The Struggle

Not all can become rich, wise, famous… Yet, all of us — yes, all of us — are called to be saints.

To be faithful to God requires a constant battle. Hand-to-hand combat, man to man — the old man against the man of God — in one small thing after another, without giving in.

The test, I don’t deny it, proves to be very hard: you have to go uphill, “against the grain”.

—What is my advice? That you must say: omnia in bonum, everything that happens, “everything that happens to me”, is for my own good… Therefore do accept what seems so hard to you, as a sweet and pleasant reality.

Nowadays it is not enough for men and women to be good. Moreover, it is not good enough to be satisfied with being nearly… good. It is necessary to be ‘revolutionary’.

Faced by hedonism, faced by the pagan and materialistic wares that we are being offered, Christ wants objectors! — rebels of Love!

Whoever really wants to achieve sanctity, takes no breaks or holidays.

Some behave, throughout their lives, as though Our Lord had only talked of self-giving and upright behaviour to those who did not find it hard — they don’t exist! — or to those who don’t need to fight.

They forget that Jesus said, for all: the Kingdom of heaven is won by violence, by the holy battle of every moment.

What eagerness many show for reform!

Would it not be better for us all to reform ourselves, each one of us, so as to fulfil faithfully what is laid down?

You play around with temptations, you put yourself in danger, you fool around with your sight and with your imagination, you chat about… stupidities. And then you are anxious that doubts, scruples, confusion, sadness and discouragement might assail you.

—You must admit that you are not very consistent.

After the initial enthusiasm, there began the doubts, hesitations and fears. You are worried about your studies, your family, your financial situation, and, above all, the thought that you are not up to it, that perhaps you are of no use, that you lack experience in life.

I will give you a sure means of overcoming such fears — temptations coming from the devil or from your lack of generosity! Despise them: remove those recollections from your memory. The Master already preached this unequivocally twenty centuries ago: “Don’t look back…”

We have to foster in our souls a true horror for sin. Lord — say it with a contrite heart — may I never offend you again!

But don’t be frightened when you become aware of the burden of your poor body and of human passions: it would be silly and childishly naive to find out now that “this” exists. Your wretchedness is not an obstacle but a spur for you to become more united to God and seek him constantly, because He purifies us.

If your imagination bubbles over with thoughts about yourself and creates fanciful situations and circumstances which would not normally find a place in your way, then these will foolishly distract you. They will dampen your ardour and separate you from the presence of God. This is vanity.

If your imagination revolves around others, you will easily fall into the defect of passing judgement when this is not your responsibility. You will interpret their behaviour not at all objectively but in a mean way. This is rash judgement.

If your imagination hovers around your own talents and ways of speaking, or with the general admiration that you inspire in others, then you will be in danger of losing your rectitude of intention, and of providing fodder for your pride.

Generally, letting your imagination loose is a waste of time, and, if it is not controlled, it opens the door to a whole string of voluntary temptations.

—Do not leave off the practice of interior mortification for even a single day!

Do not be so stupidly naive as to think you have to go through temptations, to be sure that you are firm in your vocation. It would be like asking someone to stop your heart, to show you that you want to live.

Do not enter into dialogue with temptation. Allow me to repeat it: have the courage to run away and the moral strength not to dally with your weakness or wonder how far you can go. Break off, with no concessions!

You have no excuse whatsoever. You have only yourself to blame. If you are aware — and you know it well enough — that going along that path, reading those things, keeping that company, can bring you to a precipice, why do you persist in thinking that perhaps it is a short cut which will help you to develop or which makes your personality more mature?

You must change your plan radically, even though it demands a greater effort and means fewer amusements at your disposal. It is high time you behaved as a responsible person.

The irresponsibility of so many men and women who make no effort to avoid deliberate venial sins, pains Our Lord very much. It’s normal, they think, and seek to excuse themselves by saying that at those stumbling blocks we all fall!

Listen carefully: most of that mob, which condemned Christ and put him to death, also began only by shouting — just like the others — by going to the Garden of Olives — with the rest of them…

In the end, still carried along by what “everyone” was doing, they did not know how to draw back or did not want to… and they crucified Jesus!

—Now, after twenty centuries, we still have not learned.

Ups and downs. You have many, too many, ups and downs.

The reason is clear: till now, you have led an easy life, and you are reluctant to admit that there is a notable gap between “wanting to give” and “giving” oneself.

As, sooner or later, you are surely bound to stumble upon the evidence of your own personal wretchedness, I wish to forewarn you about some of the temptations which the devil will suggest to you and which you should reject straight away. These include the thought that God has forgotten about you, that your call to the apostolate is in vain, and that the weight of sorrow and of the sins of the world are greater than your strength as an apostle…

—None of this is true!

If you are really fighting, you need to make an examination of conscience.

Take care of the daily examination: find out if you feel the sorrow of Love, for not getting to know Our Lord as you should.

In the same way that many go to see first stones being laid, without bothering about whether the works then begun will ever be finished, sinners deceive themselves with their “last times”.

When it is a matter of “breaking off” — never forget it — the “last time” has to be the one before, the one that has already happened…

I advise you to try sometime to return… to the beginning of your first conversion, which, if it is not becoming like children, is very much like it. In the spiritual life we have to let ourselves be led with complete trust, single-mindedly and without fear. We have to speak with absolute clarity about what we have in our mind and in our soul.

How are you going to get out of that state of lukewarmness and lamentable languor if you do not make use of the means? You struggle very little, and when you make an effort, you do so as if annoyed and uneasy. You even seem to hope that your feeble efforts will produce no results, so that you can then justify yourself and you will not have to make demands on yourself and others will not ask any more of you.

—It is your own will you are following, not God’s. If you don’t change in earnest you will neither be happy nor be able to obtain the peace you now lack.

—Humble yourself before God, and try really to want to.

It is such a waste of time and such a human way of looking at things, when everything is reduced to tactics of a sort, as if the secret of being effective lay there.

—They forget that God’s tactic is charity, the Love without limits: thus it was that He bridged the unbridgeable gap that man, through sin, opens up between Heaven and earth.

Apply a savage sincerity to your examination of conscience; that is to say, be courageous. It is the same as when you look at yourself in the mirror to know where you have hurt yourself or where the dirt is or where your blemishes are, so that you can get rid of them.

I must warn you against a ploy of satan — yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more — who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God.

If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.”

—I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie — every day — is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may co-redeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

“The devil doesn’t seem to be very clever”, you told me. “I can’t understand how he can be so stupid: he always uses the same deceits, the same falsehoods…”

—You are absolutely right. But we men are less clever, and we do not learn from the experience of others… And satan counts on all that in order to tempt us.

I once heard of a curious thing that happens in great battles. Although victory may be certain beforehand, because of the superiority in numbers and equipment, later, in the heat of combat, there are times when defeat threatens through the weakness of one flank. Then peremptory orders come from the high command, and where the flank was in difficulties the breach is stemmed.

—I thought about you and me. With God, who does not lose battles, we will always be the victors. That is why in the struggle for sanctity, if you feel lacking in strength, you should listen to the commands, do what you are told, let yourself be helped… for He does not fail.

You opened your heart sincerely to your director, speaking in the presence of God…, and it was marvellous to see how you yourself were finding the proper answers to your evasive attempts.

Let us love spiritual direction!

I will grant that you behave properly… But, allow me to speak sincerely. You must admit that you are doing things in such a leisurely way that, apart from not being entirely happy, you remain very far from holiness.

That is why I ask: Do you really behave properly? Could it be that you have a mistaken idea of what is proper?

If you fool around, are inwardly and outwardly frivolous, hesitant when faced with temptation, wanting and not wanting, it will be impossible for you to advance in the interior life.

I have always thought that many mean by “tomorrow” or “later”, a resistance to grace.

Another paradox of the spiritual way: the soul which has less need to reform its behaviour struggles harder to do so, and does not stop until it has succeeded. And the contrary is also true.

You sometimes invent “problems” for yourself, because you do not go to the root of your behaviour.

—All you need is a determined change of attack: to fulfil your duty loyally and be faithful to the indications that you have been given in spiritual direction.

You have become more keenly aware of the urgency, of the “preoccupation” of being a saint; and you have gone into battle daily with no hesitation, convinced that you have to root out bravely any symptom of being fond of comfort.

Later, while talking to Our Lord in your prayer you understood that fighting is a synonym for Love, and you asked for a greater Love, with no fear of the struggle awaiting you, since you would be fighting for Him, with Him and in Him.

Complications?… Be sincere, and acknowledge that you prefer to be the slave of some selfish whim of yours, rather than serve God or that soul. —Admit it!

Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem… Blessed is the man who suffers temptation because, after he has been tested, he will receive the crown of Life.

Is your heart filled with joy when you realise that this interior sport is a source of peace which can never be exhausted?

Nunc coepi! — now I begin! This is the cry of a soul in love which, at every moment, whether it has been faithful or lacking in generosity, renews its desire to serve — to love! — our God with a wholehearted loyalty.

It really did hurt you deeply when you were told that what you were looking for was not your conversion, but a coffer for your miseries. In that way you would be able to carry on comfortably — but with a taste of bitter aloes — bearing that sorry load.

You don’t know whether it is physical depression or a sort of interior tiredness that has come over you, or both at the same time… You fight without fighting, without the desire of an authentic positive improvement, to transmit the joy and love of Christ to souls.

I wish to remind you of the clear words of the Holy Spirit: only those who fight legitime, — genuinely, in spite of everything — will be crowned.

I could behave better, show more decision and spread around more enthusiasm… Why don’t I?

Because — forgive my frankness — you are a buffoon. The devil knows full well that one of the worst-guarded doors of the soul is that of human foolishness: vanity. That is where he attacks with all his might: pseudo-sentimental memories, the hysterical form of a black-sheep complex, the unfounded impression of a lack of freedom…

What are you waiting for in order to follow the Master’s injunction: Watch and pray, for you know not the day nor the hour?

You told me with a boasting but uncertain swagger that some go up and others go down… And others, like yourself!, are just idling.

Your indolence saddened me, and I added: idlers are made to shift by those going up; and — normally with greater vigour — also by those going down. Consider what an uncomfortable attitude you are adopting!

The holy bishop of Hippo already pointed it out: not to go forward is to go back.

In your life, there are two things that do not fit together: your head and your heart.

Your intelligence — enlightened by faith — shows you the way clearly. It can also point out the difference between following that way heroically or stupidly. Above all, it places before you the divine greatness and beauty of the undertakings the Trinity leaves in our hands.

Your feelings, on the other hand, become attached to everything you despise, even while you consider it despicable. It seems as if a thousand trifles were awaiting the least opportunity, and as soon as your poor will is weakened, through physical tiredness or lack of supernatural outlook, those little things pile up and excite your imagination, until they form a mountain that oppresses and discourages you. Things such as the rough edges of your work, your resistance to obedience; the lack of proper means; the will-o’-the-wisp attractions of an easy life; greater or smaller repugnant temptations; bouts of over-sentimentality; tiredness; the bitter taste of spiritual mediocrity… And sometimes also fear; fear because you know God wants you to be a saint, and you are not a saint.

Allow me to talk to you bluntly. You have more than enough “reasons” to turn back, and you lack the resolution to correspond to the grace that He grants you, since He has called you to be another Christ, ipse Christus! — Christ himself. You have forgotten the Lord’s admonition to the Apostle: “My grace is enough for you!”, which is confirmation that, if you want to, you can.

Make up the time you have lost resting on the laurels of your self-complacency, and thinking what a good person you are, as if it were enough just to keep going, without stealing or killing.

Speed up the pace of your piety and your work: you still have such a long way to go: Live happily with everyone, even with those who annoy you, and make an effort to love — to serve! — those whom you despised before.

You revealed your past wounds — full of pus — in Confession. And the priest dealt with your soul like a good doctor, like a conscientious doctor. He made an incision where he had to, and would not let the wound heal over until everything had been cleaned out. —Be grateful.

Tackling serious matters with a sporting spirit gives very good results. Perhaps I have lost several games? —Very well, but — if I persevere — in the end I shall win.

Change now, when you still feel young… How difficult it is to put things right when the soul has aged.

Felix culpa!, sings the Church… Blessed be your mistake — I whisper in your ear — if it has prompted you not to sin again, and if it has also made you understand and help your neighbour better, for he is of no worse quality than you.

“Is it possible”, you ask after having rejected the temptation, “is it possible, Lord, that I could be… that other one?”

I am going to summarise your clinical history: here I fall and there I get up. The latter is what matters. —So continue with that interior struggle, even though you go at the pace of the tortoise. Forward!

—You know well, my son, where you can end up, if you don’t fight: one depth calls another and another.

You are ashamed, before God, and before the others. You have discovered filth within yourself both old and renewed: there is no evil instinct or tendency that you do not feel under your skin. And you also carry a cloud of uncertainty in your heart. Furthermore, temptation arises when you least want it or expect it, when your will is weakened by tiredness.

You no longer know whether it humiliates you, although it hurts you to see yourself like this. But let it hurt you because of Him, and for Love of Him. This contrition of love will help you to remain vigilant, for the fight will last as long as we live.

You are consumed by the desire to seal once more the self-dedication you made some time ago: remembering that you are a son of God and living like one too.

—Put your many weaknesses and infidelities in the Lord’s hands. For that is also the only way to lessen their weight.

Renewal is not relaxation.

Days on retreat. Recollection in order to know God, to know yourself and thus to make progress. A necessary time for discovering where and how you should change your life. What should I do? What should I avoid?

There should be no repetition of what happened last year.

“How did the retreat go?” you were asked. And you answered: “We had a very good rest”…

Days of silence and of intense grace… Prayer face to face with God…

I broke out into thanksgiving, on seeing those people, mature in years and experience, who opened out to the touch of grace. They responded like children, eagerly grasping the chance to convert their lives, even now, into something useful… which would make up for all the times they have gone astray and for all their lost opportunities.

—Recalling that scene, I put it to you: do not neglect your struggle in the interior life.

Auxilium christianorum! —Help of Christians, says the litany of Loreto with confidence. Have you tried to repeat that aspiration in time of difficulty? If you do it with faith, with the tenderness of a daughter or a son, you will discover the power of the intercession of your Holy Mother Mary, who will lead you to victory.

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