The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Chapter 8. The Eighth Motive
for Practicing Virtue:
Immediately after death follows the particular judgment, of which we have been treating. But there is a day of general judgment, when, in the words of the Apostle, "We must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil." [2 Cor. 5: 10]
In considering this subject, what strikes us as most amazing, and what filled the holy soul of Job with awe, is that a frail creature like man, so prone to evil, should be subjected to such a rigorous judgment on the part of God, by Whose command his every thought, word, and action are inscribed in the book of life. In his astonishment Job cries out, "Why hidest Thou Thy face, and thinkest me Thy enemy? Against a leaf, that is carried away with the wind, Thou showest thy power, and Thou pursuest a dry straw. For Thou writest bitter things against me, and wilt consume me for the sins of my youth. Thou hast put my feet in the stocks, and hast observed all my paths, and hast considered the steps of my feet: who I am to be consumed as rottenness, and as a garment that is moth-eaten." [Job 13: 24-28]
And returning to the same subject, he continues, "Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries; who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed, and fleeth as a shadow, and never continueth in the same state. And dost thou think it meet to open thy eyes upon such a one, and to bring him into judgment with thee? Who can make him clean that is born of unclean seed? Is it not thou who only art?" [Job 14: 1-4]
Thus does holy Job express his astonishment at the severity of the Divine Justice towards frail man, so inclined to evil, who drinks up iniquity like water. That He should have exercised such severity towards the Angels, who are spiritual and perfect beings, is not a matter of so much surprise. But it is truly amazing that not an idle word, not a wasted moment in man's life shall escape the rigor of God's justice. "But I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account of it in the day of judgment." [Matt. 12: 36] If we must render an account of idle words which harm no one, how severe will be the account exacted of us for impure words, immodest actions, sinful glances, bloodstained hands, for all the time spent in sinful deeds? We could hardly credit the severity of this judgment, did not God Himself affirm it. Oh! Sublime religion, how great are the purity and perfection thou teachest!
What shame, then, and what confusion will overwhelm the sinner when all his impurities, all his excesses, all his iniquities, hidden in the secret recesses of his heart, will be exposed, in all their enormity, to the eyes of the world! Whose conscience is so clear that he does not blush, does not tremble, at this thought? If men find it so difficult to make known their sins in the secrecy of confession, if many prefer to groan under the weight of their iniquities rather than declare them to God's minister, how will they bear to see them revealed before the universe? In their shame and confusion "they shall say to the mountains: Cover us; and to the hills: Fall upon us." [Osee 10: 8]
Consider also the terror of the sinner when this terrible sentence resounds in his ear: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels." [Matt. 25: 4] How will the reprobate hear these terrible words? "Seeing," says holy Job, "that we have heard scarce a little drop of his word, who shall be able to behold the thunder of his greatness?" [Job 26: 14] When this dread sentence will have gone forth, the earth will open and swallow in its fiery depths all those whose lives have been spent in the pursuit of sinful pleasures.
St. John, in the Apocalypse, thus describes this awful moment: "I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power: and the earth was enlightened with his glory. And he cried out with a strong voice, saying: Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen; and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every unclean spirit, and the hold of every unclean and hateful bird." [Apoc. 18: 1-2] And the holy Evangelist adds, "And a mighty angel took up a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying: With such violence as this shall Babylon, that great city, be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." [Apoc. 18: 21] In like manner shall the wicked, represented by Babylon, be cast into the sea of darkness and confusion.
What tongue can express the torments of this eternal prison? The body will burn with a raging fire which will never be extinguished; the soul will be tortured by the gnawing, undying worm of conscience. The darkness will resound with despairing cries, blasphemies, perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth. The sinner, in his impotent rage, will tear his flesh and curse the inexorable justice which condemns him to these torments. He will curse the day of his birth, crying out in the words of Job, "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said: A man child is conceived. Let that day be turned into darkness, let not God regard it from above, and let not the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death cover it, let a mist overspread it, and let it be wrapped up in bitterness. Let a darksome whirlwind seize upon that night, let it not be counted in the days of the year, nor numbered in the months. Why did I not die in the womb, why did I not perish at once when I came out of the womb? Why was I placed upon the knees? Why was I suckled at the breasts?" [Job: 3-6, 11-12]
Unhappy tongues which will henceforth utter only blasphemies! Unhappy ears to be forever filled with sighs and lamentations! Unhappy eyes which will never gaze upon anything but misery! Unhappy flesh consumed in eternal flames! Who can tell the bitter remorse of the sinner who has spent his life in pursuit of new pleasures and new amusements? Oh! How fleeting were the joys that brought such a series of woes! O senseless, unhappy man! What do your riches now avail you? The seven years of abundance are past, and the years of famine are upon you. Your wealth has been consumed in the twinkling of an eye, and no trace of it remains. Your glory has vanished; your happiness is swallowed up in an abyss of woe! So extreme is your misery that a drop of water is denied you to allay the parching thirst with which you are consumed. Not only is your former prosperity of no avail, but rather it increases the torture of your cruel sufferings. Thus shall the imprecation of Job be verified: "May worms be his sweetness" [Job 24: 20], which St. Gregory thus explains: "The remembrance of their past pleasures will make their present sufferings more keen; and the contrast of their short-lived happiness with this endless misery will fill them with rage and despair." [Moral., 15, 26; 16, 31]
They will recognize too late the snares of the evil one, and will exclaim in the words of the Book of Wisdom: "We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shone unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us. We have wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known." [Wis. 5: 6-7] The contemplation of this terrible truth cannot but rouse us from our indifference and excite us to practice virtue.
St. John Chrysostom frequently uses this truth as a means to exhort his hearers to virtue. "If you would labor effectually," he says, "to make your soul the temple and the abode of the Divinity, never lose sight of the solemn and awful day when you are to appear before the tribunal of Christ to render an account of all your works. Represent to yourself the glory and majesty with which Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. Consider the irrevocable sentence which will then be pronounced upon mankind, and the terrible separation which will follow it. The just will enter into the possession of ineffable joy and happiness; the wicked will be precipitated into exterior darkness, where there will be perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will be gathered like weeds, and cast into the fire, where they will remain for all eternity." Ah! Then, before it is too late, let us save ourselves from this terrible misfortune by a humble and sincere confession of our sins – a favor that we will not receive on that day, for, as the Psalmist asks, Who shall confess to thee in Hell?" [Ps. 6: 6]
Another thought which should here impress us is that God has given us two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet, so that if we lose one of these members we still have one left. But He has given us only one soul, and if we lose that we have no other with which to enjoy eternal happiness. Our first care, therefore, should be to save our soul, which is to share with the body either eternal happiness or eternal woe. It will avail no man at this supreme tribunal to urge, "I was dazzled by the glitter of wealth; I was deceived by the promises of the world." The inexorable Judge will answer, "I warned you against these. Did I not say, 'What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?' " [Matt. 16: 26] Nor can you plead that the devil tempted you. He will remind you that Eve was not excused when she urged that the serpent had tempted her.
The vision of Jeremias teaches us what Our Lord's treatment of us will be. The prophet beheld first "a rod watching," and then "a caldron boiling." This is a figure of God's dealings with men. First He warns them, and if they do not heed, He punishes them; for he who will not submit to the correction of the rod will be cast into the caldron of fire. As you read of God's punishments in Scripture, have you ever observed that no one pleads for those whom God condemns? Father does not plead for son, nor brother for brother, nor friend for friend. Yes, even God's privileged servants, Noe, Daniel, Job, would seek in vain to alter the sentence of your Judge.
At the wedding feast no voice is raised to intercede for him who is driven from the banquet. No one pleads for the slothful servant who buried the talent entrusted to him by his Master. No one makes intercession with the Bridegroom for the five foolish virgins who, after despising the pleasures of the flesh and stifling in their hearts the fire of concupiscence, nay, after observing the great counsel of virginity, neglected the precept of humility and became inflated with pride on account of their virginity. You know the history of the avaricious man of the Gospel, and how vainly he pleaded with Abraham for a drop of water to quench his burning thirst.
Why, then, will we not help one another while we can? Why will we not render glory to God before the sun of His justice has set for us? Better let our tongues be parched with privation and fasting during the short space of this life, than by sinful indulgence expose ourselves to an eternal thirst. If we can hardly endure a few days of fever, how will we bear the parching thirst and burning torments of that fire which will never die? If we are so appalled at a sentence of death pronounced by an earthly judge, which, at most, deprives us of but forty or fifty years of life, with what feelings will we hear that sentence which deprives us of an immortal life and condemns us to an eternity of misery?
With what horror we read of the tortures inflicted by executioners upon malefactors; yet the most cruel are only shadows compared to the eternal torments of the life to come. The former end with this life; but in Hell the worm of conscience shall never die, the executioner shall never grow weary, the fire shall never be extinguished. What, then, will be the feelings of the wicked when suddenly transported from the midst of earthly happiness to this abyss of unspeakable miseries? In vain will they denounce their blindness and bewail the graces they refused. What can the pilot do when the ship is lost? Of what use is the physician when the patient is dead? Whither will we turn, on that terrible day, when the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, when all creatures, will raise their voices against us to testify the evil we have committed? But even were these silent, our own consciences would still accuse us.
These reflections, dear Christian, we have gathered chiefly from the writings of St. John Chrysostom. Do they not prove the necessity of living with the fear of this supreme judgment constantly before us? This fear was never absent from the heart of St. Ambrose, notwithstanding the vigilant fervor of his life. "Woe is me," he exclaims in his commentary on St. Luke–----"Woe is me if I weep not for my sins! Woe is me, O Lord, if I rise not in the night to confess and proclaim the glory of Thy name! Woe is me if I do not dissipate the errors of my brethren and cause the light of truth to burn before their eyes, for the axe is now laid to the root of the tree."Let him, therefore, who is in a state of grace, bring forth fruits of justice and salvation. Let him who is in a state of sin bring forth fruits of penance, for the time approaches when the Lord will gather His fruit; and He will give eternal life to those who have labored courageously and profitably, and eternal death to those whose works are barren and useless.