"The flowers appear on the earth," (1) says the Heavenly
Bridegroom, and the time for pruning and cutting is come. And
what, my child, are our hearts' flowers save our good desires?
Now, so soon as these begin to appear, we need the pruning-hook to
cut off all dead and superfluous works from our conscience.
When the daughter of a strange land was about to espouse an
Israelite, the law commanded her to put off the garment of her
captivity, to pare her nails, and to shave her head; (2) even so
the soul which aims at the dignity of becoming the spouse of
Christ, must put off the old man, and put on the new man,
forsaking sin: moreover, it must pare and shave away every
impediment which can hinder the Love of God.
The very first step towards spiritual health is to be purged
from our sinful humours. S. Paul received perfect purification
instantaneously, and the like grace was conferred on S. Magdalene,
S. Catherine of Genoa, S. Pelagia, and some others, but this kind
of purgation is as miraculous and extraordinary in grace as the
resurrection of the dead in nature, nor dare we venture to aspire
to it. The ordinary purification, whether of body or soul, is only
accomplished by slow degrees, step by step, gradually and
The angels on Jacob's ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they
did not fly, but went in due order up and down the steps of the
ladder. The soul which rises from out of sin to a devout life has
been compared to the dawn, which does not banish darkness
suddenly, but by degrees. That cure which is gradually effected is
always the surest; and spiritual maladies, like those of the body,
are wont to come on horseback and express, while they depart
slowly and on foot. So that we must needs be brave and patient, my
daughter, in this undertaking.
It is a woeful thing to see souls beginning to chafe and grow
disheartened because they find themselves still subject to
imperfection after having made some attempt at leading a devout
life, and well-nigh yielding to the temptation to give up in
despair and fall back; but, on the other hand, there is an extreme
danger surrounding those souls who, through the opposite
temptation, are disposed to imagine themselves purified from all
imperfection at the very outset of their purgation; who count
themselves as full-grown almost before they are born, and seek to
fly before they have wings. Be sure, daughter, that these are in
great danger of a relapse through having left their physician too
soon. "It is but lost labour to rise up early and late take rest,"
unless the Lord prosper all we do.
The work of the soul's purification neither may nor can end
save with life itself;--do not then let us be disheartened by our
imperfections,--our very perfection lies in diligently contending
against them, and it is impossible so to contend without seeing
them, or to overcome without meeting them face to face. Our
victory does not consist in being insensible to them, but in not
consenting to them. Now to be afflicted by our imperfections is
certainly not to consent thereto, and for the furtherance of
humility it is needful that we sometimes find ourselves worsted in
this spiritual battle, wherein, however, we shall never be
conquered until we lose either life or courage.
Moreover, imperfections and venial sins cannot destroy our
spiritual life, which is only to be lost through mortal sin;
consequently we have only need to watch well that they do not
imperil our courage. David continually asks the Lord to strengthen
his heart against cowardice and discouragement; and it is our
privilege in this war that we are certain to vanquish so long as
we are willing to fight.