CHAPTER V. The First Step must be Purifying the Soul.
“THE flowers appear on the earth,”  says the Heavenly Bridegroom,
and the time for pruning and cutting is come. And what, my child, are
our hearts’ flowers save our good desires? Now, so soon as these begin
to appear, we need the pruning-hook to cut off all dead and superfluous
works from our conscience. When the daughter of a strange land was
about to espouse an Israelite, the law commanded her to put off the
garment of her captivity, to pare her nails, and to shave her head;
 even so the soul which aims at the dignity of becoming the spouse
of Christ, must put off the old man, and put on the new man, forsaking
sin: moreover, it must pare and shave away every impediment which can
hinder the Love of God. The very first step towards spiritual health is
to be purged from our sinful humours. S. Paul received perfect
purification instantaneously, and the like grace was conferred on S.
Magdalene, S. Catherine of Genoa, S. Pelagia, and some others, but this
kind of purgation is as miraculous and extraordinary in grace as the
resurrection of the dead in nature, nor dare we venture to aspire to
it. The ordinary purification, whether of body or soul, is only
accomplished by slow degrees, step by step, gradually and painfully.
The angels on Jacob’s ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they did not
fly, but went in due order up and down the steps of the ladder. The
soul which rises from out of sin to a devout life has been compared to
the dawn, which does not banish darkness suddenly, but by degrees. That
cure which is gradually effected is always the surest; and spiritual
maladies, like those of the body, are wont to come on horseback and
express, while they depart slowly and on foot. So that we must needs be
brave and patient, my daughter, in this undertaking. It is a woeful
thing to see souls beginning to chafe and grow disheartened because
they find themselves still subject to imperfection after having made
some attempt at leading a devout life, and well-nigh yielding to the
temptation to give up in despair and fall back; but, on the other hand,
there is an extreme danger surrounding those souls who, through the
opposite temptation, are disposed to imagine themselves purified from
all imperfection at the very outset of their purgation; who count
themselves as full-grown almost before they are born, and seek to fly
before they have wings. Be sure, daughter, that these are in great
danger of a relapse through having left their physician too soon. “It
is but lost labour to rise up early and late take rest,” unless the
Lord prosper all we do.
The work of the soul’s purification neither may nor can end save with
life itself;–do not then let us be disheartened by our
imperfections,–our very perfection lies in diligently contending
against them, and it is impossible so to contend without seeing them,
or to overcome without meeting them face to face. Our victory does not
consist in being insensible to them, but in not consenting to them. Now
to be afflicted by our imperfections is certainly not to consent
thereto, and for the furtherance of humility it is needful that we
sometimes find ourselves worsted in this spiritual battle, wherein,
however, we shall never be conquered until we lose either life or
courage. Moreover, imperfections and venial sins cannot destroy our
spiritual life, which is only to be lost through mortal sin;
consequently we have only need to watch well that they do not imperil
our courage. David continually asks the Lord to strengthen his heart
against cowardice and discouragement; and it is our privilege in this
war that we are certain to vanquish so long as we are willing to fight.
 Cant. ii. 12.
 Deut. xxi. 12.