ON THE PAINS OF HELL – St. Alphonsus

” Gather up first the cockle, and bind into bundles to burn.” MATT. xiii. 30.

I shall first speak of the fire, which is the principal pain that torments the senses of the damned, and afterwards of the other pains of hell.

1. BEHOLD! the final doom of sinners who abuse the divine mercy is, to burn in the fire of hell. God threatens hell, not to send us there, but to deliver us from that place of torments. ”Minatur Deus gehennem, ”says St. Chrysostom, ”ut a gehenna liberet, et ut firmi ac stabiles evitemus minas.” (Hom. v. de Pœnit.) Remember, then, brethren, that God gives you Today the opportunity of hearing this sermon, that you may be preserved from hell, and that you may give up sin, which alone can lead you to hell.

2. My brethren, it is certain and of faith that there is a hell. After judgment the just shall enjoy the eternal glory of Paradise, and sinners shall be condemned to suffer the everlasting chastisement reserved for them in hell. “And these shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting.” (Matt. xxv. 46.) Let us examine in what hell consists. It is what the rich glutton called it a place of torments. “In hunc locum tormentorum.” (Luc. xvi. 28.) It is a place of suffering, where each of the senses and powers of the damned has its proper torment, and in which the torments of each person will be increased in proportion to the forbidden pleasures in which he indulged. “As much as she hath glorified herself and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her.” (Apoc. xviii. 7.)

3. In offending God the sinner does two evils: he abandons God, the sovereign good, who is able to make him happy, and turns to creatures, who are incapable of giving any real happiness to the soul. Of this injury which men commit against him, the Lord complains by his prophet Jeremiah: “For my people have done two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have digged to themselves cisterns broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. ii. 13.) Since, then, the sinner turns his back on God, he shall be tormented in hell, by the pain arising from the loss of God, of which I shall speak on another occasion [see the Sermon for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost], and since, in offending God, he turns to creatures, he shall be justly tormented by the same creatures, and principally by fire.

4. ”The vengeance on the flesh of the ungodly is fire and worms.” (Eccl vii. 19.) Fire and the remorse of conscience are the principal means by which God takes vengeance on the flesh of the wicked. Hence, in condemning the reprobate to hell, Jesus Christ commands them to go into eternal fire. : ”Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. xxv. 41.) This fire, then, shall be one of the most cruel executioners of the damned.

5. Even in this life the pain of fire is the most terrible of all torments. But St. Augustine says, that in comparison of the fire of hell, the fire of this earth is no more than a picture compared with the reality, “In cuius comparatione noster hie ignus depictus est. ” Anselm teaches, that the fire of hell as far surpasses the fire of this world, as the fire of the real exceeds that of painted fire. The pain, then, produced by the fire of hell is far greater than that which is produced by our fire because God has made the fire of this earth for the use of man, but he has created the fire of hell purposely for the chastisement of sinners; and therefore, as Tertullian says, he has made it a minister of his justice. ”Longe alius est ignis, qui usui humano, alms qui Dei justitiæ deservit.” This avenging fire is always kept alive by the wrath of God. ”A fire is kindled in my rage. ” (Jer. xv 14)

6 “And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell.” (Luke xvi. 22.) The damned are buried in the fire of hell; hence they have an abyss of fire below, an abyss of fire above, and an abyss of fire on every side. As a fish in the sea is surrounded by water, so the unhappy reprobate are encompassed by fire on every side. The sharpness of the pain of fire may be inferred from the circumstance, that the rich glutton complained of no other torment. ”I am tormented in this flame.” (Ibid, v 23.)

7 The Prophet Isaias says that the Lord will punish the guilt of sinners with the spirit of fire. “If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion by the spirit of burning” (iv. 4). ”The spirit of burning” is the pure essence of fire. All spirits or essences, though taken from simple herbs or flowers, are so penetrating, that they reach the very bones. Such is the fire of hell. Its activity is so great, that a single spark of it would be sufficient to melt a mountain of bronze. The disciple relates, that a damned person, who appeared to a religious, dipped his hand into a vessel of water; the religious placed in the vessel a candlestick of bronze, which was instantly dissolved.

8. This fire shall torment the damned not only externally, but also internally. It will burn the bowels, the heart, the brains, the blood within the veins, and the marrow within the bones. The skin of the damned shall be like a caldron, in which their bowels, their flesh, and their bones shall be burned. David says, that the bodies of the damned shall be like so many furnaces of fire. ”Thou shalt make them as an oven of fire in the time of thy anger.” (Ps. xx. 10.)

9. O God! certain sinners cannot bear to walk under a strong sun, or to remain before a large fire in a close room; they cannot endure a spark from a candle; and they fear not the fire of hell, which, according to the Prophet Isaias, not only burns, but devours the unhappy damned. ”Which of you can dwell with devouring fire. ”(Isaias xxxiii. 14.) As a lion devours a lamb, so the fire of hell devours the reprobate; but it devours without destroying life, and thus tortures them with a continual death. Continue, says St. Peter Damian to the sinner who indulges in impurity, continue to satisfy your flesh; a day will come, or rather an eternal night, when your impurities, like pitch, shall nourish a fire within your very bowels. “Venit dies, imo nox, quando libido tua vertetur in picem qua se nutriet perpetuus ignis in visceribus tuis.” (Epist. 6.) And according to St. Cyprian, the impurities of the wicked shall boil in the very fat which will issue from their accursed bodies.

10, St. Jerome teaches, that in this fire sinners shall suffer not only the pain of the fire, but also all the pains which men endure on this earth. “In uno igne omnia supplicia sentient in inferno peccatores.” (Ep. ad Pam.) How manifold are the pains to which men are subject in this life. Pains in the sides, pains in the head, pains in the loins, pains in the bowels. All these together torture the damned.

11. The fire itself will bring with it the pain of darkness; for, by its smoke it will, according to St. John, produce a storm of darkness which shall blind the damned. ”To whom the storm of darkness is reserved for ever.” (St. Jude 13.) Hence, hell is called a land of darkness covered with the shadow of death. ”A land that is dark and covered with the mist of death a land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order but everlasting horror dwelleth.” (Job x. 21, 22.) To hear that a criminal is shut up in a dungeon for ten or twenty years excites our compassion. Hell is a dungeon closed on every side, into which a ray of the sun or the light of a candle never enters. Thus the damned”shall never see light.” (Ps xlviii. 20.) The fire of this world gives light, but the fire of hell is utter darkness. In explaining the words of David, ”the voice of the Lord divideth the flame of fire,” (Ps. xxviii. 7,)

St. Basil says, that in hell the Lord separates the fire that burns from the flame which illuminates, and therefore this fire burns, but gives no light. B. Albertus Magnus explains this passage more concisely by saying that God”divides the heat from the light.” St. Thomas teaches, that in hell there is only so much light as is necessary to torment the damned by the sight of their associates and of the devils: “Quantum sufficit ad videndum ilia quæ torquere possunt.” (3 p., q. 97, art. 5.) And according to St. Augustine, the bare sight of these infernal monsters excites sufficient terror to cause the death of all the damned, if they were capable of dying. “Videbunt monstra, quorum visio postet illos occidere.”

12. To suffer a parching thirst, without having a drop of water to quench it, is intolerably painful. It has sometimes happened, that travellers who could procure no refreshment after a long journey, have fainted from the pain produced by thirst. So great is the thirst of the damned, that if one of them were offered all the water on this earth, he would exclaim: All this water is not sufficient to extinguish the burning thirst which I endure. But, alas! the unhappy damned shall never have a single drop of water to refresh their tongues. “He cried out and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. ” (St. Luke xvi. 24.) The rich glutton has not obtained, and shall never obtain, this drop of water, as long as God shall be God.

13. The reprobate shall be likewise tormented by the stench which pervades hell. The stench shall arise from the very bodies of the damned. “Out of their carcasses shall arise a stink.” (Isaiah xxxiv. 3.) The bodies of the damned are called carcasses, not because they are dead (for they are living, and shall be forever alive to pain), but on account of the stench which they exhale. Would it not be very painful to be shut up in a close room with a fetid corpse? St. Bonaventure says, that if the body of one of the damned were placed in the earth, it would, by its stench, be sufficient to cause the death of all men. How intolerable, then, must it be to live for ever in the dungeons of hell in the midst of the immense multitudes of the damned! Some foolish worldlings say: If I go to hell, I shall not be there alone.

Miserable fools! do you not see that the greater the number of your companions, the more insufferable shall be your torments? “There,” says St. Thomas, ”the society of the reprobate shall cause an increase and not a diminution of misery.” (Suppl., q. 86, art. 1.) The society of the reprobate augments their misery, because each of the damned is a source of suffering to all the others. Hence, the greater their number, the more they shall mutually torment each other. ”And the people,” says the prophet Isaias, “shall be ashes after a fire, as a bundle of thorns they shall be burnt with fire.” (Isa. xxxiii. 12.) Placed in the midst of the furnace of hell, the damned are like so many grains reduced to ashes by that abyss of fire, and like so many thorns tied together and wounding each other.

14. They are tormented not only by the stench of their companions, but also by their shrieks and lamentations. How painful it is to a person longing for sleep to hear the groans of a sick man, the barking of a dog, or the screams of an infant. The damned must listen incessantly to the wailing and howling of their associates, not for a night, nor for a thousand nights, but for all eternity, without the interruption of a single moment.

15. The damned are also tormented by the narrowness of the place in which they are confined; for, although the dungeon of hell is large, it will be too small for so many millions of the reprobate, who like sheep shall be heaped one over the other. “They are,” says David, “laid in hell like sheep.” (Ps. xlviii. 15.) We learn from the Scriptures that they shall be pressed together like grapes in the winepress, by the vengeance of an angry God. ”The winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (Apoc. xix. 15.) From this pressure shall arise the pain of immobility. “Let them become unmoveable as a stone.” (Exod. xvi. 16.)

In whatever position the damned shall fall into hell after the general judgment, whether on the side, or on the back, or with the head downwards, in that they must remain for eternity, without being ever able to move foot or hand or finger, as long as God shall be God. In a word, St. Chrysostom says, that all the pains of this life, however great they may be, are scarcely a shadow of the torments of the damned. ”Hæc omnia ludicra sunt et risus ad ilia supplicia: pone ignem, ferrum, et bestias, attamen vix umbra sunt ad ilia tormenta.” (Hom, xxxix. ad pop. Ant.)

16. The reprobate, then, shall be tormented in all the senses of the body. They shall also be tormented in all the powers of the soul. Their memory shall be tormented by the remembrance of the years which they had received from God for the salvation of their souls, and which they spent in labouring for their own damnation; by the remembrance of so many graces and so many divine lights which they abused. Their understanding shall be tormented by the knowledge of the great happiness which they forfeited in losing their souls, heaven, and God; and by a conviction that this loss is irreparable.

Their will shall be tormented by seeing that whatsoever they ask or desire shall be refused. “The desire of the wicked shall perish.” (Ps. cxi. 10.) They shall never have any of those things for which they wish, and must for ever suffer all that is repugnant to their will. They would wish to escape from these torments and to find peace; but in these torments they must for ever remain, and peace they shall never enjoy.

17. Perhaps they may sometimes receive a little comfort, or at least enjoy occasional repose? No, says Cyprian: ”Nullum ibi refrigerium, nullum remedium, atque ita omni tormento atrocius desperatio.” (Serm. de Ascens.) In this life, how great soever may be the tribulations which we suffer, there is always some relief or interruption. The damned must remain for ever in a pit of fire, always in torture, always weeping, without ever enjoying a moments repose. But perhaps there is some one to pity their sufferings?

At the very time that they are so much afflicted the devils continually reproach them with the sins for which they are tormented, saying: Suffer, burn, live for ever in despair: you yourselves have been the cause of your destruction. And do not the saints, the divine mother, and God, who is called the Father of Mercies, take compassion on their miseries? No;”the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.” (Matt. xxvi. 29.)

The saints, represented by the stars, not only do not pity the damned, but they even rejoice in the vengeance inflicted on the injuries offered to their God. Neither can the divine mother pity them, because they hate her Son. And Jesus Christ, who died for the love of them, cannot pity them, because they have despised his love, and have voluntarily brought themselves to perdition.

DANGERS TO ETERNAL SALVATION – St. Alphonsus

“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.

ON THE REMORSE OF THE DAMNED – St. Alphonsus

” But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” MATT. viii. 12.

In the Gospel of this day it is related that, “when Jesus Christ entered into Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion beseeching him” to cure his servant, who lay sick of the palsy. Jesus answered: “I will come and heal him.” No,” replied the centurion, ”I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” (v. 8.)

Seeing the centurion’s faith, the Redeemer instantly consoled him by restoring health to his servant; and, turning to his disciples, he said: ”Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

By these words our Lord wished to signify, that many persons born in infidelity shall be saved, and enjoy the society of the saints, and that many who are born in the bosom of the Church shall be cast into Hell, where the worm of conscience, by its gnawing, shall make them weep bitterly for all eternity. Let us examine the remorses of conscience which, a damned Christian shall suffer in Hell.

First remorse, arising from the thought of the little which he required to do in order to save his soul. Second remorse, arising from the remembrance of the trifles for which he lost his soul. Third remorse, arising from the knowledge of the great good which he has lost through his own fault.

First remorse of the damned Christian, arising from the thought of the little which he required to do in order to save his soul.

1 . A damned soul once appeared to St. Hubert, and said, that two remorse’s were her most cruel executioners in Hell: the thought of the little which was necessary for her to have done in this life to secure her salvation; and the thought of the trifles for which she brought herself to eternal misery. The same thing has been said by St. Thomas. Speaking of the reprobate, he says: “They shall be in sorrow principally because they are damned for nothing, and because they could most easily have obtained eternal life.”

Let us stop to consider this first source of remorse; that is, how few and transitory are the pleasures for which all the damned are lost. Each of the reprobate will say for eternity: If I abstained from such a gratification; if in certain circumstances I overcame human respect; if I avoided such an occasion of sin such a companion, I should not now he damned; if I had frequented some pious sodality; if I had gone to confession every week; if in temptations I had recommended myself to God, I would not have relapsed into sin. I have so often proposed to do these things, but I have not done them. I began to practise these means of salvation, but afterwards gave them up; and thus I am lost.

2. This torment of the damned will be increased by the remembrance of the good example given them by some young companions who led a chaste and pious life even in the midst of the world. It will be still more increased by the recollection of all the gifts which the Lord had bestowed upon them, that by their co-operation they might acquire eternal salvation; the gifts of nature health, riches, respectability of family, talents; all gifts granted by God, not to be employed in the indulgence of pleasures and in the gratification of vanity, but in the sanctification of their souls, and in becoming saints.

So many gifts of grace, so many divine lights, holy inspirations, loving calls, and so many years of life to repair past disorders. But they shall for ever hear from the angel of the Lord that for them the time of salvation is past. “The angel whom I saw standing, swore by Him that liveth for ever and ever. . . . that time shall be no longer.” (Apoc. x. 6.)

3. Alas! what cruel swords shall all these blessings received from God be to the heart of a poor damned Christian, when he shall see himself shut up in the prison of Hell, and that there is no more time to repair his eternal ruin! In despair he will say to his wretched companions: “The harvest is past; the summer is ended; and we are not saved.” (Jer. viii. 20.) The time, he will say, of gathering fruits of eternal life is past; the summer, during which we could have saved our souls, is over, but we are not saved: the winter is come; but it is an eternal winter, in which we must live in misery and despair as long as God shall be God.

4. O fool, he will say, that I have been! If I had suffered for God the pains to which I have submitted for the indulgence of my passions if the labours which I have endured for my own damnation, had been borne for my salvation, how happy should I now be! And what now remains of all past pleasures, but remorse and pain, which now torture, and shall torture me for eternity? Finally, he will say, I might be for ever happy and now .[ must be for ever miserable. Ah! this thought will torture the damned more than the fire and all the other torments of Hell.

Second remorse of the damned, arising from the remembrance of the trifles for which they lost their souls.

5 Saul forbid the people, under pain of death, to taste food. His son Jonathan, who was then young being hungry, tasted a little honey. Having discovered that Jonathan had violated the command, the king declared that he should die. Seeing himself condemned to death, Jonathan said with tears: ”I did but taste a little honey, and behold I must die.” (1 Kings xiv. 43.)

But the people, moved to pity for Jonathan, interposed with his father, and delivered him from death. For the unhappy damned there is no compassion; there is no one to intercede with God to deliver them from the eternal death of Hell. On the contrary, all rejoice at the just punishment which they suffer for having wilfully lost God and Paradise for the sake of a transitory pleasure.

6. After having eaten the pottage of lentiles for which he sold his right of primogeniture, Esau was tortured with grief and remorse for what he had lost, and “roared out with a great cry.” (Gen. xxvii. 34.) Oh! how great shall be the roaring and howling of the damned, at the thought of having lost, for a few poisonous and momentary pleasures, the everlasting kingdom of Paradise, and of being condemned for eternity to a continual death!

7. The unfortunate reprobate shall be continually employed in reflecting on the unhappy cause of their damnation. To us who live on earth our past life appears but a moment ~ but a dream. Alas! what will the fifty or sixty years which they may have spent in this world appear to the damned, when they shall find themselves in the abyss of eternity, and when they shall have passed a hundred and a thousand millions of years in torments, and shall see that their miserable eternity is only beginning, and shall be for ever in its commencement?

But have the fifty years spent on this earth been full of pleasures? Perhaps the sinner, living in enmity with God, enjoyed uninterrupted happiness in his sins? How long do the pleasures of sin last? Only for a few minutes; the remaining part of the lives of those who live at a distance from God is full of anguish and pain. Oh! what will these moments of pleasure appear to a damned soul, when she shall find herself in a pit of fire?

8. ”What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things have passed away like a shadow.” (Wis. v. 8.) Unhappy me! each of the damned shall say, I have lived on earth according to my corrupt inclinations; I have indulged my pleasures; but what have they profited me? They have lasted but for a short time; they have made me lead a life of bitterness and disquietude; and now I must burn in this furnace for ever, in despair, and abandoned by all.

Third remorse of the damned, arising from the knowledge of the great good which they have lost by their own fault.

9. A certain queen, blinded by the ambition of being a sovereign, said one day: ”If the Lord gives me a reign of forty years, I shall renounce Paradise.” The unhappy queen reigned for forty years; but now that she is in another world, she cannot but be grieved at having made such a renunciation.

Oh! how great must be her anguish at the thought of having lost the kingdom of Paradise for the sake of a reign of forty years, full of troubles, of crosses, and of fears! ”Plus cœlo torquetor, quam gehenna,” says St. Peter Chrysologus. To the damned the voluntary loss of Paradise is a greater loss than the very pains of Hell.

10. The greatest pain in Hell is the loss of God, that sovereign good, who is the source of all the joys of Paradise. ”Let torments,” says St. Bruno, ”be added to torments, and let them not be deprived of God.” (Serm, de Jud. fin.) The damned would be content to have a thousand Hells added to the Hell which they suffer provided they were not deprived of God; but their Hell shall consist in seeing themselves deprived for ever of God through their own fault.

St. Teresa used to say, that when a person loses, through his own fault, a trifle a small sum of money, or a ring of little value the thought of having lost it through his own neglect afflicts him and disturbs his peace. What then must be the anguish of the damned in reflecting that they have lost God, a good of infinite value, and have lost him through their own fault?

11. The damned shall see that God wished them to be saved, and had given them the choice of eternal life or of eternal death. “Before man is life and death, that which he shall choose shall be given to him.” (Eccles.” xv. 18.) They shall see that, if they wished, they might have acquired eternal happiness, and that, by their own choice, they are damned. On the day of judgment they shall see many of their companions among the elect; but, because they would not put a stop to their career of sin, they have gone to end it in Hell.

“Therefore we have erred,” they shall say to their unhappy associates in Hell; we have erred in losing Heaven and God through our own fault, and our error is irreparable. They shall continually exclaim: “There is no peace for my bones because of my sins.” (Ps. xxxvii. 4.) The thought of having been the cause of their own damnation produces an internal pain, which enters into the very bones of the damned, and prevents them from ever enjoying a moments repose. Hence, each of them shall be to himself an object of the greatest horror. Each shall suffer the pain threatened by the Lord: “I will set THEE before thy face.” (Ps. xlix. 21.)

12. If, beloved brethren, you have hitherto been so foolish as to lose God for a miserable pleasure, do not persevere in your folly. Endeavour, now that you have it in your power, to repair your past error. Tremble! Perhaps, if you do not now resolve to change your life, you shall be abandoned by God, and be lost for ever. When the Devil tempts you, remember Hell, the thought of Hell will preserve you from that land of misery. I say, remember Hell and have recourse to Jesus Christ and to most holy Mary, and they will deliver you from sin, which is the gate of Hell.

ON THE CONFIDENCE WITH WHICH WE OUGHT TO RECOMMEND OURSELVES TO THE MOTHER OF GOD – St. Alphonsus

“And the wine failing, the Mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine” JOHN ii. 3.

IN the Gospel of this day we read that Jesus Christ, having been invited, went with his holy mother to a marriage of Cana of Galilee. ”The wine failing, Mary said to her divine Son: ”They have no wine.” By these words she intended to ask her Son to console the spouses, who were afflicted because the wine had failed. Jesus answered: “Woman, what is it to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come.” (John ii. 4.)

He meant that the time destined for the performance of miracles was that of his preaching through Judea. But, though his answer appeared to be a refusal of the request of Mary, the Son, says St. Chrysostom, resolved to yield to the desire of the mother. ”Although he said, my hour is not yet come, he granted the petition of his mother.” (Hom, in ii. Joan.)

Mary said to the waiters: ”Whatever he shall say to you, do ye.” Jesus bid them fill the water-pots with water the water was changed into the most excellent wine. Thus the bride groom and the entire family were filled with gladness. From the fact related in this day’s gospel, let us consider, in the first point, the greatness of Mary’s power to obtain from God the graces which we stand in need of; and in the second, the tenderness of Mary’s compassion, and her readiness to assist us all in our wants.

* In a notice to the reader, prefixed to the Glories of Mary, St. Alphonsus explains the sense in which he wished his doctrine regarding the privileges of the Blessed Virgin to be understood. He concludes this explanation in the following words: “Then, to say all in a few words, the God of all holiness, in order to glorify the Mother of the Redeemer, has decreed and ordained, that her great charity should pray for all those for whom her Divine Son has paid and offered the most superabundant price of his precious blood, in which alone is our salvation, life, and resurrection?

And on the foundation of this doctrine, and inasmuch as they accord with it, I have intended to lay down my propositions, which the saints, in their affectionate colloquies with Mary, and in their fervent discourses upon her, have not hesitated to assert.” Glories of Mary. Monza Edition, vol. i., pp. 11, 12. In the third chapter of the first volume (pp. 123, 124), St. Alphonsus compares the hope which we place in the Blessed Virgin to the confidence which a person has in a minister of state whom he asks to procure a favour from his sovereign. “Whatsoever Mary obtains for us, she obtains it through the merits of Jesus Christ, and because she prays in the name of Jesus Christ.” Glories of Mary, vol. i., p. 188.

“Mary, then, is said to be omnipotent in the manner in which omnipotence can be understood of a creature; for a creature is incapable of a divine attribute. Thus she is omnipotent, inasmuch as she obtains by her prayers whatever she asks. ”Ibid., p. 223. To obtain favours through the intercession of Mary, by practising devout exercises in her honour, “the first condition is, that we perform our devotions with a soul free from sin, or, at least, with a desire to give up sin.” “If a person wish to commit sin with the hope of being saved by the Blessed Virgin, he shall thus render himself unworthy and incapable of her protection.” Glories of Mary, vol. ii., pp. 325, 326.

First Point ~ The greatness of Mary‟s power to obtain from God for us all the graces we stand in need of.

1. So great is Mary’s merit in the eyes of God, that, according to St. Bonaventure, her prayers are infallibly heard. “The merit of Mary is so great before God, that her petition cannot be rejected.” (De Virg., c. iii.) But why are the prayers of Mary so powerful in the sight of God? It is, says St. Antonine, because she is his mother. “The petition of the mother of God partakes of the nature of a command, and therefore it is impossible that she should not be heard.” (Par. 4, tit. 13, c. xvii., 4.)

The prayers of the saints are the prayers of servants; but the prayers of Mary are the prayers of a mother, and therefore, according to the holy doctor, they are regarded in a certain manner as commands by her Son, who loves her so tenderly. It is then impossible that the prayers of Mary should be rejected.

2. Hence, according to Cosmas of Jerusalem, the intercession of Mary is all-powerful. ”Omnipotens auxilium tuum, Maria” It is right, as Richard of St. Lawrence teaches, that the son should impart his power to the mother. Jesus Christ, who is all-powerful, has made Mary omnipotent, as far as a creature is capable of omnipotence; that is, omnipotent in obtaining from him, her divine Son, whatever she asks. ”Cum autem eadem sit potestas filii et matris ab omnipotente filio, omnipotens mater facta est.” (Lib. 4, de Laud. Virg.)

3. St. Bridget heard our Saviour one day addressing the Virgin in the following words: ”Ask from me whatever you wish, for your petition cannot be fruitless.” (Rev. 1. 1, cap. iv.) My mother, ask of me what you please; I cannot reject any prayer which you present to me;”because since you refused me nothing on earth, I will refuse you nothing in Heaven.” (Ibid.)

St. George, Archbishop of Nicomedia, says that Jesus Christ hears all the prayers of his mother, as if he wished thereby to discharge the obligation which he owes to her for having given to him his human nature, by consenting to accept him for her Son. ”Filius, exolvens debitum petitiones tuas implet.” (Orat. de Exitu Mar.) Hence, St. Methodius, martyr, used to say to Mary: ”Euge, euge, quæ debitorum habeas filium, Deo enim universi debemus, tibi autem ille debitor est.” (Orat, Hyp. Dom.) Rejoice, rejoice, holy virgin; for thou hast for thy debtor that Son to whom we are all debtors; to thee he owes the human nature which he received from thee.

4. St. Gregory of Nicomedia encourages sinners by the assurance that, if they have recourse to the Virgin with a determination to amend their lives, she will save them by her intercession. Hence, turning to Mary, he exclaimed: “Thou hast insuperable strength, lest the multitude of our sins should overcome thy clemency.” O mother of God, the sins of a Christian, however great they may be, cannot overcome thy mercy. “Nothing,” adds the same saint, ”resists thy power; for the Creator regards thy glory as his own.” Nothing is impossible to thee, says St. Peter Damian: thou canst raise even those who are in despair to hopes of salvation. ”Nihil tibi impossibile, quæ etiam desperates in spem salutis potes relevare.” (Ser. i. de Nat. B.V.)

5. Richard of St. Lawrence remarks that, in announcing to the Virgin that God has chosen her for the mother of his Son, the Archangel Gabriel said to her: “Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace with God.” (Luke i. 30.) From which words the same author concludes: ”Cupientes invenire gratiam, quæramus inventricem gratiæ.” If we wish to recover lost grace, let us seek Mary, by whom this grace has been found. She never lost the divine grace; she always possessed it.

If the angel declared that she had found grace, he meant that she had found it not for herself, but for us miserable sinners, who have lost it. Hence Cardinal Hugo exhorts us to go to Mary, and say to her: O blessed lady, property should be restored to those who lost it: the grace which thou hast found is not thine for thou hast never lost the grace of God but it is ours; we have lost it through our own fault: to us, then, thou oughtest to restore it. “Sinners, who by your sins have forfeited the divine grace, run to the Virgin, and say to her with confidence: Restore us to our property, which thou hast found.”

6. It was revealed to St. Gertrude, that all the graces which we ask of God through the intercession of Mary, shall be given to us. She heard Jesus saying to his divine mother: “Through thee all who ask mercy with a purpose of amending their lives, shall obtain grace.” If all Paradise asked a favour of God, and Mary asked the opposite grace, the Lord would hear Mary, and would reject the petition of the rest of the celestial host. Because, says Father Suarez, ”God loved the Virgin alone more than all the other saints.”

Let us, then, conclude this first point in the words of St. Bernard: ”Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary; for she is a mother, and her petition cannot be rejected.” (Serm. de Aquæd.) Let us seek through Mary all the graces we desire to receive from God, and we shall obtain them; for she is a mother, and her son cannot refuse to hear her prayers, or to grant the graces which she asks from him.

Second Point. ~ On the tender compassion of Mary, and her readiness to assist us in all our wants.

7. The tenderness of Mary’s mercy may be inferred from the fact related in this day’s Gospel. The wine fails the spouses are troubled no one speaks to Mary to ask her Son to console them in their necessity. But the tenderness of Mary’s heart, which, according to St. Bernardine of Sienna, cannot but pity the afflicted, moved her to take the office of advocate, and, without being asked, to entreat her Son to work a miracle.

”Unasked, she assumed the office of an advocate and a compassionate helper.” (Tom. 3, ser. ix.) Hence, adds the same saint, if, unasked, this good lady has done so much, what will she not do for those who invoke her intercession? “Si hoc non rogata perfecit, quid rogata perficiet ?”

8. From the fact already related, St. Bonaventure draws another argument to show the great graces which we may hope to obtain through Mary, now that she reigns in Heaven. If she was so compassionate on earth, how much greater must be her mercy now that she is in Paradise?”Great was the mercy of Mary while in exile on earth; but it is much greater now that she is a queen in Heaven; because she now sees the misery of men.” (St. Bona. in Spec. Virg., cap. viii.)

Mary in Heaven enjoys the vision of God; and therefore she sees our wants far more clearly than when she was on earth; hence, as her pity for us is increased, so also is her desire to assist us more ardent. How truly has Richard of St. Victor said to the Virgin: “So tender is thy heart that thou canst not see misery and not afford succour.” It is impossible for this loving mother to behold a human being in distress without extending to him pity and relief.

9. St. Peter Damian says that the Virgin”loves us with an invincible love.” (Ser, i. de Nat. Virg.) How ardently soever the saints may have loved this amiable queen, their affection fell far short of the love which Mary bore to them. It is this love that makes her so solicitous for our welfare. The saints in Heaven, says St. Augustine, have great power to obtain grace from God for those who recommend themselves to their prayers; but as Mary is of all the saints the most powerful, so she is of all the most desirous to procure for us the divine mercy: ”Sicut omnibus sanctis potentior, sic omnibus est pro nobis sollicitior.”

10. And, as this our great advocate once said to St. Bridget, she regards not the iniquities of the sinner who has recourse to her, but the disposition with which he invokes her aid. If he comes to her with a firm purpose of amendment she receives him, and by her intercession heals his wounds, and brings him to salvation.

”However great a mans ,sins may be, if he shall return to me, I am ready instantly to receive him. Nor do I regard the number or the enormity of his sins, but the will with which he comes to me; for I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds, because I am called, and truly am, the mother of mercy.”

11. The blessed Virgin is called a”fair olive tree in the plains:” “Quasi oliva speciosa in campis.” (Eccl. xxiv. 19.) From the olive, oil only comes forth; and from the hands of Mary only graces and mercies flow. According to Cardinal Hugo, it is said that she remains in the plains, to show that she is ready to assist all those who have recourse to her: ”Speciosa in campis ut omnes ad earn confugiant.”

In the Old Law there were five cities of refuge, in which not all, but only those who had committed certain crimes, could find an asylum; but in Mary, says St. John Damascene, all criminals, whatever may be their offences, may take refuge. Hence he calls her”the city of refuge for all who have recourse to her.” Why, then, says St. Bernard, should we be afraid to approach Mary? She is all sweetness and clemency; in her there is nothing austere or terrible: ”Quid ad Mariam accedere trepidat humana fragilitas? Nihil austerum in ea, nihil terribile, tota sauvis est.”

12. St. Bonaventure used to say that, in turning to Mary, he saw mercy itself receiving him. “When I behold thee, O my lady, I see nothing but mercy. ” The Virgin said one day to St. Bridget: ”Miser erit, qui ad misericordiam cum possit, non accedit.” Miserable and miserable for eternity shall be the sinner who, though he has it in his power during life to come to me, who am able and willing to assist him, neglects to invoke my aid, and is lost, ”The devil”says St. Peter, ”as a roaring lion goeth about seeing whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. v. 8.)

But, according to Bernardine a Bustis, this mother of mercy is constantly going about in search of sinners to save them. “She continually goes about seeking whom she may save.” (Maril. par. 3, ser. iii.) This queen of clemency, says Richard of St. Victor, presents our petitions, and begins to assist us before we ask the assistance of her prayers;”Velocius occurrit ejus pietas quam invocetur, et causas miserorum anticipat.” (In Can., c. xxiii.) Because, as the same author says, Mary’s heart is so full of tenderness towards us, that she cannot behold our miseries without affording relief. ”Nee possis miserias scire, et non sub venire.”

13. Let us, then, in all our wants, be most careful to have recourse to this mother of mercy, who is always ready to assist those who invoke her aid. ”Invenies semper paratam auxiliari,” says Richard of St. Lawrence. She is always prepared to come to our help, and frequently prevents our supplications: but, ordinarily, she requires that we should pray to her, and is offended when we neglect to ask her assistance.

”In te domina peccant,” says St. Bonaventure, ”non solum qui tibi injuriam irrogant, sed etiam qui te non rogant.” (In Spec. Virg.) Thou, blessed lady, art displeased not only with those who commit an injury against thee, but also with those who do not ask favours from thee. Hence, as the same holy doctor teaches, it is not possible that Mary should neglect to succour any soul that flies to her for protection; for she cannot but pity and console the afflicted who have recourse to her. ”Ipsa enim non misereri ignorat et miseris non satisfacere.”

14. But, to obtain special favours from this good lady, we must perform in her honour certain devotions practised by her servants; such as, first, to recite every day at least five decades of the Rosary; secondly, to fast every Saturday in her honour. Many persons fast every Saturday on bread and water: you should fast in this manner at least on the vigils of her seven principal festivals. Thirdly, to say the three Aves when the bell rings for the Angelus Domini; and to salute her frequently during the day with an Ave Maria, particularly when you hear a clock strike, or when you see an image of the Virgin, and also when you leave or return to your house.

Fourthly, to say every evening the Litany of the Blessed Virgin before you go to rest; and for this purpose procure an image of Mary, and keep it near your bed. Fifthly, to wear the scapular of Mary in sorrow, and of Mount Carmel. There are many other devotions practised by the servants of Mary; but the most useful of all is, to recommend yourself frequently to her prayers. Never omit to say three Aves in the morning, to beg of her to preserve you from sin during the day. In all temptations have immediate recourse to her, saying: “Mary, assist me.” To resist every temptation, it is sufficient to pronounce the names of Jesus and Mary; and if the temptation continues, let us continue to invoke Jesus and Mary, and the devil shall never be able to conquer us.

15. St. Bonaventure calls Mary the salvation of those who invoke her: “salus te invocantium.” And if a true servant of Mary were lost (I mean one truly devoted to her, who wishes to amend his life, and invoke with confidence this advocate of sinners), this should happen either because Mary would be unable or unwilling to assist him. But, says St. Bernard, this is impossible: being the mother of omnipotence and of mercy, Mary cannot want the power or the will to save her servants. Justly then is she called the salvation of all who invoke her aid.

Of this truth there are numberless examples: that of St. Mary of Egypt will be sufficient. After leading for many years a sinful and dissolute life, she wished to enter the church of Jerusalem in which the festival of the holy cross was celebrated. To make her feel her miseries, God closed against her the door which was open to all others: as often as she endeavoured to enter, an invisible force drove her back. She instantly perceived her miserable condition, and remained in sorrow outside the church. Fortunately for her there was an image of most holy Mary over the porch of the church.

As a poor sinner she recommended herself to the divine mother, and promised to change her life. After her prayer, she felt encouraged to go into the church, and, behold! the door which was before closed against her she now finds open: she enters, and confesses her sins. She leaves the church, and, under the influence of divine inspiration, goes into the desert, where she lived for forty-seven years, and became a saint.

Sermon On Patience

I found this online and thought others might like to read it…


You may have heard this short prayer: “Lord, give me patience, but please hurry!” What is patience? It is a virtue which helps us, for the love of God, to calmly bear our tribulations and preserve serenity amid the sufferings of life. Patience tempers sorrow and staves off excessive anger and complaining. Patience is the guardian of all the virtues, for there are obstacles to be encountered in any good work, and they can be overcome only by patience.

Spiritual writers are not the only ones who attest to the importance of patience. An Englishman once asked William Pitt what quality was most essential for a Prime Minister. One person had said, “eloquence,” another “knowledge,” and yet another “hard work.” “No,” said Pitt, “it is patience or self-control” (In Pursuit of Perfection, Charles Hugo Doyle, p. 133).

Patience and self-control are never more sorely tested than in our daily sufferings. Suffering is common to all, but it is meritorious only if accepted with the proper dispositions. Fr. Balthazar Alvarez enumerates the five causes of suffering which try our patience:

1) Assault of the weather: extreme cold, excessive heat, violent storms, drought, high humidity, floods, earthquakes, etc. Such trials very often strengthen faith by recalling to mind the sovereign dominion of God.

2) The necessities of our weak human nature, such as fatigue, sickness, hunger, thirst, etc. God allows these so that we may do penance for our sins and increase our virtues. The ultimate of these sufferings is the sorrow caused by the death of a loved one — a grief which may last a lifetime.

3) Pain, irritation and frustration due to personality conflicts with others. God makes use of the weakness of others to test and strengthen our virtues.

4) Insults, contempt, opposition, false accusations and misunderstanding, which often cause mental anguish.

5) Spiritual sufferings that one encounters in the service of God, such as spiritual dryness, scruples, distractions, temptations and persecutions from the devil.

In all these cases, a wise person bravely accepts and carries his cross because it leads to eternal salvation. Not only that, it can even beget supernatural happiness in this life: “Esteem it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith begets patience.”2 The saints knew how to suffer with patience. They bravely and joyfully carried their crosses because they realized that the cross is God’s greatest gift. The saints knew that patience in tribulation is the main road to salvation.

God did not choose an angel to mediate between sinners and Himself. Rather, the Father sent the Son to suffer and die to redeem mankind. Unlike an angel, who could have compassion but not empathy for our condition, Jesus Christ assumed our human nature to share our wounds and sorrows. Never again could it be said that God does not know what suffering is like from personal experience. St. Jane Frances de Chantal explains how this empathic example of Our Lord can inspire us. Speaking of those who have offended us, she writes: “With whom did Jesus converse? With a traitor who sold Him at a cheap rate, with a thief who reviled Him in His last moments, with sinners and proud pharisees. And shall we, at every shadow of an affront or contradiction, show how little charity and patience we have?”

At times we take the easy way out and give up. It is in times like these that we need a “wake-up call.” When a sheep strays from the fold, the shepherd sends his dog after it, not to devour it, but to bring it back again. So our Heavenly Father, if any of His sheep stray away, setting out on the wrong path, sets His dogs of affliction to bring us home to a consideration of our duty towards Him. His dogs are poverty, sickness, death, war, and loss of material goods or friends.

Patience is exercised when we resign our will to the will of God and accept our crosses as coming from the hand of God for our welfare. Our individual burdens, whatever they may be, are God’s gift and have divine blessings for us, if we bear them in faith and love. When we call upon God for help, He will likely not take the load from our shoulders, but rather strengthen us to carry the burden. Patience does not necessarily exclude wishing for relief from suffering, but it does exclude murmuring about it. We need to pray and to exercise patience and courage in order to bear it.

It is easy to think that our troubles are greater than those of others. Yet a walk through the nearest hospital will soon dispel that illusion. Unless we are very self-centered and spiritually blind, we will leave the hospital counting our blessings and thanking God. Indeed, none of us has a monopoly on trouble. There is plenty to go around. There always has been.

The worldly view of suffering is misleading and dangerous; it is both irrational and irreligious. The world gives to suffering the consideration that really ought to be given to sin, regarding it as the supreme evil to be combatted at any cost, as the great enemy of mankind, and as something in which there is no particle of good or any mitigating circumstances. This view leads to strenuous efforts to abolish suffering, thereby making people less capable of enduring it and often causing their efforts to be wasted and misdirected.

The world values and seeks comfort, pleasure and status. What place have pain and poverty in such a scheme of life as this? What need is there, for the world’s purposes, of virtues such as patience, resignation, meekness, contentment, faith? It does not want to know about suffering or to make provision for it.

True patience is a difficult virtue to practice because of our selfishness and fear of the cross. It is difficult to preserve peace of soul in times of sickness, misfortune and stress. The pressure of many and onerous duties in our state of life often causes us to be impatient along with the fatigue of the battle.

The continued practice of patience will bring about a greater love for Christ and for our neighbor. We become more tolerant of others’ faults, more forgiving, and more ready to help others. This behavior will be supernaturally meritorious, of course, only in so far as we are united to Christ and draw our strength from Him. We must do our good actions for His honor and glory, otherwise, all this is purely natural and will quickly fade rather than grow stronger.

As with any virtue, patience and Christlikeness is attained by degrees. First, we must have a genuine and serious desire to acquire patience and this desire must be activated through daily prayer. Second, we must resolve to prevent small crosses and contradictions from destroying our peace of soul. St. Teresa said, “If we bear slight things patiently, we shall acquire courage and strength to bear great things.” Thirdly, meditation on the Passion of Christ will increase our love of God and arouse in us an earnest desire of imitation: “Christ has suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” St. Paul tells us to consider Christ “Who endured such opposition from sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

The joy of serving God wells up in our hearts, enabling us, no matter how weak and timid we may seem to be, to carry the cross cheerfully and even triumphantly. A prime example took place in Paris during the horrors of the French Revolution:

“Condemned to the guillotine, a community of nuns was forced to pass through the abominable, storm-swept streets, where terror reigned supreme, to arrive at the place of their doom.

“The Sisters raised their serene voices, chanting the sublime hymn, ‘Veni Creator Spiritus.’ Never before, the listeners thought, had that anthem of majestic praise been so divinely sung — so much as if the chant of heaven itself had floated down and mingled with the melody. The celestial song did not cease when they ascended the stairs of the scaffold and the work of butchery went on. Voice after voice had to drop from the chorus as each nun bent under the blade, and at length one voice was heard alone sustaining the holy strain, with no faltering or cadence, even while the bloody blade fell and sealed the last martyr’s testimony. Over scaffolds and through blood, beset by slow sufferings and sharp tortures, continues the march of the followers of Our Lord, but, all the while, we will be sustained by the rations of His joy, and look gladly forward to His promised gift when the night cometh and we lay down our arms in the kingdom of heaven.”