SERMON THE SIXTH.
God chastises us in this life for our good, not for our destruction. ” Non enim delectaris in perditionibus nostris.” ” For thou art not delighted in our being lost.” — Job. iii. 22.
Let us feel persuaded, my brethren, that there is no one who loves us more than God. St Theresa says, that God loves us more than we love ourselves. He has loved us from eternity. ” Tea I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” — Jer. xxxi. 3. It is the love he has borne us which has drawn us from nothing, and given us being. ” Therefore, have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee.” — Ibid. Hence, when God chastises us upon the earth, it is not because he wishes to injure us, but because he wishes us well and loves us. ” But, of this every one is sure that worshippeth thee, that his life, if it be under trial shall be crowned : and if it be under tribulation shall be delivered.” — Job. iii. 21. So spoke Sara the wife of Tobias ; Lord, he who serves thee is sure that after the trial shall have passed he shall be crowned, and that after tribulation he shall be spared the punishment which he deserved ; ” for thou art not delighted in our being lost : because after a storm thou makest a calm, and after tears and weeping, thou pourest in joyfulness .” — Ibid. 21, 22. After the tempest of chastisement he gives us peace, and after mourning, joy and gladness. My brethren, let us convince ourselves of what I have undertaken to show you to-day, namely, that God does not afflict us in this life for our injury but for our good, in order that we may cease from sin, and by recovering his grace escape eternal punishment. ” And I will give my fear in their heart, that they may not Revolt from me.” — Jer. xxxii. 40. The Lord says, that he infuses his fear into our hearts, in order that he may enable us to triumph over our passion for earthly pleasures, for which ungrateful that we are, we have left him. And when sinners have left him, how does he make them look into themselves, and recover his grace ? By putting on the appearance of anger, and chastising them in this life: ” In thy anger thou shalt break the people in pieces.” Another version according to St. Austin has : ” In thy wrath thou shalt conduct the people.” The saint enquiring, what is the meaning of his conducting the people in his wrath! he then replies : ” You, 0 Lord ! fill us with tribulations, in order that being thus afflicted, we may abandon our sins and return to you.”
When the mother wishes to wean her infant how does she proceed? She puts bitters upon her breast. Thus the Lord endeavours to draw our souls to himself and wean them from the pleasures of this earth, which make them live in forgetfulness of their eternal salvation ; he fills with bitterness all their pleasures, pomps and possessions, in order, that not finding peace in those things they may turn to God, who alone can satisfy them. ” In their affliction they will rise early to me.” — Osee. vi. 1. God says within himself, if I allow those sinners to enjoy their pleasures undisturbed, they will remain in the sleep of sin : they must be afflicted, in order that recovering from their lethargy they may return to me. When they shall be in tribulation they will say : ” Come, let us return to the Lord, for he hath taken us, and he will heal us : he will strike and he will cure us.” — Osee. vi 1, 2. What shall become of us, say those sinners, as they enter into themselves, if we do not turn from our evil courses ? God will not be appeased, and will with justice continue to punish us, come on, let us retrace our steps ; for he will cure us, and if he has afflicted us just now, he will upon our return think of consoling us with his mercy.
” In the day of my trouble I sought God and I was not deceived — Ps. lxxiv. 3, because he raised me up. For this reason does the prophet thank the Lord, that he hath humbled him after his sin ; because he was thus taught to observe the divine laws : ” It is good for me, that thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy justifications.” — Ps. cxviii. 71. Tribulation is for the sinner, at once a punishment and a grace, says St. Austin : ” Pcena est, et gratia est.” It is a punishment in as much as it has been drawn down upon him by his sins ; but it is a grace, and an important grace, in as much as it may ward eternal destruction from him, and is an assurance that God means to deal mercifully with him, if he look into himself, and receive with thankfulness that tribulation which has opened his eyes to his miserable condition, and invites him to return to God. Let us then be converted, my brethren, and we shall escape from our several chastisements : ” Quid servat post pcenam,” says St. Austin, ” qui per gratiam exhibet poenam.” He who turns to God, smarting from the scourge has no longer anything to fear ; because God scourges only in order that we may return to him, and this end once obtained, the Lord will scourge no more.
St Bernard says, that is impossible to pass from the pleasures of the earth to those of Paradise : ” Difficile est, imo impossibile, ut praesentibus quis fruatur bonis et futuris : ut de deliciis transeat ad delicias — De inter. Dom. chap. 45. Therefore does the Lord say, ” Envy not the man who prospereth in his way, the man who doth unjust things.” — Ps. xxxvi. 7. ” Does he prosper,” says St. Austin, “ay but in his own way,’ and do you suffer ? You do, but it is in the way of God.” You who walk before God are in tribulation, but he, evil as is his way, prospers. Mark now, what the saint says in conclusion: He has prosperity in this life, he shall be miserable in the next ; you have tribulation in this life, you shall be happy in the next.” Be glad, therefore, 0 sinners! and thank God when he punishes you in this life, and takes vengeance of your sins ; because you may know thereby, that he means to treat you with mercy in the next. ” Thou wast a merciful God to them, and taking vengeance on their inventions.” — Ps. xcviii. 8. The Lord when he chastises us, has not chastisement so much in view as our conversion. God said to Nabuchodonozor : ” Thou shalt eat grass like an ox, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men.” — Dan. iv. 29. For seven years, Nabuchodonozor, shalt thou be compelled to feed upon grass like a beast, in order that you may know I am the Lord ; that it is I, who give kingdoms, and take them away ; and that you may thus be cured of your pride. And in fact, this judgment, did cause the haughty king to enter into himself and change ; so that, after having been restored to his former condition, he said : ” Therefore I, Nabuchodonosor, do now, praise and magnify the King of Heaven.” — Ibid. 34. And, God gave him back his kingdom. ” Libenter commutavit sententiam,” says St. Jerome : ” quia vidit opera commutata.”
Unhappy we, says the same saint, when God does not punish us in this life ! It is a sign, that he means us for eternal chastisements. ” Magua est ira Dei quando non nobis irascitur ; reservat nos sicut vitulum in occisione.”— Hier. in cit. PsaL 36. What do we conclude, he continues, when the surgeon sees the flesh about to mortify, and does not cut it away ? we conclude, that he abandons the patient to death ? God spares the sinner in this life, says St. Gregory, only to chastise us in the next : ” Parcit ut in perpetuum feriat.” — Mor. lib. 8. cap. 9. Woe to those sinners, to whom God has ceased to speak, and appears not to be in anger. ” I will cease and be angry no more.” — Ezeck. xvi. 42. The Lord then, goes on to say : ” But, thou hast provoked me in all these things : and thou shalt know, that I am the Lord, that thou mayest remember, and be confounded. ,, — Ibid. 43, 62, 63. A day will come, he says, ungrateful sinner, when you shall know what I am, then shall you remember the . graces I have given you ; and see with confusion, your black ingratitude. Woe to the sinner, who goes on in his evil life, and whom God in his vengeance suffers to accomplish his perverse desires, according to what is said by the prophet : ” Israel hearkened not to me, so I let them go according to the desires of their heart” — Ps. lxxx. 12, 13. It is a sign, that the Lord wishes to reward them on this earth, for whatever little good they may have done, and reserves the chastisement of their sins for eternity : speaking of the sinner whom he treats thus in this life, the Lord says : ” Let us have pity on the wicked, but he will not learn justice and he shall not see the glory of the Lord.” — Isa. xxvi. 10. Thus, does the poor sinner hasten on to his ruin, because seeing himself prosperous, he deceives himself into the expectation, that as God is dealing mercifully with him now, he will continue to do the same ; and by this delusion,, he will be led to live on in his sins. But, will the Lord, be always thus merciful to him ? No, the day of punishment will come at length, when he shall be excluded from paradise, and flung into the dungeon of the rebels ; ” and he shall not see the glory of the Lord.” ” Let us have pity on the wicked,” far from me, says St. Jerome, be this mercy : ” Longe a me misericordia tarn rigorosa,” Lord, he says, extend not to me this dreadful pity ; if I have offended you, let me be chastised for it in this life ; because, if you do not chastise me here in this life, I shall have to be chastised in the other world, for all eternity. For this reason, did St. Austin say : ” Lord, here cut, here burn, that you may spare during eternity f chastise me here, 0 God, and do not spare me now, in order, that I may be spared the punishment of hell. ” Domine hie seca, hie non parcas, ut in aeternum parcas.” When the surgeon cuts the impost hume of the patient, it is a sign that he means to have him healed. St. Austin says: ” it is most merciful of the Lord, not to suffer iniquity to pass unpunished.” The Lord deals very mercifully with the sinner, when by chastisement he makes him enter into himself in this life. Hence Job, besought the Lord so earnestly to afflict him. ” And, that this may be my comfort, that afflicting me with sorrow he spare not.” — Job. vi. 10.
Jonas slept in the ship when he was flying from the Lord ; but God seeing that the wretched man was on the brink of temporal and eternal death, caused him to be warned of the tempest : ” Why art thou fast asleep, rise up, call upon thy God.” — Jon. i. 6. God, my brethren, now warns ye in like manner. You have been in the state of sin, deprived of sanctifying grace, the chastisement has come, and that chastisement is the voice of God, saying to you, ” why are you fast asleep ? rise and call upon your God.” Awake, sinner ! do not live on forgetful of your soul and of God. Open your eyes, and see how you stand upon the verge of hell, where so many wretches are now bewailing sins less grievous than yours, and are you asleep? have you no thought of confession? no thought of rescuing yourself from eternal death? Rise, call upon your God.” Up from that infernal pit into which you have fallen ; pray to God to pardon you, beg of him this at least, if you are not at once resolved to change your life, that he will give you light, and make you see the wretched state in which you stand. Learn how to profit by the warning which the Lord vouchsafes you. Jeremias first sees a rod. ” I see a rod watching, he next sees a boiling caldron : ” I see a boiling caldron.” — Jer. i. 12, 13. Saint Ambrose, in speaking of this passage, explains it thus : he who is not corrected by the rod, shall be thrown into the caldron, there to burn. He whom the temporal chastisement fails to convert, shall be sent to burn eternally in hell-fire. Sinful brother, listen to God who addresses himself to your heart, by this chastisement, and calls on you to do penance. Tell me what answer do you make him ? The prodigal son, after having left his father, thought no more upon him, whilst he continued to live amid delights ; but when he saw himself reduced to that state of misery described in the gospel, poor, deserted, obliged to tend swine, and not allowed to fill himself with the food wherewith the swine were filled, then, he came to himself and said : ” How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger?” — Luke xv. 17. “I will arise and go to my father.” — Ibid. 18. And so he did, and was lovingly received by his father. Brother, you have to do in like manner. You see the unhappy life you have hitherto led, by living away from God ; a life full of thorns and bitterness ; a life which could not be otherwise, as being, without God, who alone can give content. You see how many servants of God who love him, lead a happy life, and enjoy continual peace, the peace of God, which, as the apostle says, surpasses all the pleasures of the senses. “The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding.” — Phil. iv. 7. And, what are you doing? Do you not feel that you suffer a hell in this life ? do you not know that you shall suffer one in the next ? Take courage, say with the prodigal : ” I will arise and go to my father.” I will arise from this sleep of death — this state of damnation, and return to God. It is true, that I have sufficiently outraged him, by leaving him so much against his desire, but he is still my father. “I will arise and go to my father.” And when you shall go to that Father, what shall you say to him ? Say what the prodigal said to his father : ” Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son.” — Ibid. 18, 19. Father, I acknowledge my error, I have done ill to leave you who have so much loved me ; I see now, that I am no longer worthy to be called your son ; receive me at least, as your servant ; restore me at least, to your grace, and then chastise me as you please.
0 happy you, if you say and do thus ! the same will happen you which befell the prodigal son. The father, when he saw his son retracing his steps, and perceived that he had humbled himself for his fault, not only did not drive him off — not only received him into his house, but embraced and kissed him as his son ; ” and running to him, fell upon his neck and kissed him.” — Ibid. 20. He then clothed him with a precious garment, which represents the robe of grace ; ” Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him.” — Ibid. 22. And he, moreover, makes a great feast in the house, to commemorate the recovery of his son, whom he looked upon as lost and dead ; ” let us eat and make merry, because this my son was dead and is come to life again — was lost and is found.” — Ibid. 23, 24. Let us then be joyful, my brethren ; it is true, that God appears to be in wrath, but he is still our Father ; let us retrace our steps in penance, and he will be appeased and spare us. Behold Mary our Mother praying for us on the one hand, and on the other turned towards us, saying, ” In me is all hope of life and of virtue come over to me all.” — Eccl. xxiv. 25, 26. My children, does that Mother of Mercy say to us, my poor afflicted children, have recourse to me, and in me you shall find all hope ; my Son denies me nothing. ” Qui invenerit me inveniet vitam.” You were dead by sin ; come to me, find me, and you shall find life — the life of divine grace, which I shall recover for you by my intercession.