Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . how often would I have gathered thy children . . and thou wouldst not,
behold your house shall be left to you desolate (Luke, xiii. 34)
God is Merciful for a Season, and then Chastises
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
Sinners will not Believe in the Divine Threats
until the Chastisement has come upon Them.
"Indulsistigenti, Domine, indulsisti genti; numquid glorificatus es?"
"Thou hast been favorable to the nation, O Lord, thou hast been favorable to the nation; hast thou been glorified ?"--Isa. xxvi. 15.
Lord, Thou hast often pardoned this people; Thou hast threatened it with destruction by earthquake, by pestilence, in neighboring countries; by the infirmities and death of its own citizens; but Thou hast afterwards taken pity on them: Thou hast been favorable to the nation, O Lord, Thou hast been favorable to the nation; hast Thou been glorified? Thou hast pardoned us, Thou hast dealt mercifully with us; what hast Thou received in return? Have Thy people abandoned their sins? have they changed their lives? No, they have gone on from bad to worse; that momentary fear passed, they have begun afresh to offend Thee and provoke Thy wrath. But, my brethren, perhaps you imagine that God will always wait, always pardon, and never punish? No; GOD is MERCIFUL FOR A SEASON; THEN HE PUNISHES; this is the subject of this day's discourse.Act of Contrition
We must persuade ourselves that God cannot do otherwise than hate sin; He is holiness itself, and therefore cannot but hate that monster, his enemy, whose malice is altogether opposed to the perfection of God. And if God hate sin, He must necessarily hate the sinner who makes league with sin. But to God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike (Wisd. xiv. 9). O God, with what an expression of grief and with what reason do you not complain of those who despise you, to take part with your enemy. Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken; I have brought up children, and exalted them; but they have despised Me (Is. i. 2). Hear, O ye heavens, he says, and give ear, O earth, witness the ingratitude with which I am treated by men. I have brought them up, and exalted them as my children, and they have repaid me with contempt and outrage. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known Me, . . . they are gone away backwards (Ibid. 3, 4). The beast of the field, the ox and the ass, continues the Lord, know their master, and are grateful to him, but my children have not known me, and have turned their back upon me. But how is this? "Services are remembered even by beasts," says Seneca. The very brutes are grateful to their benefactors; see that dog how he serves and obeys, and is faithful to his master, who feeds him; even the wild beasts, the tiger and the lion are grateful to those who feed them. And God, my brethren, who till now has provided us with every thing, who has given us food and raiment: What more? who has kept us in existence up to the moment when we offended him, how have we treated Him?
How do we purpose to act in future? Do we not think to live on as we have been living? Do we not perhaps think that there is no punishment, no hell for us? But hearken and know that as the Lord cannot but hate sin, because He is holy, so He cannot but chastise it when the sinner is obstinate, because He is just.
When He does chastise, it is not to please Himself, but because we drive Him to it. The wise man says that God did not create hell, through a desire of condemning man thereto, and that He does not rejoice in their damnation, because He does not wish to see His creatures perish : For God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living; for He created all things that they might be (Wisd. i. 13). No gardener plants a tree in order to cut it down and burn it. It was not God's desire to see us miserable and in torment; and therefore, says St. John Chrysostom, he waits so long before he takes vengeance of the sinner. He waits for our conversion, that He may then be able to use His mercy in our regard. Therefore the Lord waiteth, that He may have mercy on you (Is. xxx. 18). Our God, says the same St. John Chrysostom, is in haste to save, and slow to condemn. When there is question of pardon, no sooner has the sinner repented than He is forgiven by God. Scarcely had David said Peccavi Domino, when he was informed by the prophet that his pardon was already granted: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin. Yes, because "we do not desire pardon so anxiously as He desires to pardon us," says the same holy Doctor. On the other hand, when there is question of punishment, He waits, He admonishes, He sends us warning of it beforehand: For the Lord God doth nothing without revealing His secret to His servants, the prophets (Amos. iii. 7).
But when, at length, God sees that we are willing to yield neither to benefits, nor threats, nor admonitions, and that we will not amend, then He is forced by our own selves to punish us, and while punishing us, He will place before our eyes the great mercies He before extended to us: Thou thoughtest unjustly that I shall be like to thee; but I will reprove thee, and set before thy face (Ps. xlix. 20). He will then say to the sinner, think you, O sinner, that I had forgotten, as you had done, the outrages you put upon me, and the graces I dispensed to you? St. Augustine says that God does not hate but loves us, and that He only hates our sins. He is not wroth with men, says St. Jerome, but with their sins. The saint says, that by his nature God is inclined to benefit us, and that it is we ourselves who oblige Him to chastise us, and assume the appearance of severity, which he has not of Himself. It is this which David means to express, when he says that the Lord in chastising is like a drunken man who strikes in his sleep: And the Lord was awaked as one out of sleep, and He smote His enemies (Ps. lxxvii. 65). Theodoret adds that, as drunkenness is not natural to man, so chastisement does not naturally belong to God; it is we who force Him into that wrath which is not His by nature.
St. Jerome, reflecting on those words which Jesus Christ on the day of general judgment will address to the reprobate, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matth. xxv. 41), inquires, who has prepared this fire for sinners? God perhaps. No, because God never created souls for hell, as the impious Luther taught: this fire has been kindled for sinners by their own sins. He who sows in sin, shall reap chastisement. He that soweth iniquity, shall reap evil (Prov. xxii. 8). When the soul commits sin, it voluntarily obliges itself to pay the penalty thereof, and thus condemns itself to the pains of hell. For you have said, we have entered into a league with death, and we have made a covenant with hell. Hence St. Ambrose well says, that God has not condemned any one, but that each one is the author of his own chastisement. And the Holy Ghost says, that the sinner shall be consumed by the hatred which he bears himself; with the rod of his anger he shall be consumed (Prov. xxii. 8)." He, says Salvian, who offends God has no more cruel enemy than himself, since he himself has caused the torments which he suffers. God, he continues, does not wish to see us in affliction, but it is we who draw down sufferings upon ourselves, and by our sins enkindle the flames in which we are to burn. God punishes us, because we oblige Him to punish us.
But I know, you say, the mercies of God are great: no matter how manifold my sins, I have in view a change of life by and by, and God will have mercy upon me. But no, God desires you not to speak thus. And say not the mercy of the Lord is great, He will have mercy on the multitude of my sins (Ecclus. v. 6). And why has the Lord forbidden you to say so? The reason is this, for mercy and wrath quickly come from Him (Ibid. 7). Yes, it is true, God has patience, God waits for some sinners; I say some, for there are some whom God does not wait for at all: how many has He not sent to hell immediately after the first transgression? Others He does wait for, but He will not always wait for them; He spares them for a certain time and then punishes. The Lord patiently expecteth, that when the day of judgment shall come, He may punish them in the fulness of their sins (Ecclus. v. 6). Mark well, when the day of judgment shall come: when the day of vengeance shall arrive, in the fulness of their sins. When the measure of sins which God has determined to pardon is filled up, He will punish. Then the Lord will have no mercy, and will chastise unremittingly.
The city of Jericho did not fall during the first circuit made by the Ark, it did not fall at the fifth, or at the sixth, but it fell at last at the seventh (Jos. vi. 20). And thus it will happen with thee, says St. Augustine, "at the seventh circuit made by the Ark the city of vanity will fall." God has pardoned you your first sin, your tenth, your seventieth, perhaps your thousandth; he has often called you, now calls you again; tremble lest this should be the last circuit taken by the ark, that is, the last call, after which, if you do not change your life, it will be over with you. For the earth, says the Apostle, that drinketh in the rain which cometh often upon it . . . and bringeth forth thorns and briars is reprobate, and very near unto a curse, whose end is to be burned (Heb. vi. 7). That soul, he says, which has often received the waters of divine light and grace, and instead of bearing fruit produces nought but the thorns of sin, is nigh unto a curse, and its end will be to burn eternally in hell fire. In a word, when the period comes, God punishes.
And let us know, that when God wishes to punish, He is able and knows how to do it. The daughter of Sion shall be left . . . as a city that is laid waste(Is. i. 8). How many cities do we not know to have been destroyed and levelled with the ground, by reason of the sins of the inhabitants, whom God could no longer bear with! One day, Jesus Christ being within sight of the city of Jerusalem, gazed upon it, and thinking of the ruin which her crimes were to draw down upon her, our Redeemer, who is so full of compassion for our miseries, began to weep: Seeing the city, He wept over it, saying: They shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation (Luke, xix. 41). Poor city, there shall not be left in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou hast not been willing to know the grace which I gave thee in visiting thee with so many benefits, and bestowing upon thee so many tokens of my love; whilst thou hast ungratefully despised Me, and driven me away. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . how often would I have gathered thy children . . and thou wouldst not, behold your house shall be left to you desolate (Luke, xiii. 34). Sinful brother, who knows whether God does not at this moment look upon your soul and weep? Perhaps He sees that you will not turn to account this visit which He now pays you, this summons which He gives you to change your life. How often would I . . . and thou wouldst not. How often, says the Lord, have I wished to draw you to me by the lights which I have given you? How often have I called you and you would not hear me? You have been deaf to me and fled from me. Behold your house shall be left to you desolate. Behold I am already on the point of abandoning you, and if I abandon you, your ruin will be inevitable, irreparable.
We would have cured Babylon, but she is not humbled; let us forsake her (Luke, xiii. 34). The physician when he sees that the patient will not adopt his remedies, which he himself carries to him with so much kindness, and which the other flings out of the window what does he do at length? He turns his back upon him and abandons him. My brethren, by how many remedies, by how many inspirations, by how many calls, has not God endeavored to avert damnation from you? What more can he do? If you damn yourself, can you complain of God who has called you in so many different ways? God calls you by the voice of His minister, he calls you by the voice that is within you, he calls you by His favors, He calls you lastly by temporal punishments; in order that you may learn to dread those which are eternal. St. Bernardine of Sienna says that for certain sins, more especially those which are scandalous, there is no more effectual method of doing away with them than by temporal punishments. But when the Lord sees that His favors serve only to make the sinner more insolent in his evil life, when He sees that His threats are disregarded, when He perceives, in a word, that He speaks and is not heard; then He abandons the sinner, and chastises him with eternal death. Therefore does He say, Because I called and you refused . . . and have neglected my reprehensions, I will also laugh in your destruction and will mock when that shall come which you feared (Prov. i. 24). You, says God, have laughed at my words, my threats, and my chastisements, your last chastisement shall come, and then I will laugh at ye. And it (the rod) was turned into a serpent. St. Bruno, in his commentary upon this passage, says, "the rod is turned into a serpent when they will not amend." The eternal will succeed the temporal punishment.
Oh how well does not God know how to chastise, and so to order it that from the instruments and motives of sin should be drawn the chastisement! That they might know that by what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented (Wisd. xi. 17). The Jews put Jesus Christ to death for fear the Romans should seize on their possessions. If we let Him alone, said they, all will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our place and nation (John, xi. 48). But the same sin of putting Jesus Christ to death was the cause of their being shortly after despoiled of everything by the Romans. "They feared they should lose temporal possessions," says St. Augustine, " and thought not of eternal life, and so lost both." In trying to save their possessions, they lost their souls; the punishment came, and they lost both. Thus it falls out with many; they lose their souls for the things of earth; but God often condemns them to beggary in this world, and reprobation in the next.
My brethren, provoke no longer the anger of your God, know that in proportion to the multitude of his mercies towards you, in proportion to the length of time He has borne with you, your punishment will be greater if you do not amend. "The Lord makes up for the slowness of His chastisement," says St. Gregory, "by its grievousness when it does come." Woe to thee, Corozain, thus does the Lord speak to a soul that has abused his favors, Woe to thee Bethsaida, for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the mighty things which have been wrought in you, they would have done penance long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke, x. 13). Yes, my brethren, if the graces which have been given to you had been given to a Turk or an Indian, if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the mighty works which have been wrought in you, he would have now been a saint, or at least have done great penance for his sins; and have you become a saint? have you at least done penance for your many mortal sins, for your many evil thoughts, words, and scandals? see you not how God is angry with you? how He stands with His scourge in His hand? Do you see not death hanging over you.
And what are we to do? you inquire: are we to despair? No, God does not wish us to despair. Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace: that is what we are to do, as St. Paul exhorts us, in order that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid (Heb. iv. 16). Let us at once go to the throne of grace that we may receive the pardon of our sins, and the remission of the punishment which overhangs us. By seasonable aid the Apostle means to convey that the aid which God may be willing to lend us today He may deny tomorrow. At once, then, to the throne of grace.
But what is the throne of grace? Jesus Christ, my brethren, is the throne of grace. And He is the propitiation for our sins (1 John, ii. 2)." Jesus it is who by the merit of His blood can obtain pardon for us, but we must apply immediately. The Redeemer, during His preaching in Juda, cured the sick, and dispensed other favors as he went along; whoever was on the spot to ask a favor of Him, obtained it; but whoever was negligent, and allowed Him to pass without a request, remained as he was. Who went about doing good." It was this caused St. Augustine to say: " I fear Jesus passing by;" by which he meant to express that when the Lord offers us His grace, we must immediately correspond, doing our utmost to obtain it, that otherwise he will pass on and leave us without it. Today, if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Ps. xciv. 8). Today God calls you; give yourself to God today; if you wait for tomorrow, intending to give yourself to Him then, perhaps He will have ceased to call, and you will remain deserted.
Mary, the Queen and the mother of mercies, is also a throne of grace, as St. Antoninus says. Hence, if you see that God is angry with you, St. Bonaventure exhorts you to have recourse to the hope of sinners. "Go, have recourse to the hope of sinners: Mary is the hope of sinners, Mary who is called the mother of holy hope. But we must take notice that holy hope is the hope of that sinner who repents him of his evil ways, and determines upon a change of life; but if any one pursues an evil course in the hope that Mary will succor and save him, such a hope is false, such a hope is bad and rash. Let us then repent of our sins, resolve to amend, and then have recourse to Mary with a confidence that she will assist and save us.
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.