The Spiritual Combat

Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli


THE fourth device of the Evil One, when he sees us advancing steadily towards holiness, is, to excite within us a variety of good desires, that by this means he may lead us away from the exercise of virtue into sin.

A sick person is perhaps bearing his illness with a patient will. The cunning adversary knows that by this means he may attain to a habit of patience; and he immediately sets before him all the good works which in a different condition he might be able to perform, and tries to persuade him that if he were but well he would be able to serve God better, and be more useful to himself and others.

Having once aroused such wishes within him, he goes on increasing them by degrees, till he makes him restless at the impossibility of carrying them into effect; and the deeper and stronger such wishes become, the more does this restlessness increase. Then the enemy leads him on gently, and with a stealthy step, to impatience at the sickness, not as sickness, but as a hindrance to those good works which he so anxiously desires to perform for some greater good.

When he has brought him thus far, with the same art he removes from his mind the end he had in view, to serve God and perform good works, and leaves him only the bare desire to be rid of his sickness. And then, if this does not happen according to his wish, he is so much troubled as to become actually impatient; and so unconsciously he falls from the virtue in which he was exercising himself into the opposite vice.

The way to guard against and resist this snare is, to be very careful, when in a state of trial, not to give way to desires after any good work, which, being out of your power to execute, would very probably disquiet you.

In such cases, resign yourself with all patience, resignation, and humility to the conviction that your desires would not have the effect you think, inasmuch as you are far more insignificant and unstable than you account yourself to be.

Or else believe that God, in His surer counsels, or on account of your unworthiness, is not pleased to accept this work at your hand, but will rather that you should patiently abase and humble yourself under the gentle and mighty hand of His will.

In like manner, if prevented by your spiritual father, or in any other way, from attending as frequently as you desire to your devotions, and especially Holy Communion, suffer not yourself to be troubled or disquieted by longings after them, but, casting off all that is your own, clothe yourself with the good pleasure of your Lord, saying within yourself:

"If the eye of Divine Providence had not perceived sin and ingratitude in me, I should not now be deprived of the blessing of receiving the most holy Sacrament; but since my Lord thus makes known to me my unworthiness, be His holy name for ever blessed and praised. I trust, O Lord, that in Your infinite lovingkindness You will so rule my heart, that it may please You in all things in doing or suffering Your will; that it may open before You, so that, entering into it spiritually, You may comfort and strengthen it against the enemies who seek to draw it away from You. Thus may all be done as seems good in Your sight. My Creator and Redeemer, may Your will be now and ever my food and sustenance! This one favor only do I beg of You, O my Beloved, that my soul, freed and purified from every thing displeasing to You, and adorned with all virtues, may be ever prepared for Your coming, and for whatsoever it may please You to do with me."

If you will observe these rules, know for certain that, when baffled in any good work which you have a desire to perform, be the hindrance from the devil, to disquiet you and turn you aside from the way of virtue, or be it from God, to make trial of your submission to His will, you will still have an opportunity of pleasing your Lord in the way most acceptable to Him. And herein consists true devotion, and the service which God requires of us.

I warn you, also, lest you grow impatient under trials, from whatever source proceeding, that in using the lawful means which God's servants are wont to use, you use them not with the desire and hope to obtain relief, but because it is the will of God that they should be used; for we know not whether His Divine Majesty will be pleased by their means to deliver us.

Otherwise you will fall into further evils; for if the event should not fulfill your purpose and desires, you will easily fall into impatience, or your patience will be defective, not wholly acceptable to God, and of little value.

Lastly, I would here warn you of a hidden deceit of our selflove, which is wont on certain occasions to cover and justify our faults. For instance, a sick man who has but little patience under his sickness conceals his impatience under the cover of zeal for some apparent good; saying, that his vexation arises not really from impatience under his sufferings, but is a reasonable sorrow, because he has incurred it by his own fault, or else because others are harassed or wearied by the trouble he gives them, or by some other cause.

In like manner, the ambitious man, who frets after some unattained honor, does not attribute his discontent to his own pride and vanity, but to some other cause, which he knows full well would give him no concern did it not touch himself. So neither would the sick man care if they, whose fatigue and trouble on his account seems to give him so much vexation, should have the same care and trouble on account of the sickness of another. A plain proof that the root of such men's sorrow is not concern for others, or any thing else, but an abhorrence of every thing that crosses their own will.

Therefore, to avoid this and other errors, bear patiently, as I have told you, every trial and every sorrow, from whatever cause arising.

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