Saturday, 3 July 2010

Preparation for Death - Consideration XXII

The Habit of Sin.
The wicked man, when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth.” – Prov. xviii. 3.
The Habit of Sin Blinds the Soul.
The evil inclination to sin is one of the greatest injuries that we have received from the sin of Adam. This made the Apostle weep when he saw himself impelled by concupiscence to the very evil which he abhorred. I see another law in my members . . . captivating me in the law of sin.1 Hence it is so difficult for us, who are drawn to evil by this concupiscence and by so many enemies, to reach, without sin, the land of bliss. What would you say of a traveller who, being obliged to cross an agitated sea in a shattered vessel, would load the ship with a burden which, even in a calm sea, would be sufficient to sink the vessel? What hopes could you entertain of the safety of such a man? Now, we may say the same of the man who has contracted an evil habit: he must pass the sea of this life (a sea always tempestuous, in which so many perish) in the weak and shattered vessel of the flesh, to which we are united: and he overloads this vessel with sins of habit. It is very difficult for such a man to save his soul; because a bad habit blinds the understanding, hardens the heart, and thus makes the sinner obstinate till death.
First, a bad habit blinds the understanding. Why do the saints always implore light from God, and tremble lest they should become the greatest sinners in the world? Because they know that if they lose God’s light they may commit the greatest crimes. How does it happen that so many Christians live obstinately in sin until they are lost in the end? Their own malice blinded them.2 Sin blinds, them, and thus they are lost. Every sin produces blindness; the more sins are multiplied, the greater the blindness they produce. God is our light; and therefore, the farther the Soul is removed from God, the more blind it becomes. His bones, says Job, shall be filled with the vices of his youth.3 As the light of the sun cannot eater a vessel filled with clay: so a heart replete with vices cannot admit the light of God. Hence we see certain sinners lose the divine light, so that they go on from sin to sin without ever thinking of repentance. The wicked walk round about.4 Fallen into the dark pit of sin, they do nothing but commit sins, they speak only of sins, they think only of sinning, and scarcely feel any longer that sin is an evil. The very habit of sin, says St. Augustine, does not allow them to see the evil which they do.5 Hence they live as if they no longer believed in the existence of God, of heaven, hell, or eternity.
And behold! after an evil habit is Contracted, the sins which before excited horror are now viewed with indifference. Make them, says David, like a wheel, and as stubble before the wind.6 See, says Gregory, how a straw is blown about by every breath of air. In like manner a person, before he falls into sin, resists and combats temptations, at least for some time; but, after having contracted a bad habit, he yields instantly to every temptation, and falls in every occasion of sin: and why? Because the habit of sin has deprived him of light. St. Anselm says that the devil acts toward certain sinners like a person who fastens a cord to a bird: he allows it to fly away; but, whenever he pleases, draws it back to the earth. These are, according to the saint, habitual sinners. St. Bernardine says (tom. iv. serm. xv.) that some continue to commit sin without being exposed to any dangerous occasion. He compares habitual sinners to the wings of a windmill, which are driven round by every wind, and turn the mill even when there is no corn to be ground, and against the will of the master. You will find habitual sinners who indulge in bad thoughts even without any occasion to excite them, without pleasure, and drawn into them as it were involuntarily and forcibly by the effects of evil habits. As St. Augustine says a bad habit brings on a certain necessity.7 And according to St: Bernardine, evil habits are changed into our nature.8 Hence, as it is necessary for a man to breathe, so it appears that habitual sinners become the slaves of sin, And bring themselves into a necessity of falling into sin. I have said that they become slaves of sin. There are servants, who serve for wages, and slaves, who serve by force and without remuneration. With these we may compare certain miserable men, who sin even without pleasure.
The wicked man, when he is come into the depth of sins contemneth.9 This passage St. Chrysostom explains of habitual sinners, who, sunk in an abyss of darkness, despise corrections, sermons, censures, hell, and God; they despise everything, and resemble the vulture, that waits to be killed by the fowler, rather than abandon the dead body on which it feeds. Father Recupito relates that a man condemned to death, even when going to the place of execution, raised his eyes, saw a young female, and consented to a bad thought. Father Gisolfo relates that a blasphemer, who had been likewise condemned to death, when thrown off the scaffold, broke out into a blasphemy. St. Bernard goes so far as to say that it is almost useless to pray for habitual sinners,—that we must weep over them as lost forever. If they no longer see their danger, how can they escape the precipice? To preserve them from it, a miracle of grace is necessary. The miserable wretches will open their eyes in hell, when the sight of their misery will serve only to make them weep more bitterly over their folly.
Affections and Prayers.
My God! Thou hast bestowed more favors on me than on others, and I have done greater injuries to Thee than any person whom I know. O sorrowful heart of my Redeemer, so much afflicted and tortured on the cross at the sight of my sins; give me through Thy merits a lively sense of my faults, and a lively sorrow for them. Ah, my Jesus! I am full of vices, but Thou art omnipotent: Thou canst easily fill my soul with Thy holy love. I therefore hope in Thee, who art infinite Goodness and infinite Mercy. I repent, O Sovereign Good! of having offended Thee. O that I had died rather than have ever offended Thee! I have forgotten Thee; but Thou hast not forgotten me; this I see with the light which Thou now givest me. Since, then, Thou givest me this light, give me also strength to be faithful to Thee. I promise to die a thousand times rather than ever turn my back upon Thee. But in Thy aid I place my hopes. In Thee! O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be confounded. I hope, O my Jesus in Thee, that I shall never more see myself confounded in sin, and deprived of Thy grace. To thee also, O Mary, my mistress! I turn. In thee, O Lady! I have hoped; let the not be confounded forever. O my hope, I trust in thy intercession, that I shall never again see myself the enemy of thy Son. Ah! beg of him to strike me dead rather than abandon me to this sovereign misfortune.
The Habit of Sin Hardens the Heart.
A bad habit hardens the heart. And this hardness of heart God justly permits in punishment of resisting his calls. The Lord, says the Apostle, hath mercy on whom He will: and whom He will He hardeneth.10 According to St. Augustine, God hardens the sinner by not showing mercy.11 It is not that God directly hardens habitual sinners, but he subtracts his graces in punishment of their ingratitude for past favors, and thus their heart becomes hard like a stone. His heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as firm as a smith’s anvil.12 Hence, it is that, while others are softened, and shed tears in hearing sermons on the rigor of divine justice, on the pains of the damned, or on the Passion of Jesus Christ, the habitual sinner remains unmoved, bespeaks and listens to others speaking on these subjects with as much indifference as if they did not concern him; and thus these sermons will serve to render him more obdurate. His heart shall be as firm as a smith’s anvil.
Even sudden deaths, earthquakes, thunder and lightning will no longer strike terror into the heart of the habitual sinner: instead of awaking, and making him enter into himself, they will rather encourage him in the deadly sleep of death and perdition in which he slumbers: At Thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered.13 An evil habit gradually takes away all remorse of conscience: to the habitual sinner crimes the most enormous appear trifling. The commission of sin is naturally accompanied with shame; but, according to St. Jerome, they who contract evil habits lose even the shame of committing sin.14 St. Peter compares the habitual sinner to the swine that wallows in the mire.15 As the swine wallowing in the mire feels not its stench, so the habitual sinner perceives not the stench of his crimes, which disgusts all others. “And,” says, St. Bernardine, “what wonder is it that, after the mire of sin has blinded him, he should not see his miserable condition, even when God scourges him for his iniquities?”16 Hence; it happens that, instead of regretting his sins, he rejoices at them, he laughs at them, and boasts of them. They are glad when they have done evil.17 A fool worketh mischief as it were for sport.18 Are not these clear signs of diabolical obduracy? They are, says St. Thomas of Villanova, all signs of damnation.19 My brother, tremble lest this may happen to you. If you have contracted any evil habit, endeavor to abandon it now that God calls you. Rejoice and be glad as long as conscience reproves you; for it is a sign that God has not as yet abandoned you; but amend, and instantly shake off the bad habit; if you do not, the wound will become gangrenous, and you will be lost.
Affections and Prayers.
O Lord, how shall I be able to thank Thee as I ought for so many graces which Thou hast bestowed upon me! How often hast Thou called, and I have resisted! Instead of being grateful to Thee, and loving Thee, for having delivered me from hell, and for having called me with so much love, I have continued to provoke Thy wrath, by offering repeated insults to Thee. O my God! I will no longer outrage Thy patience: I have offended Thee enough. Thou alone, who art infinite Goodness, couldst have borne with me till the present moment. But I now see that Thou canst bear no longer with me. Pardon me then, O my Lord and my Sovereign Good! pardon me all the injuries I have offered to Thee. I am sorry for them with my whole heart, and purpose never more to offend Thee. Shall I forever continue to provoke Thee? Ah, be appeased with me, O God of my soul! not through my merits, for which nothing else is reserved but vengeance and hell, but through the merits of Thy Son and my Redeemer, in which I place all my hopes. For the love of Jesus Christ, receive me into favor, and give me perseverance in Thy love. Banish from me all impure affections, and draw me entirely to Thyself. I love Thee, O supreme God! I love Thee, O sovereign lover of souls! who art worthy of infinite love. Oh! that I had always loved Thee. O Mary, my Mother! obtain for me the grace to spend the remainder of my life not in offending, but in loving thy Son, and in bewailing the displeasure I have given him.
The Habit of Sin Leads to Final Impenitence.
When the understanding is deprived of light, and the heart hardened, the sinner ordinarily makes a bad end, and dies obstinate in his sin. A hard heart shall fare ill at the end.20 The just continue to walk in the straight path. The path of the just is right to walk in.21 But habitual sinners always walk round about.22 They give up sin for a little, and afterward return to it. Their damnation St. Bernard regards as certain. “Woe to the man who follows this circle.”23 Some of them say: I will amend before death; but it is very difficult for an habitual sinner, even in his old age, to change his life. A young man, says the Holy Ghost, according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.24 We are very weak. Your strength, says the Prophet Isaias, shall be as the ashes of tow.25 Hence, as St. Thomas of Villanova says, the soul deprived of grace cannot abstain from committing new sins.26 But would it not be the extreme of folly to play for, and voluntarily to lose, all your property, with the hope of winning it back in the last game? Such is the folly of the man who continues to live in the midst of sins, and hopes at the last moment of life to repair all the evil he has done. Can the Ethiopian or the leopard change the color of his skin? And how can he who has long indulged in the habit of sin, lead a good life? If, says the Prophet Jeremias, the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, you also may do well when you have learned evil.27 Hence the habitual sinner, in the end, abandons himself to despair. Such, is the manner in which his life terminates. But he that is, hardened in mind shall fall into evil.28
On the words of Job, He hath torn me with wound upon wound, he hath rushed in upon me like a giant,29 St. Gregory says that a person may, perhaps, be able to defend himself after the first wound; but after every additional one, he loses strength, till in the end he loses his life. So it is with sin. After the first and second transgressions, the sinner will have some strength (that is, through the aid of God’s grace); but, if he continue in the habit of sin, it will rush on him like a giant. How is it possible for the sinner to escape death after his strength has been diminished, and his wounds multiplied? Sin, as the Prophet Jeremias says, like a huge stone, oppresses the sinner.30 St. Bernard compares the habitual sinner with a man who has fallen under a large stone, which he has not strength to remove. It is as difficult for the former to shake off his bad habits, as it is for the latter to get rid of the load that presses upon him. “The man on whom the weight of a bad habit presses, rises with difficulty.”31
The habitual sinner may say: Is my salvation then hopeless? No, you are not beyond hope: if you wish to apply it, there is still a remedy for the past. But a certain author says, that in grievous maladies very severe remedies are necessary. If to a sick man in danger of death, and unwilling to take medicine, because he is not aware of the malignity of his disease, the physician said: Friend, you will certainly die unless you take such a medicine: what would be the answer of the invalid? He would say, “As my life is in danger, I am ready to obey all your directions.” Dearly beloved Christian, if you are an habitual sinner. I say the same to you. You are very ill; you are one of these invalids who, as St. Thomas of Villanova says, are seldom cured;32 you are on the brink of perdition. But if you wish to recover from your illness, there is a remedy for you; however, you must not expect a miracle of grace. You must on your part labor hard to take away the occasions of sin, to avoid bad company, to resist temptations by recommending yourself to God as soon as you perceive them: you must adopt the means of salvation, by going frequently to confession, by reading a spiritual book every day, by practising devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and continually imploring her to obtain for you strength not to relapse into sin. You must do violence to yourself: otherwise the threat of the Lord against obstinate sinners will fall upon you. You shall die in your sin. And if you do not adopt these means now that the Lord gives you light, you will scarcely adopt them hereafter. Listen to God calling you to repentance. Lazarus, come forth. Poor sinner! you are long dead: go forth from the dark grave of your sinful life. Respond at once to the call, and give yourself instantly to God. Tremble lest this should be the last call for you.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! what do I wait for? Shall I wait till Thou dost abandon me and send me to hell? Ah, Lord! bear with me; I wish to change my life, and to give myself to Thee. Tell me what I must do, and I will do it. O blood of Jesus! assist me. O Mary, advocate of sinners, come to my relief. O eternal Father! have mercy on me through the merits of Jesus and Mary. I am sorry, O God of infinite Goodness! for having offended Thee, and I love Thee above all things. Pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ, and give me Thy love. Give me also a great fear of being lost, should I again offend Thee. Light, O my God! light and strength. I hope for everything from Thy mercy. Thou didst bestow so many graces on me when I wandered at a distance from Thee; I hope for far greater graces, now that I return to Thee, resolved to love nothing but Thee. I love Thee, my God, my life, my all. I love thee also, O my Mother, Mary! to thee I consign my soul; preserve it by thy intercession from ever returning to a state of enmity with God.

1“Video aliam legem in membris meis captivantem me in lege peccati.” – Rom. vii. 23.
2“Excæcavit illos malitia eorum.” – Wis. ii. 21.
3“Ossa ejus implebuntur vitiis.” – Job, xx. 11.
4“In circuitu impii ambulant.” – Ps. xi. 9.
5“Ita ut ipsa consuetudo mali non eos sinat videre quia malum est.” – Serm. 98, E. B.
6“Pone illos ut rotam, et sicut stipulam ante faciem venti.” – Ps. lxxxii. 14.
7“Dum consuetudini non resistitur, facta est necessitas.” – Conf. l. 8, c. 5.
8“Usus vertitur in naturam.” – T. iii. s. 15.
9“Impius, cum in profundum venerit peccatorum, contemnit.” – Prov. xviii. 3.
10“Cujus vult miseretur, et quem vult indurat.” – Rom ix. 18.
11“Obduratio Dei est nolle misereri.” – De Div. Quæst. ad Simpl. n.15.
12“Cor ejus indurabitur tamquam lapis, et stringetur quasi malleatoris incus.” – Job, xli. 15.
13“Ab increpatione tua, Deus Jacob, dormitaverunt.” – Ps. lxxv. 7.
14Qui ne pudorem quidem habent in delictis.
15“Sus lota in volutabro luti.” – 2 Peter, ii. 22.
16“Cum populus immergit se in peccatis, sicut sus in volutabro luti, quid mirum, si Del flagellantis futura judicia non cognoscit?” – T. ii, s. 20, a. 2, c. 4.
17“Lætantur, cum malefecerint.” – Prov. ii. 14.
18“Quasi per risum stultus operatur scelus.” – Ib. x. 23.
19“Induratio, damnationis indicium.” – Fer. 6 p. Dom. 1 Quadr.
20“Cor durum habebit male in novissimo.” – Ecclus. iii. 27.
21“Rectos callis justi ad ambulandum.” – Isa. xxvi. 7.
22In circuitu impii ambulant.” – Ps. xi. 9.
23“Væ homini qui sequitur hunc circuitum.” – Ps. xc. 5, 12.
24“Adolescens juxta viam suam, etiam cum senuerit, non recedet ab ea.” – Prov. xxii. 6.
25“Et erit fortitudo vestra, ut favilla stupæ.” – Isa. i. 31.
26“Quo fit, ut anima, a gratia destituta, diu evadere ulteriora peccata non possit.” – Dom. 4 Quadr.
27“Si mutare potest Æthiops pellem suam, aut pardus varietates suas; et, vos poteritis benefacere, cum didiceritis maium.” – Jer. xiii, 23.
28“Qui vero mentis est duræ, corruet in malum.” – Prov. xxviii. 14.
29“Concidit me vulnere super vulnus, irruit in me quasi gigas.” – Job, xvi. 15.
30“Et posuerunt lapidem super me.” – Lament. iii. 53.
31“Difficile surgit, quem moles malæ consuetudinis premit.” – In Joan. tr. 49.
32“Raro sanantur.” – Fer. 6 p. Dom. 1 Quadr.

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