The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 28. Of Those Who Refuse
to Practice Virtue
because They Love the World
If we examine the hearts of those who refuse to practice virtue, we shall frequently find a delusive love for the world to be one of the chief causes of their faint-heartedness, I call it a delusive love because it is founded on that imaginary good which men suppose they will find in the things of this world. Let them examine with closer attention these objects of their affection, and they will soon recognize that they have been pursuing shadows. If we study the happiness of the world, even under its most favorable aspects, we shall find that it is ever accompanied by six drawbacks, which tend very much to lessen its sweetness. No one will question the truth of this, for who can deny that the happiness of this life is brief, that it is exposed to changes, that it leads to danger or blindness, and that it frequently ends in sin and deceit?
As to the first of these, who will say that that is enduring which at best must end with the brief career of man on earth? Ah! We all know the shortness of human life, for how few attain even a hundred years? There have been popes who reigned but a month; bishops who have survived their consecration but little longer; and married persons whose funerals have followed their weddings in still less time. These are not remarkable occurrences of the past only; they are witnessed in every age. Let us suppose, however, that your life will be one of the longest. "What," asks St. Chrysostom, "are one hundred, two hundred, four hundred years spent in the pleasures of this world compared to eternity?" For "if a man live many years, and have rejoiced in them all, he must remember the darksome time, and the many days; which when they shall come, the things passed shall be accused of vanity." (Eccles. 11:8).
All happiness, however great, is but vanity when compared to eternity. Sinners themselves acknowledge this: "Being born, forthwith we ceased to be; we are consumed in our wickedness." (Wis. 5:13). How short, then, will this life seem to the wicked! It will appear as if they had been hurried immediately from the cradle to the grave. All the pleasures and satisfactions of this world will then seem to them but a dream. Isaias admirably expressed this when he said, "As he that is hungry dreameth and eateth, but when he is awake his soul is empty; and as he that is thirsty dreameth and drinketh, and after he is awake is yet faint with thirst, and his soul is empty, so shall be the multitude that fought against Mount Sion." (Is. 29:8). Their prosperity will be so brief that it will seem like a fleeting dream. What more, in fact, remains of the glory of monarchs and of princes? "Where," asks the prophet, "are the princes of the nations, and they that rule over the beasts that are upon the earth? They that take their diversion with the birds of the air; that hoard up silver and gold wherein men trust, and there is no end of their getting; that work in silver and are solicitous, and their works are unsearchable? They are cut off and are gone down to Hell, and others are risen up in their place." (Baruch 3:16-20).
What has become of the wise men, the scholars, the searchers into the secrets of nature? Where is the famous Alexander? Where is the mighty Assuerus? Where are the Caesars and the other kings of the earth? What does it now avail them that they lived in pomp and glory, that they had legions of soldiers, and servants, and flatterers almost without number? All have vanished like a shadow or a dream. In one moment all that constitutes human happiness fades away as the mist before the morning sun. Behold, then, dear Christian, how brief it is.
Consider also the innumerable changes to which human happiness is exposed in this valley of tears, this land of exile, this tempestuous sea which we call the world. The days of man on earth scarcely suffice to number his sorrows, for almost every hour brings new cares, new anxieties, or new miseries. Who can fitly describe these? Who can count all the infirmities of the body, all the passions of the soul, all the disasters which come upon us not only from our enemies, but even from our friends and from ourselves`! One disputes your inheritance; another attempts your life, You are pursued by hatred, calumny, envy, revenge, and by a lying tongue, the most dangerous of all.
Add to these miseries the innumerable accidents which daily befall us. One man loses an eye; another an arm; a third one is thrown from a horse or falls from a window; while still another loses all he possesses through succoring a friend. If you would know more of these miseries, ask worldlings to tell you the sum of their sorrows and their joys. If balanced in the scales of truth, you will find that their disappointments far outweigh their pleasures.
Since, then, human life is so short, and so constantly beset with miseries, what possibility is there of knowing real happiness in this world? The vicissitudes of which we have been speaking are common to the good and the wicked, for both sail on the same sea and are exposed to the same storms. There are other miseries, however, which, as the fruits of iniquity, are the portion of the wicked. "We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction," they tell us by the Wise Man, "and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known," (Wis. 5:7). Thus, while the just pass from a paradise in this i life to Heaven in the next, from the peace of virtue to the rest of their eternal reward, the wicked pass from a hell in this life to an eternal Hell in the next, from the torments of an evil conscience to the unspeakable tortures of the undying worm.
Different causes multiply the miseries of the sinner. God, who is a just Judge, sends them suffering, that crime may not remain unavenged; for though the punishment of sin is generally reserved for the next world, it sometimes begins in this. The government of Divine Providence equally embraces nations and individuals. Thus we see that sin, when it has become general, brings upon the world universal scourges, such as famines, wars, floods, pestilences and heresies. God also frequently inflicts on individuals punishments proportioned to their crimes. For this reason He said to Cain, "If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin"-----that is, thy punishment – "forthwith be present at the door?" (Gen. 4:7). Moses gave a like warning to the Jewish people: "Thou shalt know that the Lord thy God is a strong and faithful God, keeping his covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments, unto a thousand generations; and repaying forthwith them that hate him, so as to destroy them without further delay, immediately rendering to them what they deserve." (Deut. 7:9-10).
Observe how strongly the idea of punishment in this life is shown by the expressions forthwith, without delay, immediately. They clearly indicate that besides the future punishment of their crimes, the wicked will suffer for them even in this world. Hence the many calamities which they endure. Hence the incessant trials, anxieties, fatigues, and necessities, of which they are keenly sensible, and which, in their blindness, they regard as the inevitable conditions of nature rather than the punishment of their sins. For as they do not recognize natural advantages as benefits from God, and therefore do not thank Him for them, neither do they regard the calamities which overtake them as the marks of His displeasure, and consequently receive no benefit from them.
Other misfortunes, such as imprisonment, banishment, loss of fortune, come upon the wicked through God's representatives upon earth, the ministers of justice. Dearly bought, then, is the pleasure of sin, for which they pay a hundredfold even in this life.
Man's irregular appetites and passions are another and inexhaustible source of afflictions. What, in fact, can you expect from immoderate affections, inordinate sorrow, groundless fears, uncertain hopes, unreasonable solicitude, but violent shocks and continual anxieties which take from man all freedom and peace of heart? Living in the midst of tumult, he scarcely ever prays, he knows not the sweets of repose. From man himself, from his uncontrolled appetites, spring all these miseries. Judge, then, what happiness is possible under such conditions.
Were there only bodily sufferings to harass us, we would not have so much reason to fear. But the world is full of dangers that are far more terrible, because they menace the soul. Of these the prophet spoke when he said, "He shall rain snares upon sinners." (Ps. 10:7). How numerous must be these snares which the holy king compares to drops of rain! He expressly tells us that they shall rain upon sinners, for they are so indifferent in watching over their hearts and guarding their senses, so careless in avoiding the occasions of sin or providing themselves with spiritual remedies, that they rush into the very midst of the flames of the world, and therefore cannot but encounter a thousand dangers.
Snares exist for them everywhere-----in youth, in old age; in riches, in poverty; in honor, in dishonor; in society, in solitude; in adversity, in prosperity; in the eyes, in the tongue, in all the senses. Were God to enlighten us as He did St. Anthony, we would see the world covered with snares like a network, and we would exclaim with the holy solitary: "Who, O Lord, can avoid all these?" Behold the cause of the destruction of the many souls who daily perish ! St. Bernard said with tears that there was hardly one ship out of ten lost on the sea, but on the ocean of life there is hardly one soul saved out of ten. Who, then, will not tremble in the midst of so many perils? Who will not seek to avoid the treacherous snares of this world? Who will venture to go unarmed into the midst of so many enemies? Who will not fly from this Egypt (Cf. Ex. 7), from this Babylon (Cf. Jer. 25), from the flames of this Sodom and Gomorrha? (Cf. Gen. 19). "Can a man," says Solomon, "hide fire in his bosom, and his garments not burn? Or can he walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burnt?" (Prov. 6:27-28). "He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled with it, and he that hath fellowship with the proud shall put on pride."(Ecclus. 13:1).
The blindness and darkness which prevail in the world render these snares still more dangerous. This blindness of worldlings is represented by the Egyptian darkness, which was so thick that it could be felt, and which, during the three days it lasted, prevented everyone from leaving the place in which he was or beholding the face of his neighbor. (Cf. Ex. 10:21-23). The darkness which reigns in the world is even more palpable. For could there be greater blindness than to believe what we believe and yet live as we are living?
Is it not a blindness equal to madness to pay so much attention to men and to be so wholly regardless of God? To be so careful in the observance of human laws and so indifferent in the observance of God's laws? To labor so earnestly for the body, which is but dust, and to neglect the soul, which is the image of the Divine Majesty? To amass treasure upon treasure for this life, which may end tomorrow, and to lay up nothing for the life to come, which will endure for all eternity? To live as if we were never to die, wholly forgetful of the irrevocable sentence which immediately follows death? If his life were never to end, the sinner could scarcely act with more unbridled license. Is it not absolute blindness to sacrifice an eternal kingdom for the momentary gratification of a sinful appetite? To be so careful of one's estate and so careless of one's conscience? To desire that all we possess should be good except our own life?
The world is so full of such blindness that men seem bewitched. They have eyes, and see not; they have ears, and hear not. They have eyes as keen as those of the eagle in discerning the things of this world; but they are as blind as beetles to the things of eternity. Like St. Paul, who could see nothing, though his eyes were open, when he was thrown to the ground on his way to Damascus, their eyes are open to this life, but utterly blind to the life to come.
In the midst of such darkness and so many snares, what can worldlings expect but to stumble and fall? This is one of the greatest miseries of life, one that should inspire us with strong aversion for the world. St. Cyprian, desiring to excite in a friend contempt for the world, makes use of this argument only. (L. 2 Ep. 2 ad Donat). He goes with him in spirit to a high mountain, whence he points out to him lands, seas, courts of justice, palaces and public places, all defiled with the abominations of sin. At the same time he shows his friend, from this spectacle, how justly such a world merits his contempt, and how great should be his gratitude to God for having rescued him from all these evils.
Imitate this saint, and, rising in spirit above the world, gaze on the scene laid before you. You will be overwhelmed by the sight of so much falsehood, treachery, perjury, fraud, calumny, envy, hatred, vanity, and iniquities of every kind, but particularly by the total forgetfulness of God which prevails in the world. You will see the majority of men living like beasts, following the blind impulse of brutal passions, and living as regardless of justice or reason as if they were pagans, ignorant of the existence of God, and knowing no other object than to live and die. You will see the innocent oppressed, the guilty acquitted, the just despised, the wicked honored and exalted, and interest always more powerful than virtue. You will see justice bribed, truth disfigured, modesty unknown, arts ruined, power abused, public places corrupted.
You will see knaves, worthy of rigorous punishment, who, having become rich through fraud and rapine, are universally feared and honored. You will see creatures like these, having little more than the appearance of men, filling high places and holding honorable offices: You will see money worshipped instead of God, and its corrupting influence causing the violation of all laws, both human and Divine. Finally, you will behold in the greater part of the world justice existing only in name. Then will you understand with how much reason the prophets said, "The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doth good, no, not one." (Ps. 13:2,3). "There is no truth, and there is no mercy, and there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing, and lying, and killing, and theft, and adultery have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood." (Osee 4:1-2).
Moreover, if you would know the
better, consider him who governs it. As Jesus Christ tells us that the
devil is the prince of this world-----that is, of wicked men-----what must
be a body with such a head, a commonwealth with such a ruler? What must
it be but a den of thieves, an army of brigands, a prison of galley
a nest of serpents and basilisks? Why, then, will you not long to leave
a place so vile, so filled with treachery and snares; a place from
justice, religion, and loyalty seem banished; where all vices reign;
honesty counts for so little among friends; where the son desires the
of his father, the husband that of his wife, and the wife that of her
where the majority of men of every station rob one another under
pretexts, and where the fires of impurity, anger, cupidity, ambition,
every other passion continually rage?
Who would not fly from such a world? "Who will give me in the wilderness a lodging place … and I will leave my people," says the prophet, "because they are all adulterers, an assembly of transgressors." (Jer. 9:2). All that we have said on this subject applies to the wicked, for there are good men in all ranks of life, for whose sake God bears with the rest of mankind.
Judge, therefore, by the picture we have given you how much reason you have to hate a world so full of corruption, where evil spirits and crimes are more numerous than the atoms we behold in the rays of the sun. Nourish and increase the desire to fly, at least in spirit, from this world, saying with David, "Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?" (Ps. 54:7).
These miseries inseparable from worldly happiness should suffice to show you that it contains more gall than honey, more bitterness than sweetness. Nor have I described all the wretchedness that accompanies the pleasures of this life. In addition to its shortness it is impure, for it reduces men to the level of the brute, and raises the animal above the spiritual part of their nature. It is intoxicating, clouding the mind and distorting judgment. It is inconstant, and makes men the same. It is treacherous, for it abandons us when we need it most.
But there is one of its evil characteristics of which I must speak-----that is, its delusive appearance. It pretends to be what it is not, and promises what it cannot give. In this way it allures men to their eternal ruin. As there are real and counterfeit jewels and true and false gold, so there are real and counterfeit virtues and true and false happiness. Aristotle says that as falsehood sometimes has more appearance of truth than truth itself, so many things which are evil appear more fair than others which are really good. Such is the happiness of the world, and therefore the ignorant are allured by it, as fish are drawn to their destruction by a glittering bait. It is the nature of worldly things to present themselves under a bright and smiling exterior which promises much joy. But experience soon dissipates our illusions; we feel the sting of the hook almost as soon as we take the bait.
Take, for example, the happiness of a newly married couple. In many cases how brief it is! How soon it is interrupted by troubles and anxieties; by the cares of children; by sickness; by absence; by jealousy; by misfortunes; by grief; and sometimes by death itself, which suddenly changes it for one or the other into a desolate widowhood! How smilingly the bride goes to the altar, seeing only the exterior of what is before her! Were it given to her see the weight of responsibility which she takes upon her that day, tears would replace her smiles. Eagerly as Rebecca desired children, when they were given her, and fought for mastery over each other, she exclaimed, "Why was my desire granted me?" How many have uttered the same cry when they found the realization of their hopes so far below what they promised!
And honors, dignities, preferments – how attractive they appear! But what anxieties, what jealousies, what passions, what hardships their false splendor conceals! What shall we say of unlawful love? How pleasing is the prospect which it presents to the senses! But once the sinner has entered this dark labyrinth he finds himself astray, the victim of á thousand harrowing torments. This forbidden tree is guarded by a furious dragon. With the sword of an injured parent or a jealous husband he frequently deprives the sinner, by one blow, of his reputation, his honor, his fortune, his life, and his soul. Study also the covetous man, or the worldling whose aim is glory to be attained through arms or the favor of the great. How often do their lives form a complete tragedy, beginning with prosperity and ending in ruin! Truly the cup of Babylon is golden without, but filled with abominations. (Cf. Apoc. 17:4).
What, then, is human glory but the song of the siren which lures men to destruction, a sweet but poisoned cup, a viper of brilliant colors breathing only venom? It attracts us only to deceive us; it elevates us only to crush us. Consider, moreover, what a return it exacts for all that it gives. Grief at the loss of a child far exceeds the joy of its birth. Loss gives us more pain than profit gives us joy. The affliction of sickness far exceeds the pleasure of health. An insult wounds us more than honor flatters us; for nature dispenses joys and sorrows so unequally that the latter affect us much more powerfully than the former. These reflections manifestly prove the delusiveness of worldly happiness.
You have here, dear Christian, a true picture of the world, however contrary it is to what the world appears to be. Judge, therefore, of its happiness, so brief, so uncertain, so dangerous, and so delusive. What is this world, then, but a land of toil, as a philosopher has wisely said, a school of vanity, an asylum of illusions, a labyrinth of errors, a prison of darkness, a highway of thieves, a stream of infected water, an ocean of perpetual storms? It is a barren soil, a stony field, a thorny wood, a meadow whose flowers conceal serpents, a garden full of blossoms but yielding no fruit, a river of tears, a fountain of cares, a deceptive poison, a perfect fiction, a pleasing frenzy. Its good is false, its evil real, its peace is restless, its security unfounded, its fears groundless, its labor profitless, its tears fruitless, its hope vain, its joy false, its grief real.
Behold what a striking representation of Hell the world affords. Hell is a place of sin and suffering, and in the world these evils also abound. "Day and night iniquity shall surround it upon its walls, and in the midst thereof are labor and injustice." (Ps. 54:11). These are the fruits the world produces, labor and injustice; these are the merchandise in which it traffics. On every side we behold sin and its punishment. Hence St. Bernard said that were it not for the hope of a better life, there would be little difference between this world and Hell. (Serm. 4 de Ascen.)
It now remains for us to prove that true happiness can only be found in God. Were men convinced of this, they would cease to pursue the pleasures of this world. My intention is to prove this important truth less by the authorities and testimonies of faith than by arguments drawn from reason.
It will readily be granted that no creature can enjoy perfect happiness until it has attained its last end – that is, the highest degree of perfection of which it is capable. Until it has reached this it cannot enjoy rest, and therefore it cannot be perfectly happy, for it feels the want of something necessary to its completeness. Now, what is man's last end, on the attainment of which depends his happiness? That it is God is undeniable; for since He is our first beginning, He must necessarily be our last end. As it is impossible for man to have two first beginnings, so it is impossible for him to have two last ends, for this would suppose the existence of two Gods.
God, then, is man's last end, and consequently his beatitude. For since it is impossible for him to have more than one last end, it follows that in God alone can his happiness be found. As the glove is only made for the hand, and the scabbard only for the sword, so is the human heart created only for God, and in God only will it find rest. In Him alone will it know happiness. Without Him it will be poor and miserable: The reason of this is because as long as the understanding and the will, the noblest faculties of the soul and the principal seats of happiness, are unsatisfied, man cannot be at peace.
Now, it is evident that these faculties can only be completely satisfied in God. For, according to St. Thomas, the understanding can never be so filled that it will not desire to grasp more while there remains more to be learned; and the will can never love and relish so much good that it will not desire to possess more, if more be possible.
Consequently these two powers will never know rest until they have attained a universal object containing all good, which, once known and loved, leaves no other truth to be known, no other good to be desired. Hence no created thing, were it the whole universe, can satisfy man's heart. God alone, for whom he was created, can do this. Plutarch tells of a man who, having risen from the rank of a simple soldier to that of emperor, was accustomed to say that he had tried all conditions of life, and in none had he found happiness. How could it be otherwise, since in God alone, man's sole supreme end, can he find supreme rest?
Let us illustrate this by an example. Consider the needle of the compass. God has given it certain properties which cause it invariably to turn to the north. Change its direction and you will see how restless it becomes until it resumes its normal position. Man, in like manner, naturally turns to God as toward the pole of his existence, his first beginning and last end. Let his heart be directed to any other object, and he becomes a prey to trouble and disquiet. The possession and enjoyment of all the world's favors cannot give him rest. But when he returns to God, he immediately finds happiness and repose. Hence he alone will be happy who possesses God, and therefore he is nearest to happiness who is nearest to God. For this reason only the just, who ever draw near to God, and whose joy is unknown to the world, are truly happy.
To understand this more fully, remember that true happiness does not consist in sensible or corporal pleasures, as the disciples of Epicurus and Mahomet assume. In the same class we may place bad Christians whose lips deny the doctrines of these men, but whose lives are entirely in accordance with them. For do not the majority of the rich, who spend their lives in the mad pursuit of pleasure, tacitly acknowledge with Epicureans that pleasure is their last end, and with Mahometans that sensual delight is their paradise? O disciples worthy of such masters! Why do you not abhor the lives of those whose teachings you profess to condemn? If you will have the paradise of Mahomet, you must expect to lose that of Christ.
True happiness is not to be found in the body nor in corporal advantages, but in the spirit and in spiritual goods, as the greatest philosophers have asserted, and as Christianity confirms, though in a far more elevated sense. The possession of these blessings will afford you more peace and happiness than the kings of the earth know amidst their power and splendor. How many of them have testified to this truth by joyfully forsaking their crowns after tasting the sweetness of God's friendship! St. Gregory, who reluctantly left his monastery to ascend the papal throne, never ceased to sigh for his humble cell as ardently as a captive among infidels sighs for liberty and his native land.
As St. Augustine says, it is not merely the possession of goods, but the gratification of his just desires and the attainment of his real wants, that make man happy. These are to be found only in God. Whatever else man possesses, he knows not the blessing of peace. Aman, the favorite of Assuerus, and powerful by his wealth and influence, was yet so disturbed because Mardochai did not salute him that he declared he found no comfort in all he possessed. See how small a thing can poison all the happiness which prosperity gives.
Observe further how much more accessible man is to misery than to happiness in this life; for but one ungratified desire suffices to make him miserable, and so many things are required to make him happy. Is there, then, any prince or potentate sufficiently powerful to have everything according to his will and thus free himself from contradictions? Even could he bend men to his will, what would protect him from the infirmities of nature, bodily pains, and the anxieties and groundless fears to which the mind is often a prey? How can you expect to find immunity from suffering and contradiction, which the greatest monarchs, with all their power, have never attained? Only that which contains in itself all good can give you happiness. Why, then, will you seek it so far from God, who is the supreme Good?
If these reasons be insufficient to convince you, listen to Solomon, than whom no man had a greater share of worldly happiness. What are the words in which he tells us the result of his experience? "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, and all is vanity." (Eccles. 1:2). Do not hesitate to accept his testimony, for he speaks from experience. Do not imagine that you can find what he could not discover. Consider how limited anyone's knowledge must be compared to his; for was there ever a wiser, a richer, a more prosperous, a more glorious monarch than this son of David? Who ever enjoyed a greater variety of amusements? All things contributed to his pleasure, yet he gives this result of his almost unlimited prosperity: "Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity."
Can you, then, expect to realize what Solomon found impossible to attain? You live in the same world, and your resources for happiness are certainly not better than his, His pursuit of pleasure was constant, but in it he found no happiness, but rather, as St. Jerome supposes, the occasion of his fall. As men more readily accept the lessons of experience than those of reason, God may have permitted Solomon to drink so deeply at the fountain of pleasures to teach us how worthless they are, and to save others from a similar misfortune.
How long, then, O sons of men, will you be dull of heart? Why will you love vanity and seek after lies? (Cf. Ps. 4:3). Wisely does the psalmist term them vanity and lies, for if there were nothing in worldly things but vanity, which signifies nothingness, their evil would be tolerable. But their most dangerous characteristic is the false assurance with which they persuade us to believe that they are what they claim to be. In this, the world manifests its excessive hypocrisy. Hypocrites endeavor to conceal the faults they have committed, and worldlings the miseries under which they groan. Some who are sinners would pass for saints. Others who are miserable would pass for the favorites of fortune. But draw near to them, study the pulsations of their restless hearts, and you will see what a difference there is between appearances and reality.
There are plants which at a distance appear very beautiful, but touch them and they give forth a disagreeable odor. So it is with the rich and powerful of this world. When you behold the dignity of their position, the splendor of their dwellings, and the luxury of their surroundings, you would suppose them the happiest of men; but draw near to them, search the secret recesses of their souls, the hidden corners of their homes, and you will find how false is much of the happiness they seem to enjoy.
O children of men, created to the
God, redeemed by His Blood, destined to be the companions of Angels,
do you love vanity and seek after a lie? Why do you seek in false
a peace which they cannot give? Why do you leave the table of angels to
feed with beasts? Will not the calamities with which the world visits
determine you to break the chains of this cruel tyrant?
Reason and experience clearly prove that the happiness we seek is to be found only in God. Is it not madness to seek it elsewhere? "Go where you will," says St. Augustine, "visit all lands, but you will not find happiness until you go to God."
As we have now arrived at the conclusion of our arguments in favor of virtue and in praise of its rewards, let us briefly resume what we have said. As there is no good which is not included in virtue, we must regard it as a universal good, comparable only to God Himself. God contains in His Being all perfections and all good. In a certain manner the same may be said of virtue. All creatures have each some characteristic perfection. Some are beautiful, others honest, others honorable, and others agreeable. Those among them that possess the greatest number of these perfections have most claims to our love. What, then, is more worthy of our love than virtue, in which all these perfections are combined?
If we seek honesty, what is more honest than virtue, the root of all honesty? If we look for honor, what is more honorable than virtue? If beauty attracts us, what is more beautiful than virtue, of which Plato said that were its beauty only seen the whole world would follow it? If we desire profit, what will we find more profitable than virtue, whose hopes are so exalted and whose reward is the Sovereign Good?
"Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and glory." (Prov. 3:16). If we seek pleasure, what is comparable to the pure pleasures of a good conscience, of peace, of charity, of the liberty of the children of God, of the consolations of the Holy Spirit which always accompany virtue? Do we desire renown? "The memory of the just is with praises; and the name of the wicked shall rot." (Prov. 10:7). If we aspire to wisdom, the greatest of all wisdom is to know God and to understand how to direct our life to its last end. If we would have the esteem and affection of men, nothing will secure it more effectually than virtue; for, to use a comparison of Cicero, as the corporal beauty we admire results from the regularity and symmetry in the members of the body, so from the order and regularity of a good life results a beauty which is pleasing not only to God and the Angels, but even to the wicked and to our very enemies.
Virtue is an absolute good; it admits of no alloy of evil. For this reason God sends to the just this short but glorious message: "Say to the just man that it is well." (Is. 3:10). In all things, even in pain and toil, he shall find good, and therefore happiness, because "to them that love God all things work together unto good." (Rom. 8:28). Though the elements war upon him, and though the heavens fall, he can hold up his head without fear, for the day of his redemption is at hand. He shall be delivered from supreme evil, which is the company of Satan, for God, the Supreme Good, will be his portion. God the Father will adopt him as His son; God the Son will receive him as His brother; and God the Holy Ghost will dwell in him as His temple. Having sought first the kingdom of God and His justice, every blessing has been given to him. From all things he has drawn profit. Every creature has been an aid to him in serving God. Will you, then, be so cruel as to deprive yourself of a help so powerful and so profitable?
As philosophers tell us, good is the object of our will, which is the seat of love. Consequently the better a thing is, the more deserving it is of our love. What, then, has so corrupted your will that it rejects this incomparable good? Why will you not imitate David, who, though he had the care of a kingdom, tells us that he had the law of the Lord in the midst of his heart? (Cf. Ps. 39:9). He put all other considerations aside, and gave to virtue the noblest place, the center of his heart. How different is the conduct of worldlings, who give vanity the first place in their hearts, and God's law the lowest!
Do you desire any other motive to persuade you to follow this wise example and embrace so great a good? If you consider obligation, can there be any greater than the obligation which binds us to serve God because of what He is in Himself? We have already shown you that all other obligations compared to this are as if they did not exist. If you can be moved by benefits, what benefits are comparable to those you have received from God? Besides the grand benefits of creation and redemption, have you any good of soul or body that is not from Him? If interest be your aim, what greater could you have than to avoid eternal misery and gain eternal joy? If you aspire to happiness in this life, what happiness equals that of the just? The least of the privileges of virtue which we have described affords more true happiness than the possession of all the treasures of the world. If you reject these evidences in favor of virtue, you do so in willful blindness, for you close your eyes to the light of truth.