How to Guard Holy Purity - Antonio Cardinal Bacci
William Bouguereau's L'Innocence
How to Guard Holy Purity
1. Purity of heart is a quality which attracts everybody, even those who are evil themselves. It makes a man seem like an angel in human form, for it shines from his countenance. Unfortunately, the virtue of purity is as difficult as it is beautiful. It is fatal for anyone to cast himself into the mire. The first sin of impurity is a disaster, because it is often the first link in a tragic chain which makes him the slave of his lower impulses and of the tyrannical enemy of souls, the devil.
We must resist the earliest suggestions of the flesh by every means in our power, both natural and supernatural.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that none of the passions dethrones reason so much as sensuality (Summa, II-II, q. 53, a. 6). St. Augustine warns us also in his Confessions that lust has its cause in a perverse will, and if anybody surrenders to it, he acquires the evil habit. If this habit is not resisted, the sin becomes a frightening necessity. Resist from the beginning if you wish to avoid ruin and the slavery of the devil, who cunningly uses this passion to capture souls. If a man is overcome by violent temptation and falls into sin, however, he should not lose courage. God is infinitely good and merciful. He knows our weakness. When anyone falls, let him rise immediately. Let him return to God by repenting and making a good confession. Let him resolve to make any sacrifice rather than fall again.
2. Because it is so difficult to preserve the angelic purity of the soul, it is absolutely essential to make good use of the measures favoured for this purpose by the masters of the spiritual life. The first of these is prayer; the spirit of prayer will keep us close to God. If our mind and heart are united to God in the performance of every action, we will never allow ourselves to be separated from Him by impurity. This spirit of prayer must be based on humility and the consciousness of our continual need of God, and must be kept alive by love for Him.
The second measure is to avoid the occasions of sin. "Sensuality is best conquered by flight." (Summa, I-II, q. 35) St. Thomas advises us. "He who loves danger will perish in it." (Ecclus. 3:25) Battles like this said St. Francis de Sales, are won by the soldiers who retreat. As soon as an impure thought or image intrudes itself, drive it away as if a serpent were attacking you. It is fatal to allow the thought or image to gain ground, for at this stage victory becomes extremely difficult.
Thirdly, it often helps to occupy the mind and imagination immediately with things in which we are interested. The greatest danger of all in these moments of temptation is idleness.
3. Let us examine our conscience now and we shall perceive that every time we have fallen in any way it was always because we did not put into practice the remedies suggested. So let us not lose courage but renew our determination to employ at the first sign of danger the necessary means of defending our purity. It will be a hard struggle at times. But the grace of God will never let us down as long as we do our best to co-operate with it. Each one of us should remember that God is faithful and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it (I Cor. 10:13). Our first reward will be the exhilaration of having fought hard and won.
**Appendix: Some addition advice from Fr. Tim Finigan of the excellent blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity:
Several meetings kept me in London all day today: one social, one business and one both. The last was in Golden Square followed by a meal at a nearby Italian restaurant. I don't think I will need to eat at all tomorrow. I was careful to memorise the map of that somewhat labyrinthine area of London to avoid ending up walking to Piccadilly via any of the streets that have seedy clubs.
Mind you, custody of the eyes is necessary most of the time in central London. I often think of the advice of the book of Ecclesiasticus (9.7) when I am in central London: "Noli circumspicere in vicis civitatis" (do not look about in the lanes of the city). I first saw this quotation in an extract from Louis of Granada in a book of meditations. It is consoling to know that there is nothing new under the sun.