The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Chapter 4. The Fourth Motive
which Obliges us to Practice Virtue:
Let us now consider the supreme benefit of Divine love, the redemption of man. But I feel myself so unworthy, so unfitted to speak of such a mystery that I know not where to begin or where to leave off, or whether it were not better for me to be silent altogether. Did not man, in his lethargy, need an incentive to virtue, better would it be to prostrate ourselves in mute adoration before the incomprehensible grandeur of this mystery than vainly essay to explain it in imperfect human language. It is said that a famous painter of antiquity, wishing to represent the death of a king's daughter, painted her friends and relatives about her with mournful countenances. In her mother's face grief was still more strongly depicted. But before the face of the king he painted a dark veil to signify that his grief was beyond the power of art to express.
Now, if all that we have said so inadequately expresses the single benefit of creation, how can we with any justice represent the supreme benefit of Redemption? By a single act of His will God created the whole universe, diminishing thereby neither the treasures of His riches nor the power of His almighty arm. But to redeem the world He labored for thirty-three years by the sweat of His brow; He shed the last drop of His Blood, and suffered pain and anguish in all His senses and all His members. What mortal tongue can explain this ineffable mystery? Yet it is equally impossible for me to speak or to be silent. Silence seems ingratitude, and to speak seems rashness. Wherefore, I prostrate myself at Thy feet, O my God, beseeching Thee to supply for my insufficiency, and if my feeble tongue detract from Thy glory, while wishing to praise and magnify it, grant that Thy elect in Heaven may render to Thy mercy the worship which Thy creatures here below are incapable of offering Thee.
After God had created man and placed him in the delights of the terrestrial paradise, by the very favors which should have bound him to the service of his Creator he was emboldened to rebel against Him. For this he was driven into exile and condemned to the eternal pains of Hell. He had imitated the rebellion of Satan; therefore, it was just that he should share his punishment.
When Giezi, the servant of Eliseus, received presents from Naaman the leper, the prophet said to him: Since thou hast received Naaman's money, "the leprosy of Naaman shall also cleave to thee and to thy seed forever. And he went out from him a leper as white as snow." [4 Kg. 5: 27] God pronounced a like sentence against man; Adam wished to share the riches of Lucifer, that is, his pride and his revolt, and, in consequence, the leprosy of Lucifer, that is, the punishment of his revolt, became his portion also. By sin, therefore, man becomes like Satan–----he imitates him in his guilt, and shares in his punishment.
Having brought such misery upon himself, man became the object of the Divine compassion, for God was more moved by the condition of His fallen creature than He was indignant at the outrage offered to His goodness. He resolved to restore man and reconcile him with Himself through the mediation of His only Son. But how was reconciliation effected? Again, what human tongue can express this mercy? Through our Mediator Christ such a friendship was established between God and man that the Creator not only pardoned His creature and restored him to His grace and love, but even became one with him. Man has become so one with God that in all creation there is no union that can be compared to this. It is not only a union of grace and love, but it is a union of person also. Who could have thought that such a breach would be so perfectly repaired? Who could have imagined that two beings so widely separated by nature and sin should one day be united, not only in the same house, at the same table, and in a union of grace, but in one and the same person [that is, in Christ]?
Can we think of two beings more widely separated than God and the sinner? Yet where will we find two beings more closely united? "There is nothing," says St. Bernard, "more elevated than God, and nothing more base than the clay of which man is formed. Yet God has with such great humility clothed Himself in this clay, and the clay has been so honorably raised to God, that we may ascribe to the clay all the actions of God, and to God all the sufferings of the clay." [Super Cant. Hom. 59 et 64]
When man stood naked and trembling before his Creator, who could have made him believe that one day his unhappy nature would be united to God in one and the same person? This union was so close that even the supreme moment of the Cross could not sever it. Death dissolved the union between soul and body, but could not separate the Divinity from the humanity, for what Christ had once taken upon Himself for love of us He never abandoned.
Thus was our peace established. Thus did God apply to us the remedy for our sovereign miseries. And we owe Him more gratitude, perhaps, for the manner of applying this remedy than for the remedy itself. Yes, Lord, I am infinitely indebted to Thee for redeeming me from Hell, for reestablishing me in Thy grace, and for restoring my liberty; but I should be still more grateful, were it possible, for the manner in which Thou hast wrought these wonders. All Thy works are admirable, O Lord! And when lost in wonder at a power that seems to have reached its limit, we have only to raise our eyes to behold still another marvel which eclipses all the rest. Nor is this any disparagement of Thy power, O Lord, but rather a manifestation of Thy glory!
But what, O Lord, is the remedy Thou didst choose for my deep misery? Innumerable were the ways in which Thou couldst have redeemed me without toil or suffering; but in Thy magnificence, and to testify to Thy great love for me, Thou didst will to endure such pain and sufferings that the very thought of them bathed Thee in a sweat of blood, and at the sight of them the rocks were rent asunder. May the heavens praise Thee, O Lord, and may the Angels proclaim Thy mercies! What did our virtues avail Thee, or how wast Thou harmed by our sins? "If thou sin," says Eliu to Job, "what shalt thou hurt him! And if thy iniquities be multiplied, what shalt thou do against him? And if thou do justly, what shalt thou give him, or what shall he receive of thy hand?" [Job 35: 6-7]
This great God, so rich and powerful, so free from all evils, whose wisdom and possessions can neither be increased nor lessened, who would be equally glorious in Himself whether men and Angels praised Him forever in Heaven, or blasphemed Him forever in Hell; this great God, impelled by no necessity, but yielding to His love, came down from Heaven to this place of exile, clothed Himself with our nature when we were His enemies, took upon Himself our infirmities, and even death, and to heal our wounds endured torments more terrible than any that had ever before been borne, or that ever again will be undergone.
It was for me, O Lord, that Thou wast born in a stable, laid in a manger, and circumcised on the eighth day after Thy birth! For me wast Thou driven from Thy country and exiled to Egypt. For my sake Thou didst fast and watch, shedding bitter tears, and sweating Blood from every pore. For me Thou wast seized as a malefactor, forsaken, sold, denied, betrayed, dragged from tribunal to tribunal, buffeted, spat upon, bruised with blows, and delivered to the gibes of an infamous rabble. For me Thou didst die upon a Cross, in the sight of Thy most holy Mother, enduring poverty so great that even the consolation of a drop of water was denied to Thy burning lips. Thou wert abandoned by the world, and so great was Thy desolation that even Thy Father seemed to have forsaken Thee. At such a cost, O God, didst Thou restore to me my life!
Can we, without the deepest grief, behold this spectacle–----God hanging as a malefactor upon an infamous gibbet? We could not withhold our compassion from a criminal who had brought such misfortune upon himself; and if our compassion be greater when the victim is innocent, and his excellence known to us, what must have been the astonishment and grief of the Angels, with their knowledge of His perfection, when they saw Him overwhelmed with ignominy and condemned to die upon the Cross?
The two cherubim, placed by God's command [Ex. 25: 18] on each side of the ark, looking toward the mercy-seat in wonder and admiration, are an emblem of the awe with which the Heavenly spirits were seized at the sight of God's supreme mercy in becoming the propitiation for the world on the sacred wood of His Cross.
Who, then, can contain his astonishment or forbear to exclaim with Moses: "O Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion, and true!" [Ex. 34: 6] Who would not, like Elias [3 Kg. 19: 13], cover his eyes did he see God passing, not in the splendor of His majesty, but in the depths of His humiliation; not in the might of His power, moving mountains and rending rocks, but as a malefactor, delivered to the cruelties of a brutal multitude?
While, then, we confess our inability to understand this incomprehensible mystery, will we not open our hearts to the sweet influence of such boundless love, and make, as far as we are able, a corresponding return? Oh! Abyss of charity! Oh! Boundless mercy! Oh! Incomprehensible goodness! By Thy ignominy, O Lord, Thou hast purchased honor for me. By Thy Blood Thou hast washed away the stains of my sins. By Thy death Thou hast given me life. By Thy tears Thou has delivered me from eternal weeping. O best of Fathers! How tenderly Thou loved Thy children. O good Shepherd, who hast given Thyself as food to Thy flock! O faithful Guardian, who didst lay down Thy life for the creatures of Thy care! With what tears can I return Thy tears? With what life can I repay Thy life? What are the tears of a creature compared to the tears of his Creator, or what is the life of a man compared to that of his God?
Think not, O man, that thy debt is less because God suffered for all men as well as for thee. Each of His creatures was as present to His Divine mind as if He died for him alone. His charity was so great, the holy Doctors tell us, that had but one man sinned He would have suffered to redeem him. Consider, therefore, what thou owest a Master Who has done so much for thee and Who would have done still more had thy welfare required it.
Tell me, O ye creatures, whether a greater benefit, a more generous favor, a more binding obligation can be conceived. Tell me, O ye Celestial choirs, whether God has done for you what He has done for us? Who, then, will refuse to give himself without reserve to the service of such a Master? "I thrice owe Thee all that I am, O my God!" exclaims St. Anselm. "By my creation I owe Thee all that I am. Thou hast confirmed this debt by redeeming me; and by promising to be my eternal reward, Thou dost compel me to give myself wholly to Thee. Why, then, do I not give myself to One who has such a just claim to my service? Oh! Insupportable ingratitude! Oh! Invincible hardness of the human heart, which will not be softened by such benefits! Metals yield to fire; iron is made flexible in the forge; and diamonds are softened by the blood of certain animals. But oh! Heart more insensible than stone, harder than iron, more adamant than the diamond, wilt thou not be moved by the fire of Hell, or by the benefits of the tenderest of Fathers, or by the Blood of the spotless Lamb immolated for love of thee?"
Since Thy mercy and Thy love have been so powerfully manifested for us, O Lord, how is it that there are men who do not love Thee, who forget Thy benefits or use them to offend Thee? To whom will they give their love, if they refuse it to Thee? What can touch them, if they are insensible to Thy benefits? Ah! How can I refuse to serve a God Who has so lovingly sought me and redeemed me? "And I," says Our Saviour, "if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself." [Jn. 12: 32] With what strength, Lord, with what chains? With the strength of My love, with the chains of My benefits, "I will draw them," says the Lord by His prophet, "with the cords of Adam, with the bands of love." [Osee 11: 4] Ah! Who will resist these chains, who will refuse to yield to these mercies? If, then, it be so great a crime not to love this sovereign Lord, what must it be to offend Him, to break His Commandments? How can you use your hands to offend Him Whose hands are so full of benefits for you, Whose hands were nailed to the Cross for you?
When the unhappy wife of the Egyptian minister sought to lead Joseph into sin, the virtuous youth replied, "Behold, my master hath delivered all things to me, and knoweth not what he hath in his own house: Neither is there anything which is not in my power, or that he hath not delivered to me, but thee, who art his wife: how then can I do this wicked thing, and sin against my God?" [Gen. 39: 8-9] Mark the words of Joseph. He does not say: "I should not" or "It is not just that I offend Him," but "How can I do this wicked thing?" From this let us learn that great favors should not only deprive us of the will, but, in a measure, even of the power, to offend our benefactor.
If, therefore, the son of Jacob felt such gratitude for perishable benefits, what should be ours for the immortal blessings God has bestowed upon us? Joseph's master entrusted him with all his possessions. God has given us not only His possessions but Himself. What is there on earth that He has not made for us? Earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, tides, birds, beasts, fishes–----in short, all things under Heaven are ours, and even the riches of Heaven itself, the glory and happiness of eternity. "All things are yours," says the Apostle, "whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; for all are yours" [1 Cor. 3: 22], for all these contribute to your salvation.
And we not only possess the riches of Heaven, but the Lord of Heaven. He has given Himself to us in a thousand ways: as our Father, our Teacher, our Saviour, our Master, our Physician, our Example, our Food, our Reward. In brief, the Father has given us the Son, and the Son has made us worthy to receive the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost has united us to the Father and the Son, the Source of every grace and blessing.
Again, since God has given you all the benefits you enjoy, how can you use these benefits to outrage so magnificent a Benefactor? If you are unmindful of the crime of your ingratitude, you are more ungrateful than the savage beasts, colder and more hardened than senseless objects. St. Ambrose, after Pliny, relates the story of a dog that had witnessed the murder of his master. All night the faithful animal remained by the body, howling most piteously, and on the following day, when a concourse of people visited the scene, the dog noticed the murderer among them, and falling upon him with rage, thus led to the discovery of his crime. If poor animals testify so much love and fidelity for a morsel of bread, will you return offences for Divine benefits? If a dog will manifest such indignation against his master's murderer, how can you look with indifference on the murderers of your sovereign Lord?
And who are these murderers? None other than your sins. Yes, your sins apprehended Him and bound Him with ignominious fetters, loaded Him with infamy, overwhelmed Him with outrages, bruised Him with blows, and nailed Him to the Cross. His executioners could never have accomplished this without the fatal aid of your sins. Will you, then, feel no hatred for the barbarous enemies who put your Saviour to death? Can you look upon this Victim immolated for you, without feeling an increase of love for Him? All that He did and suffered upon earth was intended to produce in our hearts a horror and detestation of sin. His hands and feet were nailed to the Cross in order to bind sin.
Will you render all His sufferings and labors fruitless to you? Will you remain in the slavery of sin when He purchased your freedom at the price of His Blood? Will you not tremble at the name of sin, which God has wrought such wonders to efface? What more could God have done to turn men from sin than to place Himself nailed to the Cross between them and this terrible evil? What man would dare to offend God, were Heaven and Hell open before him? Yet a God nailed to a Cross is a still more terrible and appalling sight. I know not what can move one who is insensible to such a spectacle.