CHARITY BEARETH ALL THINGS
He that loves Jesus Christ with a Strong Love does not cease to love Him in the midst of all Sorts of Temptations and Desolations.
IT is not the pains of poverty, of sickness, of dishonour and persecution, which in this life most afflict the souls that love God, but temptations and desolations of spirit. Whilst a soul is in the enjoyment of the loving presence of God, she is so far from grieving at all the afflictions and ignominies and outrages of men, that, she is rather comforted by them, as they afford her an opportunity of showing God a token of her love; they serve, in short, as fuel to enkindle her love more and more. But to find herself solicited by temptations to forfeit the Divine grace, or in the hour of desolation to apprehend having already lost it, oh, these are torments too cruel to bear for one who loves Jesus Christ with all her heart! However, the same love supplies her with strength to endure all patiently, and to pursue the way of perfection, on which she has entered. And, oh, what progress do those souls make by means of these trials, which God is pleased to send them in order to prove their love!
Temptations are the most grievous trials that can happen to a soul that loves Jesus Christ; she accepts with resignation of every other evil, as calculated only to bind her in closer union with God; but temptations to commit sin would drive her, as we said above, to a separation from Jesus Christ; and on this account they are more intolerable to her than all other afflictions.
Why God permits Temptations
We must know, however, that although no temptation to evil can ever come from God, but only from the devil or our own corrupt inclinations: for God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man; [James, i. 13.] nevertheless, God does at times permit His most cherished souls to be the most grievously tempted.
In the first place, in order that from temptations the soul may better learn her own weakness and the need she has of the Divine assistance not to fall. Whilst a soul is favoured with heavenly consolations, she feels as if she were able to vanquish every assault of the enemy, and to achieve every undertaking for the glory of God. But when she is strongly tempted, and is almost reeling on the edge of the precipice, and just ready to fall, then she becomes better acquainted with her own misery and with her inability to resist, if God did not come to her rescue. So it fared with St. Paul, who tells us that God had suffered him to be troubled with a temptation to sensual pleasure, in order to keep him humble after the revelations with which God had favoured him: And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an Angel of Satan to buffet me. [2 Cor. xii. 7.]
Besides, God permits temptations with a view to detach us more thoroughly from this life; and to kindle in us the desire to go and behold Him in Heaven. Hence pious souls, finding themselves attacked day and night by so many enemies, come at length to feel a loathing for life, and exclaim: Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! [Ps. cxix. 5.] And they sigh for the moment when they can say: The snare is broken and we are delivered. [Ps. cxxiii. 7.] The soul would willingly wing her flight to God; but as long as she lives upon this earth she is bound by a snare which detains her here below, where she is continually assailed with temptations; this snare is only broken by death: so that the souls that love God sigh for death, which will deliver them from all danger of losing Him.
Almighty God, moreover, allows us to be tempted, to make us richer in merits, as it was said to Tobias: And because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptations should prove thee. [Tob. xii. 13.] Thus a soul need not imagine herself out of God's favour because she is tempted, but should make it rather a motive of hope that God loves her. It is a delusion of the devil to lead some pusillanimous persons to suppose that temptations are sins that contaminate the soul. It is not bad thoughts that make us lose God, but the consenting to them; let the suggestions of the devil be ever so violent, let those filthy imaginations which overload our minds be ever so lively, they cannot cast the least stain on our souls, provided only we yield no consent to them; on the contrary, they make the soul purer, stronger, and dearer to Almighty God. St. Bernard says that every time we overcome a temptation we win a fresh crown in Heaven: "As often as we conquer, so often are we crowned." An Angel once appeared to a Cistercian monk, and put a crown into his hands, with orders that he should carry it to one of his fellow religious, as a reward for the temptation that he had lately overcome.
Nor must we be disturbed if evil thoughts do not forthwith disappear from our minds, but continue obstinately to persecute us; it is enough if we detest them, and do our best to banish them. God is faithful, says the Apostle; He will not allow us to be tempted above our strength: God is faithful Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it. [1 Cor. x. 13.] Thus a person, so far from losing anything by temptations, derives great profit from them. On this account God frequently allows the souls dearest to Him to undergo the severest temptations, that they may turn them into a source of greater merit on earth, and of greater glory in Heaven. Stagnant water soon grows putrid; a soul left at ease, without any struggle or temptation, stands in great danger of perishing from some self-conceit of her own merit; she perhaps imagines herself to have already attained to perfection, and therefore has little fear; and consequently takes little pains to recommend herself to God and to secure her salvation; but when, on the contrary, she is agitated by temptations, and sees herself in danger of rushing headlong into sin, then she has recourse to God; she goes to the divine Mother; she renews her resolution rather to die than to sin; she humbles herself, and casts herself into the arms of the Divine mercy: in this manner, as experience shows us, the soul acquires fresh strength and closer union with God.
This must not, however, lead us to seek after temptations; on the contrary, we must pray to God to deliver us from temptations and from those more especially by which God foresees we should be overcome; and this is precisely the object of that petition of the Our Father: Lead us not into temptation; [Matt. vi. 13.] but when, by God's permission, we are beset with temptations, we must then, without either being alarmed or discouraged by those foul thoughts, rely wholly on Jesus Christ, and beseech Him to help us; and He, on His part, will not fail to give us the strength to resist. St. Augustine says: "Throw thyself on Him, and fear not; He will not withdraw to let thee fall."
Remedies against Temptations
Let us come now to the means which we have to employ in order to vanquish temptations. Spiritual masters prescribe a variety of means; but the most necessary, and the safest (of which only I will here speak), is to have immediate recourse to God with all humility and confidence; saying: Incline unto my aid, O God, O Lord, make haste to help me! [Ps. lxix. 2.] This short prayer will enable us to overcome the assaults of all the devils of Hell; for God is infinitely more powerful than all of them. Almighty God knows well that of ourselves we are unable to resist the temptations of the infernal powers; and on this account the most learned Cardinal Gotti remarks, "that whenever we are assailed, and in danger of being overcome, God is obliged to give us strength enough to resist as often as we call upon Him for it."
And how can we doubt of receiving help from Jesus Christ, after all the promises that He has made us in the Holy Scriptures? Come to Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. [Matt. xi.28.] Come to me, ye who are wearied in fighting against temptations, and I will restore your strength. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt honour Me. [Ps. xlix. 15.] When thou seest thyself troubled by thine enemies, call upon Me, and I will bring thee out of the danger, and thou shalt praise Me. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am. [Is. lviii. 9.] Then shalt thou call upon the Lord for help, and He will hear thee: thou shalt cry out, Quick, O Lord, help me! and He will say to thee, Behold, here I am; I am present to help thee. Who hath called upon Him, and He despised him? [Ecclus. ii. 12.] And who, says the prophet, has ever called upon God, and God has despised him without giving him help? David felt sure of never falling a prey to his enemies, whilst he could have recourse to prayer; he says; Praising, I will call upon the Lord; and I shall be saved from my enemies. [Ps. xvii. 4..] For he well knew that God is close to all who invoke His aid: The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him. [Ps. cxliv. 18.] And St. Paul adds, that the Lord is by no means sparing, but lavish of graces towards all that pray to Him: Rich unto all that call upon Him. [Rom. x. 12.]
Oh, would to God that all men would have recourse to Him whenever they are tempted to offend Him; they would then certainly never commit sin! They unhappily fall, because, led away by the cravings of their vicious appetites, they prefer to lose God, the sovereign good, than to forego their wretched short-lived pleasures. Experience gives us manifest proofs that whoever calls on God in temptation does not fall; and whoever fails to call on Him as surely falls: and this is especially true of temptations to impurity. Solomon himself said that he knew very well he could not be chaste, unless God gave him the grace to be so; and he therefore invoked Him by prayer in the moment of temptation: And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, except God give it, . . . I went to the Lord and besought Him. In temptations against purity (and the same holds good with regard to those against faith), we must take it as a rule never to strive to combat the temptation hand to hand; but we must endeavour immediately to get rid of it indirectly by making a good act of the love of God or of sorrow for our sins, or else by applying ourselves to some indifferent occupation calculated to distract us. At the very instant that we discover a thought of evil tendency, we must disown it immediately, and (so to speak) close the door in its face, and deny it all entrance into the mind, without tarrying in the least to examine its object or errand. We must cast away these foul suggestions as quickly as we would shake off a hot spark from the fire.
If the impure temptation has already forced its way into the mind, and plainly pictures its object to the imagination, so as to stir the passions, then, according to the advice of St. Jerome, we must burst forth into these words: "O Lord, Thou art my helper." As soon, says the Saint, as we feel the sting of concupiscence, we must have recourse to God, and say: "O Lord, do Thou assist me;" we must invoke the most holy names of Jesus and Mary, which possess a wonderful efficacy in the suppression of temptations of this nature. St. Francis de Sales says, that no sooner do children espy a wolf than they instantly seek refuge in the arms of their father and mother; and there they remain out of all danger. Our conduct must be the same: we must flee without delay for succour to Jesus and Mary, by earnestly calling upon them. I repeat that we must instantly have recourse to them, without giving a moment's audience to the temptation, or disputing with it. It is related in the fourth paragraph of the Book of Sentences of the Fathers, that one day St. Pacomius heard the devil boasting that he had frequently got the better of a certain monk on account of his lending ear to him, and not turning instantly to call upon God. He heard another devil, on the contrary, utter this complaint: As for me, I can do nothing with my monk, because he never fails to have recourse to God, and always defeats me.
Should the temptation, however, obstinately persist in attacking us, let us beware of becoming troubled or angry at it; for this might put it in the power of our enemy to overcome us. We must, on such occasions, make an act of humble resignation to the will of God, Who thinks fit to allow us to be tormented by these abominable temptations; and we must say: O Lord, I deserve to be molested with these filthy suggestions, in punishment of my past sins; but Thou must help to free me. And as long as the temptation lasts, let us never cease calling on Jesus and Mary. It is also very profitable, in the like importunity of temptations, to renew our firm purpose to God of suffering every torment, and a thousand deaths, rather than offend Him; and at the same time we must invoke His Divine assistance. And even should the temptation be of such violence as to put us in imminent risk of consenting to it, we must then redouble our prayers, hasten into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, cast ourselves at the feet of the Crucifix, or of some image of our Blessed Lady, and there pray with increased fervour, and cry out for help with groans and tears. God is certainly ready to hear all who pray to Him; and it is from Him alone, and not from our own exertions, that we must look for strength to resist; but sometimes Almighty God wills these struggles of us, and then He makes up for our weakness, and grants us the victory. It is an excellent practice also, in the moment of temptation, to make the Sign of the Cross on the forehead and breast. It is also of great service to discover the temptation to our spiritual director. St. Philip Neri used to say, that a temptation disclosed is half overcome.
Here it will be well to remark, what is unanimously admitted by all theologians, even of the rigorist school, that persons who have during a considerable period of time been leading a virtuous life, and live habitually in the fear of God, whenever they are in doubt, and are not certain whether they have given consent to a grievous sin, ought to be perfectly assured that they have not lost the Divine grace; for it is morally impossible that the will, confirmed in its good purposes for a considerable lapse of time, should on a sudden undergo so total a change as at once to consent to a mortal sin without clearly knowing it; the reason of it is, that mortal sin is so horrible a monster that it cannot possible enter a soul by which it has long been held in abhorrence, without her being fully aware of it. We have proved this at length in our Moral Theology. St. Teresa said: No one is lost without knowing it; and no one is deceived without the will to be deceived.
Wherefore, with regard to certain souls of delicate conscience, and solidly rooted in virtue, but at the same time timid and molested with temptations (especially if they be against faith or chastity), the director will find it sometimes expedient to forbid them to discover them or make any mention of them; because, if they have to mention them they are led to consider how such thoughts got entrance into their minds, and whether they paused to dispute with them, or took any complacency in them, or gave any consent to them; and so, by this too great reflection, those evil imaginations make a still deeper impression on their minds, and disturb them the more. Whenever the confessor is morally certain that the penitent has not consented to these suggestions, the best way is to forbid him to speak any more about them. And I find that St. Jane Frances de Chantal acted precisely in this manner. She relates of herself, that she was for several years assailed by the most violent storms of temptation, but had never spoken of them in Confession, since she was not conscious of having ever yielded to them; and in this she had only followed faithfully the rule received from her director. She says, "I never had a full conviction of having consented." These words give us to understand that the temptations did produce in her some agitation from scruples; but in spite of these, she resumed her tranquillity on the strength of the obedience imposed by her confessor, not to confess similar doubts. With this exception, it will be generally found an admirable means of quelling the violence of temptations to lay them open to our director, as we have said above.
But I repeat, the most efficacious and the most necessary of all remedies against temptations, is that remedy of all remedies, namely, to pray to God for help, and to continue praying as long as the temptation continues. Almighty God will frequently have decreed success, not to the first prayer, but to the second, third, or fourth. In short, we must be thoroughly persuaded that all our welfare depends on prayer: our amendment of life depends on prayer; our victory over temptations depends on prayer; on prayer depends our obtaining Divine love, together with perfection, perseverance, and eternal salvation.
There may be some who, after the perusal of my spiritual works, will accuse me of tediousness in so often recommending the importance and necessity of having continual recourse to God by prayer. But I seem to myself to have said not too much, but far too little. I know that day and night we are all assailed with temptations from the infernal powers, and that Satan lets slip no occasion of causing us to fall. I know that, without the Divine help, we have not strength to repel the assaults of the devils; and that therefore the Apostle exhorts us to put on the armour of God: Put you on the armour of God, that you 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. [Eph. vi. 11, 12.] And what is this armour with which St. Paul warns us to clothe ourselves in order to conquer our enemies? Behold of what it consists: By all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit, and in the same watching with all instance. [Eph. vi. 18.] This armour is constant and fervent prayer to God, that He may help us to gain the victory. I know, moreover, that in every page of the Holy Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testament, we are repeatedly admonished to pray: Call upon Me, and I will deliver thee. [Ps. xlix. 7.] Cry to Me, and I will hear thee. [Jer. xxxiii. 3.] We ought always to pray, and not to faint. [Luke, xviii. 1.] Ask, and you shall receive. [Matt. vii. 7.] Watch and pray. [Matt. xxvi. 41.] Pray without ceasing. [1 Thess. v. 17.] So that I think, far from having spoken too much on prayer, I have not said enough. I would urge it on all preachers, to recommend nothing so much to their audience as prayer; on confessors, to insist on nothing so earnestly with their penitents as prayer; on spiritual writers, to treat on no subject more copiously than on prayer. But it is a source of grief to my heart, and it seems to me a chastisement of our sins, that so many preachers, confessors, and authors speak so little of prayer. There is no doubt that sermons, meditations, Communions, and mortifications are great helps in the spiritual life; but if we fail to call upon God by prayer in the moment of temptation, we shall fall, in spite of all the sermons, meditations, Communions, penances, and virtuous resolutions. If, then, we really wish to be saved, let us always pray, and commend ourselves to Jesus Christ, and most of all when we are tempted; and let us not only pray for the grace of holy perseverance, but at the same time for the grace to pray always. Let us, likewise, take care to recommend ourselves to the divine Mother, who, as St. Bernard says, is the dispenser of graces: "Let us seek for graces, and let us seek them through Mary." For the same Saint assures us that it is the will of God, that not a single grace should be dealt to us except through the hands of Mary: "God has willed us to receive nothing that has not passed through the hands of Mary."
Affections and Prayers
O Jesus, My Redeemer, I trust in Thy Blood, that Thou hast forgiven me all my offences against Thee; and I fondly hope to come one day to bless Thee for it eternally in Heaven: The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever. [Ps. lxxxviii, 2.] I plainly see now that I have over and over again fallen in times past from the want of entreating Thee for holy perseverance. I earnestly beg Thee at this present moment to grant me perseverance: "Never suffer me to be separated from Thee." And I purpose to make this prayer to Thee always; but especially when I am tempted to offend Thee, I indeed make this resolution and promise; but what will it profit me thus to resolve and promise, if Thou dost not give me the grace to run and cast myself at Thy feet? By the merits, then, of Thy sacred Passion, oh, grant me this grace, in all my necessities to have recourse to Thee.
O Mary, my Queen, and my Mother, I beseech thee, by thy tender love for Jesus Christ to procure me the grace of always fleeing for succour, as long as I live, to thy blessed Son and to thee.