IF the life of a woman of the world were proposed as a model, and, after having carefully examined all her occupations, you would discover what would be hard for you to be convinced of before having done so, namely: that there are women so inconsiderate as to feast their minds on such frivolities, so forgetful of their dignity as to make it subservient to such misery, so trifling as to make a serious work of bag itelles
, which at most can be considered as little better than childish amusement; your soul, still rich in its primitive candor, and favored with an energy tempered in the love and habit of virtue, would revolt at the thought of such debasement. And, nevertheless, unless you apply your mind to acquire a love for serious matters you will not escape a disorder which you so justly deplore in others; you will be captured in those windings which have proved fatal fastnesses to women of other days. There remains no choice between these two alternatives: you must either found your conduct upon intelligence enlightened by faith, or abandon it, like a rudderless ship, to the caprice of passion and pleasure.
The life of a worldly woman is a fictitious life: nature seems to have no attractions for her; her soul has lost all taste for its charms; she studiously endeavors to shut out its influences, and to subvert as much as possible the order by which it is governed. This estrangement, this disgust with nature, haunts her wherever she goes, even in the making of her toilet, even in the employment of her time. She converts day into night and night into day, giving to pleasure the time destined for repose; she purloins from the industrious hours of day the sleep and rest for which her wearied limbs and excited imagination contend.
While she is sleeping, the humble daughter of St. Benedict or St. Dominic leaves her cell to sing the praises of the Lord, and offer Him the day with its duties consecrated without reserve to His glory. When heavy curtains screen her restless slumber from the sun's obtrusive light, the pious daughter of St. Vincent de Paul descends into the folds of her own heart in meditation, and enkindles in the fire of divine love the charity with which she must cheer the poor or sick whom she is destined to visit during the day.
What a difference between those two lives! The worldling rises rested, but not from a refreshing sleep, she is aroused perhaps by the importunate rays of the mid-day sun or by the noisy tramping of hardy workmen who, after their half day's work is done, return home to partake of a frugal repast and receive the sweet greetings of a Christian family. It is then that her day begins, as also the series of the grave occupations that are destined to fill it. The time is short and scarcely suffices to prepare herself for the evening amusements; all her energies are now employed to give herself that external grace and charm necessary to render her conspicuous in the joyous circle. Alas! the worldly woman is entirely absorbed in herself, and when she does something for others, it is with a view to secure her own interest or pleasure. That devotedness, that generous sacrifice and disinterestedness characteristic of true friendship is to her a mere paradox, as she is an entire stranger to its effects and charms.
After her toilet, her most serious occupations are the visits which she pays and receives. A visit prompted by charity or some other virtue is good, highly commendable and praiseworthy. I admire and understand the woman who leaves the peaceful company of her family, when no pressing need requires her presence, to go and visit the poor and destitute, in order to sweeten their bitter lot by a word of encouragement or a little alms. I understand and admire her who readily sacrifices her legitimate joy in order to go and mingle her tears with those of her friend and mitigate her sorrow or share it with her. I understand and esteem the woman who, impressed by the superior wisdom and exemplary piety of another woman, goes to her for advice, devoting with pleasure her leisure hours to that end. I see in all these circumstances a motive that is serious, honorable, praiseworthy, and capable of acting upon a noble heart and an elevated intelligence. But, among the visits made by worldly women; how few there are that are prompted by such motives! The greater part of those women visit with no other view than to pass the time, to pander to their own vanity and curiosity, to form or execute some intrigue. What is said and done in their visits is worthy of the motive that inspires them. There is not a single serious thought expressed, not a single word to show that these women have an intelligence capable of comprehending the truth, a heart made to love what is good, or a soul capable of receiving God Himself. If life were but a dream, if there be no hereafter, if at death the soul must perish with the body; and man must sink into the nothingness whence he sprang; they would have nothing to change in their visits, conversations and conduct.
There is a visit celebrated in Holy Writ, a visit paid by a young woman to one of her own sex but more advanced in years, a visit so holy and renowned that its anniversary is celebrated throughout the Christian world, -- it is the visit paid by the Blessed Virgin to her cousin St. Elizabeth. O, Christian ladies, behold your true model! Compare this visit with yours, and judge yourselves according to it. Compare your motives with those of Mary. Compare your conversations with that sublime conversation of which the sacred writer has given us a fragment, being the most sublime canticle that has ever been uttered by any intelligent creature under the action of divine inspiration. Oh, what a world-wide difference between this sublime canticle and the light and frivolous conversations in which so many women indulge; if you were to look for the reverse of this heavenly visit you would invariably find it among the visits paid by worldly women.
Mary carries with her the Son of God, the Author of grace, the Principle of eternal life, the Source of chaste desires and holy hopes. The worldly woman carries with her in her visits the spirit of the world, the spirit of deception, egotism and folly, which is in every way opposed to the spirit of Christianity. Mary sings the praises of humility and proclaims it the virtue beloved of God, -- the virtue which secures His love and assistance; she extols the happiness of those who thirst for justice and truth, deploring at the same time the spiritual poverty and indigence of those who are puffed up with self-conceit. The worldly woman, on the contrary, seeks in her conversations to flatter her vanity and pride by parading the empty resources of her imagination and misguided intelligence. She envies the happiness of those who, rich in beauty and all those qualities that charm, draw many admirers around them. Elizabeth, on beholding her cousin, felt her infant leap for joy. The worldly woman stirs up in the hearts of those whom she visits the most frivolous instincts, and sometimes even the worst passions.
This tableau excites your love and disgust. The comparison frightens you; and perhaps in the simplicity of your heart you will say, it is not free from exaggeration. On the contrary, you will be sadly disappointed when, at a more advanced age, you will clearly see that this is a very mild and subdued picture of what is true and real. Your age and innocence do not allow me to reveal to you all the mysteries of sin -- all the snares, all the dangers, all the frivolities that fill up the days of a worldly woman.
Would that what I have said of her may inspire you with salutary horror for her life; and make you shun the snares in which she has been taken! I pray that you, satisfied with the knowledge you have of her follies, may never feel the desire of adding to what you already know, the fatal knowledge imparted by experience! That you may never forget these words of St. John: Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world; for all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life. (I John ii.15-16.)