On the Zealous Amendment of our Life
Be watchful (2Tim.4:5) and diligent in the service of God, and frequently consider why you are come here, and why you have renounced the world. Was it not that you might live to God, and become a spiritual man? Endeavour, then, to make progress, and you will soon receive the reward of your labours; then neither fear nor sorrow will be able to trouble you. Labour for a short while now, and you will find great peace of soul, and everlasting joy. If you remain faithful in all your doings, be sure that God will be faithful and generous in rewarding you(Ecclus 51:30). Keep a firm hope that you will win the victor's crown; but do not be over confident, lest you become indolent and selfsatisfied.
There was once a man who was very anxious, and wavered between fear and hope. One day, overcome with sadness, he lay prostrate in prayer before the altar in church, and pondering these matters in his mind, said, ` Oh, if only I knew that I should always persevere!' then he heard within his heart an answer from God: `If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would then, and all will be well.' So, comforted and strengthened, he committed himself to the will of God, and his anxious uncertainty vanished. Nor did he wish any longer to inquire into what would happen to him, but strove the more earnestly to learn the perfect and acceptable will of God,(Rom.12:2) whenever he began or undertook any good work(2 Tim.3:17).
`Hope in the Lord, and do good,' says the Prophet: `dwell in the land, and you shall be fed with its riches (Ps.37:3). There is one thing that deters many in their spiritual progress and zeal for amendment, namely, fear of the difficulties and the cost of victory. But rest assured that those who grow in virtue beyond their fellows are they who fight most manfully to overcome whatever is most difficult and distasteful to them. For the more completely a man overcomes and cleanses himself in spirit, the more he profits and deserves abundant grace.
All men do not have the same things to overcome and mortify. But whoever is diligent and zealous - even though he has stronger passions to subdue - will certainly make greater progress than another, who is naturally self-controlled, but less zealous for holiness. Two things in particular are a great help to amendment of life - a forcible withdrawal from any vice to which our nature inclines, and a fervent pursuit of any grace of which we stand in particular need. Especially study to avoid and overcome those things that most displease you in other people.
Strive to progress in all things, and let any examples that you see or hear inspire you to imitate them. But if you observe anything blameworthy, take care not to do the same yourself. And should you ever have done so, amend your conduct without delay. As you observe others, so do others observe you (Matt.7:3). How glad and pleasant it is to see fervent and devout brethren observing good manners and good discipline (Eph 5:2). And how sad and painful to see any who are disorderly and fail to live up to their calling. How harmful it is, if they neglect the true purpose of their vocation, and turn to matters that are not their proper concern.
Remember your avowed purpose, and keep ever before you the likeness of Christ crucified. As you meditate on the life of Jesus Christ, you should grieve that you have not tried more earnestly to conform yourself to Him, although you have been a long while in the way of God. A Religious who earnestly and devoutly contemplates the most holy Life and Passion of Our Lord will find it in an abundance of all things profitable and needful to him, nor need he seek any other model than Jesus. Oh, if Jesus Crucified would come into our hearts, how quickly and fully we should be instructed!
A zealous Religious readily accepts and obeys all commands. But a careless and lukewarm Religious has trouble after trouble, and finds sorrow on every side because he lacks true inward consolation, and is forbidden to seek it outside. Therefore a Religious who disregards his Rule exposes himself to dreadful ruin. And he who desires an easier and undisciplined life will always be unstable, for one thing or another will always displease him.
Observe how many behave, who live strictly under the monastic discipline. They seldom go out, they live retired, they eat the poorest food; they work hard, they talk little, they keep long watches; they rise early, they spend much time in prayer, they study much, and always guard themselves with discipline. Consider the Carthusians, the Cistercians, and the monks and nuns of the various orders, how they rise each night to sing praises to Our Lord. Were you slothful, this should shame you, when so great a company of Religious are beginning the praises of God.
Would that our sole occupation were the perpetual praise of the Lord our God with heart and voice! Had you no need of food, drink or rest, you could praise God without ceasing, and give yourself wholly to spiritual things. You would be far happier than now, when you are compelled to serve the needs of the body. Would that these needs did not exist, so that we might enjoy the spiritual feasts of the soul, which, alas, we taste so seldom.
When a man no longer seeks his comfort from any creature, then he first begins to enjoy God perfectly, and he will be well content with whatever befalls him. Then he will neither rejoice over having much, nor grieve over having little, but will commit himself fully and trustfully to God, who is All (I Col.3:11) in all. to him: in Him nothing perishes or dies, for all things live for Him and serve His will continually.
Always remember your end,(Ecclus.7:36) and that lost time never returns. Without care and diligence, you will never acquire virtue. If you begin to grow careless, all will begin to go amiss with you. But if you give yourself to prayer, you will find great peace, and your toil will grow lighter by the help of God's grace and your love of virtue. The fervent and sincere man is prepared for anything. The war against our vices and passions is harder than any physical toil; and whoever fails to overcome his lesser faults will gradually fall into greater (Ecclus.19:1) Your evenings will always be tranquil if you have spent the day well. Watch yourself, bestir yourself, admonish yourself; and whatever others may do, never neglect your own soul. The stricter you are with yourself, the greater is your spiritual progress.
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