Saint of the Day, Friday, May 17, 1968
Today is the feast of Saint Felix Cantalicius, Confessor. From the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, notable for his candor and evangelical charity. His relic is venerated in our chapel. It is also the novena of Our Lady Help of Christians.
Concerning our Saint of the Day from the day before yesterday, someone is asking:
The effort you ask of us to lead a life entirely dedicated to the Counter-Revolution, even in its smallest details, is diametrically opposed to the tendencies of our soul, which is inclined toward vulgarity, laziness, and selfishness.
Could you explain how to fight evil tendencies to acquire this unconditionally counter-revolutionary spirit? In what field and how should we specifically engage in this fight?
An extremely subtle point on the spiritual life implicit in your question is this: A person has an evil tendency – for example, toward vulgar things or to occupy himself with trivial and unimportant things—, and wants to lift his mind and think about essential things. He has two paths to follow.
One is to combat this tendency by doing important things, so he establishes a method: “I will remember this so many times a day and do penance when I fail to follow this deliberation. In this way, I will seek to fulfill my resolution.” This path consists of focusing on the bad tendency and overcoming it.
Another way is to encourage one’s tendency toward goodness; to reflect well on the advantage of having elevated thoughts: ‘how right this is, how noble this is, how close it is to God.’ I examine myself well to see if I am deeply convinced of this. I take whatever subconscious objections I have in this regard, seek out these objections, make them conscious, and after refuting them, become firmer in my resolution.
The fundamental element of virtue is the desire to possess good because it is good
With which of the two should spiritual progress begin? Should I start by combating the evil tendency or by persuading myself of the good?
The answer is that it depends on the type of grace the person receives. This cannot be resolved on a theoretical level; it has to be resolved on a concrete level.
Our Lady touches each soul in a certain way. Some she moves by violently calling their attention to the evil of something so the person makes a resolution to avoid it. Others are called by grace to focus on the good of something.
Sometimes grace asks us: “You already understand that this is bad; now start by fighting, so you understand better how bad this is and how good its opposite is.”
Whether we should start by fighting the bad or focusing on the good depends on how grace suggests to each of us what we should do. We must examine ourselves and ask how we think things would go better.
For example, we should decide whether to organize some program and fight that bad tendency, or, on the contrary, to start thinking about this evil tendency to overcome it, or yet to think about the good that the bad tendency destroys, and then make a resolution. All this depends on how grace touches us.
The truth is that virtue in its fullness presupposes profound logic–sometimes subconscious–with admiration for the good and a desire to possess it because it is good and because through it we draw closer to Our Lady and Our Lord. This is the fundamental element of virtue.
Where there is love, there is necessarily hate
This fundamental element has a luminous and magnificent reverse side: the condemnation of the opposite. I am never truly persuaded that good is good if I am not convinced that the opposite of that good is evil.
The principle of contradiction by which a thing cannot both be and not be [at the same time] is a fundamental rule of human thought. If I am convinced that something is good but have no horror or hate of its opposite, I do not really love that good. Love and hate are inseparable.
Just as there is light, there are necessarily shadows, so where there is love, there is necessarily hate.
A well-built virtue contains a profound, ingrained, concentrated, uncompromising, meticulous, and combative hatred of evil. There is no way out.
It is also true that virtue is not just speculation. Virtue is a habit; it has to be practiced. Thus, it is no use for me to be full of enthusiasm [but not be consistent]. For example, a man who always oversleeps, gets up late and never goes to work in the morning at the right time.
This man will say: “Doctor Plinio, I have the capital element of virtue. You cannot imagine how I know I’m doing bad, how beautiful I find the fact that others do well, and how ashamed I am when I’m late even when I can hide that I’m late. So I have the fundamental element but lack the accessory. I never arrive on time, but you can see well how this is a small accessory, as I have the fundamental element.” This would be ridiculous reasoning, would it not?
You have to do what you have to do. There is a certain moment when it is not enough to ponder but jump out of bed on a cold winter morning and say: “It is for your love, my Lady and Mother, but I get up punctually; that’s the end of that.” This presupposes a particular method; the method presupposes control, and some controls slip away.
If we want to combat some defect, we must first ask for extraordinary graces
Now, since we are in the century of experience, what is my experience in this regard with my dear friends of the “new generation”?
The experience is that we must go on proposing things. So, gentlemen, do this yourselves. Do propose to yourselves what I suggest to you.
The first proposal is a thought: “Look how beautiful such a thing is. If grace hits it, it starts moving.”
I say extraordinary grace because ‘sufficient grace’ is another chapter. The first thing we should do when we want to start practicing a virtue is to pray to ask for it. And we must direct our prayers to ask for the virtues we need. You never see a person asking for virtues without first thinking about what virtues he will be asking for.
I have the impression some people ask for virtues thus. He opens a book and says, “Man! Here is the virtue of observance – a beautiful virtue, which I don’t know if everyone knows what it means. But what an interesting thing this virtue of observance is, blah blah blah.”
Is that really what we want or should want? Is that what we should ask for at the moment? Should I ask my spiritual director what virtue should I pray for? And how should I ask for it?
If I do not know what to ask for, I say: “My Mother, teach me what I should ask for. Tell me what You want to give me so that I ask You for everything You want to give me. Speak to my soul, not with a little inner fervor but by enlightening my mind and making me realize what I should ask for.”
Therefore, the first thing is to ask to have high thoughts. They come from God through grace, communicated by the Holy Ghost.
The Litany of the Rogations, a beautiful litany the Church sings in Advent, has this invocation: “That it may please Thee to lift up our minds to heavenly desires, we beseech Thee hear us.”
I find this petition in the form of ejaculation a real beauty. It means, “Lord our God, through the intercession of Most Holy Mary, we ask Thee for the grace that Thou mayest lift our minds to desire heavenly things.”
What are heavenly things? It is not just thinking only about Heaven but also about everything on Earth that is somehow noble, elevated, worthy, and related to our apostolate and sanctification; all this elevates us to heavenly things.
So, “We beg Thee to grant us a desire for noble, lofty, worthy things that are after God.”
I have the impression that the first thing when seeking to combat a defect is to ask for extraordinary graces to do it.
I do not believe in any struggle against one’s defects that does not begin with the conviction that I – Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira- and therefore all men – lack within me the lights and resources as my nature was tainted by original sin, and I later committed other sins. That is why, through my fault and utmost fault, my nature lacks the means and resources to have a thought that brings me closer to the supernatural order, to God Our Lord and Our Lady, the Catholic Church, and my vocation.
Therefore, I need to ask and recognize that when a good thought comes to my mind, although it seems and feels like it was I who reasoned, I was able to do that reasoning because of a grace that descended upon me as I am incapable of it. As a human being, I am incapable of anything that makes me move forward in the supernatural order.
Profound humility is required as the first step in spiritual progress
Therefore, the first step for me to progress in virtue is to pray for it. To understand or at least ask to realize that I do not produce virtue. We are not the authors of our virtue.
Through a laborious, sometimes generous collaboration with God’s grace, we accept the grace that produces virtue in us, but we are not the authors of virtue.
Therefore, the first step is to recognize our impotence, weakness, misery, and radical inability to take a step in that direction. In so doing, we practice an act of humility, prostrate ourselves, bow our heads, and beat our chests. And we ask Our Lady, our Omnipotent Mediatrix, Mother full of mercy and refuge of sinners, to grant us the virtues we lack. This act of humility is entirely indispensable.
Do you know what happens when we do not make this act of humility before asking for virtue? We start thinking that we are a colossus because we are practicing virtue and have manufactured that virtue ourselves. ‘By dint of meditating, I, Plinio, was so intelligent that I realized that something had to be done. Then I swooped down on my defects with all my willpower, shook them off, corrected myself, and modeled that virtue in me. So I am a colossus because I am the source of my virtue.’
There you have a ‘mega’ person. Our Lady cannot grant him more significant progress in virtue because he will be proud, and no one knows what will happen from that moment.
Hence this act of humility and piety is the first step to acquiring virtue.
How many people stand still on the path of virtue for years not knowing what to do. They do not know what to do because they do not pray, do not humble themselves, nor want to recognize they cannot do anything except through supernatural means, which are obtained through prayer. So this is the first piece of advice.
Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the light of grace rekindle a soul
The second piece of advice for my beloved “new generation” friends is to experiment, now with a reflection, now with another, different practical methods to practice virtue, with patience and perseverance, continually hoping and without despairing.
Because another thing I have seen is that wherever there is a lot of misery in the natural order, grace places there a lot of beauty; the misery of “new generation” people is that they usually start making plans [to acquire virtue] and everything falls apart; they try different things that do not work out.
But Our Lady is pleased with these seemingly useless attempts. She uses the ensuing frustration to convince the person that when we least expect it, a grace comes. Sometimes it can take a long time; the longer it takes, the richer the grace that comes. Suddenly, the soul receives that and moves forward.
That means that you have to go on experimenting like a beggar who extends his arm hoping some coin will drop on his hand. He starts over every day until Our Lady grants it in a certain way.
This is the humble way we can achieve great things within our poor resources.
The other day I was thinking about the Group. The history of the Group is above all the history of the souls within the Group. And the history of the souls in the Group is a beautiful unknown in the life of the Group, even with things that are not beautiful.
I am not saying that every story of souls in the Group is beautiful from the human side. But the part of God is always beautiful because He always makes things perfect; from this standpoint, the history of souls is a beauty.
The other night, I talked about souls that light up and go out. How ugly it is to go out! But how beautiful it is to light up! Sometimes we wait a year, two years, sometimes even longer and much longer.
A soul zigzags, drags along and does everything, but Our Lady continues to temporize. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing, at a given moment – sometimes when we least expect– the light of grace rekindled in a soul that begins a new stage and makes that soul soar. How many cases like that exist in the life of the Group! Some are most beautiful and most touching.
So, my dear friends, pray a lot, try these various methods as much as possible and expect everything from prayer.
Our Lady blesses our prayer and attempts even when She does not immediately crown them with results. This would be the way to answer this question.
I do not know if, within this series, I should make an exposition on what is noble in the elevation of ideas and what is objectionable in the triviality of ideas. What exactly is the elevation of ideas, what is the triviality of ideas, what is noble, and what is objectionable?
If you wish, send me a note, and I will gladly address the matter. It would be a contribution to kindle admiration in us.
To love God above all things is above all to admire Him above all things because one only loves what one admires. Love without admiration is foolishness. To love virtues, we need to start by admiring them and having a horror of what is unlike them.
Supreme fidelity to Our Lady is to confide in Her when we imagine ourselves abandoned
Above all, my dear friends, have a lot of confidence in Our Lady. She called us here and will not leave us halfway. She is the Mother of Mercy and grabs us in any way and moves us forward along our path.
This mercy of Our Lady is the “a-b-c” in mine and everyone’s spiritual life. Beginning with me, I do not know anyone who would not have lost everything except for confiding in Our Lady. If Our Lady did not exist, I would immediately become discouraged from sanctifying myself and working for the sanctification of the Group.
Her mercy is why I expect the infinite mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ. She is the only competent channel through which I can receive grace.
Through this channel, grace comes with enormous exuberance even when it does not appear to. There are souls who often think they are abandoned and back to square one. That is not true. Our Lady may seem to abandon a soul, but She is often closer to it when it thinks itself forsook.
Supreme fidelity to Our Lady is to confide in Her and Her help even when we imagine ourselves abandoned. May Our Lady give us this confidence in Her.