NOTE: The typo in the second paragraph of the quote from Chapter 10 has been corrected; thank you.
“Abide in My Love”
The following essay is from Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s “The Spiritual Combat” and is especially pertinent for devoutly inclined souls. The devil tempts us not by way of the obvious worldly pleasures but by the subtle means of loving to serve God “in our own way” and for the pleasure that accomplishing our own goals which we have assumed are God’s own goals, simply because they seem so right to us.
Indeed, Dom Scupoli begins his treatise on the Spiritual Combat by teaching us that we must become thoroughly convinced of our own weakness to the point of total distrust of ourselves coupled with the utmost pure and childlike trust in the wisdom, power and providence of God. Now this distrust of self is something utterly alien to most people today but distrust of self, and trust in God, when fortified by prayer, enable us to accomplish our tasks for the love of God alone, for the sole desire of pleasing Him while assiduously avoiding accomplishing our own will.
As I read this, I was reminded of the gentle remonstration of a very dear reader, who had urged me to focus on God’s will and not on whether the outcome of my efforts pleased me. Thus, you see how much I have to learn from you, my readers. For I had become much too invested in achieving my own goals – which only serves to bring us to disaster, for God cannot ever allow us to succeed at our own goals, which only ever serve pride, and thus lead us astray.
THE EXERCISE OF THE WILL
The end to which all of our actions, interior and exterior should be directed.
We have spoken concerning the necessity of regulating one’s understanding. It is necessary also to control one’s will so that it is not abandoned to its own inclinations, but it is conformed entirely to the will of God. It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our action under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.
Here will arise the greatest struggle with our nature, constantly thirsty for its own pleasure. Even in lofty spiritual undertakings, it seeks its own satisfaction, residing there without the least scruple, since there is no apparent evil. The following is the result.
We begin acts of religion not from the sole motive of doing the will of God, but for a sensible pleasure that often accompanies such acts. The illusion is still more subtle as the object of our affection is more commendable in itself.
Who would imagine that self-love, criminal as it is, should prompt us to unite ourselves to God? That in our desire to possess Him we should pursue our own interests rather than His glory and the accomplishment of His will, which should be the only motive for those who love Him, seek Him, and profess to keep His laws?
If we desire to avoid such a dangerous obstacle, we must accustom ourselves not to desire or execute anything unless it is through the impulse of the Holy Spirit, combined with a pure intention of honoring Him Who desires to be not only the first Principle, but also the last End of our every word and action, through the observance of the following method.
As soon as an opportunity presents itself to perform such a good action, we must prevent our heart from seizing on it before we have considered God. This will enable us to know whether it coincides with His will, and whether we desire it solely because it is pleasing to Him. When our will is controlled and directed in this way by the will of God, it is motivated only with the desire to conform entirely to Him, and to further His glory.
The same method is to be followed in rejecting whatever is contrary to His will. The first move is to raise our minds to God to know what is displeasing to Him, and then be satisfied that in its rejection we conform to His holy will.
We must remember that it is extremely difficult to discover the deceptions of our fallen nature. It is always fond of making itself, for very questionable motives, the focal point of all things; it flatters by persuading us that in all our actions our only motive is to please God. What we accept or reject, then, is actually done to please ourselves, while we erroneously imagine that we act out of a desire to please, or a dread of displeasing, our Sovereign Lord.
NECESSITY OF PURITY OF HEART
The most effective remedy against evil is purity of heart. Everyone engaged in the spiritual combat must be armed with it, discarding the old man and putting on the new. The remedy is applied in this way.
In everything that we undertake, pursue, or reject, we divest ourselves of all human considerations, and do only what is conformable to the will of God. It may happen that in many things we do, and especially in the interior impulses of the heart, or in swiftly transient exterior actions, we may not always be conscious of the influence of this motive. But at least we should be so disposed that virtually and habitually we act from the viewpoint of pleasing God.
In more prolonged activities this virtual intention is not sufficient. It should be frequently renewed and developed to its full stature in purity and fervor. Without this, we run the great risk of deception by self-love, which always prefers the creature to the Creator and so deceives that, in a short time, we are imperceptibly drawn from our primary intention.
Well meaning but vulnerable persons generally set out with no other purpose than to please God. But by degrees they permit themselves, without knowing it, to be lured away by vanity.
They forget the Divine will which first influenced them and are completely absorbed in the satisfaction afforded by their actions, and in the advantages and rewards they expect. If it happens that, while they think they are accomplishing, great things, Providence permits them to be interrupted by sickness or some accident, they are immediately dissatisfied, criticizing everyone about them, and sometimes even God Himself. This is clear evidence that the motive, the force behind their actions was bad.
Anyone who acts under the influence of Divine grace and only to please God is indifferent as to his course of action. Or, if he is inclined to some particular activity, he completely submits to Providence the manner and time of doing it. He is perfectly resigned to whatever success attends his undertakings, and his heart desires nothing but the accomplishment of the Divine will.
Therefore, let everyone examine himself, let him direct all his actions to this most excellent and noble end. If he discovers that he is performing a work of piety in order to avoid punishment, or to gain the rewards of the future life, he should establish as the end of his undertaking the will of God, Who requires that we avoid hell and gain Heaven.
It is not within man’s power to realize the efficacy of this motive. The least action, no matter how insignificant, performed for His sake, greatly surpasses actions which, although of greater significance, are done for other motives. For example, a small alms, given solely in honor of God, is infinitely more agreeable to Him than if, from some other motive, large possessions are abandoned, even if this is done from a desire to gain the kingdom of heaven.
And this, in itself, is a highly commendable motive, and worthy of our consideration. The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first. With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures.
The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that Divine Object. In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory. In conclusion, there is a final way of acting in complete accordance with this very excellent and elevated motive. This is fervently to petition our Lord for grace and frequently to consider the infinite benefits He has already given us, and which He continues to bestow every moment from an undeserved and disinterested affection.
(Dom Lorenzo Scupoli. “The Spiritual Combat” . Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition)
Readers, Père de Caussade has also written in much this same vein, as has St. Alphonsus Liguori and the same with Sister Lucia of Fatima, so it is something we need to continue to work on this Lent and I hope very soon to have a follow up post on this subject. Thank you for reading! I pray for you always.
Remember – Our Lady needs us to obey: First Saturdays of Reparation, daily rosary, at least 5 mysteries, wear her brown scapular and live your Total Consecration to her Immaculate Heart, offering daily duties in reparation and for the conversion of poor sinners.