“He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.”
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).
You 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 for this post on perseverance: “The Pearly Gates” The entrance to the Archangelou Monastery on the Greek Island of Thassos, Ronald Saunders, 24 May 2011, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.