Continuing my posting of letters from Fr. Lacordaire, OP in his book Letters to Young Men comes this post on persistence in the devotional life.
XLI. Against falling off in the Accomplishment of Christian Duties
Flavigny, June 21, 1852.
My dear Friend,
YOU have written me a good letter, for which I thank you. You must not be surprised at your liability to fall off: in this we are all alike. Stability here below is a chimera. We push forward, we fall back, we sail with the current, we row against it; such is the summary of our life. Besides, your health is a natural cause of weakness and remissness, which I thoroughly understand. The most painful mortifications are those which we do not ourselves will, which neither begin nor end where we want them. A man may have made interior and exterior acts of humility for weeks : an occasion presents itself, and a simple want of regard in another puts him out.
As for work, it seems to me there is one description very easy, and not fatiguing ; it is reading : not random reading, but serious and persistent reading. “We thus acquire, especially at your age, when the memory is still young and vigorous, a vast amount of knowledge, almost as a pastime. The Imitation tells us that we ought always to be either reading, writing, meditating, or praying : “aut legendo, scribendo, meditando, vel orando.” The alternate use of these kinds of work, fills up and gives a charm to life. Reading suffices to occupy the mind, to nourish it, to elevate and purify it: and I have never been able to understand how wealthy men, with a library at hand, could feel time on their hands, or even become corrupt. Idleness is the fruitful mother of corruption, and reading, although not hard work, suffices to put idleness to flight.
You must pay no attention to the trouble and darkness which comes over your mind at times. We must betimes feel our own emptiness, and see the astounding misery of our nature, as well as its frightful corruption. There is not a single one of us in whom there are not the makings of a saint as well as of a ruffian. This is what explains those monsters of debauchery and cruelty. At bottom they were not perhaps naturally more wicked than others, but imagination and power put an end to all restraint. The devil is as bad as he is, simply because he is highly endowed and knows no moral restraint.
I recommend you to be always regular in your confessions and communions, and generally in all the exercises prescribed you. This subjection is very useful, although we frequently imagine it would be better to follow the irregular impulse of sentiment.
Adieu, my dear child, do not be down-hearted, take every day as it comes, and serve God. Don’t make plans. God will call you at His own and your own time. This is the most simple, the safest, and the gentlest course.