PDF Pg. 138 (real pg. 262) of A Spiritual Retreat for one day (by Fr. Jean Croiset)
OF THE FRUITS
FIRST POINT. Penance is necessary for all sorts of men.
SECOND POINT. What the Fruits of that Penance ought to be.
Consider that mortification and penance is the only way to heaven; Jesus Christ showed us no other way; and the saints who from their infancy were confirmed in grace, knew no other. 'Tis an error to imagine that penance is necessary only for great sinners, and no less an error to think that mortification is the virtue only of the perfect; if we be sinners we must do penance to endeavor to appease the wrath of God, and to obtain mercy and pardon; if we are so happy as not to have lost our innocence, penance is necessary for us to preserve that precious treasure; we have sinned, we may sin again, two powerful motives to do penance.
Since we all confess that men sin more frequently in the world, and that they are more exposed to the danger of offending God than in a cloister, can we reasonably believe that penance belongs only to monasteries, and that none but religious are obliged to mortifications? Do we consider that many of those religious whom we think indispensably obliged to do penance, never lost their innocence; & shall we who own ourselves guilty of many sins, and who are in danger of committing more every moment, shall we think to persuade ourselves that mortification and penance do not belong to us?
If we had nothing but our own passions to overcome could we reasonably hope to conquer them without the exercise of penance? and who can reasonably hope to be saved without subduing his passions?
It is an article of faith that none enter into heaven but those who do violence to themselves; and yet we pretend to enter there without mortification. The life of man upon the earth is a perpetual warfare, for S. Paul tells us that the desires of the flesh are contrary to the desires of the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are contrary to those of the flesh; how then can we hope to be victorious without the practice of penance?
We please our sensual appetites in everything, we are careful of our bodies even to excess, we follow blindly our natural inclinations, and in this condition we live without fear in the midst of the world where we are exposed to the greatest dangers. Certainly either we are of a different nature from the rest of mankind, or the devil stands in awe of us and respects us, or we are confirmed in grace, or else we are in danger (which is much more probable) to die in our sins: does heaven cost the most fervent and generous souls so much, and can we expect that the lazy and imperfect should gain it with less pains?
Saint Paul chastised his body, he joined a continual penance to the cruel persecutions he suffered, for fear of being perverted himself while he converted others: And shall men who dare not pretend to be anything near as perfect as S. Paul, imagine that they have no need to practice mortification?
Were the saints more frail than we? Did they expect another recompense? Did they follow another guide? or serve another master? Their lives were a continual mortification, are ours like them? And can we call ourselves the disciples of Christ while we neglect to do penance? Our Savior says, if any man will come after me let him deny himself and bear his cross daily.
True mortification is inseparable from true piety, not only because no virtue can subsist long without a constant an generous mortification, but also because no virtue is real that is not attended with it.
We have great reason to distrust our exercises of piety, our good works; everything is to be suspected in those whose passions are strong, & who are unmortified.
It does not seem that we are afraid of the difficulty, we dislike the motive, for what do we not suffer in the service of the world? Alas! if God required of his servants, all that the world exacts of those who serve it, I am afraid he would have but few servants.
How do we constrain ourselves everyday to please those whom our interest requires us to manage? what mortification so severe and so continual as a courtiers, a merchant's intent upon his trade, a soldier's, or a scholar's? Yet they are not discouraged, they seem satisfied amidst all their sufferings; but when God calls upon us to constrain ourselves a little, everything is uneasy, we find his yoke heavy, virtue frights us, we are disgusted, and the sole thought of mortification makes us lose courage.
But oh! we shall have other thoughts on a death bed; when the image of Jesus-Christ crucified is presented to us, will not the sight of it have a quite contrary effect? It will upbraid our delicacy and increase our regret for having lead so lazy, so sensual a life, for having neglected penance and mortification.
They present a crucifix to the dying, but my God! do all the dying find much comfort in contemplating a crucifix at their death? is it possible, my dear Jesus that the mortification which thou hast rendered so easy, should seem hard and insupportable only when we are to practice it in conformity to thy example, and for love of thee?
Oh! my God! what should I do, if thou hadst required of thy servants, if I were bound to do and suffer as much for salvation, as I do and suffer to ruin myself, thou requires less than the world does, less than I do and suffer in its service, and shall I refuse to do and suffer what is absolutely necessary for salvation, what I have deserved by my offenses, and what all the blessed spirits in heaven have done and suffered that they might imitate thee?
God forbid that I should glory in anything but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.
Consider that by the fruits of penance is meant not only macerating our bodies, but chiefly the mortification of our passions, and the reformation of our lives; these are indeed the fruits which God expects from our contrition and penance; by these marks we may know whether we have made good use of the sacraments, and whether we be truly sorry for our sins, and faithful to the grace of God.
The exercises of devotion, the frequentation of the sacraments, and the practice of good works are powerful means of perfection; but while we retain our former passions with these powerful means, while we are as proud, and impatient, as peevish, as envious, as difficult to be pleased, as choleric, as unmortified, as full of self-love as before, can we reasonably rely no these pretended exercises of piety?
Mortification of the body is an exercise of penance, but that penance must have its fruit, which consists in suppressing our passions, in regulating our inclinations, and in repairing the disorders of self-love.
To what purpose do we confess so often, if in a whole years time we have not perhaps reformed any one of the faults that we confess? It is not enough for us to detest our sins, we must resolve to commit them no more, and how can that resolution be sincere if we do not likewise resolve to avoid the least occasion of sin? The execution of this resolution is properly the fruit of penance. In good earnest if we know the efficacy of this sacrament of penance only by the fruits we find of it in ourselves, should we have an high idea of it? It is much to be feared that our using ourselves by an unaccountable carelessness, and especially by want of contrition to reap no profit by the sacrament, will render our disease incurable.
A religious life as a continual penance, but is there no danger of its being unfruitful? What a miserable thing would it be for a religious to have done penance so long without any fruit? And what fruit can an unmortified religious who is of a worldly spirit, lukewarm and careless receive from all his penance? He is very much in the wrong who bears the cross, and will not taste the fruits of it? He would not suffer more, nay he would suffer much less, for those fruits are full of true sweetness.
It is certain that everybody has very much to suffer in this life; we shall meet with crosses everywhere, they who live most at their ease are not exempted: let us at least bear them patiently, let us unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ, this will not augment them, but it will make us reap fruit by them.
Another fruit of penance is a constant practice of mortification: My God! what fruit may we not gather from this practice? Everything in the world may give us an opportunity to curb our inclinations, there is no place, no time improper for it without deviating from the rules of good sense. Let him who loves Jesus Christ truly make a good use of these little occasions; have we a great desire to see any object, or to speak in some particular occasion? we may reap great benefit by casting down our eyes and holding our thoughts. If we have an opportunity to gain applause by saying something very seasonably, or by some witty piece of rallery, we have also an opportunity of making a great sacrifice. There is scarce an hour where in some subject of mortification does not present itself are we sitting or standing, we may choose an uneasy seat, or a painful posture without seeming to affect it. In fine, the inconveniences of the place, of the season, the disagreeableness of the company, born so that we seem not to mind them, are indeed little occasions of mortification, but the mortification itself is not little, in these small occasions. It is very meritorious, and I may say that the greatest graces and the most sublime holiness commonly depend upon a generous constant mortification in these small matters. A punctual performance of the duties of our community, an exact observation of our rule, a conformity to the common way of living in everything, without any regard to our age, are precious fruits of a mortification so much the more considerable as it is less subject to vanity, and more conformed to the spirit of Christ.
These are the true fruits of penance, what hinders our beating abundance of them? But there is another fruit of penance yet more necessary, and without which all the rest will avail us little for eternity; and that is the reformation of our manners, the victory over our domineering passion; let us observe what passion is most powerful, which habit is strongest, to what sin we are most subject, which is in some manner the source of all the rest, and of all the false maxims we frame to ourselves, in matter of conscience. All other sins may be strangers to us, but the domineering passion is our proper character, the fruit of a true conversion in to retrench our reigning vice, to conceive an holy destestation of that imperious passion, to fight against it without ceasing. The victory over this sin alone will deliver us from the strongest temptations: but we willingly attack our other sins and commonly spare this: and this is the true cause of our receiving so little benefit by our penance.
My God! what do we stay for to become fruitful? thou hast cultivate us with so much care, we are planted in a ground watered with thy tears and precious blood; how long shall we be unfruitful? what do we get by bringing forth only thorns? we feel their points, but we receive no benefit by our pain, because we fly from the cross. I am resolved my dear Savior to neglect nothing that I may not live such a barren life: I can do nothing without thy grace, I can do all things with it, since thou gives me this time for penance, suffer me not to abuse it anymore; my God I am resolved to begin this moment to bring forth fruits worthy of penance.