44. Although sin is in itself a great evil—–in fact the greatest of all evils—–still under a certain form it can prove a food to us if we know how to avail ourselves of it as a means of exercising humility. How many great sinners have become great Saints without having done anything more than keep their sins constantly before their eyes, and humble themselves in shame and confusion before God and their fellowmen!
Those words: “Against Thee only have I sinned,” which David carried in his heart, contributed more than anything else to make him a Saint. And the angelic St. Thomas in explaining the verse of St. Paul to the Romans: [Romans viii, 28] “This is the good that profits them that love God, for when they fall from the love of God by sin they then return to Him more humble and more cautious.” [3 par, qu. lxxxix, art. 2 ad 1]
It is in this that the good and wisdom of God is most admirably set forth, that He offers us a means of sanctifying ourselves through our very miseries, and we shall never be able to make the excuse that we could not become Saints because we committed grave sin, when those very sins might have been the means of sanctifying us by urging us to a deeper humility. How great is God’s mercy in thus giving me the means of sanctifying myself only by remembering that I have sinned and by meditating in the light of holy faith upon what it means to be a sinner!
St. Mary Magdalen did not become holy so much by the tears she shed as by the humility of her heart. Her sanctification began when she first began to be humble in the knowledge of herself and of God. “She knew.” [Luke vii, 37]
She advanced in sanctity as she advanced in humility, for when she did not dare to appear before Jesus Christ she remained behind Him, “and standing behind,” [Luke vii, 38] and she completed her career of sanctity by her humility, for, as St. Gregory says, she did nothing all the rest of her life but meditate upon the great evil she had committed in sinning. “She considered what she had done.” [Hom. 20 in Evang.]
45. When we feel ashamed and disturbed at having fallen into sin, this is but a temptation of the devil, who tries to make use of our distress to draw us perhaps into some graver sin.
The sorrow we feel at having offended God does not distress the soul, but rather leaves it calm and serene, because it is a sorrow united to humility, which brings grace with it; but to be distressed and overwhelmed by sadness—–either from the shame we feel at having committed some disgraceful action, or from a sudden recognition of our liability to fall just when we thought ourselves stronger and more faithful than ever—–is simply pride, which is born of an excessive self-love. We have too good an opinion of ourselves, and this is the reason why we are disturbed when we see our reputation injured by others or diminished by our own actions. If I reflect well whenever I am distressed about my own faults, I shall find that my distress is only due to pride, which persuades me by the subtle artifice of self-love that I am better than the just themselves, of whom it is written: ” A just man shall fall seven times.” [Prov. xxiv, 16]
He who is humble, even though he fall through frailty, soon repents with sorrow, and implores the Divine assistance to help him to amend; nor is he astonished at having fallen, because he knows that of himself he is only capable of evil, and would do far worse if God did not protect Him with His grace. After having sinned it is good to humble oneself before God, and without losing courage to remain in humility so as not to fall again, and to say with David: “I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly; quicken Thou me according to Thy word.” [Ps. cxviii, 107] But to afflict ourselves without measure, and to give way to a certain pusillanimous melancholy, which brings us to the verge of despair, is a temptation of pride, insinuated by the devil, of whom it is written, he is king “over all the children of pride.” [Job xli, 25]
46. However upright we may be, we must never be scandalized nor amazed at the conduct of evil-doers, nor consider ourselves better than they, because we do not know what is ordained for them or for us in the supreme dispositions of God, “Who doth great things and unsearchable and wonderful things without number.” [Job v, 9]
When Zaccheus thought only of usury and oppressing the poor, when Magdalen filled Jerusalem with scandal, when Paul cursed and persecuted the Christian religion, who would have imagined that they would ever have become Saints? And on the other hand, who would have believed that Solomon, the oracle of Divine wisdom, would die in the midst of wantonness and idols? That Judas, one of the Apostles, would betray his Divine Master and then give himself up to despair? Or that many holy men advanced in sanctity would have become apostates? These are examples which should make us tremble when we reflect upon the unfathomable mystery of the judgment and mercy of God: “One He putteth down, and another He lifteth up.” [Ps. lxxiv, 8] “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.” [Luke i, 52]
Every Saint can in a moment become a sinner if he is vain of his sanctity; and a sinner can as quickly become a Saint if he is contrite and humbles himself for his sin. How many there are who in the fervor of their prayer “mount up to the heavens” and soon afterwards, at the slightest occasion of sin, they “go down to the depths”! [Ps. cvi, 26] How many there are too who, given up to vanity and stained with the deepest sins, are suddenly changed by having their eyes opened to the knowledge of the truth and who thus attain to Christian perfection! Indeed the high counsels of God are to be adored and not scrutinized, for “The Lord humbleth and exalteth; He raiseth up the needy from the dust, and lifteth up the poor from the dung-hill. [1 Kings ii, 7, 8]
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.