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A YOUNG LADY,
CHARLES SAINTE FOI.
Translated from the French
A celebrated author has justly remarked that Christian women can, like the guardian angels, invisibly govern the world; and the author of the "Serious Hours of a Young Lady" has very appropriately made this truth the basis of his book, since the object that he had in view in writing it was to point out the important role that woman plays in society, and to give the young girl such instructions as will enable her, in due time, to discharge, in a worthy manner, the duties of her calling. In doing this he has given evidence of very elevated views and of a profound knowledge of the human heart. The book is a tissue of practical counsels, couched in the clearest and most delicate terms.
Hence, judging from its intrinsic worth, and the universal welcome with which it has been hailed in the original, we feel that it is no exaggeration to assert that it has rendered and will still render inestimable good to society.
After having lucidly exposed the importance of woman's mission in this world, and pointed out the evils that prevent its realization, the author ingeniously brings before the mind's eye the different phases of her life, the varied process of development that she undergoes in all her faculties, the dangerous influences to which she is constantly exposed, the means that should be employed to ensure her protection.
We behold her on the threshold of childhood a tiny, timid and retiring creature, naturally disposed to attach her affections to all that is pure and elevated, to everything that conduces to the practice of virtue and the love of God. While yet a child she is the little confidante and angel of consolation of her brothers and sisters in their pains and difficulties. At a more advanced age we see her consoling her aged parents in their sorrows and afflictions; and when she merges into womanhood she becomes either the spouse of Jesus Christ or of man, only to continue the same work of beneficence in some charitable asylum, or in the midst of domestic cares. But ere she attains this last stage of life how numerous and great are the difficulties that she must encounter, the dangers to which she will be exposed, and the snares to entrap her!
Hence, to ensure her safety and prepare her to act the important role that she holds in society, her education must be the work of piety, modesty and retirement. All that interferes with their action in her soul must be peremptorily removed. Worldly pleasures with their numerous cortge should never have access to the sanctuary of her heart, for their poisoned influence blasts the fairest flower in her crown of simplicity.
But, alas! we confess, with deep regret, that there are many thoughtless tutors who seemingly ignore the grave responsibility of their charge, and unwarrantably parade the little one before the world's gaze, which creates in the heart evil impressions, frivolous tastes and inordinate desires. And, even when they would all prove faithful to their trust, it is a noted fact that society, friends and companions wield a powerful influence over the mind and heart of a young girl, which, when allowed to continue, most invariably proves pernicious to her spiritual and temporal welfare.
Hence, she stands in need of a true friend, a faithful adviser, on whom she can depend for safe instruction, and to whom she can have recourse as often as need be. The "Serious Hours" is unquestionably all this; it speaks openly, firmly, but mildly. It inspires the young girl with that genuine, lofty esteem that she should have for herself and for the dignity of her sex. It clearly defines her line of conduct in all the most critical incidents and circumstances of life, so that she cannot be deceived unless that she wilfully shuts her eyes to the light of truth. It is all that the author proposed to make it, a first class book of instruction for young ladies, showing a careful study of all their wants and a happy choice of the remedies to meet them. And, believing that such a valuable book ought to be made accessible to all nations, we have ventured to present it to the public in an English dress. How far we have succeeded in rendering both its form and spirit we leave the public to decide. And, while we are fully aware that, in transferring the genius of one language to another, some of the original delicate shades of beauty must be inevitably sacrificed—the present translation not excepted—still we are happy to say that the work was one of love and deep interest to us, on account of its importance and good to society.
CHAPTER I.—Importance of the Time of Youth; Difficulties and Dangers that Women Meet With in Life, and the Necessity of Providing for Them
CHAPTER II.—Illusions of Youth; Value of Time at this Period of Life
CHAPTER III.—The Heart of Woman; the Necessity of Regulating it During Youth
CHAPTER IV.—The Dignity of Woman
CHAPTER V.—Eve and Mary
CHAPTER VI.—Eve and Mary (Continued)
CHAPTER VII.—The World
CHAPTER VIII.—The Same Subject (Continued)
CHAPTER IX—The Will
CHAPTER X.—The Imagination
CHAPTER XIII.—A Serious Mind
CHAPTER XIV.—Choice of Companions
CHAPTER XVI.—Desire to Please
CHAPTER XVIII.—Meditation and Reflection
CHAPTER XIX.—Obedience to Parents
CHAPTER XXI.—On Reading
CHAPTER XXII.—Same Subject (Continued)
IMPORTANCE OF THE TIME OF YOUTH; DIFFICULTIES AND DANGERS THAT WOMEN MEET WITH IN LIFE, AND THE NECESSITY OF PROVIDING FOR THEM.
The most important period of life is that in which we are the better able, in making good use of the present, to repair the past and prepare for the future; that period holds the intermediate place between the age of infancy and the age of maturity, embracing the advantages of both, presenting at the same time the flowers of the one with the fruits of the other. In order to prepare for the future we need a certain assistance from the past, for this preparation demands a certain maturity of judgment and a force of will that experience alone can give.
The child, devoid as it is of personal experience, can, by turning that of others to good account, make up for the deficiencies of its youth, and prepare for the future without having to learn in the severe school of self-experience. But, through an unfortunate occurrence of circumstances, and very often without any fault of theirs, the greater part of children attain the age of manhood and womanhood without having reaped the precious advantages offered them by the first stage of life, when the soul is most susceptible of receiving the impress of grace and virtue. A vitiated or inadequate primitive education, bad example, pernicious instruction? perchance, or at least personal levity of character, combined with that of childhood, deprive this age of many advantages, and call for a total reparation of the past, at a period of life that should be the living figure of hope.
Happy, indeed, are those who have only the levity and negligences of childhood to repair, and who have never felt the crushing weight of a humiliating and grievous fault! Alas! that purity, that innocence so common formerly among children, is every day disappearing from their midst, many among them have become the victims of sin ere the passions of the heart manifested their presence; and their hearts have quivered from the sting of remorse ere they felt the perfidious lurings of pleasure. Many have received from sin that doleful experience, that premature craftiness, which, far from enlightening the mind, obscures and blinds it,—which, far from fortifying the will, enfeebles and enervates it.
Such is the light by which we can truly see the importance that should be attached to the time of youth. At this period of life sin has not yet taken deep root in the heart,—it has not at least assumed the frightful magnitude of one of those inveterate habits, justly called habits of second nature, which invade and pollute the sacred sanctuary of both body and soul, forming in the earliest instincts, inclinations and desires so violent, so obstinate, that superhuman efforts with a life-long struggle are the consequences entailed upon the unfortunate victims, who desire to hold them in subjection.
However, it is invariably true that, if the passions peculiar to youth virulently assail virtue and expose the heart to the seductions of pleasure, they also give a great facility of doing good, by inflaming youthful zeal which age never fails to cool. The ardor aroused by them for the commission of evil can be easily employed for the practice of virtue; they are young and fiery steeds which God has placed at your disposal, ready to obey your orders. Attach them to the chariot of your will, they will not fail to draw you in the direction that you may open to their impetuosity. It matters not to them whether they run upon the way of vice or virtue,—all that they require is to go, to run and not to be constrained to inaction, which kills them. They must be managed by a resolute will which holds the reins with a firm grip, and by a calm intelligence, skilled to direct them.
Trees, while young, can be easily plied into any direction that man may wish to give them. The same may be said of hearts in which the frost of age has not cooled the ardor and impetuosity of desire. Their energy and vivacity, whether for good or evil, never forsake them. They are like those spirited racers which are no sooner down than up again, for, swift as a flash, they will turn you to God by repentance and love, the moment you have the misfortune of losing Him by sin. Be then full of confidence and hope, young soul, to whom God has opened with a liberal hand the spring-time of life; be grateful to Him for so signal a favor, and, like a wise economist, profit by the resources that He places at your disposal. But, should the past recall some doleful memories, be not dismayed; be hopeful and, re- animating your courage, prepare for the future by sowing at present the germs of those beautiful virtues which grace irrigates, and whose fruits will rejoice your old age and atone for the sterility of your earlier years.
Your future happiness is insured if you fully comprehend the importance of the epoch which you now begin, and the greatness of its results for the rest of your life. Let past delinquencies become an incentive, stimulating your will to energetic action. Let the need of repairing the past, and the importance of preparing for the future inspire you with generous resolutions and an ardent desire of acquiring all the virtues necessary to a person of your sex and position, in order that you may discharge in a worthy manner all the duties which may be required of you. Regard the future with a calm and firm eye, without exaggerating the difficulties, but also without dissembling the dangers. The first condition required to avoid a danger is to know it, for the ignorance that conceals from us the snares which we should avoid is—after the evil inclination that leads us into them—man's greatest misfortune, and the most disastrous of the effects of original sin.
Women, even in the most humble walks of life, can scarcely hope now-a-days to enjoy that sweet, calm and peaceful life which was formerly insured by the purest morals and the most pious customs.
If the world, spite of that inordinate desire for reform and innovation which consumes it, has not yet seriously endeavored to withdraw woman from the circle to which Providence would have her devote the activity of her mind and life; if it has consented till now to have her shun the theatre and the whirlpool of political commotions, it will be extremely difficult for her to escape its counter-shock, and preserve her self-composure and serenity of soul in the midst of those turbulent events which absorb her husband's life, that of her children, of her father and brothers. If it was easy for her to preserve her heart at a tender age from the seductions of the world and the dangerous snares of vanity or pleasure, through the sweet influence of those more modest, and at the same time more rigid customs which identified her thoughts and affections with the family circle; such is not the case at present, for an unfortunate necessity, invested with the vain title of propriety, compels her to seek in a more fashionable, a more numerous, and consequently an unsuitable society, distractions or pastimes for which she is not made, and which recreate neither body, nor mind, nor heart.
The feverish agitation and insatiable thirst for enjoyment which seem to prevail among all ages and classes of the present day is enigmatical. Life now-a-days must be passed in a state of constant excitement. The peaceful calm productive of a modest and pure life appear to the imagination like a monotonous and disdainful sleep. The young girl herself has scarcely left the paternal home in which she passed her youthful days when she dreams of the pleasing emotions and incomparable joys promised her by a flashy and fashionable life. The examples which come under her notice wherever she goes or wherever she turns her eyes,—the language which she hears, and the very air which she breathes,—all give her, as it were, a foretaste of the false pleasures which now fascinate her imagination.
This is, most assuredly, one of the worst signs of our time. Up to the present day women, for the most part, faithful to their vocation and to the duties of their station in life, have carefully preserved in the family circle that sacred fire of Christian virtue which forms magnanimous souls, and that piety which produces saints. Their hearts, like the Ark of the Covenant, have preserved intact those tables of the divine law which admonish men of their duties, and inspire them with a firm hope. They have not fixed their hearts on the vain and frivolous joys of earth; no, heaven was their aim. Preserved from the contagion of worldly interests and desires, their thoughts feasted on elevated and heavenly objects. What will become of society if, deprived of the resources it found in their virtues, it meets with no other barrier on the steep declivity down which it is being impelled by cupidity and the love of pleasure? What will be the fate of future generations if they are not sanctified in the sanctuary of the family by the benevolent influence of woman, and fortified against the seductions of vice by that odor of grace and sanctity which the heart of a Christian mother exhales?
Be not discouraged at the sight of difficulties that hover over the horizon of the future; on the contrary, they should inspire you with greater courage and energy. The less help you will obtain from trusted sources of reliance, the more earnestly should you seek in God and yourself what you look for in vain elsewhere. You may expect to see diminish, from day to day, the number of those saintly souls from whom you could obtain advice, support or light.
For you, perhaps, like many others, life will be a desert which you must traverse almost alone, without meeting a single soul to reach you a helping hand in your necessities and trials. Being about to set out on this pilgrimage of life, which will perhaps be long, fatiguing and painful, be supplied with an ample provision of strength, patience, virtue and energy. And, if happily deceived in your fears, you find the road which leads to eternity smooth under your feet, you will at least have the merit of having been wise in your conduct, for not less moral strength is required to bear the happiness of prosperity than the misfortune of adversity. Happiness here below is something so extremely perilous to man's eternal welfare that few can taste it without injury to their souls. Hence, in order to guard against its fatal influence, not less preparation, nor less time, nor less efforts, are required than to suffer the privations imposed by adversity, for experience proves that the former is more destructive than the latter to the work of eternal salvation.
ILLUSIONS OF YOUTH, VALUE OF TIME AT THIS PERIOD OF LIFE.
The age of youth is the age of illusions, ardent desires, and fanciful hopes. Youth is like a fairy whose magical wand evokes the most graceful images and the most alluring phantoms. This ignorance of the doleful realities concealed in the future is a gift of divine goodness which, in order that life might not be too bitter, casts a beneficent veil over the sorrows that await us; God screens the future from us to let us enjoy the present. Far be it from me to remove this veil which renders you such kind service. But, apart from this screen which the good God has placed between you and the miseries of this life, there is another of a darker and heavier shade, fabricated by the imagination, and which it draws with a perfidious complacency over the object which it behooves us the most to know and avoid—a seductive and deceitful veil which, while presenting things to us in a false light, exposes us to most deplorable illusions and inevitable dangers.
God permits that we should ignore many things, but He does not wish that we should be deceived in anything. He is truth itself; error can never claim His acquiescence.
If prudence and respect for God's work make it a duty for me to leave intact the veil that He has drawn between you and the future, I would consider it highly criminal in me if I did not endeavor to remove that by which your imagination seeks to conceal its illusions and its errors. It is not my wish or design to trouble the present by exaggerated anxiety; but, on the other hand, I do not wish to leave you under a false impression, fed by delusive hopes relative to the future. My desire is that, while enjoying with gratitude and simplicity the happiness or peace which God has bestowed upon you in the springtime of life, you may profit by the calm and tranquillity it affords you to prepare for the future, and to anticipate a means of soothing its sorrows and bitterness.
While the soil of your heart is yet untilled and moist, and while your hands are yet filled with those heavenly seeds which God has given you in abundance, I desire that you may sow them in the light and strength of divine grace, to develop in them the heavenly germs which they contain, that you may be enabled to reap at a later time an abundant harvest of virtues, holy joy and merit before God and men. I desire that you may learn to turn to good account all the natural resources that you possess, and acquire that knowledge of yourself which enlightens the mind without troubling the heart; I do not wish to discourage nor flatter you, I only wish to instruct and fortify you.
Do not think that the river of life will always flow for you as it does at present, broad, deep, calm and limpid, between two flowery banks. Age will diminish those waters and deprive their banks of their charm and freshness. The flame of passion, like a burning wind, will rise, and more than once perhaps will bring to the surface the mud that rankles in the bottom, and thus destroy its limpidity.
A day will come, and before long, when, stripped of all those exterior advantages which please the senses, you will possess only those qualities, less striking, but more solid, which satisfy the mind and heart and attract the complaisant regard of God and the angels. Youth will quickly pass, more quickly than you think, and the subsequent period of life will last much longer, hence, in all justice to yourself, let its preparation absorb your attention.
If you had a long sojourn to make in a place close by, would it be reasonable on your part to pay less attention to the place of your destination than to the few fleeting moments it would require to go thither. Youth is not a stopping-place, it is a passage, a time of preparation; it is to the whole life what the florid period is to the gardener, or seed-time to the farmer.
Oh! if you did but fully comprehend the value of each hour during this most important period of life, the value of each thought of your mind, of each sentiment of your heart, with what extreme care you would watch over all the movements of your soul, nay, even the external movements of your body.
That fugitive thought which enters your mind, fanned by curiosity's wing, may seem quite trivial; to dwell on and delight in it may be to you something indifferent. That sentiment which, scarcely formed, commences to germinate in your heart, and to produce therein emotions so imperceptible that you are but imperfectly conscious of its presence, seems insignificant at first sight; that unguarded glance seemed to you a matter of no import, and which, at an earlier or later period of your life, would have but little consequence. At an earlier age the impression, it is true, would be lively but inconsistent, and the levity of childhood would soon have replaced it by another; later it would be found so superficial and trivial that it would be soon forgotten among the multiplicity of thoughts which absorb the mind at the age of maturity; but, during the youthful years, everything that comes under the notice of the senses sinks deeply into the soul, penetrating its very substance, the faculties still retain all the vivacity of youth, while already they participate in that firmness which is characteristic of the age of maturity.
That thought is, perhaps, the first link in a chain of thoughts and images which will be the torment of your conscience and the bane of your life. That sentiment to which you imprudently pandered is perhaps the source of countless fears, regrets, remorse and sorrows. That imprudent glance is perhaps the first spark of a conflagration which nothing can extinguish, and which will destroy your brightest hopes.
If, as yet, you are ignorant of all the evil of which an imprudent glance may be productive, recall to mind the example furnished us by the Sacred Scriptures in the person of David, who, for his imprudent glance at the wife of Urias, committed two crimes, the names of which you should ignore, and suffered a life of sorrow, repentance, bitterness and anguish: a life which even yet serves to express the sorrow and repentance of imprudent souls who have yielded to the allurements of the senses. And, nevertheless, David had attained the age of discretion when the mind is firm and the will is strong; David was the cherished one of God; he was just and virtuous, one on whom God had special designs of mercy. What a terrible example! What a severe, but at the same time instructive, lesson!
Young Christian soul, may it never be your sad experience to learn the effect of an imprudent glance which would exact from you the bitter wages of countless tears and regrets. Is there anything in the material world so beautiful, so beneficent as the light and heat that we receive from the sun; is there among material things a livelier image of the goodness of God towards us? And, nevertheless, let the sun shine upon the young and tender flower or vine immediately after a shower of rain, and it will cause them to droop and wither. The reason is quite obvious, for at no time is a being so frail and delicate as at the moment of its formation. There is a critical period for all beings, during which the greatest possible care is necessary. In this relation, what is said of the body may be said of the soul; character is formed and developed according to the same laws which regulate the development of the physical constitution.
Are you not aware of the extraordinary care that must be taken of those organs that are the chief motors of the body, while they are under process of development? Are you not aware that the fresh air which you inhale and which purifies and invigorates the blood contains for you the germ of death, which justifies in your good parents the anxious care they take of your health, but which you perhaps regard as entirely unnecessary?
Now, what the lungs are to the human body, that the heart is to the soul. It is by the heart that we breathe the spiritual and divine atmosphere that sustains our moral life. This atmosphere is composed of three elements,—truth, goodness and beauty, which envelop and penetrate the soul's substance; as it is the respiratory organ of the mind it follows that for the heart, as well as for the lungs, there is an epoch of development which is dangerous, and which, consequently, demands the greatest possible care; it is the epoch of your age at present. An emotion too vivid, an indiscreet thought, an imprudent glance, is quite sufficient to imperil the interesting and delicate process by which your moral constitution is formed, to accelerate the development of the heart, and thus give to this most important organ a pernicious precocity or a false direction.
Your mother, anxious and always trembling for your welfare, guards it with tender solicitude from all the dangers to which it might be exposed. But her vigilance cannot equal that of your guardian angel, nor the care with which he removes you from contact with all that might in any way tarnish the purity of your soul, or trouble its peace and harmony. It is to you that the Holy Ghost addresses these words of the Proverbs: With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it. [Footnote: Proverbs iv 23.]
The heart is, therefore, the seat of the moral life, and as the source is known by the waters that flow from it, so will the moral life partake of the character and bear the impress of the heart whence it proceeds. This is true of youth in general, but more particularly so of young ladies.
THE HEART OF WOMAN; THE NECESSITY OF REGULATING IT DURING YOUTH.
The most humble, most chaste, most holy of women, Blessed Mary ever Virgin, she who is the ornament and glory of her sex who, in consequence of her privilege of being the mother of God, merited to be elevated so high above all creatures, revealed to us the existence of a faculty in the soul, unknown to the philosophers, undiscovered by the saints, unspoken of by the prophets. This faculty is more conspicuous in woman than in man, for it exercises in her a decisive influence which extends over the entire period of her life. Hence, God, "who ordereth all things, sweetly," (Wisdom, viii. 1), desired that its existence should be made known to us by a woman, and that, too, while she was visiting another woman.
In answer to the salutation of her cousin St. Elizabeth, Mary, filled with the Holy Ghost, breaks forth into that sublime Canticle, called the "Magnificat:" "He hath scattered the proud," she sings, "mente cordis sui;" literally, "in the mind of their heart." This is the faculty of which I speak; that mind, that intellect of the heart, if I may so term it, which is the hidden recess, the secret chamber of the soul, either blessed by the peaceful presence of humility, or cursed by the baneful restlessness of worldly ambition or pride.
It is not going too far to say that a woman's mind is in her heart; it is the source both of the thoughts which ennoble and elevate, and of those which are selfish and worldly; it is the key to all the powers of her soul, so that he who becomes the possessor of her heart is master of her whole being, and can exercise over her a power of fascination which has no parallel in nature.
God who disposes every being for the end which He proposed to Himself in creating it has established in woman's heart an abyss which no human affection can fill nor exhaust when once it has been filled, because He desired to submerge her whole being in love, and thus to render easy and necessary to her the noblest sentiments and the most heroic sacrifices. Such is the agent that He wished to employ for the culture of charity in society and in the family circle, as well as of the virtues of tenderness, compassion and devotedness. He desired that in the family the child should be borne, so to speak, on woman's heart and man's intelligence, as on the two arms of one and the same being; He desired that in society the mind of the one should furnish the light to guide in the way, and the love of the other should produce that vivifying principle which animates and quickens man's being: And, thus, that the moral life of humanity should be the result of these two factors. God endowed the heart of woman with treasures of tenderness and devotedness, desiring to be Himself the supreme object of its devotion. To Himself alone has He reserved the power of calming its fearful agitation and soothing its poignant grief, hence we see it turning to Him in its joys and sorrows, like the magnet to the pole that attracts it. He has made the heart of woman broad and deep, so that its devotedness may suffice for all the exigencies it is called upon to meet, whether in society or in the family, yet finding no created object able to exhaust it.
When, forgetting the sublime end for which she has been created, woman lives for the world and not for heaven, lavishing her love on creatures instead of giving it to God, her Creator, her soul becomes the prey of inexpressible anguish and despondency, which admonish her of her mistake and induce her to correct it.
You can easily judge from this of what great importance it is to you to keep a vigilant watch over your heart and its movements, since the heart is, so to speak, the citadel of your whole being, and hence when it is captured all the powers and faculties of your soul are forced to surrender. The heart is the agent that furnishes woman with the greater part of her ideas, and the object of its predilection inevitably becomes the only object of all her thoughts. This is the artist that furnishes the imagination with those images which remain substantially the same under forms constantly varying, but absorbing the soul to such a degree that a person is often tempted to look upon their action as the result of obsession.
It is the heart that governs and shapes the will, giving it that flexibility and at the same time that constancy so prevalent among the greater part of women, leading them, with unflinching stubbornness of determination to the accomplishment of the end proposed. All difficulties vanish that stand between them and the object of their heart. This disposition renders them potent for good or evil, hence the necessity of regulating the heart and of never losing control over its movements. When their soul is swayed by a pure and generous sentiment, and when the natural weakness of their sex gives place to an energy which few men are capable of displaying, their ardor in doing good is truly admirable. God alone knows all the treasures of virtue stored up within them daily, by charity, maternal love, filial piety, devotedness and compassion, but He alone also knows the malicious excess to which a sentiment, bad in its nature or in its source, may lead them.
Oh, if while standing between these two abysses of good and evil, you could sound their depth, and behold the ineffable joy and glory that women have secured by the practice of virtue, the sorrow, disgust, humiliation and shame that evil doings have brought upon them (faults which at first sight did not seem capable of entailing such fatal consequences) horror and admiration should dispute the possession of your soul; you would indeed tremble on beholding the consequences of neglecting your vocation, while you would be astonished at the sublime elevation that fidelity to grace would secure to you in heaven.
God desires to accomplish great things through your instrumentality, and in order to secure your services with greater certainty he has placed around you barriers which you cannot pass without an effort that does violence to nature, still necessity makes it a duty to break them down, and necessity has no law. When the first step is taken nothing can impede the will in the execution of your designs, be they good or bad. Hence the great importance of making your first step in the right direction, as it will be the prelude to countless others.
If you wish to possess your own heart and insure to yourself a life exempt from trouble and remorse, attach it firmly to God; accustom it to always prefer duty to pleasure and to propose to itself in all its movements an end worthy of your sublime destiny. Remember that God alone can satisfy it—no creature being able to give it that peace which it so ardently craves. O, my child, if you knew the gnawing desires, the vain hopes, the false joys, the troubles, the regrets and bitterness that fill the heart in which God does not dwell! If your eyes were not screened by the veil of candor and simplicity preventing you from foreseeing the torments to which that woman's life is exposed, who has not learned in early youth to regulate the desires and affections of her heart, you would better understand my words, and the necessity of laboring energetically and efficiently to direct your own, and to check all its irregular movements. Learn now, and profit by the experience of others. Hearken to the voice of God addressing you in these words: "The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, and come. Catch us the little foxes that destroy the vines, for our vineyard hath flourished." (Cant. ch. ii. 12, 13, 15). The foxes of which the sacred writer speaks here are those defects which, although they appear small, still assail the soul with great virulence, and will leave no virtue intact unless you hasten to destroy them.
The time for pruning is the time of youth, age truly precious wherein you can still lop off useless branches which absorb a portion of the sap, depriving the others of that strength which they need in order to produce an abundance of savory fruit. You should attack not only those gross and manifest defects which disfigure the soul, but also those imperfections which are slight in appearance, but which, if left alone, will in time become pernicious inclinations. You should even watch over certain natural dispositions, which, though good in themselves, and even often esteemed above their true merit by the world, might easily, on that account, divert the thoughts of the mind and the efforts of the will from more important objects; dispositions very often dangerous for those who possess them, because it is easy to abuse them, and because they flatter and nourish self-love, or the other passions that flesh is heir to. You should imitate those intelligent gardeners who pay a daily visit to their garden, pruning knife in hand, and cut off branches that might exhaust or overcharge the tree—not sparing them for the beauty of their foliage or the brightness of their flowers.
If you wish to cultivate your heart and make it produce all the fruit and virtue that it is capable of producing, suffer nothing useless or superfluous to grow therein, choosing what is best, measuring your esteem of certain things, and your application of certain duties by the degree of importance that each merits, giving the preference, in your mind and heart, to the virtues which bring the soul nearest to God. Love those hidden virtues, so modest and humble, which are the ornament of your sex—those virtues of which God alone is witness, which the world ignores,—which it often, in fact, despises, because they secure no advantage in men's esteem, receiving their reward only in the future world. But this is just the reason why God loves them so dearly, and why you should prefer them. For if, in general, it is dangerous to please the world and useful to shun it, this truth is especially applicable to woman, who, being confined to a narrower sphere, and devoted to more intimate affections than man, is obliged to seek, at a tender age, isolation, tranquillity, repose, and that retirement which are truly a shield to her virtues. In this way you will do more for the real development and culture of your heart than by the acquisition of more agreeable and more brilliant qualities.
Moreover, the same thing will happen for you that always happens when efforts are made to acquire what is best; when that which is essential is secured, the accessories will infallibly follow, just as the effect follows the cause that produces it. By acquiring the virtues that are pleasing to God you will receive, in addition, those which men esteem; in becoming more and more agreeable to God you will become more and more pleasing to men, whose good sense and sound judgment almost invariably triumph over prejudice which an austere but modest virtue always removes. This is also what the Saviour of the world insinuates by these words of the Gospel in which He recommends us to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, promising that all other things shall be added thereto. But this addition should not be directly sought, nor should it be ardently desired; await the will of God who has promised it to us, provided that we first seek the things to which that is accessory. Very often, on the contrary, when, through want of due reflection, preference is given to secondary and inferior things, by neglecting solid and hidden virtues for brilliant qualities, neither are obtained. God permits this in order to punish this subversion of the moral order and of the laws that govern it.
THE DIGNITY OF WOMAN.
POPE ST. LEO, in one of his homilies on the nativity of our Saviour, says, in addressing man: "O man, recognize thy dignity!" We might, with all due propriety, address these same words to woman, for her happiness and virtues depend in great measure on the elevated idea that she has of herself, and on the care with which she maintains this idea, both in her own mind and in that of others. Woe to the woman who, through false modesty, or something still worse, has lost self-respect, for she has deprived herself of her most powerful safeguard against instability of character and seductions of the world.
Woman has received from God the sublime mission of fostering in society the spirit of sacrifice and devotedness. Faithful, nay, sometimes perhaps over-zealous, in the discharge of these duties, she feels an imperative need of sacrificing herself to another who should constitute the complement of her life. As long as she has not made this surrender of herself to another she is a burden to herself, for she seems to find her liberty and happiness in this voluntary servitude of the heart, in this constant abnegation, in this perpetual sacrifice of her whole being.
This disposition of woman's heart, which has been given her for the good of society and for her own happiness, can be easily used to the detriment of both; such is necessarily the case the moment she sinks in her own estimation, so as to account herself a being of little value. It is a matter of vital importance to her to have a just idea of the value of the present she is making when she engages her heart and her fidelity. In fact, when a thing is lightly appreciated, we make little account of giving it away and less of choosing those to whom we give it. Now, if we consider the deplorable facility with which a vast number of women obey the caprice of their heart or of their imagination, we will be led to conclude that their valuation of them—selves is very low indeed. They seem to lose sight of the fact that in giving their heart they give the key to all the treasures that enrich their soul; they give their will, all their thoughts, their whole life. They sometimes give more than all this, they give their eternal salvation, their conscience, and God Himself, putting in His place, by a sort of idolatry, the object that claims their heart.
To prevent this deplorable prodigality of themselves, women should spare no pains to comprehend thoroughly their dignity, of which they can never have too high an appreciation or too great an esteem. It would be most prejudicial to them to lower in their own mind their just value by a false humility.
The most humble of all women is, at the same time, she who had the best knowledge of her dignity. And her humility, which was never equaled by that of any other woman, did not hinder her from seeing the great things that God had operated in her, as she herself proclaims in that sublime canticle which is the "Magna Charta" of the rights, the prerogatives and the greatness of woman.
The two most beautiful and most elevated things in all creation are the intelligence of man and, the heart of woman. They are the special objects of God's complacency. He seems to be absorbed in the work of their education; to this end he seems to have converged all the miracles wrought by His divine Son, all the mysteries of Jesus Christ.
To impart to man a knowledge of truth and a love of virtue was the end that God proposed to Himself in the creation of the world. But the order which he had established was iniquitously subverted, and this subversion has shaken society to its very foundation, leading man's intelligence to conceive a hatred for truth and to become the slave of error; turning away the heart of woman from what is truly good and great to pander to false and transitory goods, which sully without contenting it.
The heart of woman may be said to be the source from which flows all the good or evil that consoles or afflicts mankind. As the city and state receive their form and character from the family, so the family is modelled after the type of the mother's heart, since upon her devolves the culture of the infant mind, that all-important education upon which depends man's weal or woe, both for time and eternity. Hence it is that, while writing this little work, and considering that many to whom it is addressed will read its pages, namely those who are destined to be one day heads of families, charged with the education of several children, who in turn will found numerous families to act a more or less important part in the great movement by which the plan of divine Providence is executed throughout ages, I feel a kind of profound respect, bordering on reverential awe, that engages me to pray God to inspire me with thoughts equal to the sublimity of my subject.
Whoever you may be that read and meditate this little book, I honor and venerate the dignity of your vocation; I regard you as an august and sacred being. I admire the great designs that God has over you; I pray Him to have you participate in the sovereign esteem and respect with which your condition inspires me. You are as yet free from all engagements, in the bloom of youth, adorned with the treasures of innocence and candor, standing like a queen upon the threshold of the future which opens before you like a spacious temple. The past is immaculate and free from the sting of remorse; with a vigorous mind and will you behold the future's perspective without anxiety or dismay,—rich in pious souvenirs, saintly hopes, heavenly thoughts and merits acquired by prayer and the practice of virtue, ignorant of vice and its bitter consequences, save by the pictures that have been painted in order to inspire you with horror for it; your liberty is such that every Christian soul envies your happy state. You possess a power—I would almost say, a majesty—that no one can help admiring and revering. As there is no one freer than he who has never been the slave of sin, so there is no man stronger than he who has never succumbed to the allurements of pleasure. The woof of your life is there spread out before you intact and flexible, you can dispose and weave it as you please; you will now find none of those knotty or broken threads which, in after life, must sometimes be met with.
You are now at the period of life at which all the roads of life meet. You can choose the one that pleases you most, and enter on the good way with all that generous ardor so natural to youth. But, whatever you do, whatever the choice you may make, you will occasion the future weal or woe of many, perhaps for many generations. Whether spouse of Jesus Christ or of man, whether mother of a family or of the poor, whether a cloistered nun or a celibate in the world, you will neither save nor lose your soul alone; the effects of your virtues or vices shall be reproduced, long after your departure from the scene of life, in the lives of beings yet unborn, in favor of whom divine Providence implores your compassion. What a solemn moment! What sublime power! Have you given it serious thought?
Transport yourself, in thought, to the house of Nazareth, recall to mind the day on which Gabriel proposed to your Queen to become the mother of God, asking her consent to the Incarnation, by which was to be accomplished the salvation of the world. The angel's words astonished Mary's humility so far as to make her recoil before such a prodigious elevation, and, to obtain her consent, it was necessary to assure her that the Holy Ghost Himself would accomplish in her this prodigy. Indeed, it was a most memorable moment in the world's history,—a moment wherein the salvation of the entire human race hung upon the word of a virgin's lips.
Now, in your present condition, at this period of your life, you bear a certain resemblance to the Blessed Virgin at Nazareth, on the day of the Annunciation. A glorious destiny is also announced to you; to you also is promised a saintly posterity, if you give your consent and concurrence to the Holy Ghost, with docility to the operation of His grace. Be not astonished at so great an honor. The choice that you are going to make, the course that you are going to adopt, will determine and fix the fate of a family, of a generation,—of many generations perhaps, for God alone can tell how far the influence of your virtues or the result of your faults may extend.
If you have no regard for your own salvation or glory, oh, at least have pity for those whom the hand of God will place under your care, to be modeled by your instructions and example. Have compassion on them and on those who, succeeding them, must inherit your virtues or vices. Oh! how pleasing to God and respected of men is the young lady who, piously impressed with the greatness of her vocation, prepares for the future in a Christian manner, and resolves courageously to embrace and faithfully to discharge all its duties.
Like Mary, the model and glory of your sex, you also, but in a spiritual manner, are carrying Jesus Christ within you; and He, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, is leaving the impress of His virtues in your soul, that one day you may give Him birth spiritually, producing Him externally by a pure and Christian life. Like her you should be ready to accomplish the will of God in your own regard, saying, as she did, with sentiments of obedience and profound humility: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word;" abandoning your soul with perfect docility to the operation of the Holy Ghost, following Him wherever He desires to lead you. Let your soul glorify God, and rejoice in Him on account of the great things He has done in you, remembering that His mercy extends from generation to generation, in favor of those who fear him, and that holy families, fearing God, are formed by the lessons and examples of virtuous, God-fearing women. He reduces to naught those who confide in their own power and strength, while He sustains and exalts the humble. He freely shares His treasures with those who desire them, and reduces to indigence those who glory in their own abundance.
Let this beautiful canticle dwell in your heart and be the prayer of your lips; in this canticle, composed by the Mother of God, the honor and glory of your sex, or rather by the Holy Ghost Himself, who inspired her, He has inscribed all the rights and glories of women, by celebrating in it the power of her feebleness, the greatness of her humility and of all those modest virtues which so well become your condition.
A Christian woman who would never lose sight of what she is, of her worth, of her moral capabilities and of her sacred duties, will find in the frequent meditation of this sublime canticle considerations suggestive of thoughts and sentiments corresponding to God's designs over her. She should nourish her soul with the vivifying substance of the words it contains, and look therein for light to dispel her doubts, and for consolation in her troubles. In them she will also find a cheering hope in her languor, a powerful prayer in temptation, an acceptable act of thanksgiving, and a hymn of joy and triumph in her victories.
EVE AND MARY.
PILATE, on presenting to the Jews, Jesus crowned with thorns, and clothed in a purple garment, said: "Behold the Man!" Jesus frequently calls Himself the Son of man in the Gospel, that is, the Man par excellence, the Man who is the model and type of all others. To women, we can also say of Mary: "Behold the woman!" the honor, glory, joy, crown, type and model of your sex. Such is the manner in which Jesus presented her from the cross on Calvary, when He said to her, a few moments before expiring: "Woman, behold thy Son!"
It is, indeed, remarkable that the Saviour of the world, when addressing Mary in public, did not call her mother, but woman, as if, by that, He would declare to us that she is the model of all other women. It is as if He said to us: Behold THE woman; and, although she was His mother—principal title of her glory—nevertheless she is woman before all. She merited to become the most glorious of all mothers only because she had been the purest and holiest of all women. You should therefore have your eyes constantly fixed upon Mary, as a servant who watches her mistress in order to observe and obey her commands. If you can see yourself in Mary, you will entertain an exalted idea of the dignity of your sex; for it is in her and by her that you are great; it is to her you owe the honor and respect that the world pays the woman who knows how to respect and appreciate herself according to her just value. If you would understand all that you owe to Mary in this regard you need but consider what was the social condition of woman in society before the birth of Christ, and what her condition is to-day among people on whom the light of the Gospel has not yet shone. You are now too young to appeal to your own experience, but, according as you advance in life, observing closely what passes around you, you will learn—and God grant that it may not be at your own expense—what an immense difference there is with regard to the esteem in which woman is held between those who adore God as the Son of Mary, and those who regard her as common with other women.
Among men of social standing, whose habits, condition and character are so different, you can easily discern those whose faith discloses to them a reflection of the glory of Mary in you, from those who behold in you simply a daughter of Eve. Their conversation, deportment and looks, everything in them, will serve you as an index to this discernment. It is very difficult for man to disguise his real sentiments—dissimulation costs nature too dearly—but there are two circumstances wherein his moral character betrays itself in a striking manner, namely, in the presence of God, and in the presence of woman. It is neither permitted nor possible to a man truly religious and chaste to be bold or trivial in presence of either.
The woman illuminated by the sweet reflections of the glories of Mary, and imitating her virtues according to her state of life, enjoys the singular privilege of commanding the deferential respect of men of the most decided character. In her presence vice is silent, audacity is confounded, virtue, innocence and candor are at ease. The holy emanations of her heart purify the moral atmosphere around her, imparting to it a sweet and charming serenity, converting the place in which she appears into a kind of sanctuary.
By a contrary effect, resulting from a want of self-respect, woman becomes an easy prey to men of vain hearts and frivolous minds, who, not thinking themselves more obliged to respect her than she respects herself, without any reserve, give expression to the vanity of their hearts and thoughts. Everywhere and always ignorance or contempt of the Christian religion has begot contempt for woman, or disregard for her sacred rights and exalted dignity. Every where and always, irreligion has produced libertinism, the immediate and necessary effect of which is a depreciation of woman; and in those countries where the habits and institutions of the people have been deprived of the precious culture of Christianity, woman's condition is so abject that it differs in nothing from that of the brute, save that in her the sacred rights established by divine Providence are most shamefully violated.
That woman is worthy of glory or ignominy is the logical consequence of her being regarded as a daughter either of Eve or of Mary. In the one she is the poisoned source whence sin with all the evils that attend it flowed into the world, in the other she is the blessed source whence the Salvation of the world has issued forth. And, what she has been once for the entire human race in the garden of Eden and at Nazareth, she is yet every day for a people, a city, a family, or for each man in particular, according to the elevation of her position in society, and the extent of her influence.
The greater part of Christian nations owe to the prayers and examples of some holy woman, some pious queen, for instance, the gifts of Christianity and civilization—in this regard France has been, among all nations, singularly fortunate, and the name of Clotilda shall forever be revered in the pages of its history; while on the other hand, woman has often been instrumental in depriving the church of a kingdom, and in plunging into darkness and error a long succession of generations. For instances of this we have only to recall the names of Anne Boleyn and her cruel daughter, queen Elizabeth.
Countless numbers are indebted to woman for a knowledge of the truth, or the misfortune of forsaking it. Is there one who, in recalling the memories of the past, does not either bless or curse a woman, seeing in her an instrument of God's mercy, or of the seduction of Satan? Is there one who has not realized in that woman either a daughter of Eve or of the Blessed, Virgin—an Eden or a Nazareth? Behold the two poles between which the history of peoples and the life of each man in particular continually oscillate. Eve and Mary these are two guiding stars, either of which man must follow; the light of the one is deceitful and treacherous, while that of the other is true and beneficent; the one leads humanity along the paths of righteousness, while the other lures to the commission of sin. Hence it is that the church has given Mary those beautiful names, so significantly true: "Morning Star!" "Star of the Sea!"
This world is, indeed, like a stormy sea, in which are rocks and shoals, upon which man runs the risk of being wrecked unless he keeps his eyes steadfastly fixed upon this star whose brightness no storm can dim, and which, at the most perilous moment, shines with greater brilliancy, as the cheering sign of grace, hope and happiness. It is by turning our eyes toward Mary with her divine Son in her arms, presenting Him to us as our Saviour, that our troubled souls find the polar star which will quiet all their movements, and tranquilize the fluttering beatings of our troubled hearts. But, woe to us if, instead of fixing our attention upon Mary, virgin mother of God, we turn to Eve, infected with the contagion of the serpent, and offering to our hearts the doleful fruit of temptation and sin!
At the entrance to every path that leads to heaven or to the abyss of hell you will find a woman—the image of Mary, at the former, the image of Eve at the latter. It almost invariably happens that it is woman who deals out to mankind sin and death like Eve, or life, redemption and salvation like Mary. If you meet with one of these privileged men, chosen by God to be an instrument of His mercy, intimately associated with Jesus in the work of the salvation of His people, you may rest assured that this man owes to a woman, to a mother or a sister, the development of the great qualities which distinguish him. While, on the contrary, if you see one of those men tainted by the curse of some hereditary vice, very often more pernicious than original sin in its effects, you will discover that its source is the lesson or examples of a woman, whose poisoned influence shall oppress generations, just as that of Eve has oppressed the human race. Once again, I repeat it, that, as the corrupt and incredulous generation is the offspring of mothers modeled after Eve, so the holy and faithful generation traces its origin to mothers modeled after Mary.
You must choose between these two models, and on your choice will depend not only your own happiness and salvation, but also that of many yet unborn, whom God will confide to your care, and who will be dear to your heart. There remains no alternative; you will be either a cause of temptation and sin, or an instrument of grace and benediction for those who will live with you. You will either offer them the forbidden fruit like your mother Eve, or you will give spiritual birth to the Word of Life for them. As one of the greatest torments of the reprobate woman in hell will be to see the woeful misery into which she has brought those whom she had loved so dearly upon earth, and to hear the maledictions and reproaches which they shall hurl against her, so, also, one of the greatest joys of the faithful woman in heaven, will be to see those whom she sanctified by word and example now grouped around her, crowning her with a diadem of glory as a mark of everlasting gratitude.
Would you deprive your soul of this saintly joy, and condemn it to suffer the punishment reserved for those women who will be the cause of the ruin and eternal perdition of many? Divine justice shall vindicate itself, even in this life, by making your heart a most cruel torment to itself, that you may expiate, in agonizing torture your infidelity to grace. The cause of your sin shall be the very means of your punishment. God will employ, to avenge His outraged honor and His violated laws, those whom you have turned away from Him, and who, recognizing in you the cause of their evils, will end, perhaps, by hating you, or, what is still worse, by despising you. Oh, may it never be your sad fate to feel the withering contempt of those who have been led away from God by your bad or undue influence, that is, by loving them for yourself and not for God and themselves! Do not, I pray you, store up such bitterness for your old age, such anguish for your death-bed, since, instead of bitter regrets, you can experience a sweet joy, which is a foretaste of never-ending happiness, a special consolation for God's faithful friends at that last and dreadful moment when the soul stands trembling on the threshold of eternity; may it be your envied privilege to leave after you upon earth souls edified by your example, and grateful for the good you have done them.
EVE AND MARY CONTINUED.
The history of the fall of man, caused by Eve, and of his restoration, brought about by Mary, is a subject of grave consideration for women of serious minds, for women who have at heart the preservation of the dignity and vocation of their sex. By a close consideration of these two models, which furnish the solution to so many enigmas, explaining so many truths and throwing so much light upon the most obscure and the most profound questions, they will learn by a short and easy method what they should do, and what they should avoid; they will learn how sin has been propagated, the reason why it still exists; they will learn how justice and virtue flourish upon earth, how men turn away from God, and how they return to Him. It was with reason that God allowed sin and justice to attain us through the agency of woman, and that her free consent was a necessary condition for both the ruin and the restoration of the human race.
It is therefore an interesting and useful study to consider in their detail and most minute circumstances the acts (so extremely opposed) of these two women, for one of them, according to the beautiful expression of the Church, has restored to us by her divine Son what the other had deprived us of by her disobedience. There is in these two facts, so different in their nature and results, a wonderful gradation which points out to us the fatal declivity by which the human heart insensibly sinks to the lowest abyss of evil, or rises to the highest degree of virtue and glory. In the sin of Eve the first degree was a certain intemperance of language, which led her to reply to the insidious questions of the devil; in appearance this forgetfulness was very slight. To answer a question, give an explanation requested of you, clear up a doubt, render an account of a precept of the Lord, seem at first sight something natural and permitted. It is quite easy to be deceived in this matter. We readily convince ourselves that we are actuated by laudable motives in such like conversations—motives for gloryfying God and justifying His providence; but we should be extremely cautious: language is something august and sacred, for it is the tie that unites the soul to God, and man to his fellow-men,—it is the mysterious knot of all societies, divine and human.
Language establishes between those who speak a more intimate relation than they are generally aware of. Few persons realize the prodigious transfusion of thoughts, sentiments, influence and life that arise from conversation. Have you clearly understood this truth in its full force? Language establishes between souls a very close and mysterious union, and this is why discretion, prudence and reserve are so necessary in regulating its use. This is why Jesus Christ warns us in the Gospel, that we shall render an account of every idle word, if indeed we may call idle a thing that entails such frightful consequences or fatal results.
If this reserve is necessary for all it is more especially so for woman, who, being more communicative than man, experiences a greater necessity to speak—to express herself more freely, and in terms more explicit. If women were sincere and impartial judges of themselves they for the most part would not fail to recognize that nearly all their faults spring from a useless word—an imprudent answer, or an indiscreet question.
The word why is indeed very short, but in its insidious brevity it comprises a multitude of things which are all the more dangerous because they are unforeseen, being concealed in a perfidious and cloudy vagueness. Why? This word is the beginning of the greater part of those temptations against frailty. The enemy, seeking our destruction, almost invariably announces his presence by this captious question, either by the mouth of another or by our own mind, in order to fill the heart with doubt and trouble. Why take such and such precautions? Why avoid such a place, such a person, such company? Why renounce such and such amusements? Why neglect or cast off that ornament? Why suffer this or that privation? Why abstain from this action, which is not bad in itself? Why turn away the ear from those praises, those compliments, dictated by usage or etiquette, to keep up that intercourse without which society would be impossible? Why not read this book, this novel? Why not assist at this play which the most rigorous moralist would not condemn; and which has for its object to inspire horror for vice, by placing before our eyes its doleful consequences true to reality? Why restrain to inaction the finest faculties of the soul, and refuse them the aliment they so ardently crave? Why deprive our heart and imagination of the pleasures which the beautiful inspires? Why not form at an early age a taste for worldly beauty, and be possessed of all the resources and advantages that it affords us during life? Why be mistrustful of the mind and heart, at an age when they still possess all their simplicity and freshness, through vain fear which renders after-life almost intolerable? Why not be more confiding in the heart's fidelity and in the goodness of God, who has not condemned man to constant privations?—Such is the language that the enemy of our eternal salvation and happiness addresses us every day with such perfidious adroitness; and who, spite of the experience of those whom he has already deceived, deceives us every day.
This language is the more perfidious for being apparently truthful and natural. When there is question of corrupting a heart that is yet virtuous, vice conceals itself under the mantle of virtue, as otherwise its efforts would be powerless. Now, we can safely say that its venom has already tainted the young lady's heart, when, through inattention and want of vigilance, she has suffered doubt to brood over any of those obligations which are so delicate and difficult to determine, and, nevertheless, most grave and important, since they entail, when neglected, the most disastrous results. Firmness of mind, assurance in her convictions, a clear and strong consciousness of duty, are to her indispensable qualifications; and when she suffers this tenor of conduct to be interfered with by imprudently replying, like Eve, to a captious question, the peace and innocence of her heart are certainly threatened.
The young girl's innocence is something that is very imperfectly known; the delicate and almost imperceptible shades that reflect its beauty and which render it delightful to God and His angels, escape the general notice of mankind. It is composed of a chaste ignorance of mind, a great simplicity of heart, and a constant and unwavering firmness of will. Now, what merits our greatest attention is the fact that this firmness of will begins to give way in woman the moment she removes, even by a slight doubt, this precious veil of ignorance which protects her virtue, or when, by an indiscreet question, or an imprudent answer, she exposes the simplicity of her heart.
The virtues which adorn the heart of a young lady are concealed from her own knowledge. God has so enveloped her in mystery that He alone understands her. None other save the penetrating eye of God should look into the sanctuary of her heart. None other than His light should shine in this holy and chaste obscurity, and this is why humility, of which we have found so perfect a model in Mary, should be the necessary shield and guarantee of a young lady's innocence. She ought not to have the slightest misgivings relative to the value of the treasure she possesses or the loss she would sustain in losing it.
The presence of an angel sufficed to trouble Mary. Oh, young ladies should meditate well and frequently on the conduct that Mary observed in this interview, and imitate her example! She did not answer the Angel's words, but she observed an humble and modest silence. Not so with Eve who, without reflection, answered the devil's question, and by this first reply began a conversation the issue of which has proved so disastrous to the whole human race. Learn from this two-fold example, and from the effects so different which have resulted from both, how much you should fear Eve's curiosity in yourself, and with what care and assiduity you should labor to imitate the reserve and silence of Mary.
Curiosity is a most dangerous rock for a young lady,—this is the rock upon which a countless number of your sex and age have been wrecked. The moment that you pander to the desire of knowing everything, you immediately enter on a most dangerous way, the issue of which is at least precarious. It was for having satisfied this desire that Eve opened the door to all the calamities that afflict and will afflict mankind till the end of time. And, since then, it has caused the ruin of a countless number of women.
Intrench, so to speak, your mind in the citadel of your own heart. Let it repose in the holy obscurity of an humble and docile faith, and you will learn more useful things in this way than you could ever learn even from the best books and the most eloquent instructions. Faith and prayer should be the daily food of your soul. Faith, with its imperfect yet celestial light, will meet all the legitimate wants of your mind; and prayer, with its divine unction, will embalm your soul.
Often turn your eyes toward heaven, and earth will soon lose all its attractions. Converse frequently with God and you will find it easier to dispense with the intercourse of men; keep your mind at a remote distance from all worldly knowledge, and the innocence of your heart will enjoy sweet repose. Seek not to anticipate by an indiscreet precipitancy the time when the realities of life shall open out to your view. Perhaps, more than once you will regret the happiness which you now enjoy, and which is due both to your knowledge and ignorance of things.
In reality, you possess by faith the same knowledge that the blessed have in heaven, that knowledge which has been the object of the study, research and love of the most renowned minds and of the most perfect souls in this world. Faith, elevating you above yourself and all earthly things, leads you to regions to which the most distinguished genius, joined to the most profound and persevering study, can never approach. Faith makes you in a certain way the sister of angels and of men,—of men who have been the most remarkable on earth for their excellent qualities of head and heart. Faith associates you with the glorious choirs of heaven, and, when truly lively and active, will bring you unalloyed felicity and ineffable joy.
Why should you envy those women, who, for being older than you, have gained by experience a knowledge of things that you should still ignore? Why seek to compare their knowledge with that which you possess? The knowledge that you have obtained by faith has cost your mind no effort—not a single regret to your heart, no remorse to your conscience. Every step that you make in this illuminated way recalls to your mind a sweet and precious souvenir, the pure reflections of which will be the only light that will dispel the gloom of the trials and anguish of life. It shall be very different with regard to what you must learn in time to come. Experience is a severe teacher, whose lessons are dearly bought; this is clearly and forcibly expressed by the Holy Ghost saying: "He that adds something to the knowledge already acquired, adds at the same time new pains to those he already suffers."
So far you have learned the one thing necessary to man, and which meets all his wants: you have learned how to please God, to love and serve Him by the observance of His commandments, and fidelity to his inspirations, acknowledging and honoring His authority and power over you in your parents, who are, in your regard, His representatives. So that at present duty possessing pleasing attractions offers none of those difficulties which, at a later period of life, will render it oftentimes painful. Your virtues, protected by that reserve which the world itself has imposed upon youth, guarded by the vigilance of a tender and careful mother, aided by her examples, encouraged by her exhortations and love, tranquilly grow up in the modest sanctuary of the family, without the remotest idea of the trials they must one day meet with.
To learn what pertains to faith and salvation, good will suffices. We are always sure to succeed in pleasing God when we are sincerely desirous to serve Him; in this regard we can never anticipate Him. Not so with the science which teaches how to please men and secure their good will or favor, to enter into their views, conform to their laws and customs. No matter how great our desire may be to succeed, we are never sure of success, and very often the efforts made to secure it remove us farther from the desired end. Consequently, very often the surest means of securing the esteem of the world is to despise it, and withdraw from its tyranny. If you fail to disengage yourself from it, and if you wish to servilely adhere to its maxims, you will often experience that they are severe and hard; and you will reproach yourself more than once for having desired in your youth to taste of those fruits, externally so beautiful but internally so bitter.
Hence, moderation of the mind's curiosity is necessary, and in order to satisfy its activity apply it to those things that can be of interest to your conscience and salvation, to the knowledge and study of those sublime truths which, while enlightening your intelligence, will elevate your heart and strengthen your will. The knowledge that you will acquire in this way will serve you for the rest of your life, much more than all the profane and useless books that you can read. Accustom your mind to the love and search of serious things; this will prove to be of invaluable utility to you.
There is little consistency in frivolous things, and those, who have fed their souls upon them during youth, find themselves void and abandoned when they arrive at the age when woman can please only by interesting the mind and heart by solid charms and tried virtue. This is the age which you should constantly keep before your mind, because it is the one that lasts the longest, and which disposes us proximately for that awful moment in which our fate will be decided forever. Endeavor to become at an early age what you should be during the greater part of your life, and what you would desire to have been at the hour of death.
The world is like some objects which, when seen from afar, deceive the eyes and allure the imagination; but on approaching or touching them their charms vanish. It is like those carcasses that retain the form of a human body as long as they are buried in the obscurity of the tomb, but which, on being exposed to the air, are immediately reduced to dust. Those who are separated from it without having ever known it are exposed to be deceived by its perfidious allurements; and those who, in order to know it, with a view of despising it, desire to mingle in its feasts and pleasures, run a greater danger of falling a victim to the seductions and corruption of its charms.— How, then, shall you secure the advantage and escape the danger?
By shunning the world, you secure your heart and conscience against its seductions; but this evasion, leaving you to consider it from a remote standpoint exposes your mind to prejudices favorable to it, and which, later, might become for you the source of many errors and of many faults. How shall you surmount this twofold difficulty? On the one hand you cannot mingle with the world without danger, and on the other hand it will not do for you to ignore its dangers which must be known in order to be avoided. This dilemma would be of no consequence to a frivolous and unreflecting soul, or to a vain and presumptuous mind, which, confiding in its own powers, believes that it has a good knowledge only of what it sees and experiences; and counts for naught the teachings of faith and the experience of those who have gone before.
Let not this be your case, but, listening with an humble and docile heart to the teachings of faith, reason and experience, learn to know the world and its dangers while your age and condition still shield you from its seductions. Of all the means by which divine Providence enlightens our minds here below, divine faith, as you are aware, is the purest, the brightest and the most reliable,—not only because it comes from God, but because it is presented to us by an authority which He has established, and which, by His special assistance, He preserves from all error.
Sacred Scripture, interpreted and explained to you by this authority is, therefore, the great source to which you must have recourse for the knowledge of the things you should know. Now you will find that there is hardly a single page of those sacred writings in which there is not a malediction pronounced against the world, and a warning for you to avoid its siren charms. You will find in the gospel according to St. John its true character described by Jesus Christ Himself, who, being the Incarnate Wisdom, could not have any other than the most perfect idea of things according to their just value.
In the first place, it is certain, according to this Apostle, that when the Eternal Word came into the world it knew Him not; when Jesus wished to make the Jews feel the confusion of their own blindness, and see the reason of their opposition to His doctrine, He said: You are from beneath, I am from above, you are of this world, I am not of this world, therefore, I say to you that you shall die in your sins. (John viii. 23, 24.) Could there be anything more explicit in condemnation of the world? It has its origin and the throne of its power in the lower regions of the earth, while the kingdom of God resides in the sublime abode of the human heart.
When He promised His disciples that He would send them the Spirit of Truth, to console them, He gave as the distinctive mark by which they would know the Holy Spirit, that the world could not receive Him because it has no knowledge of Him. Hence the opposition that exists between the world and the spirit of the New Law is so great that any compromise is impossible. The world is absolutely incompetent to receive or understand the spirit of Jesus Christ. Another fact will render this manifest opposition still more palpable. When Jesus addressed His eternal Father that beautiful prayer preceding His agony and passion, He excluded the world by a positive act of His will, in order to give all to understand that the world could never have any share with Him. "I pray not for the world but for them whom thou hast given me. The world hath hated them because they are not of the world as I also am not of the world." (John xvii. 9, 14.)
St. Paul interprets these words in that energetic style so characteristic of his writings, when he says to the Corinthians that "we have not received the spirit of this world whose wisdom is folly before God." Now shall you adopt as the rule of your conduct and judgment a wisdom which God has not only reproved, but even branded with the stigma of folly? According to the same Apostle the world proves by its own words that its knowledge is stupidity, since it can see nothing but folly in the cross. The maxims, ideas, judgments, conduct and habits of the world and those of the flock that Jesus came to save are so contradictory, their language is so different, that the wise of the one are fools with the other; and the things regarded as the most sublime by the former are to the latter preposterous absurdities. The reason is simply because the one has its origin, light and end in heaven, while the other draws them from the earth.
Now, if, in order to verify these words of the Sacred Scriptures, you take a view of the doctrine of the world and of that of Jesus Christ, and compare them, you will not find a single point in the one that is not in direct contradiction to the other; so that, by the Gospel, you are enabled to discover the maxims of the world, and vice versa. You may rest assured that what is recommended and sought for by the one is censured and despised by the other. St. Paul, speaking to the Galatians, says; that "if he was still pleasing to men he would not be the servant of Jesus Christ."
If this be the case, you will say, why remain in the world? Is it not every one's duty to leave it as soon as possible and abandon it to its own corruption? Let the words of our divine Lord answer: "I do not pray you to remove them from the world, but I pray you to preserve them from evil." Our peace of conscience in this life, and the joys of heaven hereafter require separation from the world and opposition to its maxims. But this separation is one of mind and heart, which consists in a manner of thinking, judging and acting entirely opposed to that of the world. Man ceases to belong to the world the moment he has ceased to make it the arbitrator of his conduct and judgment, and when he has freed himself from its prejudices, caprices and tyranny. Behold what religion requires of you, and what alone will insure you happiness in this life and in the next.
Now, what is this world from which we must separate in order to lead a Christian life? In any society, that we wish to study with a view to obtain a knowledge of its nature and objects, we may consider either the laws by which it is governed, or the body of men who compose it and who are governed by these laws.
Considered from the first point of view, the world consists in its own maxims, laws, customs and judgments, which are in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Gospel; and which tend to withdraw the soul from the love of spiritual things, or at least to create in her a dislike for them.
Considered from the second point of view, the world comprises a mass of men who profess its maxims, adopt its usages, obey its laws, and yield to its judgments.
The world thus considered entails a twofold obligation for you, one of which can never admit of any exception or dispensation, while the observance of the other must be always regulated by prudence and charity. Indeed the world, considered in its maxims, should be for you an object of constant aversion and contempt, because it is the arch enemy of Jesus Christ and of the spirit that He communicates to His true disciples. This is the world that you renounced on the day of your baptism; and the solemn engagement that you then made was the first and most important of all those that you have made, or will make, during life.
But, while it is never permitted you to adopt the maxims of the world, charity, prudence, and the consideration due to your position, age and family, will not allow you to effectively isolate yourself from those who have adopted its maxims as the rule of their actions and judgments. In this you should conform to all that due decorum requires, and endeavor to preserve your mind and heart against the pernicious influences often communicated by words, actions, lessons or examples of those who are slaves of the laws or customs of the world. The danger is the more imminent inasmuch as the sunny side only of the world is displayed to you; while no pains are spared on the part of those bound to you by the most sacred ties to engage you to adopt their views and imitate their example. This is certainly one of the most delicate positions in which a young lady can be placed, when her only arms of defense are the uprightness of her mind, the innocence of her heart and the purity of her instincts.
St. Bernard says, "to serve God is to reign." By a contradictory assertion, we can safely say, to serve the world is to be a slave; and of all servitudes there is none so hard nor so humiliating as that which the world imposes upon those who yield to its empire. If God were so exacting as the world, so inflexible in the laws that He imposes upon us, so severe in the chastisements by which delinquencies are punished, piety would be an insupportable burden through the weakness of the greater part of men; and God would find very few worshipers who would be willing to submit to such an ordeal.
What is most remarkable and worthy of compassion is the fact that, very often, those who groan the most under this slavery are at the same time those who support it with the greatest resignation.
To suffer for a genuine duty, for a generous sentiment, for a noble or grand idea, is something which the human heart can, not only accept, but even love and choose with a certain pride; but to suffer for the sake of worldly etiquette, for the sake of fashion, for things and parsons despised for their tyranny, is a deplorable humiliation for those who do it. And, nevertheless, the greater part of those who might be called world-worshipers, who seem to give it the tone, bear patiently its yoke, which debases them in their own eyes,—pandering to necessities which they have imprudently created, and from which they now find it impossible to free themselves.
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
IF the life of a woman of the world were proposed as a model, and, after having carefully examined all her occupations, you would discover what would be hard for you to be convinced of before having done so, namely: that there are women so inconsiderate as to feast their minds on such frivolities, so forgetful of their dignity as to make it subservient to such misery, so trifling as to make a serious work of bag itelles, which at most can be considered as little better than childish amusement; your soul, still rich in its primitive candor, and favored with an energy tempered in the love and habit of virtue, would revolt at the thought of such debasement. And, nevertheless, unless you apply your mind to acquire a love for serious matters you will not escape a disorder which you so justly deplore in others; you will be captured in those windings which have proved fatal fastnesses to women of other days. There remains no choice between these two alternatives: you must either found your conduct upon intelligence enlightened by faith, or abandon it, like a rudderless ship, to the caprice of passion and pleasure.
The life of a worldly woman is a fictitious life: nature seems to have no attractions for her; her soul has lost all taste for its charms; she studiously endeavors to shut out its influences, and to subvert as much as possible the order by which it is governed. This estrangement, this disgust with nature, haunts her wherever she goes, even in the making of her toilet, even in the employment of her time. She converts day into night and night into day, giving to pleasure the time destined for repose; she purloins from the industrious hours of day the sleep and rest for which her wearied limbs and excited imagination contend.
While she is sleeping, the humble daughter of St. Benedict or St. Dominic leaves her cell to sing the praises of the Lord, and offer Him the day with its duties consecrated without reserve to His glory. When heavy curtains screen her restless slumber from the sun's obtrusive light, the pious daughter of St. Vincent de Paul descends into the folds of her own heart in meditation, and enkindles in the fire of divine love the charity with which she must cheer the poor or sick whom she is destined to visit during the day.
What a difference between those two lives! The worldling rises rested, but not from a refreshing sleep, she is aroused perhaps by the importunate rays of the mid-day sun or by the noisy tramping of hardy workmen who, after their half day's work is done, return home to partake of a frugal repast and receive the sweet greetings of a Christian family. It is then that her day begins, as also the series of the grave occupations that are destined to fill it. The time is short and scarcely suffices to prepare herself for the evening amusements; all her energies are now employed to give herself that external grace and charm necessary to render her conspicuous in the joyous circle. Alas! the worldly woman is entirely absorbed in herself, and when she does something for others, it is with a view to secure her own interest or pleasure. That devotedness, that generous sacrifice and disinterestedness characteristic of true friendship is to her a mere paradox, as she is an entire stranger to its effects and charms.
After her toilet, her most serious occupations are the visits which she pays and receives. A visit prompted by charity or some other virtue is good, highly commendable and praiseworthy. I admire and understand the woman who leaves the peaceful company of her family, when no pressing need requires her presence, to go and visit the poor and destitute, in order to sweeten their bitter lot by a word of encouragement or a little alms. I understand and admire her who readily sacrifices her legitimate joy in order to go and mingle her tears with those of her friend and mitigate her sorrow or share it with her. I understand and esteem the woman who, impressed by the superior wisdom and exemplary piety of another woman, goes to her for advice, devoting with pleasure her leisure hours to that end. I see in all these circumstances a motive that is serious, honorable, praiseworthy, and capable of acting upon a noble heart and an elevated intelligence. But, among the visits made by worldly women; how few there are that are prompted by such motives! The greater part of those women visit with no other view than to pass the time, to pander to their own vanity and curiosity, to form or execute some intrigue. What is said and done in their visits is worthy of the motive that inspires them. There is not a single serious thought expressed, not a single word to show that these women have an intelligence capable of comprehending the truth, a heart made to love what is good, or a soul capable of receiving God Himself. If life were but a dream, if there be no hereafter, if at death the soul must perish with the body; and man must sink into the nothingness whence he sprang; they would have nothing to change in their visits, conversations and conduct.
There is a visit celebrated in Holy Writ, a visit paid by a young woman to one of her own sex but more advanced in years, a visit so holy and renowned that its anniversary is celebrated throughout the Christian world,—it is the visit paid by the Blessed Virgin to her cousin St. Elizabeth. O, Christian ladies, behold your true model! Compare this visit with yours, and judge yourselves according to it. Compare your motives with those of Mary. Compare your conversations with that sublime conversation of which the sacred writer has given us a fragment, being the most sublime canticle that has ever been uttered by any intelligent creature under the action of divine inspiration. Oh, what a world-wide difference between this sublime canticle and the light and frivolous conversations in which so many women indulge; if you were to look for the reverse of this heavenly visit you would invariably find it among the visits paid by worldly women.
Mary carries with her the Son of God, the Author of grace, the Principle of eternal life, the Source of chaste desires and holy hopes. The worldly woman carries with her in her visits the spirit of the world, the spirit of deception, egotism and folly, which is in every way opposed to the spirit of Christianity. Mary sings the praises of humility and proclaims it the virtue beloved of God,—the virtue which secures His love and assistance; she extols the happiness of those who thirst for justice and truth, deploring at the same time the spiritual poverty and indigence of those who are puffed up with self-conceit. The worldly woman, on the contrary, seeks in her conversations to flatter her vanity and pride by parading the empty resources of her imagination and misguided intelligence. She envies the happiness of those who, rich in beauty and all those qualities that charm, draw many admirers around them. Elizabeth, on beholding her cousin, felt her infant leap for joy. The worldly woman stirs up in the hearts of those whom she visits the most frivolous instincts, and sometimes even the worst passions.
This tableau excites your love and disgust. The comparison frightens you; and perhaps in the simplicity of your heart you will say, it is not free from exaggeration. On the contrary, you will be sadly disappointed when, at a more advanced age, you will clearly see that this is a very mild and subdued picture of what is true and real. Your age and innocence do not allow me to reveal to you all the mysteries of sin—all the snares, all the dangers, all the frivolities that fill up the days of a worldly woman.
Would that what I have said of her may inspire you with salutary horror for her life; and make you shun the snares in which she has been taken! I pray that you, satisfied with the knowledge you have of her follies, may never feel the desire of adding to what you already know, the fatal knowledge imparted by experience! That you may never forget these words of St. John: Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world; for all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life. (I John ii. 15-16.)
St. John, the Apostle, addressing those who have not yet passed the age of adolescence, says in his first Epistles: "I write unto you, because ... you have overcome the wicked one." Then speaking to those who have attained the age of manhood, he says: "I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." Again, in the book of Proverbs, chapter xxxi, the inspired writer speaks in the following terms: "who shall find a valiant woman? The price of her is as of things brought from afar off, and from the uttermost coasts ... She hath put out her hand to strong things ... strength and beauty are her clothing; and she shall laugh in the latter day, she hath opened her mouth to wisdom and the law of clemency is on her tongue.... Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates."