8. It is enough for a virgin to have fallen once for her to lose her virginity; and for a wife to have been but once unfaithful for her to be perpetually dishonored; even though she may afterwards perform many noble works, still her dishonor can never be effaced, and the sting and painful memory of her shame and guilt must remain for ever in her conscience.
And thus, even though in the whole course of my life I have only committed one sin, the fact will always remain that I have sinned and committed the worst and most ignominious action. And even if I should live a life of continual penance, and be certain of God’s forgiveness, and though the sin exist no longer in my conscience, still I shall always have cause for shame and humiliation in the fact that I have sinned: ” My sin is always before me; I have sinned and done evil in Thy sight.” [Ps. l, 5, 6]
9. What should we say if we saw the public executioner walking in the streets and claiming to be esteemed, respected and honored? We should consider his effrontery as insufferable as his calling is infamous. And thou, my soul, each time that thou hast sinned mortally thou hast indeed been as an executioner, nailing to the Cross the Son of God! Thus St. Paul describes sinners as “crucifying again to themselves the Son of God.” [Heb. vi, 6]
And with this character of infamy which thou bearest within thee, dost thou still dare to demand honor and esteem? Wilt thou still have the courage to say: ” I insist upon being honored and respected, I will not be slighted”? However much pride may tempt me to boast and seek esteem, I have ample cause to blush with shame when I hear the voice of conscience reproaching me for my ignominy and my sins, and not ceasing to reprove me for being a perfidious and ungrateful rebel against God, a traitor and an executioner who co-operated in the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. “All the day long my shame is before me, and the confusion of my face hath covered me at the voice of him that reproacheth me.” [Ps. xliii, 16, 17]
10. We must acknowledge that one of the five reasons why we do not live in this necessary humility is because we do not fear the justice of God. Look at a criminal, how humbly he stands before the judge, with lowered eyes, pallid face and bowed head: he knows that he has been convicted of atrocious crimes; he knows that thereby he has merited capital punishment, and may justly be condemned to the gallows, and hence he fears, and his fear keeps him humble, chasing from his brain all thought of ambition and vain-glory. So the soul, conscious of the numerous sins it has committed, aware that it has indeed deserved Hell, and that from one moment to another it may be condemned to Hell by Divine justice, fears the wrath of God, and this fear causes the soul to remain humble before Him; and if it does not feel this humility, it can only be because the fear of God is wanting: “There is no fear of God before his eyes.” [Ps. xxxv, 1] Oh, cry to God from your heart: “Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear.” [Ps. cxviii, 120]
And this holy fear which is the beginning of wisdom will also be the beginning of true humility; for, as the inspired Word says, humility and wisdom are inseparable companions: “Where humility is, there also is wisdom.” [Prov. xi, 2]
11. There is no Saint however holy and innocent who may not truly consider himself the greatest sinner in the world. It is enough that he knows himself to be man to recognize that he is liable to commit all the evil of which man is capable. As man, I have in my corrupt nature a proclivity to every evil; and so far as I am concerned I am quite capable of committing all kinds of sin, and if I do not commit them it is through a special grace of God which preserves and restrains me.
A tree does not fall while bending under its own weight, and this must be attributed to the strength of its support; and in the same way if I have not fallen into every kind of iniquity, it must not be attributed to my own inherent virtue but only to Divine grace, which by its goodness has supported me. Therefore how can I esteem myself more than another whilst we are all equal in human weakness? “For what is my strength?” [Job vi, 11] I am a son of Adam like every other man, born in sin, inclined to sin, and ever ready to fall into sin. I have no need of the devil to tempt me to sin; my own concupiscence is only too great a temptation; and if God were to withdraw from me His protecting and helping hand, I know that I should be precipitated headlong from bad to worse. When St. Augustine made his examen of conscience, he did not always find sufficient to excite within him sorrow and contrition, so he dwelt on those sins which he might or would have committed had he not been preserved from them by God’s infinite mercy; and he grieved and accused himself and humbly implored pardon of God for the evil capacity he had to commit all kinds of heinous and impious sins. In this practice is to be found an exercise of true humility.
12. It has often happened that those who were more perfect than others have shamefully fallen, and this after a long period of good and virtuous works, showing the marvelous things that a man can do when able if abandoned to himself and left to the weakness of his own free-will.
God has shown His creative omnipotence by forming me out of nothing and making me a human being. Were God to withdraw His omnipotent preserving hand from me I should at once show what I am capable of when left to myself, by returning immediately into my nothingness. And, in the order of grace, the nothingness into which I relapse when left to myself is sin. How often “I am brought to nothing, and I knew not.” [Ps. lxxii, 21] And what can I find to be proud of in that nothingness?
Give me grace, O my God, to know myself only as much as is necessary to keep me humble! For if I fully realized the insignificance of my own being and the extent of my malice which is capable of offending Thee in divers inconceivable ways, I fear I should be so filled with horror at myself that I should give way to despair!
We have within ourselves, in our own experience and feelings, a knowledge of how greatly our frail and fallen nature is inclined to evil. Today we go and confess certain of our faults, making the resolution not to fall into them again, and tomorrow notwithstanding we commit them once more.
At one moment we make up our minds to acquire a certain virtue, and the next we do just the contrary by falling into the opposite vice. At the time when we make these resolutions of amendment we imagine that our will is firm and strong, but we soon perceive how weak and unreliable it is, for we behave as though we had never purposed amendment at all.
Our heart is like a reed that bends before every wind, or a barque tossed by every wave. It is sufficient to meet with an occasion of sin, a movement of passion, a breath of temptation, for the will to yield to evil even when in certain moments of fervor we seem most firmly rooted in good. This is a strong reason for us to be humble and not to presume anything of ourselves, praying to God continually that He may deign to confirm in our hearts that which He works through His grace.
“Confirm, O God, what Thou hast wrought in us.” [Ps. lxvii, 29]
Some masters of the spiritual life teach that it is better to divert our thoughts from certain heroic actions in which our weakness might lead us to doubt whether we should succeed or not; for example: if a persecutor should come and summon me either to renounce the faith or to die, how should I act? or, if I were to receive a terrible public insult, should I practice patience or resentment? No, they say it is not well to indulge in such imaginings because our weakness may cause us to fall before the idea of such a trial.
But should such thoughts arise, we can turn them to our good and use our very weakness to practice humility. When such ideas occur it would be well to say: I know what I ought to do on such and such an occasion, but I know not how far I can trust myself, because I know by personal experience that “my strength is weakened through poverty,” [Ps. xxx, 11] and I have learnt on several occasions how my reason becomes blinded, my judgment weakened, and my will often perverted easily to evil. O my God, I can do all things if I am strengthened by Thy help; hut without this I can do nothing, nor shall I ever be able to do anything! If I had to confess Thee I should miserably deny Thee; if to honor Thee by patience I should give way to vengeance; if I had to obey Thee I should offend Thee by disobedience. “Thou art a strong helper: when my strength shall fail, do not Thou forsake me.” [Ps. lxx, 7, 9] Thy saying is quite true, O my God: “Without Me you can do nothing.” [john xv, 5] Not only without Thee can I never do any meritorious act of virtue whatsoever, but I cannot do anything at all; as St. Augustine instructs me: ” Whether it be little or whether it be great, it cannot be done without Him without Whom nothing can be done.” [Tract 31 in Joan.]
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.