CH. XXXVI. THAT IN THE EXERCISE Of VIRTUE WE MUST PROCEED WITH UNCEASING WATCHFULNESS.
ONE of the most important and necessary means for the attainment of virtue, besides what has been already taught, is to press forward continually to the end we have proposed to ourselves, lest by standing still we fall back.
For when we cease to produce acts of virtue, many unruly passions are generated within us by the violent inclination of the sensitive appetite, and by other exterior influences, whereby virtue is destroyed, or at least diminished; and moreover, we thus lose many gifts and graces with which our Lord might have rewarded our further progress. Therefore is the spiritual journey different from the course of the earthly traveler; for he, by standing still, loses nothing of the ground already gained as is the case with him who travels heavenward.
And moreover, the weariness of the earthly pilgrim increases with the continuance of his bodily motion; while, in the spiritual journey, the farther a man advances, the more does his vigor and strength increase.
For, by the exercise of virtue, the resistance of the inferior part of the soul, which made the way hard and wearisome, grows daily weaker; while the superior part, wherein the virtue resides, is in the same proportion established and strengthened.
Hence, as we advance in holiness, the pain which accompanied the progress gradually diminishes; and a certain secret joy, which, by the Divine operation, is mingled with that pain, increases hourly more and more. And thus, proceeding with increasing ease and delight from virtue to virtue, we reach at last the mountaintop; where the perfected spirit henceforth labors without weariness but, rather with joy and ecstasy because, having now tamed and conquered its unruly passions, and overcome itself and all created things, it dwells for ever blessed in the bosom of the Most High, and there, while sweetly laboring, takes its rest.
CH. XXXVII. THAT, AS WE MUST ALWAYS CONTINUE IN THE EXERCISE OF ALL THE VIRTUES, SO WE MUST NOT SHUN ANY OPPORTUNITY WHICH OFFERS FOR THEIR ATTAINMENT.
WE have seen very clearly that we must go forward without ever stopping in the way of perfection.
To this end, we ought to be very careful and vigilant not to let slip any opportunity which may present itself for the attainment of any virtue. For they have very little knowledge of this way who avoid as much as they can all such adverse things as might greatly assist their progress.
For, not to forget my accustomed advice, if you would acquire the habit of patience, it is not expedient to avoid those persons, actions, or thoughts which move you to impatience.
Withdraw not, therefore, from the society of any one because it is disagreeable; but whilst conversing and holding intercourse with those who most annoy you keep your will always ready and disposed to endure whatever may befall you, however wearisome and annoying; for otherwise you will never learn to be patient.
In like manner, if you find any occupation irksome, either in itself, or because of the person who imposed it on you, or because it hinders you from doing something else more pleasing, do not therefore shrink from undertaking and persevering in it, though it disquiet you, and though you think to find peace by neglecting it; for this would be no true peace, as proceeding not from a soul purified from passion and adorned with virtues, neither could you ever in this way learn to suffer.
I would say the same of harassing thoughts, which at times will annoy and disturb your mind. There is no need to drive them entirely from you; for besides the pain they occasion, they accustom you also to bear contradiction.
And to give you contrary advice, would be to teach you rather to shun labor than to attain to that virtue which you have in view.
It is very true that it becomes every man, and especially the tried soldier, to defend himself on these occasions with vigilance and dexterity; now confronting his enemies, now evading them, according to the measure of spiritual strength and virtue which he has attained.
But, for all this, he must never actually turn back and retreat, so as to leave behind all opposition; for even if we thereby save ourselves for the time from the peril of falling, we shall risk exposing ourselves more to future attacks of temptation, not being armed and fortified beforehand by the exercise of the contrary virtue.
This counsel, however, applies not to the sins of the flesh, of which we have already spoken more particularly.
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