Friday, January 14, 2011


This is Chapter One of Fr. Joseph Schneider's HELPS TO A SPIRITUAL LIFE, 1903, published by Benziger Brothers (public domain): 



I. Thou hast been created to know, praise, honor, and serve God and, by so doing, to save thy immortal soul. Such is thy destiny for time and for eternity. Everything else in this world, all that exists out of and around thee, all that happens to thee, either agreeable or disagreeable, should, in the designs of God, be a help to thee to attain thy end. From this it follows that thou shouldst make use of creatures —taken in the sense given above — only in so far as they may promote the attainment of thy end, and that it behooves thee to abstain from them whenever they hinder thee from securing thy destiny. In other words, thou shouldst not ask, "Does this agree with my inclinations or gratify my sensuality," but rather, "Will this help me to reach my eternal destiny?" In order, however, to acquire such a frame of mind as will enable thee always to follow and obey this principle, thou shouldst strive to become perfectly indifferent concerning all that surrounds thee, all that happens to thee, so that thou wilt not desire or will health, wealth, honor, a long life, etc., any more than their opposites, so long as the divine will, or the duties of thy state and the exigencies of thy condition, or due charity and justice towards thy fellowmen, do not require thee to give the preference to any one of these. It behooves thee to be indifferent concerning those things that are not in thy power, but are dependent on the wise and loving providence of God, who alone knows what is best for thee in every particular case. Thou shouldst not wish one thing more than another, but shouldst abandon thyself with childlike confidence and the most perfect conformity of judgment and will to the Lord, inasmuch as thou desirest and choosest that only which is calculated to promote best the end of thy creation. In order to acquire this holy indifference, in which life's only true wisdom consists, thou shouldst often ask thyself and answer these questions

(i) What profit is there in enjoying pleasure and good health during life, if I render myself miserable for all eternity? What harm is there in leading a life of suffering, pain and privations, if I can thereby render myself forever happy?

(2) What will it avail me to be very learned, refined and accomplished, if I do not escape eternal punishment? What will it hurt me to be poor, illiterate and unrefined, if it helps me to acquire everlasting bliss?

(3) What advantage is there in my being honored and esteemed during life, and after death to cast my lot with the reprobate? What harm is there in living in a humble station and in being despised during life, if this promotes and secures my eternal welfare?

(4) What benefit is there in a long but ill-spent life on earth, if it leads to endless misery? What disadvantage is there in dying young, provided by my virtues I secure heaven's ineffable joys?

2. Thou hast only one soul; if it is lost, everything is lost for thee. Thou hast only one God; if thou dost not serve Him, thou servest sin and art a slave of Satan. Thou hast only one Redeemer, Jesus Christ; if thou dost not heed His voice. He will suffer thee to be lost. Thou hast in the next world only one Judge, from whose sentence there is no appeal to a higher tribunal. Thou hast only one heaven to hope for; if thou art excluded from it, hell will surely be thy portion. Thou shalt die but once, and thou knowest not when, how, or where; and it is this death that shall decide thy eternity—either an eternity of happiness or an eternity of misery. It is then of the utmost importance for thee to strive earnestly and constantly to secure eternal happiness, whilst thou hast time and the means to do so; for the night will come for thee, and perhaps very soon, when thou shalt no longer be able to work for it.

3. God demands not only that we avoid sin, but also the ordinary daily works of which our life is made up.

4. God loves and wishes that we keep order in our daily actions; He wills that we perform them according to the dictates of right reason, and not according to our caprice. "Let all things be done decently and according to order" (i Cor. xiv. 40).

5. God requires, moreover, that we perform our actions in a proper manner, and with a pure intention, for He regards rather the manner than the matter of our doings. To be perfectly good, our actions should be performed with a good and pure intention and in the proper manner.

From these general rules and maxims flow the following special rules.


I. Rise daily at a fixed hour, resolutely, promptly, devoutly. Resolutely, without excuse or pretext; promptly, without delay; devoutly, amid pious thoughts and aspirations towards God. So begin each day, as if it were the first or the last of thy
life. A day will surely come, and perhaps very soon, which will be thy last.

2. If possible, hear Mass daily, with reverence and attention.

With Reverence. Let that which is holy, be holy for thee. Let the Model of thy conduct be Christ offering Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. His eyes, His hands. His demeanor in prayer represented and promoted His interior devotion. Thy faith and its profession require the same of thee. Be sincerely pious like Abel, and not wicked and hypocritical like Cain.

With Attention. Pay attention to the principal parts of the Mass. Begin like the publican, and at the Confiteor say: "O God of goodness and might, be merciful to me, a sinner. I acknowledge my guilt; I bewail it and crave for pardon.” At the Offertory offer thy heart to the Lord in sacrifice, exclaiming with David, "O God, despise not an humbled and contrite heart" (Ps. 1. 19), At the Elevation of the Sacred Host ask God with David to create in thee a clean heart. At the Elevation of the Chalice ask God again with David to renew in thee the right spirit, not to take His holy Spirit from thee, but to strengthen thee with a joyful spirit. At the Communion give thyself entirely to the Most High, who gives Himself to thee, and say with St. Augustine: "O Lord, take possession of me, of my eyes, of my ears, hands and feet, of my tongue, of my heart, of my soul, of my whole being. I am all Thine; I will forever remain all Thine." By doing this thou wilt easily banish distractions and restrain the wanderings of thy mind.

3. Pray tranquilly, slowly and reverentially.

Tranquilly. In a place where thou art not exposed to be disturbed or distracted; and at a time when thou art not taken up with cares. Devout prayer is hindered by the going and coming of people and the multitude of affairs.

Slowly. He who prays performs an important act; hence why should he be in a hurry.

Reverentially. In prayer thou speakest to the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

4. In intercourse be friendly, prudent.

Friendly. A sincere, unaffected friendliness overcomes everything. There is no heart so hard as not to give admittance to a kind word, and to allow itself to be soothed by it. Do not give or take offence, do not get irritated. The hands of all were raised against Ishmael, because he raised his hands against all. In many things be blind, deaf and dumb, that thou mayst not disturb the peace and cause quarrels.

Prudent. Do not trust nor mistrust everybody. Neither believe nor discredit everything. Do not praise everything, nor withhold thy praise from everything. Thou livest among men, and not among angels. Men do not always, but sometimes, deceive; there is sometimes a wolf concealed under a lamb's wool. Be more inclined to explain in good part another's obscure saying than to condemn him. Beware of hastily designating or considering another's actions as sinful; thou shouldst take under thy protection the conscience of thy fellow-man, for it is often good and guiltless in spite of appearances to the contrary. But when thy neighbor's fault is too evident to admit of the excuse of a good intention, thou shouldst still refrain from condemning him, but shouldst ascribe it to the violence of the temptation, which would have overpowered thee equally, or even more shamefully, hadst thou been in his place. Never speak ill of others or well of thyself. To speak at the proper time is an art; but to keep silence at the proper time is no less an art. Thou hast certainly oftener regretted having spoken than having been silent.

5. Obey promptly, punctually.

Promptly. As if the voice of command came directly from heaven. When thou obeyest a man merely as a man, thou obeyest with difficulty and without merit. But if thou obey him for God's sake, thy obedience becomes pleasant and meritorious.

Punctually. Not superficially; not in appearance or as "serving to the eye" (Col.
iii. 22 and Eph. vi. 6). God, who has given the command, sees what thou doest and how thou doest it. Wouldst thou make Him a faulty offering?

6. Recreate thyself honorably, decorously, joyfully.

Honorably. Away, then, with all amusements dangerous to thy soul ! Let the company, the kind, the place, the manner of thy recreation, be select. Flee the secret recesses of sloth and the schools of intemperance and dissipation, and everywhere and always show reverence for thy guardian angel.

Decorously. We should respect one another. Water and earth are clean in themselves, but when mixed together become mud and dirt. Too great familiarity with persons of like sex breeds contempt, and with the other sex begets danger and ruin to modesty, which is the guardian of innocence and virtue.

Joyfully, But within due bounds, and, if possible, within the family circle. Consider recreation as a medicine, and not as a daily food. It may be enjoyed, but not too often, and even then only with moderation, and, as it were, reluctantly. The playing of games is not evil in itself; but to be too greatly absorbed and spend much time therein proves injurious to the soul, since it draws the soul from serious subjects to trifles. Thou livest not in order to amuse thyself, but thou shouldst amuse thyself in order to live and the better to be able to work.

7. Work and occupy thyself in an orderly manner, earnestly, for the love of God.

In an Orderly Manner. Perform first what is prescribed, and then what is of thy own choice. He who acts thus, does not seek to please himself, but does what is becoming and useful. Order is the royal road by which we may attain our end more directly and more easily.

Earnestly. That is, with due exertion. God sees, assists and rewards thee. This thought should inspire us with courage and diligence. No one sets to work more eagerly than he who directs his view towards God, and considers for whose sake he is laboring and wearing himself out.

For the Love of God. With the intention to serve and glorify God. Unite also thy sentiments and actions with those of thy divine Saviour, so that what is deficient in thine may be supplied by His infinite merits. In this manner thy most ordinary and most insignificant actions acquire a supernatural worth, become agreeable to God and meritorious to thee unto life eternal.

8. Conquer thyself often, manfully.

Often. Thus wilt thou accustom thyself to self-mastery. Thy eyes, thy ears, thy tongue, thy hands and feet, thy appetite, the passions of anger, love, lust, fear, sadness, love of pleasure, will often assail thee violently and strive to drag thee downwards. But it is only bodies devoid of vital energy that suffer themselves to be thus dragged. The living man resists the impetuous stream. Conquer thyself often in little things, and thou shalt learn to overcome thyself in those that are greater. Deny thyself sometimes that which is lawful, and thou shalt easily deny thyself that which is unlawful.

Manfully. The effeminate are not born to great things. Strength is the result of inurement to exertion. If thou desirest to live long, and especially to live devoutly, do not live effeminately; for he who thus lives and panders to himself does not love God. Bear sufferings and adversity with patience. It is not in thy power to ward off all pain, but it is in thy power to draw great advantages therefrom. In thy sufferings look up to thy Saviour on the cross; complain not, but bear them in silent patience. A cross known to God alone is a great treasure to a Christian soul. If God allows thee to suffer much, consider it as a sign that He wishes to make thee a great saint. Crosses and afflictions are the most precious gifts God imparts to thee in this world, and thy acceptance and patient bearing of them is the most precious gift thou canst offer Him in this vale of tears.

9. Let thy voluntary devotions be short, cheerful.

Short. If they last long, thou wilt perform them carelessly or soon drop them. The principal thing is not how much thou performest, but with what intention thou actest. A piece of gold is worth many pieces of silver. Fervor and constancy impart great value to short devotions.

Cheerful. That is, freely and without sad constraint, so that thou do not become uneasy when it is advisable to exchange them for some better work, or necessary to omit them entirely. An immovable person is only a human statue. He who is prudent knows how to adapt his resolutions to circumstances.

10. Raise thy heart to God often, sincerely.

Often. At least once every hour raise thy heart to God, for he lives piously and happy who, as much as he can, has his heart constantly near God and God in his heart. What breathing is to the body that a pious disposition is to the soul; it is refreshing. When leaving thy house, when entering the church, in prosperity and in adversity, in corporal dangers, in spiritual desolation, in difficulties of all kinds, send up a loving aspiration to heaven; it will penetrate the clouds; thy prayer will ascend, and the divine mercy will descend to thee.

Sincerely. Beseech God with thy heart, and not merely with thy lips. If thou wishest to pray well, love God, and manifest thy love to Him in every possible way. No one is so sure to shun evil as he who has thus accustomed himself to unite his actions with love.

11. Receive the sacraments eagerly, becomingly.

Eagerly. Jesus Christ calls thee; the great banquet is ready. Dost thou not hunger after this heavenly food? It is good for the body to fast sometimes, but the soul should be refreshed as often as possible.

Becomingly. Do not appear at Holy Communion without the wedding garment, which is a figure of sanctifying grace and devotion. This banquet will, then, always be pleasing and wholesome to thee, and will be a food filling thy soul with heavenly blessings, and not with a curse, and will be to thee, not the stamp of reprobation, but a pledge of eternal glory.

12. Examine thy conscience daily, carefully.

Daily. Because thou sinnest daily. If thou neglected this daily examination, thou wilt easily fall into the habit of sin. Although thou canst not avoid all faults, thou shouldst flee all those that are deliberate, and the proximate occasion and habit of sin. The habit of venial sin ever draws after it a number of great evils.

Carefully. In the evening examine each hour of the day, and thou wilt know thyself and feel sorrow and amend. Thus the night will happily flow by, and a good day will follow, even if thou wert to awaken in another world.

With these means of leading a truly Christian life join daily, if thy occupations permit, a short reading of a book of devotion, or religious instruction, in order to impress deeply on thy mind the divine revelations and good principles, and to assist thee in keeping recollected in the very midst of thy occupations. Among the spiritual books the New Testament, with approved notes and comments, holds the first place; then the “Following of Christ,” the lives of the saints and of holy persons, the ascetical works of St. Francis de Sales and of St. Alphonsus, Goffine, Cochem's or Mueller's " Sacrifice of the Mass," Rodriguez's " Christian Perfection," and other works recommended to thee by thy pastor or confessor. These and other similar works enlighten the mind, inflame the heart, excite to good resolutions, encourage, preserve and strengthen in the practice of virtue. To enjoy these fruits, read with moderation, and be less anxious to read much, than careful as to what and how thou readest. Read attentively, eagerly but slowly, and reflect calmly on what thou readest. Accompany and end thy reading with good resolutions. It was by the reading of spiritual books that St. Ignatius Loyola and many others were induced to lead a holy life. How praiseworthy and salutary was the ancient custom, now still seen in many places among fervent Catholic families, that the father of the family, especially on Sundays and feast days and during the long winter evenings, would himself read, or have one of the older children read, to his household something edifying and instructive, and then would make appropriate and practical remarks on the reading.

Very wholesome and profitable is the custom of those, who at the end of each month examine themselves on the foregoing principles, purify their conscience by a sincere and contrite confession, and seek fresh strength for the coming month in Holy Communion. He who thus spends his days will, at the end of his life, have the consolation of being able to appropriate to himself these words of St. Paul: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me in that day " (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8).

No comments:

Post a Comment