Piety Energizes the Will – Part 2 of 2

Father Guibert continues his discussion of the four conditions that awaken certain feelings in the human soul, feelings which move the human will to action.

Concerning the third condition, an interior movement which occurs in the soul, he remarks: “Piety is not satisfied with barren contemplation. As soon as it has brought us face to face with some important truth, it insists on our comparing our moral state with our ideal. This examination of conscience produces confusion and yearning, never discouragement. Then prayer rises up—ardent prayer which is an impulse of the whole being towards the good, a panting aspiration towards God.”

As for the fourth condition, external influences, he explains how piety carefully arranges these influences. Piety “creates about us, by means of all the signs that it brings to our notice, an atmosphere of warmth and comfort. By the reading it suggests to us, by the instruction to which it compels us, by the personal admonitions and influences that it procures for us, it fastens our attention, provokes our activity, and even stimulates our sensibility. So many rays focussed from every side on the centre of our souls raise its heat to the point at which it becomes a powerful energy in the hands of the will.”

“Considered thus, piety already realizes the human conditions in which the will is stirred. However human these conditions may be, they are none the less a grace from God, for, in giving us His grace, God means, first of all, to make us act according to the requirements of our nature. But His grace goes further still: it is a help which is fundamentally imperceptible by human observation, and known only by means of Christian faith. This grace prepares the act of will by the supernatural light that it imparts; it determines it by the force that it communicates to it; and it carries it to completion by means of the divine gift of perseverance. This grace is the fruit of piety, for God gives it to whosoever asks for it in prayer, and to whosoever is in the proper disposition to receive it through recollection and mortification.”

“Piety is, then, for the will, the best source of its energy, and since it is the will, above all, that gives man his value, piety is for him of inestimable price.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Piety Energizes the Will – Part 1 of 2

In the previous post, Father Guibert suggested that an effective way to move the human will to action is to awaken and enkindle certain feelings in the soul. He enumerates four conditions that awaken these feelings: “recollection, which makes its appeal to all the powers of the soul and keeps them under control within; the contemplation of some powerful truth, which is capable of moving the heart by the continuous action of its illumination; the interior impulse by which the soul stirs itself up and urges itself to action; and, lastly, the external influences that blow upon the fuel within and stir it into flame.” Moreover, the assistance which piety gives to the will “realizes the conditions in which feeling takes its rise.”

Concerning the first condition, recollection, he states: “Recollection is required to begin with; but this is just the first law of piety. Piety is incompatible with distraction of mind. It bids man withdraw as much as possible from the sounds and preoccupations of the world; it invites him to enter into himself. . . . However busy he may be, he ought to have hours set apart in which he will belong to none but God and himself.”

Concerning the second condition, the continued contemplation of some powerful truth, he explains: “Piety demands, during the times for recollection, meditation on religious truths. . . . Whether these truths appear in their living reality in the lives of the Saints or in the mysteries of Christ, whether they be manifested as a revelation of our destiny or as a code of moral obligation, they never leave us dead and cold. Reason, no doubt, is not without urgent considerations; but religious motives are always still greater, more universal, and stamped with a higher authority. The convictions that flow from them, revived and renewed daily by piety, pass into the state of habit; they keep the heart at its full strength, and, hence, feeling gains a really active power in the soul. Can anyone fall into idleness, for instance, if several times a day he comes face to face with the truth that God has created him for action, and that, if he wastes his time, he is wasting his life, both in this world and for eternity?”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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The Bond Between Piety and Virtue

Father Guibert states: “The distinctive mark of true piety is progress in goodness—at least, in the endeavour towards what is better. Between genuine piety and real virtue there is, then, a bond in their very nature.”

“Here is a man upon whose heart piety has taken a strong hold, so that the thought of God encircles him, the love of God fires him, and the exercises of religion are his necessary food. Watch his conduct, and you will see that at the same time he shows more self-control, he is more gentle, more devoted, more ready for sacrifice and more generous in his work. In proportion as his piety increases, his virtue grows.”

“But if, after an impulse of fervour, his piety begins to decrease, if it is dissipated and fails from his heart, together with an abandonment of his religious exercises, you will at once find that all the springs of his life become relaxed. In proportion as piety lowers, his virtue goes by degrees, and the man is like a disabled ship amidst the eddies of passion; he becomes selfish, exacting, touchy, cross, and unfaithful to the duties of his state of life; and then it is clear that his virtue depended only upon his piety.”

“This experience, which has been observed hundreds of times by those who are pious, both in their own case and in the case of others, shows what a profound influence is exercised by piety upon the will. For if virtue be the fruit of grace, it is also a product of the will, and it depends for its merit upon the conscious part played by the will. . . . It is, then, by acting upon the will, and by imprinting upon it a moral impulse, that piety engenders virtue.”

How does piety exercise a direct action upon the will? “The will is an interior force that carries us towards the good. Its activity is manifested at first within, but it must spring forth and spread itself without. Its interior effort consists in the firm decision by which we determine to act rightly. But this determination must be energetic enough to issue in outward action and to last.” The will “is not always ready to act. Clear ideas are not enough for it, just as a knowledge of machinery is not enough to set a motor going. And, just as in the motor, steam under pressure is required for action, so the will must possess a certain amount of heat of feeling to come into play. If we know how to awaken and to enkindle feeling in the soul, we then have the secret of moving the will.”

Next, how to enkindle that feeling . . .

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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The Scandal of Sterile Piety

Father Guibert notes: “If every kind of distortion of piety is to to avoided, it must also be prevented from becoming barren. It is sterile in those who ask for nothing from it, and who also get no profit out of it. It is a loss to them, if the time and the strength they spend in pious exercises yields them no return.”

“Piety falls into contempt among men, when it appears empty and unfruitful in those who practise it. The world knows you for a man of faith and piety. It knows that you attend church, that you receive the sacraments, that you read religious books day by day, that you have taken up certain devotions, and that your name is in the front rank in confraternities and associations for good works. But the world has its eye on you, and takes note of all you do. It sees that you give up none of the pleasures of your position, that you are proud when you are out, harsh and bad-tempered at home, and that your tongue utters bitter and poisonous things; your passions are stormy and not at all under control, and your virtue is not above suspicion. Then, what is the use of piety? What difference is there between you, who make a profession of it, and unbelievers, who speak against it? What result has the grace of Baptism had in your case? What strength do you get from prayer? . . . See to what scorn you expose [your piety], when your life shows that it has not made you better.”

“Just as saints bring honour to God, so do people whose piety is sterile lower Him in the thoughts of men. It is not that piety is able, all at once, to raise a soul to the height of virtue, but that, where it is sincere and active, it at any rate puts it in the way of perfection. But who has not observed that men judge one another, not by the position in which they actually are, but by the direction in which they are going? As long as our course is toward that which is better, our life will testify to truth and to the value of our piety.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Transformed By Grace

Father Guibert observes: “There are Christians so ill-instructed as to the true character of their religion as to look to it for nothing beyond benefits of a material nature. If prayer does not bring rain upon their fields when it is needed, or if it does not prevent strokes of misfortune; if prayer does not get for the labourer out of work the employment he desires, or if it does not procure for every family in distress the bread for which it hungers; if prayer does not cure all the illnesses of those who are dear to us and secure us from the hand of death, what can be the good of it? . . . This perverted religion, without calling forth a single interior act of love for God, looks for all success from the magical influence of a recited formulary, or a lighted candle, or a medal or a scapular.”

“It is not that God does not care for our temporal needs. He makes provision for them by His providence; and sometimes He condescends to signalize His intervention by striking acts that we rightly call miracles, so that we have good reason to fly to Him in our necessities. Nor does He at all disapprove of the external signs by which we express our desires, provided that superstition does not transform them into pagan practices. But all this is not religion: it is only its rind—a rind that is worth keeping so long as it contains, and does not stifle, religion.”

“Religion, particularly in its most active form, which is piety, is the ascent to God of the soul that confides in the divine power. Under this impulse the soul is uplifted and purified, and becomes more worthy of the God to whom it draws near; the grace of God penetrates it, ennobles it, transforms it and fortifies it. . . . It is enough if God have changed the soul, without changing the circumstances in which it lives, for it to find everything altered. It has more courage to turn its powers and capacities to account, and to conquer in the struggle for existence; temporary defeats do not beat down its energy or prevent its recovery of self-possession, so that it can set to work once more. It remains in firmness and resignation to face the evils that it cannot get rid of, and it makes use even of its sufferings to help on its moral progress. Such effects, which are the fruits of religion, are surely worth more to men than the transitory benefit of some earthly gain. Would that Christians always sought in their piety for this inestimable good!”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Piety Makes Us Morally Better

Here and in the next several posts, we shall hear the Sulpician Father Jean Guibert discuss the various fruits of piety. In this post, we hear him explain how the practice of piety makes a person morally better.

“Mutual interdependence between religion and morality is definitely consecrated by Christianity. Jesus came to purify and restore the religion of His Father; but He understands it as being a means of moral progress. ‘Be you therefore perfect,’ He says, ‘as also your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48). ‘He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me’ (Jn 14:21). After teaching us, in the Pater noster, to ask God for the pardon of our sins, He immediately adds: ‘For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you forgive not men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.’ (Mt 6:14-15) He warns us that without goodness piety is barren, when He says: ‘Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven’ (Mt 7:21).”

“His disciples preach the same doctrine. See with what severity St. Paul judges those who, in their piety, neglect the duties of their state of life. ‘If any man,’ he says, ‘have not care of his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel’ (1 Tm 5:8). The Apostle St. James, for his part, insists upon this capital truth: ‘For even as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead’ (Jas 2: 26). ‘Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep oneself unspotted from this world’ (Jas 1:27).”

“This, the authentic teaching of religion, gathered by tradition and faithfully handed down to us, makes piety, both for individuals and for society, an instrument of moral progress. It has been given to man as a power from on high, in order that, by means of it, he may become better, and that, by means of goodness, he may be happier in this world and assured of bliss in eternity. Religion and morality, piety and holiness, are then indissolubly united by God. A piety that seeks anything else than an increase in goodness, mistakes its end; a piety that would be its own end would be barren and rejected by God.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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That Your Joy May Be Full

“Another sublime advantage which we derive from this union with God by grace is that we are made one body and one spirit, not only with the Blessed Trinity, but with the souls of the just. The same Holy Spirit, which, according to St. Augustine, is the bond of union between the Father and the Son likewise embraces us all, and unites us as intimately with each other as the soul unites the different members of the body. As a golden chain He links us to God and Christ, and likewise with the choirs of blessed spirits, with the band of Apostles and countless numbers of holy Martyrs, Confessors, and Servants of God.”

“By this unity the joy we shall experience in the beatific vision in heaven will be multiplied and infinitely increased, as St. Anselm proclaims in moving words: ‘Human heart, poor heart that suffers so many tribulations—ay, is inundated with suffering—how would you rejoice if you possessed all things that are prepared for you in heaven! Ask your inmost self whether it could comprehend such happiness. Yet, certainly, if another whom you love as yourself possessed the same happiness as you, your joy would be doubled, as you would rejoice no less at his happiness than at your own. But if two or three or many more enjoyed the same good fortune, you would rejoice for each individually as for yourself, if you loved each of them as yourself. In that perfect love, then, of numberless Angels and Saints, where one loves another no less than himself, every one will rejoice for all others individually as much as for himself. . . . Indeed, since each rejoices as much at the fortune of another as he loves him, they all, loving God in that perfect happiness incomparably more than themselves and all others, will also rejoice more at the happiness of God than at their own, and that of all others. . . . My Lord and my God, my Hope and the Joy of my heart! Tell my soul whether this is the joy of which Thou didst say through Thy Son: Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.'”

Quotations from Alice Lady Lovat, The Marvels of Divine Grace: Meditations Based on the “Glories of Divine Grace” (Original Treatise by Fr. Nieremberg, S.J., Entitled “Del Aprecio y Estima de la Divina Gracia”) (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1917).

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