Presence of God
Help me, O Lord, to advance rapidly in the path of virtue.
I. "Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy" (Lv. 19, 2) : this is the will of God, this is our vocation, the object of all our desires and efforts. Created to the likeness of God, we do not wish His image in us to be dimmed by our sins and passions, but to shine forth clear and pure, reflecting His sanctity as far as possible. In order to make us like Himself, God has infused into our soul, together with grace, the moral and theological virtues, the purpose of which is to reproduce in us to some degree His infinite perfections; and as a father delights to find in his children some traces of resemblance to himself, so God greatly desires to see us grow in virtue. St. John of the Cross says, "The virtues cannot be wrought by the soul alone, nor can it attain to them alone without the help of God, neither does God work them alone in the soul without its cooperation" (SC, 30,6). In fact, although God has infused the virtues into us at Baptism without any merit on our part, He does not make them grow without our collaboration; it remains for us, always with the help of grace, to put into practice the virtuous principles he has given us. Only in this way shall we acquire good habits of virtue and facility in practicing them.
Therefore, if we desire to cooperate with the action of God who wishes to make us like to Himself, we should apply ourselves with great zeal to the practice of the virtues. We should concentrate particularly on the virtue that we see is most necessary in order to correct our faults, or to overcome our dominant passion. This should be the special subject of our resolutions, of our examinations of conscience, and of the account given to our spiritual director. We should not think that this exercise is only for beginners, for "the obligation to advance in the love of God—and therefore, in all the other virtues as well—lasts even unto death" (St. Francis de Sales). No one, however advanced in the spiritual life, can consider himself dispensed from the practice of the virtues.
II. St. Teresa ofJesus in describing the high states of the life of union with God, often digresses to urge the practice of virtue. "You must not build," she wrote to her daughters, "upon the foundation of prayer and contemplation alone, for unless you strive after the virtues and practice them, you will never grow to be more than dwarfs" (Int C VII, 4); and elsewhere she expressly says that, by means ofthe virtues, "even though not greatly given to contemplation, people who have them can advance a long way in the Lord’s service, while, unless they have them, they cannot possibly be great contemplatives" (Way, 4,). It is not essential that God should lead us by the path of high contemplation in order to make us saints; besides, this does not depend upon our will. What does depend upon us, and is essential, is that we maintain the practice of virtue. Whether God wills for us a family life or one dedicated to the duties of a professional life, whether He calls us to the apostolate or to the contemplative life, in each case we shall become saints only in the measure in which we practice virtue.
The more we apply ourselves to the practice of virtue, the easier and more natural it will become; but to attain this facility which is the mark of mature virtue, we must have sufficient courage to persevere a long time in the struggle against our faults, and in the effort to acquire the opposite virtues. However, we shall never reach perfect, much less heroic, virtue unaided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the end of which is precisely to perfect the virtues. Although the task of practicing the virtues is ours, it is only God who can actuate the gifts, and ordinarily He does this in proportion to our zeal in practicing virtue. The assiduous practice of the virtues opens our soul wide to God’s action, rendering it apt to receive and follow the motions of the Holy Spirit. Let us devote ourselves to this exercise with great generosity, and the Holy Spirit will not delay to come to us with His gifts; then we shall make rapid progress toward perfect, heroic virtue, toward sanctity.
"O Lord, You said, ‘ Be ye holy because I am holy. ’ I think this was the wish You expressed on the day of creation when You said, ‘ Let us make man to our image and likeness. ’ It is Your continual desire to associate and identify Yourself with Your creatures... How can I better satisfy Your desire than by keeping myself simply and lovingly turned toward You, so that You can reflect Your own image in me, as the sun is reflected through pure crystal?. . . But if I am to reflect Your perfections, I must first put off the old man before I can put on the new man created by You in justice and holiness of truth. The path is traced for me. To walk therein as You intend, I have but to deny myself, to die to self, to lose sight ofself" (E.T. II, 9 - /, 7).
Help me, O God, to combat my faults and to put off the old man; help me to practice virtue in order to put on the new man. You have far greater esteem for the practice of virtue than for magnificent deeds or the fame of a great name.
"You would rather see in me the least degree of purity of conscience than all the works that I could do.
"You desire of me the least degree of obedience to all the services I might think to render You.
"You esteem my acceptance of aridity and of suffering for love of You more than all the spiritual consolations I could have" (J.C. SM I, 12-14).
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