ON THE VICE OF SPEAKING IMMODESTLY – St. Alphonsus

ON THE VICE OF SPEAKING IMMODESTLY.

“He touched his tongue, …. and the string of his tongue was loosed.” MARK vii. 33, 35.

IN this day’s gospel St. Mark relates tlie miracle which our Saviour wrought in healing the man that was dumb by barely touching his tongue. “He touched his tongue and the string of his tongue was loosed.” From the last words we may infer that the man was not entirely dumb, but that his tongue was not free, or that his articulation was not distinct.

Hence St. Mark tells us, that after the miracle he spoke right. Let us make the application to ourselves. The dumb man stood in need of a miracle to loose his tongue, and to take away the impediment under which he laboured. But how many are there on whom God would confer a great grace, if he bound their tongues, that they might cease to speak immodestly! This vice does great injury to others. Secondly, it does great injury to themselves. These shall be the two points of this sermon.

First Point – The man who speaks immodestly does great injury to others who listen to him.

1. In explaining the 140th Psalm, St. Augustine calls those who speak obscenely “the mediators of Satan,” the ministers of Lucifer; because, by their obscene language, the demon of impurity gets access to souls, which by his own suggestions he could not enter. Of their accursed tongues St. James says: “And the tongue is a fire,… being set on fire by hell.” (James iii. 6.) He says that the tongue is a fire kindled by hell, with which they who speak obscenely burn themselves and others.

The obscene tongue may be said to be the tongue of the third person, of which Ecclesiasticus says: ”The tongue of a third person hath disquieted many, and scattered them from nation to nation.” (Eccl. xxviii. 16.) The spiritual tongue speaks of God, the worldly tongue talks of worldly affairs; but tlie tongue of a third person is a tongue of hell, which speaks of the impurities of the flesh; and this is the tongue that perverts many, and brings them to perdition.

2. Speaking of the life of men on this earth, the Royal Prophet says: “Let their way become dark and slippery.” (Ps. xxxiv. 0.) In this life men walk in the midst of darkness and in a slippery way. Hence they are in danger of falling at every step, unless they cautiously examine the road on which they walk, and carefully avoid dangerous steps that is, the occasions of sin.

Now, if in treading this slippery way, frequent efforts were made to throw them down, would it not be a miracle if they did not fall? “The Mediators of Satan,” who speak obscenely, impel others to sin, who, as long as they live on this earth, walk in the midst of darkness, and as long as they remain in the flesh, are in danger of falling into the vice of impurity.

Now, of those who indulge in obscene language, it has been well said: ”Their throat is an open sepulchre.” (Ps. v. 11.) The mouths of those who can utter nothing but filthy obscenities are, according to St. Chrysostom, so many open sepulchres of putrified carcasses. ”Talia sunt ora hominum qui turpia proferunt.” (Hom, ii., de Proph. Obs.) The exhalation which arises from the rottenness of a multitude of dead bodies thrown together into a pit, communicates infection and disease to all who feel the stench.

3. ”The stroke of a whip,” says Ecclesiasticus, “maketh a blue mark; but the stroke of a tongue will break the bones.” (Eccl. xxviii. 21.) The wounds of the lash are wounds of the flesh, but the wounds of the obscene tongue are wounds which infect the bones of those who listen to its language.

St. Bernardino of Sienna relates, that a virgin who led a holy life, at hearing an obscene word from a young man, fell into a bad thought, and afterwards abandoned herself to the vice of impurity to such a degree that, the saint says, if the devil had taken human flesh, he could not have committed so many sins of that kind as she committed.

4. The misfortune is, that the mouths of hell that frequently utter immodest words, regard them, as trifles, and are careless about confessing them: and when rebuked for them they answer: ”I say these words in jest, and without malice.”

In jest! Unhappy man, these jests make the devil laugh, and shall make you weep for eternity in hell. In the first place, it is useless to say that you utter such words without malice; for, when you use such expressions, it is very difficult for you to abstain from acts against purity.

According to St. Jerome, ”He that delights in words is not far from the act. ” Besides, immodest words spoken before persons of a different sex, are always accompanied with sinful complacency. And is not the scandal you give to others criminal? Utter a single obscene word, and you shall bring into sin all who listen to you.

Such is the doctrine of St. Bernard. ”One speaks, and he utters only one word; but he kills the souls of a multitude of hearers.” (Serm. xxiv., in Cant.) A greater sin than if, by one discharge of a blunderbuss, you murdered many persons; because you would then only kill their bodies: but, by speaking obscenely, you have killed their souls.

5. In a word, obscene tongues are the ruin of the world. One of them does more mischief than a hundred devils; because it is the cause of the perdition of many souls. This is not my language; it is the language of the Holy Ghost. ”A slippery mouth worketh ruin.” (Prov. xxvi. 28.) And when is it that this havoc of souls is effected, and that such grievous insults are offered to God? It is in the summer, at the time when God bestows upon you the greatest temporal blessings. It is then that he supplies you for the entire year with corn, wine, oil, and other fruits of the earth. It is then that there are as many sins committed by obscene words, as there are grains of corn or bunches of grapes. O ingratitude! How does God bear with us? And who is the cause of these sins? They who speak immodestly are the cause of them. Hence they must render an account to God, and shall be punished for all the sins committed by those who hear them. “But I will require his blood at thy hand.” (Ezec. iii. 11.) But let us pass to the second point.

Second Point – He who speaks immodestly does great injury to himself.

6. Some young men say: ”I speak without malice.” In answer to this excuse, I have already said, in the first point, that it is very difficult to use immodest language without taking  delight in it; and that speaking obscenely before young females, married or unmarried, is always accompanied with a secret complacency in what is said.

Besides, by using immodest language, you expose yourself to the proximate danger of falling into unchaste actions: for, according to St. Jerome, as we have already said, ”he who delights in words is not far from the act.” All men are inclined to evil. “The imagination and thought of man‟s heart are prone to evil.” (Gen. viii. 21.) But, above all, men are prone to the sin of impurity, to which nature itself inclines them. Hence St. Augustine has said, that in struggling against that vice”the victory is rare,” at least for those who do not use great caution. ”Communis pugna et rara victoria.”

Now, the impure objects of which they speak are always presented to the mind of those who freely utter obscene words. These objects excite pleasure, and bring them into sinful desires and morose delectations, and afterwards into criminal acts. Behold the consequence of the immodest words which young men say they speak without malice.

7. “Be not taken in thy tongue,” says the Holy Ghost. (Eccl. v. 16.) Beware lest by your tongue you forge a chain which will drag you to hell. ”The tongue,” says St. James, ”defileth the whole body, and inflameth the wheel of our nativity.” (St. James iii. 6.)

The tongue is one of the members of the body, but when it utters bad words it infects the whole body, and “inflames the wheels of our nativity ;” it inflames and corrupts our entire life from our birth to old age. Hence we see that men who indulge in obscenity, cannot, even in old age, abstain from immodest language. In the life of St. Valerius, Surius relates that the saint, in travelling, went one day into a house to warm himself. He heard the master of the house and a judge of the district, though both were advanced in years, speaking on obscene subjects.

The saint reproved them severely; but they paid no attention to his rebuke. However, God punished both of them: one became blind, and a sore broke out on the other, which produced deadly spasms. Henry Gragerman relates (in Magn. Spec., dist. 9, ex. 58), that one of those obscene talkers died suddenly and without repentance, and that he was afterwards seen in hell tearing his tongue in pieces; and when it was restored he began again to lacerate it.

8. But how can God have mercy on him who has no pity on the souls of his neighbours?”Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy.” (St. James ii. 13.) Oh! what a pity to see one of those obscene wretches pouring out his filthy expressions before girls and young married females!

The greater the number of such persons present, the more abominable is his language. It often happens that little boys and girls are present, and he has no horror of scandalizing these innocent souls! Cantipratano relates that the son of a certain nobleman in Burgundy was sent to be educated by the monks of Cluni.

He was an angel of purity; but the unhappy boy having one day entered into a carpenter’s shop, heard some obscene words spoken by the carpenter’s wile, fell into sin, and lost the divine grace. Father Sabitano, in his work entitled”Evangelical Light,” relates that another boy, fifteen years old, having heard an immodest word, began to think of it the following night, consented to a bad thought, and died suddenly the same night. His confessor having heard of his death, intended to say Mass for him.

But the soul of the unfortunate boy appeared to him, and told the confessor not to celebrate Mass for him that, by means of the word he had heard, he was damned and that the celebration of Mass would add to his pains. O God! how great, were it in their power to weep, would be the wailing of the angel-guardians of these poor children that are scandalized and brought to hell by the language of obscene tongues!

With what earnestness shall the angels demand vengeance from God against the author of such scandals! That the angels shall cry for vengeance against them, appears from the words of Jesus Christ: ”See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father.” (Matt, xviii. 10.)

9. Be attentive, then, my brethren, and guard your selves against speaking immodestly, more than you would against death. Listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost: ”Make a balance for thy words, and a just bridle for thy mouth; and take heed lest thou slip with thy tongue and thy fall be incurable unto death.” (Eccl. xxvhi. 29, 30.)

”Make a balance” you must weigh your words before you utter them and”a bridle for thy mouth” when immodest words come to the tongue, you must suppress them; otherwise, by uttering them, you shall inflict on your own soul, and on the souls of others, a mortal and incurable wound. God has given you the tongue, not to offend him, but to praise and bless him.

”But, ” says St. Paul, “fornication and all uncleanness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints.” (Ephes. v. 3.) Mark the words”all uncleanness. ” We must not only abstain from obscene language and from every word of double meaning spoken in jest, but also from every improper word unbecoming a saint that is, a Christian. It is necessary to remark, that words of double meaning sometimes do greater evil than open obscenity, because the art with which they are spoken makes a deeper impression on, the mind.

10. Reflect, says St. Augustine, that your mouths are the mouths of Christians, which Jesus Christ has so often entered in the holy communion. Hence, you ought to have a horror of uttering all unchaste words, which are a diabolical poison. ”See, brethren, if it be just that, from the mouths of Christians, which the body of Christ enters, an immodest song, like diabolical poison, should proceed.” (Serm. xv., de Temp.) St. Paul says, that the language of a Christian should be always seasoned with salt. ”Let your speech be always in grace, seasoned with salt. ”(Col. iv. 6.)

Our conversation should be seasoned with words calculated to excite others not to offend, but to love God. ”Happy the tongue,” says St. Bernard, ”that knows only how to speak of holy things!”

Happy the tongue that knows only how to speak of God! brethren, be careful not only to abstain from all obscene language, but to avoid, as you would a plague, those who speak immodestly. When you hear any one begin to utter obscene words, follow the advice of the Holy Ghost: ”Hedge in thy ears with thorns: hear not a wicked tongue.” (Eccl. xxviii. 28.)

“Hedge in thy ears with thorns” that is, reprove with zeal the man who speaks obscenely; at least turn away your face, and show that you hate such language. Let us not be ashamed to appear to be followers of Jesus Christ, unless we wish Jesus Christ to be ashamed to bring us with him into Paradise.

The Glories Of Mary – St. Alphonsus Part 1

OF THE GREAT CONFIDENCE WE SHOULD HAVE IN MARY, BECAUSE SHE IS THE QUEEN OF MERCY.

THE Holy Church justly honors the great Virgin Mary, and would have her honored by all men with the glorious title of queen, because she has been elevated to the dignity of mother of the King of kings. If the Son is king, says St. Athanasius, his mother must necessarily be considered and entitled queen.

From the moment that Mary consented, adds St. Bernardine of Sienna, to become the mother of the Eternal Word, she merited the title of queen of the world and all creatures. f If the flesh of Mary, says St. Arnold, abbot, was the flesh of Jesus, how can the moth er be separated from the Son in his kingdom? Hence it follows that the regal glory must not only be considered as common to the mother and the Son, but even the same.

If Jesus is the king of the whole world, Mary is also queen of the whole world :f therefore, says St. Bernardine of Sienna, all creatures who serve God ought also to serve Mary; for all an gels and men, and all things that are in heaven and on earth being subject to the dominion of God, are also subject to the dominion of the glorious Virgin. | Hence Guerric, abbot, thus ad dresses the divine mother: Continue, Mary, continue in security to reign; dispose, according to thy will, of every thing belonging to thy Son, for thou, being mother and spouse of the King of the world, the kingdom and power over all creatures is due to thee as queen.

Mary, then, is queen; but let all learn for their consolation that she is a mild and merciful queen, desiring the good of us poor sinners. Hence the holy Church bids us salute her in this prayer, and name her the Queen of Mercy. The very name of queen signifies, as blessed Albertus Magnus remarks, compassion, and pro vision for the poor; differing in this from the titie of empress, which signifies severity and rigor. The greatness of kings and queens consists in comforting the wretched as Seneca says. So that whereas tyrants, in reigning, have only their own advantage in view, kings should have for their object the good of their subjects.

Therefore at the consecration of kings their heads are anointed with oil, which is the symbol of mercy, to denote that they, in reigning, should above all things cherish thoughts of kind ness and beneficence towards their subjects. Kings should then principally occupy them selves with works of mercy, but not to the neglect when it is required. Not so Mary, who, although queen, is not queen of justice, intent upon the punishment of the guilty, but queen of mercy, solely intent upon compassion and pardon for sinners. Accordingly, the Church requires us explicitly to call her queen of mercy.

The High Chancellor of Paris, John Gerson, med itating on the words of David, “These two things have I heard, that power belongeth to God, and mercy to thee, O Lord,”f says, that the kingdom of God consisting of justice and mercy, the Lord has divided it: he has reserved the kingdom of justice for himself, and he has granted the kingdom of mercy to Mary, ordaining that all the mercies which are dispensed then should pass through the hands of Mary, and should be bestowed according to her good pleasure. St. Thomas confirms this in his preface to the Canonical Epistles, saying that the holy Virgin, when she conceived the divine Word in her womb, and brought him forth, obtained the half of the kingdom of God by be coming queen of mercy, Jesus Christ remaining king of justice.

The eternal Father constituted Jesus Christ king of justice, and therefore made him the universal judge of the world; hence the prophet sang: “Give to the king thy judgment, Oh God; and to the king s son thy justice.”! Here a learned interpreter takes up the subject, and says: Oh Lord, thou hast given to thy Son thy justice, because thou hast given to the mother of the king thy mercy. And St. Bonaventure happily varies the passage above quoted by say ing: Give to the king thy judgment, Oh God, and to his mother thy mercy. II Ernest, Arch bishop of Prague, also says, that the eternal Father has given to the Son the office of judging and punishing, and to the mother the office of compassionating and relieving the wretched. Therefore the Prophet David predicted that God himself, if I may thus express it, would consecrate Mary queen of mercy, anointing her with the oil of gladness,! in order that all of us miserable children of Adam might rejoice in the thought of having in heaven that great queen, so full of the unction of mercy and pity for us; as St. Bonaventure says: Oh Mary, so full of the unction of mercy and the oil of pity, that God has anointed thee with the oil of gladness.

And how well does blessed Alberlus Magnus here apply the history of Queen Esther, who was indeed a type of Our Queen Mary! We read in the 4th chap, of the Book of Esther, that in the reign of King Assuerus, there went forth, throughout his kingdom, a decree commanding the death of all the Jews. Then Mardochai who was one of the condemned, committed their cause to Esther, that she might intercede with the king to obtain the revocation of the sentence. At first Esther refused to take upon herself this office, fearing that it would excite the an ger of the king more.

But Mardochai rebuked her, and bade her remember that she must not think of saving herself alone, as the Lord had placed her upon the throne to obtain salvation for all the Jews: “Think not that thou mayest save thy life only, because thou art in the king house, more than all the Jews.” Thus said Mardochai to Queen Esther, and thus might we poor sinners say to our Queen Mary, if she were ever reluctant to intercede with God for our deliverance from the just punishment of our sins. Think not that thou mayest save thy life only, because thou art in the king s house, more than all men. Think not, oh Lady, that God has exalted thee to be queen of the world, only to se cure thy own welfare; but also that thou, being so greatly elevated, mayest the more compassionate and the better relieve us miserable sinners. Assuerus, when he saw Esther before him, affectionately inquired of her what she had come to ask of him: “What is thy petition?”

Then the queen answered, “If I have found favor in thy sight, oh king, give me my people for which I request.” Assuerus heard her, and immediately ordered the sentence to be revoked. Now, if Assuerus granted to Esther, because he loved her, the salvation of the Jews, will not God graciously listen to Mary, in his boundless love for her, when she prays to him for those poor sinners who recommend themselves to her and says to him:If I have found favor in thy sight, oh King, my King and my God, if I have ever found favor with Thee (and well does the divine mother know herself to be the blessed, the fortunate, the only one of the children of men who found the grace lost by man; she knows herself to be the beloved of her Lord, more beloved than all the saints and angels united), give me my people for which I request: if thou lovest me, she says to him, give me, oh my Lord, these sinners in whose behalf I entreat Thee. Is it possible that God will not graciously hear her? Is there any one who does not know the power of Mary’s prayers with God? The law of clemency is on her tongue. Every prayer of hers is as a law established by our Lord, that mercy shall be exercised towards those for whom Mary intercedes. St. Bernard asks, Why does the Church name Mary Queen of Mercy and answers, Because we believe that she opens the depths of the mercy of God, to whom she will, when she will, and as she will; so that not even the vilest sinner is lost, if Mary protects him.

But it may, perhaps, be feared that Mary dis dains interposing in behalf of some sinners, be cause she finds them so laden with sins ? Per haps the majesty and sanctity of this great queen should alarm us? No, says St. Gregory, in pro portion to her greatness and holiness are her clem ency and mercy towards sinners who desire to amend, and who have recourse to her.* Kings and queens inspire terror by the display of their majesty, and their subjects fear to enter their presence; but what fear, says St. Bernard, can the wretched have of going to this queen of mercy since she never shows herself terrible or austere to those who seek her, but all sweetness and kindness?f Mary not only gives, but she her self presents to us milk and wool: the milk of mercy to inspire us with confidence, and wool to shield us from the thunderbolts of divine justice!

Suetonius narrates of the Emperor Titus, that he never could refuse a favor to any one who asked it, and that he even sometimes promised more than he could perform; and he answered to one who admonished him of this, that a prince should not dismiss any one from his presence dis satisfied. Titus said this, but, in reality, was perhaps often either guilty of falsehood, or failed in his promises. But our queen cannot lie, and can obtain whatever she wishes for her devoted servants. She has a heart so kind and compassionate, says Blosius, that she cannot send away dissatisfied any one who invokes her aid. But, as St. Bernard says, how couldst thou, oh Mary, refuse succor to the wretched, when thou art queen of mercy? and who are the subjects of inercy, if not the miserable? Thou art the queen of mercy, and I the most miserable of all sinners; if I, then, am the first of thy subjects, then thou shouldst have more care of me than of all others.

Have pity on us, then, oh queen of mercy, and give heed to our salvation; neither say to us, oh most holy Virgin, as St. Gregory of Nicomedia would add, that thou canst not aid us because of the multitude of our sins, when thou hast such power and pity that no number of sins can ever surpass it! Nothing resists thy power, since thy Creator and ours, while he honors thee as his mother, considers thy glory as his own, and exulting in it, as a Son, grants thy petitions as if he were discharging an obligation.! By this he means to say, that though Mary is under an infinite obligation to her Son for having elected her to be his mother yet it cannot be denied that the Son also is greatly indebted to his mother for having given him his human nature; whence Jesus, as if to recompense Mary as he ought, while he enjoys this his glory, honors her especially by always graciously listening to her prayers.

How great then should be our confidence in this queen, knowing how powerful she is with God, and at the same time how rich and full of mercy; so much so that there is no one on earth who does not share in the mercies and favors of Mary! This the blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget: “I am, ” she said to her, “the queen of heaven and the mother of mercy; I am the joy of the just, and the gate of entrance for sinners to God; neither is there living on earth a sinner who is so accursed that he is deprived of my compassion; for everyone, if he receives noth ing else through my intercession, receives the grace of being less tempted by evil spirits than he otherwise would be; no one, therefore,” she added, “who is not entirely accursed” (by which is meant the final and irrevocable malediction pro nounced against the damned), “is so entirely cast off by God that he may not return and enjoy his mercy if he invokes my aid. I am called by all the mother of mercy, and truly the mercy of God towards men has made me so merciful towards them.” And then she concluded by saying Therefore he shall be miserable, and for ever miserable in another life, who in this, being able, does not have recourse to me, who am so compassionate to all, and so earnestly desire to aid sinners.

Let us then have recourse, let us always have recourse to this most sweet queen, if we would be sure of our salvation; and if the sight of our sins terrifies and disheartens us, 1et us remember that Mary was made queen of mercy for this very end, that she might save by her protection the greatest and most abandoned sinners who have recourse to her. They are to be her crown in heaven, as her divine spouse has said: “Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; thou shalt be crowned from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards. ” And what are these dens of wild beasts and monsters, if not miserable sinners, whose souls become dens of sins, the most deformed monsters? Now, by these same sinners, as Rupert, the abbot, remarks, who are saved by thy means, oh great Queen Mary, thou wilt be crowned in. heaven; for their salvation will be thy crown, a crown indeed worthy and fit for a queen of mercy and let the following example illustrate this.

EXAMPLE

We read in the life of sister Catherine, an Augustinian nun, that in the place where that servant of God lived, there lived also a woman named Mary, who, in her youth, was a sinner, and obstinately persevered in her evil courses, even to extreme old age. For this she was banished by her fellow-citizens, forced to live in a cave beyond the limits of the place, and died in a state of loathsome corruption, abandoned by all, and without the sacraments; and on this account was buried in a field, like a beast. Now sister Catherine, who was accustomed to recommend very affectionately to God the souls of those who had departed this life, after learning the miserable death of this poor old woman, did not think of praying for her, as she and every one else believed her already among the damned. Four years having past, a soul from purgatory one day appeared to her, and said, “Sister Catherine, how unhappy is my fate! you commend to God the souls of all those who die, and for my soul alone you have had no pity.”
“And who are you?” said the servant of God. “I am,” answered she, “that poor Mary who died in the cave.” “How! are you saved?” exclaimed sister Catherine. “Yes, I am saved,” she said, “by the mercy of the Virgin Mary.
“And how? “When I saw death drawing near, finding myself laden with sins, and abandoned by all, I turned to the mother of God and said to her, Lady, thou art the refuge of the abandoned, behold me at this hour deserted by all; thou art my only hope, thou alone canst help me; have pity on me. The Holy Virgin obtained for me the grace of making an act of contrition; I died and am saved, and my queen has also obtained for me the grace that my pains should be abridged, and that I should, by suffering intensely for a short time, pass through that purification which otherwise would have lasted many years. A few masses only are needed to obtain my release from purgatory. I pray thee cause them to be offered for me, and I promise to pray God and Mary for thee.” Sister Catherine immediately caused those masses to be said for her, and that soul, after a few days, appeared to her again, more brilliant than the sun, and said to her, “I thank thee, sister Catherine: behold I am now going to paradise to sing the mercy of God and pray for thee.”

PRAYER.

Oh Mother of my God and my Lady Mary, as a poor wounded and loathsome wretch pre sents himself to a great queen, I present myself to thee, who art the queen of heaven and earth. From the lofty throne on which thou art seated, do not disdain, I pray thee, to cast thy eye upon me, a poor sinner. God hath made thee so rich in order that thou rnayest succor the needy, and hath made thee queen of mercy that thou mayest help the miserable, look upon me, then, and have pity on me. Look upon me, and do not leave me until thou hast changed me from a sinner into a saint. I see I merit nothing, or rather I merit for my ingratitude to be deprived of all the graces which, by thy means, I have received from the Lord. But thou, who art the mother of mercy, dost not require merits, but miseries, that thou mayest succor those who are in need; and who is more poor and more needy than I?

Oh glorious Virgin, I know that thou, being queen of the universe, art also my queen; and I, in a more especial manner, would dedicate myself to thy service; that thou mayest dispose of me as seemeth best to thee. Therefore I say to thee with St. Bonaventure, Oh, Lady, I submit myself to thy control, that thou mayest rule and govern me entirely. Do not leave me to myself.* Rule me, oh my queen, and do not leave me to myself. Command me, employ me as thou wilt, and punish me if I do not obey thee, for very salutary will be the punishments that come from thy hand. I would esteem it a greater thing to be thy servant than Lord of the whole earth. Thine I am, save me! Accept me, oh Mary, for thy own and attend to my salvation, as I am thine own. I no longer will be my own, I give myself to thee. And if hitherto I have so poorly served thee, having lost so many good occasions of honoring thee, for the time to come I will unite myself to thy most loving and most faithful servants. No one from this time henceforth shall surpass me in honoring and loving thee, my most lovely queen. This I promise, and I hope to perform with thy assistance. Amen.”

 

On the efficacy and necessity of prayer – St. Alphonsus

On the efficacy and necessity of prayer

“God, be merciful to me a sinner.” LUKE xviii. 13.

IN this day’s gospel we read, that two men, one a Pharisee and the other a Publican, went to the temple. Instead of bowing down to beg of God to assist him by his graces, the Pharisee said: I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not as the rest of men, who are sinners. “Deus gratias ago tibi, quia non sum sicut cæteri homines.” But the Publican, tilled with sentiments of humility, cried out: ”O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” St. Luke tells us, that this Publican returned to his house justified; and that the Pharisee went home as guilty and as proud as when he entered the temple.

From this, most beloved brethren, you may infer how pleasing to God, and how necessary for us, are our humble petitions to obtain from the Lord all the graces which are indispensable for salvation. In this sermon I will show, in the first point, the efficacy of prayer: and in the second, the necessity of prayer.

First Point – On the efficacy of prayer.

1. To understand the efficacy and value of our prayers, we need only consider the great promises which. God has made to every one who prays. “Call upon me, and I will deliver thee.” (Ps. xlix. 15.) Call upon me, and I will save you from every danger. ”He shall cry to me, I will hear him.” (Ps. xc. 15.) “Cry to me, and I will hear thee.” (Jer. xxxiii. 3.) “You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John xv. 7.) Ask whatsoever you wish and it shall le given to you. There are a thousand similar passages in the Old and New Testaments. By his nature God is, as St. Leo says, goodness itself. “Deus cujus natura bonitas.” Hence he desires, with a great desire, to make us partakers of his own good.

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say, that when a soul prays to God for any grace, he feels in a certain manner under an obligation to her, and thanks her; because by prayer the soul opens to him a way of satisfying his desire to dispense his graces to us. Hence, in the holy Scriptures, the Lord appears to recommend and inculcate to us nothing more forcibly than to ask and pray.

To show this, the words which we read in the seventh chapter of St. Matthew are sufficient. ”Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (vii. 7). St. Augustine teaches, that by these promises God has bound himself to grant all that we ask in prayer. ”By his promises he has made himself a debtor.” (De Verb. Dom. Serm. ii.)

And, in the fifth sermon, the saint says, that if the Lord did not wish to bestow his graces upon us, he would not exhort us so strenuously to ask them. “He would not exhort us to ask, unless he wished to give.” Hence we see that the Psalms of David and the Books of Solomon and of the Prophets are full of prayers.

2. Theodoret has written, that prayer is so efficacious before God, that, ”though it be one, it can do all things.”“Oratio cum sit una, omnia potest.” St. Bernard teaches, that when we pray, the Lord, if he does not give the grace we ask, will grant a more useful gift. ”He will give either what we ask, or what he knows to be more profitable to us.” (Serm. v. in Fer. 4 cm.) And whom has God, when asked for aid, ever despised by not listening to his petition?”Who hath called upon him, and he despised him ?” (Eccl. ii. 12.)

The Scripture says, that among the nations there is none that has gods so willing to hear our prayers, as our true God. “Neither is there any other nation so great, that hath gods so nigh to them, as our God is present to all our petitions.” (Deut. iv. 7.) The princes of the earth, says St. Chrysostom, give audience only to a few; but God grants it to every one that wishes for it. ”Aures principis paucis patent, Die vero omnibus volentibus.” (Lib. 2, de Orat.) David tells us that this goodness of God in hearing us at whatever time we pray to him, shows us that he is our true God, whose love for us surpasses the love of all others. ”In what day soever I shall call upon thee, behold I know thou art my God.” (Ps. lv. 10.)

He wishes and ardently desires to confer favours upon us; but he requires us to pray for them. Jesus Christ said one day to his disciples: ”Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name; ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John xvi. 24.)

As if he said: You complain of me for not making you perfectly content; but you ought to complain of yourselves for not having asked of me all the gifts you stood in need of; ask, henceforth, whatsoever you want, and your prayer shall be heard. Many, says St. Bernard complain that the Lord is wanting to them. But he complains with more justice that they are wanting to him, by neglecting to ask him for his graces. ”Omnes nobis causamur deesse gratiam, sed justius forsitan ista sibi queritur deesse nonnullos.” (S. Bern, de Tripl. Cust.)

3. The ancient fathers, after having consulted to gether about the exercise most conducive to salvation, came to the conclusion, that the best means of securing eternal life is, to pray continually, saying: Lord, assist me; Lord, hasten to my assistance. ”Incline unto my aid, God; Lord, make haste to help me.” Hence the holy Church commands these two petitions to be often repeated in the canonical hours by all the clergy and by all religious, who pray not only for themselves, but also for the whole Christian world.

St. John Climacus says, that our  prayers as it were compel God by a holy violence to hear us. “Prayer piously does violence to God.” Hence, when we pray to the Lord, He instantly answers by bestowing upon us the grace we ask. ”At the voice of thy cry, as soon as he shall hear, he will answer thee.” (Isa. xxx. 19.) Hence St. Ambrose says, that”he who asks of God, receives while he asks.” (Ep. Ixxxiv., ad Demetr.)

And he not only grants his grace instantly, but also abundantly, giving us more than we pray for. St. Paul tells us that God is rich that is, liberal of his graces to every one that prays to him. “Rich unto all that call upon him.” (Rom. x. 12.) And St. James says: ”If any of you want wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly and upbraideth not. ” (St. James i. 5.)”He upbraideth not;” when we pray to him he does not reproach us with the insults we have offered to him, but he appears then to forget all the injuries we have done him, and to delight in enriching us with his graces.

Second Point – On the necessity of prayer.

4. ”God,” as St. Paul has written, ”will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. ii. 4.) According to St. Peter, he does not wish any one to be lost. ”The Lord dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any soul should perish, but that all should return to penance.” (1 Pet. iii. 9.) Hence St. Leo teaches, that as God wishes us to observe his commands, so he prevents us by his assistance, that we may fulfil them. ”Juste instat præcepto qui præcurrit auxilio.” (Serm. xvi. de Pass.)

And St. Thomas, in explaining the words of the Apostle, ”God, who will have all men to be saved,” says: “Therefore, grace is wanting to no one; but he, on his part, communicates it to all.” (In Epist, ad Hebr., cap. xii., lect. 3.) And in another place the holy doctor writes: ”To provide every man with the means necessary for his salvation, provided on his part he puts no obstacle to it, belongs to Divine Providence.”

But, according to Gennadius, the assistance of his grace the Lord grants only to those who pray for it. ”We believe. . . .that no one works out his salvation but by God‟s assistance; and that he only who prays merits aid from God.” (de Eccles. Dogm.) And St. Augustine teaches, that, except the first graces of vocation to the faith and to repentance, all other graces, and particularly the grace of perseverance, are granted to those only who ask them.

”It is evident that God gives some graces, such as the beginning of faith, without prayer and that he has prepared other graces, such as perseverance to the end only for those who pray.” (De dono persev., c.xvi.) And in another place he writes, that”God wishes to bestow his favours; but he gives them only to those who ask.” (In Ps. c.)

5. Hence theologians commonly teach, after St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and others, that, for adults prayer is necessary as a means of salvation; that is, that without prayer it is impossible for them to be saved. This doctrine may be inferred from the following passages of Scripture: “We ought always to pray.” (Luke xviii. 1.) “Ask, and you shall receive.” (John xvi. 24.)”Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. v. 17.) The words we ought, ask, pray, according to St. Thomas (3 part, qu. xxxix. art. 5) and the generality of theologians, imply a precept which obliges, under grievous sin, particularly in three cases: First, when a man is in the state of sin; secondly, when he is in great danger of falling into sin; and, thirdly, when he is in danger of death.

Theologians teach, that he who, at other times, neglects prayer for a month, or at most for two months, cannot be excused from mortal sin; because, without prayer we cannot procure the helps necessary for the observance of the law of God. St. Chrysostom teaches that as water is necessary to prevent  trees from withering, so prayer is necessary to save us from perdition. “Non ninus quam arbores aquis, precibus indigemus.” (Tom. l,hom. lxxvii.)

6. Most groundless was the assertion of Jansenius, that there are some commands, the fulfilment of which is impossible to us, and that we have not even grace to render their observance possible. For, the Council of Trent teaches, in the words of St. Augustine, that, though man is not able, with the aid of the grace ordinarily given, to fulfil all the commandments, still he can, by prayer, obtain the additional helps necessary for their observance.

”God does not command impossibilities; but, by his precepts, he admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask what you cannot do; and he assists you, that you may be able to do it.” (Sess. 6, cap. xi.) To this may be added another celebrated passage of St. Augustine: ”By our faith, which teaches that God does not command impossibilities, we are admonished what to do in things that are easy, and what to ask in things that are difficult.” (Lib. de Nat. et Grat., cap. lxix., n. 83.)

7. But why does God, who knows our weakness, permit us to be assailed by enemies which we are not able to resist? The Lord, answers the holy doctor, seeing the great advantages which we derive from the necessity of prayer, permits us to be attacked by enemies more powerful than we are, that we may ask his assistance. Hence they who are conquered cannot excuse themselves by saying that they had not strength to resist the assault of the enemy; for had they asked aid from God, he should have given it; and had they prayed, they should have been victorious.

Therefore, if they are defeated, God will punish them. St. Bonaventure says, that if a general lose a fortress in consequence of not having sought timely succour from his sovereign, he shall be branded as a traitor. ”Reputaretur infidelis, nisi expectaret a rege auxilium.” (S. Bon. Difet. tit, c. v.)

Thus God regards as a traitor the Christian who, when he finds himself assailed by temptations, neglects to seek the divine aid. ”Ask,” says Jesus Christ, ”and you shall receive.” Then, concludes St. Teresa, he that does not ask does not receive. This is conformable to the doctrine of St. James: ”You have not, because you do not ask.” (St. James iv. 2.)

St. Chrysostom says, that prayer is a powerful weapon of defence against all enemies. ”Truly prayer is a great armour.” (Hom, xli., ad Pop.) St. Ephrem writes, that he who fortifies himself beforehand by prayer, prevents the entrance of sin into the soul. “If you pray before you work, the passage into the soul will not be open to sin.” (Serm. de Orat.) David said the same: “Praising I will call upon the Lord, and I shall be saved from my enemies.” (Ps. xvii. 4.)

8. If we wish to lead a good life, and to save our souls, we must learn to pray. ”He,” says St. Augustine, ”knows how to live well who knows how to pray well.” (Hom, xliii.) In order to obtain God’s graces by prayer, it is necessary, first, to take away sin; for God does not hear obstinate sinners.

For example: if a person entertains hatred towards another, and wishes to take revenge, God does not hear his prayer. ”When you multiply prayer, I will not hear; for your hands are full of blood.” (Isa. i. 15.) St. Chrysostom says, that he who prays while he cherishes a sinful affection, does not pray, but mocks God. ”Qui orat et peccat, non rogat Deum sed illudit.” (Hom. xi., in Matt, vi.)

But if he ask the Lord to take away hatred from his heart, the Lord will hear him. Secondly, it is necessary to pray with attention. Some imagine that they pray by repeating many Our Fathers, with such distraction that they do not know what they say. These speak, but do not pray. Of them the Lord says, by the Prophet Isaias: ”With their lips they glorify me, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isa. xxix. 13.) Thirdly, it is Page 169 of 233 necessary, as the Holy Ghost exhorts us, to take away the occasions which hinder us to pray. ”Let nothing hinder thee from praying always.” (Eccl. xviii. 22.)

He who is occupied in a thousand affairs unprofitable to the soul, places a cloud before his prayers, which prevents their passing to the throne of grace. ”Thou hast set a cloud before thee, that our prayer may not pass through.” (Lamen. iii. 44.) I will not omit here the exhortation of St. Bernard, to ask graces of God through the intercession of his divine mother. ”Let us ask grace, and ask it through Mary; for she is a mother, and her prayer cannot be fruitless.” (Serm. de Aqæd.)

St. Anselm says: “Many things are asked of God and are not obtained: what is asked of Mary is obtained, not because she is more powerful, but because God decreed thus to honour her, that men may know that she can obtain all things from God.”

ON THE DEATH OF THE SINNER – St. Alphonsus

“Thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee.” LUKE xix. 43.

SEEING from a distance the city of Jerusalem, in which the Jews were soon to put him to death, Jesus Christ wept over it. “Videns civitatern flevit super illam.” Our merciful Redeemer wept at the consideration of the chastisement which was soon to be inflicted on the city, and which he foretold to her inhabitants. ”Thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee. ” Unhappy city! thou shalt one day see thyself encompassed by enemies, who shall beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children in thee, and shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone.

Most beloved brethren, this unhappy city is a figure of the soul of a sinner, who, at the hour of death, shall find himself surrounded by his enemies first, by remorse of conscience; secondly, by the assaults of the devils; and thirdly, by the fears of eternal death.

 First Point – The sinner at death shall be tortured by remorse of conscience. 

1. “Their soul shall die in a storm.” (Job xxxvi. 14.) The unhappy sinners who remain in sin die in a tempest, with which God has beforehand threatened them. ”A tempest shall break out and come upon the head of the wicked.” (Jer. xxiii. 19.) At the commencement of his illness the sinner is not troubled by remorse or fear; because his relatives, friends, physicians, and all tell him that his sickness is not dangerous; thus he is deceived and hopes to recover. But when his illness increases, and malignant symptoms, the harbingers of approaching death, begin to appear, then the storm with which the Lord has threatened the wicked shall commence.

“When sudden calamity shall fall on you, and destruction as a tempest shall be at hand.” (Prov. i. 27.) This tempest shall be formed as well by the pains of sickness as by the  fear of being obliged to depart from this earth, and to leave all things; but still more by the remorses of conscience, which shall place before his eyes all the irregularities of his past life. ”They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them.” (Wis. iv. 20.) Then shall his sins rush upon his mind, and fill him with terror. His iniquities shall stand against him to convict him, and, without the aid of other testimony, shall assail him, and prove that he deserves hell.

2. The dying sinner will confess his sins; but, according to St. Augustine, ”The repentance which is sought from a sick man is infirm.” (Serm, xxxvii., de Temp.) And St. Jerome says, that of a hundred thousand sinners who continue till death in the state of sin, scarcely one shall be saved. ”Vix de centum milibus, quorum mala vita fuit, meretur in morte a Deo indulgentiam, unus.” (Epis. de Mort. Eus.)

St. Vincent Ferrer writes, that it is a greater miracle to save such sinners, than to raise the dead to life. ”Majus miraculum est, quod male viventes faciant bonum finem, quam suscitare mortuos.” (Serm. i., de Nativ. Virgin.) They shall feel convinced of the evil they have done; they will wish, but shall not be able, to detest it. Antiochus understood the malice of his sins when he said: ”Now I remember the evils that I have done in Jerusalem.” (1 Mach. vi. 12.) He remembered his sins, but did not detest them. He died in despair and oppressed with great sadness, saying: “Behold, I perish with great grief in a strange land” (v. 13).

According to St. Fulgentius, the same happened to Saul at the hour of death: he remembered his sins; he dreaded the punishment which they deserved; but he did not detest them. “Non odit quid fecerat, sed timuit quod nolebat.”

3. Oh! how difficult is it for a sinner, who has slept many years in sin, to repent sincerely at the hour of death, when his mind is darkened, and his heart hardened!”His heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as firm as a smiths anvil.” (Job xli. 15.)

During life, instead of yielding to the graces and calls of God, he became more obdurate, as the anvil is hardened by repeated strokes of the hammer. ”A hard heart shall fare evil at the last.” (Eccl. iii. 27.) By loving sin till death, he has loved the danger of his damnation, and therefore God will justly permit him to perish in the danger in which he wished to live till death.

4. St. Augustine says, that he who is abandoned by sin before he abandons it, will scarcely detest it as he ought at the hour of death; for he will then detest it, not through a hatred of sin, but through necessity. ”Qui prius a peccato relinquitur, quam ipse relinquat, non libere, sed quasi ex necessitate condemnat.” But how shall he be able to hate from his heart the sins which he has loved till death? He must love the enemy whom till then he has hated, and he must hate the person whom he has till that moment loved. Oh! what mountains must he pass! He shall probably meet with a fate similar to that of a certain person, who kept in confinement a great number of wild beasts in order to let them loose on the enemies who might assail him. But the wild beasts, as soon as he unchained them, instead of attacking his enemies, devoured himself. When the sinner will wish to drive away his iniquities, they shall cause his destruction, either by complacency in objects till then loved, or by despair of pardon at the sight of their numbers and enormity. “Evils shall catch the unjust man unto destruction.” (Ps. cxxxix. 12.) St. Bernard says, that at death the sinner shall see himself chained and bound by his sins. ”We are your works; we will not desert you.” We will not leave you; we will accompany you to judgment, and will be your companions for all eternity in hell.

Second Point – The dying sinner shall be tortured by the assaults of the devils.

5. ”The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.” (Apoc. xii. 12.) At death the devil exerts all his powers to secure the soul that is about to leave this world; for he knows, from the symptoms of the disease, that he has but little time to gain her for eternity. The Council of Trent teaches that Jesus Christ has left us the sacrament of Extreme Unction as a most powerful defence against the temptations of the devil at the hour of death. “Extremæ Unctionis sacramento finem vitæ tanquam firmissimo quodam præsidio munivit.”

And the holy council adds, that there is no time in which the enemy combats against us with so much violence in order to effect our damnation, and to make us despair of the divine mercy, as at the end of life. ”N ullum tempus est, quo vehementius ille omnes suæ versutiæ nervos intendat at perendos, nos penitus, et a fiducia, etiam, si possit, divinæ misericordiæ deturbandos, quam cum impendere nobis exitum vitæ perspicet.” (Sess. 14, cap. ix. Doctr. de Sacr. Extr. Unct.)

6. Oh! how terrible are the assaults and snares of the devil against the souls of dyiug persons, even though they have led a holy life! After his recovery from a most severe illness, the holy king Eleazar said, that the temptations by which the devil assails men at death, can be conceived only by him who has felt them.

We read in the life of St. Andrew Avelliuo, that in his agony he had so fierce a combat with hell, that all the religious present were seized with trembling. They perceived that, in consequence of the agitation, his face swelled, and became black, all his members trembled, and a flood of tears gushed from his eyes.

All began to weep through compassion, and were rilled with terror at the sight of a saint dying in such a manner. But they were afterwards consoled, when they saw that as soon as an image of most holy Mary was held before him, he became perfectly calm, and breathed forth his blessed soul with great joy.

7. Now, if this happens to the saints, what shall become of poor sinners, who have lived in sin till death? At that awful moment the devil does not come alone to tempt them in a thousand ways, in order to bring them to eternal perdition, but he calls companions to his assistance. “Their house shall be filled with serpents.” (Isa. xiii. 21.) When a Christian is about to leave this world, his house is filled with devils, who unite together in order to effect his ruin. “All her persecutors have taken her in the midst of straits.” (Lamen. i. 3.)

All his enemies will encompass him in the straits of death. One shall say: Be not afraid; you shall not die of this sickness! Another will say: You have been for so many years deaf to the calls of God, and can you now expect that he will save you? Another will ask: How can you repair the frauds of your past life, and the injuries you have done to your neighbour in his property and character?

Another shall ask: What hope can there be for you? Do you not see that all your confessions have been null that they have been made without true sorrow, and without a firm purpose of amendment? How can you repair them with this heart, which you feel so hard?

Do you not see that you are lost? And in the midst of these straits and attacks of despair, the dying sinner, full of agitation and confusion, must pass into eternity. ”The people shall be troubled and they shall pass.” (Job xxxiv 20.)

Third Point. – The dying sinner shall be tortured by the fears of eternal death. 

8. Miserable the sick man who takes to his bed in the state of mortal sin! He that lives in sin till death shall die in sin. “You shall die in your sin.” (John viii. 21.) It is true that, in  whatsoever hour the sinner is converted, God promises to pardon him; but to no sinner has God promised the grace of conversion at the hour of death. ”Seek the Lord while he may be found.” (Isa. iv. 6.) Then, there is for some sinners a time when they shall seek God and shall not find him. “You shall seek me, and shall not find me.” (John vii. 34.)

The unhappy beings will go to confession at the hour of death; they will promise and weep, and ask mercy of God, but without knowing what they do. A man who sees himself under the feet of a foe pointing a dagger to his throat, will shed tears, ask pardon, and promise to serve his enemy as a slave during the remainder of his life. But, will the enemy believe him? No; he will feel convinced that his words are not sincere that his object is to escape from his hands, and that, should he be pardoned, he will become more hostile than ever.

In like manner, how can God pardon the dying sinner, when he sees that all his acts of sorrow, and all his promises, proceed not from the heart, but from a dread of death and of approaching damnation.

9. In the recommendation of the departing soul, the assisting priest prays to the Lord, saying: ”Recognize, O Lord, thy creature.” But God answers: I know that he is my creature; but, instead of regarding me as his Creator, he has treated me as an enemy. The priest continues his prayer, and says: ”Remember not his past iniquities. ” I would, replies the Lord, pardon all the past sins of his youth; but he has continued to despise me till this moment the very hour of his death. ”They have turned their back upon me, and not their face: and, in the time of affliction, they will say: Arise, and deliver us. Where are the gods which thou hast made thee? let them rise and deliver thee.” (Jer. ii. 27, 28.)

You, says the Lord, have turned your back upon me till death; “and do you now want me to deliver you from vengeance? Invoke your own gods the creatures, the riches, the friends you loved more than you loved me. Call them now to come to your assistance, and to save you from hell, which is open to receive you. It now justly belongs to me to take vengeance on the insults you have offered me. You have despised my threats against obstinate sinners, and have paid no regard to them. ”Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time, that their foot may slide.” (Deut. xxxii. 35.) The time of my vengeance is now arrived; it is but just to execute it.

This is precisely what happened to a certain person in Madrid, who led a wicked life, but, at the sight of the unhappy death of a companion, went to confession, and resolved to enter a strict religious order. But, in consequence of having neglected to put his resolution into immediate execution, he relapsed into his former irregularities.

Being reduced to great want, he wandered about the world, and fell sick at Lima. From the hospital in which he took refuge he sent for a confessor, and promised again to change his life, and to enter religion. But, having recovered from his illness, he returned to his wickedness; and, behold! the vengeance of God fell upon him.

One day, his confessor, who was a missionary, in passing over a mountain, heard a noise, which appeared to be the howling of a wild beast. He drew near the place from which the noise proceeded, and saw a dying man, half rotten, and howling through despair. He addressed to him some words of consolation. The sick man, opening his eyes, recognized the missionary, and said: Have you, too, come to he a witness of the justice of God?

I am the man who made my confession in the hospital of Lima. I then promised to change my life, but have not done so; and now I die in despair. And thus the miserable man, amid these acts of despair, breathed forth his unhappy soul. These facts are related by Father Charles Bovio (part iii., example 9).

10. Let us conclude the discourse. Tell me, brethren, were a person in sin seized with apoplexy, and instantly deprived of his senses, what sentiments of pity would you feel at seeing him die in this state; without the sacraments, and without signs of repentance! Is not he a fool, who, when he has time to be reconciled with God, continues in sin, or returns to his sins, and thus exposes himself to the danger of dying suddenly, and of dying in sin? “At what hour you think not,” says Jesus Christ, “the Son of Man will come,” (Luke xiii. 40.)

An unprovided death, which has happened to so many, may also happen to each of us. And it is necessary to understand, that all who lead a bad life, meet with an unprovided death, though their last illness may allow them some time to prepare for eternity; for the days of that mortal illness are days of darkness days of confusion, in which it is difficult, and even morally impossible, to adjust a conscience burdened with many sins.

Tell me, brethren, if you were now at the point of death, given over by physicians, and in the last agony, how ardently would you desire another month, or another week, to settle the accounts you must render to God! And God gives you this time.

He calls you, and warns you of the danger of damnation to which you are exposed. Give yourself, then, instantly to God. What do you wait for?

Will you wait till he sends you to hell?”

Walk whilst you have light.” (John xii. 35.)

Avail yourselves of this time and this light, which God gives you at this moment, and now, while it is in your power, repent of all your past sins; for, a time shall come when you will be no longer able to avert the punishment which they deserve.

 

ON THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT – St. Alphonsus

EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT.

“Give an account of thy stewardship.” LUKE xvi. 2.

BELOVED Christians, of all the goods of nature, of fortune, and of grace, which we have received from God, we are not the masters, neither can we dispose of them as we please; we  are but the administrators of them; and therefore we should employ them according to the will of God, who is our Lord. Hence, at the hour of death, we must render a strict account of them to Jesus Christ, our Judge. ”For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.” (2 Cor. v. 10.) This is the precise meaning of that”give an account of thy stewardship,” in the gospel of this day. ”You are not,” says St. Bonaventure, in his comment on these words, ”a master, but a steward over the things committed to you; and therefore you are to render an account of them.” I will place before your eyes Today the rigour of this judgment, which shall be passed on each of us on the last day of our life. Let us consider the terror of the soul, first, when we shall be presented to the Judge; secondly, when she shall be examined; and thirdly, when she shall be condemned.

First Point – Terror of the soul when she shall be presented to the Judge.

1. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” (Heb. ix. 27.) It is of faith that we shall die, and that after death a judgment shall be passed on all the actions of our life. Now, what shall be the terror of each of us when we shall be at the point of death, and shall have before our eyes the judgment which must take place the very moment the soul departs from the body? Then shall be decided our doom to eternal life, or to eternal death. At the time of the passage of their souls from this life to eternity, the sight of their past sins, the rigour of God’s judgment, and the uncertainty of their eternal salvation, have made the saints tremble. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzia trembled in her sickness, through the fear of judgment; and to her confessor, when he endeavoured to give her courage, she said: “Ah! father, it is a terrible thing to appear before Christ in judgment.”

After spending so many years in penance in the desert, St. Agatho trembled at the hour of death, and said: ”What shall become of me when I shall be judged ?” The venerable Father Louis da Ponte was seized with such a fit of trembling at the thought of the account which he should render to God, that he shook the room in which he lay. The thought of judgment inspired the venerable Juvenal Ancina, Priest of the Oratory, and afterwards Bishop of Saluzzo, with the determination to leave the world. Hearing the Dies Iræ sung, and considering the terror of the soul when presented before Jesus Christ, the Judge, he took, and afterwards executed, the resolution of giving himself entirely to God.

2. It is the common opinion of theologians, that at the very moment and in the very place in which the soul departs from the body, the divine tribunal is erected, the accusation is read, and the sentence is passed by Jesus Christ, the Judge. At this terrible tribunal each of us shall be presented to give an account of all our thoughts, of all our words, and of all our actions. “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.” ( 2 Cor. v. 10.)

When presented before an earthly judge criminals have been seen to fall into a cold sweat through fear. It is related of Piso, that so great and insufferable was the confusion, which he felt at the thought of appearing as a criminal before the senate that he killed himself. How great is the pain of a vassal, or of a son, in appearing before an angry prince or an enraged father, to account for some crime which he has committed!

Oh! how much greater shall be the pain and confusion of the soul in standing, before Jesus Christ enraged against her for having despised him during her life! Speaking of judgment, St. Luke says: “Then you shall see the Son of Man.” (Luke xxi. 27.) They shall see Jesus Christ as man, with the same wounds with which he ascended into heaven. “Great joy of the beholders!” says Robert the Abbot, “a great terror of those who are in expectation!” These wounds shall console the just, and shall terrify the wicked. In them sinners shall see the Redeemer’s love for themselves, and their ingratitude to him.

3. “Who,” says the Prophet Nahum, “can stand before the face of his indignation ?” (i. 6.) How great, then, shall be the terror of a soul that finds herself in sin before this Judge, the first time she shall see him, and see him full of wrath! St. Basil says that she shall be tortured more by her shame and confusion than by the very fire of hell. ”Horridior quam ignis, erit pudor.” Philip the Second rebuked one of his domestics for having told him a lie. ”Is it thus,” said the king to him, ”you deceive me?” The domestic, after having returned home, died of grief. The Scripture tells us, that when Joseph reproved his brethren, saying: ”I am Joseph, whom you sold,” they were unable to answer through fear, and remained silent. ”His brethren could not answer him, being struck with exceeding great fear.” (Gen. xlv. 3.)

Now what answer shall sinners make to Jesus Christ when he shall say to them: I am your Redeemer and your Judge, whom you have so much despised. Where shall the miserable beings fly, says St. Augustine, when they shall see an angry Judge above, hell open below, on one side their own sins accusing them, and on the other the devils dragging them to punishment, and their conscience burning them within? “Above shall be an enraged Judge below, a horrid chaos on the right, sins accusing him on the left, demons dragging him to punishment within, a burning conscience! Whither shall a sinner, beset in this manner, fly ?”Perhaps he will cry for mercy? But how, asks Eusebius Emissenus, can he dare to implore mercy, when he must first render an account of his contempt for the mercy which Jesus Christ has shown to him?”With what face will you, who are to be first judged for contempt of mercy, ask for mercy?” But let us come to the rendering of the accounts.

Second Point. Terror of the soul when she shall be examined.

4. As soon as the soul shall be presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, he will say to her: ”Give an account of thy stewardship:” render instantly an account of thy entire life. The Apostle tells us, that to be worthy of eternal glory our lives must be found conformable to the life of Jesus Christ. ”For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his son ;…them he also glorified.” (Rom. viii. 29, 30.)

Hence St. Peter has said, that in the judgment of Jesus Christ, the just man who has observed the divine law, has pardoned enemies, has respected the saints, has practised chastity, meekness, and other virtues, shall scarcely be saved. ”The just man shall scarcely be saved.” The Apostle adds: “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?” (1 Pet. iv. 18.) What shall become of the vindictive and the unchaste, of blasphemers and slanderers? What shall become of those whose entire life is opposed to the lite of Jesus Christ?

5. In the first place, the Judge shall demand of sinners an account of all the blessings and graces which he bestowed on them in order to bring them to salvation, and which they have rendered fruitless. He will demand an account of the years granted to them that they might serve God, and which they have spent in offending him. “He hath called against me the time.” (Lam. i. 15.) He will then demand an account of their sins. Sinners commit sins, and afterwards forget them; but Jesus Christ does not forget them: he keeps, as Job says, all our iniquities numbered, as it were in a bag. “Thou hast sealed up my iniquities, as it were in a.” (Job xiv. 17.) And he tells us that, on the day of accounts, he will take a lamp to scrutinize all the actions of our life. ”And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps.” (Soph. i. 12.)

The lamp, says Mendoza on this passage, penetrates all the corners of the house that is, God will discover all the defects of our conscience, great and small. According to St. Anselm, an account shall be demanded of every glance of the eyes. ”Exigitur usque ad ictum oculi.” And, according to St. Matthew, of every idle word. ”Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it on the day of judgment.” (Matt. xii. 36.)

6. The Prophet Malachy says, that as gold is refined by taking away the dross, so on the day of judgment all our actions shall be examined, and every defect which may be discovered shall be punished. ”He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold.” (Mal. iii. 3.) Even our justices that is, our good works, confessions, communions, and prayers shall be examined. “When I shall take a time, I will judge justices.” (Ps. Ixxiv. 3.) But if every glance, every idle word, and even good works, shall be judged, with what rigour shall immodest expressions, blasphemies, grievous detractions, thefts, and sacrileges be judged? Alas! on that day every soul shall, as St. Jerome says, see, to her own confusion, all the evils which she has done. ”Videbit unusquisque quod fecit.”

7. ”Weight and balance are judgments of the Lord. ”(Prov. xvi. 11.) In the balance of the Lord a holy life and good works make the scale descend; but nobility, wealth, and science have no weight. Hence, if found innocent, the peasant, the poor, and the ignorant shall be rewarded. But the man of rank, of wealth, or of learning, if found guilty, shall be condemned. “Thou art weighed in the balance,” said Daniel to Belthassar, ”and art found wanting.” (Dan. v. 27.)”Neither his gold nor his wealth,” says Father Alvares, ”but the king alone was weighed.”

8. At the divine tribunal the poor sinner shall see himself accused by the devil, who, according to St. Augustine, ”will recite the words of our profession, and will charge us before our face with all that we have done, will state the day and hour in which we sinned.” (Con. Jud., tom. 6.)”He will recite the words of our profession” that is, he will enumerate the promises which we have made to God, and which we afterwards violated. ”He will charge us before our face ;” he will upbraid us with all our wicked deeds, pointing to the day and hour in which they were committed. And he will, as the same saint says, conclude his accusation by saying: “I have suffered neither stripes nor scourges for this man.”

Lord, I have suffered nothing for this ungrateful sinner, and to make himself my slave he has turned his back on thee who has endured so much for his salvation. He, therefore, justly belongs to me. Even his angel-guardian will, according to Origen, come forward to accuse him, and will say: “I have laboured so many years for his salvation; but he has despised all my admonitions.” “Unusquisque angelorum perhibet testimonium, quot annis circa eum laboraverit, sed ille monita sprevit.” (Hom. lxvi.) Thus, even friends shall treat with contempt the guilty soul. ”All her friends have despised her.” (Lamen. i. 2.) Her very sins shall, says St. Bernard, accuse her. “And they shall say: You have made us; we are your work; we shall not desert you.” (Lib. Medit, cap. ii.) We are your offspring; we shall not leave you: we shall be your companions in hell for all eternity.

9. Let us now examine the excuses which the sinner will be able to advance. He will say, that the evil inclinations of nature had drawn him into sin. But he shall be told that, if concupiscence impelled him to sins, it did not oblige him to commit them; and that, if he had recourse to God, he should have received from him grace to resist every temptation. For this purpose Jesus Christ has left us the sacraments: but when we do not make use of them, we can complain only of ourselves. “But, ” says the Redeemer, “now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John xv. 22.) To excuse himself, the sinner shall also say that the devil tempted him to sin. But, as St. Augustine says, “The enemy is bound like a dog in chains, and can bite only him who has united himself to him with a deadly security.”

The devil can bark, but cannot bite unless you adhere and listen to him. Hence the saint adds: ”See how foolish is the man whom a dog, loaded with chains, bites.” Perhaps he will advance his bad habits as an excuse; but this shall not stand; for the same St. Augustine says, that though it is difficult to resist the force of an evil habit, ”if any one does not desert himself, he will conquer it with the divine assistance.” If a man does not abandon himself to sin, and invokes God’s aid, he will overcome evil habits. The Apostle tells us, that the Lord does not permit us to be tempted above our strength. ”God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able.” ( I Cor. x. 13.)

10. ”For what shall I do,” said Job, ”when God shall rise to judge me? and when he shall examine, what shall I answer him” (Job xxxi. 14.) What answer shall the sinner give to Jesus Christ? How can he, who sees himself so clearly convicted, give an answer? He shall be covered with confusion, and shall remain silent, like the man found without the nuptial garment. ”But he was silent.” (Matt. xxii. 12.) His very sins shall shut the sinner’s mouth. “And all iniquity shall stop her mouth.” (Ps. cvi. 42.)

There,, says St. Thomas of Villanova, there shall be no intercessor to whom the sinner can have recourse. ”There, there is no opportunity of sinning; there, no intercessor, no friend, no father shall assist.” Who shall then save you? Is it God? But how, asks St. Basil, can you expect salvation from him whom you have despised?”Who shall deliver you? Is it God, whom you have insulted ?” (S. Bas., Or. 4, de Fen.) Alas! the guilty soul that leaves this world in sin, is condemned by herself before the Judge pronounces sentence. Let us come to the sentence of the Judge.

Third Point. Terror of the soul when she shall be condemned.

11. How great shall be the joy of a soul when, at death, she hears from Jesus Christ these sweet words: ”Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matt. xxv. 21.) Equally great shall be the anguish and despair of a guilty soul, that shall see herself driven away by the Judge with the following words: ”Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire” (verse 41). Oh! what a terrible thunderclap shall that sentence be to her!”Oh! how frightfully,” says the Carthusian, “shall that thunder resound!” Eusebius writes, that the terror of sinners at hearing their condemnation shall be so great that, if they could, they would die again.

“The wicked shall be seized with such terror at the sight of the Judge pronouncing sentence that, if they were not immortal, they should die a second time.” But, brethren, let us, before the termination of this sermon, make some reflections which will be profitable to us. St. Thomas of Villanova says, that some listen to discourses on the judgment and condemnation of the wicked with as little concern as if they they themselves were secure against these things, or as if the day of judgment were never to arive for them. “Heu quam securi hæc dicimus et audimus, quasi nos non tangeret hæc sententia, aut quasi dies hæc nunquam esset venturus!” (Conc, i., de Jud.) The saint then asks: Is it not great folly to entertain security in so perilous an affair? “Quæ est ista stulta securitas in discrimine tanto?”

There are some, says St. Augustine, who, though they live in sin, cannot imagine that God will send them to hell. ”Will God,” they say, ”really condemn us ?” Brethren, adds the saint, do not speak thus. So, many of the damned did not believe that they should be sent to hell; but the end came, and, according to the threat of Ezechiel, they have been cast into that place of darkness. “The end is come, the end is come… and I will send my wrath upon thee, and I will judge thee.” (Ezec. vii. 2, 3.)

Sinners, perhaps vengeance is at hand for you, and still you laugh and sleep in sin. Who will not tremble at the words of the Baptist: ”For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire.” (Matt, iii. 10.) He says, that every tree that does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire; and he promises that, with regard to the trees, which represent sinners, the axe is already laid to the roots that is, chastisement is at hand. Dearly beloved brethren, let us follow the counsel of the Holy Ghost “Before judgment, prepare thee justice.” (Eccl. xviii. 19.)

Let us adjust our accounts before the day of accounts. Let us seek God, now that we can find him; for the time shall come when we will wish, but shall not be able to find him. ”You shall seek me, and shall not find me.” (John vii. 36.)”Before judgment,” says St. Augustine, ”the Judge can be appeased, but not in judgment.” By a change of life we can now appease the anger of Jesus Christ, and recover his grace; but when he shall judge, and find us in sin, he must execute justice, and we shall be lost.