The most humble, most chaste, most holy of women, Blessed Mary ever Virgin, she who is the ornament and glory of her sex who, in consequence of her privilege of being the mother of God, merited to be elevated so high above all creatures, revealed to us the existence of a faculty in the soul, unknown to the philosophers, undiscovered by the saints, unspoken of by the prophets. This faculty is more conspicuous in woman than in man, for it exercises in her a decisive influence which extends over the entire period of her life. Hence, God, |who ordereth all things, sweetly,| (Wisdom, viii.1), desired that its existence should be made known to us by a woman, and that, too, while she was visiting another woman.
In answer to the salutation of her cousin St. Elizabeth, Mary, filled with the Holy Ghost, breaks forth into that sublime Canticle, called the |Magnificat:| |He hath scattered the proud,| she sings, |mente cordis sui;| literally, |in the mind of their heart.| This is the faculty of which I speak; that mind, that intellect of the heart, if I may so term it, which is the hidden recess, the secret chamber of the soul, either blessed by the peaceful presence of humility, or cursed by the baneful restlessness of worldly ambition or pride.
It is not going too far to say that a woman's mind is in her heart; it is the source both of the thoughts which ennoble and elevate, and of those which are selfish and worldly; it is the key to all the powers of her soul, so that he who becomes the possessor of her heart is master of her whole being, and can exercise over her a power of fascination which has no parallel in nature.
God who disposes every being for the end which He proposed to Himself in creating it has established in woman's heart an abyss which no human affection can fill nor exhaust when once it has been filled, because He desired to submerge her whole being in love, and thus to render easy and necessary to her the noblest sentiments and the most heroic sacrifices. Such is the agent that He wished to employ for the culture of charity in society and in the family circle, as well as of the virtues of tenderness, compassion and devotedness. He desired that in the family the child should be borne, so to speak, on woman's heart and man's intelligence, as on the two arms of one and the same being; He desired that in society the mind of the one should furnish the light to guide in the way, and the love of the other should produce that vivifying principle which animates and quickens man's being: And, thus, that the moral life of humanity should be the result of these two factors. God endowed the heart of woman with treasures of tenderness and devotedness, desiring to be Himself the supreme object of its devotion. To Himself alone has He reserved the power of calming its fearful agitation and soothing its poignant grief, hence we see it turning to Him in its joys and sorrows, like the magnet to the pole that attracts it. He has made the heart of woman broad and deep, so that its devotedness may suffice for all the exigencies it is called upon to meet, whether in society or in the family, yet finding no created object able to exhaust it.
When, forgetting the sublime end for which she has been created, woman lives for the world and not for heaven, lavishing her love on creatures instead of giving it to God, her Creator, her soul becomes the prey of inexpressible anguish and despondency, which admonish her of her mistake and induce her to correct it.
You can easily judge from this of what great importance it is to you to keep a vigilant watch over your heart and its movements, since the heart is, so to speak, the citadel of your whole being, and hence when it is captured all the powers and faculties of your soul are forced to surrender. The heart is the agent that furnishes woman with the greater part of her ideas, and the object of its predilection inevitably becomes the only object of all her thoughts. This is the artist that furnishes the imagination with those images which remain substantially the same under forms constantly varying, but absorbing the soul to such a degree that a person is often tempted to look upon their action as the result of obsession.
It is the heart that governs and shapes the will, giving it that flexibility and at the same time that constancy so prevalent among the greater part of women, leading them, with unflinching stubbornness of determination to the accomplishment of the end proposed. All difficulties vanish that stand between them and the object of their heart. This disposition renders them potent for good or evil, hence the necessity of regulating the heart and of never losing control over its movements. When their soul is swayed by a pure and generous sentiment, and when the natural weakness of their sex gives place to an energy which few men are capable of displaying, their ardor in doing good is truly admirable. God alone knows all the treasures of virtue stored up within them daily, by charity, maternal love, filial piety, devotedness and compassion, but He alone also knows the malicious excess to which a sentiment, bad in its nature or in its source, may lead them.
Oh, if while standing between these two abysses of good and evil, you could sound their depth, and behold the ineffable joy and glory that women have secured by the practice of virtue, the sorrow, disgust, humiliation and shame that evil doings have brought upon them (faults which at first sight did not seem capable of entailing such fatal consequences) horror and admiration should dispute the possession of your soul; you would indeed tremble on beholding the consequences of neglecting your vocation, while you would be astonished at the sublime elevation that fidelity to grace would secure to you in heaven.
God desires to accomplish great things through your instrumentality, and in order to secure your services with greater certainty he has placed around you barriers which you cannot pass without an effort that does violence to nature, still necessity makes it a duty to break them down, and necessity has no law. When the first step is taken nothing can impede the will in the execution of your designs, be they good or bad. Hence the great importance of making your first step in the right direction, as it will be the prelude to countless others.
If you wish to possess your own heart and insure to yourself a life exempt from trouble and remorse, attach it firmly to God; accustom it to always prefer duty to pleasure and to propose to itself in all its movements an end worthy of your sublime destiny. Remember that God alone can satisfy it -- no creature being able to give it that peace which it so ardently craves. O, my child, if you knew the gnawing desires, the vain hopes, the false joys, the troubles, the regrets and bitterness that fill the heart in which God does not dwell! If your eyes were not screened by the veil of candor and simplicity preventing you from foreseeing the torments to which that woman's life is exposed, who has not learned in early youth to regulate the desires and affections of her heart, you would better understand my words, and the necessity of laboring energetically and efficiently to direct your own, and to check all its irregular movements. Learn now, and profit by the experience of others. Hearken to the voice of God addressing you in these words: |The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, and come. Catch us the little foxes that destroy the vines, for our vineyard hath flourished.| (Cant. ch. ii.12, 13, 15). The foxes of which the sacred writer speaks here are those defects which, although they appear small, still assail the soul with great virulence, and will leave no virtue intact unless you hasten to destroy them.
The time for pruning is the time of youth, age truly precious wherein you can still lop off useless branches which absorb a portion of the sap, depriving the others of that strength which they need in order to produce an abundance of savory fruit. You should attack not only those gross and manifest defects which disfigure the soul, but also those imperfections which are slight in appearance, but which, if left alone, will in time become pernicious inclinations. You should even watch over certain natural dispositions, which, though good in themselves, and even often esteemed above their true merit by the world, might easily, on that account, divert the thoughts of the mind and the efforts of the will from more important objects; dispositions very often dangerous for those who possess them, because it is easy to abuse them, and because they flatter and nourish self-love, or the other passions that flesh is heir to. You should imitate those intelligent gardeners who pay a daily visit to their garden, pruning knife in hand, and cut off branches that might exhaust or overcharge the tree -- not sparing them for the beauty of their foliage or the brightness of their flowers.
If you wish to cultivate your heart and make it produce all the fruit and virtue that it is capable of producing, suffer nothing useless or superfluous to grow therein, choosing what is best, measuring your esteem of certain things, and your application of certain duties by the degree of importance that each merits, giving the preference, in your mind and heart, to the virtues which bring the soul nearest to God. Love those hidden virtues, so modest and humble, which are the ornament of your sex -- those virtues of which God alone is witness, which the world ignores, -- which it often, in fact, despises, because they secure no advantage in men's esteem, receiving their reward only in the future world. But this is just the reason why God loves them so dearly, and why you should prefer them. For if, in general, it is dangerous to please the world and useful to shun it, this truth is especially applicable to woman, who, being confined to a narrower sphere, and devoted to more intimate affections than man, is obliged to seek, at a tender age, isolation, tranquillity, repose, and that retirement which are truly a shield to her virtues. In this way you will do more for the real development and culture of your heart than by the acquisition of more agreeable and more brilliant qualities.
Moreover, the same thing will happen for you that always happens when efforts are made to acquire what is best; when that which is essential is secured, the accessories will infallibly follow, just as the effect follows the cause that produces it. By acquiring the virtues that are pleasing to God you will receive, in addition, those which men esteem; in becoming more and more agreeable to God you will become more and more pleasing to men, whose good sense and sound judgment almost invariably triumph over prejudice which an austere but modest virtue always removes. This is also what the Saviour of the world insinuates by these words of the Gospel in which He recommends us to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, promising that all other things shall be added thereto. But this addition should not be directly sought, nor should it be ardently desired; await the will of God who has promised it to us, provided that we first seek the things to which that is accessory. Very often, on the contrary, when, through want of due reflection, preference is given to secondary and inferior things, by neglecting solid and hidden virtues for brilliant qualities, neither are obtained. God permits this in order to punish this subversion of the moral order and of the laws that govern it.