In this Rule the first chapter treats of the means we must make use of to keep ourselves in the grace of God. In the second, the acts of those devout exercises which should he practiced are set forth at length. In the third is shown the exercise of the principal virtues which a Christian ought to practice.
THE MEANS OF PRESERVING THE GRACE OF GOD.
WE must be fully persuaded, that in order to obtain eternal salvation, it is not sufficient to wish to be saved; but we must further use the means which have been left us by Jesus Christ. Otherwise, if we commit sins, it will not avail us in the day of judgment to excuse ourselves by saying that the temptations were great, and we were weak; because God has given us the means, through his grace, to conquer all the assaults of our enemies: if, then we do not take advantage of them, and are overcome, the fault will be our own. All men desire to be saved; but because they omit to employ the means of salvation they sin and are lost.
The first means is, to avoid all occasions of sin. It is impossible for any one who does not endeavor to flee from the occasions of sin, especially in the matter of sensual pleasures, to avoid falling into sin. St. Philip Neri said: "In the war of the senses, the conquerors are the cowards who fly." The occasion is like a veil put before our eyes, so that we can see nothing else - neither God, nor hell, nor the resolutions we had made. The Scripture says, it is impossible to walk on burning coals without being burnt: Or can he walk upon hot coals, and his/eel not be burnt? [DR Prov 6:28, compare the NIV: Prov. 6:27-28] I So it is morally impossible for any one to put himself voluntarily into the occasion of sin and not to fall, although he may have made a thousand resolutions and a thousand promises to God. This is clearly shown every day by the misery of so many poor souls who are plunged into vice for not avoiding the occasions. Any one who has had the evil habit of sins of impurity must know that, in order to restrain himself, it is not enough merely to avoid those occasions which are absolutely proximate; for if he does not also flee from those which are not altogether proximate, he will easily fall again. Nor must we allow ourselves to be deceived by the devil into thinking that the person towards whom we are tempted is a saint; it often happens that the more devout a person is, the stronger is the temptation. St. Thomas Aquinas says, that the holiest persons attract the most. The temptation will begin in a spiritual way, and will terminate carnally. The great servant of God F. Sertorio Caputo, of the Society of Jesus, said that the devil first induces one to love a person's virtue, then the person, and then blinds one and brings one to ruin. We must also flee from evil companions: we are too weak; the devil is continually tempting us, and the senses are drawing us to evil; the slightest suggestion of a bad companion is only wanting to make us fall. Therefore the first thing that we have to do to save ourselves is to avoid evil occasions and bad companions. And we must in this matter do violence to ourselves, resolutely overcoming all human respect. Those who do not use violence to themselves will not be saved. It is true, that we must not put confidence in our own strength, but only in the divine assistance; but God wills that we should do our part in doing violence to ourselves, when it is necessary to do so, in order to gain Paradise: The violent bear it away. (Matt. 11:12 DR, compare the NIV.)
The second means is mental prayer. Without this, the soul will find it almost impossible to remain a long time in the grace of God. The Holy Spirit says: In all your works remember your last end, and you shall never sin. (Ecclesiasticus 7:40 DR) He who often meditates on the Four Last Things, namely, death, judgment, and the eternity of hell and paradise, will not fall into sin. These truths are not to be seen with the [natural] eyes, but only with the eyes of the mind: if they are not meditated on, they vanish from the mind, and then the pleasures of the senses present themselves, and those who do not keep before themselves the eternal truths are easily taken up by them; and this is the reason why so many abandon themselves to vice, and are damned. All Christians know and believe that all must die, and that we shall all be judged; but because they do not think about this, they live far from God. Without mental prayer there is no light; we walk in the dark; and walking in the dark, we do not see the danger which we are in, we do not make use of the means we ought, nor pray to God to help us, and so we are lost. Without prayer we have neither light nor strength to advance in the ways of God; because without prayer we do not ask God to give us his grace, and without so praying we shall certainly fall. It was for this reason that Cardinal Bellarmine declared it to be morally impossible for a Christian who does not meditate to persevere in the grace of God. Whereas he who makes his meditation every day can scarcely fall into sin; and if unhappily he should fall on some occasion, by continuing his prayer he will return immediately to God. It was said by a servant of God, that "mental prayer and mortal sin cannot exist together." Resolve, then, to make every day, either in the morning or in the evening, - but it is best in the morning, - half an hour's meditation. In the following chapter you will see briefly explained an easy method for making this prayer. For the rest, it is sufficient that during that time you should recollect yourself by reading some book of meditation - either this one or one of the many others; and from time to time excite some good affection or some aspiration, as you will find pointed out in the following chapter. Above all, I beg you never to leave off this prayer, which you should practice at least once a day, although you may be in great aridity, and should feel great weariness in performing it. If you do not discontinue it, you will certainly be saved.
Together with prayer, it is of great use to make a spiritual reading, in private, out of some book which treats of the life of a saint or of the Christian virtues, during half, or at least a quarter of an hour. How many by reading a pious book have changed their way of living and become saints! Like St. John Colombino, St. Ignatius Loyola, and so many others. It would also be a most useful thing if you were every year to make a retreat in some religious house. But at least do not omit your daily meditation. [See also Manner of Making Mental Prayer. A partial indulgence is granted to those who engage in mental prayer.]
The third means is the frequenting of the sacraments of confession and of Communion. By confession the soul keeps itself purified; and by it it not only obtains remission of sins, but also greater strength to resist temptations. For this purpose you should choose a director, and always confess to the same, consulting him on all more important matters, even temporal ones; and obey him in everything, especially if you are distressed by scruples. He who obeys his confessor need not fear to go astray: He that hears you, hears Me. (Luke 10:16 NIV) The voice of the confessor is the voice of God.
Holy Communion is called heavenly bread, because as common bread preserves the life of the body, so Communion preserves the life of the soul: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man . . . you shall not have life in you. (DR, compare John 6:54 NIV) On the other hand, to those who often eat this bread eternal life is promised: If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. (John 6:52 DR, compare John 6:51 NIV.) Therefore the Council of Trent calls Holy Communion "the medicine which delivers us from venial sins and preserves us from mortal ones." [See Sacrament of Eucharist in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, but compare the current catechism section Paschal Banquet. Also note that some things have changed since Trent such as who can touch sacred vessels.] You should, then, resolve to go to Communion at least once a week, being determined not to give it up for anything in the world; as there is no affair of greater importance than that of your eternal salvation. Indeed, the longer you remain in the world, the greater need you have of assistance, because your temptations are greater. [Today a person is urged to go to communion at each mass attended, even daily (ccc 1388 and 1389); it may be received again the same day if the "person participates" in the celebration, canon 917.] To make a good confession, as also a good Communion, [one should examine one's conscience and pray in preparation and thanksgiving].
[See Prayer Before Confession. You can also see Gospel Morality, and the Moral Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.]
The fourth means is to hear Mass every day. When we attend Mass we give more honor to God than all the angels and saints in heaven can give him, because theirs is the honor of creatures; but in the Mass we offer to God Jesus Christ, who gives him an infinite honor.
The same action is performed in the Mass as was accomplished on Calvary, except that there the blood of Jesus Christ was really shed, while on the altar it is shed mystically; but in the Mass the merits of the Passion of Jesus are applied to each one in particular. To hear Mass, therefore, with great fruit, we must pay attention to the ends for which it was instituted, namely: 1. To honor God. 2. To thank him for his benefits. 3 To satisfy for our sins. 4. To obtain grace. For this reason you may use the following prayer during Mass.*
Eternal Father, in this Sacrifice I offer to You Your Son Jesus, with all the merits of his Passion: 1. In honor of Your majesty. 2. In thanksgiving for all the favors You have hitherto shown me, and for all those which I hope to receive for all eternity. 3. In satisfaction for my sins, and for those of all the living and dead. 4. To obtain eternal salvation, and all the graces that are necessary for me to gain it.
At the elevation of the Host: My God, for the love of this Your Son, pardon me and give me holy perseverance.
At the elevation of the chalice: By the Blood of Jesus, give me Your love and a holy death.
At the Communion of the priest make a spiritual Communion saying: My Jesus, I love You, and desire to possess You. I embrace You, and I will never more separate myself from You.
The fifth means is to make a visit every day to the Most Holy Sacrament in some church, and to the Divine Mother before some devout image. Jesus Christ dwells on the altars of so many churches in order to dispense graces to all who come to visit him; and thus the souls of those who practice this beautiful devotion receive innumerable benefits from it. At the end of the next chapter you will find the prayer which may be said when visiting the Most Holy Sacrament, and the Divine Mother. The graces you ought especially to ask for, both from Jesus and Mary, are, the love of God, and holy perseverance till death. [A modern grant of partial indulgence is given for those who visit the Blessed Sacrament to adore it.]
The sixth means which I recommend you above all to put in practice is holy prayer. It is certain that without the divine assistance we can do nothing good for our souls.
God also has declared that graces are granted to those only who ask for them: Ask, and it shall be given you. (Matt. 7:7) Seek, and it shall be given you; therefore, as says St. Teresa, he who seeks not does not receive.
Hence it is a common opinion of the holy Fathers, with St. Thomas, that without prayer it is impossible to persevere in the grace of God, and to save one's self.
But he who prays is sure of the help of God; we have his word for it, which cannot fail, repeated so often in the sacred Gospels:
Every one that asks receives. (Luke 11:10)
Every one that asks receives. (Luke 11:10)
God grants everything that we ask him for in the name of Jesus Christ.
If, then, we wish to he saved, we must pray, and pray with humility and confidence, and above all with perseverance. And this is the reason why mental prayer is so useful, because then we are reminded to pray; otherwise we forget to do so, and so are lost. [See Manner of making Mental Prayer.]
St. Teresa says, that out of her desire of seeing every one saved, she would have wished to go to the top of a mountain and then to cry out, so as to be heard by all men, nothing but these words, "Pray! pray!"
The ancient Fathers of the desert in their conferences decided that there was no better means of saving ourselves than by continually repeating the prayer of David:
Incline unto my aid, O God! O Lord, make haste to help we! (Psalm 69:2 DR; compare Ps 70:1 NIV, and see A Scriptural aid to Prayer.)
So let us also try to say. Or else let us make use of the beautiful ejaculation of the Blessed F. Leonard of Porto-Maurice: "My Jesus, mercy! And the two principal graces which we must always ask for (as I have said before), are the love of God and holy perseverance. We must always ask the same graces from the Most Holy Mary, who is called the dispenser of all the divine graces; and when we pray to her, she will certainly obtain them for us from God. Therefore St. Bernard thus exhorts us: "Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary; for what she seeks she finds, and she cannot be disappointed."
* Saint Aiphonsus speaks here only of the two essential or principal points. "To satisfy the obligation of hearing Mass," he elsewhere says, "two things are necessary - an intention and attention. It is certain that those attending Mass offer the Holy Sacrifice with the priest. Think, therefore, of the great action which you perform. Meditate on the Passion of Jesus Christ, the Last Things, etc... But at least pay attention to what the priest does." (Instr. on the Commandments, chap. 3. Fr. Grimm.)
St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Preparation for Death, Rev Eugene Grimm Trans., Redemptorist Fathers Brooklyn Publishers (1926) p. 407-414. Imprimatur +Patrick Cardinal Hayes, 1926.
This material is presented for religious and educational purposes only. It appears as it is in the text of Preparation for Death except to replace archaic words and the words in brackets.
Biography of St. Alphonsus Ligouri.