Jesus curses the fig tree that did not bear fruit
Nine Discourses for Times of Calamities
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
Sinners will not Believe in the Divine Threats
until the Chastisement has come upon Them.
"Si poenitentiam non egeritis omnes similiter peribitis."
"Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish." Luke, xiii. 5.
After our Lord had commanded our first parents not to eat of the forbidden fruit, unhappy Eve approached the tree and was addressed from it by the serpent, who said to her: Why has God forbidden you to eat of this delightful fruit? Why hath God commanded you! Eve replies: God hath commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die (Gen. iii. 3). Behold the weakness of Eve! The Lord had absolutely threatened them with death, and she now begins to speak of it as doubtful: Lest perhaps we die. If I eat of it, she said, I shall perhaps die. But the devil, seeing that Eve was little in fear of the divine threat, proceeded to encourage her by saying: No, you shall not die the death (Gen. iii. 4); and thus he deceived her, and caused her to prevaricate and eat the apple. Thus, even now, does the enemy continue to deceive so many poor sinners. God threatens: Stop, sinners, and do penance, because if not you shall damn yourselves, as so many others have done: "Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish." The devil says to them: "No, you shall not die the death." Fear nothing, sin on, continue to enjoy yourselves, because God is merciful; He will pardon you by and by, and you shall be saved. " God," says St. Procopius, "inspires one with fear, the devil takes it away." God only desires to terrify them by His threats, in order that they may depart from sin, and thus be saved. The devil wishes to destroy that fear, in order that they may persevere in sin, and thus be lost. Many are the wretches who believe the devil in preference to God, and are thus miserably damned. At present, behold the Lord displays His anger and threatens us with chastisement. Who knows how many there may be in this country who have no thought of changing their lives, in the hope that God will be appeased, and that it will be nothing. Hence the subject of the present discourse:Act of Contrition
SINNERS WILL NOT BELIEVE IN THE DIVINE THREATS, UNTIL THE CHASTISEMENT SHALL HAVE COME UPON THEM.
My brethren, if we do not amend, the chastisement will come; if we do not put an end to our crimes, God will.
When Lot was warned by the Lord that He was about to destroy Sodom, Lot at once informed his sons-in-law: Arise! get you out of this place, because the Lord will destroy this city. But they would not believe him: And He seemed to them to speak as it were in jest? They imagined that he wished to sport with their fears, by terrifying them with such a threat. But the punishment overtook them, and they remained to be the sport of the flames. My brethren, what do we expect? God warns us that chastisement hangs over us; let us put a period to our sins, or shall we wait for God to do it? Hear, O sinner! what St. Paul says to you: See, then, the severity and goodness of God towards them, indeed, that are fallen, the severity ; but towards thee the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off (Rom. xi. 22). Consider, says the Apostle, the justice which the Lord has exercised towards so many whom He has punished, and condemned to hell; towards them, indeed, that are fallen, the severity. Consider the mercy with which He has treated you; but towards thee the goodness of God. You must abandon sin; if you change your ways, avoid the occasions of sin, frequent the sacraments, and continue to lead a Christian life, the Lord will remit your punishment, if you abide in goodness; if not, you shall perish, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. God has already borne with you too long, He can bear with you no longer. God is merciful, but He is just: withal; He deals mercifully with those who fear Him; He cannot act thus towards the obstinate.
Such a person laments when he sees himself punished, and says, why has God deprived me of my health? why has He taken from me this child, or this parent? Ah, sinner! what have you said, exclaims Jeremias, your sins have withholden good things from you (Jer. v. 25). It was not the desire of God to deprive you of any blessing, of any gain, of your son, or your parent; it would have been the wish of God to make you happy in all things, but your sins have not allowed Him. In the book of Job we read these words: Is it a great matter that God should comfort thee? but thy wicked words hinder this (Job, xv. II). The Lord would fain console you, but your blasphemy, your murmuring, your obscene words, spoken to the scandal of so many, have prevented him. It is not God, but accursed sin, that renders us miserable and unhappy. Sin maketh nations miserable (Prov. xiv. 34). We are wrong, says Salvian, in complaining of God when He deals hardly with us. Oh! how much more hardly do we deal with Him, repaying with ingratitude the favors which He has bestowed on us!
Sinners imagine that sin procures them happiness; but it is sin which makes them miserable, and afflicted in every respect. Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God, saith the Lord, in joy and gladness of heart, . . . . thou shalt serve thy enemy, whom the Lord will send upon thee, in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of all things, till He consume thee (Deut. xxviii. 47). Because thou hast not wished to serve thy God in the peace which all those taste who serve Him, thou shalt serve thy enemy in poverty and affliction, until he shall have finished by making thee lose both soul and body. David says that the sinner by his crimes digs himself the pit into which he falls. He is fallen into the hole he made (Ps. vii. 16). Recollect the prodigal son: he, in order to live without restraint, and banquet as he pleased, left his father; but then, for having left his father, he is reduced to tend swine; reduced to such a degree of misery, that of the vile food with which the swine are filled, he has not wherewithal to fill himself: And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him (Luke, xv. 16). St. Bernardine of Sienna, relates that a certain impious son dragged his father along the ground. What happened to him afterwards? One day he was himself dragged by his own son in like manner, when, arriving at a certain place, he exclaimed, "No more--stop here, no more thus far did I drag my own father--stop." Baronius mentions a circumstance of a like nature, concerning the daughter of Herodias, who caused John the Baptist to be beheaded. He tells of her, that one day as she was crossing a frozen river, the ice broke under her, and she remained with her head only above th aperture. By dint of her struggles to save herself from death, she had her head severed from her body, and thus died. Oh, how just is not God, when the time of vengeance arrives! he causes the sinner to be caught, and strangled in the net which his own hands have made. The Lord shall be known when He executeth judgments, the sinner hath been caught in the works of his own hands (Ps. ix. 17).
Let us tremble, my brethren, when we see others punished, knowing as we do, that we ourselves have deserved the same punishments. When the tower of Siloe fell upon eighteen persons and killed them, the Lord said to many who were present: Think you that they also were debtors above all the men that dwelt in Jerusalem (Luke, xiii. 4). Do you think that these wretches alone were in debt to God's justice on account of their sins? You are yet debtors to it; and if you do not penance, you shall be punished as well as they: Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish (Luke, xiii. 4.). O, how many unfortunate men damn themselves by false hope in the divine mercy? Yes, God is merciful, and therefore assists and protects them who hope in His mercy: He is the protector of all that trust in Him (Ps. xvii. 31). But He assists and protects those only who hope in Him, with the intention of changing their lives, not those whose hope is accompanied by a perverse intention of continuing to offend Him. The hope of the latter is not acceptable to God, He abominates and punishes it: Their hope the abomination of the soul (Job, xi. 20). Poor sinners, their greatest misery is, that they are lost, and do not know their state. They jest, and they laugh, and they despise the threats of God, as if God had assured them that he should not punish them. "Whence," exclaims St. Bernard," this accursed security?" Whence, O blind that you are, whence this accursed security? accursed, because it is this security which brings you to hell. I will come to them that are at rest, and dwell securely (Ezech. xxviii. II). The Lord is patient, but when the hour of chastisement arrives, then will He justly condemn to hell those wretches who continue in sin, and live in peace, as if there were no hell for them.
Let sin be no more for us, my brethren; let us be converted if we wish to escape the scourge which hangs over us. If we do not cease from sin, God will be obliged to punish us: For evil-doers shall be cut off (Ps. xxvi. 9). The obstinate are not only finally shut out from Paradise, but hurried off the earth, lest their example should draw others into hell. And let us reflect that these temporal scourges are nothing in comparison with those eternal chastisements, hope of relief from which there is none. Give ear, O sinner! my brother, give ear! For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees? The author of the Imperfect Work, in his comment upon this passage, says: "It is said that the axe is laid, not to the branches, but to the root, so that it will be irreparably exterminated ." He says that when the branches are lopped, the tree continues still to live; but when the tree is felled from the root, it then dies, and is cast into the fire. The Lord stands with the scourge in his hand, and you still continue in disgrace with Him. The axe is laid to the root. Tremble lest God should make you die in your sins, for if you die thus, you shall be cast into the fire of hell, where your ruin shall be hopeless for eternity.
But, you will say, I have committed many sins during the past, and the Lord has borne with me. I may, therefore, hope that He will deal mercifully with me for the future. God says, do not speak so: Say not I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? for the Most High is a patient reivarder (Ecclus. v. 4). Do not say so, for God bears with you now, but He will not always bear with you. He endures to a certain extent, and then pays off all. Now, therefore, stand up, that I may plead in judgment against you concerning all the kindness of the Lord (Kings, xii. 7), said Samuel to the Hebrews. Oh how powerfully does not the abuse of the divine mercies assist in procuring the damnation of the ungrateful! Gather them together as sheep for a sacrifice, and prepare them for the day of slaughter (Jer. xii. 3). In the end the herd of those who will not be converted shall be victims of divine justice, and the Lord will condemn them to eternal death, on the day of slaughter, when the day of His vengeance shall have arrived (and we have reason always to be in dread, as long as we are not resolved to abandon sin, lest that day should be already near). God is not mocked; for what things a man shall sow, these, also shall he reap (Gal. vi. 7). Sinners expect to mock God by confessing at Easter, or two or three times a year, and then returning to their vomit, and hoping after that to obtain salvation. "He is a mocker, not a penitent," says St. Isidor, "who continues to do that for which he is penitent;" but God is not mocked.
What salvation?--what salvation do you expect? For what things a man shall sow, them also shall he reap. What things do you sow? blasphemy, revenge, theft, impurity: what then do you hope for? He who sows in sin can hope to reap nothing but chastisements and hell. For he that soweth in his flesh, continues the same apostle, of his flesh also shall reap corruption. Continue, impure wretch! continue to live sunk in the mire of your impurity, your impurities will be converted into pitch within your bowels." A day shall come," says St. Peter Damian, "a day shall come, or rather a night, when your lust shall be turned into pitch to feed an eternal flame within your bowels (De Caelib. sasc. c. 3.)."
St. John Chrysostom says that some pretend not to see; they see the chastisements, and pretend not to see them. And then others, St. Ambrose says, have no fear of punishment until they see it has overtaken them. To all these it will happen as it did to mankind at the time of the deluge. The patriarch Noah foretold and announced to them the punishments which God had prepared for their sins; but the sinners would not believe him, and notwithstanding that the ark was building before their eyes, they did not change their lives, but went on sinning until the punishment was upon them, until they were smothered in the deluge. And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away (Matt. xxiv. 39). The same happened to the great Babylon, in the Apocalypse, who said: I sit a queen, and I shall not see grief (Apoc. xviii. 7). She persevered in her impurity in the hope of not being punished, but the chastisement at length came as had been predicted! Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death and mourning, and famine, and she shall be burnt with fire.
Brother, who knows whether this is not the last call which God may give you? Our Lord says that a certain owner of a vineyard, finding a fig-tree for the third year without fruit, said: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and I find none; cut it down therefore, why cumbereth it the ground (Luke, xiii. 7)? Then the dresser of the vine replied: Lord, let it alone this year also . . . and if happily it bear fruit but--if not, then, after that, thou shalt cut it down. Let us enter into ourselves, my brethren; for years has God been visiting our souls, and has found no other fruit therein than thorns and thistles, that is to say, sins. Hear how the divine justice exclaims, Cut it down therefore, why cumbereth it the earth? but mercy pleads, Let it alone this year also. Have courage, let us give it one trial more; let us see whether it will not be converted at this other call. But tremble lest the same mercy may not have granted to justice that if you do not now amend, your life shall be cut off, and your soul condemned to hell. Tremble, brother, and take measures that the mouth of the pit do not close over you. Such was the prayer of David: Let not the deep swallow me up ; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me (Ps. lxviii. 16). It is that which sin effects, causing the mouth of the pit, that is, the state of damnation into which, the sinner has fallen, to close over him by degrees. As long as that pit is not entirely closed, there is some hope of escape; but if it once shut, what further hope remains for you? By the closing of the pit, I mean the sinner's being shut out from every glimmer of grace, and stopping at nothing; that being the accomplishment of what the wise man has said: The wicked man, when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth (Prov. xviii. 3). He despises the laws of God, admonitions, sermons, excommunications, threats--he despises hell itself; so that persons have been known to say, numbers go to hell, and I amongst the rest. Can the man who speaks so be saved? He can be saved, but it is morally impossible he should. Brother, what do you say?
Perhaps you have yourself come to the contempt of the chastisements of God. What do you say? Well, and if you had, what should you do? Should you despair? No; you know what you have to do. Have recourse to the Mother of God. Although you should be in despair, and abandoned by God, Blosius says, that Mary is the hope of the despairing, and the aid of the abandoned. St. Bernard says the same thing when he exclaims, The despairing man who hopes in thee ceases to be desperate. But if God wishes that I should be lost, what hope can there be for me? But, says God, no, my son, I do not wish to see you lost: I desire not the death of the wicked (Ezech. xxxiii. II.). And what then do you desire, O Lord ? I wish him to be converted, and recover the life of my grace: But that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezech. xxxiii. II). Haste then, brother, fling yourself at the feet of Jesus Christ; behold Him! see how he stands with his arms open to embrace you, etc.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.