Of Another Means of Doing Our Actions Well, Which Is to Take No Account of Anything beyond Today

by admin on May 1, 2011

THE fifth means that will greatly aid and animate us to do ordinary things well and to perfection is to take no account of anything farther than the present day. And though at first sight this means seems not at all different from the last, yet it really does differ, as we shall see in the sequel. One of the things which is wont to discourage and enfeeble many in the way of virtue, one of the tempta­tions which the devil puts into their heads, consists of such reflections as these: “Can you manage to go on for so many years in such recollection, such punctuality, such exactness, mortifying yourself continually, denying your appetite, and setting aside your own will in all things?” The devil rep­resents this as very difficult, and that it is not a life that can be carried on for such a long time. We read of our blessed Father Ignatius that, when he retired to Manresa to do penance, amongst other temptations wherewith the devil assailed him this was one: “Can you suffer a life so austere as this for the seventy years of life that still remain to you?” Against this temptation this means is directed. There is no question of many years, nor of many days, but only of today. It is a means very proportionable to our weakness. For one day, who will not animate and force himself to live well and do all that in him lies that his actions may be well done? This is the means that our Father sets before us in the particular examen, where he bids us make our resolution from half-day to half-day. “From now till dinner-time at least I propose to be modest in my gait, to keep silence, and practise patience.” In this way that becomes easy which possibly might be too hard, if you took it absolutely: “I propose never to talk, and always to go about with restraint on myself in great com­posure and recollection.”

This was that means the monk made use of, of whom we read in the lives of the Fathers, that, being so much tempted to gluttony that even at break of day he found himself ready to faint for hunger, yet he resolved not to break the holy custom of his order in eating before three in the afternoon; and to this end made use of this artifice. In the morning, talking to himself, he said: “Hungry as thou art, is it much to wait till nine o’clock ?   Then thou mayest eat.”   At nine o’clock, “Verily,” said he, “I ought in something to do violence to myself, and not eat till noon.   As I have been able to wait till nine o’clock, so shall I be able till twelve;” and so he entertained himself that time.   At twelve he put his bread in water and said: “While the bread soaks, I must wait till three o’clock as I have waited till this hour; and I will not for a gain of two or three hours break the monastic custom.”    Three o’clock came and he ate, after saying his prayers.   This he did for many days, beguiling himself with these short terms, till one day, sitting down to eat at three o’clock, he saw a smoke rise out of the basket where he kept his bread and go out by the window of his cell, which must have been the wicked spirit that tempted him.   From this time forth he never felt those false fits of hunger and faintness that he used to have; on the contrary, he had no trouble in passing two days without eating.   Thus our Lord rewarded the vic­tory he had gained over his enemy and the conflict that he had endured.

But it is not without reason we said that this means was very proportionable to our weakness, for after all it treats us as men are wont to treat infirm and feeble folk, helping us on little by little, that the work may not frighten us. But if we were strong and fervent and had much love for God, it would not be necessary to help us on in this way, so little by little, to hide from us the labor and difficulty; since the true servant of God does not put before him the length of time or the number of years, but all time seems short to serve God and all labor little, and so it is not necessary to help him on in this way, little by little. St. Bernard says this well. “The truly just man is not like the hireling or day laborer, who binds himself to serve for one day or one month or for one year, but forever without limit and with­out term he offers himself to serve God with hearty good will. For ever and aye I will never forget, 0 Lord, thy law and thy commandments and counsels (Psalm cxviii. 93). And because he offers himself and determines to serve God absolutely and without limit and does not fix a term, say­ing: “For a year, or for three years, I will do this,” there­fore his reward and recompense shall also be without limit for ever and aye”—Non enim ad annum vel ad tempus instar mercenarii, sed in aeternum divino se mancipat fam-ulatui, Non igitur ad tempus; proinde iustitia ems manet non aliquanto tempore, sed in saeculum saeculi. Sempiterna igitur iusti esuries sempiternam meretur refectionem. In this way St. Bernard explains the saying of the Wise Man: Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time (Wisdom iv. 13). The true just man in a short time and in a few days of life lives many years, because he loves God so much and has such a desire to serve Him that, if he lived a hundred years or even a thousand, he would be ever busy­ing himself in serving Him more and more. And for this desire and determination it is as though he did live all that time in this manner, because God will reward him according to his desire and determination. These are men indeed, lusty, strong men, like Jacob, who for the great love that he bore Rachel thought it a little thing to serve for seven years and then for seven years more. All this time seemed to him short for the great love he bore her (Gen. xxix. 20).

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