Be on your guard, not only against becoming committed to some certain mode of life or object of exertion, but guard against excess in such penitential observances as have an immediate claim upon you, and are private in their exercise. The danger is, that what is really an excess, seems to such persons to be only moderation. When men are in horror and anguish at their past sins, they are anxious to put some burden on themselves, which may relieve their feelings, and remind them of what they have been, what they are. Now nothing is more unadvisable in most cases than to begin with severity. Persons do not know what they can bear, and what they cannot, till they have tried it. They think almost they can live without food, without rest, without the conveniences of life to which they are accustomed. Then when they find they cannot, they despond and are miserable, or fall back, and a reaction ensues. It is a great fault to be ambitious, and men may easily aim at praying more than they can, or meditating more than they can, or having a clearer faith and a deeper humility than at present they can have. All things are done by degrees; all things (through God's grace) may come in time, but not at once. As well might a child think to grow at once into a man, as the incipient penitent become suddenly like St. Paul the aged. Moreover, even if we could possibly have those views of God and of ourselves, which are the simple truth, it would not be good for us to have them,—they would be too much for us. As Christ hides Himself from us in the Holy Eucharist, so does He hide from us ourselves, in mercy. We are weak,—we are not able to bear great burdens yet; light burdens are heavy to us. Moreover, if penitents are bent on lading themselves heavily, let them know that the greatest of burdens, as well as the most appropriate, is what is lasting, what is continual. A slight penance, if long, is far more trying than a severe one, if short.

 

SSD4

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