A Mother's Spiritual Diary

Asceticism and Penance

The Christian view of life is realistic. Faith discloses to us a sinful humanity. All the books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, speak of sin, without despairing pessimism, but with consciousness that the central fact of divine Revelation is the dogma of Redemption. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor 15:3). Like that of the prophets of the Old Testament, the evangelical preaching of Jesus and of the Apostles is a ceaseless exhortation to repent and do penance. Due to this fact Christian spirituality is wholly penetrated by the Spirit of the Cross and is expressed by a vigorous antithesis, the basis of all Christianity and formulated by St. Paul: death and life. Christian life is a death to sin and a life in God, in communion with the paschal mystery. The more we die to sin, the more we rise with Christ, to the glory of the Father.

The struggle against sin is at the heart of the teachings of the Cross as well as those of the Gospel. The Lord reminded Conchita of this very strongly. "Penance is a great virtue and the spirit of repentance is a gratuitous gift which God grants to whom He pleases." Its influence is universal, not only for liberating man from sin, but for helping him practice all the virtues. "I have given it to you from your most tender childhood. Penance is the rampart protecting chastity. Penitence appeases God's justice and transforms it into graces. It purifies souls, extinguishes the fires of purgatory and receives in heaven a most sublime recompense. Penance pays for personal faults and those of others. Penance is the sister of mortification. Both work together hand in hand. Penance helps the soul rise above things of the earth. Penance cooperates with the Redemption of the world. Penance humbles man, it penetrates him with an inner feeling of his baseness and his wretchedness. Penance brings light to the soul. It consumes and causes to disappear all in it that is purely material. It raises him higher and higher above the earth, making him taste of delights hitherto unknown and pure. But this penance should be the daughter of reverence and exist in the soul, hidden from all humans" (Diary, Sept. 24, 1895).

Every master of spirituality recalls the need of a spiritual combat against self and against tendencies which remain in each of us, even after a sincere conversion. It is necessary to fight to the death, "I must strive to uproot this 'ego' which tenaciously stands up at every instant, wanting to dominate everything. With the help of grace, I feel this 'ego' growing weaker and more prone to self-surrender, but I would like to kill it and bury it deeper and deeper.

"Truly the most formidable foe of perfection is 'ego,' with its self-love, its tastes, its seeking for ease and comfort. Once this 'ego' is conquered, the place is ours and Jesus is ours too, entirely. He does not come into a house already occupied. Then the Holy Spirit becomes everything for us. He only sets up His shelter in the solitude of a pure soul. Then the Father's eyes like to repose on a dwelling where His divine image can be reflected. Oh the delightful deprivation of everything, absolute emptiness, wholly filled with God! Oh solitude and happy quietude, total oblation of the creature to its Creator! Oh true and perfect spiritual poverty in which the soul keeps nothing for itself! It appropriates nothing of what the Lord has deposited in it. Humble and grateful, it makes everything ascend toward the eternal Master of all things!

"Blesses are the poor in spirit! This poverty possesses heaven even on earth since it possesses God Himself" (Diary, Sept. 5, 1897).

Two things are to be noted here. It is always in reference to the Holy Spirit and in the spirit of the Beatitudes that the teachings of the Cross are presented.

In the sinner the purification of the whole human being prepares for divine union. The Father of the desert formed their neophytes in total purity in order to lead them toward divine contemplation. Then it is that "perfect spiritual purity" takes on its full meaning. "It does not consist only in the absence of stain in the body and in the soul, but in an absolute separation from every affection and every act less than pure. There is the most sublime stage of this divine virtue which brings us closest to the purity of angels, that is, makes us like to God. In God purity is natural. God is as it were a crystal without a flaw and, I understand but cannot explain it. Nothing less than this divine transparency is capable of reflecting the image of the Most Holy Trinity. God is light, God is clarity. God is transparency. The Lord told me time and time again that God's essence is purity itself for purity is the essence of light, of clarity and limpidity. Where purity appears, there shines out the reflection of God, that is, His holiness. From this hearth of eternal purity, which is God, springs light, clarity and limpidity. It is not purity which springs from light, but light which springs from purity. That is why, in pure souls, the light of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen" (Diary, Dec. 19, 1896).