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On Perseverance

ON PERSEVERANCE

“He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.”
Matthew 24:13

St. Jerome says, that many begin well, but few persevere. “Incipere multorum est, perseverare paucorum” (Lib. i. Contra Jovin). Saul, Judas, Tertullian, began well, but ended badly, because they did not persevere in grace. “Non queeruntur in Christianis initia,” says the same St. Jerome, “sed finis” (Ep. ad Fur.). The Lord, says the saint, requires not only the beginning of a good life, but also the end; it is the end that shall be rewarded. St. Bonaventure says, that the crown is given only to perseverance. “Sola perseverantia coronatur.” Hence St. Lawrence Justinian calls perseverance the gate of heaven. “Caeli januam.” No one can enter paradise unless he find the gate of heaven. My brother, at present you have renounced sin, and justly hope that you have been pardoned. You are then the friend of God; but remember that you are not yet saved. And when shall you be saved? When you shall have persevered to the end. “He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” Have you begun a good life? Thank the Lord for it; but St. Bernard warns you that to him who begins, a reward is only promised, and is given only to him who perseveres. “Inchoantibus premium promittitur, perseverantibus datur” (Ser, vi, de modo bene viv). It is not enough to run for the prize; you must run til you win it. “So run,” says St. Paul, “that you may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

ifYou have already put your hand to the plow, and you have begun to live well; but now you must tremble and fear more than ever. “With fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12). And why? Because if (God forbid it should happen) you look back and return to a life of sin, God shall declare you unfit for paradise. “No man putting his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). At present, through the grace of God, you avoid evil occasions, you frequent the sacraments, and make meditation every day. Happy you if you continue to do so, and if, when he shall come to judge you, Jesus Christ shall find you doing these things. “Blessed is that servant whom, when his Lord shall come, he shall find so doing” (Matthew 24:46). But do not imagine that, now that you have begun to serve God, there is as it were an end, or a lack of temptations; listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost. “Son, when thou comes to the service of God…prepare thy soul for temptation” (Sirach 2:1). Remember that now, more than ever, you must prepare yourself for conflicts, because your enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, shall arm themselves now, more than ever, to fight against you, in order to deprive you of all that you have acquired. Denis, the Carthusian, says, that the more a soul gives herself to God, the more strenuously hell labors to destroy her. “Quanto quis fortius nititur Deo servire, tanto acrius adversus eum saevit adversarius.” And this is sufficiently expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke, where Jesus Christ says, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water; seeking rest, and not finding it, he saith, I will return into my house, whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in, they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26). When banished from a soul, the devil finds no repose, and does everything in his power to return; he even calls companions to his aid; and if he succeeds in reentering, the second fall of that soul shall be far more ruinous than the first.

Consider, then, what arms you must use in order to defend yourself against these enemies, and to preserve your soul in the grace of God. To escape defeat, and to conquer the devil, there is no other defense than prayer. S. Paul says that we have to contend, not with men of flesh and blood like ourselves, but with the princes of hell. “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12). By these words the apostle wished to admonish us that we have not strength to resist such powerful enemies, and that we stand in need of aid from God. With his aid we shall be able to do all things. “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Such the language of St. Paul; such, too, should be our language. But this divine aid is given only to those who pray for it. “Ask, and you shall receive.” Let us, then, not trust in our purposes, if we trust in them, we shall be lost. Whenever the devil tempts us, let us place our entire confidence in the divine assistance, and let us recommend ourselves to Jesus Christ and most holy Mary. We ought to do this particularly as often as we are tempted against chastity. For this is the most terrible of all temptations, and is the one by which the devil gains most victories. We have not strength to preserve chastity; this strength must come from God. “And,” said Solomon, “as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it…I went to the Lord, and besought him” (Wisdom 8:21). In such temptations, then, we must instantly have recourse to Jesus Christ, and to his holy mother, frequently invoking the most holy names of Jesus and Mary. He who does this shall conquer; he who neglects it shall be lost.

Affections and Prayers

Ah, my God, “cast me not away from thy face.” I know that thou shall never abandon me, unless I first abandon thee. Experience of my own weakness makes me tremble lest I should again forsake thee. Lord, it is from thee I must receive the strength necessary to conquer hell, which labors to make me again its slave. This strength I ask of thee for the sake of Jesus Christ. O my Savior, establish between thee and me a perpetual peace, which shall never be broken for all eternity. For this purpose I ask thy love. “He who loves not is dead.” O God of my soul, it is by thee I must be saved from this unhappy death. I was lost; thou knowest it. It is thy goodness alone that has brought me into the state in which I am at present, in which I hope I am thy friend. Ah, my Jesus, through the painful death which thou didst suffer for my salvation, do not permit me evermore to lose thee voluntarily. I love thee above all things. I hope to see myself always bound with this holy love, and to die in the bonds of love, and to live for eternity in the chains of thy love. O Mary, thou art called the mother of perseverance; through thee this great gift is dispensed. Through thy intercession I ask and hope to obtain it.

Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).

Art: “The Pearly Gates” The entrance to the Archangelou Monastery on the Greek Island of Thassos, Ronald Saunders, 24 May 2011, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • kathleen

    Didn’t Saul end well? Didn’t he become Paul and give us the wonderful teachings found in the New Testament. And, at the end, gave his life for Christ and His Church.

    • LizEst

      I’m smiling because you had the same reaction I had when I first read this. St Alphonsus is talking about a different Saul, who was King of Israel, in the Old Testament. He would never say it was Saul who became St. Paul. Notice that he quotes St. Paul later on in that same paragraph! This post is particularly about St. Paul’s exhortation to persevere. God bless you, kathleen. Blessed Holy Week and Easter to you!

      • Earth Angel

        I never dreamed that needing final perseverance could become a need in my own life. It is very real, very humbling. It is a demonic cooling that may come as one’s life is drawing to a close. It may come after a life of devotion and dedication to the One Thing that truly matters. Why is it that some souls do not appear to be bogged down by these distractions in their maturity? It is perhaps a blessing to expose those sins and weaknesses that would never be known unless they are exposed when one is being pulled away from authentic Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Prayers for the aging and the dying are of great importance. It is the last call.

        • LizEst

          Yes, the aging and the dying are in great need of prayer. They can also use some visits and assistance. We don’t know why God permits some things for some people and other things for others. His ways are not our ways. We do know that all things work for good for those who love God (cf Romans 8:28). Blessed Easter to you, Earth Angel.

    • Aprendiendo

      This is what I thought too.

      • LizEst

        See my note below. St Alphonsus is talking about Saul, the King of Israel, in the Old Testament. This meditation is all about the perseverance that St. Paul exhorts us to. God bless you Aprendiendo! Blessed Holy Week and Easter to you!

  • 7cathy17

    Perseverance:It is he who perseveres in me.His Grace is sufficient @ any given
    moment,as I attempt to stay close to him.Draw near to God and he will draw near. to you. James 4:8.

  • kathleen

    LizEst, I never thought of Saul of the Old Testament. Thank you for the correction, and the reminder. Don’t know why it didn’t come to me at first. I have been praying for holy perseverance. I watched the Mass on EWTN this morning. The homily was on perseverance. Fr. Miguel reminded us to ask God for the gift of perseverance… to remember that it’s God who can do it for us… we can’t do it on our own. It’s easy to get discouraged – not so easy to overcome. As St. Paul says: we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I thought it was a nice “coincidence” that the homily should be on perseverance since I had read this article on perseverance about an hour before I turned on EWTN. God Bless.

    • LizEst

      Wow! God’s timing! This post was set up long time ago…so there was no human collusion involved! So, happy to hear of it. What a blessing. …and don’t worry about not recalling Saul in the OT. As I said, I first thought it was St Paul as well. We can’t think of everything all the time. We’re not God…of which I am grateful for. What a responsibility! And, what a great Father we have!

  • marybernadette

    ‘Awhile ago, I heard the Lord speak to my Spirit regarding this very teaching from Matthew 24:13. Thanking you for elaborating on this most important exhortation of the Lord.’

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