Chapter 11 – Progress in Spiritual Life
Progress in Spiritual Life
XI Progress in the Spiritual Life (click to download pdf)
“Glory be to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will!” thus the angels sang at our Saviour’s birth. Isaias, the prophet, says: “A Child is born to us; and His name is called the Prince of peace.” And at the last Supper Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you: not as the world giveth, do I give to you.” What does all this mean?
It means that, by His death on the Cross, Jesus freed us from sin, and procured for us peace and true happiness. He offers peace to His followers; and we can all get it and possess it, if we wish!
As we heard once before, peace and quiet of heart do not depend on just certain persons and certain places. Some persons think: “Oh, if I could live at such and such a place, away from such and such persons, then I’d have no trouble, then I could live in peace.” A heart that strives to keep itself freed from sin, that loves God, and is subject in all things to the will of divine Providence, has peace and rest at all times and in all places. Sin alone takes away or prevents peace and happiness.
In a monastery there once lived a monk who also could find no peace. He was always in trouble with somebody. One day the thought came to him: “If I were somewhere where I could live alone by myself, and there was nobody to disturb and bother me, then I could be quiet and live happily. I will go out into the desert and live in the solitude as a hermit.”
Consequently, he left the monastery, and went out several miles into the desert. He found a lonely cave near a fountain of water; and there he took up his abode. He stored away the provisions he had brought along, and arranged his cell to suit the life of a hermit.
It all went well for a time. One morning he went out to the fountain to fill his jug with water. Near the fountain there grew a sort of fine, delicious berry; and some of these he wanted to gather to take home with the water. He set the jug down on the ground but it would not stand: it fell over. Again he set it up, and again it fell over. Already his temper was rising. He set the jug up a third time, and a third time it fell over. He snatched up the jug, and hurled it against a rock, smashing it into a thousand pieces.
However, he soon recollected himself. He began to think over what he had done.
“Do you see now?” said he to himself. “You cannot find peace and satisfaction even alone by yourself here in the desert. And why not? I understand now. Peace must come from myself. As long as I am ruled by sinful passions, I shall find peace nowhere. I must, therefore, overcome my evil inclinations, my passions; then I shall be happy. I will return to the monastery, to begin a new life. Under my superior and amongst my fellow monks, I can have more and better changes to struggle with my passions, and will obtain greater and stronger help from God to overcome them.”
He went back that someday; and the story closes by saying that the monk, after that, enjoyed more peace and happiness in one year than he had enjoyed in all the years together that he had lived in the monastery before he made that trial in the desert.
What does this anecdote teach us? If we want to have peace and happiness of heart, as much as it can be obtained on this earth, we must fight against sin, overcome our evil passions.
Therefore, my little follower of Jesus, let us begin. First of all, let us not look too much at others; or as The Following of Christ has it, let us not “busy ourselves with the sayings and doings of others, and with things that concern us not.” We have enough to do with ourselves. At least, if we do sometimes notice faults in others, and try, out of charity, to correct them, let us not forget that we have plenty faults ourselves, greater ones than we think and are inclined to believe. Let us not “look for the mote in our brother’s eye, while we forget the beam in our own.”
I told you before, in the chapter about “renouncing inordinate affections,” what you should do to find out your faults, bad habits, passions, and evil inclinations; you might read that over once more, just now. So, then, begin, and do not give up. “If every year we rooted out one fault,” says Thomas à Kempis, “we should soon become perfect men.”
And, here is a secret I will reveal to you. You ask: “What is the surest and best way of doing much good for the spiritual welfare of others?” The surest and best way is: Begin with yourself! Just as you yourself make progress in spiritual life, so will you also work at the spiritual progress of others.
God arranges it so: He lets you work good for others while you are working good for yourself. You think you are doing nothing, because all your time is taken up with yourself; but imperceptibly, by God’s grace, you are doing much good for others, for those that are living with you, round about you.
For the conclusion let us have another word from The Following of Christ: “The Lord is ready to help them that fight, trusting in His grace; who Himself provideth us occasion to fight, in order that we may overcome.”