CH. XXXIII. SOME COUNSELS AS TO THE OVERCOMING OF EVIL PASSIONS AND THE ACQUISITION OF VIRTUE.
THOUGH I have said so much on the course to be pursued in order to conquer self and adorn it with all virtues, there still remain some other points concerning which I would give you some advice.
1. In your endeavors after holiness, never, be persuaded to use such spiritual exercises as select formally different virtues for different days of the week, setting apart one for the attainment of each. But let the order of your warfare and your exercise be to combat those passions which have always injured and still continue to assault and injure you; and to adorn yourself, and that with all possible perfection, with their contrary virtues.
For having once acquired these virtues, all others will be readily attained, as occasion offers, with little comparative exertion. And occasions will never be wanting; for all the virtues are linked together in one chain, and he who possesses one in perfection has all the others ready on the threshold of his heart.
2. Never set a fixed time, such as days, or weeks, or years, for the attainment of any virtue; but, as an infant newly born, a soldier just enlisted, fight your way continually towards the summit of perfection. Never stand still, even for a moment; for to stand still in the way of virtue and perfection is not to regain breath or courage, but to fall back, or to grow feebler than before.
By standing still, I mean flattering ourselves that we have perfectly acquired the virtue in question, and so taking less heed of the occasions which call us to fresh acts of it, or of little failures therein.
Therefore be careful, be fervent, be watchful, that you neglect not the slightest opportunity of exercising any virtue. Love all such occasions, and especially those which are attended with the greatest difficulty, because habits are quickest formed and deepest rooted when the difficulties to be overcome are greatest; love those occasions, therefore, which present such difficulties.
Fly those only, and that with rapid step, with all diligence and speed, which might lead to the temptation of the flesh.
3. Be prudent and discreet in those exercises which may prove injurious to bodily health, such as selfchastisement by means of disciplines, haircloths, fasts, vigils, meditations, and the like; for these virtues must be acquired slowly and by degrees, as will be hereafter explained.
As to other virtues which are wholly internal, such as the love of God, contempt of the world, selfabasement, hatred of vicious passions and of sin, meekness and patience, love towards all men, towards those who injure us and the like, it is not necessary to acquire these gradually, nor to mount by degrees to perfection therein; but you should strive at once with all your might to practice each with all possible perfection.
4. Let your whole heart desire nothing, think of nothing, crave nothing, long for nothing, but to conquer that passion with which you are struggling, and to attain its contrary virtue. Be this your world, your heaven, your earth, your whole treasure; and all with the sole view to please God. Whether eating or fasting, laboring or resting, watching or sleeping, at home or abroad, whether engaged in devotion or in manual labor, let all be directed to the conquest and extinction of this passion, and to the attainment of the contrary virtue.
5. Wage unceasing war against earthly pleasures and comforts, so will no vice have much power to assail you. For all vices spring from this one root of pleasure; when this, therefore, is cut away by hatred of self, they lose their strength and power.
For if with one hand you will try to fight against some particular sin or pleasure, and with the other dally with other earthly enjoyments, though their guilt be not mortal, but only venial, your battles will be hard and bloody, your victories infrequent and uncertain. Keep, therefore, constantly in mind these divine words: "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal." St. John xii. 25. "Brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die."
6. Lastly, it would be well, it may be even necessary, for you to make in the first place a general confession, with all the necessary conditions, that you may be the better assured of your Lord's favor, to whom alone you must look for all grace and victory.
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