Today is Passion Sunday
(by Fr. Prosper Gueranger 1870)
Today, if ye shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.
The Holy Church begins her Night Office of this Sunday with these impressive words of the Royal Prophet. Formerly, the faithful considered it their duty to assist at the Night Office, at least on Sundays and Feasts; they would have grieved to have lost the grand teachings given by the Liturgy. Such fervour has long since died out; the assiduity at the Offices of the Church, which was the joy of our Catholic forefathers, has now become a thing of the past; and, even in countries which have not apostatised from the faith, the clergy have ceased to celebrate publicly Offices at which no one assisted. Excepting in Cathedral Churches and in Monasteries, the grand harmonious system of the Divine Praise has been abandoned, and the marvellous power of the Liturgy has no longer its full influence upon the Faithful.
This is our reason for drawing the attention of our readers to certain beauties of the Divine Office, which would otherwise be totally ignored. Thus, what can be more impressive than this solemn Invitatory of today’s Matins, which the Church takes from one of the psalms, and which she repeats on every Feria between this and Maundy Thursday?
She says: Today, if ye shall hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts! The sweet voice of your suffering Jesus now speaks to you, poor sinners! be not your own enemies by indifference and hardness of heart. The Son of God is about to give you the last and greatest proof of the love that brought him down from heaven; his Death is nigh at hand: men are preparing the wood for the immolation of the new Isaac: enter into yourselves, and let not your hearts, after being touched with grace, return to their former obduracy, for nothing could be more dangerous. The great anniversaries we are to celebrate have a renovating power for those souls that faithfully correspond with the grace which is offered them; but they increase insensibility in those who let them pass without working their conversion. Today, therefore, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts!
During the preceding four weeks, we have noticed how the malice of Jesus’ enemies has been gradually increasing. His very presence irritates them; and it is evident, that any little circumstance will suffice to bring the deep and long nurtured hatred to a head. The kind and gentle manners of Jesus are drawing to Him all hearts that are simple and upright; at the same time, the humble life he leads, and the stern purity of his doctrines, are perpetual sources of vexation and anger, both to the proud Jew that looks forward to the Messias being a mighty conqueror, and to the Pharisee, who corrupts the Law of God, that he may make it the instrument of his own base passions. Still, Jesus goes on working miracles; His discourses are more than ever energetic; His prophecies foretell the fall of Jerusalem, and such a destruction of its famous Temple, that not a stone is to be left on stone. The doctors of the Law should, at least, reflect upon what they hear; they should examine these wonderful works, which render such strong testimony in favour of the Son of David, and they should consult those divine prophecies which, up to the present time, have been so literally fulfilled in His person. Alas! they themselves are about to carry them out to the very last iota. There is not a single outrage or suffering foretold by David and Isaias, as having to be put upon the Messias, which these blind men are not scheming to verify.
In them, therefore, was fulfilled that terrible saying: He that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come (St. Matth. xii. 32.). The Synagogue is nigh to a curse. Obstinate in her error, she refuses to see or to hear; she has deliberately perverted her judgment: she has extinguished within herself the light of the Holy Spirit; she will go deeper and deeper into evil, and at length fall into the abyss. This same lamentable conduct is but too often witnessed now-adays, in those sinners, who, by habitual resistance to the light, end by finding their happiness in sin. Neither should it surprise us, that we find in people of our own generation a resemblance to the murderers of our Jesus: the history of His Passion will reveal to us many sad secrets of the human heart and its perverse inclinations; for what happened in Jerusalem, happens also in every sinner’s heart. His heart, according to the saying of St. Paul, is a Calvary, where Jesus is crucified. There is the same ingratitude, the same blindness, the same wild madness, with this difference, that the sinner who is enlightened by faith, knows Him Whom he crucifies; whereas the Jews, as the same Apostle tells us, knew not the Lord of Glory (I. Cor. ii. 8.). Whilst, therefore, we listen to the Gospel, which relates the history of the Passion, let us turn the indignation we feel for the Jews against ourselves and our own sins: let us weep over the sufferings of our Victim, for our sins caused Him to suffer and die.
Everything around us urges us to mourn. The images of the Saints, the very crucifix on our Altar, are veiled from our sight. The Church is oppressed with grief. During the first four weeks of Lent, she compassionated her Jesus fasting in the desert; his coming Sufferings and Crucifixion and Death are what now fill her with anguish. We read in today’s Gospel, that the Jews threaten to stone the Son of God as a blasphemer: but his hour is not yet come. He is obliged to flee and hide himself. It is to express this deep humiliation, that the Church veils the Cross. A God hiding Himself, that he may evade the anger of men, what a mystery! Is it weakness? Is it, that he fears death? No, we shall soon see Him going out to meet His enemies: but, at present, He hides Himself from them, because all that had been prophesied regarding Him has not been fulfilled. Besides, His death is not to be by stoning; He is to die upon a Cross, the tree of malediction, which, from that time forward, is to be the Tree of Life. Let us humble ourselves, as we see the Creator of heaven and earth thus obliged to hide Himself from men, who are bent on His destruction! Let us go back, in thought, to the sad day of the first sin, when Adam and Eve hid themselves because a guilty conscience told them they were naked. Jesus is come to assure us of our being pardoned! and lo! He hides Himself, not because He is naked, He that is to the Saints the garb of holiness and immortality, but because He made Himself weak, that He might make us strong. Our First Parents sought to hide themselves from the sight of God; Jesus hides himself from the eye of men; but it will not be thus for ever. The day will come, when sinners, from whose anger He now flees, will pray to the mountains that they fall on them to shield them from His gaze; but their prayer will not be granted, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with much power and majesty (St. Matth. xxiv. 30).
This Sunday is called Passion Sunday, because the Church begins, on this day, to make the Sufferings of our Redeemer her chief thought. It is called also, Judica, from the first word of the Introit of the Mass; and again, Neomania, that is, the Sunday of the new (or, the Easter) moon, because it always falls after the new moon which regulates the Feast of Easter Day.
Lesson of Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. Ch. IX.
Brethren: Christ being come, an High Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, neither by the blood of goats or of the calves, but by His own Blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For, if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the Blood of Christ (Who by the Holy Ghost offered Himself unspotted unto God), cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And, therefore, He is the mediator of the New Testament; that by means of His death, for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
It is by Blood alone that man is to be redeemed. He has offended God. This God cannot be appeased by anything short of the extermination of His rebellious creature, who, by shedding his blood, will give an earnest of his repentance and his entire submission to the Creator, against Whom he dared to rebel. Otherwise, the justice of God must be satisfied by the sinner’s suffering eternal punishment. This truth was understood by all the people of the ancient world, and all confessed it by shedding the blood of victims, as in the sacrifices of Abel, at the very commencement of the world; in the hecatombs of Greece; in the countless immolations whereby Solomon dedicated the Temple. And yet, God thus speaks to His people: Hear, O my people, and I will speak: O Israel, and I will testify to thee: I am God thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, and thy burnt-offerings are always in my sight. I will not take calves out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy flocks. I need them not: for all the beasts of the woods are mine. If I should be hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Shall I eat the flesh of bullocks? or shall I drink the blood of goats (Ps. xlix. 7-13.)? Thus, God commands the blood of victims to be offered to Him, and, at the same time, declares that neither it nor they are precious in His sight. Is this a contradiction? No: God would hereby have man understand, that it is only by Blood that He can be redeemed, but that the blood of brute animals cannot effect this redemption. Can the blood of man himself bring him his own redemption, and appease God’s justice? No, not even man’s blood, for it is defiled; and even were it undefiled, it is powerless to compensate for the outrage done to God by sin. For this, there was needed the Blood of a God; that was the Blood of Jesus, and He has come that He may shed it for our redemption.
In him is fulfilled the most sacred of the figures of the Old Law. Once each year, the High-Priest entered into the Holy of Holies, there to make intercession for the people. He went within the Veil, even to the Ark of the Covenant; but he was not allowed to enjoy this great privilege, unless he entered the holy place carrying in his hands the blood of a newlyoffered victim. The Son of God, the true HighPriest, is now about to enter heaven, and we are to follow Him thither; but unto this, He must have an offering of blood, and that Blood can be none other than His own. We are going to assist at this His compliance with the divine ordinance. Let us open our hearts, that this precious Blood may, as the Apostle says in to-day’s Epistle, cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
The Gospel according to John Ch. VIII
At that time: Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews: Which of you shall convice me of sin? If I say the truth to you, why do you not believe me? He that is of God, heareth the words of God. Therefore, you hear them not, because you are not of God. The Jews, therefore, answered and said to him: Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Jesus answered: I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and you have dishonoured me. But I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. Art thou greater than our Father Abraham, who is dead! And the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of Whom you say that He is your God; and you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I should say that I know Him not, I should be like to you, a liar. But I do know Him, and do keep His word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad. The Jews then said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you, before Abraham was made, I am. They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.
The fury of the Jews is evidently at its height, and Jesus is obliged to hide Himself from them. But He is to fall into their hands before many days are over; then will they triumph and put Him to death. They triumph, and Jesus is their victim; but how different is to be His lot from theirs! In obedience to the decrees of His heavenly Father, and out of love for men, He will deliver himself into the hands of His enemies, and they will put him to death; but he will rise victorious from the tomb, He will ascend into heaven, He will be throned on the right hand of His Father. His enemies, on the contrary, after having vented all their rage, will live on without remorse, until the terrible day come for their chastisement. That day is not far off, for observe the severity wherewith our Lord speaks to them: You hear not the words of God, because you are not of God. Yet there was a time, when they were of God, for the Lord gives his grace to all men; but they have rendered this grace useless; they are now in darkness, and the light they have rejected will not return.
You say, that my Father is your God, and you have not known Him; but I know Him. Their obstinacy in refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias, has led these men to ignore that very God, Whom they boast of honouring; for if they knew the Father, they would not reject His Son. Moses, and the Psalms, and the Prophets, are all a dead letter to them; these sacred Books are soon to pass into the hands of the Gentiles, who will both read and understand them. If, continues Jesus, I should say that I know Him not, I should be like to you, a liar. This strong language is that of the angry Judge Who is to come down, at the last day, to destroy sinners. Jerusalem has not known the time of her visitation: the Son of God has visited her, He is with her, and she dares to say to Him: Thou hast a devil! She says to the Eternal Word, Who proves Himself to be God by the most astounding miracles, that Abraham and the Prophets are greater than He! Strange blindness, that comes from pride and hardness of heart! The Feast of the Pasch is at hand: these men are going to eat, and with much parade of religion, the flesh of the figurative lamb; they know full well, that this lamb is a symbol, or a figure, which is to have its fulfilment. The true Lamb is to be sacrificed by their hands, and they will not know Him. He will shed his Blood for them, and it will not save them. How this reminds us of those sinners, for whom this Easter promises to be as fruitless as those of the past years! Let us redouble our prayers for them, and beseech our Lord to soften their hearts, lest trampling the Blood of Jesus under their feet, they should have it to cry vengeance against them before the throne of the Heavenly Father. (2,3)
by Bishop Ehrler, 1891
God, in creating us to His own image and likeness, has given us an immeasurable, almost infinite, scope for the cultivation and development of our souls. Our will, especially, possesses capabilities that can elevate us to the highest degree of perfection, and debase us into the most profound abyss of vice. By the assistance of God’s grace, it is ours to decide so firmly and unalterably on the side of virtue that we rarely falter in its practice; but we may also wander so far away from God, and lose ourselves in sin, that we appear to be irredeemably lost to Him and to His holy kingdom.
Today’s Gospel refers to this latter state–obduracy in sin. “Which of you shall convince me of sin?” said our Lord Jesus to the Jews, a short time before His crucifixion: “I seek not my own glory, but, of my Father. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that He is your God.” They could not answer Him; and again he said to them: “Abraham, your father, rejoiced that he might see my day; He saw it and was glad. Amen, Amen, I say unto you, before Abraham was made, I am.” But the unbelieving descendants of Abraham took up stones to cast at Him. And “Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” The downfall of the Jewish nation was sealed by their hardness of heart.
Of obdurate sinners, the Inspired Writer declares: “They leave the right way, and walk by dark ways: they are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most wicked things.” (Prov. 2: 13, 14.) In all ages, there have been such men, who never arose after they once fell. All the admonitions and reproaches of their conscience are in vain; all the exhortations of the Church to penance, and amendment of life are fruitless; all God’s threats fall ineffectually upon hearts enclosed, as it were, in a coat of mail. The happiness the Lord sends them, in order to touch them by His benefits, makes them frivolous and misfortunes, instead of converting, embitter them. Without prayer, or contrition for their crimes, without the fear of God or the use of the holy Sacraments, they go through life like beasts, given up entirely to the lusts of the flesh.
That you may not be as these abandoned sinners, that you may not imitate the hard-hearted Jews, but listen with fruit to the admonitions of holy Church calling you at this solemn time to fasting and repentance, I will explain to you today,
I. The causes of obduracy in sin; and II. The lessons we should draw from it for our own instruction.
I. To sin is easy. Numberless are the dangers and attractions to evil, which surround us on all sides. We carry the inflammable material of the passions constantly within our bosoms, and it needs, at times, but a tiny spark of temptation, to cause them to blaze up into a raging and destructive fire. At first, however, sin, especially sensual sin, creates a loathing and abhorrence in a hitherto innocent soul. At the opening of a vicious life, there arises in the sinner a longing to be freed from the gross and leprous weight of increasing sin. He is ready to cry out with the royal penitent of old: “My iniquities are gone over my head: and as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me. I am become miserable, and am bowed down even to the end.” (Ps. 37 : 4, 6.) But if he goes on groveling in habitual sin, if he continues turning a deaf ear to the holy inspirations of divine grace, he grows accustomed, by degrees, to his terrible state; and, sinking lower and lower in crime, he ends by becoming utterly obdurate and callous in evil; insensible, deaf, and dead to the motions of the better part of his soul. That which one sin is unable to accomplish, is effected by a longer chain of evil, and a continued habit of wrong-doing.
1. Look into your own hearts, my brethren, and realize there the sad truth of my words! When we were little innocent children, how disturbed we were over the most trifling sin! A rash jest, an unbecoming word, the mere sight of evil terrified us then! Would, alas! that our delicacy of conscience, our prudent tenderness and anxiety of soul had increased with our years! Oft repeated sins have made us familiar with evil, and consequently indifferent to it! “The wicked man when he is come into the depths of sin, contemneth; but ignominy and reproach follow him.” (Prov. 18 : 3.) “Thy heart shall utter perverse things; and thou shalt be as one sleeping in the midst of the sea, and as a pilot fast asleep when the stern is lost.” (Prov. 23: 34.) It is on this account that St. Chrysostom says: “The evil of sin is two-fold:–first, the injury it inflicts on the soul; and secondly, the tendency it engenders to always become worse.” Habitual sin, like the octopus, grasps its victim firmly with its myriad arms, and rarely releases him until he has breathed his last.
Understand me, my dear Christians, God is not wanting to the sinner. Divine grace surrounds, and presses even the most hardened to repentance. At one time, it speaks to the unjust man in soft, mild words; again, it warns and threatens him by sufferings and severe afflictions.
2. But the struggle against evil demands labor and energy. Even the most faithful servants of God need to combat continually the insidious and powerful enemy of their souls. For the habitual sinner, therefore, the warfare is doubly desperate. Darling inclinations must be renounced; evil habits stripped off, which cling as close as the fabled shirt of fire. That which has been passionately loved and desired, must be thoroughly detested and abandoned; sinful companions must be given up, after the intimate intercourse of many years; restitution must be made of ill-gotten goods; lies and calumnies against one’s neighbor must be contradicted; and long-standing feuds and enmities brought to a happy end. All this involves self-sacrifice, self-denial, humiliation, and a thousand bitter battles with proud, corrupt nature. One’s whole way of life must be completely changed. And this is why our Lord tells us that the Angels of heaven rejoice more over the conversion of one sinner than of ninety-nine just who need not penance.
The struggle for conversion is such a long and tremendous one. The pleasures of sin are ever ready to allure the man whom divine grace moves to escape the toils. Satan whispers with pleading tenderness in his ear: “How can you ever renounce that charming companion? How can you restore that money, those precious goods, that valuable property, to their rightful owner? You will leave yourself and your family poor and dishonored. And as to reconciling yourself to that hateful enemy, or taking back the lies you have uttered against so-and-so,–such humiliations are not to be thought of!” If the sinner consent to these suggestions of the evil one, all hope of a change for the better usually dies out. He goes on heaping sin upon sin, scoffing at every admonition of God and of His grace. He sinks rapidly from one abyss of vice into another, until he falls at last into the bottomless pit of obduracy, impenitence, and eternal perdition. In vain, at the hour of death, the priest has been summoned–in vain, the consolations of our holy religion have been offered to the dying sinner. By stratagem or gentle force, the good friends and relatives have sought to secure the holy Sacraments for the departing soul–but, to the bitter end, the obdurate man rejects the grace of God. As Holy Writ declares: “The sinner hath been caught in the works of his own hands; the wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God.” (Ps. 9: 18.) “The pride of them that hate thee ascends continually.” (Ps. 73: 23.) “Thou hast bruised them, and they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock, and they have refused to return.” (Jer. 5: 3.)
3. It is the doctrine of our holy Church that, without the grace of God, we can do nothing good. “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Cor. 3:5.) “God worketh in you both to will and to accomplish according to His good-will.” (Phil. 2 : 13.) You know also that the ordinary grace of God, humanly speaking, does not suffice for the overcoming of very great temptations or powerful obstacles. At such moments, we need a stronger and more efficacious grace. What the sun is to the life of the earth, that the grace of God is to the soul. The blessed beams of heaven are the strength of our lives; penetrating our hearts; they rouse therein every good impulse, and nourish and ripen them to maturity. Grace is a free gift of God. It is given according to His good pleasure, as St. Paul says; and that stronger and more powerful grace which God owes in no way to man, is simply the effect of his pre-eminent love and special predilection.
4. But will Almighty God continue to offer this extraordinary grace to the man who despises even ordinary inspirations? No: He will either, as a punishment, withdraw His grace completely from him; or give him merely that insufficient grace by which he can not overcome greater temptations and dangers. Finally, that condition of soul will set in, of which the holy Scripture says: “God Himself will harden the heart of a man.” He takes from his reason the light of knowledge, so that he can no longer see nor understand anything conducive to salvation, and He deprives his will of the power of discerning correctly the good, and striving to do it. In His wrath, he tears asunder the bonds which unite Him to that man, and lets him live on undisturbed in the depths of his sins. “They have mouths and speak not; they have eyes and see not; they have ears and hear not.” (Ps. 113: 5, 6.) “God,” says St. Augustine, ” does not harden the sinner as to malice, but He justly refuses to grant him mercy.”
Look at King Pharaoh, in whom this unhappy condition was realized. In his pride, he opposed God’s will and would not allow the people of Israel to go forth. Desiring to soften his hard heart, God permitted wonderful and hitherto unheard-of miracles to happen in his presence. But Pharaoh would not yield to grace. “Who is the Lord,” he asked of Moses, “that I should hear his voice and let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” Thereupon, the Lord said to Moses, “I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servant.” (10 : 1.) Pharaoh remained deaf to all the divine admonitions, and sank with his hosts into the Red sea. The magician Elymas withstood the grace of God which was offered him in the sermons and discourses of St. Paul, and he endeavored to hinder the governor of Paphos from believing. Then St. Paul said to him, “O, thou, full of all guile and of all deceit, son of the devil, enemy of all justice, thou dost not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord. And now, behold the hand of the Lord upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness, and going about, he sought some one to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13 : 10, 11.) Corporeal blindness was the visible sign of that wretched man’s interior or spiritual darkness. “He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts: that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted and I should heal them.” (John 12 : 40.)
II. What lessons should we draw from these considerations upon the obdurate sinner? We shall find them fraught with certain holy admonitions for our own personal instruction.
1. The first is, to fly from the first approach of sin; and if you have already sinned, to hasten with all possible speed to reconcile yourself with the Lord your God, so that no sinful habit may take root within you!
Never dally with evil; it is dangerous sport to play with fire or with deadly weapons. You may be maimed or disfigured for life, even if you are not instantly killed. Would you make a pet of a rattlesnake, or carry a tarantula around in your bosom? Act toward the soul as you do toward the body. Do not wait until the fire has scorched you or the revolver has been discharged. Do not suffer the snake to crawl around your feet. “Flee from sin as from the face of a serpent.” (Ecclus. 21 : 2.) Remedies taken in the beginning are always the best and most salutary. One sin begets another. The brood of Satan is a prolific one. As in a chain, link is joined to link, so the fetters of hell, sin by sin, bind the unhappy sinner a captive for all eternity! St. Augustine says: “As, when a stone is thrown upon the mirror-like surface of the sea, at first only one circle appears, then two; the second forms a third and so on, up to the very brim of the water, in like manner, will each sin become the occasion of a greater one to the hardened sinner; he falls from one sin into another, until, at length, it is almost impossible for him to cease sinning.”
2. He who does not tremble at the first step on the road to vice, and does not at once make efforts to return to his outraged Lord and God, by means of the Sacrament of Penance, will soon sink more and more hopelessly into the abyss of vice and crime. Behold the avalanche of the Alps rolling menacingly and destructively down into the smiling valleys! The most trifling movement, the dropping of a little stone, yes, often merely the gentle flight of a bird are sufficient to cause the downfall of that massive weight of ice. In the beginning, it was only a handful of snow; but little by little, the ice and snow began to accumulate and grow in volume, until at last, the avalanche, rushing from its dizzy height, breaks down trees like straws, and sweeping along, like a torrent, overturns into the abyss houses and entire villages. A single flake of snow is the cause of all this ruin and widespread destruction! In like manner a single wrong step often suffices to ruin the soul of a man eternally. The theft of a few pennies has aroused the cupidity of the highway robber. A thought of revenge not subdued and overcome in the outset, has produced murder. An impure desire not promptly banished has plunged its victim into the slough of licentiousness. Is not Judas, the traitor, a sorrowful example of this terrible truth ?” He loved money,” says the Evangelist. From the love of money originated avarice and covetousness; from these, robbery, then betrayal of his Lord and Master, which ended in suicide and his eternal reprobation!
Do we imagine it impossible for us to fall so low? Do we think that we never could sink as others have done, into such an abyss of ruin? Alas! like our neighbors, whose fall we lament or censure, perhaps–we bear within us, weak, unsteady, and naturally corrupt hearts. The same dreadful abyss is at our feet, its gloomy depths only veiled from us by the screen of the divine permission. The same spiritual dangers beset us that have ship-wrecked others. The same fire of lust rages within our veins. We are not holier than King David, wiser than Solomon, nor stronger than St. Peter. We are not as fervent as thousands of uncanonized saints and servants of God who have fallen into sin and vice through their imprudence and self-confidence. Nothing but vigilance and flight, prompt conversion and amendment of life after the first fall, will save us and keep us from the abyss of ruin, as St. Paul says:–” Let him that thinketh himself to stand, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10: 12.) “Watch ye and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26: 41.)
3. It certainly requires a hard struggle for one who has been a slave to sin for a long time to free himself from the wicked bondage of bad habits, and become reconciled with his Lord and God. Great labor and much moral courage are demanded, after a long period of impenitence, to descend into the depths of one’s conscience, and scrutinize and unravel the sins of years or of a life-time. It is a great tax on a proud man not only to confess his hidden secret sins and vices in the holy tribunal, but, furthermore, to extinguish by years of penance and satisfaction the evil consequences of those sins. It is a battle so difficult and fierce that none but an heroic soul, a heart filled with the love of God and supported by His grace, can come forth victorious from the struggle. But the combat is necessary, nay, most indispensable. Does not everything that is good in this life cost us labor and pain? Has not our Lord said: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away?” (Matt. 11: 12.) And if the battle is fierce and long-continued, we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. Whoever has feasted upon the pleasures of sin, who has drunk in iniquity like water, must do penance for it, by the pains of the conflict, and he who has committed an injustice during his life must make good his error, with all his might; or he will never obtain pardon here, or eternal bliss hereafter. Even if the sinner continue in his evil courses, his sins will cause him woe and suffering to which the warfare in the cause of virtue can not be compared. The latter is child’s play contrasted with that which vice necessarily begets in man’s heart. Outwardly, the sinner may appear prosperous, happy, and peaceful; but if you could penetrate to the interior of that guilty soul, and there behold the stings of conscience which scourge it like cruel lashes;–if you could hear the interior groans of despair which issue therefrom in moments of peril or suffering, or in the quiet watches of a sleepless night, you could cheerfully embrace all the pains and labors of the penitential warfare, sooner than live in sin and endure the agonizing torments of Satan’s bondage. Penance has its sweetness and its consolation, no matter how bitter the work of self-denial may appear at first to the newly-converted soul. The grace of God softens all austerities, and graciously conducts us to the grandest and most glorious victory. But the struggles of the vicious man will become hourly more horrible and will be but the commencement of eternal misery.
4. To these admonitions, I will add another; do not oppose a single inspiration of grace, for thereby you withstand your Lord and God, and incite him to pour forth upon you the vials of his wrath. Dallying with sin and evil is dangerous sport; but to trifle with God and His grace, His love, and His justice, would be a sacrilege, that must invariably end in ruin. Grace is offered to us according to a certain measure, and that measure none save our Lord Himself can determine. “Lo! I stand at the door and knock,” He says of Himself; repulsed and despised, He repeats again and again His calls to salvation. He goes out like the householder of the Gospel, up to the eleventh hour, inviting laborers into His vineyard. But a day will come when he will cease to call, cease to knock at the door of our hearts. These words of mine, to-day, dear brethren, may be your last chance of grace. Will you thrust from you this golden opportunity of salvation? Shall we reply to him who calls us, perhaps, for the last time: “Come again, and then, possibly, I may listen to you?” God’s love to us is great, infinitely great, but His wrath is infinite as well, and He who despises and contemns His love, will certainly feel His anger!
Free-will may be to man either a wonderful blessing or a terrible curse. Bound by the fetters of an unchangeable and urgent necessity all lesser creatures obey the will of God; man alone can say to this all-powerful Sovereign of heaven and earth: “Non serviam–I will not serve Thee!” He alone can oppose His commands. To him, it is given of his own free choice either, like a brilliant heavenly star to revolve forever around its true center, the eternal Sun of Justice, or to leave the appointed orbit, and like a fiery comet rush afar off from its Creator into eternal destruction. God has given us this capability of exercising free-will for His greater glory and our own great reward, making us thereby as kings resembling Himself. And do we dare as His chosen children, as the sons of a heavenly Lord and Master, to do what the meanest slave in our household would not undertake to do? The love of God, His gratuitous, undeserved love, would be, in that case, our utter reprobation and ruin, inevitably precipitating us a thousand fathoms deep into the abyss of hell! But if we follow joyfully the calls of grace with our free-will, then we shall mount the celestial ladder to the infinite heights of eternal glory.
In these holy days, when in the world of nature, Spring struggles with winter; and, in the world of grace, thousands of the faithful battle with the powers of sin and evil in their own hearts, let us, if we have hitherto been insensible and dead to God and His kingdom, begin this warfare for the salvation of our souls. Let us drive out all sin from our hearts by a worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance, that Jesus may not hide Himself or flee away from us. May the sunlight of His mercy shine forth warmly and benignly in the depths of our souls, and there awaken by true penance and amendment of life, the germs, blossoms, and fruits of all the Christian virtues! Amen. (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff