V. SUBJUGATION OF THE EXTERNAL SENSES.
By following their senses instead of regulating their conduct according to the word of God, our first parents lost happiness and brought sin and misery into the world. In consequence of their sensuality human nature inclines to evil, the world allures to sin, and Satan has grown astute in tempting mankind.
Before us stand the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The spirit inclines to the former, the flesh to the latter. As we obtain knowledge primarily through the senses, St. Augustine aptly calls them "the doors by which life and death enter the soul.'' If we do not wish death to enter our souls through the senses we must keep them so completely under the control of reason enlightened by faith that we can turn them instinctively from any unforeseen danger and concentrate them on what is conducive to life eternal.
This subjugation of the senses, says Thomas a Kempis, purifies the heart, gives peace to the soul, and inclines the will to devotion. By subjugating our senses in a Christian spirit we offer them as holocausts to the Lord on the altar of repentant and purified love.
1. Custody of the Eyes
The most numerous and the most lasting impressions made on the soul usually enter through the sense of sight. To cultivate purity of heart it will therefore be necessary to exercise specially custody of the eyes. Without doing anything extravagant or ridiculous this can easily be accomplished by those who keep the Christian ideal constantly before their minds and are determined to attain it in their daily lives. In all things let them (1) act from principle and guard against natural impulse; (2) watch and pray that they may enjoy the special protection of Divine Providence; (3) conquer fickleness of heart by cultivating a tender conscience; (4) not fix their gaze on a person of the opposite sex that might easily incite them to impure thoughts or desires; (5) avoid suggestive books, pictures, and plays; (6) guard against idle curiosity; (7) and by the contemplation of the beauties of nature learn to raise their minds and hearts to God.
2. Custody of the Ears.
Countless souls have been harmed by listening with pleasure to the vanities and wickedness of the world. If we do not wish to be imbued with false principles and desire to preserve our hearts undefiled, we must turn away from (1) all irreligious and immodest conversation; (2) from all uncharitable remarks and criticism; (3) from all idle gossip, especially with persons of the opposite sex; (4) and from all sensational rumors and idle reports.
Let us rather treasure these sayings of the saints: (1) Turn instantly from the immodest tongue lest it defile you (St. Gregory Nazianzen). (2) Four things are becoming to the listener: to listen patiently, to weigh wisely, to report the good, and to forget the rest (St. Thomas). (3) The more you relish spiritual things, the easier will you escape the poison of an evil tongue. (4) Three things defile the hearing: boastful words, detracting remarks, and vain flattery (St. Anthony). (5) Whatever pertains to the salvation of our souls should be willingly heard, devoutly received, and carefully preserved (St. Bernard).
3. Custody of the Sense of Smell.
The use of perfumes is unbecoming to devout souls. When habitually indulged in it tends to moral effeminacy. Hence St. Bonaventure exhorts his readers to dispense with the perfumes of earth, and to fill their lives with the fragrance of virtue, that they may abound in the dew of heavenly grace, in the scented air of holy aspirations, and in the burning fire of divine charity. By exhaling the odor of virtue in their private lives the children of God will counteract evil, be an incentive to good, and give glory to God.
4. Custody of the Taste.
An unmortified taste is most pernicious, especially in this age of materialism and sensuality. Two evils result from a want of mortifying the taste: (1) the vices of gluttony and intemperance; (2) and a perversion of the sense of taste and of the craving for nourishment. According to St. Gregory the Great we may be intemperate in eating and drinking in five ways: (1) by eating or drinking out of season; (2) by desiring expensive food or drink; (3) by desiring things prepared with great care; (4) by too great eagerness in eating or drinking; (5) by an inordinate use of food or drink.
To exercise custody over the taste we should (1) be indifferent to food and drink, and take what is placed before us; (2) not take nourishment out of meal-time without necessity; (3) take nourishment to strengthen our bodies and not merely to gratify the palate; (4) always observe moderation in eating and drinking; (5) when at table always deny ourselves something for the love of God.
5. Custody of the Sense of Touch.
The sense of touch is not easily kept under the control of reason (1) because it seems so harmless that often not sufficient attention is paid to it; (2) it covers the entire body and is not easily subjugated; (3) it easily excites impure feelings.
To subjugate the sense of touch we must avoid whatever enervates it. Hence the saints advise us: (1) to live a simple life; (2) to wear plain clothes; (3) to sleep on a hard bed; (4) to cultivate habits of industry; (5) to suffer the inclemency of the weather patiently; (6) never to pamper the body; (7) to avoid all unnecessary physical contact with others; (8) to be modest with ourselves; (9) to practice some austerity with the advice of our director.
6. Custody of the Tongue.
Though the tongue is not a sense it is appropriately treated here as the organ of speech. God gave us the gift of speech to worship Him, and to communicate with our neighbor in a Christian manner. A right use of the tongue is made (1) in honoring God by prayer and divine praise; (2) in communicating with a neighbor in justice and kindness on business, social, and charitable affairs; (3) especially by consoling the unfortunate, in speaking well of all, in conversing on edifying subjects. But a wrong use of the tongue is made by all irreverent, disrespectful, uncharitable, and indelicate remarks.
We exercise custody over the tongue (1) by always thinking well of all; (2) by always wishing well to all; (3) by repressing all impetuosity to speak; (4) by weighing what we are about to say, so that we speak in season and offend not against modesty, charity, justice, or truth. St. Alphonsus exhorts us to speak with simplicity, humility, moderation, and modesty. And the Psalmist prayed the Lord "to set a watch before his mouth; and a door around his lips that his heart incline not to evil words'' (Ps. cxl. 3).