“The Dreadful State Of A Lukewarm Soul” – Sermon From The Cure Of Ars

In speaking to you today, my dear brethren, of the dreadful state of the
lukewarm soul, my purpose is not to paint for you a terrifying and despairing
picture of the soul which is living in mortal sin without even having the wish to
escape from this condition. That poor unfortunate creature can but look
forward to the wrath of God in the next life. Alas! These sinners hear me; they
know well of whom I am speaking at this very moment…. We will go no
further, for all that I would wish to say would serve only to harden them
more.
In speaking to you, my brethren, of the lukewarm soul, I do not wish, either,
to speak of those who make neither their Easter duty nor their annual
Confession. They know very well that in spite of all their prayers and their
other good works they will be lost. Let us leave them in their blindness, since
they want to remain that way….
Nor do I understand, brethren, by the lukewarm soul, that soul who would like
to be worldly without ceasing to be a child of God. You will see such a one at
one moment prostrate before God, his Saviour and his Master, and the next
moment similarly prostrate before the world, his idol.
Poor blind creature, who gives one hand to God and the other to the world, so
that he can call both to his aid, and promise his heart to each in turn! He
loves God, or rather, he would like to love Him, but he would also like to
please the world. Then, weary of wanting to give his allegiance to both, he
ends by giving it to the world alone. This is an extraordinary life and one
which offers so strange a spectacle that it is hard to persuade oneself that it
could be the life of one and the same person. I am going to show you this so
clearly that perhaps many among you will be hurt by it. But that will matter
little to me, for I am always going to tell you what I ought to tell you, and
then you will do what you wish about it….
I would say further, my brethren, that whoever wants to please both the
world and God leads one of the most unhappy of lives. You shall see how.
Here is someone who gives himself up to the pleasures of the world or
develops some evil habit.
How great is his fear when he comes to fulfil his religious duties; that is, when
he says his prayers, when he goes to Confession, or wants to go to Holy
Communion! He does not want to be seen by those with whom he has been
dancing and passing nights at the cabarets, where he has been giving himself
over to many kinds of licentiousness. Has he come to the stage when he is
going to deceive his confessor by hiding the worst of his actions and thus
obtain permission to go to Holy Communion, or rather, to commit a sacrilege?
He would prefer to go to Holy Communion before or after Mass, that is to say,
when there is no one present.

Yet he is quite happy to be seen by the good
people who know nothing about his evil life and among whom he would like to
arouse good opinions about himself. In front of devout people he talks about
religion. When he is with those who have no religion, he will talk only about
the pleasures of the world. He would blush to fulfil his religious practices in
front of his companions or those boys and girls who share his evil ways….
This is so true that one day someone asked me to allow him to go to Holy
Communion in the sacristy so that no one would see him. Is it possible, my
brethren, that one could think upon such horrible behaviour without
shuddering?
But we shall proceed further and you will see the embarrassment of these
poor people who want to follow the world without — outwardly at any rate —
leaving God. Here is Easter approaching. They must go to Confession. It is
not, of course, that they want to go or that they feel any urge or need to
receive the Sacrament of Penance. They would be only too pleased if Easter
came around about once every thirty years. But their parents still retain the
exterior practice of religion. They will be happy if their children go to the altar,
and they keep urging them, then, to go to Confession. In this, of course, they
make a mistake. If only they would just pray for them and not torment them
into committing sacrileges. So to rid themselves of the importunity of their
parents, to keep up appearances, these people will get together to find out
who is the best confessor to try for absolution for the first or second time
“Look,” says one, “my parents keep nagging at me because I haven’t been to
Confession. Where shall we go?” “It is of no use going to our parish priest; he
is too scrupulous. He would not allow us to make our Easter duty. We will
have to try to find So-and-So. He let this one and that one go through, and
they are worse than we are. We have done no more harm than they have.”
Another will say: “I assure you that if it were not for my parents I would not
make my Easter duty at all. Our catechism says that to make a good
Confession we must give up sin and the occasions of sin, and we are doing
neither the one nor the other. I tell you sincerely that I am really embarrassed
every time Easter comes around. I will be glad when the time comes for me to
settle down and to cease gallivanting. I will make a confession then of my
whole life, to put right the ones I am making now. Without that I would not
die happy.”
“Well,” another will say to him, “when that time comes you ought to go to the
priest who has been hearing your confessions up to the present. He will know
you best.” “Indeed no! I will go to the one who would not give me absolution,
because he would not want to see me damned either.”
“My word, aren’t you good! That means nothing at all. They all have the same
power.”
“That is a good thing to remember when we are doing what we ought to do.
But when we are in sin, we think otherwise.
One day I went to see a girl who was pretty careless. She told me that she
was not going back to Confession to the priests who were so easy and who, in
making it seem as if they wanted to save you, pushed you into Hell.”
That is how many of these poor blind people behave. I “Father,” they will say
to the priest, “I am going to Confession to you because our parish priest is too
exacting. He wants to make us promise things which we cannot hold to. He
would have us all saints, and that is not possible in the world. He would want
us never to go to dances, nor to frequent cabarets or amusements. If
someone has a bad habit, he will not give Absolution until the habit has been
given up completely. If we had to do all that we should never make our Easter
duty at all. My parents, who are very religious, are always after me to make
my Easter duty. I will do all I can. But no one can say that he will never return
to these amusements, since he never knows when he is going to encounter
them.”
“Ah!” says the confessor, quite deceived by this sincere sounding talk, “I think
your parish priest is perhaps a little exacting. Make your act of contrition, and
I will give you Absolution. Try to be good now.”
That is to say: Bow your head; you are going to trample in the adorable Blood
of Jesus Christ; you are going to sell your God like Judas sold Him to His
executioners, and tomorrow you will go to Holy Communion, where you will
proceed to crucify Him. What horror! What abomination! Go on, vile Judas, go
to the holy table, go and give death to your God and your Saviour! Let your
conscience cry out, only try to stifle its remorse as much as you can…. But I
am going too far, my brethren. Let us leave these poor blind creatures in their
gloom.
I think, brethren, that you would like to know what is the state of the
lukewarm soul. Well, this is it. A lukewarm soul is not yet quite dead in the
eyes of God because the faith, the hope, and the charity which are its spiritual
life are not altogether extinct. But it is a faith without zeal, a hope without
resolution, a charity without ardour….
Nothing touches this soul: it hears the word of God, yes, that is true; but
often it just bores it. Its possessor hears it with difficulty, more or less by
habit, like someone who thinks that he knows enough about it and does
enough of what he should.
Any prayers which are a bit long are distasteful to him. This soul is so full of
whatever it has just been doing or what it is going to do next, its boredom is
so great, that this poor unfortunate thing is almost in agony. It is still alive,
but it is not capable of doing anything to gain Heaven….
For the last twenty years this soul has been filled with good intentions without
doing anything at all to correct its habits.
It is like someone who is envious of anyone who is on top of the world but
who would not deign to lift a foot to try to get there himself. It would not,
however, wish to renounce eternal blessings for those of the world. Yet it does
not wish either to leave the world or to go to Heaven, and if it can just
manage to pass its time without crosses or difficulties, it would never ask to
leave this world at all. If you hear someone with such a soul say that life is
long and pretty miserable, that is only when everything is not going in
accordance with his desires. If God, in order to force such a soul to detach
itself from temporal things, sends it any cross or suffering, it is fretful and
grieving and abandons itself to grumbles and complaints and often even to a
kind of despair. It seems as if it does not want to see that God has sent it
these trials for its good, to detach it from this world and to draw it towards
Himself. What has it done to deserve these trials? In this state a person thinks
in his own mind that there are many others more blameworthy than himself
who have not to submit to such trials.
In prosperous times the lukewarm soul does not go so far as to forget God,
but neither does it forget itself. It knows very well how to boast about all the
means it has employed to achieve its prosperity. It is quite convinced that
many others would not have achieved the same success. It loves to repeat
that and to hear it repeated, and every time it hears it, it is with fresh
pleasure. The individual with the lukewarm soul assumes a gracious air when
associating with those who flatter him. But towards those who have not paid
him the respect which he believes he has deserved or who have not been
grateful for his kindnesses, he maintains an air of frigid indifference and
seems to indicate to them that they are ungrateful creatures who do not
deserve to receive the good which he has done them….
If I wanted to paint you an exact picture, my brethren, of the state of a soul
which lives in tepidity, I should tell you that it is like a tortoise or a snail. It
moves only by dragging itself along the ground, and one can see it getting
from place to place with great difficulty. The love of God, which it feels deep
down in itself, is like a tiny spark of fire hidden under a heap of ashes.
The lukewarm soul comes to the point of being completely indifferent to its
own loss. It has nothing left but a love without tenderness, without action,
and without energy which sustains it with difficulty in all that is essential for
salvation. But for all other means of Grace, it looks upon them as nothing or
almost nothing. Alas, my brethren, this poor soul in its tepidity is like
someone between two bouts of sleep. It would like to act, but its will has
become so softened that it lacks either the force or the courage to accomplish
its wishes.
It is true that a Christian who lives in tepidity still regularly — in appearance
at least — fulfils his duties. He will indeed get down on his knees every
morning to say his prayers. He will go to the Sacraments every year at Easter
and even several times during the course of the twelve months. But in all of
this there will be such a distaste, so much slackness and so much indifference,
so little preparation, so little change in his way of life, that it is easy to see
that he is only fulfilling his duties from habit and routine …. because this is a
feast and he is in the habit of carrying them out at such a time. His
Confessions and his Communions are not sacrilegious, if you like, but they are
Confessions and Communions which bear no fruit — which, far from making
him more perfect and more pleasing to God, only make him more unworthy.
As for his prayers, God alone knows what — without, of course, any
preparation — he makes of these.
In the morning it is not God who occupies his thoughts, nor the salvation of
his poor soul; he is quite taken up with thoughts of work. His mind is so
wrapped up in the things of earth that the thought of God has no place in it.
He is thinking about what he is going to be doing during the day, where he
will be sending his children and his various employees, in what way he will
expedite his own work. To say his prayers, he gets down on his knees,
undoubtedly, but he does not know what he wants to ask God, nor what he
needs, nor even before whom he is kneeling. His careless demeanour shows
this very clearly. It is a poor man indeed who, however miserable he is, wants
nothing at all and loves his poverty. It is surely a desperately sick person who
scorns doctors and remedies and clings to his infirmities.
You can see that this lukewarm soul has no difficulty, on the slightest pretext,
in talking during the course of his prayers.
For no reason at all he will abandon them, partly at least, thinking that he will
finish them in another moment. Does he want to offer his day to God, to say
his Grace? He does all that, but often without thinking of the one who is
addressed. He will not even stop working. If the possessor of the lukewarm
soul is a man, he will turn his cap or his hat around in his hands as if to see
whether it is good or bad, as though he had some idea of selling it. If it is a
woman, she will say her prayers while slicing bread into her soup, or putting
wood on the fire, or calling out to her children or maid. If you like, such
distractions during prayer are not exactly deliberate. People would rather not
have them, but because it is necessary to go to so much trouble and expend
so much energy to get rid of them, they let them alone and allow them to
come as they will.
The lukewarm Christian may not perhaps work on Sunday at tasks which
seem to be forbidden to anyone who has even the slightest shred of religion,
but doing some sewing, arranging something in the house, driving sheep to
the fields during the times for Masses, on the pretext that there is not enough
food to give them — all these things will be done without the slightest scruple,
and such people will prefer to allow their souls and the souls of their
employees to perish rather than endanger their animals. A man will busy
himself getting out his tools and his carts and harrows and so on, for the next
day; he will fill in a hole or fence a gap; he will cut various lengths of cords
and ropes; he will carry out the churns and set them in order. What do you
think about all this, my brethren? Is it not, alas, the simple truth? ….
A lukewarm soul will go to Confession regularly, and even quite frequently.
But what kind of Confessions are they? No preparation, no desire to correct
faults, or, at the least, a desire so feeble and so small that the slightest
difficulty will put a stop to it altogether. The Confessions of such a person are
merely repetitions of old ones, which would be a happy state of affairs indeed
if there were nothing to add to them. Twenty years ago he was accusing
himself of the same things he confesses today, and if he goes to Confession
for the next twenty years, he will say the same things. A lukewarm soul will
not, if you like, commit the big sins. But some slander or back-biting, a lie, a
feeling of hatred, of dislike, of jealousy, a slight touch of deceit or doubledealing
— these count for nothing with it. If it is a woman and you do not pay
her all the respect which she considers her due, she will, under the guise of
pretending that God has been offended, make sure that you realise it; she
could say more than that, of course, since it is she herself who has been
offended. It is true that such a woman would not stop going to the
Sacraments, but her dispositions are worthy of compassion.
On the day when she wants to receive her God, she spends part of the
morning thinking of temporal matters. If it is a man, he will be thinking about
his deals and his sales. If it is a married woman, she will be thinking about her
household and her children. If it is a young girl, her thoughts will be on her
clothes.
If it is a boy, he will be dreaming about passing pleasures and so on. The
lukewarm soul shuts God up in an obscure and ugly kind of prison. Its
possessor does not crucify Him, but God can find little joy or consolation in his
heart. All his dispositions proclaim that his poor soul is struggling for the
breath of life.
After having received Holy Communion, this person will hardly give another
thought to God in all the days to follow. His manner of life tells us that he did
not know the greatness of the happiness which had been his.
A lukewarm Christian thinks very little upon the state of his poor soul and
almost never lets his mind run over the past. If the thought of making any
effort to be better crosses his mind at all, he believes that once he has
confessed his sins, he ought to be perfectly happy and at peace. He assists at
Holy Mass very much as he would at any ordinary activity. He does not think
at all seriously of what he is doing and finds no trouble in chatting about all
sorts of things while on the way there. Possibly he will not give a single
thought to the fact that he is about to participate in the greatest of all the
gifts that God, all-powerful as He is, could give us. He does give some thought
to the needs of his own soul, yes, but a very small and feeble amount of
thought indeed. Frequently he will even present himself before the presence
of God without having any idea of what he is going to ask of Him. He has few
scruples in cutting out, on the least pretext, the Asperges and the prayers
before Mass. During the course of the service, he does not want to go to
sleep, of course, and he is even afraid that someone might see him, but he
does not do himself any violence all the same. He does not want, of course, to
have distractions during prayer or during the Holy Mass, yet when he should
put up some little fight against them, he suffers them very patiently,
considering the fact that he does not like them. Fast days are reduced to
practically nothing, either by advancing the time of the main meal or, under
the pretext that Heaven was never taken by famine, by making the collation
so abundant that it amounts to a full meal. When he performs good or
beneficial actions, his intentions are often very mixed — sometimes it is to
please someone, sometimes it is out of compassion, and sometimes it is just
to please the world. With such people everything that is not a really serious
sin is good enough. They like doing good, being faithful, but they wish that it
did not cost them anything or, at least, that it cost very little. They would like
to visit the sick, indeed, but it would be more convenient if the sick would
come to them. They have something to give away in alms, they know quite
well that a certain person has need of help, but they wait until she comes to
ask them instead of anticipating her, which would make the kindness so very
much more meritorious. We will even say, my brethren, that the person who
leads a lukewarm life does not fail to do plenty of good works, to frequent the
Sacraments, to assist regularly at all church services, but in all of this one
sees only a weak, languishing faith, hope which the slightest trial will upset, a
love of God and of neighbour which is without warmth or pleasure. Everything
that such a person does is not entirely lost, but it is very nearly so.
See, before God, my brethren, on what side you are. On the side of the
sinners, who have abandoned everything and plunge themselves into sin
without remorse? On the side of the just souls, who seek but God alone? Or
are you of the number of these slack, tepid, and indifferent souls such as we
have just been depicting for you? Down which road are you travelling?
Who can dare assure himself that he is neither a great sinner nor a tepid soul
but that he is one of the elect? Alas, my brethren, how many seem to be good
Christians in the eyes of the world who are really tepid souls in the eyes of
God, Who knows our inmost hearts….
Let us ask God with all our hearts, if we are in this state, to give us the grace
to get out of it, so that we may take the route that all the saints have taken
and arrive at the happiness that they are enjoying. That is what I desire for
you….