Henry the Eighth of England was the cause of so many frightful spiritual evils, put to death several most worthy individuals, and in the end lost the Faith. No wonder: for he who is under the domination of any passion no longer sees what he does. Therefore he disregards corrections, excommunications, and even his own damnation: he seeks only his own pleasures, and says: “Come what will, I will satisfy this passion.” And, as eminent virtue is accompanied by other virtues, so an enormous vice brings in its train other vices, says St. Laurence Justinian.
It is necessary, then, as soon as we perceive any passion beginning to reign within us, to beat it down instantly before it acquires strength. “Let not cupidity gain strength,” says St. Augustine; “strike it down while it is weak.” St. Ephrem gives the same advice: “Unless you quickly destroy passions, they cause an ulcer.” A wound, if it be not closed up, will soon become an incurable ulcer. To illustrate this by an example: a certain monk, as St. Dorotheus relates, commanded one of his disciples to pluck up a small cypress. The disciple obeyed, and drew it up with a slight effort. The monk then ordered him to pull up another tree which was somewhat larger. He succeeded in the task, but not without a good deal of labour. The disciple was then told to pluck up a tree which had taken deep root; but all his efforts were ineffectual. The monk then said to him: Thus it is, my son, with our passions; when they have taken deep root in the heart we shall not be able to extirpate them. Let us keep always before our eyes this maxim: that either the spirit must trample on the flesh or the flesh shall trample on the spirit.
Cassian has laid down an excellent rule for conquering our passions. Let us endeavour, he says, to change the object of our passions; and thus from being vicious they shall become holy. Some are prone to anger against all who treat them with disrespect. Such persons ought to change the object of their passions and turn their indignation into a hatred of sin, which is more injurious to them than all the devils in hell. Others are inclined to love every one who possesses amiable qualities: they should fix all their affections on God, Who is infinitely amiable. But to recommend ourselves to God, and to beg of Him to deliver us from our passions is the best remedy against them. And when any passion becomes very violent, we must multiply prayers. Reasoning and reflections are then of little use; for passion obscures our faculties; and the more we reflect the more delightful the object of passion appears. Hence there is no other remedy than to have recourse to Jesus and to most holy Mary, saying with tears and sighs: Lord, save us, or we perish! Do not permit us to be ever separated from thee! We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God! O souls created to love God, let us raise ourselves above the earth; let us cease to fix our thought and affections on the miserable things of this world; let us cease to love dross and smoke and mire. Let us endeavour with all our strength to love the Supreme Infinite Good, our most amiable God, Who has made us for Himself, and expects us in Heaven to make us happy, and to give us the very glory which He Himself enjoys for eternity.