1. “He who has persevered to the end,” Jesus tells us, “will be saved.” (Mt. 10:22; 24:13) Elsewhere He says that “no one, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Cf. Luke 9:62) It is necessary, therefore, to persevere in goodness if we wish to be saved.
It is easy to begin, but it is difficult to continue. In a moment of fervour, perhaps, you promised to be holy. Maybe some misfortune came your way, such as the loss of someone very dear to you, and you were moved to meditate upon the vanity of earthly things and promised to dedicate yourself entirely to God. In that moment you experienced the truth of the words of Ecclesiastes, summarised in the “Imitation of Christ:” “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity, but to love God and serve Him alone.” (Bk. 1, Ch. 1:4)
Unfortunately, your good resolutions wore away with time. You may have been swept away once more by the deceptive pleasures of this world. Or perhaps your charity grew cold and in your tepidity you gave in to the violent onslaught of temptation.
Christian perseverance has three main enemies. (1) Firstly, there is time, which slowly consumes this virtue. You must conquer time by resolving to begin the battle anew every morning of your life. (2) Then there is the devil, who goes about, as St. Peter warns us, like a lion in search of his prey. (Cf. 1 Peter 5:8) You must resist him by the strength of your faith. (3) Finally, there is spiritual sloth which easily invades the soul. You must take your cue from St. Paul’s exhortation: “My beloved brethren, be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)
2. Perseverance may be a difficult virtue, but nothing is really difficult to a man of strong resolution. When the sister of St. Thomas Aquinas asked him how to become holy, he replied that it needed only one thing – a firm act of the will, for God will certainly supply the necessary grace. Think of how much work and sacrifice is required to achieve worldly success. Cicero wrote that it required constant and tireless labour in order to become a great orator. (Cf. De Orat., 1:39) St. Paul cited the examples of athletes who are prepared to make such great sacrifices in order to train themselves to win. If they are prepared to do so much to gain a perishable crown, he comments, we should be prepared to do much more to gain an imperishable one. (Cf. 1 Cor. 9:25)
3. The grace of God is the principal weapon upon which we must depend in order to gain our victory. We should pray for it humbly and perseveringly. There will be victors and losers in the battle for Heaven as well as in earthly contests. We must make sure that we are on the winning side. For this purpose we should combine fervent and constant prayer with generous cooperation with the grace of God.