Monday -- Second Week of Lent
THE HABIT OF SIN PRODUCES BLINDNESS
Every sin produces blindness; and as sin increases, so does the sinner's blindness increase. Therefore do we see relapsing sinners lose all light, and go from sin to sin, without even thinking of amendment. The very habit of committing sin, says St. Augustine, prevents sinners from perceiving the evil they do, and so they live as if they no longer believed in God, in Heaven, or in eternity.
The wicked man, when he is come into the depths of sins, contemneth. (Prov. xviii. 3). One of the greatest ills which the sin of Adam brought upon us was the evil inclination to sin. This made the Apostle weep when he found himself compelled by concupiscence towards those very sins which he abhorred: I see another law in my members . . . captivating me in the law of sin. (Rom. vii. 23). Therefore is it so difficult for us, infected as we are by this concupiscence, and with so many enemies urging us to evil, to arrive sinless at our heavenly country. Now such being our frailty, I ask, what would you say of a voyager who, having to cross the sea in a great storm, and in a frail barque, would load it in such a manner as would be sufficient to sink it even were there no storm and the vessel strong? What would you predict as to the life of that man? Now, we may say the same of the habitual sinner, who, having to pass the sea of this life--a stormy sea in which so many are lost--in a frail and shattered barque, such as is our flesh to which we are united, still burdens it with habitual sins. Such a one can hardly be saved, because a bad habit blinds the understanding, hardens the heart, and thus renders him obstinate to the last. In the first place, a bad habit produces blindness. And why indeed, do the Saints always beg for light from God, trembling lest they should become the worst sinners in the world? Because they know that if for a moment they lose that light, there is no enormity they may not commit. How is it that so many Christians have lived obstinately in sin until at last they have damned themselves? Their own malice blinded them. (Wis. ii. 21). Sin deprived them of sight, and thus they were lost. Every sin produces blindness; and as sin increases, so does the blindness increase. God is our light; as much, therefore, as the soul withdraws from God, so much the more blind does she become: His bones shall be filled with the vices of his youth. (Job xx. 11). As in a vessel full of earth the light of the sun cannot penetrate, so in a heart full of vices Divine light cannot enter. Therefore do we see certain relapsed sinners lose all light, and proceed from sin to sin, without any more even thinking of amendment: The wicked walk round about. (Ps. xi. 9). Having fallen into that dark pit, the unhappy wretches can do nothing but sin; they speak only of sin; they think only of sin; and hardly perceive at last what harm there is in sin. The very habit of committing sin, says St. Augustine, prevents sinners from perceiving the evil they do. So that they live as if they no longer believed in God, in Heaven, in hell, or in eternity.
My God, Thou hast conferred signal blessings upon me, favouring me above others; and I have signally offended Thee by outraging Thee more than any other person that I know. O sorrowful Heart of my Redeemer, afflicted and tormented on the Cross by the sight of my sins, give me, through Thy merits, a lively sense of my offences, and sorrow for them. Ah, my Jesus, I am full of vices; but Thou art omnipotent, Thou canst easily fill my soul with Thy holy love. In Thee, then, I trust; Thou Who art infinite goodness and infinite mercy. I repent, O my Sovereign Good, of having offended Thee. Oh, that I had rather died, and had ever caused Thee any displeasure!
That sin which at first struck the sinner with terror, now, through bad habit, no longer causes horror: Make them as stubble before the wind. (Ps. lxxxii. 14). Behold, says St. Gregory, with what ease a straw is stirred by the slightest wind; thus also you will see one who before he fell, resisted, at least for some time, and combated temptation, when the bad habit is contracted fall instantly at every temptation, and on every occasion of sin that presents itself. And why? Because the bad habit has deprived him of light. St. Anselm says that the devil acts with some sinners like one who holds a bird tied by a string; he allows it to fly, but, when he chooses, he drags it to the earth again. So is it, says the Saint, with habitual sinners: "Entangled by a bad habit, they are held bound by the enemy; and though flying, they are cast down into the same vices." Some, adds St. Bernardine of Sienna, continue to sin, even without occasion. You will see an habitual sinner without occasion indulging in bad thoughts, without pleasure, and almost without will, drawn forcibly on by bad habit. As St. John Chrysostom observes, "Habit is a merciless thing; it forces men, sometimes even against; their will, to the commission of unlawful acts." Yes because, according to St. Augustine, "When no resistance is made to a habit, it becomes a necessity. And, as St. Bernardine adds: "Habit is changed into nature." Hence, as it is necessary for a man to breathe so to habitual sinners, who have made themselves slaves of sin, it appears almost necessary that they must sin. I have used the expression slaves; there are servants who serve for pay, but slaves serve by force and without pay; to this do some poor wretches come, who at last sin without pleasure.
The wicked man, when he is come to the depth of sin: contemneth. (Prov. xviii. 3). St. Chrysostom explains this of the habitual sinner, who, plunged into that pit of darkness, despises corrections, sermons, censures, help, God--despises all, and becomes like the vulture, which, rather than leave the dead body, allows itself to be killed upon it. Father Recupito relates, that a criminal on his way to execution raised his eyes, beheld a young girl and consented to a bad thought. Father Gisolfo also relates that a blasphemer, likewise condemned to death uttered a blasphemy as he was thrown off the ladder. St. Bernard goes so far as to say that it is of no use praying for habitual sinners, but we must weep for them as lost. How can they, indeed, avoid the precipice which they no longer see? It requires a miracle of grace. These unhappy beings will open their eyes in hell, when it will be of no avail to open them, unless it be to weep the more bitterly over their folly.
O my Jesus, I have forgotten Thee; but Thou hast not forgotten me; I perceive it by the light Thou now givest me. Since, then, Thou givest me light, give me likewise strength to be faithful to Thee. I promise Thee rather to die a thousand times than ever again to turn my back on Thee. But all my hopes are in Thine assistance: In thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me not be confounded forever. I hope in Thee, my Jesus, never again to find myself entangled in iniquity and deprived of Thy grace. To thee, also, do I turn, O Mary, my blessed Lady: "In thee, O Lady, have I hoped; let me not be confounded for ever." O my hope, I trust by thy intercession that I may never again find myself at enmity with thy Son. Ah, beg of Him rather to let me die than that He should abandon me to this greatest of misfortunes.
Even works of piety must be always undertaken with a spirit of detachment; so that whenever our efforts are unsuccessful we shall not be disturbed, and when our exercises of devotion are prohibited by a Superior we shall give them up with cheerfulness. Self-attachment of every kind hinders a perfect union with God. We must therefore seriously and firmly resolve to mortify our passions, and not to submit to be their slaves. External as well as interior mortification is necessary for perfection: but with this difference, that the former should be practised with discretion; the latter without discretion, and with fervour. What does it profit us to mortify the body, while the passions of the heart are indulged? "Of what use is it," says St. Jerome, "to reduce the body by abstinence, if the soul is swelled with pride?--or to abstain from wine, and to be inebriated with hatred?" It is useless to chastise the body by fasting, while pride inflates the heart to such a degree, that we cannot bear a word of contempt or the refusal of a request. In vain do we abstain from wine while the soul is intoxicated with anger against all who thwart our designs or oppose our inclinations. No wonder, then, that St. Bernard deplored the miserable state of him who wears the external garb of humility, and at the same time inwardly cherishes his passions. "Such people," says the Saint, "are not divested of their vices: they only cover them by the outward sign of penance."
By attention to the mortification of self-love, we shall become Saints in a short time, and without the risk of injury to health; for since God is the only witness of interior acts, they will not expose us to the danger of being puffed up with pride. Oh! what treasures of virtue and of merits are laid up by stifling in their very birth those little inordinate desires and affections, those bickerings, those suggestions of curiosity, those bursts of wit and humour, and all similar effects of self-love! When you are contradicted, give up your opinion with cheerfulness, unless the glory of God require that you maintain it. When feelings of self-esteem spring up in your heart, make a sacrifice of them to Jesus Christ. If you receive a letter, restrain your curiosity, and abstain from opening it for some time. If you desire to read the termination of an interesting narrative, lay aside the book, and defer the reading of it to another time. When you feel inclined to mirth, to pull a flower, or to look at any object, suppress these inclinations for the love of Jesus Christ, and deprive yourself for His sake of the pleasure of indulging in them. A thousand acts of this kind may be performed in the day. St. Leonard of Port Maurice relates that a servant of God performed eight acts of mortification in eating an egg, and that it was afterwards revealed to her that, as the reward of her self-denial, eight degrees of grace and as many degrees of glory were bestowed upon her. It is also related of St. Dositheus, that by a similar mortification of the interior, he arrived in a short time at a high degree of perfection. Though unable, in consequence of bodily infirmities, to fast or to discharge the other duties of the Religious Community, he attained so perfect a union with God, that the other monks, struck with wonder at his sublime sanctity, asked him what exercises of virtue he performed. "The exercise," replied the Saint, "to which I have principally attended is the mortification of all self-love."
REFLECTIONS AND AFFECTIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
When it was day, the Jews conduct Jesus to Pilate, to make him condemn Him to death; but Pilate declares Him to be innocent: I find no cause in this man. (Luke xxiii. 4). And to free himself from the importunities of the Jews, who pressed on him, seeking the death of the Saviour, he sends Him to Herod. It greatly pleased Herod to see Jesus Christ brought before him, hoping that in his presence, in order to deliver Himself from death, He would have worked one of those miracles of which he had heard; wherefore Herod asked Him many questions. But Jesus, because He did not wish to be delivered from death, and because that wicked one was not worthy of His answers, was silent, and answered him not. Then the proud king, with his court, offered Him many insults, and making them cover Him with a white robe, as if declaring Him to be an ignorant and stupid fellow, sent Him back to Pilate: But Herod with his soldiers despised him, and mocked him, putting on him a white robe, and sent him back to Pilate. (Luke xxiii. 11). Cardinal Hugo in his Commentary says, "Mocking Him as if a fool, he clothed Him with a white robe." And St. Bonaventure, "He despised Him as if impotent, because He worked no miracle; as if ignorant, because He answered him not a word; as if idiotic, because He did not defend Himself."
O Eternal Wisdom! O Divine Word! This one other ignominy was wanting to Thee, that Thou shouldst be treated as a fool bereft of sense. So greatly does our salvation weigh on Thee, that through love of us Thou willest not only to be reviled, but to be satiated with revilings; as Jeremias had already prophesied of Thee: He shall give his cheek to him that striketh him; he shall be filled with reproaches. (Lam. iii. 30). And how couldst Thou bear such love to men, from whom Thou hast received nothing but ingratitude and slights? Alas, that I should be one of these who have outraged Thee worse than Herod. Ah, my Jesus, chastise me not, like Herod, by depriving me of Thy voice. Herod did not recognise Thee for what Thou art! I confess Thee to be my God: Herod loved Thee not; I love Thee more than myself. Deny me not, I beseech Thee, deny me not the voice of Thy inspiration, as I have deserved by the offences I have committed against Thee. Tell me what Thou wilt have of me, for, by Thy grace, I am ready to do all that Thou wilt.
When Jesus had been led back to Pilate, the governor inquired of the people whom they wished to have released at the Passover, Jesus or Barabbas, a murderer. But the people cried out, Not this man, but Barabbas. Then said Pilate, What, then, shall I do with Jesus? They answered, Let him be crucified. But what evil hath this innocent One done? replied Pilate: What evil hath he done? They repeated: Let him be crucified. And even up to this time, O God, the greater part of mankind continue to say, "Not this Man, but Barabbas"; preferring to Jesus Christ some pleasure of sense, some point of honour, some outbreak of wounded pride.
Ah, my Lord, well knowest Thou that at one time I did Thee the same injury when I preferred my accursed tastes to Thee. My Jesus, pardon me, for I repent of the past, and from henceforth I prefer Thee before everything. I esteem Thee, I love Thee more than any good; and am willing a thousand times to die rather than forsake Thee. Give me holy perseverance, give me Thy love.