TO PERSEVERE WE MUST CONQUER THE DEVIL.
He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Matt. xxiv. 13).
St. Jerome says that many begin well but few persevere. Saul, Judas, Tertullian, began well, but ended badly because they did not persevere in grace. The Lord, says St. Jerome, requires not only the beginning of a good life, but also the end: it is the end that will be rewarded. St. Bonaventure says that the crown is given only to perseverance. Hence St. Laurence Justinian calls perseverance the “Gate of Heaven.” No one can enter Paradise unless He finds the gate of Heaven. You have now renounced sin, and justly hope that you have been pardoned. You are, then, the friend of God: but remember that you are not yet saved. And when will you be saved? When you will have persevered to the end. He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved. Have you begun a good life? Thank the Lord for it: but St. Bernard warns you that to him who begins, a reward is only promised, and is given to him alone who perseveres. It is not enough to run for the prize; you must run till you win it. So run, says St. Paul, that you may obtain (1 Cor. ix. 24).
You have already put your hand to the plough, and you have begun to live well; but now you must tremble and fear more than ever. With fear and trembling work out your salvation (Phil. ii. 12). And why? Because if — which God forbid — you now look back and return to a life of sin, God will declare you unfit for Paradise. No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke ix. 62). At present, through the grace of God, you avoid evil occasions, you frequent the Sacraments, and make Meditation every day. Happy you if you continue to do so, and if, when He comes to judge you, Jesus Christ will find you doing these things. Blessed is that servant whom, when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing (Matt. xxiv. 46). But do not imagine now that you have begun to serve God, there is, as it were, an end or a lessening of temptations. Listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost. Son, when thou comest to the service of God … prepare thy soul for temptations (Ecclus. ii. 1) Remember that now more than ever you must prepare yourself for conflicts, because your enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, will arm themselves now more than ever to fight against you in order to deprive you of all that you have acquired.
Ah my God, cast me not away from thy face! I know that Thou wilt never abandon me, unless I first abandon Thee. Experience of my own weakness makes me tremble lest I should again forsake Thee. Lord, it is from Thee I must receive the strength necessary to conquer hell, which labours to make me again its slave. This strength I ask of Thee for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Denis the Carthusian says that the more a soul gives itself to God, the more strenuously hell labours to destroy it. And this is sufficiently expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke, where Jesus Christ says: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest, and not finding it, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in, they dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first (Luke xi. 24). When banished from a soul, the devil finds no repose, and does everything in his power to return: he even calls companions to his aid; and if he succeeds in re-entering, the second fall of that soul will be far more ruinous than the first.
Consider, then, what arms you must use in order to defend yourselves against these enemies, and to preserve your soul in the grace of God. To escape defeat, and to conquer the devil, there is no other defence than prayer. St. Paul says that we have to contend, not with men of flesh and blood like ourselves, but with the princes of hell. Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Eph. vi. 12). By these words the Apostle wishes to admonish us that we have not strength to resist such powerful enemies, and that we stand in need of aid from God. With His aid we shall be able to do all things. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me (Phil. iv. 13). Such is the language of St. Paul; such, too, should be our language. But this Divine aid is given only to those who pray for it. Ask and you shall receive. Let us, then, not trust to our purposes of amendment. If we trust in them, we shall be lost. Whenever the devil tempts us, let us place our entire confidence in the Divine assistance, and let us recommend ourselves to Jesus Christ and to the Most Holy Mary. We ought to do this particularly when tempted against chastity; for this is the most terrible of all temptations, and is the one by which the devil gains the most victories. We have not strength to preserve chastity; this strength must come from God. And, said Solomon, as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it, … I went to the Lord, and besought him (Wis. viii. 21). In such temptations, then, we must instantly have recourse to Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother, frequently invoking the most holy Names of Jesus and Mary. He who does this will conquer; he who neglects it will be lost.
O my Saviour, establish between Thee and me a perpetual peace, which will never be broken for all eternity. For this purpose I ask Thy love. He who loves not is dead. O God of my soul, it is by Thee I must be saved from this unhappy death. I was lost; Thou knowest it. It is Thy goodness alone which has brought me into the state in which I am at present, in which I hope I am Thy friend. Ah, my Jesus, through the painful death Thou didst suffer for my salvation, do not permit me ever more to lose Thee voluntarily. I love Thee above all things. I hope to see myself always bound with this holy love, to die in the bonds of love and to live forever in the chains of Thy love. O Mary, thou art called the Mother of perseverance: through thee this great gift is dispensed. Through thy intercession I ask and hope to obtain it.