“IF THE TREE FALL TO THE SOUTH OR THE NORTH…THERE SHALL IT BE.”
Of what avail is it to torment yourself, as some do, saying: Who knows if I am to be amongst the reprobate or the saved? When the tree is cut down, where does it fall? It falls on the side to which it leans. To which side do you incline? What life do you lead? Preserve yourself in the grace of God and avoid sin, and you will be saved.
If the tree fall to the south or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be. (Eccles. xi. 3). Wheresoever the tree of your soul shall fall, there shall you have to remain for all eternity. There is no middle way; either king for ever in Heaven, or slave for ever in hell. Either blessed for ever in the ocean of delights, or for ever despairing in a pit of torments. St. John Chrysostom, reflecting upon the glutton in the Gospel, who was esteemed happy by the world because he was rich, but who was afterwards buried in hell; and upon Lazarus, who, on the contrary, was esteemed miserable because he was poor, but who was afterwards happy in Heaven, exclaimed: “O infelix felicitas! O unhappy happiness, which dragged the rich man into eternal misery! O felix infelicitas! O happy unhappiness, which conducted the poor man into everlasting joy!”
Ah, my God, have pity on me! I already knew that in sinning I condemned myself to an eternity of pain, and yet I was content to oppose Thy will, and to incur this pain; and for what? For a wretched gratification. Ah, my Lord, pardon me; for I repent with all my heart! I will never more oppose myself to Thy holy will. Unhappy me, if Thou hadst taken me while leading a bad life, I should now have been condemned to dwell forever in hell, to hate Thy will. But I now love it, and will always love it. Teach me, and give me strength henceforth, to perform Thy holy will. I will never more oppose Thee, O Infinite Goodness; and I only ask this favour, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; grant me to do Thy will perfectly, and I ask nothing more.
Of what avail is it to torment yourself as some do, saying: “Who knows whether I am amongst the reprobate or the predestined?” When the tree is cut down, where does it fall? It falls on the side to which it inclines. My brother, to which side do you incline? What life do you lead? Endeavour to incline always towards the south, preserve yourself in the grace of God, fly from sin; thus will you save yourself and be amongst the Elect. And, in order to avoid sin, bear always in mind the great thought of eternity, emphatically called by St. Augustine, “the great thought.” This thought has caused so many in the flower of youth to give up the world and to live in deserts, to attend only to their souls; and they have saved them. Now that they are saved, they assuredly rejoice, and will rejoice for all eternity.
A certain lady, who lived unmindful of God, was converted by Blessed John of Avila, by his merely saying to her: “Lady, think upon these two words, always and never.” Father Paul Segneri was deprived for many nights of sleep by a single thought he once had of eternity, and from that time he adopted a more rigorous mode of life. Drexelius relates that this thought of eternity caused a certain bishop to lead a saintly life, repeating always to himself, “Each moment I stand at the gate of eternity.” A certain monk shut himself up in a cave, and there did nothing but exclaim: O eternity, O eternity! “He who believes in eternity,” said the same Blessed Father Avila, “and does not become a Saint ought to be confined in a madhouse.”
And what dost Thou desire, O my God, but my welfare and my salvation? Ah, Eternal Father, hear me for the love of Jesus Christ, Who has taught me to pray always to Thee; and in His Name I ask it: Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done. O happy me, if I live during the remainder of my life, and end my life, doing Thy will! O Mary, blessed art thou who didst always perform the will of God perfectly; obtain for me, by thy merits, that I may do it at least during the remainder of my days.
HEROES AND HEROINES OF THE FAITH
ST. VITALIS OF RAVENNA (April 28)
The holy Martyr Vitalis was a citizen of Milan, of noble descent; the entire family were Christians, and his conduct was most exemplary. He had served in the army of the emperor, and was consequently on terms of friendship with Paulinus, the consul, trusting to whose favour he assisted the persecuted Christians, succoured them in their need, and visited them in their prisons or in the caverns where they lay concealed.
Paulinus was a great enemy of the Christians, but, not knowing that Vitalis was one, invited him to travel to Ravenna. On their arrival, our Saint heard that a certain Christian named Ursicinus, by profession a physician, had been condemned to torture, and seemed frightened at the approach of death. Vitalis, leaving the consul, ran to the spot, and finding Ursicinus almost ready to yield, exclaimed: “How is this, my friend? Thou hast the crown almost within thy grasp. Having already suffered so much, wilt thou miserably lose it? To avoid these short pains, wilt thou cast thyself into everlasting torments? Thou hast cured the maladies of others, wilt thou now condemn thyself to eternal death? Enliven thy Faith. Have confidence in Jesus Christ! Bravely consummate the sacrifice of thyself!” Upon this exhortation, the constancy of Ursicinus revived; and he gave his life for Jesus. Upon which Vitalis carried off his body and respectfully interred it.
Information having been given to Paulinus of all that had passed, he said to Vitalis: “How, then! Art thou mad, to have acted as thou hast, not being a Christian?” The Saint instantly replied: “Nay, but I am a Christian, and am proud to be so. Nor am I mad either. He is mad who gives to wicked men the honour due to God. There is but one only God: this God we adore, and we glory in dying for His sake.”
Paulinus loved Vitalis, but his hatred of the Christians prevailed over this feeling, and he ordered Vitalis to be imprisoned; who, finding himself in the company of other Confessors, made such manifestation of his joy that Paulinus became infuriated, and commanded all his joints to be dislocated on the rack, and his sides to be torn with iron hooks. During these tortures the holy Martyr ceased not to preach Jesus Christ, whereupon he was thrown into a ditch and buried alive beneath showers of stones, on the 27th April, of the year 171, according to Baronius.
As St. Vitalis expired, one of the priests of Apollo, who had incensed the tyrant against him, was possessed by a devil; full of rage, he cried out: “Thou tormentest me, O Vitalis! Thou burnest me!” Seven days after he cast himself into a river and was drowned.
The relics of this Saint are deposited in a magnificent church at Ravenna, built upon the place of his Martyrdom.
On the day dedicated to the honour of St. Vitalis, commemoration is made of his wife, St. Valeria, who, while returning from Ravenna after the death of her husband, was so beaten and maltreated by the pagans for her faith, that she expired on the second day after her arrival at Milan. She is also honoured as a Martyr.