Moderation in Penance

St Jerome in His Study by Filippino Lippi

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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