To fight once more

Follow Saint Paul’s advice: hora est iam nos de somno surgere! — it is time to get down to work! Both on the inside, building up your soul; and on the outside, right where you are, building up the Kingdom of God.

All contrite you told me: “How much wretchedness I see in myself! I am so stupid and I am carting around such a weight of concupiscence that it is as though I had never really done anything to get closer to God. O Lord, here I am beginning, beginning, always just beginning! I will try, however, to push forward each day with all my heart.”

—May he bless those efforts of yours.

Father, you told me, I have committed many errors, I have made so many mistakes.

—I know, I replied. But God Our Lord, who also knows all that and has taken it into account, only asks you to be humble enough to admit it and asks that you struggle to make amends, so as to serve him better each day with more interior life, with continual prayer and with piety, and making use of the proper means to sanctify your work.

Would that you could acquire, as I know you would like to, the virtues of the donkey! Donkeys are humble, hard-working, persevering — stubborn! — and faithful, with a sure step, tough and — if they have a good master — also grateful and obedient.

Continue thinking about the donkey’s good qualities and notice how in order to do anything worth while, it has to allow itself to be ruled by the will of whoever is leading it… On its own the donkey would only… make an ass of itself. Probably the brightest thing that would occur to it to do would be to roll over on the ground, trot to the manger and start braying.

“Dear Jesus”, you too should say to him, “ut iumentum factus sum apud te! — you have made me be your little donkey. Please don’t leave me: et ego semper tecum! — and I will stay with you always. Lead me, tightly harnessed by your grace: Tenuisti manum dexteram meam… — you have led me by the halter; et in voluntate tua deduxisti me… — make me do your Will. And so I will love you for ever and ever — et cum gloria suscepisti me!

Even the most insignificant mortification seems an epic to you. Sometimes Jesus uses your “peculiarities” and silly little fads, to help you mortify yourself, by making virtue out of necessity.

Dear Jesus, I do want to correspond to your Love, but I am so feeble.

—With your grace, I will know how to!

Spiritual life is — and I repeat this again and again, on purpose — a constant beginning and beginning again.

—Beginning again? Yes! Every time you make an act of contrition — and we should make many every day — you begin again, because you offer a new love to God.

We can never be content with what we are doing to serve our God, just as an artist is never satisfied with the painting or statue he is working on. Everyone tells him how marvellous it is, but he thinks: “No. It isn’t quite right. I wanted it to be better.” This is how we should feel.

Moreover, the Lord has given us so much. He has a right to the very best from us… and we must go at his pace.

You lack faith… and you lack love. Were it not so you would go immediately and much more often to Jesus, asking for this thing and that.

—Don’t delay any further; call out to him and you will hear Christ speaking to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just as when he stopped for that poor blind man by the roadside who continued to insist, without giving up.

That good friend of ours wrote: “Many times I have asked the Lord to forgive me my very great sins. Kissing the Crucifix, I have told him that I love him and I have thanked him for his fatherly providence during these days. I was rather surprised, as I had been years ago, when I found myself saying (I didn’t realise it until later): Dei perfecta sunt opera — all the works of God are perfect. At the same time I was left with the complete certainty, without the slightest doubt, that this reply to his sinful yet loving creature came from my God. All my hope is in him! May he be blessed for ever!!”

I hastened to reply: “The Lord always acts as the good Father he is, and gives us continual proofs of his Love. Place all your hope in him… and keep up your struggle.”

O Jesus! If in spite of the poor way I have behaved, you have done for me what you have done…, what would you do if I were to respond well?

This truth will lead you to be generous without respite.

Weep, and grieve with sorrow and love, for Our Lord and his Blessed Mother deserve different treatment from you.

Even though at times you feel a deep distaste and you think you are only saying things with your lips, nevertheless keep up your acts of faith and hope and love. Don’t fall asleep. Otherwise, when things are going fine, an ill wind will come and it will drag you off.

This is how you should pray: If I am to do anything worthwhile, Jesus, you will have to do it for me. May your Will be done. I do love it, even if your Will should permit that I be always as I am now, falling dismally only to be lifted up by you!

Make me into a saint, my God, even if you have to beat me into it. I don’t want to be a hindrance to your Will. I want to respond, I want to be generous… But what sort of wanting is mine?

You are full of concern because you do not love as you ought. Everything annoys you. And the enemy does all he can to make you show your bad temper.

—I realise you feel very humiliated. Precisely because of this you must take measures to react without delay.

The holiness which makes people think that “to put up with a saint you need two saints” is not true holiness. At best it would only be its caricature.

The devil tries to draw us away from God, and if you allow him to dominate you, good people will “draw away” from you, because they “draw away” from the devil’s friends and from those possessed by him.

When you speak to God, even if you think yours are just empty words, ask him for a greater dedication, for a more determined progress towards Christian perfection. Ask him to put more fire into you!

Renew your firm resolution to live your Christian life right now, at every moment and in all circumstances.

Don’t place obstacles in the way of grace. You need to be convinced that in order to be leaven you must become a saint, and must struggle to identify yourself with Him.

Say slowly and in all earnestness: Nunc coepi — now I begin!

Don’t get discouraged if, unfortunately, you don’t see any great change in yourself brought about by the Lord’s right hand… From your lowliness you can cry out: Help me, my Jesus, because I want to fulfil your Will… your most lovable Will!

Agreed: your concern ought to be for “them”. But your first concern must be yourself, your own interior life. Otherwise, you will not be able to serve them.

How difficult you find that mortification suggested to you by the Holy Spirit! Look at a Crucifix, steadily… and you will come to love that expiation.

“To be nailed to the Cross!” This aspiration kept coming again and again, as a new light, to the mind and heart and lips of a certain soul.

“To be nailed to the Cross?”, he asked himself. “How hard it is!” And yet he knew full well the way he had to go: agere contra — self-denial. This is why he earnestly implored, “Help me, Lord!”

Being at Calvary, where Jesus died, the experience of our own sins should move us to be sorry, to make a deeper and more mature decision not to offend him again.

We need to smooth off the rough edges a little more each day — just as if we were working in stone or wood — and get rid of the defects in our own lives with a spirit of penance. And with small mortifications, which are of two types: active mortifications — the ones we ourselves look for, like little flowers we gather up during the course of the day — and passive mortifications, which come from outside and we find difficult to accept. Jesus Christ will later make up for whatever is still lacking.

—What a wonderful figure of the crucified Christ you will become if generously and cheerfully you give your all!

Our Lord, with his arms outstretched, is continually begging for your alms of love.

Draw close to Jesus who has died for you; draw close to that Cross, outlined against the sky on the summit of Golgotha…

But draw close sincerely and with interior recollection, which is the sign of Christian maturity. That way the divine and human events of the Passion will sink deep into your soul.

We should accept mortification with those same sentiments that Jesus Christ had in his Holy Passion.

Mortification is a necessary premise for any apostolate, and for the perfect carrying out of each apostolate.

A spirit of penance is to be found first of all in taking advantage of the many trifling occasions — deeds, renunciations, sacrifices, services rendered… — which we find daily along our way and we then convert into acts of love and contrition, into mortifications. In this way we shall be able to gather a bouquet at the end of each day — a fine bunch of flowers which we can offer to God!

The best spirit of sacrifice is to persevere in the work begun: when it is exciting and when it proves an uphill struggle.

Submit your plan of mortifications to your spiritual Director, for him to ‘moderate’ them.

—But to ‘moderate’ will not always mean to diminish. It can also mean increasing them, if he thinks fit. — Either way, accept his advice!

We can say with Saint Augustine that our evil passions tug at our garments, dragging us down. At the same time we are aware of great, noble and pure ambitions within our hearts, and know that a struggle is going on.

—If, with the grace of God, you make use of the ascetical means: if you seek to have presence of God, if you look for mortification and — don’t be afraid — penance, then you will make progress, you will find peace and victory will be yours.

Custody of the heart. That priest used to pray: “Jesus, may my poor heart be an enclosed garden; may my poor heart be a paradise where you live; may my Guardian Angel watch over it with a sword of fire and use it to purify every affection before it comes into me. Jesus, with the divine seal of your Cross, seal my poor heart.”

Each person in his own situation should lead a pure life, courageously lived. We have to learn to say No for the sake of that great Love, Love with a capital letter.

There is a Spanish saying which speaks clearly enough: Entre santa y santo, pared de cal y canto (“Twixt holy man and holy maid, a wall of solid stone be laid”).

—We have to watch over our hearts and our senses, and pull ourselves away from all occasions of sin. No matter how holy it may appear, passion must not have its way!

Dear Lord, I find beauty and charm in everything I see! I will guard my sight at every moment, for the sake of Love.

You are a Christian and, as a Christian, a son of God. You should feel a grave responsibility for corresponding to the mercies you have received from the Lord, showing careful vigilance and loving firmness, so that nothing and nobody may disfigure the distinctive features of the Love he has imprinted on your soul.

You have reached a level of real intimacy with this God of ours, who is so close to you, so deeply lodged in your soul… But what are you doing to increase and deepen this intimacy? Are you careful not to allow silly little hindrances to creep in which would upset this friendship?

—Show courage! Don’t refuse to break with every single thing, no matter how small, which could cause suffering to the One who loves you so much.

If we are faithful to him, Jesus’ own life will somehow be repeated in the life of each one of us, both in its internal development (the process of sanctification) and in our outward behaviour.

—Give thanks to him for being so good.

It seems an excellent idea to me that you should tell the Lord often about your great and ardent desire to be a saint, even though you see yourself filled with wretchedness…

—Tell him, precisely because of this!

You have seen very clearly that you are a child of God. Even if you were never again to see it — it won’t happen! — you should continue along your way forever, out of a sense of faithfulness, without ever looking back.

A resolution: to be faithful to my timetable — heroically faithful and without excuses — on ordinary days and on extraordinary days.

You might have thought occasionally, with holy envy, about the adolescent Apostle, John, quem diligebat Iesus — whom Jesus loved.

—Wouldn’t you like to deserve to be called “the one who loves the Will of God”? Then take the necessary steps, day after day.

You can be sure of the following: the desire — shown by deeds! — to live like a good son of God brings permanent youthfulness and serenity, joy and peace.

If you abandon yourself once more in God’s hands, the Holy Spirit will give light to your understanding and strength to your will.

Listen to that parable which comes to us from Jesus’ own lips and is told us by Saint John in his Gospel: Ego sum vitis, vos palmites — I am the vine, you are the branches.

Picture the whole parable in your imagination and in your mind. You will see that a branch separated from the stock, from the vine, is useless, it will not bear abundant fruit. It will end up like a dry stick which men or animals trample underfoot, or thrown on the fire…

—You are the branch; draw the necessary conclusions.

Today once again I prayed full of confidence. This was my petition: “Lord, may neither our past wretchedness which has been forgiven us, nor the possibility of future wretchedness cause us any disquiet. May we abandon ourselves into your merciful hands. May we bring before you our desires for sanctity and apostolate, which are hidden like embers under the ashes of an apparent coldness…”

—“Lord, I know you are listening to us.” You should say this to him too.

Be sincere when you open up your soul. Speak out and don’t try to sugar the pill; that would be a very childish thing to do.

And then continue on your way, with docility. You will be holier, and happier.

Don’t look for consolations apart from God. — See what that priest wrote: There should be no unburdening of your heart to any other friend when there is no need to do so.

Holiness is attained with the help of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls, through grace given us by the sacraments and as a result of a constant ascetical struggle.

My son, let us not have any false illusions about this. You and I — I will never tire of repeating it — will always have to struggle, always, until the end of our lives. So we will come to love peace, and we will spread peace around us, and we will receive our everlasting reward.

Don’t just talk to the Paraclete. Listen to him!

When you pray, consider how the life of childhood, which enabled you to realise deeply that you are a son of God, filled you with a filial love for the Father. Think how, before that, you have gone through Mary to Jesus, whom you adore as his friend, as his brother, as his lover, for that is what you are…

After receiving this advice you realised that until now you had known that the Holy Spirit was dwelling in your soul, to sanctify it… But you hadn’t really grasped this truth about his presence. You needed that advice. Now you feel his Love within you, and you want to talk to him, to be his friend, to confide in him… You want to facilitate his work of polishing, uprooting, and enkindling…

I wouldn’t know how to set about it!, you thought. Listen to him, I insist. He will give you strength. He will do everything, if you so want… And you do want!

—Pray to him: Divine Guest, Master, Light, Guide, Love, may I make you truly welcome inside me and listen to the lessons you teach me. Make me burn with eagerness for you, make me follow you and love you.

To draw closer to God, to fly all the way to God, you need the strong and generous wings of Prayer and Expiation.

To avoid routine in your vocal prayers try to say them with the same ardour with which a person who has just fallen in love speaks… and as if it were the last chance you had to approach Our Lord.

If you feel proud to be a son of Our Lady, ask yourself: How often do I express my devotion to the Virgin Mary during the day, from morning to night?

There are two reasons, among others, that friend was saying to himself, why I should make reparation to my Immaculate Mother every Saturday and on the eve of her feasts.

The second is that on Sundays and on feasts of Our Lady (which are often feasts in villages), instead of dedicating such days to prayer, so many people spend them — you have only to look around you and see — offending Our Jesus with public sins and scandalous crimes.

The first reason is that, perhaps due to the devil’s influence, those of us who want to be good sons are not taking proper care in the way we live these days dedicated to Our Lord and to his Mother.

You’ll realise that unfortunately these reasons are still very valid. And so we too should make reparation.

I have always understood Christian prayer as being a loving conversation with Jesus, which shouldn’t be interrupted even in the moments we are physically far from the Tabernacle, because our whole life is made up of verses of human love in a divine way … and we can love always.

God’s love for his creatures is so boundless and our response to it should be so great that, when Holy Mass is being said, time ought to stand still.

When the branches are united to the vine they grow to maturity and bear fruit.

—What then should you and I do? We should get right close to Jesus, through the Bread and through the Word. He is our vine… We should speak affectionate words to him throughout the day. That is what people in love do.

Love Our Lord very much. Maintain and foster in your soul a sense of urgency to love him better. Love God precisely now when perhaps a good many of those who hold him in their hands do not love him, but rather ill-treat and neglect him.

Be sure to take good care of the Lord for me, in the Holy Mass and throughout the whole day!

Prayer is the most powerful weapon a Christian has. Prayer makes us effective. Prayer makes us happy. Prayer gives us all the strength we need to fulfil God’s commands.

—Yes!, your whole life can and should be prayer.

Personal sanctity is not an unrealistic idea, but a precise reality, which is both divine and human. And it manifests itself constantly in daily deeds of Love.

The spirit of prayer which fills the entire life of Jesus Christ among men teaches us that all our actions — great or small — ought to be preceded by prayer, accompanied by prayer and followed by prayer.

Contemplate and live the Passion of Christ, with Him. Proffer your own shoulders frequently, daily, when he is scourged; offer your own head to be crowned with thorns.

—Where I come from they say: “Love is repaid with love.”

A person in love doesn’t miss the tiniest detail. I have seen it in so many souls. Those little things become something very great: Love!

Love God for those who do not love him. You should make this spirit of reparation and atonement flesh of your flesh.

If at any time the going gets harder in our interior struggle, that will be a good moment to show that our Love is in earnest.

You are certain it was God who made you see quite clearly that you must return to the more childlike little things of your earlier interior life, and persevere for months and even years in those heroic trivialities. (You needn’t take into account your feelings here since they are so often slow to recognise the good.) Your will may be cold but let it be ready to fulfil those little duties out of Love.

Persevere in your life of piety, willingly and with love, even if you feel arid. Don’t worry if you find yourself counting the minutes or days still to go before you finish that act of piety or that job of work, with the turbid delight of the lazy schoolboy who in a similar situation is looking forward to the end of term; or of the petty criminal who can’t wait to get back to his tricks once he is out of jail again.

Persevere, I insist, with a real and effective determination. Don’t cease, not even for a moment, to want to fulfil and benefit from those means of piety.

Practise your faith cheerfully, keeping very close to Jesus Christ. Really love him — but really, really love him! — and you will take part in a great Adventure of Love, because you will be more in love each day.

Say slowly to the Master: Lord, all I want is to serve you. All I want is to fulfil my duties and love you with all my heart. Make me feel your firm step by my side. May you be my only support!

—Say this to him slowly… and really mean it!

You need interior life and doctrinal formation. Be demanding on yourself! As a Christian man or woman, you have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, for you are obliged to give good example with holy shamelessness.

The charity of Christ should compel you. Feeling and knowing yourself to be another Christ from the moment you told him that you would follow him, you must not separate yourself from your equals — your relatives, friends and colleagues — any more than you would separate salt from the food it is seasoning.

Your interior life and your formation include the piety and the principles a child of God must have, to give flavour to everything by his active presence there.

Ask the Lord that you may always be that good seasoning in the lives of others.

We Christians, with a spirit of youthfulness, have come to collect the treasures of the Gospels, which are always new, so that we can make them reach every corner of the earth.

You need to imitate Jesus Christ and make him known through your behaviour. I want you not to forget that Christ assumed our human nature so as to raise all men to a divine way of life; and so that, united to him, we might live the commands of Heaven both individually and as members of society.

You, being a Christian, cannot turn your back on any concern or need of other men, your brothers.

How very insistent the Apostle Saint John was in preaching the mandatum novum, the new commandment that we should love one another!

—I would fall on my knees, without putting on any act — but this is what my heart dictates — and ask you, for the love of God, to love one another, to help one another, to lend one another a hand, to know how to forgive one another.

—And so, reject all pride, be compassionate, show charity; help each other with prayer and sincere friendship.

You will only be good if you know how to see the good points and the virtues of the others.

—That is why when you have to correct, you should do so with charity, at the opportune moment, without humiliating… And being ready yourself to learn and to improve in the very faults you are correcting.

Love and practise charity without setting any limits or discriminating between people, for it is the virtue which marks us out as disciples of the Master.

Nevertheless, this charity cannot lead you to dampen your faith — for it would then cease to be a virtue. Nor should it blur the clear outlines that define the faith, nor soften it to the point of changing it, as some people try to do, into something amorphous and lacking the strength and power of God.

You have to live in harmony with your fellow men and understand them as a brother would. As the Spanish mystic says, where there is no love, put love and you will find love.

Whenever you need to criticise, your criticism must seek to be positive, helpful and constructive. It should never be made behind the back of the person concerned.

—To act otherwise would be treacherous, sneaky, defamatory, slanderous perhaps… , and, always, utterly ignoble.

Whenever you see that the glory of God and the good of the Church demand that you should speak out, don’t remain silent.

—Think about it. Who would lack courage before God and in the face of eternity? There is nothing to be lost and instead so much to be gained. Why do you hold back then?

We are not good brothers to our fellow men if we are not ready to continue behaving correctly, even when those around us may interpret our actions badly or react in an unpleasant manner.

Your love for Mother Church and the service you render her should in no way be conditioned by the greater or lesser holiness of the individuals who make up the Church, even though we ardently desire that everyone will achieve Christian perfection.

—You have to love the Spouse of Christ, your Mother. She is, and always will be, pure and spotless.

Our striving for our own sanctification has repercussions on the sanctity of so many souls and also on the sanctity of God’s Church.

Be convinced of this!: if only you wish it (and don’t forget that God listens to you and loves you and promises you glory and you will be protected by the almighty hand of your Father in Heaven) you can be a person full of fortitude, ready to be a witness everywhere to the most lovable truth of his doctrine.

The Lord’s field is fertile and the seed he sows of good quality. Therefore when weeds appear in this world of ours, never doubt that they spring up because of a lack of correspondence on the part of men, Christians especially, who have fallen asleep and have left the field open to the enemy.

—Don’t complain, for there’s no point; examine your behaviour, instead.

The following comment, which caused me great sorrow, will also make you reflect: “I see very clearly why there is a lack of resistance, and why what resistance there is to iniquitous laws is so ineffective, for above, below and in the middle there are many people — so very many! — who just follow the crowd.”

The enemies of God and his Church, manipulated by the devil’s unremitting hatred, are relentless in their activities and organization.

With “exemplary” constancy they prepare their cadres, run schools, appoint leaders and deploy agitators. In an undercover way — but very effectively — they spread their ideas and sow, in homes and places of work, a seed which is destructive of any religious ideology.

—What is there that we Christians should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?

Don’t confuse serenity with laziness, with neglect, and putting off making decisions or studying questions that need attending to.

Serenity always goes hand in hand with diligence, which is a virtue we need in order to consider and resolve pending matters without delay.

—My son, where is the Christ that people look for in you? In your pride? In your desire to impose yourself on others? In those defects of character which you don’t wish to overcome? In your stubbornness?… Is Christ to be found there? No, he is not!

—You need to have your own personality, agreed. But you should try to make it conform exactly to Christ’s.

I will suggest to you a good rule of conduct for living fraternity and a spirit of service. When you are not around, other people should be able to go ahead with the work you have in hand thanks to the experience you have generously passed on to them, and to your not having made yourself indispensable.

It is you — in spite of your passions — who have the responsibility for the sanctity of the others, for their Christian behaviour and for their effectiveness.

You are not on your own. If you stop you could be holding up or harming so many people!

Think about your Mother the Holy Church and consider how, if one member suffers, the whole body suffers.

—Your body needs each one of its members, but each member needs the whole body. What would happen if my hands were to stop doing their duty… or if my heart were to stop beating!

You saw it quite clearly: while so many people do not know God, he has looked to you. He wants you to form a foundation stone, an ashlar, on which the life of the Church can rest.

Meditate on this reality and you will draw many practical consequences for your ordinary behaviour: the foundation stone — hidden and possibly rather dull — has to be solid, showing no weakness. It has to serve as a support for the building… If not, it remains isolated.

Since you feel you have been chosen by God to support and co-redeem — without forgetting that you are… wretched and utterly so — your humility should lead you to place yourself under the feet — at the service — of all. This is what the supports of a building do.

But foundations need to be strong. Fortitude is an indispensable virtue for someone who has to sustain or encourage others.

—Say this to Jesus and say it to him strongly: May I never through false humility stop practising the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Make me know how to separate, my God, the gold from the dross.

Our Mother, our Hope! How safe and sure we are when we keep nice and close to you, even when everything around us is quivering and shaking.

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