Signs of the Spirit of Jesus
TAKEN FROM HOLY COMMUNION
by St. Peter Julian Eymard
Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1940
IN explaining the first sign of the supernatural life, I said that one must be strong against sin, strong against oneself. The milk of piety is not enough; force is needed and it is what assures our victory. Prolonged rest enervates, while exercise strengthens and hardens for battle. Piety which will not employ force, which does not arrive at force, is false piety.
1. There is a brutal force which must be employed against the passions. It is not the force of reason; whoever reasons with the tempter is already lost; willingness to argue with him shows one must have some respect for him. This brutal force must be employed against oneself and against the world. It must be cruel, intolerant as the religious life itself, which breaks off all intercourse with flesh and blood. Far be tolerance from us! No tolerance for the enemy! "I came not to send peace, but the sword," 1 said the Savior, the sword of separation which will set the son at variance against his father, the daughter against her mother, and man against himself. Jesus Christ first drew the sword against Pharisees. hypocrites, and sensualists; He cast it into the world, and Christians must seize it. A fragment is enough; lay hold on it. This sword is well tempered, tempered in the Blood of Jesus Christ and in the fire from on high. "The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." --- Violenti rapiunt illud. 2 Jesus Christ wants for Heaven violent, merciless men who will storm the walls, who are ready for anything; who will begin and keep up a war to the death; who will hate father, mother, family --- sin, I mean, not persons. War against self, against the seven capital sins in oneself or against the three concupiscences, it is all the same thing. One must cut clear to the heart, to the root, and there is never an end.
Oh, a violent struggle is this! One is always having to start over again, and yesterday's victory gives no assurance for tomorrow. One day a conqueror, the next, perhaps, in chains. A little rest taken, that is enough to bring on defeat. Only those are victors who never cease from battle. Heaven must be stormed, taken by assault. Many people recognize what is good, but because they have not the courage to enter this combat, their life constantly contradicts their words; they are ruled by their passions. Thus Herod heard Saint John Baptist with pleasure so long as the latter spoke to him of the Kingdom of God in general, but as soon as the Precursor rebuked him for his impure passion he became furious, forgot everything, and went so far as to have the Saint put to death.
There are plenty of religious vocations out in the world, but the decisive blow must be struck, and people have not the courage. The fact is, this first battle is more difficult even than the final stroke of victory. Our nature is cowardly at bottom; all our vices are simply cowardice. And the proud boaster himself who is going to hew down the enemy at one blow is even more cowardly than anyone else. He is loaded with chains and wants to appear free without loosing himself from them. Yes, he is even proud of his slavery!
Such is the combat which piety must sustain in the midst of the world. The struggle is so violent and offers so many opportunities for victory and merit that if people had the courage to fight bravely and without surrender the world would be peopled with Saints. But they lack courage!
In the religious life it is the passions one must combat. The evil of the outside world makes its way into this life more than one thinks. The air is heavy with it, and the eyes, the senses, make one aware of it. It is said that those who are evil instinctively recognize their kind; the good also sense the evil, but only to the extent of their own frailty. The current is quickly established.
2. In addition to this violent strength, we must exercise the strength of patience. Whether you have consecrated yourself to a life of piety in the world or have embraced the religious life, you have dealt the decisive blow, have severed your bonds with the sword of Jesus Christ. The Red Sea is passed through; sing a canticle of victory. But you will need patience in crossing the desert. The Jews lacked this strength; they even rebelled against God. Well then, remember that true strength does not strike one heavy blow and then take its ease, but goes on fighting and defending itself every day. This strength is humility itself, which never despairs, never surrenders. It is weak, and it falls; but, looking up to heaven, it prays for help, and then it becomes strong with the power of God Himself. The tortoise in the fable arrived before the hare. So, too, the man of generous nature who labors steadily every day will reach the goal sooner, in spite of his greater passions and defects, than one with more virtues and fewer vices who wants to rest during his labors. Also those people who sleep tranquilly, despising the little daily combats, waiting for some great occasion before entering the field of battle, will be defeated. Likewise, a youthful vocation will be quickly spent unless it is given to patience. One would like to get everything done at once. That is impatience, and impatience will spoil every undertaking. What one desires most of all is to be free. One would not admit it, but that is what this fine zeal is at bottom: laziness. One wants to have done with it all, in order to be at ease. Impatience is the common temptation of those who are in authority and it has its source in pride and laziness. For instance, you want to be rid of a matter you have already considered and decided in your own mind; someone consults you, questions you; you already know what the person wants to say to you and you answer him impatiently. It little matters to you that he who consults you is in need of light; you are thinking of yourself, not his need. That is impatience. The patient man, on the contrary, sees his danger and answers deliberately. He lets no sign of haste escape him. He knows where he must strike. He waits for grace and gives it time to come to him.
We all need this strength of patience for our life-long battle. Without it, what will become of the hope and sweetness that belong to the service of God? You have received many graces, but only by your patience will they bear an abundant fruit. One act of patience is, after all, easy enough; but to remain strong and patient through an unceasing struggle which must end only with life itself, ah, that is difficult!
What our Lord asks of us is fidelity and sacrifice, nothing more. The good God always puts us at the starting point again, undoes our work so that we have to begin it anew every day. It is never perfect enough for Him! The important thing is not to lose patience; it will lead us on to victory. The holy man Job saw himself deprived of everything; but patience remained and was the pledge of his crown. Witness the words of the Lord Who wondered at his patience: In omnibus his non peccavit Job labiis suis, neque stultum quid contra Deum locutus est. 3 ---- " And in all these things Job sinned not by his lips, nor spoke he any foolish thing against God."
In its constant struggle, in its defeats, the soul cries: "This will not do; this will never do!" It loses patience and grows discouraged. And that is just what the devil wants; that is enough for him. Examine yourself, and you will find that almost all your sins spring from impatience, your interior sins, mean. One finds failures hard to bear and, if one could, would let everything go. Patience means loving God with humility. I can do nothing of myself, but I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me. I am nothing, grace everything! You must learn to leave time for your roots to go deep in the earth in order that you may be able to grow. So beware of discouragement, from which almost all your faults spring.
One must be patient with God, too, even more patient with Him than with oneself. We read in the Gospel that the tree which bears fruit will be pruned so that it will produce still more. This pruning seemingly disfigures and spoils it. So does God make the religious, the Saint, undergo the sharp pruning of temptation. When we see we are doing well, we relax our efforts, which is logical. But the good God wants us to be saying continually: "Forward, again and always!" We like so much to be told that we love the good God! Above all we like God to tell us so and make us feel it. But He will not!
When we are I satisfied, when we think we have God's approval, we have no more fears. But when He hides Himself, and we think that He no longer loves us, that He is abandoning us, is against us, oh, then we drop everything! Our devotion is gone; we believe we are damned and we are terror-stricken. God treats us like that because we spoil everything we touch. If He gives us a kind word, we immediately conclude we deserved it and we glory in it. It was only meant to encourage us, and we took it to be the just expression of our merit. It is ourselves we are considering. By making self our real aim, we are courting destruction. But God, Who loves us with an enlightened love, cannot help us to bring about the loss of our soul. Therefore He takes away our peace, sets us in the midst of battle, makes us put forth effort. Now is the time for strength and patience; for the trials to which the good God Himself subjects us are more painful than those which come to us from creatures. We must arm ourselves with patience against God: "I can do nothing, O my God! But though Thou shouldst slay me, yet will I trust in Thee!" ---- Etiam si occiderit me, in ipso sperabo! 4 And God must indeed slay our old self in order that our spiritual self may live and commune freely with Him.
Let us ponder this matter well, for trials will come to us. Learn to await God's good time; let grace come to fruition; have patience. That is what makes the Saints.
1. Matt. 10:34.
2. Matt. 11:12.
3. Job 1:22
4. Job 13:15.