Thus, according to Holy Writ, fortitude or strength is the portion of youth, which is manifested by the victories of the will over the enemy of our salvation. This valor is regarded by the sacred writer as one of the finest qualities with which woman can be adorned, since she owes to it all her true success and glory. Now what is this precious quality? In what faculty of the soul does it reside? What are the signs by which its presence is made manifest? What is the end to which it tends? What are the rewards that crown its victories? These are questions of deep interest, and the importance attached to a knowledge of their solution cannot be too great.
In the first place we shall begin by stating that the seat of valor is found in the will. To be valiant consists in willing intensely what is painful to nature, accomplishing what is proposed with energy and perseverance. I have often treated this subject, but it is so inexhaustible that it always seems new. Its importance grows with time, and now-a-days it cannot be insisted on too much, nor can there be too much attention paid to it by those who wish to preserve in this world the integrity of their conscience and lead an irreproachable life.
Alas it is painful to avow that this generous will is too rarely met with. This noble faculty of the soul is made subservient to other faculties which should be subject to and directed by it. The mind has perhaps acquired greater vivacity and penetration. The imagination, under the action of a constant change of images, and those sensations which the activity of life multiplies so rapidly in our time, has perhaps become richer and more varied. The heart, cherished while young by the cares and caresses common to the paternal roof, has perhaps more confidence and candor. But the will, what has become of it, what has it gained by this development of all the powers of the soul? Where is its place among them? It should be their ruler, whereas it is made their slave; they have conspired its overthrow.
It is true that very often the enfeebling of this great faculty is due to the excessive tenderness of those who have allowed us to contract pernicious habits. Who is it that speaks to the child's will? Who teaches him how to use that faculty and resist with energy the caprices of his imagination, the passions of the heart, the empire of the senses, the seductions of the world? These are duties that the will is called on to discharge, and as long as man shall live such duties will be of daily occurrence,—hence the will is destined to be constantly called into action.
The will serves us when all the other faculties fail to act. When the exhausted imagination sinks into a lethargic slumber; when the worried heart loses all relish for everything; when the mind, dreading the light of truth, gives itself over to error and prejudice; when the smoke of passion blinds the intelligence and suffocates the senses; it is then that the will, fashioned in the school of pliant energy, seizing the reins with a firm and vigorous grasp, snatches the imagination from its torpor by bringing it to bear on objects capable of arousing it; it is then that the will animates the heart with generous and noble sentiments, and applies the mind to the consideration of truths which enlighten and fortify it.
There exists a strange abuse relative to the nature and essence of the will. Very often, parents, blinded by a false prejudice, see with pleasure, and admire in their children, stubbornness and obstinacy of character; and, looking forward to their future with an air of pride, they say: "That child will have a strong will." Deplorable error! Woe to the parents who fall into it, and the children who are its object! When the will is truly strong, far from being obstinate it is, on the contrary, pliant and tractable. No human power can restore suppleness to the arm which a convulsive paroxysm has stiffened, yet it does not follow that this arm is stronger than when it was in a healthy condition. The stiffness, far from increasing its strength, decidedly weakens it. In like manner the will's strength does not lie in stubborn obstinacy, but rather in that pliancy which enables it to dispose itself as circumstances may require.
A stubborn character has nothing in common with this noble and precious faculty of the soul. And, like all the others, this faculty possesses two degrees of elevation; in the one it comes in direct contact with the senses and, the external world; and in the other, raised above all sensibility, it receives its light and movement from on high.
The will, taken in its inferior part, is nothing else than that appetite or blind instinct which we hold in common with the brute creation; and by which animals are governed in their choice of some things and their rejection of others. If the will, properly so called, consisted in this blind instinct, man would be inferior to the ass and the mule, whose attractions and repugnances are more imperious than those of other animals. The will, as understood in the true Christian sense of the term, acts in contradiction to this brutal appetite; hence they alone have a strong will who can, when duty and conscience require it, obey their voice with docility, in spite of all instinctive opposition.
The education of the will, I admit, is a long and painful process. We are taught at a dear rate how to know and judge things; but we must learn at a dearer price how to will. The culture of the mind is the least important and the easiest part of our education, while the culture of the will is extremely important and demands much time and labor; yet, through a most culpable negligence, it is just the faculty that receives the least attention and culture. Too many imagine that the training of the will may be done at any time and, what is still more erroneous, that age, experience and events will suffice to do this work. Hence we see every day poor souls entering the scene of life without an educated will, which alone is capable of reacting against the evils and trials from which none in this world can escape. This is the cause of that imbecility which renders the most precious qualities of mind and heart useless; generating inconsistencies and uncertainties which, in the moment of trial, deprive the heart of its energy and the mind of all light, thus leaving the soul open to all the assaults of misfortune.
We are obliged to chronicle a painful truth when we assert that the culture of the will is sadly neglected in education in general, but more especially so in that of women. There are even some so blind as to think that a strong will in woman is a dangerous quality, alleging, as a proof of their assertion, the puerile reason, that since woman was made to obey she should find in another's will the rule of her actions. But, we ask, if woman can have no will of her own, how can she exercise the virtue of obedience, since that virtue consists in bending the will to duty? And since, in her sphere, she is constantly called on to practice obedience it is just the reason why she should have a strong will.
Now if from a tender age she has not given due attention to this precious faculty of her soul; if she has contracted the fatal habit of acting without a purpose, without reflecting, through caprice, following by a blind instinct the allurements that flatter the senses and imagination; if she has not learned to conquer herself, to put duty before pleasure, and the voice of conscience above that of the passions and honor; how will she be able to live with a husband capricious perhaps in his desires and stubborn in his will? How will she be able to confront his exactions or cope with his rage? How will she bear with the faults of her servants and of those with whom she may be obliged to live? How will she, in her warnings and reproaches be able to blend in a just proportion mildness and firmness, to obtain the salutary effects which she desires?
The path of life is not strewn with flowers; all is not joy and happiness here below. Woman is destined, as well as man, to meet with days of sorrow and bitterness, when a firm, patient will must be her only port of safety. To woman patience is, perhaps of all virtues, the most necessary to sustain her in mental anxieties and various other sufferings that are inevitable; and, since patience is a fruit of the will, it follows that a morbid will cannot produce an enduring patience, the deficiency of which must render her life almost intolerable.
He that sails with the current and a favorable wind need not ply his oars; but when there is question of going in the contrary direction, what was at first a great advantage becomes now a double disadvantage, and he can succeed only by strenuous efforts.
During the days of youthful glee you glide gaily down the river of life, going with the current, favored by the breeze of hope, charmed by varied and softly-changing scenes. But this time will soon have an end: sorrow will embitter your joys ere the frost of age shall have cooled the blood or chilled the imagination; very soon, in a few years, perhaps, it will knock at the door of your soul; and you will be obliged to give this inopportune visitor admittance, to remain with you, perhaps, for the rest of your life. Among the young ladies of your acquaintance are there not some who are unhappy? And can you, without a voluntary illusion, convince yourself that youth is a preservative against misfortune? Are you prepared to ward off the intruder? If it wounds you how will you endure the pain? It is imprudent to delay the acquisition of a particular branch of learning until its practical use becomes necessary; and since it is while we are hale and hearty that we should learn to die well, so it is while prosperity smiles on us that we should learn to bear adversity. Learn now, while young, to support all the vicissitudes of life; make timely provision, not only against adversity, but also against prosperity, which for many is the more dangerous of the two.
Prepare to meet not only those who will try your patience by their unjust or troublesome doings, but also those whose affection officiousness, and flattery, will perhaps exact from you a greater exercise of virtue. Be on your guard, not only against others, but also against yourself. Learn to bear with yourself, to suffer with courage the inconstancy of your own humor, the nights of your imagination, the impetuosity of your character, the violent and inordinate movements of your heart. Accustom your will to wield the scepter and resolutely to govern the passions, which are most powerful auxiliaries for good or for evil,—for good when under the complete control of the will, for evil when they are emancipated from its sway, for then they become the vultures of life, and a torment of the soul.
Never lose sight of the fact that you require a stronger will to obey than to command, and that your condition, far from rendering your will less necessary, shows, on the contrary, that it is indispensable to you; unless, by indorsing that unjust and outrageous judgment by which the world seeks to degrade the dignity of woman, you force upon yourself the conviction that her will should count for nothing either at home or abroad,—that she is destined to be blindly led by the caprices of others; unless you confound obedience with servitude, and authorize the prejudices of those who pretend that woman should have neither thought nor will of her own, but that another is charged with thinking and willing for her, thus exonerating her from all responsibility.
If this be your conviction, I ask: "Why do you read this book? Close it, it is not written for you; because from the first page to the last it constantly discloses to your view all the titles of your glory and the grandeur of your dignity. Close your eyes to the light of truth, shackle the will's liberty lest you may see and feel the shame and humiliation of your sad condition; and, like a thing inert, await in dumb silence until some trafficker may come and calculate how much he will gain in fortune and pleasure by purchasing you!" Behold the deplorable condition to which the pagan theories of the world reduce woman! behold the degree of abjection to which she herself descends when, losing sight of the light of faith, which exposes the true nature of things, she suffers herself to be deceived by the vain systems of a world worthy of God's anathemas, and governed by the spirit of deception.
No, woman has not been created to be a slave; God has neither destined nor consigned to such a humiliating state that half of humanity from which He has chosen His mother, and which has been favored with a holy reflection of the glory of Mary. God required a positive act of woman's will in her co-operation in the work of our redemption,—and to obtain it He did not hesitate to choose as His ambassador, one of the brightest of His archangels. Judge from this the respect and importance due to woman's will. Moreover, it is a significant truth, sustained by a long experience, that the salvation of a family, of a father, a brother, a son, a husband, is secured in a great measure by the care and prayers, the firm and wise, yet mild and prudent conduct of a Christian woman, deeply penetrated with the profound sentiment of her dignity and the true importance of her duties,—all of which depend upon a firm and patient will.
The imagination, that active agent of the senses, is the bee which, in its continual excursions, gathers from the flower-cups the sweet scented dust from which, by due process, it forms the wax that gives us light and the honey that nourishes us. Your soul is like a bee-hive, full of activity and life. The external world is like a flower-garden, in which each flower has its peculiar color, perfume and brightness. Your imagination is the working bee of this hive, which resounds with the humming of the senses. The will governs and directs all with perfect harmony, when peaceful order reigns in all its workings. But the moment that the will fails to discharge the duties of its office, the imagination and the senses, like bees deprived of their queen, wander hither and thither without any determined purpose, and the hive is abandoned to inaction or disorder.
It is of paramount importance to you to have a clear knowledge of the nature, end and functions of all the faculties of your soul; so that you may keep them within the province that God has allotted to them, and that no disorder may arise from the attempted encroachments of some upon others. This point becomes one of grave importance when there is question of the imagination, because it is the most rash, most ambitious, most violent and at the same time, the most seductive, of all the faculties.
Holding an intermediate place between the soul and the senses, it is the most accessible to the charms of the external world, and participates in the inconstant and tumultuous movements of our own sensibility. Confined to its own sphere of action, it is a precious auxiliary, which often facilitates the perception of the truth, and the accomplishment of good, by presenting them to the mind and heart under colors that render them amiable and attractive. When properly employed, it is an invaluable gift of God, who has given it to us to aid the infirmity of our nature, by rendering less painful the efforts that we are so often obliged to make in order to triumph over our bad inclinations. But when we fail to make a proper use of it, it then becomes for us a source of danger, and a great obstacle to our advancement towards perfection.
Placed between the will and the senses, it should neither be controlled by the latter nor emancipated from the sway of the former. The faithful observance of this condition can alone insure us all the advantages we may hope to derive from it. Should it prove to be a frequent cause of mischief to us it is because we let it act independently of the will's control—in which case it is sure to become the slave of the senses. Separated from the intelligence, from which it receives light, and from the will, which points out its course of action, the imagination is a blind instinct, precipitous in its movements, impetuous and inconstant in its flights, violent and capricious in its pursuits. It is in constant agitation and torment, passing from one object to another, jumping with a single bound from one extreme to another, from sorrow to joy, from love to hate, from fear to hope.
It magnifies or diminishes things according to the caprice of the moment; and gives a color of sovereign importance to things which in reality are the merest trifles; a word, a look, a sign preoccupies and alarms it; it feasts on suspicion and anxiety, fictitious hopes and deceitful reports; it seizes with avidity on the things that please it, but scarcely is it in possession of the sought for objects when it abandons them with disgust. Hence the impressions to which it gives rise are as whimsical and as inconstant as itself; they appear and disappear in the soul without any apparent reason for their presence or absence.
The woman, whose imagination has been developed at the expense of her other faculties, may be said to lead a dreamy, fictitious, contentious and agitated life. This state is rendered still more dangerous by the agreeable forms which it assumes, and which flatter the mind and senses by their rapid and constant changes. Hence it is that women endowed with this doleful gift have the sad privilege of drawing around them persons of volatile minds and inconstant hearts. They invariably finish by becoming the dupes of their own fickle impressions, and are taken in the snares in which their vanity sought to inveigle others.
Could you but see the living tableau of one of those souls tyrannized by the imagination, the sight would arouse both your compassion and disgust; for hers is a fickle, inconstant, fretful and worried life. During the long dreary days not a single instant is completely and sincerely given to God. Her thoughts, affections, desires and occupations never rise above trivialness. Among the multitude of persons of her acquaintance there is not a single one whom she sincerely loves, or to whom she can render herself amiable. In the multiplied interviews to which she has devoted her life-time not a single genuine affection can be found: words which the lips pronounce and which the heart ignores; visits made through etiquette or inspired by frivolity; conversations that are mutually indulged in for mutual illusion or deception;—such are the joys, such the occupations, of this woman.
With dispositions such as these there cannot be question of sincere piety nor of a Christian spirit. Piety resides in the will and supposes the love of duty; imagination abhors duty and seeks only after pleasure. True, the grace of God is all-powerful, it is not tied down to the development of our natural qualities, and God knows well, when He pleases, how to come to the assistance of the soul's faculties, and plant the germs of solid virtue in a heart that is frivolous and badly disposed; still it is an evident fact that among souls there are some better prepared than others to receive this divine seed, which takes deeper root when the heart is well disposed. Now, among all the agents that can unfit us for the reception of divine grace there is none so bad as an ungoverned imagination, because it is the source, especially among women, of the most fatal illusions.
A woman in this condition spends her whole life-time in deceiving herself and in deceiving others—not purposely, but by a fatal and voluntary illusion; she can see nothing in its true light; all objects appear to her under strange colors; she forms her judgment of them according to the impression they make on the senses, or the effect they produce in the imagination. All this unfits her for the reception of those supernatural truths which fortify the mind without troubling the imagination, and, consequently, she remains insensible to the sweet impressions of grace which acts so mildly on the heart as to be unperceived by the senses. To such a woman piety is a mere matter of form, made up of certain practices which, in the guise of religion, flatter and feed her imagination. But the most terrible feature of this condition is, that it always grows worse, keeping the soul in a cloud of darkness, which even the special light attendant on death cannot dispel.
Thus, living and dying, they deceive themselves, and carry their illusions to the very tribunal of the Sovereign Judge. Then, and not till then, do they discover the truth which, though seeing, they did not perceive during life. Then, in doleful cries and lamentations will they exclaim, Alas! "We deceived ourselves, we have gone astray from the path of truth!"
Do not expose yourself to the same sad fate and doleful end; avoid the danger while it is yet time; train your imagination from a tender age, keep its activity under control,—then, instead of being a source of vile it will be a source of most precious advantages to you.
One of the best means by which you can succeed in doing this is to fortify your will, giving it that authority and consistency which it needs in order to govern the imagination; without a strong will, that remains always self-composed in the midst of the tumult of the senses and the activity of the imagination, you will certainly fail to confine the latter to a just moderation.
That your judgment may enjoy perfect liberty and ease, your every act should be determined during peaceful calmness. Do not forget that, while you are passing through moments of excitement and pre-occupation, you are unable to see things rightly and execute them properly. When in this state of mind a project is proposed to your consideration; you will find that your heart is already fixed upon it before you have duly examined it; then the liberty of your mind becomes shackled either by vain hopes or fears suggested by some blind and violent instinct. In this and similar circumstances you should proceed with great precaution.
It is prudent and wise to defer taking action in any serious matter until self-composure is completely restored, until the mind is serene, the heart at peace, and the will in full possession of its liberty. Listen not to the plausible solicitations—obey not the impulses of your imagination, but wait several days, or weeks, or even months if necessary; for a final determination taken in the midst of confusion and agitation will inevitably entail bitter regrets. Even prayer will not obtain for you, while in such a state of mind, all the light that you need. What you should first ask is, that God would lull this storm, and restore peace to your soul; but it is not the moment to pray that He may inspire you what to do in this or that difficulty, because, preoccupied as you are, you will perhaps take for the voice of God and of your conscience the cries of your troubled imagination.
When, after a mature and serious examination of the matter at issue, you have calmly discovered what course to adopt, it is then time to enlist the service of the imagination to aid your will, and get it interested in the work that you have to do, in order to impart new energy to the soul, and new light to the intelligence; when it is docile to the orders of the will it is a powerful auxiliary for good.
Never forget that the liberty of the mind and heart is an indispensable condition to judge rightly, to love with security, and to act with prudence; and that whatever tends to diminish this liberty should arouse your suspicions, no matter what may be its apparent advantages; for these can never equal the advantages accruing from an unshackled heart and mind.
Most appropriately indeed was the name piety given by our fathers in the faith to the sentiment which elevates the mind and heart to God. It establishes an intimate union between God and the Christian soul, for it is an affection composed of the most generous qualities of the human heart. In woman, it is a mixture of respect, devotedness and tenderness, which are enhanced still more by a certain blending of fear, confidence, and candor. Man is pious towards God and his parents; but the woman whose heart is not vitiated by anything fictitious is pious towards those whom she loves, for in each one of her affections may be found, combined in different degrees, all the shades of sentiment that we have mentioned above; but it is in her piety towards God that they are especially striking.
Woman's heart languishes for God, because it thirsts after the good and beautiful; and all her efforts to satisfy its cravings will prove futile until it is immersed in the bosom of the Divinity, the Source of all goodness and beauty. With woman the heart is the great receptacle of grace, the principal agent in the practice of piety and virtue. If this precious disposition of her heart offers many and great advantages, it carries with it also its inconveniences. The heart is a near neighbor of the imagination, and the latter often allures the former by its charms. Its activity is often developed and exercised at the expense of the will, by diminishing and enfeebling the power and influence of the latter. It not unfrequently happens that the heart becomes the seat of dangerous illusions, when it not only favors, but even indulges in that tender and sensible piety, which is founded on and fed by lively sentiments and beautiful images. In this state it costs no little effort to will and act.
The reading of a pious book, the meditating on the mysteries of the passion and death of our Saviour will melt the heart to tenderness. Thus, nature has a greater share than grace in piety and fervor of this stamp. Self-complacency and self-love are here most adroitly concealed under the garb of humility, and it requires a rare sagacity to discover their presence. The Christian soul in this state seeks not to please God or others, but it seeks rather its own pleasure, and for many women this kind of piety is a form of affectation and vanity. With those fine sentiments and enthusiastic transports they remain unmortified, vain and curious lovers of flattery and averse to reproof, retaining all their faults, which they endeavor to conceal under the mask of external piety.
Do not ask such women to bridle their will or to restrain the sallies of their humor,—speak not to them of the good derived from self-mortification, self-abnegation and the love of the Cross,—words such as these have no signification for them. They are satisfied with simply feeling and giving expression to those virtues, after the manner of artists who, by a happy disposition of mind, are expert in becoming penetrated with ideas and sentiments in which their will has no part whatever; and which have no moral influence over their life.
They are delighted to go with Jesus on Mount Tabor and contemplate Him in the splendor of His glory; but when there is question of participating in His ignominy on Calvary they most shamefully abandon Him. And when He asks them to aid Him to carry His cross they do it, if at all, as reluctantly as did Simon of Cyrene. They willingly multiply prayers and exterior practices of piety, which flatter natural inclinations; they frequent the Sacraments, and this furnishes them the occasion and means of producing those lively and tender sentiments upon which the heart loves to feast.
Their doleful condition is rendered still more deplorable by the use of the most sacred things to nourish their self-love and sensibility. Grace, according to their views of the spiritual life, is only a means to render natural sensibility more delicate and refined. Thus, led on from one delusion to another, such women come to the end of their life, rich in foliage and flowers, but without ever having produced any fruit.
I hope, dear reader, that such may not be your case; but, to avoid all error on a point of such vital interest, meditate constantly on the divine instructions that Jesus has left us in the Sacred Scriptures, and on those also with which He inspired the pious author of the "Following of Christ," their most perfect commentator. Learn to discern genuine piety from that which bears only the name. Learn to distinguish between its object and that which is only a means to attain that object,—two things which are frequently and erroneously confounded, yet which are very distinct and very different from each other; for it is a great mistake to neglect the end by attaching too much importance to the means by which to attain it.
Piety does not consist in sublime language, mystical thoughts, or angelical sentiments, for, according to St. Paul, we might speak the language of angels and be still only sounding brass; neither does it consist in the knowledge of divine mysteries, nor in the more excellent intellectual gifts; for, according to the same apostle, a man might be a prophet and possess a knowledge of all science, without being on that account anything in the sight of God.
Faith is truly grand, because it is the principal basis of our justification; and because with it we are enabled to obtain all things from God. Nevertheless, man might have faith strong enough to move mountains and be absolutely nothing before God. Charity to the poor, compassion for the unfortunate are indeed excellent virtues, because they cancel numerous sins, and because they seem to form the principal matter of that terrible judgment which will decide our weal or woe for eternity; yet you might distribute all your wealth among the poor, and still merit no reward from God.
We are recommended by the Holy Scriptures and by the masters of the spiritual life to practice mortification, the perfection of which is found in martyrdom; and nevertheless, though you should even lacerate your body till it became one bleeding wound, and deliver it into the hands of the executioner to be burned, you might gain nothing thereby.
None of all those things constitutes the essence of piety. One thing alone can claim this privilege and that is CHARITY, not that charity which consists merely in feeling and speaking, but a charity that is active, and which penetrates the entire life by its divine, influence; that charity which is patient and beneficent, not envious, dealing not perversely, not puffed up. True charity is not ambitious seeks not its own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity but for the good it beholds everywhere, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things; such is the soul of true piety according to the Apostle St. Paul. (Cor. I Epist., xiii chap.)
Our divine Lord clearly defines its nature in the following terms: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, for he that will save his life, shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it." (Matth. ch. xvi.) To be a Christian consists in walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Hence, to follow Him and carry the cross, self-denial is the first and most necessary qualification. In order to enjoy the eternal happiness of the future life we must sacrifice the false joys of earth. Again, He tells us: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away," that is to say, the valiant, the energetic, and persevering, will alone succeed in securing it; for the words bear away express the action of one that seizes a prey. Add to these texts those others of St. Paul: "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his," that is—he does not belong to Christ, he is not His disciple; and "they that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences."
Now I would not have you think that the piety of which I speak is too elevated for you, that it can he practiced only by members of religious orders, and very holy laics—this is by no means the case. What is required of you is nothing more than what our Lord and all the saints would have you do.
I must point out another error not less pernicious to the practice of true piety, namely; that of taking the means to the acquisition of piety as the end for which you practice it, for the means should at all times be appreciated according to their just value, or according to the assistance they give you to attain your end as a true Christian, which consists in dying to self and to self-glory. I would not have you judge of your progress in perfection by the number of your communions, or the multitude of your pious practices, or the length of your prayers, but by the victories which you gain over yourself, over your passions, your character, and your temper.
Like all other good things, you can turn prayer to your spiritual detriment, when you have recourse to it through vain glory. Be thoroughly convinced of the truth expressed by the Evangelist St. John, that he is a liar who says that he loves God, and does not keep his commandments. Remember that the spirit of darkness, as St. Paul tells us, can, and often does, transform himself into an angel of light, and produce in the mind false lights, which dazzle and blind it.
Now that you know in what the essence of piety consists, you ought to learn in what faculty of the soul it resides, and this knowledge will preserve you from many illusions, and point out to you the direction in which you must advance in order to attain your end.
Piety, should, by its divine influence, penetrate all the faculties of the soul and take possession of your whole being; it ought, as we have said above, to make its presence especially felt in your heart, by purifying all its affections; but its principal abode should be in the will, through which it may reach all the other faculties in order to elevate and vivify them.
The will is, indeed, if I may so speak, the organ or the instrument of sacrifice and duty; and since piety properly consists in sacrifice and duty, in suppressing the inordinate appetites of the human heart, and elevating nature above herself, the will is the faculty in which piety should reside.
It is not an easy matter to be truly pious, for, in order to attain to a superior order of spiritual perfection, we must lay aside self which paralyzes all the generous movements of the soul,— we must also faithfully correspond to divine grace. All this entails much difficulty, many struggles, and, consequently, great and constant efforts.
Every being has a tendency, founded on an imperious instinct, to dwell in its natural sphere, which it can not leave even to enter a superior one without making a great effort. Hence, the Holy Ghost warns him who desires to serve God to prepare for temptation and struggle. Now, among all the faculties of the soul, the will is the best disposed for the combat, because pleasure has a smaller share in its movements than in those of the heart and imagination; it is able, when necessary, to rise superior to the most alluring charms, preferring fidelity to duty with all its difficulties and bitterness.
To be pious implies the faithful observance of God's commandments, "If you love me," says Christ, "keep my commandments;" it consists in being resigned to the will of God, ready to be disposed of at His good pleasure. To do this you must place all your faculties, and especially your will at His disposal. God has reserved to Himself the right of acting in an intimate and profound manner upon the will. This faculty is His sanctuary, in which He delights to dwell, and operate the prodigies of His grace and love, which He communicates with unbounded prodigality to His elect.
This is the throne upon which He silently engraves the image of His divine Son, the essential characteristic of predestination. It is in this power of the human soul that He plants in the depth of Christian humility the foundation of solid virtue, in defiance to the disorders of the mind, the agitations of the heart and the incoherencies of the memory.
From the bosom of the Divinity our Blessed Lord brought with Him two special favors, one of which was for His eternal Father, and the other to be given persons of good-will. He charged His angels to announce them to the world in the person of the shepherds. They were, glory for His Father and peace for men, but only for men of good- will. This heavenly peace is a foretaste of the never-ending joys of Paradise. It is a prize worth striving for, and easy to secure, at least for you, since it is promised to all persons of good-will.
God, who has created all things by His own power, conserves them by an act of His divine love; and by His providence leads them to their appointed destiny through ways conformable to their own nature. He did not create man to live a solitary being, and, consequently, implanted in his heart an instinctive need of society; desiring that the latter should effectively contribute to the development of the faculties of soul and body. And, as society cannot subsist without a certain variety of conditions, and functions, which lend each other mutual aid, He has planted in our souls certain dispositions in harmony with the particular state of life to which He has destined us. This is what is called vocation.
It is, as you perceive, only a particular form of that general providence by which God governs the universe, giving to the lilies their eclat and perfume, watching with maternal care over the young brood, preparing its food for the little bird, and not allowing a single hair to fall from our heads without His permission. I purposely make use of the beautiful images that Jesus Himself employed to reveal to us the sweet mystery of providence.
To deny that man has a special vocation is placing him in a rank inferior to the plants and irrational animals. It is denying the variety of dispositions which enter into the combination of character, and which is at once one of the greatest charms of and most precious advantages to society; it is forcing on the mind the conviction that every one is free to choose, whether in or out of season, his post in the world, even when such a course would be contrary to the principles of common-sense, and would entail the subversion of society; for, let each and every one be directed in the choice of his post by the whims and caprices of nature, assuredly society will soon become demoralized, even as an army in which each soldier would be free to choose and take the grade and position that best suited his tastes.
If society is kept in a constant feverish agitation, by the furious contests of ungoverned passion, it is because no one, or at least the vast number never take the trouble to consult God by prayer, or otherwise, before making a choice of a state of life. If there are so many dissatisfied with their state of life it is because they are not where God had destined them to be. If life is blighted with deception, fraught with regrets and bitterness, if our fairest hopes are blasted, if pain and sorrow brood over our existence, it is because the soul suffers the punishment entailed by her levity or negligence in a matter on which her weal or woe depends, both for time and eternity.
Oh, how sadly rare in the world is that sweet and celestial peace, that interior contentment, that pure and simple joy which in holier times families prized as their most precious inheritance; and which they handed down to their posterity as one of their richest gifts: then the thought of God and eternity presided over all the important actions of their life; then the light of heaven was invoked when there was question of any important undertaking; and as grave matters were considered and weighed in the light of truth and religion, due attention was paid to the choice of a state of life.
They knew that, while other proceedings might be changed, and consequently their fatal result averted when foreseen, the step made in the choice of a state of life is irrevocable and a mistake made in that step not only involves our happiness or misery for time but also for eternity. Hence it is said by many that vocation is closely allied with predestination.
It is a most solemn moment in the Christian's life, for it is the beginning of that road by which he must attain his destination. At this juncture it is consoling to consider with the eye of faith, the love and solicitude with which God protects the soul; to behold Jesus offering with ineffable tenderness for her the blood which He shed on the cross. To see the guardian angel redoubling his charitable efforts in the interest of his client, awaiting with pious anxiety the issue of a deliberation upon which must depend in a great measure the success or failure of his labors for her eternal salvation.
Still, should any one be so unfortunate as to make a bad choice, let him not consider his condition irremediable; divine mercy has inexhaustible resources from which to provide us with the means to work out our salvation, and prevent the doleful consequences of those fatal errors.
Yet, it is certain beyond all question, that we render the work of our eternal salvation always more difficult when we have not embraced that state of life which God had laid out for us; for the sins which are a consequence of this want of correspondence to the divine will, will have, if not a decisive influence, at least a considerable share in the work of our reprobation. How many souls now writhing in eternal torments could, on ascending the course of their lives, point out the solemn moment in which they made a choice of a state of life as the time of their departure from the road to heaven.
No Christian who has his salvation at heart will hesitate to say that it is folly to treat with indifference and levity a matter of such vital importance; for he must remember with a sacred awe that, when he makes a choice of a state of life, he pronounces in a certain manner an irrevocable sentence on himself.
When the soul is deprived of the advantages of a rule of life, of the advantages of good dispositions, character and temperament, as well as of those provided by circumstances, men and things on the one hand; and when she is obliged to struggle incessantly against herself and external obstacles on the other hand, the work of her salvation becomes more difficult and less certain. In this deplorable condition, the only pillar left her on which she can anchor her hopes of salvation is the mercy of God; but then a faithful correspondence with divine grace in the most minute details, constant and persevering prayer to obtain strength to bear the trials of life with profit, are positively necessary conditions to escape destruction.
Commencing her career, woman finds for the most part only two roads that dispute the choice of her adoption. Estranged, generally speaking, to the professional life, or at least, acting in it only a secondary role, she scarcely gives it a serious thought; she can therefore give all due deliberation to her choice between marriage and celibacy.
If all were bound to choose the more perfect state, considered in itself, the question would be easily settled, as in that case there would be, properly speaking, no choice to make; for evidently it is the celibate state of life that should be adopted, since it is a more perfect state than that of marriage; and the church, maintaining the doctrine of the Apostle on this point, has condemned as heretics those who teach that the married state is as perfect as that of virginity. But, if all should aspire to perfection, if all are free to choose the kind of life that will better insure the attaining of that perfection, then all are not obliged to embrace the celibate state, since our perfection consists in doing God's will.
When you are about to make a choice of a state of life, you are not only permitted, but even urged, to take into consideration your dispositions and aptitudes for the state which you propose to embrace; and, if they are in good accord with it, you may safely conjecture that they were given you for that state of life. Your imperative duty consists in distinguishing between the call given by God and the voice of passion or prejudice. Hence you should promptly and faithfully follow the attractions and dispositions that God has given you, and nothing else.
If for instance, a woman made her choice with a view of pandering to her vanity, curiosity, worldly love, or some other passion still more culpable perhaps, God would have no part in her determinations, and she would inevitably become the dupe of her own folly; for God gives light only to such as are sincere in their search for it, and they who look for it in this way are such as those, who, in examining the question of their vocation, have chiefly in view the glory of God and their own salvation.
If the natural dispositions should be taken into consideration, it is not indeed with a view to flatter nature and avoid the struggles incident to the Christian life. That would be renouncing the glorious title of Christian, and the incomparable favor that God has conferred upon us in creating us to live with Him forever. If it is useful to consult our taste and aptitude it is because they are for the most part indicative of God's will; hence we ought to employ them for the purpose for which He gave them to us. Then the object of your researches in this matter should be to discover God's will in that state of life for which He has given you a pronounced taste and aptitude; but, because the caprice of nature or character may sometimes be taken for that taste and aptitude, you are not altogether safe from deception without some other guarantee.
It frequently happens that man believes to be an inspiration from God what is only the effect of badly-regulated passion or some bad habit deeply rooted in the soul. In order to be sure that God has given such a disposition or aptitude of the heart and mind as being indicative of the state of life He would have us enter, it should be possessed of the following conditions, namely: The sanction of time, which is the instrument that God ordinarily employs to stamp the impress of His will on the works that He operates in us. It is necessary that this disposition has been constant, that is to say, that it has not suffered from frequent or long interruptions. A transitory taste appearing to-day and vanishing to-morrow, a volatile inclination frequently appearing and just as frequently disappearing, merits no consideration in an affair that involves the Christian's happiness both for time and eternity.
However, if the aptitude which you feel in your soul for a given state of life has lost much of its vivacity, or even when it should have frequently vanished in the course of your life; you are in duty bound to study the causes and circumstances of this change, especially when, with the disappearence of that inclination, piety and fervor in God's service have also diminished in the soul.
If, as often as you felt the sweet impulse of divine grace in prayer and holy communion this inclination became also aroused in the soul; if you felt it increase in proportion as you gave yourself to God, you may safely conclude that it is the indicator of God's will in your regard, and that its vascillating or enfeebled condition was the work of your own perverse will. Hence, in order to ascertain whether the natural inclination or aptitude you feel for any state of life is from God or the effect of a deluded fancy, you need but compare your natural aptitude with those you have received through divine grace; and if you find them in perfect accord you may rest assured that they are from God, for He is the author of nature as well as of grace. On the contrary, should they disagree then you may safely conclude that your natural desire or inclination is a delusion.
This last consideration should not be omitted, especially when there is question of embracing the religious life; for the attraction by which we feel ourselves drawn to a more perfect life is in itself a gift of God, and one of His most precious gifts. As often as this attraction reveals its presence in the heart, it singularly involves the study of vocation. Hence, it is a most delicate and perilous matter to deal with, for if this attraction comes from God and if the soul repels it she prepares for herself lamentable delusions, and a life fraught with bitterness and remorse. God has a reason for frequently saying in the Sacred Scriptures that He is a jealous God, and the church, for the same reason, addresses Jesus in the litanies, jealous of souls.
Hence, after having shown the greatest preference for a soul, in honoring her with the exalted dignity of being His spouse, adorning her with the gorgeous splendor of His richest treasures, and then see Himself basely rejected, or treated with cold indifference; His divine justice should naturally revenge the insult; which is done by delivering her into her own hands, the most cruel punishment that could be inflicted on her.
However, if you feel an attraction for the religious life, it, would be imprudent and rash on your part to decide the matter yourself. You should, in the spirit of humility, after having consulted God by prayer, consult some enlightened persons noted for their wisdom and prudence, piety and learning, who will advise you with a view to secure the spiritual welfare of your soul above all things. Should those to whom you address yourself fail to give all the assurance you should have, be not backward in consulting others; for unlimited confidence in the words of any man, no matter who he may be, will not dispense you from all responsibility before God, nor preserve you from making a wrong choice.
Neither should you lose sight of, or derogate in the least, from the respect and obedience you owe your parents. It is their sacred duty and right to advise you; and to whom should you look for a more disinterested advice? A young girl would indeed be an object of pity if, instead of finding a truly Christian tenderness in her parents, they would be her idolizers so far as to be blinded to her true interests. It is for this blind and foolish love that many parents sacrifice their children, either by ignoring their just claims to embrace the religious life, or by opposing an advantageous marriage through vanity or personal interest.
A SERIOUS MIND.
A vast number of people unfortunately labor under the false impression that woman's great work and duty consists in making her company agreeable and pleasing to all. This error is most prejudicial to woman; it is opposed to the teachings of religion and the Holy Scriptures; and nevertheless it is only too true that a countless number of women have sedulously labored for its propagation, or, at least, they have proved by their actions that this is their only work; and in many places, to the great detriment of society, the education of girls has been directed in a great measure according to this false opinion.
They are taught to esteem graceful manners, elegance of deportment, flashy humor, affability of character, and unlimited condescension as being the elements of a finished education; and the precious days of childhood with the more precious time of adolescence have been entirely absorbed to acquire it.
This is the school that has given birth to what is called "Arts of Pleasure," to which it sacrifices the knowledge of more necessary things which instruct the mind, fortify the heart, and invigorate the will. Our compassion and disgust are simultaneously aroused, when we see so many women whose education has given them no other knowledge than to teach them how to flatter the taste of others at the expense of Christian modesty.
How many women there are who, from their youth, have renounced the dignity and glorious privileges of their sex, calmly resigning themselves to play the inferior and humiliating role that the prejudices and passions of a frivolous society impose upon them!
It is our heart-felt desire that you may never experience anything of the kind; suffer not the aureola with which God has decorated your brow to be ruthlessly removed and trampled under foot. Remember that your soul is just as noble as that of man; that it is illuminated by the same faith, drawn towards heaven by the same hopes, and united to the same Author of all greatness and of all life by the same charity. Should your belief in this waver, transport yourself in spirit to Calvary: there you will see that women were the only sympathizers of Jesus, and, while hanging on the cross, women were, with the exception of St. John, the only witnesses of His death.
The apostles and disciples, all had fled; and in this memorable scene in which all things seem to be confounded courage and valor seemed to have taken refuge in the soul of women. Hence the Church records, with love and gratitude, on the brightest pages of her history, this noble and generous act of devotedness as being the special privilege of your sex, since it was won on the ever-memorable day of our redemption.
It is not easy to look a painful truth in the face; but we are forced to do so when we reluctantly confess that female frivolity is the source of that levity which prevails now-a-days, to such an extent as to affect the very laws and government of society. To keep aloof from this poisonous atmosphere, you must cultivate that serious turn of mind, that gravity which gives women an air of majesty, and wins the homage of those who do not even understand her.
Experience will teach you that the importance attached to the seriousness with which woman's life should be enveloped is undervalued. Learn to appreciate it as it merits; show that appreciation by now giving to all the actions of your life that weight and gravity which shall render them agreeable to God.
To succeed in your good resolution great firmness is required; you will be obliged to condemn the frivolity of young persons in whose company circumstances may throw you. You must set your face against the fashions of the world, against the force of habit and prejudice, perhaps against the freaks of your own character. But remember that the reward awaiting you is well worth the struggle you are asked to sustain; and this struggle will not be so difficult as you may think, if you face it courageously, coherently and perseveringly, employing, of course, the proper means.
To begin, you should cast overboard that inclination to frivolity wherever you meet with it. But since a bad plant is more quickly and radically destroyed by pulling it out of the roots than by simply lopping of the tops as they appear over ground, so do we likewise succeed better in correcting a bad habit, or destroying an evil inclination by attacking it at its source than by being satisfied with arresting its bad effects, allowing the cause to remain. And since it is in the mind that frivolity takes up its abode, it is there that it must be sought for and destroyed.
There exists among the different faculties of the soul a certain order, a species of hierarchy which gives a certain preponderance to some of them over the others; consequently some of them are of an inferior while others are of a superior order. You will labor in vain to give a serious cast to your sentiments and actions if you feed your mind on frivolous thoughts, while serious thoughts are the progenitors of enduring affections and noble deeds. Hence the culture of the mind is an important factor to the acquisition of a taste for those things which are the true ornament of woman. Sentiments are the outcomings of thoughts, and both together are expressed by actions.
Feed your intelligence with serious thoughts; never amuse it with those trifles which absorb the attention of persons of your age. Do not think that those serious thoughts badly become your youth; that they would deprive you of a part of your comfort, rendering you wearisome to others and insupportable to yourself; that they would give you a pedantic and affected air which would lead others to believe that you despised them; that every age has its peculiar tastes and customs, and that it would be an act of uncalled-for severity to exact from a young person just beginning, so to say, the apprenticeship of life, a gravity of manners and dispositions that would scarcely be required at a maturer age.
Seriousness is required in all ages, but not always in the same degree. Thus the gravity befitting a young lady is very different from that expected from a woman more advanced in years. This virtue, far from excluding legitimate amusement and pleasure, only regulates and elevates them by confining them to just limits. An agreeable and lively turn may be given to the most serious things, rendering them pleasing and acceptable to the minds of all.
Truth is never subtle, and never darkens the soul in which it resides; on the contrary, it sheds a halo of light around her, revealing all those interior movements which lend a sweet and amiable charm to every action.
You would be the first to condemn the doctrine of those who maintain that woman must be of a frivolous turn of mind in order to be agreeable. You would justly regard, as an outrage to your sex, such assertions as go to show that seriousness can have no place in the mind of woman. Such being the case, you will not say, with many of your age, that the time will come soon enough to feed your soul with solid substantial food; and that the age of serious thoughts will come only too soon; nor will you close your eyes to the fact, taught by long experience, that every one must reap in riper years such fruit as they had sown in youth. If you wait till then, it will be too late for you to enter another groove and form new habits. If you are now frivolous in your thoughts and sentiments you will be so later; for, as age fortifies the tastes and inclinations, frivolity must increase as you advance in years.
Perhaps facts of this nature have already fallen under your notice; you must have met with old ladies whose levity so painfully contrasts with the gravity that becomes their age; and, while it is not permitted us to judge others, yet every good Christian must be shocked at this contrast. Profit by their example, sad as it is, and hasten to conclude that it is folly to defer to a future time what can and should be done at present; and that defects, as well as virtue, are fortified by time and habit. If your early education has not been truly Christian, if the teachings of divine faith have not yet rendered you familiar with the most serious things of life, you might perhaps consider as difficult, or even impracticable, the counsels that I give you now.
Is there anything more serious or more in opposition to our natural inclinations, and at the same time less consistent with the deplorable levity of our minds, than the truths of our holy religion? For serious, indeed, must be the reflections that those truths inspire, which you should now learn to meditate seriously, in order to make them a life-long practice. Is it not a serious occupation of the mind to think of God, of the salvation of your soul, the briefness of life, eternity which follows it, the duties that religion imposes upon you? Is it not a serious occupation to address God in holy prayer, to descend into the secret folds of your conscience, and examine all your actions in the light of the gospel; to reveal in all your works the sacred character that you have received in baptism; to lead a life according to the spirit of faith, and not according to the spirit of the world-for, if there is no difference between your conduct and that of worldlings, to what purpose will the title of Christian avail you? All this is a serious work, and requires a serious mind to accomplish it.
The practice of Christian virtues supposes and develops at the same time the love of seriousness. This love does not increase in a superficial soul; while it is entirely sterile in a frivolous mind. Remember that you have now attained the age between childhood and womanhood, when it is no longer lawful to be amused by trifles, and when you are called upon to prepare for austere duties which you must, ere long, discharge.
You have now come to that period of life at which you must determine your final future course; hence you have need of a serious mind and will to guide you securely in the choice of the road, as also to pave it with those virtues which in the end will form your most precious treasures. This road will be such as you have made it, narrow or wide, level or rough, according to the pains and labor that you have expended in preparing it.
If you hearken to the voice of reason, and wish to profit by the lessons of wisdom, you will not squander a most precious time in vain amusements; you will neither step to the right nor to the left, but continue right on in the way of stern duty. The world's siren charms will have no attraction for you, as their bitter fruits would extort from you bitter regrets for having so little profited by the most precious time of your life.
Oh, how sorrowful the old age of women who have never nourished their minds otherwise than with frivolous thoughts: finding neither in themselves nor in society any means to dispel the gloom that envelops them, and not being able to enlist the sympathy of the world which abandons and despises them, they are condemned to eke out a miserable existence in the disgust and wearisomeness of a sombre solitude.
To a serious woman, on the contrary, old age lends a peculiar charm which renders her company agreeable to, and sought for, by all serious minds. Her conversation and manners still possess all the blitheness, freshness and vivacity of youth. Her steady lightsome gaze, tempered by a benignant and reflective mind, lends her an air of amiability and majesty. Her language is instructive, her counsels encouraging, while her reproaches arouse the heart to a sense of duty. She has friends wherever she is known, friends who revere and respect, without idolizing her. In her youth she never pandered to flattery, now, old, she shall not experience ingratitude. The friends she earned by her sterling worth will recall to her mind the happy souvenirs of her youth, even up to the last days of her life; for her years bear with them all their primitive charms which can never decline under the influence of time, because the thoughts and affections that produced and preserved them are now what they were, solid and grave. And while the companions of her youth languish and fret in their sad isolation, she, always the same, sees herself surrounded by a multitude, anxious to profit by her experience.
If you have learned to be serious in youth, you shall enjoy an agreeable old age; but if the former be stamped with levity and frivolity, the latter shall be fraught with sorrow and desolation. Do not count on the charms of youth, it is a flower that shall very soon fade, and like a bird on the wing, shall leave no trace behind it. The lustre of your eyes now beaming delight shall soon grow dull; the bloom shall depart from your cheek; the bright hopes that now fill your soul shall give place to sad souvenirs; and your heart which is now the abode of delight shall then be harrowed with sorrow and woe. To-day you are flattered and praised, then you shall be a castaway, abandoned. All that will remain to you is God and your soul, with whom you had never learned to converse or commune. Oh, sad, indeed, is the old age of a frivolous youth!
CHOICE OP COMPANIONS.
Since a predisposition to good and evil is found among persons of all classes and ages; and as this predisposition is especially strong at your age, when the sympathies are most tender, when the heart so candid and open is ready to receive and reciprocate those secret emanations that escape from the souls of loved ones; you require to take more than ordinary precautions, since the danger to which these circumstances expose you is indeed very great, and requires a prudence superior to your years,—you must therefore look for it in the advice of others, but more especially in that of your mother who should be your first adviser in all things.
How many women owe to the examples and deceptive lessons of a so- called friend, the bitterness that corrodes their hearts, and the remorse which perhaps torments their life! We pass over in silence those societies the evident danger of which is easily perceived, and on that account easily averted; but you have not the same guarantee against the noxious effects which arise from those relations whose union is found in the most frivolous instincts of the heart, to which access is gained by the feeblest faculties of the soul. What is it that is most commonly found in those intimacies, if not thoughts without consistency, vain hopes, precocious or impatient desires, indiscreet confidence, imprudent language, rash questions and answers rasher still?
As a general rule, any society or company from which you derive no benefit for head or heart is, if not dangerous, at least pernicious; and you ought to shun them unless that imperative reasons or the will of your parents advise otherwise; for all that tends to diminish your esteem for the value of time and for the love of serious things is prejudicial to your soul. You should prefer your mother's company to that of all others. Her life should be as a book constantly open before you; her lessons and examples, her experience and counsels should be an inexhaustible mine of instruction, useful and precious to your soul.
The young lady is indeed an object of compassion who feels her mother's company irksome and onerous. At your age the heart is confiding and effusive, and it needs some bosom in which to repose its confidence; for it would be subjecting it to an ordeal too rude, and exposing it perhaps to a fatal reaction, by completely depriving it of consolations derived from acquaintances approved by every law, human and divine. It should be treated with moderation, founded on prudence, as undue severity renders its desires and needs more imperative.
But if it is dangerous to restrict the heart to silence and inaction it is much more dangerous to feed it on frivolous affections. There is nothing that exhausts its energies so much as an over-indulgence in those puerile sentiments fed by the imagination. Those sentiments create within it a void which nothing can fill, and destroy its love for everything that is noble and generous.
A frivolous heart is not less disastrous to woman than is a frivolous mind. How many women find themselves disarmed and powerless in important circumstances of life, for having neglected in youth the training of the heart's affections! How many are unequal to the task of discharging a painful duty, because they were wont to seek their pleasure in all they did from early childhood! How many who, spite of the chastisement of adversity and deception incurred by their idolizing preference for their levity and affections, still remain the dupes of their blind attachment even in their old age! Your esteem for your own heart, and appreciation for its affections, should be highly noteworthy, and deeply graven in your mind by the constant habit of prizing them.
When you feel an attraction for a young person of your own age, do not blindly obey it, before having maturely studied its nature and motives. We should always act for a purpose worthy of ourselves, but more especially so when there is question of delivering ourselves over to the confidence and friendship of others; for in this mutual exchange we dispose of the greater part of our being. In this intimate relation, which is formed insensibly by repeated interviews, there is formed a reciprocal discernment that exercises a powerful influence over all the faculties of the soul, the convictions of the minds, the sentiments of the heart, the habits of character, and often even over the general deportment.
The good sense of our fathers has expressed this truth by one of those proverbs so familiar to them: "Tell me your company and I know who you are." Of course you have frequently heard those words, and knowing their meaning withal, perhaps you have not considered the circumstances wherein they may be applied. We earnestly wish that they may never be employed relative to you, at the expense of the joy of your heart or the peace of your conscience.
You should use much discretion in the choice that you make of the person with whom you would form an intimate acquaintance; for such an intimacy is not only founded on a mutual confidence, and reciprocal affections; it is also the result which follows from being frequently in each other's company. This latter intimacy is more dangerous than the former because the heart, not thinking itself interested, is less upon its guard, and consequently more exposed to suffer from the poison concealed in words and examples.
Be assured of the nature of the attraction you feel. See if it is founded upon solid qualities, capable of making an impression upon an upright and serious mind, or upon those superficial qualities which the world esteems, and which allure volatile minds. In the latter case, you cannot, without danger, engage in relations; the inevitable effect of which must be either to fortify your present defects, or add to them others which you have not at present. If your love for any one be founded on trivial motives, and if you dispense yourself from the obligation of restraining your affections, let me entreat you to take at least all the precautions that prudence requires to prevent you from becoming the dupe of a foolish fondness. But if your affections are founded on sympathy of character, on a concurrence of holy thoughts and sentiments, with a view to strengthen the love and practice of virtue; then the attainment of their object is highly commendable and praiseworthy; and you may justly hope to secure the happiest results from it. But even then, you should be on your guard against your own judgment, placing a certain restraint on your sentiments of confidence and love, or friendship, which, in order to be lasting, must be calm, devoid of that impetuosity which acts violently on the heart. It should be the work of time, shedding its sweet influence on the duties of life, rendering their accomplishment less laborious and more fruitful.
Those who love each other with a sincere Christian affection, willingly sacrifice to duty the pleasure of being together, or rather their great pleasure consists in doing God's will; with noble courage they rise superior to all other considerations, and mutually inspire each other with a holy zeal, imposing silence upon the voice of their affections, in presence of the voice of their conscience.
Such is the manner in which persons should love each other; such are the affections that God blesses and rewards. You are deeply indebted to Divine Providence if it has sent you one whom you can love in this way, for this is one of the most precious gifts of God's mercy. It is especially at your age that such friendships are most easily formed, because then the heart is more tender and confiding. How many women owe, in a great measure, their peace of mind and conscience to the good advice and protecting influence of a friend whom they met with in the springtime of life.
There are in woman's life many delicate and trying circumstances that demand the intervention of a sincere friend, to direct and sustain her, when the light of conscience becomes obscured or extinct; when the energies of the heart succumb to the allurements of pleasure; when the mind, embarrassed by doubt and perplexity, can scarcely distinguish the line of duty, semi-obliterated by prejudice and passion; happy, then, is the woman who can call upon a faithful and tried friend, to whom she can confide the secrets of her heart, and from whom she may hope to receive the help and consolation that her condition calls for.
An undue attention to toilet is a dangerous rock for many women who, otherwise remarkable for their grave deportment, are sometimes greater slaves than the most frivolous women to dress and fashion. It is truly a great misery to be taken up with undue solicitude for the fragile and perishable part of our being; but more especially so, when such preference is given it by minds which are otherwise noble and elevated. It is painful to be obliged to confess that many women of high and cultivated attainments spend a considerable portion of their life in this futile occupation. It seems incredible that a ribbon-knot, the color of a robe, or the form of a head-dress, could become a capital matter for an intelligent creature destined to contemplate with the angels of heaven the majesty of God.
If there are so few women who enjoy all the advantages of their happy dispositions and attainments, it is because of their inordinate love for toilet and fashion; for nothing narrows the mind or contracts the heart so much as excessive care of the body. When they neglect the soul, the noblest part of man, she revenges herself of the insult by concealing all her brilliant qualities, which alone constitute woman's true beauty and adornment.
It is impossible for a vain or gaudy woman to converse on any serious matter, but she will talk for whole hours on the form or quality of a dress; should the conversation happen to turn on a serious subject, capable of engaging the attention of an elevated mind, her countenance will soon betray a sense of dissatisfaction and weariness.
Give befitting attention to the care of your body, because it is the temple of God, who has deposited therein a precious germ of immortality. But at the same time, keep it in its own place; and since it is the inferior part of your being do not allow it to infringe upon the rights and privileges of the soul, whose docile and obedient servant it should be. Avoid in your toilet all that savors of frivolity, which betray a desire to attract attention; but above all; avoid every thing that might in the least wound modesty. Do not forget that this virtue is one of the most beautiful ornaments of your sex, and that when woman is deprived of it she is like a faded flower, without eclat or perfume. You should conform to the customs of your country and condition without being in any way their slave, remembering that your soul is at all times in duty bound to soar above all those futilities, and conserve by a noble independence, her glory and her majesty.
Do not follow the example of those women who, slaves of the world, obey with blind docility all its caprices; seeking with avidity whatever is novel, in order to be the first in the fashion, and acquire by that, the vain reputation of a woman of good taste. Those who believe themselves obliged to have recourse to the seductions of fashion and dress in order to attract the attention of their would-be admirers, give a sad manifestation of the emptiness of their minds and the depravity of their hearts. Those who are distinguished for their noble qualities of head and heart attach their hopes, to loftier claims; by their modesty and reserve they are pleasing to all, and the sentiments which they inspire, being always noble and pure, never give the slightest annoyance to any one; on the contrary they arouse the holiest and most generous instincts of the soul.
One of the sweetest charms that adorns your age is that which arises from its simplicity and candor. The world itself, so liberal in its judgments, will not pardon in you whatever savors of egotism and ostentation. In these and similar things it will avail you naught to offer for excuse custom and usage, behind which so many aged women try to take refuge. Profit, then, by the truce which the world in a measure concedes in favor of your modesty, to acquire the habit of simplicity in your dress and whole exterior. This simplicity, once acquired, will be your guarantee, later on, against the examples and seductions of the fashionable world, which shows as little deference for the laws of good taste as for those of Christian modesty.
The beautiful and good are never in contradiction with each other. The same is true of what are perverse and depraved. And this is why the depravity of taste is in keeping with the standard of a people's moral life. Be assured that there is nothing beautiful except what is true and good; and that there is neither truth nor goodness in things devoid of simplicity. If you regulate your dress and whole exterior bearing according to these two principles you will stand irreproachable to your own conscience, and secure the respect and admiration of the most exacting worldlings, for simplicity of dress and manners possesses charms that win universal approbation.
Never lose sight of your glorious title of Christian. Remember that on the day of your baptism you renounced the pomps and vanities of the world, and, if you are allowed to conform to customs not contrary to the maxims of the Gospel, you ought at the same time manifest in your dress, as in the rest, the glorious character that God has stamped in your soul. You should show by your conduct the striking contrast that exists between the Christian woman and the woman who, being incredulous or indifferent, does not draw her rule of life from the precepts of the Gospel.
Your dress should be grave and modest: these are the characteristic marks by which it can be distinguished from that of women who are slaves of the world. St. Paul said to the Christians of his time: Let your modesty appear to all men, for the Lord is near you! What a profound lesson there is in these words, and how strongly they set forth the motives for which a Christian should be modest. To put in practice this counsel of the Apostle, you must accustom yourself to walk in the presence of God, representing to yourself by a lively faith that God is near you, that He sees you and will demand a strict account one day from you of all your actions. Frequently call to mind what St. Paul said to the Corinthians, namely: that we are a spectacle to men and angels. Let the true sense of those words sink deeply into your heart, and it will enable you to regulate soul and body.
The desire to attract attention, to draw the admiring gaze of fellow- beings is a weakness that lurks in every human heart; but with woman it seems to be the main-spring to all her actions, which is kept in motion alike by the applause and reproaches of spectators. In the light of faith all this is folly and vanity; for in that light we behold the whole court of heaven, God and His angels watching with an interest full of tenderness and solicitude not only our exterior actions, but even the secret movements of our souls. Could we have a better or more appreciative audience to witness what we do? The very thought of their presence should inspire us with a disgust for those vain desires that urge us to see and be seen by mankind in order to secure to our actions the approbation of the multitude. Regulate your conduct in this matter according to St. Paul's instruction to Timothy: Let women be clothed in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with platted hair, or gold or pearls, or costly attire. But, as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works.
Moreover, you labor under a great mistake if you think that gaudiness in dress is necessary to render you attractive and inspire those sentiments of esteem and affection which sometimes prepare the way to an advantageous alliance. Should you succeed by this means in securing such a marriage, be assured that you deceive yourself; for the man who, setting aside the qualities essential to woman, lets his affections be won by her outward charms only does her an injury, and prepares for her, as well as for himself, bitter regrets in the future. If you fully understand your true interest, both in this life and in the next, far from making your dress a means of attraction, you would tremble to owe to such vile contrivances the affection bestowed on you. You would not compel by your vanity those who love you for your own good to pander to your self-love and encourage your negligence.
The sentiments that a woman awakens in the hearts of her admirers draw their worth from the motives that inspire them, and this being the case, what value shall you set upon affections determined by empty show, and flattered by qualities purely exterior, unworthy of the attention of an intelligent being? Still, for some unaccountable or visionary reason, the greater part of women attach excessive importance to such puerile advantages, and neglect those that are capable of making a deep and lasting impression upon valiant and noble souls. If they are much depreciated in the esteem of those by whom they would like to be loved and admired, the cause may be traced to their own frivolity; let them labor with the same zeal to cultivate the heart and mind that they display upon external show, and they will more readily attract the attention of all who belong to refined and educated society.
DESIRE TO PLEASE.
AFTER having created man God saw that it was not good for him to be alone; and in order to console and cheer him in his solitude He took from his side, near his heart, the material out of which He made him a companion. This origin of woman tells us more of her nature, and points out more clearly the end that God proposed to Himself in creating her than the most elaborate and profound treatises or the most lucid theological theories.
Man was made out of the slime of the earth, woman has been formed out of a body already organized and vivified by the breath of life; man has been created to reign over the world, to govern the animals which God placed under his control, woman has been created to be man's companion; to cheer him in his solitude, and share with him the power and gifts which he received from God.
Hence it is quite natural that woman should feel in the depths of her heart a gnawing desire to please and be agreeable, for in that she only obeys the instinct of her nature. Still, woman would be abusing that instinct, and acting contrary to the designs of Providence, if she sought to please by means unworthy of her.
Before plunging Adam into that mysterious sleep, God brought all the animals before him, that he might see and know the extent of his dominion. The sacred writer remarks, that among all those animals Adam did not find a single being that resembled himself. He could find in none of those animals a sociable companion, because none of them had a soul like his, and consequently, could not share in the sweet joy that arises from an interchange of thoughts and sentiments, which constitutes the charming pith of life.
Many of them surpassed him in bodily strength, fleetness and agility, many attracted his attention by the beauty of their form, by their wonderful instinct and industry. And God, through His unbounded goodness, had planted in their very nature a desire or want of attachment, an instinctive gratitude and fidelity, such, that it seemed impossible to desire anything more exquisite of the kind. Still, with all these advantages, man was unsatisfied, he required a being like himself, possessing qualities superior to those found in irrational beings, one with whom his intelligence and heart might commune.
You must have already penetrated the profound sense of the words of the sacred historian and obtained a clear knowledge of the end that God proposed to himself in creating woman. Yes, He has certainly willed that you should be a messenger of consolation and comfort, that your mission should be, not to please and flatter the senses, which the animals did for Adam before Eve was created, but to meet the wants of the mind and heart of man.
Irrational beings suffice to please the senses and imagination; hence, if this is all that you propose to do, you put yourself in contradiction with the designs of God over you, and the grandeur of your destiny. You seem to say to God that it was not necessary for Him to create woman, that man could dispense with her, because the animals subject to his empire sufficed to meet all the wants of his mind and heart. Do not debase and despise your noble nature by thus placing yourself in the same category with animals, which can have nothing in common with the duties of your sublime mission.
The senses are blind, impetuous and changeable in their instincts; inconstancy and change are so necessary to them, that, rather than be condemned to remain immutable, they readily quit a more agreeable object for another very inferior, simply to satisfy that need of change inherent to their nature. Hence the strongest protestations, the most assiduous attentions, and the most active devotedness, though truly sincere in themselves, but when founded on the senses, are like smoke that disappears, even as the material that produces it. You will not have the right even to blame those who may deceive you in this way, because it is not in the power of man to conserve for any notable length of time a sentiment produced by the senses, and which has received no higher sanction than that of the imagination.
The difference, however, between this abortive sentiment and a genuine one is so palpable and characteristic that it is impossible to be mistaken in them, unless that we wilfully close our eyes to the truth. But, alas! it must indeed be confessed that a vast number of women wish to be deceived, not only in their discernment of the sentiment by which they are actuated, but also in their preference for it. And through some unaccountable blindness, they fear every thing that might interfere with their cherished idol. They purposely shut their eyes to the light of truth, preferring to deceive and be deceived than to be obliged, on seeing the matter in its true light, to doubt the power of their frivolous charms; as a proof of this the least compliment paid them for their beautiful or handsome appearance puts them beside themselves so far as to make them forget to consider whether such compliments are authorized by sincerity or flattery.
In vain will you try to convince them that this is not the way in which a genuine sentiment is formed and manifested. It is useless to tell them that such a sentiment does not spring up suddenly in the heart; that, on the contrary, its development is due to the process of a constant and almost insensible growth; being characteristically modest, calm, reserved, and even timid; having God for its first confidential friend, and pure souls for its tutors. It is labor in vain to point out to them that an affection, unaccompanied by the necessary precautions, should be repelled by a young lady as an insult to the dignity of her sex. But they will readily listen to any language that flatters their vanity, which paves the way to so many fatal friendships that often entail a lifetime of woe and sorrow.
When necessity or propriety requires your presence in society, somewhat brilliant, where you must inevitably come in contact with young men whom perhaps you do not know; then you should guard the senses, the mind and the heart with vigilant care; without ceasing on that account to be simple and natural in your whole demeanor; for the most vigilant are neither troubled nor embarrassed on account of their vigilance; yet excessive fear of being recreant either to duty or propriety in such like circumstances, would only expose you to greater danger of falling into the snare you try to avoid, as it would pre-occupy the mind and weaken the will. In such conjunctures, remain as near as possible to your mother, keeping your eyes fixed upon hers, always hearkening with a tender respect to the mysterious language that escapes from the maternal heart; a language easily understood by a daughter that loves the virtue of filial piety.
The mother's presence is always an infallible protection for young ladies; her looks are a book constantly open, and in which they can read her most secret thoughts; whether they approve or condemn their actions. Whenever you are called on to participate in worldly festivities let your mother be your visible guardian angel; she will preserve the innocence of your heart from the dangers that surround you. If you feel a secret desire to be relieved of your mother's presence, as being something noxious to your liberty, rest assured that your heart has already lost something of its innocence and simplicity. A daughter who dreads her mother's eye has evidently entered on a winding way, and ought to consider with suspicion the state of her soul. There is no company that you should prefer to that of your mother, no conversation that you should esteem more than hers; there should be no pleasure that could engage you to forego the pleasure of being near her. God himself has placed those sentiments in the hearts of young ladies in order to guard them against the seduction of the world and the attractions of false pleasures. He strengthens in their soul the virtue of filial piety, which forms an impregnable citadel around the heart, keeping it in perfect security against the evil influences of wicked agents.