"He who wishes to be perfectly obeyed, should give but few orders."

St Philip Neri

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"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."

St Philip Neri

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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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Venerable Louis of Granada, OP  (1504-1588)




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 (cont)

The Mortification of the Passions

Having thus regulated the body and all its senses, the most important reformation still remains to be effected, which is that of the soul with all its powers. Here the first to present itself is the sensitive appetite which comprises all our natural affections: love, hatred, joy, sorrow, fear, hope, anger, and other sentiments of a like nature. This appetite is the inferior part of the soul, which gives us our strongest resemblance to irrational animals, because, like them, it is guided solely by inclination. Nothing degrades us more or leads us further from God. Hence St. Bernard says that if we take away self-love, by which he understands all the movements of the sensitive appetite, there will be no longer any reason for the existence of Hell. (De Resurrectione Dni., Serm. 3).

The sensitive appetite is the arsenal which supplies sin with its most dangerous arms. It is the vulnerable part of the soul, a second Eve, frail and inconstant, heeding the wiles of the old serpent and dragging with her in her fall the unhappy Adam that is, the superior part of the soul, the seat of the will and the understanding. Original sin is here manifested in all its power. Here the malignity of its poison is concentrated. Here is the field of man's combats, defeats, and victories. Here is the school in which virtue is exercised and trained, for all our courage, all our merit consists in overcoming the blind passions which spring from the sensitive appetite.

This is why our soul is represented sometimes as a vine needing the careful pruning of the husbandman; sometimes as a garden from which the gardener must diligently uproot the weeds of vice to give place to the plants of virtues. It should be the principal occupation of our lives, therefore, to cultivate this garden, ruthlessly plucking from our soul all that can choke the growth of good. We shall thus become true children of God, guided by the motions of the Holy Ghost. We shall thus live as spiritual men, following the guidance of grace and the dictates of reason, and not as those carnal men who, following the irrational animals, obey only the impulse of passion. This subjection of the sensitive appetite is the mortification so much commended in Scripture; the death to which the Apostle so frequently exhorts us; the practice of justice and truth so constantly extolled by David and the other prophets. Therefore, let it be the object of all our labors, all our prayers, and all our j pious exercises.

Each one should carefully study his own disposition and inclinations, in order to place the most vigilant guard on the weakest side of his nature. We must wage constant war against all our appetites, but it is particularly necessary to combat the desire of honors, of riches, and of pleasures, for these are the roots of all evil.

Beware, too, of that pride which bears with no opposition. It is a fault which prevails among persons of elevated station accustomed to command, and to deny themselves no caprice. To conquer it, learn to deny yourself innocent gratifications, that you may more easily sacrifice those which are unlawful. Learn to bear contradictions with a dignity and patience worthy of a creature who was not made for the things of this world, but who aspires to immortality. Such exercises will render us skillful in the use of spiritual weapons, which require no less practice than is necessary for the proper management of material arms. Much more important, however, is a skillful use of the former, for a victory over self, over pride, or over any passion far outweighs all the conquests of the world. Humble yourself, then, in the performance of lowly and obscure works, regardless of the world's opinion; for what can it take from us, or what can it give us, when our inheritance is God Himself?

The Reformation of the Will

One of the most efficacious means of effecting this reformation is to strengthen and adorn the superior will that is, the rational appetite with humility of heart, poverty of spirit, and a holy hatred of self. If we possess these, the labor of mortification is easily accomplished. Humility, according to the definition of St. Bernard, is contempt of self founded on a true knowledge of our baseness. The effect of this virtue is to pluck from our heart all the roots of pride as well as all love of earthly honors and dignities. It inspires us to seek the lowest place, persuading us that had another received the graces we enjoy he would have been more grateful and would have used them more profitably for the glory of God. It is not sufficient that man cherish these sentiments in his heart; they should also be evident in his deportment and surroundings, which, regardless of the world's opinion, should be as humble and simple as his position will admit. And while he maintains the dignity due to his station his heart should ever be ready to submit not only to superiors and equals, but even to inferiors for the love of God.

The second disposition required to strengthen and adorn the will is poverty of spirit, which consists in a voluntary contempt for the things of this world, and in a perfect contentment in the position in which God has placed us, however poor and lowly it may be. This virtue effectually destroys cupidity, and affords us so great a peace and contentment that Seneca did not hesitate to affirm that he who closed his heart to the claims of unruly desires was not inferior in wealth or happiness to Jupiter himself. By this he signified that as man's misery springs from unfulfilled desires, he may be said to be very near the summit of happiness who has learned to subdue his desires so that they cannot disturb him.

The third disposition is a holy hatred of ourselves. "He that loveth his life shall lose it," says Our Saviour, "and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal." (Jn. 12:25). By this hatred of self Our Lord did not mean that wicked hatred in which they indulge who yield to despair, but that aversion which the saints experienced for their flesh, which they regarded as the source of many evils and as a great obstacle to good. Hence they subjected it to the empire of reason, and denied its inordinate desires, that it might continue a humble servant and willing helper of the soul.

If we treat it otherwise we shall realize these words of the Wise Man: "He that nourisheth his servant delicately from his childhood, afterwards shall find him stubborn." (Prov. 29:21 ). This hatred of self is our chief instrument in the work of salvation. It enables us to uproot and cast from us all our evil inclinations, however much nature may rebel. Without it how could we strike rude blows, penetrate to the quick with the knife of mortification, and tear from our hearts objects upon which our affections are centered? Yes, the arm of mortification, which draws its force as much from hatred of self as from love of God, enables us to treat our failings with the firmness of a skillful physician, and relentlessly to cut and burn with no other thought than to rid the soul of every evil tendency. Having developed this subject in the Memorial of a Christian Life, we shall not here speak of it at greater length.

The Government of the Imagination

Besides these two faculties of the sensitive appetite there are two others, imagination and understanding, which belong to the intellect. The imagination, a less elevated power than the understanding, is of all the faculties the one in which the effects of original sin are most evident, and which is least under the control of reason. It continually escapes our vigilance, and like a restless child runs hither and thither, sometimes flying to the remotest corners of the world before we are aware of its ramblings. It seizes with avidity upon objects which allure it, persistently returning after we have withdrawn it from them. If, therefore, instead of controlling this restless faculty, we treat it like a spoiled child, indulging all its caprices, we strengthen its evil tendencies, and in time of prayer we shall vainly seek to restrain it. Unaccustomed to pious objects, it will rebel against us.

Knowing the dangerous propensities of this power, we should vigilantly guard it and cut off from it all unprofitable reflections. To do this effectually we must carefully examine the thoughts presented to our minds, that we may sec which we shall admit and which we shall reject. If we are careless in this respect, ideas and sentiments will penetrate our hearts and not only weaken devotion and diminish fervor, but destroy charity, which is the life of the soul.

We read in Holy Scripture that while his doorkeeper, who should have been cleansing wheat, fell asleep, assassins entered the house of Isboseth, son of Saul, and slew him. (Cf. 2Kg. 4). A like fate will be ours if we permit sleep to overcome our judgment, which should be employed in separating the chaff from the grain-that is, good thoughts from evil thoughts. While unprotected, bad desires, the assassins of the soul, in this manner are able to enter and rob us of the life of grace.

But this vigilance not only serves to preserve the life of the soul, but most efficaciously promotes recollection in prayer; for as a wandering and uncontrolled imagination is a source of much trouble in prayer, so a subdued imagination accustomed to pious subjects sweetens our conversation with God.

The Government of the Understanding

We have now come to the greatest and noblest of the faculties, the understanding, which raises man above all visible creatures, and in which he most resembles his Creator. The beauty of this power depends upon that rare virtue, prudence, which excels all others. In the spiritual life prudence is to the soul what the eyes are to the body, what a pilot is to a vessel, what a head is to a commonwealth. For this reason the great St. Anthony, in a conference with several holy monks on the excellence of the virtues, gave the first place to prudence, which guides and controls all the others.

Let him, therefore, who desires to practice the other virtues with profit earnestly endeavor to be guided by prudence in all things. Not limited to any special duty, it enters into the fulfillment of all duties, into the practice of all virtues, and preserves order and harmony among them. Having the foundation of faith and charity, it first belongs to prudence to direct all our actions to God, who is our last end. As self-love, according to a holy writer, seeks self in all things, even the holiest, prudence is ever ready to examine what are the motives of our actions, whether we have God or self as the end of what we do.

Prudence also guides us in our intercourse with our neighbor, that we may afford him edification and not give him scandal. To this end it teaches us to observe the condition and character of those about us, that we may more wisely benefit them, patiently bearing with their failings and closing our eyes to infirmities which we cannot cure.
"A wise man," says Aristotle, "should not expect the same degree of certainty in all things, for some are more susceptible of proof than others. Nor should he expect the same degree of perfection in all creatures, for some are capable of a perfection which is impossible in others. Whoever, therefore, would force all lives to the same standard of virtue would do more harm than good."

Prudence also teaches us to know ourselves, our inclinations, our failings, and our evil tendencies, that we may noc presume upon our strength, but recognizing our enemies, perseveringly combat them. It is this virtue also which enables us wisely to govern the tongue by the rules which we have already given, teaching us when to be silent and when to speak. Prudence likewise guards us against the error of opening our minds to all whom we may meet, or of making confidants of others without due reflection. By putting a just restraint upon our words, it saves us from too freely expressing our opinion and thereby committing many faults.

Thus we are kept constantly reminded of the words of. Solomon: "A fool uttereth all his mind; a wise man deferreth and keepeth it till afterwards." (Prov. 29:11). Prudence also forearms us against dangers, and strengthens us by prayer and meditation to meet all the accidents of life. This is the advice of the sacred writer: "Before sickness take a medicine." (Ecclus. 18:20).

Whenever, therefore, you expect to participate in entertainments, or to transact business with men who are easily angered, or to encounter any danger, endeavor to foresee the perils of the occasion and arm yourself against them. Prudence guides us in the treatment of our bodies, causing us to observe a just medium between excessive rigor and immoderate indulgence, so that we may neither unduly weaken the flesh nor so strengthen it that it will rule the spirit.

It is also the duty of prudence to introduce moderation into all our works, even the holiest, and to preserve us from exhausting the spirit by indiscreet labor. We read in the rules of St. Francis that the spirit must rule our occupations, not he ruled by them. Our exterior labors should never cause us to lose sight of interior duties, nor should devotion to our neighbor make us forget what we owe to God. If the Apostles, who possessed such abundant grace, deemed it expedient to renounce the care of temporal things in order to devote themselves to the great work of preaching and other spiritual functions (Cf. Acts 6:2-4), it is presumption in us to suppose that we have strength and virtue capable of undertaking many arduous labors at one time.

Finally, prudence enlightens us concerning the snares of the enemy, counseling us, in the words of the Apostles, "to try spirits if they be of God," "for Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." (1Jn. 4:1 and 2Cor. 11:14). There is no temptation more to be feared than one which presents itself under the mask of virtue, and there is none which the devil more frequently employs to deceive pious souls. Inspired and guided by prudence, we shall recognize these snares; we shall be restrained by a salutary fear from going where there is danger, but animated by a holy courage tc conquer in every struggle; we shall avoid extremes; we shall endeavor to prevent our neighbor from suffering scandal, but yet we shall not be daunted by every groundless fear; we shall learn to despise the opinions of the world, and not to fear its outcries against virtue, remembering, with the Apostle, that if we please men we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ. (Cf. Gal. 1:10).

Prudence in Temporal Affairs

The virtue of prudence is no less efficacious in the direction of temporal affairs. It preserves us from serious, and sometimes from irremediable, errors which not unfrequently destroy both our material and spiritual welfare. To escape this double misfortune, here are the counsels which prudence suggests: The first is that of the Wise Man, who says: "Let thy eyes look straight on, and let thy eyelids go before thy steps." (Prov. 4:25). In other words, look at the enterprise you are about to undertake, and do not rashly enter upon it. First recommend it to God; then weigh all its circumstances, and the consequences which are likely to follow from it; seek counsel of just minds concerning it; deliberate upon the advice you receive, and reflect upon your resolution before acting upon it.

In a word, beware of the four great enemies of prudence; precipitation, passion, obstinate persistence in our own opinions, and vanity. Precipitation admits no reasoning; passion blinds us; obstinancy turns a deaf ear to all counsel; and vanity ruins everything.

It also belongs to prudence to observe a just medium in all things, for extremes are no less opposed to virtue than to truth. Let not the faults of a few lead you to condemn the multitude, nor should the virtues of a few lead you to suppose that all are pious. Follow the guidance of reason in all things, and do not allow yourself to be hurried to extremes by passion or prejudice. This latter failing is apt, moreover, to dispose us favorably towards what is old, and give us a dislike for what is new. Prudence guards us against this, for age can no more justify what is bad than novelty can condemn what is good. Let us esteem things not for their age, but for their merit. A vice of long standing is only more difficult to eradicate, and a virtue of recent growth has only the fault of being unknown.

Beware also of appearances. There are few who have not been taught by experience how deceptive these often are.

Finally, let us be thoroughly convinced that as reflection and gravity are the inseparable companions of prudence, so rashness and levity ever accompany folly. Therefore, we must guard against these two faults at all times, but particularly in the following cases: in believing everything that is reported, for this indicates levity of mind; in making promises, in which we often bind ourselves beyond our means; in giving, in which liberality often makes us forget justice; in forming resolutions which from want of consideration often lead us into errors; in conversation, in which so many faults may be committed; and in temptations and anger, which shows the folly of man. "He that is patient," says Solomon, "is governed with much wisdom, but he that is impatient exalteth his folly." (Prov. 14:29).

Means of Acquiring this Virtue

Not the least important means of acquiring this virtue is the experience of our own failures and the success of others, from which we may gather wise lessons of prudence. For this reason the past is said to be a wise counselor, for today learns from yesterday. "What is it that hath been? The same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? The same that shall be done." (Eccles. 1:9). But a still more efficacious means of becoming prudent is humility, for pride is the greatest obstacle to this virtue. "Where pride is, there also shall be reproach," the Holy Ghost tells us; "but where humility is, there also is wisdom." (Prov. 11:2). And throughout the Scriptures we are frequently reminded that God instructs the humble and reveals His secrets to the lowly.

Humility, however, does not require us to yield blindly to all opinions or indiscreetly to follow every counsel. This is not humility, but weakness and instability, against which the author of Ecclesiasticus warns us: "Be not lowly in thy wisdom, lest being humbled thou be deceived into folly." (Ecclus. 13:11). By this we should understand that a man must resolutely maintain the truth and vigorously support justice, not allowing himself to be carried away by contrary opinions.
Finally, devout and humble prayer will afford us powerful aid in acquiring the virtue of prudence. For the principal office of the Holy Ghost being to enlighten the understanding with the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and counsel, the greater the humility and devotion with which we present ourselves before this Divine Spirit, the greater will be the grace we shall receive.