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