THE DANGER TO WHICH TEPIDITY EXPOSES THE SOUL
He who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly (2 Cor. ix. 6). They who are ungenerous with God well deserve that God should not be liberal with them. To such souls the Lord will give graces common to all, but will probably withhold His special assistance; and without this, as we have seen, they cannot persevere in the state of grace. God Himself revealed to Blessed Henry Suso that, for tepid souls who are content with leading a life exempt from mortal sin, and continue to commit many deliberate venial sins, it is very difficult to preserve themselves from mortal sins. The Venerable Louis da Ponte used to say: “I commit many defects, but I never make peace with them.” Woe to him who is at peace with his faults! St. Bernard teaches that, as long as a person who is guilty of defects detests his faults, there is reason to hope that he will one day correct them and amend his life: but when he commits faults without endeavouring to amend, he will continually go from bad to worse, till he loses God’s grace. St. Augustine says that, like a certain disease of the skin which makes the body an object of disgust, habitual faults, when committed without any effort of amendment, render the soul so disgusting to God that He deprives it of His embraces. Hence the soul finding no more nourishment and consolation in its devout exercises, in its prayers, Communions, or Visits to the Blessed Sacrament will soon neglect them, and thus neglecting the means of eternal salvation, it will be in great danger of being lost.
This danger will be still greater for those who commit many venial sins through attachment to any passion, such as pride, ambition, aversion to a neighbour, or an inordinate affection for any person. St. Francis of Assisi says that, in endeavouring to draw to sin any one that is afraid of being at enmity with God, the devil does not seek in the beginning to bind him with the chain of a slave, by tempting him to commit mortal sin, because he would have a horror of yielding to mortal sin, and would guard himself against it. He first endeavours to bind him by a single hair; then by a slender thread; next by a cord; afterwards by a rope; and in the end by a chain of hell — that is, by mortal sin; and thus he makes him his slave. For example: A person cherishes an affection for a woman through a motive of courtesy or of gratitude, or from an esteem for her good qualities. This affection is followed by mutual presents; to these succeed words of tenderness; and after the first violent assault of the devil, the miserable man shall find that he has fallen into mortal sin. He meets with the fate of gamblers, who, after frequently losing large sums of money, yield to an impulse of passion, risk their all, and, in the end, lose their whole property.
Miserable the soul that allows itself to be the slave of any passion. Behold, how small a fire what a great wood it kindleth (James iii. 5). A small spark, if it be not extinguished, will set an entire forest on fire. An unmortified passion shall bring the soul to ruin. Passion blinds us; and the blind often fall into an abyss when they least expect it. According to St. Ambrose, the devil is constantly endeavouring to find out the passion which rules in our heart, and the pleasures which have the greatest attraction for us. When he discovers them, he presents occasions of indulging them: he then excites concupiscence, and prepares a chain to make us the slaves of hell.
St. John Chrysostom asserts that he himself knew many persons who were gifted with great virtues, and who, because they disregarded light faults, fell into an abyss of crime. When the devil cannot gain much from us he is in the beginning content with very little; by many trifling victories he will make a great conquest. No one, says St. Bernard, suddenly falls from the state of grace into the abyss of wickedness. They who rush into the most grievous irregularities, he says, begin by committing light faults. It is necessary also to understand that, when any one that has been favoured by God with special lights and graces consents to mortal sin, his fall will not be a simple fall, from which he will easily rise again, but it will be a precipitous one, from which he will find it very difficult ever to return to God.
Addressing a person in the state of tepidity, our Lord said: I would that thou wert cold or hot; but because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth (Apoc. iii. 15). I would thou wert cold — that is, it would be better for thee to be deprived of My grace, because there would then be greater hopes of thy amendment; but, because thou livest in tepidity, without any desire of improvement, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. By these words God means that He will begin to abandon the soul.
A certain author says that tepidity is a hectic fever, which does not excite alarm because it is not perceived; but it is, at the same time, so malignant that it is rarely cured. The comparison is very just; for tepidity makes the soul insensible to remorse of conscience; and, as she is accustomed to feel no remorse for venial faults, she will by degrees become insensible to the stings of remorse which arise from mortal sins.
Let us come to the remedy. The amendment of a tepid soul is difficult; but there are remedies for those who wish to adopt them.
1. The tepid must sincerely desire to be delivered from a state which, as we have seen, is so miserable and dangerous; for, without this desire, they will not take pains to employ the proper means.
2. They must resolve to remove the occasions of their faults; otherwise they will always relapse into the same defects.
3. They must earnestly beg of the Lord to raise them from so wretched a state. By their own strength they can do nothing; but they can do all things with the assistance of God Who has promised to hear the prayers of all. Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find (Luke xi. 9). We must pray and continue to pray without interruption. If we cease to pray we shall be defeated; but if we persevere in prayer we shall conquer.