ON BLASPHEMY – St. Alphonsus

“When, therefore, you shall see the abomination of desolation.” MATT. xxiv. 15.

ALL sins are hateful in the sight of God; but the sin of blasphemy ought more properly to be called an abomination to the Lord. Every mortal sin, as the Apostle says, dishonours God. ”By transgression of the law, thou dishonourest God.” (Rom. ii. 23.) Other sins dishonour God indirectly by the violation of his law; but blasphemy dishonours him directly by the profanation of his most holy name. Hence St. Chrysostom teaches, that no sin exasperates the Lord so much as the sin of blasphemy against his adorable name. ”Nihil ita exacerbat Deum, sicut quando nomen ejus blasphematur.” Dearly beloved Christians, allow me, then, this day, to show you, first, the great enormity of the sin of blasphemy; and secondly, the great rigour with which God punishes it.

First Point – On the great enormity of the sin of blasphemy.

1. What is blasphemy? It is the uttering of language injurious to God; it is, according to the definition of theologians, “contumeliosa in Deum locutio ;” or, contumely against God. God! whom does man assail when he blasphemes? He directly attacks the Lord. “He hath strengthened himself against the Almighty.” (Job. xv. 25.) Are you not afraid, blasphemer, says St. Ephrem, that fire will come down from heaven and devour you? or that the earth shall open and swallow you up?”Non metuis ne forte ignis de cœlo descendat et devoret te, qui sic os adversus omnipotentem aperis? Neque vereris, ne terra te absorbeat?” (Paren. 3.)

The devil, says St. Gregory Nazianzen, trembles at the name of Jesus: and we are not afraid to profane it. ”Domones ad Christi nomen exhorrescunt, nos vero nomen adeo venerandum contumelia afficere nou veremur.” (Orat. xx.) The vindictive assail a man who is their own equal; but, by their blasphemies blasphemers appear to seek revenge against God, who does or permits what is displeasing to them. There is a great difference between an act of contempt towards the portrait of a king, and an insult offered to his person. Man is the image of God; but the blasphemer offends God himself. ”He who blasphemes” says St. Athanasius, ”acts against the very Deity itself.”

The man who violates the law is guilty of a crime; but he who attacks the person of his sovereign commits an act of treason; therefore he receives no mercy, but is chastised with the utmost severity. What, then, shall we say of the man who blasphemes and insults the majesty of God?”If,” says the high-priest Heli, “one man shall sin against another, God may be appeased in his behalf; but if a man shall sin against the Lord, who shall pray for him?”(1 Kings ii. 25.) The sin of blasphemy, then, is so enormous, that the saints themselves appear not to have courage to pray for a blasphemer.

2. Some sacrilegious tongues blaspheme the God who preserves their existence!”Tu Deo benefacienti tibi,” says St. Chrysostom, ”et tui curam agenti maledicis.” O God! you stand with one foot at the gate of hell; and if God, in his mercy, did not preserve your life you should be damned for ever: and, instead of thanking him for his goodness, you, at the very time that he bestows his favours upon you, blaspheme his holy name.

”If,” says the Lord, ”my enemy hath reviled me, I would verily have borne with it. (Ps. liv. 13.) Had you treated me with contumely and insult at the time that I chastised you, I would be more willing to bear with your impiety; but you revile me at the time that I confer my favours upon you. diabolical tongue! exclaims St. Bernardine of Sienna, what could have induced you to blaspheme your God, who has created you, and redeemed you with his blood? “0 lingua diabolica, quid, potest te inducere ad blasphemandum Deus tuum qui te plasmavit, qui te pretioso sanguine redemit?” (Serm. xxxiii.) Some expressly blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ of that God who died on a cross for the love of them. God! if we were not subject to death, we should be glad to die for Jesus Christ, in order to make some little return of gratitude to a God who gave his life for us.

I say, a little return of gratitude; for there is no comparison between the death of a miserable creature, and the death of a God. But instead of loving and blessing this God, you, as St. Augustine says, revile and curse him. ”Christ was scourged by the lash of the Jews; but he is not less scourged by the blasphemies of false Christians.” (S. Aug. in Joan.) Some have blasphemed and insulted the Virgin Mary, that good mother, who loves us so tenderly, and prays continually for us. Some of these blasphemers have received a horrible chastisement from God.

Surius relates, in the 7th August, that a certain impious Christian blasphemed the blessed Virgin, and pierced her image with a dagger. As soon as he went out of the church to which the image belonged, he was struck by a thunderbolt, and reduced to ashes. The infamous Nestorious blasphemed, and induced others to blaspheme, most holy Mary, by asserting that she was not the mother of God. But, before death, his impious tongue was eaten away by worms, and he died in despair.

3. “Who is this who speaketh blasphemies?” (Luke v. 21.) He is a Christian who has received the holy sacrament of baptism, in which his tongue has been in a certain manner consecrated to God. A learned author says, that on the tongue of all who are baptized is placed blessed salt, ”that the tongues of Christians may be made, as it were, sacred, and may be accustomed to bless God.” (Clericat. torn. 1. Dec. Tract. 52.) And the blasphemer afterwards makes his tongue, as St. Bernardine says, a sword to pierce the heart of God. “Lingua blasphemantis efficitur quasi gladius cor Dei penetrans.” (Tom. 4. serm. xxxiii.)

Hence the saint adds that no sin contains in itself so much malice as the sin of blasphemy. ”Nullum est peccatum quod habet in se tantem iniquitatem sicut blasphemia.” St. Chrysostom says, that”there is no sin worse than blasphemy; for in it is the accumulation of all evils, and every punishment.” St. Jerome teaches the same doctrine. ”Nothing,” says the holy doctor, ”is more horrible than blasphemy; for every sin, compared with blasphemy, is small.” (In Isa. cxviii.)

And here it is necessary to observe, that blasphemies against the saints, against holy things or holidays such as the sacraments, the Mass, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, Holy Saturday are of the same species as blasphemies against God; for St. Thomas teaches, that, as the honour paid to the saints, to holy things, and holidays, is referred to God, so an insult offered to the saints is injurious to God, who is the foundation of sanctity. ”Sicut Deus, in sanctis suis laudatur,” as we read in the 150th Psalm, “laudate Dominum in sanctis ejus, ita et blasphemia in sanctos in Deum redundat.” (S. Thorn, qu. 13, a 1 3, a 1, ad 2.) The saint adds, that blasphemy is one of the greatest of the sins against religion. (Ibid. a. 3.)

4. Thus, from the works of St. Jerome we may infer, that blasphemy is more grievous than theft, than adultery, or murder. All other sins, says St. Bernardine proceeds from frailty or ignorance; but the sin of blasphemy proceeds from malice. ”Omnia alia peccata vindentur procedere partim ex fragilitate, partim ex ignorantia, sed peccatum blasphemia procedit ex propria malitia.” (Cic. serm. xxx.) For it proceeds from a bad will, and from a certain hatred conceived against God. Hence the blasphemer renders himself like the damned, who, as St. Thomas says, do not now blaspheme with the mouth for they have no body, but with the heart, cursing the divine justice which punishes them. ”The detestation of the divine justice is in them an interior blasphemy of the heart.” (S. Thom. 2, 2, qu. 13, a. 4.)

The saint adds, that we may believe that as the saints in heaven, after the resurrection shall praise God with the tongue, so the reprobates in hell shall also blaspheme him with the tongue. ”Et credibile est quod post resurrectionem erit in eis etiam vocalis blasphemiæ sicut in sanctis vocalis laus Dei.” Justly, then, has a learned author called blasphemy the language of hell; because, as God speaks by the mouth of the saints so the devil speaks by the mouth of blasphemers. ”Blasphemia est peccatum diabolicum, loquela infernalis: sicut enim Spiritus Sanctus loquitur per bonos ita et diabolus per blasphemos.” (Mansi. Discors, 7, num. 2.) When St. Peter denied Christ in the Palace of Pilate, and swore that he did not know him, the Jews said, that his language showed that he was a disciple of Jesus, because he spoke the language of his Master. ”Surely,” they said, “thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.” (Matt. xxvi. 73.)

Thus we may say to every blasphemer: You are from hell; you are a true disciple of Lucifer; for you speak the language of the damned. St. Antonine writes, that the entire occupation of the damned in hell consists in blaspheming and cursing God. ”Non aliud apus inferno exercent nisi blasphemare Deum et maledicere.” (Part 2, tit. 7, cap. iii.) In proof of this doctrine the saint adduces the following text of the Apocalypse: ”And they gnawed their tongues for pain: and they blasphemed the God of heaven.” (Apoc. xvi. 10, 11.) The holy doctor afterwards adds, that he who indulges in the vice of blasphemy, already belongs to the number of the damned, because he practises their art. ”Qui ergo hoc vitio detinetur ostendit se pertinere ad statum damnatorum, ex quo exercet artem eorum.” (Ibid.)

5. To the malice of blasphemy is added the malice of scandal, which generally accompanies blasphemy; for this sin is ordinarily committed externally and in presence of others. St. Paul reproved the Jews, because by their sins they caused the Gentiles to blaspheme our God, and to laugh at his law. “For the name of God, through you, is blasphemed by the Gentiles.” (Rom. ii. 24.) But how much more criminal are Christians, who, by their blasphemies, induce other Christians to imitate their example! How does it happen, that in certain provinces blasphemies are never, or at least very seldom, heard, and that in other places this horrible vice is so prevalent, that the Lord may say of them: ”My name is continually blasphemed all the day long.” (Isa. Iii, 5.)

In the squares, houses, cities, villas, nothing is heard but blasphemies. How does this happen? Some of the inhabitants learn to blaspheme from others: children from their parents, servants from their masters, the young from the old. In some families particularly the vice of blasphemy seems to be transmitted as an inheritance. The father is a blasphemer; hence, the sons and nephews blaspheme: to this inheritance their descendants succeed. O accursed father! Instead of instructing your children to bless the name of God, you teach them to blaspheme him and his saint. ”But I reprove them when they blaspheme in my presence.” Of what use are these reproofs, when with your own mouth you give them bad example. For God’s sake, for God’s sake, O fathers of families, never blaspheme; but be particularly on your guard never to blaspheme in presence of your children.

This is a crime which God can no longer bear in you. And whenever you hear any of your children utter a blasphemy, reprove them severely, and, in obedience to the advice of St. Chrysostom, strike him on the mouth, and you shall thus sanctify your hand. ”Contere os ipsius, manum tuam percussione sanctificat.” (Hom. i. ad pop.) Certain fathers unmercifully beat a child for the neglect of some temporal business; but if he blaspheme the saints, they either laugh at his blasphemies, or listen to them in silence. St. Gregory relates (Dial. 4., cap. xvii.), that a child of five years, the son of a Roman noble man, was in the habit of profaning the name of God. The father neglected to correct him; but he one day saw his son pursued by certain black men. The child ran to embrace his father; but they, who were so many devils, killed him in the father‟s arms, and carried him with them to hell.

Second Point – On the great rigour with which God punishes the sin of blasphemy.

6. “Woe to the sinful nation… they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa. i. 4.) Woe to blasphemers, eternal woe to them: for, according to Tobias, they shall be condemned. ”They shall be condemned that blaspheme thee.” (Job xiii. 16.) The Lord has said by the mouth of Job, “Thou imitatest the tongue of blasphemers; thy own mouth shall condemn, and not I.” (Job xv. 5, 6.)

In pronouncing the sentence of their condemnation, God will say: It is not I that condemn you to hell; it is your own mouth, with which you have dared to revile me and .my saints, that condemns you. Poor miserable blasphemers! They shall continue to blaspheme in hell for their greater torment: their very blasphemies in hell shall always remind them that they are damned for ever in punishment of their blasphemies on earth.

7. But blasphemers are punished not only in hell, but even on this earth. In the Old Law they were stoned by the people. “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die; all the multitude shall stone him.” (Lev. xxiv. 76.) In the New Law they were condemned to death by the Emperor Justinian. St. Louis, King of France, ordered them to be punished by perforating their tongue, and by branding their forehead with a red hot iron; and when they afterwards relapsed into blasphemy, he ordained that they should die on the scaffold. (Homo Bon. de cas. res. p. 2, c. i.)

Another author says, that the law renders blasphemers (as being infamous) incapable of giving testimony. (Navarr. cons. 11, de offic. ord.) By the constitution of Gregory the Fourteenth, they were deprived of Christian burial. In the Authentica ut non luxur hom., it is said that blasphemies bring on famine, earthquakes, and pestilence. ”Propter blasphemias, et fames, et terræmotus et pestilentia fiunt.” You, O blasphemer, complain that though you labour and submit to fatigue, you are always in poverty. You say: ”I know not why I am always in misery: some malediction must have fallen on my family.” No; the blasphemies which you utter are the cause of your wretchedness, and make you always an object of God’s malediction.

8. O! how many melancholy examples could I mention of blasphemers who have died a bad death. Father Segneri relates, (Tom. 1, Rag. 8,) that, in Gascony, two men who had blasphemed the blood of Jesus Christ, were soon after killed in a quarrel, and torn to pieces by dogs. In Mexico, a blasphemer being once reproved, answered: ”I will hereafter blaspheme more than I have hitherto done.” During the night he found his tongue sowed under the palate, and died in that miserable state without giving the least sign of repentance. Dresselius relates, that a certain person was struck blind in the very act of blaspheming.

Another, in uttering a blasphemy against St. Anthony, was seized by a flame which issued from the image of the saint, and was burnt alive. In his book against blasphemy, Sarnelli relates, that in Constantinople, a man called Simon Tornaco, who had blasphemed God, began like a mad dog to lacerate his own flesh, and died in his madness. Canta- pratensis states (cap. xlviii.), that a person who had been guilty of blasphemy, had his eyes distorted, and that falling on the ground he bellowed like an ox, and con tinued to roar aloud until he expired. In the Gallician Mercury (lib. x.) we read that a man named Michael, who had been condemned to be hanged, when he felt the pain of the halter, burst out into blasphemies, and died instantly. After death his head fell from the body, and the tongue remined hanging out from the neck, as black as coal. I abstain from fatiguing you with other terrible examples: you can find a great many of them in the work of Father Sarnelli against blasphemy.

9. But to conclude. Tell me, blasphemers, if there be any of you present, what benefit do you derive from your accursed blasphemies? You do not receive pleasure from them. Bellarmine says, that blasphemy is a sin which produces no pleasure. You derive no profit from them; for, as I have already said, your blasphemies are the cause of your poverty and wretchedness. You derive no honour from them; your fellow- blasphemers have a horror of your blasphemies, and call you a mouth of hell.

Tell me, then, why you blaspheme. “Father, the habit which I have contracted is the cause of my blasphemies.” But can this habit excuse you before God? If a son beat his father, and say to him: ”My father, have compassion on me: for I have contracted a habit of beating you :” would the father take pity on him? You say that you blaspheme through the anger caused by your children, your wife, or your master. Your wife or your master put you into a passion, and you take revenge on the saints. What injury have the saints done to you? They intercede before God in your behalf, and you blaspheme them. But”the devil tempts me at that time.” If the devil tempts you, follow the example of a certain young man, who, when tempted to blaspheme, went for advice to the Abbot Pemene.

The abbot told him, that as often as the devil tempted him to commit this sin, his answer should be: Why should I blaspheme that God who has created me, and bestowed so many benefits upon me? I will forever praise and bless him. The young man followed the advice, and Satan ceased to tempt him. When you are excited to anger, can you speak nothing but blasphemies? Say on such occasions: “Accursed sin, I hate thee: Lord, assist me: Mary, obtain for me the gift of patience.” And if you have hitherto contracted the abominable habit of blaspheming, renew every morning, as soon as you rise, the resolution of doing violence to yourself to abstain from all blasphemies during the day: and then say three Aves to most holy Mary, that she may obtain for you the grace to resist every temptation by which you shall be assailed.

ON IMPENITENCE – St. Alphonsus

” Lord, my daughter is even now dead.” MATT. ix. 18.

How great is God’s goodness! how difficult it is to obtain pardon from a man whom we have offended! when sinners cast themselves at the feet of the Lord with humility and with sorrow for having offended him, he instantly pardons and embraces them. ”Turn to me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will turn to you. ” (Zach. i. 3.) Sinners, says the Lord, I have turned my back on you, because you first turned your back on me: return to me, and I will return to you and will embrace you. When rebuked by the Prophet Nathan, David repented, and said: ”I have sinned against the Lord; I have offended my God.” David was instantly pardoned: for at the very moment that he confessed his guilt, Nathan said to him: ”The Lord also hath taken away thy sin.” (2 Kings xii. 13.)

But let us come to the gospel of the day, in which we find that a certain ruler, whose daughter was dead, went immediately to Jesus Christ, and asked him to restore her to life: ”Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.” In explaining this passage, St. Bonaventure turns to the sinner, and says: ”Your daughter is your soul; she even now is deadly sin; hasten your conversion. ” Brother, your soul is your daughter, that has just died by committing sin. Eeturn immediately to God. Hasten; if you delay, and defer your conversion from day to day, the wrath of God shall suddenly come upon you, and you shall be cast into hell. ”Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day.” (Eccl. v. 8, 9.)

Behold the sermon for this day, in which I will show, first, the danger to which he who is in the state of sin, and defers his conversion, is exposed; and secondly, the remedy to be adopted by him who is in sin, and wishes to save his soul.

First Point – The danger to which a person in sin, who defers his conversion, is exposed.

1. St. Augustine considers three states of Christians. The first is the state of those who have always preserved their baptismal innocence; the second is the state of those who have fallen into sin, and have afterwards returned to God, and persevered in grace; the third is of those who have fallen and have always relapsed into sin, and are found in that unhappy state at death.

Speaking of the first and second class, he pronounces them secure of salvation; but, speaking of the third he says: “Non dico, non præsumo, non promitto.” (Hom, xli. int. 50.)”I do not say; I do not presume; I do not promise.” He neither says, nor presumes, nor promises, that such sinners are saved. From these words it appears that, in his opinion, it is very improbable that they obtain eternal life.

St. Thomas teaches (2, 2, qu. 109, a. 8) that he who is in the state of mortal sin cannot long abstain from the commission of some new sin. And St. Gregory says: ”A sin which is not blotted out by repentance by its weight soon draws to another sin; hence it is not only a sin, but the cause of sin.” (1. 3, Mor. c. ix.)

One sin is the cause of another, because, in the sinner reason is disordered, and inclines him to evil; and therefore he cannot long resist temptation. ”Quando,” says St. Anselm, ”quis manet in peccato, ratio jam est deordinata et ideo veniente tentatione faciet id quod est facilius agere.” H

ence, according to the holy doctor, though they understand the great advantage of sanctifying grace, sinners, because they are deprived of grace, always relapse, in spite of all their efforts to avoid sin. ”Per peccatum non potest prosequi bonum quod cogniscit, conatur et labitur.” But how can the branch that is cut off from the vine produce fruit? “As,” says Jesus Christ, “the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John xv. 4.)

2. But some young persons may say: ”I will hereafter give myself to God.” Behold the false hope of sinners, which leads them to remain in sin till death, and from death conducts them to hell! Who are you that say, you will hereafter give yourself to God? But who, I ask, promises you that you shall have time to give yourself to God, and that you shall not meet with a sudden death, which will take you out of this world before you give yourself to him? “He,” says St. Gregory, ”who has promised pardon to penitents has not promised tomorrow to sinners.” (Hom. xii. in Ev.)

The Lord has promised pardon to all who repent of their sins; but to those who wish to continue in sin he has not promised time for repentance. Do you say, hereafter? But Jesus Christ tells you that time is in the hand of God, and not under your control. ”It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father has put in his own power.” (Acts i. 7.) We read in the Gospel of St. Luke, that Jesus Christ, seeing a fig-tree which was fruitless for three years, ordered it to be cut down. “He said to the dresser of the vineyard: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and I find none. Cut it down therefore. Why cumbereth it the ground ?” (Luke xiii. 7.)

Tell me, you who say that you will hereafter give yourself to God, for what purpose does he preserve your life? Is it that you may continue to insult him by sin? No; he gives you life that you may renounce sin, and change your conduct. ”Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance ?” (Rom. ii. 4.) But you are resolved not to amend; and if you wish to give yourself to God only hereafter, he will say of your soul to the dresser of his vineyard: “Cut it down. Why cumbereth it the ground ?” Why should such a sinner be allowed to remain on earth? Is it to continue to offend me? Cat down this fruitless tree, and cast it into the fire. ”Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. iii. 10.)

3. But, should God hereafter give you time for repentance, will you, if you do not now repent, return to him hereafter? Sins, like so many chains, keep the sinner in bondage. ”He is first bound with the ropes of his own sins.” (Prov. v. 22.) My brother, if you cannot now break the cords by which you are at present bound, will you be able to break them hereafter, when they shall be doubled by the commission of new sins?

To give him an idea of the degree of folly which impenitent sinners reach, our Lord showed one day to the Abbot Arsenius, an Ethiopian, who, not being able to raise a load of faggots, added to their weight, and thus became less liable to raise it. Sinners, said the Saviour to the holy abbot, act in a similar manner. They wish to get rid of their past sins, and, at the same time, commit new ones. These new sins shall lead them into others more numerous and more enormous.

Cain sinned against his brother, first, by envy; then, by hatred; and afterwards, by murder; finally, he despaired of the divine mercy, saying: ”My iniquity is greater than that I may obtain pardon.” (Gen. iv. 13.) Judas also was first guilty of the sin of avarice; he then betrayed Jesus Christ, and afterwards hanged himself. Sins chain the sinner, and make him their slave, so that he knowingly brings himself to destruction. ”His own iniquities catch the wicked. ” (Prov. v. 22.)

4. Moreover, his sins weigh down the sinner to such a degree, that he no longer regards heaven nor his own salvation. “My iniquities,” said David with tears, ”are growing over my head, and, as a heavy burden, are become heavy upon me.” (Ps. xxxvii. 5.) Hence the miserable man loses reason, thinks only of earthly goods, and thus forgets the divine judgments. ”And they perverted their own minds, and turned away their eyes, that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments.” (Dan. xiii. 9.)

He even hates the light, because he fears that it will interrupt his criminal pleasures. ”Every one that doth evil hateth the light. ”(John iii. 20.) Hence, he becomes miserably blind, and goes round about continually from sin to sin. ”The wicked walk round about.” (Ps. xi. 9.) He then despises admonitions, divine calls, hell, heaven, and God. “The wicked, when he is come into the depth of sins, comtemneth.” (Prov. xviii. 3.)

5. ”He hath,” says Job, ”torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant.” (Job xvi. 15.) By conquering one temptation, a man acquires not only additional strength to repel future assaults, but also diminishes the power of the devil. And, on the other hand, when we yield to any temptation, the devil becomes like a giant, and we become so weak, that we have scarcely strength to resist him any longer. If you receive a wound from an enemy you lose strength. If to this new wounds be added you shall be exhausted, and rendered unable to defend yourself. T

his is what happens to the fools who say: “I will here after give myself to God.” How can they resist the attacks of the devil, after they have lost their strength, and after their wounds have mortified?”My sores are putrefied and corrupted, because of my foolishness.” (Ps. xxxvii. 6.) At its commencement a wound is easily healed; but when it becomes gangrenous, the cure is most difficult. Recourse must be had to the cautery; but even this remedy is in many cases ineffectual.

6. But further, St. Paul teaches, that God”will have all men to be saved”(1 Tim. ii. 4); and that Jesus Christ came on earth for the salvation of sinners: ”Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. i. 15.) God certainly wills the salvation of all who desire it: he wills the salvation of those who wish to save their souls; but not of those who labour for their own damnation. Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. To save our souls, two things are necessary: first, the grace of God; and secondly, your own cooperation.

”Behold, I stand at the gate and knock: if any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come unto him.” (Apoc. iii. 20.) Then, in order that God may enter into us by his grace, we must, on our part, ohey his calls, and open our hearts to him. Likewise, St. Paul says, ”with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” (Phil. ii. 12.) He says, work out. Then we, too, must co- operate to our salvation by good works; otherwise the Lord will only give us sufficient grace by which we shall be able to save our souls, but by which we certainly will not save them. Behold, the reason: he who is in the state of sin, and continues to commit sin, is daily more and more attached to the flesh, and more removed from God. Now, how can God, by his grace, approach to us, when we withdraw farther from him?

He then retires from us, and becomes less liberal of his favours. ”And I will make it desolate and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.” (Isa. v. 6.) When the soul continues to offend God he abandons her, and withdraws his helps. Hence she shall cease to feel remorse of conscience; she shall be left without light; and the blindness of her understanding and the hardness of her heart shall be increased. She shall become utterly insensible to the calls of God, to the maxims of faith, and to the melancholy examples of other rebellious souls that have closed their career in hell.

7″But who knows,” the obstinate sinner will say, “but God will show me the same mercy which he has shown to certain great sinners?” In answer to this, St. Chrysostom says: “Fortasse dabit, inquis: cur dicis fortasse? Con- tigit aliquando; sed cogita quod de anima deliberas?” (Hom. xxii. in 2 Cor.) You say: ”Perhaps God will give me the grace of salvation. But why do you say perhaps? Is it because he has sometimes given to great sinners the grace of eternal life? But remember, says the holy doctor, that there is question of your soul, which, if once lost, is lost for ever. I, too, take you up, and admit that God has, by certain extraordinary graces, saved some enormous sinners.

But these cases are very rare; they are prodigies and miracles of grace, by which God wished to show the boundlessness of his mercy. But, ordinarily, sinners who wish to continue in sin, are, in the end, cast into hell. On them are executed the threats of the Lord against obstinate sinners. ”You have despised my counsels, and neglected my reprehensions. I also will laugh in your destruction. . . . Then they will call on me, and I will not hear.” (Prov. i. 25, 26, 28.) I, says the Lord, have called on them again and again, but they have refused to hear me. ”But they did not hear nor incline their ears; but hardened their neck, that they might not hear me.” (Jer. xvii. 23.)

Now they call upon me, it is but just that I refuse to listen to their cries. God bears, but he does not bear for ever; when the time of vengeance arrives he punishes past and present iniquities. ”For the Most High is a patient rewarder.” (Eccl. v. 4.) And according to St. Augustine, the longer God has waited for negligent sinners the more severely he will chastise them. “Quanto diutius expectat Deus, ut emenderis; tanto gravius judicabit, si neglexeris.” (Lib. de util. ag. prcn.) He who promises to amend, and wilfully neglects to return to God, is unworthy of the grace of true re pentance.

8 But God is full of mercy . He is full of mercy; but he is not so stupid as to act without reason: to show mercy to those who continue to insult him would be stupidity, and not goodness. ”Is thy eye evil because I am good ?” (Matt. xx. 15.) Will you persevere in wickedness because I am bountiful? God is good, but he is also just, and exhorts us all to observe his law, if we wish to save our souls. “If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments.” (Matt. xix. 17.)

Were God to show mercy to the wicked as well as to the just, and to give to all the grace of conversion before death, he would hold out a strong temptation even to the saints to commit sin: but, no! when his mercies have reached their term he punishes, and pardons no more. “And my eye shall not spare thee, and I will show thee no pity.” (Ezec. vii. 4.) Hence he says: Pray that your flight may not be in the winter or on the Sabbath.” (Matt. xxiv. 20.)

We are prevented from working in the winter by the cold, and on the Sabbath by the law. In this passage the Redeemer gives us to understand that, for impenitent sinners, a time shall come when they would wish to give themselves to God, but shall find themselves prevented by their bad habits from returning to him. Of this there are numberless melancholy examples.

In his sermons on a happy death, Cataneus relates, that a dissolute young man, when admonished to give up his wickedness, said: I have a saint who js omnipotent, and this is the mercy of God. Death came; the unhappy man sent for a confessor; but while he was preparing for confession, the Devil wrote down before his eyes all his sins. He was seized with terror, and exclaimed: Alas! what a long catalog of sins! And before he was able to make his confession he expired.

In his sermons for Sundays Campadelli relates that a young nobleman addicted to sins of the flesh, was warned by God and by men to amend his life; but he despised all their admonitions. He afterwards fell into a severe illness, confessed his sins, and promised to change his life; but, after his recovery, he returned to the vomit. Behold the vengeance of God! Being one day in a field during the vintage, he took fever, went home, and feeling that the disease was far advanced, he sent in haste for a priest who lived near the house.

The priest comes, enters the house, salutes the sick man, but sees a frightful spectacle, the eyes and mouth open, the face black as jet. He calls the sick man, but finds that he is dead. Dearly beloved brethren, take care that you, too, be not miserable examples of the justice of God. Give up sin; but give it up from this moment; for, if you continue to commit sin, the same vengeance which has fallen on so many others shall also fall on you. Let us come to the remedy.

Second Point – The remedy for those who find themselves in sin, and wish to save their souls.

9. Jesus Christ was one day asked, if the number of the elect is small. ”Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and they shall not be able.” (Luke xiii. 23, 24.) He says that many seek to enter heaven, but do not enter; and why? Because they wish to obtain eternal life without inconvenience, and without making strong efforts to abstain from forbidden pleasures. Therefore, he said: “strive to enter at the narrow gate.”

The gate of heaven is narrow: to enter it we must labour, and must do violence to ourselves. And we ought to be persuaded that what we can do Today we shall not be always able to do hereafter. The delay of conversion sends many Christians to hell: the weakness, darkness, and obduracy of the soul are, as we have already said, daily increased, and the divine helps are diminished. Thus, the soul shall die in her sins. You say: I will hereafter return to God. Then you know that, to save your soul, you must renounce sin why do you not give it up now that God calls you to repentance?

If at some time, says St. Augustine, why not now? The time which you now have to repair the past shall not be given to you hereafter; and the mercy which God shows you at present will not be extended to you at a future time. If, then, you wish to save your soul, do immediately what you must one day do. Go to confession as soon as possible, and tremble lest every delay may be the eternal ruin of your soul.

10. “Nullus,” says St. Fulgentius, “sub spe misericordiæ debet diutius in peccatis remanere, cum nolit in corpore sub spe diutius ægrotare.” (St. Fulg. ad Petr. Diac.) Were a physician, says the saint, to offer you a remedy for sickness, would you say: I do not wish to be cured at present, because I hope to recover hereafter? And when there is a question of the salvation of your soul, you say: I will remain in sin, because I hope that God will be merciful to me at a future time. But if, according to his just judgments, the Lord should not show you mercy hereafter, what shall become of you? shall you not be damned?

Let us, says the Apostle, do good while we have time to do it. “Therefore, whilst we have time let us work good to all men.” (Gal. vi. 10.) For time may not be given to us to do good hereafter. Hence the Lord exhorts us to guard our souls with great care; because we know not the hour when he will come to demand an account of our life. “Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.” (Matt. xxv. 18.)

11. “My soul is continually in my hands.” (Ps. cxviii. 109.) He who wears on his finger a ring containing a diamond of great value, looks frequently at the ring to see if the diamond be secure: it is thus we ought to watch over our souls. And should we see that it has been lost by sin, we ought instantly to adopt every means in our power to recover it.

We ought to turn immediately to Jesus, our Saviour, like Magdalene, who, as soon as she knew that he sat at meat, ran to him, cast herself at his feet, and by her tears obtained pardon. (Luke vii. 37.)”Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.” (Luke iii. 9.) For all who are found in sin, the axe of divine justice is at hand to take away their life as soon as the time of vengeance arrives.

Arise, then Christian souls, and if you_are bound by any bad habit, burst your chains, and remain no longer the slaves of Satan. ”Loose the bonds from off thy neck, captive daughter of Zion.” (Isa. Hi. 2.) “Posuisti vestigium, ” says St. Ambrose, “supra voraginem culpao, cito aufer pedem.” You have placed your foot on the mouth of a vortex that is, on sin, which is the mouth of hell: take away your foot, and retire; otherwise you shall fall into an unfathomable abyss.

12. I find myself subject to an evil habit. But, if you wish to give up sin, who can force you to commit it? All bad habits and all the temptations of hell are overcome by the grace of God. Recommend yourself to the heart of Jesus Christ, and he will give you grace to conquer all enemies. But should you be in any proximate occasion of sin you must immediately take it away, otherwise you shall relapse. ”Potius præscinde,” says St. Jerome, ”quam solve.” Do not wait to loose your bonds gradually; cut them by a single stroke.

The devil seeks to make you slow in shaking off your fetters. Look for a good confessor; he will tell you what to do. And should you have the misfortune of falling hereafter into any mortal sin, go immediately to confession, even on the same day or the same night, if you can. Finally, listen to what I now say to you: God is ready to assist you: if you wish, it is in your power to save your souls. Tremble, brethren, lest these words of mine, if you despise them, should be for you so many swords in hell for all eternity.

ANGUISH OF DYING CHRISTIANS WHO HAVE BEEN NEGLIGENT – St. Alphonsus

“Render, therefore, to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar‟s, and to God the things that are God‟s.” MATT. xxii. 21.

One day, the Pharisees, with the malignant intention of ensnaring him in his speech, that they might afterwards accuse him before the ministers of Caesar, sent their disciples to ask Jesus Christ, if it were lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. In answer, the Redeemer, after looking at the coin of the tribute, asked: ”Whose image and inscription is this ?”

Being told it was Cæsar’s, he said: ”Render then to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar‟s, and to God the things that are God‟s.” By these words Jesus Christ wishes to teach us, that it is our duty to give to men what is due to them; and to reserve for him all the affections of our heart, since he created us to love him, and afterwards imposed upon us a precept of loving him. ”Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.” Miserable the man who, at the hour of death, shall see that he has loved creatures, that he has loved his pleasures, and has not loved God. “When distress cometh upon them, they will seek peace, and there will be none.” (Ezech. yii. 25.)

He will then seek peace, but shall not find it; for many causes of distress and trouble shall assail him. What shall these causes be? Behold, the unhappy man shall then say, first: God! I could have become a saint, but have not become one. Secondly, he shall say: Oh! that I now had time to repair the evil I have done! but time is at an end. Thirdly: Oh! that at least, in the short time which remains, I could remedy the past: but, alas! this time is not fit for repairing past evils.

First Point – God! I could have, but have not, become a saint

1. Because, during their whole life, they thought only of pleasing God and sanctifying themselves, the saints go with great confidence to meet death, which delivers them from the miseries and dangers of the present life, and unites them perfectly with God. But the man who has thought only of his pleasures and of his own ease, and has neglected to recommend himself to God, or to reflect on the account which he must one day render, cannot meet death with confidence.

Poor sinners! they banish the thought of death whenever it presents itself to them, and think only of living in pleasures and amusements, as if they never were to die. But for each of them the end must one day come. “The end is come; the end is come.” (Ezech. vii, 2.) And when this end is come every one must gather the fruit which he has sown during his life. “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap.” (Gal. vi. 8.) If he has sown works of holiness, he shall receive rewards of eternal life; but if he has sown evil works, he shall reap chastisements and eternal death.

2. The scene of his past life is the first thing which shall rush on the mind of the dying man, when the news of death shall be announced to him. He shall then see things in a light far different from that in which he viewed them during life. The acts of revenge which appeared to him lawful the scandals which he disregarded the liberty of speaking obscenely and injurious to the character of his neighbour the pleasures which were regarded as innocent the acts of injustice which he held to be allowable shall then appear what they really were: grevious sins and offences against God, each of which merited hell. Alas! those blind sinners, who voluntarily blind themselves during life, by shutting their eyes to the light shall, at death, involuntarily see all the evil they have done. ”Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened.” (Is. xxxv. 5.)

At the light of the candle which lights him to death, ”the wicked shall see and shall be angry,” (Ps. cxi. 10.) He shall see all the irregularities of his past life his frequent abuse of the sacraments, confessions made without sorrow or purpose of amendment, contracts completed with remorse of conscience, injury done to the property and reputation of others, immodest jests, rancours, and vindictive thoughts.

He shall then see the bad examples which he gave to young persons who feared God, and whom he treated with contempt, and turned into derision by calling them hypocrites and other reproachful names. He shall see so many lights and calls received from God, so many admonitions of spiritual fathers, and so many resolutions and promises made but afterwards neglected.

3. He shall see particularly the bad maxims by which he regulated his conduct during life. ”It is necessary to seek the esteem of the world, and to preserve honour.” But is it necessary for a man to preserve his honour by trampling on the honour due to God? “We ought to indulge in amusements as often as we can.” But is it lawful to indulge in amusements by insulting God?”Of what use to the world is the man who lives in poverty and has no money?” But, will you, for the sake of money, lose your soul? In answer to these questions the sinner says: No matter. What can be done?”If we do not make a fortune in the world we cannot appear among our equals.”

Such the maxims of the worldling during life; but at death he shall change his language. He shall then see the truth of that maxim of Jesus Christ: ””What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul.” (Matt. xvi. 26.) Unhappy me! the worldling shall exclaim on the bed of death, I have had so much time to tranquillize my conscience, and behold I am now at the point of death, and I find my soul burdened with so many sins?

What would it have cost me to have broken oft such a friendship, to have gone to confession every week, to have avoided certain occasions of sin? Ah! very little, but though it should have cost me a great deal of pain and labour, I ought to have submitted to every inconvenience in order to save my soul. Salvation is of greater importance to me than the dominion of the entire world. But, alas! the sentiments of negligent Christians at death are as fruitless as the sorrows of the damned, who mourn in hell over their sins as the cause of their perdition, but mourn in vain.

4. At that time they derive no consolation from their past amusements or pomps, from their exalted dignities, or from the humiliation of their rivals. On the contrary, at the hour of death, these things, like so many swords shall pierce their hearts. “Evil shall catch the unjust man unto destruction.” (Ps. cxxxix, 12.)

At present the lovers of the world seek after banquets, dances, games, and scenes of laughter and joy; but, at the time of death this laughter and joy, as St. James says, shall be turned into mourning and affliction. “Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow.” (St. James iv. 5.) Of this we see frequent examples. A young man who entertains his companions by sallies of wit and by immodest jests, is seized with a severe illness.

His friends come to see him, and find him. overwhelmed with grief and melancholy. He indulges no more in jests, or laughter, or conversation. If he speaks at all, his words are words of terror or despair. His friends ask why he speaks so despondingly why he is so melancholy. Have courage, they say: your illness is not dangerous. They endeavour to inspire hope and cheerfulness: but he is silent. And how can he be cheerful when he feels his conscience burdened with many sins, sees that he must soon appear before Jesus Christ to give an account of his entire life, and that he has much reason to fear that he shall receive the sentence of eternal death?

He will then say: O fool that I have been! Oh! that I had loved God! Had I loved him, I should not now find myself in these straits, in, this anguish. Oh! that I had time to tranquillize the troubles of my conscience? Let us pass to the second point.

Second Point – Oh! that I had time to repair the evil I have done! but now time is at an end.

5. Oh! that I had time, he will say, to repair the past! But, when will he say this? When the oil in the lamp is consumed: when he is on the point of entering into eternity. One of the greatest causes of the distress and anguish of the careless Christian at the hour of death, is the remembrance of the bad use he has made of the time in which he ought to have acquired merits for heaven, and in which he has accumulated merits for hell. Oh! that I had time! Do you seek for time? You have lost so many nights in gaming, and so many years in indulging the senses, without ever thinking of your soul; and now you seek for time; but time is now no more. ”Time shall be no longer.” (Apoc. x. 6.)

Were you not already admonished by preachers to be prepared for death? were you not told that it would come upon you when you least expected it? “Be you ready,” says Jesus Christ;”for at what hour you think not the Son of Man will come.” (Luke xii. 40.) You have despised my admonitions, and have voluntarily squandered the time which my goodness bestowed upon you in spite of your demerits; but now time is at an end.

Listen to the words in which the priest that assists you shall tell you to depart from this world: Proficisere anima Christiana de hoc mundo. Go forth, Christian soul, from this world. And where shall you go? To eternity, to eternity. Death respects neither parents nor monarchs; when it comes, it does not wait even for a moment. ”Thou hast appointed his bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Job xiv. 5.)

6. Oh! what terror shall the dying man feel at hearing the assisting priest tell him to depart from this world! what dismay shall he experience in saying with himself: “This morning I am living, and this evening I shall be dead!”Today I am in this house; tomorrow I shall be in the grave: and where shall my soul be found? His terror shall be increased when he sees the death-candle lighted, and when he hears the confessor order the relatives to withdraw from his chamber, and to return to it no more.

It shall be still more increased when the confessor gives him the crucifix, and tells him to embrace it, saying: “Embrace Jesus Christ, and thinkno more of this world.” He takes the crucifix and kisses it; but, in kissing it, he trembles at the remembrance of the many injuries which he has offered to Jesus Christ. He would now wish to repent sincerely of all his injuries to his Saviour, but he sees that his repentance is forced by the necessity of his approaching death. “He,” says St. Augustine, ”who is abandoned by sin before he abandons it, condemns it not freely, but through necessity.”

7. The common delusion of worldlings is, that earthly things appear great, and that the things of Heaven, as being distant and uncertain, appear to be of little value. They regard tribulations as insupportable, and grievous sins as unimportant. The miserable beings are as if they were shut up in a room filled with smoke, which hinders them from seeing objects before their eyes. But at the hour of death this darkness shall vanish, and the soul shall begin to see things in their real colours.

At that hour all temporal things appear to be what they really are vanity, lies, and deception; and the things of eternity assume their true value. Oh! how important shall judgment, hell, and eternity, which are so much disregarded during life, appear at the time of death. According as these shall begin to put on their true colours, the fears of the dying man shall increase. ”In morte,” says St. Gregory, ”tanto timor fit acrior, quanto retributio vicinior; et quanto vicinius judicium tangitur, tanto vehementius formidator.” (Mor. 25.)

The nearer the sentence of the Judge approaches, the more sensible the fear of condemnation becomes. Hence the sick man will say: “Oh! in what anguish do I die! Unhappy me! Oh! that I knew that so unhappy a death awaited me!” You have not known; but you ought to have foreseen it; for you knew that a good death could not be expected after a wicked life. But, since I must soon die, oh! that I could at least, in the little time that remains, tranquillize my conscience! Let us pass to the third point.

Third Point – Oh! that I could, in the little time that remains, repair the past! But, alas! this time is not fit for repairing past evils.

8. The time allowed to careless Christians at the hour of death, is, for two reasons, unfit for tranquillizing the troubles of their conscience. First, because this time will be very short; for at the commencement, and for some days during the progress, of the disease, the sick man thinks only of physicians, of remedies, and of making his last will. During that time his relatives, friends, and even the physicians deceive him by holding out hopes of recovery. Hence, deluded by these hopes, he will not be able for some time to persuade himself that his death is at hand.

When shall he begin to persuade himself that death is near? Only when he shall be at the very point of death. This is the second reason why that time is unfit for repairing the evils of the soul. At that time the dying man is sick in mind as well as in body. He shall be assailed by pains in the chest, spasms in the head, debility, and delirium.

Those shall render him unable to make any effort to excite a true detestation of his past sins, or to apply to the disorders of his past life a remedy which will calm the terrors of his conscience. The news of his approaching death will astound him to such a degree, that he shall be scarcely half alive.

9. A person labouring under a severe headache, which deprives him of sleep for two or three nights, will not even attempt to dictate a letter of ceremony. And at death when he feels but little, understands but little, and sees only a confusion of things which fills him with terror, the careless Christian adjusts a conscience burdened with the sins of thirty or forty years.

Then are verified the words of the gospel: ”The night cometh when no man worketh.” (John ix. 4.) Then his conscience will say to him: ”Now thou canst be steward no longer. ”(Luke xvi. 2.) There is no more time for negotiation; what has been done, is done. ”When distress cometh upon them, they will seek for peace, and there shall be none. Trouble shall come upon trouble.” (Ezech. vii. 25, 26.)

10. It is often said of a person that he led a bad life, but afterwards died a good death; that by his sighs and tears he gave proofs of sincere repentance. “Morientes non delicti pœnitentia,” says St. Augustine, “sed mortis urgentis admonitio compellit.” (Serm. xxxvi.) The wailing of such persons proceeds not from sorrow for their sins, but from the fear of imminent death. He was not afraid of sinning, says the holy doctor, but of burning. ”Non meteuit peccare, sed adere.” (Epis. cxiv.)

Till this moment the dying man has loved sinful objects: will he now detest them? Perhaps he will then love them with more tenderness; for the objects of our affections become more dear to us when we are afraid of losing them. The celebrated master of St. Bruno died with signs of repentance; but when laid in the coffin, he said that he was damned. If, at the hour of death, even the saints complain that on account of the state of the head, they can think but little of God, or make but little effort to excite good acts, how can the negligent Christian make these acts at death, when he was not in the habit of making them during life?

It may be said that he appeared to have a sincere sorrow for the wickedness of his past life. But, was his sorrow true sorrow? The devil persuades him that the wish to have sorrow is true sorrow; but he deceives him. The dying man will say: ”I am sorry from the bottom of my heart,” etc.; but these words shall come from a heart of stone. ”From the midst of the rocks they shall give forth their voices.” (Ps. ciii. 12.)

But he has frequently been at confession, and has received all the sacraments; he has died in perfect resignation. Ah! the criminal who goes to be executed, appears to be perfectly resigned: but why? Because he cannot escape from the officers of justice, who bring him in chains to the place of execution.

11. O moment on which eternity depends! This moment made the saints tremble at the hour of death, and made them exclaim: ”God! where shall I be in a few hours ?”“Sometimes,” says St. Gregory, ”the soul even of the just man is disturbed by the terror of vengeance. (Mor. xxiv.) “What, then, shall the careless Christian, who has disregarded God, feel when he sees the scaffold prepared on which he must die? “His eyes shall see his own destruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty.” (Job xxi. 20.)

He shall see with his own eyes death prepared for his soul, and shall from that moment begin to feel the anger of the Lord. The viaticum which he must receive, the extreme unction which will be administered to him, the crucifix which is placed in his hands, the recommendation of the soul which is read by the assisting priest, the lighting of the blessed candle all these shall form the scaffold of divine justice.

The poor sick man perceives that he is already in a cold sweat, that he can no longer move or speak, that his respiration has begun to fail: in a word, he sees that the moment of death is at hand; he sees his soul defiled with sins; the Judge waiting for him; hell burning under his feet; and in this confusion of darkness and terror he shall enter into eternity.

12. ”O that they would be wise, and would understand, and would provide for their last end.” (Deut. xxxii. 29.) Behold, dearly beloved brethren, how the Holy Ghost exhorts us to provide now for the terrible straits and distress by which we shall be encompassed at death, and to adjust at present the accounts which we must render to God; for it will be then impossible to settle these accounts so as to save our souls.

My crucified Jesus, I will not wait till death to embrace thee; I embrace thee at this moment. I love thee above all things; and because I love thee, I repent with my whole heart of all the offences and insults I have offered to thee, who art infinite goodness; and I purpose and hope, with thy grace, to love thee always, and never more to offend thee. Through the merits of thy passion I ask thee to assist me.

ON THE ETERNITY OF HELL – St. Alphonsus

” And his Lord, being angry, delivered him to the torture until he paid all the debt.” MATT, xviii. 34. 

IN this day’s gospel we find that a certain servant, having badly administered the affairs of his master, was found to owe him a debt of ten thousand talents. The master demanded payment; but the servant falling down said: ”Have patience and I will pay thee all.”

The master took pity on him, and forgave the entire debt. One of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred pence, besought him to have patience, and promised to pay him the last farthing; but the wicked servant cast him into prison. Hearing of this act of cruelty to his fellow-servant, the master sent for him, and said to him: “Wicked servant, I have forgiven thee ten thousand talents, and for a debt of a hundred pence thou hast refused to show compassion to thy fellow-servant.

He then delivered him to the tortures till he paid all the debt. Behold, dearly beloved brethren, in these last words, a description of the sentence of the eternal death which is prepared for sinners. By dying in sin, they die debtors to God for all their iniquities; and being unable to make any satisfaction in the other life for their past sins, they remain for ever debtors to the divine justice, and must suffer for eternity in hell. Of this miserable eternity I will speak to-day: listen to me with attention.

1. The thought of eternity is a great thought: so it was called by St. Augustine: Magna cogitatio. According to the holy doctor, God has made us Christians, and instructed us in the maxims of faith, that we may think of eternity. ”We are Christians that we may always think of the world to come.” This thought has driven from the world so many of the nobles of the earth, has made them renounce all their riches, and shut themselves up in the cloister, there to live in poverty and penance.

This thought has sent so many young men into caves and deserts, and has animated so many martyrs to embrace torments and death, in order to save their souls for eternity. ”For,” exclaims St. Paul, ”we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come.” (Heb. xiii. 14.) This earth, dearly beloved Christians, is not our country; it is for us a place of passage, through which we must soon pass to the house of eternity. ”Man shall go into the house of his eternity.” (Eccl. xii. 5.)

In this eternity the house of the just, which is a palace of delights, is very different from the house of sinners, which is a dungeon of torments. Into one of these two houses each of us must certainly go. ”In hanc vel illam æternitatem,” says St. Ambrose, ”cadam necesse est.; (S. Amb., in Ps. cxviii.)”Into this or that eternity I must fall.”

2. And where the soul shall first go, there she shall remain for ever. ”If the tree fall to the south or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall there shall it lie.” (Eccl. xi. 3.) On what side does a tree fall when it is cut down? It falls on the side to which it inclines. On what side, brethren, will you fall, when death shall cut down the tree of your life?

You will fall on the side to which you incline. If you shall be found inclining to the south that is, in favour with God you shall be for ever happy; but if you will fall to the north, you must be for ever miserable. There is no middle place: you must be for ever happy in heaven, or overwhelmed with despair in hell. We must all die, says St. Bernard or some other author (de Quat. Noviss.), but we know not which of the two eternities shall be our lot after death. ”Necessi morem, post hæc autem dubia ceternitatis.”

3. This uncertainty about his lot for eternity was the constant subject of the thoughts of David: it deprived his eyes of sleep, and kept him always in terror. ”My eyes prevented the watches: I was troubled, and I spoke not: I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years.” (Ps. Ixxvi. 5, 6.) What, says St. Cyprian, has encouraged the saints to lead a life, which, on account of their continual austerities, was an uninterrupted martyrdom? It was, he answers, the thought of eternity that inspired them with courage to submit to such unceasing rigours.

A certain monk shut himself in a cave, and did nothing else than constantly exclaim: ”eternity! eternity!” The famous sinner converted hy the Abbot Paphnutius, kept eternity always before her eyes, and was accustomed to say: ”Who can assure me of a happy eternity, and that I will not fall into a miserable eternity.” The same uncertainty kept St. Andrew Avellino in continual terrors and tears till his last breath. Hence he used to ask every one he met, ”What do you say? shall I be saved or damned for eternity ?”

4. 0! that we, too, had eternity always before our eyes! We certainly should not be so much attached to the world. ”Quisquis in æternitatis disiderio figitur, nee prosperitate attollitur, nee adversitate quassatur: et dum nihil habet in mundo quod appetat, nihil est quod de mundo pertimescat.” He who fixes his thoughts on eternity, is not elated by prosperity nor dejected by adversity; because, having nothing to desire in this world, he has nothing to fear: he desires only a happy eternity, and fears only a miserable eternity.

A certain lady, who was greatly attached to the world, went one day to confession to Father M. D Avila. He bid her go home, and reflect on these two words always and never. She obeyed, took away her affections from the world, and consecrated them to God. St. Augustine says that the man who thinks on eternity, and is not converted to God, either has no faith, or has lot his reason. “O æternitas! qui te cogitat, nec pœnitet, aut certo fidem non habet, aut si habet, cor non habet.” (In soliloq.)

O eternity! he who thinks on thee, and does not repent, has certainly no faith, or has lost his heart. Hence St. Chrysostom relates, that the pagans upbraided the Christians with being liars or fools: liars, if they said they believed what they did not believe; fools, if they believed in eternity and committed sin. ”Exprobabant gentiles aut mendaces, aut stultos esse Christianos; mendaces si non crederent quod credere dicebant; stultos si credebant et peccabant.”

5. Woe to sinners, says St. Cesarius of Arles; they enter into eternity without having known it; but their woes shall be doubled when they shall have entered into eternity, and shall never be able to leave. ”Væ peccatoribus, ineognitam ingrediuntur.” To those who enter hell, the door opens for their admission, but never opens for their departure. ”I have the keys of death and of hell.” (Apoc. i. 18.)

God himself keeps the keys of hell, to show us that whosoever enters has no hope of ever escaping from it. St. John Chrysostom writes, that the condemnation of the reprobate is engraved on the pillar of eternity, so that it never shall be revoked. In hell there is no calendar; there the years are not counted.

St. Antonine says, that if a damned soul heard that she was to be released from hell after so many millions of years as there are drops of water in the sea, or grains of sand in the earth, she would feel a greater joy than a criminal condemned to death would experience at hearing that he was reprieved, and was to be made the monarch of the whole world! But, no! as many millions of years shall pass away as there are drops of water in the ocean, or grains of dust in the earth, and the hell of the damned shall be at its commencement.

All these millions of years shall be multiplied an infinite number of times, and hell will begin again. But of what use is it, says St. Hilary, to count years in eternity? Where you expect the end, there it commences. ”Ubi putas finem invenire, ibi incipit.” And St. Augustine says, ”that things which have an end cannot be compared with eternity.” (In Ps. xxxvi.)

Each of the damned would be content to make this compact with God – Lord, increase my torments as much as thou pleasest; assign a term for them as distant as thou pleasest; provided thou fix a time at which they shall cease, I am satisfied. But, no! this time shall never arrive. “My end,” the damned shall say, ”is perished.” (Lamen. iii. 18.) Then, is there no end to the torments of the damned? No! the trumpet of divine justice sounds in the caverns of hell, and continually reminds the reprobate that their hell shall be eternal, and shall never have an end.

6. If hell were not eternal, it would not be so frightful a chastisement. Thomas a Kempis says, that “everything which passes with time is trifling and short.” Any pain which has an end is not very appalling. The man who labours under an imposthume or a cancer, must submit to the knife or the cautery: the pain is severe; but because it is soon over it can be borne. But a tooth-ache which lasts for three months without interruption is insupportable. Were a person obliged to lie in the same posture for six months on a soft bed, or even to hear the same music, or the same comedy, night and day for one year, he would fall into melancholy and despondency.

Poor blind sinners! When threatened with hell they say: ”If I go there I must have patience.” But they shall not say so when they will have entered that region of woes, where they must suffer, not by listening to the same music or the same comedy, nor by lying in the same posture, or by tooth -ache, but by enduring all torments and all evils. ”I will heap evils upon them.” (Deut. xxxiii. 23.) And all these torments shall never end.

7. They shall never end, and shall never be diminished in the smallest degree. The damned must for ever suffer the same fire, the same privation of God, the same sadness, the same despair. Yes, says St. Cyprian, in eternity there is no change, because the decree is immutable. This thought shall immensely increase their sufferings, by making them feel beforehand, and at each moment, all that they shall have to suffer for eternity.

In this description of the happiness of the saints, and the misery of the reprobate, the Prophet Daniel says: ”They shall wake some unto life everlasting, and some unto reproach to see it always.” (Dan. xii. 2.) They shall always see their unhappy eternity. Ut videant semper. Thus eternity tortures each of the damned not only by his present pains, but with all his future sufferings, which are eternal.

8. These are not opinions controverted among theologians; they are dogmas of faith clearly revealed in the sacred Scriptures. ”Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. xxv. 41.) Some will say: The fire, but not the punishment of the damned is everlasting. Such the language of the incredulous, but it is folly.

For what other purpose would God make this fire eternal, than to chastise the reprobate, who are immortal? But, to take away every shadow of doubt, the Scriptures, in many other places, say, that not only the fire, but the punishment, of the damned is eternal. ”And these, ”says Jesus Christ, “shall go into ever lasting punishment.” (Matt. xxv. 46.)

Again we read in St. Mark, ”Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.” (ix. 43.) St. John says: ”And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever.” (Apoc. xvi. 11.) “Who,” says St. Paul, ”shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction.” (2 Thess. i. 9.)

9. Another infidel will ask: How can God justly punish with eternal torments a sin that lasts but a moment? I answer, that the grievousness of a crime is measured not by its duration, but by the enormity of its malice. The malice of mortal sin is, as St. Thomas says, infinite. (1, 2, q. 87, art. 4.) Hence, the damned deserve infinite punishment; and, because a creature is not capable of suffering pains infinite in point of intensity, God, as the holy doctor says, renders the punishment of the damned infinite in extension by making it eternal.

Moreover, it is just, that as long as the sinner remains in his sin, the punishment which he deserves should continue. And, therefore, as the virtue of the saints is rewarded in Heaven, because it lasts for ever, so also the guilt of the damned in Hell, because it is everlasting, shall be chastised with everlasting torments. ”Quia non recipit causæ remedium,” says Eusebius Emissenus, “carebit fine supplicium.” The cause of their perverse will continues: therefore, their chastisement will never have an end. The damned are so obstinate in their sins, that even if God offered pardon, their hatred for him would make them refuse it.

The Prophet Jeremias, speaking in the name of the reprobate, says: “Why is my sorrow become perpetual and my wound desperate, so as to refuse to be healed?” (Jer. xv. 18.) My wound, they say, is incurable, because I do not wish it to be healed. Now, how can God heal the wound of their perverse will, when they would refuse the remedy, were it offered to them?

Hence, the punishment of the reprobate is called a sword, a vengeance which is irrevocable. ”I, the Lord, have drawn my sword out of its sheath, not to be turned back.” (Ezech. xxi. 5.)

10. Death, which is so terrible in this life, is desired in hell by the damned; but they never shall find it. ”And in these days men shall seek death, and shall not find it: and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them.” (Apoc. xi. 6.) They would wish, as a remedy for their eternal ruin, to be exterminated and destroyed. But”there is no poison of destruction in them.” (Wis. i. 14.)

If a man, condemned to die, be not deprived of life by the first stroke of the axe, his torture moves the people to pity. Miserable damned souls! They live in continual death in the midst of the pains of hell: death excites in them all the agony of death, but does not give them a remedy by taking away life. “Prima mors,” says St. Augustine, ”animam nolentem pellit de corpore, secunda mors nolentem tenet in corpore. ” The first death expels from the body the soul of a sinner who is unwilling to die: but the second death that is, eternal death retains in the body a soul that wishes to die. ”They are laid in hell like sheep; death shall feed upon them.” (Ps. xlviii. 15.)

In feeding, sheep eat the blades of grass, but leave the root untouched; hence the grass dies not, but grows up again. It is thus that death treats the damned; it torments them with pain, but spares their life, which may be called the root of suffering.

11. But, if these miserable souls have no chance of release from hell, perhaps they can at least deceive or flatter themselves with the hope, that God may one day be moved to pity, and free them from their torments?

No: in hell there is no delusion, no flattery, no perhaps; the damned are as certain as they are of God’s existence that their hell shall have no end. ”Thou thoughtest unjustly that I shall be like to thee; but I will reprove thee, and set before thy face.” (Ps. xlix. 21.) They shall for ever see before their eyes their sins and the sentence of their eternal condemnation. ”And I will set before thy face.”

12. Let us conclude. Thus, most beloved brethren, the affair of our eternal salvation should be the sole object of all our concerns. ”The business for which we struggle, ” says St. Eucharius, ”is eternity.” There is question of eternity: there is question whether we will be saved, and be for ever happy in a city of delights, or be damned, and confined for eternity in a pit of fire. This is not an affair of little importance; it is of the utmost and of eternal importance to us.

When Thomas More was condemned to death by Henry the Eighth, his wife Louisa went to him for the purpose of tempting him to obey the royal command. Tell me, Lousia, replied the holy man, how many years can I, who am now so old, expect to live? You might, said she, live for twenty years. O foolish woman! he exclaimed, do you want me to condemn my soul to an eternity of torments for twenty years of life?

13. O God! Christians believe in the existence of hell, and commit sin! Dearly beloved brethren, let not us also be fools, like so many who are now weeping in hell. Miserable beings! What benefit do they now derive from all the pleasures which they enjoyed in this life? Speaking of the rich and of the poor, St. John Chrysostom said: ”unhappy felicity, which has drawn the rich into eternal infelicity! O happy infelicity, which has brought the poor to the felicity of eternity!”

The saints have buried themselves alive in this life, that after death they may not find themselves buried in hell for all eternity. If eternity were a doubtful matter, we ought even then make every effort in our power to escape an eternity of torments; but no, it is not a matter of doubt; it is a truth of faith, that after this life each of us must go into eternity, to be for ever in glory or for ever in despair. St. Teresa says, that it is through a want of faith that so many Christians are lost.

As often as we say the words of the Creed, life everlasting, let us enliven our faith, and remember that there is another life, which never ends; and let us adopt all the means necessary to secure a happy eternity. Let us do all, and give up all; if necessary, let us leave the world, in order to secure eternal happiness. When eternity is at stake no security can be too great. ”Nulla nimia securitas,” says St. Bernard, ”ubi periclitatur æternitas.”

Learn Classical Greek

We have a reader of this blog (Fr. Carnazzo) that is a priest in the Melkite rite and he is providing Classical Greek lessons online for homeschoolers and others who would love to brush up on their Greek.  As I am still trying to brush up on my ENGLISH (and i’m positive readers of this blog have noticed….), I haven’t the time at the moment, but I am sure there are many others that would love this opportunity.

You can visit the website here: http://academyofclassicalgreek.com/