The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 11. The Eleventh Motive for
With such powerful reasons for embracing virtue, I know not what excuse men can make for refusing to practice it. That pagans, who are ignorant of its value, do not prize it is not astonishing. A peasant digging in the earth and finding a precious stone will probably throw it away, because he does not know its worth. But that Christians, who have been taught the value and beauty of virtue, continue to live in forgetfulness of God and wedded to the things of this world, as if there were no such thing as death or judgment, or Heaven or Hell, is a continual subject of sorrowful wonder. Whence this blindness, whence this folly?
It has several causes, the principal of which is the mistaken opinion of the generality of men, who believe that no advantages are to be reaped from virtue in this life, that its rewards are reserved for the life to come.
Men are so powerfully moved by self-interest, and present objects make such an impression upon them, that they think very little of future rewards and seek only their immediate satisfaction. The same was true even in the days of the prophets; for when Ezechiel made any promise or uttered any threat in the name of the Lord, people laughed at him and said to one another, "The vision that this man seeth is for many days to come; and this man prophesieth of times afar off." [Ezech. 12: 27] In like manner did they ridicule the prophet Isaias: "Command, command again, command, command again; expect, expect again, expect, expect again." [Is. 28: 10] Solomon teaches us the same when he says, "Because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil, the children of men commit evils without any fear … Because all things equally happen to the just and the wicked … to him that offereth victims and to him that despiseth sacrifices … the hearts of the children of men are filled with evil, and with contempt while they live, and afterwards they shall be brought down to Hell." [Eccles. 8: 11; 9: 2-3]
Yes, because the wicked seem to prosper in the world they conclude that they are safe, and that the labor of virtue is all in vain. This they openly confess by the mouth of the prophet Malachias, saying, "He laboreth in vain that serveth God; and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinances, and that we have walked sorrowful before the Lord of hosts? Wherefore now we call the proud people happy, for they that work wickedness are built up, and they have tempted God and are preserved." [Mal. 3: 14-15] This is the language of the reprobate, and is the most powerful motive which impels them to continue in sin; for, in the words of St. Ambrose, "They find it too difficult to buy hopes at the cost of dangers, to sacrifice present pleasures to future blessings." To destroy this serious error I know nothing better than the touching words of Our Savior weeping over Jerusalem: "If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are for thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes." [Lk. 19: 42]
Our Divine Lord considered the advantages which this people had received from Him; the happiness He had reserved for them; and the ingratitude with which they rejected Him when He came to them in meekness and humility. For this they were to lose not only the treasures and graces of His coming, but even their temporal power and freedom. This it was which caused Him to shed such bitter tears and to foretell the unhappy fate that was in store for His people. His words apply with great force to our present subject.
Consider the inestimable riches, the abundant graces, which accompany virtue; yet it is a stranger, a wanderer on earth. Men seem to be blind to these divine blessings. Have we not, therefore, reason to weep and to cry out, O man, if thou also hadst known? If thou hadst known the peace, the light, the strength, the sweetness, and the riches of virtue, thou wouldst have opened thy heart to it, thou wouldst have spared no sacrifice to win it. But these blessings are hidden from worldlings, who regard only the humble exterior of virtue, and, having never experienced its unutterable sweetness, they conclude that it contains nothing but what is sad and repulsive.
They know not that Christian philosophy is like its Divine Founder, Who, though exteriorly the humblest of men, was nevertheless God and sovereign Lord of all things. Hence the Apostle tells the faithful that they are dead to the world, that their "life is hid with Christ in God." [Col. 3: 3] Just as the glory of Christ was hidden by the veil of His humanity, so should the glory of His faithful followers be concealed in this world. We read that the ancients made certain images, called Silenes, which were rough and coarse exteriorly, but most curiously and ingeniously wrought within. The ignorant stopped at the exterior and saw nothing to prize, but those who understood their construction looked within and were captivated by the beauty they there beheld. Such have been the lives of the prophets, the Apostles, and all true Christians, for such was the life of their Divine Model.
If you still tell me that the path of virtue is rugged, that its duties are difficult, I beg you to consider the abundant and powerful aids which God gives you. Such are the infused virtues, interior graces, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the sacraments of the New Law, with other Divine favors, which are to us like sails to a ship, or wings to a bird, to help us on our voyage to eternity. Reflect upon the very name and nature of virtue. It is a noble habit, which, like all other habits, ought to make us act with facility and pleasure. Remember also that Christ has promised His followers not only the riches of glory, but those of grace: the former for the life to come, the latter for this present life. "The Lord," says the prophet, "will give grace and glory." [Ps. 83: 12] The treasures of grace are for this life, and the riches of glory are for the next.
Consider further with what care God provides for the necessities of all creatures. How generously He supplies even the smallest creatures with all that is necessary to the end for which they were created! Is it not unreasonable then, to think that He will disregard the necessities of man, the most important of which is virtue, and leave him a prey to his weak will, his darkened understanding, and his corrupt nature? The world and the prince of darkness are most assiduous in procuring vain pleasures and joys for those who serve them. Can you doubt, then, that God will grant refreshment, light, and peace to His faithful in the midst of the labors performed for Him? What did God wish to teach us by the words of the prophet: "You shall return, and shall see the difference between the just and the wicked, and between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." [Mal. 3: 18] Was it not that if we would be converted we would see and know, even in this life, the rewards of the good, "the difference between the just and the wicked"? We would behold the contrast between the true riches of the just and the poverty of the wicked; between the joy of the former and the misery of the latter; between the peace of the one and the conflicts of the other; between the light with which the good are surrounded and the darkness by which the wicked are enveloped. Experience will show you the real value of virtue and how far it exceeds your former anticipations.
Upon another occasion God replied in like manner to men who, having been deceived by appearances, ridiculed the virtuous, saying, "Let the Lord be glorified, and we shall see in your joy." [Is. 66: 5] After depicting the torments which God's justice prepares for the wicked, Isaias thus describes the happiness reserved for the just: "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all you that mourn for her. That you may suck, and be filled with the breasts of her consolation; that you may milk out, and flow with delights, from the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord: Behold I will bring upon her as it were a river of peace, and as an overflowing torrent, the glory of the Gentiles, which you shall suck; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you, and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And you shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb, and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants …" [Is. 66: 10-14] Yes, "the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants"; for as men by the beauties and wonders of the universe judge of the infinite beauty and omnipotence of God, so shall the just recognize the infinite love and goodness of God in the incomparable joys and favors which He will bestow upon them.
As a further proof of what has been said, I will add the remarkable words uttered by Our Savior when St. Peter asked what reward they would have for leaving all things for love of Him: "Amen I say to you, there is no man who hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands for my sake and for the Gospel, who shall not receive a hundred times as much, now in this time … and in the world to come life everlasting." [Mk. 10: 29-30] Mark how explicitly the rewards of this life and the next are distinguished. Nor can we doubt these words, for they are those of Him Who has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."
And what is this hundredfold which the just receive in this life? Honors, riches, titles, and dignities are not their portion; the greater number of the just lead hidden, obscure lives, forgotten by the world and overwhelmed with infirmities. How, then, does God fulfill His infallible promise to give them a hundredfold even in this life? Ah! It is not with the perishable goods of this world that He will reward His servants.
Joy and peace and happiness are the spiritual treasures with which the liberality of our God enriches those who love Him. These are the blessings which the world does not know, and which the wealth of the world can never buy. And how fitting this is; for as man does not live by bread alone, so the craving of his soul cannot be satisfied by anything short of spiritual blessings.
Study the lives of the Saints, and you will see that they have received the hundredfold promised in this life. In exchange for the false riches which they forsook, they received true riches which they can bear with them to eternity. For the turmoil and conflicts of the world, they received that "peace which surpasseth all understanding." Their tears, their fasting, and their prayers brought them more joy and consolation than they could ever hope to obtain from the fleeting pleasures of this life.
If, then, you have forsaken an earthly father for love of God, your Heavenly Father will receive you as His child, and make you His heir to an everlasting inheritance. If you have despised earthly pleasures for love of Him, He will fill you with the incomparable sweetness of Heavenly consolations. The eyes of your soul will be opened, and you will love and cherish what formerly frightened you. What was The formerly bitter will become sweet; and, enlightened by grace, you will see the emptiness of worldly joys, and you will learn to relish the delights of God's love. Thus does He manifest His merciful goodness; thus does He fulfill His promise to us.
The annals of the Cistercian Order mention an incident which, in connection with our subject, is worth recording. Arnulph, a man of prominence in Flanders, who was strongly wedded to the things of this world, was converted by the preaching of St. Bernard. He was so touched by grace that he became a Cistercian monk. On a certain occasion he fell dangerously sick and remained unconscious for some time. The monks, believing him to be dying, administered Extreme Unction. But soon after, his consciousness returned, and he broke out into transports of praise, frequently repeating, "How true are Thy words, O merciful Jesus!" To the questions of his brethren he continued to repeat, "How true are Thy words, O merciful Jesus!" Some of them remarked that pain had made him delirious. "No, my brethren," he exclaimed; "I am conscious, I am in full possession of my senses, and again I assure you that all the words Jesus has uttered are true."
"But we do not doubt this," said the monks; "why do you repeat it so often?"
"God tells us in the Gospel," he answered, "that he who forsakes earthly affections for love of Him shall receive a hundredfold in this world, and in the world to come, life everlasting, and I have already experienced the truth of His promise. Great as my present pains are, I would not exchange them, with the anticipation of Heavenly sweetness which they have procured me, for a hundred or a thousand fold of the pleasures I forsook in the world. If a guilty sinner like me receives such sweetness and consolation in the midst of his pains, what must be the joys of perfect souls?" The monks marveled to hear a man of no learning speak so wisely, but recognized in his words the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.Therefore, we must conclude that the just, though deprived of earthly blessings, enjoy the rewards promised to virtue in this life. To convince you more fully of this we shall treat in the following chapters of the twelve privileges attached to virtue in this world. Taken as a whole, they are the twelfth motive for practicing virtue. We shall treat of each, however, in a separate chapter. Though some experience in the practice of virtue is necessary to comprehend what we are about to say, yet the want of it may be supplied by our faith in the Holy Scriptures, which firmly establish the doctrine we are teaching.