Trial by Virtue

Along the lines of my last post, I would like to point out a simple truth of the spiritual life, for those who may not already know this little rule of thumb. If you are trying to gain a particular virtue, you will be tried in that virtue. How else will you know if your prayer has been answered and you have gained the virtue in question?

For instance, if we desire faith, we will be tried in our faith with doubts and fears that we have perhaps been wrong. If we desire hope, do not be surprised if you are tried with a bout of hopelessness in your life. Likewise, for the theological virtue of love: you may experience being reviled and ridiculed or left feeling abandoned by those whom you care about most. And so it is for all the other virtues you can name.

These trials or tests occur only when the soul is ready for them but many, who mistakenly take pride in thinking they can easily withstand them, often fail the test. It is a two-fold reveal: first that find that they do not yet have the virtue they thought they had possessed and secondly, they found out that deep in their heart they were harboring elements of spiritual pride. So it becomes a beneficial barometer of our spiritual life. If used properly, we will pick ourselves up off the floor and begin again, a bit more humbly than before.

For the saints, their tests were often the most excruciating, but for the average spiritual soul they will usually be far less severe; though the severity increases with the soul’s increase in obedience to holiness. The closer they get to God, the more painful even the slightest misstep that might cause pain to God. There is an increased sensitivity to their souls.

God will always give sufficient Grace to endure the trials that He sends but we don’t always feel that way. Many succumb on the way to sainthood to their fears and to their doubts. Some become mere pew sitters or side-liners instead of the spiritual warriors they were meant to be. That is why it is important to pay close attention to how we begin our spiritual life. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a saying that he often repeated to his novices: “If thou beginnest, beginnest well.”

So as you move to perfection one must prepare for the journey as much as is possible. Learn Holy Theology if possible or make sure you have access to an advisor who is adept in these studies. Read the mystical saints and the theological examinations of the spiritual life as they will help you identify what to the uninitiated appears to be of no value. The saints get the nectar out of the driest fruits; fruits that most of us could not recognize.

Learn of dark nights, consolations and desolations. Expect them and then welcome them as a means for growing in faith and holiness. Failure is common and there is no shame in being wounded in battle. You heal and you head on back to the front for another engagement. It is the way of the Spiritual Warrior and your Lord, for Whom you fight, will not forget you; not here nor in His Kingdom. A heroes welcome awaits all who fight the battle well.

Saint Padre Pio Gives Us Sound Advice for Spiritual Advancement

Saint Padre Pio

Catholic saints and spiritual writers have always agreed that the quickest and easiest method of advancing in the spiritual life is in the practice of obedience. The simplicity of this method as thus stated belies the difficulty in the actual living out of this dictum. The reasons for this are many: pride, anger, sloth, and just plain old Americanism. For in our country a pioneering spirit of unbridled individualism and self-actualization is an ingrained commandment that cannot be violated without tearing asunder the very fabric of our self-worth and respect. This is associated with our misguided understanding of one of the very foundation stones of our country; namely, freedom.

How can we feel free if we are to cow-tow to another’s whims and directives especially when we are sure that we are smarter or better equipped to make our own decisions? But that is exactly what we are asked to do in order to become saints ourselves. Note the following quote from the newly canonized Saint, Padre Pio: “Obey promptly! Do not consider the age or merit of the person. And in order to succeed, imagine you are obeying the Lord.”  And should you wince at the mistakes that your superiors make and seethe from the unfairness that permeates this world one must also keep in mind another of his councils: “Do not disturb your soul at the sad spectacle of human injustice…. One day you will see the inevitable triumph of Divine justice over it.”

Why is obedience to those in a position of authority a necessity for spiritual progress? Why should we take our direction from those who seem incompetent or those who we know are simply wrong? Saint Pio responds, “Where there is no obedience, there is no virtue; where there is no virtue, there is no good. Where good is wanting, there is no love; where there is no love, God is absent; where God is absent, there is no heaven.” Therefore, obedience is directly connected to our salvation by its relationship to the theological virtue of charity or love. Says our Saint: “Charity is the queen of virtues. As the pearls are held together by the thread, thus the virtues are held together by charity; as the pearls fall when the thread breaks, thus virtues are lost if charity diminishes.” Obedience it seems is the epitome of self-denial: correcting inordinate self-interest and self-love, for the love of God. Christ counseled us on precisely this same point: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” __Luke 9:23

Obedience in little insignificant things is necessary in order that we might become prepared for more important things. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater. If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?” __ Luke 16:10,11

So according to Padre Pio we are told the following: “Try always to advance more in charity; enlarge your heart with confidence for the divine gifts which the Holy Spirit is anxious to pour into it.” Because, “To fail in charity is like wounding God in the apple of His eye. What is more delicate than the pupil of the eye? To fail in charity is like failing against nature.” In order to gain this virtue, obedience leading to humility is needed. Our Saint makes this connection when he says: “Humility and charity go hand in hand. The one glorifies, the other sanctifies.” Since, “The pivot of perfection is love; he who lives in love lives in God, because God is love, as the Apostle says.”

If you think that glorifying God by your obedience and humility is foolishness, our Saint reminds us that: “The time spent for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is never spent badly.” For, “God can reject everything in a creature conceived in sin and of which it bears the indelible impression inherited from Adam. But He can absolutely not reject the sincere desire to love Him.” Your desire to love Him is proved by your everyday practice of obedience for love of Him.