CH. XXXVIII. - THAT WE SHOULD HIGHLY ESTEEM ALL OPPORTUNITIES OF FIGHTING FOR THE ACQUISITION OF VIRTUES, AND CHIEFLY OF THOSE WHICH PRESENT THE GREATEST DIFFICULTIES.
I SHALL not be contented to have you simply not shun the opportunities which may present themselves of attaining the different virtues; I would have you esteem them as things of great price and value, seek and embrace them joyfully whenever they present themselves, and account those dearest and most precious which are most repugnant to nature.
To this, by the Divine assistance, you will be enabled to attain by impressing strongly upon your mind the following considerations:
First, that opportunities are means adapted, nay, necessary, for the attainment of virtue. When, therefore, you pray to the Lord for any virtue, you at the same time ask for occasions to exercise it; else would your prayer be vain, and you would be contradicting yourself and tempting your God, who does not usually give patience without tribulation, nor humility without humiliations.
The same may be said of all virtues, which are most surely attained by means of crosses. And the more painful these are, the more effectually do they aid us, and therefore the more acceptable and welcome should they be. For acts of virtue performed in such circumstances are more generous and energetic, and open to us an easier and more speedy way to virtue.
But we ought also to value, and not to leave without its appropriate exercise, the most trifling occasion, though it be but a word or a look, which crosses our will; because the acts thus produced are more frequent, though less intense, than those called forth by circumstances of great difficulty.
The other consideration (of which we have already spoken) is, that all events which befall us come from God for our good, in order that we may derive fruit therefrom.
And although, as we have said before, some of these occasions, such as our own defects, or those of others, cannot be said to be of God, who wills not sin, yet are they from Him, inasmuch as He permits them, and though able to hinder them, hinders them not. But all the sorrows and afflictions which come upon us, either by our own fault or the malice of others, are both from God and of God, because He concurs in them; and that which He would not have us do, as being full of a deformity beyond measure hateful to His most pure eyes, He would yet have us suffer, for our greater advancement in holiness, or for some other wise reason unknown to us.
Seeing, then, that it is most assuredly our Lord's will that we should suffer willingly any cross which may come upon us, either from others or from our own evil deeds, to say, as many do in excuse for their impatience, that God wills not evil, but abhors it, is a vain pretext, whereby to cover our own faults, and avoid the cross which He wills us to bear.
Nay, I will say further, that supposing all other circumstances the same, our Lord is more pleased with our patient endurance of trials which come upon us from the wickedness of men, especially of those whom we have served and benefited, than with our endurance of other grievous annoyances. And this because our proud nature is, for the most part, more humbled by the former than by the latter; and also because by willingly enduring them we do above measure please and magnify our God, cooperating with Him in that wherein His ineffable goodness and omnipotence shine forth most brightly, namely, in extracting from the deadly poison of malice and wickedness the sweet and precious fruit of holiness and virtue.
No sooner, therefore, does our Lord perceive in us an earnest desire to attempt and persevere in so glorious an undertaking than He prepares for us a chalice of strongest temptation and hardest trial, that we may drink it at the appointed hour; and we, recognizing therein His love and our own good, should receive it willingly and blindly, confidently and promptly drinking it to the very dregs, as a medicine compounded by a Hand which cannot err of ingredients the more profitable to the soul in proportion to their intrinsic bitterness.
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