Modern man has a certain understanding of the virtues. When asked about them, meekness and kindness, even justice and fortitude immediately come to mind. However, there is one virtue which is almost entirely unknown. This virtue, which “…comprehends the rest, or supplies for all that may be wanting in them,”1 is vigilance.
The word vigilance means a close and alert watchfulness against danger. When applied to the spiritual life, it signifies the virtue whereby man directs this watchfulness against the three fetters pulling him towards damnation: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Like an army with no sentry, the man who lacks vigilance is defenseless against the continual assaults unleashed by the devil. In the Garden of Olives, Our Lord warned the apostles to this end, “Watch ye: and pray that ye enter not into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41)
Three Steps to Vigilance
To better understand vigilance, and therefore simplify its practice, the great Catholic thinker, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira divided it into three main steps: suspicion, watchfulness and pugnacity.
Attempting to destroy the notions of good and evil in man, the Revolution2 denies the existence of Original Sin. As a result, modern man is not concerned about falling into sin and immerses himself in a world of immodest fashions, pornography and many other occasions of sin.
On the other hand, the Church teaches that after Original Sin man’s inclinations are so corrupt and his passions so disordered that he is incapable of maintaining a friendship with God without the continual help of grace. Saint Paul calls men “bodies of sin” (Rom. 6:6) and speaking of the soul, Saint Louis de Montfort wrote:
We are naturally prouder than peacocks, more groveling than toads, more vile than unclean animals, more envious than serpents, more gluttonous than hogs, more furious than tigers, lazier than tortoises, weaker than reeds, and more capricious than weathercocks. We have within ourselves nothing but nothingness and sin, and we deserve nothing but the anger of God and everlasting Hell.3
Saint Louis also notes that man’s “best actions are ordinarily stained and corrupted by…[his] corrupt nature.”4
Understanding this corruption leads one to see all one’s ideas, thoughts and tendencies with the utmost suspicion. This is the first step to vigilance.
Suspicion gives rise to watchfulness. The vigilant soul, mindful of his corrupt nature and the lengths to which the devil will go in his unholy struggle, is constantly on the look-out. “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Pointing out the addictive nature of vice, the Catholic Encyclopedia classifies it as “a habit inclining one to sin.”5 Through watchfulness, the vigilant soul identifies his defects before they become habits and is therefore much more likely to overcome them.
In a generic sense, pugnacity is the practice of utterly destroying one’s enemies whenever, wherever and however they exist. Pugnacity applies to vigilance when it is interiorly exercised against one’s defects.
Defects, like weeds left unchecked, will grow out of control and take over the garden of the soul. Also like weeds, once uprooted, any part left in the soil will soon grow back stronger than before.
The pugnacious soul, like a good gardener, spares no effort in uprooting and completely overcoming defects as soon as they appear. History is full of examples of pugnacious saints doing violence to themselves to conquer their defects. Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, while plagued with impure thoughts, reportedly threw himself out of a window to take his mind off them.
Our Lord Himself preached this same pugnacity. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Vigilance and Confidence
Realizing that his neighbor has the same bad inclinations that he has, the vigilant soul regards him with the same suspicion he regards himself. This is not to say that he is overly critical and unfriendly, but rather that he puts none of his confidence in mere creatures which Saint Theresa called, “dry branches that break under the first pressure.”6
Like the wise man who built his house on rock (Matthew 7:24-27), the vigilant man possesses that special confidence which is anchored only in the firm rock of God, His Divine Church and His Holy Mother. Satan may unleash tempests and floods of fury, and his secure house will not succumb.
Vigilance, the Key to Counter-Revolutionary Living
In his book, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira insightfully pointed out how the Revolution makes use of the tendencies of man to reach its insidious goals.7 It introduces temptations and obstacles inside culture contrary to the practice of Christian virtue. Because of this all-encompassing influence, vigilance is essential to identify and destroy these evils.
For this reason, anyone aspiring to a Counter-revolutionary life must especially consider this virtue in developing his spiritual life. Through this virtue, the ever-present assistance of Our Lady will give him the eyes to see and the power to overcome all adversity and attain sanctity to which all men are called.
Our Lady of Vigilance, pray for us.
- Ven. Louis of Granada, The Sinner’s Guide, Chapter 47, http://www.ewtn.com/library/SPIRIT/granada40-48.htm.
- The Revolution here refers to the anti-Christian, five hundred year-old process, described by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution.
- St. Louis De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, translated by Fr. Frederick William Faber, D.D., Tan Books and Publishers Inc., Rockford Ill. 1941, p. 49.
- Ibid. p. 48.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15403c.htm
- Quoted by Fr. Thomas de Saint Laurent, The Book of Confidence, p. 26, America Needs Fatima, Crompond, NY, 1989.
- Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Chapter 5.