Remedies against evil friendships

May 29, 2021 • 7 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 156

This is part of an Anthology of the Saints on Friendship, Love, and Marriage.

Chapter XXI.

Advice and remedies against evil Friendships.

But what remedies must we take against those foolish and evil friendships? As soon as you feel their first touch turn suddenly away with an absolute horror and detestation of them; run to the cross of your Saviour, and take the crown of thorns to put it about your heart, to the end that these little foxes may not come near it. Take good heed of coming to any kind of compromise with this enemy; do not say, I will hearken to him, but will do nothing of what he may say to me; I will lend him my ears, but will refuse him my heart. Oh, no, Philothea, for God’s sake, be resolute on these occasions: the heart and the ears correspond with each other, and as it is impossible to stop a torrent that descends a mountain, so it is hard to prevent the love which has entered in at the ear from falling suddenly into the heart.

Alcmæon pretended that goats breathe by the ears and not by the nostrils, which Aristotle of course denied; but this I know, that our heart breathes by the ear, and as it sends forth its own thoughts by the tongue, so it draws in the thoughts of others by the ear. Let us then keep a diligent guard upon our ears, that we may not draw in the corrupt air of filthy words, for otherwise our hearts will soon be infected. Hearken to no conversation of this kind under what pretext soever.

Remember that you have dedicated your heart to God, and, that being so, it would be a sacrilege to alienate the least part of it from Him. Rather dedicate it to Him anew, by a thousand resolutions and protestations; and keeping yourself close within them, as a deer within its thicket, call upon God, and He will help you, and his love will take yours under its protection. that it may live for Him alone.

But if you are already caught in the meshes of such evil friendships, how difficult will it be to extricate yourself from them! Place yourself before the Divine Majesty, acknowledging, in his presence, the excess of your misery, frailty, and vanity. Then, with the greatest effort of which your heart is capable, detest them; renounce all the promises received, and, with the greatest and most absolute resolution, determine in your heart never to permit them to occupy your thoughts in the slightest degree for the remainder of your life.

If you could withdraw yourself to a distance from the object, I know of no better remedy, for change of place contributes very much to calm the excess and pain either of grief or of love. The youth of whom St. Ambrose speaks, in his Second Book of Penance, having made a long journey, returned home altogether freed from the vain love he had formerly entertained, and so much changed that his foolish mistress meeting him, and saying: Dost thou not know me? am I not the same that I was? Yes, answered he; but I am not the same that I was. Absence had wrought in him this happy change. Thus St. Augustine relates, that to mitigate the grief he suffered for the death of his friend he quitted Tagasta, the place where his friend died, and went to Carthage.

But what must he do who cannot withdraw himself? Let him absolutely give up all private familiarity and conversation, amorous looks, smiles, and in general all kinds of intercourse which may nourish the impure fire; or, if he must speak to the other party, let it be only to declare with a bold, short, and serious protestation, the eternal divorce which he has sworn. I cry aloud to everyone who has fallen into these wretched snares: Cut them, break them, tear them; you must not amuse yourself in unravelling these criminal friendships: you must tear and rend them asunder; wait not to untie the knots, but break them or cut them, so that the cords and strings may be worth nothing; we must not stand on ceremony with love which is contrary to the love of God.

But after I have thus broken the chains of this infamous bondage, there will still remain some feelings: the marks and prints of the iron will still be imprinted in my feet, that is to say, in my affections. No, Philothea, they will not, provided you have conceived as great a detestation of the evil as it deserves: you shall now be excited with no other feeling but that of an extreme horror of this infamous love and of all that relates to it; and you shall remain free from all other affection towards the forsaken object, except that of a most pure charity, for God’s sake.

But if, through the imperfection of your repentance, there should yet remain in you any evil inclinations, seek a mental solitude for your soul, according to what I have taught you before, and retire into it as often as you can, and, by a thousand reiterated ejaculations of the spirit, renounce all your criminal inclinations, and reject them with your whole strength. Read pious and holy books with a more than ordinary application; go to confession, and communicate more frequently; humbly and sincerely consult your director, or some prudent, faithful friend, concerning all the suggestions and temptations of this kind which may come upon you, and doubt not but that God will deliver you from those criminal passions, provided you continue faithfully in such good exercises. And, you will ask, will it not be ingratitude to break off a friendship so unmercifully? Oh, how happy is that ingratitude which makes us pleasing to God! But no, Philothea, I tell you, in the name of God, that this will be no ingratitude, but a great benefit which you shall do to your lover; for in breaking your own bonds asunder, you shall also break his, since they were common to you both; and though, for the present, he may not be sensible of his happiness, yet he will acknowledge it soon after, and jointly sing with you in thanksgiving: 'O Lord, thou hast broken my bonds; I will sacrifice to thee a sacrifice of praise, and call upon thy holy name." (Ps. cxv.)

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