The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 42. Man's Duty to God
The third and noblest obligation of justice comprises man's duty to God, which includes the practice of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, and of that virtue called religion, which has for its object the worship due to God.
To love God with the affection of a dutiful son is the most secure way of fulfilling this obligation, as the most effective means of discharging the other duties of justice is to be to ourselves an upright judge, and to our neighbor a kind and watchful mother.
Consider, then, how a good son manifests his love for his father. How great is his devotion, his fear, his reverence for him! How faithfully he obeys him; how zealously and disinterestedly he serves him! With what confidence he goes to him in all his necessities! With what submission he accepts his corrections! How patiently he bears his reproofs! Only serve God with such a heart, and you will faithfully fulfill this obligation of justice.
But to attain these dispositions the following virtues seem to me indispensable: love, holy fear, confidence, zeal for the glory of God, purity of intention, the spirit of prayer, gratitude, conformity to the will of God, humility, and patience in tribulation.
Our first duty is to love God, as He has commanded us, with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole strength. (Cf. Deut. 6:5). All our faculties must cooperate in loving and serving this great Master: the understanding by frequently thinking of Him; the will by loving Him; the passions by turning their strength to His service; the senses and members by zealously executing whatever His love prescribes.
As the Memorial of a Christian Life contains a treatise on this subject, we refer the reader to it for a more complete discussion of this virtue.
After love comes fear, which in fact springs from love. For the greater our love for another, the greater is our fear not only of losing him but of offending him. See how carefully a good son avoids anything that could displease his father, or a loving wife all that could displease her husband. This fear is the guardian of innocence, and for this reason we should deeply engrave it in our souls, praying with David that the Lord may pierce our flesh with His holy fear. (Cf. Ps. 1l8:l20). This pious monarch desired that even his flesh should be penetrated with this salutary fear, that. piercing his heart like a thorn, it might unceasingly warn him against all that could lead him to offend God, the object of his love and fear. It was for this reason that the inspired author wrote, "The fear of the Lord driveth out sin." (Ecclus. l:27).
The effect of this fear is not only to make us avoid actions that are positively sinful, but even those that may lead us into evil or endanger our virtue. These words of Job, "I feared all my works, knowing that thou didst not spare the offender" (Job 9:28), testify how deeply this sentiment was imprinted in his soul.
If we are penetrated with this salutary fear it will be manifest in our bearing when we enter God's house, and particularly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We shall beware of irreverently talking or gazing about us as it we were unconscious of the dread Majesty in whose temple we are.
The love of God, as we have already said, is the first source of this fear. Servile fear, however, which is the fear, not of a son, but of a slave, is, in a measure, profitable, for it introduces filial fear as the needle introduces the thread. But we shall strengthen and confirm this sentiment of holy fear by reflecting upon the incomprehensible majesty of God, the severity of His judgments, the rigor of His justice, the multitude of our sins, and particularly our resistance to divine inspirations.
To fear we must also join confidence. Like a child who fears no danger in his father's protecting arms, we must cast ourselves into the arms of our Heavenly Father, confident that those Hands which sustain the heavens are all powerful to supply our necessities, to uphold us in temptation, and to turn all things to our profit. And why should we not have confidence in God? Is He not the most powerful as well as the most tender of fathers? If your want of merit and the number of your sins alarm and discourage you, fix your thoughts upon the goodness of God, upon His adorable Son, our Redeemer and Mediator, who died to expiate our sins.
When you are crossing a rapid stream, and the turbulence of the waters makes you dizzy, instead of looking down at the torrent you look above, and your steadiness is restored. Do likewise when disturbed by the fears we have mentioned. Do not dwell upon your unworthiness or your failings, but raise your eyes to God and consider the infinite goodness and mercy with which He deigns to apply a remedy to all our miseries. Reflect upon the truth of His words, for He has promised to help and comfort all who humbly and confidently invoke His sacred name. Consider also the innumerable benefits which you have hitherto received from His paternal hand, and let His bounty in the past inspire you to trust the future to Him with renewed hope.
Above all, consider the merits and
of Christ, which are our principal title to God's grace and mercy, and
which form the treasure whence the Church supplies the necessities of
children. It was from a confidence inspired by such motives that the
drew that strength which rendered them as firm as Mount Sion, and
them in the holy city whence they never could be moved. (Cf. Ps.
Yet, notwithstanding these powerful reasons for hope, it is deplorable
that this virtue should still be so weak in us. We lose heart at the
appearance of danger, and go down into Egypt hoping for help from
(Cf. Is. 30:2)-----that is, we turn to creatures instead of God.
many servants of God who zealously devote themselves to fasting,
and almsgiving, but few who possess the confidence with which the
ï Susanna was animated, even when condemned to death and led to
(Cf. Dan. 13). Read the Holy Scriptures, particularly the Psalms and
writings of the prophets, and you will find abundant motives for
hope in God.
Zeal consists in promoting the honor of God and striving to advance the fulfillment of His will on earth, even as it is accomplished in Heaven. If we love God we cannot but be pierced with grief to behold so many not only neglecting to obey His holy will, but even acting in a manner directly opposed to it. Full of this zeal was David when he cried out, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up." (Ps. 68:10). Strive to imitate him, doing what you can by word and example, as well as by prayer, to increase the honor of God through the salvation of souls. Thus may you hope to receive that mark, mentioned by the prophet, which will sign you as one of the elect of God. (Cf. Ezech. 9:4).
This virtue, which is intimately connected with zeal, enables us to forget ourselves in all things, and to seek first the glory of God and the accomplishment of His good pleasure, persuaded that the more we sacrifice our own interests in His service, the greater advantage and blessing we shall reap. For this reason we must examine the motives of all our actions, that we may labor purely for God, since nothing is more subtle than self-love, which insinuates itself into every work, unless we maintain a constant guard. Many who now seem rich in good works will be found very poor at the day of judgment for lack of this pure intention. This is the virtue which Our Lord symbolized when He said: "The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome." (Matt. 6:22-23).
We often see men in high positions lead irreproachable lives, carefully avoiding anything unbecoming the dignity of their station; but, in many cases, what is the motive which animates them? They see that virtue befits their position, and consequently they practice it, in order to discharge the duties of their office in a manner that will seem becoming, or to secure promotion to still greater dignities. Thus the principle of their actions is not the fear or the love of God, or obedience to His divine will, but their own interest. Such virtue may deceive men, but in the eyes of God it is as smoke; it is only the shadow of justice.
The practice of the moral virtues and the most severe mortifications are meritorious before God only inasmuch as they are animated by His Divine Spirit.
The temple of Jerusalem contained nothing which was not either of gold or covered with gold. It is no less fitting that in our souls, the living temples of the Divinity, there should be nothing that is not charity or animated by it. Let us bear in mind that God values the intention more than the action, and that the simplest work becomes noble when performed with a noble intention, while the greatest will be of little value if performed from an indifferent motive.
By endeavoring to acquire this purity of intention we shall follow the example and counsel of Our Saviour, who tells us to love as He has loved (Cf. Jn. 13:34)-----that is, purely and disinterestedly. Happy is he who imitates this noblest characteristic of the divine love. Rapid will be his growth in the likeness of God, and consequently in His love, for resemblance usually begets love. Let us rid ourselves of human respect, and, keeping God ever before our eyes, let us not suffer selfish or worldly motives to mar the merit of our good works and rob us of their reward, which is Heaven and the possession of God Himself.
As it is a difficult undertaking to acquire this virtue, we must earnestly ask it of God, especially in the Lord's Prayer, frequently repeating with fervor, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven." Beg of Him to grant you grace to imitate on earth the purity and devotion with which the heavenly choirs bless and fulfill His adorable will.
Having in another work treated more fully of this subject, I would here only urge you to turn to God in childlike prayer whenever afflictions or temptations come upon you. Strive, moreover, to maintain the spirit of prayer, and thus you will preserve a continual recollection of God. You will live in His presence, and His love will abide in your heart. Finally, prayer will enable you most faithfully and frequently to testify your filial reverence and love for your Heavenly Father.
Gratitude, which should be in our hearts and on our lips, is a virtue which excites us to praise God unceasingly for all His benefits: "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth. Let my mouth be filled with praise, that I may sing thy glory, thy greatness all the day long." (Ps. 33:1 and 70:8). Since God not only gives us life, but continues to preserve it, protecting us, lavishing blessings on us, and causing all creatures to serve our necessities and desires, is it not just that we should continually praise Him?
Thanksgiving, therefore, should be
of all our exercises, and, according to St. Basil, it should form the
of all our prayers. Morning and evening, and at all times, we should
thanks to God for His many benefits, general and particular, of nature
and of grace; but, above all, for the incomprehensible benefits of
and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Let us bear in mind that in all
these blessings He sought only our welfare. He could expect nothing; He
desired nothing from us. Out of pure love for us He gave us all.
Obedience is a virtue which renders us most pleasing to God, for it embraces the perfection of justice. We distinguish in this virtue three degrees: The first is obedience to the commandments of God, the second to His counsels, the third to His inspirations. The first is absolutely necessary for salvation; the second facilitates the observance of the commandments, for if we neglect the counsels, as far as our state permits, we risk violating the precepts. If, for instance, you avoid needlessly affirming the truth with an oath, you will more easily escape perjury. If you avoid all contentions you will assuredly secure peace and charity. If you renounce your own worldly possessions, you will not be tempted to covet those of your neighbor. If you return good for evil, you will be saved from the passion of revenge. Thus we see that the counsels form the bulwarks which guard the commandments.
If you would make your salvation
not be satisfied with observing the commandments only, but add the
of the counsels as far as your state will admit. In traversing a rapid
river you do not cross it in a direct line, for if you did so you would
be borne beyond the place at which you wished to land. Rather, you go
up the stream to have the advantage of the tide, and thus secure a safe
passage to the point at which you desire to embark. Do likewise in
things. Aim higher than is necessary, so that if you fail you may at
reach the mark of what is indispensable for salvation.
The third degree of obedience, as we have said, consists in fidelity to Divine inspirations. Good servants do not confine their obedience to the formal commands of their master, but promptly execute the least indication of his will, So should we act towards God. This is a subject, however, in which we are exposed to grave illusions by mistaking the whisperings of self-love or the suggestions of the devil for divine inspirations. Hence we must follow the counsel of St. John and "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God." (1Jn. 4:1).
We have for our guidance in this
besides Holy Scripture and the teaching of the saints, this general
The service of God embraces two kinds of acts, one of which is of our
choice, the other of obligation. However meritorious works of our own
may be, we must always select what is of obligation in preference to
This is the teaching of the Holy Spirit: "Obedience is better than sacrifices." (1Kg. 15:22). God first requires of us the faithful fulfillment of His word. When our obedience in this respect is perfect, we may follow the guidance of pious inspirations.
This fidelity to the word of God comprises, first, obedience to the commandments, without which there is no salvation; secondly, obedience to our lawful superiors, for the Apostle tells us, "He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:2); thirdly, obedience to the laws of our state, whether it be the priesthood, religion, or marriage; and, fourthly, fidelity to practices which, though not of precept, greatly facilitate the observance of the commandments.
For example, if you find, by daily reflecting upon your faults and by asking God to inspire you with the most efficacious means of correcting them, that you lead a more regular life, that you acquire more control over your passions, and that your heart becomes more inclined to virtue; while, on the other hand, your neglect of these precautions weakens your virtue, throws you back into many failings, and exposes you to the danger of relapsing into former evil habits. you cannot doubt that God calls you to these pious exercises. Experience has taught you that they are the means which He has chosen to enable you to overcome your sins and to prevent you from committing them again. God does not, it is true, formally command these practices, but He strongly exhorts you to embrace them if you would faithfully fulfill what He does command.
Again, if you find that you are self-indulgent and opposed to everything which disturbs you, and that this love of comfort hinders your spiritual progress and leads you to neglect good works because they are laborious and painful, while you indulge in culpable actions because they are attractive and pleasant, you must conclude that God calls you to practice mortification and to overcome your appetite for pleasure by penance and austerities. Examine all your propensities in this way, and you will easily discern what will be most profitable to you. Be always guided, however, in this respect, by the counsels of your superiors.
Thus we see that we are not always to choose what is best in itself, but what is best for us. Hence there are many excellent practices from which we would derive no advantage, either because they are above our strength or because God does not call us to embrace them. Then let us not soar above our state; let us aspire to what will strengthen us, not to what will overwhelm us. "Lift not up thy eyes to riches which thou canst not have," says Holy Scripture, "because they shall make themselves wings like those of an eagle, and shall fly towards heaven." (Prov. 23:5).
Among those acts which we are free to do or not to do, some are performed in public, others in secret. The former procure us temporal pleasure or advantage, while the latter bring no such reward. In general, prefer what is done in secret without any temporal recompense. You will thus preserve yourself from the snares of self-love, which, as we have already said, insinuates itself into the holiest actions. For this reason a certain man remarkable for his piety was accustomed to say, "Do you know where God is? He is where you are not." By this he meant that where self-interest has not penetrated, there only can God be sought and found.
We do not counsel you to follow this rule so rigidly as to exclude good deeds that are public or profitable. Oh, no; that would be a reprehensible extreme, for very often there is great merit in overcoming the promptings of self-love to which these deeds expose us. Our intention is only to warn you against the artifices of self-love, that you may ever distrust it, particularly when it presents itself under the mask of virtue.
These three degrees which constitute the perfection of obedience seem to be indicated in these words of the Apostle: "Be not conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:2). The observance of the commandments is good; the practice of the counsels is acceptable; and fidelity to divine inspirations is perfect. When one has learned to practice these three degrees he has attained the perfection of obedience.
Another virtue, which may be considered a fourth degree of obedience, is conformity to the divine will in all things, This enables us to accept from the hands of God, with equal submission, honor or ignominy, obscurity or renown, stripes or caresses, health or sickness, life or death; for we look, not at our chastisements, but at Him who inflicts them through love of us. An earthly father loves his child when he corrects him no less than when he caresses him. Does his love bear any comparison to the love of the Heavenly Father? Let us realize, then, that all that comes from His hand is for our welfare, and we shall become so firmly established in submission to His holy will that He may mold us according to His good pleasure, as clay in the hands of the potter.
Thus we shall no longer live for ourselves, but for God. We shall be happy only in accomplishing His divine will, in doing all things, in bearing all things for His glory, and acting at all times as His submissive servants. Such were the sentiments of David when he said, "I am become as a beast before thee, and I am always with thee." (Ps. 72:23). A beast of burden goes not where he wills, nor rests when he pleases, but lives in complete obedience to his master. A Christian should live in like submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.
Let us not forget, however, that this submission to God, and this promptness in obeying Him, must ever be accompanied by prudence and judgment, so that we may not mistake our own will for that of God. In most cases let us distrust what flatters our own inclinations, and proceed with more confidence when we are acting contrary to our personal interests.
This is the most pleasing sacrifice we can make to God. In other sacrifices we offer Him only our possessions. In this we immolate ourselves. St. Augustine says that though God is the Lord of all that exists, yet it is not everyone who can say with the Psalmist, "O Lord! I am thy servant" (Ps. 115:16), but those only who have renounced their own will and consecrated themselves to His service. There is, moreover, no better disposition for attaining the perfection of a Christian life.
As God in His infinite goodness is
to overwhelm us with His graces when we offer no obstacle to His
designs, whoever is perfectly confined to His will can justly expect an
abundance of His favors. Yes, God will treat him with great liberality,
and will make him, like another David, a man after His own Heart.
To arrive at perfect obedience to God's will, there is no more efficacious means than patience under sufferings of every kind. "My son," says Solomon, "reject not the correction of the Lord, and do not faint when thou art chastised by him; for whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth, and as a father in the son he pleaseth himself." (Prov. 3:11-12).
St. Paul quotes these words and develops them at considerable length in his Epistle to the Hebrews: "Persevere," he says, "under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons, for what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Moreover, we have had fathers of our flesh for instructors, and we reverenced them. Shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:7-9).
Since, then, it is the duty of a good father to correct and reprove his children, it is the duty of a good son patiently to endure the correction and accept it as a proof of love, This is the lesson which the Son of the Eternal Father taught when He said to St. Peter, "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (Jn. 18:11). Were the chalice of suffering offered us by another hand we might with reason refuse it; but the knowledge that it is sent by the wisest and tenderest of Fathers should suffice to make us accept it without hesitation. Nevertheless there are Christians, perfectly conformed to the divine will in prosperity, whose submission vanishes at the approach of adversity. They are like cowards, who vaunt their courage in time of peace, but throw down their arms and fly at the first sound of battle. Life is full of combats and trials. Strengthen your soul, therefore, by salutary reflections, that in the hour of conflict you may be perfectly submissive to the divine will.
Remember that the sufferings of this life bear no proportion to the rewards of the next. The happiness of Heaven is so great, so unspeakable, that we would gladly purchase one hour of its enjoyment by the sacrifice of all earthly pleasures and by the endurance of all earthly sorrows. But we have not to buy it even at this rate, for, as the Apostle says, "that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17).
Consider also the different effects of prosperity and adversity. The former inflates us with pride; the latter humbles and purifies us. In prosperity we often forget to whom we owe all that we are; but adversity usually brings us to the feet of our Creator. Prosperity often causes us to lose the fruits of our best actions; but adversity enables us to expiate our past failings, and preserves us against future relapses. If you are afflicted by sickness, consider that God has doubtless permitted this to preserve you from the abuse you might have made of your health; for it is better to languish under bodily sufferings than gradually to destroy the life of the soul by sin.
Certainly God, who is so merciful, takes no pleasure in our afflictions, but in His love He sends us these necessary remedies to cure our infirmities. Thus suffering purifies the stains of sinful pleasures, and the privation of innocent gratifications expiates unlawful indulgence. He punishes us in this world, that He may reward us in the next; He treats us with merciful rigor here to save us from His wrath in eternity. Hence St. Jerome says that God's anger against sinners is never more terrible than when He seems to forget them during life. It was through fear of such a misfortune that St. Augustine prayed, "Here, O Lord, burn, here cut, that Thou mayst spare me in eternity."
Behold how carefully God guards you, that you may not abandon yourself to your evil inclinations. When a physician finds the condition of his patient hopeless he indulges him in all his caprices, but while there is any hope of recovery he rigidly restricts him to a certain diet and forbids him all that could aggravate his malady. In like manner, parents refuse their children the money they have accumulated only for them when they find they are squandering it in play and riotous living. Thus are we treated by God, the sovereign Physician and most loving Father of us all, when He sends us trials and privations.
Consider also the sufferings which Our Saviour endured from creatures. He was bruised, and buffeted, and spat upon. With what patience He bore the mockery of the multitude! With what resignation he drank the bitter draught of vinegar and gall! How willingly He embraced the death of the cross to deliver us from eternal death! How, then, can you, a vile worm of the earth, presume to complain of sufferings which you have justly merited by your sins-----those sins for which the spotless Lamb of God was immolated? He would teach us by His example that unless we strive for the mastery legitimately-----that is, courageously and perseveringly-----we shall not be crowned. (Cf. 2Tim. 2:5).
Moreover, let me appeal to your self-interest. Will you not at least make a virtue out of necessity? You must suffer. You cannot escape it, for it is a law of your nature. Can you resist the almighty power of God when He is pleased to send you afflictions? Knowing these truths, and knowing that your sins deserve more than you can bear, why will you struggle against your trials? Why not bear them patiently, and thus atone for your sins and merit many graces? Is it not madness to try to escape them, and thereby lose the blessings they can give, receiving instead a weight of impatience and misery which only adds to the load you must carry? Stand prepared, then, for tribulations, for what can you expect from a corrupt world, from a frail flesh, from the envy of devils, and from the malice of men, but contradictions and persecutions?
Act, therefore, as a prudent man, and arm yourself against such attacks, proceeding with as much caution as if you were in an enemy's country, and you will thus gain two important advantages: First, the trials against which you are forearmed will be easier to bear, for "a blow which we have anticipated," says Seneca, "falls less heavily." And this agrees with the counsel of Wisdom: "Before sickness take a medicine." (Ecclus. 18:20).
Secondly, by anticipating in a spirit of resignation the afflictions which God may send you, you offer a sacrifice like that of Abraham, about to immolate his son. Nothing, in fact, is more pleasing to God, nothing is more meritorious for us, than the resignation with which we prepare ourselves to accept all the trials that may come upon us, either from the hand of God or the wickedness of men. Though these sufferings may never reach us, yet our good intention will be rewarded in the same way as if we had borne them. Thus was Abraham rewarded as if he had really sacrificed his son, because he was ready to do so in obedience to God.
Be not afraid, therefore, of tribulations, for unto these are you called. (Cf. IPet. 3:9,14). Remember that you are as a rock in the midst of the ocean. The winds and waves of the world will beat against you, but you remain unshaken. To do good and to suffer are, according to St. Bernard, the duties of the Christian life. The latter is the more difficult. Prepare yourself, then, to fulfill it with courage.
Let us observe, in conclusion, that theologians distinguish three degrees in this virtue. The first consists in patiently bearing afflictions; the second in desiring to suffer for the love of God; and the third in rejoicing to suffer for the same motive. In the patience of Job we find an example of the first degree. The ardent desire of the martyrs to suffer for Christ affords us proof of the second. The joy which filled the hearts of the Apostles because they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Christ is a bright example of the third. (Cf. Acts 5:41). St. Paul had attained this sublime height when he gloried in his tribulations. (Cf. Rom. 5:3). In this he was nobly followed by many of the early Christians, as we learn from his Epistle to the Corinthians, whom he tells of the grace given to the Macedonians which caused them to experience abundance of joy in much tribulation. (Cf. 2 Cor. 8:2). This is the highest degree of virtue, but it is not commanded us.
A faithful servant of Christ will not, however, rest satisfied with the first degree, but will strive unceasingly to reach the second and even the third.What we have said on this subject must not be interpreted to mean that we should rejoice at the sufferings of others, Oh, no; charity requires us to sympathize with others in affliction, especially with our kindred and with the Church. The mortifications we impose on ourselves must not be extended to others, but should render us even more considerate towards them.