This is the first of a set of old Catholic readers that I am making for my younger children to use. The content is Catholic through and through and teach some catechism as well as morals. It is a treasure! I have not edited the stories and poems, they are just as they were in the original book but I have added comprehension activities for each of them. Feel free to print and use them for your own children if you so choose. You can find the file here under Homeschool/ printable children's books.
9. For which class of persons should we always show a particular love ?
For the poor, orphans, widows, and in general for all those who are in temporal or spiritual need. The precept of charity obliges us to love our neighbor internally and externally. We must love our neighbor internally, that is, our love for him must come from our heart. Hence Pope Innocent XL has condemned the pro position: "We are not bound to love our neighbor by an internal and formal act."; It is, therefore, a sin to take pleasure in the misfortune of a neighbor, or to be grieved at his welfare. However, it is not wrong to take pleasure in the temporal misfortune of an obstinate sinner, if we have reason to believe that such a misfortune will induce him to amend his life and to oppress no longer the innocent. But it is a sin to delight in the death, or in any kind of misfortune of our neighbor on account of some temporal advantage that we derive from it.
However, to delight in the cause of some temporal advantage, is one thing, and to delight in the advantage itself the effect of the cause is another. There are particular cases in which delight in the effect of a certain cause is no sin, whilst delight in the cause of the effect is a sin. It is, for instance, no sin to be delighted in the acquisition of property which comes to us after the death of a parent ; but it is sinful to rejoice at his death. Hence Pope Innocent XL has condemned the proposition (15 Prop.) which asserts "that it is lawful for a son to rejoice at the death of his father, on account of the inheritance which will come to him."
We should nourish and increase the love of our heart for our neighbor, by making frequent acts of love. "With out such frequent acts of love," says St. Alphonsus, "we shall scarcely be able to practice the charity which we owe to our neighbor. We should make such an act of love at least once a month."
Another means to practice the love of our heart for our neighbor is to show compassion for those who are afflicted in soul and body. True compassion makes us feel the misfortunes of our neighbor as if they were our own. We must also love our neighbor externally. Our life on earth is full of bodily and spiritual miseries. We are liable to meet with different reverses of fortune. How many have not been thrown from the summit of wealth into an abyss of poverty ? Hence the precept of charity obliges us to be always willing to help all without exception, and assist them according to our ability. "Give to the good," says Holy Scripture, "and receive not a sinner" (Ecclus. xii., 5) ; that is : give nothing to the sinner to foster his iniquity, but relieve human nature, because it is the work of God. It may not always be in our power to assist every body in his wants; but charity does not oblige us to do what is beyond our means. If we cannot give to every one that is in distress, charity obliges us at least to be charitably disposed towards all our fellow-men, to show sincere compassion for them in their afflictions and misfortunes, and to say, at least, some prayers for them, True charity of the heart, says St. Paul, makes us "rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Rom. xii., 15.)
To be continued . . . . . . . . .
You will find sermons for this 13th Sunday after Pentecost at any of the links below:
8. Are we also obliged to love our enemies?
Yes; for Jesus Christ says : "I say to you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." (Matt., v., 44. )
To love those who love us and are kind to us, is the love of heathens. "If you love them that love you," says our Saviour, "what reward shall you have ? Do not even the publicans the same ? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more ? Do not also the heathens the same?" ( Matt., v., 46. ) But to love those who hate us, calumniate and persecute us, is the love of true Christians. Now this love is strictly commanded by our Lord. "You have heard," said he, "that it has been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy ; but I say to you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." (Matt., v., 43.)
The law of Jesus Christ is a law of love. He wishes that all, even our enemies, should love us. In like manner he commands us to love even those who hate us and wish us evil. The spirit of enmity is in itself something bad and detestable. Hence we are not commanded to love that spirit. We are obliged to love human nature and the supernatural gifts that may be in our enemies. This love is of strict obligation, and not to have this love is not to have perfect charity. Though our neighbor may be our enemy, yet he is a child of God, and perhaps the object of his tender mercy and compassion. If we truly love a person, we also love his children and friends, though they may be
Now the precept of loving our enemies, obliges us to love them with internal as well as with external love, that is, we must love them with sincere love of the heart, by formal acts of love, and show them all the ordinary signs of benevolence and compassion which we show to a friend, especially when we see them in distress, or their life and property in danger. "If thine enemy be hungry, give him something to eat, if thirsty, give him to drink." (Prov., xxv., 21.) We are obliged to salute him when he salutes us. If he is a person whose rank is higher than ours, it is our duty to salute him before he salutes us ; and if, without a grievous inconvenience, we can salute first even an equal, and thereby free him from the hatred which he bears us, we are obliged to salute him first. However, we are not obliged to have such sentiments of affection for an enemy as we have for parents, for sentiments of affection are a voluntary and absolute perfection, but not a precept of charity. Hence charity does not oblige us to give any signs of particular esteem and affection to our enemies, it obliges us merely to practice benevolence and compassion towards them, especially when we see them in spiritual or temporal distress. The precept of charity requires no more, says St. Thomas.
Now, the love of enemies is difficult to human nature. Hence our dear Saviour has taught us by his example the love of enemies. When hanging on the cross, Jesus Christ was exposed to the gaze of a blasphemous multitude. No complaint, however, escaped his lips. He uttered not a word until, moved with tender compassion for his enemies, he cried out: - Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The blood of Abel demanded vengeance. The blood of Jesus cried only for mercy and grace for those who shed it. His enemies had accused him falsely, judged him through passion, condemned him through malice, and crucified him between two thieves: they insulted his mercy, and in spite of all this, Jesus excuses their sin, diminishes their malice, and assumes the office of advocate for them. He forgets his own bitter anguish to think of those who persecuted him unto death. Their guilt afflicted him more than all the torments he endured.
Now, he wishes us to imitate his example. "I have given you an example, that as I have done, so you do also." (John, xiii,. 15.) He promises us the forgiveness of our sins, if we imitate his example. "Forgive," he says, "and you shall be forgiven." (Luke, vi., 37.) In these words, our Lord has made a sort of contract or agreement with us. If you forgive, he says, I pledge you my divine word that I will show you mercy: I will receive you into my heavenly kingdom.
Now this agreement between God and ourselves is very consoling. We have the absolute certainty that, if we forgive others, God will forgive us. God himself has said this, and he cannot break his word: "Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. We can then say confidently when we appear before the judgement-seat of God: "O Lord, I have kept my part of the agreement ; I have forgiven all my enemies, do thou also now forgive me." If we, therefore, truly forgive our enemies, we may be perfectly certain of forgiveness.
This certainty of pardon is beyond all doubt. Hence a great saint used to say, that we ought to desire, nay, that we even ought to buy, insults and injuries with silver and gold, because if we forgive our enemies God will certainly forgive us. Most touching is what Father Avila relates of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. One day this saint prayed to God to give great graces to all those who had in any way injured her nay, to give the greatest graces to those who had injured her most. After this prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ said to her: "My daughter, never in your life did you make a prayer more pleasing to me than the one which you have just said for your enemies. On account of this prayer, I forgive not only all your sins but even all temporal punishments due to them."
To love our enemies, to pray for them, to do good to them, is, no doubt, an act of heroic charity an act which is free from all self-love and self-interest. The insults, calumnies, and persecutions of our enemies relate directly to our own person. Now, to forgive them, nay even to ask God to forgive them also, is to renounce our claim to our right and honor, and thus to raise ourselves to the great dignity of the true children of God, to an unspeakably sublime resemblance to his Divinity. Jesus Christ assures us of this great truth in these words: "If you pray for those who hate, calumniate, and persecute you, you will be the children of your heavenly Father who maketh his sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and unjust." (Matt., v., 45.) There is nothing more peculiar, nothing more honorable to our heavenly Father, than to have mercy and to spare, to do good to all his enemies, especially by giving them the grace of conversion that they may become his friends, his children and the heirs of his everlasting kingdom.
Now, by imitating his goodness in a point so much averse to human nature, we give him the greatest glory, and we do, at the same time, such violence to his tender and meek heart as to cause him, not only to forgive the sins of our enemies, but even to constrain him to grant all our prayers, because he wishes to be far more indulgent, far more merciful, and far more liberal than it is possible for us ever to be. Holy Scripture and the lives of the saints furnish us with most striking examples as a proof of this great and most consoling truth.
The greatest persecutor of St. Stephen was St. Paul the Apostle, before his conversion; for, according to St. Augustine, he threw stones at him by the hands of all those whose clothes he was guarding. What made him, from being a persecutor of the Church, become her greatest Apostle and Doctor ? It was the prayer of St. Stephen, "for, had he not prayed," says St. Augustine, "the Church would not have gained this Apostle." St. Mary Oigni, whilst in a rapture, saw how our Lord presented St. Stephen with the soul of St. Paul, before his death, on account of the prayer which the former had offered for him : she saw how St. Stephen received the soul of this Apostle, at the moment of his death, and how he presented it to our Lord saying: "Here, Lord, I have the immense
and most precious gift which Thou gavest me; now I return it to Thee with great interest." *(Ecomen is of opinion that on account of St. Stephen's prayer, not only St. Paul but many others most probably received the forgiveness of their sins and life everlasting.
Not long ago, quite an innocent person received a letter of twelve pages, containing the vilest, the most infamous, and most devilish calumnies. When she had read them she prayed : "Father, forgive them." A few days after, the writer of the calumnies, who had not been to confession for several years, became suddenly so dangerously sick that she could not help acknowledging that her sickness was a punishment for her calumnies. So she had another letter written in which she begged pardon of the person whom she had so maliciously calumniated, promising that, should she recover, she would come in person to ask her pardon. She sent for the priest and made a good confession. Two other persons, who had not been to confession for several years, and were instrumental in the invention of the calumnies, also entered into themselves, when they witnessed the excruciating pains of the writer of the calumnies. They, too, made a good confession and promised to ask pardon in person of the one whom they had calumniated with such devilish malice. No doubt it requires an extraordinary grace to convert an obstinate sinner, one who resembles the devil in wickedness. Now, if God grants such a grace to the prayer of him who prays for his enemy, what great graces will he not grant to him who, for his sake, forgives his enemy and even begs God to forgive him also and to bless him?
We read in the life of St. John Gualbertus, that he one day met the murderer of his only brother in a very narrow street. The murderer greatly feared that John would take revenge on him, and, as he saw no possibility of escape, he fell on his knees and asked forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ, who, when hanging on the cross, forgave his murderers and prayed for them. John forgave him at once and embraced him as one of his best friends. Afterwards he went to a church, and prayed there before a crucifix. Oh ! how powerful was his prayer now with our Lord ! Whilst praying he saw how our Lord bowed his head towards him, thanking him, as it were, for having forgiven so great an offense. At the same time he felt a most extraordinary change in his soul. He renounced the world and became the founder of a religious Order. Let us rest assured that Almighty God will be just as generous towards us as he was towards this saint, if we are as generous as he was in forgiving our neighbor. An extraordinary grace, such as the thorough change of the heart, is attached to the performance of an heroic, virtuous act. Now, when God furnishes us with the occasion of practicing such an act, we either neglect the opportunity altogether, or profit by it only in a very imperfect manner. Hence such an extraordinary grace as changes us into saints, is withheld from us ; our want of generosity makes us unworthy of it. You have been treated very unjustly and uncharitably by one of your neighbors. Now, you forgive your neighbor; but no sooner is the name of that neighbor mentioned in conversation than you relate all the wrong you have suffered from him. You thus show that your forgiveness is not a complete, heartfelt forgiveness ; it is not such a one, to which God has attached the extraordinary grace of a full remission of all your sins and the temporal punishment due to them the extraordinary grace of a thorough change of your heart. You thus remain imperfect, and will perhaps for your whole life. Generous souls act very differently. St. Ambrose procured for an assassin, who had made an attempt on his life, a pension sufficient for a comfortable maintenance.
St. Catharine of Sienna performed the office of servant for a woman who had endeavored to destroy her good name. A relative of St. John the Almoner, who had been grossly insulted by an innkeeper in Alexandria, laid his complaint before the saint. St John said to him : "As this publican has been so very insolent, I will teach him his duties. I will treat him so as to excite the wonder of the whole city." Now what did the saint do ? He ordered his steward never afterwards to exact the yearly rent which the innkeeper had to pay him. Such was the revenge which the saint took, and which truly excited the wonder of the whole city. It is thus that the saints sought revenge, and it is thus that they became saints. But here some one might say : "I have no opportunity to practice acts of heroic charity towards enemies, for the simple reason that I have no enemies. How can I then make myself worthy of graces so extraordinary as to change one into a saint." In this case say to God : "Had I, Lord, a thousand enemies, I would, for thy sake, forgive them all, love them and pray for them." Thus you will practice, at least in desire, the highest degree of charity, and our Lord will take the will for the deed. But remember also that if you have no opportunity to practice this degree of charity in reality, you will always find plenty of opportunities to practice the degree of charity next to the highest, which consists in bearing with your neighbor s whims, weaknesses, faults of character, disagreeable manners, and all the little annoyances which he may cause you. The practice of this kind of charity will also move our Lord to grant you extraordinary graces.
"I know, " says St. Francis de Sales, "that frequent little vexations and annoyances are often more disagreeable than great ones, and that it often seems harder to bear with the inmates of the house than with strangers ; but I know also that our victory in these little annoyances, is often more pleasing to God than many apparently brilliant victories, which are more glorious in the eyes of worldings. For this reason, I admire the meekness with which the great St. Charles Borromeo suffered, for a long time, the fault-finding attacks which a great preacher uttered against him from the pulpit, far more than all his patience under the assaults which he received from others. Lord, when shall we be so far advanced in perfection as to bear with our fellow-men, with a truly strong love and affection.
We read in Holy Scripture that Moses was always the same kind and meek father to the Jewish people in the desert in spite of their frequent murmurs, reproaches, rebellion, and apostasy. His revenge was to pour forth fervent prayers to God for their spiritual and temporal welfare. Now, when such meek and forbearing charity is praying, God is forced, as it were, to listen to such a prayer and to hear it, Hence he could not punish the Jewish people for their sins, so long as Moses interceded for them arid asked him to pardon them.
Now, if on the one hand, it is certain that God, if we forgive our enemies and do good to them, forgives us, also graciously listens to our prayers, and grants extraordinary graces, both for the conversion of our enemies and for our own spiritual advancement, it is, on the other hand, just as certain that God will neither forgive us, nor listen to our prayers, nor accept our gifts, if we do not forgive our enemies. "And when you shall stand to pray, forgive, if you have aught against any man." (Mark, xi., 25.) "Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming, thou shalt offer thy gift." (Matt., v., 23.) In these words, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that our prayers will not be heard by his heavenly father as long as we entertain in our hearts feelings of hatred towards any of our fellow men. If you have recourse to prayer, he says, and at the same time have aught against any man, go first and be reconciled to your brother, or at least forgive him from the bottom of your heart, and then come and offer up your prayers or any other good work, otherwise I will not listen to you. Our dear Lord has made every man his representative on earth, by creating him according to his own image and likeness; he has redeemed all men with his most precious blood ; he has, therefore, declared that whatever we do to the least of our fellow-men for his sake, we do it to him. Now, by commanding us to love our enemies, to do good to those that hate us, and to pray for those that persecute and calumniate us (Matt, v., 44.), he asks of us to give to him, in the person of his representatives, that which we can
give so easily. It is great presumption to ask for his gifts and favors, without being willing, on our part; to give him what he requires of us in all justice. To refuse this request of our Lord is, indeed, on our part, great injustice. We ask of him the greatest gifts : such as the pardon of innumerable and most grievous offenses, final perseverance, deliverance from hell, everlasting glory, and so many other countless favors for body and soul.
What he asks of us is little or nothing compared with his graces. I will give you, then he says, what I can, if you give me what you can. But if you do not give me what you can, neither will I give you anything. "If you will not forgive, neither will your father who is in heaven forgive your sins." (Mark, xi., 26.) It is but just that God should have no compassion on him who has no compassion on his neighbor. " Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy," says St. James. (Chap., ii., 13.) "With what face," says St. Augustine, "can he ask forgiveness, who refuses to obey God's command to forgive others."
Sapricius and Nicephorus were intimate friends ; the former was a priest, the latter a layman. Their holy friendship lasted many years, till unfortunately it was at last broken by a foolish quarrel. Nicephorus soon repented, went to the friends of Sapricius and begged them to intercede for him. But in vain ; Sapricius would not forgive him. Nicephorus then went himself, fell on his knees before Sapricius, and conjured him to pardon him. But the priest was .obstinate ; he refused to forgive. This occurred during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Sapricius was accused of being a Christian, arrested and brought before the judge. He was put to the torture; he bore his sufferings with heroic constancy; he was finally condemned to be beheaded. On his way to the place of execution, Nicephorus meets him, casts himself at his feet, and cries out with tears, "0 martyr of Jesus Christ, forgive me, I am sorry for having offended thee ! "He continued thus to implore Sapricius till they came to the place of execution: but all in vain, Sapricius will not forgive ! Finally, the priest mounted the scaffold the head-man orders him to kneel down, to receive the fatal blow ; at this awful moment his courage fails, the terror of death seizes him. He turns traitor, renounces his holy faith and sacrifices to the false gods ! Nicephorus grieved by this cowardly apostasy and inspired by the Holy Ghost, proclaims aloud, that he is a Christian, he is beheaded on the spot and thus received the glorious crown that Sapricius lost by his unforgiving hatred. (Acta Mart., A. D. 300.)
There is one who has been greatly insulted by his neighbor. On being required to forgive him, he "I will indeed forgive the insult, but I think it is well that evil-doers should be punished." St. Alphonsus answers : "The precept of loving our enemies forbids us to entertain sentiments of revenge against our enemies. We are bound to overcome evil by good. Seek not revenge, nor be mindful of the injury of thy citizens. (LevL, xix.) He who seeks revenge for an insult received, is in the state of mortal sin. Now, if a person says, "I will indeed forgive the injury, but I think it is well that evil-doers should be punished, I can hardly see how such a person is free from the desire of revenge, and, therefore, I would hesitate to absolve him, unless there are other just causes to excuse him."
However, to rejoice at the temporal misfortune of an enemy is no violation of the precept of charity, if we believe that such a misfortune will contribute towards the salvation of others, nor is it wrong to be sorry for the temporal prosperity of an enemy if we have good reason to believe that he will use "his prosperity to oppress the poor, and lead many into perdition. How strange is it not, to see sometimes pious persons overcome by the hellish demon of hatred and revenge. There is a woman, who was once a model of piety. She went regularly to the sacraments, even gave alms to the poor, was liberal to the Church, and an object of joy to angels and men but unfortunately she took offense at some trifle. The demon of hatred entered her heart. She no longer receives the sacraments, or if she does it is only to profane the sacraments, to eat arid drink damnation, for she will not forgive her neighbor ; she still bears hatred in her heart.
A few years ago there was a poor man lying sick in one of the public hospitals of a certain city. He was good and pious, received communion every month, and spent the greater part of his time in reading the lives of the saints and other good books. Now, unfortunately for him, it happened that, from some slight provocation, he received a great dislike to a fellow-patient in the same ward. As the unhappy man did not banish this temptation, his dislike soon became a devilish hatred. Sometimes, in his fury, he allowed himself to be so over come by the demon of hatred that he would make use of the vilest language and throw at his companion whatever came to hand. One day the priest told him publicly that he would be obliged to refuse him the sacraments, even on his death-bed, if he did not give up his hatred. Not long after this unhappy man roused the ward at midnight by the most pitiful moans. All hastened to his bedside. There he was struggling desperately with smothered cries, as if he wished to rid himself of one who was choking him. He was unable to speak, and in a few moments he was a corpse. He died without the sacraments, with
out being reconciled to his neighbor he died with the devil of hatred still lurking in his heart. But one will say perhaps : "I will forgive that person ; I do not wish him any harm, but I do not want to see him or speak to him any more. I do not wish to have any thing to do with him any longer." You say that you forgive that person who has injured you, that you do not wish him any harm but that you do not wish to see him or speak to him any more ! And with that of course, you are satisfied: you go confidently to confession and communion. You consider yourself a good Christian. You do not even think of accusing yourself in confession of any want of charity; and should the confessor, through love for your soul, make any inquiries about the matter, you answer perhaps with a righteous air, that you have done your duty, that you cannot do more than forgive him. Now I must say to you that you have not forgiven that person. You hate him still, and therefore, you are still living in sin, still an enemy of God. Do you shun the society of those whom you love ? Now if you really loved that person who has injured you, would you be so very careful to avoid his company ? But you will say : " indeed I forgive him and love him, but I avoid him for peace sake, I do not wish to quarrel with him. The very sight of him makes my heart s blood boil."; What ! You say that you forgive that person and love him ! Does then the sight of one whom you love make your heart s blood boil ? You say that you forgive him. You mean to say, no doubt, that you do not wish him any harm. But mark well, that is not enough ; you must love him and love him truly. You must do good to your enemy. You must prove by your actions as well as by your words that you really forgive him. Unless you truly forgive and are forbearing with your neighbor, our dear Saviour will say to you in the hour of death:" I have loved you with an eternal charity, and I still love you, because you are my work but I can neither see nor speak to you. A separation must take place. Depart from me. "There is another ;" he says : "If I offer to make friends with that woman, she will think me mean-spirited, and only despise me the more for it." Well suppose she does despise you, will that harm you ? Whose esteem should you value most. God's or hers ? But is it really true that she will think you mean spirited, if you offer to make friends with her ? I do not believe it. It is a suggestion of the devil. No, the Holy Ghost himself assures us that a "mild answer turneth away wrath." (Prov., xv., 1.) There is something good in the heart of every one yet living on earth. It may indeed be buried far down in the soul, but a meek forgiving spirit will surely bring it to the surface, just as the warm sunshine brings up the flowers from beneath the frozen ground. This is, as St. Paul tells us, the only revenge which it is lawful for a Christian to take. "If," he says, "thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him to drink ; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." (Rom., xii., 20.) If you treat your enemy with kindness, if you return good for evil, you will gain him gradually, and at last you will win his heart.
The brave Hungarian, Count Peter Szapary, was taken prisoner by the Turks, brought to Ofen, and dragged before Hamsa Bey. The cruel Turk rejoiced to see his dreaded enemy at length in his power ; he loaded him with insult, condemned him to receive 100 blows on the soles of his feet, then to be chained hand and foot, and cast into prison. It was a dark, loathsome, subterranean dungeon. The prisoner's bed was only moldy straw; his food was so wretched that he was soon reduced to the point of death. But the cruel Pasha did not wish him to die. He desired first to torture his prisoner, and then receive a heavy ransom for him. He ordered the prisoner to be cared for until he was restored to health; then, condemned him to work in the kitchen. One day Hamsa Bey asked him in mockery, how he felt. Szapary answered not a word, but turned his back upon the tyrant. At this the Pasha was so enraged that he ordered the brave nobleman to be harnessed to a plough and to till a neighboring field, with another unhappy Christian, exposed to the strokes of the lash and the jeers of the populace. Finally after three long years of cruel martyrdom, Szapary was exchanged for a wealthy Aga, who had been taken prisoner by the Hungarians. Szapary returned home in a most pitiable condition. He was worn to a skeleton and scarcely able to stand. It was a long time before he was again restored to health. Some years after, .Sept. 2, 1686, Ofen was captured by the Christians and Hamsa Bey taken prisoner. The Duke of Lorraine gave him over into the hands of Szapary, to do with him whatever he thought proper. A servant of Szapary went in haste to the Turk to announce to him the fact. Some time after Szapary went to the prison to visit his cruel enemy. "Dost thou know me?" he asked ; "I am Szapary. Thou art now in my power?" "I know it," answered the Turk sullenly; "now is your time for vengence." "Very well, I shall take the revenge of a Christian. I now restore you to freedom, unconditionally, and even without ransom. The Turk smiles contemptuously. He did not believe such noble conduct possible. "I am a Christian," continued Szapary ; "my religion commands me to forgive my enemies, and to return good for evil." He then ordered the chains of his enemy to be struck, off and restored him to liberty for" the sake of Him who was nailed to the cross." The hardened Turk was completely overcome by this extraordinary generosity. He fell writhing at the feet of Szapary. "Your kindness comes too late" he shrieked; "I have taken poison to escape the tortures which I expected. I now curse myself and my cruelty towards you. I crave your forgiveness. I wish at least to die a Christian, since the Christian religion teaches so sublime a virtue!" Skilful physicians were speedily called, but it was too late. Hamsa Bey was baptized, and Szapary stood as his godfather. (Hungari.)
There is another. He says : "I cannot forgive that person. It is too much to expect from human nature. How can I love a person who has belied me, and calumniated me to all my neighbors ?" You say that you cannot love that person. Tell me, then, does the gospel make any exception? Does it say that you need not love those that belie you ? On the contrary, our Lord says : "Pray for those who calumniate you. " You say, it is too hard to forgive that person. But supposing it is very hard, is that any reason why you should not do it ? Are you not a Christian ? Is not the way to heaven, a way of suffering and self-denial? "If any one wishes to be my disciple," says Jesus Christ, "let him deny himself." It may be expecting too much from poor human nature to love your enemies, but it is not expecting too much from the grace of God for, with the assistance of his grace, you can do all things, as St. Paul assures us.
St. Francis de Sales relates that, when he was studying in Padua, some of the students were in the bad habit of going about in the city at night, challenging the people, and firing upon them if no reply was made. One night it happened that a student was challenged and killed for refusing to answer. The murderer took refuge with a good widow, whose son was one of his most intimate friends. She harbored and concealed him very carefully. A few moments after, she received the harrowing news that her son had just been killed. The truth flashed at once upon her mind, and going forthwith to the closet wherein she hid the murderer of her son, she thus addressed him : "Alas ! what had my son done to you that you should kill him so cruelly?" The culprit, overwhelmed by the atrocity of his crime and the remembrance of the former friendship, burst into tears and tore the hair from his head. Instead of begging pardon of the desolate mother, he threw himself on his knees before her, entreating her to deliver him up that he might publicly atone for so atrocious a crime. The heroic woman was satisfied with these feelings of true repentance, and instead of wishing for revenge, she desired only that the murderer of her son might live and secure God s pardon. Accordingly she had him taken to a place of security. Some time after, the soul of the murdered youth appeared to his merciful mother and told her that God had shortened his time of punishment in purgatory because she had so generously forgiven his murderer. "But everybody tells me that I shall be a fool, if I forgive that person after the way that he has treated me!" Well, do you then intend to be guided by the maxims of the world? Remember you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve Jesus Christ and the world. The world, of course, will tell you: "Fight for your right. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If you cannot punish him by law, then take the law into your own hands. Revenge is sweet." Tell me, then, is this your standard of morality ? This may do very well for heathens, but it will not do for Christians. No ; Jesus Christ says : "If a man smite thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other." (Matt, v., 39.) The motive of your action must be in your own soul, and not in the conduct of others. Men misrepresent you ! What matters it, God is your law-giver and your judge. "But there are so many wicked people in the world !" Well, act so that they may become useful to you. If there were no wicked people how could you grow -in the virtues of charity and patience. "But men are so thankless !" Then imitate nature which gives to man bountifully and hopes for nothing in return. "But they insult you." Remember that an insult degrades only him who gives it.
"But they slander you !" Thank God that your enemies, to blacken your character, must have recourse to lies. "But the shame of being treated thus !" Has then a just man any thing to be ashamed of? "But I will lose my character, every one will think me guilty, I will be disgraced forever, if I speak to that man, that woman !" What ! Look then at Jesus Christ, praying for his enemies ? Then he is the most degraded of men; for he forgives thousands of men every day ! Jesus Christ forgives his enemies. Now, do you not think it is an honor to resemble your God and your Redeemer ? Is it not true nobility, is it not heroic, to raise yourself above all vulgar prejudices, and to forgive your enemies ? Is it not God-like ? The heathens were astonished at the charity with which the first Christians for gave their enemies. Nay even at the present day the most selfish and degraded hearts cannot help admiring that man who forgives his enemies who returns good for evil.
Not long ago it happened, during a certain mission, that some prominent members of the community, who had been at enmity, were reconciled. The two enemies passing on opposite sides of the street crossed at the same moment and embraced each other in the middle of the street. Each one was eager to make the first advance ; and so marked was the fact, that every one in town spoke of it. It was a source of general edification. It revived in the place the old heathen cry about the early Christians : "Ah ! see how these Christians love one another !" "But that man, that woman is an ungrateful creature ! No one can live with him." Well, look again at our Lord. Were not his enemies ungrateful ? Were they not full of hatred and malice ? And yet he forgave them and prayed for them. "But he has done me too great an injury. I cannot forgive him." What ! Have you suffered more than our Lord has suffered. He is God, and you are after all but a weak, sinful man. Again, is the injury done to you greater than any of those you have offered to God ? Why, then should you not be willing to remit a small debt in order that God may remit your large debt ? "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt because thou besoughtest me, Shouldst not thou, then, have had compassion also on thy fellow-servant, even as I had compassion on thee ?" (Matt, xviii., 32.)
Now, who are those Catholics who make such objections to the love of enemies and to the practice of doing good to them ? Generally speaking, they are those who are not in the habit of making frequent acts of the love of their neighbor. We grow in virtue by practicing it. Those, therefore, who but seldom make special acts of the love of their enemies, find it very difficult to practice it when the occasion for its practice is presented to them. They easily give way to their feelings of hatred, and are apt to die with them.
Two friends had the misfortune to quarrel about some trifle and from that moment became deadly enemies. This hatred lasted for several years. At last one of them fell sick. As the illness became serious, the priest was sent for. He came and told the dying man that God would not forgive him until he would first forgive his enemy. The dying man offered to forgive, and the priest, at his request, heard his confession. His enemy was sent for. He came: the two were reconciled, at least to all appearances. Unfortunately, as the one sent for was leaving the sick man's room, he said : "Ah, the coward ! he sent for me, because he is afraid !" When the dying man heard the remark, all his old hatred revived. "No," cried he in a rage, "I am not afraid, and to show you now that I am not, I tell you I hate you as much as ever ! Begone ! May I never see your face again." Scarcely had he uttered these words when he fell back and died ! Think of the meeting of these two enemies in hell. In order that we may escape a similar misfortune, let us adopt the following means :
1. When saying the Lord s Prayer, let us say, with great fervor and with true sincerity, the words : "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us," earnestly wishing that God may forgive our enemies and bless them with spiritual and temporal goods.
2. Let us accustom ourselves to banish all willful feelings of hatred and rancor as soon as they arise in our hearts, by saying some short but fervent prayer for those against whom those uncharitable feelings arise in our soul.
3. Let us do good to our enemies whenever we can.
4. Let us never speak against those who have hurt or ill-treated us.
5. As St. Stephen has, in many instances, proved to be a powerful intercessor and patron for all those who wish to convert not only their enemies but also other obstinate sinners, let us often invoke him, that he may obtain for us the grace .to love our enemies as truly and sincerely as he loved and prayed for his.
In a certain city of Spain, two of the principal inhabitants bore a mortal hatred to each other, and thereby divided the whole into two hostile parties. The streets were often the scene of bloody encounters and ruthless murders. The bishop of the place and even the king himself had tried to put an end to these disgraceful feuds ; but in vain. At last it was resolved to give a mission in the place. The missionaries came. When they heard of the two hostile parties, they resolved to erect in the church an altar in honor of the great martyr St. Stephen, in order to obtain, through his intercession, the grace of reconciliation of the two hostile parties. So in the opening sermon, one of the missionaries told the people that he had looked in vain in their city for an altar erected to the great martyr St. Stephen. "Now my brethren," continued he, "we wish to supply the defect. We wish to erect in this church an altar to the first Christian martyr. You must aid us in this good work. You must especially procure us a beautiful picture of St. Stephen, for we do not know where to find one. Whoever will get this picture for us will have a special share in the graces and indulgences of the mission." The missionary then spoke of the importance of saving their immortal souls. Scarcely had the missionary finished his sermon, when one of the ring-leaders who had been greatly affected by his words came to him and said : "Reverend Father, there is a very beautiful picture of St. Stephen in town ; but it belongs to my enemy. If you send somebody to him, perhaps he will lend it to you for the altar." "Excellent," said the missionary ; "I shall call on him immediately, but I want you to accompany me. " I?" said the man surprised "why, this is impossible ! He is a bitter enemy. He will not only insult me, but your reverence also." "Do not fear," said the priest ; "come with me, you shall be welcome. This is clearly the work of God." They went together to the house of the other ring leader. They were kindly received." We intend" said the priest, addressing him," to erect an altar in honor of St. Stephen. I have heard, that you have a beautiful picture of the Saint, and I have come to request you to lend it to us during the mission." "Most willingly,"answered the ring-leader. "I will not only lend it to you, I will bring it to the church myself, and this gentleman," pointing to his old enemy, "will have the kindness to help me to carry it." He immediately took down the picture and the two enemies bore it triumphantly through the streets to the church. The people, who beheld this miracle of grace, could hardly believe their eyes. The two factions, inspired by the good example of their leaders, now vied with each other in erecting and adorning the altar. In a few days every trace of ill-feeling had disappeared ; the most perfect harmony reigned everywhere.
When the holy patriarch Jacob was on his death-bed, he sent a last message to his son Joseph. "Tell him," he said, "to forgive and forget, for my sake, the great malice of his brethren."
Our dear Saviour sends to you this message from the hard bed of the cross on which he died for us all : "I beg of you," he says, "to forgive and forget, for my sake, all the evil that your brother, that your enemy, has done you." Oh ! go in spirit and kneel at the foot of the cross. Look upon the out-stretched arms of Jesus. Look upon his pale face. Look upon his sacred head crowned with thorns. Say to him like Saul : "Lord, what wilt thou that I should do?" Ah ! listen to his voice. "my child," he says, "my dying request is that you forgive from your whole heart, that person who has injured you. But if you will be revenged, then come, here is my heart, glut your rage upon me, for I have become his surety, I have taken his sins upon myself."
To be continued . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Gospel of this day is full of instruction, and could be divided into many and interesting subjects, for it treats of very important affairs. Our Lord called those blessed who had seen the great events of His day: His birth, His preaching. His miracles. Those were really beautiful days which all the religious world, from the time of Adam and Eve, had expected and were waiting for; they sighed for them, prepared themselves for them, and day after day they expected the realization of the promises of God. The prophets of old spoke of those days, and in some cases described very vividly and exactly the Messias. How their imagination must have been stirred to the sublimest pitch when they thought of the loving closeness of God to man, when the Son of God should come down from heaven!
We envy the apostles and disciples of Christ. Although we have the same privileges they had, we would love to have seen the things which they saw and heard the things which they heard. But we, ourselves, are to be envied, because we have so many privileges which others do not enjoy. We are born of Catholic parents, brought up with care in the Christian religion, with priests enough to teach us, confessors in plenty to guide us in the path of virtue: we cannot do otherwise than be good unless we are very careless. If we have not the happiness of seeing Jesus walking about and holding converse with the crowd, have we not Jesus with us in the Blessed Sacrament? We can walk and hold communion with Him every time we receive holy communion. Therefore we might be called blessed. Do we, however, make use of these occasions? Are we grateful for these advantages? Do we ever return thanks for them? Do we visit Our Lord in His church where He is really present in the Blessed Eucharist? You love Jesus, you like to be in His company. Why are you not more frequently in church, especially when public honor is given to the Blessed Sacrament? Are you among the first that press around His altar to do Him homage? God has been so good to us that we do not appreciate this great gift of faith. We lose our faith from the fact of the too great generosity of God. Hence it is that many do not believe that Christ is the light of the world. The wisdom of God is a stumbling-block to many. Let us return to the consideration of the words of the Gospel:
"A certain lawyer stood up tempting Him, and saying, Master, what must I do to possess eternal life?'' My dear young friends, do you ever ask yourselves this question? Did you ever ask any one to direct you in this important affair "to possess eternal life"? It is the great aim of our life to get the possession of heaven. Has your spiritual director, your confessor, ever been consulted on the means of getting to heaven? I am afraid you have not consulted him, that you think it too irksome to speak of such things to anybody, that no one has a right to direct you in the way you should walk. I am sure that when your superiors wish to give you advice and direction, you become impudent and turn saucily upon them. Your confessor wants you to give up drink, which you are beginning to taste and to like; what a struggle there is for your self-indulgence; how you insist on the most favorable terms! Your confessor advises you to give up certain company; those who make up that company will tell you you are a fool to listen to such advice, and may thus make his advice useless. The young are apt to be headstrong, and to be inclined to the gratification of their passions and to carrying out their desires.
What must you do to keep yourselves good? What must you do to possess eternal life? To this serious question Our Lord gives the following answer, "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" The man answered, " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind." Our Lord said, " Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live." Here is a very plain declaration of what we must do, my dear young friends, to possess eternal life: let me repeat it in a loud voice, " Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind." What a grand precept this is! Is God loved in this way by all our young people? Are there not many who love their passions more? They love games, their companions, the miserable creatures of this world more; they do not love God, they live without ever thinking of God. Miserable people are they, who by their works show they know not God, much less love Him. St. Catherine of Genoa used to say, " What a horrible misfortune it is not to love God! hell of hells, to be without the love of God!" To love God we must observe His holy law not only one law, but all His laws; never offend Him, and hate sin. You must do His holy will. But to love God, you must know Him. Who is God? He is your Creator, who has loved you from all eternity; before you were brought into the world He knew you, and loved you; He had your ideal in His omnipotent mind, and then brought you out of nothingness by creation.
He is therefore your Lord and Master; were it not for Him, you would not exist. For you. He created this beautiful world, with all that is in it, that renders it so charming hills, woods, green fields, rivers and oceans. For you He created the universe, and set it around this world and bespangled it with stars. All is for your service and all is maintained for you. Does not a God of such infinite goodness merit all your love? Not only is God our Creator, He is also our most loving Redeemer, who came from heaven for our love, who has snatched us from the jaws of hell, who has brought the light of truth to us, who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; who instituted the Sacraments, who shed His sacred blood for us, who opened for us the gates of paradise, and who now awaits us there to become sharers in His eternal glories. Does not so loving a Redeemer merit our love? Should you not from your tenderest years begin to love and serve so good a Master? Love Him, then, with your whole soul and with all your strength. Does not the whole world which He created show His goodness and call on you to love Him? St. Philip Neri says, "Lord, you being so worthy of my love, so dear, so good, why did you give me but one heart to love you, and a heart that is so small?" The lawyer continued to question Our Lord, "And who is my neighbor? "Our Lord in answer told of an incident which happened in His day. A poor man fell among robbers and was nearly killed. Several people passed by, among them a Levite and a priest, but they went on, without manifesting any signs of sympathy. But there came by a good Samaritan, who placed the poor man on his beast and took him to a place of safety, where he could be cared for. Which among these, asked Our Saviour, acted in a charitable way? The doctor of the law answered. He, of course, who showed mercy." "Go," said Our Lord, "and do thou in like manner."
There are several important points to be discussed in this story, especially the one of the love which we should show our neighbor: not only in sentiment, but by actual works of mercy. Another point is that this poor man is another figure of sinful mankind. It is certain that the case is a counterpart of the spiritual life; the man that fell among the robbers, who left him half dead on the roadside, is the sinner. When you fall into sin, ah, then you may be sure you have fallen into the hands of the devil, who has come upon you like a robber. And to what a condition has he reduced you! He has robbed you of your precious garment of innocence, which made you so beautiful in the sight of God; he has robbed you of all the treasures you have gathered in your life and which you were carrying with you to heaven. But this is not all: look at the poor soul full of wounds, with barely a little faith left in her, the life of charity nearly extinct, there she lies stretched by the roadside, with no one to help her. Can you imagine a condition more helpless and unfortunate than this? Not able to help yourself and dying for want of care! This dreadful mishap comes to many a youth; he goes along the road happy, full of vigor, but sin has struck him down; his soul is nearly dead, and he cannot move; he is carried along or dragged to the gates of hell, where all at once he awakes with the wails of the damned sounding in his ears. Be on your guard, my good friends, so as not to fall into the hands of those robbers, who will so despoil you that not a vestige of your old goodness will remain. Pray now that if it happen that sin should kill your soul, that Jesus, the good Samaritan, may look for you, pick you up kindly, place you on His beast of burden, and carry you to an inn, where you may recover under His loving care. Jesus is always waiting for such opportunities of succoring poor fallen humanity.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900
I have just added to our homeschool downloads another handwriting practice book. The Litany of Loreto or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can find it here.
I am working on the Litany of the Sacred Heart, the Holy Name and St. Joseph, look for those to be uploaded soon.
A blessed feast of the Assumption to you all. May our Lady grant you all many graces on this feast day. Below you will find a couple links to older posts about this feast.
There is a coloring picture for the children at the link below:
Are we also obliged to love sinners?
We have already remarked that the love of God for all men must be the model of our love for them. Now, God not only loves the just but also sinners. It is true, he hates and detests their sins, because he is offended, by them but he loves the sinner, because he created him, redeemed him, and has the greatest desire to see himself united to him by grace here below and by glory in heaven.
This love of God for sinners, we say, must be the model of our love for them. We must hate and detest the sins of our neighbor, because they make him an enemy of God; but we must love that sinful neighbor, because, as long as he is a pilgrim on earth, he is capable of meriting eternal happiness. How many saints are now in heaven who, for several years, were great sinners, but are now glorifying God in heaven throughout all eternity for his goodness and mercy to them?
Witness St. Augustine, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Margaret of Cortona, and so many others, who from great sinners became very great saints in the Church of God. If we read that the prophets and saints wished for the punishment of the wicked ("Let the wicked be thrown into hell, all the nations that forget God:" Ps., ix., 18.) it was rather through a desire of seeing divine justice triumph over impiety and iniquity, but they did not wish the eternal damnation of sinners; for we should always have compassion for sinners, says St. Thomas, unless they publicly renounce or reject the true faith, and wish to die in the state of impenitence.
Should we have charity for the demons or evil spirits ?
God speaks through the prophet Isaias (Xxviii., 18) "Your league with death shall be abolished, and your covenant with hell shall not subsist." The demons or evil spirits are the inhabitants of hell and the instruments of eternal death. Now, as charity is the perfection of peace and the seal of the divine covenant, we can have no charity for the demons, as such charity would be contrary to divine justice. However, in the same way that we have compassion for irrational creatures, because their preservation tends to the glory of God and the general utility of man ; so we may have the same sentiments with regard to the evil spirits as being a portion of the universal creation and wish that these evil spirits should be preserved in their natural state for the glory of the divine Majesty.
To be continued . . . . . . . . . .
7. Who is our neighbor?
All men are our neighbors. By our neighbor we are not to understand merely our parents, our friends, our benefactors, our fellow-citizens, or those who profess the same faith with us; our neighbor means all men, without exception of persons, or distinction of creed ; strangers as well as fellow-country-men; heretics, Jews, and idolaters as well as Catholics, our enemies as well as our friends. If the love of God the Holy Ghost is in us, it will make us love all men Jews, Greeks, barbarians, Christians, pagans, infidels, heretics; the just and sinners; parents and strangers; friends and enemies; benefactors and malefactors. He who excludes but one man from his love shows that he loves no one with true Christian charity, for the motives of charity are always the same. If, for God's sake I love him who pleases me, I must also, for God's sake, love him who displeases me ; for both are the creatures of God, made in his image ; both are bought with his blood, both are called to his eternal glory.
Our dear Lord, therefore, will despise us, if we despise our fellow-men. He will hate us, if we hate them. He will afflict us, if we afflict them. On the contrary, he will excuse us, if we excuse our fellow-men. He will support us, if we support them. He will pardon us, if we pardon them. In a word, he will treat us, as we treat them. We shall be judged by the charity which we have shown to our neighbor. "He that loveth not, abideth in death," that is in a state of damnation. (1 John, iii, 14.)
"But he in whom charity abides, abideth in God, and God in him." (1 John, iv., 16.) "Charity is the fulfilment of the law." (Rom., xiii. 10.) Ought we, then, to have the same charity for all men without distinction ?
I answer, we should love our neighbor as God loves him. Now God loves all men far more than we can understand but he does not love all with the same degree of love. As he is a Being of infinite perfection, he loves himself with infinite love. Next to himself he loves most those who most resemble him and who are most intimately united to him. Out of a thousand likenesses every one prefers that which is the most correct. In like manner out of a thousand souls God loves that one most, which is nearest to him in perfection. God's love for men, then, is in proportion to their merit and their virtue. Now this love of God for our neighbor should be our model.
Although he has commanded us to love all men, yet he does not require us to love all alike. The holier a man is, the more we should love him. We ought to have a love of preference for those in the highest degree of sanctity. We also owe a special love to our parents. In every act a just proportion must be observed between the object and the agent. The nature of the act, whether good or bad, proceeds from the object,and its in tensity from the agent. Now those who are more advanced in virtue than our parents, and consequently partake more abundantly of the gifts of God, have according to the principles of perfect charity a greater claim on our love than even our parents. But we naturally love our parents more intensely, for both grace and nature inspire us with more affection and sympathy for them. The ties uniting us to them are not only closer but also more indissoluble in fact death alone can dissolve them. It is, therefore, not contrary to true charity to be more strongly attached to our parents than to others who may be even more perfect.
Ought we to love our relatives more than those who are united to us by the ties of friendship, of society, profession, and temporal affairs ? There is no union more lasting and indissoluble than that of blood-relationship. All who are united by such ties derive their existence from the same source. All other ties and associations are but accidental and transitory : such, for instance, are the relations of citizens with regard to their habitation, their temporal and civil affairs, the relations of merchants in business and commerce; and the friendship of soldiers who live in the same camp and the same barracks. The ties of blood-relation ship on the contrary are the foundation of society. They hold together families, generations, and the entire nation. They survive the dissolution of all other associations, and are well-nigh imperishable.
If we owe a love of preference to our parents and relatives on account of the ties of nature, we owe also a special love to our country. The love of our native country is paramount to all other natural affections. The prosperity and independence of our native land are to be preferred even to the welfare of parents or kindred, says St. Thomas Aquinas. There are other degrees of charity between parents and children, husband and wife. St. Ambrose says that man should love God first, then his parents, then his children, and finally his relatives. As to our love for father and mother, St. Jerome says that after God, who is our common and eternal Father, we ought to love our father more than our mother. As to the husband he ought to have more affection for his wife than for his parents : for the Apostle says that the husband should love his wife as his own flesh. "They are not now two, but one flesh." (Matt., xix., 6.) Nevertheless according to the supernatural order and principle of charity, he ought to have more veneration for his parents than even for his wife. The same principle applies to* the duties and sentiments of the wife.
To be continued . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Our Lord, after having spoken of faith and prayer, addressed Himself to those who thought themselves good and just, telling them the parable of the Pharisee and publican in the Temple. Two men went to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, a proud man, who thought he had always done great things, who was puffed up with his good deeds and boasted of them even to God Himself. The Pharisee asked for nothing, but took all the glory to himself. He stood upright, head erect, and facing the altar, full of pride, he prayed in this manner: "God," he said, "I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers: as also is this publican; I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess." What did he pray for? Really, nothing; he came to pray, but he broke out in praise of himself. May not this Pharisee be a picture of ourselves? May there not be also some Pharisees among us, my dear young friends? Are there not many who go to church to pray, but forget for what they are there? Ask that young man when he comes out of the church what favors he has asked of God at this most precious time of public prayer. You have been present at Mass, you have recited some prayers, but you did not think of what you were doing. St. Augustine says: "How can you expect that God will attend to your prayers when you do not think of them yourself? "Young people are very apt to enter a church just as the Pharisee did, as if they were going to a place of amusement; their genuflection is a careless jump before the Blessed Sacrament, their heads are raised, their eyes are wandering and in a few minutes they will be able to tell who is present; they notice who comes into the church, and who goes out, and all this while the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered. It is almost impossible to believe it: they are disrespectful here in their exterior deportment, but they would know very well how to behave in company or in the presence of some great one of the world. But many come to church to do worse than the Pharisee: they come to laugh, to talk, and to disturb others who wish to pray; they come to commit sin and make others commit it. The Apostle Paul cried out with zeal, "Have you not your homes, or do you despise the church of God?" as if he wanted to say, have you not places where you can talk and laugh, need you come to the house of God to do this? No good pastor can look at this without concern; he will not allow you to talk, he will step in at once with a reprimand or send you out of church as a punishment.
"My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves," he would say, using the words of Our Lord when He drove the desecrators out of the Temple. The pagans shame us in this regard; they go to the temple of their false gods with reverence and respect; the Mohammedan never goes into his mosque without taking off his shoes at the entrance and washing his feet as a sign of respect. These idolaters worship false gods made of wood, stone or metal, but with such respect that our outward show of piety and devotion, in many cases, is inferior to theirs. Almighty God, who is thus carelessly treated by His worshippers, will not let such conduct pass unpunished. St. Chrysostom says that the reason of many of our calamities, wars, and famines, is because our churches are not held in sufficient respect, and kept exclusively for the purposes of prayer. Even Socrates, the pagan philosopher, asserts that the desecration of the temple is a sign of the anger of God, and foreshadows great calamities that are about to come upon the nation. The first Christians considered the churches heaven itself: here they came sprinkled with ashes, clothed in sackcloth, with a rope around their waist and humbly kissed the feet of the priest: not only did the common people do this, but even tyrants and kings.
The Emperor Theodosius entered the cathedral of Milan in a poor garment, and when he came to the threshold fell flat on his face, repeating the words of the psalm: "I have been humbled, Lord, exceedingly; quicken Thou me according to Thy word." He remained in that attitude during the sacred functions. St. Gregory of Nazianzen writes of his mother that she was so recollected in church that she never sat down, never spoke, never turned her back to the Blessed Sacrament. These examples show that in former times great outward respect was shown in church. I will not ask you to come to church covered with ashes or dressed in sackcloth; but when you are there assume a respectful posture and ask God to pardon your sins.
Now let us go back to the Gospel; the Pharisee said, "I give Thee thanks that I am not like the rest of men.'' What pride, what blindness this is! In reality this Pharisee was an impudent sinner. Here he was, in the presence of this great healer of the human race, standing before God with his soul stained by this dreadful malady of pride, yet he utters not a word to ask for help in the sickness of his soul. He should have opened his heart to God in groans and lamentations; he should have recognized the meanness of this vice, and begged of God the grace to overcome it; but the Pharisee never thought he was sinfully proud; that all the good in him was changed into wickedness by this vice. We sometimes feel about the same way, for how often do we hear as an excuse for the want of religion, "I do not steal, nor curse, nor get drunk. I do no man any injury." Supposing you are all that you say, are you therefore free from sin? Are not the bad conversations held with your companions, sins? Are not bad thoughts which kill the soul, sins? I am ready to believe, my young friends, that you are not guilty of great sins, but even so, can you say, " I thank God, I am not like those other young men." Just reflect for a moment; supposing you are not guilty of grave faults ought you on that account be proud? You know well enough that you lack much as followers of Jesus Christ. You commit many venial sins; you know you tell many little lies; you are
frequently disobedient; you have very little devotion, very little respect for God in church; you are careless at your prayers, and by these smaller sins, instead of advancing in the path of virtue, you are going back. Again, you say with some pride, we are not as bad as others, for we have not committed great crimes.
If, my dear young people, by a special grace of God you have not, up to the present, fallen into certain great sins, yet if you continue in your cold way, you will in the course of years certainly fall into them. If pride is your governing vice, you will certainly come to a great fall, for it is the punishment of pride to descend into the most abject humiliation. In the lives of the Fathers, we read of a monk who lived a long time in the desert, doing great penance and practicing many virtues; but somehow he had not that humility which a holy man ought to possess. Almighty God wished to save him and so, to humble him. He sent him a temptation and the monk fell. Instead of keeping your eyes on the wicked so that you may say, "Thank God, I am not so bad as to be capable of doing that," keep your eyes on young people who are virtuous and exemplary, and ask yourself why you are not as good as they are. These people are devout in church, they frequent the Sacraments, hear the word of God, are obedient to their superiors, patient, mild, polite and modest in thought, word and action. Am I like them? Remember you must acquire all the virtues of the good if you would be good yourself. Even supposing you are doing very well, that you appear to walk in the path of virtue, you cannot consider yourself perfect, and you cannot thank God that you are better than others; for after all you are only like a servant who has merely done his duty and is not worthy of special commendation for that.
Athens was a great school of philosophy and many students flocked to it. In the first years the Athenian student boasted that he knew everything; some years later on he felt that he knew but little, and finally, compared to what he ought to know, he admitted that he knew nothing. It used to be said at that time that the student who had reached that pitch of philosophy was the one most applauded for his success. Solon, the Gentile philosopher, held this principle: "Of this,'' said he, "I am sure, that I know nothing." I think the same holds true of virtue; the greater opinion we have of our virtue the less we have of it. "When you have done all that is required of you, say you are useless servants."
"We have said enough of the proud Pharisee; let us now consider the publican. Who is that at the farthest end of the church? Why does he not come up and approach the altar? It is the poor, penitent publican. There he stands, beating his breast with shame, and with tearful eyes raised to heaven, cries, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Yes, truly he was a sinner; but he acknowledged himself as such, he bewailed his sins and received pardon for them at once. We ought to have that same feeling, that we are sinners; we should acknowledge that we are not fit to stand before God in His holy place. Let us with sorrow confess our sins to a priest and say, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Make a good examination of conscience, that your sorrow may extend to all your faults, none forgotten and none concealed. Make up your mind firmly that you will hate these sins in the future; turn your eyes to the Heart of Jesus, and pray to Him that He, your Judge, may forgive you. "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." And when you rise from the feet of the priest, you will hear the sweet words, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee,
go in peace and sin no more."
St. Francis de Sales says, "When you go to confession, imagine you stand with your sins beneath the cross, that drops of blood are falling on your soul from the wounds of the dying Lord, washing away every stain of sin."
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900
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