John Horvat II
In the spiritual life, there are rules that help the Catholic in the quest for sanctity. Some of these are general rules that apply to dealing with the weaknesses of our fallen nature. According to the noted Catholic thinker, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliviera, two rules of the spiritual life never change.
One rule of the spiritual life is that no one ever remains immobile. Either we are ascending or descending in the spiritual path, but no one stands still. The struggle for sanctity always involves constant change, even if ever so slight.
While this is an unfailing rule, fallen human nature is such that we tend to disregard it. Because we commit no atrocious crimes, we tend to think we remain the same. If there are tiny changes for the worse in the spiritual life, we give them no importance. This is a grave mistake.
We need to take our faults and sins seriously. Failure to do so only allows these faults to get worse. Eventually, we can lose the notion of sin and fall to the worst excesses of vice.
Many times, we see the trajectory of the spiritual life as more or less like a saw. We think our spiritual path undulates like the uniform up-and-down movement of the teeth of the saw blade. Thus, we can live comfortably in a regime of little change, in which everything averages out in the end. We need not aspire to anything greater. However, this path is dangerous since it can also lead us to follow the saw blade downward in tiny increments.
The situation might also be compared to a drunken man who staggers from one place to the next. He may claim that he can go from one place to another with no problem—it all averages out in the end. The staggering are merely minor deviations that appear along the way. However, he is not progressing. Instead, he is accustoming himself to staggering and thus preparing himself for the fall when he will roll on the ground.
Thus, we deceive ourselves when we think we do not need to reform our lives since the increments are so small and insignificant. We fall not so much from the dramatic events that later happen but because the way was prepared by years of incremental neglect. Each small concession serves to weaken us and cause decay leading to a final collapse.
Success in the spiritual life comes from recognizing that there is no rest in the struggle for sanctity. We must constantly be aspiring to overcome our defects by confronting them head-on. Then we can advance firmly toward our goal and not stagger and fall down the path leading to Hell.
Another important rule of the spiritual life is that every one of us without exception has inside of us the tendency to be attracted by evil and thus can eventually become the worst criminal.
We do not realize that most criminals where once ordinary people like we are. However, because they conceded to the faults and sins, they fell victim to moral disasters and catastrophes that led to their downfall.
Like the first rule that should be obvious, this one is also disregarded. We also do not like to believe it since it has grave consequences. Indeed, if anyone can become a criminal, then we can share this same fate if we do not make the effort to reform our lives.
However, the truth is that most criminals started where we are today. They were once ordinary people who never imagined they would become criminals. In our spiritual life, we must also believe that we can become the worst sinners on the path to Hell.
One of the most effective ways to fight overcome the illusions caused by these two rules is humility. Humility is not the denial of our qualities or excessive timidity. Humility is an objective knowledge of ourselves, especially our defects that drag us down. Humility allows us to see these defects and realize how even the smallest defects can have grave consequences. We can objectively see how we have offended the good God that desires our salvation.
If we humble ourselves after sinning, we will profit much. Pride irritates God and prevents us from taking our faults and sins seriously. Humility allows us to have true contrition and take concrete measures to avoid future falls.
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