After treating of the principal sins to be avoided and of their
roots and consequences to be mortified, it is fitting that we discuss
in a special way the predominant fault that exists in each of us. That
we may proceed with order, we must first see in what this fault
consists, then how to recognize or discern it, and lastly how to
DEFINITION OF THE PREDOMINANT FAULT
fault is the defect in us that tends to prevail over the others, and
thereby over our manner of feeling, judging, sympathizing, willing,
and acting. It is a defect that has in each of us an intimate relation
to our individual temperament.(1) There are temperaments inclined to
effeminacy, indolence, sloth, gluttony, and sensuality. Others are
inclined especially to anger and pride. We do not all climb the same
slope toward the summit of perfection: those who are effeminate by
temperament must by prayer, grace, and virtue become strong; and those
who are naturally strong, to the point of easily becoming severe,
must, by working at themselves and by grace, become gentle.
this progressive transformation of our temperament, the predominant
defect in the soul often makes itself felt. It is our domestic enemy,
dwelling in our interior; for, if it develops, it may succeed in
completely ruining the work of grace or the interior life. At times it
is like a crack in a wall that seems to be solid but is not so; like a
crevice, imperceptible at times but deep, in the beautiful facade of a
building, which a vigorous jolt may shake to the foundations. For
example, an antipathy, an instinctive aversion to someone, may, if it
is not watched over and corrected by right reason, the spirit of
faith, and charity, produce disasters in the soul and lead it to grave
injustice. By yielding to such an antipathy, it does itself far more
harm than it does its neighbor, for it is much more harmful to commit
injustice than to be the object of it.
The predominant fault is so
much the more dangerous as it often compromises our principal good
point, which is a happy inclination of our nature that ought to
develop and to be increased by grace. For example, a man is naturally
inclined to gentleness; but if by reason of his predominant fault,
which may be effeminacy, his gentleness degenerates into weakness,
into excessive indulgence, he may even reach the complete loss of
energy. Another, on the contrary, is naturally inclined to fortitude,
but if he gives free rein to his irascible temperament, fortitude in
him degenerates into unreasonable violence, the cause of every type of
In every man there is a mixture of good and bad
inclinations; there is a predominant fault and also a natural quality.
If we are in the state of grace, we have a special attraction of
grace, which generally perfects first of all what is best in our
nature, and then radiates over that which is less good. Some are thus
more inclined toward contemplation, others toward action. Particular
care must be taken that the predominant fault does not snuff out our
principal natural quality or our special attraction of grace.
Otherwise our soul would resemble a field of wheat invaded by tares or
cockle, of which the Gospel speaks. And we have an adversary, the
devil, who seeks to foster the growth of our predominant fault that he
may place us in conflict with those who work with us in the Lord's
field. Christ Himself tells us: "The kingdom of heaven is likened to a
man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his
enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way." (2)
Christ explains that the enemy is the devil,(3) who seeks to destroy the
work of God by creating disunion among those who, in a holy manner,
ought to collaborate in the same work for eternity. He is skillful in
exaggerating in our eyes the defects of our neighbor, in transforming
a grain of sand into a mountain, in setting up, as it were, a
magnifying glass in our imagination, that we may become irritated at
our brethren instead of working with them. Considering all this, we
can see what evil may spring up in each of us from our principal fault
if we are not most attentive to it. At times it is like a devouring
worm in a beautiful fruit.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE PREDOMINANT FAULT
Evidently it is of primary importance that we recognize our
predominant fault and have no illusions about it. This is so much the
more necessary as our adversary, the enemy of our soul, knows it quite
well and makes use of it to stir up trouble in and about us. In the
citadel of our interior life, which is defended by the different
virtues, the predominant fault is the weak spot, undefended by the
theological and moral virtues. The enemy of souls seeks exactly this
easily vulnerable point in each one, and he finds it without
difficulty. Therefore, we must recognize it also.
But how can we
discern it? For beginners who are sincere, this is quite easy. But
later the predominant fault is less apparent, for it tries to hide
itself and to put on the appearances of a virtue: pride clothes itself
in the outward appearances of magnanimity, and pusillanimity seeks to
cover itself with those of humility. Yet we must succeed in discerning
the predominant fault, for if we do not know it, we cannot fight it;
and if we do not fight it, we have no true interior life.
may discern it, we must first of all ask God for light: "Lord, make me
know the obstacles I more or less consciously place in the way of the
working of Thy grace in me. Then give me the strength to rid myself of
them, and, if I am negligent in doing so, do Thou deign to free me
from them, though I should suffer greatly."
After thus asking
sincerely for light, we must make a serious examination. How? By
asking ourselves: "Toward what do my most ordinary preoccupations
tend, in the morning when I awake, or when I am alone? Where do my
thoughts and desires go spontaneously?" We should keep in mind that
the predominant fault, which easily commands all our passions, takes
on the appearance of a virtue and, if it is not opposed, it may lead
to impenitence. Judas fell into impenitence through avarice, which he
did not will to dominate; it led him to impenitence like a violent
wind that hurls a ship on the rocks.
A second step in discerning the
predominant fault, is to ask ourselves: "What is generally the cause
or source of my sadness and joy? What is the general motive of my
actions, the ordinary origin of my sins, especially when it is not a
question of an accidental sin, but rather a succession of sins or a
state of resistance to grace, notably when this resistance persists
for several days and leads me to omit my exercises of piety?" Then we
must seek sincerely to know the motive of the soul's refusal to return
to the good.
In addition, we must ask ourselves: "What does my
director think of this? In his opinion, what is my predominant fault?
He is a better judge than I am." No one, in fact, is a good judge in
his own case; here self-love deceives us. Often our director has
discovered this fault before we have; perhaps he has tried more than
once to talk to us about it. Have we not sought to excuse ourselves?
Excuses come promptly, for the predominant fault easily excites all
our passions: it commands them as a master, and they obey instantly.
Thus, wounded self-love immediately excites irony, anger, impatience.
Moreover, when the predominant fault has taken root in us, it
experiences a particular repugnance to being unmasked and fought,
because it wishes to reign in us. This condition sometimes reaches
such a point that, when our neighbor accuses us of this fault, we
reply that we have many bad habits, but truly not the one
The predominant fault may also be recognized by the
temptations that our enemy arouses most frequently in us, for he
attacks us especially through this weak point in our soul.
in moments of true fervor the inspirations of the Holy Ghost ask us
for the sacrifice of this particular fault.
If we have sincere
recourse to these different means of discernment, it will not be too
difficult for us to recognize this interior enemy which we bear within
ourselves and which enslaves us: "Whosoever committeth sin is the
servant of sin," (5) says our Lord.
It is like an interior prison that we bear about with us wherever we
go. We must earnestly aspire to deliverance.
It would be a great grace for us if we were to meet a saint who would
say: "This is your predominant fault and this your principal
attraction of grace which you must follow generously to reach union
with God." In this way Christ applied the name, "sons of thunder" (Boanerges)
(6) to the young apostles James and John who wished to call down fire
from heaven on a city that had refused to receive them. We read in St.
Luke: "He rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are.
The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save." (7) In the
school of the Savior, the Boanerges became such gentle souls that
toward the end of his life St. John the Evangelist could say only one
thing: "My little children, . . . love one another." (8) When asked
why he always repeated the same exhortation, he used to reply: "This
is His commandment. . . . And he that keepeth His commandments,
abideth in Him and He in him." John had lost nothing of his ardor, of
his thirst for justice, but it had become spiritualized and was
accompanied by a great gentleness.
HOW TO COMBAT THE PREDOMINANT
Because the predominant fault is our principal interior enemy,
we must combat it. When it is conquered, temptations are no longer
very dangerous, but are rather occasions of progress.
predominant fault is not conquered, however, as long as there is no
true progress in piety or the interior life, as long as the soul has
not attained to a true and stable fervor of will; in other words, to
that promptness of the will in the service of God which is, according
to St. Thomas, the essence of true devotion.(9) In this spiritual
warfare, we must have recourse to three principal means: prayer,
examination of conscience, and a sanction.
Our prayer must be
sincere: "Lord, show me the principal obstacle to my sanctification,
the one that hinders me from profiting by graces and also by the
exterior difficulties that would work to the good of my soul if I had
greater recourse to Thee when they arise." The saints went so far as
to say, as St. Louis Bertrand did: "Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry
up in me all that hinders me from going to Thee, that Thou mayest
spare me in eternity." Blessed Nicholas of Flue used to pray: "Lord,
take from me everything that hinders me from going to Thee. Give me
all that will lead me to Thee. Take me from myself and give me to
This prayer does not dispense us from self-examination; on
the contrary, it leads to it. And, as St. Ignatius says, it is
especially suitable for beginners to write down each week the number
of times they have yielded to their predominant fault which seeks to
reign in them like a despot. It is easier to laugh fruitlessly at this
method than to apply it fruitfully. If we keep track of the money we
spend and receive, it is still more useful to know what we lose and
what we gain from the spiritual point of view for eternity.
also highly proper to impose a sanction, or penance, on ourselves each
time we fall into this defect. This penance may take the form of a
prayer, a moment of silence, an exterior or an interior mortification.
It makes reparation for the fault and satisfaction for the penalty due
it. At the same time we acquire more circumspection for the future.
Thus many persons have cured themselves of the habit of cursing by
imposing on themselves the obligation of giving an alms in reparation
each time they fail.
Before conquering our predominant fault, our
virtues are often, to speak more properly, natural good inclinations
rather than true and solid virtues that have taken root in us. Prior
to victory over this fault, the fountain of graces is not yet
adequately opened on our soul, for we still seek ourselves too much
and do not live sufficiently for God.
In addition, we must overcome
pusillanimity, which leads us to think that our predominant fault
cannot be eradicated. With grace we can overcome it, because, as the
Council of Trent says, quoting St. Augustine: "God never commands the
impossible; but in giving us His precepts, He commands us to do what
we can, and to ask for the grace to accomplish what we cannot do."
It has been said that the spiritual combat is in this case more
necessary than victory, for, if we dispense ourselves from this
struggle, we abandon the interior life, we no longer tend toward
perfection. We must not make peace with our faults.
credence must not be given to our adversary when he seeks to persuade
us that this struggle is suitable only for the saints that they may
reach the highest regions of spirituality. The truth is that without
this persevering and efficacious struggle we cannot sincerely aspire
to Christian perfection, toward which the supreme precept makes it a
duty for all of us to tend. This precept is, in fact, without limit:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy
whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy
neighbor as thyself." (11)
Without this struggle, there is no
interior joy or peace, for the tranquility of order or peace comes
from the spirit of sacrifice. It alone establishes us interiorly in
order by putting to death all that is inordinate in US.(12)
charity, the love of God and of souls in God, finally prevails
completely over the predominant fault; it then truly occupies the
first place in our soul and reigns there effectively. Mortification,
which makes our principal fault disappear, delivers us and assures the
predominance in our soul of our true natural qualities and of our
special attraction of grace. Thus little by little, we grow to be
ourselves, in the broad sense of the word, that is, to be
supernaturally ourselves minus our defects. We do not have to copy in
a more or less servile manner another's qualities, or enter a uniform
mold that is the same for all. There is a great variety in human
personalities, just as no two leaves or flowers are perfectly similar.
But a person's temperament must not be crushed; it must be transformed
while keeping whatever is good in it. In our temperament, our
character must be the imprint of the acquired and infused virtues,
especially of the theological virtues. Then, instead of instinctively
referring everything to self, as is the case when the predominant
fault reigns, we will turn everything back to God, think almost
continually of Him, and live for Him alone; at the same time we will
lead to Him those with whom we come into contact.
That we may know ourselves better, we should
vary the examination of conscience, making it at times according to
the order of the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church;
at other times, following the order of the moral and theological
virtues; or considering the sins opposed to these different virtues,
indicated in the two following outlines: