Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 37

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CHAPTER XXXVII. Of Wishes.

EVERYBODY grants that we must guard against the desire for evil things,
since evil desires make evil men. But I say yet further, my daughter,
do not desire dangerous things, such as balls or pleasures, office or
honour, visions or ecstacies. Do not long after things afar off; such,
I mean, as cannot happen till a distant time, as some do who by this
means wear themselves out and expend their energies uselessly,
fostering a dangerous spirit of distraction. If a young man gives way
to overweening longings for an employment he cannot obtain yet a while,
what good will it do him? If a married woman sets her heart on becoming
a religious, or if I crave to buy my neighbour’s estate, he not being
willing to sell it, is it not mere waste of time? If, when sick, I am
restlessly anxious to preach or celebrate, to visit other sick people,
or generally to do work befitting the strong, is it not an unprofitable
desire, inasmuch as I have no power to fulfil it? and meanwhile these
useless wishes take the place of such as I ought to have,–namely, to
be patient, resigned, self-denying, obedient, gentle under
suffering,–which are what God requires of me under the circumstances.
We are too apt to be like a sickly woman, craving ripe cherries in
autumn and grapes in spring. I can never think it well for one whose
vocation is clear to waste time in wishing for some different manner of
life than that which is adapted to his duty, or practices unsuitable to
his present position–it is mere idling, and will make him slack in his
needful work. If I long after a Carthusian solitude, I am losing my
time, and such longing usurps the place of that which I ought to
entertain–to fulfil my actual duties rightly. No indeed, I would not
even have people wish for more wit or better judgment, for such desires
are frivolous, and take the place of the wish every one ought to
possess of improving what he has. We ought not to desire ways of
serving God which He does not open to us, but rather desire to use what
we have rightly. Of course I mean by this, real earnest desires, not
common superficial wishes, which do no harm if not too frequently
indulged.

Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne those already laid upon
you well–it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear
an insult patiently. The Enemy of souls often inspires men with ardent
desires for unattainable things, in order to divert their attention
from present duties, which would be profitable however trifling in
themselves. We are apt to fight African monsters in imagination, while
we let very petty foes vanquish us in reality for want of due heed.

Do not desire temptations, that is temerity, but prepare your heart to
meet them bravely, and to resist them when they come.

Too great variety and quantity of food loads the stomach, and
(especially when it is weakly) spoils the digestion. Do not overload
your soul with innumerable longings, either worldly, for that were
destruction,–or even spiritual, for these only cumber you. When the
soul is purged of the evil humours of sin, it experiences a ravenous
hunger for spiritual things, and sets to work as one famished at all
manner of spiritual exercises;–mortification, penitence, humility,
charity, prayer. Doubtless such an appetite is a good sign, but it
behoves you to reflect whether you are able to digest all that you fain
would eat. Make rather a selection from all these desires, under the
guidance of your spiritual father, of such as you are able to perform,
and then use them as perfectly as you are able. When you have done
this, God will send you more, to be fulfilled in their turn, and so you
will not waste time in unprofitable wishes. Not that I would have you
lose any good desires, but rather treat them methodically, putting them
aside in one corner of your heart till due time comes, while you carry
out such as are ripe for action. And this counsel I give to worldly
people as well as those who are spiritual, for without heeding it no
one can avoid anxiety and over-eagerness.
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