Discover The Captivating Battle Between Virtues And Vices In The Battle Of Virtues And Vices. Pope Saint Leo IX's Powerful Imagery And Holy Advice Will Leave You Inspired. Uncover The Transformative Effects Of Hope On The Vice Of Despair.

The Holy Cure For Despair

In The Battle of Virtues and Vices, Pope Saint Leo IX masterfully personifies each virtue and vice, dramatizing the battlefield of spiritual warfare with effective imagery and holy advice. In this excerpt, the character of Despair leeches on the soul, plaguing it with the darkest scruples and self-loathing. Read on to see the glorious effects of Hope on this detestable vice.

Despair seems to be utterly devoid of personality and energy, and stares blankly at the ground. Its abjection is so profound that it can be expressed neither by tears nor by sighs. Like Worldly Melancholy, Despair is clad entirely in black. But whereas Melancholy possessed a certain style, even to the point of vanity, Despair seems to lack both form and substance. In barely audible tones which resemble the hissing of a serpent, it speaks to the soul thus:

O wretched Soul, how many and how serious are the sins you have committed! How innumerable are your acts of negligence! You claim to be religious, and yet you have not changed yourself, or your way of life, for the better in the slightest. You cannot name a single fault of yours which you have really corrected, or a single vice which you have fully overcome and successfully eradicated. All your striving has been futile and shall continue to be futile. 

Wickedness, weakness, and slackness have become unbreakable habits for you. Each time you strive to raise yourself up, you end up slipping, and often ending up worse than what you were before! Unending punishment for all your past misdeeds inevitably awaits you, and long experience has shown you that you are incapable of amending yourself. So why even bother to try? Why give up the few joys and pleasures you have in this passing life since you really don’t have much chance at all of obtaining the eternal happiness of heaven. Seize the pleasures of this earthly day, give in to temptation since, even if you try to resist, in the end you’re sure to fail! 

As this discourse reaches its conclusion, Faithful Hope enters the scene. He is clad in gleaming armor and holds a shield bearing the inscription “Fides” (Faith) and has in his right hand a golden sword with the words “Verbum Dei” (The Word of God) written in silver upon the hilt. As soon as he arrives, Despair begins to shrink and fade away visibly. In a confident and resonant voice, Faithful Hope speaks thus to the soul:

O blessed Soul, recall that you are redeemed by the blood of the Son of God, who has pledged forgiveness for all those who repent! If you are anxious about your previous crimes and sins, think for a moment about some well-known and instructive examples from Sacred Scripture. Take King David—he was both a murderer and an adulterer. Yet the Lord not only forgave him but bestowed upon him special royal dignities and prophetic privileges. Have you not read the psalm in which David proclaims, “I was liberated from the very jaws of hell by the Lord’s mercy!”

And consider also the case of Manasseh. This ancient king of Judah was deservedly ranked among the filthiest, most evil, and depraved of all sinners. Nevertheless, through repentance and penance, he escaped eternal death and damnation, and his life was preserved through the infinite mercy of God.

Call to mind next the beautiful Mary Magdalene. She was a notorious sinner, a courtesan tainted with the stain of countless acts of fornication. But she hurled herself at the sacred feet of Jesus, the font of heaven’s mercy. And she washed His holy feet with the tears of sincere penitence, wiping them dry lovingly with her silken and delicate hair. She covered these divine feet with kisses of passionate devotion and anointed Him with the rarest and most precious of anointments. And because of this, she who had been a sinner, a fornicator, became a beloved companion of the Lord—the first to witness the radiant glory of His resurrection, the first to embrace His risen body, the first to announce His triumph over death, the “apostle of the apostles.” She did not succumb to despair over her sins, which were surely greater than yours. Let her faith and hope be an example to you whenever you feel discouraged!

Even Saint Peter himself, the Prince of Apostles, sinned most terribly in his cowardly threefold denial of the Lord. Yet, by his threefold confession of love, he was released from all his guilt and shame. And Saint Paul, under his former name of Saul, had been a vicious and relentless persecutor of the Church. Yet out of this, he was transformed into an apostle and made the chosen vessel of the Gospel of salvation.

O Soul, if you consider all these cases of repentant sinners, why should you listen to the malignant and mephitic musings of Despair? It is not possible that your sins are greater than those enumerated above. Yet all of these persons were not only forgiven but ascended to the very heights of sanctity.

And the Lord is on your side in all of this. He has His arms open to forgive you freely and completely the moment you repent. For truly it is written, “Whenever a sinner weeps over his guilt, he shall be immediately forgiven.” And again, we read, “The Lord says, ‘I desire not the death of the wicked.’”

And regarding your apparent failure to reform your behavior in the past, I have only this to say: if today you earnestly desire to change yourself, then today you can change yourself! Do not put off till tomorrow what you can easily do today. Our actions are all the result of our own will, and nothing else. Everything which we do, we do because we want to do it. Therefore, a person who does not cease to sin does not actually really want to cease to sin. But a person who genuinely wishes to abstain from sin, will abstain from sin. Our volition, and therefore our actions, are, by their very nature, always within our own control.

For this reason, as long as you truly desire to be saved, you can be saved. As long as you truly desire to be saved, you will be saved. So hearken not to the evil voice of Despair, but rather, be strong in faith and courageous in hope!

This article is taken from a chapter in The Battle of Virtues and Vices by Pope Saint Leo IX which is available from TAN Books



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