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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two Roads: Heaven or Hell

On Those Who Prefer to Follow the Devil, Rather than Christ

by Fr. Francis Hunolt, 1740
 

Subject: During these days especially, each one has to choose between following the devil with the children of the world, and following Jesus Christ with the children of God; therefore each one should make up his mind as to which he will follow.

Text: Ecce ascendimus Jerosolymam, et consummabuntur omnia, qua scripta sunt per prophetas de Filio hominis.--Luke xviii.

"Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man." 



 

Introduction: How do those two things harmonize, the gospel of to-day, and the present season? The change in the ceremonies of the Church, and the change in the manners of the world during these days? Jesus, as we read in the Gospel, goes up to Jerusalem, and speaks of nothing but the bitter torments and death that await him, "For He shall be delivered to the gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged and spit upon; and after they have scourged Him they will put Him to death;" but the perverse world speaks of nothing but the amusements of Shrove-tide. A fort night ago the Catholic Church showed her grief by suspending the recitation of the joyful Te Deum, and the Alleluia; but the world now, more than ever, indulges in dissipation and revelry. How do these things harmonize, I ask again. Does not the Holy Ghost say by the wise Ecclesiasticus: "A tale out of time is like music in mourning." Singing and music on one side, silence and weeping on the other; there is surely little harmony there. My dear brethren, not without reason does the Catholic Church in her sorrowful silence, and omitting the usual signs of joy, appoint for this day the gospel that I have read for you; for her object is, partly to show the sorrow that afflicts her motherly heart at seeing so many of her children following the customs of the vain world, nay, the abuses of the godless heathens, and thus taking sides with the devil during these days, and partly to exhort and encourage her faithful children to remain true to their crucified Redeemer during these days, by living in a pious and holy manner. Such, too, is the object I aim at today, and I say:

Plan of Discourse.

During these days especially each one has to choose between following the devil with the children of the world, and following Jesus Christ with the children of God. Christians, consider well what choice you intend making! Such is the subject of this exhortation. Sincere Christians, are we not determined to remain faithful to Jesus Christ? Such shall be the conclusion.

And do Thou, God, give us grace to practise it; we ask this of Thee through the intercession of Mary and the holy angels guardian.

Our holy Father, St. Ignatius, in his golden book of the "Spiritual Exercises," a book which owes its origin more to God Himself than to human understanding, and which has hitherto had such wonderful effect and influence on numbers of souls, (would to God that all Christians made a habit of using this powerful means of salvation once a year, and, laying aside all other concerns, spent three days or a week in silence, meditating on divine things and attending solely to their eternal salvation. Oh how many souls would then be rescued from the infernal serpent! How the number of the elect would then be increased!) in this book, I say, there is one meditation in which St. Ignatius represents on the one side the standard of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and on the other, that of Lucifer, the prince of darkness. Lucifer is represented as sitting on a high throne in a large plain near Babylon, with a terrible countenance and eyes darting fire, and surrounded by smoke and flames and great numbers of devils and human beings, holding in his hands a standard, on which are painted the vain pomps of the world, the lusts of the flesh, the greed of riches and the pride of life. Jesus Christ is represented as standing modestly and humbly on the ground, in a large plain near Jerusalem, with a mild and friendly countenance, holding the standard of the Cross and accompanied by His angels, Apostles and those who work for the salvation of souls. Mark the different circumstances here, my dear brethren. Lucifer is near Babylon, a word which signifies confusion; Jesus Christ is near Jerusalem, the city of peace and rest; thus showing how the wicked, who take sides with the devil, are full of uneasiness and trouble, while the just, who follow the example of Christ, enjoy eternal peace and consolation. Lucifer appears with a terrible, Christ with a friendly countenance, in order to distinguish between the cruel slavery of the devil, and the sweet yoke of Christ. Lucifer sits on a lofty throne as a sign of pride; Jesus stands on the ground as a sign of humility.

Then the Saint goes on to consider how those two opposing generals invite men to join them. "Come to me all you that labor and are burdened," says Christ in winning accents, " and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." Go, my Apostles and servants, throughout the world; try to win over souls to My side; persuade them to enlist under my standard, to obey My law, and to imitate Me; preach to them contempt of the world and of all temporal and perishable things, and impress on them the necessity of meekness and humility, of temperance and sobriety, of mortification of the flesh and its desires. The daily pay that I will give in this life to those who serve Me truly, will be spiritual consolation and a sweet joy of conscience; and if they are faithful to Me for a short time, their reward will be eternal joys with Me in the kingdom of Heaven. Go, ye devils, cries out Lucifer, in a terrible voice, go through the world and compel souls to enter my service, to enroll themselves under my banner; leave them neither rest nor peace by day or night, until they yield to you; attack them by your evil suggestions and temptations; make use of wicked men to help you to corrupt and lead the innocent into sin by their bad teaching and example; inspire them with the love of worldly honors, of money and riches and of sensual pleasures, promise them, in my name, if they serve me truly, a comfortable, luxurious, pleasant and happy life; but when I have once got them safely under my yoke, I will make them pay dearly enough for the little pleasure I will give them; say nothing to them of that, however, and after they have thus enjoyed themselves for a short time, they will receive their reward from me in the eternal flames of hell; but this latter you must drive out of their thoughts for the present, and persuade them to look on it as a mere fable that is not worth a moment's serious consideration.

Having thus proposed the two points of the meditation, St. Ignatius represents the human soul placed between those two antagonists, and considering which of them it will join, under with the which of the two standards it will fight. And finally he bewails the madness and folly of most men in allowing themselves to be deceived by the devil and to be led astray by him, for the sake of an imaginary breath of honor, a worthless piece of money, or a brutish passion, so that they crowd after him and are hurried into hell; while only a very small number prefer to enlist under the standard of Jesus Christ, and to take on themselves the sweet yoke. Alas, when we think of this, how can we help weeping hot tears, like St. Bernard when he cried out, "Christ, who gives life, loses, while the devil, who betrays, gains." Reason enough has the hellish serpent to defy his Lord and his God, and to cry out boastingly to Jesus Christ: See how many follow me, and how willingly they do so; nearly all are on my side; I can promise no reward but eternal torments, and yet the whole world is with me; while you can hardly find a single follower, although you have given your life for men, and promised them eternal joys in Heaven! Such, my dear brethren, has always been the way of the world, that most people, by transgressing the divine commands, take sides with the devil.

But at no period is this deplorable folly more evident than during shrove-tide. At other times we might compare the devil to a dog, tied up with a strong chain, who can bark, but cannot bite any, unless those who, of their own accord, approach too near him. But in these days it seems as if he had broken his chain, and is running raging through the world, attacking every one, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, so that he drags away from the side of Jesus Christ, and over to his own, by sin, many who were before pious innocent souls, who loved God with all their hearts. Is it not so, my dear brethren? Do not many, far too many, live during these days as if they knew neither God, nor Heaven, nor hell, nor Christ crucified, nor Gospel law? As if there was full and free permission for them to commit what sins they please? If we consider the state of many, even Catholic, cities, would we not have reason to be horrified at the dissipation and debauchery carried on in them, were it not that the wicked customs of the world find an excuse for those excesses, and palliate them to such an extent as to make them appear respectable?

If we go through the public streets, what do we see? All sorts of foolish conduct, ridiculous disguises, and masquerading pleasure-seekers, who try to rival each other in indecent and unbecoming buffoonery; men disguised as women and women as men, who, having thus put off their natural modesty, can indulge all the more freely in licentious excesses. What are we to think of this, Christians? And Thou, all-seeing God, dost Thou still recognize Thy image in the soul of one who degrades himself by such unmeaning buffoonery? Ah, canst Thou not cry out now, as Thou didst long ago to our forefather Adam, when he hid himself from Thee, after having fallen into sin, Adam where art thou? Human soul, where art thou? Where are the marks of my beauty in thee? Where is the reason I gave that young man? Where is the modesty that that young girl received as a natural gift.

And if we go from the streets into many of the houses, what do we see? The tradesman gives up his work, the shopkeeper his business, and the lawyer his studies, the master and mistress their usual domestic cares; everybody seems to keep holiday. And in whose honor? God's? Yes truly, in honor of a certain god; of that god of whom the Scripture speaks: "Whose god is their belly; " of that god to whom the blind heathens in former times consecrated their feast days, and whom they called Bacchus; and of the goddess of impure love, whom they called Venus! Heathenish pleasures, dangerous intercourse, immoderate eating and drinking, drunkenness, immodesty and other sinful pastimes are indulged in during these days without the least shame. There is no use in speaking or preaching against them; the one all-sufficient excuse is always ready; it is Shrove-tide. Thus thousands of souls run, without being asked, to enlist themselves under the standard of the devil; the gain is all on the side of the arch-enemy, who betrays souls to destruction. Jesus Christ, exposed on the altar under the sacramental veils, cries out to His children: " Come to Me all you, and I will refresh you; " remain with Me, keep the faith you so solemnly swore to Me in baptism, and I will reward you eternally! But in vain; the loss is all on the side of Christ, who gives life.

Most people refuse to listen to Him during these days; many who have laid aside the burden of their sins in the Sacrament of Penance during the morning, and entered into a fresh compact with their God and Saviour by receiving Him in the Holy Communion, banish Him again from their hearts during the afternoon with the greatest ingratitude, by going into dangerous company and into the occasion of sin, and thus burden their consciences anew with sins which they will have to repent of again and to confess during Lent. But the true children and followers of Christ, who are unfortunately very few in number, are all the more faithful in their attachment to the standard of the Cross during these days, and all the more careful to avoid doing even the least thing to offend their dear Saviour, the more they see that others shamefully abandon Him.

Such is the state of the case, my dear brethren. And what are you now going to do? "If it seem evil to you to serve the Lord," I say to you in the words in which the heroic Josue addressed the Israelites just before his death, when he was exhorting them to persevere in the service of the true God, If it seem evil to serve the Lord, you have your choice; choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve, whether the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorrhites in whose land you dwell; " you can do as you please, but you must know that; "asfor me and my house we will serve the Lord." In the same way, Christians, I say to you, " you have your choice;" take whichever side you please; make up your minds as to whether you will join the rabble who are following the devil, and serve the false gods of the vain worldlings among whom you are living; or whether with your holy ancestors, who so bravely shed their blood for Jesus Christ, you will remain faithful to the true God. But consider first which of the two has the greater claim on your love and service. You are quite free; make what choice you please.

Alas perverse and wicked world, why do you compel me to propose such a choice? Christians, can one of you hesitate for a moment, as to which side he should join, Christ's or the devil's? How, my soul! Do you then require such a long time to determine whether you will serve God, or the devil? Your God, who has given you all that you have, or that wicked spirit from whom you cannot expect anything that is good? Your God who, through excess of love gave up His life for you, to save you from eternal death, or the devil, who, if God allowed him, would at once hurry you into hell as a reward for having served him? Your God, who gives Himself to you as your food and drink, that you may have eternal life, or the devil who tries to give you a poison that will cause your eternal death? Your God in whose service you now enjoy the sweetest repose, the greatest interior consolation and comfort, or the cruel demon, in whose slavery your wretched conscience will be unceasingly tortured and afflicted? Your God, who has promised you the eternal joys of Heaven as a recompense, or the devil, who is already fanning the flames of hell, that he may torture you therein for serving him faithfully? Think well before you decide!

Vain children of the world, I say with Josue, do as you please; "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord," and serve Him alone. My dear brethren, I am sure that you too will make the same determined answer that the Israelites made to Josue; "and the people answered and said: God forbid we should leave the Lord, and serve strange gods. The Lord, our God, He brought us and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; and did very great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the ways by which we journeyed, etc. Therefore we will serve the Lord, for He is our God." Yes, answered Josue, but I foresee that the Amorrhites, among whom you live, will lead you astray after a time, so that you will serve their false gods. "You will not be able to serve the Lord," that is, according to commentators, you will not be able to serve God, and at the same time remain amongst idols, "for He is a holy God, and mighty and jealous," who cannot brook a rival in His service.

Ah my dear Christians, I too am afraid that the servants of the world and the wicked followers of Satan, in whose company you will perhaps be during these dangerous days, may lead some of you astray by their seductive and bad example, so that you will become like themselves and abandon the way of the children of God. Will you do so? No, cried out the people of Israel unanimously to Josue; " No, it shall not be so as thou sayest, but we will serve the Lord." So, too, must you think and say, my dear brethren. No, what you are afraid of will never come to pass; we will serve the Lord our God, and remain faithful to the standard of Jesus Christ.

But our compamons will object, and will say, it is Shrove-tide. And what if it is? Must we therefore leave our God and serve the devil? O great God, must I now, because it is Shrove-tide, banish Thee from my heart and from my mind, in order to make room for Thy sworn enemies, the wicked world, the corrupt flesh, the treacherous Father of Lies, until this season is past? That seems to me to be like the way in which they manage in some places where Catholics and heretics live together. In some small towns there is only one church, which Lutherans or Calvinists and Catholics have in common; this unfortunate church has to change its appearance every Sunday in such a manner as to appear to laugh sometime? and at other times to weep. How so? In the morning the Catholics have their hours appointed for the true service of God, and then the altar is, as the expression goes, "decked out in grand gala;" the pictures of the saints are hung on the walls, the Cross is in a place of honor, the Tabernacle is opened and the Blessed Sacrament exposed to the adoration of the people, the holy Mass is said and heard, the Word of God is preached from the pulpit and the souls of the faithful are fed with the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion. Oh certainly a joyous sight for God and His angels! But wait a while and see what a change takes place. When the time appointed for the Catholics is over, the church hardly looks like a church any more. And why? The images of the saints are removed, the Cross is brought into the sacristy, the tabernacle closed, and the altar covered with a curtain; the Catholics go out, and the heretics come in and take their place; the preacher ascends the pulpit, opens a falsified Bible, and gives out a long winded harangue advocating a false doctrine that is opposed to the gospel of Christ.

Poor church, it seems as if your walls and pillars must complain of the bitter necessity to which they are reduced by the pressure of troublous times, since they must now serve two masters, Christ, their legitimate Master, and the apostates Luther and Calvin! In the same way, I repeat, these days seem to change people very much. During the rest of the year every good Catholic at least knows that the first and chief command must be exactly observed: " Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with thy whole heart," etc., and with all thy strength and above all things; that the exhortation of St. Peter must be observed: "Be sober and watch; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist ye strong in faith; " that the exhortation of St. John must be exactly fulfilled: "Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world." a much less the abuses introduced by the world; that the law of Christ must be obeyed to the letter: "If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee;" if it is an occasion of sin to thee, away with it at once; for it is expedient for thee to go into Heaven with one eye, rather than to go to hell with two eyes. Then good Catholics can keep their feast-days by a true service of God. Oh, let me say it again, what a joyful sight that is for God and His angels!

But it is Shrove-tide now; away then with all those pious ornaments; the holy altar must be covered; the humble, crucified Jesus must be banished from the heart and mind; heretics, (that is not saying half enough!) heathens and idolaters must now have their turn in the temple; the dangers of the soul are dangers no longer; the perverse customs of the world have to replace the law of Christ; drunkenness, intemperance, wantonness must have full freedom; Bacchus and Venus must be raised on the altars and adored. Away with you, says the devil to Christ, the days and hours appointed for your service are over; my feast-days have now begun, and they must belong to me alone!

Ah, my God, shall I consent to this? No, Lord, worthy of all love, my soul has been once for all consecrated as Thy temple; never, not even during Shrove-tide, shall sacrifice be offered therein to any one but Thee! No, my God, Thou art absolute Lord of all time; not a single moment should be employed for anything but Thy honor and glory! No, Thou omnipresent God, whose eye sees me wherever I am; in no place should I ever do, think, or say the least thing that is displeasing in Thy sight! No, Almighty God, without whom I can move neither hand nor foot; never should I do anything, or take the least step against Thy holy will! No, God of justice, who in any place, at any time, even during these days, canst hurl me into hell on account of my sins; no worldly custom should ever lead me astray, or place me in the least danger or occasion of offending Thee! No, God of infinite goodness, on whose grace and favor I, like a poor beggar, must always depend, even during Shrove-tide; not in the least thing should I make Thee an evil return for the countless benefits Thou hast bestowed on me! "God forbid we should leave the Lord and serve strange gods," I and all true Christians are determined now to serve Thee alone Our Lord, because Thou art our only God worthy of all love.

But it is Shrove-tide, say the vain children of the world and the partisans of the devil. And what then? Oh, one must enjoy one's self! And so you can enjoy yourselves; but in a manner generally befitting Christians and children of God; that is, you can rejoice in the Lord, as St. Paul says: " Eejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men." But is it rejoicing in the Lord and acting as becomes the children of God to go into places and company in which Christian modesty and humility, as well as the purity of the heart, if not of the body, are exposed to certain danger? And here I allude not only to those nightly meetings in dancing-houses, but also to all assemblages in which persons of both sexes spend the night amusing themselves. Is it rejoicing in the Lord like children of God, to mask and disguise one's self in such a way as to provoke the Almighty to disgust? Hear what He says in the Book of Deuteronomy: "A woman shall not be clothed with man's apparel, neither shall a man use woman's apparel; for he that doth these things is abominable before God." Is it rejoicing in the Lord like children of God, to rob one's self deliberately of reason by excessive drinking, and, as is the custom in these days, to indulge in all sorts of immodest buffooneries and liberties? Is it rejoicing in the Lord like children of God, to do things which will afterwards make the conscience uneasy, because there is a reasonable doubt as to whether a mortal sin has been committed or not, or because there is no doubt of the obligation of confessing and repenting of a sin that has been certainly committed? If you wish to know, my dear brethren, whether the pleasure you intend indulging in is an innocent and Christian one, before you begin, make the good intention, as I have elsewhere explained and see how it suits what you intend doing. For everything that is in itself neither good nor bad, can and must be made meritorious and deserving of Heaven by virtue of a supernatural intention, when it is performed in the state of sanctifying grace; and everything that cannot reasonably be directed to that supernatural end is, beyond all doubt, not innocent, but unlawful. Think therefore, I will go to that place, to that company, I will do this or that, or act in such and such a manner to Thy greater honor and glory, God, and because it is pleasing to Thy holy will, that I may thereby be strengthened to serve Thee better; I unite this intention with the infinite merits and bitter Passion of Jesus Christ, my Lord, that Thou mayest have a greater pleasure in it, and that it may be more advantageous to my eternal salvation. Then see how the pleasure you intend enjoying suits that intention; if it is unsuited to it, then I say again, and you can look on it as a certain general rule in similar cases, that the pleasure is not an innocent one, and that it is unlawful.

Therefore it still remains true that, if I wish to act as a true Christian and child of God, I will have nothing to do with such pleasures. I will enjoy myself, but "in the Lord." Others may act as they please, I will remain true to my God and my Lord; the whole world may side with the devil, I will never desert the standard of Jesus Christ, even during Shrove-tide. The soldier is always bound to perform his military duties; there is no Shrove-tide in which it is lawful for him to desert his post, or to rebel against his officer; if he is caught in the act of committing any such transgressions even during Shrove-tide, he is punished at once. The civil and criminal laws are always binding on subjects, and no Shrove-tide can excuse from punishment those who are guilty of robbery, murder, coining false money, and rebelling against their lawful sovereign. And therefore no thief dares to steal openly; if he were to do so, the fact of its being Shrove-tide would not excuse him from being brought before the judge. The law of holy matrimony is always to be strictly observed, and no husband or wife is allowed during Shrove-tide to be guilty of conjugal infidelity.

Now the Christian law is a military law; I am a soldier who in holy baptism have publicly sworn fidelity to the standard of Jesus Christ, and thus I have renounced for ever the devil, the world and the flesh. I have renewed my oath in the sacrament of confirmation, and I have again sworn to fight bravely for God and the true faith, even to the shedding of my blood. The Christian law is a just one; I am a subject and owe homage to God as my only sovereign Lord, and to Him I have promised obedience. The Christian law is one of spiritual matrimony; my soul is the bride, God the Holy Ghost is the bridegroom, and to Him I have promised perpetual love and fidelity. Did I perhaps as a soldier, when promising to be true to the standard of Christ, make an exception in favor of Shrove-tide, so that I could then desert my post without incurring blame? When I, as a subject, offered homage to my God, did I reserve to myself Shrove-tide as a time during which I could with impunity rebel against Him? When I was espoused to the Holy Ghost by sanctifying grace, did I look on Shrove-tide as a time during which I might commit spiritual adultery with the devil? No; every agreement I made is made for all time; all these laws are binding on me forever.

Therefore I renew my resolution; and do you, good Christians, keep yours faithfully. Far be it from us to desert the Lord, even during these days of Shrove-tide, and to serve strange gods. If I see people running off in crowds to join the side of the devil, I will think of the exhortation that Jeremias gave the Jews, when he forewarned them in an epistle that they should dwell among the Babylonians, and should see people adoring gods of gold, and silver, and stone: "Beware therefore that you imitate not the doings of others. But when you see the multitude behind and before adoring them, say you in your hearts: Thou oughtest to be adored O Lord." Thou alone art the true God whom I must fear, honor and love. If others try, by ridicule or invective, to induce me to join them and so run into the danger of sin, I will at once remember the fidelity I owe the standard of Jesus Christ, and I will act as Catulus the Roman general did in former times. Catulus was once engaged in battle when the tide of success seemed turned against him, and he was on the point of being deserted by his soldiers, when he suddenly seized the standard, held it up on high, and cried out in a loud voice, "see what you are fighting under;" remember the oath you have sworn under this standard. These few words re-animated the drooping courage of his soldiers, so that they returned boldly to the attack, and fought with the greatest bravery, until they put the enemy to flight.

I during these days I find it hard to pray while others are dancing and amusing themselves, hard to appear at the Table of the Lord while others are indulging in gluttony and drunkenness, hard to remain in solitude at home while ethers are enjoying themselves with heathenish pleasures; or if I perhaps go into company which is dangerous to Christian modesty and puritity, I will at once take courage and ask myself, under whom am I fighting? and I will answer with St. John Chrysostom; " I have sworn an oath of fidelity to Christ; how then can I desert to the army of the devil?" No; away with the thought. Avaunt Satan! Away with your temptations, corrupt flesh! Away with your foolish abuses, perverse world! I am Thine, O my sovereign Lord and God! I am Thine altogether and at all times even during Shrove-tide! And I am now determined to show more than ever, by redoubling my works of piety, that I am thoroughly devoted to Thee alone and to Thy service, the more others appear to put Thy holy, humble and pure law publicly to shame. Thine will I be for all eternity, in spite of all the partisans of Thy antagonist! Amen.