"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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Venerable Louis of Granada, OP  (1504-1588)

 
 

THE SINNER'S GUIDE

   

By Venerable Louis of Granada, OP

 

Motives for Practising Virtue

 

Ch 10. The Tenth Motive for practicing Virtue: The Thought of Hell, the Fourth of the Four Last Things


The least part of the happiness we have endeavored to portray should be sufficient to inflame our hearts with a love of virtue. Nevertheless, we shall also consider the terrible alternative of misery reserved for the reprobate. The sinner cannot comfort himself by saying, "After all, the only result of my depraved life will be that I shall never see God. Further than this I shall have neither reward nor punishment." Oh, no; we are all destined to one or the other either to reign eternally with God in Heaven or to burn forever with the devils in Hell!

This happiness and misery, either of which must inevitably be our portion, are represented by the two baskets of figs which Jeremias saw in the vision, one containing "very good figs, like the figs of the first season, and the other basket very bad figs, which could not be eaten." (Jer. 24:1-2). God willed thus to represent to His prophet the two classes of souls, one of which forms the object of His mercy, and the other of His justice. The happiness of the first is unequaled, and the misery of the second is also incomparable; for the just enjoy the perpetual vision of God, which is the greatest of all blessings, while the wicked are forever deprived of this vision, and thereby suffer the greatest of all evils.

If men who sin so rashly would weigh this truth, they would know the terrible burden that they lay upon themselves. Those who earn their living by carrying burdens first estimate the weight they are to bear, that they may know whether it is beyond their strength. Why, then, O rash man, will you or a passing pleasure so lightly assume the terrible burden of sin, without considering your strength to bear it? Will you not reflect on the heavy weight you thus condemn yourself to bear for all eternity? To help you do this I shall offer you a few considerations which will enable you to realize in some measure the greatness of the punishment reserved for sin.

Let us first reflect on the almighty power of God, whose justice will chastise the sinner. God's greatness is apparent in all His works. He is God, not only in Heaven, earth, and sea, but in Hell and in every other place. He is God in His wrath and in the justice with which He avenges the outrages offered to His divine majesty. Therefore, He Himself exclaims by the mouth of His prophet, "Will you not then fear me, and will you not repent at my presence? I have set the sand a bound for the sea, an everlasting ordinance, which it shall not pass over; and the waves thereof shall toss themselves, and shall not prevail: they shall swell, and shall not pass over it." (Jer. 5:22).

In other words, will you not fear the almighty power of that Arm which controls the elements, which sustains the universe, and which no power can resist? If the works of His mercy excite us to love and praise Him, we have no less reason to fear the greatness of His justice. Hence the prophet Jeremias, though innocent, and even sanctified in his mother's womb, was deeply penetrated with this salutary fear. "Who," he cries out, "shall not fear thee, O king of nations?" (Jer. 10:7). And again: "I sat alone, because thou hast filled me with threats." (Jer. 15:17). Doubtless the prophet knew that these threats were not uttered against him; yet they filled him with terror. The pillars of Heaven, we are told, tremble before the majesty of God, and the powers and principalities prostrate themselves in awe before His throne. If these pure spirits, confirmed in bliss, and in no manner doubting of their happiness, but only through admiration of the Divine Perfections, tremble before His power, what should be the terror of the sinner who has made himself the object of His wrath? It is the power of our Sovereign Judge which is most appalling in the punishment of sin. Speaking of God's punishments, St. John says, "Babylon's plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be burnt with fire, because God is strong, who shall judge her." (Apoc. 18:8). The great Apostle, filled with awe of this power, exclaims, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31).

We have not such reason to fear the hands of men, from whom we can escape, and who at least cannot thrust the soul into Hell. Hence Our Saviour tells His disciples, "And fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell." (Matt. 10:28). The author of Ecclesiasticus, impressed with the might of this power, thus warns us: "Unless we do penance we shall fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men." (Ecclus. 2:22). This united testimony proves, as we have said, that as God is great in His mercy and rewards, so will He be great in His justice and punishments.

This truth is still more apparent in the terrible chastisements inflicted by God which are related in Scripture. Witness the punishment of Dathan and Abiron, who, with all their accomplices, were swallowed alive into the earth and thrust into the depths of Hell for rebelling against their superiors. Who can read unmoved the threats against transgressors recorded in Deuteronomy? Among others equally terrible, here is one which the sacred writer puts into the mouth of God: "Thou shalt serve thy enemy, whom the Lord will send upon thee, in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put an iron yoke upon thy neck till he consume thee And thou shalt eat the fruit of thy womb, and the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God shall give thee, in the distress and extremity wherewith thy enemy shall oppress thee." (Deut. 28:48, 53).

We can scarcely imagine punishments more dreadful than these; yet they, as well as all the sufferings of this life, are but a shadow when compared to the terrible torments of the life to come. If His justice be so rigorous in this world, though always tempered by His love, what will it be in eternity when exercised without mercy? For the sinner who has despised God's mercies in this life will feel only the effects con of His justice in the life to come.

Another consideration which may help us to appreciate the rigor of these sufferings is the greatness of the mercy of which the sinner has despised. What is there more astonishing than that mercy which caused God to clothe Himself in human flesh, to endure innumerable sufferings and humiliations, to take upon Himself the transgressions of the world, and for these transgressions to expire as a malefactor on an infamous gibbet? God is infinite in all His attributes; and, therefore, the justice with which He will punish man will equal the boundless mercy with which He redeemed him.

When God first came upon earth there was nothing in us to excite His mercy; but at His second coming our every sin will be an additional reason for Him to exercise His justice. Judge, therefore, how terrible it will be. "At His second coming," says St. Bernard, "God will be as inflexible and as rigorous in punishing as at His first coming He was patient and merciful in forgiving. There is now no sinner living who is cut off from His reconciliation; but in the day of His justice none will be received." These words of St. Bernard are confirmed by the royal prophet,. who tells us, "Our God is the God of salvation: and of the Lord, of the Lord are the issues from death. But God shall break the heads of his enemies: the hairy crown of them that walk on in their sins." (Ps. 67:21-22). Behold, then, how great is God's mercy to those who are converted to Him, and how great is the rigor with which He punishes obdurate sinners.

The same truth is manifested by God's patience with the world, and with the vices and disorders of every sinner in particular. How many there are who, from the age of reason to the end of their lives, continually offend Him and despise His law, regardless of His promises, His benefits, His warnings, or His menaces! Yet God does not cut them off, but continues to bear with them, unceasingly exhorting them to repentance. But when the term of His patience will come, and His wrath, which has been accumulating in the bosom of His justice, will burst its bounds, with what terrible violence it will be poured out upon them! "Knowest thou not," says the Apostle, "that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath, against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works." (Rom. 2:4-6).

The meaning of these words is not difficult. A treasure of wrath is a terrible figure. Just as the miser adds coin to coin, riches to riches, so the wrath of God is daily and even hourly increased by the transgressions of the sinner. Were a man to let no day or hour pass without adding to his material fortune, consider what an immense amount he would have accumulated at the end of fifty or sixty years. Alas, then, for thee, unhappy sinner, for there is hardly an hour in which thou dost not add to the treasures of God's wrath which thy sins are accumulating against thee. Thy immodest glances, the evil desires of thy corrupt heart, and thy scandalous words and blasphemies would alone suffice to fill a world. If to these are added the many other grievous crimes of which thou hast been guilty, consider the treasure of vengeance and wrath which a long life of sin will heap up against thee.

If to the considerations already given we add a brief reflection on the gratitude of men, it will help us realize, in some measure, the severity of the punishment inflicted upon the sinner. Contemplate God's goodness to men; the benefits He has heaped upon them; the means He has given them to practice virtue; the iniquities He has forgiven them; the evils from which He has delivered them. Consider, moreover, the ingratitude of men for all these blessings; their many treasons and rebellions against God; their contempt of His laws, which they trample underfoot for a paltry interest, and often through malice or mere caprice. What, then, can he expect who has thus outraged God's mercy, who, in the words of the Apostle, has "trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, by which he was sanctified?" (Heb. 10:29). God is a just Judge, and their punishment will be proportioned to their crimes. Remember the majesty of Him who has been offended, and consider the sufferings of that body and soul which must offer satisfaction for such an outrage. If the Blood of Christ were needed to make reparation for man's offences, the dignity of the Victim supplying what was lacking in the severity of His sufferings, how terrible will be those sufferings which sinners must endure, and which must supply by their vigor what is wanting in the merit of the victim!

If the thought of the Judge impress us so deeply, what ought to be our feelings when we consider who it is that will be the executioner! The executioner will be the devil. What, then, may we not expect from the malice of such an enemy? If we would form some idea of his cruelty, consider his treatment of the holy man Job, whom God delivered into his hands. He destroyed his flocks; laid waste his lands; overthrew his houses; carried off his children by death; made his body a mass of ulcers, and left him no other refuge but a dunghill and a potsherd to scrape his sores. In addition to his suffering he left him a scolding wife and cruel friends, who reviled him with words which tortured him more keenly than the worms which preyed upon his flesh. Thus was Job afflicted by Satan, but it is impossible to describe in human language Satan's treatment of our Blessed Saviour during the night in which He was the victim of the powers of darkness.

Seeing, then, how cruel are the devil and his angels, will you not tremble with horror at the thought of being delivered into their hands? They will have power to execute upon you the most terrible inventions of their malice, not for a day, or a night, or a year only, but for all eternity. Read the appalling picture of these evil spirits given by St. John: "I saw a star," says the Apostle, "fall from heaven upon the earth, and there was given to him the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and the smoke of the pit arose as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke of the pit. And from the smoke of the pit there came out locusts upon the earth. And power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who have not the seal of God on their foreheads. And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they should torment them five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man. And in those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. And the shapes of the locusts to were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were, as it were, crowns like gold; and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions; and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like to scorpions, and there were stings in their tails." (Apoc. 9:1-10).

Does not the Holy Ghost design to teach us by these terrible figures the fearful effects of God's justice, the awful instruments of His wrath, and the appalling tortures of the reprobate? Does He not wish that the fear of these evils should save us from the lot of the sinner? What is that star which fell from Heaven, and received the key of the bottomless pit, but that bright angel who was precipitated from Heaven to reign forever in Hell? Do not the locusts, so well equipped for battle, represent the ministers of Satan? And are not the green things which they were commanded to spare, the just who flourish under the dew of God's grace and bring forth fruits of eternal life? Who are they who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads but men who have not His Spirit, which is the mark and seal of His faithful servants? It is against these unhappy souls that the ministers of God's vengeance will work.

Yes, they will be tormented in this life and in the next by the devils whom they willed to serve, just as the Egyptians were tormented by the various living creatures which they had adored. What terrible pictures are given us in Scripture of the monsters of this eternal abyss! What can be conceived more horrible than the behemoth, "that setteth up his tail like a cedar, whose bones are like pipes of brass, who drinketh up rivers and devoureth mountains?" (Job 40:10-19).

The considerations already given are certainly sufficient to inspire us with a horror of sin; but to strengthen this salutary fear let us reflect upon the duration of these terrible torments. Try to realize what a comfort it would be to the damned if at the end of millions of years they could look forward to any term or alleviation of their sufferings. But no; their suffering shall be eternal; they shall continue as long as God shall be God. If one of these unhappy souls, says a Doctor of the Church, were to shed one tear every thousand years, and if these tears accumulated to such a flood as to inundate the world, he would still be as far as ever from the end of his sufferings. Eternity would only be at its beginning. Is there anything worthy of our fears but this terrible fate? Truly, were the pain of Hell no more than the prick of a pin, yet if it must continue forever there is no suffering in this world which man should not endure to avoid it.

Oh! That this eternity, this terrible forever, were deeply graven in our hearts! We are told that a worldly man, giving himself to serious reflection upon eternity, made use of this simple reasoning: There is no sensible man who would accept the empire of the world at the expense of thirty or forty years spent upon a bed, even were it a bed of roses. How great, then, is the folly of him who, for much smaller interests, incurs the risk of being condemned to lie upon a bed of fire for all eternity! This thought wrought such a change in his life that he became a great saint and most worthy prelate of the Church.
What consideration will be given to this by the soft and effeminate, who complain so much if the buzzing of a mosquito disturbs their night's repose? What will they say when they will find themselves stretched upon a bed of fire, surrounded by sulphurous flames, not for one short summer night, but for all eternity? To such the prophet addresses himself when he says, "Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Is. 33:14). O senseless man! Will you continue to allow yourself to be deceived by the arch-enemy of your soul? How can you be so diligent in providing for your temporal welfare, and yet be so careless of your eternal interests?

If you were penetrated with these reflections, what obstacle could turn you from the practice of virtue? Difficult as it may appear, is there any sacrifice you would refuse to escape these eternal torments? Were God to allow a man to choose whether he would be tormented while on earth with a gout or toothache which would never allow him a moment's repose, or embrace the life of a Carthusian or a Carmelite, do you think there is anyone who would not, purely from a motive of self-love, choose the state of a religious rather than endure this continual suffering? Yet there is no pain in this life which can be compared to the pains of Hell, either in intensity or in duration. Why, then, will we not accept the labor God asks of us, which is so much less than the austerities of a Carthusian or a Carmelite? Why will we refuse the restraint of His law, which will save us from such suffering?

What will add most keenly to the sufferings of the damned will be the knowledge that by a short penance and self-denial upon earth they might have averted these terrible pains which they must fruitlessly endure for all eternity. We see a figure of this awful truth in the furnace which Nabuchodonosor caused to be built in Babylon (Dan. 3), the flames of which mounted forty-nine cubits, but could never reach fifty, the number of the year of jubilee, or general pardon. In like manner the eternal flame of this Babylon, though it burns so fiercely, filling its unhappy victims with pain and anguish, will never reach the point of mercy, will never obtain for them the grace of pardon of the heavenly jubilee.

Oh! Unprofitable pains! Oh! Fruitless tears! Oh! Rigorous and hopeless penance! If borne in this life, the smallest portion of them might have saved the sinner from everlasting misery. Mindful of all these, send forth your tears and sighs, remembering the prophet who "lamented and howled, who went stripped and naked, making a wailing like the dragons, and a mourning like the ostriches, because her wound was desperate." (Micheas 1:8-9).

If men were ignorant of these truths, if they had not received them as infallible, their negligence and indifference would not be so astonishing. But have we not reason to wonder, since men have received them on the word of Him who has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"? (Lk. 21:33). Yet behold in what forgetfulness of their duty and their God they continue to live.

Tell me, blind soul, what pleasure you find in the riches and honors of this world which is a compensation for the eternal fire of Hell. "If you possessed the wisdom of Solomon," says St. Jerome, "the beauty of Absalom, the strength of Samson, the longevity of Henoch, the riches of Croesus, the power of Caesar, what will all these avail you at death, if your body becomes the prey of worms, and your soul, like the rich glutton's, the sport of demons for all eternity?"