The Folly Of The Sinner – St. Alphonsus

This is the twentieth consideration that St. Alphonsus cites in his book, Preparation for Death.  You can read the entire book online here.

The folly of the Sinner.
For the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.”—I
Cor. iii. l9.


The Large Number of Fools
The Saint John Avila would have divided the world
into two prisons, one for the incredulous, the other
for Christians who live in sin at a distance from God.
The prison of the latter he would have called the prison of
fools. But the greatest misery and misfortune is, that
these miserable men esteem themselves wise and
prudent, though they are the most foolish and imprudent
of mortals. And unfortunately they are exceedingly
numerous. The number of fools is infinite (Eccles. i, 15).
Some are foolish through love of honors; some for the
sake of pleasures; and others from attachment to the
miserable goods of this earth. And great as their folly is,
they have the temerity to call the saints fools, because
they despise the goods of this life in order to gain eternal
salvation and the possession of God, who is the true and
supreme good. They deem it folly to embrace contempt,
and to pardon injuries; folly to abstain from sensual
pleasures, and to practice mortification; folly to renounce
honors and riches, to love solitude and an humble and
hidden life. But they never reflect that the Lord has called
their wisdom folly. For, says the apostle, the wisdom of
the world is foolishness with God (1 Cor.iii, 19).
Ah! they will one day confess their folly; but when? When
there will be no remedy for it. They will then say in
despair We fools esteemed their life madness and their
end without honor (Wis. v, 4). Ah ! fools that we have been
! we regarded the lives of the Saints as folly; but now we
know that we have been miserably foolish. Behold how
they are numbered among the children of God, and their
lot is among the saints (Wis. v, 5). Behold how they have
obtained a place among the happy number of the
children of God, and have secured their lot among the
saints—an eternal lot, which will make them happy for
eternity; and we are among the number of the slaves of
the devil, condemned to burn in this pit of torments for all
eternity. Therefore we have erred, thus they shall
conclude their lamentation, from the way of truth, and the
light of justice hath not shined unto us (Wis. v, 6). Then we
have erred by shutting our eyes to God’s light; and what
renders our condition still more forlorn is, that for our
error there is no remedy, and there will be none as long
as God will be God. How great then the folly of sinners,
who, for a worthless gain, for a little smoke, for a
transient delight, lose the grace of God ! What would not
a vassal do in order to gain the favor of his sovereign ? O
God ! for a miserable gratification, to lose God, the
supreme Good ! to lose paradise ! to forfeit peace in this
life, by bringing into the soul the monster sin, which, by its
remorse, will torture it unceasingly ! and to condemn
yourself voluntarily to everlasting woe! Would you indulge
in that forbidden pleasure if, in punishment, your hand
was to be burned ? or if you were to be shut up for a year
in a grave ? Would you commit that sin, if after consenting
to it, you should forfeit a hundred crowns ? And still you
believe and know that in yielding to sin, you lose heaven
and God, and that you are condemned to eternal fire: and
after all you transgress the divine law.
Affections and Prayers.
God of my soul! what should be my lot at this
moment, if Thou hadst not shown me so many
mercies ? I should be in hell among the number of
the foolish to which I have belonged. I thank Thee, O my
Lord! and I entreat Thee not to abandon me in my
blindness, I feel that Thou tenderly callest and invitest me
to ask pardon, and to hope for great graces from Thee,
after the insults I have offered to Thee. Yes, my Saviour! I
hope Thou wilt admit me among Thy children : I am not
worthy to be called Thy child, after having so often
insulted Thee to Thy face. Father, I am not worthy to be
called Thy child: I have sinned against heaven and before
Thee (Luke, xv, 18). But I know that Thou goest in search
of the strayed sheep, and that Thou feelest consolation in
embracing Thy lost children. My dear Father! I am sorry
for having offended Thee. I cast myself at Thy feet, and
embrace them; I will not depart till Thou pardon and bless
I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me (Gen. xxxii,
26). Bless me, O my Father! and let the fruit of Thy
benediction be, a great sorrow for my sins, and a great
love for Thee. I love Thee, O my Father! I love Thee with
my whole heart. Do not permit me ever more to depart
from Thee. Deprive me of all; but do not strip me of Thy
love. O Mary! if God is my Father, thou art my Mother.
Do thou also bless me. I do not deserve to be thy son:
accept me for thy servant; but make me a servant who
will always love thee tenderly and always confide in thy
Great Folly
Poor sinners ! they labor and toil for the attainment of
worldly sciences, or the art of gaining the goods of
this life, which will soon end, and neglect the goods
of the next life, which is everlasting! They lose their
reason-to such a degree, that they become not only fools,
but senseless beasts; for, living like brute animals, they
attend not to what is lawful or unlawful, but only follow
the beastly instincts of the senses, and embrace what is
pleasing to the flesh, without ever reflecting on what they
lose, or on the eternal ruin which they bring upon
themselves. To live in this manner is, to act not like a man,
but like a senseless beast. St. John Chrysostom says: “We
call him a man who preserves intact the image of man;
but what is this image of man: To be rational.” (In Gen.
hom. 23). To be a man is, to be rational—that is, to act
according to reason, and not according to the sensual
appetite. Were beasts to receive from God the use of
reason, and to act according to its dictates, we should
say that they acted like men; and, on the other hand,
when a man follows the impulse of the senses in opposition
to reason, it must be said he acts like a beast.
O that they would be wise, and would understand, and
would provide for their last end (Eccles. iv, 13). He who
acts according to the rules of prudence, looks to the
future—that is, to what must happen at the end of life—to
death and judgment, and after judgment, hell or heaven.
Oh ! how much wiser is the peasant who saves his soul,
than the monarch who brings himself to hell. Better is a
child who is poor and wise, than a king that is old and
foolish, who knoweth not to foresee hereafter (Eccles. iv,
13). O God ! would not all pronounce the man to be a fool,
who, in order to gain a shilling, would risk his entire
property? And will he not be considered foolish, who, for
a momentary gratification, forfeits the grace of God, and
exposes his soul to the danger of eternal perdition ? The
care of present, and the total neglect of eternal goods
and evils, is the ruin of the immense multitude of the
God has certainly not placed us in this world to become
rich, or acquire honors, or to indulge our senses, but to
gain eternal life. But the end life ever-fasting (Rom. vi,
22). And nothing but the attainment of this end is of
importance to us. One thing is necessary (Luke, x, 42). But
there is nothing that sinners despise more than this end:
they think only of the present; they each day walk toward
death, and approach the gate of eternity, but know not
whither they are going. “What would you think,” says St.
Augustine, “of a pilot, who, when asked where he is going
should answer, that he did not know? Would not all
exclaim, that he is bringing the ship to ruin? Such,” adds
the Saint, “is the man who runs out of the way.” (In Ps. 31,
enarr. 2). Such are the wise of the world, who know how
to acquire wealth, to indulge in amusements, to gain
posts of honor and emolument, but know not how to save
their souls. The rich glutton knew how to lay up wealth;
but he died, and was buried in hell (Luke, xvi, 22).
Alexander the Great knew how to acquire many
kingdoms; but in a few years he died, and was lost
forever. Henry VIII knew how to preserve his throne by
rebelling against the Church; but seeing at death that he
lost his soul, he exclaimed: We have lost all. How many
miserable sinners now weep and cry out in hell: What
hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the
boasting of riches brought us ? all those things are passed
away like a shadow (Wis. v, 8). Behold, they exclaim, for
us all the goods of the world have passed away like a
shadow, and nothing remains but eternal wailing and
everlasting torments.
Before man is life and death, that which he shall choose
shall be given him (Ecclus. xv, 18). Beloved Christian, God
places before you in this world, life and death—that is,
the voluntary privation of forbidden pleasures, by which
you will gain eternal life; or the indulgence of them, by
which you merit everlasting death. What do you say ?
What choice do you make ? In making the choice, act like
a man, and not like a senseless beast. Act like a Christian
who believes in the Gospel and says: What doth it profit a
man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his
own soul? Mat.. xvi, 26).
Affections and Prayers.
Oh, my God! Thou hast given me reason, Thou hast
given me the light of faith, and I have acted like a
senseless beast, by losing Thy grace for the
miserable pleasure of the senses, which have passed
away like air; and now I find nothing but remorse of
conscience, and debts to Thy divine justice. Enter not into
judgment with Thy servant (Ps. cxiii, 2). Ah, Lord ! judge
me not according to my merits, but treat me according to
Thy mercy. Give me light, give me sorrow for the offences
that I have committed against Thee, and pardon me. ” I
have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy
servant.” I am a lost sheep: and unless Thou seek after
me, I shall be lost forever. Have pity on me for the sake of
that blood which Thou hast shed for me. I am sorry, O
Sovereign Good ! for having left Thee, and for having
voluntarily renounced Thy grace. I would wish to die of
sorrow, but give me an increase of sorrow. Bring me to
heaven that there I may sing Thy mercies. Mary, my
Mother! thou art my refuge; pray to Jesus for me : beg of
him to grant me pardon and holy perseverance.
True Wisdom.

Let us be persuaded that the truly wise are they who
know how to acquire the divine grace, and the
kingdom of heaven; and let us incessantly implore
the Lord to give us the science of the saints, which he
gives to all who ask it from him (Wis. x, 10). Oh ! what a
precious science to know how to love God, and to save
our souls !

This science consists in knowing how to walk in
the way of salvation, and to adopt the means of attaining
eternal life. The affair of salvation is of all affairs the most
necessary. If we know all things, and know not how to
save our souls, our knowledge will be unprofitable to us,
and we shall be forever miserable: but on the other hand,
though we should be ignorant of all things, we shall be
happy for eternity, if we know how to love God. ” Blessed
is the man,” says St. Augustine, “who knows Thee though
he be ignorant of other things.” (Conf. 1, 5, c.5). One day,
Brother Giles said to St. Bonaventure: Happy you, Father
Bonaventure, who are so learned. I am a poor, ignorant
man, who knows nothing. You can become more holy than
I can. “Listen, ” replied the Saint: ” If an ignorant old
woman love God more than I do, she shall be more holy
than I am.” On hearing this, Brother Giles began to
exclaim: O poor old woman ! poor old woman ! listen,
listen: if you love God, you can become more holy than
Father Bonaventure.
“The unlearned rise up,” says St. Augustine: “and bear
away the kingdom of heaven.” (Conf. 1, 8, c. 8). How
many rude and illiterate Christians, who, though unable
to read, know how to love God and are saved ! And how
many of the learned of this world are damned! But the
former, not the latter, are truly wise. Oh! how truly wise
were St. Paschal, St. Felix the Capuchin, St. John of God,
though unacquainted with human sciences ! Oh ! how
truly wise were so many holy men, who, abandoning the
world, shut themselves up in the cloister, or spent their
lives in the desert! How truly wise were St. Benedict, St.
Francis of Assisi, and St. Louis of Toulouse, who renounced
the throne !

Oh ! how truly wise were so many martyrs, so
many tender virgins, who refused the hand of princes, and
suffered death for the sake of Jesus Christ! That true
wisdom consists in despising the goods of this life, and in
securing a happy eternity, even worldlings know and
believe : hence of persons who give themselves to God,
they say : Happy they, who are truly wise, and save their
souls ! In fine, they who renounce the goods of the world
to give themselves to God, are said to be undeceived.
What then should we call those who abandon God for
worldly goods? We should call them deluded men.
Brother, to what class do you wish to belong ? In order to
make a good choice, St. Chrysostom tells you to visit the
sepulchres of the dead. The grave is the school in which
we may see the vanity of earthly goods, and in which we
may learn the science of the Saints. “Tell me,” says St.
Chrysostom, “are you able there to discover who has been
a prince, a noble, or a man of learning? For my part,”
adds the Saint, “I see nothing but rottenness, worms, and
bones. All is but a dream, a shadow.” (In Matth. hom. 77).
Everything in this world will soon have an end, and will
vanish like a dream or a shadow. But, dearly beloved
Christians, if you wish to be truly wise, it is not enough to
know your end, it is necessary to adopt the means of
attaining it. All would wish to be saved and to be Saints;
but because they do not employ the means, they never
acquire sanctity, and are lost. It is necessary to fly from
the occasions of sin, to frequent the sacraments, to
practice mental prayer, and above all, to impress on the
heart the following maxims of the Gospel: What doth it
profit a man if he gain the whole world? (Matt. xvi, 26).
He that loveth his life shall lose it (John, xii, 25). That is,
we must even forfeit our life in order to save the soul. If
any man will come after me, let him deny himself (Matt.
xvi, 24). To follow Jesus Christ it is necessary to refuse to
self-love the pleasures which it seeks. Life is His good will
(Ps. xxix, 6). Our salvation consists in doing the will of
God. These, and other similar maxims, should be deeply
impressed on the soul.
Affections and Prayers.
Father of mercies! behold my miseries, and have
pity on me; give me light, make me sensible of my
past folly, that I may bewail it, and make known to
me Thy infinite goodness, that I may love it. My Jesus! do
not deliver up to beasts the souls that confess to Thee (Ps.
lxxiii,10). Thou hast expended Thy blood for my salvation:
do not permit me ever more to be, as I have hitherto
been, the slave of the devils. I am sorry, O my Sovereign
Good! for having abandoned Thee. I curse all the
moments in which I voluntarily consented to sin ; and I
embrace Thy holy will, which desires nothing but my
welfare. Eternal Father! through the merits of Jesus Christ,
give me strength to do all that is pleasing to Thee. Strike
me dead rather than permit me to oppose Thy holy will.
Assist me by Thy grace to banish from my heart every
affection which does not tend to Thee. I love Thee, O God
of my soul! I love Thee above all things: and from Thee I
hope for every good, for pardon, for perseverance in Thy
love, and for paradise, that there I may love Thee for
eternity. O Mary! ask these graces for me. Thy Son
refuses thee nothing. My hope! I trust in thee.