WE: have already seen that it is more profitable to exercise ourselves for a time in a single virtue than in many at once; and that we should use with this view the occasions we meet with, however various. Now learn how to accomplish this with tolerable facility.
It may happen that in the same day, or even in the same hour, we are reproved for some thing in which we have done well, or blamed on some other account; we may be harshly refused some favor we have asked, it may be a mere trifle; we may be unjustly suspected; or we may be called upon to endure some bodily pain, or some petty annoyance, such as a dish badly cooked; or some more heavy affliction and harder to be borne, such as this wretched life is full of, may befall us.
Though, in the variety of these or similar occurrences, we may perform various acts of virtue, yet, if we would keep to the rule laid down, we shall continue to exercise ourselves in acts wholly conformable to the virtue we have at the time in hand; as, for example:
If, when these occasions present themselves, we are exercising ourselves in patience, we shall endure them all willingly and with a joyful heart.
If our exercise be of humility, we shall in all these little crosses acknowledge ourselves to be deserving of every possible ill.
If of obedience, we shall submit ourselves at once to the almighty hand of God, as well as to all created things, whether rational or even inanimate, which may have caused us these annoyances, and this to please Him, because He has so willed it.
If of poverty, we shall be well content to be stripped and robbed of all earthly consolations, whether great or small.
If of charity, we shall produce acts of love towards our neighbor as the instrument of good to us, and towards our Lord God as the first and loving cause whence these annoyances proceed, or by whom they are permitted for our spiritual exercise and improvement.
From what has been said of the various accidents which may befall us daily, we may also learn how, during a single trial of long duration, such as sickness or other like affliction, we may yet continue to produce acts of that virtue in which we are at the time exercising ourselves.
CH. XL. - OF THE TIME TO BE GIVEN TO THE EXERCISE OF EACH SEVERAL VIRTUE, AND OF THE SIGNS OF OUR PROGRESS.
IT is not for me to determine the time to be given to the exercise of each several virtue. This must be regulated by the state and necessities of individuals, by the progress they are making in their spiritual course, and by the judgment of their director.
But if we set ourselves faithfully and diligently to work after the manner I have described, there is no doubt but that in a few weeks' time we shall have made no little progress.
It is a sign of advancement in holiness if we persevere in our exercises of virtue amid dryness, darkness, and anguish of spirit, and the withdrawal of spiritual consolation.
Another clear indication will be the degree of resistance made by the senses to the performance of acts of virtue; for the weaker this resistance, the greater will be our progress. When, therefore, we cease to experience any opposition or rebellion in the inferior and sensual part, and more especially in sudden and unexpected assaults, we may look upon it as a sign that we have acquired the virtue.
And the greater the alacrity and joyfulness of spirit which accompanies these acts, the greater may be our hope that we have derived profit from this exercise. We must beware, however, of assuming as a certainty that we have acquired any virtue, or entirely subdued any one passion, even though after a long time, and after many struggles, we may have ceased to feel its motions within us. For here also the arts and devices of Satan and our own deceitful nature may find place, since that which is really vice seems to our lurking pride to be virtue. Besides, if we look to the perfection to which God calls us, we shall hardly persuade ourselves, however great the progress we have made in the way of holiness, that we have even crossed its threshold.
Return, therefore, to your first exercises, as a young soldier, and a newborn babe, but just beginning to struggle, as if you had hitherto done nothing.
And remember to attend rather to advancement in holiness than to an examination of your progress; for the Lord God, the true and only Searcher of our hearts, gives this knowledge to some and withholds it from others, according as He sees that it will lead to pride or to humility; and as a loving Father He removes a danger from one, while to another He offers an opportunity of increase in holiness. Therefore, although the soul perceive not her progress, let her continue these her exercises; for she shall see it when it shall please the Lord, for her greater good, to make it known to her.
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