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Declaring when Spiritual and Corporal Penances ought to be used, and how hurtful they are, when they are done indiscreetly according to ones own Judgment and Opinion.
110. It is to be known, that there are some Souls who, to make too great advances in Holiness, become much behindhand in it, by doing indiscreet Penances; ilke those who would sing more than their strength allows ‘em, who strain themselves till they are tired, and instead of doing better, do worse.
111. Many have fallen into this Precipice, for want of subjecting their judgment to their spiritual Fathers; whilst they have imagined, that unless they give themselves up to rigid Penances, they never can be Saints, as if sanctity did only consist in them. They say, that he that sows little, reaps little; but they sow no other seed, with their indiscreet Penances, than Self-love, instead of rooting it up.
112. But the worst of these indiscreet Penances, is, that by the use of these dry and barren Severities, is begotten and naturalized a certain bitterness of heart towards themselves and their neighbours, which is a great stranger to the true Spirit: towards themselves, because they do not feel the sweetness of Christ’s Yoke, the sweetness of Charity, but only the asperity of Penances; whereby their nature becomes imbitter’d; and hence it follows, that such men become exasperated with their Neighbours, to the marking and reproving much their faults, and holding of them for very defective, for the same reason that they see ‘em go a less rigorous way than themselves: hence they grow proud with their exercises of Penance, seeing few that do after ‘em, and thinking themselves better than other folks, whereupon they much fall in the account of their Vertues. Hence comes the envy of others, to see them less penitent and greater favourites of God; a clear proof, that they fixed their confidence in their own proper diligences.
113. Prayer is the nourishment of the Soul; and the Soul of Prayer is internal mortification: for however bodily Penance, and all other exercises chastening the flesh, be good and holy and praiseworthy, (so as they be moderated by discretion, according to the state and quality of every one, and by the help of the spiritual Director’s judgment) yet thou will never gain any vertue by these means, but only vanity and the wind of vain-glory, if they do not grow from within. Wherefore now thou shalt know when thou art to use most chiefly External Penances.
114. When the Soul begins to retire from the World and Vice, it ought to tame the body with rigour, that it may be subject to the Spirit and follow the Law of God with ease; then it concerns you to manage the Weapons of Haircloth, Fasting and Discipline, to take from the flesh the roots of sin; but when the Soul enters into the way of the Spirit, imbracing internal mortification, corporal chastisements ought to be relaxed, because there is trouble enough in the Spirit: the heart is weakned, the breast suffers, the brain is weary, the whole Body grieved and disabled for the functions of the Soul.
115. The wise and skillful Directer therefore must consider, not to give way to these Souls to perform such excesses of Corporal and External Penance, to whom he moves the great love of God, which they do conceive in the internal, darksom and cleansing retirement of em; because ‘tis not good to spend the Body and the Sprit all at once, nor break their strength by rigorous and excessive Penances, seeing they are weakned by internal mortification. For which reason St. Ignatius Loyola said very well in his Exercises, That in the cleansing way, Corporal Penances were necessary, which in the illuminating way ought to be moderated, and much more in the unitive.
116. But thou wilt say, That the Saints always used grevious Penances. I answer, that they did ‘em not with indiscretion, nor after their own proper judgment, but with the opinion of their Superious and Spiritual Directors which permitted ‘em to use them, because they knew them to be moved inwardly by the Lord to those rigours, to confound the misery of sinners by their examples, or for many other reasons. Other times they gave them leave to use them to humble the fervour of their Spirit and counterpoise their Raptures; which are all particular Motives and make not any general Rule for all.
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