TAKEN FROM THE SERVANT OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. George O'Neill, S.J.
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1933
NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS
AS there are but few Christians who aspire to perfect sanctity, so doubtless there are not many who propose to spend their lives in complete defiance of God's commandments. The great majority seem to desire a middle course between these two extremes. They wish to reconcile within themselves conscience with concupiscence, some degree of piety with some indulgence of their passions. Allow to one person gambling, to another vanity in dress, to another a carnal attachment which is dangerous though not absolutely criminal; then they will give the rest to God without much difficulty. There are those who desire to be good Catholics, but are very anxious to live externally like those who are not good, to hold the esteem of good and bad at once, to pass as devout among the devout and as worldly
amongst the worldly; who, while they profess a horror of sin, yet live, and that willingly, in constant occasion of sin. You find good works on the one hand and frivolous dissipation on the other; Mass and Holy Communion, followed by long hours at doubtful entertainments. A man is correct in his outward behavior, but has little care to repress sins of evil thought and desire. A woman prides herself on being above the reach of scandal, yet she knows very well that she makes herself an occasion of sin for others. You are not so dishonest as to take and keep what clearly belongs to others; but perhaps you spend so much on yourself that you have nothing left to give to the poor. You refrain from calumnious and mischievous talking, but you willingly listen to it. You would hate to be revengeful, but you cannot bring yourself to love those who have injured you. Placed in an official position, you keep clear of glaring injustices; but there are certain half-measures, certain accommodations that you allow yourself to practice. As a man of business, you cannot be accused of dishonesty; but you are wholly devoted to Mammon, you have no thought of doing good with your energy, your time, or your money. You are at the head of a family, and you do not give bad teaching or bad examples, but you pay no heed to the religious and moral training of your children; you expose their souls to serious danger for the sake of worldly advantages.
In such dispositions, it would seem, too many people live; they are willing to give something to the spirit and something to the flesh; to live as Christians, but luxuriously; to please God without displeasing men; in short, they want to hold on a course which the Gospel does not recognize ---- one equally removed from the broad way that leads to perdition and the narrow way that leads to life; to build a city halfway between Jerusalem and Babylon ---- a city in which self-love and love of God will share wealth, power and honors. This is what we may well call serving two masters. Now our Lord warns us that that attempt is a vain one, and that you will not succeed in pleasing either master. God is not satisfied with halt: He asks for all, and the world is ever asking for more than you are giving to it.
Christians Aspire to Perfect Virtues
You do not forget, my brethren, what was the degree of virtue to which our Divine Master bade His followers aspire. He required that our virtues should surpass those of the wisest and best pagans, those even of the most observant Jews. The pagans have gratitude, He says; they love those who show love to them but I ask something more of My disciples: I require them to love those who hate them. The most reasonable of the Gentiles paid equal attention to the study of wisdom and the care of their worldly well-being; this was much for them; but for Christians it is nothing; the care of their salvation must be for them the one thing necessary; to be solicitous about the earthly life of tomorrow is to risk sacrificing one's soul to the cares of the body. Finally, the Pharisees and doctors of the law made great profession of virtue, exactness and uprightness; but "your justice", said our Lord to His hearers, "must be more abundant than theirs, else you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." To be content with mediocrity is not to satisfy God: we must, in our Lord's words, strive to "be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect." Now perfection, holiness, above all that holiness of God Himself which is put before us, includes everything; it is an assemblage of all virtues, a holocaust of all that is faulty, a surrender of the whole man; perfection ceases to be itself if anything is held back.
This doctrine is confirmed by the special commandments that God has laid upon us, and particularly by the first and most important of all; that, namely, which regards our love for Him. "You shall love Me," says the Lord, "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind." In other words all your deliberate thoughts, words, affections and actions must be consecrated to Me.1
External Piety must Complete Internal
As external practices of piety without internal devotion are of no avail, so neither will it suffice to honor God interiorly, if we do not consecrate to Him also our outward conduct. The early Christians could have escaped tortures and death if they had found it in their consciences to worship God secretly in their hearts while externally they offered a few grains of incense to an idol. But no; they felt themselves bound, under pain of eternal damnation, to suffer the most cruel torments rather than perform that external act of idolatry. Whatever contempt those Christians may have felt for Jupiter or Venus, however they may have intended to mock them by this formal homage, yet such homage would have drawn on them the anger of God; He, looking on the heart before all else, yet would not be satisfied unless the external conduct corresponded with the sentiments of the heart. How, then, can we justify Christians who believe that, for fear of exciting the ridicule or disfavor of the world, they may go on doing just as the worldly do; following the crowd as to their behavior, company, amusements, dress, language; talking of religious matters as they know they ought not to [or acting and speaking as if there were no such thing as religion to be taken into consideration]?
The World an Exacting Master
You are willing to give half to God, half to the world. Supposing for a moment that God were to be satisfied with such a division, do you think the world will be? Will not times come when it will ask of you not part but everything? Will not occasions arise when it is a question of pleasing men on the one hand and of avoiding downright mortal sin on the other? What then will you do? Will you at such a crisis be strong enough to trample under foot human respect? A Saint would have that strength; but what of one who has grown into the habit of unworthy condescensions, the practice of pleasing human opinion at any cost? Will he come out victor, or may we not rather expect from such a Christian such conduct as that of Pontius Pilate? That timid judge, quite able to recognize the innocence of the Prisoner brought before him and the hostile passion that raged against Him, tried to avoid condemning the accused without arousing the anger of the accusers. So we see him engaged in a series of miserable expedients. He sends Christ to be judged by Herod, on the pretense that Christ was the subject of Herod; but this artifice fails and the burthen of decision is again left on his hands. Now, if he condemns Christ to death, he incurs the guilt of an enormous injustice; if he sends him away acquitted, he incurs the anger of the whole synagogue. He tries again a middle course: He will spare the Savior's life, but he will disgrace and torture Him. "I will chastise Him and send Him away," he says. So he inflicts on the innocent victim the barbarous cruelty of the scourging. But this is far from gratifying the enmity of the chief priests and the Pharisees. They insist that the Man they hate is deserving of crucifixion, and that He must be sentenced to nothing less. Then Pilate tries yet another subterfuge. He will not declare Christ innocent, but will avoid pronouncing His condemnation; he will find the means in the established custom of releasing one criminal named by the people at the festival of the Passover. But here again he is disappointed. How his cowardly and crooked policy utterly fails, how it brings its contriver to add crime to crime, ending in the blackest of all conceivable crimes! Pilate grants at last all that is clamored for; he condemns to an ignominious death the Son of God, in spite of all Divine and human laws, in spite of the visions and fears and warnings of his wife, in spite of the reproaches of his own conscience.
Our Ceaseless Indebtedness to God
O men who naturally love reason and justice, men who boast that you are just towards all men, will you not then be just towards your God? You who hate ingratitude and call it unpardonable in others, will you be always ungrateful to Him? He has given you all, the world has given you nothing, yet you are satisfied to honor equally the one and the other, to divide your allegiance and your services between them. What have you that you have not received from God? Or rather let me ask, what is there that God has not given to you? Without reserve He has given to you Himself But you refuse to Him a part of your heart ---- of that poor narrow heart of yours. You refuse to Him a part of the little span of time of which you are at liberty to dispose. Now, if you can find a single day, an hour, a moment in which God is not thinking of you, providing for you, working for you, in you and with you, then I will allow that you too may interrupt the service you owe to Him. But if in fact He is eternally devoted to supporting you, guiding you, providing for your needs, why should you ever cease to recognize what He is doing for you?
If God treated you as you treat Him, would you not be the most unhappy of creatures? If, as you pardon only some injuries, He pardoned only some of your sins; if, as you are content not to take vengeance on your enemies, without resolving to do good to them, He likewise were to refuse you actual graces, after He had restored you to His sanctifying grace, what would become of you? If you resolve to avoid grave sins, but take no pains to avoid venial ones, then if God on His side were to give you barely necessary helps, but not His more efficacious graces, what would become of you? I will gratify, you will say, my sight in a sinful manner, while restraining the other senses; what if God were to deprive you of sight, while leaving you your other senses? Had we time without end and faculties of infinite power, these would not suffice for rendering to God all that we owe to Him; we have in fact but a moment of time and a breath of life; we have a limited mind, limited powers of love and of action; yet we will not give half of these to make Him the return that is His due.
But, if any such division between God and the world is unjust, what shall we say of those who reduce the share given to God to almost nothing: who, of all the thoughts and moments of a day offer Him barely the first few; who, of all the days of the week, mark out for Him only Sunday, and who, of the whole Sunday, give Him perhaps only so much time as suffices for hearing one short Mass? What shall we say of those who think they have done enough for God, if after spending a year in the business and pleasures of the world they come at Easter time to give some proof of their being Christians? What, finally, of those who reserve to Him the last years or even the last hours of their lives? Can such Christians say that they love God with their whole heart, their whole soul, their whole strength and their whole mind? Alas, He asks for nothing less than all, and these people think He can be satisfied with almost nothing!
O my God, if Thou wert indeed so to be satisfied, yet would not I be satisfied unless I gave myself to Thee without reserve. I desire henceforth to give myself to Thee wholly! I am willing to serve Him Who is the Lord of all creation: I will not be the slave of a slave. Thy yoke is sweet and Thy burden light. Thou givest all that Thou exacts, Thou accomplisheth by Thy grace all that Thou dost command; so that, magnificent as are Thy rewards, it is always Thy Own gifts that Thou dost crown in us. And not only dost Thou make easy the doing of Thy will, but Thou even doeth the will of those who obey Thee. Either Thou giveth what pleases them or Thou maketh pleasing to them what Thou giveth. Here indeed is a service ---- the only service ---- that raises us above all the miseries of the world and above all the grandeurs of the world; a service that makes us sharers in the liberty of God Himself. Let us then love, my dear brethren, this sweet yoke and this glorious servitude; let us give ourselves without any reserve to the sole Master Who has a right to claim our services. "To serve God is to reign", even in this life, and it makes us secure of a reign that shall last without fear of change.
1. The Blessed Claude does not require, of course, an actual consecration at each moment: a virtual or habitual intention suffices. Nor does he, in any part of this discourse, mean to condemn a reasonable solicitude about our own temporal concerns or the affairs of others ---- a solicitude that may sometimes be a matter of grave obligation. He means that all must be referred to God by our being in the state of grace, by pure intention, and by due moderation of desires and activities.
VIEW THE SACRED HEART