(Chapter 16 of Light and Peace by R.P. Quadrupani, Barnabite)
“Love God and do what you will.” – Saint Augustine
1 – Christian liberty of spirit, so earnestly recommended by the Saints, consists in not becoming the slave of anything, even though good, unless it be of God’s Will. Thus our purest inclinations, our holiest habits, our wisest rules of conduct, should yield without murmur or complaint to every manifestation of this divine will, in order that they may never become for us obstacles or impediments to good or the occasion of trouble and disquietude. By this means only can we perform all our actions with cheerful confidence and devout courage.
2 – St. Francis de Sales, speaking on this important subject, says: “He who possesses the spirit of liberty will on no account allow his affections to be mastered even by his spiritual exercises, and in this way he avoids feeling any regret if they are interfered with by sickness or accident. I do not say that he does not love his devotions but that he is not attached to them.”
3 – A soul that is attached to meditation, if interrupted, will show chagrin and impatience: a soul that has true liberty will take the interruption in good part and show a gracious countenance to the person who was the cause of it. For it is all one to it whether it serve God by meditating or by bearing with its neighbor. Both duties are God’s Will, but just at this time patience with others is the more essential.
4 – The fruits of this holy liberty of spirit are prompt and tranquil submission and generous confidence. St. Francis de Sales relates that St. Ignatius ate flesh meat one day in Holy Week simply because his physician thought it expedient for him to do so on account of a slight illness. A spirit of constraint would have made him allow the doctor to spend three days in persuading him, he adds, and would then very probably have refused to yield. I cite this example for the benefit of timid souls and not for those who seek to elude an obligation by unwarranted dispensations.
5 – Again, it is this Christian spirit of freedom that excludes fear and uneasiness in regards to all those things which God has not permitted us to know. It gives us a sweet and tender confidence as to the pardon of our past sins, the present condition of our souls, and our eternal destiny. It reminds us continually that although we have deserved Hell, our divine Lord has merited Heaven for us, and that it would be doing a great injury to His goodness not to hope for pardon for the past, assistance of divine grace for the present, and salvation after death. Finally, it teaches us to drown our remorse for sin in the ocean of the divine mercy.
6 – I earnestly exhort you never to make indiscreet vows in the hope of thus increasing the merit of your ordinary works. One can attain the same end by many ways that are easier and less dangerous. Those who are guilty of this imprudence often run the risk of breaking their vows and of thus sinning gravely. And if they avoid this misfortune it is only at the expense of their peace of soul, sacrificed to a craved and unquiet servitude which is totally incompatible with the tranquility and confidence required in the great work of our spiritual perfection.
7 – Many pious persons are too prone to advise obligations of this kind. If they do so to you, humbly excuse yourself by saying that you do not possess the extraordinary virtue requisite in order to fulfill them without disquietude. St. Francis de Sales disapproved of all the particular vows made by St. Jane Frances de Chantal and declared them null. I have almost invariably found persons bound by such solemn obligations restless and agitated, and have frequently seen them exposed to the gravest falls.
8 – Do not allow yourself to be misled by the example of some of the Saints who made vows. Rarely is the desire to imitate certain extraordinary practices of theirs an inspiration of divine grace: rather is it a temptation from the devil inciting us to pride and temerity. St. Francis de Sales exclaimed: “Give me the spirit that animated St. Bernard and I shall do what St. Bernard did.” Let us apply ourselves, I repeat, to the imitation of those simple and solid virtues by which the Saints attained sanctity, and be content to admire those supernatural acts that suppose it already acquired.
9 – To bind oneself by arbitrary vows without compromising salvation, three things are necessary: First, supernatural inspiration urging one to make them; second, extraordinary virtue so as never to violate them; third, unalterable tranquility in order to preserve peace of soul in keeping them.