Beware of resisting the leadings of grace: be thoroughly generous in great things and in small
It is proper to grace to strive against nature. Therefore, we must expect that it will frequently, or rather continually, demand of us such things as are contrary to our vicious or imperfect tendencies, and that consequently nature will offer a violent resistance, and will not yield until the last moment. The will, however, must always be on the side of grace. By the word 'will', I do not mean certain ineffective desires, certain repugnances or aversions which are not free, but a firm and determined resolution -- not I would, but I will, triumphant equally over likes and dislikes.
Such a generous intention, firmly resolved to respond in everything to God's designs, is not often met with, even among those who think they have given themselves entirely to Him. At certain times of sensible fervour, we declare ourselves ready and willing for everything, and we fancy that our protestations spring from the depths of our will. But it is not so; they are only the effect of the glow of grace.
When that glow has abated and the soul is restored to itself and to ordinary grace, we are surprised to see that all our good intentions have vanished. Or else, like St. Peter, we presume on our strength and, so long as danger is afar off, we fancy ourselves ready to confront everything. But when the opportunity presents itself we yield, as the apostle did, to the slightest temptation. There is a great difference, said a holy man who spoke from experience, between sacrificing one's life to God in a transport of fervour, and doing the same thing at the foot of the gallows. The true disposition of the will is to be judged at the actual moment of the sacrifice, when the temporary effect of the heavenly warmth is withdrawn, and the soul has cooled down and returned to a state of ordinary grace.
Therefore we ought not lightly to imagine that we have this good will: rather we should always fear that we have it not. We are not, indeed, to be pusillanimous, but we are bound to mistrust ourselves always and rely solely on help from heaven, confident that it will never fail us in time of need. We are so weak that we cannot be sure of victory beforehand. The slightest presumption renders us unworthy of it, and often the enemy snatches the victory from our hands, just when we think it is ours.
Do you want to be sure of never resisting God? Then remember always Our Lord's own words: The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. [ ] We must watch and pray, as He bids us, that we enter not into temptation. Watch, so as not to expose ourselves or give advantage to the enemy; pray, in order that we may obtain from God the strength we need. Abiding, thus, in the salutary fear of being unfaithful to grace, God will preserve us from all evil. Or, if He permits us from time to time to realize our weakness, it will never be by a deadly fall: He will interpose His own hand between us and the blow, to prevent it from doing us harm. He will quickly raise us up again, and we shall be all the stronger afterwards.
The fear of resisting grace may be looked upon in yet another light. Such resistance is the greatest evil we have to dread. When God intends to take possession of a soul and direct it himself He gives it much instruction relative to its perfection. He watches with extreme care over its thoughts, words, acts and motives. He overlooks nothing, examines every action, and keenly rebukes the slightest unfaithfulness.
Now the soul cannot be too attentive to the light it thus receives from God, and His secret reproaches: it is of the greatest importance to pay them every regard. For in the first place, if we resist God's will, we at once arrest the progress of our own perfection. We place a stumbling-block in our own way, and make no advance until we have surmounted it. Not only shall we not advance, but we shall fall back; for it is an axiom of the spiritual life that we must either go forward or fall back. In the second place, one grace rightly used attracts a second, the second brings a third, and so on, for graces are linked together; they form a chain which ends in holiness and final perseverance. In the same way, a grace rejected deprives us of the next, and therefore of those which should follow. And this may be carried so far as to prove fatal in the long run.
Therefore it is always extremely dangerous to break this chain, and as it is certain that we shall undoubtedly arrive at that perfection that God expects of us if we advance faithfully from grace to grace, so it is equally certain that we run a grave risk in the matter of our salvation if we break the chain of graces in any way whatsoever.
This is especially true of certain principal graces which form, as it were, the master links in the chain, upon which so much depends. Such are the grace of one's vocation, an attraction to interior prayer, and others of like nature. They are a kind of starting point from which God is going to lead us to our final haven. If we respond faithfully and assiduously, we will have nothing to fear, but if we reject His overtures at the outset we can never be sure of having a second opportunity.
But I should warn timid souls that the chain is not broken by faults of inadvertence and impulse or even of imprudence and indiscretion: in other words, by sins of frailty. It is only broken by sins knowingly, wilfully and repeatedly committed. For God does not leave us just for one fault; He returns again and again, and is as patient as the end He has in view is great. Even when He sees that we are determined to have nothing to do with Him, He does not withdraw altogether.
He acts in a similar manner when He is asking certain sacrifices of us. Sometimes He pursues a soul for years before He wearies, especially if the sacrifice is important and the soul feels a great repugnance for it. The moment when His pursuit ceases is known to Him alone. Should the soul want to withdraw itself from the order of supernatural Providence, it is to be feared that it may never re-enter it, and even its eternal salvation may be endangered. God showed St. Teresa the place she would have had in hell, had she lost that which was prepared for her in heaven. For her there was no middle course, it was one thing or the other; and there are many souls in a like state without knowing it.
This is one of the principal reasons why masters of the spiritual life so strongly urge the duty of recollectedness and correspondence with grace. The soul cannot attend too carefully to the warnings that God does not cease to give, constraining it to do good and avoid evil. The soul should observe the greatest fidelity in following these inspirations of grace. This attention and docility Our Lord Himself made the distinctive marks of His disciples: My sheep, He said, follow Me, because they know My voice. [ ] And it may be affirmed that the whole system of true direction consists in moulding souls to such a disposition.
Finally, we ought to question God's will in nothing, great or small. It is not our place to decide on the greater or less importance of the things God requires of us, and we can so easily fall into error on such points. Besides, if God signifies His will concerning any matter, however small, that intimation at once invests it with importance, and, more than all else, we are bound to consider the intention and good pleasure of so great a Master. What, in itself, was the eating or abstaining from a certain fruit? And yet the happiness of the human race depended upon the observance of so apparently trifling a command. God is the absolute arbiter of the graces He bestows upon us, and also of the conditions He attaches to them. On our fidelity in a seemingly trivial matter may depend many graces which He has in store for us.
Opportunities for doing great things for God are rare, but those for doing little things for Him are continually arising, and it is precisely in these little things that the refinement of love shows itself. Nothing proves the depth of our love for God and our desire to please Him more than the conviction that nothing is little where His service is concerned. And how, indeed, can we expect to be faithful to Him in big things if we are careless in obeying Him in small? It is just these that are more within our reach and more adapted to our weakness. The bigger things, on the other hand, call for great efforts, which are often beyond our strength, and of which it would be presumptuous to deem ourselves capable. Great acts of virtue are God's work rather than ours, and if the smaller ones seem to belong to us, none the less God's action plays the greater part in them also.
Our fidelity, then, is not perfect unless it embraces everything, without exception. We ought to judge of the service due to God by that which we ourselves expect of others. We look for exactness, promptness, and thoroughness, and would be offended if our orders were not carried out, just because they were not gravely important. Is it too much, then, to serve God as we desire to be served ourselves?
Faithfulness in little things keeps us humble, and shields us from vanity, and is of inestimable value in God's sight if it proceeds from a high motive. By it we acquire that extreme purity of conscience which brings us very close to God. The special characteristic of His own holiness was precisely His utter incompatibility with the least stain of sin. So it is with the saints, allowing for due proportion in the comparison.
How mistaken are those souls who try to keep anything back from God. Who, so to speak, bargain with Him, who consent to give Him certain things but obstinately refuse Him others; who keep a watch on themselves in certain directions but are negligent in others; who set bounds to their perfection and say within themselves: I will go so far and no farther. Can they not see that the very thing that they withhold from God is just what He is particularly asking of them, and of which He reproaches them so frequently and insistently? If He presses His demand, it is not for His sake but for ours. Not only does He see more clearly than we do, but He alone knows what is best for us, indeed what is necessary for our advancement. And His very insistence is a sure sign that what He asks is more important than we think.
Here, then, is a subject for our examination of conscience. We must overlook nothing, spare nothing, search the innermost corners of our heart, lest there be some hidden reservation, some rapine in the holocaust. And, having made a thorough search, let us beg God to bring His own light to bear on the dark corners of our soul, making our interior dispositions clear to us, constraining us to refuse Him nothing, and using all His authority to take from us what we have not the courage to give Him.
cf. John x. 4
Work of God Apostolate