DISTRUST of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory. This important truth should be deeply embedded in our hearts; for, although in ourselves we are nothing, we are too apt to overestimate our own abilities and to conclude falsely that we are of some importance. This vice springs from the corruption of our nature. But the more natural a thing is, the more difficult it is to be discovered.
But God, to Whom nothing is secret, looks upon this with horror, because it is His will that we should be convinced we possess only that virtue and grace which comes from Him alone, and that without Him we are incapable of one meritorious thought.
This distrust of our own strength is a gift from Heaven, bestowed by God on those He loves. It is granted sometimes through His holy inspiration, sometimes through severe afflictions, or almost insurmountable temptations and other ways which are unknown to us. Yet He expects that we will do everything within our power to obtain it. And we certainly will obtain it if, with the grace of God, we seriously employ the following four means.
First. We must meditate upon our own weakness. Consider that fact that, being nothing in ourselves, we cannot, without divine assistance, accomplish the smallest good or advance the smallest step towards Heaven.
Second. We must beg of God, with great humility and fervor, this eminent virtue which must come from Him alone. Let us begin by acknowledging not only that we do not possess it, but that of ourselves we are utterly incapable of acquiring it. Then let us cast ourselves at the feet of Our Lord and earnestly beg Him to grant our request. We must do this with firm confidence that we will be heard if we patiently await the effect of our prayer, and persevere in it as long as it pleases divine Providence.
Third. We must gradually accustom ourselves to distrust our own strength, to dread the illusions of our own mind, the strong tendency of our nature to sin, and the overwhelming number of enemies that surround us. Their subtlety, experience, and strength surpass ours, for they can transform themselves into angels of light and lie in ambush for us as we advance towards Heaven.
Fourth. As often as we commit a fault, we must examine ourselves in order to discover our vulnerable points. God permits us to fall only that we may gain a deeper insight into ourselves, that we may learn to despise ourselves as wretched creatures and to desire honestly to be disregarded by others. Without this we cannot hope to obtain a distrust of self which is rooted in humility and the knowledge of our own weakness.
Whoever seeks to approach the eternal truth and fountain of all light must know himself thoroughly. He must not imitate the pride of those who obtain no other knowledge than what their sins provide, and who begin to open their eyes only when they are plunged into some disgraceful and unforeseen debacle. This happens through God’s permission that they may know their own weakness, and, by sad experience, learn not to rely on their own strength. God seldom applies so severe a remedy against their presumption unless more proper means have failed.
Briefly, He permits persons to sin more or less grievously in proportion to their pride, and, if there were any as free from pride as the Blessed Virgin, I dare say they would never fall. As often as you commit a fault, therefore, immediately strive to probe your inner consciousness; earnestly beg Our Lord to enlighten you, that you may see yourself as you are in His sight, and presume no more on your strength. Otherwise you will fall again into the same faults, or perhaps much greater ones to the eternal ruin of your soul.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Spiritual Combat and A Treatise on Peace of Soul by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, which is available from TAN Books.