The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 31:

The deception and the warfare the demon employs, that we might leave the path that leads to virtue.

When he sees that we walk directly towards virtue, the malign demon attacks us with the fourth deception proposed above. This consists in various good desires that he excites within us, so that we will fall from the exercise of virtue into vice.

Consider a person who finds herself in bad health, but bears her infirmity with a patient will all the same. The wise adversary, knowing that he can instill a habit in the patient, places before her many good works that she could accomplish if only her health were in a different state. He make an effort to convince her that, were she healthy, she could serve God better by being useful to herself and even to others. Having set this desire into motion within her, he slowly increases it little by little. She finds herself disturbed by the fact that she cannot put her will into effect; as her desires grow greater and stronger within her, so does her disquiet grow. The enemy uses this slowly and ably to lead her away. She grows impatient with her infirmity not as an infirmity, but as an obstacle to those works that she longs anxiously to effect for the greater good.

Once he has goaded her to this point, the demon just as readily strips from her mind the goal of divine service and of good works, leaving within her the naked desire to free herself from infirmity. Since she cannot do as she wills, she becomes so upset as to lose her patience completely. In this manner, she falls unawares from the virtue that she formerly exercised into the opposite vice.

How does one guard against and oppose this deception? When you find yourself in some tormented state, be attentive not to give room to those desires for some good work that disturb you because you cannot effect them at the moment. In this, you must accept with complete humility, patience and resignation that your desires would not have the effect that you imagine, for you are more vile and unstable than you fancy. Or, think that God, in his hidden judgment, or due to your unworthiness, does not wish to receive that good from you, but rather that you lower yourself and humble yourself patiently beneath his sweet and powerful hand (see 1 Peter 5.6).

In the same way, if your spiritual father or some other cause impedes you from carrying out your devotions when you want, especially receiving holy communion, do not allow yourself to get upset and become disturbed from the desire for these things. Rather, stripped of all your proprieties, clothe yourself in the approval of your Lord. Say to yourself, "If the eye of divine providence did not see ingratitude and defects within me, I would not now be unable to receive the most holy sacrament. However, I see that my Lord reveals my unworthiness to me in this manner; may he be ever praised and blessed. In truth, my Lord, I trust in your supreme goodness. See to it that I open my hear to your every will, obeying and taking pleasure in all things. See to it that I open my heart to you, disposing it to your every will, so that you, entering it spiritually, will console and strengthen it against those enemies that seek to distance it from you. In this way, may everything that is good to your eyes be done. My Creator and Redeemer, may your will be my food and my sustenance, now and for ever. Dear Love, I ask only for this grace: that my soul, purified and freed from whatever does not please you, will always remain decorated by holy virtues, and with them it will remain ready for your coming, and for whatever it may please you to do with me."

If you trust these teachings, you should know with certainty that, whatever may be the good desire that you cannot realize, whether it is due to your nature, or due to the demon who seeks to disturb you and distance you from the path of virtue, or even due to God who tests your resignation to his will, you will always have the occasion to please your Lord in the manner that most pleases him. Remember that the true devotion and service that God desires from us consists precisely in this.

I warn you again, with the aim that you not lose your patience in these travails, whatever their origin, not to use these methods with an eye towards being freed, but because God desires that you use them. These methods are properly employed only by God's servants; we do not know whether it pleases the divine Majesty to free us using this instrument. If you were to use these methods otherwise, you would fall into greater troubles. You would fall easily into impatience, since things do not proceed according to your desire and your intention; or, your patience would be defective, not completely acceptable to God, and of little merit.

Finally, I warn you here of a hidden deception of our self-love. In certain circumstances, it tries to conceal and defend our defects. Consider, for example, a sick man who is impatient because of his infirmity. He hides his impatience beneath the veil of some zeal for an apparent good. He says that his worry is not truly impatience for the travails of the illness, but a reasonable discomfort that he himself has caused inconvenient or injury to others who must serve him, or for other reasons.

In the same way the ambitious man does not attribute to his own pride and vanity his discomfort with the goal he has not obtained, but to other motives which he knows very well do not ordinarily annoy him or even give him pause. Just as the sick man does not think about these people whom he claimed to pity because they had to suffer for him, they support the same travail and the same injury for the infirmity of another.

This is a clear sign that the root of their lament is not to be found in other people or in another cause, but in the repugnance that they have to those things that go against their will. You, however, to avoid falling into these and other errors, bear patiently in the manner that I have advised whatever travail and suffering you encounter, regardless of its origin.

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little by little: The actual Italian reads pian piano, "slow slowly." This is a common Italian phrase.

the true devotion and service: Recall Chapter 1.