You understand from this, my good young people, that the saints humbled themselves the more, the greater honor they received. Not so with us poor sinners. Though on account of our many sins we are worthy of being despised, we look for the esteem of men, and are very much disturbed when any one looks upon us in our proper character, and does not give us the honor to which we have no claim.
But, my dear young people, let us not look for praise or flattery from men, who are very shortsighted in their judgment, and who frequently praise that with which they ought to find fault on good grounds. "Sons of men are foolish; they are lying in their weights, and they deceive themselves in their vanity." What would it be to you if men praised you and held you in high esteem, if before God you were wicked, miserable and poor in virtue? Seek then to please God; that should be your glory. "Oh! if you could understand," says the venerable Father Segneri, "how to appreciate the glory of God! "
St. Ephrem held the esteem of men in such abomination, that at one time when he was praised, he became most uncomfortable, changed color, the sweat poured from his face with anguish, and he lost all power of utterance. St. Ignatius said he would rejoice to be considered crazy by every one. And when he was at the point of death, he told his companions who stood around his bed, to throw his body into any vile place, like a dog's. God's esteem is above all things. With His esteem you have at the same time the esteem of all the choirs of angels, who are more numerous than the atoms which compose the earth, the esteem of the Apostles, prophets, the martyrs, and of all the saints. Would you renounce all this glory to have the praise of poor miserable man? But to possess this glory from God you have to be truly humble, since before God there is no vice more hateful than pride. To keep yourself always in this condition of mind, frequently ask yourself the question, "Who art thou?" You are indeed a Christian, but how much is lacking in you to be a good Christian? How far are you from those virtues which your holy profession demands? What little fervor, how impatient, how unmortified are you! "Who art thou?" Oh, that you would frequently make these reflections! You would keep yourself humble, you would know yourself thoroughly, and you would make great effort to remove all bad 'habits from your heart and acquire all the beautiful virtues of a Christian life.
The Jews had now heard and been convinced that John was not the Messiah. "But who are you?" they asked again. "Are you Elias? Are you a prophet?" Even in this he refused himself a title. "If you are none of these, who are you? what do you say of yourself, for we must bring word to those who sent us." John the Baptist answered, "I am nothing but a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord." What great humility is this! Yes, he was but a voice, but such a voice! A voice of thunder, a voice like a two-edged sword that was given by God and fitted by Him to open a way into the 'hearts of that hardhearted and stubborn people. Are we not stubborn and hardhearted, too, in our day? What a tremendous prophet would be needed to shake us out of the sleep of sin! In this sacred time of Advent we hear preachers in the churches crying out, "0, ye people of God, prepare ye the way of the Lord! " But there are many sinners who will not be moved by these words. Are not these ministers of the Gospel angels whom God has sent to do the very work that John the Baptist was commissioned to perform? It is the duty of a priest to cry out; it is the duty of the people to listen. But, alas, you young man, you hear the voice of the priest: "Christmas is close at hand; prepare the way of the Lord; in order that He may come to your soul, cleanse it from evil, cut off that bad friendship, keep away from that companion, shun that occasion of sin, make peace with God and with Jesus also, who wishes to come to your soul, and be born there again by grace." But how carelessly you listen to that invitation of God, who speaks to you by the voice of His priest, and you remain obstinate in your sins. Yes, my dear young people, if you hear God's voice, do indeed open your hearts and follow His instructions. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?" you will say with a strong will. Therefore "If you hear His voice hearken."
St. Peter Damien tells of a very wicked man who had two great vices; one was ambition, which brooked no opposition from anybody, and hence he was the personal enemy of any that opposed him; the other vice was impurity, which sunk him into the most filthy excesses. His conscience reproved him all the time and the fear of death often made him tremble; but to these pious relics of a good education, he would say: "Some other time I shall give this up." Several times he was on the point of going to confession, but the old habit of putting off the execution of his resolution prevailed. He was found dead; he had died impenitent. But to prepare the way of Our Lord still better, not only will you remove every sin and the stain of it, but you will also imitate the life of John the Baptist. St. Augustine, speaking of St. John, says, "In the Baptist all is voice, that admonishes us to listen." His silence in the desert is a voice that tells us not to talk too much, especially of things which offend God. His fast is a voice, that preaches loudly against the excesses of eating and drinking, of which we are frequently guilty, especially in Lent and on fast days, caring nothing for the law of abstinence; thus giving grave scandal to bad Catholics. The camel's-hair covering with which John was scantily clothed in order to do penance, is a loud voice against too great delicacy toward the body. His retirement to the desert is a voice that is raised against our continual dissipation. . St. John preached so well, by the example of every virtue, that the people learned to give up sin, to do good, and to devote
themselves to the service of God.
If you young people would be less dissipated and distracted in your life, your life, too, would be a living voice to your companions, preaching to them. If you were respectful to your superiors, you would teach obedience and submission. Certainly the life of a good young man is a great lesson to others; if he is obedient, devout, sensible, decent, and quiet, his companions will become the same. A good life is a sermon to our father, mother, and superiors; yes, even to the priest, for seeing the young man pious, sensible and devout, frequenting the sacraments, always going to church on Sundays and holydays of obligation he will become edified and strengthened in his work for souls.
Thus a youth will sanctify a family, a home, a school and his companions. Now listen to an example which shows how a good son was the means of saving his father. This father had many sons; the oldest was so pious and so accustomed from his childhood to be quiet and retired, that the father could not endure him, but ridiculed him on all occasions. The boy, however, did not change his demeanor. When the time of the father's death approached, all thought he would disinherit the son, but the father, who 'had reflected on the injustice he had committed against this young man, had him brought to his bedside, and with tears he said: "Forgive me, my son, and pray almighty God to forgive me too. You sought the glory of Jesus Christ, but I had no other thought than of the things of this world." He then sent for his other sons, and turning to his good son said: "Here is your father, and your master; do what he tells you, I leave my property in his hands to divide among you as he wishes; this is my last will." These words made an impression on all present.
When the father was dead the good son divided the property among his brothers, but his own share he gave to the poor. Then he went away and built a little cell, there to pass the remainder of his days. Thus it was that the beautiful life of the son was a lesson to the father, and the cause of his happy death. In the same manner let your life be such before men, that it will edify them and be a direct war on sin, as was the life of John the Baptist. The Pharisees who were on this embassy to John, were not quite satisfied, and they said: "If you are not Christ, or Elias, or a prophet, why then do you baptize?" "I," he answered, "baptize only in water as a preparation for the Baptism which will take away sins, and which will be given by another who is already among you and you do not know Him. He is the One who is to come after me, but who was already before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am unworthy to loose."
How many young people could apply to themselves the same reproof ! You have Jesus, the Saviour, among you, and you know Him not. If you knew Him would you not visit Him, would you not adore Him in His holy tabernacle, would you not approach frequently His sacred table? How many young people live in forgetfulness of Our Lord! they rarely visit Him, and 'hardly know that they should genuflect before Him when He is exposed to public worship.
Our Lord is with us also in another way; that is by His presence in our 'hearts. Make an effort to know Him, and remember always the presence of God. Which of you in the presence of a king would dare to perform even an act of incivility? Remembering that you are seen by God, strive to honor Him by acts of love, adoration and gratitude for the many mercies He has shown you. Since He is a king who wishes to reign in your heart, and to do you much good, permit Him to direct your will and your actions in the ways of His providence. Ask Him to assist you, to give you strength in temptation, to give you courage in your labors, and to make you rich in your poverty. Never lose sight of your King; you will thus surely love Him with all your heart, and He will never cease to pour upon you the abundance of His graces. At the hour of your death, Jesus will console you. He will be your last food in the viaticum; and when your friends will stand near you, unable to help you Jesus will be there to assist you in your last agony.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900