” He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.”— Matt. xxiv. 13.
Necessity of Perseverance.—Means of Defense against the Devil.
JEROME says that many begin well but few persevere (Cont. Jovin. 1, 1). Saul, Judas, Tertullian, began well, but ended badly, because they did not persevere in grace. The Lord, says St. Jerome, requires not only the beginning of a good life, but also the end: (Ep. ad Fur.) it is the end that will be rewarded. St. Bonaventure says that the crown is given only to perseverance. (Diaet. Sal. 1, 8, c. 2). Hence St. Laurence Justinian calls perseverance the “gate of heaven.” (De Obed. c. 26).
No one can enter paradise unless he finds the gate of heaven. My brother, at present you have renounced sin, and justly hope that you have been pardoned. You are then the friend of God: but remember that you are not yet saved. And when will you be saved ? When you will have persevered to the end. He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Matt. xxiv, 13). Have you begun a good life ? Thank the Lord for it: but St. Bernard warns you that to him who begins, a reward is only promised, and is given only to him who perseveres S 82 (De modo bene viv. s. 6). It is not enough to run for the prize, you must run till you win it. So run, says St. Paul, that you may obtain (1 Cor. ix, 24). You have already put your hand to the plough, and you have begun to live well; but now you must tremble and fear more than ever. With fear and trembling work out your salvation (Phil. ii, 12). And why ? Because if—which God forbid—you look back and return to a life of sin, God will declare you unfit for paradise. No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke, ix, 62). At present, through the grace of God, you avoid evil occasions, you frequent the sacraments, and make meditation every day.
Happy you if you continue to do so, and if, when he comes to judge you, Jesus Christ will find you doing these things. Blessed is that servant whom, when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing ( Matt. xxiv, 46). But do not imagine that, now that you have begun to serve God, there is as it were an end, or a lack of temptations: listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost. Son, when thou comest to the service of God . . . prepare thy soul for temptation (Ecclus. ii, 1). Remember that now more than ever you must prepare yourself for conflicts, because your enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, will arm themselves now more than ever to fight against you in order to deprive you of all that you have acquired. Denis the Carthusian says, that the more a soul gives itself to God, the more strenuously hell labors to destroy it.
And this is sufficiently expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke, where Jesus Christ says: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest, and not finding it, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in, they dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse 83 than the first (Luke, xi, 24).
When banished from a soul, the devil finds no repose, and does everything in his power to return: he even calls companions to his aid; and if he succeeds in re-entering, the second fall of that soul will be far more ruinous than the first. Consider, then, what arms you must use in order to defend yourselves against these enemies, and to preserve your soul in the grace of God. To escape defeat, and to conquer the devil, there is no other defense than prayer. St. Paul says that we have to contend, not with men of flesh and blood like ourselves, but with the princes of hell. Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Eph. vi, 12).
By these words the Apostle wished to admonish us that we have not strength to resist such powerful enemies, and that we stand in need of aid from God. With his aid we shall be able to do all things. I can do all things in Him that strengthened me (Phil. iv, 13). Such is the language of St. Paul; such, too, should be our language. But this divine aid is given only to those who pray for it. Ask and you shall receive. Let us, then not trust in our purposes; if we trust in them, we shall be lost. Whenever the devil tempts us, let us place our entire confidence in the divine assistance, and let us recommend ourselves to Jesus Christ, and to the Most Holy Mary.
We ought to do this particularly as often as we are tempted against chastity; for this is the most terrible of all temptations, and is the one by which the devil gains most victories. We have not strength to preserve chastity; this strength must come from God. And, said Solomon, as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it, . . . I went to the Lord, and besought him (Wis. viii, 21). In such temptations, then, we must instantly have recourse to Jesus Christ, and to his holy Mother, frequently invoking the most holy names of Jesus and 84 Mary. He who does this, will conquer; he who neglects it, will be lost.
Affections and Prayers
Oh, my God! ” cast me not away from Thy face.” I know that Thou wilt never abandon me, unless I first abandon Thee. Experience of my own weakness makes me tremble lest I should again forsake Thee. Lord ! it is from Thee I must receive the strength necessary to conquer hell, which labors to make me again its slave. This strength I ask of Thee for the sake of Jesus Christ. O my Saviour! establish between Thee and me a perpetual peace, which will never be broken for all eternity. For this purpose I ask Thy love. ” He who loves not is dead.” O God of my soul, it is by Thee I must be saved from this unhappy death. I was lost; Thou knowest it. It is Thy goodness alone that has brought me into the state in which I am at present, in which I hope I am Thy friend. Ah, my Jesus! through the painful death which Thou didst suffer for my salvation, do not permit me ever more to lose Thee voluntarily.
I love Thee above all things, I hope to see myself always bound with this holy love, and to die in the bonds of love, and to live for eternity in the chains of Thy love. O Mary! thou art called the mother of perseverance; through thee this great gift is dispensed. Through thy intercession I ask and hope to obtain it.
We must Conquer the World. Let us now see how we must conquer the world.
The devil is a great enemy of our salvation, but the world is worse. If the devil did not make use of the world and of wicked men, by whom we mean the world, he would not obtain the victories which he gains. But says Jesus Christ, beware of men (Matt. x, 17). Men are often A L 85 worse than the devils; for these are put to flight when we pray and invoke the most holy names of Jesus and Mary.
But when a person gives a becoming answer to wicked companions, who tempt him to sin, they redouble their efforts, they treat him with ridicule, upbraiding him with vulgarity and want of education; and when they can say nothing else, they call him a hypocrite, who only pretends to sanctity.
To escape such derision and reproach, certain weak souls miserably associate with these ministers of Lucifer, and return to the vomit. My brother, be persuaded that, if you wish to lead a holy life, you must expect the ridicule and contempt of the wicked. The wicked, says the Holy Ghost, loathe them that are in the right way (Prov. xxix, 27).
He who lives in sin cannot bear the sight of those who live according to the Gospel. And why ? Because their life is a continual reproach to him; and therefore to avoid the pain of remorse caused by the good example of others, he would wish that all should imitate his own wickedness. There is no remedy.
The Apostle tells us that he who serves God must be persecuted by the world. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. iii, 12). All the saints have been persecuted. Who was more holy than Jesus Christ? The world persecuted him so as to cause him to bleed to death on a cross. There is no help for this; for the maxims of the world are diametrically opposed to the maxims of Jesus Christ.
What the world esteems, Jesus Christ has called folly. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Cor. iii, 19). And the world regards as folly what Jesus Christ has strongly recommended,—such as crosses, pains, and contempts. For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness (1 Cor. iii, 18). But if the wicked revile and reproach us, let us console ourselves with the reflection that God blesses and praises us. They will curse, and Thou wilt bless (Ps. cviii, 28). Is it not enough 86 for us to be praised by God, by Mary, by the angels, the saints, and all good men ?
Let us, then, leave sinners to say what they please, and let us continue to please God, who is grateful and faithful to all who serve him. The greater the opposition and difficulty we meet in doing good, the more we shall please God and treasure up merits for ourselves. Let us imagine that we are alone with God in this world. When the wicked treat us with derision, let us recommend them to the Lord, let us thank him for giving us light, which he does not give to these miserable men, and let us continue our journey.
Let us not be ashamed to appear like Christians; for, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, he protests that he will be ashamed of us on the day of judgment. For he that shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when He shall come in His majesty (Luke, ix, 26). If we wish to save our souls, we must resolve to suffer, and to do violence to ourselves. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life (Matt. vii, 14).
The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away (Matt. xi, 12). He who does not violence to himself, will not be saved. There is no remedy. If we wish to do good, we must act in opposition to our rebellious nature. In the beginning, it is particularly necessary to do violence to ourselves in order to root out bad habits, and to acquire habits of virtue. When good habits are once acquired, the observance of the divine law becomes easy, and even sweet. Our Lord said to St. Bridget, that when in the practice of virtue a person suffers the first punctures of the thorns with patience and courage, these thorns afterwards become roses.
Be attentive, then, dearly beloved Christian, Jesus Christ now says to you, what he said to the paralytic: Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee (John, v, 14). Remember, says St. Bernard, that if you have the 87 misfortune of relapsing into sin, your relapse will be more disastrous than all your falls (In Cant. s. 54). Woe, says the Lord, to them who begin to walk in the way of God, and afterward forsake it. Woe to you, apostate children (Isa. xxx, 1). Such sinners are punished as rebels against God’s light. They have been rebellious to the light (Job, xxiv, 13).
The chastisement of these rebels, who have been favored by God with a great light, and have been afterward unfaithful to him, is, to remain in blindness, and thus die in their sins. But if the just man turn himself away from his justice . . . shall he live ? All his justices which he hath done shall not be remembered; in the prevarication by which he hath prevaricated, and in his sin which he hath committed, in them he shall die (Ezek. xviii, 24).
Affections and Prayers
Oh, my God! such a chastisement I have often deserved, because I have, through the light which Thou gavest me, renounced sin, and have miserably returned to it. I infinitely thank Thy mercy for not having abandoned me in my blindness by leaving me entirely destitute of light, as I deserved. Great then, O my Jesus ! are my obligations to Thee, and great should be my ingratitude, were I again to turn my back upon Thee.
No, my Redeemer, the mercies of the Lord I will sing forever. I hope that during the remainder of my life, and for all eternity, I will always sing and praise Thy mercies by loving Thee always, and never more seeing myself bereft of Thy graces. The great ingratitude with which I have hitherto treated Thee, and which I now hate and curse above every evil, will serve to make me weep bitterly over the injuries I have done Thee, and to inflame me still more with the love of Thee, who, after I had given Thee so many grievous offences, have bestowed upon me so many great graces. Yes, I love Thee, O my God ! worthy of infinite love. Henceforth Thou shall be my only love, my A 88 only good.
O eternal Father! through the merits of Jesus Christ I ask of Thee final perseverance in Thy grace and in Thy love. I know that Thou wilt grant it to me whenever I ask it. But who assures me that I shall be careful to ask this perseverance from Thee ? Hence, O my God, I ask perseverance, and the grace always to ask it of Thee.
O Mary, my advocate, my refuge, and my hope! obtain for me by thy intercession the gift of constancy in always asking of God the grace of final perseverance. Through the love which thou bearest Jesus Christ, I ask thee to obtain for me this gift.
We must Struggle against the Flesh.—Recapitulation.
Let us come to the third enemy—that is, the flesh, which is the worst of all: and let us see how we must defend ourselves against its attacks. The first means is prayer: but this we have already considered. The second is, to avoid the occasion of sin; and let us now ponder well upon this means of overcoming the flesh. St. Bernardine says that the greatest of all counsels, and the one which is, as it were, the foundation of religion, is to fly from sinful occasions (T. i, s. 21, a. 3).
Being compelled by exorcisms, the devil once confessed that of all sermons, that which displeased him most was the sermon on avoiding the occasions of sin: and justly; for the devil laughs at all the resolutions and promises of penitent sinners who remain in the occasion of sin. The occasion of sins of the flesh, in particular, is like a veil placed before the eyes, which prevents the soul from seeing either its resolutions, or the lights received from God, or the truths of eternity: in a word, it makes it forget everything, and almost blinds it. The neglect of avoiding the occasions of sin was the cause of the fall of our first parents. God had forbidden them even to touch the forbidden fruit. God L 89 commanded us, said Eve, that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it (Gen. iii, 3).
But through want of caution she saw, took, and ate it. She first began to look at the apple, she afterward took it in her hand, and then ate it. He who voluntarily exposes himself to danger, will perish in it (Ecclus. iii, 27). St. Peter tells us that the devil goeth about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter, v. 8). And what, says St. Cyprian, does he do in order to enter again into the soul from which he has been expelled? (De zelo et liv.). He seeks an occasion of sin. If the soul permit him lo bring it again into the occasion of sin, he will enter again, and shall devour it.
The Abbot Guerric says that Lazarus came forth from the grave bound hand and foot, and after rising in this state, he died again. Miserable, this author means to say, is the man who rises from sin bound by the occasion of sin; though he should rise, he surely will die again. He, then, who wishes to be saved must forsake not only all sin, but the occasions of sin— that is, the companions, the house, the connections which lead to sin. But you will say: I have changed my life, and now I have no bad motive, nor even a temptation, in the society of such, a person.
I answer: it is related that in Mauritania there are bears that go in search of the apes. As soon as they see a bear, the apes save themselves by climbing up the trees: but what does the bear do? He stretches himself, as if dead, under the tree; and when the apes descend, he springs up, seizes, and devours them. It is thus the devil acts: he makes the temptations appear dead; and when the soul exposes itself to the occasions of sin, he excites the temptation, which devours it. Oh ! how many miserable souls, that practiced mental prayer, frequented Communion, and might be called saints, have, by putting themselves into dangerous occasions, become the prey of hell ?
It is related in ecclesiastical history, that a holy matron, who devoted herself to the pious work of 90 burying the martyrs, found one of them not dead. She brought him to her house: he recovered. What happened ? By the proximate occasion, these two saints, as they might be called, first lost the grace of God, and afterward lost the faith. The Lord commanded Isaias to proclaim that all flesh is grass (Isa. xl, 6). Is it possible, says St. John Chrysostom, for hay not to burn when it is thrown into the fire ? (In Ps. 1, hom. 1). And St. Cyprian says that it is impossible to stand in the midst of flames, and not be burned. (De Singul. Cler.). According to the prophet Isaias, our strength is like that of tow cast into the fire. And your strength shall be as the ashes of tow (Isa. i, 31). And Solomon says that it would be folly to expect to walk on redhot coals, without being burned. Can a man walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned’? (Prov. vi, 27).
Thus it is likewise folly to expose ourselves to the occasion of sin, and to expect not to fall. It is necessary then to fly from sin as from the face of a serpent. Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent (Ecclus. xxi, 2). We ought, says Gualfrido, not only to avoid the bite or contact of a serpent, but should also abstain from approaching it.
But you will say: My interest requires that I should frequent such a house, or that I should keep up a certain friendship. But if you see that such a house is for you a way to hell, there is no remedy; you must forsake it if you wish to save your soul. Her house is the way to hell (Prov. vii, 27). The Lord tells you that if your right eye is a cause of damnation to you, you must pluck it out and cast it from you (Matt. v, 29). Mark the words; you must cast it, not beside you, but to a distance from you—that is, you must take away every occasion of sin.
St. Francis of Assisi says, that the devil tempts spiritual souls, who have given themselves to God, in a way different from that in which he tempts the wicked. In the beginning he does not seek to bind them with a chain; he is content to hold them by a 91 single hair: he then binds them with a slender thread; afterward with a cord; then with a chain; and thus drags them to sin. And therefore he who wishes to be free from the danger of perdition must, in the beginning, break all these hairs, he must avoid all occasions of sins, he must give up these salutations, presents, notes, and the like.
And for those who have contracted a habit of committing sins against purity, it will not be enough to avoid proximate occasions: unless they fly even from remote occasions, they will relapse. He who sincerely wishes to be saved, must, by often repeating with the saints, Let all be lost, provided God is not lost, labor continually to strengthen and renew his resolution of never again renouncing the friendship of God.
But it is not enough to resolve never more to lose God; it is moreover necessary to adopt the means by which you may be preserved from the danger of losing him. The first means is, to avoid the occasions of sin; of this we have already spoken. The second is, to frequent the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. In the house which is often swept there is no uncleanness. By the sacrament of penance the soul is purified; by it it obtains not only the remission of sins, but also help to resist temptations. The Communion is called the bread of heaven; because as the body cannot live without earthly food, so the soul cannot live without this celestial bread. Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you (John, vi, 54).
But on the other hand, to those who frequently eat this bread, is promised eternal life. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever (John, vi, 52). Hence the Council of Trent calls the Communion a medicine which delivers us from venial, and preserves us from mortal sins (Sess. 13, cap. 2). The third means is meditation, or mental prayer.
Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin (Ecclus. vii, 40). He who keeps before his eyes the eternal truths— 92 death, judgment, eternity—will not fall into sin. God enlightens us in meditation. Come ye to Him, and be enlightened (Ps. xxxiii, 6). In meditation God speaks to us, and makes known to us what we are to avoid, and what we are to do. I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart (Osee, ii, 14).
Meditation is the blessed furnace in which divine love is lighted up. In my meditation a fire shall flame out (Ps. xxxviii, 4). To preserve the soul in the grace Of God, it is, as has been already said, absolutely necessary always to pray, and to ask for the graces we stand in need of. They who do not make mental prayer, will scarcely pray for God’s graces; and by neglecting to pray for them, they will certainly be lost. It is necessary then to adopt the means of salvation, and to lead a life of order and regularity.
It is necessary, after rising in the morning, to make the Christian acts of thanksgiving, love, oblation, and a purpose of avoiding sin, along with a prayer to Jesus and Mary that they may preserve you from sin during the day: you should afterward make your meditation, and hear Mass.
During the day you ought to make a spiritual reading, visit the Blessed Sacrament and an image of the divine Mother. In the evening, say the Rosary, and make an examination of conscience. Go to Communion several times in the week, according as your director may advise: you should ordinarily go to confession to the same confessor.
It would also be very profitable to make the spiritual exercises in some religious house. It is likewise necessary to honor the Most Holy Mary by some special devotion—such as by fasting on Saturdays. She is called the Mother of perseverance, and she promises to obtain it for all who serve her. They that work by me shall not sin (Ecclus. xxiv, 30). Above all, it is necessary to ask of God holy perseverance, and especially in the time of temptation, invoking then more frequently the names of Jesus and Mary as long as the temptation continues. If you act in this manner, you will certainly be saved; if not, you will certainly be lost.
Affections and Prayers
My dear Redeemer! I thank Thee for the lights which Thou now givest me, and for the means of salvation which Thou makest known to me. I promise to endeavor to persevere in the practice of them. I see that Thou wishest for my salvation ; and I wish to be saved principally to please Thy heart, which so ardently desires my salvation.
O my God ! I will no longer resist the love which Thou entertainest for me. This love has made Thee bear me with so much patience when I offended Thee. Thou callest me to Thy love, and I desire only to love Thee. I love Thee, O infinite Goodness! I love Thee, O infinite Good ! Ah ! I entreat Thee, through the merits of Jesus Christ, not to permit me to be ever again ungrateful to Thee; either make me cease to be ungrateful to Thee, or make me cease to live.
Lord ! Thou hast already begun the work ; bring it to perfection, Confirm, O God! that which Thou hast wrought in me (Ps. lxvii, 29). Give me light, give me strength, give me love. O Mary! who art the treasurer of graces, assist me, accept me for thy servant, and pray to Jesus for me. Through the merits of Jesus Christ first, and then through thy prayers, I hope for salvation.