"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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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 45. Four Important Corollaries of the preceding Doctrine


SECTION I
The Necessity of Exterior as well as Interior Virtues

From the preceding principles we can deduce four consequences of great importance in the spiritual life. The first is that a true servant of God must not be content to seek interior virtues only, though they are the noblest, but must also add the practice of exterior virtues, both to preserve the first, and perfectly to fulfill the obligations of justice. Neither the soul without the body nor the body without the soul constitutes man. In like manner, true Christianity is neither wholly interior nor wholly exterior. The union of both classes of virtues is as necessary to the perfection of the spiritual life as the union of soul and body is to the perfection of the natural life. For as the body receives its life and dignity from the soul, so the exterior virtues receive their life and merit from our interior dispositions, particularly from charity.

Therefore, he who would become a perfect Christian must remember that the interior and exterior virtues are as inseparable as soul and body, the treasure and the chest, the vine and its support – that is, the spiritual virtues and their defenses, the exterior works of piety. Otherwise he will lose the first, without which he can reap no profit from the second. Let him ever bear in mind these words of Holy Scripture: "He that feareth God neglecteth nothing, and he that contemneth small things shall fall little by little." (Eccles. 7:19 and Ecclus. 19:1). The plague of gnats in Egypt was succeeded by that of flies. Beware, then, lest in despising the sting of gnats – that is, of small faults you may fall a victim to flies – that is, to mortal sin. (Cf. Ex. 8).


SECTION II
Discernment in the Pursuit of Virtue

As men will sacrifice more for the purchase of gold than silver, and will do more to preserve an eye than a finger, so we, guided by the spirit of discernment, should make more effort to acquire the greater virtues than those that are of less importance. If we invert this order, we introduce confusion into the kingdom of our soul. Therefore, while recommending the exterior virtues of recollection, modesty, silence, and fasting, we would exhort you with no less zeal to the practice of the interior virtues of humility, charity, prayer, devotion, and love of your neighbor.

Exterior faults being evident to others, we consider them of greater moment than interior defects, and pay more attention to their amendment. Moreover, the exterior virtues, besides attracting more attention, excite more esteem than the practice of hope, charity, humility, fear of God or contempt for the world, though these interior virtues are more pleasing in the sight of God. "For man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart." (1Kg. 16:7). Therefore, as love of praise is one of the strongest and most subtle passions, beware lest it cause you to seek the virtues which are most esteemed by men, to the neglect of the interior virtues, which are more acceptable to God.


SECTION III
Virtues that are Less must sometimes yield to those that are Greater

When we are obliged to choose between two commandments, we should follow the more important. Observe the same rule with regard to the virtues. Whenever you are in doubt as to which you should adopt, the lesser must give place to the greater, if you would avoid confusion. The holy Fathers, says St. Bernard, have established many practices proper to preserve and increase charity. While these practices attain this end they should be rigidly observed, but if at any time they conflict with charity, it is only just that they should be modified, or omitted by proper authority, for others which will more efficaciously promote this virtue. It would certainly be most unreasonable to observe, through a motive of charity, practices which charity itself condemned. Let such practices, therefore, be faithfully observed as long as they promote charity, but no longer. (De Proecepto et Dispen., c.4). In support of this doctrine the great Doctor cites two pontifical decrees, one of Pope Gelasius and the other of Pope Leo.


SECTION IV
True and False Justice

A fourth consequence worthy of note is that there are two kinds of justice, one false and the other true. True justice is that which embraces both the interior and the exterior virtues. False justice is that which is satisfied with a few exterior practices, while neglecting the interior virtues, such as love of God, humility, and devotion. This was the justice of the Pharisees, to whom Our Saviour addressed these terrible words of reproach and condemnation: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanness. … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all filthiness." (Matt. 23:23,25,27). Such is the justice so frequently condemned in the Scriptures. Speaking in God's name, Isaias says: "This people glorify me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they have feared me with the commandment and doctrines of men." (Cf. Is. 29:13). And again: "Offer sacrifice no more in vain: incense is an abomination to me. … My soul hateth your new moons, and your solemnities … I am weary of bearing them." (Is. 1:13-14).

What is the meaning of these words? Does God condemn acts which He Himself commanded under the severest penalties? Does He condemn the practices of that beautiful virtue, religion, the object of which is to honor and worship Him? Assuredly not; but He condemns the insincerity of His people who content themselves with the exterior observance of the law to the neglect of true justice. This He declares, for, after reproaching them with the mockery of their hollow ceremonies and practices, He tells them, "Wash yourselves, be clean, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes: cease to do perversely. Learn to do well … relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow … and if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool." (Is. 1:16-18).

In still stronger language the prophet again denounces exterior practices that are not actuated by interior virtue: "He that sacrificeth an ox, is as if he slew a man; he that killeth a sheep in sacrifice, as if he should brain a dog; he that offereth an oblation, as if he should offer swine's blood; he that remembereth incense, as if he should bless an idol." (Is. 66:3).

Why, O Lord, these terrible words? Why didst Thou repute as abominable those sacrifices which Thou hadst formerly commanded'? "All these things," I hear Thee say, "have they chosen in their ways, and their soul is delighted in their abominations." (Is. 66:3).

Behold the nothingness of exterior practices which are not animated by an interior spirit of virtue, but which are done solely according to the ways of men. "Take away from me the tumult of thy songs," God says by the prophet Amos, '"and I will not hear the canticles of thy harp." (Amos 5:23). Even more strongly does He reject these works, speaking though Malachias: "I will scatter upon your face the dung of your solemnities." (Mal. 2:3). Do not these suffice to show us how little value exterior virtues have when not animated by the love and fear of God, and by hatred of sin, which are the foundations of true justice?

Still another reason which causes God to repel these external observances, comparing sacrifice to murder, incense to idolatry, chanting to discordant noise, solemn feasts to dung, is not only the want of merit in these practices when devoid of an interior spirit, but the fact that they frequently inflate us with pride, excite in us contempt for others, and inspire us with a false security, a fatal confidence, which effectually hinders all amendment for one who is satisfied with his condition and does not desire a change.

The prayer, or rather boasting, of the Pharisee, is a proof of this: "'O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess." (Lk. 18:11-12). Does not this so-called prayer illustrate the three dangers against which we warned you? His pride and presumption exclaim: "I am not as the rest of men"; his contempt of others says: "I am not as this publican"; and his false security shows itself in the thanks which he gives to God for the life he leads, and in which he believes himself safe from all evil.

Besides that gross hypocrisy which is the pretence of virtue made by those who know they are wicked, but who strive to conceal their vices, there is a more refined and more dangerous hypocrisy, which affects many who deceive themselves as well as others by a false show of justice. Like the Pharisee, they imagine they are virtuous, but they are far from true holiness.

Such hypocrisy is the result of that miserable piety which consists of external practices only. Solomon condemned it when he said, "There is a way which seemeth just to a man, but the ends thereof lead to death." (Prov. 14:12). Further on he includes this vice among the four evils which he says exist in the world: "There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. A generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their fělthiness. A generation whose eyes are lofty, and their eyelids lifted up on high. A generation that for teeth hath swords, and grindeth with their jaw teeth, to devour the needy from off the earth, and the poor from among men." (Prov. 30:11-14).

You cannot fail to recognize among these the unhappy victims of self-deception, who, like the Pharisees, believe themselves pure when they are filled with corruption.

This false confidence is so dangerous that there is much more hope for a hardened sinner who recognizes his condition than for one who thus deceives himself. Acknowledging our failings is the first step towards amendment. But how can a sick man be cured who maintains that he is well, and therefore refuses all remedies? For this reason Our Saviour declares to the Pharisees that publicans and sinners shall go before them into the kingdom of Heaven. (Cf. Matt. 21:31 ). And He utters the same truth still more forcibly in the Apocalypse: "I would thou wert cold or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." (Apoc. 3:15-16).

You marvel, doubtless, why a soul that is cold should be less displeasing to God than one that is lukewarm. The reason for this is that coldness, or the state of the sinner devoid of all virtues, is more easily cured than lukewarmness, which represents the man of few virtues, and these only exterior practices without the life of charity. The man who is loaded with sins can be brought to realize his malady, and so induced to take the proper remedies. But the man who is lukewarm rests on that false security which, as was the case with the Pharisee, leads him to believe that he possesses all the treasures of virtue. Though these soulless practices avail him naught, he will not realize his sad state, and consequently will take no measures for amendment.

To know that this is the true meaning of the text, read what follows: "Thou sayest, I am rich and made wealthy, and I have need of nothing; and thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." (Apoc. 3:17). Do not these words again describe the Pharisee, who thanks God for his spiritual riches when he is poor, destitute of all virtue, inflated with pride, and blind to his own failings?

There is nothing in Holy Scripture more frequently extolled than this true justice, nothing more frequently condemned than this pharisaical justice. Hence we have dwelt at some length on the excellence of the first and the danger of the second. For human nature is the same today as it was in the time of the prophets and the Apostles, whose teachings on this subject are contained in the Scriptures. We have the same inclinations, the same inheritance of original sin, and consequently our vices and failings must be the same, for like causes produce like effects.

The carnal Jews believed that they fulfilled their duty to God by a literal observance of fasts and ceremonies. Many Christians of the present day resemble them, for they hear Mass on Sundays, assist at sermons and the divine offices, daily recite a number of vocal prayers, and even fast on Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and yet they are no less eager in the pursuit of worldly honors and in gratifying their passions. They are no less subject to anger than others who observe none of these practices. They forget the obligations of their state; they are careless of the salvation of their children and servants; they readily yield to feelings of hatred and revenge; they harbor resentment for trifling offenses, and refuse to speak to their neighbor; they withhold the wages of their servants and defraud their creditors, If their honor or interest be touched, the hollowness of their virtue will soon be apparent. Many of them are profuse in prayers, but very sparing in alms.

Others could never be persuaded to forego the observance of abstinence on Wednesdays and days of devotion; but yet they indulge with impunity in detraction and calumny. They scruple to eat the flesh of animals which God does not prohibit them, but they do not hesitate to prey upon the honor and reputation of their neighbor, which God wishes to be sacred to every Christian. These and similar inconsistencies are frequent in our day among persons of every class.
That you may profit by the preceding counsels, let each one study his own spiritual condition, that he may learn the remedies which will profit him most. There are general directions which apply to all, such as those pertaining to charity, humility, patience, or obedience. Others, again, are special and apply only to certain classes and certain conditions. For example, it is necessary to recommend to a scrupulous person greater freedom of conscience; to one who is lax, greater restraint. With a timid soul, inclined to discouragement, we must treat of the divine mercy, while a presumptuous soul should be led to reflect on the divine justice.

Those who give themselves wholly to exterior practices should be made to cultivate interior virtues, while those who are entirely devoted to the latter should be taught the value of the former when animated by the proper dispositions. They will thus learn to appreciate the merit of both kinds of virtue, and therefore to avoid the extremes into which many fall who devote themselves so closely to one as to neglect the other.

The interior virtues, however, especially the fear of God and a hatred of sin, must be particularly cultivated. Happy is he in whose soul these virtues are deeply engraved. He may build without fear upon such a foundation, for these virtues are the beginning of true justice. But without them he is a blind and miserable soul, however numerous his exterior practices of piety.