Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost – On Impenitence
“Lord, my daughter is even now dead.” MATT. ix. 18.
How great is God’s goodness! how difficult it is to obtain pardon from a man whom we have offended! when sinners cast themselves at the feet of the Lord with humility and with sorrow for having offended him, he instantly pardons and embraces them. ”Turn to me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will turn to you.” (Zach. i. 3.) Sinners, says the Lord, I have turned my back on you, because you first turned your back on me: return to me, and I will return to you and will embrace you. When rebuked by the Prophet Nathan, David repented, and said: ”I have sinned against the Lord; I have offended my God.” David was instantly pardoned: for at the very moment that he confessed his guilt, Nathan said to him: “The Lord also hath taken away thy sin.” (2 Kings xii. 13.) But let us come to the gospel of the day, in which we find that a certain ruler, whose daughter was dead, went immediately to Jesus Christ, and asked him to restore her to life: ”Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.” In explaining this passage, St. Bonaventure turns to the sinner, and says: “Your daughter is your soul; she even now is deadly sin; hasten your conversion.” Brother, your soul is your daughter, that has just died by committing sin. Return immediately to God. Hasten; if you delay, and defer your conversion from day to day, the wrath of God shall suddenly come upon you, and you shall be cast into hell. ”Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day.” (Eccl. v. 8, 9.) Behold the sermon for this day, in which I will show, first, the danger to which he who is in the state of sin, and defers his conversion, is exposed; and secondly, the remedy to be adopted by him who is in sin, and wishes to save his soul.
First Point. The danger to which a person in sin, who defers his conversion, is exposed.
1. St. Augustine considers three states of Christians. The first is the state of those who have always preserved their baptismal innocence; the second is the state of those who have fallen into sin, and have afterwards returned to God, and persevered in grace; the third is of those who have fallen and have always relapsed into sin, and are found in that unhappy state at death. Speaking of the first and second class, he pronounces them secure of salvation; but, speaking of the third he says: “Non dico, non præsumo, non promitto.” (Hom, xli. int. 50.)”I do not say; I do not presume; I do not promise.” He neither says, nor presumes, nor promises, that such sinners are saved. From these words it appears that, in his opinion, it is very improbable that they obtain eternal life. St. Thomas teaches (2, 2, qu. 109, a. 8) that he who is in the state of mortal sin cannot long abstain from the commission of some new sin. And St. Gregory says: “A sin which is not blotted out by repentance by its weight soon draws to another sin; hence it is not only a sin, but the cause of sin.” (1. 3, Mor. c. ix.) One sin is the cause of another, because, in the sinner reason is disordered, and inclines him to evil; and therefore he cannot long resist temptation. ”Quando,” says St. Anselm, ”quis manet in peccato, ratio jam est deordinata et ideo veniente tentatione faciet id quod est facilius agere.” Hence, according to the holy doctor, though they understand the great advantage of sanctifying grace, sinners, because they are deprived of grace, always relapse, in spite of all their efforts to avoid sin. ”Per peccatum non potest prosequi bonum quod cogniscit, conatur et labitur.” But how can the branch that is cut off from the vine produce fruit? “As,” says Jesus Christ, “the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John xv. 4.)
2. But some young persons may say: “I will hereafter give myself to God.” Behold the false hope of sinners, which leads them to remain in sin till death, and from death conducts them to hell! Who are you that say, you will hereafter give yourself to God? But who, I ask, promises you that you shall have time to give yourself to God, and that you shall not meet with a sudden death, which will take you out of this world before you give yourself to him? “He,” says St. Gregory, “who has promised pardon to penitents has not promised tomorrow to sinners.” (Hom. xii. in Ev.) The Lord has promised pardon to all who repent of their sins; but to those who wish to continue in sin he has not promised time for repentance. Do you say, hereafter? But Jesus Christ tells you that time is in the hand of God, and not under your control. ”It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father has put in his own power.” (Acts i. 7.) We read in the Gospel of St. Luke, that Jesus Christ, seeing a fig-tree which was fruitless for three years, ordered it to be cut down. “He said to the dresser of the vineyard: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and I find none. Cut it down therefore. Why cumbereth it the ground ?” (Luke xiii. 7.) Tell me, you who say that you will hereafter give yourself to God, for what purpose does he preserve your life? Is it that you may continue to insult him by sin? No; he gives you life that you may renounce sin, and change your conduct. ”Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?” (Rom. ii. 4.) But you are resolved not to amend; and if you wish to give yourself to God only hereafter, he will say of your soul to the dresser of his vineyard: “Cut it down. Why cumbereth it the ground?” Why should such a sinner be allowed to remain on earth? Is it to continue to offend me? Cat down this fruitless tree, and cast it into the fire. ”Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. iii. 10.)
3.) But, should God hereafter give you time for repentance, will you, if you do not now repent, return to him hereafter? Sins, like so many chains, keep the sinner in bondage. ”He is first bound with the ropes of his own sins.” (Prov. v. 22.) My brother, if you cannot now break the cords by which you are at present bound, will you be able to break them hereafter, when they shall be doubled by the commission of new sins? To give him an idea of the degree of folly which impenitent sinners reach, our Lord showed one day to the Abbot Arsenius, an Ethiopian, who, not being able to raise a load of faggots, added to their weight, and thus became less liable to raise it. Sinners, said the Saviour to the holy abbot, act in a similar manner. They wish to get rid of their past sins, and, at the same time, commit new ones. These new sins shall lead them into others more numerous and more enormous. Cain sinned against his brother, first, by envy; then, by hatred; and afterwards, by murder; finally, he despaired of the divine mercy, saying: “My iniquity is greater than that I may obtain pardon.” (Gen. iv. 13.) Judas also was first guilty of the sin of avarice; he then betrayed Jesus Christ, and afterwards hanged himself. Sins chain the sinner, and make him their slave, so that he knowingly brings himself to destruction. ”His own iniquities catch the wicked.” (Prov. v. 22.)
4. Moreover, his sins weigh down the sinner to such a degree, that he no longer regards heaven nor his own salvation. “My iniquities,” said David with tears, “are growing over my head, and, as a heavy burden, are become heavy upon me.” (Ps. xxxvii. 5.) Hence the miserable man loses reason, thinks only of earthly goods, and thus forgets the divine judgments. ”And they perverted their own minds, and turned away their eyes, that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments.” (Dan. xiii. 9.) He even hates the light, because he fears that it will interrupt his criminal pleasures. ”Every one that doth evil hateth the light.” (John iii. 20.) Hence, he becomes miserably blind, and goes round about continually from sin to sin. ”The wicked walk round about.” (Ps. xi. 9.) He then despises admonitions, divine calls, hell, heaven, and God. “The wicked, when he is come into the depth of sins, comtemneth.” (Prov. xviii. 3.)
5. ”He hath,” says Job, “torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant.” (Job xvi. 15.) By conquering one temptation, a man acquires not only additional strength to repel future assaults, but also diminishes the power of the devil. And, on the other hand, when we yield to any temptation, the devil becomes like a giant, and we become so weak, that we have scarcely strength to resist him any longer. If you receive a wound from an enemy you lose strength. If to this new wounds be added you shall be exhausted, and rendered unable to defend yourself. This is what happens to the fools who say: “I will here after give myself to God.” How can they resist the attacks of the devil, after they have lost their strength, and after their wounds have mortified? “My sores are putrefied and corrupted, because of my foolishness.” (Ps. xxxvii. 6.) At its commencement a wound is easily healed; but when it becomes gangrenous, the cure is most difficult. Recourse must be had to the cautery; but even this remedy is in many cases ineffectual.
6. But further, St. Paul teaches, that God “will have all men to be saved”(1 Tim. ii. 4); and that Jesus Christ came on earth for the salvation of sinners: ”Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. i. 15.) God certainly wills the salvation of all who desire it: he wills the salvation of those who wish to save their souls; but not of those who labour for their own damnation. Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. To save our souls, two things are necessary: first, the grace of God; and secondly, your own cooperation. “Behold, I stand at the gate and knock: if any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come unto him.” (Apoc. iii. 20.) Then, in order that God may enter into us by his grace, we must, on our part, ohey his calls, and open our hearts to him. Likewise, St. Paul says, “with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” (Phil. ii. 12.) He says, work out. Then we, too, must cooperate to our salvation by good works; otherwise the Lord will only give us sufficient grace by which we shall be able to save our souls, but by which we certainly will not save them. Behold, the reason: he who is in the state of sin, and continues to commit sin, is daily more and more attached to the flesh, and more removed from God. Now, how can God, by his grace, approach to us, when we withdraw farther from him? He then retires from us, and becomes less liberal of his favours. ”And I will make it desolate and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.” (Isa. v. 6.) When the soul continues to offend God he abandons her, and withdraws his helps. Hence she shall cease to feel remorse of conscience; she shall be left without light; and the blindness of her understanding and the hardness of her heart shall be increased. She shall become utterly insensible to the calls of God, to the maxims of faith, and to the melancholy examples of other rebellious souls that have closed their career in hell.
7) “But who knows,” the obstinate sinner will say, “but God will show me the same mercy which he has shown to certain great sinners?” In answer to this, St. Chrysostom says: “Fortasse dabit, inquis: cur dicis fortasse? Con- tigit aliquando; sed cogita quod de anima deliberas?” (Hom. xxii. in 2 Cor.) You say: “Perhaps God will give me the grace of salvation. But why do you say perhaps? Is it because he has sometimes given to great sinners the grace of eternal life? But remember, says the holy doctor, that there is question of your soul, which, if once lost, is lost forever. I, too, take you up, and admit that God has, by certain extraordinary graces, saved some enormous sinners. But these cases are very rare; they are prodigies and miracles of grace, by which God wished to show the boundlessness of his mercy. But, ordinarily, sinners who wish to continue in sin, are, in the end, cast into hell. On them are executed the threats of the Lord against obstinate sinners. ”You have despised my counsels, and neglected my reprehensions. I also will laugh in your destruction. . . . Then they will call on me, and I will not hear.” (Prov. i. 25, 26, 28.) I, says the Lord, have called on them again and again, but they have refused to hear me. ”But they did not hear nor incline their ears; but hardened their neck, that they might not hear me.” (Jer. xvii. 23.) Now they call upon me, it is but just that I refuse to listen to their cries. God bears, but he does not bear forever; when the time of vengeance arrives he punishes past and present iniquities. ”For the Most High is a patient rewarder.” (Eccl. v. 4.) And according to St. Augustine, the longer God has waited for negligent sinners the more severely he will chastise them. “Quanto diutius expectat Deus, ut emenderis; tanto gravius judicabit, si neglexeris.” (Lib. de util. ag. prcn.) He who promises to amend, and wilfully neglects to return to God, is unworthy of the grace of true re pentance.
8.) But God is full of mercy . He is full of mercy; but he is not so stupid as to act without reason: to show mercy to those who continue to insult him would be stupidity, and not goodness. ”Is thy eye evil because I am good?” (Matt. xx. 15.) Will you persevere in wickedness because I am bountiful? God is good, but he is also just, and exhorts us all to observe his law, if we wish to save our souls. “If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments.” (Matt. xix. 17.) Were God to show mercy to the wicked as well as to the just, and to give to all the grace of conversion before death, he would hold out a strong temptation even to the saints to commit sin: but, no! when his mercies have reached their term he punishes, and pardons no more. “And my eye shall not spare thee, and I will show thee no pity.” (Ezec. vii. 4.) Hence he says: Pray that your flight may not be in the winter or on the Sabbath.” (Matt. xxiv. 20.) We are prevented from working in the winter by the cold, and on the Sabbath by the law. In this passage the Redeemer gives us to understand that, for impenitent sinners, a time shall come when they would wish to give themselves to God, but shall find themselves prevented by their bad habits from returning to him. Of this there are numberless melancholy examples. In his sermons on a happy death, Cataneus relates, that a dissolute young man, when admonished to give up his wickedness, said: I have a saint who js omnipotent, and this is the mercy of God. Death came; the unhappy man sent for a confessor; but while he was preparing for confession, the Devil wrote down before his eyes all his sins. He was seized with terror, and exclaimed: Alas! what a long catalogue of sins! And before he was able to make his confession he expired. In his sermons for Sundays Campadelli relates that a young nobleman addicted to sins of the flesh, was warned by God and by men to amend his life; but he despised all their admonitions. He afterwards fell into a severe illness, confessed his sins, and promised to change his life; but, after his recovery, he returned to the vomit. Behold the vengeance of God! Being one day in a field during the vintage, he took fever, went home, and feeling that the disease was far advanced, he sent in haste for a priest who lived near the house. The priest comes, enters the house, salutes the sick man, but sees a frightful spectacle, the eyes and mouth open, the face black as jet. He calls the sick man, but finds that he is dead. Dearly beloved brethren, take care that you, too, be not miserable examples of the justice of God. Give up sin; but give it up from this moment; for, if you continue to commit sin, the same vengeance which has fallen on so many others shall also fall on you. Let us come to the remedy.
Second Point. The remedy for those who find themselves in sin, and wish to save their souls.
9. Jesus Christ was one day asked, if the number of the elect is small. ”Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and they shall not be able.” (Luke xiii. 23, 24.) He says that many seek to enter heaven, but do not enter; and why? Because they wish to obtain eternal life without inconvenience, and without making strong efforts to abstain from forbidden pleasures. Therefore, he said: “strive to enter at the narrow gate.” The gate of heaven is narrow: to enter it we must labour, and must do violence to ourselves. And we ought to be persuaded that what we can do today we shall not be always able to do hereafter. The delay of conversion sends many Christians to hell: the weakness, darkness, and obduracy of the soul are, as we have already said, daily increased, and the divine helps are diminished. Thus, the soul shall die in her sins. You say: I will hereafter return to God. Then you know that, to save your soul, you must renounce sin why do you not give it up now that God calls you to repentance? If at some time, says St. Augustine, why not now? The time which you now have to repair the past shall not be given to you hereafter; and the mercy which God shows you at present will not be extended to you at a future time. If, then, you wish to save your soul, do immediately what you must one day do. Go to confession as soon as possible, and tremble lest every delay may be the eternal ruin of your soul.
10. “Nullus,” says St. Fulgentius, “sub spe misericordiæ debet diutius in peccatis remanere, cum nolit in corpore sub spe diutius ægrotare.” (St. Fulg. ad Petr. Diac.) Were a physician, says the saint, to offer you a remedy for sickness, would you say: I do not wish to be cured at present, because I hope to recover hereafter? And when there is a question of the salvation of your soul, you say: I will remain in sin, because I hope that God will be merciful to me at a future time. But if, according to his just judgments, the Lord should not show you mercy hereafter, what shall become of you? shall you not be damned? Let us, says the Apostle, do good while we have time to do it. “Therefore, whilst we have time let us work good to all men.” (Gal. vi. 10.) For time may not be given to us to do good hereafter. Hence the Lord exhorts us to guard our souls with great care; because we know not the hour when he will come to demand an account of our life. “Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.” (Matt. xxv. 18.)
11. “My soul is continually in my hands.” (Ps. cxviii. 109.) He who wears on his finger a ring containing a diamond of great value, looks frequently at the ring to see if the diamond be secure: it is thus we ought to watch over our souls. And should we see that it has been lost by sin, we ought instantly to adopt every means in our power to recover it. We ought to turn immediately to Jesus, our Saviour, like Magdalene, who, as soon as she knew that he sat at meat, ran to him, cast herself at his feet, and by her tears obtained pardon. (Luke vii. 37.)”Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.” (Luke iii. 9.) For all who are found in sin, the axe of divine justice is at hand to take away their life as soon as the time of vengeance arrives. Arise, then Christian souls, and if you are bound by any bad habit, burst your chains, and remain no longer the slaves of Satan. ”Loose the bonds from off thy neck, captive daughter of Zion.” (Isa. Hi. 2.) “Posuisti vestigium, ” says St. Ambrose, “supra voraginem culpao, cito aufer pedem.” You have placed your foot on the mouth of a vortex that is, on sin, which is the mouth of hell: take away your foot, and retire; otherwise you shall fall into an unfathomable abyss.
12. I find myself subject to an evil habit. But, if you wish to give up sin, who can force you to commit it? All bad habits and all the temptations of hell are overcome by the grace of God. Recommend yourself to the heart of Jesus Christ, and he will give you grace to conquer all enemies. But should you be in any proximate occasion of sin you must immediately take it away, otherwise you shall relapse. ”Potius præscinde,” says St. Jerome, ”quam solve.” Do not wait to loose your bonds gradually; cut them by a single stroke. The devil seeks to make you slow in shaking off your fetters. Look for a good confessor; he will tell you what to do. And should you have the misfortune of falling hereafter into any mortal sin, go immediately to confession, even on the same day or the same night, if you can. Finally, listen to what I now say to you: God is ready to assist you: if you wish, it is in your power to save your souls. Tremble, brethren, lest these words of mine, if you despise them, should be for you so many swords in hell for all eternity.