Your conduct in every detail ought to be discreet and grave in the company of young men with whom you are unacquainted. If they speak to you, answer them briefly modestly and with simplicity, but fearlessly. Let it be your constant endeavor to converse on subjects capable of interesting a serious mind; in this way you can better divert their attention from frivolous topics, and prevent perhaps indiscreet questions or rash intimacies.
It is well to advert to the fact that, in consequence of a deteriorated faith and virtue among young men, in whom a bad education has oftentimes destroyed the happiest dispositions; many among them have lost that esteem, respect and veneration for woman so prevalent in the Christian ages prior to ours. Such, unfortunately, is the case in thousands of instances now-a-days; for when a young man finds himself in company with a young lady his chief object is to amuse himself with her, if his heart, already vitiated, does not entertain desires more criminal still; he is unguarded in his conversation, while displaying his talents, complimenting her for qualities which he interiorly believes her devoid of.
Bear in mind that this young man with whom you are conversing watches all your movements, studies all your looks, discusses and interprets interiorly every word you speak; while treating with you he plays the part of a cunning diplomatist whose wiles you happily ignore; but in order to escape from becoming his dupe, prudence should govern all your actions while in his company.
Remember that there are in the world manners, gestures and attitudes that constitute a conventional language, but which hold nothing in common with the genuine sentiments of the heart, being like a counterfeit money which vanity pays and receives. It is one of the most dangerous snares for a young girl whose simplicity and candor are yet intact. Those qualities, so precious in themselves, are sometimes prejudicial to her safety from the perfidy of a heart already skilful in the art of deceiving. For, judging others by her own heart, she cannot suspect those who converse with her of wicked designs. She accepts all that is told her as the sincere expression of the heart, and very often receives for a genuine affection what is only hypocrisy and deception.
If you are acquainted with the young men whom you meet in the world, you should know how to treat with them; yet experience proves that for the most part a young lady is little posted in matters of this nature. If the mind is already poisoned by the distemper of incredulity, if the heart is already vitiated, if they have justly won by their evil conduct a sad notoriety in the world, if they are of that class that seek to take the advantage of woman's simplicity by rendering vice agreeable to her in their own person; oh, you cannot treat them with too great severity. Your language, your looks, your attitude, should repel them from or command a respectful fear in your presence. Do not fear to wound their feelings, or to be impolite, or indecorous in their regard. An obstinate reserve, a severe demeanor, is all that you owe them. Treating them with that courtesy due to gentlemen would prove noxious to you, as they would not fail to make of it a plausible reason to justify their insolent conduct and rash judgments; be not deceived, the slightest mark of benevolence that they would receive from you would be immediately interpreted by them in the most perfidious manner. They detest virtue as much as you detest vice. They have a sovereign contempt for every woman, for they believe that she is unable to resist the allurements of pleasure.
They are mutual confidentials, and tell each other, with deplorable levity, all that young ladies innocently say to them; wickedly misconstruing their intentions, exaggerating what was true, and treating with sneering contempt those who were simple enough to believe in the sincerity of their hypocritical compliments. Most assuredly you have not the slightest desire of becoming the subject of the scandalous conversation of those men; you have but one means, however, of guarding yourself against their venomous tongue; that is, to exact from them a respectful deference by the gravity of your demeanor, and the severity of your relations with them.
If, on the contrary, you meet with young men who, with a lively faith, have conserved the purity of their hearts, and as a consequence of these virtues, all due respect for woman, you can show them greater confidence, and let them feel that you highly esteem them for their virtues, without, however, renouncing the precautions advised by prudence while in their company. It is in such encounters that your conversation should reveal a serious turn of mind, carefully avoiding every thing that would intimate undue confidence or intimacy; for the heart of a young lady should never be on her lips; except with regard to her mother, she should keep it buried in the depths of her soul to converse familiarly only with God and His angels.
CURIOSITY is a defect that seems to be particularly inherent to the heart of woman, and which, when not properly governed, never fails to entail the most disastrous consequences. Through it they have frequently acquired a knowledge of evil and a disgust for virtue. You are well aware that curiosity was the door through which sin and death enter the world; that when the devil sought our destruction he made use of woman's curiosity. Now, it is well not to lose sight of the fact that woman is always the daughter of Eve. She feels a pressing desire to see what pleases the mind, flatters the senses, and enlivens the imagination. Eager for vivid emotions, she seeks them with an insatiable avidity; and, rather than feel nothing, she prefers painful emotions, finding a certain secret charm even in the fits of sorrow and pains of her imagination. Her great desire to see and hear whatever tends to excite or create emotion is in a great measure the source of her curiosity. The education that women for the most part receive develops this disposition of the heart: an education which, instead of elevating the mind and giving it a taste for serious things, narrows it, and accustoms it to feed upon aliments that are trivial and void of consistency. The mind requires to he kept in constant activity, and since thoughts alone can do this they should be such as to amply furnish it with solid and wholesome food, for all kinds of thoughts are not equally good for it, no more than all kinds of food are equally good for the body. In some kinds of food the quantity and quality of nutriment are much inferior to what they are found to be in other kinds. Hence greater moderation is required in the use of the latter than in that of the former, otherwise the stomach, overcharged, would soon become disgusted with it.
On the other hand, no quantity of food void of nutritious qualities will ever appease hunger. The same thing may be said of the kind of thoughts with which the mind is fed; some are used less for their sound and wholesome nutriment than for their efficiency to flatter sensuality, inflame the passions, create new wants in the heart, and excite a depraved curiosity. Under this regime the mind is starved and tortured by an incessant hunger. It sadly languishes and pines in the grip of famine; and all this in the midst of full and plenty, but this abundance contains no nutriment, it is made up of news, whether true or false, which amuses without satiating; still the mind enlists the service of the senses to gather it up from all sides. The eyes, continually gaping and watching what passes before them, present the mind with numberless images to amuse it in its weary or lonesome moments.
Hence that insatiable thirst to see and observe every thing, that inconstancy and want of changing from one place to another, that desire to read useless and frivolous books, novels, weeklies and magazines, which for the most part enervate the mind by their futilities, trouble and darken it by a multitude of incoherent images and contradictory thoughts, and poison the heart by foul and filthy images that will constantly torment the soul.
The ears are on the alert to catch every report, every murmur, all kinds of news, detractions and calumnies, stories and scandals. I say all kinds of news, no—I make a mistake, it is only such news as is of an exciting or startling nature to break up the monotony of life. Hence those indiscreet questions which provoke answers more indiscreet still; those rash revelations made by thoughtless young ladies, those prying efforts to discover things which only exist perhaps in their own imagination, and of which they should live in holy ignorance.
Hence those long conversations, discussing the vices and evil doings of others, in which justice and charity are discarded, and iniquity drank like water. Few forego the criminal satisfaction of participating in those detestable conversations, and fewer still, alas! reproach themselves at night for the detractions and calumnies committed, permitted, or provoked during the day, and by a monstrous union they couple with those deeds the external practices of piety.
This is but a feeble picture of the frightful condition of a mind starved for want of solid and wholesome food, and poisoned by the empty frothings of vanity and passion. Curiosity is the constant companion of this mediocrity of the mind and poverty of the heart. In order to avoid this fatal rock, no pains should be spared, and if, unfortunately, you have already drank at its poisoned sources, hasten to use every available means to arrest its ravages. To insure success, do not amuse yourself with lopping off the branches of the evil, allowing the root to remain, do at once what is essential: feed your mind and heart with a genuine love for the true and beautiful.
A frivolous woman is invariably curious, and a curious woman always finishes by becoming the dupe and victim of her curiosity. To overcome an inordinate love for sights and news you must accustom the mind's eye to feast on the panoramic beauties of nature, and confine yourself to the company of persons of your own age, in whom you remark an elevated mind and heart,—lovers of what is truly good and grand.
Curiosity has its source, also, in another defect which becomes daily more and more prevalent—it is a want of forethought and reflection, arising from a volatile and frivolous mind. Few, indeed, are lovers of the interior life; all seem to be bent on parading the mind and heart, the imagination and senses. Now, when man has not learned the art of living and conversing with himself, he becomes wearisome and sometimes dangerous to himself when alone; because the mind, not knowing how to occupy itself, and not finding in its own resources the thoughts that elevate and nourish it, is obliged, in order to avoid lonesomeness, to dwell upon images which at least distract and weaken it, and not unfrequently disturb the peace of the heart.
Religion, always inspired by God in the choice and formation of the terms which it employs to convey the ideas that it wishes to impress upon the heart, has invented two words, which admirably express the meaning of the concentration of the faculties of the soul,—in other words, that society or cohabitation of man with himself—they are self-composure and recollection.
These words express that state or power of the will by which it holds complete control over all the faculties of the soul; so that sensibility can have no command over any of their operations. Thus shielded from this turbulent disturber they are enabled to labor peacefully and efficiently in their interior province or the soul.
The advantages secured by interior recollection are so great and the consequence of its absence so prejudicial that the Holy Ghost distinctly declares its absence to be the cause of all the evils that desolate the earth. "With desolation is the earth laid desolate because there is no one who thinketh in his heart." This is a terrible truth, but it is not the less real on that account. To be convinced of this you need only descend into your own heart, and you will soon discover that the want of interior recollection has been the cause of the most of your faults. It is during the interior composure of the soul's faculties that we understand what the Lord says. I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me, for he will speak peace unto them that are converted to the heart. (Psalm 84.)
But if we find nothing in the heart but trouble and obscurity we must naturally find many pretexts to justify our preoccupation with external things; and like a man, finding his house the abode of pain and displeasure, remains away from it as long as possible, we, too, will shun as far as possible the scene of our misery. It is, therefore, of most vital importance for you to form in your own heart an agreeable and useful society with which you can always converse. This society you carry with you wherever you go, for you are with yourself at all times; and since you have not always the satisfaction to enjoy the company of others you should learn how to turn to good account this privation by making it an incentive to cultivate with industry an agreeable society in your own heart; and the best way to insure the success of this work is to accustom yourself to converse with God who is always present in your heart, except when you expel him by mortal sin.
The work itself must be made up of pious readings, meditation and prayer, which will furnish you with such thoughts and affections as will prove to be constant friends in pain as in joy; hasten to amass these honeyed treasures during the noon-tide of life; for the winter will soon come upon you, the flowers of life shall lose their perfume and their withered corolla shall be strewn on the ground. Then you will not have time to enrich the soul with the longed-for booty when you will be reduced to the miserable condition of those women who endeavor to conceal the poverty of their mind and heart by a foolish and puerile deception.
MEDITATION AND REFLECTION.
Meditation and reflection are two words that express two shades of difference of the same idea. In meditation we consider supernatural things pertaining to our eternal salvation. The soul maintains herself with difficulty in the love and practice of virtue without the help derived from meditation; for when she gives it up, her fervor in piety grows lax, temptations became more frequent and obstinate, often followed by humiliating falls.
You are well aware that the real object of the Christian's life upon earth is to establish God's kingdom in our heart; and this is what forms the object of the second petition that we address to God every day in the Lord's prayer; and since the kingdom of God is entirely interior, as Jesus Christ himself tells us, when He says: the kingdom of God is within us, we should acquire the habit of looking for God in our own heart; but in order to find Him there we must give Him a place in it by meditation and prayer.
The advantages derived from meditation are so numerous and so great, that it is a matter of surprise why it is not more universally practised; for the effects that it produces in the souls of those who are faithful to its practice are so striking that it is easy to discern a man given to this habit from those who are entire strangers to its holy influence. Meditation teaches us to know God and ourself; it lays open to us our faults and vices, their source and fatal consequences and the arms we should employ to combat them. Finally, meditation contributes most efficiently to form our minds and purify our hearts, to fortify the will and develop in us the habit of reflecting.
The knowledge of God and ourself is such an important factor in the work of our spiritual perfection that St. Augustin constantly prayed for it, saying: "Lord grant that I may know Thee and myself." The pagans themselves well understood the advantage of this most important science, even for the securing of the happiness of this life; since they had the following words inscribed, as a summary of all human science, upon the frontispiece of the most celebrated temple of Greece, know thou thyself. But, alas! this knowledge is as rare as it is necessary; with a mind absorbed by distractions, and a heart harassed by passions, we flee, so to speak, from God and from ourselves.
Where is the Christian that knows God? Do you presume that you know full well what He is, what He has done for you, and what He still does for you every day? Every moment you receive His gifts: your life is due to His beneficence and His love, you are carried in the bosom of His providence as in the arms of your mother, He is continually preoccupied with your welfare, He has done all, created all things for your comfort and happiness; for your sake he has become man, to participate in all the infirmities, weakness and miseries of our humanity, in order to heal them and console us. Every thing speaks of Him, and proclaims His holy name to you. All that you see, all that you hear and feel must recall to your mind some gift of His love, or some effect of His mercy. All creatures in heaven and on earth are like so many voices which, mingling in a harmonious concert, sing to you His praises and publish His mercies.
Do you listen to them? Do they not pass you unperceived like the flitting zephyrs' leaving no trace to mark their passage. Did you ever seriously try to render an account of the attributes of God, and particularly of His goodness and justice? of His goodness to endear Him to all, and of His justice to make Him be feared by all. Have you considered well that to know God is to know all, because He is the Author of all creation possessing in Himself to an infinite degree all the perfections of His creation?
He who does not labor to obtain a knowledge of God can scarcely obtain any knowledge of himself. How is it possible for us to know what we are while we ignore what God is for us and what we owe Him? Oh, how few there are who know themselves! The first condition necessary to secure this knowledge, so important and so precious, is profound humility, which unsparingly reveals the real motive of all our actions, the uncompromising antagonist of our pride and self-love.
Now it is quite evident that he who does not know God does not possess this virtue; for how can a man humble himself before a being that he ignores? At first sight it may seem that there is nothing so easy as to know one's self,—that this knowledge may be obtained by a close consideration of the heart's operations; but when we give the matter sufficient thought the work does not appear to be so easy. And the number of those who have acquired this knowledge to any noted degree is so limited that we are forced to infer that a knowledge so rare must offer great difficulties.
However, there is one thing certain, namely: that this knowledge is not obtained in the midst of tumult and pleasures, from the seductions of the world or the distractions of life. It is not by fleeing one's-self as we would fly an enemy; by concealing with a complaisant but perfidious veil our defects, to avoid being troubled by their appearance—always painful to pride; it is not by living a dreamy life of fiction to which the slaves of the world condemn themselves with a deplorable obsequiousness; it is not by continually trying to deceive ourselves and others that we may learn how to know ourselves; and, just as our knowledge of material things increases by the frequency of our relations with them—for instance we know persons better with whom we are intimately acquainted than those with whom we are comparatively strangers—so, likewise, in order to know ourselves well, we must live intimately with ourselves, observe closely and impartially all the movements of our mind and heart, frequently descending into the depth of our soul, scrupulously examining our thoughts, desires and actions, sparing no pains to discern well their source and motives; this latter portion of the work is, without doubt, the most difficult, since it is the point at which all the passions unite to deceive us by the most subtle illusions. The best actions are despoiled of their merit by certain motives of vanity, often concealed from our own notice.
The motives by which we are actuated are, relative to our actions, what the eye is relative to our body,—it is the motive that gives light and brilliancy to our actions. This is the sense in which we should understand our Lord when He says if our eye be simple our whole body will be luminous. Now the great light by which we can clearly see the motives for which we act is meditation.
In the peaceful calm of solitude, and in the silent slumber of the passions, meditation puts us in presence of ourselves, before our own eyes, by which we see ourselves as in a true mirror. Meditation teaches us to judge without prejudice what we have done and to determine with propriety what we should do, by making the experience of the past our lamp for the future, and by converting past mistakes into practical lessons for the present.
The meditative and recollected soul will turn even her shortcomings to good account; seeing her delinquencies, she clothes herself with the mantle of humility, she rises with renewed confidence, and shuns with greater care the occasion of those evils from which she has suffered; she is rarely taken by surprise, a few moments' reflection will suffice for her to determine what is to be done under the circumstances; she is rarely taken in the snare of deception, for she knows that human nature is weak, vacillating and unreliable, and, consequently, she keeps herself on her guard.
Considered from this point of view; meditation is particularly necessary to woman, because, being endowed with a very lively imagination and a tender heart, she is more exposed to illusions which, for the most part, spring from those two sources. Moreover, surrounded as she is, by the seductions of the world; breathing incessantly the poisoned atmosphere of flattery and adulation; waited on by men who seek to deceive her; distracted by a multitude of cares which absorb her soul; lost in a painful detail of trifles; how will she be able to resist the united action of those trials; if she has not contracted the salutary habit of frequently conversing with her own heart by holy meditation and recollection?
The precious habit of meditation makes its influence felt by all the faculties of the soul. It imparts to the mind the love of solitude, assurance and confidence to the judgment, consistency to all the thoughts. It is by reflecting on what we interiorly feel, as well as on what we exteriorly see, that we enrich our intelligence and acquire that cheerful alacrity and firmness of purpose so necessary and precious in the most trying and delicate circumstances of life.
A woman of an irreflective mind becomes an easy prey to her own impressions; rarely ever seeing things in their true light she is balloted from one illusion to another, from one error to another; she believes in every thing, hopes for all that she desires, and desires all that flatters her. Unable to render an exact account either of the thoughts of her mind or the movements of her heart, she acts without aim or motive, governed solely by the caprice of her imagination or the impulse of whimsical humor; equanimity is impossible in the midst of such confusion. All this will have a fatal effect upon her spiritual welfare; for what shocked her some time ago will now fail to make the slightest impression. The bloom of youth will soon fade away, leaving to her only confused souvenirs of those days when, to be happy, it sufficed for her to descend into her own soul, where she always found peace and consolation.
If you wish to preserve in all their integrity the faculties of your soul; if you would not have your life ruled by the caprice of the imagination; contract at an early age the salutary and happy custom of making your meditation. Set apart a special time for it every day, let it be practical, having for its object the spiritual progress of your soul, the sanctification of your life. Lay out in God's presence what you have to do every day, recall to mind the places, persons and things that have been to you an occasion of sin, or a help in the exercise of virtue, in order to avoid the evil accruing from the one source, and increase the influence arising from the other. Never recline your head upon your pillow before having rendered an exact account of the day you have just finished, like the merchant who, every night, tots up his loss and gain, to see what has been the result of the day's transactions. The next day, with the double armour of experience and resolve, you will be better able to avoid what proved noxious before, as well as to do the good that you had omitted. By thus acting you will give to your life a sure direction, a powerful impetus in the accomplishment of all that is worthy of your glorious destiny.
OBEDIENCE TO PARENTS.
In the natural order of things, man, after having obeyed his parents in his youth, becomes in turn the head of another family which he must govern by the authority of his word and example. God has given to woman another vocation. She obeys from her childhood, and obedience becomes more necessary to her as she advances in years; for when she quits the paternal roof for the one of her choice, it is still to obey and be directed by the will of another. But in this second moiety of her life she often finds the practice of obedience more difficult and painful than it was when she lived with her parents. More than once has the young woman, allured by the deceitful charms of a false liberty, left with a secret joy the paternal roof, hoping thereby to be delivered from the duty of obedience which weighed so heavily on her heart. But, alas! she has often been obliged to regret those days as the happiest of her life, when the tender solicitude of a mother rendered submission sweet and easy.
God, whose Providence is infinitely wise, has disposed all things in such a way that each epoch of life is a preparation to that which follows; strengthened by the labors of the past, we are fitted for those of the future, and prepared for the accomplishment of the duties of to-day by our fidelity to obligations less difficult of yesterday; we are thus imperceptibly and safely conducted by this graded scale to the end for which we were created.
Hence you may consider the present as your noviciate to the future; the family circle at home is the image of that with which you must live at a later time; and while your duties and trials will vary with your position, there is one obligation that always remains invariable; that is obedience. If you have learned well how to obey your parents whom God has given you, you will find it easier in after life to bend your will when obliged in submission to that of another.
At present holy obedience is not painful to you; on the contrary, it is a pleasure, as it is a means by which you can please your dear parents whom you love; and by force of habit it is now so deeply engraved in your heart as to be an act of second nature. But other times and other circumstances will present new difficulties, when perhaps you will be obliged to obey a man of your own age, possessed of none of those qualities that give authority and prestige to command.
The familiarity that exists between the married couple which, when truly Christian, is one of the greatest charms of their life, not unfrequently becomes for woman an obstacle to the observance of obedience; but she has reason to rejoice when her delinquency does not diminish the sacred authority of her husband's commands. The lady who has been docile to the orders of her parents will be docile to those of her husband; for as we are assured by Holy Writ, our accomplishment of the duties that God has imposed on us relative to our parents is rewarded even in this life; as likewise our delinquencies on this point will incur heaven's displeasure.
The paternal home should be for you a school of respect, obedience, gratitude, and love; and these virtues should be constantly manifested in your conduct; for, mark it well, you will be in the position destined for you later by God what you are presently in that which you now occupy. There is a logical succession in all our actions, whether good or bad. In each one of your actions may be found the germ of another which, being developed in due time, will produce others. The same is also true of that happy or unfortunate succession of thoughts and affections which is developed into habit; and which is engrafted in our very souls, forming, as it were, an integral part of our nature. From our infancy, God, in His infinite goodness, has given us a facility to do good, which in the course of time can be strengthened by habit; it will enable us to surmount obstacles and dangers that increase with age, but which are ignored in childhood.
The individual practice of respect, obedience, confidence; and gratitude is necessary for the preservation of society; and in order to render this practice easy for us, God, in loving goodness has removed from those beautiful flowers of virtue, whose perfume should embalm our whole life, the thorns that might pierce us. He has confided their care to those to whom, after God, we owe our life, and towards whom we are drawn by an invincible inclination of the heart. When we merge into the noon-tide of life we find these virtues already engrafted in our souls, with little trouble to us, for they were planted there by the hands of good and pious parents; and, as a reward for our fidelity to their instructions, those cherished virtues take deep root in the heart and grow imperceptibly as we advance in years.
But if, instead of being docile to their orders, we have stubbornly resisted them, if, by some unaccountable egotism, the soul has become concentrated in herself; and instead of giving our confidence and love to those who have so generously given their life and means to secure to us the happiness we enjoy, we rest satisfied with living on the fruits of their labors without making them any return; we will carry with us later on into the family of our choice only a withered heart, dead to every noble and generous sentiment.
You should respect and honor your parents with the filial love of a Christian daughter. Such is the precise meaning of the precept given you by God in their regard: Honor thy father and thy mother! Relative to you they hold God's place, who is the source of all paternity in heaven and upon earth. Nothing can dispense you from this respect which God requires for them, and which nature ought to render easy to you; for, even when your parents would suffer by a criminal negligence the image of God to be deteriorated in their souls; they always remain His representatives for you, because they are always, no matter what they may do, the instruments that God employed to give you existence.
The faults of your parents should never diminish in your heart the respect and honor that you owe them; and in certain painful and delicate circumstances, you should imitate the example of the two sons of Noah in order to escape the malediction that fell upon Cham for his impudent strictures of his father's faults. You should carefully draw the mantle of charity over any fault of your parents that might tend to weaken your respect for them. Silence should seal your lips forever on all their shortcomings, even before those who know them, unless that it be to ask advice in some critical conjuncture, or bring them to receive some useful and charitable counsel. God alone should be the depository of your sorrowful confidence in this matter. To Him alone you should confide your sorrows and alarms, because He alone should hold the first place in your mind and heart, for He will be your judge as well as theirs.
If you see that a salutary effect may be obtained by a prudent and respectful observation, be slow in making it, and never act before having consulted some virtuous and enlightened persons; should they advise you in the affirmative, let your observation assume the tone of a remonstration rather than a warning. Your language, actions or gestures should never savor of anything that betrayed a disregard for that profound veneration with which you should honor in them the title of God's representatives in your regard. An unfortunate custom, the fruit of a bad education, or of an excessive tenderness on the part of parents, has sadly vitiated the nature and form of the relations that should exist between child and parent.
During the present century in many places a fatal familiarity seems to have sapped the very foundation from that profound respect which was the honor and glory of the Christian family, and the salt that preserves nations from corruption; that respect which children, who truly feared God, paid to their parents. To that beautiful order that reigned in the Christian family, and which preserved inviolable the father's authority in Christian times, has succeeded a spirit of equality as hostile to the natural order as to the order of Divine Providence, since it destroys both rank and duty. It gives birth to that false independence which may justly be called the seed of revolution and anarchy; no consequence is more natural, for what can be expected of a citizen who imbibed in his childhood, under the paternal roof, the spirit of disobedience and insubordination, who was taught to regard superiority with a jealous eye, and treat with contempt those who are beneath him.
After paying due respect to your parents, they should be, after God, the depositories of your confidence, and since a daughter's wants are more easily communicated to her mother, it is in her mother's heart that a Christian daughter will deposit the secrets of her own. This filial confidence supposes, also, in a young lady a sincere diffidence in her self, a consciousness of her own weakness which, so far from being a fault, is the result of true humility. Those young ladies who are wanting in confidence in their own mothers are indeed great objects of compassion. For this confidence is not only an essential condition to their advancement in virtue, but also one of their principal safeguards against deception and intrigue.
The heart of woman, especially at your age, feels an imperative need of making a confidant of some one, and if that one is not her mother, it will be some friend who, perhaps, will not possess greater experience nor more wisdom or force than herself, and consequently, instead of giving the proper counsel, will add evil to evil by the fatal help of encouragement in a course that should be abandoned. Rest assured that you can never find any one able to fill the mother's place in this regard. This unreserved abandonment to a mother's confiding heart is not always possible, since death often interferes. When such is the case it is a great misfortune for a young lady—a misfortune that can scarcely be retrieved in her lifetime. It is easy to recognise a woman whose soul has been fostered in that of her mother. Such women ordinarily possess a milder disposition, a more amiable ingenuousness, with a certain simplicity of heart which, without being prejudicial in the least to her mind, adds a new charm to the noble and generous virtues which become the mother of a family. Those habits of confidence and abandonment contracted from childhood have made frankness and sincerity second nature. Their love for truth and sincerity is revealed in their conversation, the sanctity of which is the echo of their souls. Their whole demeanor sheds such a halo of delight around them that they become, unpretentiously, the centre of attraction for all those whose enviable pleasure it is to be honored by their company.
If up to this hour you have concealed nothing from your mother; if you have given her the key to your soul; if your heart is for her an open book; if she can at all times read in your looks your very thoughts; on bended knees thank God from the depths of your soul for having given you such a mother, and the grace of giving her your confidence. If you remain a child to your mother you will preserve your youth through the toilsome days of life to a ripe old age, an advantage so precious that nothing should be left undone to secure it.
Woman is pleasing to others only in as much as she possesses this adornment, which exhales a sweet odor like the perfume of youth. Alas! how many women there are who have never been children even with their mothers. Women from their youth, they have treated their mother with a kind of diffidence, dissembling at an age when the only danger to be feared should be an excessive confidence.
As for the gratitude and love that you owe your parents, I would regard it as an injury offered to the candor of your age and the sincerity of your heart to undertake to prove that these are obligations which you are in duty bound to discharge. God who has commanded us to honor our parents, left us no precept obliging us to love them; but while He engraved other commandments upon stone this one He has written in the very essence of our being. Hence I appeal only to your heart in this matter, leaving you entirely to its instincts to point out to you your duty, which to assert by any other proof, I fear would lead you to suspect that there are children unnatural enough to forget and neglect their parents.
Bear in mind, however, that your love and gratitude for them must by no means be restricted to a sentiment of the heart or an instinct of nature. Those virtues must find an echo both in your words and actions. Love founded on sensibility has no signification, if you can make no sacrifice to obey or please them. Love in man is effective, and this is why our Lord tells us with regard to the love we owe Him: He who loves me keeps my commandments.
To love consists in pleasing him who is loved; it is prefering his will to our own, his interests to ours; in a word, it is to seek him rather than attract him; it is to become his property rather than to appropriate him; it is to forget ourself to think of him. Love lives upon sacrifices; as the pious author of the Following of Christ says: where love is, there is also pain: but love converts that pain into pleasure. If this be true of all the affections of the human heart; what shall we think of the one that we have first felt, and which in some way forms a part of our very nature?
It will perhaps seem strange to you to be warned in the bloom of youth against a sentiment that seems to be reserved for that period of life when delinquents, through the infinite goodness of God, are brought to enter into themselves; when the illusions of the heart have been replaced by a cold and sad reality; when hope seems to recoil under the weight of sad recollections. Still, because this mental canker preys on the most vital interests of the soul, and because a predisposition to it is found to prevail even among the youthful portion of your sex, a certain knowledge of it is necessary in order to resist it effectually.
It is most delightful and consoling to find in persons of your age and sex that pure joy, so frank and candid, springing out of the innocence and simplicity of the heart; a good conscience and a lively faith, with unbounded confidence in Divine Providence; all of which combine to produce that sweet and saintly cheerfulness which dilates the heart and lights up the soul with its amiable reflections. But, alas! we confess with deep regret, that many young ladies have been ruthlessly robbed of all those charms by a precocious development received under the world's tutorship, by which they have been made to cross with a bound the smiling season of hope and joy, to a premature old age before having tasted the charms of youth.
In order that joy may reign in the heart, the heart must first repose in the bosom of Divine Providence—free from the pressure of doleful souvenirs, and from the pestering desires stirred up by vanity; in a word, exempt from every obstacle, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, that might in any way oppose the designs of God. But, alas! by some unaccountable inconsistency, we are in contradiction with ourselves; for, notwithstanding our great desire to live, and our horror of death, still we seem to be in a hurry with the time to pass, as though we advanced too slowly to the grave.
Now, we are well aware that of this lifetime the present is all that we can claim, the past and future being in the hands of God; still, true to the same principle of inconsistency we make little or no use of the present, it is something annoying that we wish, to get over, as quickly as possible, while we are absorbed by a countless multitude of useless but importunate desires relative to the past, which we can never recall, and the future, which perhaps we shall never see.
Hence, as we journey onward in this way, we must naturally find ourselves a prey to fears and doubts, sometimes suspended between hope and despondency, while the heart is harassed by corroding desires that succeed each other like waves on a tempest-driven sea. We wish to be our own providence, to dispose of our own future of our lifetime according to those desires, instead of leaving that work to Him from whom we have received all that we possess.
When we are assailed by regrets in the evening, and filled with anxieties for the morrow, how can our heart rebound with joy, or our lips wear the smile of confidence and tranquility? Behold some of the many sources from which the fatal fiend of melancholy is fed and strengthened. But this vile destroyer of peaceful joy springs from another source not less fatal than those just mentioned. That is a certain vagueness of mind and heart, which is sometimes the result of some physical or bodily indisposition, but more frequently the consequence of an imperfect education, or indifference in the service of God.
That which gives to the mind its needed assurance and strength, and to the heart its consistency and solidity, is a lively faith, nourished and sustained by a sincere piety. Of this you are thoroughly convinced, as you know full well that faith alone can give a solid basis to our thoughts, a true direction to our desires, and an eternal destiny to our hopes. Without faith the mind is without ballast—unsettled as to what it ought to believe or reject; the heart ignores what it should fear or hope for; in a word, the soul is lost in the midst of her vacillating desires.
In order that faith may impart its vivifying influence it must penetrate the soul's substance, and become to her the principle of a new life, directing all her movements, animating all her thoughts, desires and hopes. A superficial and inactive faith that is purely exterior, satisfied with believing what God reveals, without quickening the spiritual pulsations of the soul, will not preserve her from that vagueness and uncertainty which deprive all objects of their natural colors, and lend them a sombre shade which saddens the heart.
If you would escape falling a victim to melancholy, preserve your faith with precious care, enliven it constantly by fervent prayer, by meditation and the abundant graces received through the Sacraments. Let its pure light be the rule of your thoughts and actions, accustom your mind to dwell upon things that are practical, and consequently useful, sedulously avoiding all speculative or doubtful topics, that have no other result than to keep the mind in a state of suspense and indecision. You will fare better in having a clear knowledge of practical things, even at the cost of appearing less learned than others.
A third source of melancholy is a species of mental idleness, concerning which women are exposed to labor under a false impression. As they are naturally given to manual occupation habit begets with them an antipathy to mental labor; their judgment is readily but erroneously convinced by their feelings, which easily lead them to believe that they are sufficiently occupied when their fingers are engaged in fixing an embroidery or something similar. To reason the matter, they will readily admit that labor exclusively manual having no share in the exercise of the mental faculties, cannot be considered to give sufficient occupation to an intelligent being; since the imagination would be left to the mercy of its caprices and the heart to the whims of its desires, which is not worthy of a being created to the image and likeness of God, who commands us to labor as He labored, namely: with mind and heart constantly supplying useful thoughts to the one and noble sentiments to the other.
Such is the heavenly duty enjoined by those consoling words of our Saviour: pray always. At first sight it would seem that such an obligation is impossible and contrary to human nature. We cannot, however, even suppose that He who has made man what he is, misunderstood his nature so far as to command him to do impossibilities.
Every thought that raises the mind towards God, every sentiment that brings the heart near to Him, is a prayer. Hence there is no occupation that may not become a prayer, since there is none that may not be referred to God. The duties and obligations of woman, far from being an obstacle to the practical exercise of the above principle, on the contrary favor its execution most admirably; for her duties, though of the manual order for the most part, are not of a nature to distract the mind or absorb the heart; she can easily and constantly concentrate the thoughts of the one and the affections of the other upon God.
That you should make God the object of all your actions is your first and most imperative duty, and the moment that you discharge your duties for any other end that moment they shall lose the dignity of deeds worthy of a Christian or even of a rational being; moreover, your mind, as you are fully aware, is endowed with perpetual activity, it is never idle,—you need only chose the objects to which you wish to apply it. But if you fail to apply it to things worthy of your sublime calling it will soon escape from your control, and, flitting from one trifle to another, it will meddle with objects that might become dangerous to the peace of your soul. It will soon become preoccupied by puerile fears, unfounded apprehensions, vague sadness, which, when constantly indulged in, will deliver your soul over to melancholy which never fails to tarnish the purity of the heart and enervate the energy of the will.
The pain that many suffer from their imaginary ills robs them of the noble and generous love of compassionating the real and painful griefs of others. Egotism is nurtured and fortified in those ravings which attach the soul's energies to the consideration of our own ills or sorrows; the heart grows cold and hardened in a deplorable insensibility which estranges it to every sentiment of pity and compassion for others.
There is, I am aware, a sorrow that is salutary to the soul, and conformable to the spirit of Christianity, as also to man's condition in this vale of tears. I know that it is very difficult to be always joyful, when we take into account the dangers by which we are surrounded, the countless calamities to which we are exposed since the day that sin had entered the world. We very often see the objects of our warmest affections disappear from around us; and every day some new misfortune or some new loss adds some new tears to our cup of sorrow, from whose bitterness every one is doomed to drink during life.
Far from me be the thought of engaging you to fly this holy sorrow imposed by our condition and recommended by our Lord Himself. "There is," says St. Paul, "a sorrow according to God" which, far from plunging the heart into a state of despondency, enables the soul to avoid the dangers which constantly expose her to lose God by sin. But this sorrow does not trouble the peace of either the heart or the mind, for it is that sorrow which our divine Saviour called blessed, and for which He has promised consolation.
Far be from me, also, the thought of advising that foolish and boisterous joy which carries away the soul, absorbing all her energies filling her with void and disgust. This joy, far from being a remedy or a protection against melancholy, is, on the contrary, both its cause and effect. The result of those intemperate paroxysms of joy, so little in conformity with our nature is that which invariably results from any forced or undue influence.
When shackled nature recovers her liberty she revenges the violence that she was made to endure. But, seizing her rights with too great avidity, she suffers more from the reaction than from the force that infringed upon them. This explains the reason of those fitful outbursts of joy and grief that pass in quick succession. Those puerile fears, followed by hopes, without rule or aim, that vain confidence giving place to sad discouragement. Those despondent feelings after moments of zealous fever, during which we seem to be able to do and attempt everything. Here we find the solution of those sudden and varied shades of temperament which will instantaneously cheer or prostrate the energies of the soul.
If you would preserve your soul from melancholy, conserve your heart in a calm composure, your mind in a just equanimity keeping both equally distant from all extremes able to taste joy with discretion, and sorrow without becoming discouraged. This will be putting in practice the advice of the wise man: Give not up thy soul to sadness and afflict not thyself in thy own counsel. The joyfulness of the heart is the life of man and a never-failing treasure of holiness, and the joy of man is length of life. Have pity on thy own soul, pleasing God and contain thyself; gather up thy heart in his holiness and drive away sadness far from thee. For sadness hath killed many and there is no profit in it. Envy and anger shorten a man's days, and pensiveness will bring old age before the time. A cheerful and good heart is always feasting, for his banquets are prepared with diligence. Eccl. xxx. 22-27.
If the wisdom of nations, which loves to find expression in the proverbs, teaches us that a man may be known by knowing the company that he frequents; we can say with the same assurance that his character and dispositions may be known from the books which he constantly reads. Of all friends, the most intimate are the books that we constantly read, hence there is nothing more important for a young person, as there is nothing that entails such grave consequences for the moral culture, than the selection of proper and suitable books. Because it is a noted fact that such readings exercise the deepest influence over the mind and heart, so much that all the resources which the ingeniousness of maternal love can employ against it avail nothing. God's minister in the pulpit of truth has no weight with those souls fascinated by the deceitful charms of a bad book, which addresses itself to their prejudices and passions. The charitable advice of the confessor in the tribunal of penance is futile against the intoxicating seductions of those romances whose only merit consists in flattering the most depraved inclinations of the human heart.
Indeed it is a subject both of surprise and sorrow to see an author of the most menial abilities lauded to the skies for a book still more abject than himself, a book teeming with error and immorality; while, very often, a discourse, a sermon or an instruction, whatever may be the authority that they receive either from the character of the person who pronounces them, or from the gravity of the circumstances in which he speaks, are heard with indifference. Good and evil, truth and error, are never so rapidly propagated, never so powerful in their action, never so certain in their effects as when they are communicated to us under the form of a book authorized by fashion or party spirit. Hence there is no greater responsibility before God than that which man assumes when he wields the pen in the name of humanity, whether for noble or selfish ends.
A book is a teacher whose doctrine is listened to with a willingness equal to its degree of conformity to the inclinations of our heart. It is a friend that gains our confidence, inasmuch as it flatters our prejudices and passions, and in which we find a reflection of our own thoughts, the echo of our most secret sentiments. You would not like to receive a stranger into your house without his being properly recommended, but you will readily receive a book on the strength of reports that are often deceitful.
The country is flooded with productions that sap the foundations of morality, and which bear that imprimatur given by a poisoned public opinion to such authors as pander to its craven spirit. The world judges with a depraved indulgence the book in which it finds its maxims approved and sanctioned, portraying the exact seducing picture of its vanities. The purest souls and, not unfrequently, serious minds are too often imposed upon by those popular prejudices, and, despite their good reason, yield to their influence by reading the flimsy productions of depraved minds, which, besides all the other injuries they cause, rob them of a most precious time. A book must be very bad before the world condemns it, so bad, in fact, that its own intrinsic filth disgusts the reader and seals its fate. But, there is another kind of literature favorably received by that portion of mankind called respectable, honest, and sometimes even severe, and whose authority is capable of making a grave impression on your mind.
It is, therefore, very important for you to know not only the signs by which to recognize a bad book, but also whom you should consult as judges in the matter. There can be no question here of those books professedly immoral, in which vice is eulogized and corrupt maxims sustained. Those books are not dangerous for you, because they will not fall under your hands, and even when they would you could not open one of them without flinging it away with horror;—in this case the evil—contains in itself its own remedy.
But there are books, less dangerous in appearance, in which the most delicate situations are represented, clothed in all the charms of style, well calculated, under their moral guise and serious bearing, to captivate the heart and imagination. Indeed to represent in lively colors the terrible effects of the passions, and the fatal consequences that a momentary excitement might entail is not of a nature to inspire a young lady with horror for vice and love for virtue. How is it possible that she will guard against the evil inclinations of the heart, when she is conscious of the danger in giving them free scope, and that a momentary forgetfulness is sometimes punished by a life-time of sorrow and bitterness? Such a culpable negligence might be accounted for, if there existed a necessary relation between the will and the imagination, by which the determinations of the former are necessarily dependant upon the impressions of the latter.
But such is not the case, for the imagination has a sphere of action very different from that of the intelligence or the will. It is an interior mirror which reflects back upon the soul images of things beheld by the senses and conceived by the intelligence, without regard to time or place. Positively no, would be the answer of a young lady of self-respect, whom we would ask if she would like to see with her own eyes all that is spoken of in the novel which she reads with so little caution! Your answer would be given in the same terms, should we ask you if she might read without impunity to virtue those intrigues, those scenes so engaging to curiosity, and which incite the reader to follow up the details of ineffectual struggles against passion. Could she, without blushing, listen to the passionate conversations of those who had lead each other to destruction, after having exhausted all the resources of heart and mind to render vice amiable, even when their fall would seem to be less the effect of a criminal will than the result of a kind of fatality? Your answer to all this would be emphatically, no!
But while young ladies will neither listen to nor look at scenes of this nature, many, alas! do not scruple to look at them in books, where they are much more dangerous, for being adorned with all the charms of style, and because the persons represented are made to speak and act in a much more luring manner than they do in reality. They devour with avidity those dangerous, and sometimes scurrilous pages; but while they chain their attention to the matter they are reading, their imagination gains the ascendancy over all the senses, and under their united action images are formed which leave a lasting impression on the mind—images of misfortune that has befallen persons either through their own fault or the fault of others, and which, through sympathy, the human heart, whether wrong or right, is always ready to find a pretext to justify.
In reading of those misfortunes she may perhaps recognize the hand of divine vengeance pursuing the criminal culprit, which is of a nature to inspire her with a sentiment of fear that deters from the commission of crime; but such sentiments have been felt by the heroes of the novel which she has read, and nevertheless they have fallen into the abyss which they so much dreaded, I would almost say while fleeing from it. But when they take their stand on a declivity so steep and slippery, nothing short of a miracle can save them.
Such is precisely the nature of the danger in which the readers of such books place them-selves. In those books human frailty is idolized, deeds committed through it are either necessary or excusable, the hair-breadth escapes, and often the tragical conclusion of their story, will often inspire the reader with a salutary terror, it is true; but will that feeling destroy all those tender sympathizing sentiments that were felt while dreading it? Of course this fear is felt by the will, but the imagination has already finished its work; it has seen, heard and felt by the senses; it has delighted and fascinated the soul by those images whose charms cannot be destroyed by the unfortunate issue of those struggles in which frailty played such an important role.
The will, distracted by the tumult of external things, and the variety of, her occupations or pleasures, will soon lose this sentiment of terror on which she seems to count so much, but the imagination will conserve for a long time the impressions and images upon which it has feasted, and which will form the constant subject of her thoughts during the day and of her dreams during the night.
Hence, the books that are capable of producing such results are evidently bad, and if you wish to preserve intact the innocence of your heart you should never take one of them in your hands. If you wish to conceive a deep horror for vice, and guard against the snares of passion, you will more readily and securely attain your end by reading a few serious books in which truth is presented in its own simplicity without artifice. Books in which the author, realizing the importance of his mission, directly addresses the mind without trying to captivate the heart and imagination, or to render vice amiable first in order to inspire you with horror for it afterwards. If you wish to be true to yourself; if by your readings your object is to cultivate a love for virtue and horror for evil, novels are not the books that you will have recourse to.
Hence, to draw a practical conclusion from our considerations on this subject, you may safely say that a book is, if not bad, at least dangerous when its tendencies are to render interesting, and agreeable such deeds or language as you would neither look at nor listen to. This should be the first rule by which to judge of the moral worth of the books you wish to read.
SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
To the rule given in the foregoing chapter may be added another of equal importance in the selection of suitable books to read. Generally speaking, all books that draw too much on the imagination may be considered as dangerous. You are well aware, and it has been frequently said, in the course of this little book, that the imagination is precious and useful when regulated with discretion, and directed with prudence; but the moment that it is allowed to assume a preponderance which does not belong to it, it becomes noxious to our spiritual and temporal welfare. Moreover, it is united to the senses by the most intimate ties, through which it receives impressions and images that keep it in constant activity; we should constantly labor to check, rather than to encourage its development; while we should spare neither pains nor diligence to develop the intelligence which, when left in ignorance of truths that could enlighten and elevate it, becomes the victim of cruel doubt, idleness, effeminacy and pleasure.
There are books said to be useless, and consequently harmless, but the conclusion, without being false, is not just; for we have just as much reason to believe they are dangerous as to admit the contrary. Now, if a book is indeed useless you cannot bear to read it, and since you do read it, it must certainly contain something interesting which renders it agreeable to you; it pleases some faculty of your soul, some habitual thought of your mind, some predominating disposition of your heart.
That a book may be read without profit is quite true. But that the same book can be read without danger of sustaining some loss is evidently false, unless that it be maintained that we are justified in having no proposed end for our actions; or that we may act solely for pastime which is diametrically opposed to the end for which we were created: Our time is too precious to be used indifferently. Again if there is in life anything that may be read or omitted without losing some advantage, or committing some evil, it is certainly not a book, for it always contains either some facts or some pictures, or some maxims capable of making an impression on your mind and heart.
The intelligence is formed and developed by means of language, and language, considered from this point of view, furnishes us with no idle words. Hence a useless book is, in the true acceptation of the term, a book that amuses the imagination and the heart. Now, whatever the soul receives through these channels must be of some importance for good or evil. Hence we are not justified, on the plea of indifference to accept any book that falls under our hands without being thoroughly examined and competently recommended.
Here, of course, a new difficulty occurs: at your age, and with your experience, you are unable to judge what books you should read; you are therefore obliged to follow the advice of others in the matter, but not the advice of all indiscriminately, as all are not competent to direct you in a matter of such grave importance. Popularity will give a wide circulation to a book bat can by no means recommend it; hence public opinion is not a rule that will guarantee you against deception.
Those in whom you place entire confidence to choose a book for you should themselves be recommended by their sincere and generous piety, the dignity of their life, the solidity of their judgment, strengthened by an extensive knowledge of men and things. Above all things be on your guard against the books recommended by worldly women, lovers of pleasure and parties; those whose light and frivolous minds sicken at serious thoughts, who are on their guard lest they may do too much for God, and who vainly endeavor to reconcile, in a monstrous union, the maxims of the world with those of the Gospel, the seductions of pleasure with the austerities of virtue, desiring to serve God and mammon.
If, by some negligence, or even in good faith; you open one of those books against which you have been warned, shut it the moment you feel your imagination excited by the images it offers, or when you perceive that the mind's curiosity becomes aroused to its agreeable narration of incidents, for it is almost always an unfavorable sign of a book that produces those and similar effects. Such is not the manner in which truth and virtue affect us. Their action is milder and calmer, and has the heart and will, rather than the imagination for its object. Hence, be on your guard, lest by some indiscretion you allow a poison to enter your soul, which is never more dangerous than when it seems least to be feared.
Finally, to resume in a few words, all that we have considered on the subject: If you would place the moral merit of a book beyond question, ask yourself if you would like to have its author for your spiritual director; do not think that this precaution is exaggerated or uncalled for; for between the author of a book and the reader there are relations established so intimate that they beget a kind of intellectual paternity, which produces deeper and more durable effects than you may be aware of.
To express the influence that our actions exercise over our life and over our fate, man is said to be the son of his works. For similar reason, it may be said of him, but more especially of woman, that he is the son of his readings, for reading forms such an important factor in the formation of the heart and mind that it often modifies our whole being. Besides, if you wish to profit by your reading, read only a few books, but read them well, with close attention, reflecting long and often on what you have read, identifying your very thoughts and sentiments with the subject matter of their pages. But let all this have its practical utility, let all those advantages find a living expression in your language, in your actions, and in your whole life.