"The name of Jesus, pronounced with reverence and affection, has a kind of power to soften the heart. "

St Philip Neri

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"Men should often renew their good resolutions, and not lose heart because they are tempted against them."

St Philip Neri

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

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 40. The Three Kinds of Virtues in which the Fullness of Justice Consists; and first, Man's Duty to Himself


SECTION I
Our Threefold Obligation to Virtue

Having spoken at length of the sins which profane and degrade the soul, let us now turn to the virtues which elevate and adorn it with the spiritual treasures of justice, It belongs to justice to render to everyone his due: to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves. If we faithfully acquit ourselves of these duties to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves, we fulfill the obligations of justice and thus become truly virtuous.

To accomplish this great work let your heart be that of a son towards God, that of a brother towards your neighbor, and that of a judge towards yourself. In this, the prophet tells us, the virtue of man consists: "I will show thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requireth of thee; Verily, to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God." (Mich. 6:8). The duty of judgment is what man owes to himself; the duty of mercy what he owes to his neighbor; and to walk carefully before God is the duty he owes to his Creator.

SECTION II
The Reformation of the Body

Charity, it is truly said, begins at home. Let us, therefore, begin with the first obligation mentioned by the prophet the duty of judgment which man must exercise towards himself. Every just judge must enforce order and discipline in the district over which he exercises jurisdiction. Now, the kingdom over which man rules is divided into two distinct parts: the body with all its organs and senses, and the soul with all its affections and powers. Over all these he must establish the empire of virtue, if he would faithfully perform his duty to himself.
To reform the body and bring it under the dominion of virtue, the first thing to be acquired is a modest and decorous bearing. "Let there be nothing in your carriage, your deportment, or your dress," says St. Augustine, "capable of scandalizing your neighbor, but let everything about you be conformable to the purity and sanctity of your profession." Hence a servant of God should bear himself with gravity, humility, and sweetness, that all who approach him may profit by his example and be edified by his virtues. The great Apostle would have us, like fragrant plants, giving forth the sweet perfume of piety and filling all about us with the odor of Jesus Christ. (Cf. 2Cor. 2:15).

Such, indeed, should be the effect of the words, the actions, and the bearing of those who serve God, so that none who draw near to them can resist the sweet attraction of sanctity. This is one of the principal fruits of a modest and recollected deportment. It is a mute but eloquent teaching, which draws men to the love of virtue and the service of God. Thus do we fulfill the precept of Our Saviour: "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16). The prophet Isaias also tells us that God's servants should be plants bearing fruits of righteousness and virtue, the beauty of which will lead men to extol the power of their Creator. (Cf. Is. 61:3). This does not mean that our good works must be done to gain the applause of men, for, as St. Gregory tells us, "a good work may be public only while its intention remains a secret between God and the soul. The example we thus afford our brethren destroys neither the merit of humility nor the desire to please only God." (Moral. 29,18).

Another fruit which we derive from this exterior modesty is a greater facility in preserving the recollection, devotion, and purity of the soul. The interior and the exterior man are so closely united that good or evil in one is quickly communicated to the other. If order reign in the soul, its effect is experienced in the body; and the body, if disturbed, renders the soul likewise restless. Each may in all respects be considered a mirror of the other, for the actions of one are faithfully represented in the other. For this reason a composed and modest bearing must contribute to interior recollection and modesty, while a restless exterior must be incompatible with peace of soul. Hence the Wise Man tells us: "He that is hasty with his feet shall stumble." (Prov. 19:2). Thus would he teach us that he whose exterior is wanting in that calm gravity which is the distinctive mark of God's servants must inevitably stumble and frequently fall.

A third effect of the virtue we are considering is to communicate to man a composure and gravity befitting any office he may fill. We behold an example of this in Job, who tells us that the light (the dignity) of his countenance never fell to the earth. (Cf. Job 29:24). And speaking of the authority of his bearing, he says: "The young men saw me and hid themselves, and the old men rose up and stood. The princes ceased to speak, and laid the finger on their mouth. The rulers held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to their throat." (Job 29:8-10). But the gravity and dignity of this holy man were mingled with so much sweetness and mercy that, as he tells us, when seated as a king with his army about him he was a comforter to them that mourned. (Cf. Job 25).

Wise men condemn this want of modest gravity less as a fault in itself than as a mark of levity; for, as we have already observed, an unreserved and frivolous exterior indicates an uncontrolled and ill-regulated interior. Hence the author of Ecclesiasticus says: "The attire of the body, and the laughter of the teeth, and the gait of the man show what he is." (Ecclus. 19:27). "As the faces of them that look therein shine in the water," says Solomon, "so the hearts of men are laid open to the wise" by their exterior acts. (Prov. 27:19).

Such are the benefits which result from a grave and modest deportment. We cannot but deplore the conduct of those who, through human respect, laugh and jest with a freedom unbecoming their profession, and allow themselves indulgences which deprive them of many of the fruits of virtue. "A religious," says St. John Climachus, "should not abandon his fasts through fear of falling into the sin of vainglory." Neither should fear of the world's displeasure cause us to lose the advantages of gravity and modesty in our conduct; for it is as unreasonable to sacrifice a virtue through fear of offending men as it would be to seek to overcome one vice by another.

The preceding remarks apply to our manners in general. We shall next treat of the modesty and sobriety which we should observe at table.


SECTION III
Temperance

The first thing to be done for the reformation of the body is to put a rigorous curb on the appetites and to refrain from immoderate indulgence of any of the senses. As myrrh, which is an exceedingly bitter substance, preserves the body from corruption after death, so mortification preserves it during life from the corruption of vice. For this reason we shall consider the efficacy of sobriety, or temperance a virtue upon which all the others depend, but which is very difficult to attain because of the resistance of our corrupt nature.

Read, then, the words in which the Holy Spirit deigns to instruct us in this respect: "Use as a frugal man the things that are set before thee, lest if thou eatest much thou be hated. Leave off first for manners' sake, and exceed not lest thou offend. And if thou sittest among many, reach not thy hand out first of all, and be not the first to ask for drink." (Ecclus. 31:19-21). Here are rules worthy of the Sovereign Master, who wills that we should imitate in our actions the decorum and order which reign in all His works. St. Bernard teaches us the same lesson in these words: "In regard to eating there are four things to be regulated: the time, the manner, the quantity, and the quality. The time should be limited to the usual hours of our repast; the manner should be free from that eagerness which makes us appear absorbed in what is set before us; the quantity and quality should not exceed what is granted others, except when a condition of health manifestly requires delicacies." (Ep. ad Fratres de Monte Dei.).

In forcible words, supported by appropriate examples, St. Gregory declares the same sentiments: "It belongs to abstinence not to anticipate the ordinary time of meals, as Jonathan did when he ate the honeycomb (Cf. 1Kg. 14:27); not to desire the greatest delicacies, as the Israelites did in the desert when they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt (Cf. Exod. 16:3); not to wish for the choicest preparation of food, as the people of Sodom (Cf. Gen. 19); and not to yield to greediness, as Esau did (Cf. Gen. 25:33) when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage." (Moral. 30,27).

Hugh of St. Victor tells us we must be very attentive to our deportment at table, always observing a certain modesty of the eyes and a reserve of speech. There are some, he says, who are no sooner seated at table than their uncontrolled appetite is manifested by their bearing: Their eyes eagerly scan the whole board; they rudely help themselves before others, and seize upon the nearest dish, regardless of all save self. They approach the table as a general approaches a fort which he is to assail, as if they were considering how they can most quickly consume all that lies before them. (Discip. Monast.). Control these disgraceful indications of a degrading vice, and overcome the vice itself by restricting the quantity and quality of your food. Bear these wise counsels in mind at all times, but particularly when the appetite is stimulated by hunger, or by rare and sumptuous viands which prove strong incentives to gluttony.

Beware of the illusions of this vice, which St. John Climachus tells us is most deceptive. At the beginning of a repast it is so clamorous that it would seem that no amount could satisfy our hunger; but if we are firm in resisting its unruly demands, we shall see that a moderate portion is sufficient for nature.

An excellent remedy against gluttony is to bear in mind when we go to table that there are, as a pagan philosopher says, two guests to be provided for: the body, to which we must furnish the food which its necessity craves; and our soul, which we must maintain by the virtues of self-denial and temperance. A no less efficacious remedy is to compare the happy fruits of abstinence with the gross pleasures of gluttony, which will enable us to appreciate the folly of sacrificing such lasting advantages for such pernicious and fleeting gratifications.

Remember, moreover, that of all the pleasures of the senses those of taste and feeling are the lowest. We have them in common with all animals, even the most imperfect, while there are many which lack the other three, seeing, hearing, and smelling. These former senses, tasting and feeling, are not only the basest, but their pleasures are the least enduring, for they vanish with the object which produced them.

Add to these considerations the thought of the sufferings of the martyrs, and the fasts and mortifications of the saints, Think, too, of your many sins which must be expiated; of the pains of Purgatory; of the torments of Hell. Each of these things will tell you how necessary it is to take up the cross, to overcome your appetites, and to do penance for the sinful gratifications of the past. Remember, then, the duty of self-denial; prepare for your necessary meals with such reflections before your mind, and you will see how easy it will be to observe the rules of moderation and sobriety.

Though this great prudence is necessary in eating, how much more is required in drinking! There is nothing more injurious to chastity than the excessive use of wine, in which, as the Apostle says, there is luxury. (Cf. Eph. 5:18), It is at all times the capital enemy of this angelic virtue; but it is particularly in youth that such indulgence is most fatal. . Hence St. Jerome says that wine and youth are two incentives to impurity. (Ad Eustoch, de Cust. Virg.). Wine is to youth what fuel is to fire. As oil poured upon the flames only increases their intensity, so wine, like a violent conflagration, heats the blood, enkindling and exciting the passions to the highest pitch of folly and madness. Witness the excesses into which man is led by hatred, love, revenge, and other passions, when stimulated by intoxicating liquors. The natural effect of this fatal indulgence is to counteract all the results of the moral virtues. These subdue and control the baser passions, but wine excites and urges them to the wildest licentiousness. Judge, therefore, with what vigilance you should guard against the attacks of such an enemy.

Remember, too, that by wine is meant every kind of drink capable of robbing man of the use of his reason or his senses. A philosopher has wisely said that the vine bears three kinds of grapes: one for necessity, one for pleasure, and one for folly. In other words, wine taken with moderation supports our weakness; beyond this limit it only flatters the senses; and drunk to excess it produces a species of madness. Heed no inspiration or thought which you have reason to think is excited by wine, the worst of evil counselors.

Avoid with equal care all disputes or arguments at table, for they are often the beginning of grave quarrels. Be no less moderate in speech than in the indulgence of your appetite; for, as Holy Scripture tells us, "there is no secret where drunkenness reigneth." (Prov. 31:4). We shall find rather unbridled tongues, immoderate laughter, vulgar jokes, violent disputes, the revelation of secrets, and many other unhappy consequences of intemperance.

Another evil against which I would warn you is dwelling upon the merits of certain dishes, and condemning others because they are not so delicate. How unworthy it is of man to fix his mind and heart on eating and drinking with such eagerness that the burden of his conversation is on the excellent fish of such a river, the luscious fruit of such a country, and the fine wines of such a region! This is a clear proof that he has lost sight of the true end of eating, which is to support nature, and that, instead of devoting to this work the senses destined for it, he debases his heart and his intelligence to make them also slaves of his gluttony.

Avoid with especial care all attacks upon your neighbor's character. The malicious rapacity which prompts us to tear our neighbor's reputation in pieces was justly condemned by St. John Chrysostom as a species of cannibalism: "Will you not be satisfied with eating the flesh of animals? Must you devour human flesh by robbing another of his good name?" St. Augustine had so great a horror for this vice, from which so few tables are free, that he inscribed on the walls of his dining room the following lines:

"This board allows no vile detractor place
Whose tongue will charge the absent with disgrace."
- Vita Aug; c. 22 -

Still another point to which I wish to direct your attention is the warning given by St. Jerome, that it is better to eat moderately every day than to fast for several days and then to eat to excess. A gentle rain, he says, in proper season benefits the earth, but violent floods only devastate it. (Ep, 7 ad Loec.).

Finally, let necessity, not pleasure, govern you in eating and drinking. I do not say that you must allow your body to want for nourishment. Oh, no; like any animal destined for the service of man, your body must be supported. All that is required is to control it, and never to eat solely for pleasure, We must conquer, not destroy, the flesh, says St. Bernard; we must keep it in subjection, that it may not grow proud, for it belongs to it to obey, not to govern. (Ep. ad FF, de Monte Dei.).
This will suffice to show the importance of this virtue. But he who would learn more of the happy fruits of temperance, and its salutary effects not only upon the soul but even upon health, life, honor, and happiness, may read a special treatise on this subject which we have added to our book on meditation and prayer.


SECTION IV
The Government of the Senses

The next step in the reformation of the body is the government of the senses. These are the avenues which a Christian should guard with special care, particularly the eyes, which, in the language of Holy Scripture, are the windows through which death enters to rob us of life. Persons desirous of making progress in prayer should be very vigilant in guarding this sense, for this watchfulness not only promotes recollection, but is a most efficacious means of preserving chastity. Without this guard they are a prey to all the vanities which surround them, and which take such possession of the imagination that it is impossible to banish them during prayer. This is the reason of the modesty of the eyes which devout souls observe. Not only do they avoid images which could tarnish the purity of their hearts, but they resolutely turn their eyes from curious objects and worldly vanities, that their mind and heart may be free to converse with God without distraction, and to advance in the knowledge of spiritual things. Prayer is so delicate an exercise that it is impeded not only by sinful images, but also by the representation of objects otherwise harmless in themselves.

The sense of hearing requires a no less vigilant guard, for through it we learn a multitude of things which weary, distract, and even defile the soul. We should protect our ears not only from evil words, but from frivolous conversations, worldly gossip, and idle discourses. During meditation we suffer from a want of vigilance in this respect, for these things are great obstacles to recollection, and persistently interpose between God and the soul in time of prayer.

Little need be said of the sense of smell, for an inordinate love of perfumes and sweet essences is so sensual and so effeminate that most men are ashamed of it, for this is a gratification in which few but women indulge.


SECTION IV
The Government of the Tongue

Here is a subject upon which there is much to be said, for we are told in Holy Scripture that "death and life are in the power of the tongue." (Prov. 18:21). From this we can understand that the happiness or misery of every man depends upon the use he makes of this organ.
St. James asserts this truth no less strongly when he says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body, We put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also ships, whereas they are great and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm whithersoever the force of the governor willeth. So the tongue also is, indeed, a little member and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." (James 3:2-6). To govern this great instrument for good we must bear in mind, when we speak, four things: of what we speak, how we speak, the time we speak, and the object for which we speak.

In regard to the first point, what we speak, remember the counsel of the Apostle: "Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. All uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be so much as named among you, as becometh saints, or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility." (Eph. 4:29 and 5:3-4). As the sailor always bears with him a chart indicating the shoals and rocks which could wreck his vessel, so should the Christian bear with him these counsels of the Apostle indicating the shoals of speech which could wreck him in his voyage to eternity. Be no less careful in guarding a secret which has been confided to you, for the betrayal of a trust is one of the vilest faults into which the tongue can lead us.

In regard to the second point, how we are to speak, let us observe a just medium between silence and talkativeness, between timidity and self-sufficiency, between frivolity and pomposity; always speaking with becoming gravity, moderation, sweetness, and simplicity. Beware of haughtily asserting and obstinately persisting in your statements, for this fault gives rise to disputes which wound charity and destroy the peace of the soul. It is the part of a generous nature to yield in such contentions, and a prudent man will follow the counsel of the inspired writer: "In many things be as if thou wert ignorant, and hear in silence and withal seeking." (Ecclus. 32:12).

Consider also the necessity of observing when you speak, and always endeavor to select a suitable time: "A parable coming out of a fool's mouth shall be rejected, for he doth not speak it in due season." (Ecclus. 20:22).

Finally, we must consider the end for which we speak. There are some whose only purpose is to appear learned. Others desire to parade their wit and conversational powers. The first are thus led into hypocrisy and deceit, and the second become the sport of self-love and vanity. It does not suffice, therefore, that our conversation be good in itself it must be directed to some good end, such as the glory of God or the profit of our neighbor.

In addition to this we must also consider the persons to whom we speak. For example, it does not become the young to engross the conversation in the presence of their elders, nor the ignorant in the presence of the learned, nor lay persons in the presence of ecclesiastics or religious. When you have reason to think that your words may be untimely or presumptuous, be silent. All persons are not capable of judging correctly in these points, and therefore, in doubt, the wisest course is a prudent silence. We shall thus conform to all the rules we have been considering; for, as the Wise Man says, "Even a fool, if he will hold his peace, shall be counted wise; and if he close his lips, a man of understanding." (Prov. 17:28).