CH. XXXII. - OF THE ABOVE NAMED LAST ASSAULT AND STRATAGEM BY WHICH THE DEVIL SEEKS TO MAKE THE VIRTUES WE HAVE ACQUIRED THE OCCASIONS OF OUR RUIN.
THE cunning and malicious serpent fails not to tempt us by his artifices even by means of the very virtues we have acquired, that, leading us to regard them and ourselves with complacency, they may become our ruin; exalting us on high, that we may fall into the sin of pride and vainglory.
To preserve yourself from this danger, choose for your battlefield the safe and level ground of a true and deep conviction of your own nothingness, that you are nothing, that you know nothing, that you can do nothing, and have nothing but misery and sin, and deserve nothing but eternal damnation.
Entrench yourself firmly within the limits of this truth, and suffer not yourself to be enticed so much as a hair's breadth therefrom by any evil thought, or any thing else that may befall. you; knowing well that these are so many enemies, who would slay or wound you should you fall into their hands.
In order to acquit yourself well in this exercise of the true knowledge of your own nothingness, observe the following rule:
As often as you reflect upon yourself and your own works, consider always what you are of yourself, and not what you are by the aid of God's grace, and so esteem yourself as you shall thus find yourself to be.
Consider first the time before you were in existence, and you will see yourself to have been during all that abyss of eternity a mere nothing, and that you did nothing, and could have done nothing, towards giving yourself an existence.
Next consider the time since you did receive a being from the sole bounty of God. And here, also, if you leave to Him that which is His own (His continual care of you, which sustains you every moment of your life), what are you of yourself but still a mere nothing?
For, undoubtedly, were He to leave you for one moment to yourself, you would instantly return to that first nothingness from whence you were drawn by His almighty hand.
It is plain that, in the order of nature, and viewed in yourself alone, you have no reason to esteem yourself, or to desire the esteem of others.
Again, in the life of grace and the performance of good works, what good or meritorious deed could your nature perform by itself if deprived of Divine assistance? For, considering, on the other hand, the multitude of your past transgressions, and moreover the multitude of other sins from which God's compassionate hand has alone withheld you, you will find that your iniquities, being multiplied not only by days and years, but by acts and habits of sin (one evil habit drawing another after it), would have swelled to an almost infinite amount, and so have made of you another infernal Lucifer. Hence, if you would not rob God of the praise of His goodness, but cleave faithfully to Him, you must learn day by day to think more humbly of yourself.
And be very careful to deal justly in this judgment of yourself, or it may do you no little injury.
For if in the knowledge of your own iniquity you surpass a man who, in his blindness, accounts himself to be something, you will lose exceedingly, and fall far below him in the action of the will, if you desire to be esteemed and regarded by men for that which you know yourself not to be.
If, then, you desire that the consciousness of your vileness and sinfulness should protect you from your enemies, and make you dear to God, you must not only despise yourself, as unworthy of any good and deserving of every evil, but you must love to be despised by others, detesting honors, rejoicing in shame, and stooping on all occasions to offices which others hold in contempt. You must make no account at all of their judgment, lest you be thereby deterred from this holy exercise. But take care that the end in view be solely your own humiliation and selfdiscipline, lest you be in any degree influenced by a certain lurking pride and spirit of presumption, which, under some specious pretext or other, often causes us to make little or no account of the opinions of others.
And should you perchance come to be loved, esteemed, or praised by others for any good gift bestowed on you by God, be not moved a single step thereby; but collect yourself steadily within the stronghold of this true and just judgment of yourself, first turning to God and saying to Him with all your heart :
"O Lord, never let me rob You of Your honor and the glory of Your grace; to You be praise and honor and glory, to me confusion of face." And then say mentally of him who praises you: "Whence is it that he accounts me good, since truly my God and His works are alone good?"
For by thus giving back to the Lord that which is His own, you will keep your enemies afar off, and prepare yourself to receive greater gifts and favors from your God.
And if the remembrance of good works expose you to any risk of vanity, view them instantly, not as your own, but as God's; and say to them : "I know not how you did appear and originate in my mind, for you derived not your being from me; but the good God and His grace created, nourished, and preserved you. Him alone, then, will I acknowledge as your true and first Parent, Him will I thank, and to Him will I return all the praise."
Consider next, that not only do all the works which you have done fall short of the light which has been given you to know them, and the grace to execute them, but also that in themselves they are very imperfect, and fall very short of that pure intention and due diligence and fervor with which they should be performed, and which should always accompany them.
If, then, you will well consider this, you will see reason rather for shame than for vain complacency, because it is but too true that the graces which we receive pure and perfect from God are sullied in their use by our imperfections.
Again, compare your works with those of the saints and other servants of God; for by such comparison you will find that your best and greatest are of base alloy, and of little worth.
Next, measure them by those which Christ wrought for you in the mystery of His life, and of His continual cross; and setting aside the consideration of His Divinity, view His works in themselves alone: consider both the fervor and the purity of the love with which they were wrought, and you will see that all your works are indeed as nothing.
And lastly, if you will raise your thoughts to the Divinity and the boundless Majesty of your God, and the service which He deserves at your hands, you will see plainly that your works should excite in you not vanity but fear.
Therefore, in all your ways, in all your works, however holy they may be, you must cry unto your Lord with all your heart, saying: "God be merciful to me a sinner."
Further, I would advise you to be very reserved in making known the gifts which God may have bestowed on you; for this is almost always displeasing to your Lord, as He Himself plainly shows us in the following lesson.
Appearing once in the form of a child to a devout servant of His, she asked Him, with great simplicity, to recite the angelical salutation. He readily began: "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus," and then stopped, being unwilling to praise Himself in the words which follow. And while she was praying Him to proceed, He withdrew Himself from her, leaving His servant full of consolation because of the heavenly doctrine which, by His example, He had thus revealed to her.
Do you also learn to humble yourself, and to acknowledge yourself, with all your works, to be the nothing which you are.
This is the foundation of all other virtues. God, before we existed, created us out of nothing; and now that we exist through Him, He wills that the whole spiritual edifice should be built on this foundation the knowledge that of ourselves we are nothing. And the deeper we dig into this knowledge, the higher will the building rise. And in proportion as we clear away the earth of our own misery, the Divine Architect will bring solid stones for its completion.
And never imagine that you can dig deep enough; on the contrary, think this of yourself, that if any thing belonging to a creature could be infinite, it would be your unworthiness.
With this knowledge, duly carried into practice, we possess all good; without it we are little better than nothing, though we should do the works of all the saints, and be continually absorbed in God.
O blessed knowledge, which makes us happy on earth, and blessed in heaven! O light, which, issuing from darkness, makes the soul bright and clear! O unknown joy, which sparkles amid our impurities! O nothingness, which, once known, makes us lords of all!
I should Never weary of telling you this: if you would give praise to God, accuse yourself, and desire to be accused by others. Humble yourself with all, and below all, if you would exalt Him in yourself and yourself in Him.
Would you find Him? exalt not yourself, or He will fly from you.
Abase yourself to the utmost, and He will seek you and embrace you.
And the more you humble yourself in your own sight, and the more you delight to be accounted vile by others, and to be spurned as a thing abominable, the more lovingly will He esteem and embrace you. Account yourself unworthy of so great a grace bestowed on you by your God, who suffered shame for you in order to unite you to Himself. Fail not to return Him continual thanks; and be grateful to those who have been the occasion of your humiliation, and still more to those who have trampled you under their feet, thinking that you have endured it reluctantly, and not with your own goodwill. Yet were it even so, you must suffer no outward token of reluctance to escape you.
If, notwithstanding all these considerations, which are only too true, the cunning of the devil and our own ignorance and evil inclinations should yet prevail over us, so that thoughts of selfexaltation will still molest us and make an impression on our hearts, then is the time to humble ourselves the more profoundly in our own sight; for we see by this proof that we have advanced but a little way in the spiritual life and in true selfknowledge, inasmuch as we are unable to free ourselves from those annoyances which spring from the root of our empty pride. So shall we extract honey from the poison and healing from the wound.
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