BLTC Press Titles

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Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Growth in holiness, or, The progress of the spiritual life

by Frederick William Faber


You will see by the last chapter that I have made a sort of map of the spiritual life in my own mind. I have divided it into three regions, of very unequal extent and of very diversified interest. First, there comes the region of beginnings, a wonderful time, so wonderful that nobody realizes how wonderful it is, till they are out of it, and can look back on it. Then stretches a vast extent of wilderness, full of temptation, struggle, and fatigue, a place of work and suffering, with angels, good and bad, winging their way in every direction, the roads hard to find and slippery under foot, and Jesus with the Cross meeting us at every turn. This is four or five times the length of the first region. Then comes a region of beautiful, wooded, watered, yet rocky mountains, lovely yet savage too, liable to terrific tempests, and to those sudden overcastings of bright nature, which characterize mountainous districts. This last is the land of high prayer, of brave self-crucifixions, of mystical trials, and of heights of superhuman detachment, and abjection whose rarefied atmosphere only chosen souls can breathe.

I have joined myself to a soul who is out of the region of beginnings, and has just entered on the great central wilderness, whose long plains of weary sand join the verdant fields of the beginners, with the woody mountains of the long-tried and well-mortified souls. God calls some to Himself in their

first fervors, others mature in grace on the mountain heights. But more die in the wilderness, some at one point of the pilgrimage, some at another. Of course there is only one good time for each of us to die ; and that is the exact hour at which God wills that death should find us. But as the great body of devout men die while they are crossing the central wilderness, it is this wilderness of which I wish to speak: the wilderness of long patient perseverance in the humbling practices of solid virtue.

Persons who are aiming ever so little at perfection are the choice portion of God's creation, and are dear to Him as the apple of His eye. Hence everything that concerns them is of consequence. Thus it was important that they should have some signs furnished them, by means of which they could estimate with some probability the progress they are making in the spiritual life. But they often mistake for signs of progress things which taken by themselves do not tell either way; and thus they fall into delusions which take them into bye-paths, tire them out, and then bring them back again into the road, miles behind where they were, when they first wandered. These false signs will form the subject of this chapter. The consideration of them is of the more importance, inasmuch as it brings us across a great many facts about the spiritual life which it exceedingly concerns us to know.

The soul then at this stage of its journey is beset by two opposite temptations. Sometimes it is attacked by one, sometimes by another, according to different moods of mind and diversities of character. These temptations are discouragement and presumption; and our chief business at this point is to be upon our guard against these two things.

Discouragement is an inclination to give up all attempts after the devout life, in consequence of the difficulties by which it is beset, and our already numerous failures in it. We lose heart; and partly in ill temper, partly in real doubt of our own ability to persevere, we first grow querulous and peevish with God, and then relax in our efforts to mortify ourselves and to please Him. It is like the sin of despair, although it is not truly any sin at all. It is a sort of shadow of despair; and it will lead us into numberless venial sins the first half-hour we give way to it. What it shows is that we trusted too much to our own strength, and had a higher opinion of ourselves than we were at all warranted in having. If we had been truly humble, we should have been surprised we did not do worse, instead of being disappointed we did not do better. Many souls are called to perfection, and fail, through the sole and single mischief of discouragement.

Meanwhile persons trying to be spiritual are peculiarly liable to discouragement, because of their great sensitiveness. Their attention is riveted to a degree in which it never was before on two things, minute duties and observances, and exterior motives; and both these things render them uncommonly sensitive. Conscience, acted upon by the Holy Ghost, becomes so fine and delicate, that it feels the jar of little infirmities, that never seemed infirmities before; and not only is its perception of sin quickened, but the sense of pain which sin inflicts is keener. The difficulty and the hiddenness of the work in which they are engaged augments still more this sensitiveness, especially as they are so far from receiving visible support from those around them, that they must rather make their account to be called enthusiastic and indiscreet, singular and affected, by those even who are good people, but have the incalculable ill luck to be good in their own way, not in God's way. Moreover early piety is never wise. How should it be, since experience alone can make it wise? The world complains of the mistakes of beginners in religion, not seeing that they only make these mistakes because they are not yet quite so unworldly and anti-worldly, as, please God, they will be by and bye. One of these mistakes is that they exaggerate their own faults, and this at once leads to discouragement. Besides that they are working to high models, Jesus and the Saints; and when they have done their best, and what is for them really well, it must be so terribly below what they aimed at that they can hardly help being disappointed. What is more trying to spirits and temper than to be invariably playing a losing game? And what else can a man do who has made up his mind to be like his Crucifix?

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