Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus: The Spiritual Combat: Ch 10. THE EXERCISE OF THE WILL.
Posted on 05/14/2009 1:29:58 AM PDT by GonzoII
WE HAVE SPOKEN concerning the necessity of regulating one's understanding. It is necessary also to control one's will so that it is not abandoned to its own inclinations, but it is conformed entirely to the will of God.
It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our action under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.
Here will arise the greatest struggle with our nature, constantly thirsty for its own pleasure. Even in lofty spiritual undertakings, it seeks its own satisfaction, residing there without the least scruple, since there is no apparent evil. The following is the result. We begin acts of religion not from the sole motive of doing the will of God, but for a sensible pleasure that often accompanies such acts.
The illusion is still more subtle as the object of our affection is more commendable in itself. Who would imagine that self-love, criminal as it is, should prompt us to unite ourselves to God? That in our desire to possess Him we should pursue our own interests rather than His glory and the accomplishment of His will, which should be the only motive for those who love Him, seek Him, and profess to keep His laws?
If we desire to avoid such a dangerous obstacle, we must accustom ourselves not to desire or execute anything unless it is through the impulse of the Holy Spirit, combined with a pure intention of honoring Him Who desires to be not only the first Principle, but also the last End of our every word and action, through the observance of the following method.
As soon as an opportunity presents itself to perform such a good action, we must prevent our heart from seizing on it before we have considered God. This will enable us to know whether it coincides with His will, and whether we desire it solely because it is pleasing to Him.
When our will is controlled and directed in this way by the will of God, it is motivated only with the desire to conform entirely to Him, and to further His glory. The same method is to be followed in rejecting whatever is contrary to His will. The first move is to raise our minds to God to know what is displeasing to Him, and then be satisfied that in its rejection we conform to His holy will.
We must remember that it is extremely difficult to discover the deceptions of our fallen nature. It is always fond of making itself, for very questionable motives, the focal point of all things; it flatters by persuading us that in all our actions our only motive is to please God. What we accept or reject, then, is actually done to please ourselves, while we erroneously imagine that we act out of a desire to please, or a dread of displeasing, our Sovereign Lord.
The most effective remedy against evil is purity of heart. Everyone engaged in the spiritual combat must be armed with it, discarding the old man and putting on the new. The remedy is applied in this way. In everything that we undertake, pursue, or reject, we divest ourselves of all human considerations, and do only what is conformable to the will of God.
It may happen that in many things we do, and especially in the interior impulses of the heart, or in swiftly transient exterior actions, we may not always be conscious of the influence of this motive. But at least we should be so disposed that virtually and habitually we act from the viewpoint of pleasing God.
In more prolonged activities this virtual intention is not sufficient. It should be frequently renewed and developed to its full stature in purity and fervor. Without this, we run the great risk of deception by
self-love, which always prefers the creature to the Creator and so deceives that, in a short time, we are imperceptibly drawn from our primary intention. Well meaning but vulnerable persons generally set out with no other purpose than to please God. But by degrees they permit themselves, without knowing it, to be lured away by vanity. They for get the Divine will which first influenced them and are completely absorbed in the satisfaction afforded by their actions, and in the advantages and rewards they expect. If it happens that, while they think they are accomplishing, great things, Providence permits them to be interrupted by sickness or some accident, they are immediately dissatisfied, criticizing everyone about them, and sometimes even God Himself. This is clear evidence that the motive, the force behind their actions was bad.
Anyone who acts under the influence of Divine grace and only to please God is indifferent as to his course of action. Or, if he is inclined to some particular activity, he completely submits to Providence the manner and time of doing it. He is perfectly resigned to whatever success attends his undertakings, and his heart desires nothing but the accomplishment of the Divine will.
Therefore, let everyone examine himself, let him direct all his actions to this most excellent and noble end. If he discovers that he is performing a work of piety in order to avoid punishment, or to gain the rewards of the future life, he should establish as the end of his undertaking the will of God, Who requires that we avoid hell and gain Heaven.
It is not within man's power to realize the efficacy of this motive. The least action, no matter how insignificant, performed for His sake, greatly surpasses actions which, although of greater significance, are done for other motives.
For example, a small alms, given solely in honor of God, is infinitely more agreeable to Him than if, from some other motive, large possessions are abandoned, even if this is done from a desire to gain the kingdom of heaven. And this, in itself, is a highly commendable motive, and worthy of our consideration.
The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first. With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures. The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that Divine Object. In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory.
In conclusion, there is a final way of acting in complete accordance with this very excellent and elevated motive. This is fervently to petition our Lord for grace and frequently to consider the infinite benefits He has already given us, and which He continues to bestow every moment from an undeserved and disinterested affection.
None shall be crowned who has not fought well.
2 Tim 2:5.
Taken from the book of the same title by DOM LORENZO SCUPOLI
The Spiritual Combat is known as one of the greatest classics in ascetic theology, along with The Imitation of Christ. In both cases the authors are shrouded in mystery. Several 17th century editions were published under the name of the Spanish Benedictine, John of Castanzia. Some writers of the Society of Jesus have ascribed the book to the Jesuit, Achilles Gagliardi, but most critics however consider Fr. Lawrence Scupoli as the author of this famous treatise. The first known edition was published in Venice in 1589 and contained but 24 chapters; later editions appeared with more chapters, so it is possible that the Theatines or another religious order may have been part of the composition. Whatever may be the solution of the problem of the author, doubt of the actual one or ones, can take nothing away from the value and efficacy of this "golden book" as St. Frances de Sales called it. It was "the favorite, the dear book" of this great master of the spiritual life who, for 18 years, carried in a pocket a copy which he had received from Fr. Scupoli in Padua himself. The Saint read some pages of it every day, entrusted to its supernatural and human wisdom, the guidance of his soul, and recommended it to all under his direction. The purpose of the work is to lead the soul to the summit of spiritual perfection, by means of a constant, courageous struggle against our evil nature, which tends to keep us away from that goal.
The author was a genius, the kind that can only be inspired by the grace of God and his book is a Catholic treasure and one of the greatest gifts God could have given any age, but most especially this benighted age which has lost its appreciation for the kind of simplicity necessary for sanctity.
Chapter One: PRELIMINARY WORDS ON PERFECTION
-- THE FOUR THINGS NECESSARY FOR THIS COMBAT
Chapter Two: DISTRUST OF SELF
Chapter Three: OF TRUST IN GOD
Chapter Four: HOW TO DISCOVER WHETHER WE
DISTRUST OURSELVES AND PLACE OUR CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Chapter Five: THE MISTAKE OF CONSIDERING COWARDICE A VIRTUE
Chapter Six: FURTHER ADVICE ON HOW TO OBTAIN A DISTRUST OF ONESELF AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Chapter Seven: THE RIGHT USE OF OUR FACULTIES. THE UNDERSTANDING MUST FIRST BE FREE OF IGNORANCE AND CURIOSITY
Chapter Eight: AN OBSTACLE TO FORMING A CORRECT JUDGMENT. AN AID TO THE FORMATION OF A CORRECT JUDGMENT
Chapter Nine: ANOTHER METHOD TO PREVENT DECEPTION OF THE UNDERSTANDING
Chapter Ten: THE EXERCISE OF THE WILL. THE END TO WHICH ALL OF OUR ACTIONS, INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR, SHOULD BE DIRECTED