"I do not wish the soul to consider her sins, either in general or in particular, without also remembering the Blood ..."
Do you remember this proverb? “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” What about an idle mind? What kind of mischief can the Devil stir up in a mind that is “idle,” that is, one that is not guided by virtues and grace and busy with what is True, Good and Beautiful? Such an unoccupied mind will soon find itself occupied with what is dark, despairing, and, at the worst—damning.
Every sound theologian has taught that “grace builds on nature”; that is, the work of God elevates human nature to its divinely intended greatness. If the mind is not engaged with the grace of God, then fallen human nature will become prone to diabolical infection. For example, a person desiring God, contemplating his own sins—but apart from communion with God—will begin to lose heart when he sees the distance between the glory of God and his own present state. In a vision to St. Catherine of Siena, Jesus warned against this danger:
I do not wish the soul to consider her sins, either in general or in particular, without also remembering the Blood and the broadness of My mercy, for fear that otherwise she should be brought to confusion. And together with confusion would come the devil, who has caused it, under color of contrition and displeasure of sin, and so she would arrive at eternal damnation, not only on account of her confusion, but also through the despair which would come to her, because she did not seize the arm of My mercy. This is one of the subtle devices with which the Devil deludes My servants, and, in order to escape from his deceit, and to be pleasing to Me, you must enlarge your hearts and affections in My boundless mercy, with true humility. You know that the pride of the Devil cannot resist the humble mind, nor can any confusion of spirit be greater than the broadness of My good mercy, if the soul will only truly hope therein.
The idle mind, not working with grace and truth, beholds human sin but not divine mercy, and loses heart. This loss of heart is seen in the diabolical strategy of discouragement.
In a very important book (The Devil You Don’t Know: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Life), Louis J. Cameli warns us of discouragement leading to a comprehensive spiritual collapse:
Discouragement, if pervasive and insistently present to us, can halt us or even paralyze us on the journey to God … Discouragement imperils the entire journey … [Discouragement] … leads people to make decisions often to stop trying or to pull back or to do something else or simply come to a halt. It is that little edge of freedom to decide in discouragement that is of such great interest to the devil …
Discouragement can lead us to throw up our hands and just stop trying. Focusing on our weaknesses (both real and imagined) and our pains (physical, emotional and spiritual) and diverted from natural and supernatural helps, the discouraged person drops his arms and armor, and leaves the field of battle.
At once isolated and vulnerable, one caught up in persistent and pervasive discouragement has unwittingly opened doors to despair and to the deadly sin of acedia. Acedia (sometimes unfortunately translated as “sloth”) is a debilitating form of sadness. Seeing the difficulties that moral and spiritual goodness entail (while blind to or ignoring natural and supernatural helps), acedia moves the soul to distraction, diversion and restlessness.
Acedia can put us flat on our back. Or it can make us hyperactive, in a kind of super-caffeinated “Martha Syndrome,” unable to sit at the feet of the Lord and thereby be refreshed. One friend observed that the highest hope of a soul in the grip of acedia is, at best, “to get the last seat on the last bus leaving for Purgatory.”
That reminds us of the returning Prodigal Son, who expects nothing more of his good father than to be welcomed as no more than a servant and no longer as a son and heir. (To learn more about acedia, look for Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life and The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Time.)
At least some of the trials of the Christian life are illustrated by Christ calling Peter to walk to him across a stormy sea (Matthew 14:22-33). Taking his eyes off Christ, Peter saw only the power of the storm and his own weakness—losing heart, he began to sink. Happily for all of us, he finally had to the good sense to cry out to Our Lord for help. Discouragement strikes us all. The good news is that we can resist!
When I write next, I will consider how to fight back against discouragement and other diabolical works. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.