Third Sunday of Advent, Our Monitor
My dear children: The heart of a sinner is like a wilderness where everything is dry and barren. You find there no holy thoughts, no good resolutions, no love of God.
In today’s Gospel we read how John was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, urging the people to do penance, to amend their lives. In like manner, a voice cries out in the heart of a sinner, exhorting him to return to God. This voice is our conscience, which tells us what is right and what is wrong, which rewards and punishes us.
Conscience is the voice of God. It is our guide. Let us always obey it. If in times of temptation it tells you, “This is right, this is the will of God,” do it. If it tells you, “This is wrong, this displeases God,” do it not.
If you be about to do something that is good, your conscience encourages you, but if you be on the point of doing something wrong, it warns you against it, and as soon as you have carried out the deed, it rebukes you.
What a blessing to have such a guide on our journey through life! Your best friends may deceive you; they may overlook your faults. But your conscience will never do this. It tells you the plain truth. It is the only true friend you have. If you do not heed its inspirations it will be your tormentor.
A few years ago there lived in London a gentleman who was extremely prejudiced against our holy religion, and never lost an opportunity of laughing at and ridiculing its practices. Upon one occasion, however, when Catholic doctrines became the subject of conversation and ridicule, it was noticed that he was silent. Being asked the reason he related to the company the following story: “You wonder,” said he, “why I no longer join with you, as I used to do, in scoffing at Catholic practices; I will tell you. A few days ago I was busy writing in my room, when I had occasion to leave my desk in order to fetch a certain paper from an inner apartment. While I was so engaged, the servant girl, who is an Irish Catholic, happened to enter the room to tend the fire, for, as I had not answered her knock, she imagined that I had gone out. Now, I had left by chance upon my desk a large sum of money, and I could see that, as soon as she entered the room, she was attracted by the glitter of gold. I determined to watch her closely, for I was in a position to observe all her movements, though she had no knowledge of my presence. On perceiving the gold she dropped the coal-box, and advanced eagerly to the table. She stretched out her hand, and was on the very point of clutching the money, when, to my astonishment, she began to blush and suddenly withdrew her arm and made with her hand the sign of the cross, saying aloud, `The cross of Christ be betwixt me and my master’s money!’ Then, turning, she fairly ran from the room, leaving her brush and coal-box on the floor. Now I am convinced from this that the pious practices of the Catholic religion, so far from being idle and superstitious, are most holy and pleasing to God, since they are the means of raising the heart to Him, and drawing down grace in moments of strong temptation.”
Children, how lucky it was for that servant girl to have followed the voice of her conscience!
When you have done wrong your conscience becomes your tormentor. “What have you done?” it cries out to you. “Into what a miserable state have you fallen! You have offended God and lost His grace. Should you die in this state, whither would you go?”
If you have a secret sorrow you can go to a sympathizing friend. Not so if you have a bad conscience; you are tormented, and yet you cannot make your torments known. Others may perhaps have a good opinion of you; but your bad conscience takes occasion therefrom to torment you the more, for it says to you: “People think well of you, but you are a contemptible wretch, a hypocrite! Do you think that you can deceive God as you can deceive man?” If you are addicted to some secret sins and you enjoy the special love of your parents, sisters and brothers, does not a sword of sorrow pierce your guilty heart? Do you not say within yourself : “If they only knew?”
Cain found no rest upon earth because of the sting of conscience. Judas, the wicked Apostle, hanged himself. And why? His tormenting conscience kept his sins ever before him. The knowledge of his -guilt weighed him down, finally making him a victim of despair.
Children, there was once a saint whose name was Medard, the owner of an ox. One night a thief stole the animal out of the stable. As, however, the ox had a bell attached to his neck, by the sound of which the culprit might easily have been betrayed, the guilty man stopped the mouth of the bell with grass, and drove the ox home without being discovered. But the animal had scarcely been placed in the strange stable when the bell began to ring of itself, as if it would call all the neighbors together to reveal the theft. Struck with fear and terror, the thief tried to stop the bell again, but could not do so, for it continued to ring the louder. Finally he tore the bell from the neck of the animal, took out the tongue, and hid it in a box. Even there, however, the bell ceased not to ring, so that the thief at last, full of anguish, confessed his evil deed to the saint, and returned the ox. Conscience is like this bell, my children; it gives the sinner no rest until he is converted. Do what he will, he cannot silence his faithful monitor.
Let him enjoy all possible pleasures, let him travel all over the world, let him pray, fast, the bell of his conscience will still ring and give him no rest, no peace, till he removes the cause. Your Bible History tells you of Joseph and his brethren. After they did their wicked deed they had no rest, no pleasure; they were discontented until they were truly converted by the afflictions caused by their own guilt. Remorse of conscience is intended to convert sinners.
You may be able to deaden the voice of conscience, or get rid of it entirely for the time being. Be assured, though, the case will be different in death, when you can no longer enjoy pleasures. Then conscience will rise as your tormentor. Children, the years of your whole life will pass in review before your mind at that awful moment—the trespasses of your childhood, the indulgence of your passions in youth, all the sins of your eyes, ears, hands and feet, the violations of the commandments from first to last. Oh, what terror, what anguish, must seize the dying sinner, then!
But your conscience only torments you for your good, my children, to deter you from sin, and to lead you to penance in order to save your soul. Listen, then, to its voice, especially in this holy season of advent. It calls to you: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Will you reject its pleading?