The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Chapter 2: The Second Motive
which Obliges us to Practice Virtue and to Serve God:
We are obliged to practice virtue and keep God's Commandments not only because of what God is in Himself, but because of what He is to us, because of His innumerable benefits to us.
The first of these benefits is our creation, which obliges man to give himself wholly to the service of his Creator, for in justice he stands indebted to Him for all he has received; and since he has received his body with all its senses, and his soul with all its faculties, he is obliged to employ them in the service of his Creator, or incur the guilt of theft and ingratitude towards his gracious Benefactor. For if a man builds a house, who should have the use and profit of it, if not he who built it? To whom does the fruit of a vine belong, if not to him who has planted it? Whom should children serve, if not the father who gave them being? Hence the law gives a father almost unlimited power over his children, so natural does it seem that he should be master of an existence of which he is the author.
What, then, should be the authority of God, the sovereign Author of all being in Heaven and on earth? And if, as Seneca remarks, those who receive benefits are obliged to imitate good soil and return with interest what they have received, what return can we make to God, when we have nothing to offer Him but what we have received from His infinite goodness? What, therefore, must we think of those who not only make no return to their Creator, but use His benefits to offend Him? Aristotle tells us that man can never make adequate return to his parents or to the gods for the favors received from them. How, then, can we make a suitable return to the great God, the Father of us all, for the innumerable blessings bestowed upon us? If disobedience to parents be so grievous a crime, how heinous must it not be to rebel against this gracious God!
He Himself complains of this ingratitude by the mouth of His prophet: "The son honoreth the father, and the servant his master: if, then, I be a father, where is My honor? And if I be a master, where is My fear?" [Mal. 1: 6] Another servant of God, filled with indignation at like ingratitude, exclaims, "Is this the return thou makest to the Lord, O foolish and senseless people? Is not He thy Father, that hath possessed thee, and made thee, and created thee?" [Deut. 32: 6] This reproach is addressed to those who never raise their eyes to Heaven to consider what God is, who never look upon themselves in order to know themselves. Knowing nothing, therefore, of their origin or the end for which they are created, they live as though they themselves were the authors of their being.
This was the crime of the unfortunate king of Egypt to whom God said, "Behold, I come against thee, Pharao, king of Egypt, thou great dragon that liest in the midst of thy rivers and sayest: The river is mine, and I made myself." [Ezech. 29: 3] This is, at least practically, the language of those who act as though they were the principle of their own being, and who refuse to recognize any obligation to serve their Maker.
How different were the sentiments of St. Augustine, who by studying his origin was brought to the knowledge of Him from whom he had received his being! "I returned to myself," he says, "and entered into myself, saying: What art thou? And I answered: A rational and mortal man. And I began to examine what this was, and I said: O my Lord and my God, Who has created so noble a creature as this? Who, O Lord, but Thou? Thou, O my God, hast made me! I have not made myself. What art Thou, Thou by Whom I live and from Whom all things receive being? Can anyone create himself or receive his being but from Thee? Art Thou not the source of all being, the fountain whence all life flows? For whatsoever has life lives by Thee, because nothing can live without Thee. It is Thou, O Lord, that hast made me, and without Thee nothing is made! Thou art my Creator, and I am Thy creature. I thank Thee, O my Creator, because Thy hands have made and fashioned me! I thank Thee, O my Light, for having enlightened me and brought me to the knowledge of what Thou art and what I myself am!"
This, then, the first of God’s benefits, is the foundation of all the others, for all other benefits presuppose existence, which is given us at our creation. Let us now consider the acknowledgment God demands of us, for He is no less rigid in requiring our gratitude than He is magnificent in bestowing His benefits; and this is an additional proof of His love, for our gratitude results in no advantage to Him, but enables us to profit by the favors we have received, and thus merit other graces from His infinite goodness.
Thus we read in the Old Testament that whenever He bestowed a favor upon His people He immediately commanded them to keep it in remembrance. When He brought the Israelites out of Egypt He commanded them to commemorate by a solemn festival every year their happy deliverance from bondage. When He slew the firstborn of the Egyptians and spared the Israelites, He commanded that the latter, in return, should consecrate their firstborn to Him. When He sent them manna from Heaven to sustain them in the wilderness, He ordered that a portion of it should be put in a vessel and kept in the tabernacle as a memorial to generations of this extraordinary favor. After giving them victory over Amalec He told Moses to write it for a memorial in a book, and deliver it to Josue.
Since, therefore, God so rigidly requires a continual remembrance of the temporal favors He grants us, what return of gratitude will He not demand for this immortal benefit? Such we truly call the benefit of creation, because with it we receive from God the gift of an immortal soul. The patriarchs of old were deeply sensible of this obligation of gratitude, and therefore we read that whenever God bestowed upon them any special favor or blessing they evinced their gratitude by erecting altars to His name and by rearing other monuments to commemorate His mercies to them. Even the names they gave their children expressed the favors they had received, so desirous were they that their debt of gratitude to God should never be forgotten. St. Augustine, speaking on this subject in one of his soliloquies, says, "Man should think of God as often as he breathes; for as his being is continuous and immortal, he should continually return thanks to the Author of his being."
This obligation is so deeply graven in nature that even the philosophers and sages of this world earnestly inculcate gratitude to God. Hear the counsel of Epictetus: "Be not ungrateful, O man, to this sovereign Power, but return thanks for the faculties with which He has endowed thee, for thy life itself and for all the things which sustain it, for fruits, wine, oil, and whatever advantages of fortune thou hast received from Him; but praise Him particularly for thy reason, which teaches thee the proper use and the true worth of all these things." If a pagan philosopher teaches such gratitude for benefits common to all men, what should be the gratitude of a Christian, who has received the light of faith in addition to that of reason, as well as other gifts vastly superior to those we have just mentioned?
But perhaps you will urge that these benefits common to all seem the work of nature rather than graces emanating from God; and why, you ask, should I be grateful for the general order which reigns in the world, and because things follow their natural course? This objection is unworthy of a Christian, of a pagan, of any but an unreasonable animal. Hear how the same philosopher answers it: "You will say, perhaps, that you receive all these benefits from nature. Senseless man! In saying this you but change the name of God, your Benefactor. For what is nature but God Himself, the first and original nature? Therefore, it is no excuse, ungrateful man, to urge that you are indebted, not to God, but to nature; for without God there is no nature. Were you to receive a benefit from Lucius Seneca you would not dare to say that you were indebted to Lucius and not to Seneca. Such a subterfuge would change your benefactor's name, but would by no means cancel your obligation to him."
It is not only a motive of justice which obliges us to serve God, but our necessities force us to have recourse to Him if we would attain the perfection and happiness for which we were created.
In order to understand this more clearly, let us call to mind the general principle that creatures are not born with all their perfections. There remain many to be cultivated and developed, and only He who has begun the work can perfect it. Things instinctively go back to their first cause for their development and perfection. Plants unceasingly seek the sun, and sink their roots deep into the earth where they were formed. Fishes will not leave the element where they were engendered. Chickens seek vivifying warmth and shelter beneath their mother's wings. In like manner a lamb, until it has attained its strength, clings to the side of its ewe, distinguishing her among a thousand of the same color, arguing, doubtless, with blind instinct, that it must seek what it lacks at the source whence it has received all that it is.
This is apparent in all the works of nature, and if those of art could reason they would doubtless proceed in like manner. Were a painter to make a beautiful picture and omit the eyes, whither would the picture, were it sensible of its want, go to seek its completion? Not to the palaces of kings or princes, for all their power could not give it what it sought; no, it would seek its first cause, the master who designed it. And is not this thy position also, O rational creature? Thou art an unfinished work. Many things are lacking to the perfection of thy being. Thou hast naught of the beauty and luster which are yet to be thine. Hence thy restless, unsatisfied yearning; hence those unceasing aspirations for a higher, a better state, which arise from thy very necessities.
Yes, God let thee hunger, in order that, driven by necessity; thou mightest have recourse to Him. For this reason He did not give thee perfection at thy creation, but He withheld it only through love for thee. It was not to make thee poor, but to make thee humble; it was not to leave thee needy, but to compel thee to have recourse to Him.
If, then, thou art blind, poor, and in need, why dost thou not seek the Father Who created thee, the Artist Who designed thee, that He may satisfy thy wants and supply all that is lacking to thy perfection? Penetrated with this truth David cried out, "Thy hands have made me and formed me: give me understanding, and I will learn Thy Commandments." [Ps. 118: 73]
Thy hands have made me, the prophet would say, but the work is incomplete. The eyes of my soul are still imperfect; they see not what they ought to know. To whom shall I go in my necessities, if not to Him from Whom I have received all that I possess? Enlighten, then, my eyes, O Lord, that they may know Thee, and that the work Thou hast begun in me may be perfected. Therefore, only God can perfect the understanding, the will, and all the faculties of the soul.
It is He alone Who satisfies His creature and never fails him. With Him the creature is content in poverty, rich in destitution, happy in solitude, and though despoiled of all possessions, yet master of all things. Hence the wise man so justly says, "One is as it were rich, when he hath nothing: and another is as it were poor, when he hath great riches." [Prov. 13: 7] Rich indeed is the poor man who, like St. Francis of Assisi, has God for his inheritance, though owning naught else; but poor would he be who knew not God, though he possessed the entire universe. What do their wealth and power avail the rich and great of this world when they are a prey to anxieties which they cannot calm, a victim to appetites which they cannot satisfy? For what comfort can costly raiment, luxurious viands, and overflowing coffers bring to a troubled mind? The rich man tosses restlessly on his soft couch, and his treasure is powerless to stifle the remorse which banishes sleep. Independently, therefore, of God s benefits to us, we are, from the necessities of our nature, obliged to serve Him, if we would attain our happiness and perfection.