St. John, the Apostle, addressing those who have not yet passed the age of adolescence, says in his first Epistles: |I write unto you, because ... you have overcome the wicked one.|
Then speaking to those who have attained the age of manhood, he says: |I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.|
Again, in the book of Proverbs, chapter xxxi, the inspired writer speaks in the following terms: |who shall find a valiant woman? The price of her is as of things brought from afar off, and from the uttermost coasts ... She hath put out her hand to strong things ... strength and beauty are her clothing; and she shall laugh in the latter day, she hath opened her mouth to wisdom and the law of clemency is on her tongue.... Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates.|
Thus, according to Holy Writ, fortitude or strength is the portion of youth, which is manifested by the victories of the will over the enemy of our salvation. This valor is regarded by the sacred writer as one of the finest qualities with which woman can be adorned, since she owes to it all her true success and glory. Now what is this precious quality? In what faculty of the soul does it reside? What are the signs by which its presence is made manifest? What is the end to which it tends? What are the rewards that crown its victories? These are questions of deep interest, and the importance attached to a knowledge of their solution cannot be too great.
In the first place we shall begin by stating that the seat of valor is found in the will. To be valiant consists in willing intensely what is painful to nature, accomplishing what is proposed with energy and perseverance. I have often treated this subject, but it is so inexhaustible that it always seems new. Its importance grows with time, and now-a-days it cannot be insisted on too much, nor can there be too much attention paid to it by those who wish to preserve in this world the integrity of their conscience and lead an irreproachable life.
Alas it is painful to avow that this generous will is too rarely met with. This noble faculty of the soul is made subservient to other faculties which should be subject to and directed by it. The mind has perhaps acquired greater vivacity and penetration. The imagination, under the action of a constant change of images, and those sensations which the activity of life multiplies so rapidly in our time, has perhaps become richer and more varied. The heart, cherished while young by the cares and caresses common to the paternal roof, has perhaps more confidence and candor. But the will, what has become of it, what has it gained by this development of all the powers of the soul? Where is its place among them? It should be their ruler, whereas it is made their slave; they have conspired its overthrow.
It is true that very often the enfeebling of this great faculty is due to the excessive tenderness of those who have allowed us to contract pernicious habits. Who is it that speaks to the child's will? Who teaches him how to use that faculty and resist with energy the caprices of his imagination, the passions of the heart, the empire of the senses, the seductions of the world? These are duties that the will is called on to discharge, and as long as man shall live such duties will be of daily occurrence, -- hence the will is destined to be constantly called into action.
The will serves us when all the other faculties fail to act. When the exhausted imagination sinks into a lethargic slumber; when the worried heart loses all relish for everything; when the mind, dreading the light of truth, gives itself over to error and prejudice; when the smoke of passion blinds the intelligence and suffocates the senses; it is then that the will, fashioned in the school of pliant energy, seizing the reins with a firm and vigorous grasp, snatches the imagination from its torpor by bringing it to bear on objects capable of arousing it; it is then that the will animates the heart with generous and noble sentiments, and applies the mind to the consideration of truths which enlighten and fortify it.
There exists a strange abuse relative to the nature and essence of the will. Very often, parents, blinded by a false prejudice, see with pleasure, and admire in their children, stubbornness and obstinacy of character; and, looking forward to their future with an air of pride, they say: |That child will have a strong will.| Deplorable error! Woe to the parents who fall into it, and the children who are its object! When the will is truly strong, far from being obstinate it is, on the contrary, pliant and tractable. No human power can restore suppleness to the arm which a convulsive paroxysm has stiffened, yet it does not follow that this arm is stronger than when it was in a healthy condition. The stiffness, far from increasing its strength, decidedly weakens it. In like manner the will's strength does not lie in stubborn obstinacy, but rather in that pliancy which enables it to dispose itself as circumstances may require.
A stubborn character has nothing in common with this noble and precious faculty of the soul. And, like all the others, this faculty possesses two degrees of elevation; in the one it comes in direct contact with the senses and, the external world; and in the other, raised above all sensibility, it receives its light and movement from on high.
The will, taken in its inferior part, is nothing else than that appetite or blind instinct which we hold in common with the brute creation; and by which animals are governed in their choice of some things and their rejection of others. If the will, properly so called, consisted in this blind instinct, man would be inferior to the ass and the mule, whose attractions and repugnances are more imperious than those of other animals. The will, as understood in the true Christian sense of the term, acts in contradiction to this brutal appetite; hence they alone have a strong will who can, when duty and conscience require it, obey their voice with docility, in spite of all instinctive opposition.
The education of the will, I admit, is a long and painful process. We are taught at a dear rate how to know and judge things; but we must learn at a dearer price how to will. The culture of the mind is the least important and the easiest part of our education, while the culture of the will is extremely important and demands much time and labor; yet, through a most culpable negligence, it is just the faculty that receives the least attention and culture. Too many imagine that the training of the will may be done at any time and, what is still more erroneous, that age, experience and events will suffice to do this work. Hence we see every day poor souls entering the scene of life without an educated will, which alone is capable of reacting against the evils and trials from which none in this world can escape. This is the cause of that imbecility which renders the most precious qualities of mind and heart useless; generating inconsistencies and uncertainties which, in the moment of trial, deprive the heart of its energy and the mind of all light, thus leaving the soul open to all the assaults of misfortune.
We are obliged to chronicle a painful truth when we assert that the culture of the will is sadly neglected in education in general, but more especially so in that of women. There are even some so blind as to think that a strong will in woman is a dangerous quality, alleging, as a proof of their assertion, the puerile reason, that since woman was made to obey she should find in another's will the rule of her actions. But, we ask, if woman can have no will of her own, how can she exercise the virtue of obedience, since that virtue consists in bending the will to duty? And since, in her sphere, she is constantly called on to practice obedience it is just the reason why she should have a strong will.
Now if from a tender age she has not given due attention to this precious faculty of her soul; if she has contracted the fatal habit of acting without a purpose, without reflecting, through caprice, following by a blind instinct the allurements that flatter the senses and imagination; if she has not learned to conquer herself, to put duty before pleasure, and the voice of conscience above that of the passions and honor; how will she be able to live with a husband capricious perhaps in his desires and stubborn in his will? How will she be able to confront his exactions or cope with his rage? How will she bear with the faults of her servants and of those with whom she may be obliged to live? How will she, in her warnings and reproaches be able to blend in a just proportion mildness and firmness, to obtain the salutary effects which she desires?
The path of life is not strewn with flowers; all is not joy and happiness here below. Woman is destined, as well as man, to meet with days of sorrow and bitterness, when a firm, patient will must be her only port of safety. To woman patience is, perhaps of all virtues, the most necessary to sustain her in mental anxieties and various other sufferings that are inevitable; and, since patience is a fruit of the will, it follows that a morbid will cannot produce an enduring patience, the deficiency of which must render her life almost intolerable.
He that sails with the current and a favorable wind need not ply his oars; but when there is question of going in the contrary direction, what was at first a great advantage becomes now a double disadvantage, and he can succeed only by strenuous efforts.
During the days of youthful glee you glide gaily down the river of life, going with the current, favored by the breeze of hope, charmed by varied and softly-changing scenes. But this time will soon have an end: sorrow will embitter your joys ere the frost of age shall have cooled the blood or chilled the imagination; very soon, in a few years, perhaps, it will knock at the door of your soul; and you will be obliged to give this inopportune visitor admittance, to remain with you, perhaps, for the rest of your life. Among the young ladies of your acquaintance are there not some who are unhappy? And can you, without a voluntary illusion, convince yourself that youth is a preservative against misfortune? Are you prepared to ward off the intruder? If it wounds you how will you endure the pain? It is imprudent to delay the acquisition of a particular branch of learning until its practical use becomes necessary; and since it is while we are hale and hearty that we should learn to die well, so it is while prosperity smiles on us that we should learn to bear adversity. Learn now, while young, to support all the vicissitudes of life; make timely provision, not only against adversity, but also against prosperity, which for many is the more dangerous of the two.
Prepare to meet not only those who will try your patience by their unjust or troublesome doings, but also those whose affection officiousness, and flattery, will perhaps exact from you a greater exercise of virtue. Be on your guard, not only against others, but also against yourself. Learn to bear with yourself, to suffer with courage the inconstancy of your own humor, the nights of your imagination, the impetuosity of your character, the violent and inordinate movements of your heart. Accustom your will to wield the scepter and resolutely to govern the passions, which are most powerful auxiliaries for good or for evil, -- for good when under the complete control of the will, for evil when they are emancipated from its sway, for then they become the vultures of life, and a torment of the soul.
Never lose sight of the fact that you require a stronger will to obey than to command, and that your condition, far from rendering your will less necessary, shows, on the contrary, that it is indispensable to you; unless, by indorsing that unjust and outrageous judgment by which the world seeks to degrade the dignity of woman, you force upon yourself the conviction that her will should count for nothing either at home or abroad, -- that she is destined to be blindly led by the caprices of others; unless you confound obedience with servitude, and authorize the prejudices of those who pretend that woman should have neither thought nor will of her own, but that another is charged with thinking and willing for her, thus exonerating her from all responsibility.
If this be your conviction, I ask: |Why do you read this book? Close it, it is not written for you; because from the first page to the last it constantly discloses to your view all the titles of your glory and the grandeur of your dignity. Close your eyes to the light of truth, shackle the will's liberty lest you may see and feel the shame and humiliation of your sad condition; and, like a thing inert, await in dumb silence until some trafficker may come and calculate how much he will gain in fortune and pleasure by purchasing you!| Behold the deplorable condition to which the pagan theories of the world reduce woman! behold the degree of abjection to which she herself descends when, losing sight of the light of faith, which exposes the true nature of things, she suffers herself to be deceived by the vain systems of a world worthy of God's anathemas, and governed by the spirit of deception.
No, woman has not been created to be a slave; God has neither destined nor consigned to such a humiliating state that half of humanity from which He has chosen His mother, and which has been favored with a holy reflection of the glory of Mary. God required a positive act of woman's will in her co-operation in the work of our redemption, -- and to obtain it He did not hesitate to choose as His ambassador, one of the brightest of His archangels. Judge from this the respect and importance due to woman's will. Moreover, it is a significant truth, sustained by a long experience, that the salvation of a family, of a father, a brother, a son, a husband, is secured in a great measure by the care and prayers, the firm and wise, yet mild and prudent conduct of a Christian woman, deeply penetrated with the profound sentiment of her dignity and the true importance of her duties, -- all of which depend upon a firm and patient will.