How Necessary Modesty Is for Our Own Advancement

by admin on November 8, 2012

IT is the common teaching of the saints that modesty and guard over the senses is one of the chief means that there are for our own advancement, being as it is a great help to watchfulness over the heart and inward recollec­tion and the preservation of devotion, since it is by the gates of the senses that all evil gains entry into the heart. St. Jerome on that text of Job: Are the gates of death open to thee, and hast thou seen the entrances into darkness? (Job xxxviii. 17), says that in an allegorical sense our senses are the gates of death because by them the death of sin enters into our soul, according to that saying of the Prophet Jeremy: Death hath come in through our windows (Jer. ix. 21). He says that they are called gates of dark­ness because they give entry to the darkness of sins. St. Gregory says the same, and it is the common manner of speaking among the saints, drawn from the axiom of philos­ophy: “Nothing can enter into the understanding without first passing through the senses as through gates”—Nihil est in intellects, quod prius non fuerit in sensu. Now when in a house the gates are locked and well guarded, all the rest is secure; but if they are wide open and unguarded, so that he comes in and goes out who will, the house will not be safe, or at least there will be no peace and quiet there with so much coming in and going out. So it is also here. They who keep the gates of their senses well guarded will live in peace and recollection; but they who take no care of this will have no peace or quiet of heart. Therefore the Wise Man admonishes us: With all careful keeping guard thy heart, for out of it life proceeds (Prov. iv. 23). Keep thy hearty he says; and he adds, with all keeping, with all care and diligence, to give us to understand the impor­tance of this.

Now the heart is kept by guarding well the gates of the senses. St. Gregory says: “To preserve cleanness and pur­ity of heart, it is necessary to make much account of the custody of the senses.” And St. Dorotheus says: “Accus­tom yourself to keep your eyes modestly cast down, and not go looking about at useless and vain things, the usual effect of which is the loss of all the pains taken by a religious.” All that you have gained at a heavy cost of time and labor will easily be lost to you through these gates of the senses unless you are careful to guard them, and you will find yourself empty and destitute. Oh, how well said that holy man (A Kempis): “That is easily lost by negligence which has been gained with much trouble and diffi­culty by grace.” And elsewhere St. Dorotheus says: “Beware of talking much, for it is a hindrance to the holy thoughts and desires and inspirations that come from heaven.” And, conversely, St. Bernard says: “Continual silence, and removal from the noise of the things of the world and forgetfulness of them, lifts up the heart and makes us think of the things of heaven and set our heart upon them.” And treating of modesty of the eyes, he says: “Eyes on the ground are a great aid to keeping the heart ever in heaven.” And we know well by experience that when we go about with modest and downcast eyes, we walk in recollection and devotion.

This is the reason why those holy Fathers of the Desert, as Cassian relates, said that to acquire perfect purity and cleanness of heart and maintain devotion and recollection, it was necessary to be deaf, dumb, and blind. When the gates of the senses are thus closed, the soul will be clean, at liberty, and well disposed to speak and converse with God. But someone will say: How can we be deaf, dumb, and blind, when we have so much to say to our neighbor and are forced to see and hear many things which one had rather not? The way is to hear these things as if we heard them not, that they may come in by one ear and go out by the other, without letting the heart rest upon them, nor taking any account of them. St. Ephrem relates to this purpose how a monk asked another ancient Father: “What shall I do, since the abbot bids me go to the kitchen fire and help the baker, and there are there extern youths, who talk of many silly things that it is not good for me to listen to? What shall I do?” The old man answered: “Have you not seen boys at school, how they are all together, making so much noise, everyone reading and learning the lessons that he has to repeat to the master, and everyone attending to his own lesson and taking no notice of the others, for he knows that it is of that that he has to give an account to the master, and not of the rest? Do you the same. Pay no attention to what others say and do, but do well your own duty, since it is of that that you are to give account to God.”

It is told of the blessed St. Bernard that he kept his heart so continually fixed on God that seeing he saw not, and hearing he heard not, and seemed as though he made no use of his senses. He passed a year in the novitiate, and did not know what the roof of his cell was like, whether it was vaulted or a flat timber roof. There were three glass windows in the church, and he never got to see whether there was more than one. He had traveled nearly a whole day by the shore of a lake, and hearing his companions aft­erwards speak of the lake, he asked them where they had seen any lake; he had caught no sight of it. It is related of Abbot Balladius that he was twenty years in one cell without ever raising his eyes to the roof. In this way, though we walk in the midst of the world, dealing with our neighbor, we shall be deaf, dumb, and blind; and the noise of what we hear and see will be no obstacle to our advance­ment.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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