TAKEN FROM THE SERVANT OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. George O'Neill, S.J.
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1933
THE KINDNESS OF JESUS TO SINNERS
(1274, 1275, 1283)
I DO not see that there is any sinner in the whole Gospel story who was brought to repentance otherwise than by kindness and by benefits. Our Lord drew to Himself St. Matthew, Zacchaeus and other publicans by inviting Himself to eat with them and showing that He did not spurn their company, ---- unlike the Pharisees who treated them as infamous persons. He won the heart of Magdalen ---- not by severe reproaches, but by permitting her to draw near to Him, praising what was praiseworthy in her action, taking up her defense against the respectable people whom she scandalized. Any other but Jesus would have pronounced against the woman taken in adultery the sentence of death written in the Law; but He saved her by a miracle; He obliged the judges and the accusers to retire, and, when she stood alone, He said: "Woman, has no one, then, condemned thee?" "No one, Lord," she answered. "Neither, then, will I condemn thee. Go now and sin no more." He did not put to shame the Samaritan woman by at once recalling to her what He knew concerning her sinful life; He quietly won her to make her own confession; after that first step He so gained on her that she admitted everything, recognized Him for what He was and made Him known to all that city of Samaria. What did He not do to win back Judas? Everything, except to confound or denounce him or speak to him harshly. He showed him clearly that He knew of his crime, but spoke so that the others did not understand; He washed his feet and wiped them, He suffered the traitor to kiss Him, He called him "Friend", He called him by his name, He uttered no word of bitterness or anger. To move Peter to repentance He was content with a look; and it was not a look that struck terror, but a look full of tenderness and affection. Finally, to conquer the obstinacy of Thomas, He took the doubting Apostle's hand and gently placed it in the wound of His pierced side.
If, when God seeks to convert us, He were striving for some interest or advantage of His Own, I should not be surprised at His acting with such extreme moderation and clemency; but since His zeal has no other end than to withdraw us from sin and death, we may well wonder that He acts so delicately and so patiently spares us and yields to us. When a father sees his child in danger of death by drowning or by fire, he does not consider whether he seizes him by the foot or by the hand, whether he drags him into safety by his clothes or by his hair, whether he hurts him or not, provided only he can rescue him from that extreme peril. But God seems to have consideration for our weakness even in the extremity of our dangers; He studies our humor, inclination, disposition, even our passions and bad habits, in order to seize and draw us in the way that will pain us least. To the man that loves gain He offers the treasures of Heaven; to the miser He suggests the terrible poverty in which he will find himself in the next life; to the votary of pleasures He insinuates the peaceful joys of a life free from guilt, from remorse and from the warfare of the passions; to one who shrinks from suffering and pain He recalls the endless sufferings of the lost; to one who is of affectionate and grateful disposition He recalls His benefits ---- the blessings that He has given, is giving, and proposes in future to give.
But if this delicacy and ingenuity of your Lord in drawing you to Him has not powerfully struck you, at least you cannot have failed to notice His constancy, His perseverance; for surely we have, most of us, strangely tried and proved it! Were there not long periods during which you heard but would not even listen to His voice? If you listened, how long did you not deliberate as to whether and how far you would yield to His urgent and loving invitations! When at length you were persuaded that it was best for you to give yourself wholly to Him, how many battles were still required in order to induce your will, your heart, to follow the light of your mind! How many delays, what compromises, what promises made and broken, what good resolutions unfulfilled, what resistances and failures in the work of giving Him what He asked of you!
Encouragement for the Prodigal
O my God, Thy love has been proof against this long, this insulting resistance! It did not grow cold; Thou hast continued to pursue me, to call me, to entreat me, to cherish me. "Who knows," Thou doth seem to have said to Thyself, "whether that heart will not at length let itself be softened, after having been so long obdurate? I see that it will not be soon; I see that the resolutions of today will not be kept better than the resolutions of six months ago; that tomorrow and tomorrow will still be the date of its conversion; but perhaps also if I continue to pursue, at length it will cease to fly from me.1 Gladly would I see it Mine this moment; but I prefer to wait for it a long time rather than to lose it for ever."
God hates sin with a kind of infinite hatred, and the soul stained with sin necessarily brings on itself something of that hatred. Yet God does not cease to love such a soul, to extend to it His arms, to offer it the kiss of peace, to pursue it as if it were something perfectly beautiful.
"Whom do you pursue, O king of Israel?" said David long ago to Saul, and we might well repeat what he said to that Divine love that concerns itself so with us. "Quem persequeris? Canem mortuum persequeris?" After whom dost Thou run, O King of Heaven and earth. Thou art pursuing a vile creature that, far from deserving Thine affection, is not worth even Thine anger, and might well cause Thee merely feelings of disgust. And we, dear Christians, from Whom do we fly? What can we mean by despising this Lover, trifling so long with His patience, refusing the friendship and union that He offers and urges upon us? We know Who it is that is calling us in the depths of our souls, and yet we are not afraid to allow the Master of the Universe to come and knock at our doors, to keep Him waiting so long without deigning to open or to answer. What ought I to wonder at most, O my God, Thy patience or our obstinacy, Thy love or our hardness of heart? What will be the confusion of such an ungrateful and audacious soul, whenever Thou doth open its eyes; how shall it dare to appear in Thy presence after having so treated Thee? And if we have the courage to present ourselves, will the Almighty deign to receive us? Yes, my brethren, so long as this life lasts He will not fail to receive the sinner, if only, after his long wanderings, he will return repentant to his duty and allegiance. Nay; I say more: that Divine love which impelled our God to pursue us in our flight, leads Him also to anticipate and meet us on our return, and to rejoice with an extraordinary joy when He once more clasps us in His arms.
Insensible, surely, is the sinner whom such patience, such indulgence, such love does not draw to repentance. But more unhappy still is the sinner who defers repentance and resists the Divine Love just because it is waiting for him with so much patience; who does not ask for pardon just because God is always ready to grant it; who is evil because God is good; who sins easily because He forgives easily; who is willing to displease because He is so unwilling to punish.
O Lord, deign to perfect in each of us the work of Thine infinite mercy! Do not permit it to become hurtful to us or useless to us; do not let us be lost in the very ocean of Thy generosity! Grant that the infinite love Thou hast for the sinner may compel him to feel an almost infinite hatred for sin; compel him to love Thee changelessly on earth that he may come to love Thee changelessly in Heaven!
1. Many of these ideas have been anew and beautifully expressed in the poetry of Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven".
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