A CHRISTIAN’S RULE OF LIFE
I. — THE MEANS WE MUST MAKE USE OF TO PERSEVERE IN THE GRACE OF GOD
We must be fully persuaded, that in order to obtain eternal salvation, it is not sufficient to wish to be saved; but we must take the means which have been left us by Jesus Christ. Otherwise, if we commit sins, it will not avail us in the Day of Judgment to excuse ourselves by saying that the temptations were great and we were weak; because God has given us the means, through His grace, to conquer all the assaults of our enemies. If, then, we will not take advantage of them, and are overcome, the fault is our own. All men desire to be saved; but because they omit to employ the means of salvation, they sin, and are lost.
I. — TO AVOID THE OCCASIONS OF SIN
The first means is, to avoid all occasions of sin. It is impossible for any one who does not endeavour to fly from the occasions of sin, especially in the matter of sensual pleasures, to avoid falling into sin. St. Philip Neri said: “In the war of the senses, the conquerors are the cowards who fly.” The occasion is like a veil put before our eyes, so that we can see nothing else — neither God, nor hell, nor the resolutions we have made. The Scripture says it is impossible for a man to walk on burning coals without being burnt: Or can he walk upon hot coals and his feet not be burnt? (Prov. vi. 28). So it is morally impossible for any one to put himself voluntarily into the occasion of sin and not to fall, although he may have made a thousand resolutions and a thousand promises to God. This is clearly shown every day by the misery of so many poor souls who are plunged into vice for not avoiding the occasions. Any one who has had the evil habit of sins of impurity must know that, in order to restrain himself, it is not enough merely to avoid those occasions which are absolutely proximate; for if he does not also fly from those which are not altogether proximate, he will easily fall again. Nor must we allow ourselves to be deceived by the devil into thinking that the person towards whom we are tempted is a saint. It often happens that the more devout a person is, the stronger is the temptation. St. Thomas Aquinas says, that the holiest persons attract the most. The temptation will commence in a spiritual way, and will terminate carnally. The great servant of God, F. Sertorio Caputo of the Society of Jesus, said that the devil first induces one to love a person’s virtue, then the person, and then blinds a man and brings him to ruin. We must also fly from evil companions: we are too weak; the devil is continually tempting us and the senses drawing us to evil; the slightest suggestion of a bad companion is alone wanting to make us fall. Therefore the first thing that we have to do to save ourselves is to avoid evil occasions and bad companions. And we must in this matter use violence with ourselves, resolutely overcoming all human respect. Those who do not use violence with themselves will not be saved. It is true, that we must not put confidence in our own strength, but only in the Divine assistance; but God wills that we should do our part in using violence with ourselves, when it is necessary to do so, in order to gain Paradise: The violent bear it away (Matt. xi. 12).
II. — MENTAL PRAYER
The second means is mental prayer. Without this, the soul will find it almost impossible to remain a length of time in the grace of God. The Holy Spirit says: In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin (Ecclus. vii. 40). He who often meditates on the Four Last Things, namely Death, Judgment, and the Eternity of hell and Paradise, will not fall into sin. These truths are not to be seen with the bodily eyes, but only with the eyes of the mind. If they are not meditated on, they vanish from the mind, and then the pleasures of the senses present themselves, and those who do not keep before themselves the eternal truths are easily taken up by them; and this is why so many abandon themselves to vice, and are damned. Christians know and believe that they must all die, and all be judged; but because they do not think about it, they live far from God. Without mental prayer there is no light, we walk in the dark; and walking in the dark, we do not see the danger we are in, we do not make use of the means we ought, nor pray to God to help us, and so we are lost. Without prayer we have neither light nor strength to advance in the ways of God; because without prayer we do not ask God to give us His grace, and without His graces we shall certainly fall. It was for this reason that Blessed Bellarmine declared it to be morally impossible for a Christian who did not meditate to persevere in the grace of God. Whereas one who makes his Meditation every day can scarcely fall into sin; and if unhappily he should fall on some occasion, by continuing his prayer he will return immediately to God. It was said by a servant of God, that “mental prayer and mortal sin cannot exist together.” Resolve, then, to make every day, either in the morning or in the evening, — but it is best in the morning, — half an hour’s Meditation. It is sufficient that during the half hour you should entertain your thoughts by reading some book of Meditations, and from time to time to excite some good affection or aspiration. Above all, I beg you never to leave off this prayer (which you should practise at least once a day), although you may be in great aridity, and should feel great weariness in doing it. If you do not discontinue it, you will certainly be saved.
Together with prayer, it is of great use to make in private a Spiritual Reading out of some book which treats of the life of a Saint or of the Christian virtues, during half, or at least a quarter, of an hour. How many by reading a pious book have changed their way of living and become Saints! — like St. John Colombino, St. Ignatius Loyola, and so many others. It would be also a most useful thing if you were every year to make a Retreat in some Religious House. But at any rate do not omit your daily Meditation.