THE SINNER DESPISES GOD.
Contemplating the greatness and majesty of God, David cried out: Lord, who is like to thee! But God, seeing sinners compare and prefer a miserable gratification to His friendship, exclaims: To whom have ye likened me or made me equal! The sinner declares that his passion, his vanity, his pleasure, is of greater value than God’s friendship. They violated me among my people, for a handful of barley and a piece of bread. (Ezech. xiii. 19).
The sinner despises God. By the transgression of the law thou dishonourest God. (Rom. ii. 23). Yes; because the sinner renounces God’s grace, and for the sake of a miserable pleasure he tramples upon His friendship. If a man were to lose the friendship of God to gain a kingdom, or even the whole world, still he would do a great wrong, because the friendship of God is of greater value than the world — and a thousand worlds. But for what do we offend God? Wherefore hath the wicked provoked God? (Ps. ix. 13). For a little earth, for a fit of anger, for a filthy pleasure, for a mere vapour, for a caprice: They violated me for a handful of barley and a piece of bread. (Ezech. xiii. 19). When the sinner deliberates whether he shall consent or not to sin, he then, as it were, takes the balance in his hands, and examines which weighs most–the grace of God, or that fit of rage, that vapour, that pleasure; and when he afterwards consents, he declares, as far as he is concerned, that his passion and his pleasure are of greater value than the friendship of God. Behold God dishonoured by the sinner! David, reflecting upon the greatness and majesty of God, said: Lord, who is like to thee? (Ps. xxxiv. 10). But God, on the other hand, when He sees a miserable gratification compared by sinners and preferred to Himself, says to them: To whom have you likened me, or made me equal? (Is. xl. 25). Therefore, says the Lord, that vile pleasure was of greater value than My grace: Thou hast cast me off behind thy back. (Ezech. xxiii. 35). You would not have committed that sin if you were, in consequence, to lose a hand, or ten ducats, or perhaps even much less. God, then, says Salvian, is so contemptible in thy eyes, that He deserves to be despised for a momentary passion or a miserable gratification: “God alone was esteemed vile by thee in comparison of all things else.”
Thou, then, O my God, art an infinite Good; and I have often exchanged Thee for a miserable pleasure, which was hardly obtained ere it vanished. But although despised by me, Thou dost now offer me pardon if I desire it; and dost promise to restore me to Thy grace if I repent of having offended Thee. Yes, O my Lord, I repent with all my heart of having thus insulted Thee; I detest my sin above every evil.
Moreover, when the sinner for the sake of some pleasure offends God, that pleasure then becomes his god, inasmuch as he makes it his last end. St. Jerome says: “That which each one desires, if he worship it, it is to him a god. A vice in the heart is an idol on the altar.” Therefore St. Thomas says: “If thou lovest delights, delights are thy god.” And St. Cyprian: “Whatever man prefers to God, he makes his god.” When Jeroboam rebelled against God, he endeavoured to draw the people with him into idolatry, and therefore he presented his idols to them, saying: Behold thy gods, O Israel. (3 Kings xii. 28). Thus does the devil present to the sinner some gratification, saying: What hast thou to do with God? Behold thy god in this pleasure, this passion; take this, and leave God. And the sinner, when he consents, adores in his heart that pleasure as his god: “A vice in the heart is an idol on the altar.”
If the sinner dishonours God, he will not, at least, do so in His presence? Ah, he insults Him to His Face, because God is present everywhere: I fill heaven and earth. (Jer. xxiii. 24). And this the sinner knows, and yet shrinks not from provoking God even before His eyes: They continually provoke me to anger before my face. (Is. lxv. 3).
Behold, I now return, as I hope, to Thee, O my God; and Thou dost already receive and embrace me as Thy child. I thank Thee, O Infinite Goodness. But help me now, and do not permit that I ever again banish Thee from me. Hell will not cease to tempt me; but Thou art more powerful than hell. I know that I shall never more separate myself from Thee if I always recommend myself to Thee; this, then, is the grace that Thou must grant me, that I may always recommend myself to Thee, and always pray to Thee, as I now do, saying: O Lord, assist me; give me light, give me strength, give me perseverance, give me paradise; but above all, grant me Thy love, which is the true paradise of souls. I love Thee, O Infinite Goodness, and desire always to love Thee. Hear me, for the love of Jesus Christ. Mary, thou art the refuge of sinners; succour a sinner who desires to love thy God.
EXTERIOR MORTIFICATION: ITS NECESSITY AND ADVANTAGES.
There is no alternative: we poor children of Adam must till death live in continual warfare; For, says the Apostle, the flesh lusteth against the spirit. (Gal. v. 17). The flesh desires what the spirit dislikes; and the spirit pants for what the flesh abhors. Now, since it is peculiar to irrational creatures to place all their happiness in sensual enjoyment, and to the Angels to seek only the accomplishment of God’s will, surely if we attend to the observance of the Divine commands, we shall, as a learned author justly says, be transformed into Angels; but if we fix our affections on the gratifications of sense, we shall sink to the level of the brute creation.
If the soul do not subdue the body, the flesh will conquer the spirit. To maintain his seat on a furious steed, and to escape danger, the horseman must hold a tight rein; and to avoid the corruption of the flesh, we must keep the body in perpetual restraint. We must treat it as the physician treats a patient, to whom he prescribes nauseous medicine, and to whom he refuses palatable food. Cruel indeed must be the physician who gives to a sick man noxious draughts because they are pleasing to the taste, and who does not administer useful remedies because they are bitter and disgusting. And great is the cruelty of the sensual, when, to escape some trifling corporal pain in this life, they expose their souls and bodies to eternal torments in the next. “Such charity,” says St. Bernard, “is destructive of charity: such mercy is full of cruelty; because it so serves the body as to destroy the soul.” The false love of the flesh destroys the true charity which we owe to ourselves: inordinate compassion towards the body is full of cruelty, because by indulging the flesh it kills the soul. Speaking of sensualists who deride the mortifications of the Saints, the same Father says: “If we are cruel in crucifying the flesh, you, by sparing it, are more cruel.” Yes, for by the pleasures of the body in this life you will merit for soul and body inexpressible torments forever in the next. Father Rodriguez tells us of a solitary who had emaciated his body by very rigorous austerities. Being asked why he treated his body so badly, he replied: “I only chastise what chastises me.” I torment the enemy who persecutes my soul, and who seeks my destruction. The Abbot Moses being once censured for severity towards his body, replied: “Let the passions cease, and I will also cease to mortify my flesh.” When the flesh ceases to molest me, I shall cease to crucify its appetites.
If, then, we wish to be saved, and to please God, we must take pleasure in what the flesh refuses, and must reject what the flesh demands. Our Lord once said to St. Francis of Assisi: “If you desire my love, accept the things that are bitter as if they were sweet, and the things that are sweet as if they were bitter.”
Some will say that perfection does not consist in the mortification of the body, but in the abnegation of the will. To them I answer with Father Pinamonti, that the fruit of the vineyard does not consist in the surrounding hedge; but still if the hedge be taken away, you will seek in vain for the produce of the vine. Where there is no hedge, says the Holy Ghost, the possession shall be spoiled. (Ecclus. xxxvi. 27). So ardent was the desire of St. Aloysius to crucify his flesh, that, although weak in health, he sought nothing but mortifications and penitential rigours; and, to a person who once said that sanctity does not consist in corporal works of penance, but in the denial of self-will, he wisely answered in the words of the Redeemer: These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. (Matt. xxiii. 23). He meant to say that, to keep the flesh in subjection to reason, the mortification of the body is necessary, as well as the denial of the will. I chastise my body, says St. Paul, and bring it into subjection. (1 Cor. ix. 27). The flesh, when indulged, will be brought with difficulty to obey the Divine law. Hence St. John of the Cross, speaking of certain spiritual directors who despise and discourage external penance, says that “he who inculcates loose doctrines regarding the mortification of the flesh, should not be believed though he confirmed his preaching by miracles.”