“Have You Religion In Your Heart?” – Sermon From The Cure of Ars

Alas, my dear brethren, what have we become even since our conversion?
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Instead of going always forward and increasing in holiness, what laziness and
what indifference we display! God cannot endure this perpetual inconstancy
with which we pass from virtue to vice and from vice to virtue. Tell me, my
children, is not this the very pattern of the way you live? Are your poor lives
anything other than a succession of good deeds and bad deeds? Is it not true
that you go to Confession and the very next day you fall again — or perhaps
the very same day? ….

How can this be, unless the religion you have is
unreal, a religion of habit, a religion of long-standing custom, and not a
religion rooted in the heart? Carry on, my friend; you are only a waverer!
Carry on, my poor man; in everything you do, you are just a hypocrite and
nothing else! God has not the first place in your heart; that is reserved for the
world and the devil. How many people there are, my dear children, who seem
to love God in real earnest for a little while and then abandon Him! What do
you find, then, so hard and so unpleasant in the service of God that it has
repelled you so strangely and caused you to change over to the side of the
world? Yet at the time when God showed you the state of your soul, you
actually wept for it and realised how much you had been mistaken in your
lives. If you have persevered so little, the reason for this misfortune is that
the devil must have been greatly grieved to have lost you because he has
done so much to get you back. He hopes now to keep you altogether. How
many apostates there are, indeed, who have renounced their religion and who
are Christians in name only!
But, you will say to me, how can we know that we have religion in our hearts,
this religion which is consistent?
My dear brethren, this is how: listen well and you will understand if you have
religion as God wants you to have it in order to lead you to Heaven. If a
person has true virtue, nothing whatever can change him; he is like a rock in
the midst of a tempestuous sea. If anyone scorns you, or calumniates you, if
someone mocks at you or calls you a hypocrite or a sanctimonious fraud, none
of this will have the least effect upon your peace of soul. You will love him just
as much as you loved him when he was saying good things about you. You
will not fail to do him a good turn and to help him, even if he speaks badly of
your assistance. You will say your prayers, go to Confession, to Holy
Communion, you will go to Mass, all according to your general custom.
To help you to understand this better, I will give you an example. It is related
that in a certain parish there was a young man who was a model of virtue. He
went to Mass almost every day and to Holy Communion often. It happened
that another was jealous of the esteem in which this young man was held, and
one day, when they were both in the company of a neighbour, who possessed
a lovely gold snuffbox, the jealous one took it from its owner’s pocket and
placed it, unobserved, in the pocket of the young man. After he had done this,
without pretending anything, he asked to see the snuffbox. The owner
expected to find it in his pocket and was astonished when he discovered that
it was missing. No one was allowed to leave the room until everyone had been
searched, and the snuffbox was found, of course, on the young man who was
a model of goodness. Naturally, everyone immediately called him a thief and
attacked his religious professions, denouncing him as a hypocrite and a
sanctimonious fraud. He could not defend himself, since the box had been
found in his pocket. He said nothing. He suffered it all as something which had
come from the hand of God. When he was walking along the street, when he
was coming from the church, or from Mass or Holy Communion, everyone who
saw him jeered at him and called him a hypocrite, a fraud, a thief. This went
on for quite a long time, but in spite of it, he continued with all of his religious
exercises, his Confessions, his Communions, and all of his prayers, just as if
everyone were treating him with the utmost respect. After some years, the
man who had been the cause of it all fell ill. To those who were with him he
confessed that he had been the origin of all the evil things which had been
said about this young man, who was a saint, and that through jealousy of
him, so that he might destroy his good name, he himself had put the snuffbox
in the young man’s pocket.
There, my brethren, is a religion which is true, which has taken root in the
soul. Tell me, if all of those poor Christians who make profession of religion
were subjected to such trials, would they imitate this young man? Ah, my
dear brethren, what murmurings there would be, what bitternesses, what
thoughts of revenge, of slander, of calumny, even perhaps of going to law….
They would storm against religion; they would scorn and jeer at it and say
nothing but ill of it; they would not be able to say their prayers any more;
they would not be able to go to Mass; they would not know what more to do
or to say to justify themselves; they would collect every item of harm that this
or that person had done, tell it to others, repeat it to everyone who knew
them in order to make them out as liars and calumniators. What is the reason
for this conduct, my dear brethren? Surely it is that our religion is only one of
whim, of long-standing habit and routine, and, if we were to put it more
forcefully, because we are hypocrites who serve God just as long as
everything is going according to our wishes. Alas, my dear brethren, all of
these virtues which we observe in a great many apparent Christians are but
like the flowers of spring, which one gust of hot wind can wither.