The age of youth is the age of illusions, ardent desires, and fanciful hopes. Youth is like a fairy whose magical wand evokes the most graceful images and the most alluring phantoms. This ignorance of the doleful realities concealed in the future is a gift of divine goodness which, in order that life might not be too bitter, casts a beneficent veil over the sorrows that await us; God screens the future from us to let us enjoy the present. Far be it from me to remove this veil which renders you such kind service. But, apart from this screen which the good God has placed between you and the miseries of this life, there is another of a darker and heavier shade, fabricated by the imagination, and which it draws with a perfidious complacency over the object which it behooves us the most to know and avoid -- a seductive and deceitful veil which, while presenting things to us in a false light, exposes us to most deplorable illusions and inevitable dangers.
God permits that we should ignore many things, but He does not wish that we should be deceived in anything. He is truth itself; error can never claim His acquiescence.
If prudence and respect for God's work make it a duty for me to leave intact the veil that He has drawn between you and the future, I would consider it highly criminal in me if I did not endeavor to remove that by which your imagination seeks to conceal its illusions and its errors. It is not my wish or design to trouble the present by exaggerated anxiety; but, on the other hand, I do not wish to leave you under a false impression, fed by delusive hopes relative to the future. My desire is that, while enjoying with gratitude and simplicity the happiness or peace which God has bestowed upon you in the springtime of life, you may profit by the calm and tranquillity it affords you to prepare for the future, and to anticipate a means of soothing its sorrows and bitterness.
While the soil of your heart is yet untilled and moist, and while your hands are yet filled with those heavenly seeds which God has given you in abundance, I desire that you may sow them in the light and strength of divine grace, to develop in them the heavenly germs which they contain, that you may be enabled to reap at a later time an abundant harvest of virtues, holy joy and merit before God and men. I desire that you may learn to turn to good account all the natural resources that you possess, and acquire that knowledge of yourself which enlightens the mind without troubling the heart; I do not wish to discourage nor flatter you, I only wish to instruct and fortify you.
Do not think that the river of life will always flow for you as it does at present, broad, deep, calm and limpid, between two flowery banks. Age will diminish those waters and deprive their banks of their charm and freshness. The flame of passion, like a burning wind, will rise, and more than once perhaps will bring to the surface the mud that rankles in the bottom, and thus destroy its limpidity.
A day will come, and before long, when, stripped of all those exterior advantages which please the senses, you will possess only those qualities, less striking, but more solid, which satisfy the mind and heart and attract the complaisant regard of God and the angels. Youth will quickly pass, more quickly than you think, and the subsequent period of life will last much longer, hence, in all justice to yourself, let its preparation absorb your attention.
If you had a long sojourn to make in a place close by, would it be reasonable on your part to pay less attention to the place of your destination than to the few fleeting moments it would require to go thither. Youth is not a stopping-place, it is a passage, a time of preparation; it is to the whole life what the florid period is to the gardener, or seed-time to the farmer.
Oh! if you did but fully comprehend the value of each hour during this most important period of life, the value of each thought of your mind, of each sentiment of your heart, with what extreme care you would watch over all the movements of your soul, nay, even the external movements of your body.
That fugitive thought which enters your mind, fanned by curiosity's wing, may seem quite trivial; to dwell on and delight in it may be to you something indifferent. That sentiment which, scarcely formed, commences to germinate in your heart, and to produce therein emotions so imperceptible that you are but imperfectly conscious of its presence, seems insignificant at first sight; that unguarded glance seemed to you a matter of no import, and which, at an earlier or later period of your life, would have but little consequence. At an earlier age the impression, it is true, would be lively but inconsistent, and the levity of childhood would soon have replaced it by another; later it would be found so superficial and trivial that it would be soon forgotten among the multiplicity of thoughts which absorb the mind at the age of maturity; but, during the youthful years, everything that comes under the notice of the senses sinks deeply into the soul, penetrating its very substance, the faculties still retain all the vivacity of youth, while already they participate in that firmness which is characteristic of the age of maturity.
That thought is, perhaps, the first link in a chain of thoughts and images which will be the torment of your conscience and the bane of your life. That sentiment to which you imprudently pandered is perhaps the source of countless fears, regrets, remorse and sorrows. That imprudent glance is perhaps the first spark of a conflagration which nothing can extinguish, and which will destroy your brightest hopes.
If, as yet, you are ignorant of all the evil of which an imprudent glance may be productive, recall to mind the example furnished us by the Sacred Scriptures in the person of David, who, for his imprudent glance at the wife of Urias, committed two crimes, the names of which you should ignore, and suffered a life of sorrow, repentance, bitterness and anguish: a life which even yet serves to express the sorrow and repentance of imprudent souls who have yielded to the allurements of the senses. And, nevertheless, David had attained the age of discretion when the mind is firm and the will is strong; David was the cherished one of God; he was just and virtuous, one on whom God had special designs of mercy. What a terrible example! What a severe, but at the same time instructive, lesson!
Young Christian soul, may it never be your sad experience to learn the effect of an imprudent glance which would exact from you the bitter wages of countless tears and regrets. Is there anything in the material world so beautiful, so beneficent as the light and heat that we receive from the sun; is there among material things a livelier image of the goodness of God towards us? And, nevertheless, let the sun shine upon the young and tender flower or vine immediately after a shower of rain, and it will cause them to droop and wither. The reason is quite obvious, for at no time is a being so frail and delicate as at the moment of its formation. There is a critical period for all beings, during which the greatest possible care is necessary. In this relation, what is said of the body may be said of the soul; character is formed and developed according to the same laws which regulate the development of the physical constitution.
Are you not aware of the extraordinary care that must be taken of those organs that are the chief motors of the body, while they are under process of development? Are you not aware that the fresh air which you inhale and which purifies and invigorates the blood contains for you the germ of death, which justifies in your good parents the anxious care they take of your health, but which you perhaps regard as entirely unnecessary?
Now, what the lungs are to the human body, that the heart is to the soul. It is by the heart that we breathe the spiritual and divine atmosphere that sustains our moral life. This atmosphere is composed of three elements, -- truth, goodness and beauty, which envelop and penetrate the soul's substance; as it is the respiratory organ of the mind it follows that for the heart, as well as for the lungs, there is an epoch of development which is dangerous, and which, consequently, demands the greatest possible care; it is the epoch of your age at present. An emotion too vivid, an indiscreet thought, an imprudent glance, is quite sufficient to imperil the interesting and delicate process by which your moral constitution is formed, to accelerate the development of the heart, and thus give to this most important organ a pernicious precocity or a false direction.
Your mother, anxious and always trembling for your welfare, guards it with tender solicitude from all the dangers to which it might be exposed. But her vigilance cannot equal that of your guardian angel, nor the care with which he removes you from contact with all that might in any way tarnish the purity of your soul, or trouble its peace and harmony. It is to you that the Holy Ghost addresses these words of the Proverbs: With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it. [Footnote: Proverbs iv 23.]
The heart is, therefore, the seat of the moral life, and as the source is known by the waters that flow from it, so will the moral life partake of the character and bear the impress of the heart whence it proceeds. This is true of youth in general, but more particularly so of young ladies.