TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF MONSEIGNEUR DE LA BOUILLERIE, Archbishop of Perga, Coadjutor of Bordeaux.
What are the virtues relatively to the soul? They are its ornament and its strength.
Its ornament—and, in fact, virtue is that wonderful inclination in us which disposes our will habitually to desire what is good! Man alone, because he is free and is possessed of reason, has the sole privilege of being virtuous.
The inanimate objects which surround us on every side obey fixed laws, and for them obedience is not a virtue. One does not say that a planet is virtuous because it does not leave its orbit. One does not say that a stone is virtuous because, when hurled from the mountain summit, it rolls down to the valley. One does not say that a plant is virtuous because it produces in due time its leaves, its blossoms, and its fruit. But one says of man that he is virtuous, because virtue perfects the will and its acts, and it is in this sense that virtue is the most beautiful ornament of the human soul.
When Jesus Christ came to earth He found the soul poor and naked: sin had spoiled and polluted it. But in adorning it with all the Christian virtues He has made reparation for all the ills of sin. 0 how beautiful has the Christian soul become! If it is chaste, purity-is a lily which blooms in it and embellishes it. If it is humble, humility, which appears to lower it, raises it, and ennobles it before God. If it is gentle and good, its gentleness and its goodness are a perfume which exhales from it and which one breathes with pleasure. If it is charitable, its charity is a divine gold which throws its radiance upon it! And thus every fresh virtue adds to its adornment. Each one also adds to its strength. Left to itself, the soul is weak. In it and around it how many enemies make war upon it! Its desires and passions draw it down to shameful degradation. The body which is joined to it crushes it as a heavy burden. Every event of life may be a peril for it; every creature a snare. What has it to oppose to so many assaults ? Virtue ! It is its strength. There is not an evil inclination which the Christian virtues will not combat. Not a duty which they will not make easy. Not a sorrow which they will not console. Not a difficulty which they will not ward off. Not a burden which they will not lighten. A heathen may have said, '' Virtue is only a word," but this is not the language of the Christian. Virtue for a Christian soul is a divine force.
But why has God willed to dispense so freely to the soul this ornament and this power which the virtues communicate to it ?
He Himself explains it, firstly, by these words which He says to us: "Be holy, because I am holy."Holiness is nothing else than the assemblage of Christian virtues ; but God alone, Who is the Holy of Holies, can alone communicate holiness to us; and it is for this reason, in the first place, that by His grace is shed over us with such profusion the good seed of all the virtues.
A second reason is the burning love which God has for all men, and His desire to see all happy.
Now this is one of the most beautiful signs of the dignity of the Christian, that the practice of virtue becomes necessary to his happiness. If the world attaches what it calls pleasure to all the shamefulness of vice, the soul elevated by Jesus Christ is only happy through the holy joys which it draws from virtue. 0 world, thou knowest not how sweet it is to be pure, to be humble, to be patient, and to be charitable! But the Christian understands these intimate delights of the soul; he feels that the more virtuous he is, the more will he taste of the only true felicity. And yet, 0 Christian soul, shall I tell you that these two motives do not suffice me? and when I consider with what tender care Jesus Christ has been pleased to adorn and fortify the heart of man, I imagine that in His thought He willed to prepare for Himself a tabernacle and a sanctuary.
The Christian heart has only received its adornment and its strength in order to contain the Eucharist.