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A strategy guide for the spiritual life - recognize the devil's snares!

The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 21
The Proper Use of Our Senses. How They May Help Us to Contemplate Divine Things

One must give great care and constant application to the correct regulation of his senses. The sensitive appetite, the source of all actions of our weakened nature, has an unquenchable thirst for pleasure. Since it cannot satisfy itself, it uses the senses to attract their proper objects and then transmits these images to the mind. Sensual pleasures, consequently, by reason of the union which subsists between body and soul, spread themselves through all the senses capable of pleasure and then seize, like a contagious disease, upon the spiritual faculties. In this way they effect the corruption of the entire man.

You can use the following remedies against this enormous evil. Watch your senses carefully. Use them only for some good purpose, some advantageous motive or real necessity, never for the sake of mere pleasure. If they do go astray, perhaps unnoticed, if they transgress the bounds which reason prescribes, check them immediately. They must be so regulated that, instead of embracing objects for the sake of false pleasure, they become accustomed to draw from the same objects great helps for the sanctification and perfection of the soul. The soul, then, through recollection is able to rise from the knowledge of earthly things to the contemplation of the divine goodness. This can be done in the following way.

When an agreeable object is presented to the senses, do not become absorbed in its material elements, but let the understanding judge it. If there is anything in it that does please the senses, remember that this is not from the thing itself, but from God, Whose invisible hand created and endowed it with all its goodness and beauty. Rejoice in the thought that this sovereign and independent Being is the sole Author of all the charming qualities that His creatures possess. He Himself possesses them all in a manner infinitely superior to the most excellent created beings.

In contemplating a beautiful work of creation consider that, in itself, it is nothing. Let your thoughts soar to the great Hand that produced it; place all your delight in Him saying: "O my God! Sole Object of all my desires! Universal Source of all good things! How delightful it is to consider that the perfections of creatures are but a faint image of Thy glory!"

When you behold verdant trees or plants and the beauty of flowers, remember that they possess life only though the will of that divine Wisdom that, unseen by all, gives life to all things. Say to Him: "O Living God! O Sovereign Life! Thou delight of my soul! From Thee, in Thee and through Thee all things on earth live and flourish!" The sight of animals should lift your mind and heart to the Author of sensibility and motion. Say with respect and love: "Great God, Unmoved Mover of all things, how I rejoice when I consider the eternity of Thy existence, incapable of the slightest change!"

When the beauty of mankind impresses you, you should immediately distinguish what is apparent to the eye from what is seen only by the mind. You must remember that all corporeal beauty flows from an invisible principle, the uncreated beauty of God. You must discern in this an almost imperceptible drop issuing from an endless source, an immense ocean from which numberless perfections continually flow. How my soul is ravished when I consider that Eternal Beauty, the Source of every beautiful thing!

You must also distinguish, when you meed a person who is intelligent, just, affable, or gifted in any other way, just how much is his own and how much he has received from Heaven. Then will you exclaim: "O God of all virtue! I cannot express my joy when I consider that all good comes from Thee, and all the perfections of created beings are nothing when compared with Thee! I thank Thee for this and all good things bestowed on my neighbor or on myself. Have pity on my poverty and be mindful of the great need I have of such virtues!" When you have performed a good act, recall that God is the author of the act, and you are but His instrument. Lift up your eyes to Him and cry out: "O Sovereign Lord of the universe! It is with the greatest pleasure that I recognize that, without Thee, the First and Principal Cause of all things, I can do nothing."

When you taste anything pleasant, consider that God alone is capable of giving it that taste which is so agreeable to you. Find all your delight in Him and say: "Rejoice, O my soul! WIthout God there is no true or substantial happiness!" Do not be satisfied with the pleasure that comes from a pleasant scent. Mount in spirit to Heaven, and rejoice in God from Whom it came. Beg of Him that, being the Author of all sweetness, He will move your soul, freed from all sensual pleasure, to raise itself to Him as a fragrant perfume. When you hear beautiful music, turn to God and exclaim: "O God! Thy divine perfections fill my heart with delight; their melodious harmony is infinitely pleasing not only to Thyself, but to angels, men and all created beings!"

Chapter 24
How to Govern One's Speech

We must give careful attention to our speech because of our tendency to speak on anything that is attractive to our senses. This inclination is rooted in a certain pride. We think that we know a great deal about things and, fond of our own conceptions, we do not hesitate to communicate them to others. We think the entire assembly should be attentive to us. One could not easily enumerate all the evil consequences arising from uncontrolled speech. In general, we may say that it occasions much loss of time; it is a certain sign of ignorance and shallowness; it usually involves detractions and lies, and cools the fervor of devotion. It reinforces our disorderly passions, and establishes a habit of loose and idle talk.

As a method of correcting this, I would suggest the following. Do not talk too much! Either to those who do not readily listen to you, lest you bore them, or to those who enjoy hearing you, lest you be led into improper avenues of conversation. Loud and dictatorial tones are not pleasing to the ear and only reveal your presumptuous ignorance. One should speak of himself, of his accomplishments, of his relatives, only when compelled to do so. And then these should be discussed as briefly and modestly as possible. If you meet someone who talks only of himself, try to find a good reason to excuse him, but do not imitate him, though everything he says should serve only as an occasion for humiliation and self-accusation. Speak willingly of God and His immense charity for us. But lest you fail to express yourself correctly, prefer to hear and treasure in your heart the words of others on this subject.

When worldly talk reaches your ears, do not let it touch your heart. If it is necessary for you to listen to it, to understand and comment on it, lift your heart to heaven. There reigns your God, and from thence that divine Majesty condescends to behold you, unworthy as you are. After you have decided what to say, eliminate some of it because, in the end, you will always discover that you have said too much. Silence has a definite value in the spiritual warfare. Its observance is an assurance of victory. Generally speaking, it is accompanied by distrust of self and confidence in God, a greater desire for prayer, and facility in practicing virtue.

Chapter 42
The Defense Against The Artifices of the Devil When He Suggests Indiscreet Devotions

When the devil, that subtle serpent, perceives us courageously advancing towards heaven, and sees all our desires tending to God alone, fortified against ordinary satanic delusions, he transforms himself into an angel of light; he urges us to attain perfection, hurrying us on blindly and without the least regard to our own weakness.

He fills our head with devout thoughts, seconding them with passages of Holy Scripture and examples drawn from the greatest saints, that he might provoke us into some shameful misstep through an indiscreet and precipitous fervor. For example: he persuades us to chastise our bodies with excessive fasting, discipline, and similar mortifications, that, having persuaded us that we have worked wonders, he may have us fall prey to vanity, as is frequently the case in the weaker sex.

Or he hopes that we, dispirited with such penitential works as exceed our strength, may be incapable of performing any exercises of devotion; or perhaps he hopes that we, unable any longer to undergo such severities, and tiring of the practice of virtue, may return with greater fondness than ever to the vanities of the world. Who can count the multitudes that have perished in this manner? Persumption has so blinded them that, carried away by an indiscreet zeal for suffering, they fall into the snare they themselves have helped to contrive, and they become the scorn of devils.

All of this might have been prevented had they but considered that moderation, as well as a strict regard to personal ability, must be observed in all such mortification, however commendable in themselves or however productive of excellent fruit. For everyone is not capable of practicing the austerities of the saints, and yet every one may imitate them in many things. They may form ardent and efficacious desires of sharing in all the glorious crowns, won by the faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ in their combats; they may imitate the saints in self contempt and disdain for the world, in their silence and retirement, in their humiility and charity to all men, in their patient endurance of the greatest injuries, in rendering good for the evil of their worst enemies, and in their care to avoid the smallest faults. All of these things are infinitely more meritorious in the sight of God, than all the corporal severities we could possibly exercise.

It must be similarly observed that at first it is advisable to use moderation in external penances, for it is better that we have room to increase them if necessary, rather than endanger our capacity for performing any by imprudent zeal. I mention this because I am willing to believe that you do not succumb to the gross error of making an idol of your health. This type is ever in dread of the least irregularity, and its entire study and conversation is devoted to the means of avoiding sickness. Extremely fastidious as regards eating, such people, rather than strengthening, often ruin their stomachs by the constant use of choice foods, and yet they would have the world believe that they have no other view than the preservation of themselves for the glory of God.

Thus do they cloak their sensuality, while their actual design is the union of two irreconcilable enemies, the flesh and the spirit. Such an attitude inevitably results in ruin of both health and devotion, both of which suffer in this delusion. Consequently, those who make the greatest and surest advances in devotion are those who live in a plain, unpretentious manner. In all things, however, discretion must be used, and due regard had for the exigencies of different constitutions which are not all similarly fitted for the same exercises. This is to be understood, not only of exterior mortifications, but even of mental disciplines, as has been discussed previously in treating of the method of gradual acquisition of the loftiest virtues.

Chapter 43
The Tendency of Our Corrupt Natures, Prompted by the Devil, to Indulge in Rash Judgment, and the Remedy for This Evil

Smug self-satisfaction is responsible for another great disorder, which is rash judgment. This vice, which we not only encourage in ourselves, but infuse into others, springs from and is nourished by pride; and in proportion to our acceptance of it is our growing conceit and danger of further delusions by the devil. For by degrees we assume for ourselves what we detract from others, foolishly imagining ourselves exempt from the sins for which we so readily condemn our neighbors.

The enemy of our souls no sooner discovers this malicious tendency, but he immediately employs all his artifices to make us attentive to the failings of others, and magnify those failings out of all proportion. He goes to ineffable depths in making us aware of our neighbor's most trivial peccadillo, in the absence of a more glaring fault. Since, therefore, he is so viciously clever and intent upon our ruin, we must be no less vigilant in discovering and defeating his designs. When he suggests the sins of others to us, we must banish all such thoughts, and if he persists in tricking us into rash judgments, we are to cultivate a deep abhorrence for such malicious insinuations. Let us remember that we are not ordinarily authorized to judge others, but if we are, how seldom equity guides us, blinded as we are by prejudice and passion, and inclined to impute the worst of motives to others in their thoughts and actions.

The most efficacious remedy of this evil is a constant awareness of our own wretchedness, for when we find so much room for improvement in ourselves we have little inclination to judge and condemn others. Moreover, in sedulously seeking out our own shortcomings, we shall free our minds from a certain malignity which is the source of rash judgment. For whoever unjustly condemns his neighbor has good reason for suspecting himself guilty of the same crime, inasmuch as vicious men are prone to think others like themselves.

When, therefore, we find ourselves inclined to condemn others, let us inwardly accuse ourselves with this just reproof: "Blind and presumptuous wretch, how dare you rashly examine your neighbor's actions - you who have the same if not greater sins to answer for?" Thus in turning these weapons against ourselves, what might have been injurious to our neighbor becomes beneficial to us. Even if a neighbor's fault be publicly known, let charity suggest some excuse. Let us believe there are some hidden virtues, for the preservation of which God is pleased to permit the publicized deficiency; and let us hope that the fault in which God suffers him to remain for a time, may eventually bring the erring one to a true self-knowledge, that being despised by others, he may learn the lesson of humility. Such a defeat is really a victory.

Where the sin, besides being commonly known, is also of the utmost gravity, and the sinner hardened in impenitence, we should raise our hearts to heaven in deference to the inscrutable wisdom of God. For we should be mindful that many have emerged from the depths of depravity to become saints, while others have fallen from angelic heights of perfection to satanic depths of sinfulness.

These reflections should convince every thinking person that carping criticism should begin with oneself. If one finds himself favorable disposed toward his neighbor, it is owing to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whereas his rash judgments, dislike and contempt of others, owe their rise to his own malice and the promptings of the devil. Let us remember then that, if ever we find ourselves too attentive to the failings of others, we must not cease until we have entirely erased them from memory.

Taken from The Spiritual Combat by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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