21. In a country where all are blind it is sufficient for a man to have but one eye for him to be said to have good sight, and amongst a multitude of ignorant people one need possess but a slight tinge of knowledge to acquire the reputation of being very learned; and in the same way in this wicked and corrupt world it is easy to flatter ourselves that we are good, if we are not quite so bad as many others. “I am not as the rest of men.” [Luke xviii, 11] It was in this way that the Pharisee praised himself in the temple.
But in order to know ourselves as we really are, it is not with worldly-minded people that we ought to compare ourselves, but with Jesus Christ, Who is the model for all those who are predestinated. “Look,” says St. Paul to everyone of us, quoting the words that were said to Moses, “Look and make it according to the pattern that was shown thee on the mount.” [Heb. viii, 5]
How have I conformed my life to the life of the Incarnate Son of God, Who came to teach me the way to Heaven by His example? Ascend, O my soul, to the hill of Calvary, and gaze attentively upon thy crucified Savior! To this each one of us must conform in his own state of life if he wishes to be saved; such being the decree of the eternal Father, that the predestinated must “be made conformable to the image of His Son.” [Rom. viii, 29]
But can I truthfully and conscientiously say that I imitate Him? In what way? Let me examine myself. Ah, how different I am from Him! And what just cause I find in this examen to humble myself! In comparing myself with sinners I think myself a Saint; but in comparing myself with Jesus Christ, Whom I ought to imitate, I am compelled to acknowledge that I am a sinner and a reprobate; and the only consolation left to me is to trust in the infinite mercy of God. “O God, my support and my deliverer.” [Ps. cxliii, 2]
22. Read the lives of the Saints, and consider whose life your own most resembles: what degree of sanctity do you possess? If you were to die at this moment, to what part of Paradise would you think yourself destined? Perhaps amongst the innocents? No one is innocent who has committed even one mortal sin; and you—–have you still in your soul your Baptismal innocence? Perhaps, therefore, amongst the penitents? But where is your penitence when, far from seeking self-mortification, you seek in all things to please yourself? Do you think you deserve to be numbered amongst the Martyrs? I will not speak of the shedding of blood; but where is even your patience to suffer only the slightest trouble or adversity in this miserable life? Do you judge yourself worthy to be ranked with the virgins? But are you pure in body and mind? St. Anthony, the abbot, after having labored many years to perfect himself in holiness by imitating the virtues of all the most illustrious anchorites, found much to humble himself when he heard of St. Paul, the first hermit, and felt that in comparison with this holy man he himself had nothing of the religious left in him. O my soul, come too, and compare thyself with the Saints. “Call to remembrance the works of the fathers which they have done in their generations,” [Mach. ii, 51] and thou wilt find innumerable occasions for humbling thyself in perceiving how far thou art from holiness. It is all very well to say: I do nothing wrong. To be saved it is not enough not to do evil, but one must also do good. “Avoid evil, and do good.” [Ps. xxxvi, 27] It is not enough not to be a sinner by profession, but it is necessary to be holy by profession. “Follow “holiness, without which no man shall see God.” [Heb. xii, 14]
23. Examine those virtues which you imagine that you possess. Have you prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, modesty, humility, chastity, humbleness of spirit, charity, obedience, and many other virtues that may be necessary or suitable to your condition? If you have a few of these, in what degree do you possess them?
But I will say more: and that is, examine yourself first, and see whether you really have this virtue that you think you possess. What I mean to say is: is it a real virtue, or perhaps only a disposition of your natural temperament, be it melancholy, sanguine or phlegmatic? And even should this virtue be real, is it a Christian virtue or purely a human one? Every act of virtue which does not proceed from a supernatural motive, in order to bring us to everlasting bliss, is of no value. And in the practice of virtue, do you join to your external actions the inward and spiritual acts of the heart? O true Christian virtues, I fear that in me you are nothing but beautiful outward appearances! I deserve the reproach of God’s word: “Because thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.” [Apoc. iii, 17] And in the same manner the counsel of St. Augustine is good for me, that it is better to think of those virtues in which we are lacking rather than of those which we possess. “I will humble myself more for those virtues which I lack than pride myself on those I possess.” [In Ps. xxxviii]
24. In order that an act of virtue be truly virtuous, it is necessary that it should be so in all its component parts, and if it be defective on one point only it becomes vitiated at once. A depraved intention, a single thought of vanity at the beginning, middle or ending of any virtuous work is sufficient to corrupt and change it into an evil one. It is enough for virtue to be wanting in humility for this virtue, which is no longer humble, to cease to be a virtue, and to become a cause of mortal pride.
It often happens to one who leads a spiritual life that the more he strives after virtue, the more he finds a sweet pleasure in himself, and therefore, as St. Augustine says, the sole fact of his self-satisfaction quickly renders him displeasing to God. “The more man thinks he has reason to be pleased with himself, so much the more I fear his self-esteem will displease God, Who resists the proud.” [Lib. de Sancia Virginit., cap. xxxiv]
Oh, how poor we seem when we examine our own spirituality and goodness by the help of these reflections! May it please God that we may not be like those men who, dreaming that they possess great riches, awaken at the point of death to find that they are only beggars: “They have slept their sleep: and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.” [Ps. lxxv, 6] May it please God that the plea of our virtue may not prove an argument for our greater condemnation: “And may that which is thought to be progress in virtue not prove a cause of damnation,” [Lib. 5 Moral. cap. vi] says St. Gregory.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.