THE HABIT OF SIN MAKES THE SINNER OBSTINATE EVEN TO THE LAST.
A hard heart shall fare evil at the last. When light is lost and the heart is hardened, the probable consequence will be that the sinner will make a bad end, and die obstinate in sin. O Jesus, I am resolved to change my life and give myself to Thee.
When light is lost, and the heart is hardened, the probable consequence will be that the sinner will make bad end, and die obstinate in his sin: A hard heart shall fare evil at the last. (Ecclus. iii. 27). The just continue to walk in the straight road: The path of the just is right to walk in. (Is. xxvi. 7). Habitual sinners, on the contrary, go always in a circle: The wicked walk round about. (Ps. xi. 9). They leave sin for a while, and then they return to it. To such as these St. Bernard announces a curse: “Woe to the man who follows this circle!” Such a one will say: I will amend before I die. But the difficulty lies in this–will an habitual sinner amend even though he should attain old age? The Holy Spirit says: A young man according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. xxii. 6). The reason is, according to St. Thomas of Villanova, that our strength is very feeble: Your strength shall be as the ashes of tow. (Is. i. 31). From which it follows, as the Saint observes, that the soul, deprived of grace, cannot avoid committing fresh sins: “Hence it comes to pass that the soul, destitute of grace, cannot long escape fresh sins.” But besides this, what madness would it be in a person to play and lose voluntarily all he possessed, in the hope of winning it back at the last stake! Such is the folly of those who continue to live in sin, and hope at the last moment of their life to repair all. Can the Ethiopian or the leopard change the colour of their skin? And how can he lead a good life who has contracted a long habit of sin? If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, you also may do well when you have learned evil. (Jer. xiii. 23). Hence it happens that the habitual sinner abandons himself at last to despair, and thus ends his life.
Ah, my God, shall I, then, wait till Thou dost absolutely abandon me, and send me to hell? Ah, Lord, wait for me; for I am resolved to change my life, and give myself to Thee. Tell me what I must do and I will do it. O Blood of Jesus, aid me. O Mary, Advocate of sinners, succour me; and Thou, Eternal Father, through the merits of Jesus and Mary, have pity on me.
St. Gregory, on that passage of Job: He hath torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant (xvi. 15), remarks: “If a person is attacked by an enemy, he is perhaps able to defend himself at the first wound he receives; but the more wounds that are inflicted on him, the more strength does he lose, until at last he is overcome and killed.” Thus it is with sin: after the first or the second time, the sinner has still some strength left (always, be it understood, through the means of grace, which assists him): but if he continues to sin, sin becomes a giant: “It rushes upon him as a giant.” On the other hand, the sinner being weaker, and covered with wounds, how can he escape death? Sin, according to Jeremias, is like a heavy stone that weighs upon the soul: They have laid a stone over me. (Lament. iii. 53). Now, St. Bernard says, that it is as difficult for an habitual sinner to rise, as for one who has fallen under a heavy stone, and who has not strength sufficient to remove it, to free himself from it; “He rises with difficulty who is pressed down by the mass of a bad habit.”
But the habitual sinner will exclaim: Then my case is desperate? No, not desperate, if you wish to amend. But well does a certain author observe that great ills require great remedies: “It is good in severe diseases to commence the cure by severe remedies. If a physician were to say to a sick man in danger of death who refused to apply proper remedies, being ignorant of the serious nature of his malady: “My friend, you are a dead man unless you take such a medicine” –how would the sick man reply? “Here I am,” he would say, “ready to take anything; my life is at stake.” Dear Christian, I say the same to you: if you have contracted the habit of some sin, you are in a bad way, and of the number of those sick men who “are rarely cured,” according to St. Thomas of Villanova. You are on the brink of perdition. If, however, you wish to recover, there is a remedy: but you must not expect a miracle of grace; you must on your side do violence to yourself, you must fly from dangerous occasions, avoid bad company, and resist when you are tempted, recommending yourself to God. You must make use of proper means, going frequently to Confession, reading every day a spiritual book, practising devotion to the Blessed Virgin, praying constantly to her that she may obtain for you strength not to relapse. You must do violence to yourself, otherwise the threat of the Lord against the obstinate will be fulfilled in your regard: You shall die in your sin. (John viii. 21). And if you do not amend, now that God gives you light, it will be more difficult to do so later. Hear God, Who calls you: Lazarus, come forth. Poor sinner, already dead, come out of the dark grave of your bad life. Reply quickly, give yourself to God, and tremble lest this should be your last call.
I repent, O God of infinite goodness, of having offended Thee; and I love Thee above all things. Pardon me, for the love of Jesus Christ, and give me Thy love. Give me also, O Lord, a great fear of eternal perdition should I again offend Thee. Light, O my God, –light and strength! I hope for all through Thy mercy. Thou hast bestowed on me so many graces when I wandered far from Thee; how much more, then, may I hope, now that I return to Thee, resolved to love Thee alone. I love Thee, my God, my Life, my All. I love thee also, O Mary, my Mother; to thee I consign my soul; preserve it by thy intercession from again falling into disfavour with God.
Let us now see what are the means by which the spirit of interior mortification may be acquired.
The first means is to discover the passion which predominates in our heart, and which most frequently leads us into sin; and then to endeavour to conquer it. St. Gregory says that to overcome the devil, we must avail ourselves of the artifices by which he seeks our destruction. He labours continually to increase in us the violence of the passion to which we are most subject; and we must direct our attention principally to the extirpation of that passion. Whoever subdues his predominant passion will easily conquer all other evil inclinations; but he that is under its sway can make no progress in perfection. “Of what advantage,” says St. Ephrem, “are wings to the eagle when his foot is chained?” Oh! how many souls are there who, like the royal eagle, are capable of lofty flights in the way of God, and who, because they are bound by earthly attachments, never fly, and never advance in holiness! St. John of the Cross says that a slender thread is sufficient to fetter a soul that flies not with eagerness to its God. Besides, he that submits to the tyranny of any passion, not only does not go forward in the way of virtue, but is exposed to great danger of being lost. If we neglect to subdue the ruling passion, other mortifications will be unprofitable to us. Some despise worldly riches, but are full of self-esteem. If they do not endeavour to bear the humiliations which they receive, their contempt of Mammon will profit them but little. Others, on the contrary, are patient and humble, but enslaved to the love of money. If they do not mortify the desire of wealth, their patience and humility in bearing contempt will be of little use to them.
Resolve, then, with a resolute will, to subdue the evil inclination which is most predominant in your heart. A resolute will, aided by the grace of God (which is never wanting), conquers all difficulties. St. Francis de Sales was very prone to anger; but by continual violence to himself he became a model of meekness and of sweetness. We read in his Life that he bore without murmur or complaint the injuries and calumnies which, to try his patience, were by the Divine permission heaped upon him. As soon as one passion is subdued, we must endeavour to overcome the others; for a single unmortified passion will be sufficient to lead the soul to destruction. St. Joseph Calasanctius asserts that while a single passion reigns in a heart, though all the others should have been extirpated, the soul shall never enjoy tranquility. “A ship,” says St. Cyril, “however strong and perfect it may be, will be unsafe if the smallest hole remains in it.” And St. Augustine says: “Trample under foot passions already subdued, and combat those that still offer resistance.” If you wish to be a Saint, I advise you to entreat your spiritual director to point out the way in which you ought to walk. Tell him not to spare you, but to contradict your inclinations as often as he shall judge it useful to you. “Be of an upright and perfect will,” says that great servant of God, Cardinal Petrucci. St. Teresa relates that she derived more advantage from one of her confessors who sought on all occasions to oppose her desires, than from all the others. She adds that she was frequently tempted to leave him; and that, as often as she yielded to the suggestion of the devil, God rebuked her severely. “Every time,” says the Saint, “I resolved to leave him, I felt within me a rebuke more painful than the conduct of my confessor towards me.”