I. SELF-DENIAL IN GENERAL.
1. Object of Self 'Denial — Purity of Heart.
“Put off the old man, who is committed according to the desire of error, and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and truth'' (Eph. iv. 22). The object of Christian self-denial is to acquire purity of heart. This is done (1) by purging our consciences of the guilt of sin; (2) by doing penance for our sins; (3) by rooting out our bad habits; (4) by conquering our evil inclinations; (5) and by planting the seed of virtue in our hearts. As the grace of God is the efficient cause of this purification, we can make our self- denial productive only by sanctifying it by prayer. In fact self-denial and prayer must be the inseparable companions of every one that journeys on the narrow way.
2. Motive of Self -Denial — The Fear of the Lord.
“Fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell'' (Matt. xix. 28). The fear of the Lord is reverence for God on account of His power to punish all who violate His holy law. God is everywhere and sees all things. "In Him we live, and move, and are." He has given no one an indefinite lease on life, “At what hour you know not the Son of man will come." ''It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment." "Then will He render to every man according to his works." But as “the Lord is good to them that hope in Him, to the soul that seeketh Him," the Savior exhorts us to be converted and live. ''Do penance," He says, '' for the kingdom of God is at hand." And St. Paul assures us that if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged" by God. Thus the mercy of God gives the sinner hope and inspires him with incipient love, while the fear of the Lord prompts him to be converted and live. Indeed, '' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. X. 31).
3. Order in Self -Denial.
To insure the success of an undertaking we must do three things: (1) Concentrate our efforts on what is essential; (2) follow a wise plan in our development; (3) and pay proper attention to the smallest details in due season.
In applying these general rules to the work of self-denial the masters of the spiritual life direct us (1) to purify our hearts first from mortal sin, its proximate occasion, and the bad habit it may have engendered; (2) in eradicating venial sin, to concentrate our efforts first on external sins that easily scandalize our neighbor; (3) with the advice of our spiritual director to single out our predominant fault and make it the object of particular examination; (4) finally, to be humble, patient, and persevering in our efforts, and to put our hope of success in Jesus and Mary.
4. Signs of Self -Denial
As the resistance of the wind or of the waves and the passing of landmarks indicate the speed with which we progress on land or on water, so there are certain signs that indicate our progress on the way to perfection: (1) the ease and persistence with which we go against our natural likes from a motive of faith indicates the subjugation of nature to grace; (2) detestation of sin and the avoidance of its voluntary occasions is another sure sign of a soul's true conversion to God; (3) holy indifference, or detachment from the world and earthly things; (4) the dominion we exercise over our passions, or triumph over the flesh; (5) and the facility we acquire in practicing humility and obedience are sure signs of progress in self-denial.
6. Counsels on Self-Denial.
In the practice of Christian self-denial we should (1) guard against excessive scrupulosity by cultivating that loving confidence in God which is the foundation of interior peace, imparts to us the liberty of brethren of Jesus Christ, and facilitates our perseverance; (2) we should be discreet in our efforts so as not to unbalance our minds, ruin our health, or give us a distaste for spiritual things; (3) we should concentrate our efforts on the present, and trust with the aid of grace to do great things for the love of God; (4) we should never relax our vigilance, our penance, or our prayers; (5) we should ever prepare for greater conflicts, and not judge our victory by the presence of sensible sweetness in our souls. This God gives us in the beginning to draw us on in the spiritual life; (6) we should not despair even if we had the misfortune to fall into mortal sin, but begin anew in all humility.