Praise and glory to almighty God for all his works! Everlasting honor to him who has begun to work his grace in you. When the earth is covered with snow and frost, we surely see that the seeds sown in it cannot germinate in any but those very few places warmed by the rays of the sun where plants and flowers spring up through the sun's doing. The nature and inherent virtue of the seeds can be discerned from these.
In a similar way, the whole world seems to me to be covered now with the hard frost of pride and greed and lust, so much so that, alas, there are very few people in whose hearts the perfect love of God can dwell, to judge from their words and deeds. One can thus be sure that just as God's friends rejoiced when they saw Lazarus raised from the dead for the glory of God, so too now God's friends rejoice whenever they see someone rise from the three aforementioned vices, which truly constitute an eternal death.
One should also note that, just as Lazarus incurred a twofold enmity after his resurrection (for he had both physical enemies, that is, people who were God's enemies and who hated Lazarus in a physical manner, and spiritual enemies, that is, the devils, who never want to be God's friends, and these hated him in a spiritual manner), so too all those who now rise up from mortal sins, wishing to keep chaste and to flee pride and greed, also incur a double enmity.
God's human enemies want to inflict a twofold physical harm on them. The devils, too, try to injure and hurt them in a twofold way spiritually. First of all worldly people reproach them with their words. Second, if they can, they also cause them trouble with their deeds, trying to make them like themselves in their action and conduct and to draw them away from their good undertakings. However, this man of God, newly converted to the spiritual life, can easily overcome these ill-willed people, if he remains patient in the face of the words directed against him, and if he then carries out his good deeds of a spiritual and divine character even more frequently and fervently in their sight.
The devils rely on two other methods of foiling him. Their great desire, first of all, is to make God's new servant fall back into sin. If they are unable to do this, then they apply themselves to the task of getting him to carry out his good works in an unreasonable and imprudent manner, such as imprudent fasting or keeping vigil beyond due measure. Their intention is to wear out his energy and thus make him weaker in God's service. The best remedy for the first danger is the frequent and wholesome confession of his sins and the true, inner contrition of his heart over his failings. The best remedy for the second danger is a humility of the kind that makes him rather obey some experienced spiritual director than make his own personal decisions about what to do and what penances to carry out. This medicine is indeed so beneficial and excellent that, even if the giver of advice is less worthy than the receiver, one can have the very sure hope of the cooperation of divine wisdom, that is, God himself, to help that giver of advice to give the advice most useful to the receiver, provided both of them have the perfect desire of acting for the honor and glory of God.
Now then, my beloved friend, since both of us have gotten ourselves up from our sins, let us ask God to deign to grant his help to both of us - to me in speaking, to you in obeying. We must beseech God for his help all the more because you, who are rich, wise, and noble, have condescended to ask the advice of me, who am unworthy, ignorant, and not very intelligent. I truly hope that God shall want to have regard for your humility and make what I write to you in his honor beneficial to you both in body and in soul.
Wise and profitable teaching to a certain priest concerning how he should conduct his life both spiritually and bodily, given by the bride of Christ, inspired in her by God.
I advise you first to stay in your lodgings close to your church of the Holy Virgin Mary. You should have only one servant with you. After you have subtracted the necessary expenses from your income, you should return whatever is left over to your creditors and repay your debts in full. It is not right or reasonable to give a lot of money to the poor or to wealthy friends and relatives until all your debts have been resolved. Once you have completely resolved your debts, then - after subtracting the expenses for you and your servant - distribute everything that is left over to the poor and needy.
You should have good and serviceable clerical attire, taking good care of it so no vanity or ostentation can be noted in the quality of the cloth or the style of your clothes beyond honest necessity and physical usefulness. Be content with only two sets of clothes - one for feast days and one for ordinary days - and no more than two sets of shoes and stockings. Convert any superfluous clothes that you have to other uses or use them to payoff your debts. This year, give up linen garments altogether both at nighttime and during the day.
This year, consider your church, St. Mary's, as a cloistered church for the following three reasons. First because, if perhaps you ever remained there before for any proud motive, so in the future you should reside there out of divine obedience in honor of the most humble Virgin Mary. And if perhaps the canons and those holding benefices at this church ever led you with shameful words away from the service of God and toward evil desire, you should now try with God's help and by using divine and spiritual words to lead people away from evil desire and toward the delightful love for God. If perhaps you ever before set a bad example to anyone who saw you behaving yourself in an unpermissible fashion, you should now take care to present a profitable and virtuous example to their souls through your good deeds and upright behavior.
Next, my dear friend, you must plan your daytime and nighttime wisely and efficiently for the glory of God. I have indeed noticed that your church bells ring accurately at the appointed hours. As soon as you hear them at night, then, I advise you to get up immediately from your place and recall the five wounds of Jesus Christ and the sorrows of his most worthy Mother with five genuflections and five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys. Afterward you should begin the matins of the Blessed Virgin and say other prayers that you like until the canons gather in the choir for chant. It is better that you come to the church among the first rather than the last. You should sing the matins of the season devoutly, standing properly until the end and sitting whenever it is correct to do so, but not speaking at all unless you are asked something, and then only answering with a few quiet words and no sign of anger or impatience if you can avoid it. You would conduct yourself with proper order if you were in the presence of some temporal or earthly lord. Likewise, with all the more propriety and modesty and humble reverence, both inward and outward, you should stand in the presence and service of the eternal King of heaven who is always and everywhere present and sees everything.
If you happen to be compelled by some necessity to speak about important matters touching you or someone else during these half-hours, go out of the choir and give your opinion in few words without raising your voice while outside it and then return to your place there without delay. If possible, arrange to have the matter dealt with at another place and time in order not to diminish or impede the divine worship and the glory given to God. Take care not to wander about the church as though you are taking a walk, promenading hither and thither, while the hours are being sung. Such behavior belongs to an unstable and wandering mind and a lukewarm spirit with little love and devotion.
In the intervening time, that is, between the singing of the hours, devote yourself to prayer or read something devout or useful for your mind or beneficial for others, making constantly sure, from the hour in which you get up out of your bed for matins until high mass has been finished, that you do not become voluntarily involved in anything but chant, reading, prayer, or study, unless it happens that you must discuss or deal with certain matters in your chapter concerning the affairs of the church, either with improvements or organization. Once high mass has been celebrated, it is quite suitable to speak and converse about the needs and comfort of the body or good and virtuous recreations.
When you go to table, you should say grace. Whether you are someone else's guest or have guests yourself, speak first of God or his most worthy Mother or some saint during the meal for the edification and benefit of your table companions as well as those serving the food - at least a word or two or even ask the others something relating to God or his Mother or God's saints. Do likewise even when you are alone at table and your servant is attending you, and let some such reading be made of the kind customary among brothers dining together in a monastery. Once you are done eating and have given thanks to God and to your benefactors, speak a short while with whatever upright individuals you please. about any matters or business concerning yourself. Afterward, go directly to your chamber, genuflect five times and say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys in remembrance of the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sorrows of his Mother. Use half of the time remaining until vespers for studying or reading and some form of rest, unless you are hindered by your friends due to matters concerning them. Use the other half of the same time period to take a walk for the proper relaxation of your body, so that you become stronger for the glory of God.
When it rings for vespers, enter directly into the choir of the church to chant the office in the manner described above. Once the complines have been said, pray the vigils each day for the dead along with the three readings before supper. After supper, carry out the same practices as mentioned above after lunch. After you have said grace, take a walk and spend the time having a profitable and pleasant conversation until you feel like going to bed. Even then, before going to sleep, place yourself in front of your bed and there pray devoutly five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys in remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ. After that, get into your bed and give your body enough sleep and rest that you are not overcome by sleepiness during times of vigil due to too little sleep and rest. Every Friday pray the seven psalms and the litany with devotion, and on that day give five silver coins to five poor and needy persons in veneration of the five wounds of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, my dear brother and friend, I advise you to keep abstinence in the following way this year in penance for your sins. Every day throughout Lent and likewise during Advent, your fast should consist of only one meal of fish. On the eves of the feast days of Holy Mary, eat a meal of bread and water; on the eves of the feast days of the apostles, a meal of fish. Each Wednesday, let it be one meal of cheese, eggs, and fish. Each Friday, let it be a meal only of bread and wine - and if you prefer to have water rather than wine, I will not dissuade you - and each Saturday, eat fish and oil for your one midday meal. On Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, eat two meals of meat, provided the church has not prescribed fasting.
Please observe, dear brother, that I have decided to give you this advice and write all this to you for three reasons. First of all, in order that the envy and cunning of the devil may not induce you to wear yourself out so quickly that your strength and wits soon begin to weaken and make your whole life become of less service to God than it should be. Second, if worldly people notice any failure of wit or strength in you due to overwork, or if they see you growing weary in the work you have undertaken, then they may take fright and shrink from subjecting themselves to God's work. Third, because I trust that your work will be more pleasing to God the more you submit yourself humbly to the advice of another than govern yourself according to your own personal judgment.
The Virgin's reply, I believe, to the bride concerning three men for whom the bride was interceding before God. Tears that are meritorious and tears that are not. About how love for God grows through meditation on the humility of Christ. And how fear (not filial or initial fear) may be good.