By Francois Fenelon
You understand that many of our faults are voluntary in different degrees, though they may not be committed with a deliberate purpose of failing in our allegiance to God. One friend sometimes reproaches another for a fault not expressly intended to be offensive, and yet committed with the knowledge that it would be so. In the same way, God lays this sort of faults to our charge. They are voluntary, for although not done with an express intention, they are still committed freely and against a certain interior light of conscience, which should have caused us to hesitate and wait.
Of these offences, pious souls are often guilty; as to those of deliberate purpose, it would be strange indeed if a soul consecrated to God should fall into such.
Little faults become great, and even monstrous in our eyes, in proportion as the pure light of God increases in us; just as the sun in rising, reveals the true dimensions of objects which were dimly and confusedly discovered during the night. Be sure that, with the increase of the inward light, the imperfections which you have hitherto seen, will be beheld as far greater and more deadly in their foundations, than you now conceive them, and that you will witness, in addition, the development of a crowd of others, of the existence of which you have not now the slightest suspicion. You will there find the weaknesses necessary to deprive you of all confidence in your own strength; but this discovery, far from discouraging, will serve to destroy your self-reliance, and to raze to the ground the edifice of pride. Nothing marks so decidedly the solid progress of a soul, as that it is enabled to view its own depravity without being disturbed or discouraged.
It is an important precept to abstain from doing a wrong thing whenever we perceive it in time, and when we do not, to bear the humiliation of the fault courageously.
If a fault is perceived before it is committed, we must see to it that we do not resist and quench the Spirit of God, advising us of it inwardly. The Spirit is easily offended, and very jealous; He desires to be listened to and obeyed; He retires if He be displeased; the slightest resistance to Him is a wrong, for everything must yield to Him, the moment He is perceived. Faults of haste and frailty are nothing in comparison with those where we shut our ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit beginning to speak in the depths of the heart.
Restlessness and an injured self-love will never mend those faults which are not perceived until after they are committed; on the contrary, such feelings are simply the impatience of wounded pride at beholding what confounds it. We must quietly humble ourselves in peace; I say in peace, for it is no humiliation to do it in a vexed and spiteful way. We must condemn our faults, mourn over them, repent of them, without seeking the slightest shadow of consolation in any excuse, and behold ourselves covered with confusion in the presence of God; and all this without being bitter against ourselves or discouraged; but peacefully reaping the profit of our humiliation. Thus from the serpent itself we draw the antidote to his venom.
It often happens that what we offer to God, is not what he most desires to have of us; that we are frequently the most unwilling to give, and the most fearful He will ask. He desires the sacrifice of the Isaac, the well-beloved son; all the rest is as nothing in his eyes, and he permits it to be offered in a painful unprofitable manner, because He has no blessings for a divided soul. He will have everything, and until then there is no rest. Who hath hardened himself against Him and hath prospered? (Job ix. 4.) Would you prosper, and secure the blessing of God upon your labors? Reserve nothing, cut to the quick and burn, spare nothing, and the God of peace will be with you. What consolation, what liberty, what strength, what enlargedness of heart, what increase of grace, will follow when there remains nothing between God and the soul, and when the last sacrifices have been offered up without hesitation!
We must neither be astonished nor disheartened. We are not more wicked than we were; we are really less so; but while our evil diminishes, our light increases, and we are struck with horror at its extent. But let us remember, for our consolation, that the perception of our disease is the first step to a cure; when we have no sense of our need, we have no curative principle within; it is a state of blindness, presumption and insensibility, in which we are delivered over to our own counsel, and commit ourselves to the current, the fatal rapidity of which we do not realize, until we are called to struggle against it.
We must not be discouraged either by experience of our weakness, or by dislike of the constant activity which may be inseparable from our condition in life. Discouragement is not a fruit of humility, but of pride; nothing can be worse. Suppose we have stumbled, or even fallen, let us rise and run again; all our falls are useful, if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and salutary trust in God.
The repugnances which we feel towards our duties, come, no doubt, of imperfections; if we were perfect, we should love everything in the order of God, but since we are born corrupt, and with a nature revolting against his laws, let us praise Him that He knows how to evolve good from evil, and can make use even of our repugnances as a source of virtue. The work of grace does not always advance as regularly as that of nature, says St. Theresa.
Carefully purify your conscience, then, from daily faults; suffer no sin to dwell in your heart; small as it may seem, it obscures the light of grace, weighs down the soul, and hinders that constant communion with Jesus Christ which it should be your pleasure to cultivate; you will become lukewarm, forget God, and find yourself growing in attachment to the creature. A pure soul, on the other hand, which is humiliated, and rises promptly after its smallest faults, is always fervent and always upright.
God never makes us sensible of our weakness except to give us of His strength; we must not be disturbed by what is involuntary. The great point is, never to act in opposition to the inward light, and to be willing to go as far as God would have us.