On Human Respect – Sermon From St. Alphonsus De Liguori

” Whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth a service to God.”
JOHN xvi. 2.

St. Alphonsus

IN exhorting his disciples to be faithful to him under the

persecution which they were to endure, the Saviour said :
* Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will
think that he doeth a service to God.” Thus, the enemies
of the faith believed that in putting Christians to death
they did a service to God. It is thus that many Chris
tians of the present day act. They kill their own souls
by losing the grace of God through human respect and
to please worldly friends. Oh ! how many souls has
human respect that great enemy of our salvation
sent to hell ! I shall speak on this subject to-day, that,
if you wish to serve God and save your souls, you may
guard as much as possible against human respect. In
the first point, I will show the importance of not being
influenced by human respect ; and in the second, I will
point out the means by which this vice may be over
come.

First Point On the importance of not being influenced by human respect.

1. “Woe to the world because of scandals.” (Matt,
xviii. 7.) Jesus Christ has said, that through the scan
dals of the wicked, many souls fall into hell. But how
is it possible to live in the midst of the world, and not
to take scandal ? This is impossible. To avoid taking
scandal, St. Paul says, we should leave this world.
” Otherwise you must needs go out of this world.”
( I Cor. v. 10.) But it is in our power to avoid fami
liarity with scandalous sinners. Hence the Apostle
adds : ” But now I have written to you not to keep
company …. with such an one, not as much as to eat.”
(Ibid. v. 11.) We should beware of contracting intimacy
with such sinners ; for, should we be united with them
in the bonds of friendship, we shall feel an unwillingness
to oppose their bad practices and bad counsels. Thus,
through human respect and the fear of contradicting
them, we will imitate their example, and lose the friend
ship of God.

2. Such lovers of the world not only glory in their
own iniquities (“They rejoice in most wicked things.”
Prov. ii. 14) ; but, what is worse, they wish to have
companions, and ridicule all who endeavour to live like
true Christians and to avoid the dangers of offending
God. This is a sin which is very displeasing to God,
and which he forbids in a particular manner. ” Despise
not a man that turneth away from sin, nor reproach
him therewith.” (Eccl. viii. 6.) Despise not those
who keep at a distance from sin, and seek not to
draw them to evil by your reproaches and irregulari
ties. The Lord declares, that, for those who throw
ridicule on the virtuous, chastisements are prepared in
this and in the next life. ” Judgments are prepared for
scorners, and striking hammers for the bodies of fools.”
(Prov. xix. 29.) They mock the servants of God, and
he shall mock them for all eternity. “But the Lord
shall laugh them to scorn. And they shall fall after
this without honour, and be a reproach among the dead
for ever.” (Wis. iv. 18.) They endeavour to make the
saints contemptible in the eyes of the world, and God
shall make them die without honour, and shall send
them to hell to suffer eternal ignominy among the
damned.

3. Not only to offend God, but also to endeavour to
make others offend him, is truly an enormous excess of
wickedness. This execrable intention arises from a con
viction that there are many weak and pusillanimous
souls, who, to escape derision and contempt, abandon
the practice of virtue, and give themselves up to a life
of sin. After his conversion to God, St. Augustine wept
for having associated with those ministers of Lucifer,
and confessed, that he felt ashamed not to be as wicked
and as shameless as they were. ” Pudebat me/ says
the saint, “esse pudentem.” How many, to avoid the
scoffs of wicked friends, have been induced to imitate
their wickedness ! ” Behold the saint/ these impious
scoffers will say ; ” get me a piece of his garment ; I will
preserve it as a relic. Why does he not become a
monk ?” How many also when they receive an insult,
resolve to take revenge, not so much through passion,
as to escape the reputation of being cowards ! How
many are there who, after having inadvertently given
expression to a scandalous maxim, neglect to retract it
(as they are bound to do), through fear of losing the
esteem of others ! How many, because they are afraid
of forfeiting the favour of a friend, sell their souls to the
devil ! They imitate the conduct of Pilate, who, through
the apprehension of losing the friendship of Caesar, con
demned Jesus Christ to death.

4. Be attentive. Brethren, if we wish to save our
souls, we must overcome human respect, and bear the
little confusion which may arise from the scoffs of the
enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. “For there is a
shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that
bringeth glory and grace.” (Eccl. iv. 25.) If we do not
suffer this confusion with patience, it will lead us into
the pit of si a ; but if we submit to it for God s sake, it
will obtain for us the divine grace here, and great glory
hereafter. “As,” says St. Gregory, ” bashfulness is
laudable in evil, so it is reprehensible in good.” (Horn.
x. in Ezech.)

5. But some of you will say : I attend to my own
affairs ; I wish to save my soul ; why then should I be
persecuted ? But there is no remedy ; it is impossible
to serve God, and not be persecuted. ” The wicked loathe
them that are in the right way.” (Prov. xxix. 27.)
Sinners cannot bear the sight of the man who lives ac
cording to the Gospel, because his life is a continual
censure on their disorderly conduct; and therefore they
say: “Let us lie in wait for the just; because he is
not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and
upbraideth us with transgressions of the law/ (Wis. ii.
12.) The proud man, who seeks revenge for every insult
which he receives, would wish that all should avenge
the offences that may be offered to him. The avaricious,
who grow rich by injustice, wish that all should imitate
their fraudulent practices. The drunkard wishes to see
others indulge like himself in intoxication. The im
moral, who boast of their impurities, and can scarcely
utter a word which does not savour of obscenity, desire
that all should act and speak as they do ; and those
who do not imitate their conduct, they regard as mean,
clownish, and intractable as men without honour and
education. ” They are of the world, therefore of the
world they speak/ (1 John iv. 5.) Worldlings can
speak no other language than that of the world. Oh !
how great is their poverty and blindness ! She has
blinded them, and therefore they speak so profanely.
” These things they thought, and were deceived ; for
their own malice blinded them.” (Wis. ii. 21.)

6. But I say again, that there is no remedy. All, as
St. Paul says, who wish to live in union with Jesus Christ
must be persecuted by the world. “And all that will
live godly in Christ, shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. iii.
12.) All the saints have been persecuted. You say: I
do not injure any one ; why then am I not left in
peace ? What evil have the saints, and particularly the
martyrs, done ? They were full of charity ; they loved
all, and laboured to do good to all ; and how have they
been treated by the world ? They have been flayed
alive ; they have been tortured with red-hot plates of
iron; and have been put to death in the most cruel
manner. And whom has Jesus Christ the saint of saints
injured ? He consoled all ; he healed all. ” Virtue
went out from him, and healed all.” (Luke vi. 19.)
And how has the world treated him ? It has persecuted
him, so as to make him die through pain on the infamous
gibbet of the cross.

7. This happens because the maxims of the world are
diametrically opposed to the maxims of Jesus Christ.
What the world esteems, Jesus Christ regards as folly.
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
(1 Cor. iii. 19.) And what is foolish in the eyes of the
world that is, crosses, sickness, contempt, and ignomi
niesJesus Christ holds in great estimation. ” For the
word^of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolish
ness.” (1 Cor. i. IS.) How, says St. Cyprian, can a man
think himself to be a Christian, when he is afraid to be
a Christian ? ” Christianum se putat si Christianurn
esse veretur p” (Ser. v. de Lapsis.) If we are Christians,
let us show that we are Christians in name and in truth;
for, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, he will be ashamed
of us, and cannot give us a place on his right hand on
the last day. ” For he that shall be ashamed of me and
my words, of him the Son of Man shall be ashamed
when he shall come in his majesty.” (Luke ix. 2G.) On
the day of judgment he shall say: You have been
ashamed of me on earth : I am now ashamed to see you
with me in Paradise. Begone, accursed souls; go into
hell to meet your companions, who have been ashamed
of me. But mark the words ” he that shall be ashamed
of me and of my words.” St. Augustine says, that some
are ashamed to deny Jesus Christ, but do not blush to
deny the maxims of Jesus Christ. ” Erubescunt negare
Christum, et non erubescunt negare verba Christi.”
(Serm. xlviii.) But you may tell me, that, if you say
you cannot do such an act, because it is contrary to the
Gospel, your friends will turn you into ridicule, and
will call you a hypocrite. Then, says St. John Chry-
sostom, you will not suffer to be treated with derision
by a companion, and you are content to be hated by
God ! JX”on vis a conserve derideri, sed odio haberi a
Deo tuo ?” (Horn. xci. in Act. xix.)

8. The Apostle, who gloried in being a follower of
Christ, said : ” The world is crucified to me, and I to
the world.” (Gal. vi. 14.) As I am a person crucified to
the world an object of its scoffs and injustice, so the
world is to me an object of contempt and abomination.
It is necessary to be convinced, that if we do not trample
on the world, the world will trample on our souls. But
what is the world and all its goods ? ” All that is in
the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the con
cupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 John
ii. 16.) To what are all the goods of this earth reduced?
To riches, which are hut dung ; to honours, which are
only smoke ; and to carnal pleasures. But what shall
all these profit us, if we lose our souls ? ” “What doth
it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer
the loss of his soul ?” (Matt. xvi. 26.)

9. He that loves God and wishes to save his soul
must despise the world and all human respect ; and to
do this, everyone must offer violence to himself. St.
Mary Magdalene had to do great violence to herself, in
order to overcome human respect and the murmurings
and scoffs of the world, when, in the presence of so
many persons, she cast herself at the feet of Jesus
Christ, to wash them with her tears, and dry them with
her hair. But she thus became a saint, and merited
from Jesus Christ pardon of her sins, and praise for her
great love. ” Many sins are forgiven her because she
hath loved much.” (Luke vii. 47.) One day, as St.
Francis Borgia carried to certain prisoners a vessel of
broth under his cloak, he met his son mounted on a fine
horse, and accompanied by certain noblemen. The saint
felt ashamed to show what he carried under his cloak.
But what did he do in order to conquer human respect ?
He took the vessel of broth, placed it on his head, and
thus showed his contempt for the world. Jesus Christ,
our Head and Master, when nailed to the cross, was
mocked by the soldiers. ” If thou be the Son of God,
come down from the cross.” (Matt, xxvii. 40.) He was
mocked by the priests, saying : ” He saved others; him
self he cannot save.” (Ibid., v. 42.) But he remained
firm on the cross ; he cheerfully died upon it, and thus
conquered the world.

10. ” I give thanks to God,” says St. Jerome, ” that I
am worthy to be hated by the world.” (Epis. ad Asellam.)
The saint returns thanks to God for having made him
worthy of the hatred of the world. Jesus Christ pro
nounced his disciples blessed when they should be hated
by men. ” Blessed shall you be when men shall hate
you.” (Luke vi. 22.) Christians, let us rejoice ; for, if
worldlings curse and upbraid us, God at the same time
praises and blesses us. “They will curse, and thou
wilt bless.” (Ps. cviii. 28.) Is it not enough for us to be
praised by God, to be praised by the queen of heaven,
by all the angels, by all the saints, and by all just men ?
Let worldlings say what they wish ; but let us continue
to please God, who will give us, in the next life, a
reward proportioned to the violence we shall have done
to ourselves in despising the contradictions of men.
Each of you should figure to himself, that there is no
one in the world but himself and God. When the
wicked treat us with contempt, let us recommend to
God these blind and miserable men, who run in the
road to perdition ; and let us thank the Lord for giving
to us the light which he refuses to them. Let us con
tinue in our own way : to obtain all, it is necessary to
conquer all.

Second Point. On the means of overcoming human
respect.

11. To overcome human respect, it is necessary to fix
in our hearts the holy resolution of preferring the grace
of God to all the goods and favours of this world, and
to say with St. Paul: “Neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor powers, . . . .nor any other
creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of
God.” (Rom. viii. 38, 39.) Jesus Christ exhorts us not
to be afraid of those who can take away the life of the
body ; but to fear him only who can condemn the soul
and body to hell. ” And fear you not them that kill the
body ; but rather fear him that can destroy both soul
and body into hell.” (Matt, x. 28.) We wish either to
follow God or the world ; if we wish to follow God we
must give up the world. ” now long do you halt
between two sides ?” said Elias to the people. ” If the
Lord be God, follow him.” (3 Kings xviii. 21.) You
cannot serve God and the world. He that seeks to
please men cannot please God. ” If,” says the Apostle,
“I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of
Christ/ (Gal. i. 10.)

12. The true servants of God rejoice to see them
selves despised and maltreated for the sake of Jesus
Christ. The holy apostles ” went from the presence of
the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy
to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.” (Acts v. 41.)
Moses could have prevented the anger of Pharaoh by not
contradicting the current report that he was the son of
Pharaoh s daughter. But he denied that he was her
son, preferring, as St. Paul says, the opprobrium of
Christ to all the riches of the world. * Choosing rather
to be afflicted with the people of God;. .. .esteeming
the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure
of the Egyptians.” (Heb. xi. 25, 26.)

13. Wicked friends come to you and say : What ex
travagances are those in which you indulge ? Why do
you not act like others ? Say to them in answer : My
conduct is not opposed to that of all men ; there are
others who lead a holy life. They are indeed few ; but
I will follow their example; for the Gospel says: “Many
are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. xx. 16.) “If,”
says St. John Climacus, ” you wish to be saved with the
few, live like the few.” But, they will add, do you not
see that all murmur against you, and condemn your
manner of living ? Let your answer be : It is enough
for me that God does not censure my conduct. Is it
not better to obey God than to obey men ? Such was
the answer of St. Peter and St. John to the Jewish
priests : ” If it be just in the sight of God to hear you
rather than God, judge ye.” (Acts iv. 19.) If they ask
you how can you bear an insult ? or how, after submit
ting to it, can you appear among your equals ? answer
them by saying that you are a Christian, and that it is
enough for you to appear well in the eyes of God. Such
should be your answer to all those satellites of Satan:
you must despise all their maxims and reproaches.

And when it is necessary to reprove those who make little of
God s law, you must take courage and correct them
publicly. ” Them that sin, reprove before all.” (1 Tim.
v. 20.) And when there is question of the divine
honour, we should not be frightened by the dignity of
the man who offends God ; let us say to him openly :
This is sinful ; it cannot be done. Let us imitate the
Baptist, who reproved King Herod for living with his
brother s wife, and said to him: “It is not lawful for
thee to have her.” (Matt. xiv. 4.) Men indeed shall
regard us as fools, and turn us into derision ; but, on the
day of judgment they shall acknowledge that they have
been foolish, and we shall have the glory of being num
bered among the saints. They shall say : ” These are
they whom we had sometime in derision. .. .We fools
esteemed their life madness, and their end without
honour. Behold how they are numbered among the
children of God, and their lot is among the saints.”
(Wis. v. 3, 4, 5.)