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To Francisco de Borja, Duke of Gandía
|On Prayer and Penance||Rome, September 20, 1548|
Francisco de Borja,1 Duke of Gandía, secretly pronounced his vows in the Society on February 1, 1548. Since his wife's death in May 1546, he lived a vibrant spiritual life, and now in 1548 he was making plans to resign his title so that he could fully live as a Jesuit. In preparation for that day, he attended the theological course at the Jesuit college in Gandía, which he had founded in 1545, and it is to these studies that Ignatius refers. In a letter to Ignatius, now lost, the duke asked the founder for his opinion on the prayers and penances he was practicing. In his response Ignatius instructs him to reduce his prayers, spend more time in study, and to care for his health. The original letter was written in Spanish [Ep. 2:233-237].
My lord in our Lord:
May the perfect grace and everlasting love of Christ our Lord be always in our favor and help.
When I hear how harmoniously you have reconciled your spiritual and temporal interests and directed them to your spiritual progress, I find fresh reason, I assure you, for rejoicing in our Lord; and while giving thanks to His Eternal Majesty I can attribute my joy only to His Divine Goodness, which is the source of all our blessings. And yet I realize in our Lord that at one time we may need some exercises, spiritual as well as corporal, and at another time others. Because those which have proved profitable for a time may cease to be so later, I will tell you what I think in His Divine Majesty on this subject, since your lordship has asked for my views.
First. I should think that the time set aside for these exercises, both interior and exterior, should be reduced by half. We ought to increase these exercises when our thoughts have their origin in ourselves or are suggested by our enemy, and lead us to fix our attention on objects that are distracting, frivolous, or forbidden, or when we wish to prevent our wills from taking any satisfaction in them or yielding any consent. I say, as a rule, that as these thoughts multiply we ought to increase our exercises, both interior and exterior, so that we may overcome them, always keeping in mind the individual's character, the varying nature of the thoughts or temptations, and being careful to adapt the exercises to the capacity of the individual. However, when these thoughts weaken and die out, holy thoughts and inspirations will take their place; these we must warmly welcome by opening to them all the doors of the soul. As a result there will be no further need of so many weapons to overthrow the enemy.
From what I can judge of your lordship in our Lord, it would be better if you were to devote to study about half the time you now give to these exercises. In the future, learning will always be very necessary or certainly useful; and not only that which is infused but also that which is acquired by study. Some of your time should go to the administration of your estates and to spiritual conversation. Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet, always ready for whatever our Lord may wish to work in you. It is certainly a higher virtue of the soul, and a greater grace, to be able to enjoy the Lord in different times and different places than in only one. We should, in the Divine Goodness, strive to attain this.
Second. As to fasts and abstinences, I would advise you in our Lord to strengthen your stomach and your other physical powers, rather than to weaken them. My reason is that, in the first place, when a soul is so disposed to lose its own life rather than offend God's majesty by even the slightest deliberate sin and is, moreover, comparatively free from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil (a condition of soul which I am sure your lordship by God's grace enjoys), I should like very much to see your lordship imprint on your soul the truth that since both body and soul are gifts from your Creator and Lord, you should give Him a good account of both. To do this you must not allow your body to grow weak; for if you do, the interior man will no longer be able to function properly. Therefore though I once highly praised fasting and abstinence, even from many ordinary foods, and for a certain period was pleased with this program, I cannot now praise it when I see that the stomach, because of these fasts and abstinences, cannot function naturally or digest any of the ordinary meats or other items of diet which contribute to the proper maintenance of the body.
I should rather have you seek every means of strengthening the body. Eat, therefore, whatever food is allowed, and as often as you find it convenient; but it should be done without offense to the neighbor. We should love the body insofar as it is obedient and helpful to the soul, since the soul, with the body's help and service, is better disposed for the service and praise of our Creator and Lord.
Third. Concerning the harsh treatment of the body for our Lord's sake, I would say, avoid anything that would cause the shedding even of a drop of blood. If His Divine Majesty has given you the grace for this and for all that I have mentioned (it is my conviction that He has), it would be better in the future, without listing here any reasons or arguments, to drop this penance, and instead of trying to draw blood seek more immediately the Lord of all, or what comes to the same, seek His most holy gifts, such as the gift of tears. This could arise (1) because of our own sins or the sins of others; or (2) while contemplating the mysteries of the life of Christ, either here on earth or in heaven; or (3) from a loving consideration of the three Divine Persons. Thus the higher our thoughts soar, the greater will be their worth. The third is more perfect than the second, and the second more perfect than the first. But for a given individual the level on which our Lord communicates more of Himself in holy graces and spiritual gifts will be the best level, because He sees and knows what is best for you. Like one who knows all, he points out the way to you. On our part, with the help of His grace, we will learn by testing many methods, so that we may advance along the way that stands out clearest, which will be for us the happiest and most blessed in this life, leading us directly by ordered paths to that other everlasting life, after having united us in a close embrace with His most holy gifts. By these gifts I understand those that are beyond the reach of our own powers, which we cannot attain at will, since they are rather a pure gift of Him who bestows them who alone can give every good. These gifts, with His Divine Majesty as their end, are an increase in the intensity of faith, hope, and charity, joy and spiritual repose, tears, intense consolations, elevation of mind, divine enlightenments and illuminations, together with all other spiritual relish and understanding which have these gifts as their objects, such as a humble reverence for our holy mother the Church, her rulers, and teachers.
Any of these holy gifts should be preferred to exterior and visible manifestations, which are good only when they have one or other of these higher gifts as their object. I do not mean to say that we should seek them merely for the satisfaction or the pleasure they give us. We know, however, that without them all our thoughts, words, and actions are of themselves tainted, cold, disordered; while with them they become clear, warm, and upright for God's greater service. It is therefore that we should desire these gifts, or some of them, as well as spiritual graces; that is insofar as they are a help to us to God's greater glory. Thus, when the body falls ill because of excessive effort, it is most reasonable to seek these gifts by acts of the understanding and other more moderate exercises. It is not the soul alone that should be healthy; if the mind is healthy in a healthy body, all will be healthy and much better prepared to give God greater service. On how you should act in individual cases, I do not think it wise in the Lord to speak in detail. It is my hope that the same Divine Spirit who has up to now guided your lordship will continue to guide and rule you in the future, to the greater glory of His Divine Majesty.