THE SINNER'S GUIDE
Venerable Louis of Granada
The Tenth Motive for practicing Virtue:
The Thought of Hell, the Fourth of the Four Last Things
The least part of the happiness we have endeavored to portray should be sufficient to inflame our hearts with a love of virtue. Nevertheless, we shall also consider the terrible alternative of misery reserved for the reprobate. The sinner cannot comfort himself by saying, "After all, the only result of my depraved life will be that I shall never see God. Further than this I shall have neither reward nor punishment." Oh, no; we are all destined to one or the other – either to reign eternally with God in Heaven or to burn forever with the devils in Hell!
This happiness and misery, either of which must inevitably be our portion, are represented by the two baskets of figs which Jeremias saw in the vision, one containing "very good figs, like the figs of the first season, and the other basket very bad figs, which could not be eaten." (Jer. 24:1-2). God willed thus to represent to His prophet the two classes of souls, one of which forms the object of His mercy, and the other of His justice. The happiness of the first is unequaled, and the misery of the second is also incomparable; for the just enjoy the perpetual vision of God, which is the greatest of all blessings, while the wicked are forever deprived of this vision, and thereby suffer the greatest of all evils.
If men who sin so rashly would weigh this truth, they would know the terrible burden that they lay upon themselves. Those who earn their living by carrying burdens first estimate the weight they are to bear, that they may know whether it is beyond their strength. Why, then, O rash man, will you – or a passing pleasure – so lightly assume the terrible burden of sin, without considering your strength to bear it? Will you not reflect on the heavy weight you thus condemn yourself to bear for all eternity? To help you do this I shall offer you a few considerations which will enable you to realize in some measure the greatness of the punishment reserved for sin.
Let us first reflect on the almighty power of God, whose justice will chastise the sinner. God's greatness is apparent in all His works. He is God, not only in Heaven, earth, and sea, but in Hell and in every other place. He is God in His wrath and in the justice with which He avenges the outrages offered to His divine majesty. Therefore, He Himself exclaims by the mouth of His prophet, "Will you not then fear me, and will you not repent at my presence? I have set the sand a bound for the sea, an everlasting ordinance, which it shall not pass over; and the waves thereof shall toss themselves, and shall not prevail: they shall swell, and shall not pass over it." (Jer. 5:22).
In other words, will you not fear the almighty power of that Arm which controls the elements, which sustains the universe, and which no power can resist? If the works of His mercy excite us to love and praise Him, we have no less reason to fear the greatness of His justice. Hence the prophet Jeremias, though innocent, and even sanctified in his mother's womb, was deeply penetrated with this salutary fear. "Who," he cries out, "shall not fear thee, O king of nations?" (Jer. 10:7). And again: "I sat alone, because thou hast filled me with threats." (Jer. 15:17). Doubtless the prophet knew that these threats were not uttered against him; yet they filled him with terror. The pillars of Heaven, we are told, tremble before the majesty of God, and the powers and principalities prostrate themselves in awe before His throne. If these pure spirits, confirmed in bliss, and in no manner doubting of their happiness, but only through admiration of the Divine Perfections, tremble before His power, what should be the terror of the sinner who has made himself the object of His wrath? It is the power of our Sovereign Judge which is most appalling in the punishment of sin. Speaking of God's punishments, St. John says, "Babylon's plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be burnt with fire, because God is strong, who shall judge her." (Apoc. 18:8). The great Apostle, filled with awe of this power, exclaims, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31).
We have not such reason to fear the hands of men, from whom we can escape, and who at least cannot thrust the soul into Hell. Hence Our Saviour tells His disciples, "And fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell." (Matt. 10:28). The author of Ecclesiasticus, impressed with the might of this power, thus warns us: "Unless we do penance we shall fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men." (Ecclus. 2:22). This united testimony proves, as we have said, that as God is great in His mercy and rewards, so will He be great in His justice and punishments.
This truth is still more apparent in the terrible chastisements inflicted by God which are related in Scripture. Witness the punishment of Dathan and Abiron, who, with all their accomplices, were swallowed alive into the earth and thrust into the depths of Hell for rebelling against their superiors. Who can read unmoved the threats against transgressors recorded in Deuteronomy? Among others equally terrible, here is one which the sacred writer puts into the mouth of God: "Thou shalt serve thy enemy, whom the Lord will send upon thee, in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put an iron yoke upon thy neck till he consume thee … And thou shalt eat the fruit of thy womb, and the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God shall give thee, in the distress and extremity wherewith thy enemy shall oppress thee." (Deut. 28:48, 53).
We can scarcely imagine punishments more dreadful than these; yet they, as well as all the sufferings of this life, are but a shadow when compared to the terrible torments of the life to come. If His justice be so rigorous in this world, though always tempered by His love, what will it be in eternity when exercised without mercy? For the sinner who has despised God's mercies in this life will feel only the effects con of His justice in the life to come.
Another consideration which may help us to appreciate the rigor of these sufferings is the greatness of the mercy of which the sinner has despised. What is there more astonishing than that mercy which caused God to clothe Himself in human flesh, to endure innumerable sufferings and humiliations, to take upon Himself the transgressions of the world, and for these transgressions to expire as a malefactor on an infamous gibbet? God is infinite in all His attributes; and, therefore, the justice with which He will punish man will equal the boundless mercy with which He redeemed him.
When God first came upon earth there was nothing in us to excite His mercy; but at His second coming our every sin will be an additional reason for Him to exercise His justice. Judge, therefore, how terrible it will be. "At His second coming," says St. Bernard, "God will be as inflexible and as rigorous in punishing as at His first coming He was patient and merciful in forgiving. There is now no sinner living who is cut off from His reconciliation; but in the day of His justice none will be received." These words of St. Bernard are confirmed by the royal prophet,. who tells us, "Our God is the God of salvation: and of the Lord, of the Lord are the issues from death. But God shall break the heads of his enemies: the hairy crown of them that walk on in their sins." (Ps. 67:21-22). Behold, then, how great is God's mercy to those who are converted to Him, and how great is the rigor with which He punishes obdurate sinners.
The same truth is manifested by God's patience with the world, and with the vices and disorders of every sinner in particular. How many there are who, from the age of reason to the end of their lives, continually offend Him and despise His law, regardless of His promises, His benefits, His warnings, or His menaces! Yet God does not cut them off, but continues to bear with them, unceasingly exhorting them to repentance. But when the term of His patience will come, and His wrath, which has been accumulating in the bosom of His justice, will burst its bounds, with what terrible violence it will be poured out upon them! "Knowest thou not," says the Apostle, "that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath, against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works." (Rom. 2:4-6).
The meaning of these words is not difficult. A treasure of wrath is a terrible figure. Just as the miser adds coin to coin, riches to riches, so the wrath of God is daily and even hourly increased by the transgressions of the sinner. Were a man to let no day or hour pass without adding to his material fortune, consider what an immense amount he would have accumulated at the end of fifty or sixty years. Alas, then, for thee, unhappy sinner, for there is hardly an hour in which thou dost not add to the treasures of God's wrath which thy sins are accumulating against thee. Thy immodest glances, the evil desires of thy corrupt heart, and thy scandalous words and blasphemies would alone suffice to fill a world. If to these are added the many other grievous crimes of which thou hast been guilty, consider the treasure of vengeance and wrath which a long life of sin will heap up against thee.
If to the considerations already given we add a brief reflection on the gratitude of men, it will help us realize, in some measure, the severity of the punishment inflicted upon the sinner. Contemplate God's goodness to men; the benefits He has heaped upon them; the means He has given them to practice virtue; the iniquities He has forgiven them; the evils from which He has delivered them. Consider, moreover, the ingratitude of men for all these blessings; their many treasons and rebellions against God; their contempt of His laws, which they trample underfoot for a paltry interest, and often through malice or mere caprice. What, then, can he expect who has thus outraged God's mercy, who, in the words of the Apostle, has "trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, by which he was sanctified?" (Heb. 10:29). God is a just Judge, and their punishment will be proportioned to their crimes. Remember the majesty of Him who has been offended, and consider the sufferings of that body and soul which must offer satisfaction for such an outrage. If the Blood of Christ were needed to make reparation for man's offences, the dignity of the Victim supplying what was lacking in the severity of His sufferings, how terrible will be those sufferings which sinners must endure, and which must supply by their vigor what is wanting in the merit of the victim!
If the thought of the Judge impress us so deeply, what ought to be our feelings when we consider who it is that will be the executioner! The executioner will be the devil. What, then, may we not expect from the malice of such an enemy? If we would form some idea of his cruelty, consider his treatment of the holy man Job, whom God delivered into his hands. He destroyed his flocks; laid waste his lands; overthrew his houses; carried off his children by death; made his body a mass of ulcers, and left him no other refuge but a dunghill and a potsherd to scrape his sores. In addition to his suffering he left him a scolding wife and cruel friends, who reviled him with words which tortured him more keenly than the worms which preyed upon his flesh. Thus was Job afflicted by Satan, but it is impossible to describe in human language Satan's treatment of our Blessed Saviour during the night in which He was the victim of the powers of darkness.
Seeing, then, how cruel are the devil and his angels, will you not tremble with horror at the thought of being delivered into their hands? They will have power to execute upon you the most terrible inventions of their malice, not for a day, or a night, or a year only, but for all eternity. Read the appalling picture of these evil spirits given by St. John: "I saw a star," says the Apostle, "fall from heaven upon the earth, and there was given to him the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and the smoke of the pit arose as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke of the pit. And from the smoke of the pit there came out locusts upon the earth. And power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they should torment them five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man. And in those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. And the shapes of the locusts to were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were, as it were, crowns like gold; and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions; and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like to scorpions, and there were stings in their tails." (Apoc. 9:1-10).
Does not the Holy Ghost design to teach us by these terrible figures the fearful effects of God's justice, the awful instruments of His wrath, and the appalling tortures of the reprobate? Does He not wish that the fear of these evils should save us from the lot of the sinner? What is that star which fell from Heaven, and received the key of the bottomless pit, but that bright angel who was precipitated from Heaven to reign forever in Hell? Do not the locusts, so well equipped for battle, represent the ministers of Satan? And are not the green things which they were commanded to spare, the just who flourish under the dew of God's grace and bring forth fruits of eternal life? Who are they who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads but men who have not His Spirit, which is the mark and seal of His faithful servants? It is against these unhappy souls that the ministers of God's vengeance will work.
Yes, they will be tormented in this life and in the next by the devils whom they willed to serve, just as the Egyptians were tormented by the various living creatures which they had adored. What terrible pictures are given us in Scripture of the monsters of this eternal abyss! What can be conceived more horrible than the behemoth, "that setteth up his tail like a cedar, whose bones are like pipes of brass, who drinketh up rivers and devoureth mountains?" (Job 40:10-19).
The considerations already given are certainly sufficient to inspire us with a horror of sin; but to strengthen this salutary fear let us reflect upon the duration of these terrible torments. Try to realize what a comfort it would be to the damned if at the end of millions of years they could look forward to any term or alleviation of their sufferings. But no; their suffering shall be eternal; they shall continue as long as God shall be God. If one of these unhappy souls, says a Doctor of the Church, were to shed one tear every thousand years, and if these tears accumulated to such a flood as to inundate the world, he would still be as far as ever from the end of his sufferings. Eternity would only be at its beginning. Is there anything worthy of our fears but this terrible fate? Truly, were the pain of Hell no more than the prick of a pin, yet if it must continue forever there is no suffering in this world which man should not endure to avoid it.
Oh! That this eternity, this terrible forever, were deeply graven in our hearts! We are told that a worldly man, giving himself to serious reflection upon eternity, made use of this simple reasoning: There is no sensible man who would accept the empire of the world at the expense of thirty or forty years spent upon a bed, even were it a bed of roses. How great, then, is the folly of him who, for much smaller interests, incurs the risk of being condemned to lie upon a bed of fire for all eternity! This thought wrought such a change in his life that he became a great saint and most worthy prelate of the Church.
What consideration will be given to this by the soft and effeminate, who complain so much if the buzzing of a mosquito disturbs their night's repose? What will they say when they will find themselves stretched upon a bed of fire, surrounded by sulphurous flames, not for one short summer night, but for all eternity? To such the prophet addresses himself when he says, "Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Is. 33:14). O senseless man! Will you continue to allow yourself to be deceived by the arch-enemy of your soul? How can you be so diligent in providing for your temporal welfare, and yet be so careless of your eternal interests?
If you were penetrated with these reflections, what obstacle could turn you from the practice of virtue? Difficult as it may appear, is there any sacrifice you would refuse to escape these eternal torments? Were God to allow a man to choose whether he would be tormented while on earth with a gout or toothache which would never allow him a moment's repose, or embrace the life of a Carthusian or a Carmelite, do you think there is anyone who would not, purely from a motive of self-love, choose the state of a religious rather than endure this continual suffering? Yet there is no pain in this life which can be compared to the pains of Hell, either in intensity or in duration. Why, then, will we not accept the labor God asks of us, which is so much less than the austerities of a Carthusian or a Carmelite? Why will we refuse the restraint of His law, which will save us from such suffering?
What will add most keenly to the sufferings of the damned will be the knowledge that by a short penance and self-denial upon earth they might have averted these terrible pains which they must fruitlessly endure for all eternity. We see a figure of this awful truth in the furnace which Nabuchodonosor caused to be built in Babylon (Dan. 3), the flames of which mounted forty-nine cubits, but could never reach fifty, the number of the year of jubilee, or general pardon. In like manner the eternal flame of this Babylon, though it burns so fiercely, filling its unhappy victims with pain and anguish, will never reach the point of mercy, will never obtain for them the grace of pardon of the heavenly jubilee.
Oh! Unprofitable pains! Oh! Fruitless tears! Oh! Rigorous and hopeless penance! If borne in this life, the smallest portion of them might have saved the sinner from everlasting misery. Mindful of all these, send forth your tears and sighs, remembering the prophet who "lamented and howled, who went stripped and naked, making a wailing like the dragons, and a mourning like the ostriches, because her wound was desperate." (Micheas 1:8-9).
If men were ignorant of these truths, if they had not received them as infallible, their negligence and indifference would not be so astonishing. But have we not reason to wonder, since men have received them on the word of Him who has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"? (Lk. 21:33). Yet behold in what forgetfulness of their duty and their God they continue to live.
Tell me, blind soul, what pleasure you find in the riches and honors of this world which is a compensation for the eternal fire of Hell. "If you possessed the wisdom of Solomon," says St. Jerome, "the beauty of Absalom, the strength of Samson, the longevity of Henoch, the riches of Croesus, the power of Caesar, what will all these avail you at death, if your body becomes the prey of worms, and your soul, like the rich glutton's, the sport of demons for all eternity?"
The Eleventh Motive for practicing Virtue:
The Inestimable Advantages promised it even in this Life
With such powerful reasons for embracing virtue, I know not what excuse men can make for refusing to practice it. That pagans, who are ignorant of its value, do not prize it is not astonishing. A peasant digging in the earth and finding a precious stone will probably throw it away, because he does not know its worth. But that Christians, who have been taught the value and beauty of virtue, continue to live in forgetfulness of God and wedded to the things of this world, as if there were no such thing as death or judgment, or Heaven or Hell, is a continual subject of sorrowful wonder. Whence this blindness, whence this folly?
It has several causes, the principal of which is the mistaken opinion of the generality of men, who believe that no advantages are to be reaped from virtue in this life, that its rewards are reserved for the life to come.
Men are so powerfully moved by self-interest, and present objects make such an impression upon them, that they think very little of future rewards and seek only their immediate satisfaction. The same was true even in the days of the prophets; for when Ezechiel made any promise or uttered any threat in the name of the Lord, people laughed at him and said to one another, "The vision that this man seeth is for many days to come; and this man prophesieth of times afar off." (Ezech. 12:27). In like manner did they ridicule the prophet Isaias: "Command, command again, command, command again; expect, expect again, expect, expect again." (Is. 28:10). Solomon teaches us the same when he says, "Because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil, the children of men commit evils without any fear … Because all things equally happen to the just and the wicked … to him that offereth victims and to him that despiseth sacrifices … the hearts of the children of men are filled with evil, and with contempt while they live, and afterwards they shall be brought down to hell." (Eccles. 8:11; 9:2-3).
Yes, because the wicked seem to prosper in the world they conclude that they are safe, and that the labor of virtue is all in vain. This they openly confess by the mouth of the prophet Malachias, saying, "He laboreth in vain that serveth God; and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinances, and that we have walked sorrowful before the Lord of hosts? Wherefore now we call the proud people happy, for they that work wickedness are built up, and they have tempted God and are preserved." (Mal. 3:14-15). This is the language of the reprobate, and is the most powerful motive which impels them to continue in sin; for, in the words of St. Ambrose, "They find it too difficult to buy hopes at the cost of dangers, to sacrifice present pleasures to future blessings." To destroy this serious error I know nothing better than the touching words of Our Saviour weeping over Jerusalem: "If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are for thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes." (Lk. 19:42).
Our Divine Lord considered the advantages which this people had received from Him; the happiness He had reserved for them; and the ingratitude with which they rejected Him when He came to them in meekness and humility. For this they were to lose not only the treasures and graces of His coming, but even their temporal power and freedom. This it was which caused Him to shed such bitter tears and to foretell the unhappy fate that was in store for His people. His words apply with great force to our present subject.
Consider the inestimable riches, the abundant graces, which accompany virtue; yet it is a stranger, a wanderer on earth. Men seem to be blind to these divine blessings. Have we not, therefore, reason to weep and to cry out, O man, if thou also hadst known? If thou hadst known the peace, the light, the strength, the sweetness, and the riches of virtue, thou wouldst have opened thy heart to it, thou wouldst have spared no sacrifice to win it. But these blessings are hidden from worldlings, who regard only the humble exterior of virtue, and, having never experienced its unutterable sweetness, they conclude that it contains nothing but what is sad and repulsive.
They know not that Christian philosophy is like its Divine Founder, who, though exteriorly the humblest of men, was nevertheless God and sovereign Lord of all things. Hence the Apostle tells the faithful that they are dead to the world, that their "life is hid with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3). Just as the glory of Christ was hidden by the veil of His humanity, so should the glory of His faithful followers be concealed in this world. We read that the ancients made certain images, called Silenes, which were rough and coarse exteriorly, but most curiously and ingeniously wrought within. The ignorant stopped at the exterior and saw nothing to prize, but those who understood their construction looked within and were captivated by the beauty they there beheld. Such have been the lives of the prophets, the Apostles, and all true Christians, for such was the life of their Divine Model.
If you still tell me that the path of virtue is rugged, that its duties are difficult, I beg you to consider the abundant and powerful aids which God gives you. Such are the infused virtues, interior graces, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the sacraments of the New Law, with other divine favors, which are to us like sails to a ship, or wings to a bird, to help us on our voyage to eternity. Reflect upon the very name and nature of virtue. It is a noble habit, which, like all other habits, ought to make us act with facility and pleasure. Remember also that Christ has promised His followers not only the riches of glory, but those of grace: the former for the life to come, the latter for this present life. "The Lord," says the prophet, "will give grace and glory." (Ps. 83:12). The treasures of grace are for this life, and the riches of glory are for the next.
Consider further with what care God provides for the necessities of all creatures. How generously He supplies even the smallest creatures with all that is necessary to the end for which they were created! Is it not unreasonable then, to think that He will disregard the necessities of man, the most important of which is virtue, and leave him a prey to his weak will, his darkened understanding, and his corrupt nature? The world and the prince of darkness are most assiduous in procuring vain pleasures and joys for those who serve them. Can you doubt, then, that God will grant refreshment, light, and peace to His faithful in the midst of the labors performed for Him? What did God wish to teach us by the words of the prophet: "You shall return, and shall see the difference between the just and the wicked, and between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." (Mal. 3:18). Was it not that if we would be converted we would see and know, even in this life, the rewards of the good, "the difference between the just and the wicked"? We would behold the contrast between the true riches of the just and the poverty of the wicked; between the joy of the former and the misery of the latter; between the peace of the one and the conflicts of the other; between the light with which the good are surrounded and the darkness by which the wicked are enveloped. Experience will show you the real value of virtue and how far it exceeds your former anticipations.
Upon another occasion God replied in like manner to men who, having been deceived by appearances, ridiculed the virtuous, saying, "Let the Lord be glorified, and we shall see in your joy." (Is. 66:5). After depicting the torments which God's justice prepares for the wicked, Isaias thus describes the happiness reserved for the just: "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all you that mourn for her. That you may suck, and be filled with the breasts of her consolation; that you may milk out, and flow with delights, from the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord: Behold I will bring upon her as it were a river of peace, and as an overflowing torrent, the glory of the Gentiles, which you shall suck; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you, and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And you shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb, and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants …" (Is. 66:10-14). Yes, "the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants"; for as men by the beauties and wonders of the universe judge of the infinite beauty and omnipotence of God, so shall the just recognize the infinite love and goodness of God in the incomparable joys and favors which He will bestow upon them.
As a further proof of what has been said, I will add the remarkable words uttered by Our Saviour when St. Peter asked what reward they would have for leaving all things for love of Him: "Amen I say to you, there is no man who hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who shall not receive a hundred times as much, now in this time … and in the world to come life everlasting." (Mk. 10:29-30). Mark how explicitly the rewards of this life and the next are distinguished. Nor can we doubt these words, for they are those of Him who has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away,' but my words shall not pass away."
And what is this hundredfold which the just receive in this life? Honors, riches, titles, and dignities are not their portion; the greater number of the just lead hidden, obscure lives, forgotten by the world and overwhelmed with infirmities. How, then, does God fulfill His infallible promise to give them a hundredfold even in this life? Ah! It is not with the perishable goods of this world that He will reward His servants.
Joy and peace and happiness are the spiritual treasures with which the liberality of our God enriches those who love Him. These are the blessings which the world does not know, and which the wealth of the world can never buy. And how fitting this is; for as man does not live by bread alone, so the craving of his soul cannot be satisfied by anything short of spiritual blessings.
Study the lives of the saints, and you will see that they have received the hundredfold promised in this life. In exchange for the false riches which they forsook, they received true riches which they can bear with them to eternity. For the turmoil and conflicts of the world, they received that "peace which surpasseth all understanding." Their tears, their fasting, and their prayers brought them more joy and consolation than they could ever hope to obtain from the fleeting pleasures of this life.
If, then, you have forsaken an earthly father for love of God, your Heavenly Father will receive you as His child, and make you His heir to an everlasting inheritance. If you have despised earthly pleasures for love of Him, He will fill you with the incomparable sweetness of heavenly consolations. The eyes of your soul will be opened, and you will love and cherish what formerly frightened you. What was The formerly bitter will become sweet; and, enlightened by grace, you will see the emptiness of worldly joys, and you will learn to relish the delights of God's love. Thus does He manifest His merciful goodness; thus does He fulfill His promise to us.
The annals of the Cistercian Order mention an incident which, in connection with our subject, is worth recording. Arnulph, a man of prominence in Flanders, who was strongly wedded to the things of this world, was converted by the preaching of St. Bernard. He was so touched by grace that he became a Cistercian monk. On a certain occasion he fell dangerously sick and remained unconscious for some time. The monks, believing him to be dying, administered Extreme Unction. But soon after, his consciousness returned, and he broke out into transports of praise, frequently repeating, "How true are Thy words, O merciful Jesus!" To the questions of his brethren he continued to repeat, "How true are Thy words, O merciful Jesus!" Some of them remarked that pain had made him delirious. "No, my brethren," he exclaimed; "I am conscious, I am in full possession of my senses, and again I assure you that all the words Jesus has uttered are true."
"But we do not doubt this," said the monks; "why do you repeat it so often?"
"God tells us in the Gospel," he answered, "that he who forsakes earthly affections for love of Him shall receive a hundredfold in this world, and in the world to come, life everlasting, and I have already experienced the truth of His promise. Great as my present pains are, I would not exchange them, with the anticipation of heavenly sweetness which they have procured me, for a hundred or a thousand fold of the pleasures I forsook in the world. If a guilty sinner like me receives such sweetness and consolation in the midst of his pains, what must be the joys of perfect souls?" The monks marveled to hear a man of no learning speak so wisely, but recognized in his words the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we must conclude that the just, though deprived of earthly blessings, enjoy the rewards promised to virtue in this life. To convince you more fully of this we shall treat in the following chapters of the twelve privileges attached to virtue in this world. Taken as a whole, they are the twelfth motive for practicing virtue. We shall treat of each, however, in a separate chapter. Though some experience in the practice of virtue is necessary to comprehend what we are about to say, yet the want of it may be supplied by our faith in the Holy Scriptures, which firmly establish the doctrine we are teaching.
The First Privilege of Virtue: God's fatherly Care of the Just
The greatest privilege attached to virtue is the care which God exercises over those who serve Him. From this, as from a fountainhead, flow all other favors. Though God's providence is extended to all His creatures, yet He manifests a special care for His faithful servants. To appreciate the greatness and goodness of God's providence we must have experienced it, or attentively studied the Holy Scriptures, which, from the beginning to the end, treat either directly or indirectly of God's care for His creatures.
Throughout the Bible we behold two characteristic features: on the one hand God commanding man to obey Him, and on the other promising him, in return for this obedience, inestimable rewards. To those who disobey, He threatens the severest torments. This doctrine is so distributed through the Bible that all the moral books contain God's commands and promises and threats, while the historical books record the fulfillment of the same, manifesting how differently God deals with the just and with the wicked. All that God commands us is to love and obey Him, and in return He offers us inestimable blessings for this life and the next.
The most important of these blessings is the fatherly love and care with which He watches over His children. His solicitude for them exceeds that of any earthly father. What man ever reserved for his children an inheritance comparable to that of eternal glory? What man ever suffered for his children the torments endured by Our Saviour? At no less a price than the last drop of His Blood He purchased the Kingdom of Heaven. What can equal His constant care for us? We are ever present to His mind, and He constantly helps and supports us in all the labors of life. "Thou hast upheld me by reason of my innocence," says David, "and hast established me in thy sight forever." (Ps. 40:13). And again: "The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers. But the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil things: to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." (Ps. 33:16-17).
As the greatest reward of the Christian in this life is God's fatherly care, and as our joy and confidence must increase in proportion to our faith in this providence, we shall add here a few passages from Scripture in proof of this doctrine. In Ecclesiasticus we read, "The eyes of the Lord are upon them that fear him; he is their powerful protector, and strong stay, a defence from the heat, and a cover from the sun at noon; a preservation from stumbling, and a help from falling; he raiseth up the soul, and enlighteneth the eyes, and giveth health, life, and blessing." (Ecclus. 34:19-20).
"With the Lord," says the prophet, "shall the steps of a man be directed, and he shall like well his way. When he shall fall he shall not be bruised, for the Lord putteth his hand under him." (Ps. 36:23-24). And he says again: "Many are the afflictions of the just, but out of them all will the Lord deliver them. The Lord keepeth all their bones; not one of them shall be broken." (Ps. 33:20-21). This providence is still more strongly set forth in the Gospel, where Our Saviour affirms that not a hair of the just shall perish. (Cf. Lk. 21:18). Even stronger is His assurance expressed by the mouth of His prophet: "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of my eye." (Zach. 2:8).
Besides this care which He Himself has for us, "He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (Ps. 90:11-12). Thus the mission of these pure spirits is to help the just, who are their younger brethren, to walk in the way of piety. Nor does their ministry cease at death, for we read in St. Luke that the holy beggar Lazarus was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. (Cf. Lk. 16:22). The royal prophet tells us that "the angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him, and shall deliver them." (Ps. 33:8).
We find another illustration of God's guardianship and defence of the just in the Fourth Book of Kings (4Kg. 6), where we are told that when the servant of Eliseus feared for his master, against whom the King of Syria with all his army advanced, the prophet begged the Lord to open the eyes of his servant, to show him that there were as many for Eliseus as there were coming against him. The prophet's prayer was heard, and the servants beheld the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire, and in the midst of them Eliseus. Does not the Holy Spirit will to teach us by these symbols the care with which God surrounds the just?
This protection not only delivers the just from evil and leads them to good, but turns to their profit the sins into which they are sometimes permitted to fall. For after a fall they acquire greater prudence, greater humility, and love God more tenderly for pardoning their offences and delivering them from their evils. Hence the Apostle tells us, "All things work together unto good" to them that love God. (Rom. 8:28).
And this protection God extends to the children of the just and to all their posterity, as He Himself assures us, saying, "I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me and keep my commandments." (Ex. 20:5-6). His words are verified in His treatment of the house of David, for whose sake He would not destroy his posterity, though they several times merited it by their crimes.
No less striking was His mercy to the children of Abraham, for whose sake He repeatedly pardoned them. He even promised that Ismael, Abraham's son, though born of a bondwoman, should "increase and multiply exceedingly," and grow into a great nation. (Gen. 17:20). He protected even the holy patriarch's servant, whom He guided in his journey and instructed in the means he should adopt to procure a wife for Isaac. He is not only merciful to servants for the sake of a good master, but He even blesses wicked masters because of just servants, as we see in the history of Joseph, whose master God visited with prosperity because of the virtuous youth who abode in his house. Who, then, would not be devoted to so generous, so grateful a Master, who watches so carefully over the interest of His servants?
Numerous are the titles which the Holy Scriptures use to express God's providence. The one most frequently recurring is the sweet name of Father, which we find not only in the Gospel but also throughout the Old Testament. Thus the Psalmist says, "As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear him; for he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust." (Ps. 102: 13-14).
But because the love of a mother is deeper and more tender than that of a father, God makes use of it to express His care and solicitude for the just. "Can a woman," He says by the mouth of His prophet, "forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee in my hands; thy walls are always before my eyes." (Is. 49:15-16). What sweeter or more tender assurances of love could God express?
And shall we continue blind to so many proofs of His tenderness? And not content with illustrating His love for us by that of a mother, He compares His watchfulness to that of the eagle, a creature noted for its devotion to its young, saying by Moses, "As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, he spread his wings, and hath taken him and carried him on his shoulders." (Deut. 32:11 ). Even more forcibly did Moses express the paternal goodness of God when he told the Israelites, "The Lord thy God hath carried thee, as a man is wont to carry his little son, all the way that you have come, until you came to this place." (Deut. 1:31 ).
As our Father, God does not disdain to call us His children, His cherished children, as the prophet Jeremias attests when, speaking in the name of God, he says, "Surely Ephraim is an honorable son to me, surely he is a tender child; for since I spoke of him, I will still remember him. Therefore are my bowels troubled for him; pitying I will pity him." (Jer. 31:20). Let us ponder these words, which are uttered by God Himself, that they may inflame our hearts and move us to make some return for His affectionate tenderness to us.
It is an illustration of this same providence that God assumes the title of Shepherd. "I am the good shepherd," He tells us; "and I know mine, and mine know me." (Jn. 10:14). How dost Thou know them, O Lord? "As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father." (Jn. 10:15). Oh! Blessed care! Oh! Sovereign providence! What happiness is comparable to this?
Hear the prophet Ezechiel, speaking in the person of God, and beautifully describing His loving watchfulness over us: "Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and will gather them out of the countries, and will bring them to their own land; and I will feed them in the mountains of Israel, by the rivers, and in all the habitations of the land. I will feed them in the most fruitful pastures, and their pastures shall be in the high mountains of Israel. There shall they rest on the green grass, and be fed in fat pastures upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my sheep; and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and that which was driven away I will bring again; and I will bind up that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was weak, and that which was fat and strong I will preserve; and I will feed them in judgment" (Ezech. 34:11-17) – that is, with great care and tenderness.
"I will make a covenant of peace with them," the prophet continues, "and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land; and they that dwell in the wilderness shall sleep secure in the forests. And I will make them a blessing round about my hill; and I will send down the rain in its season. There shall be showers of blessing." (Ezech. 34: 25-26). In what stronger terms could God express the tenderness of His love? It is needless to say that the flock mentioned represents the just, and the fat lands and pastures the spiritual riches and treasures with which God surrounds them. The Holy Spirit makes use of the same touching figure again in the Twenty-second Psalm, where the different offices of a shepherd are portrayed.
God is our Shepherd, because He guides us; He is also our King, because He protects us; our Master, because He instructs us; our Physician, because He heals us; and our Guardian, because He watches over us. Holy Scripture is full of these names. But the tenderest of all, the one which best expresses His love, is that of Spouse, which occurs most frequently in the Canticles of Canticles, though mentioned many times in other parts of the Scriptures. With this name would He have even sinners invoke Him: "From this time call to me: Thou art my father, the guide of my virginity." (Jer. 3:4).
But why seek in Scripture various names? Cannot every name expressive of good be applied to Our Saviour? Does not he who seeks and loves Him find in Him the fulfillment of all his desires? Hence, St. Ambrose says, "We possess all things in Christ, or rather Christ is all things to us. If you would be healed of your wounds, He is a Physician; if you thirst, He is a living Fountain; if you fear death, He is your Life; if you are weary of the burden of sin, He is your Justification; if you hate darkness, He is uncreated Light; if you would reach Heaven, He is the Way; if you hunger, He is your Food." (De Virg. L.3). Behold how numerous are the titles which represent this one and indivisible God, who is all things to us for the healing of our innumerable infirmities.
We have selected a few of the passages of Scripture bearing on our subject, to comfort the just and to win and encourage souls who have not yet begun to serve God. These consoling truths will support them in labor; will reassure them in danger; will comfort them m tribulation; will inflame them with love for so good a Master, and impel them to give themselves wholly to the service of Him who gives Himself so completely to them. Thus we see that the principal foundation of the Christian life is the practical knowledge of this truth.
What are all the promises of the world compared to the assurance and hopes contained in these blessed titles? How much reason have they to rejoice who are the objects of the love of which the Scriptures speak in such beautiful terms! "Be glad in the Lord," says the prophet, "and rejoice, ye just; and glory, all ye right of heart." (Ps. 31: 11). Yes, let others rejoice in honors, in riches, or in dignities; but you who possess God for your portion enjoy an inheritance which exceeds all other blessings as far as God exceeds all created things. "They have called the people happy," says the psalmist, "that hath these things; but happy is that people whose God is the Lord." (Ps. 143:15).
Why, O prophet? Because in possessing God all things are possessed. Therefore, though I am a king and the ruler of a great nation, I will glory only in the Lord. How, then, can men refuse to serve Him who is the Source of all blessings? "What iniquity have your fathers found in me," God asks by the mouth of His prophet, "that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Am I become a wilderness to Israel, or a lateward springing land?" (Jer. 2:5,31). If God complains so bitterly of the ingratitude of a people who had received from Him but temporal favors, how much more reason has He to reproach us, upon whom He has lavished so many spiritual and divine blessings!
If unmoved by the loving providence of God towards the just, at least be not insensible to the rigor with which He punishes the wicked, to whom His justice is meted out according to their own measure. For if they forget their Creator, He will forget them. If they despise Him, He will despise them. How miserable will their condition then be! They will be as a school without a master, a ship without a rudder, a flock without a shepherd. "I will not feed you," God says; "that which dieth, let it die; and that which is cut off, let it be cut off. Let the rest devour every one the flesh of his neighbor." (Zach. 11:9). "I will hide my face from them, and will consider what their last end shall be." (Deut. 32:20).
The just punishment inflicted by God on the wicked is still more plainly declared in Isaias. The prophet speaks of his people under the figure of a vine which has been carefully pruned and dressed, but has failed to bear fruit. God, therefore, pronounces sentence against it: "I will show you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted. I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will make it desolate; it shall not be pruned, and it shall not be digged; but briers and thorns shall come up; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it." (Is. 5:5-6). That is, God will take from man all the efficacious help and protection which he ungratefully refused, and will leave him to inevitable ruin and destruction.
What greater misfortune can befall a man than to be thus deprived of God's care in a world beset with dangers? With what arms will a creature so frail, helpless, and blind resist the attacks of the numerous enemies that assail him? Where will he find strength to resist them? Who will enlighten him, to enable him to avoid their snares? Without the divine assistance, how can he avoid destruction?
But the punishment of the wicked does not end here. God not only abandons them to their weakness, but scourges them with His justice, so that the eyes which hitherto watched for their happiness now look unmoved upon their ruin. This God Himself tells us by the mouth of the prophet:
"I will set my eyes upon them for evil, and not for good" (Amos 9:4) – that is, the providence which hitherto watched for their defence will now work for vengeance on their crimes and disorders.
Even more expressive is the language of Osee: "I will be like a moth to Ephraim, and like rottenness to the house of Juda. I will be like a lioness to Ephraim, and like a lion's whelp to the house of Juda: I, I will catch, and go; I will take away, and there is none that can rescue." (Osee 5:12,14). Here also the prophet Amos, who, after telling us that God will put the wicked to the sword for their sins of covetousness, thus continues: "They shall flee, and he that shall flee of them shall not be delivered. Though they go down even to hell, thence shall my hand bring them out; and though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down. And though they be hid in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them away from there; and though they hide themselves in the depth of the sea, there will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there will I command the sword, and it shall kill them. And I will set my eyes upon them for evil, and not for good." (Amos 9:1-4).
Who can read these words, remembering that they are uttered by God, and not tremble at the misfortune of having an enemy so powerful and so relentless in seeking his destruction? What rest or peace can he enjoy who knows that God's eyes are upon him with wrath and indignation? If it be so great a calamity to lose God's love, what must it be to have His providence armed against you; to have turned against you that sword which was formerly drawn in your defence; to have your destruction now viewed without emotion by those eyes which formerly watched so solicitously for your welfare; to have that arm which hitherto sustained you now stretched forth to annihilate you; to have that Heart which in the time of your goodness breathed but love and peace fox you now filled with projects for your abasement; to have your shield and defence changed into a moth to consume you, a roaring lion to devour you? Who can sleep securely, knowing that God is over him like the rod of Jeremias to chastise him? Who can thwart the designs of God? What power can resist His arm? "Who hath resisted him," says Job, "and hath had peace?" (Job 9:4).
Numerous are the passages in Scripture in which God threatened the withdrawal of His providence as one of the most terrible punishments which He could inflict upon the sinner. "My people heard not my voice," He says, "and Israel hearkened not to me. So I let them go according to the desires of their heart. They shall walk in their own inventions." (Ps. 80:12-13). Abandoned to the desires of their corrupt hearts, they will proceed from disorder to disorder until their ruin is accomplished. What, then, is man without God, but a garden without a gardener, a ship without a pilot, a state without a ruler, an army without a general, a body without a soul?
Behold, dear Christian, how God's providence encompasses you. If you are not incited to fidelity through gratitude for His paternal care, at least the fear of abandonment by Him should impel you to serve Him. For many are moved by threats and the fear of punishment, while they remain utterly insensible to the hope of favor or reward.
The Second Privilege of Virtue:
The Grace with which the Holy Spirit fills Devout Souls
God's fatherly providence, of which we have just been treating, is the source of all the favors and privileges which He bestows upon those who serve Him. For it belongs to this providence to furnish man with all the means necessary for his perfection and happiness.
The most important of these means is the grace of the Holy Ghost, which in its turn is the source of all other heavenly gifts. This is the garment with which the good father in the parable ordered the prodigal to be clothed. But, that we may have a clearer idea of it, let us see how theologians define it. Divine grace, they tell us, is a participation of the divine nature, that is, of God's sanctity, purity, and greatness, by virtue of which man is despoiled of the baseness and corruption of his nature and is clothed with the beauty and nobility of Jesus Christ.
Holy writers illustrate this by a familiar example. A piece of iron, when taken out of the fire, though it still continues to be iron, resembles the fire on account of its heat and brightness. Grace acts in like manner. As a divine quality it is infused into the soul, and so transforms man into God that, without ceasing to be man, he assumes the virtues and purity of God. This was the change wrought in St. Paul when he said, "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20).
Grace may also be called a supernatural and divine form, by means of which man lives as becomes his origin, which is also supernatural and divine.
Grace is, moreover, a spiritual dress, a chaste ornament of the soul, which renders her so beautiful in the eyes of God that He adopts her as His child, or rather accepts her as His spouse. It was this adornment which made the prophet rejoice when he said, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bridegroom decked with a crown, and as a bride adorned with her jewels." (Is. 61:10). Such are the gifts with which the Holy Spirit enriches and adorns the soul. This is the garment of various colors in which the king's daughter was gloriously arrayed. (Ps. 44:14). For from grace proceeds that glorious variety of virtues which forms the power and beauty of the soul.
From what has been said we can judge of the effects of grace in a soul. It renders her so beautiful, as we have said, that God, who is captivated with her loveliness, chooses her for His spouse, His temple, and His dwelling.
Another effect of grace is the strength which it imparts to the soul. This beauty and this strength are extolled in the Canticle of Canticles, in which the angels exclaim, "Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?" (Cant. 6:9).
Grace, then, is like an invulnerable armor. So strong does it render man that, according to St. Thomas, the least degree of grace suffices to triumph over all sin. (S. T. III, Q. 62, a. 6).
A third effect of grace is to render man so pleasing to God that every good action performed by him contributes to merit for him eternal life. By good we here mean not only acts of virtue, but all those which arise from the necessities of nature, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping, which, by an upright intention, become pleasing to God and meritorious in His sight. In addition to all this, grace makes man the adopted child of God and heir to His kingdom.
Our Saviour showed the greatness of this privilege when, seeing His Apostles rejoicing that evil spirits obeyed them in His name, He said, Rejoice not in this, that spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice in this, that your names are written in heaven." (Lk. 10:20).
Grace, finally, qualifies man for all good, smooths the way to Heaven, makes the yoke of Christ sweet and light, cures man of his infirmities and lightens his burdens, so that he is enabled to run in the path of virtue. Moreover, it strengthens all the faculties of the soul, enlightens the understanding, inflames the heart, moderates the appetites of the flesh, and constantly stimulates us, so that we may not relax in the pursuit of virtue. And as all the passions which reside in the inferior part of the soul are so many breaches in the fortification of virtue, through which the enemy effects an entrance, grace guards these avenues of sin with sentinels. These are the infused virtues, each of which is the opposite of the passion or vice which imperils the peace of the soul. Thus, temperance resists gluttony, chastity combats impurity, humility overcomes pride.
But the crowning effect of grace is that it brings God into our souls, in order to govern us, protect us, and lead us to Heaven. There God is pleased to abide, like a king in his kingdom, a father in the bosom of his family, a master with beloved disciples, a shepherd in the midst of his flock. Since, then, this inestimable pearl, the pledge of so many other blessings, is the unfailing lot of the virtuous, who will hesitate to imitate the wisdom of that merchant who sold all he had to purchase this pearl? (Cf. Matt. 13:45-46).
The Third Privilege of Virtue:
The Supernatural Light and Knowledge granted to Virtuous Souls
The heavenly light and wisdom with which God enlightens the just form the third reward of virtue. And this blessing, as well as all the others, is the effect of that grace which not only rules our appetites and strengthens our will, but removes the darkness of sin from our understanding and enables us to know and fulfill our duty.
St. Gregory tells us that ignorance of our duty, as well as inability to do our duty, are alike punishments of sin. (Moral. L. 25, c. 9.). Hence, David so frequently repeats, "The Lord is my light" against ignorance, "the Lord is my salvation" against weakness. (Ps. 26:1). On the one side He teaches us what we should desire, and on the other He strengthens us to execute our desires. And both of these favors are bestowed on us through grace. For in addition to a habit of faith and infused wisdom which teach us what we are to believe and practice, grace imparts to us the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Four of these gifts relate particularly to the understanding: wisdom, which instructs us in spiritual and sublime things; knowledge, which informs us of the things of earth and time; understanding, which helps us appreciate the beauty and harmony of the divine mysteries; and counsel, which guides and directs us amidst the difficulties which we encounter in the path of virtue.
These gifts are so many rays of light which proceed from the divine center of grace, and in Scripture are called an unction or anointing. "But you have the unction from the Holy One, and know all things." (1Jn. 2:20). Oil has the double virtue of giving light and healing, and fitly represents the divine unction which enlightens the darkness of our understanding and heals the wounds of our will. This is the oil which exceeds in value the purest balsam, and for which David rejoiced when he said: Thou, O Lord, hast anointed my head with oil. (Cf. Ps. 22:5). It is evident that the royal prophet did not speak here of a material oil, and that by the head, he designated, according to the interpretation of Didymus, the noblest pan of the soul, or the understanding, which is illumined and supported by the unction of the Holy Spirit.
Since it is the property and function of grace to make us virtuous, we must love virtue and abhor sin, which we cannot do if the understanding be not divinely enlightened to discern the malice of sin and the beauty of virtue. For the will, according to philosophers and theologians, is a blind faculty, incapable of acting without the guidance of the intellect, which points out the good it should choose and love, and the evil it should reject and hate. The same is true of fear, of hope, and of hatred for sin. We can never acquire these sentiments without a just knowledge of the goodness of God and the malice of sin.
Grace, as you have already learned, causes God to dwell in our souls; and as God, in the words of St. John, is "the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world" (Jn. 1:9), the purer a soul is, the brighter will this Light shine in her – just as glass, according as it is clearer, reflects more strongly the rays of the sun. Hence, St. Augustine calls God the "wisdom of a purified soul" (De Lib.Arbit., L. 2), because He fills her with His light, which enables her to apprehend all that is necessary for salvation.
Nor should this surprise us when we consider with what care God provides even the brute creation with all that is necessary for the maintenance of life. For whence is that natural instinct which teaches the sheep to distinguish among plants those which are poisonous and those which are wholesome? Who has taught them to run from the wolf and to follow the dog? Was it not God, the Author of nature? Since, then, God endows the brute creation with the discernment necessary for the preservation of animal life, have we not much more reason to feel that He will communicate to the just the knowledge necessary for the maintenance of their spiritual life?
This example teaches us not only that such a knowledge really exists, but also marks the character of this knowledge. It is not a mere theory or speculation; it is eminently practical. Hence the difference between knowledge divinely communicated and that which is acquired in the schools. The latter only illumines the intellect, but the former, the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, communicates itself to the will, strengthens it for good, governs and stimulates it. By its efficacious virtue this divine knowledge penetrates into the depths of the soul, of t transforms our passions, and remodels us upon the likeness of Christ. Hence, the Apostle tells us, "The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12) – that is, separating the spiritual man from the animal man.
This, then, is one of the principal effects of grace, and one of the most beautiful rewards of virtue in this life. But to prove this truth more clearly to carnal men, who reluctantly accept it, we will confirm it by undeniable passages from both the Old and the New Testament. In the New Testament, Our Saviour tells us, "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you." (Jn. 14:26). And again, "It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught ofGod. Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me." (Jn. 6:45).
Numerous are the passages in the Old Testament which promise this wisdom to the just. "I am the Lord thy God, that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest." (Is. 48:17). "The mouth of the just," says David, "shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment." (Ps. 36:30). Throughout the one hundred and eighteenth Psalm, how frequent is his prayer for this divine wisdom! "Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications. Open thou my eyes, and I will consider the wondrous things of thy law. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart."
Shall we not, therefore, appreciate the happiness and honor of possessing such a Master, from whom we may learn sublime lessons of immortal wisdom? "If Apollonius," says St. Jerome, "traversed the greater part of the world to behold Hipparchus seated upon a golden throne in the midst of his disciples, and explaining to them the movements of the heavenly bodies, what should not men do to hear God, from the throne of their hearts, instructing them, not upon the motions of the heavenly bodies, but how they may advance to the heavenly kingdom?"
If you would appreciate the value of this doctrine, hear how it is extolled by the prophet in the psalm from which we have already quoted: "I have understood more than all my teachers," he exclaims, "because thy testimonies are my meditation. I have had understanding above ancients, because I have sought thy commandments." (Ps. 118:99-100). More expressive still are the words in which Isaias enumerates the blessings promised to God's servants: "The Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail." (Is. 58:11).
What is this brightness – with which God fills the soul of the just – but that clear knowledge of all that is necessary for salvation? He shows them the beauty of virtue and the deformity of vice. He reveals to them the vanity of this world, the treasures of grace, the greatness of eternal glory, and the sweetness of the consolations of the Holy Spirit. He teaches them to apprehend the goodness of God, the malice of the evil one, the shortness of life, and the fatal error of those whose hopes are centered in this world alone. Hence the equanimity of the just. They are neither puffed up by prosperity nor cast down by adversity. "A holy man," says Solomon, "continueth in wisdom as the sun, but a fool is changed as the moon." (Ecclus. 27:12). Unmoved by the winds of false doctrine, the just man continues steadfast in Christ, immovable in charity, unswerving in faith.
Be not astonished at the effect of this wisdom, for it is not earthly, but divine. Is there anything of earth to be compared with it? "The finest gold shall not purchase it, neither shall silver be weighed in exchange for it. It cannot be compared with the … most precious stone sardonyx, or the sapphire. The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." (Job 28:15-16,28).
And this wisdom increases in the just, for Solomon tells us, "The path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect day" (Prov. 4:18), the beginning of a blessed eternity, when God's wisdom and beauty will be revealed to us in all their brightness and power.
This great gift is the portion of the just only, for the wicked are plunged in an ignorance so intense that it was well symbolized by the darkness which covered the land of Egypt. The wicked themselves confess their blindness, "We looked for light, and behold darkness; brightness, and we have walked in the dark. We have groped for the wall, like the blind, and we have groped as if we had no eyes; we have stumbled at noonday as in darkness; we are in dark places as dead men." (Is. 59:9-10).
What can equal the blindness of him who sells eternal happiness for the fleeting and bitter pleasures of this world? How incomprehensible is the ignorance of him who neither fears Hell nor strives for Heaven; who feels no horror for sin; who disregards the menaces as well as the promises of God; who makes no preparation for death, which hourly seizes its victims; who does not see that momentary joys here are laying up for him eternal torments hereafter! "They have not known or understood; they walk on in the darkness" (Ps. 81:5) of sin through this life, and will pass from it to the eternal darkness of the life to come.
Before concluding this chapter we would make the following suggestion: Notwithstanding the power and efficacy of this wisdom with which God fills the souls of the just, no man, however great the light he has received, should refuse to submit his judgment to his lawful superiors, especially the authorized teachers and doctors of the Church. Who ever received greater light than St. Paul, who was raised to the third heaven; or than Moses, who spoke face to face with God? Yet St. Paul went to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles upon the Gospel which he had received from Christ Himself; and Moses did not disdain to accept the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, who was a Gentile.
For the interior aids of grace do not exclude the exterior succors of the Church. Divine Providence has willed to make them both an aid to our salvation. As the natural heat of our body is stimulated by that of the sun, and the healing powers of nature are aided by exterior remedies, so the light of grace is strengthened by the teaching and direction of the Church. Whoever refuses, therefore, to humble himself and submit to her authority will render himself unworthy of any favor from God.
The Fourth Privilege of Virtue:
The Consolations with which the Holy Spirit visits the Just
We might regard charity, or the love of God, as the fourth privilege of virtue, particularly as the Apostle accounts it the first-fruit of the Holy Ghost; but our intention being at present to treat more of the rewards of virtue than of virtue itself, we shall devote this chapter to the consolations of the Holy Ghost, and refer to another pan the consideration of charity, the most noble of virtues.
This fourth privilege of virtue is the effect of that divine light of which we spoke in the preceding chapter.
This is the teaching of David when he says, "Light is risen to the just, and joy to the right of heart." (Ps. 96: 11). The Holy Scriptures furnish abundant proof of this truth. If the path of virtue, O deluded sinner, be as sad and difficult as you represent it, what does the Psalmist mean when he exclaims, "O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee!" (Ps. 30: 20). And again: "My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall be delighted in his salvation. All my bones [that is, all the powers of my soul] shall say: Lord, who is like to thee?" (Ps. 34: 9-10).
Do not these texts clearly tell us of the joy with which the souls of the just overflow, which penetrates even to the flesh, and which so inebriates man's whole being that he breaks forth into transports of holy joy? What earthly pleasure can be compared to this? What peace, what love, what delight can equal that of which Thou, O my God, art the inexhaustible source? "The voice of rejoicing and of salvation," continues the prophet, "is in the tabernacles of the just." (Ps. 117:15). Yes, only just souls know true joy, true peace, true consolation.
"Let the just feast and rejoice before God, and be delighted with gladness." (Ps. 67:4). "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house, and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure." (Ps. 35:9). Could the prophet more powerfully express the strength and sweetness of these consolations? They shall be inebriated, he tells us; for as a man overcome by the fumes of wine is insensible to all outward objects, so the just, who are filled with the wine of heavenly consolations, are dead to the things of this world.
"Blessed is the people," he further says, "that knoweth jubilation." (Ps. 88:16). Many would perhaps have said, "Blessed are they who abound in wealth, who are protected by strong walls, and who possess valiant soldiers to defend them!" But David, who had all these, esteemed only that people happy who knew by experience what it was to rejoice in God with that joy of spirit which, according to St. Gregory, cannot find expression in words or actions. Happy are they who are sufficiently advanced in love for God to know this jubilation! It is a knowledge which Plato, with all his wisdom, and Demosthenes, with all his eloquence, could never attain. Since, then, God is the author of this joy, how great must be its strength and sweetness! For if His arm be so terrible when stretched forth to chastise, it is equally tender when extended to caress.
We are told that St. Ephrem was frequently so overcome with the strength of this divine sweetness that he was forced to cry out, "Withdraw from me a little, O Lord, for my body faints under the weight of Thy delights!" (St. John Climachus). Oh! Unspeakable Goodness! Oh! Sovereign Sweetness, communicating Thyself so prodigally to Thy creatures that the human heart cannot contain the effusions of Thy infinite love! In this inebriation of heavenly sweetness the troubles and trials of the world are forgotten, and the soul is strengthened and elevated to joys beyond the power of her natural faculties.
Just as water under the action of fire loses its property of heaviness, and rises in imitation, as it were, of the element by which it is moved, so the soul inflamed with the fire of divine love soars to Heaven, the source of this flame, and burns with desire for the object of her love. "Tell my beloved," she cries, "that I languish with love." (Cant. 5:8). These joys, which are the portion of the just in this world, need not excite our wonder, if we consider all that God endured in His Passion. All His sufferings and ignominies were for the sinner as well as for the just. Hence, if He endured so much for the sinner, what will He not do for the happiness of faithful souls?
The devotion and fidelity of the just still further enable us to form some conception of the ardor with which God promotes their happiness. Look into their hearts, and you will find there not a thought or desire which is not for Him whose glory is the end of all their actions; that they spare no sacrifice to serve Him who is continually giving them proofs of His love. If, therefore, frail and inconstant man be capable of such devotedness, what will God not do for him? Isaias, and after him St. Paul, tells us that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him." (Is. 64:4 and 1Cor. 2:9).
We could cite many other passages from Scripture in proof of this truth, particularly from the Canticle of Canticles, where these divine consolations are represented, sometimes under the figure of generous wine which rejoices the heart of man, or as milk sweeter than honey, containing all strength, and filling the soul with life and joy. But what we have said will suffice to prove to you the joys which are reserved for the good, and how far these heavenly consolations exceed the pleasures of this world. For what comparison can there be between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial? How can the happiness afforded by a creature be compared to that which is given by the Creator? That it is particularly in prayer that just souls enjoy these divine consolations is a truth we now wish to prove.
God Himself tells us, "The children of the stranger that adhere to the Lord, to worship him, and to love his name, to be his servants; every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and that holdeth fast my covenant, I will bring them into my holy mount, and will make them joyful in my house of prayer." (Is. 56:6-7).
Hence St. Lawrence Justinian tells us that the hearts of the just are inflamed in prayer with love for their Creator; that they are frequently raised above themselves and transported in spirit to the abode of the angels, where, in the presence of their God, they unite their praise to that of the celestial choirs. They weep and rejoice, for the sighs of their exile mingle with the anticipations of their blessed country. They feast, but are never filled. They drink, but are never satisfied. They unceasingly long to be transformed into Thee, O Lord, whom they contemplate with faith, whom they adore with humility, whom they seek with desire, whom they possess and enjoy through love.
The powers of their mind are inadequate to comprehend this happiness, which penetrates their whole being, yet they tremble to lose it. Even as Jacob wrestled with the angel, so do their hearts struggle to retain this divine sweetness amid the turmoil and trouble of this world, crying out with the Apostle, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." (Matt. 17:4).
When inflamed with this divine fire, the soul longs to be freed from her prison of clay. She waters her bread with her tears, that the hour of her deliverance may not be delayed. She mourns that she has learned so late the enjoyment of these treasures which God has prepared for all men. She longs to proclaim them in public places, crying to the deluded victims of this world, "O unhappy people, senseless men! Whither are you hastening? What is the object of your search? Why will you not seek happiness at its source? Taste and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man that hopeth in him." (Ps. 33:9).
O Lord, "What have I in heaven, and besides thee what do I desire upon earth? For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away; thou are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever." (Ps. 72:25-26).
You will probably tell me that these consolations are reserved for those who are already advanced in virtue. No doubt these intimate joys of the soul are known only to more perfect souls, yet the Divine Master grants even beginners ineffable rewards. The happiness of the prodigal, the rejoicing and feasting which resound in his father's house, are an image of the spiritual joy which the soul experiences when she is released from the slavery of the evil one and made an honored child of Christ.
It is very evident that man, bound by the chains of the flesh and the allurements of the world, could not trample pleasure underfoot and resolutely enter the path of virtue, did not God accord him favors which sweeten all his sacrifices. Therefore, when a soul is resolved to turn to God, He smooths the way for her, and removes many obstacles that might cause her to lose courage and fall back.
This is what God did for the children of Israel when He led them out of the land of Egypt: "When Pharao had sent out the people, the Lord led them not by way of the land of the Philistines, which is near, thinking lest perhaps they would repent, if they should see wars arise against them, and would return into Egypt." (Ex. 13:17).
This same Providence, which guided the Israelites, continues daily to manifest like care for the faithful, bringing them out of the slavery of the world and leading them to the conquest of Heaven, the true promised land.
We find still another figure of this truth in the Old Testament, where God commanded the first and the last days of the week to be observed with particular solemnity, thus teaching us that He rejoices with His children in the beginning as well as in the consummation of their perfection. Those who are entering the path of virtue are treated by God with the tenderness and consideration which are shown to children. The affection of a mother for her younger sons is not greater than that which she bears those of riper years, yet she tenderly carries the little ones in her arms, and leaves the older ones to walk by themselves. The latter are sometimes obliged to earn their food before it is given them, while the little ones not only receive it unsolicited, but are tenderly fed. This is a faint image of the loving care with which God surrounds those who are beginning to serve Him.
It is no argument against this truth that you do not experience these divine consolations when you think of God. Food is tasteless to a disordered palate, and for a soul vitiated by sin and sensual affections this heavenly manna has no relish. Cleanse your soul with the tears of repentance and then "taste and see that the Lord is sweet." (Pr. 33:9).
What are all the pleasures of this world compared to these ineffable consolations? Why will you not begin to be happy from this moment? "O man!" says Richard of St. Victor, quoting the words of the Gospel, "since Paradise may be thine, why dost thou not sell all thy possessions to purchase this pearl of great price?"
Dear Christian, delay not an affair so important. Every moment is worth more to you than all the riches of the universe. Even though you attain this heavenly treasure, you will never cease to lament the time you have lost, and to cry out with St. Augustine, "Too late have I known Thee , too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new!" This illustrious penitent, though he unceasingly lamented the lateness of his conversion, gave himself to God with all his heart, and therefore, won an immortal crown. Imitate him, and thus avoid the unhappy lot of lamenting not only the delay of your conversion, but even the loss of your crown.
The Fifth Privilege of Virtue: The Peace of a Good Conscience
God, who gives His creatures all that is necessary for their perfection, has planted the seed of virtue in the soul of man, and has endowed him with a natural inclination for good and an instinctive hatred of evil. This inclination may be weakened and perverted by a habit of vice, but it can never be totally destroyed.
We find a figure of this truth in Job, where we see that, in the calamities which befell the holy man, one servant always escaped to announce the misfortune which had overtaken his master. So the faithful servant, conscience, always remains with the sinner in the midst of his disorders to show him what he has lost and the state to which his sins have reduced him.
This is still another striking proof of that providence we have been considering, and of the value God attaches to virtue. He has placed in the center of our souls a guardian that never sleeps, a monitor that is never silent, a master that never ceases to guide and sustain us. Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, was deeply impressed with this truth when he said that "as fathers are wont to entrust their children to a tutor who will prudently guard them from vice and lead them to virtue, so God, after creating man, confides him to the care of that interior guide which stimulates him to virtue and warns him against vice."
But conscience, which is such a kind master to the just, becomes a scourge to the wicked. It tortures them with the remembrance of their crimes and embitters all their pleasures. Among these torments of conscience, one of the greatest is the hideousness and deformity of sin, which is so abominable in itself that a heathen philosopher once said, "Though I knew that the gods would pardon me if I sinned, and that men would never know it, yet I would not take upon me a thing so abominable in itself."
Another rod with which conscience scourges the wicked is the sight of the evil caused by sin, which, like the blood of Abel, seems to cry to Heaven for vengeance. Thus we are told that King Antiochus, during his sickness, was so assailed by the thoughts of his past crimes that the grief they occasioned brought on his death. "I remember," he cried, "the evils that I did in Jerusalem, whence also I took away all the spoils of gold and of silver that were in it, and I sent to destroy the inhabitants of Juda without cause. I know, therefore, that for this cause these evils have found me; and behold I perish with great grief in a strange land." (Mac. 6:12-13).
The shame and dishonor of sin form another torment for the wicked. It is natural for man to desire esteem, but who can honor the sinner? It is natural for him to wish to be loved, but who is there who does not hate iniquity? To these miseries let us add the fear of death, which never fails to haunt the wicked, unless they are utterly abandoned. What comfort can they have in reflecting on the uncertainty of life, the thought of the terrible account they must render, and the anticipation of eternal torments? Consider the sentiments which such reflections must awaken in the sinner's breast, and you will form some idea of the torments of his conscience.
Of these torments one of the friends of Job spoke when he said, "The wicked man is proud all his days, and the number of the years of his tyranny is uncertain. The sound of dread is always in his ears"-the dread sound of an accusing conscience. "And when there is peace, he always suspecteth treason," for he cannot escape the alarms and the warning cries of conscience. "He believeth not that he may return from darkness to light." He believes it impossible to extricate himself from the terrible darkness which envelops him; he almost despairs of ever again enjoying the peace of a good conscience. "Looking round about for the sword on every side," he is in constant dread of avenging justice. "When he moveth himself to seek bread he knoweth that the day of darkness is at hand." Even at table, the place of mirth and rejoicing, the fear of judgment is upon him.
"Tribulation shall terrify him, and distress shall surround him, as a king that is prepared for the battle. For he hath stretched out his hand against God, and hath strengthened himself against the Almighty." (Job 15:22-26).
Thus does Holy Scripture portray the torments of which the heart of the sinner is both the theater and the victim. A philosopher has wisely said that by an eternal law of God it is ordained that fear should be the inseparable companion of evil; and this is confirmed by Solomon, who tells us, "The wicked man fleeth when no man pursueth, but the just, bold as a lion, shall be without dread." (Prov. 28:1). This thought is also expressed by St. Augustine, who says, "Thou hast ordained, O Lord, that every soul in which disorder reigns should be a torment to herself; and truly it is so." (Conf. 1,12).
Nature teaches us the same. Does not every creature suffer for infringing the law of its being? Consider the pain which follows the displacement of a bone in the body. What violence a creature endures when out of its element! How quickly does sickness follow when the different parts of the body are not in harmony! Since, then, it belongs to a rational creature to lead a regular life, how can he escape suffering, how can he fail to become his own torment, when he disregards the laws of reason and the order of Divine Providence? "Who hath resisted God and hath had peace?" (Job 9:4). Hence we see that creatures who submit to the order of God enjoy a peace and security which abandon them the moment they resist this divine law. Man, in his innocence, was absolute master of himself; but after his disobedience he lost his peaceful empire and began to experience remorse and an interior warfare against himself.
"Is there any greater torment in this world," asks St. Ambrose, "than remorse of conscience? Is it not a misery more to be feared than sickness, than exile, than loss of life or liberty?" (De Officiis, L.3,4).
"There is nothing," says St. Isidore, "from which man cannot fly, save from himself. Let him go where he will, he cannot escape the pursuit of an accusing conscience." The same Father adds elsewhere, "There is no torment which exceeds that of a guilty conscience. If, then, you desire to live in peace, live in the practice of virtue."
This truth is so manifest that even pagan philosophers acknowledged it. "What doth it avail thee," says Seneca, "to fly from the conversation of men? For as a good conscience may call all the world to witness its truth, so a bad conscience will be tormented by a thousand fears, a thousand anxieties, even in a desert. If thy action be good all the world may witness it; if it be evil what will it avail thee to hide it from others, since thou canst not hide it from thyself? Alas for thee if thou makest no account of such a witness, for its testimony is worth that of a thousand others." (Epist.97).
"Great," says Cicero, "is the power of conscience; nothing can more effectually condemn or acquit a man. It raises the innocent above all fear and keeps the guilty in perpetual alarm." This is one of the eternal torments of the wicked, for it begins even in this life and will continue forever in the life to come. It is the undying worm mentioned by Isaias. (Cf. Is. 66:24).
Having thus seen the sad effects of an evil conscience, we will be enabled to realize more fully the blessed peace which the just enjoy.
Virtue shelters them from the remorse and sufferings which have been described as the lot of the wicked. The consolations and sweet fruits of the Holy Ghost fill them with joy and transform the soul into a terrestrial paradise, where He is pleased to take up His abode. "The joy of a good conscience," says St. Augustine, "makes the soul a true paradise." (De Gen. ad Lit., L. 12, c. 34). And elsewhere he says, "Be assured, ye who seek that true peace promised to a future life, that you may here enjoy it by anticipation, if you will but love and keep the commandments of Him who promises this reward; for you will soon find by experience that the fruits of justice are sweeter than those of iniquity. You will learn that the joys of virtue, even in the midst of trials and misfortunes, far exceed all the delights of pleasure and prosperity accompanied by the remorse of a bad conscience." (Lib. de Cat. 2,9).
Sin, as we have said, finds in its baseness and enormity its own punishment; so virtue finds in its beauty and worth its own reward. David teaches us this truth: "The judgments of the Lord – that is, His holy commandments – are true, justified in themselves. More to be desired than gold and precious stones, and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb." (Ps. 18:10-11). This was his own experience, for he says, "I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches." (Ps. 118:14). The chief cause of this joy is the dignity and beauty of virtue, which as Plato declares, is incomparably fair and lovely. Finally, so great are the advantages of a good conscience that, according to St. Ambrose, they constitute in this life the happiness of the just.
The ancient philosophers, as we have seen, though deprived of the light of faith, knew the torments of a guilty conscience. Nor were they ignorant of the joy of a good Í conscience, as we learn from Cicero, who, in his Tusculan Questions, says, "A life spent in noble and honorable deeds ' brings such consolations with it that just men are either insensible to the trials of life or feel them very little." The same author adds elsewhere that virtue has no more brilliant, no more honorable theater than that in which the applause of conscience is heard. Socrates, being asked who could live free from passion, answered, "He who lives virtuously." And Bias, another celebrated philosopher, gave almost the same reply to a similar question. "Who," he was asked, "can live without fear?" "He who has the testimony of a good conscience," he replied. Seneca, in one of his epistles, wrote, "A wise man is always cheerful and his cheerfulness comes from a good conscience."
If pagan philosophers, knowing nothing of future rewards, so justly esteemed the peace of a good conscience, how dearly should a Christian prize it! This testimony of a good conscience does not, however, exclude that salutary fear with which we must work out our salvation; but such a fear, so far from discouraging us, inspires us with marvelous courage in the fulfillment of our duties. We feel, in the depth of our hearts, that our confidence is better founded when moderated by this holy fear, without which it would be only a false security and a vain presumption.
It was of this privilege that the Apostle spoke when he said, "Our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity of heart and sincerity of God, and not in carnal wisdom, but in the grace of God, we have conversed in this world." (2Cor. 1:12).
We have endeavored to explain this privilege of virtue, but, despite all that could be said, there is nothing save experience that can give us a keen realization of it.
The Sixth Privilege of Virtue: The Confidence of the Just
The joy of a good conscience is always accompanied by that blessed hope of which the Apostle speaks when he tells us to rejoice in hope and to be patient in tribulation. (Cf. Rom. 12:12). This is the rich inheritance of the children of God, their general refuge in tribulation, and their most efficacious remedy against all the miseries of life.
Before entering upon this subject we must bear in mind that as there are two kinds of faith, one barren and dead, the other living and strengthened by charity, fruitful in good works; so there are two kinds of hope – one barren, which gives the soul no light in darkness, no strength in weakness, no consolation in tribulation; the other "lively" (Cf. 1Pet. 1:3), which consoles us in sorrow, strengthens us in labor, and sustains us in all the dangers and trials of this world.
This living hope works in the soul many marvelous effects, which increase according as the charity which accompanies it becomes more ardent. The first of these effects is the strength which supports man under the labors of life by holding before his eyes the eternal reward reserved for him; for, in the opinion of the saints, the stronger this hope of reward the greater is man's courage in overcoming obstacles in the path of virtue.
"Hope," says St. Gregory, "fixes our hearts so steadfastly upon the joys of Heaven that we are insensible to the miseries of this life." "The hope of future glory," Origen tells us, "sustains the just under the trials of life, as the hope of victory supports the soldier during battle." "If the furious tempests of the sea," says St. Chrysostom, "cannot daunt the sailor; if hard frosts and withering blight cannot discourage the farmer; if neither wounds nor death itself affright the soldier; if neither falls nor blows dishearten the wrestler, because of the fleeting recompense they hope from their labors, how much greater should be the courage of a Christian, who is toiling for an eternal reward! Therefore, consider not the roughness of the path of virtue, but rather the end to which it leads; look not upon the pleasures which strew the path of vice, but rather upon the precipice to which it is hurrying you."
Who is so foolish as willingly to pursue a path, though strewn with flowers, if it lead to destruction? Who, conversely, would not choose a rugged and difficult path if it lead to life and happiness?
Holy Scripture is full of commendations of this blessed hope. "The eyes of the Lord," the prophet Hanani tells King Asa, "behold all the earth, and give strength to them that with a perfect heart trust in him." (2Par. 16:9). "The Lord is good to them that hope in him, and to the soul that seeketh him." (Lam. 3:25). "The Lord is good, and giveth strength in the day of trouble, and knoweth them that hope in him." (Nahum 1:7).
"If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved; in silence and in hope shall your strength be." (Is. 30:15) By silence the prophet here signifies that interior calm and sweet peace experienced by the soul amid all her troubles, and which is the result of that hope in God's mercy which expels all fear. "Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him, and mercy shall come to you for your delight. My children, behold the generations of men, and know ye that no one ma hath hoped in the Lord and hath been confounded." (Ecclus. 2:9,11).
"Mercy shall encompass him that hopeth in the Lord."(Ps. 31:10). Mark the strength of this word encompass, by son which the prophet teaches us that a virtuous man is shielded by God's protection, as a king surrounded by his guards. Read the Psalms, and you will see how beautifully David speaks of the power and merit of divine hope.
In one of his sermons, St. Bernard dwells at some length on this virtue, and concludes by saying, "Faith teaches us that God has inestimable rewards reserved for His faithful servants. Hope answers, 'It is for me that they are prepared'; and charity, inspired by hope, cries out, 'I will hasten to possess them.'"
Behold, then, the happy fruits of hope! It is a port of refuge from the storms of life; it is a buckler against the attacks of the world; it is a storehouse to supply us in the time of famine; it is the shade and tent of which Isaias spoke, to protect us from the heat of summer and the frosts of winter; in fine, it is a remedy for all our evils, for there is no doubt that all we confidently and justly hope from God will be granted to us, if for our welfare. Hence St. Cyprian says that God's mercy is a healing fountain, hope a vessel into which its waters flow. Therefore, the larger the vessel the more abundantly will we receive of these waters. God told the children of Israel that every place upon which they set their feet should be theirs. So every salutary blessing upon which man fixes his hope will be granted to him. Hope, then, for all blessings, and you will obtain them.
Thus we see that this virtue is an imitation of the divine power; for, says St. Bernard, nothing so manifests the power of God as the omnipotence with which He invests those who hope in Him. Witness Josue, at whose command the sun stood still; or Ezechiel, who bade King Ezechias choose whether he would have the sun advance or go backward in its course, as a sign from God.
In studying the inestimable treasures of hope, you have some idea of one of the blessings of which the wicked are deprived. Whatever hope remains to them is dead; destroyed by sin, it can produce none of the glorious fruits we have been considering. Distrust and fear as inevitably accompany a bad conscience as the shadow does the body. Hence the happiness of the sinner is the measure of his hope. He sets his heart upon the vanities and follies of the world; he rejoices in them; he glories in them; and in them he hopes in the time of affliction.
It is of such hope that God speaks when He says, "The hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the winds, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm; and a smoke which is scattered abroad by the wind." (Wis. 5:15). Can you imagine a weaker or a vainer confidence than this? But it is not only vain, it is deceptive and injurious. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, trusting in horses, and putting their confidence in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; and have not trusted in the Holy One of Israel, and have not sought after the Lord. Egypt is man, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit; and the Lord shall put down his hand, and the helper shall fall, and he that is helped shall fall, and they shall all be confounded together." (Is. 31:1,3).
Behold, dear Christian, the difference between the hope of the just and the hope of the wicked. One is of the flesh, the other of the spirit; one is centered in man, the other in God. And even as God exceeds man, so does the hope of the just exceed that of the sinner. Therefore, the prophet exhorts us, "Put not your trust in princes; in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God; who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them." (Ps. 114:3,5-6).
"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God. They are bound, and have fallen; but we are risen, and are set upright." (Ps. 19:8-9). Thus we see that our hopes are realized according to that upon which they rest – in ruin and destruction, or in honor and victory.
Therefore, he whose hope is fixed upon the things of this world is rightly compared to the man in the Gospel who built his house upon the sand and beheld it beaten down by the rain and winds; while he whose hope is fixed upon the things of Heaven is like the man whose house was built upon a rock, and which stood unshaken amidst the storms. (Cf. Matt. 7:25).
"Cursed be he," cries out the prophet, "that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like tamaric [a barren shrub] in the desert, and he shall not see when good shall come; but he shall dwell in dryness in the desert, in a salt land and not inhabited. But blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence; and he shall be as a tree that is planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots towards moisture; and it shall not fear when the heat cometh. And the leaf thereof shall be green, and in the time of drought it shall not be solicitous, neither shall it cease at any time to bring forth fruit." (Jer. 17:5-9).
Can there be any misery compared to life without hope? To live without hope is to live without God. If this support be taken from man, what remains for him? There is no nation, however barbarous, that has not some knowledge of a god whom they worship and in whom they hope. When Moses was absent for a short time from the children of Israel, they imagined themselves without God; and in their ignorance they besought Aaron to give them a god, for they feared to continue without one. Thus we see that human nature, though ignorant of the true God, instinctively acknowledges the necessity of a Supreme Being, and, recognizing its own weakness, turns to God for assistance and support.
As the ivy clings to a tree, and as woman naturally depends on man, so human nature in its weakness and poverty seeks the protection and assistance of God. How deplorable, then, is the condition of those who deprive themselves of His support! Whither can they turn for comfort in trials, for relief in sickness? Of whom will they seek protection in dangers, counsel in difficulties? If the body cannot live without the soul, how can the soul live without God? If hope, as we have said, be the anchor of life, how can we trust ourselves without it on the stormy sea of the world? If hope be our buckler, how can we go without it into the midst of our foes?
What we have said must sufficiently show us that an infinite distance separates the hope of the just from that of the wicked. The hope of the just man is in God, and that of the wicked is in the staff of Egypt, which breaks and wounds the hand which sought its support. For when man leans upon such a reed, God wishes to make him sensible of his error by the sorrow and shame of his fall. We have an example of this in God's treatment of Moab: "Because thou hast trusted in thy bulwarks, and in thy treasures, thou also shalt be taken: and Chamos [the god of the Moabites] shall go into captivity, his priests, and his princes together." (Jer. 48:7). Consider what a support that is which brings ruin upon those who invoke it.
Behold, then, dear Christian, how great is this privilege of hope, which, though it appears one with the special providence of which we have been treating, differs from it, nevertheless, as the effect differs from the cause. For though the hope of the just proceeds from several causes, such as the goodness of God, the truth of His promises, the merits of Christ, yet its principal foundation is this paternal providence. It is this which excites our hope; for who could fail in confidence, knowing the fatherly care that God has for us all?
The Seventh Privilege of Virtue: The True Liberty of the Just
From the privileges we have been considering, but particularly from the graces of the Holy Spirit and His divine consolations, there arises a seventh, though no less marvelous, privilege, which is true liberty of the soul. The Son of God brought this gift to men; hence He is called the Redeemer, or Deliverer, for He freed mankind from the slavery of sin, and restored them to the true liberty of the children of God. This is one of the greatest of God's favors, one of the most signal benefits of the Gospel, and one of the principal effects of the Holy Ghost. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2Cor. 3:17). This liberty is one of the most magnificent rewards which God has promised to His servants in this life: "If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
To this the Jews answered, "We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man; how sayest thou: You shall be free?" Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen I say unto you, that whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever. If, therefore, the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." (Jn. 8:31-37).
Our Saviour teaches us by these words that there are two kinds of liberty. The first is the liberty of those who are doubtless free in body, but whose souls are enslaved by sin, as Alexander the Great, who, though master of the world, was a slave to his own vices. The second is that true liberty which is the portion of those whose souls are free from the bondage of sin, though their bodies may be held in chains. Witness the great Apostle, whose mind, despite his fetters, soared to Heaven, and whose preaching and doctrine freed the world. To such a condition we unhesitantly give the glorious name of liberty. For the noblest part of man is the soul; in a measure it constitutes man. The body is merely matter vivified by the soul. Hence, only he whose soul is at liberty is truly free, and he whose soul is in bondage, however free his body may be, possesses only the semblance of liberty.
Now, the sinner is in bondage under sin, the most cruel of tyrants. The torments of Hell are but the effects of sin; consider, then, how horrible sin itself must be. It is to this cruel tyrant that the wicked are enslaved, for Our Saviour tells us, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (Jn. 8:34). Nor is the sinner a slave to sin only, but to all that incites him to sin – that is, to the world, the devil, and the flesh with all its disorderly appetites. These three powers are the sources of all sin, and, therefore, are called the three enemies of the soul, because they imprison her and surrender her to a most pitiless master.
The first two powers make use of the flesh, as Satan made use of Eve, to tempt and incite us to every kind of iniquity. Therefore, the Apostle calls flesh "sin," giving the name of the effect to the cause, for there is no evil to which man is not incited by the flesh. (Rom. 7:25). For this reason theologians term it fomes peccati – that is, the germ and fuel of sin; for, like wool and oil, it serves to feed the fire of sin. It is more commonly called sensuality, or concupiscence, which, to speak more plainly, is our sensual appetite. Hence, St. Basil tells us that our desires are the principal arms with which the devil makes war upon us; for, carried away by the immoderate desires of the flesh, we seek to gratify them by any means in our power, regardless of God's law. From this disorder all sins arise.
This appetite of the flesh is one of the greatest tyrants to whom, in the language of the Apostle, the sinner has made himself a slave. By this we do not mean that the sinner loses his free will, for free will is never lost, however great the multitude of his crimes. But sin so weakens the will, and so strengthens the appetites of the flesh, that the stronger naturally prevails over the weaker. What is there more painful than the consequences of such a victory?
Man possesses a soul made to the image of God, a mind capable of rising above creatures to the contemplation of God; yet he despises all these privileges and places himself in subjection to the base appetites of a flesh corrupted by sin and incited and directed by the devil. What can man expect from such a guidance, or rather from such a bondage, but innumerable falls and incomparable misfortunes?
Our souls may be considered as consisting of two parts, which theologians call the superior and the inferior parts. The first is the seat of the will and of reason, the natural light with which God endowed us at creation. This noble and beautiful gift of reason makes man the image of God and capable of enjoying God, and raises him to a companionship with the angels. The inferior part of the soul is the seat of the sensual appetites, which have been given to us to aid us in procuring the necessities of life and in preserving the human race. But these appetites are blind – they must follow the guidance of reason. They are unfitted to command, and, therefore, like good stewards, they should act only in obedience to their master. Alas! How often do we see this order reversed! How often do we behold the servant become the master!
How many men are so enslaved by their appetites that they will outrage every law of justice and reason to gratify the sensual desires of their hearts! They carry their folly still further, and make the noble faculty of reason wait upon their base appetites and furnish them with means to attain their unlawful desires. For when man devotes the powers of his mind to the invention of new fashions in dress, new pleasures in eating; when he strives to excel his fellow men in wealth and voluptuous luxuries, does he not turn his soul from the noble and spiritual duties suited to her nature, and make her the slave of the flesh? When he devotes his genius to the composition of odes and sonnets to the object of a sinful love, does he not debase his reason beneath this vile passion? Seneca, though a pagan, blushed at such degradation, saying, "I was born for nobler things than to be a slave to ( the flesh." (Epist. 65). Notwithstanding the folly and enormity of this disorder, it is so common among us that we give it little attention. As St. Bernard says, "We are insensible to the odor of our crimes because they are so numerous." In the country of the Moors no one feels affronted if called black, because it is the color of all the inhabitants. So where the vice of drunkenness prevails no one thinks it disgraceful to drink to excess, notwithstanding the degrading nature of this sin.
Yes, the bondage of the flesh is so general that few realize its enormity. How complete, therefore, is this servitude, and how great must be the punishment reserved for one who delivers so noble a creature as reason into the hands of so cruel a tyrant! It is from this slavery that the Wise Man prays to be delivered when he asks that the inordinate desires of the flesh be taken from him, and that he be not given over to a shameless and foolish mind. (Cf. Ecclus. 23:6).
If you would know the power of this tyranny you have only to consider the evils it has wrought since the beginning of the world. I will not set before you the inventions of the poets on this subject, or the example of their famous hero, Hercules, who, after destroying or subduing all the monsters of the world, was himself so enslaved by the love of an impure woman that he abandoned his club for a distaff, and all future feats of valor, to sit and spin among the maidens of his haughty mistress. It is a wise invention of the poets to show the arbitrary power this passion exercises over its victims. Nor will I quote from Holy Scripture the example of Solomon, the wisest of men, enslaved by sensual affections, and so far forgetting the true God as to build temples to the idols of his sinful companions. But I will give you an illustration which, alas, is not an uncommon occurrence.
Consider, for instance, all that a married woman risks by abandoning herself to an unlawful love. We choose this passion from among the rest to show you the strength of the others. She cannot but know that should her husband discover her crime he may kill her in his anger, and thus in one moment she will lose her reputation, her children, her life, her soul, and all that she can desire in this life or the next. She knows, moreover, that her disgrace will fall upon her children, her parents, her brothers, her sisters, and all her race; yet so great is the strength of this passion, or rather the power of this tyrant, that she tramples all these considerations underfoot to obey its dictates. Was there ever a master more cruel in his exactions? Can you imagine a more miserable, a more absolute servitude?
Yet such is the bondage in which the wicked live. They are seated "in darkness and the shadow of death," says the prophet, "hungry and bound with chains." (Ps. 106:10). What is the darkness, if not the deplorable blindness of the wicked, who neither know themselves nor their Maker, nor the end for which they were created? They see not the vanity of the things upon which they have set their hearts, and they are insensible to the bondage in which they live.
What are the chains which bind them so cruelly, if not the ties of their disorderly affections? And is not this hunger which consumes them the insatiable desire for things which they can never obtain?
Not unfrequently the gratification of man's inordinate desires, so far from satisfying him, only creates other more violent passions, as we learn from the example of Amnon, the wicked son of David, who could neither eat nor rest because of his love for Thamar; but he no sooner obtained possession of her than he hated her even more intensely than he had loved her. (Cf. 2Kg. 13:1-16).
Such is the condition of all who are enslaved by this vice. They cease to be masters of themselves; it allows them no rest; they can neither think nor speak of anything else; it fills their dreams at night; and nothing, not even the fear of God, the interests of their souls, the loss of their honor, or life itself, can turn them from their course or break the guilty chains which bind them. Consider also the jealousy and suspicions with which they are tormented, and the dangers of body and soul which they willingly risk for these base pleasures. Was there ever a master who exercised such cruelty towards a slave as this tyrant inflicts upon the heart of his victims? Hence we read that "wine and women make wise men fall off." (Ecclus. 19:2). Most fitly are these two passions classed together, for the vice of impurity renders a man as little master of himself, and unfits him for the duties of life, as completely as if robbed of the use of his senses by wine.
The great Latin poet admirably paints the power of this passion in the example of Dido, Queen of Carthage. She no sooner falls in love with Æneas than she abandons the care of public affairs; the walls and fortifications of the city are left unfinished; public works are suspended; the youth are no longer exercised in the noble profession of arms; the harbors are left defenceless, and the city unprotected. Enslaved by this tyrannical passion, Dido is unfitted for the duties of her position; all the powers of her great genius are concentrated upon the object of her love. Oh! Fatal passion! Oh! Pestilential vice, destroying families and overthrowing kingdoms! It is the poison of souls, the death of genius, the folly of old age, the madness of youth, and the bane of mankind.
But this is not the only vice which reduces man to slavery. Study one who is a victim to pride or ambition, and see how eagerly he grasps at honors, how he makes them the end of all his actions. His house, his servants, his table, his dress, his gait, his bearing, his principles are all fashioned to excite the applause of the world; his words and actions are but baits to win admiration. If we wonder at the folly of the Emperor Domitian, armed with a bodkin and spending his leisure in the pursuit of flies, how much more astonishing and pitiable it is to see a man devote not only his leisure but a lifetime to the pursuit of worldly vanities which cannot but end in smoke! Behold how he enslaves himself! He cannot do his own will; he cannot dress to please himself; he cannot go where he chooses; nay, many times he dares not enter a church or converse with virtuous souls, lest his master, the world, should ridicule him.
To satisfy his ambition he imposes upon himself innumerable privations; he lives above his income; he squanders his means; he robs his children of their inheritance, and leaves them only the burden of his debts and the evil example of his follies. What punishment is more fitting for such madness than that which we are told a certain king inflicted upon an ambitious man, whom he condemned to be executed by having smoke poured into his nostrils till he expired, saying to the unhappy victim that as he had lived for smoke, so it was fit that he should die by smoke?
What shall we say of the avaricious man whose money is his master and his god? Is it not in this idol that he finds his comfort and his glory? Is it not the end of all his labors, the object of his hopes? For it does he hesitate to neglect body and soul, to deny himself the necessities of life? Is he restrained even by the fear of God? Can such a man be said to be master of his treasures? On the contrary, is he not their slave as completely as if he were created for his money, and not his money for him?
Can there be a more terrible slavery? We call a man a captive who is placed in prison and bound with chains, but his bondage does not equal that of a man whose soul is the slave of an inordinate affection. Such a man vainly thinks himself free, but no power of his soul enjoys true liberty; his free will, weakened by sin, is the only possession which remains to him. It matters little what fetters bind man, if the nobler part of his soul be captive. Nor does the fact that he has voluntarily assumed these chains make his bondage less real or less ignominious. The sweetness of a poison by no means diminishes its fatal effects.
A man who is the slave of a passion is unceasingly tormented by desires which he cannot satisfy and will not curb. So strong is the bondage of the unhappy victim that when he endeavors to regain his liberty he meets with such resistance that frequently he despairs of succeeding and returns to his chains.
If these miserable captives were held by one chain only, there would be more hope of their deliverance. But how numerous are the fetters which bind them! Man is subject to many necessities, each of which excites some desire; therefore, the greater the number of our inordinate desires, the more numerous our chains. This bondage is stronger in some than in others: there are men of such tenacious disposition that it is only with difficulty they reject what has once taken possession of their imaginations. Others are of a melancholy temperament and cling with gloomy obstinacy to their desires. Many are so narrow-minded that the most insignificant object cannot escape their covetousness. This accords with the saying of Seneca, that to small souls trifles assume vast proportions. Others, again, are naturally vehement in all their desires; this is generally the character of women, who, as a philosopher observes, must either love or hate, for it is difficult for them to observe a just medium.
If the misery of serving one arbitrary master be so great, what must be the suffering of the unhappy man who is enslaved by as many masters as there are ungoverned affections in his heart? If the dignity of man depend upon his reason and free will, what can there be more fatal to this dignity than passion, which obscures the reason and enslaves the will? Without these powers he descends to the level of the brute.
From this miserable slavery the Son of God has delivered us. By the superabundant grace of God we have been redeemed; by the sacrifice of the cross we have been purchased. Hence the Apostle tells us that "our old man [our sensual appetite] is crucified with Christ." (Rom. 6:6). By the merits of His crucifixion, we have been strengthened to subdue and crucify our enemies, inflicting upon them the suffering which they caused us to endure, and reducing to slavery the tyrants whom we formerly served. Thus do we verify the words of Isaias: "They shall make them captives that had taken them, and shall subdue their oppressors." (Is. 14:2). Before the reign of grace, the flesh ruled the spirit and made it the slave of the most depraved desires. But strengthened by grace, the spirit rules the flesh and makes it the docile instrument of the noblest deeds.
We find a forcible illustration of this defeat of the power of darkness and the triumph of truth in the example of King Adonibezec, whom the children of Israel put to death after cutting off his fingers and toes. In the midst of his suffering the unhappy king exclaimed, "Seventy kings having their fingers and their toes cut off, gathered up the leavings of the meat under my table; as I have done, so God hath requitted me." (Jud. 1:7). This cruel tyrant is a figure of the prince of this world, who has disabled the children of God by robbing them of the use of their noblest faculties, .thus rendering them powerless to do any good. They being reduced to so helpless a condition, he throws to them, from the store of his vile pleasures, what are fitly called crumbs, for the gratifications which sin brings are never able to satisfy the appetites of the wicked. See, then, that even of the brutal pleasures for which they bargained with Satan, their cruel master will not give them sufficient.
Christ came and by His Passion overcame this enemy and compelled him to endure the same sufferings which he had inflicted on others. He cut off his members-that is, He deprived him of his power and bound him hand and foot. Adonibezec, the Holy Scriptures tell us, suffered death in Jerusalem. In the same city Our Saviour died to destroy the tyrant sin. It was after this great Sacrifice that men learned to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil. Strengthened by the grace which Christ has purchased for us, neither the pleasures of the world nor the power of Satan can force them to commit a mortal sin.
You will ask, perhaps, what is the source of this liberty and the glorious victory which it enables us to gain. After God, its source is grace, which, by means of the virtues it nourishes in us, subdues our passions and compels them to submit to the empire of reason. Certain men are said to charm serpents to such a degree that, without injuring them or lessening their venom, the snakes are rendered perfectly harmless. In like manner, grace so charms our passions-the venomous reptiles of the flesh – that, though they continue to exist in our nature, they can no longer harm us or infect us with their poison.
St. Paul expresses this truth with great clearness. After speaking at some length of the tyranny of our sensual appetites, he concludes with the memorable words, "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And he answers, "The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 7: 24,25). The body of death here mentioned by St. Paul is not the natural death of the body which all must undergo, but "the body of sin" (Rom. 6:6) – our sensual appetites, the fruitful source of all our miseries. These are the tyrants from which the grace of God delivers us.
A second source of this liberty is the joy of a good conscience and the spiritual consolations experienced by the just. These so satisfy man's thirst for happiness that he can easily resist the grosser pleasures of the flesh. Having found the fountain of all happiness, he desires no other pleasures. As Our Saviour Himself declared: Whoever will drink of the water that He will give him shall thirst no more. (Cf. Jn. 4:13).
St. Gregory thus develops this text: He who has experienced the sweetness of the spiritual life rejects the objects of his sensual love. He generously disposes of his treasures. His heart is inflamed with a desire for heavenly things. He sees but deformity in the beauty which formerly allured him. His heart is filled with the water of life, and, therefore, he has no thirst for the fleeting pleasures of the world. He finds the Lord of all things, and thus, in a measure, he becomes the master of all things, for in this one Good every other good is contained.
Besides these two divine favors, there is another means by which the liberty of the just is regained. This is the vigilant care with which the virtuous man unceasingly labors to bring the flesh under the dominion of reason. The passions are thereby gradually moderated, and lose that violence with which they formerly attacked the soul. Habit does much to cause this happy change, but when aided and confirmed by grace its effects are truly wonderful. Accustomed to the influence of reason, our passions seem to change their nature. They are no longer the fierce assailants of our virtue, but rather its submissive servants.
Hence it is that they who serve God very often find more pleasure, even sensible pleasure, in recollection, silence, pious reading, meditation, prayer, and other devout exercises, than in any worldly amusement. In this happy state the work of subduing the flesh is rendered very easy. Weakened as it is, the attacks it makes on us serve only as occasions of new conquests and new merits. Nevertheless, the ease with which we win these victories should not disarm our prudence or render us less vigilant in guarding the senses as long as we are on earth, however perfectly the flesh may be mortified.
These are the principal sources of that marvelous liberty enjoyed by the just. This liberty inspires us with a new knowledge of God and confirms us in the practice of virtue. This we learn from the prophet: "They shall know that I am the Lord when I shall have broken the bonds of their yoke, and shall have delivered them out of the hand of those that rule over them." (Ezech. 34:27). St. Augustine, who experienced the power of this yoke, says, "I was bound by no other fetters than my own iron will , which was in the possession of the enemy. With this he held me fast. From it sprang evil desires, and in satisfying these evil desires I contracted a vicious habit. This habit was not resisted, and, increasing in strength as time passed, finally became a necessity, which reduced me to the most cruel servitude." (Conf. 8,5).
When a man who has long been oppressed by the bondage under which St. Augustine groaned turns to God, and sees his chains fall from him, his passions quelled, and the yoke which oppressed him lying at his feet, he cannot but recognize in his deliverance the power of God's grace. Filled with gratitude, he will cry out with the prophet, "Thou hast broken my bonds, O Lord! I will sacrifice to thee a sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon the name of the Lord." (Ps. 115:7).
The Eighth Privilege of Virtue: The Peace enjoyed by the Just
The liberty of the children of God is the cause of another privilege of virtue, no less precious than itself – the interior peace and tranquillity which the just enjoy. To understand this more clearly, we must remember that there are three kinds of peace: peace with God, peace with our neighbor, and peace with ourselves. Peace with God consists in the favor and friendship of God, and is one of the results of justification.
The Apostle, speaking of this peace, says, "Being justified, therefore, by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1). Peace with our neighbor consists in a friendly union with our fellow men, which banishes from us all ill-will towards them. David enjoyed this peace when he said, "With them that hated peace I was peaceable; when I spoke to them they fought against me without cause." (Ps. 119:7). To this peace St. Paul exhorted the Romans, "As much as is in you, have peace with all men." (Rom. 12:18). Peace with ourselves is the tranquillity arising from a good conscience, and the harmony existing between the spirit and the flesh when the latter has been reduced to submission to the laws of reason.
We will first consider the agitation and anxiety of the sinner, in order more keenly to appreciate the blessing of holy peace. The wicked hearken to the flesh, and, therefore, they are never free from the disturbance caused by the unceasing and insatiable demands of their passions. Deprived of God's grace which can alone check their unruly appetites, they are a prey to innumerable desires. Some hunger for honors, titles, and dignities, others long for riches, honorable alliances, amusements, or sensual pleasures.
But none of them will ever be fully satisfied, for passion is as insatiable as the daughters of the horse-leech, which continually cry out for more and more. (Cf. Prov. 30:15). This leech is the gnawing desire of our hearts, and its daughters are necessity and concupiscence. The first is a real thirst, the second a fictitious thirst; but both are equally disturbing. Therefore, it is evident that without virtue man cannot know peace, either in poverty or riches; for in the former, necessity allows him no ease, and in the latter, sensuality is continually demanding more. What rest, what peace, can one enjoy in the midst of ceaseless cries which he cannot satisfy? Could a mother know peace surrounded by children asking for bread which she could not give them?
This, then, is one of the greatest torments of the wicked. "They hunger and thirst," says the prophet, "and their souls faint within them." (Ps. 106:5). Having placed their happiness in earthly things, they hunger and thirst for them as the object of all their hope. The fulfillment of desire, says Solomon, is the tree of life. (Cf. Prov. 8:12). Consequently, there is nothing more torturing to the wicked than their unsatisfied desires. And the more their desires are thwarted, the stronger and more intense they become. Their lives, then, are passed in wretched anxiety, constant war raging within them.
The prodigal is a forcible illustration of the unhappy lot of the wicked. Like him, they separate themselves from God and plunge into every vice. They abuse and squander all that God has given them. They go into a far country where famine rages; and what is this country but the world, so far removed from God, where men hunger with desires which can never be satisfied, where, like ravenous wolves, they are constantly seeking more? And how do such men understand the duties of life? They recognize no higher duty than that of feeding swine. To satisfy the animal within them, to feed their swinish appetites, is their only aim.
If you would be convinced of this, study the life of a worldling. From morning until night, and from night until morning, what is the object of his pursuit? Is it not the gratification of some pleasure of sense, either of sight, of hearing, of taste, or of touch? Does he not act as if he were a follower of Epicurus and not a disciple of Christ? Does he seem to be conscious that he possesses any faculty but those which he has in common with the beasts? For what does he live but to enjoy the grossest pleasures of the flesh? What is the end of all his revels, his feasts, his balls, his gallantry, his luxurious couches, his enervating music, his degrading spectacles, but to afford new delights to the flesh?
Give all this what name you will – fashion, refinement, elegance – in the language of God and the Gospel it is feeding swine. For as swine love to wallow in the mire, so these depraved hearts delight to wallow in the mire of sensual pleasures.
But what is most deplorable in this condition is that a son of such noble origin, born to partake of the Bread of Angels at God's own table, would feed upon husks which cannot even satisfy his hunger. In truth, the world cannot gratify its votaries. They are so numerous that, like swine grunting and fighting for acorns at the foot of an oak, they quarrel and wrest from one another the pleasures and gratifications for which they hunger.
This is the miserable condition which David described when he said, "They wandered in a wilderness, in a place without water. They were hungry and thirsty; their soul fainted in them." (Ps. 106:4-5). A terrible characteristic of this hunger is that it is increased by the gratifications which are meant to appease it. The poisoned cup of this world kindles in the hearts of the wicked a fire to which pleasures only add renewed heat. Is it strange that they are consumed by a burning thirst? Unhappy man! Whence is it that you thirst so cruelly, if it be not that you "have forsaken the fountain of living waters, and sought broken cisterns which can hold no water"? (Jer. 2:13). You have mistaken the source of happiness. You wander in a wilderness, and, therefore, you faint with hunger and thirst.
When Holofernes besieged Bethulia he cut off the aqueducts, leaving to the besieged but a few little streams which served only to moisten their lips. The besieged city is an image of your condition. You have cut yourselves off from the source of living waters, and you find in creatures the little springs which may moisten your lips, but, far from allaying your thirst, will only increase it.
The blindness and vehemence of our desires often make us long for what we cannot possibly obtain; and when, after violent efforts, the object of our pursuit eludes our grasp, anger is added to our disappointment, and both combine to throw us into a state of confusion. This gives rise to that internal warfare mentioned by St. James when he asks "Whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not from your concupiscences, which war in your members? You covet, and have not." (James 4:1-2). Another lamentable feature of this condition is that very often when men have attained the summit of their wishes they are seized with a desire for some other worldly advantage, and if their caprice is not gratified, all they possess is powerless to comfort them. Their unsatisfied desire is a continual thorn. It poisons all their pleasure.
"There is also another evil," says Solomon, "which I have seen under the sun, and which is frequent among men. A man to whom God hath given riches, and substance, and honor, and his soul wanteth nothing of all that he desireth; yet God doth not give him power to eat thereof, but a stranger shall eat it up. This is vanity and a great misery." (Eccles. 6:1-2). Does not the Wise Man here clearly point out the wretched condition of one in the midst of abundance, and yet unhappy because of his unsatisfied desires?
If such be the condition of those who possess the goods of the world, how miserable must be the lot of those who are in need of everything! For the human heart in every state is alike subject to unruly appetites, is alike the theater of a most bitter warfare which rages among its opposing passions. When these importunate desires are unsatisfied at every point, the misery of their victim must be beyond description.
The condition of the wicked which we have been considering will enable us by contrast to set a true value on the peace of the just. Knowing how to moderate their appetites and passions, they do not seek their happiness in the pleasures of this life, but in God alone. The end of their labors is not to acquire the perishable goods of this world, but the enduring treasures of eternity. They wage unceasing war upon their sensual appetites, and thus keep them entirely subdued. They are resigned to God's will in all the events of their lives, and, therefore, experience no rebellion of their will or appetites to disturb their interior peace.
This is one of the principal rewards which God has promised to virtue. "Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block." (Ps. 118:165).
"Oh! That thou hadst hearkened to my commandments; thy peace had been as a river, and thy justice as the waves of the sea." (Is. 48:18). Peace is here represented by the prophet under the figure of a river, because it extinguishes the fire of concupiscence, moderates the ardor of our desires, fertilizes the soil of our heart, and refreshes our soul. Solomon no less clearly asserts this same truth: "When the ways of man shall please the Lord, he will convert even his enemies to peace." (Prov. 16:7). He will convert his enemies, the sensual appetites and passions, to peace, and by the power of grace and habit He will subject them to the spirit.
Virtue meets with much opposition in its first efforts against the passions, but as it begins to be perfected, this opposition ceases and its course becomes calm and peaceful. The truth of this is most keenly realized by the just in their practices of piety. They cannot but contrast their present peace with the restless fears and jealousies to which they were a prey when they served the world.
Now that they have given themselves to God and placed all their confidence in Him, none of these alarms can reach them. Their calm resignation to His will has wrought such a change in them that they can hardly believe themselves the same beings. In truth, grace has transformed them by creating in them new hearts. Can we, then, be surprised that such souls enjoy a peace which, the Apostle says, surpasses all understanding?
He who enjoys this favor cannot but turn to the Author of so many marvels and cry out with the prophet, "Come and behold ye the works of the Lord, what wonders he hath done upon earth, making wars to cease even to the ends of the earth. He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons; and the shields he shall burn in the fire." (Ps. 45:9-10). What, then, is more beautiful, more worthy of our ambition, than this peace of soul, this calm of conscience, which is the work of grace and the privilege of virtue?
As one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost, peace is the effect of virtue and its inseparable companion. It is one of those blessings which give us on earth many of the joys of Heaven. For the Apostle tells us, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Rom. 14:17). According to the Hebrew version, justice here means the perfection of virtue, which, together with its beautiful fruits, peace and joy, gives the just a foretaste of eternal happiness. If you would have still further proof that this peace flows from virtue, hear the words of the prophet: "The work of justice shall be peace, and the service of justice quietness and security for ever." (Is. 32:17).
A second cause of this peace is the liberty which the just enjoy. This liberty is gained by the triumph of the nobler part of the soul over the inferior appetites, which, after they have been subjugated, are easily prevented from causing any disturbance. The great spiritual consolations which we considered in a preceding chapter form another source of this peace. They soothe the affections and appetites of the flesh by making them content to share in the joys of the spirit, which they afterwards begin to relish as the sovereign sweetness of God becomes better known. Seeking, therefore, no other delights, they are never disappointed, and consequently never feel the attacks of anger. The happy result of all this is the reign of peace in the soul.
Finally, this great privilege proceeds from the just man's confidence in God, which is his comfort in all trials and his anchor in all storms. He knows that God is his Father, his Defender, his Shield. Hence, he can say with the prophet, "In peace in the selfsame I will sleep and I will rest; for thou, O Lord, singularly hast settled me in hope." (Ps. 4:9-10).
Index to The Sinner's Guide