Learn to Preserve Inner Peace

Sometimes you might fall into some sin or negligence in word or deed, such as disturbing yourself at anything which happens to you, or murmuring, or listening to murmuring, or falling into some dispute, irritation, curiosity, or suspicion of others, or into any other fault, whether it be one or many falls.

In such cases, you ought not to be disturbed or disheartened or saddened at the thought of what has happened, nor be confounded within yourself, at one time, believing that you will never be free from such infirmities, at another, that your faults and irresolution are the cause of them, or again, imagining that you are not walking in the spirit and way of the Lord, with a thousand other fears, pressing down your soul at every step with discontent and cowardice.

Otherwise you would feel ashamed to present yourself before God, or you would do so in a spirit of distrust, as though you had not preserved that faith in Him which is His due. And as a remedy, you would waste time in pondering over these things, scrutinizing how much you harbored the thought and whether you consented to it, whether it was voluntary or was at once put away. And, from taking the wrong road, the more you think of it, the less you are able to make up your mind about it, and the more your weariness, perplexity, and anxiety to confess it increase.

And so you go to Confession with a tedious fear, and, after having lost much time in making your confession, your spirit is even more uneasy than it was before it, for fear that you have not told all. Thus your life is one spent in bitterness and anxiety, with little fruit, and with the loss in a great measure of its reward.

All this comes from not knowing your own natural weakness and the way the soul should bear itself toward God. For after having fallen into all the faults we have enumerated, or into any others, we may more easily approach God by a humble and loving conversion, than by the spirit of grief and discontent at the fault itself, in the case of the examination of venial and ordinary sins, to which alone I now allude. For it is only into such sins as these that a soul that lives in the manner I am now supposing is wont to fall. And I am speaking only of those persons who lead a spiritual life and are striving to ad­vance in it, and are free from mortal sin. For those who live carelessly and in mortal sin, and are always more or less of­fending God, have need of a different kind of exhortation; and this medicine is not for them. Such persons should be troubled and ought to weep and to make their examination and confession with much thought, lest, through their own fault and indifference, they render the remedy that is necessary for their salvation unavailing.

To return, then, to speak of the quiet and peace in which the servant of God should ever abide, I will go further and say that this conversion must be understood to apply — in order that there might be entire trust in God — not only to slight and daily faults, but also to such as are greater and more grave than usual, if at any time the Lord should permit you to fall into such; even though they may be many together, and are not merely the effects of weakness and frailty, but of willfulness. For the contrition that only disturbed the soul and filled it with scruples will never lead it to perfection, unless it is combined with this loving confidence in the goodness and mercy of God.

And this is especially necessary in the case of persons who not only seek to rise out of their miseries, but would also ac­quire a high degree of sanctity and a great love for and union with God.

Many spiritual persons, from not wishing to understand this aright, ever bear about with them a heart and a spirit bro­ken and distrustful, which hinders their spiritual progress and capacity for the higher graces, which one after another God has prepared for them. These often lead a sort of life that is very wretched, useless, and pitiable, because they will follow only their own imaginations and will not embrace the true and wholesome doctrine that leads by the royal road to the high and solid virtues of the Christian life and to that peace which was left us by Christ Himself.

Such persons, whenever they find themselves in some dis­quietude through doubts of conscience, should seek the coun­sel of their spiritual father or of someone whom they think capable of giving them the advice they need, and should com­mit themselves to him and rest entirely in his judgment.

Learn to recover your soul’s calmness
Take this rule, whenever you fall into a fault, be it great or small, even though you may have committed the same four thousand times in a day, and always voluntarily and with ad­vertency: never allow yourself to fall into a state of morose bit­terness, and do not be disquieted, nor waste your time by scrutinizing yourself. But at once acknowledge what you have done, and, humbly regarding your own weakness, turn lov­ingly to your God, and say to Him with your lips, or with your mind only, “Lord, I have done this, being what I am, and noth­ing else could be expected from me, save only these and simi­lar faults, and I would not have stopped where I did, had not Thy goodness lifted me up and continued with me. I give Thee thanks for that from which Thou hast preserved me, and I grieve over that which I have done through not corresponding with Thy grace. Pardon me, and give me grace that I may never offend Thee anymore, and may nothing ever separate me from Thee, whom I desire ever to serve and to obey.”

Having done this, do not waste time in anxious thoughts, imagining that the Lord has not forgiven you. But, in a spirit of faith and repose, continue your exercises, as if you had not fallen at all.

And this you must do, not only once, but a hundred times, if it is needed, and at every moment, and with the same confi­dence and repose the last time as the first. For in this way, you will do great honor to the goodness of God, whom you are bound to conceive of as all-gracious and infinite in compas­sion beyond all that you can imagine.

Thus, nothing will come to disturb your progress, your per­severance, and your onward course; nor will you let time pass away vainly and fruitlessly. Moreover, you may, by thus acting, even turn your sin and failing to account, rising from it with an intense act of acknowledgment of your misery and of self-abasement before God; accompanying it with an act of ac­knowledgment of His mercy — loving and exalting it. And this very fall will enable you to rise higher than you were be­fore you fell, through the help that God gives you, provided you make good use of it.

If those who are of an anxious and restless temperament would give heed to what has been here said, they would dis­cover how great is their blindness in thus losing time, to their own great hurt. And this warning should be carefully noted, for it is one of the keys that the soul has for unlocking great spiritual treasures, and thereby for becoming rich in a short time.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Scupoli’s classic work, Spiritual Combat, which is available from Sophia Institute Press

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Is It God’s Will for All Christians to Be Wealthy?

More and more Christians, all over the world, believe that material prosperity is the right of all Christians. They believe that God expects them to ask for it and to anticipate it as a sure fulfilment of his promise. There is no doubt that both the Old and New Testaments teach that the faithful will be blessed by God.

But does that blessing necessarily always include material prosperity? Can all Christians expect to become wealthy? Turning to the Bible dispels such an expectation.

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First, Paul often showed that his sufferings did not take away from his fullness of life. In his epistles he presents his suffering as part of the evidence that he was blessed and called by God (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:8-18; 6:3-10; 11:13-33; 12:1-10; Gal. 6:17). He once described himself “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). In Ephesians, writing from prison, five times Paul mentions wealth—referring to the gospel and all its treasures. He himself was a poor prisoner deprived of many basic human necessities, but he viewed himself as being wealthy.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phil. 4:11-12)

He implies that wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing, but contentment is. In fact in this epistle the words joy, rejoice, rejoiced, and glad appear 16 times. He says that we must “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). This is also the epistle that talks about the peace of God that passes all understanding (4:7). So contentment, peace, and joy characterize a truly wealthy Christian.

Some years ago I did a study of all the places in the New Testament where Jesus is presented as a model for us to follow. Of the 29 texts I looked more closely at four were general statements asking the readers to follow Christ; two were about forgiving as Jesus forgave (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13), and two were about meekness and gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1; 11:17). The other 21 were about the example of Christ’s servanthood and his sufferings.[1] So when encouraging generosity, Paul gives the example of Jesus and says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus himself said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus covered with sores, it is the beggar who goes to heaven while the rich man suffers in hell (Luke 16:19-31). We can safely conclude that the New Testament does not include material success in its basic description what it means to be a follower of Christ.

More Danger than Blessing

Third, the New Testament seems to show wealth more as a danger than as a blessing. It emphasises the dangers more than the desirability of wealth. Jesus set the tone for this emphasis with his statement, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25). This statement is cited in all three synoptic Gospels. But how often do we hear preachers repeat it today? Jesus underscores his teaching about the dangers of wealth in his parable about the rich farmer who acquired sufficient wealth to secure a comfortable retirement. He is called a “fool” at his death. Jesus explains by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21). In his evangelistic call to would-be disciples to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him, Jesus warns, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). If we neglect this aspect of the call of Christ in our preaching of the gospel, we will be guilty of distorting the gospel just like the liberals of an earlier generation.

When we turn to 1 Timothy 6 we find more warnings about the dangers of wealth. Paul says that it is right to want basic necessities like food and clothing: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). Beyond that necessity, wealth is not a big deal. Paul says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (6:6-7). It is not essential that we are rich, but it is essential that we are godly and contented. Elsewhere Paul says that he is content even while suffering: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). The idea of strength in weakness is another neglected biblical doctrine today.

Let’s get back to the warnings. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10 Paul says:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Another strong warning comes in the parable of the sower, where Jesus says about the seed sown among thorns, “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). These two strong warnings tell us how the desire for wealth can cause huge harm by deceiving us into giving up God’s way for the way of supposed prosperity. Sadly, today we find so many people who have fallen into these very traps. They have ruined their spiritual lives and condemned themselves to an unhappy life. In light of such strong warnings about the dangers of desiring to be rich, backed by so many whose lives have been ruined in this way, preachers should be careful not to inflame that desire by promising wealth to their hearers.

Treasures in Heaven

At the same time, the Bible does not give an entirely negative approach to the issue of wealth. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20). This statement is made in the context of what to do with wealth. Using language familiar to people in the business world, Jesus advises that we make the smartest investment in the most secure place: heaven. Preachers should encourage Christians to pursue eternal prosperity.

In 1 Timothy 6 Paul also asks the wealthy to be rich in generosity: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (6:18-19). We invest in the Bank of Heaven by giving to the needy. Earlier we observed that Paul said in 1 Timothy 6 that wealth is less important than godliness and contentment. Now he is saying that lavish generosity is also important. The many teachings in the Bible about giving show that, for a biblical Christian, this is one of the great ambitions in life. Paul says the Macedonian Christians were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).

When urging the Corinthian Christians to contribute to the needs of the church in Jerusalem, Paul says, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13, NIV). In a world of glaring inequality, we give generously so as to bring some measure of fairness and equality. This urgent need for fairness in the world has led many Christians to make a decision to adopt a simple lifestyle—avoiding extravagance and giving as much as possible for the work of God and to the needy. As someone has said, “We live simply so that others may simply live.” In support of this idea of a simple lifestyle we refer to Jesus’ statement, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt. 6:19).

Example and Hero

Sixth, many of the heroes and devoted people of the New Testament were poor. Jesus is our prime example and hero. He became poor so that we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). Some say that Jesus took on the curse so that we may not have to live under it, and therefore we will not suffer as he did. But in both these passages Jesus is presented to us as an example to follow. Paul even says that he desires to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). There is a depth of oneness with Christ that we will experience only when we suffer as he did. And to us union with Christ is the greatest wealth.

Many of the commended followers of Jesus in the New Testament were poor. The Macedonians were heroes because they gave despite their poverty: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Cor. 8:1-3). The giving of these poor Christians is described using the word wealth. In a passage rebuking the church for considering the rich as superior to the poor, James says, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (Jas. 2:5). The poor believers were actually rich!

In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, only two churches do not receive a rebuke. And both of them are described as not having what the world thinks of as material success. The first is the church in Smyrna. The angel talks of their “poverty” then immediately says, “But you are rich” (Rev. 2:9). The second is the church in Philadelphia, which is described as having “but little power” (Rev. 3:8). They were two rare exceptions of churches having God-approved lifestyles at a time of great compromise. And they were poor and powerless! Isn’t it interesting how the poor Christians in these passages are described in terms suggesting that they were wealthy? That sense of being wealthy constitutes an important aspect of the identity of a Christian. If we are happy about our identity, then we will surely be happy people.

The mother church in Jerusalem consisted mainly of poor people. So other churches had to help them. There is nothing to say that they were poor because of something wrong in their beliefs or actions. It was a time of economic hardship in Jerusalem, compounded by the fact that many retirees lost their social relief benefits when they became Christians. Therefore the Christians in Jerusalem had great economic needs that Christians in other parts of the world met through their missionary giving.

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It is true that the Old Testament promises prosperity as one of the blessings of faithfulness to God (e.g. Deut. 28:11). But we must remember that these promises were made to a righteous nation under the Old Covenant. The Old Testament often describes the pain of righteous individuals in that nation who struggled with the fact that the wicked were prospering while they were not. Many of the laments in the Psalms mention this struggle. Psalm 73 is a classic. Here Asaph’s struggle over his lack of prosperity compared to the prosperity of the wicked is solved only after he realizes that God will judge the wicked with righteousness. The books of Job and Habakkuk highlight the faith of genuinely godly people who honor God by refusing to give up trusting in him in the midst of terrible suffering. The Old Testament then does not assure the righteous of prosperity. In fact, like the New Testament, it also warns people often of the dangers of prosperity (e.g. Deut. 6:10-25; 8:11-20; 32:15-18).

Finally, history shows that some of the greatest growth of the church took place when the Christians were really poor and struggling. This was so recently in China, Nepal, and Korea (in the early years of church growth), and now in Iran where there is significant growth. Many qualities, such as child-like trust, are easier for the poor to grow in their lives. This is one reason why Christ said it was so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

God’s Plan

There is no doubt that the Bible teaches that faithful people who are wealthy have an important role in God’s plan. Some exemplary people in the Bible, like Abraham (Gen 13:2), Barzillai (2 Sam. 19:32), the Shunemite woman who helped Elisha (2 Kings 4:8), and Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57), were specifically described as being wealthy. After saying that the rich must not be haughty, Paul says that “God . . . richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Enjoying the things that money can buy is not necessarily wrong. At the same time it is significant that each of these four godly wealthy people mentioned were commended for their generosity.

Wealthy Christians can honor Christ especially by being humble, generous, and godly while being wealthy. Poor Christians can honor him especially by being contented, full of faith, generous, and godly while being poor. It is clear that in the Bible wealth is far less important than contentment, joy, peace, holiness, love, and generosity. People with these characteristics are, according to the Bible, truly prosperous whether they are economically rich or poor.[2]

 

The Stigmata of St. Francis

 

St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians made reference that those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified there flesh with its passions and desires. “May I never boast of anything but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through it, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world…All that matters is that one is created anew…Peace and Mercy on all who follow this rule of life, and on the Israel of God…for I bear the brand marks of Jesus in my body.”We read this in the first reading of the Divine Office for the Stigmata of our Holy Father St. Francis of Assisi.

Our Holy Father St. Francis was a man who turned his heart to Christ and crucified his flesh to the world for the love of God. A man whose life was filled with many blessings for all. A man regarded for his extraordinary humility, simplicity, and poverty…and charity, and a man who wanted to imitate Jesus in all things.

In the year 1224 near the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, while praying atop of Mt. Alverna, our Holy Father prayed “My Lord Jesus Christ, I beg thee to grant me two graces before my death: first, that for the rest of my life I may experience in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, the same pain that you suffered, O sweet Jesus, during the time of thy most cruel Passion; and second, that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, the same love which inflamed thee, the Son of God, and led thee to suffer thy passion gladly for us sinners.”

An external sign was given that God had answered his prayer, while caught up in ecstasy our Holy Father encountered a seraph who offered him an image and imprint of Jesus crucified. This incident gave our Holy Father the stigmata or the sacred wounds of our Lord from which blood would flow until his death two years later.

The sign is a reminder of God’s tremendous love for us…worked through men like St. Francis or St. Padre Pio who conformed their lives to God humbly. This miracle is to call us to a deeper life of practicing heroic virtue more and to possess a special love of the cross, uniting our own individual sufferings to the passion and death of our Lord Jesus that conform us to the will of God. Through this we imitate the life and love of Jesus Christ and we become a light for the salvation of the world just as St. Francis of Assisi for the whole world to see.

May All Praise and Thanksgiving be given to God Almighty now and forever.