First Point.—Conditions of a sincere return to God. These men whom the Holy Spirit here presents
to us as models have with difficulty come to Jesus. They are stopped at the door of the house by a multitude whom all their efforts cannot resist. But their zeal is not lessened. Their ingenious charity finds another way to Him. Rather, He to whom faith conducts them suggests the way they must follow. And you also must expect to find obstacles in your return to Jesus. The enemy of your salvation shall oppose your return by the illusions of the world, the seductions of pleasures, the authority of examples, vain words, the fear of opinions, and foolish railleries. But it is in yourself especially that you shall find the most dangerous arms. They are the ardent passions which you must repress, agreeable inclinations which you must reform, flattering tastes which you must abandon, cherished associations which you must break, and inveterate habits which you must overcome. Imagination, which still more increases the difficulty, terrifies you; only the idea of efforts to be made prevents even the first step. Alas! how much this sad fear of contest against one's self puts to flight the courageous resolutions and renders void the most salutary projects.
If the sick man of whom there is now question was discouraged; if, yielding to obstacles, he stopped short; if, despairing of reaching Jesus, he had ceased to seek Him, the unfortunate man would have been a victim to his infirmity during his life; and, what is more deplorable still, he would die laden by his sins. This is the condition of sinners whom sloth restrains at the very outset of their penitential career, or whom weakness prevents from performing it. Indeed, we should mistrust ourselves, but can we not confide in God? He has promised us His assistance; shall we doubt His fidelity? Implore this assistance with which you cannot fail to triumph, but think that it is to your efforts that God shall grant it. He wishes to supply for your weakness, but not for your will. He consents to aid you, but He commands that you shall begin to act. He adds to your strength what is wanting, but He requires that such as it is you must employ it. See the paralytic who is presented for your model. He strives to come to Jesus with all the strength of which he is capable; in his inability to go and cast himself at the feet of Jesus he puts himself in the hands of charitable persons who carry him there. Imitate him; if your soul, paralyzed by a long sequence of sins, feels no longer able to endure their weight and can only give forth vain desires, entrust yourself to a zealous director. He shall guide you, he shall carry you if it is necessary, even to the feet of your Redeemer. His science shall enlighten you, his experience shall guide you, and his charity shall sustain you. What you think you are unable to do he shall teach you ; and what you really cannot do he shall do for you. His prayers, which are agreeable to God, shall make yours heard. He shall be at once the happy mediator who shall obtain your pardon and the merciful judge who shall pronounce it.
Second Point.—Signs of a true conversion. In healing the paralytic, Jesus gives him three different commands which announce the different characters of the conversion of a sinner. He commands him to arise, to take up his bed, and to return into his house.
The first mark by which we recognize that a sinner is truly converted is when his soul, once lifted up to God, is no longer grovelling in the things of earth, and, strongly maintaining itself, it remains' with constancy in the state of rectitude in which grace has placed it. We do not consider the sick man cured when each time he strives to rise he falls back through want of vigor. We must pronounce the same judgment on a soul whose feeble efforts to arise, not having the necessary strength, are continually followed by relapses. Is not this the judgment we must pronounce on you—you who make of your life a continual alternation of penance and sin ? You have not the courage to cut loose entirely from the world; you have not the generosity to give yourself entirely to God; you are tossed about successively from your fears to your weakness. Do you think you have recovered health when you take in the way of salvation only wavering steps and when the least obstacle disturbs you and casts you down? "Arise," said the Saviour; but remember that a relapse is worse than the original malady, because, already weakened, you have less strength to bear this and to accept the remedies.
In the bed which Jesus commanded the paralytic to take away, the fathers see the symbol of habits, affections, and the passions to which the soul was addicted while she was paralyzed. There she rests, there she languishes, there she remains, incapable of movement. After her conversion the objects of her affections become for her a burden. Her crime was to taste of the pleasure, and a part of her penance shall be to feel its burden. Sinful soul, do not hesitate to take up this bed of miseries to which you were so long confined. You must take it up, or you shall continue to lie upon it. But take courage. Your burden shall become less heavy in proportion to your willingness to carry it; your passions will continue to torment you, especially in the beginning of your conversion, but they will grow weaker in the measure you resist them, and you shall regain the dominion over yourself.
Jesus commanded the paralytic to return to his house. This is also the command He gives to a converted soul. By sin she went out from herself to give herself to creatures; her conversion should consist principally in re-entering herself and remaining there constantly recollected. This separation from dangerous objects, this interior retreat, are at once the precious effects, the manifest sign, and the assured guarantee of a solid penance.
Those sinners are not truly converted whom we see, after some equivocal marks of repentance, not avoiding the occasions which led them to sin, forming again those associations which were their ruin,and returning to the pleasures which corrupted them. You see the most perfect, just those innocent souls that have never been stained by a mortal sin, tremble at the approach of the world and fear its empoisoned breath lest the delicate flower of purity should be withered. And you, who with the knowledge of your weakness and the experience of all your falls should stand in fear and in continual circumspection—you imprudently expose yourself to the contagion by which you were so often attacked, and again expose yourself to the danger to which you have so often succumbed! How can you think that your desires of virtue are sincere?
Fly, therefore, from the world, where everything is a pitfall for your virtue; and, if you are obliged to live in it, make a solitude for yourself, where you can often enter—there to purify your soul from the vile dust by which the commerce of the world surely soils even the most religious hearts.
Source: Short Instructions on the Feasts of the Year, Imprimatur 1897