" ... 'It is better to have an uneasy conscience than virtue with vanity'. ... "
The above quote is spoken to the lady he is responding to because she has written him feeling she is too talkative. Father John replies to this:
"The Holy Fathers said: One person talks all day and it is accounted as silence, for he speaks for God's sake; another is silent all day and it is accounted as empty talk."
The lady has also next written that she's too busy with everyday cares and her prayer goes badly. Father John answers:
"You must finally recognize that you are not a nun and are living in the world."
He goes on along this vein to explain to her that even the Holy Fathers, immersed in unceasing prayer, would often be stopped in their intent by changes they faced. But they, armed with experience in spiritual warfare, would not lose heart in these changes but endured these unpleasant circumstances.
The quote with which I opened this post is then given by Father John to the lady after he admonishes her not to want everything to go smoothly for her.
'It is better to have an uneasy conscience than virtue with vanity' also serves a mend between two different yet concurrent themes he speaks to her about in this letter, the other theme being proud of accomplishments in ascetic struggles. He says:
"Here is what the holy men say: 'If you are struggling as you should, do not be proud of your fasting. If you get conceited about it, what use is the fast? It is better for a person to eat meat than to be arrogant and exalt himself.' "
He then quotes St. Moses:
'Strength, for a person who desires to acquire virtues, consists in not losing heart when [emphasis mine] he happens to fall, but continuing once more on his way. Not to fall is characteristic only of angels'.
He finishes by reminding her that:
" Pedants who are ignorant of the spiritual life do not like such sayings, for all their piety is outward conduct. It is very regretabble that, in our inexperience in the spiritual life, we stick to the letter, for the letter kills, and the spirit gives life" warning her of legalistic attention to fulfilling what obligations are occassioned by the living of a spiritual life.
Very good medicine for this sinner.