The spiritual life is a life of combat, and just as in regular military combat there are tips on how to outmaneuver the enemy (in fact, there are entire courses taught, books written, and college-level majors on such military strategies), in a similar vein, there are recorded spiritual tips from priests and saints, experts in spiritual combat, spiritual masters, to assist us* in outmaneuvering the enemies of our salvation, which are: the World, the flesh, and the devil. Today, I am presenting a couple of top notch tips from two of our saintly Catholic ancestors, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Francis de Sales.
The first tip was written by the Franciscan martyr, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, to one of his brother Franciscans. It is advice on how to approach falls, sins:
“Whenever you feel guilty, even if it is because you have consciously committed a sin, a serious sin, something you have kept doing many, many times, never let the devil deceive you by allowing him to discourage you. Whenever you feel guilty, offer all your guilt to the Immaculate (the Blessed Virgin Mary, added by SCF), without analyzing it or examining it, as something that belongs to her…My beloved, may every fall, even if it is serious and habitual sin, always become for us a small step toward a higher degree of perfection. In fact, the only reason why the Immaculate permits us to fall is to cure us from our self-conceit, from our pride, to make us humble and thus make us docile to the divine graces. The devil, instead, tries to inject in us discouragement and internal depression in those circumstances, which is, in fact, nothing else than our pride surfacing again. If we knew the depth of our poverty, we would not be at all surprised by our falls, and we would thank God, after sinning, for not allowing us to fall even deeper and still more frequently.”
Another spiritual master, St. Francis de Sales, says something similar in regards to falls, with additional advice on the necessity of recreation; he writes to his spiritual daughter:
“Yes, my daughter, I now tell you in writing what I before said to you in person, always be as happy as you can in well-doing, for it gives a double value to good works to be well done and to be done cheerfully. And when I say, rejoice in well-doing, I do not mean that if you happen to commit some fault you should on that account abandon yourself to sadness. For God’s sake, no; for that would be to add defect to defect. But I mean that you should persevere in the wish to do well, that you return to it the moment you realize you have deviated from it, and that by means of this fidelity you live happily in the Lord…. May God be ever in our heart, my daughter…. Live joyfully and be generous, for this is the will of God, whom we love and to whose service we are consecrated.”—Saint Francis de Sales.* (_Imitation_, B. III., Chap. XLVII.)
4. It is wrong to deny one’s self all diversion. The mind becomes fatigued and depressed by remaining always concentrated in itself and thus more easily falls a prey to sadness. Saint Thomas says explicitly that one may incur sin by refusing all innocent amusement. Every excess, no matter what its nature, is contrary to order and consequently to virtue.
5. Recreations and amusements are to the life of the soul what seasoning is to our corporal food. Food that is too highly seasoned quickly becomes injurious and sometimes fatal in its effects; that which is not seasoned at all soon becomes unendurable because of its insipidity and unpalatableness.
6. As to the amount of diversion it is right to take, no absolute measure can be given: the rule is that each person should have as much as is necessary for him. This quantity varies according to the bent of the mind, the nature of the habitual occupations, and the greater or less predisposition to sadness one observes in his disposition.
7. When you find your heart growing sad, divert yourself without a moment’s delay; make a visit, enter into conversation with those around you, read some amusing book, take a walk, sing, do something, it matters not what, provided you close the door of your heart against this terrible enemy. As the sound of a trumpet gives the signal for a combat, so sad thoughts apprise the devil that a favorable moment has come for him to attack us.” (From Light and Peace)
It is good to read such tips which have been passed down to us from saintly masters of the spiritual life.
* the Church Militant, link
•More information on St. Maximilian Kolbe, here
•More information on St. Francis de Sales, here