A Truly False Conscience

The editor of Light and Peace remarks how some people with a sincere desire to serve God fear that they might have a false conscience, that they might be laboring under a deceptive self-illusion that makes them think they are following the right path but have gone astray. The editor discusses two ways in which a false conscience is formed.

“First, by choosing among our duties those for which we feel most attraction and natural tendency, and then, in order to give ourselves up to them more than is necessary, to persuade ourselves we can neglect the others. Thus a person with a preference for exterior acts of religion will spend all day praying or attending sermons and offices of the Church and considers herself very devout, although she may have been neglecting her temporal duties. Another, being differently disposed, will apply herself exclusively to the duties of her state of life, sacrificing to them without regret those of religion, quite convinced that one who is faithful in all the domestic relations, and gives to every one his due, cannot possibly be otherwise than pleasing to God.”

“The second way of making a false conscience consists in giving the preference in our esteem and practice to those among the Christian virtues which find their analogies in our natural dispositions, for there is not one of the virtues that has not its correlative amongst the various qualities of the human character. Persons of a gentle and placid disposition will affect meekness, the practice of which will be very easy for them and require no effort; and imagining they exercise a Christian virtue when in reality they only follow a natural bent, they are liable to fall into a culpable weakness. Those who, on the contrary, have an exact and rigid mind will esteem justice and order above all else, making small account of meekness and charity; and thus justifying themselves falsely by their natural temperament, they follow the tendency of the flesh whilst believing they obey the spirit, and may easily become addicted to excessive severity.”

How does one turn a false conscience into a true conscience? “Saint Francis de Sales recommends us to watch carefully over our natural tendencies and to substitute for them as much as possible the inspirations of grace, which he calls living according to the spirit: ‘To live according to the spirit,’ he writes, ‘is to think, speak and act according to the virtues that are of the spirit, and not according to the senses and feelings which are of the flesh. These latter we should make serve us, but we must hold them in subjection and not allow them to control us; whereas with the spiritual virtues it is just the reverse; we should serve them and bring everything else under subjection to them.'”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Frequency of Holy Communion

The Psalmist cries out: “My heart is withered; because I forgot to eat my bread.” (Ps 101:4)

On the question of the frequency of receiving Holy Communion, Light and Peace draws from the wisdom of St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Francis de Sales.

Padre Quadrupani cites his favorite spiritual guide: “St. Francis de Sales says that when we cannot go to Holy Communion without giving annoyance to others, or without failing against duties of charity, justice or order, we should be satisfied with spiritual Communion. ‘Believe me,’ he adds, “this mortification, this deprivation, will be extremely pleasing to God and will advance you greatly in His love. One must sometimes take a step backward in order to leap the better.'”

St. Francis gives this admirable advice: “In proportion as you are hindered from doing the good you desire, do all the more ardently the good that you do not desire.” Quadrupani remarks: “Saint John the Baptist was more intimately united in spirit with our Lord than even the Apostles themselves: yet he never became one of His followers owing to the fact that his vocation required this sacrifice on his part and called him elsewhere. This is the greatest act of spiritual mortification recorded in the lives of the saints.”

St. Ambrose says: “Live in such a manner that you may deserve to receive it every day, for he who does not deserve to receive it every day will not deserve to receive it at the end of the year. . . . When one has received a wound does he not seek a remedy? Sin which holds us captive is our wound: our remedy is in this ever adorable Sacrament.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Holy Communion

Christ declares: “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you.” (John 6:54)

Padre Quadrupani addresses three common excuses given for not receiving Holy Communion more frequently:

Some give the excuse that they have not adequately prepared to receive the Eucharist. Quadrupani replies: “Do not fear that you are ill-prepared for Holy Communion and abuse the Sacrament because in receiving it you are cold, indifferent, and devoid of feeling. This is a trial sent or permitted by God to test your faith and to advance you in merit.”

Others give the excuse that they are beset with temptations. To them, Quadrupani has this to say: “Never refrain from receiving the Holy Eucharist because you happen to be beset by temptations; this would be to capitulate to your enemy without offering any resistance. The more combats you have to sustain, the greater the necessity of providing yourself with the means of defence, and these are to be found in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Still others complain that receiving Holy Communion frequently does not make them any more virtuous. Quadrupani says to them: “Do not conclude that you derive no benefit from Holy Communion because you find no perceptible increase in your virtues. Consider that it at least serves to keep you in a state of grace. You give nourishment to your body every day but you do not pretend to say that it daily gains in strength. Does food appear useless to you on that account? Certainly not; for, though it fail to augment strength, it preserves it by repairing the constant waste. Now, this is precisely the case with the divine Food of our souls.”

The editor of Light and Peace addresses a misconception about the motive for receiving Holy Communion: “It is indeed an error to consider Holy Communion a reward of virtue, and, in a measure, a gauge of perfection, whereas it is above all a means to attain perfection, and the one pre-existing virtue required in order to employ this means is the desire to profit by it. Our divine Lord did not say: ‘Come to Me all ye who are perfect’: He said: ‘Come to me all ye who labor and are burdened’ (Matt 11:28).

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Conversion

The editor of Light and Peace quotes St. Francis de Sales extensively on various aspects of conversion from sin:

St. Francis says: “God has, indeed, on some occasions cured sinners instantaneously and without leaving in them any trace of their previous maladies. Such, for instance, was the case with the Magdalen. In a moment her soul was changed from a sink of corruption into a well-spring of perfection, never again to be contaminated by sin. But, on the other hand, in several of the beloved disciples this same God allowed many marks of their evil inclinations to remain for some time after their conversion, and this for their greater good. Witness Saint Peter, who, even after the divine call, was guilty of various imperfections and once fell totally and miserably by the triple denial of his Lord and Master.”

“Solomon says (Prov 30:23) there is no one more insolent than a servant who has suddenly become mistress. A soul that after a long slavery to its passions should in a moment subjugate them completely, would be in great danger of becoming a prey to pride and vanity. This dominion must be gained little by little, step by step; it cost the saints long years of labor to acquire it. Hence the necessity of having patience with every one, but first of all with yourself.”

“There is no sight more pleasing to Heaven than to witness the persevering and determined struggle of a soul which, throughout, remains united to God by a sincere desire and a firm resolution not to offend him—and maintaining this struggle calmly and patiently even when it is to all appearance fruitless. Such a soul, resigned to retain its defects if it is God’s will, yet determined notwithstanding to fight against them relentlessly, is more precious in the eyes of God than if the practice of virtue were easy for it and it were in peaceful possession of spiritual gifts. Labor, then, in the presence of your heavenly Father; struggle on with strength and courage; but do not be too desirous of success, for when this craving for self-satisfaction is excessive it is sure to be accompanied by vexation and impatience.”

“We should labor, therefore, without any uneasiness as to results. God requires efforts on our part, but not success.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Sorrow for Sin

Padre Quadrupani teaches that, since contrition is an act of the will, “sighs, tears, sensible sorrow are not necessary elements of true contrition.” Nevertheless, some degree of sorrow more often than not accompanies contrition and repentance. But good and useful sorrow carried to an immoderate extreme ceases to be salutary and can even become counterproductive to the health of the soul. St. Francis de Sales says: “Evil things must not be desired at all, nor good things immoderately.” And elsewhere: “I entreat of you, love nothing too ardently, not even the virtues, for these we sometimes forfeit by exceeding the bounds of moderation.”

Mindful of the human propensity for immoderation, Padre Quadrupani puts sorrow for sin in perspective. He writes: “You say you would wish to have contrition but cannot succeed in feeling it. Saint Francis de Sales replies: ‘The ability to wish is a great power with God, and you thus have contrition by the simple fact that you wish to have it. You do not feel it indeed at the moment, but neither do you see nor feel a fire covered with ashes, nevertheless the fire exists.'”

Quadrupani explains: “The immoderate desire of sensible sorrow comes from self-love and self-complacency.” Sadly, this is often the case: “A sorrow that satisfies only God is not sufficient for us, we wish it to satisfy us also; we like to find in our sensibility a flattering and reassuring testimony of our love of good.”

“If God does not grant you the enjoyment of sensible sorrow, it is in order that you may gain the merit of obedience, which should suffice to reassure you as to your perfect reconciliation. Believe therefore with humility, obey with courage, and you will earn a twofold reward. The greatest saints have at times believed they had neither contrition nor love, but in the midst of this darkness of the understanding, their will followed the torch of obedience with heroic submission.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Contrition

Padre Quadrupani discusses contrition: what it is and what it is not. He writes: “Contrition is essentially an act of the will by which we detest our past sins and resolve not to commit them in future. Hence sighs, tears, sensible sorrow are not necessary elements of true contrition. . . . Therefore never allow yourself to be disturbed by the want of sensible sorrow. . . . It is essential to be sorry for our sins—it is not essential to be troubled about them. Repentance is an effect of love of God, anxiety is an effect of self-love.”

“In the midst of the keenest and most sincere repentance we can still thank God that He has not permitted us to become yet more culpable. Let us promise Him a solid amendment, relying for success solely upon the assistance of divine grace; and should we fall again a hundred times a day, let us never cease to renew the promise and the hope. God can in an instant raise up from the very stones children to Abraham and exalt the most corrupt natures to the highest degree of sanctity. At times He does so, but usually it is His will that we long continue to bear the burden of our infirmity: let us not then lose our trust in Him, nor mistake a state of trial for a state of reprobation.”

He gives this advice to the repentant sinner: “Do not make violent efforts to excite your soul to contrition, for these only have the effect of producing anxiety, weariness and oppression of mind. On the contrary seek to become very calm; say lovingly to God that you wish sincerely you had never offended Him and that with the assistance of His grace you will never offend Him more—that is contrition. True contrition is a product of love, and love acts in a calm.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Moderation in Penance

Padre Quadrupani draws upon the wisdom and experience of Catholic saints to urge moderation in the practice of penance.

“St. Jerome teaches that when the devil cannot turn a soul away from the love of virtue, he tries to urge it to excessive mortification, in order that it may thus become exhausted and lose the vigor indispensable to its spiritual progress. Numbers of devout people have fallen into this snare.”

Quadrupani emphatically insists: “It is not permissible in ordinary practice to impose upon ourselves arbitrarily any kind of mortification that would directly tend to shorten life. ‘To kill one’s self with a single blow,’ says St. Jerome, ‘or to kill one’s self little by little—I make but slight distinction between these two crimes.’ Life, health and strength are blessings that have been given us in trust, and we cannot lawfully dispose of them as though they belonged to us absolutely.”

St. Francis de Sales writes: “I charge you to preserve your health carefully, for God exacts this of you, and to husband your strength so as to employ it in his service. It is even better to save more than the requisite amount of strength than to reduce it too much, for we can always lessen it at will, whereas, once lost, it is no easy matter to regain it.” Quadrupani concludes: “Therefore give your body the nourishment it needs to maintain its strength and health.”

“In a celebrated conference held by the holy Abbot St. Anthony with the most learned religious of Egypt, it was decided that of all virtues moderation is the most useful, as it guards and preserves all the others. It is owing to the lack of this essential moderation in their devotional exercises and mortifications that many persons whilst seeking holiness find only ill health. As a consequence they eventually abandon the path of perfection, judging it impracticable because they have attempted to walk in it bound with fetters.”

Commenting on the extraordinary penances of certain saints, Padre Quadrupani writes: “The example of those saints who practised extraordinary penances deserves our sincere admiration, but it is not in these exterior acts that we should try to imitate them; to do this would necessitate being as holy as they were. . . . Aspirations to imitate the saints in what is extraordinary are the effect of secret pride and not of genuine virtue.”

The translator of Light and Peace quotes a certain learned and pious Jesuit, who, speaking on the extraordinary fasts and mortifications of St. Ignatius of Loyola, said: “Do not let us confound cause and effect. It is not because he did these things that Ignatius became a saint: on the contrary, it is because he was already a saint that it was possible and permissible for him to do them.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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