It is therefore an interesting and useful study to consider in their detail and most minute circumstances the acts (so extremely opposed) of these two women, for one of them, according to the beautiful expression of the Church, has restored to us by her divine Son what the other had deprived us of by her disobedience. There is in these two facts, so different in their nature and results, a wonderful gradation which points out to us the fatal declivity by which the human heart insensibly sinks to the lowest abyss of evil, or rises to the highest degree of virtue and glory. In the sin of Eve the first degree was a certain intemperance of language, which led her to reply to the insidious questions of the devil; in appearance this forgetfulness was very slight. To answer a question, give an explanation requested of you, clear up a doubt, render an account of a precept of the Lord, seem at first sight something natural and permitted. It is quite easy to be deceived in this matter. We readily convince ourselves that we are actuated by laudable motives in such like conversations -- motives for gloryfying God and justifying His providence; but we should be extremely cautious: language is something august and sacred, for it is the tie that unites the soul to God, and man to his fellow-men, -- it is the mysterious knot of all societies, divine and human.
Language establishes between those who speak a more intimate relation than they are generally aware of. Few persons realize the prodigious transfusion of thoughts, sentiments, influence and life that arise from conversation. Have you clearly understood this truth in its full force? Language establishes between souls a very close and mysterious union, and this is why discretion, prudence and reserve are so necessary in regulating its use. This is why Jesus Christ warns us in the Gospel, that we shall render an account of every idle word, if indeed we may call idle a thing that entails such frightful consequences or fatal results.
If this reserve is necessary for all it is more especially so for woman, who, being more communicative than man, experiences a greater necessity to speak -- to express herself more freely, and in terms more explicit. If women were sincere and impartial judges of themselves they for the most part would not fail to recognize that nearly all their faults spring from a useless word -- an imprudent answer, or an indiscreet question.
The word why is indeed very short, but in its insidious brevity it comprises a multitude of things which are all the more dangerous because they are unforeseen, being concealed in a perfidious and cloudy vagueness. Why? This word is the beginning of the greater part of those temptations against frailty. The enemy, seeking our destruction, almost invariably announces his presence by this captious question, either by the mouth of another or by our own mind, in order to fill the heart with doubt and trouble. Why take such and such precautions? Why avoid such a place, such a person, such company? Why renounce such and such amusements? Why neglect or cast off that ornament? Why suffer this or that privation? Why abstain from this action, which is not bad in itself? Why turn away the ear from those praises, those compliments, dictated by usage or etiquette, to keep up that intercourse without which society would be impossible? Why not read this book, this novel? Why not assist at this play which the most rigorous moralist would not condemn; and which has for its object to inspire horror for vice, by placing before our eyes its doleful consequences true to reality? Why restrain to inaction the finest faculties of the soul, and refuse them the aliment they so ardently crave? Why deprive our heart and imagination of the pleasures which the beautiful inspires? Why not form at an early age a taste for worldly beauty, and be possessed of all the resources and advantages that it affords us during life? Why be mistrustful of the mind and heart, at an age when they still possess all their simplicity and freshness, through vain fear which renders after-life almost intolerable? Why not be more confiding in the heart's fidelity and in the goodness of God, who has not condemned man to constant privations? -- Such is the language that the enemy of our eternal salvation and happiness addresses us every day with such perfidious adroitness; and who, spite of the experience of those whom he has already deceived, deceives us every day.
This language is the more perfidious for being apparently truthful and natural. When there is question of corrupting a heart that is yet virtuous, vice conceals itself under the mantle of virtue, as otherwise its efforts would be powerless. Now, we can safely say that its venom has already tainted the young lady's heart, when, through inattention and want of vigilance, she has suffered doubt to brood over any of those obligations which are so delicate and difficult to determine, and, nevertheless, most grave and important, since they entail, when neglected, the most disastrous results. Firmness of mind, assurance in her convictions, a clear and strong consciousness of duty, are to her indispensable qualifications; and when she suffers this tenor of conduct to be interfered with by imprudently replying, like Eve, to a captious question, the peace and innocence of her heart are certainly threatened.
The young girl's innocence is something that is very imperfectly known; the delicate and almost imperceptible shades that reflect its beauty and which render it delightful to God and His angels, escape the general notice of mankind. It is composed of a chaste ignorance of mind, a great simplicity of heart, and a constant and unwavering firmness of will. Now, what merits our greatest attention is the fact that this firmness of will begins to give way in woman the moment she removes, even by a slight doubt, this precious veil of ignorance which protects her virtue, or when, by an indiscreet question, or an imprudent answer, she exposes the simplicity of her heart.
The virtues which adorn the heart of a young lady are concealed from her own knowledge. God has so enveloped her in mystery that He alone understands her. None other save the penetrating eye of God should look into the sanctuary of her heart. None other than His light should shine in this holy and chaste obscurity, and this is why humility, of which we have found so perfect a model in Mary, should be the necessary shield and guarantee of a young lady's innocence. She ought not to have the slightest misgivings relative to the value of the treasure she possesses or the loss she would sustain in losing it.
The presence of an angel sufficed to trouble Mary. Oh, young ladies should meditate well and frequently on the conduct that Mary observed in this interview, and imitate her example! She did not answer the Angel's words, but she observed an humble and modest silence. Not so with Eve who, without reflection, answered the devil's question, and by this first reply began a conversation the issue of which has proved so disastrous to the whole human race. Learn from this two-fold example, and from the effects so different which have resulted from both, how much you should fear Eve's curiosity in yourself, and with what care and assiduity you should labor to imitate the reserve and silence of Mary.
Curiosity is a most dangerous rock for a young lady, -- this is the rock upon which a countless number of your sex and age have been wrecked. The moment that you pander to the desire of knowing everything, you immediately enter on a most dangerous way, the issue of which is at least precarious. It was for having satisfied this desire that Eve opened the door to all the calamities that afflict and will afflict mankind till the end of time. And, since then, it has caused the ruin of a countless number of women.
Intrench, so to speak, your mind in the citadel of your own heart. Let it repose in the holy obscurity of an humble and docile faith, and you will learn more useful things in this way than you could ever learn even from the best books and the most eloquent instructions. Faith and prayer should be the daily food of your soul. Faith, with its imperfect yet celestial light, will meet all the legitimate wants of your mind; and prayer, with its divine unction, will embalm your soul.
Often turn your eyes toward heaven, and earth will soon lose all its attractions. Converse frequently with God and you will find it easier to dispense with the intercourse of men; keep your mind at a remote distance from all worldly knowledge, and the innocence of your heart will enjoy sweet repose. Seek not to anticipate by an indiscreet precipitancy the time when the realities of life shall open out to your view. Perhaps, more than once you will regret the happiness which you now enjoy, and which is due both to your knowledge and ignorance of things.
In reality, you possess by faith the same knowledge that the blessed have in heaven, that knowledge which has been the object of the study, research and love of the most renowned minds and of the most perfect souls in this world. Faith, elevating you above yourself and all earthly things, leads you to regions to which the most distinguished genius, joined to the most profound and persevering study, can never approach. Faith makes you in a certain way the sister of angels and of men, -- of men who have been the most remarkable on earth for their excellent qualities of head and heart. Faith associates you with the glorious choirs of heaven, and, when truly lively and active, will bring you unalloyed felicity and ineffable joy.
Why should you envy those women, who, for being older than you, have gained by experience a knowledge of things that you should still ignore? Why seek to compare their knowledge with that which you possess? The knowledge that you have obtained by faith has cost your mind no effort -- not a single regret to your heart, no remorse to your conscience. Every step that you make in this illuminated way recalls to your mind a sweet and precious souvenir, the pure reflections of which will be the only light that will dispel the gloom of the trials and anguish of life. It shall be very different with regard to what you must learn in time to come. Experience is a severe teacher, whose lessons are dearly bought; this is clearly and forcibly expressed by the Holy Ghost saying: "He that adds something to the knowledge already acquired, adds at the same time new pains to those he already suffers."
So far you have learned the one thing necessary to man, and which meets all his wants: you have learned how to please God, to love and serve Him by the observance of His commandments, and fidelity to his inspirations, acknowledging and honoring His authority and power over you in your parents, who are, in your regard, His representatives. So that at present duty possessing pleasing attractions offers none of those difficulties which, at a later period of life, will render it oftentimes painful. Your virtues, protected by that reserve which the world itself has imposed upon youth, guarded by the vigilance of a tender and careful mother, aided by her examples, encouraged by her exhortations and love, tranquilly grow up in the modest sanctuary of the family, without the remotest idea of the trials they must one day meet with.
To learn what pertains to faith and salvation, good will suffices. We are always sure to succeed in pleasing God when we are sincerely desirous to serve Him; in this regard we can never anticipate Him. Not so with the science which teaches how to please men and secure their good will or favor, to enter into their views, conform to their laws and customs. No matter how great our desire may be to succeed, we are never sure of success, and very often the efforts made to secure it remove us farther from the desired end. Consequently, very often the surest means of securing the esteem of the world is to despise it, and withdraw from its tyranny. If you fail to disengage yourself from it, and if you wish to servilely adhere to its maxims, you will often experience that they are severe and hard; and you will reproach yourself more than once for having desired in your youth to taste of those fruits, externally so beautiful but internally so bitter.
Hence, moderation of the mind's curiosity is necessary, and in order to satisfy its activity apply it to those things that can be of interest to your conscience and salvation, to the knowledge and study of those sublime truths which, while enlightening your intelligence, will elevate your heart and strengthen your will. The knowledge that you will acquire in this way will serve you for the rest of your life, much more than all the profane and useless books that you can read. Accustom your mind to the love and search of serious things; this will prove to be of invaluable utility to you.
There is little consistency in frivolous things, and those, who have fed their souls upon them during youth, find themselves void and abandoned when they arrive at the age when woman can please only by interesting the mind and heart by solid charms and tried virtue. This is the age which you should constantly keep before your mind, because it is the one that lasts the longest, and which disposes us proximately for that awful moment in which our fate will be decided forever. Endeavor to become at an early age what you should be during the greater part of your life, and what you would desire to have been at the hour of death.