The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Chapter 3. The Third Motive
which Obliges us to Serve God:
Another motive which obliges man to serve God is the benefit of preservation. God gave you being, and still preserves it to you, for you are as powerless to subsist without Him as you were incapable of coming into existence without Him. The benefit of preservation is not less than that of creation. It is even greater, for your creation was but a single act, while your preservation is a continuous manifestation of God's abiding love. If, then, your creation demands from you so great a return of gratitude, who can reckon the debt you owe for the gift of preservation? There is not a movement of your eye, there is not a step you take, which is not by His power. Far if you do not believe that it is through Him that you live and act, you are no longer a Christian; and if, believing it, you continue deliberately to offend your Benefactor, how can I say what you are?
If a man on the top of a high tower held another suspended by a small cord over an abyss, do you think the latter would dare to address injurious words to him who held him thus suspended? How is it, then, that you, whose existence hangs by a thread which God can sever at any moment, dare excite the anger of this infinite Majesty by outraging Him with the very benefits He mercifully preserves to you?
The goodness of this sovereign Being is so great, says St. Denis, that while creatures are offending Him and madly rebelling against His will, He continues to give them the power and strength which they use to resist Him. How, then, can you be so rash, so ungrateful as to turn against God the blessings with which He has loaded you? Oh! Incredible blindness! Oh! Senseless rebellion–----that the members would conspire against their Head, for which they ought to be ready to make any sacrifice!
But a time will come when God's outraged patience shall be avenged. You have conspired against God. It is just that He should arm the universe against you, that all creatures should rise up against you to avenge their Creator. They who closed their eyes to the sweet light of His mercy while it still shone upon them and allured them by so many benefits will justly behold it when, too late for amendment, they shall be groaning under the severity of His justice.
Consider in addition to this benefit the rich and delightful banquet of nature prepared for you by your Creator. Everything in this world is for man's use, directly or indirectly. Insects serve as food for birds, which in their turn serve as food for man. In like manner the grass of the fields supports the animals destined also for man's service. Cast your eye upon this vast world, and behold the abundance of your possessions, the magnificence of your inheritance. All that move upon the earth, or swim in the water, or fly in the air, or live under the sun are made for you.
Every creature is a benefit of God, the work of His Providence, a ray of His beauty, a token of His mercy, a spark of His love, a voice which proclaims His magnificence. These are the eloquent messengers of God continually reminding you of your obligations to Him. "Everything," says St. Augustine, "in Heaven and on earth calls upon me to love Thee, O Lord! And the universe unceasingly exhorts all men to love Thee, that none may exempt themselves from this sweet law."
Oh! That you had ears to hear the voice of creatures appealing to you to love God. Their expressive silence tells you that they were created to serve you, while yours is the sweet duty of praising your common Lord not only in your own name but in theirs also. I flood your days with light, the heavens declare, and your nights I illumine with the soft radiance of my stars. By my different influences all nature bears fruit in season for your necessities.
I sustain your breath, the air tells you; with gentle breezes I refresh you and temper your bodily heat. I maintain an almost infinite variety of birds to delight you with their beauty, to ravish you with their songs, and to feed you; with their flesh. I maintain for your nourishment innumerable fishes, the water exclaims. I water your lands, that they may give you their fruit in due season. I afford you an easy passage to distant countries; that you may add their riches to those of your own.
But what says the earth, this common mother of all things, this vast storehouse of the treasures of nature? Surely she may tell you: Like a good mother I bear you in my arms; I prepare food for all your necessities; I procure the concurrence of the heavens and all the elements for your welfare. Never do I abandon you, for after supporting you during life, I receive you in death and in my own bosom give you a final resting place.
Thus can the whole universe with one voice cry out: Behold how my Master and Creator has loved you. He has created me for your happiness, that I might serve you, and that you in your turn might love and serve Him; for I have been made for you, and you have been made for God.
This is the voice of all creatures. Will you be deaf to it? Will you be insensible to so many benefits? You have been loaded with favors. Do not forget the debt you thence contract. Beware of the crime of ingratitude. Every creature, says Richard of St. Victor, addresses these three words to man: Receive, give, beware. Receive the benefit; give thanks for it; and beware of the punishment of ingratitude.
Epictetus, a pagan philosopher, fully appreciated this truth. He teaches us to behold the Creator in all His creatures, and to refer to Him all the blessings we receive from them. "When you are warned," he says, "of a change in the atmosphere by the redoubled cries of the crow, it is not the crow, but God who warns you. And if the voice of men gives you wise counsel and useful knowledge, it is also God who speaks. For He has given them this wisdom and knowledge, and, therefore, you must recognize His power in the instruments He wills to employ. But when He wishes to acquaint you with matters of greater moment He chooses more noble and worthy messengers."
The same philosopher adds, "When you will have finished reading my counsels, say to yourself: It is not Epictetus the philosopher who tells me all these things; it is God. For whence in fact has he received the power to give these counsels but from God? Is it not God Himself, therefore, Who speaks to me through him?" Such are the sentiments of Epictetus. Should not a Christian blush to be less enlightened than a pagan philosopher? Surely it is shameful that they who are illumined by faith should not see what was so clear to them who had no other guide than the light of simple reason.
Since, then, every creature is a benefit from God, how can we live surrounded by these proofs of His love, and yet never think of Him? If, wearied and hungry, you seated yourself at the foot of a tower, and a beneficent creature from above sent you food and refreshment, could you forbear raising your eyes to your kind benefactor? Yet God continually sends down upon you blessings of every kind.
Find me, I pray you, but one thing which does not come from God, which does not happen by His special Providence. Why is it, then, that you never raise your eyes to this indefatigable and generous Benefactor? Ah! We have divested ourselves of our own nature, so to speak, and have fallen into worse than brute insensibility. I blush, in truth, to say what we resemble in this particular, but it is good for man to hear it. We are like a herd of swine feeding under an oak. While their keeper is showering down acorns, they greedily devour them, grunting and quarrelling with one another, yet never raising their eyes to the master who is feeding them. Oh! Brute like ingratitude of the children of Adam! We have received the light of reason, and an upright form. Our head is directed to Heaven, not to earth, which ought to teach us to raise the eyes of our soul to the abode of our Benefactor.
Would that irrational creatures did not excel us in this duty! But the law of gratitude, so dear to God, is so deeply impressed on all creatures that we find this noble sentiment even in the most savage beasts. What nature is more savage than that of a lion? Yet Appian, a Greek author, tells us that a certain man took refuge in a cave, where he extracted a thorn from the foot of a lion. Grateful for the kindness, the noble animal ever after shared his prey with his benefactor while he remained in the cave. Some years later this man, having been charged with a crime, was condemned to be exposed to wild beasts in the amphitheater. When the time of execution arrived, a lion which had been lately captured was let loose on the prisoner. Instead of tearing his victim to pieces he gazed at him intently, and, recognizing his former benefactor, he gave evident signs of joy, leaping and fawning upon him as a dog would upon his master. Moved by this spectacle, the judges, on hearing his story, released both man and lion. Forgetful of his former wildness, the lion, until his death, continued to follow his master through the streets of Rome without offering the slightest injury to anyone.
A like instance of gratitude is related of another lion that was strangling in the coils of a serpent when a gentleman riding by came to his rescue and killed the serpent. The grateful animal, to show his devotion, took up his abode with his deliverer and followed him wherever he went, like a faithful dog. One day the gentleman set sail, leaving the lion behind him on the shore. Impatient to be with his master, the faithful animal plunged into the sea, and, being unable to reach the vessel, was drowned.
What instances could we not relate of the fidelity and gratitude of the horse! Pliny, in his Natural History [8, 40], tells us that horses have been seen to shed tears at the death of their masters, and even to starve themselves to death for the same reason. Nor are the gratitude and fidelity of dogs less surprising. Of these the same author relates most marvelous things. He gives, among other examples, an instance which occurred in his own time at Rome. A man condemned to death was allowed in prison the companionship of his dog. The faithful animal never left him, and even after death remained by the lifeless body to testify to his grief. If food were given to him he immediately brought it to his master and laid it on his lifeless lips. Finally, when the remains were thrown into the Tiber, he plunged into the river, and, having placed himself beneath the body, struggled till the last to keep it from sinking. Could there be gratitude greater than this?
Now, if beasts, with no other guide than natural instinct, thus show their love and gratitude for their masters, how can man, possessing the superior guidance of reason, live in such forgetfulness of his Benefactor? Will he suffer the brute creation to give him lessons in fidelity, gratitude, and kindness? Moreover, will he forget that the benefits he receives from God are incomparably superior to those which animals receive from men? Will he forget that his Benefactor is so infinite in His excellence, so disinterested in His love, overwhelming His creatures with blessings which can in no way benefit Himself? This must ever be a subject of wonder and astonishment, and evidently proves that there are evil spirits who darken our understanding, weaken our memory, and harden our heart, in order to make us forget so bountiful a Benefactor.
If it be so great a crime to forget this Lord, what must it be to insult Him, and to convert His benefits into the instruments of our offences against Him? "The first degree of ingratitude," says Seneca, "is to neglect to repay the benefits we have received; the second is to forget them; the third is to requite the benefactor with evil." But what shall we say of that excess of ingratitude which goes so far as to outrage the benefactor with his own benefits? I doubt whether one man ever treated another as we dare to treat God. What man, having received a large sum of money from his sovereign, would be so ungrateful as immediately to employ it in raising an army against him? Yet you, unhappy creatures, never cease to make war upon God with the very benefits you have received from Him.
How infamous would be the conduct of a married woman who, having received a rich present from her husband, would bestow it upon the object of her unlawful love in order to secure his affections! The world would regard it as base, unparalleled treason; yet the offence is only between equals. But what proportions the crime assumes when the affront is from a creature to God! Yet is not this the crime of men who consume their health, and who waste, in the pursuit of vice, the means that God has given them? They pervert their strength to the gratification of their pride; their beauty but feeds their heir flesh, to traffic in innocence, bargaining, even as the Jews did with Judas, for the Blood of Christ! What shall I say of their abuse of other benefits?
The sea serves but to satisfy their gluttony and their ambition; the beauty of creatures excites their gross sensuality; earthly possessions but feed their avarice; and talents, whether natural or acquired, only tend to increase their vanity and pride. Prosperity inflates them with folly, and adversity reduces them to despair. They choose the darkness of the night to hide their thefts, and the light of day to lay their snares, as we read in Job. In a word, they pervert all that God has created for His glory to the gratification of their inordinate passions.
What shall I say of their effeminate adornments, their costly fabrics, their extravagant perfumes, their sumptuous tables groaning under the weight of rare and luxurious viands? Nay, sensuality and luxury are so general that, to our shame, books are published to teach us how to sin in these respects. Men have perverted creatures from their lawful use, and instead of making God's benefits a help to virtue, they have turned them into instruments of vice. So great is the selfishness of the world that there is nothing which men do not sacrifice to the gratification of the flesh, wholly forgetful of the poor, whom God has so specially recommended to their care. Such persons never find that they are poor until they are asked for alms; at any other time there is no extravagant luxury their income cannot afford.Beware lest this terrible accusation be made against you at the hour of death! The greater the benefits you have perverted, the more severe the account you will have to render. It is a great sign of reprobation for a man to continue to abuse the favors God has bestowed upon him. To have received much, and to have made but small return, is, in a manner, already to have judged oneself. If the Ninivites shall rise in judgment against the Jews for not having done penance at Our Saviour's teaching, let us see that the same Lord shall have no reason to condemn us upon the example of beasts that love their benefactors, while we manifest such gross ingratitude to the Supreme Benefactor of all.