“And when he entered into the boat, his disciples followed him; and, behold, a great tempest arose in the sea.” MATT. viii. 23, 24.
On the greatness of the dangers to which our eternal salvation is exposed, and on the manner in which we ought to guard against them.
1. IN this days Gospel we find that, when Jesus Christ entered the boat along with his disciples, a great tempest arose, so that the boat was agitated by the waves, and was on the point of being lost. During this storm the Saviour was asleep; but the disciples, terrified by the storm, ran to awake him, and said: ”Lord, save us: we perish.” (v. 25.) Jesus gave them courage by saying: “Why are ye fearful, ye of little faith? Then rising up, he commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm.” Let us examine what is meant by the boat in the midst of the sea, and by the tempest which agitated the sea.
2. The boat on the sea represents man in this world. As a vessel on the sea is exposed to a thousand dangers to pirates, to quicksands, to hidden rocks, and to tempests; so man in this life is encompassed with perils arising from the temptations of Hell from the occasions of sin, from the scandals or bad counsels of men, from human respect, and, above all, from the bad passions of corrupt nature, represented by the winds that agitate the sea and expose the vessel to great danger of being lost.
3. Thus, as St. Leo says, our life is full of dangers, of snares, and of enemies: “Plena omnia periculis, plena laqueis: incitant cupiditates, insidiantur illecebræ; blandiuntur lucra.” (S. Leo, serm. v, de Quad.) The first enemy of the salvation of every Christian is his own corruption. “But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.” (St. James i. 14.) Along with the corrupt inclinations which live within us, and drag us to evil, we have many enemies from without that fight against us. We have the devils, with whom the contest is very difficult, because they are “stronger than we are.” ”Bellum grave, ” says Cassiodorus, ”qui cum fortiore.” (In Psal. v.)
Hence, because we have to contend with powerful enemies, St. Paul exhorts us to arm ourselves with the divine aid: ”Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the Devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places.” (Eph. vi. 11, 12.)
The Devil, according to St. Peter, is a lion who is continually going about roaring, through the rage and hunger which impel him to devour our souls. ”Your adversary, the Devil, like a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter, v. 8,) St. Cyprian says that Satan is continually lying in wait for us, in order to make us his slaves: ”Circuit demon nos singulos, et tanquam hostis clauses obsidens muros explorat et tenat num sit pars aliqua minis stabilis, cujus auditu ad interiora penetretur.” (S. Cyp. lib. de zelo, etc.)
4. Even the men with whom we must converse endanger our salvation. They persecute or betray us, or deceive us by their flattery and bad counsels. St. Augustine says that, among the faithful there are in every profession hollow and deceitful men. “Omnis professio in ecclesia habet fictos.” (In Ps. xciv.) Now if a fortress were full of rebels within, and encompassed by enemies from without, who is there that would not regard it as lost? Such is the condition of each of us as long as we live in this world. Who shall be able to deliver us from so many powerful enemies? Only God: “Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.” (Ps. cxxvi. 2.)
5. What then is the means by which we can save our souls in the midst of so many dangers? It is to imitate the holy disciples to have recourse to our Divine Master, and say to him: ”Save us; we perish.” Save us, Lord; if thou do not we are lost. When the tempest is violent, the pilot never takes his eyes from the light which guides him to the port. In like manner we should keep our eyes always turned to God, who alone can deliver us from the many dangers to which we are exposed. It was thus David acted when he found himself assailed by the dangers of sin. ”I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me.” (Ps. cxx. 1.)
To teach us to recommend ourselves continually to him who alone can save us by his grace, the Lord has ordained that, as long as we remain on this earth, we should live in the midst of a continual tempest, and should be surrounded by enemies. The temptations of the Devil, the persecutions of men, the adversity which we suffer in this world, are not evils: they are, on the contrary, advantages, if we know how to make of them the use which God wishes, who sends or permits them for our welfare.
They detach our affections from this earth, and inspire a disgust for this world, by making us feel bitterness and thorns even in its honours, its riches, its delights, and amusements. The Lord permits all these apparent evils, that we may take away our affections from fading goods, in which we meet with so many dangers of perdition, and that we may seek to unite ourselves with him who alone can make us happy.
6. Our error and mistake is, that when we find ourselves harassed by infirmities, by poverty, by persecutions, and by such tribulations, instead of having recourse to the Lord, we turn to men, and place our confidence in their assistance, and thus draw upon ourselves the malediction of God, who says, ”Cursed be the man who trusteth in man.” (Jer. xvii. 5.) The Lord does not forbid us, in our afflictions and dangers, to have recourse to human means; but he curses those who place their whole trust in them. He wishes us to have recourse to himself before all others, and to place our only hope in him, that we may also centre in him all our love.
7. As long as we live on this earth, we must, according to St. Paul, work out our salvation with fear and trembling, in the midst of the dangers by which we are beset. “Cum metu et tremore vestram salutem opera mini.” (Phil. ii. 12.) Whilst a certain vessel was in the open sea a great tempest arose, which made the captain tremble. In the hold of the vessel there was an animal eating with as much tranquillity as if the sea were perfectly calm. The captain being asked why he was so much afraid, replied: If I had a soul like the soul of this brute, I too would be tranquil and without fear; but because I have a rational and an immortal soul, I am afraid of death, after which I must appear before the judgment-seat of God; and therefore I tremble through fear.
Let us also tremble, beloved brethren. The salvation of our immortal souls is at stake. They who do not tremble are, as St. Paul says, in great danger of being lost; because they who fear not, seldom recommend themselves to God, and labour but little to adopt the means of salvation. Let us beware: we are, says St. Cyprian, still in battle array, and still combat for eternal salvation. “Adhuc in acie constituti de vita nostra imicamus.” (S. Cypr., lib. 1, cap. i.)
8. The first means of salvation, then, is to recommend ourselves continually to God, that he may keep his hands over us, and preserve us from offending him. The next is, to cleanse the soul from all past sins by making a general confession. A general confession is a powerful help to a change of life. When the tempest is violent the burden of the vessel is diminished, and each person on board throws his goods into the sea in order to save his life. folly of sinners, who, in the midst of such great dangers of eternal perdition, instead of diminishing the burden of the vessel that is, instead of unburdening the soul of her sins load her with a greater weight.
Instead of flying from the dangers of sin, they fearlessly continue to put themselves voluntarily into dangerous occasions; and, instead of having recourse to God’s mercy for the pardon of their offences, they offend him still more, and compel him to abandon, them.
9. Another means is, to labour strenuously not to allow ourselves to become the slaves of irregular passions. ”Give me not over to a shameless and foolish mind.” (Eccl. xxiii. 6.) Do not, Lord, deliver me up to a mind blinded by passion. He who is blind sees not what he is doing, and therefore he is in danger of falling into every crime. Thus so many are lost by submitting to the tyranny of their passions.
Some are slaves to the passion of avarice. A person who is now in the other world said: Alas! I perceive that a desire of riches is beginning to rule over me. So said the unhappy man; but he applied no remedy. He did not resist the passion in the beginning, but fomented it till death, and thus at his last moments left but little reason to hope for his salvation. Others are slaves to sensual pleasures. They are not content with lawful gratifications, and therefore they pass to the indulgence of those that are forbidden. Others are subject to anger; and because they are not careful to check the fire at its commencement, when it is small, it increases and grows into a spirit of revenge.
10. ”Hi hostes cavendi,” says St. Ambrose, ”hi graviores tyranni. Multi in persecutione publica coronati, in hac persecutione ceciderunt.” (In Ps. cxviii. serm. 20.) Disorderly affections, if they are not beaten down in the beginning, become our greatest tyrants. Many, says St. Ambrose, after having victoriously resisted the persecutions of the enemies of the faith, were afterwards lost because they did not resist the first assaults of some earthly passion.
Of this, Origen was a miserable example. He fought for, and was prepared to give his life in defence of the faith; but, by afterwards yielding to human respect, he was led to deny it. (Natalis Alexander, His. Eccl., tom. 7, dis. xv., q. 2, a. 1.) We have still a more miserable example in Solomon, who, after having received so many gifts from God, and after being inspired by the Holy Ghost, was, by indulging a passion for certain pagan, women, induced to offer incense to idols. The unhappy man who submits to the slavery of his wicked passions, resembles the ox that is sent to the slaughter after a life of constant labour. During their whole lives worldlings groan under the weight of their sins, and, at the end of their days, fall into Hell.
11. Let us conclude. When the winds are strong and violent, the pilot lowers the sails and casts anchor. So, when we find ourselves assailed by any bad passion, we .should always lower the sails; that is, we should avoid all the occasions which may increase the passion and should cast anchor by uniting ourselves to God, and by begging of him to give us strength not to offend him.
12. But some of you will say, What am I to do? I live in the midst of the world, where my passions continually assail me even against my will. I will answer in the words of Origen: “Donee quis in tenebris sæculanbus manet et in negotiorum obscuritate versatur, non potest servire Domino. Exeundum est ergo de Egypto, relmquendus est mundus, non loco sed ammo.” (Hom. 111. in Exod.)
The man who lives in the darkness of the world and in the midst of secular business, can with difficulty serve God. Whoever then wishes to insure his eternal salvation, let him retire from the world, and take refuge in one of those exact religious communities which are the secure harbours in the sea of this world. If he cannot actually leave the world, let him leave it at least in affection, by detaching his heart from the things of this world, and from his own evil inclinations: “Go not after thy lusts,” says the Holy Ghost, “but turn away from thy own will.” (Eccl. xviii. 30.) Follow not your own concupiscence; and when your will impels you to evil, you must not indulge, but must resist its inclinations.
13. “The time is short: it remaineth that they also who have wives be as if they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as it they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as if they possessed not; and they that use this world, as if they used it not; for the fashion of this world passeth away”(1 Cor. vii. 29, etc.) The time of life is short; we should then prepare for death, which is rapidly approaching; and to prepare for that awful moment, let us reflect that everything in this world shall soon end.
Hence, the Apostle tells those who suffer in this life to be as if they suffered not, because the miseries of this life shall soon pass away, and they who save their souls shall be happy for eternity; and he exhorts those who enjoy the goods of this earth to be as if they enjoyed them not, because they must one day leave all things; and if they lose their souls, they shall be miserable for ever.