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Part 6: When It's Best to Run Away

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 21, 2016)
The following is part 6 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.

Just as we must make wise and prudent discernments about what to believe and what to do in the light of the Catholic faith, so we must sometimes discern when to flee from evil and temptation whenever its power is too strong for us.

For example, Catholic spiritual writers have always taught that we should beware of the vice of ambition, the seeking of public status and acclaim; we should avoid ambition as a veritable spiritual poison. A story is told in this regard about the 13th century Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure. When he was chosen to be a cardinal of the Church (without his knowledge or consent), a solemn procession from the pope brought to his friary the official cardinal's hat on a satin pillow. Saint Bonaventure, however, did not cease for one moment the menial chore he was doing at the time — namely, washing the dishes — but simply told the entourage to continue their solemn procession right through the kitchen, out the back door and into the garden, where they were welcome to hang the cardinal's hat on the nearest tree for all he cared! In the Church's tradition of sacred art, therefore, St. Bonaventure is always symbolized by a cardinal's hat hanging on a tree branch.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, tells us in her autobiography that when strong temptations arise, such as the temptation to engage in useless arguments or to lose one's temper, often the most prudent thing to do is to run away. It's the "fee, don't fail me now" strategy! She recounts this charming tale to the Mother Superior of her convent:

Dear Mother, I have already told you that my last means of not being defeated in combat is desertion; I was already using this means during my novitiate, and it always succeeded perfectly with me. I wish, Mother, to give you an example which I believe will make you smile. During one of your bronchial attacks, I came to your cell very quietly one morning to return the keys to the communion grating since I was sacristan. I wasn't too displeased at having this opportunity to see you; I was very much pleased, but I didn't dare show it. A Sister, animated with a holy zeal, and one who loved me very much, believed I was going to awaken you when she saw me entering your quarters; she wanted to take the keys from me. I was too stubborn to give them to her and cede my rights. As politely as I could, I told her that it was my duty to return the keys. I understood now that it would have been more perfect to cede to this Sister, young, it is true, but still older than I. I did not understand it at the time, and as I wanted absolutely to enter in spite of the fact that she was pushing the door to prevent me, very soon the thing we feared most happened: the racket we were making made you open your eyes. Then, Mother, everything tumbled upon me. The poor Sister whom I had resisted began to deliver a whole discourse, the gist of which was: It`s Sister Therese of the Child Jesus who made the noise; my God, how disagreeable she is, etc. I, who felt just the contrary, had a great desire to defend myself. Happily, there came a bright idea into my mind, and I told myself that if I began to justify myself I would not be able to retain my peace of soul ... My last plank of salvation was in flight. No sooner thought than done. I left without fuss, allowing Sister to continue her discourse ... There was no bravery there, Mother; however, I believe it was much better for me not to expose myself to combat when there was certain defeat facing me.

In short, just as flight from physical danger is prudent if it is no part of God`s will to face that danger (such as the flight of Mary and Joseph from Herod and Archaelus: see last week's article), so flight from spiritual danger is prudent when temptations to pride, ambition, bickering and strife cannot be overcome in any other way.

This is especially true with regard to temptations against chastity. Saint Francis de Sales warns us that letting oneself become romantically involved with the wrong person, in an immoral situation, can almost never be set right other than by flight:

If you can avoid the object of such love, I greatly recommend that you do so. Just as men bitten by serpents cannot easily be also a person stung by love can hardly be cured of such a passion as long as he is near the one wounded in like manner. Change of scene contributes greatly to allaying the heat and pain of both grief and love ...

What is a man who cannot go away to do? He must absolutely cut off all particular familiarity, private conversations, amorous looks and smiles, and in general all kinds of associations and allurements that may nourish the shameful, smouldering fire. At most, if he must speak to the other party, let it be only to declare by a bold, brief, and serious protest that he has sworn an eternal divorce. I call aloud on everyone who has fallen into such wretched snares: Cut them! Break them! Rip them apart! Do not delay by unravelling these criminal friendships. You must tear and rend them apart. Do not untie their knots but break them and cut them, so that the cords and strings are made useless. Do not enter into any compromise with a love so opposed to the love of God.

May Mary, our Blessed Mother, pray for us that we may gain the virtue of prudence, so that we may always discern what is true and right in the light of the Catholic Faith, flee from all occasions of sin, and from needless exposure to spiritual danger. May we become, as Our Lord said, "innocent as doves," but also "wise as serpents" (Mt 10:16): clear-headed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be able to see the right thing to do, with all prudence, and then boldly to do it!

Recite the Chaplet of the 10 Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayerfully reflect on Mary's virtue of prudence.

Questions for Discussion for Parts Five and Six
1. What helps do we have in the Catholic Tradition to make truly prudent decisions about what to believe and what to do?
2. Have you ever known anyone whose life was consumed by ambition to "climb the ladder"? What kind of life did they lead, and what kind of person did they become?
3. Have you ever had to flee a situation where you thought that if you didn`t, you might get caught up in an argument, or in a romantic relationship that it would be morally or spiritually dangerous?

Suggestions for Further Reading
Read Edward Sri, Walking With Mary, (New York: Image, 2013), pp. 53-65, the chapter on the Annunciation entitled "A Servant of the Lord."

Access the series to date.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press).

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