Our best actions are ordinarily stained and corrupted by our corrupt nature. When we put clean, clear water into a vessel which has a foul and evil smell, or wine into a cask the inside of which has been tainted by another wine which has been in it, the clear water and the good wine are spoilt, and readily take on the bad odor. In like manner, when God puts into the vessel of our soul, spoilt by original and actual sin, His graces and heavenly dews, or the delicious wine of His love, His gifts are ordinarily spoilt and corrupted by the bad leaven and the evil which sin has left within us. Our actions, even the most sublime and virtuous, feel the effects of it. It is therefore of great importance in the acquiring of perfection—which, it must be remembered, is only acquired by union with Jesus Christ—to rid ourselves of everything that is bad within us; otherwise Our Lord, who is infinitely pure and hates infinitely the least stain upon our souls, will not unite Himself to us, and will cast us out from His presence.
79. To rid ourselves of self we must: § 1. Thoroughly recognize, by the light of the Holy Spirit, our inward corruption, our incapacity for every good thing useful for salvation, our weakness in all things, our inconstancy at all times, our unworthiness of every grace, and our iniquity in every position. The sin of our first father has spoilt us all, soured us, puffed us up and corrupted us, as the leaven sours, puffs up and corrupts the dough into which it is put. The actual sins which we have committed, whether mortal or venial, pardoned though they may be, have nevertheless increased our concupiscence, our weakness, our inconstancy and our corruption, and have left evil remains in our souls.
Our bodies are so corrupted that they are called by the Holy Spirit bodies of sin (Rom. 6:6), conceived in sin (Ps. 50:7), nourished in sin, and capable of all sin—bodies subject to thousands of maladies, which go on corrupting from day to day, and which engender nothing but disease, vermin and corruption. Our soul, united to our body, has become so carnal that it is called flesh: “All flesh having corrupted its way” (Gen. 6:12). We have nothing for our portion but pride and blindness of spirit, hardness of heart, weakness and inconstancy of soul, concupiscence, revolted passions, and sicknesses in the body. We are naturally prouder than peacocks, more groveling than toads, more vile than unclean animals, more envious than serpents, more gluttonous than hogs, more furious than tigers, lazier than tortoises, weaker than reeds, and more capricious than weathercocks. We have within ourselves nothing but nothingness and sin, and we deserve nothing but the anger of God and everlasting Hell. (1)
80. After this, ought we to be astonished if Our Lord has said that whoever wishes to follow Him must renounce himself and hate his own life, and that whosoever shall love his own life shall lose it, and whosoever shall hate it, shall save it (Jn. 12:25)? He who is infinite Wisdom does not give commandments without reason, and He has commanded us to hate ourselves only because we so richly deserve to be hated. Nothing is worthier of love than God, and nothing is worthier of hatred than ourselves.
81. § 2. In order to rid ourselves of self, we must die to ourselves daily. That is to say, we must renounce the operations of the powers of our soul and of the senses of our body. We must see as if we saw not, understand as if we understood not, and make use of the things of this world as if we made no use of them at all (1 Cor. 7:29-31). This is what St. Paul calls dying daily (1 Cor. 15:31). “Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone” and bringeth forth no good fruit (Jn. 12:24-25). If we do not die to ourselves, and if our holiest devotions do not incline us to this necessary and useful death, we shall bring forth no fruit worth anything, and our devotions will become useless. All our good works will be stained by self-love and our own will; and this will cause God to hold in abomination the greatest sacrifices we can make and the best actions we can do; so that at our death we shall find our hands empty of virtues and of merits and we shall not have one spark of pure love, which is only communicated to souls dead to themselves, souls whose life is hidden with Jesus Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
82. § 3. We must choose, therefore, among all the devotions to the Blessed Virgin, the one which draws us most toward this death to ourselves, inasmuch as it will be the best and the most sanctifying. For we must not think that all that shines is gold, that all that tastes sweet is honey, or that all that is easy to do and is done by the greatest number is the most sanctifying. As there are secrets of nature by which natural operations are performed more easily, in a short time and at little cost, so also are there secrets in the order of grace by which supernatural operations, such as ridding ourselves of self, filling ourselves with God, and becoming perfect, are performed more easily.