An Introduction to the Ascetical Life

Translated by SISTER M. MONICA WAGNER, C S. C.
New York
Fathers of the Church, Inc.
decreed by a
king for his ordinary subjects, but nobler
and more regal are the commands he addresses
to his soldiers. As if military orders are being
proclaimed, therefore, let that man give ear
who desires what is of great and celestial
worth, who wishes to be ever Christ's comrade
in battle, who heeds that mighty word: 'If any
man minister to me, let him follow me; and
where I am, there also shall my minister be.'1
Where is Christ, the King? In heaven, to be
sure. Thither it behooves you, soldier [of
Christ], to direct your course. Forget all earthly
delights. A soldier does not build a house; he
does not aspire to the possession of lands; he
does not concern himself with devious, coinpurveying trade. 'No man, being a soldier to
God, entangleth himself with secular
businesses; that he may please him to whom he
hath engaged himself." The soldier enjoys a
sustenance provided by the king; he need not
furnish his own, nor vex himself in this regard.
By royal edict, a home lies open to him
wherever there are subjects of the king. He is
not required to toil at building a house. On the
open road is his tent and he takes his food as
1John 12.26.
necessity demands; water is his drink, and his
slumber such as nature provides. Many are his
marches and
vigils; his
LIFE of heat and10
cold, engagements with the foe, the worst and
greatest of perils; often, perchance, death
itself—but a glorious death followed by rewards
toilsome in war; in peace it is joyous. The prize
of valor, the crown awarded to him who has
in righteousness,
to be endowed11
with sovereignty, to be called the King's friend,
to stand at His side, to receive His salutation,
to accept honors from the King's own hand, to
be eminent among the King's people, and to
play the mediator for his friends without the
court in whatever they desire.
Come, then, soldier of Christ, with the aid of
these ordinary parallels drawn from human
considerations conceive the desire of
everlasting goods. Set before yourself a life
without house, homeland, or possessions. Be
free and at liberty from all worldly cares, lest
desire of a wife or anxiety for a child fetter you.
In the celestial warfare this cannot be, 'For the
weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but
mighty to God.'3 Bodily nature does not
exercise dominion over you, nor docs it
constrain you against your will; it does not
make you slave instead of free. Desire not to
leave behind you progeny upon the earth, but
to lead them to heaven; nor to cleave to fleshly
unions, but to strive after spiritual ones—to
exercise power over souls and beget sons in the
spirit. Follow the Heavenly Bridegroom;
withstand the onset of invisible foes; wage war
against principalities and powers,4 driving
them out first from your own soul that they
may have no part with you and, thereafter, out
of those who fly to you and, seeking the
of your counsel,
themselves at12
your feet as their leader and champion.
Repudiate those disputes which arc opposed to
the faith of Christ. Fight with the word of piety
against the impious and wicked counsel;
'destroying counsels,' as the Apostle says, 'and
every height that exalteth itself against the
knowledge of God.'5 Place your trust, most
2 Cor. 10.4.
4 Eph. 6.12.
5 2
of all, in the arm of the great King, the mere
of which makes
enemies fear13
and tremble. But whenever He wills that you
also become holy through the endurance of
perils and wishes to pit His own forces against
the foe, then, in every struggle let your arms be
invincible, your soul undaunted by danger, and
with ready will change your abode from land to
land and from sea to sea. 'And when they shall
persecute you, flee from city to city,' says the
Evangelist.2When you are summoned to court
and must stand, perforce, before the
magistrates or be a victim of popular attack;
when you are forced to behold the dread visage
of the executioner and hear his harsh voice, or
endure the cruel sight of instruments of
torment, or be tried by torture—fight even to
the death. Be not faint-hearted in the face of all
these sufferings. Keep before your eyes Him
who for your sake was afflicted by them,
knowing that for the sake of Christ you also
must be tried therein, and you will be
victorious over them; for you follow a King
who is a victor, and who wishes you to share in
His victory. Moreover, not even if you die have
you been conquered—nay, then, in truth, have
you won the perfect victory, inasmuch as you
have preserved unto your own self and even to
2 Matt. 10.23.
the end the truth which remains ever
unchanged and you have maintained an
intrepid boldness
in speaking
behalf of the14
From death you shall pass to everlasting life,
from ignominy in men's sight to glory with God,
and from the adversities and chastisements of
this world to eternal peace with the angels. Earth
did not accept you as a citizen, but heaven will
welcome you. The world persecuted you, but the
angels will bear you aloft to the presence of
Christ. You will even be called friend by Him and
of commendation: 'Well done, good and faithful
servant, brave soldier and imitator of the Lord,
follower of the King, I shall reward you with My
own gifts and I shall pay heed to your words even
as you did to Mine.' You will ask the salvation of
your brethren still laboring under tribulation and
you will receive from the King for your comrades
in the faith and in holy charity a share in His
blessings. You will join in the never-ending dance
and wear your crown in the sight of the angels,
ruling under the King over His creatures and living blessedly in the company of the blessed. But
if He wish to leave you still on earth after your
conflicts in order to wage other and more
diversified kinds of warfare and rescue many
from contests with visible and invisible foes,
great will be your glory even upon earth; you will
be held in honor by your friends who will have
found in you a defender, a friend in need, and an
able spokesman. They will cherish you as a brave
soldier; they will honor you as a noble champion;
they will salute you as a friend and welcome you
with joy as an angel of God and, according to
Paul, as Christ Jesus.7 Such, then, are the
similitudes of the spiritual warfare. But our discourse is not addressed to men only; for
members of the female sex are not rejected
50 LUKE 16.10.
of physical weakness, but, chosen for the
army of Christ by reason of their virility of spirit,
they also battle on the side of Christ and fight no
less valiantly than men. Some even win a greater
renown. Of the number of these are they who
compose the virgin throng. Of these are they who
are pre-eminent in the combat for the confession
of the faith and in the triumphs of martyrdom.
Indeed, women as well as men followed after the
Lord during His life on earth and both sexes
ministered to our Saviour. Since this is the
glorious recompense laid up for the army of
50 LUKE 17.10.
Christ, the fathers of sons and the mothers of
daughters should be filled with longing for it. Let
them, in their desire to have worthy envoys and
spokesmen with Christ, bring before Him their
offspring, rejoicing in the everlasting hopes
which their children will share in with
themselves. And let us not become faint-hearted
in our concern for our children nor grow fearful if
they suffer tribulation, but let us be happy that
they will be glorified. Let us offer to the Lord the
gifts received from Him, so that we may be
partners with our children in glory, going before
Him together with them and standing with them
in His presence. Certainly, to those who show an
alacrity such as this and who nobly contend for
the victory, the words of the Psalmist may be
appropriately applied: 'Blessed be you of the
Lord, who made heaven and earth.8 And the
prayer of Moses will be offered for them: 'Bless, O
Lord, their Works, strike the brow of their
enemies.'3 Fight manfully, then, like good soldiers
and run nobly your race for the everlasting
crown4 in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be
glory for ever. Amen.
50 LUKE 18.10.
3 Deut. 33.11.
4 I Cor. 9.24,25.
4 I'rov. 16.24.