"Happy is the youth, because he has time before him to do good. "

St Philip Neri

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."

St Philip Neri

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"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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Venerable Louis of Granada, OP  (1504-1588)

 
 

THE SINNER'S GUIDE

   

By Venerable Louis of Granada, OP

 

Motives for Practising Virtue

 

Ch 14. The Third Privilege of Virtue: The Supernatural Light and Knowledge granted to Virtuous Souls


The heavenly light and wisdom with which God enlightens the just form the third reward of virtue. And this blessing, as well as all the others, is the effect of that grace which not only rules our appetites and strengthens our will, but removes the darkness of sin from our understanding and enables us to know and fulfill our duty.
St. Gregory tells us that ignorance of our duty, as well as inability to do our duty, are alike punishments of sin. (Moral. L. 25, c. 9.). Hence, David so frequently repeats, "The Lord is my light" against ignorance, "the Lord is my salvation" against weakness. (Ps. 26:1). On the one side He teaches us what we should desire, and on the other He strengthens us to execute our desires. And both of these favors are bestowed on us through grace. For in addition to a habit of faith and infused wisdom which teach us what we are to believe and practice, grace imparts to us the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Four of these gifts relate particularly to the understanding: wisdom, which instructs us in spiritual and sublime things; knowledge, which informs us of the things of earth and time; understanding, which helps us appreciate the beauty and harmony of the divine mysteries; and counsel, which guides and directs us amidst the difficulties which we encounter in the path of virtue.

These gifts are so many rays of light which proceed from the divine center of grace, and in Scripture are called an unction or anointing. "But you have the unction from the Holy One, and know all things." (1Jn. 2:20). Oil has the double virtue of giving light and healing, and fitly represents the divine unction which enlightens the darkness of our understanding and heals the wounds of our will. This is the oil which exceeds in value the purest balsam, and for which David rejoiced when he said: Thou, O Lord, hast anointed my head with oil. (Cf. Ps. 22:5). It is evident that the royal prophet did not speak here of a material oil, and that by the head, he designated, according to the interpretation of Didymus, the noblest pan of the soul, or the understanding, which is illumined and supported by the unction of the Holy Spirit.

Since it is the property and function of grace to make us virtuous, we must love virtue and abhor sin, which we cannot do if the understanding be not divinely enlightened to discern the malice of sin and the beauty of virtue. For the will, according to philosophers and theologians, is a blind faculty, incapable of acting without the guidance of the intellect, which points out the good it should choose and love, and the evil it should reject and hate. The same is true of fear, of hope, and of hatred for sin. We can never acquire these sentiments without a just knowledge of the goodness of God and the malice of sin.

Grace, as you have already learned, causes God to dwell in our souls; and as God, in the words of St. John, is "the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world" (Jn. 1:9), the purer a soul is, the brighter will this Light shine in her just as glass, according as it is clearer, reflects more strongly the rays of the sun. Hence, St. Augustine calls God the "wisdom of a purified soul" (De Lib. Arbit., L. 2), because He fills her with His light, which enables her to apprehend all that is necessary for salvation.

Nor should this surprise us when we consider with what care God provides even the brute creation with all that is necessary for the maintenance of life. For whence is that natural instinct which teaches the sheep to distinguish among plants those which are poisonous and those which are wholesome? Who has taught them to run from the wolf and to follow the dog? Was it not God, the Author of nature? Since, then, God endows the brute creation with the discernment necessary for the preservation of animal life, have we not much more reason to feel that He will communicate to the just the knowledge necessary for the maintenance of their spiritual life?

This example teaches us not only that such a knowledge really exists, but also marks the character of this knowledge. It is not a mere theory or speculation; it is eminently practical. Hence the difference between knowledge divinely communicated and that which is acquired in the schools. The latter only illumines the intellect, but the former, the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, communicates itself to the will, strengthens it for good, governs and stimulates it. By its efficacious virtue this divine knowledge penetrates into the depths of the soul, of t transforms our passions, and remodels us upon the likeness of Christ. Hence, the Apostle tells us, "The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12) that is, separating the spiritual man from the animal man.

This, then, is one of the principal effects of grace, and one of the most beautiful rewards of virtue in this life. But to prove this truth more clearly to carnal men, who reluctantly accept it, we will confirm it by undeniable passages from both the Old and the New Testament. In the New Testament, Our Saviour tells us, "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you." (Jn. 14:26). And again, "It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me." (Jn. 6:45).

Numerous are the passages in the Old Testament which promise this wisdom to the just. "I am the Lord thy God, that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest." (Is. 48:17). "The mouth of the just," says David, "shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment." (Ps. 36:30). Throughout the one hundred and eighteenth Psalm, how frequent is his prayer for this divine wisdom! "Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications. Open thou my eyes, and I will consider the wondrous things of thy law. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart."

Shall we not, therefore, appreciate the happiness and honor of possessing such a Master, from whom we may learn sublime lessons of immortal wisdom? "If Apollonius," says St. Jerome, "traversed the greater part of the world to behold Hipparchus seated upon a golden throne in the midst of his disciples, and explaining to them the movements of the heavenly bodies, what should not men do to hear God, from the throne of their hearts, instructing them, not upon the motions of the heavenly bodies, but how they may advance to the heavenly kingdom?"

If you would appreciate the value of this doctrine, hear how it is extolled by the prophet in the psalm from which we have already quoted: "I have understood more than all my teachers," he exclaims, "because thy testimonies are my meditation. I have had understanding above ancients, because I have sought thy commandments." (Ps. 118:99-100). More expressive still are the words in which Isaias enumerates the blessings promised to God's servants: "The Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail." (Is. 58:11).

What is this brightness with which God fills the soul of the just but that clear knowledge of all that is necessary for salvation? He shows them the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice. He reveals to them the vanity of this world, the treasures of grace, the greatness of eternal glory, and the sweetness of the consolations of the Holy Spirit. He teaches them to apprehend the goodness of God, the malice of the evil one, the shortness of life, and the fatal error of those whose hopes are centered in this world alone. Hence the equanimity of the just. They are neither puffed up by prosperity nor cast down by adversity. "A holy man," says Solomon, "continueth in wisdom as the sun, but a fool is changed as the moon." (Ecclus. 27:12). Unmoved by the winds of false doctrine, the just man continues steadfast in Christ, immovable in charity, unswerving in faith.

Be not astonished at the effect of this wisdom, for it is not earthly, but divine. Is there anything of earth to be compared with it? "The finest gold shall not purchase it, neither shall silver be weighed in exchange for it. It cannot be compared with the most precious stone sardonyx, or the sapphire. The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." (Job 28:15-16,28).

And this wisdom increases in the just, for Solomon tells us, "The path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect day" (Prov. 4:18), the beginning of a blessed eternity, when God's wisdom and beauty will be revealed to us in all their brightness and power.

This great gift is the portion of the just only, for the wicked are plunged in an ignorance so intense that it was well symbolized by the darkness which covered the land of Egypt. The wicked themselves confess their blindness, "We looked for light, and behold darkness; brightness, and we have walked in the dark. We have groped for the wall, like the blind, and we have groped as if we had no eyes; we have stumbled at noonday as in darkness; we are in dark places as dead men." (Is. 59:9-10).

What can equal the blindness of him who sells eternal happiness for the fleeting and bitter pleasures of this world? How incomprehensible is the ignorance of him who neither fears Hell nor strives for Heaven; who feels no horror for sin; who disregards the menaces as well as the promises of God; who makes no preparation for death, which hourly seizes its victims; who does not see that momentary joys here are laying up for him eternal torments hereafter! "They have not known or understood; they walk on in the darkness" (Ps. 81:5) of sin through this life, and will pass from it to the eternal darkness of the life to come.

Before concluding this chapter we would make the following suggestion: Notwithstanding the power and efficacy of this wisdom with which God fills the souls of the just, no man, however great the light he has received, should refuse to submit his judgment to his lawful superiors, especially the authorized teachers and doctors of the Church. Who ever received greater light than St. Paul, who was raised to the third heaven; or than Moses, who spoke face to face with God? Yet St. Paul went to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles upon the Gospel which he had received from Christ Himself; and Moses did not disdain to accept the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, who was a Gentile.

For the interior aids of grace do not exclude the exterior succors of the Church. Divine Providence has willed to make them both an aid to our salvation. As the natural heat of our body is stimulated by that of the sun, and the healing powers of nature are aided by exterior remedies, so the light of grace is strengthened by the teaching and direction of the Church. Whoever refuses, therefore, to humble himself and submit to her authority will render himself unworthy of any favor from God.