The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 48. The Courage Necessary in the Practice of Virtue
The preceding chapter furnishes us with eyes to discern our duty, and this chapter will furnish us with arms or courage to perform it.
There are two obstacles to virtue which vigilance and courage will overcome. The first is the difficulty of discerning what is good from what is evil; and the second is the labor of embracing the former and overcoming the latter, Vigilance meets the first difficulty; fortitude the second. These two virtues are indispensable, for without vigilance we are blind, without courage we are helpless.
The courage of which we are here treating is not the cardinal virtue of fortitude which calms our fears and strengthens us in affliction, but is rather a disposition of the soul which enables us to triumph over all obstacles to good. For this reason it ever accompanies virtue, sword in hand to vanquish all her foes.
As the blacksmith requires a hammer
the hard iron and shape it according to his will, so do we need
the spiritual hammer, with which we overcome the difficulties in the
to virtue and fashion our souls after our divine Model. Without this
we can no more pursue virtue than a blacksmith can work without his
For what virtue is there that can be acquired without effort? Consider them one after another: prayer, fasting, temperance, obedience, poverty of spirit, chastity, humility and you will find that all present some difficulty springing from self-love, the world, or the devil.
Therefore, if you sincerely desire to advance in virtue, consider the words spoken to Moses, by the God of all virtue and strength, as directly addressed to you: "Take this rod in thy hand, wherewith thou shalt do the signs" that will deliver My people. (Cf. Ex. 4:17). Be assured that as the rod of Moses enabled him to effect the glorious deliverance of the children of Israel, so the rod of courage will enable you to work no less striking wonders, and to free yourself from your enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Keep this rod, therefore, ever in your hand, for without it you will be utterly helpless.
Avoid, too, an illusion into which beginners in the spiritual life frequently fall. Having read in certain books of the ineffable consolations of the Holy Spirit, and the joys of God's service, they persuade themselves that the path of virtue is filled with delights, and therefore, instead of entering it armed to meet their enemies, they set out as if for a festival. Truly the love of God is full of sweetness, but the way which leads to it contains much that is bitter, for self-love must first be conquered, and there is nothing harder to nature than to fight against it and all that it claims. This is the lesson we should learn from the prophet, who says, "Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit up, O Jerusalem." (Is. 52:2). Shake thyself from the dust of earthly affections; arise and combat before thou canst sit and rest.
It is also true that God favors with ineffable consolations souls who faithfully labor for Him, and renounce the pleasures of the world for those of Heaven. But this absolute renunciation is necessary, for while we refuse to sacrifice the joys of this life we shall seek in vain for the joys of the Holy Spirit. The manna was given to the children of Israel only when they had consumed the food which they brought with them from Egypt.
If, then, we do not arm ourselves with courage, our pursuit of virtue will be fruitless. Rest is attained only through labor; victory only through combat; joy only through tears; and the sweetness of God's love only through hatred of self. For this reason the Holy Spirit, throughout the Proverbs of Solomon, so frequently condemns sloth and negligence and so strongly commends vigilance and courage as the safeguards of virtue.
Solomon had reason to exclaim: "Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her." (Prov. 31:10). What, then, shall we do to acquire courage, which is of such importance and which is no less difficult than the other virtues?
We must first reflect upon the priceless merit of courage, for a quality which helps us acquire all virtues must be inestimable in value.
Men are chiefly driven from the practice of virtue by the difficulties it presents. "The slothful man saith: There is a lion in the way, and a lioness in the roads. The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh, saying: Better is a handful with rest than both hands full with labor and vexation of mind." (Prov. 26:13 and Eccles. 4:5-6). If, therefore, the obstacles to virtue discourage us and turn us from good, what is more necessary for us than courage? And who will regret any effort to acquire an aid which will strengthen him to conquer the kingdom of virtue, and, after it, the kingdom of Heaven? "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." (Matt. 11:12). Finally, courage conquers self-love, which gives place to the love of God, or rather God Himself, "for he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him." (1 Jn. 4:16).
Stimulate your courage, moreover, by contemplating the fortitude of so many Christians who cheerfully embraced poverty, mortification, humiliations, for love of Christ. Many of them so loved suffering that they sought it as eagerly as the worldling seeks pleasure, or as the merchant seeks gain, preferring poverty to riches, hunger to abundance, labors and the cross to rest and comfort. The Church daily presents for our consideration such heroic souls, not only that we may worthily honor them, but that we may be excited to imitate them.
Consider, too, the greatness of courage, the heroism, displayed by the martyrs. There is no kind of torture or suffering which they did not endure. Some were burned alive; others were torn to pieces by wild beasts; many had their flesh torn from their bodies with red-hot pincers; some were cast into caldrons of boiling oil; others were compelled to walk barefoot on burning coals, or were tied to the tails of wild horses and dragged through thickets and briars or over sharp stones. It would be almost impossible to enumerate all the tortures invented by the malice of devils to conquer the courage of the servants of God. We read of a martyr in Nicodemia who was scourged so cruelly that every blow brought away a piece of the flesh, leaving the bones exposed to view, and into these cruel wounds the executioner poured salt and vinegar; and, finding that life was not yet extinct, they laid the mangled body upon a slow fire, turning it from side to side with iron hooks until the soul took its flight to God. Read the lives of those brave soldiers of Christ, and your courage will be reanimated; you will grow ashamed of the little you have done for God or your soul.
They were human as well as we are. Their bodies were as sensitive as ours to sufferings. They had the same God to assist them; they hoped for the same reward to which we aspire. If eternal life cost them so much, shall we refuse to mortify the irregular desires of the flesh to attain this blessed end? Shall we not have the courage to fast one day, when we see them almost dying of hunger? Shall we refuse to remain for a short time on our knees in prayer, when they continued to pray for their enemies during long hours of agony, even when nailed to the cross? Shall we refuse to resist our inclinations and passions, when they unhesitantly abandoned their bodies to the tortures of the executioner! They endured without murmuring the solitude and suffering of dark prisons, and shall we refuse our soul a few moments solitude in prayer each day to amend the past and to prepare for the future. If they submitted their bodies to the rack, to the wheel, to fire and the sword, shall we refuse to chastise ours for the love of Christ?
If these examples do not move you, lift your eyes to the cross and contemplate Him who hangs there in torments for love of you. "Think diligently," says the Apostle, "upon him that endured such opposition, that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds." (Heb. 12:3).
It is a marvelous example in every respect. For if we consider His sufferings, none could be greater; if we consider the Victim, none could be more noble; if we consider the motive, it was the highest degree of love; for He who was Innocence itself suffered and died to redeem us from our iniquities. The heavens were filled with awe at the spectacle; the earth trembled; the rocks were rent; all nature was moved.
Will man alone be insensible and refuse to imitate the example which God came on earth to give? Shall we be so ungrateful, so slothful, so presumptuous as to wish to win Heaven by a life of luxurious ease when suffering and labor were the portion of God on earth and of all His followers?
Hear the words in which St. Paul describes the sufferings of those faithful servants of Christ, the prophets, the Apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, the virgins, and all the saints: "Others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned; they were cut asunder; they were tempted; they were put to death by the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: of whom the world was not worthy; wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth." (Heb. 11:36-38). If such were the lives of the saints and of Him who was the Saint of saints, what reason have you to think that you can reach Heaven by the way of pleasure and amusement? If you would share their glory, you must participate in their labors. If you would reign with them in Heaven, you must suffer with them on earth.
May these considerations reanimate your courage dear Christian, and stimulate you to follow, as far as your grace will enable you, such bright examples.We cannot, therefore, better conclude this work than in the words of Our Saviour: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk. 9:23). In this brief counsel you will find a summary of His divine doctrine, and the secret of attaining the perfection taught in the Gospel. Thus, while the body may be a prey to hardships and labors, the soul will enjoy a paradise of peace, and this interior sweetness will enable you cheerfully to embrace all the sufferings of the exterior life.