|Devotion to Our Lady||
1. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE COMPASSION OF JESUS FOR SINNERS
2. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE DANGERS OF TEPIDITY
3. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE UNHAPPINESS OF SINNERS
4. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE DELUSION OF SINNERS
5. St. Alphonsus Liguori THOUGHTS ABOUT HEAVEN
6. St. Alphonsus Liguori CONCEALING SINS IN CONFESSION
7. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE MALICE OF MORTAL SIN
8. St. Alphonsus Liguori THE LIMITED NUMBER OF SINS GOD WILL PARDON
9. St. John Vianney THEY ARE FOR THE WORLD
10. St. John Vianney A PUBLIC PLAGUE
11. St. John Vianney EVIL TONGUES
There are some who, through envy, for that is what it amounts to, belittle and slander others, especially those in the same business or profession as their own, in order to draw business to themselves.
They will say such evil things as “their merchandise is worthless” or “they cheat”; that they have nothing at home and that it would be impossible to give goods away at such a price; that there have been many complaints about these goods; that they will give no value or wear or whatever it is, or even that it is short weight, or not the right length, and so on.
A workman will say that another man is not a good worker, that he is always changing his job, that people are not satisfied with him, or that he does no work, that he only puts in his time, or perhaps that he does not know how to work.
“What I was telling you there,” they will then add, “it would be better to say nothing about it. He might lose by it, you know.”
“Is that so?” you answer. “It would have been better if you yourself had said nothing. That would have been the thing to do.”
A farmer will observe that his neighbor’s property is doing better than his own. This makes him very angry so he will speak evil of him. There are others who slander their neighbors from motives of vengeance. If you do or say something to help someone, even through reasons of duty or of charity, they will then look for opportunities to decry you, to think up things which will harm you, in order to revenge themselves. If their neighbor is well spoken of, they will be very annoyed and will tell you: “He is just like everyone else. He has his own faults. He has done this, he has said that. You didn’t know that? Ah, that is because you have never had anything to do with him.”
A great many people slander others because of pride. They think that by depreciating others they will increase their own worth. They want to make the most of their own alleged good qualities. Everything they say and do will be good, and everything that others say and do will be wrong.
But the great bulk of malicious talk is done by people who are simply irresponsible, who have an itch to chatter about others without feeling any need to discover whether what they are saying is true or false. They just have to talk.
Yet, although these latter are less guilty than the others ― that is to say, than those who slander and backbite through hatred or envy or revenge ― yet they are not free from sin. Whatever the motive that prompts them, they should not sully the reputation of their neighbor.
It is my belief that the sin of scandal-mongering includes all that is most evil and wicked. Yes, my dear brethren, this sin includes the poison of all the vices ― the meanness of vanity, the venom of jealousy, the bitterness of anger, the malice of hatred, and the flightiness and irresponsibility so unworthy of a Christian.
Is it not, in fact, scandal-mongering which sows almost all discord and disunity, which breaks up friendships and hinders enemies from reconciling their quarrels, which disturbs the peace of homes, which turns brother against brother, husband against wife, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law and son-in-law against father-in-law? How many united households have been turned upside down by one evil tongue, so that their members could not bear to see or to speak to one another? And one malicious tongue, belonging to a neighbor, man or woman, can be the cause of all this misery.
Yes, my dear brethren, the evil tongue of one scandalmonger poisons all the virtues and engenders all the vices. It is from that malicious tongue that a stain is spread so many times through a whole family, a stain which passes from fathers to children, from one generation to the next, and which perhaps is never effaced.
The malicious tongue will follow the dead into the grave; it will disturb the remains of these unfortunates by making live again the faults which were buried with them in that resting place. What a foul crime, my dear brethren! Would you not be filled with fiery indignation if you were to see some vindictive wretch rounding upon a corpse and tearing it into a thousand pieces?
Such a sight would make you cry out in horror and compassion. And yet the crime of continuing to talk of the faults of the dead is much greater. A great many people habitually speak of someone who has died something after this fashion: “Ah, he did very well in his time! He was a seasoned drinker. He was as cute as a fox. He was no better than he should have been.”
But perhaps, my friend, you are mistaken, and although everything may have been exactly as you have said, perhaps he is already in Heaven, perhaps God has pardoned him. But, in the meantime, where is your charity?
We read in the Gospel that Jesus, having gone up into a mountain with His disciples, and seeing a multitude of five thousand persons, who followed Him because they saw the miracles which He wrought on them that were diseased, the Redeemer said to St. Philip: “‘Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ “Lord,” answered St. Philip, ‘two-hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient that every one may take a little.’ St. Andrew then said: ‘There is a boy here that has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many?’ But Jesus Christ said: ‘Make the men sit down.’ And He distributed the loaves and fishes among them. The multitude were satisfied: and the fragments of bread which remained filled twelve baskets.” The Lord wrought this miracle through compassion for the bodily wants of these poor people; but far more tender is His compassion for the necessities of the souls of the poor that is, of sinners who are deprived of the divine grace. This tender compassion of Jesus Christ for sinners shall be the subject of this day’s discourse.
1. Through the bowels of His mercy towards men, who groaned under the slavery of sin and Satan, our most loving Redeemer descended from Heaven to earth, to redeem and save them from eternal torments by His own death. Such was the language of St. Zachary, the father of the Baptist, when the Blessed Virgin, who had already become the mother of the Eternal Word, entered his house. “Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us” (Luke 1:78).
2. Jesus Christ, the good pastor, who came into the world to obtain salvation for us his sheep, has said: “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Mark the expression, “more abundantly”―which signifies that the Son of Man came on earth, not only to restore us to the life of grace, which we lost, but to give us a better life than that which we forfeited by sin. Yes―for as St. Leo says, the benefits, which we have derived from the death of Jesus, are greater than the injury which the devil has done us by sin. The same doctrine is taught by the Apostle, who says that, “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Romans 5:20).
3. But, my Lord, since Thou hast resolved to take human flesh, would not a single prayer, offered by Thee, be sufficient for the redemption of all men? What need, then, was there of leading a life of poverty, humiliation, and contempt, for thirty-three years, of suffering a cruel and shameful death on an infamous gibbet, and of shedding all Thy blood by dint of torments? I know well, answers Jesus Christ, that one drop of My blood, or a simple prayer, would be sufficient for the salvation of the world; but neither would be sufficient to show the love which I bear to men: and, therefore, to be loved by men, when they should see me dead on the cross for the love of them, I have resolved to submit to so many torments and to so painful a death. This, he says, is the duty of a good pastor. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep... I lay down My life for my sheep” (John 10:11, 15).
4. O men, O men, what greater proof of love could the Son of God give us, than to lay down His life for us his sheep? “In this we have known the charity of God; because He hath laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). No one, says the Savior, can show greater love to His friends than to give His life for them. “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). But thou, O Lord, hast died, not only for friends, but for us, who were Thy enemies by sin. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). “Infinite love of our God,” exclaims St. Bernard, “to spare slaves, neither the Father has spared the Son, nor the Son himself.” To pardon us, who were rebellious servants, the Father would not pardon the Son, and the Son would not pardon Himself, but, by His death, has satisfied the divine justice for the sins which we have committed.
5. When Jesus Christ was near His passion, He went one day to Samaria―the Samaritans refused to receive Him. Indignant at the insult offered by the Samaritans to their Master, St. James and St. John, turning to Jesus, said: “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). But Jesus, Who was all sweetness, even to those who insulted Him, answered: “You know not of what spirit you are! The Son of Man came not to destroy souls, but to save” (Luke 9:55, 50). He severely rebuked the disciples. What spirit is this, He said, which possesses you? It is not My spirit! Mine is the spirit of patience and compassion―for I am come, not to destroy, but to save the souls of men: and you speak of fire, of punishment, and of vengeance. Hence, in another place, He said to His disciples: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29 ). I do not wish of you to learn of Me to chastise, but to be meek, and to bear and pardon injuries.
6. How beautiful has He described the tenderness of His heart towards sinners in the following words: “What man of you that hath an hundred sheep: and, if he lose one of them, doth he not leave ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which is lost until he find it: and when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulder rejoicing; and coming home, call together his friends and neighbors, saying to them: ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost!’ ?” (Luke 15:4-6).
But, Lord, it is not Thou that oughtest to rejoice, but the sheep that has found her pastor and her God. The sheep indeed, answers Jesus, rejoices at finding Me, her Shepherd; but far greater is the joy which I feel at having found one of My lost sheep. He concludes the parable in these words: “I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in Heaven, for one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just, who need not penance” (Luke 15:7). There is more joy in Heaven at the conversion of one sinner, than upon ninety-nine just men who preserve their innocence. What sinner, then, can be so hardened as not to go instantly and cast himself at the feet of his Savior, when he knows the tender love with which Jesus Christ is prepared to embrace him, and carry him on His shoulders, as soon as he repents of his sins?
7. The Lord has also declared his tenderness towards penitent sinners in the parable of the Prodigal Child. (Luke 15:12, etc). In that parable, the Son of God says that a certain young man, unwilling to be any longer under the control of his father, and desiring to live according to his caprice and corrupt inclinations, asked the portion of his father’s substance which fell to him. The father gave it with sorrow, weeping over the ruin of his son. The son departed from his father’s house. Having in a short time dissipated his substance, he was reduced to such a degree of misery that, to procure the necessaries of life, he was obliged to feed swine.
All this was a figure of a sinner, who, after departing from God, and losing the divine grace and all the merits he had acquired, leads a life of misery under the slavery of the devil. In the Gospel it is added that the young man, seeing his wretched condition, resolved to return to his father: and the father, who is a figure of Jesus Christ, seeing his son return to him, was instantly moved to pity. “His father saw him, and was moved with compassion” (Luke 15:20); and, instead of driving him away, as the ungrateful son had deserved, “running to him, he fell upon his neck and kissed him.” He ran with open arms to meet him, and, through tenderness, fell upon his neck, and consoled him by his embraces. He then said to his servants: “Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him.”
According to St. Jerome and St. Augustine, the first robe signifies the divine grace, which, in addition to new celestial gifts, God, by granting pardon, gives to the penitent sinner. “And put a ring on his finger.” Give him the ring of a spouse. By recovering the grace of God, the soul becomes again the spouse of Jesus Christ. “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry” (Luke 15:23). Bring hither the fatted calf which signifies the Holy Communion, or Jesus in the Holy Sacrament, mystically killed and offered in sacrifice on the altar―let us eat and rejoice. But why, divine Father, so much joy at the return of so ungrateful a child? Because, answered the Father, this, My son, was dead, and he is come to life again; he was lost, and I have found him.
8. This tenderness of Jesus Christ was experienced by the sinful woman (according to St. Gregory, Mary Magdalene) who cast herself at the feet of Jesus, and washed them with her tears. (Luke 7:47 and 50). The Lord, turning to her with sweetness, consoled her by saying: “Thy sins are forgiven ... thy faith hath made thee safe; go in peace!” (Luke 7:48 and 50). Child, thy sins are pardoned; thy confidence in Me has saved thee; go in peace. It was also felt by the man who was sick for thirty-eight years, and who was infirm, both in body and soul. The Lord cured his malady, and pardoned his sins. “Behold,” says Jesus to him, “thou art made whole; sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee” (John 5:14). The tenderness of the Redeemer was also felt by the leper, who said to Jesus Christ: “Lord, if thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Jesus answered: “I will: be thou made clean!” (Matthew 8:3). As if He said: “Yes; I will that thou be made clean; for I have come down from Heaven for the purpose of consoling all: be healed, then, according to thy desire!” … “And forthwith his leprosy was cleansed.”
9. We have also a proof of the tender compassion of the Son of God for sinners, in His conduct towards the woman caught in adultery. The Scribes and Pharisees brought her before Him, and said: “This woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses, in the Law, commands us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou?” (John 8:4-5). And this they did, as St. John says, tempting Him. They intended to accuse Him of transgressing the Law of Moses, “if He said that she ought to be liberated; and they expected to destroy His character for meekness, if He said that she should be stoned” says St. Augustine (Tract, xxxiii. in Joan). But what was the answer of Our Lord? He neither said that she should be stoned, nor dismissed; but, “bowing Himself down, He wrote with His finger on the ground.” The interpreters say that, probably, what He wrote on the ground was a text of Scripture admonishing the accusers of their own sins, which were, perhaps, greater than that of the woman charged with adultery. “He then lifted Himself up, and said to them: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her!’” (John 8:7). The Scribes and Pharisees went away, one by one, and the woman stood alone. Jesus Christ, turning to her, said: “Hath no one condemned thee? Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more!” (John 8:11). Since no one has condemned you, fear not that you shall be condemned by Me, Who hath come on earth, not to condemn, but to pardon and save sinners: go in peace, and sin no more.
10. Jesus Christ has come, not to condemn, but to deliver sinners from Hell, as soon as they resolve to amend their lives. And when He sees them obstinately bent on their own perdition, He addresses them with tears in the words of Ezechiel: “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezechiel 18:31). My children, why will you die? Why do you voluntarily rush into Hell, when I have come from Heaven to deliver you from it, by My death? He adds: You are already dead to the grace of God. But I desire not your death: return to Me, and I will restore to you the life which you have lost. “For I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: return ye and live” (Ezechiel 18:32). But some sinners, who are immersed in the abyss of sin, may say: “Perhaps, if we return to Jesus Christ, He will drive us away?” No; for the Redeemer has said: “And him that cometh to Me I will not cast out” (John 6:37). No one that comes to Me with sorrow for his past sins, however manifold and enormous they may have been, shall be rejected.
11. Behold how, in another place, the Redeemer encourages us to throw ourselves at His feet with a secure hope of consolation and pardon. “Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28). Come to me, all ye poor sinners, who labor for your own damnation, and groan under the weight of your crimes; come, and I will deliver you from all your troubles. Again, He says, “Come and accuse Me, saith the Lord; if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be made white as wool” (Isaias 1:18). Come with sorrow for the offences you committed against Me, and if I do not give you pardon, accuse Me. As if He said: “Upbraid Me! Rebuke Me as a liar! For I promise that, though your sins were of scarlet that is, of the most horrid enormity your soul, by My blood, in which I shall wash it, will become white and beautiful as snow.”
12. Let us then, sinners, return instantly to Jesus Christ. If we have left Him, let us immediately return, before death overtakes us in sin and sends us to Hell, where the mercies and graces of the Lord shall, if we do not amend, be so many swords, which shall lacerate the heart for all eternity.
Jesus Christ “is the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.” (John 1:9). He enlightens all; but he cannot enlighten those who voluntarily shut their eyes to the light; from them the Savior hides himself. How then can they, walking in darkness, escape the many dangers of perdition to which we are exposed in this life, which God has given us as the road to eternal happiness? I will endeavor today to convince you of the great danger into which tepidity brings the soul, since it makes Jesus Christ hide His divine light from her, and makes Him less generous in bestowing upon her the graces and helps, without which she shall find it very difficult to complete the journey of this life without falling into an abyss that is, into mortal sin.
1. A tepid soul is not one that lives in enmity with God, nor one that sometimes commits venial sins through mere frailty, and not with full deliberation. On account of the corruption of nature by Original Sin, no man can be exempt from such venial faults. This corruption of nature makes it impossible for us, without a most special grace, which has been given only to the Mother of God, to avoid all venial sins during our whole lives. Hence St. John has said: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).
God permits defects of this kind, even in the saints, to keep them humble, and to make them feel that, as they commit such faults in spite of all their good purposes and promises, so also, were they not supported by His divine hand, they would fall into mortal sins. Hence, when we find that we have committed these light faults, we must humble ourselves, and acknowledging our own weakness, we must be careful to recommend ourselves to God, and implore of Him to preserve us, by His almighty hand, from more grievous transgressions, and to deliver us from those we have committed.
2. What then are we to understand by a tepid soul? A tepid soul is one that frequently falls into fully deliberate venial sins such as deliberate lies, deliberate acts of impatience, deliberate imprecations, and the like. These faults may be easily avoided by those who are resolved to suffer death, rather than commit a deliberate venial offence against God. St. Teresa used to say, that one venial sin does us more harm than all the devils in Hell. Hence she would say to her nuns: “My children, from deliberate sin, however venial it may be, may the Lord deliver you.”
Some complain of being left in aridity and dryness, and without any spiritual sweetness. But how can we expect that God will be generous with His favors to us, when we lack generosity towards Him? We know that such a lie, such an imprecation, such an injury to our neighbor, and such detraction, though not mortal sins, are displeasing to God, and still we do not abstain from them. Why then should we expect that God will give us His divine consolations?
3. But some of you will say: “Venial sins, however great they may be, do not deprive the soul of the grace of God: even though I commit them I will be saved; and for me it is enough to obtain eternal life!” You say that, “for you it is enough to be saved.” Remember that St. Augustine says that, “where you have said, „ It is enough‟ there you have perished.”
To understand correctly the meaning of these words of St. Augustine, and to see the danger to which the state of tepidity exposes those who commit habitual and deliberate venial sins, without feeling remorse for them, and without endeavoring to avoid them, it is necessary to know that the habit of light faults leads the soul insensibly to mortal sins. For example: the habit of venial acts of aversion leads to mortal hatred; the habit of small thefts leads to grievous theft; the habit of venial attachments leads to affections which are mortally sinful.
“The soul,” says St. Gregory, “never lies where it falls” (Moral., lib. xxxi). No; it continues to sink still deeper. Mortal diseases do not generally proceed from serious indisposition, but from many slight and continued infirmities; so, likewise, the fall of many souls into mortal sin follows from habitual venial sins; for these render the soul so weak that, when a strong temptation assails her, she has not strength to resist it, and she falls.
4. Many are unwilling to be separated from God by mortal sins; they wish to follow Him, but at a distance, and regardless of venial sins. But to them shall probably happen what befell St. Peter. When Jesus Christ was seized in the garden, St. Peter was unwilling to abandon the Lord, but “followed Him afar off” (Matthew 26:58).
After entering the house of Caiphas, he was charged with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He was instantly seized with fear, and three times denied his Master. The Holy Ghost says: “He that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little” (Ecclesiasticus 19:1). They who despise small falls will probably one day fall into an abyss; for, being in the habit of committing light offences against God, they will feel but little repugnance to offer to him some grievous insult.
5. The Lord says: “Catch us the little foxes that destroy the vines” (Canticles 2:15). He does not tell us to catch the lions or the bears, but the little foxes. Lions and bears strike terror, and therefore all are careful to keep at a distance through fear of being devoured by them; but the little foxes, though they do not excite dismay, destroy the vine by drying up its roots.
Mortal sin terrifies the timorous soul; but, if she accustoms herself to the commission of many venial sins with full deliberation, and without endeavoring to correct them, they, like the little foxes, shall destroy the roots that is, the remorse of conscience, the fear of offending God, and the holy desires of advancing in divine love; and thus, being in a state of tepidity, and impelled to sin by some passion, the soul will easily abandon God and lose the divine grace.
6. Moreover, deliberate and habitual venial sins, not only deprive us of strength to resist temptations, but also of the special helps without which we fall into grievous sins. Be attentive, brethren; for this is a point of great importance. It is certain, that of ourselves we have not sufficient strength to resist the temptations of the devil, of the flesh, and of the world. It is God that prevents our enemies from assailing us with temptations by which we would be conquered. Hence Jesus Christ has taught us the following prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.” He teaches us to pray that God may deliver us from the temptations to which we would yield, and thus lose His grace. Now, venial sins, when they are deliberate and habitual, deprive us of the special helps of God which are necessary for preservation in his grace. I say necessary, because the Council of Trent anathematizes those who assert that we can persevere in grace without a special help from God (Council of Trent, Session 6, can. xxii). Thus, with the ordinary assistance of God, we cannot avoid falling into some mortal sin: a special aid is necessary. But this special aid God will justly withhold from tepid souls who are regardless of committing, with full deliberation, many venial sins. Thus these unhappy souls shall not persevere in grace.
7. They who are not generous towards God, well deserve that God should not be generous to them. “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly” (2 Corinthians 9:6). To such souls the Lord will give the graces common to all, but will probably withhold his special assistance; and without this, as we have seen, they cannot persevere without falling into mortal sin. God himself revealed to Bl. Henry Suso, that, for tepid souls, who are content with leading a life exempt from mortal sin, and continue to commit many deliberate venial sins, it is very difficult to preserve themselves in the state of grace. The venerable Lewis da Ponte used to say: “I commit many defects, but I never make peace with them.” Woe to him who is at peace with his faults! St. Bernard teaches that, as long as a person, who is guilty of defects, detests his faults, there is reason to hope that he will one day correct them and amend his life: but when faults without endeavoring to amend, he will continually go from bad to worse, till he loses the grace of God. St. Augustine says that, like a certain disease of the skin which makes the body an object of disgust, habitual faults, when committed without any effort of amendment, render the soul so disgusting to God, that he deprives her of his embraces (Hom. 1., cap. iii). Hence the soul, finding no more nourishment and consolation in her devout exercises, in her prayers, Communions, or visits to the Blessed Sacrament, will soon neglect them, and thus neglecting the means of eternal salvation, she shall be in great danger of being lost.
8. This danger will be still greater for those who commit many venial sins through attachment to any passion, such as pride, ambition, aversion to a neighbor, or an inordinate affection for any person. St. Francis of Assisi says that, in endeavoring to draw to sin a soul that is afraid of being in enmity with God, the devil does not seek in the beginning to bind her with the chain of a slave, by tempting her to commit mortal sin, Because she would have a horror of yielding to mortal sin, and would guard herself against it. He first endeavors to bind her by a single hair; then by a slender thread; next by a cord; afterwards by a rope; and in the end by a chain of Hell that is, by mortal sin; and thus he makes her his slave.
9. Miserable the soul that allows herself to be the slave of any passion. “Behold, how small a fire what a great wood it kindleth” (James 3:5). A small spark, if it be not extinguished, will set fire to an entire wood; that is, an unmodified passion shall bring the soul to ruin. Passion blinds us; and the blind often fall into an abyss when they least expect it. According to St. Ambrose, the devil is constantly endeavoring to find out the passion which rules in our heart, and the pleasures which have the greatest attraction for us. “When he discovers them, he presents occasions of indulging them: he then excites concupiscence, and prepares a chain to make us the slaves of Hell.”
10. St. Chrysostom asserts, that he himself knew many persons who were gifted with great virtues, and who, because they disregarded light faults, fell into an abyss of crime. When the devil cannot gain much from us, he is in the beginning content with the little; by many trifling victories he will make a great conquest. No one, says St. Bernard, suddenly falls from the state of grace into the abyss of wickedness. “They who rush into the most grievous irregularities, begin by committing light faults” (Tract de Ord. vita3). It is necessary also to understand that, when a soul that has been favored by God with special lights and graces, consents to mortal sin, her fall shall not be a simple fall, from which she will easily rise again, but it will be a precipitous one, from which she will find it very difficult to return to God.
11. Addressing a person in the state of tepidity, Our Lord said: “I would that thou wert cold or hot; but because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth” (Apocalypse 3:15-6). “I would thou wert cold” that is, it would be better for thee to be deprived of My grace, because there should then be greater hopes of thy amendment; but, because thou livest in tepidity, without any desire of improvement, “I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth.” By these words He means, that He will begin to abandon the soul; for, what is vomited, is taken back only with great horror.
12. A certain author says, that tepidity is a hectic fever, which does not excite alarm, because it is not perceived; but it is, at the same time, so malignant that it is rarely cured. The comparison is very just; for tepidity makes the soul insensible to remorse of conscience; and, as she is accustomed to feel no remorse for venial faults, she will by degrees become insensible to the stings of remorse which arise from mortal sins.
13. Let us come to the remedy. The amendment of a tepid soul is difficult; but there are remedies for those who wish to adopt them. First, the tepid must sincerely desire to be delivered from a state which, as we have seen, is so miserable and dangerous; for, without this desire, they shall not take pains to employ the proper means. Secondly, they must resolve to remove the occasions of their faults; otherwise they will always relapse into the same defects. Thirdly, they must earnestly beg of the Lord to raise them from so wretched a state. By their own strength they can do nothing; but they can do all things with the assistance of God, who has promised to hear the prayers of all. “Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and you shall find” (Luke 11:9). We must pray, and continue to pray without interruption. If we cease to pray we shall be defeated; but if we persevere in prayer we shall conquer.
In the parable of this day’s Gospel we are told that part of the seed which the sower went out to sow fell among thorns.
The Saviour has declared that the seed represents the divine Word, and the thorns the attachment of men to earthly riches and pleasures, which are the thorns that choke the fruit of the word of God, not only in the future, but, even in the present life, misery of poor sinners! By their sins, they not only condemn themselves to eternal torments in the next, but to an unhappy life in this world. This is what I intend to demonstrate in the following discourse.
First Point. The unhappy life of sinners.
Second Point. Happy life of those who love God.
First Point. Unhappy life of sinners.
1. The devil deceives sinners, and makes them imagine that, by indulging their sensual appetites, they shall lead a life of happiness, and shall enjoy peace. But there is no peace for those who offend God. “There is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord” (Isaias 48:22). God declares that all His enemies have led a life of misery, and that they have not even known the way of peace. “Destruction and unhappiness in their ways: and the way of peace they have not known” (Psalm 13:3).
2. Brute animals that have been created for this world, enjoy peace in sensual delights. Give to a dog a bone, and he is perfectly content; give to an ox a bundle of hay, and he desires nothing more. But man, who has been created for God, to love God, and to be united to Him, can be made happy only by God, and not by the world, though it should enrich him with all its goods. What are worldly goods? They may be all reduced to pleasures of sense, to riches, and to honors. “All that is in the world,” says St. John, “is the concupiscence of the flesh,” or sensual delights, and “the concupiscence of the eyes,” or riches, and “the pride of life” that is, earthly honors. (1 John 2:16).
St. Bernard says, that a man may be puffed up with earthly goods, but can never be made content or happy by them. And how can earth and wind and dung satisfy the heart of man? In his comment on these words of St. Peter: “Behold, we have left all things” the same saint says, that he saw in the world different classes of fools. All had a great desire of happiness. Some, such as the avaricious, were content with riches; others, Ambitious of honors and of praise, were satisfied with wind; others, seated round a furnace, swallowed the sparks that were thrown from it these were the passionate and vindictive; others, in fine, drank fetid water from a stagnant pool and these were the voluptuous and unchaste. “O fools!” adds the saint, “do you not perceive that all these things, from which you seek content, do not satisfy, but, on the contrary, increase the cravings of your heart?” Of this we have a striking example in Alexander the Great, who, after having conquered half the world, burst into tears, because he was not master of the whole earth.
3. Many expect to find peace in accumulating riches; but how can these satisfy their desires? says St. Augustine, a large quantity of money does not close, but rather extends, the jaws of avarice; that is, the enjoyment of riches excites, rather than satiates, the desire of wealth. “Thou wast debased even to Hell; thou hast been wearied in the multitude of thy ways; yet thou saidst not, I will rest” (Isaias 57:9-10). Poor worldlings! They labor and toil to acquire an increase of wealth and property, but never enjoy repose: the more they accumulate riches, the greater their disquietude and vexation.
“The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good” (Psalm 33:11). The rich of this world are, of all men, the most miserable; because, the more they possess, the more they desire to possess. They never succeed in attaining all the objects of their wishes, and therefore they are far poorer than men who have but the minimum, and seek God alone. These are truly rich, because they are content with their condition, and find in God every good. “They that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good.” To the saints, because they possess God, nothing is wanting; to the worldly rich, who are deprived of God, all things are wanting, because they want peace.
The appellation of “fool” was, therefore, justly given to the rich man in the Gospel (Luke 12:19), who, because his land brought forth plenty of fruits, said to his soul: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take rest, eat, drink, make good cheer” (Luke 12:19). But this man was called a fool. “Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee! And whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:20). And why was he called a fool? Because he imagined that, by these goods, by eating and drinking, he would be content and would enjoy peace. “Rest,” he said, “eat, drink” says St. Basil of Seleucia, "Hast thou the soul of a brute, that thou expectest to make it happy by eating and drinking?"
4. But, perhaps sinners, who seek after and attain worldly honors, are content? All the honors of this earth are but smoke and wind, “Ephraim feedeth on the wind” (Osee 12:1), and how can these content the heart of a Christian? “The pride of them,” says David, “ascendeth continually” (Psalm 73:23). The ambitious are not satisfied by the attainment of certain honours: their ambition and pride continually increase; and thus their disquietude, their envy, and their fears are multiplied.
5. They who live in the habit of sins of impurity, feed, as the Prophet Jeremias says, on dung (Lamentations 4:5). How can dung content or give peace to the soul? Ah! what peace, what peace can sinners at a distance from God enjoy? They may possess the riches, honors, and delights of this world; but they never shall have peace. No; the word of God cannot fail: he has declared that there is no peace for his enemies. “There is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord” (Isaias 48:22). Poor sinners! “They”, as St. Chrysostom says, “always carry about with them their own executioner, that is, a guilty conscience, which continually torments them” (Serm. x. do Laz). St. Isidore asserts, that there is no pain more excruciating than that of a guilty conscience. Hence he adds, that he who leads a good life is never sad (St. Isidore, lib. 2, Solit).
6. In describing the deplorable state of sinners, the Holy Ghost compares them, to a sea continually tossed by the tempest. “The wicked are like the raging sea, which cannot rest” (Isaias 57:20). Waves come and go, but they are all waves of bitterness and rancor; for every cross and contradiction disturbs and agitates the wicked. If a person, at a ball or musical exhibition, were obliged to remain suspended by a rope, with his head downwards, could he feel happy at the entertainment?
Such is the state of a Christian in enmity with God: his soul is as it were turned upside down; instead of being united with God and detached from creatures, it is united with creatures and separated from God. But creatures, says St. Vincent Ferrer, are without, and do not enter to content the heart, which God alone can make happy. The sinner is like a man parched with thirst, and standing in the middle of a fountain: because the waters which surround him do not enter to satisfy his thirst, he remains in the midst of them more thirsty than before.
7. Speaking of the unhappy life, which he led when he was in a state of sin, David said: “My tears have been my bread, day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: ‘Where is thy God?’” (Psalm 41:4). To relieve himself, he went to his villas, to his gardens, to musical entertainments, and to various other royal amusements, but they all said to him: “David, if thou expectest comfort from us, thou art deceived. ‘Where is thy God? Go and seek thy God, whom thou hast lost; for He alone can restore thy peace!’” Hence David confessed that, in the midst of his princely wealth, he enjoyed no repose, and that he wept night and day. Let us now listen to his son Solomon, who acknowledged that he indulged his senses in whatsoever they desired. “Whatsoever my eyes desired, I refused them not” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But, after all his sensual enjoyments, he exclaimed: “Vanity of vanities ... behold all is vanity and affliction of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 and 14).
Mark that he declares that all the pleasures of this earth are not only vanity of vanities, but also affliction of spirit. And this sinners well know from experience; for sin brings with it the fear of divine vengeance. The man who is surrounded by powerful enemies, never sleeps in peace; and can the sinner, who has God for an enemy, enjoy tranquillity? “Fear to them that work evil” (Proverbs 10:29). The Christian, who commits a mortal sin, feels himself oppressed with fear―every leaf that moves excites terror. “The sound of dread is always in his ears” (Job 15:21). He appears to be always flying away, although no one pursues him. “The wicked man fleeth when no man pursueth” (Proverbs 28:1). He shall be persecuted, not by men, but by his own sin.
It was thus with Cain, who, after having killed his brother Abel, was seized with fear, and said: “Every one, therefore, that findeth me shall kill me” (Genesis 4:14). The Lord assured him that no one should injure him: “The Lord said to him: ‘No; it shall not be so!’” (Genesis 4:15). But, notwithstanding this assurance, Cain, pursued by his own sins, was, as the Scripture attests, always flying from one place to another “He dwelt a fugitive on the earth” (Genesis 4:16).
8. Moreover, sin brings with it remorse of conscience that cruel worm that gnaws incessantly, and never dies. “Their worm shall not die” (Isaias 56:24). If the sinner goes to a festival, to a comedy, to a banquet, his conscience continually reproaches him, saying: “Unhappy man! You have lost God! If you were now to die, what should become of you?” The torture of remorse of conscience, even in the present life, is so great that, to free themselves from it, some persons have put an end to their lives Judas, through despair, hanged himself.
A certain man who had killed an infant, was so much tormented with remorse, that he could not rest. To rid himself of it, he entered into a monastery; but finding no peace even there, he went before a judge, acknowledged his crime, and got himself condemned to death.
9. God complains of the injustice of sinners in leaving Him, Who is the Fountain of all consolation, to plunge themselves into fetid and broken cisterns, which can give no peace. “For my people have done two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremias 2:13). You have, the Lord says to sinners, refused to serve Me, your God, in peace. Unhappy creatures! You shall serve your enemies in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of every kind. “Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God with joy and gladness ... thou shalt serve thy enemy in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of all things” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
This is what sinners experience every day. What do not the vindictive endure, after they have satisfied their revenge by the murder of an enemy? They fly continually from the relations of their murdered foe, and from the minister of justice. They live as fugitives, poor, afflicted, and abandoned by all. What do not the voluptuous and unchaste suffer in order to gratify their wicked desires? What do not the avaricious suffer in order to acquire the possessions of others?
Ah! if they suffered for God, what they suffer for sin, they would lay up great treasures for eternity, and would lead a life of peace and happiness: but, by living in sin, they lead a life of misery here, to lead a still more miserable life for eternity hereafter. Hence they weep continually in Hell, saying: “We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways” (Wisdom 5:7). We have, they exclaim, walked through hard ways, through paths covered with thorns. We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity: we have labored hard: we have sweated blood: we have led a life full of misery, of gall, and of poison. And why? To bring ourselves to a still more wretched life in this pit of fire.
Second Point. The happy life of those who love God.
10. “Justice and peace have kissed” (Psalm 84:11). Peace resides in every soul in which justice dwells. Hence David said: “Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart” (Psalm 36:4). To understand this text, we must consider that worldlings seek to satisfy the desires of their hearts with the goods of this earth; but, because these cannot make them happy, their hearts continually make fresh demands; and, how much soever they may acquire of these goods, they are not content. Hence the Prophet says: “Delight in the Lord, and He will give thee the requests of thy heart.” Give up creatures, seek your delight in God, and He will satisfy all the cravings of your heart.
11. This is what happened to St. Augustine, who, as long as he sought happiness in creatures, never enjoyed peace; but, as soon as he renounced them, and gave to God all the affections of his heart, he exclaimed: “All things are hard, O Lord, and Thou alone art repose.” As if he said: “Ah! Lord, I now know my folly. I expected to find felicity in earthly pleasures; but now I know that they are only vanity and affliction of spirit, and that Thou alone art the peace and joy of our hearts.”
12. The Apostle says, that the peace which God gives to those who love, surpasses all the sensual delights which a man can enjoy on this earth. “The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). St. Francis of Assisi, in saying “My God and my all,” experienced on this earth an anticipation of Paradise. St. Francis Xavier, in the midst of his labors in India, for the glory of Jesus Christ, was so replenished with divine consolations, that he exclaimed: “Enough, Lord, enough!” Where, I ask, has any lover of this world been found, so satisfied with the possessions of worldly goods, as to say: “Enough, O world, enough; no more riches, no more honors, no more applause, no more pleasures!”? Ah, no! Worldlings are constantly seeking after higher honors, greater riches, and new delights; but the more they have of them, the less are their desires satisfied, and the greater their disquietude.
13. It is necessary to persuade ourselves of this truth, that God alone can give content. Worldlings do not wish to be convinced of it, through an apprehension that, if they give themselves to God, they shall lead a life of bitterness and discontent. But, with the Royal Prophet, I say to them: "Taste, and see that the Lord is sweet" (Psalm 33:9). Why, sinners, will you despise and regard as miserable, that life which you have not as yet tried? “Taste and see.”
Begin to make a trial of it; hear Mass every day; practice mental prayer and the visitation of the most Holy Sacrament; go to Holy Communion at least once a week; fly from evil conversations; walk always with God; and you shall see that, by such a life, you will enjoy that sweetness and peace which the world, with all its delights, has not hitherto been able to give you.
1. The Devil brings sinners to Hell by closing their eyes to the dangers of perdition. He first blinds them, and then leads them with himself to eternal torments. If, then, we wish to be saved, we must continually pray to God in the words of the blind man in the gospel of this day, “Lord, that I may see.” Give me light: make me see the way in which I must walk in order to save my soul, and to escape the deceits of the enemy of salvation. I shall, brethren, this day place before your eyes, the delusion by which the devil tempts men to sin and to persevere in sin, that you may know how to guard yourselves against his deceitful artifices.
2. To understand these delusions better, let us imagine the case of a young man who, seized by some passion, lives in sin, the slave of Satan, and never thinks of his eternal salvation. “My son,” I say to him, “what sort of life do you lead? If you continue to live in this manner, how will you be able to save your soul?” But, behold! The Devil, on the other hand, says to him: “Why should you be afraid of being lost? Indulge your passions for the present: you will afterwards confess your sins, and thus all shall be put right!” Behold the net by which the devil drags so many souls into Hell: “Indulge your passions: you will hereafter make a good confession.”
But, in reply, I say, that in the meantime you lose your soul. Tell me: if you had a jewel worth thousands of dollars, would you throw it into a river with the hope of afterwards finding it again? What if all your efforts to find it were fruitless? My God! You hold in your hand the invaluable jewel of your soul, which Jesus Christ has purchased with His own blood, and you cast it into Hell!
Yes; you cast it into Hell; because according to the present order of providence, for every mortal sin you commit, your name is written among the number of the damned. But you say: “I hope to recover God’s grace by making a good confession.” And if you should not recover it, what shall be the consequences? To make a good confession, a true sorrow for sin is necessary, and this sorrow is the gift of God: if He does not give it, will you not be lost for ever?
3. You reply: “I am young; God has compassion on my youth; I will hereafter give myself to God.” Behold another delusion! You are young; but do you not know that God counts, not the years, but the sins of each individual? You are young; but how many sins have you committed? Perhaps there are many persons of a very advanced age, who have not been guilty of the fourth part of the sins which you have committed.
And do you not know that God has fixed for each of us the number of sins which he will pardon? “The Lord patiently expecteth, that, when the day of judgment shall come, He may punish them in the fulness of their sins” (2 Machabees vi. 14). God has patience, and waits for a while; but, when the measure of the sins, which he has determined to pardon, is filled up, then He pardons no more, but chastises the sinner, by suddenly depriving him of life in the miserable state of sin, or by abandoning him in his sin, and executing that threat which He made by the prophet Isaias: “I shall take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted” (Isaias v. 5).
If a person has cultivated land for many years, has encompassed it with a hedge for its protection, and expended a large sum of money on it, but finds that, after all, it produces no fruit, what will he do with it? He will pluck up the hedge, and abandon it to all men and beasts that may wish to enter. Tremble, then, lest God should treat you in a similar manner. If you do not give up sin, your remorse of conscience and your fear of divine chastisement shall daily increase. Behold the hedge taken away, and your soul abandoned by God a punishment worse than death itself.
4. You say: “I cannot at present resist this passion.” Behold the third delusion of the devil, by which he makes you believe that at present you have not strength to overcome certain temptations. But St. Paul tells us that God is faithful, and that He never permits us to be tempted above our strength. “And God is faithful, Who will not permit you to be tempted above that which you are able.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I ask, if you are not now able to resist the temptation, how can you expect to resist it hereafter? If you yield to it, the Devil will become stronger, and you shall become weaker; and if you be not now able to extinguish this flame of passion, how can you hope to be able to extinguish it when it shall have grown more violent?
You say: “God will give me His aid.” But this aid God is ready to give at present if you ask it. Why then do you not implore his assistance? Perhaps you expect that, without now taking the trouble of invoking his aid, you will receive from Him increased helps and graces, after you shall have multiplied the number of your sins?
Perhaps you doubt the veracity of God, Who has promised to give whatever we ask of Him? “Ask,” He says, “and it shall be given you.” (Matthew 7:7). God cannot violate his promises. “God is not as man, that He should lie, nor as the son of man, that He should be changed. Hath He said, then, and will He not do ?” (Numbers 23:19). Have recourse to Him, and He will give you the strength necessary to resist the temptation.
God commands you to resist it, and you say: “I have not strength.” Does God, then, command impossibilities? No; the Council of Trent has declared that “God does not command impossibilities; but, by His commands, He admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask what you cannot do; and He assists, that you may be able to do it.” (Sess. 6, cap. xiii). When you see that you have not sufficient strength to resist temptation with the ordinary assistance of God, ask of Him the additional help which you require, and He will give it to you; and thus you shall be able to conquer all temptations, however violent they may be.
5. But you will not pray; and you say that at present you will commit this sin, and will afterwards confess it. But, I ask, how do you know that God will give you time to confess it? You say: “I will go to confession before the lapse of a week.” And who has promised you this week? Well, then you say: “I will go to confession tomorrow!” And "who promises you tomorrow?" says St. Augustine, “God has not promised you tomorrow. Perhaps He will give it, and perhaps He will refuse it to you," as He has to so many others. How many have gone to bed in good health, and have been found dead in the morning! How many, in the very act of sin, has the Lord struck dead and sent to Hell!
Should this happen to you, how will you repair your eternal ruin? “Commit this sin, and confess it afterwards.” Behold the deceitful artifice by which the devil has brought so many thousands of Christians to Hell. We scarcely ever find a Christian so sunk in despair as to intend to damn himself. All the wicked sin with the hope of afterwards going to confession. But, by this illusion, how many have brought themselves to perdition! For them there is now no time for confession, no remedy for their damnation.
6. “But God is merciful.” Behold another common delusion by which the devil encourages sinners to persevere in a life of sin! A certain author has said, that more souls have been sent to Hell by the mercy of God than by His justice. This is indeed the case; for men are induced by the deceits of the devil to persevere in sin, through confidence in Gods mercy; and thus they are lost. “God is merciful.” Who denies it? But, great as His mercy, how many does He every day send to Hell? God is merciful, but He is also just, and is, therefore, obliged to punish those who offend Him. “And His mercy,” says the divine mother, “is to them that fear him” (Luke 1:50).
But with regard to those who abuse His mercy and despise Him, He exercises justice. The Lord pardons sins, but He cannot pardon the determination to commit sin. St. Augustine says, that he who sins with the intention of repenting after his sins, is not a penitent, but a scoffer. But the Apostle tells us that God will not be mocked. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7). It would be a mockery of God to insult Him as often and as much as you pleased, and afterwards to expect eternal glory.
7. “But”; you say, “since God has shown me so many mercies until now, I hope He will continue to do so for the future.” Behold another delusion! Then, because God has not as yet chastised your sins, He will never punish them! On the contrary, the greater have been His mercies, the more you should tremble, lest, if you offend Him again, He should pardon you no more, and should take vengeance on your sins. Behold the advice of the Holy Ghost: “Say not: ‘I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me?’ For the Most High is a patient rewarder” (Ecclesiasticus 5:4).
Do not say: “I have sinned, and no chastisement has fallen upon me.” God bears for a time, but not for ever. He waits for a certain time; but when that arrives, He then chastises the sinner for all his past iniquities: and the longer He has waited for repentance, the more severe the chastisement. “Quos diutius expectat,” says St. Gregory, “durius damnat.” Then, my brother, since you know that you have frequently offended God, and that He has not sent you to Hell, you should exclaim: “The mercies of the Lord, that we are not consumed!” (Lamentations 3:22). Lord, I thank You for not having sent me to Hell, which I have so often deserved. And therefore you ought to give yourself entirely to God, at least through gratitude, and should consider that, for less sins than you have committed, many are now in that pit of fire, without the smallest hope of being ever released from it.
The patience of God in bearing with you, should teach you not to despise Him still more, but to love and serve Him with greater fervour, and to atone, by penitential austerities and by other holy works, for the insults you have offered to Him. You know that He has shown mercies to you, which He has not shown to others. “He hath not done in like manner to every nation” (Psalm 147:20). Hence you should tremble, lest, if you commit a single additional mortal sin, God should abandon you, and cast you into Hell.
8. Let us come to the next illusion. “It is true that, by this sin, I lose the grace of God; but, even after committing this sin, I may be saved.” You may, indeed, be saved: but it cannot be denied that if, after having committed so many sins, and after having received so many graces from God, you again offend Him, there is great reason to fear that you shall be lost. Attend to the words of the sacred Scripture: “A hard heart shall fare evil at the last” (Ecclesiastes 3:27).
The obstinate sinner shall die an unhappy death. “Evil doers shall be cut off” (Psalm 36:9). The wicked shall be cut off by the divine justice. “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap” (Galatians 6:8). He that sows in sin, shall reap eternal torments. “Because I called and you refused, I also will laugh in your destruction and will mock when that shall come to you which you feared” (Proverbs 1:24, 26).
I called, says the Lord, and you mocked Me; but I will mock you at the hour of death. “Revenge is Mine, and I will repay them in due time” (Deuteronomy 32:35). The chastisement of sins belongs to Me, and I will execute vengeance on them when the time of vengeance shall arrive. “The man that with a stiff neck despiseth him that reproveth him, shall suddenly be destroyed, and health shall not follow him” (Proverbs 29:1). The man who obstinately despises those who correct him, shall be punished with a sudden death, and for him there shall be no hope of salvation.
9. Now, brethren, what think you of these divine threats against sinners? Is it easy, or is it not very difficult, to save your souls, if, after so many divine calls, and after so many mercies, you continue to offend God? You say: “But after all, it may happen that I will save my soul.” I answer: “What folly is it to trust your salvation to a perhaps? How many with this “perhaps I may be saved,” are now in Hell? Do you wish to be one of their unhappy companions?” Dearly beloved Christians, enter into yourselves, and tremble; for this sermon may be the last of Gods mercies to you.
In this days Gospel we read, that wishing to give His disciples a glimpse of the glory of Paradise, in order to animate them to labor for the divine honor, the Redeemer was transfigured, and allowed them to behold the splendor of His countenance. Ravished with joy and delight, St. Peter exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Lord, let us remain here; let us never more depart from this place; for, the sight of Thy beauty consoles us more than all the delights of the earth.
Brethren, let us labor during the remainder of our lives to gain Heaven. Heaven is so great a good, that, to purchase it for us, Jesus Christ has sacrificed His life on the cross. Be assured, that the greatest of all the torments of the damned in Hell, arise from the thought of having lost Heaven through their own fault. The blessings, the delights, the joys, the sweetness of Paradise may be acquired; but they can be described and understood only by those blessed souls that enjoy them. But let us, with the aid of the Holy Scripture, explain the little that can be said of them here below.
1. According to the Apostle, no man on this earth, can comprehend the infinite blessings which God has prepared for the souls that love him. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). In this life we cannot have an idea of any other pleasures than those which we enjoy by means of the senses. Perhaps we imagine that the beauty of Heaven resembles that of a wide extended plain covered with the verdure of spring, interspersed with trees in full bloom, and abounding in birds fluttering about and singing on every side; or, that it is like the beauty of a garden full of fruits and flowers, and surrounded by fountains in continual play. O what a Paradise, to behold such a plain, or such a garden! But, oh! how much greater are the beauties of Heaven!
Speaking of Paradise, St. Bernard says: “O man, if you wish to understand the blessings of Heaven, know that in that happy country there is nothing which can be disagreeable, and everything that you can desire.” Although there are some things here below which are agreeable to the senses, how many more are there which only torment us? If the light of day is pleasant, the darkness of night is disagreeable: if the spring and the autumn are cheering, the cold of winter and the heat of summer are painful. In addition, we have to endure the pains of sickness, the persecution of men, and the inconveniences of poverty; we must submit to interior troubles, to fears, to temptations of the devil, doubts of conscience, and to the uncertainty of eternal salvation.
2. But, after entering into Paradise, the Blessed shall have no more sorrows. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” The Lord shall dry up the tears which they have shed in this life. “And death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat on the throne, said: “Behold, I make all things new” (Apocalypse 21:4-5).
In Paradise, death and the fear of death are no more: in that place of bliss there are no sorrows, no infirmities, no poverty, no inconveniences, no vicissitudes of day or night, of cold or of heat. In that kingdom there is a continual day, always serene, a continual spring, always blooming. In Paradise there are no persecutions, no envy; for all love each other with tenderness, and each rejoices at the happiness of the others, as if it were his own. There is no more fear of eternal perdition; for the soul, confirmed in grace, can neither sin nor lose God.
3. In Heaven you have all you can desire. “Behold, I make all things new.” There everything is new; new beauties, new delights, new joys. There all our desires shall be satisfied. The sight shall be satiated with beholding the beauty of that city. How delightful to behold a city in which the streets should be of crystal, the houses of silver, the windows of gold, and all adorned with the most beautiful flowers. But, oh! How much more beautiful shall be the city of Paradise! The beauty of the place shall be heightened by the beauty of the inhabitants, who are all clothed in royal robes; for, according to St. Augustine, “they are all kings.” How delighted to behold Mary, the Queen of Heaven, who shall appear more beautiful than all the other citizens of Paradise!
But, what it must be to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ! St. Teresa once saw one of the hands of Jesus Christ, and was struck with astonishment at the sight of such beauty. The smell shall be satiated with scent, but with the scents of Paradise. The hearing shall be satiated with the harmony of the celestial choirs. St. Francis once heard, for a moment, an angel playing on a violin, and he almost died through joy. How delightful must it be to hear the saints and angels singing the divine praises! “They shall praise thee forever and ever” (Psalm 83:5). What must it be to hear Mary praising God! St. Francis de Sales says, that, as the singing of the nightingale in the wood surpasses that of all other birds, so the voice of Mary is far superior to that of all the other saints. In a word, there are, in Paradise, all the delights which man can desire.
4. But the delights of which we have spoken are the least of the blessings of Paradise. The glory of Heaven consists in seeing and loving God face to face. The reward, which God promises to us, does not consist altogether in the beauty, the harmony, and other advantages of the city of Paradise. God Himself, Whom the saints are allowed to behold, is, according to the promises made to Abraham, the principal reward of the just in Heaven. “I am thy reward exceeding great” (Genesis 15:1). St. Augustine asserts, that, were God to show His face to the damned, “Hell would be instantly changed into a Paradise of delights” (Lib. de trip, habit., tom. 9). And, he adds that, were a departed soul allowed the choice of seeing God and suffering the pains of Hell, or of being freed from these pains and deprived of the sight of God, “she would prefer to see God, and to endure these torments.”
5. The delights of the soul infinitely surpass all the pleasures of the senses. Even in this life divine love infuses such sweetness into the soul, when God communicates himself to her, that the body is raised from the earth. St. Peter of Alcantara once fell into such an ecstasy of love, that, taking hold of a tree, he drew it up from the roots, and raised it with him on high. So great is the sweetness of divine love, that the holy martyrs, in the midst of their torments, felt no pain, but were on the contrary filled with joy. Hence, St. Augustine says that, when St. Lawrence was laid on a red-hot gridiron, the fervor of divine love made him insensible to the burning heat of the fire. Even on sinners who weep for their sins, God bestows consolations which exceed all earthly pleasures. Hence St. Bernard says: “If it be so sweet to weep for thee, what must it be to rejoice in thee!”
6. How great is the sweetness which a soul experiences, when, in the time of prayer, God, by a ray of his own light, shows to her His goodness and His mercies towards her, and particularly the love which Jesus Christ has borne to her in His Passion! She feels her heart melting, and as it were dissolved through love. But in this life we do not see God as He really is: we see him as it were in. the dark. “We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Here below God is hidden from, our view; we can see Him only with the eyes of Faith: how great shall be our happiness when the veil shall be raised, and we shall be permitted to behold God face to face! We shall then see His beauty, His greatness, His perfection, His amiableness, and His immense love for our souls.
7. “Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). The fear of not loving God, and of not being loved by Him, is the greatest affliction which souls that love God endure on the earth; but, in Heaven, the soul is certain that she loves God, and that He loves her; she sees that the Lord embraces her with infinite love, and that this love shall not be dissolved for all eternity. The knowledge of the love, which Jesus Christ has shown her, in offering Himself in sacrifice for her on the cross, and in making Himself her food in the Sacrament of the Altar, shall increase the ardor of her love. She shall also see clearly all the graces which God has bestowed upon her, all the helps which He has given her, to preserve her from falling into sin, and to draw her to His love. She shall see that all the tribulations, the poverty, infirmities, and persecutions which she regards as misfortunes, have all proceeded from love, and have been the means employed by Divine Providence to bring her to glory. She shall see all the lights, loving calls, and mercies, which God had granted to her, after she had insulted Him by her sins. From the blessed mountain of Paradise, she shall see so many souls damned for fewer sins than she had committed, and shall see that she herself is saved and secured against the possibility of ever losing God.
8. The goods of this earth do not satisfy our desires: at first they gratify the senses; but when we become accustomed to them they cease to delight. But the joys of Paradise constantly satiate and content the heart. “I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear” (Psalm 16:15). And though they satiate, they always appear to be as new as the first time when they were experienced; they are always enjoyed and always desired, always desired and always possessed. “Satiety,” says St. Gregory, “accompanies desire” (Lib. 13, Mor., ch. xviii).
Thus, the desires of the saints in Paradise do not beget pain, because they are always satisfied; and satiety does not produce disgust, because it is always accompanied with desire. Hence the soul shall be always satiated and always thirsty: she shall be forever thirsty, and always satiated with delights. The damned are, according to the Apostle, vessels full of wrath and of torments, “vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction” (Romans 9:22).
But the just are vessels full of mercy and of joy, so that they have nothing to desire. “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house” (Psalm 35:9). In beholding the beauty of God, the soul shall be so inflamed and so inebriated with divine love, that she shall remain happily lost in God; for she shall entirely forget herself, and, for all eternity, shall think only of loving and praising the immense good, which she shall possess forever, without the fear of having it in her power ever to lose it. In this life, holy souls love God; but they cannot love Him with all their strength, nor can they always actually love Him. St. Thomas teaches, that this perfect love is only given to the citizens of Heaven, who love God with their whole heart, and never cease to love Him actually (Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae, q. 44, art. 4, ad. 2).
9. Justly, then, has St. Augustine said, that to gain the eternal glory of Paradise, we should cheerfully embrace eternal labor. “Pro æterna requie æternus labor subeundus esset.” “For nothing” says David, “shalt thou save them” (Psalm 55:8). The saints have done but little to acquire Heaven. So many kings, who have abdicated their thrones and shut themselves up in a cloister; so many holy anchorites, who have confined themselves in a cave; so many martyrs, who have cheerfully submitted to torments to the rack, and to red-hot plates, have done but little. “The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory to come” (Romans 8:18). To gain Heaven, it would be but little to endure all the pains of this life.
10. Let us, then, brethren, courageously resolve to bear patiently with all the sufferings, which shall come upon us, during the remaining days of our lives: to secure Heaven they are all little and nothing. Rejoice then; for all these pains, sorrows, and persecutions shall, if we are saved, be to us a source of never-ending joys and delights. “Your sorrows shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20). When, then, the crosses of this life afflict us, let us raise our eyes to Heaven, and console ourselves with the hope of Paradise.
At the end of her life, St. Mary of Egypt was asked, by the Abbot St. Zozimus, how she had been able to live for forty-seven years in the desert, where he found her dying. She answered: “With the hope of Paradise” If we be animated with the same hope, we shall not feel the tribulations of this life. Have courage! Let us love God and labor for Heaven. There the saint expects us, Mary expects us, Jesus Christ expects us; He holds in His hand a crown to make each of us a king in that eternal kingdom
The devil does not bring sinners to Hell with their eyes open: he first blinds them with the malice of their own sins. “For their own malice blinded them” (Wisdom 2:21). He thus leads them to eternal perdition.
Before we fall into sin, the enemy labors to blind us, that we may not see the evil we do and the ruin we bring upon ourselves by offending God. After we commit sin, he seeks to make us dumb, that, through shame, we may conceal our guilt in confession.
Thus, he leads us to Hell by a double chain, inducing us, after our transgressions, to consent to a still greater sin the sin of sacrilege. I will speak on this subject today, and will endeavor to convince you of the great evil of concealing sins in confession
1. In expounding the words of David”Set a door O Lord, round about my lips,” (Psalm 140:3). St. Augustine says: “We should keep a door to the mouth, that it may be closed against detraction, and blasphemies, and all improper words, and that it may be opened to confess the sins we have committed."
“Thus,” adds the holy doctor, “it will be a door of restraint, and not of destruction.” To be silent when we are impelled to utter words injurious to God or to our neighbor, is an act of virtue; but, to be silent in confessing our sins, is the ruin of the soul. After we have offended God, the devil labors to keep the mouth closed, and to prevent us from confessing our guilt.
St. Antonine relates, that a holy solitary once saw the devil standing beside a certain person who wished to go to confession. The solitary asked the fiend what he was doing there. The enemy said in reply: “I now restore to these penitents what I before took away from them; I took away from them shame while they were committing sin; I now restore it that they may have a horror of confession.” “My sores are putrefied and corrupted, because of my foolishness” (Psalm 37:6). Gangrenous sores are fatal; and sins concealed in confession are spiritual ulcers, which mortify and become gangrenous.
2. St. John Chrysostom says that God has made sin shameful, that we may abstain from committing it, and God gives us confidence to confess it by promising pardon to all who accuse themselves of their sins. But the devil does the contrary: he gives confidence to sin by holding out hopes of pardon; but, when sin is committed, he inspires shame and despair of pardon in order to prevent the confession of it.
3. A disciple of Socrates, at the moment he was leaving a house of bad fame, saw his master pass: to avoid being seen by him, he went back into the house. Socrates came to the door and said: "My son, it is a shameful thing to enter, but not to depart from this house."
To you also, brethren, who have sinned, I say, that you ought to be ashamed to offend so great and so good a God. But you have no reason to be ashamed of confessing the sins which you have committed. Was it shameful in St. Mary Magdalene to acknowledge publicly at the feet of Jesus Christ that she was a sinner? By her confession she became a saint. Was it shameful in St. Augustine not only to confess his sins, but also to publish them in a book, that, for his confusion, they might be known to the whole world? Was it shameful in St. Mary of Egypt to confess, that for so many years she had led a scandalous life? By their confessions these have become saints, and are honoured on the altars of the Church.
4. We say that the man who acknowledges his guilt before a secular tribunal is condemned , but in the tribunal of Jesus Christ, they who confess their sins obtain pardon, and receive a crown of eternal glory. “After confession,” says St. John Chrysostom, “a crown is given to penitents.” He who is afflicted with an ulcer must, if he wish to be cured, show it to a physician: otherwise it will fester and bring on death.
If, then, brethren, your souls be ulcerated with sin, be not ashamed to confess it; otherwise you are lost. “For thy soul be not ashamed to say the truth” (Ecclesiasticus 4:24). But, you say, I feel greatly ashamed to confess such a sin. If you wish to be saved, you must conquer this shame. “For there is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that bringeth glory and grace” (Ecclesiasticus 4:25).
There are, according to the inspired writer, two kinds of shame: one of which leads souls to sin, and that is the shame which makes them conceal their sins at confession; the other is the confusion which a Christian feels in confessing his sins; and this confusion obtains for him the grace of God in this life, and the glory of Heaven in the next.
5. St. Augustine says, that to prevent the sheep from seeking assistance by her cries the wolf seizes her by the neck, and thus securely carries her away and devours her. The devil acts in a similar manner with the sheep of Jesus Christ. After having induced them to yield to sin, he seizes them by the throat, that they may not confess their guilt; and thus he securely brings them to Hell.
For those who have sinned grievously, there is no means of salvation but the confession of their sins. But, what hope of salvation can he have who goes to confession and conceals his sins, and makes use of the tribunal of penance to offend God, and to make himself doubly the slave of Satan? What hope would you entertain of the recovery of the man who, instead of taking the medicine prescribed by his physician, drank a cup of poison? God!
What can the sacrament of penance be to those who conceal their sins, but a deadly poison, which adds to their guilt the malice of sacrilege? In giving absolution, the confessor dispenses to his patient the blood of Jesus Christ; for it is through the merits of that blood that he absolves from sin.
What, then, does the sinner do, when he conceals his sins in confession? He tramples underfoot the blood of Jesus Christ. And should he afterwards receive the Holy Communion in a state of sin, he is, according to St. John Chrysostom, as guilty as if he threw the consecrated Host into a sink. "Accursed shame! How many poor souls do you bring to Hell?" says Tertullian, Unhappy souls! They think only of the shame of confessing their sins, and do not reflect that, if they conceal them, they shall be certainly damned.
6. Some penitents ask: “What will my confessor say when he hears that I have committed such a sin?” What will he say? He will say that you are, like all persons living on this Earth, miserable and prone to sin: he will say that, if you have done evil, you have also performed a glorious action in overcoming shame, and in candidly confessing your fault.
7. “But I am afraid to confess this sin.” To how many confessors, I ask, must you tell it? It is enough to mention it to one priest, who hears many sins of the same kind from others. It is enough to confess it once: the confessor will give you penance and absolution, and your conscience shall be tranquilized. But, you say: “I feel a great repugnance to tell this sin to my spiritual father.” Tell it, then, to another confessor, and, if you wish, to one to whom you are unknown. “But, if this come to the knowledge of my confessor, he will be displeased with me.” What then do you mean to do? Perhaps, to avoid giving displeasure to him, you intend to commit a heinous crime, and remain under sentence of damnation. This would be the very height of folly.
8. Are you afraid that the confessor will make known your sin to others? Would it not be madness to suspect that he is so wicked as to break the seal of confession by revealing your sin to others? Remember that the obligation of the seal of confession is so strict, that a confessor cannot speak out of confession, even to the penitent, of the smallest venial fault; and if he did so (that is, without the permission of the penitent), he would be guilty of a most grievous sin.
9. But you say: “I am afraid that my confessor, when he hears my sin, will rebuke me with great severity.” God! Do you not see that all these are deceitful artifices of the devil to bring you to Hell? No; the confessor will not rebuke you, but he will give an advice suited to your state. A confessor cannot experience greater consolation than in absolving a penitent who confesses his sins with true sorrow and with sincerity.
If a queen were mortally wounded by a slave, and you were in possession of a remedy by which she could be cured, how great would be your joy in saving her life! Such is the joy which a confessor feels in absolving a soul in the state of sin. By his act he delivers her from eternal death: and by restoring to her the grace of God, he makes her a queen of Paradise.
10. But you have so many fears, and are not afraid of damning your own soul by the enormous crime of concealing sins in confession. You are afraid of the rebuke of your confessor, and fear not the reproof which you shall receive from Jesus Christ, your Judge, at the hour of death. You are afraid that your sins shall become known (which is impossible), and you dread not the Day of Judgment, on which, if you conceal them, they shall be revealed to all men. If you knew that, by concealing sins in confession, they shall be made known to all your relatives and to all your neighbors, you would certainly confess them.
“But, do you not know,” says St. Bernard, “that if you refuse to confess your sins to one man, who, like yourself, is a sinner, they shall be made known not only to all your relatives and neighbours, but to the entire human race?” (St. Bernard on chapter 11 of St. John). "Lazarus, come out.” If you do not confess your sin, God himself shall, for your confusion, publish not only the sin which you conceal, but also all your iniquities, in the presence of the angels and of the whole world. “I will discover thy shame to thy face, and will show thy wickedness to the nations” (Nahum 3:5).
11. Listen, then, to the advice of St. Ambrose. The devil keeps an account of your sins, to charge you with them at the tribunal of Jesus Christ. Do you wish, says the saint, to prevent this accusation? “Anticipate your accuser: accuse yourself now to a confessor, and then no accuser shall appear against you at the judgment-seat of God” (Lib. 2 de Poenit., cap. ii). But, according to St. Augustine, "if you excuse yourself in confession, you shut up sin within your soul, and shut out pardon." (Hom. xii. 50).
12. If, then, brethren, there be a single soul among you who has ever concealed a sin, through shame, in the tribunal of penance, let him take courage, and make a full confession of all his faults. “Give glory to God with a good heart” (Ecclesiasticus 35:10). Give glory to God, and confusion to the devil.
A certain penitent was tempted by Satan to conceal a sin through shame; but she was resolved to confess it; and while she was going to her confessor, the devil came forward and asked her where she was going. She courageously answered: “I am going to cover myself and you with confusion.”
Act you in a similar manner; if you have ever concealed a mortal sin, confess it candidly to your director, and confound the devil. Remember that the greater the violence you do yourself in confessing your sins, the greater will be the love with which Jesus Christ will embrace you.
13. Courage, then! Expel this viper which you harbor in your soul, and which continually corrodes your heart and destroys your peace. O what a Hell does a Christian suffer, who keeps in his heart a sin concealed through shame in confession! He suffers an anticipation of Hell. It is enough to say to the confessor: “Father, I have a certain scruple regarding my past life, but I am ashamed to tell it.” This will be enough: the confessor will help to pluck out the serpent which gnaws your conscience.
And, that you may not entertain groundless scruples, I think it is right to tell you, that if the sin, which you are ashamed to tell, be not mortal, or if you never considered it to be a mortal sin, you are not obliged to confess it; for we are bound only to confess mortal sins.
Moreover, if you have doubts whether you ever confessed a certain sin of your former life, but know that, in preparing for confession, you always carefully examined your conscience, and that you never concealed a sin through shame; in this case, even though the sin, about the confession of which you are doubtful, had been a grievous fault, you are not obliged to confess it, because it is presumed to be morally certain that you have already confessed it.
But, if you know that the sin was grievous, and that you never accused yourself of it in confession, then there is no remedy—you must confess it, or you must be damned for it. But, lost sheep, go instantly to confession. Jesus Christ is waiting for you; He stands with arms open to pardon and embrace you, if you acknowledge your guilt.
I assure you that, after having confessed all your sins, you shall feel such consolation, at having unburdened your conscience and acquired the grace of God, that you shall forever bless the day on which you made this confession. Go as soon as possible in search of a confessor. Do not give the devil time to continue to tempt you and to make you put off your confession: go immediately: for Jesus Christ is waiting for you.
Most holy Mary lost her Son for three days: during that time she wept continually for having lost sight of Jesus, and did not cease to seek after Him till she found Him. How then does it happen that so many sinners, not only lose sight of Jesus, but even lose His divine grace; and instead of weeping for so great a loss, sleep in peace, and make no effort to recover so great a blessing? This arises from their not feeling what it is to lose God by sin. Some say: “I commit this sin, not to lose God, but to enjoy this pleasure, to possess the property of another, or to take revenge of an enemy.” They who speak such language show that they do not understand the malice of Mortal Sin. What is Mortal Sin?
First Point. It is a great contempt shown to God.
Second Point. It is a great offense offered to God.
First Point. Mortal sin is a great contempt shown to God
1. The Lord calls upon Heaven and Earth to detest the ingratitude of those who commit Mortal Sin, after they had been created by Him, nourished with His blood, and exalted to the dignity of His adopted children. “Hear, O ye Heavens, and give ear, Earth; for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children and exalted them; but they have despised Me” (Isaias 1:2). Who is this God whom sinners despise? He is a God of infinite majesty, before whom all the kings of the Earth and all the blessed in Heaven are less than a drop of water, or a grain of sand. As a drop of a bucket ... as a little dust” (Isaias 40:15). In a word, such is the majesty of God, that in His presence all creatures are as if they did not exist. “All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all.” (Isaias 40:17).
And what is man, who insults him? St. Bernard answers: “Saccus vermium, cibus vermium.” A heap of worms, the food of worms, by which he shall be devoured in the grave. “Thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Apocalypse 3:17). He is so miserable that he can do nothing, so blind that he knows nothing, and so poor that he possesses nothing. And this worm dares to despise a God, and to provoke His wrath. “Vile dust,” says the same saint, “dares to irritate such tremendous majesty.” Justly, then, has St. Thomas asserted, that the malice of Mortal Sin is, as it were, infinite: “Peccatum habet quandam infinitatem malitiae ex infinitatem divine majestatis.” (Summa Theologica, 3a, q. 2, art. 2, ad. 2). And St. Augustine calls it an infinite evil. Hence Hell and a thousand Hells are not sufficient chastisement for a single Mortal Sin.
2. Mortal sin is commonly defined by theologians to be “a turning away from the immutable good” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1a, q. 24, art. 4); a turning ones back on the sovereign good. Of this God complains by his prophet, saying: “Thou hast forsaken Me, saith the Lord; thou art gone backward. “ (Jeremias 15:6). Ungrateful man, he says to the sinner, I would never have separated Myself from thee; thou hast been the first to abandon Me: thou art gone backwards; thou hast turned thy back upon Me.
3. He who contemns the divine law despises God; because he knows that, by despising the law, he loses the divine grace. “By transgression of the law, thou dishonourest God” (Romans 2:23). God is the Lord of all things, because He has created them. “All things are in thy power... Thou hast made Heaven and Earth.” (Esther 13:9). Hence all irrational creatures the winds, the sea, the fire, and rain obey God, “The winds and the sea obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).”Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfil His word.” (Psalm 148:8).
But man, when he sins, says to God: “Lord, Thou dost command me, but I will not obey; Thou dost command me to pardon such an injury, but I will resent it; Thou dost command me to give up the property of others, but I will retain it; Thou dost wish that I should abstain from such a forbidden pleasure, but I will indulge in it.” … “Thou hast broken my yoke, thou hast burst My bands, and thou saidst: ‘I will not serve!’” (Jeremias 2:20).
In fine, the sinner when he breaks the command, says to God: “I do not acknowledge Thee for my Lord!” Like Pharaoh, when Moses, on the part of God, commanded him in the name of the Lord to allow the people to go into the desert, the sinner answers: “Who is the Lord, that I should hear His voice, and let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2).
4. The insult offered to God by sin is heightened by the vileness of the goods for which sinners offend him. “Wherefore hath the wicked provoked God” (Psalm 10:13). For what do so many offend the Lord? For a little vanity; for the indulgence of anger; or for a beastly pleasure. “They violate Me among My people for a handful of barley and a piece of bread” (Ezechiel 13:19). God is insulted for a handful of barley for a morsel of bread! God violated! Why do we allow ourselves to be so easily deceived by the Devil? “There is,” says the Prophet Osee, “a deceitful balance in his hand” (Osee 12:7). We do not weigh things in the balance of God, which cannot deceive, but in the balance of Satan, who seeks only to deceive us, that he may bring us with himself into Hell.
“Lord,” said David, “who is like to Thee?” (Psalm 34:10). God is an infinite good; and when He sees sinners put him on a level with some earthly trifle, or with a miserable gratification, He justly complains in the language of the prophet: “‘To whom, have you likened Me or made Me equal?’ saith the Holy One” (Isaias 40:25).
In your estimation, a vile pleasure is more valuable than My grace. Is it a momentary satisfaction you have preferred before Me? “Thou hast cast Me off behind thy back!” (Ezechile 23:35). Then, adds Salvian, “there is no one for whom men have less esteem than for God” (Lib. v., Avd. Avar). Is the Lord so contemptible in your eyes as to deserve to have the miserable things of the Earth preferred before Him?
5. The tyrant placed before St. Clement a heap of gold, of silver, and of gems, and promised to give them to the holy martyr if he would renounce the faith of Christ. The saint heaved a sigh of sorrow at the sight of the blindness of men, who put earthly riches in comparison with God. But many sinners exchange the divine grace for things of far less value; they seek after certain miserable goods, and abandon that God Who is an infinite good, and Who alone can make them happy.
Of this the Lord complains, and calls on the Heavens to be astonished, and on its gates to be struck with horror: “‘Be astonished O ye Heavens, at this; and ye gates thereof, be very desolate!’ saith the Lord.” He then adds: “For My people have done two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremias 2:12-13).
We regard with wonder and amazement the injustice of the Jews, who, when Pilate offered to deliver Jesus or Barabbas, answered: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” (John 18:40). The conduct of sinners is still worse; for, when the Devil proposes to them to choose between the satisfaction of revenge a miserable pleasure and Jesus Christ, they answer: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” That is, not the Lord Jesus, but sin.
6. “There shall be no new god in thee,” says the Lord. (Psalm 80:10). You shall not abandon Me, your true God, and make for yourself a new god, whom you shall serve. St. Cyprian teaches that men make their god whatever they prefer before God, by making it their last end; for God is the only last end of all: “Quidquid homo Deo anteponit, Deum sibi facit.” And St. Jerome says: “Unusquisque quod cupit, si veneratur, hoc illi Deus est. Vitium in corde, est idolum in altari.” (Commentary on Psalm 80). The creature which a person prefers to God, becomes his god. Hence, the holy doctor adds, that as the Gentiles adored idols on their altars, so sinners worship sin in their hearts. When King Jeroboam rebelled against God, he endeavored to make the people imitate him in the adoration of idols. He one day placed the idols before them, and said: “Behold thy gods, Israel!” (3 Kings 12:28). The Devil acts in a similar manner towards sinners: he places before them such a gratification, and says: “Make this your God. Behold! this pleasure, this money, this revenge is your God: adhere to these, and forsake the Lord!” When the sinner consents to sin, he abandons his Creator, and, in his heart, adores as his god the pleasure in which he indulges. “Vitium in corde est idolum in altari.”
7. The contempt, which the sinner offers to God, is increased by sinning in God’s presence. According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, some adored the sun as their god, that during the night they might, in the absence of the sun, do what they pleased, without fear of divine chastisement. “Some regarded the sun as their god, that, after the setting of the sun, they might be without a god.” (Catech. iv). The conduct of these miserable dupes was very criminal; but they were careful not to sin in presence of their god. But Christians know that God is present in all places, and that he sees all things. “‘Do not I fill Heaven and Earth?’ saith the Lord,” (Jer. xxiii. 24); and still they do not abstain from insulting Him, and from provoking His wrath in his very presence: “A people that continually provoke me to anger before My face!” (Isaias 65:3). Hence, by sinning before Him who is their Judge, they even make God a witness of their iniquities: “‘I am the judge and the witness’, saith the Lord” (Jeremias 29:23). St. Peter Chrysologus says, that, “the man who commits a crime in the presence of his judge, can offer no defence.” The thought of having offended God in His Divine Presence, made David weep and exclaim: “To Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee.” (Psalm 1:6). But let us pass to the second point, in which we shall see more clearly the enormity of the malice of Mortal Sin.
Second Point. Mortal sin is a great offense offered to God
8. There is nothing more galling than to see oneself despised by those who were most beloved and most highly favored. Whom do sinners insult? They insult a God, Who bestowed so many benefits upon them, and Who loved them so as to die on a cross for their sake; and, by the commission of Mortal Sin, they banish that God from their hearts. A soul that loves God is loved by Him, and God Himself comes to dwell within her. “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). The Lord, then, never departs from a soul, unless He is driven away, even though He should know that she will soon banish Him from her heart. According to the Council of Trent, “He deserts not the soul, unless He is deserted.”
9. When the soul consents to Mortal Sin, she ungratefully says to God: “Depart from me!” “The wicked have said to God: ‘Depart from us!’” (Job 21:14). Sinners, as St. Gregory observes, say the same, not in words, but by their conduct. “Recede, non verbis, sed moribus.” They know that God cannot remain with sin in the soul: and, in violating the divine commands, they feel that God must depart; and, by their acts they say to Him: “Since you cannot remain any longer with us, depart farewell!” And through the very door by which God departs from the soul, the Devil enters to take possession of her. When the priest baptizes an infant, he commands the demon to depart from the soul: “Go out from him, unclean spirits, and make room for the Holy Ghost.” But when a Christian consents to Mortal Sin, he says to God: Depart from me; make room for the Devil, whom I wish to serve.”
10. St. Bernard says, that Mortal Sin is so opposed to God, that, if it were possible for God to die, sin would deprive Him of life―”Peccatum quantum in se est Deum perimit.” Hence, according to Job, in committing Mortal Sin, man rises up against God, and stretches forth his hand against Him: “For he hath stretched out his hand against God, and hath strengthened himself against the Almighty.” (Job 15:25).
11. According to the same St. Bernard, they who wilfully violate the divine law, seek to deprive God of life, in proportion to the malice of their will: “Quantum in ipsa est Deum perimit propria voluntas” (Ser. iii. de Res). Because, adds the saint, self-will “would wish God to see its own sins, and to be unable to take vengeance on them.” Sinners know that the moment they consent to Mortal Sin, God condemns them to Hell. Hence, being firmly resolved to sin, they wish that there was no God, and, consequently, they would wish to take away His life, that He might not be able to avenge their crime.
“He hath,” continues Job, in his description of the wicked, “run against him with his neck raised up, and is armed with a fat neck” (Job 15:26). The sinner raises his neck; that is, his pride swells up, and he runs to insult his God; and, because he contends with a powerful antagonist, “he is armed with a fat neck.” “A fat neck” is the symbol of ignorance, of that ignorance which makes the sinner say: “This is not a great sin; God is merciful; we are flesh; the Lord will have pity on us!”
O temerity! Illusion, which brings so many Christians to Hell! Moreover, the man who commits a Mortal Sin afflicts the heart of God. “But they provoked to wrath, and afflicted the spirit of the Holy One” (Isaias 63:10). What pain and anguish would you not feel, if you knew that a person whom you tenderly loved, and on whom you bestowed great favors, had sought to take away your life! God is not capable of pain; but, were he capable of suffering, a single Mortal Sin would be sufficient to make him die through sorrow.
“Mortal Sin,” says Father Medina, “if it were possible, would destroy God Himself: because it would be the cause of infinite sadness to God.” As often, then, as you committed Mortal Sin, you would, if it were possible, have caused God to die of sorrow; because you knew that by sin you insulted Him and turned your back upon Him, after He had bestowed so many favors upon you, and even after He had given all His blood and His life for your salvation.
In this day's Gospel we read that, having gone into the desert, Jesus Christ permitted the devil to “set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,” and say to him: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down ;” for the angels shall preserve thee from all injury. But the Lord answered that, in the Sacred Scriptures it is written: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
The sinner who abandons himself to sin without striving to resist temptations, or without at least asking God’s help to conquer them, and hopes that the Lord will one day draw him from the precipice, tempts God to work miracles, or rather to show to him an extraordinary mercy not extended to the generality of Christians.
God, as the Apostle says, “will have all men to be saved,” (1 Timothy 2:4); but he also wishes us all to labor for our own salvation, at least by adopting the means of overcoming our enemies, and of obeying him when he calls us to repentance. Sinners hear the calls of God, but they forget them, and continue to offend him. But God does not forget them. He numbers the graces which he dispenses, as well as the sins which we commit. Hence, when the time which he has fixed arrives, God deprives us of his graces, and begins to inflict chastisement. I intend to show, in this discourse, that, when sins reach a certain number, God pardons no more. Be attentive.
1. St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and other fathers, teach that, as God (according to the words of Scripture, “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wisdom 11:21), has fixed for each person the number of the days of his life, and the degrees of health and talent which he will give him, so he has also determined for each the number of sins which He will pardon; and when this number is completed, He will pardon no more. “Illud sentire nos convenit,” says St. Augustine, “tamdiu unumquemque a Dei patientia sustineri, quo consummate nullam illi veniam reserveri” (De Vita Christi, cap. iii). Eusebius of Cesarea says: “Deus expectat usque ad certum numerum et postea deserit.” (Lib. 8, cap. ii). The same doctrine is taught by the above-mentioned Fathers.
2. “The Lord hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart” (Isaias 51:1). God is ready to heal those who sincerely wish to amend their lives, but cannot take pity on the obstinate sinner. The Lord pardons sins, but He cannot pardon those who are determined to offend Him. Nor can we demand, from God, a reason why He pardons one person a hundred sins, and takes others out of life, and sends them to Hell, after three or four sins. By His Prophet Amos, God has said: “For three crimes of Damascus, and for four, I will not convert it” (Amos 1:3).
In this we must adore the judgments of God, and say with the Apostle: “the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments” (Romans 11:33). He who receives pardon, says St. Augustine, is pardoned through the pure mercy of God; and they who are chastised are justly punished. “Quibus datur misericordia, gratis datur: quibus non datur ex justitia non datur.” (1 de Corrept).
How many has God sent to Hell for the first offence? St. Gregory relates, that a child of five years, who had arrived at the use of reason, for having uttered a blasphemy, was seized by the devil and carried to Hell. The divine Mother revealed to that great servant of God, Benedicta of Florence, that a boy of twelve years was damned after the first sin. Another boy of eight years died after his first sin and was lost.
You say: “I am young: there are many who have committed more sins than I have!” But is God on that account obliged to wait for your repentance if you offend him? In the gospel of St. Matthew (21:19) we read, that the Savior cursed a fig tree the first time He saw it without fruit. “May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.” You must, then, tremble at the thought of committing a single mortal sin, particularly if you have already been guilty of mortal sins.
3. “Be not without fear about sins forgiven, and add not sin to sin.” (Ecclesiasticus 5:5). Say not then, O sinner, “As God has forgiven me other sins, so He will pardon me this one if I commit it!” Say not this; for, if to the sin which has been forgiven you add another, you have reason to fear that this new sin shall be united to your former guilt, and that thus the number will be completed, and that you shall be abandoned.
Behold how the Scripture unfolds this truth more clearly in another place. “The Lord patiently expecteth, that when the day of judgment shall come, He may punish them in the fullness of sins.” (2 Machabees 6:14). God waits with patience until a certain number of sins is committed, but, when the measure of guilt is filled up, He waits no longer, but chastises the sinner. “Thou hast sealed up my offences as it were in a bag.” (Job 14:17). Sinners multiply their sins without keeping any account of them; but God numbers them that, when the harvest is ripe, that is, when the number of sins is completed, he may take vengeance on them. “Put ye in the sickles, for the harvest is ripe” (Joel 3:13).
4. Of this there are many examples in the Scriptures. Speaking of the Hebrews, the Lord in one place says: “All the men that have tempted me now ten times. . . . shall not see the land. “ (Numbers 14: 22-23). In another place he says, that He restrained His vengeance against the Amorrhites, because the number of their sins was not completed. “For as yet the iniquities of the Amorrhites are not at the full” (Genesis 15:16). We have again the example of King Saul, who, after having disobeyed God a second time, was abandoned. He entreated Samuel to interpose before the Lord in his behalf. “Bear, I beseech thee, my sin, and return with me, that I may adore the Lord,” (1 Kings 15:25). But, knowing that God had abandoned Saul, Samuel answered: “I will not return with thee; because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee,” etc. (1 Kings 5:26). Saul, you have abandoned God, and he has abandoned you.
We have another example in Balthassar, who, after having profaned the vessels of the temple, saw a hand writing on the wall, “Mane, Thecel, Phares.” Daniel was requested to expound the meaning of these words. In explaining the word Thecel, he said to the king: “Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27). By this explanation he gave the king to understand that the weight of his sins in the balance of divine justice had made the scale descend. “The same night, Balthassar, the Chaldean king, was killed” (Daniel 5:30). Oh, how many sinners have met with a similar fate! Continuing to offend God till their sins amounted to a certain number they have been struck dead and sent to Hell. “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to Hell” (Job 21:13). Tremble, brethren, lest, if you commit another mortal sin, God should cast you into Hell.
5. If God chastised sinners the moment they insult Him, we should not see Him so much despised. But, because He does not instantly punish their transgressions, and because, through mercy, He restrains His anger and waits for their return, they are encouraged to continue to offend Him. “For, because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil, the children of men commit evil without any fear” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But it is necessary to be persuaded that, though God bears with us, He does not wait, nor bear with us for ever.
Expecting, as on former occasions, to escape from the snares of the Philistines, Samson continued to allow himself to be deluded by Dalila. “I will go out as I did before, and shake myself” (Judges 16:20). But “the Lord was departed from him.” Samson was at length taken by his enemies, and lost his life. The Lord warns you not to say: “I have committed so many sins, and God has not chastised me!” “Say not: I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? For the Most High is a patient rewarder” (Ecclesiasticus 5:4). God has patience for a certain term, after which He punishes the first and last sins. And the greater has been His patience, the more severe His vengeance.
6. Hence, according to St. Chrysostom, God is more to be feared when He bears with sinners than when He instantly punishes their sins. “Plus timendum est, cum tolerat quam cum festinanter punit.” And why? Because, says St. Gregory, they to whom God has shown most mercy, shall, if they do not cease to offend Him, be chastised with the greatest rigour. “Quos diutius expectat durius damnat.” The saint adds that God often punishes such sinners with a sudden death, and does not allow them time for repentance. “Sæpe qui diu tolerati sunt subita morte rapiuntur, ut nec flere ante mortem liceat.”
And the greater the light which God gives to certain sinners for their correction, the greater is their blindness and obstinacy in sin. “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than, after they had known it, to turn back” (2 Peter 2:21). Miserable the sinners who, after having been enlightened, return to the vomit. St Paul says, that it is morally impossible for them to be again converted. “For it is impossible for those who were once illuminated have tasted also the Heavenly gifts ... and are fallen away, to be renewed again to penance.” (Hebrews 6:4, 6).
7. Listen, then, sinner, to the admonition of the Lord: “My son, hast thou sinned? Do so no more, but for thy former sins pray that they may be forgiven thee” (Ecclesiasticus 21:1). Son, add not sins to those which you have already committed, but be careful to pray for the pardon of your past transgressions; otherwise, if you commit another mortal sin, the gates of the divine mercy may be closed against you, and your soul may be lost forever.
When, then, beloved brethren, the devil tempts you again to yield to sin, say to yourself: “If God pardons me no more, what shall become of me for all eternity?” Should the Devil, in reply, say: “Fear not, God is merciful!” answer him by saying: “What certainty or what probability have I, that, if I return again to sin, God will show me mercy or grant me pardon?” Because the threat of the Lord against all who despise His calls: “Behold I have called and you refused. . . I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock when that shall come to you which you feared” (Proverbs 1:24, 26).
Mark the words I also; they mean that, as you have mocked the Lord by betraying Him again after your confession and promises of amendment, so He will mock you at the hour of death. “I will laugh and will mock.” But “God is not mocked.” (Galatians 6:7). “As a dog,” says the Wise Man, “that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).
Blessed Denis the Carthusian gives an excellent exposition of this text. He says that, “as a dog that eats what he has just vomited, is an object of disgust and abomination, so the sinner who returns to the sins which he has detested and confessed, becomes hateful in the sight of God.” “Sicut id quod per vomitum est rejectum, resumere est valide abominabile ac turpe sic peccata deleta reiterari.”
8. O folly of sinners! If you purchase a house, you spare no pains to get all the securities necessary to guard against the loss of your money; if you take medicine, you are careful to assure yourself that it cannot injure you; if you pass over a river, you cautiously avoid all danger of falling into it; and for a transitory enjoyment, for the gratification of revenge, for a beastly pleasure, which lasts but a moment, you risk your eternal salvation, saying: “I will go to confession after I commit this sin.” And when, I ask, are you to go to confession? You say: “Tomorrow.” But who promises you tomorrow? Who assures you that you shall have time for confession, and that God will not deprive you of life, as He has deprived so many others, in the act of sin?
St. Augustine says you cannot be certain of living for another hour, and you say: “I will go to confession tomorrow.” Listen to the words of St. Gregory: “He who has promised pardon to penitents, has not promised tomorrow to sinners” (Hom. xii. in Evan). God has promised pardon to all who repent; but He has not promised to wait till tomorrow for those who insult him. Perhaps God will give you time for repentance, perhaps he will not. But, should he not give it, what shall become of your soul? In the meantime, for the sake of a miserable pleasure, you lose the grace of God, and expose yourself to the danger of being lost for ever.
9. Would you, for such transient enjoyments, risk your money, your honor, your possessions, your liberty, and your life? No, you would not. How then does it happen that, for a miserable gratification, you lose your soul, Heaven, and God? Tell me: do you believe that Heaven, Hell, eternity, are truths of faith? Do you believe that, if you die in sin, you are lost for ever? Oh! what temerity, what folly is it, to condemn yourself voluntarily to an eternity of torments with the hope of afterwards reversing the sentence of your condemnation!
“Nemo,” says St. Augustine, “sub spe salutis vult ægrotare.” No one can be found so foolish as to take poison with the hope of preventing its deadly effects by adopting the ordinary remedies. And you will condemn yourself to Hell, saying that you expect to be afterwards preserved from it.
O folly, which, in conformity with the divine threats, has brought, and brings every day, so many to Hell. “Thou hast trusted in thy wickedness, and evil shall come upon thee, and thou shalt not know the rising thereof.” (Isaias 47:10-11).
You have sinned, trusting rashly in the divine mercy: the punishment of your guilt shall fall suddenly upon you, and you shall not know from whence it comes. What do you say? What resolution do you make? If, after this sermon, you do not firmly resolve to give yourself to God, I weep over you, and regard you as lost.
One section, and perhaps it is the largest section, of people everywhere are wholly wrapped up in the things of this world.
And of this large number there are those who are content to have suppressed all feeling of religion, all thought of another life, who have done everything in their power to efface the terrible thought of the judgment which one day they will have to undergo.
They employ all their wiles, and often their wealth, during the course of their lives to attract to their way of life as many people as they can. They no longer believe in anything.
They even take a pride in making themselves out to be more impious and incredulous than they really are in order to convince others and to make them believe, not in the verities, but in the falsehoods which they wish to take root in the hearts of those under their influence.
Voltaire, in the course of a dinner given one day for his friends ― that is, for the impious ― rejoiced that of all those present, there was not one who believed in religion. And yet he himself did believe, as he was to show at the hour of his death.
Then he demanded with great earnestness that a priest should be brought to him that he might make his peace with God.
But it was too late. God, against whom he had fought and spoken with such fury all his life, dealt with him as He had with Antiochus: He abandoned him to the fury of the devils. At that dread moment, Voltaire had only despair and the thought of eternal damnation as his lot. The Holy Ghost tells us: “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.” But it is only the corruption of his heart which could carry man to such an excess; he does not believe it in the depths of his soul. The words “There is a God” will never entirely disappear. The greatest sinner will often utter them without even thinking of what he is saying. But let us leave these blasphemous people aside. Happily, though you may not be as good Christians as you ought to be, thanks be to God you are not of that company.
But, you will say to me, who are these people who are partly on God’s side and partly on the side of the world? Well, my dear children, let me describe them. I will compare them (if I may dare to make use of the term) to dogs who will run to the first person who calls them. You may follow them from the morning to the evening, from the beginning of the year to the end.
These people look upon Sunday as merely a day for rest and amusement. They stay in bed longer than on weekdays, and instead of giving themselves to God with all their hearts, they do not even think of Him. Some of them will be thinking of their amusements, others of people they expect to meet, still others of the sales they are about to make or the money they will be spending or receiving. With great difficulty they will manage the Sign of the Cross in some fashion or another.
Because they will be going to church later, they will omit their prayers altogether, saying: “Oh, I’ll have plenty of time to say them before Mass.” They always have something to do before setting out for Mass, and although they have been planning to say their prayers before setting out, they are barely in time for the beginning of the Mass itself. If they meet a friend along the road, it is no trouble to them to bring him back home and put off the Mass until a later hour.
But since they still want to appear Christian, they will go to Mass sometime later, though it will be with infinite boredom and reluctance. The thought in their minds will be: “Oh, Lord, will this ever be over!” You will see them in church, especially during the instruction, looking around from one side to the other, asking the person next to them for the time, and so on.
More of them yawn and stretch and turn the pages of their prayer book as if they were examining it in order to see whether the printer had made any mistakes. There are others, and you can see them sleeping as soundly as if they were in a comfortable bed.
The first thought that comes to them when they awake is not that they have been profaning so holy a place but: “Oh, Lord, this will never be over.... I’m not coming back any more.” And finally there are those to whom the word of God (which has converted so many sinners) is actually nauseating.
They are obliged to go out, they say, to get a breath of air or else they would die. You will see them, distressed and miserable, during the services. But no sooner is the service over (and often even before the priest has actually left the altar) than they will be pressing around the door from which the first of the congregation are streaming out, and you will notice that all the joy which they had lost during the service has come back again.
They are so tired that often they have not the “strength” to come back to the evening service. If you were to ask them why they were not coming to this, they would tell you: “Ah, we would have to be all the day in the church. We have other things to do.”
For such people there is no question of instruction, nor of the Rosary, nor of evening prayers. They look upon all these things as of no consequence. If you asked them what had been said during the instruction, they would say: “He did too much shouting.... He bored us to death.... I can’t remember anything else about it.... If it hadn’t been so long, it might have been easier to remember some of it.... That is just what keeps the world away from religious services ― they are too long.”
It is quite right to say “the world” because these people belong to the camp of “the worldly,” although they do not know it.
But now we shall try to make them understand things a little better (at least if they want to). But, being deaf and blind (as they are), it is very difficult to make them understand the words of life or to comprehend their own unhappy state.
To begin with, they never make the Sign of the Cross before a meal or say Grace afterwards, nor do they recite the Angelus. If, as a result of some old habit or training, they still observe these practices and you should happen to see the manner in which they carry them out, you would feel sick: the women will simultaneously be getting on with their work or calling to their children or members of the household; the men will be turning a hat or a cap around in their hands as if searching for holes.
They think as much about God as if they really believed that He did not exist at all and that they were doing all this for a joke. They have no scruples about buying or selling on the holy day of Sunday, even though they know, or at least they should know, that dealing on a reasonably big scale on a Sunday, when there is no necessity for it, is a mortal sin. Such people regard all such facts as trifles.
They will go into a parish on a holy day to hire laborers, and if you told them they were doing wrong, they would reply: “We must go when we can find them there.” They have no problem, either, about paying their taxes on a Sunday because during the week they might have to go a little further and take a few moments longer to complete the job.
“Ah,” you will say to me, “we wouldn’t think much of all that.” You would not think much of all that, my dear people, and I am not at all surprised, because you are worldly. You would like to be followers of God and at the same time to satisfy the standards of the world.
Do you realize, my children, who these people are? They are the people who have not entirely lost the faith and to whom there still remains some attachment to the service of God, the people who do not want to give up all religious practices, for indeed, they themselves find fault with those who do not go often to the services, but they have not enough courage to break with the world and to turn to God’s side.
They do not wish to be damned, but neither do they wish to inconvenience themselves too much. They hope that they will be saved without having to do too much violence to themselves. They have the idea that God, being so good, did not create them for perdition and that He will pardon them in spite of everything; that the time will come when they will turn over to God; that they will correct their faults and abandon all their bad habits. If, in moments of reflection, they pass their petty lives before their eyes, they will lament for their faults, and sometimes they will even weep for them....
What a very tragic life such people lead, my children, who want to follow the ways of the world without ceasing to be the children of God. Let us go on a little further and you will be able to understand this a little more clearly and to see for yourselves how stupid indeed such a life can be. At one moment you will hear the people who lead it praying or making an act of contrition, and the next moment you will hear them, if something is not going the way they want it, swearing or maybe even using the holy name of God.
This morning you may have seen them at Mass, singing or listening to the praises of God, and on the very same day you will hear them giving vent to the most scandalous utterances. They will dip their hands in holy water and ask God to purify them from their sins; a little later they will be using those very hands in an impure way upon themselves or upon others. The same eyes which this morning had the great happiness of contemplating Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament will in the course of the day voluntarily rest with pleasure upon the most immodest objects.
Yesterday you saw a certain man doing an act of charity or a service for a neighbor; today he will be doing his best to cheat that neighbor if he can profit thereby. A moment ago this mother desired all sorts of blessings for her children, and now, because they are annoying her, she will shower all sorts of curses upon them: she wishes she might never see them again, that she was miles away from them, and ends up by consigning them to the Devil to rid herself of them!
At one moment she sends her children to Mass or Confession; at another, she will be sending them to the dance or, at least, she will pretend not to know that they are there or forbid them to go with a laugh which is tantamount to permission to go. At one time she will be telling her daughter to be reserved and not to mix with bad companions, and at another she will allow her to pass whole hours with young men without saying a word. It’s no use, my poor mother, you are on the side of the world! You think yourself to be on God’s side by reason of some exterior show of religion which you make.
You are mistaken; you belong to that number of whom Jesus Christ has said: “Woe to the world....”
You see these people who think they are following God but who are really living up to the maxims of the world. They have no scruples about taking from their neighbor wood or fruit or a thousand and one other things. Whenever they are flattered for what they do for religion, they derive quite a lot of pleasure from their actions.
They will be quite keen then and will be delighted to give good advice to others. But let them be subjected to any contempt or calumny and you will see them become discouraged and distressed because they have been treated in this way. Yesterday they wanted only to do good to anyone who did them harm, but today they can hardly tolerate such people, and often they cannot even endure to see them or to speak to them.
Poor worldlings! How unhappy you are! Go on with your daily round; you have nothing to hope for but Hell! Some would like to go to the Sacraments at least once a year, but for that, it is necessary to find an easygoing confessor. They would like .... if only — and there is the whole problem.
If they find a confessor who sees that their dispositions are not good and he refuses them Absolution, you will then find them thundering against him, justifying themselves for all they are worth for having tried and failed to obtain the Sacrament. They will speak evil about him. They know very well why they have been refused and left in their sinful state, but, as they know, too, the confessor can do nothing to grant them what they want, so they get satisfaction by saying anything they wish.
Carry on, children of this world, carry on with your daily round; you will see a day you never wished to see! It would seem then that we must divide our hearts in two! But no, my friends, that is not the case; all for God or all for the world.
You would like to frequent the Sacraments? Very well, then, give up the dances and the cabarets and the unseemly amusements. Today you have sufficient grace to come here and present yourselves at the tribunal of Penance, to kneel before the Holy Table, to partake of the Bread of the Angels.
In three or four weeks, maybe less, you will be seen passing your night among drunken men, and what is more, you will be seen indulging in the most horrible acts of impurity. Carry on, children of this world; you will soon be in Hell! They will teach you there what you should have done to get to Heaven, which you have lost entirely through your own fault....
Woe betide you, children of this world! Carry on; follow your master as you have done up to the present! Very soon you will see clearly that you have been mistaken in following his ways. But will that make you any wiser? No, my children, it will not. If someone cheats us once, we say: “We will not trust him anymore ― and with good reason.”
The world cheats us continually and yet we love it. “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world,” St. John warns us. Ah, my dear children, if we gave some thought to what the world really is, we should pass all our lives in bidding it farewell. When one reaches the age of fifteen years, one has said farewell to the pastimes of childhood; one has come to look upon them as trifling and ephemeral, as one would the actions of children building houses of cards or sand castles. At thirty, one has begun to put behind one the consuming pleasures of passionate youth. What gave such intense pleasure in younger days is already beginning to weary. Let us go further, my dear children, and say that every day we are bidding farewell to the world.
We are like travelers who enjoy the beauty of the countryside through which they are passing. No sooner do they see it than it is time for them to leave it behind. It is exactly the same with the pleasures and the good things to which we become so attached. Then we arrive at the edge of eternity, which engulfs all these things in its abyss.
It is then, my dear brethren, that the world will disappear forever from our eyes and that we shall recognize our folly in having been so attached to it. And all that has been said to us about sin! .... Then we shall say: It was all true. Alas, I lived only for the world, I sought nothing but the world in all I did, and now the pleasures and the joys of the world are not for me any longer! They are all slipping away from me ― this world which I have loved so well, these joys, these pleasures which have so fully occupied my heart and my soul! ....
Now I must return to my God! .... How consoling this thought is, my dear children, for him who has sought only God throughout his life! But what a despairing thought for him who has lost sight of God and of the salvation of his soul!
As you know my dear brethren, we are bound as fellow creatures to have human sympathy and feelings for one another. Yet one envious person would like, if he possibly could, to destroy everything good and profitable belonging to his neighbor.
You know, too, that as Christians we must have boundless charity for our fellow men. But the envious person is far removed indeed from such virtues. He would be happy to see his fellow man ruin himself. Every mark of God’s generosity towards his neighbor is like a knife thrust that pierces his heart and causes him to die in secret.
Since we are all members of the same Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, we should so strive that unity, charity, love, and zeal can be seen in one and all. To make us all happy, we should rejoice, as St. Paul tells, in the happiness of our fellow men and mourn with those who have cares or troubles.
But, very far from experiencing such feelings, the envious are forever uttering scandals and calumnies against their neighbors. It appears to them that in this way they can do something to assuage and sweeten their vexation.
But, unfortunately, we have not said all that can be said about envy. This is the deadly vice which hurls kings and emperors from their thrones. Why do you think, my dear brethren, that among these kings, these emperors, these men who occupy the first places in the world of men, some are driven out of their places of privilege, some are poisoned, others are stabbed? It is simply because someone wants to rule in their place. It is not the food, nor the drink, nor the habitations that the authors of such crimes want. Not at all. They are consumed with envy.
Take another example. Here is a merchant who wants to have all the business for himself and to leave nothing at all for anyone else. If someone leaves his store to go elsewhere, he will do his best to say all the evil he can, either about the rival businessman himself or else about the quality of what he sells. He will take all possible means to ruin his rival’s reputation, saying that the other’s goods are not of the same quality as his own or that the other man gives short weight. You will notice, too, than an envious man like this has a diabolical trick to add to all this: “It would not do,” he will tell you, “for you to say this to anyone else; it might do harm and that would upset me very much. I am only telling you because I would not like to see you being cheated.”
A workman may discover that someone else is now going to work in a house where previously he was always employed.
This angers him greatly, and he will do everything in his power to run down this “interloper” so that he will not be employed there after all.
Look at the father of a family and see how angry he becomes if his next-door neighbor prospers more than he or if the neighbor’s land produces more. Look at a mother: she would like it if people spoke well of no children except hers. If anyone praises the children of some other family to her and does not say something good of hers, she will reply, “They are not perfect,” and she will become quite upset. How foolish you are, poor mother! The praise given to others will take nothing from your children.
Just look at the jealousy of a husband in respect of his wife or of a wife in respect of her husband. Notice how they inquire into everything the other does and says, how they observe everyone to whom the other speaks, every house into which the other enters. If one notices the other speaking to someone, there will be accusations of all sorts of wrongdoing, even though the whole episode may have been completely innocent.
This is surely a cursed sin which puts a barrier between brothers and sisters, too. The very moment that a father or a mother gives more to one member of the family than the others, you will see the birth of this jealous hatred against the parent or against the favored brother or sister ― a hatred which may last for years, and sometimes even for a lifetime. There are children who keep a watchful eye upon their parents, just to insure that they will not give any sort of gift or privilege to one member of the family. If this should occur in spite of them, there is nothing bad enough that they will not say.
We can see that this sin makes its first appearance among children. You will notice the petty jealousies they will feel against one another if they observe any preferences on the part of the parents.
A young man would like to be the only one considered to have intelligence, or learning, or a good character.
A girl would like to be the only one who is loved, the only one well dressed, the only one sought after; if others are more popular than she, you will see her fretting and upsetting herself, even weeping, perhaps, instead of thanking God for being neglected by creatures so that she may be attached to Him alone.
What a blind passion envy is, my dear brethren! Who could hope to understand it?
Unfortunately, this vice can be noted even among those in whom it should never be encountered ― that is to say, among those who profess to practice their religion. They will take note of how many times such a person remains to go to Confession or of how So-and-So kneels or sits when she is saying her prayers. They will talk of these things and criticize the people concerned, for they think that such prayers or good works are done only so that they may be seen, or in other words, that they are purely an affectation. You may tire yourself out telling them that their neighbor’s actions concern him alone. They are irritated and offended if the conduct of others is thought to be superior to their own.
You will see this even among the poor. If some kindly person gives a little bit extra to one of them, they will make sure to speak ill of him to their benefactor in the hope of preventing him from benefiting on any further occasion. Dear Lord, what a detestable vice this is! It attacks all that is good, spiritual as well as temporal.
We have already said that this vice indicates a mean and petty spirit. That is so true that no one will admit to feeling envy, or at least no one wants to believe that he has been attacked by it. People will employ a hundred and one devices to conceal their envy from others. If someone speaks well of another in our presence, we keep silence: we are upset and annoyed. If we must say something, we do so in the coldest and most unenthusiastic fashion. No, my dear children, there is not a particle of charity in the envious heart. St. Paul has told us that we must rejoice in the good which befalls our neighbor.
Joy, my dear brethren, is what Christian charity should inspire in us for one another. But the sentiments of the envious are vastly different.
I do not believe that there is a more ugly and dangerous sin than envy because it is hidden and is often covered by the attractive mantle of virtue or of friendship. Let us go further and compare it to a lion which we thought was muzzled, to a serpent covered by a handful of leaves which will bite us without our noticing it. Envy is a public plague which spares no one.
We are leading ourselves to Hell without realizing it.
But how are we then to cure ourselves of this vice if we do not think we are guilty of it? I am quite certain that of the thousands of envious souls honestly examining their consciences, there would not be one ready to believe himself belonging to that company. It is the least recognized of sins.
Some people are so profoundly ignorant that they do not recognize a quarter of their ordinary sins. And since the sin of envy is more difficult to know, it is not surprising that so few confess it and correct it. Because they are not guilty of the big public sins committed by coarse and brutalized people, they think that the sins of envy are only little defects in charity, when, in fact, for the most part, these are serious and deadly sins which they are harboring and tending in their hearts, often without fully recognizing them.
“But,” you may be thinking in your own minds, “if I really recognized them, I would do my best to correct them.”
If you want to be able to recognize them, my dear brethren, you must ask the Holy Ghost for His light. He alone will give you this grace. No one could, with impunity, point out these sins to you; you would not wish to agree not to accept them; you would always find something which would convince you that you had made no mistake in thinking and acting in the way you did. Do you know yet what will help to make you know the state of your soul and to uncover this evil sin hidden in the secret recesses of your heart? It is humility. Just as pride will hide it from you, so will humility reveal it to you.