God Chastises us in this Life, only that He may show us Mercy in the Next.
"Ego quos amo arguo et castigo."
"Such as I love, I rebuke and chastise." Apoc. iii. 19.
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
When the Lord had raised that great tempest which threatened to sink the ship in which Jonas was sailing, in punishment of his disobedience to the divine command, that he should preach to the Ninevites, every one in the vessel was watching and in great fear, praying each to his God, with the exception of Jonas, who was asleep within the vessel: He fell into a deep sleep? But, knowing that he was the cause of the tempest, he caused himself to be thrown into the sea, and was there swallowed by the whale. When Jonas found himself in the body of that fish, and in such extreme danger of death, he addressed himself to God in prayer, and God delivered him: I cried out of my affliction to the Lord, and the Lord heard me (Jon. i. 5). "Behold," says St. Zeno, "how Jonas, who slumbered in the ship, is awake in the whale." While in the ship, he slumbered in his sin; but when suffering chastisement, and upon the point of death, he opened his eyes and remembered God; hence he had recourse to the divine mercy which delivered him, causing the fish to leave him safe and sound upon the shore. Many persons, before seeing the divine chastisements, sleep in their sins, forgetful of God; but the Lord, because He does not desire their destruction, sends them afflictions, so that, roused from their lethargy, they return to Him, and thus He is enabled to avoid punishing them during all eternity. The following is, then, the subject of this discourse:Act of Contrition
GOD PUNISHES us IN THIS LIFE, IN ORDER TO
SPARE US IN THE NEXT.
We have not been created for this earth; we have been created for the blessed kingdom of Paradise. For this reason it is, says St. Augustine, that God mingles so much bitterness with the delights of the world in order that we may not forget Him and eternal life (In Ps. xciii). If, living as we do amid so many thorns in this life, we are strongly attached to it, and long so little after Paradise, how little should we not value Paradise if God were not to embitter continually the pleasures of this earth?
If we have offended God, we must needs be punished for it either in this world or in the next. St. Ambrose says that God is merciful as well when He punishes as when He does not (In Luc. c. 13). The chastisements of God are the effect of His love; they are, to be sure, punishments, but punishments which ward off from us eternal punishment, and bring us to everlasting happiness. But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world (1 Cor. xi. 32). And Judith reminded the Hebrews of the same truth when they were under the scourge of the Lord: Let us believe that these scourges of the Lord, with which like servants we are chastised, have happened for our amendment, and not for our destruction (Judith, viii. 27). Sara, the wife of Tobias, says the same: But of this every one is sure that worshippeth Thee: . . . if his life be under correction, it shall be allowed to come to Thy mercy, for Thou art not delighted in our being lost (Tob. iii. 21). Lord, she said, Thou chastisest us here in order that Thou mayest spare us in the other life, for Thou dost not desire our destruction.
We have it from God Himself that those whom He loves in this life He chastises in order that they may be converted: Those whom I lore I rebuke and chastise (Apoc. iii. 19). Where God loves, says St. Basil of Seleucia, severity is usually the pledge of His graces. Unhappy are the sinners who living in the state of sin prosper in this life; it is a sign that God reserves them for everlasting punishment. The sinner hath provoked the Lord; according to the multitude of His wrath, He will not seek him. Behold! says St. Augustine, speaking of the passage quoted, behold the most grievous chastisement! When He does not appear to take notice of the sinner, and leaves him unpunished, it is a sign that He is very wroth. I call you, says God to him whom He chastises, and will you be deaf to my voice? Son, be converted, otherwise you shall confirm my anger, since I shall cease to regard your salvation, and allow you to live on in your sins without punishment, but only that I may punish you in the life to come. And My indignation shall rest in thee; and My jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will cease and be angry no more (Ezech. xvi. 42).
The Apostle warns you, my brethren, not to be deaf to the voice of God, for that on the day of judgment your obstinacy shall be rewarded with a dreadful chastisement, and that chastisement eternal. 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. ii. 5). So that, St. Jerome says, that there cannot be a greater punishment for a sinner than that he should not be punished in this life. And St. Isidore of Pelusium says that sinners who are punished in this life do not deserve pity, but those only who die without having been punished. It is not so bad, continues the saint, to be simply sick as to have no one to cure you. St. Augustine says, in another part, that when God does not chastise the sinner in this world, He chastises him most severely; whence he concludes that there is no greater misfortune than impunity for a sinner. After England had rebelled against the Church, God did not visit her with temporal scourges: her riches have been increasing from that time; but her chastisement is all the greater on that account, as she is left to perish in her sin. The absence of punishment is the greatest punishment, says the same holy Doctor. The not receiving chastisement in this life for sin is a great chastisement, and prosperity in sin a still greater.
Why then, Job inquires, do the wicked live, are they advanced and strengthened with richest. How comes it, O Lord, that sinners, instead of being taken out of this life in poverty and tribulation, enjoy health, and honors, and riches? The holy man answers, They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to hell (Job, xxi. 7, 13). Wretched men! they enjoy their riches for a few days, and when the hour of chastisement comes, when they least expect it, they are condemned to burn forever in that place of torments. Jeremiah makes the self-same inquiry: Why doth the way of the wicked prosper? and then adds, Gather them together as sheep for a sacrifice (Jer. xii. 1-3). Animals destined for sacrifice are kept from all labor, and fattened up for slaughter. Thus does God act towards the obstinate: He abandons them, and suffers them to fatten on the pleasures of this life in order to sacrifice them in the other to his eternal justice; for these, says Minutius Felix, are fed like victims for the slaughter.
These wretched men, says David, shall not be punished in this life, they shall enjoy their fleeting pleasures; by and by their dream shall have ceased: Neither shall they be scourged like other men; . . . they have suddenly ceased to be; as the dream of them that awake, O Lord, so in Thy city Thou shalt bring their image to nothing (Ps. lii. 5-18). How painful is not the case of a poor man, who dreams that he has grown rich or great, and upon awaking finds himself the miserable and sick creature he is? And the enemies of the Lord shall . . . vanish like smoke (Ps. xxxvi. 20). The happiness of sinners is as suddenly dissipated as is smoke by a breath of air. "Smoke," observes St. Gregory, in his comment upon this passage, "vanishes in its ascent." And the same is the case with sinners: I have seen the wicked highly exalted, . . . and I passed by, and lo! he was not (Ps. xxxvi. 35). Minutius Felix says, in his comment upon the place cited, the unhappy men are exalted the higher, that their fall may be the greater. The Lord allows the sinner to be exalted for his greater punishment, in order that his fall may be the more grievous, as is said by David. When they were lifted up Thou hast cast them down (Ps. lxxii. 18). If the sick man, says St. John Chrysostom, suffer hunger or thirst by order of his physician, it is a sign that the physician has hopes of him; but if the doctor allow him to eat what he pleases, and drink as much as he likes, what are we to conclude from that? It is plain that the physician has given him over. And thus, says St. Gregory, it is a manifest sign that God abandons the sinner to perdition, when he never thwarts his evil purposes: and in the Book of Proverbs we read that the prosperity of fools shall destroy them (Prov. i. 32). As lightning precedes thunder, says St. Bernard, so is prosperity the forerunner of damnation for the sinner.
The greatest punishment inflicted by God is, when He allows the sinner to sleep on in sin, without rousing him from that sleep of death in which he is buried. I will make them drunk, that they may sleep an everlasting sleep, and awake no more, saith the Lord (Jer. li. 39). Cain, after the crime of murdering his brother, was afraid that he should be killed by the first person he should meet: Everyone therefore that findeth me shall kill me (Gen. iv. 14). But the Lord assured him that he should live, and that no one should kill him; which assurance of a long life, according to St. Ambrose, was Cain's greatest punishment. The saint says, that God treats the obstinate sinner mercifully, when he gives him an early death, because he thus saves him from as many hells as he should have committed sins during a longer life. Let sinners, then, live according to the desires of their hearts, let them enjoy their pleasures in peace; there will at length come a time when they shall be caught as fish upon the hook. As fishes are taken with the hook, . . . so men are taken in the evil time (Eccles. ix. 12). Whence St. Augustine says, "Do not rejoice like the fish who is delighted with the bait, for the fisherman has not yet pulled the hook." If you were to see a condemned man making merry at a banquet with the halter round his neck, and every moment awaiting the order for execution, would you envy or pity him? Neither should you envy the sinner who is happy in his vices. That wretched sinner is already on the hook, he is already in the infernal net; when the time of chastisement shall have arrived, then the wretch will know and deplore his damnation, but all to no purpose.
On the contrary, it is a good sign when a sinner is chastised and suffers tribulation in this life: it is a sign that God has still merciful views upon him, and that he wishes to substitute a temporal for an eternal punishment in his regard. God, says St. John Chrysostom, when he punishes us on this earth, does not do so out of hatred to us, but that He may draw us to himself. He chastises for a little while, that He may have you with Him for eternity. When the physician uses the knife, he does so to cure, says St. Augustine. And God, the saint continues, does the same in our regard. "God seems to be cruel; but do not fear; for He is a father who is never cruel, and does not wish to destroy us." But, does not God say the same himself? Those, whom I love, I rebuke and chastise; be zealous therefore, and do penance (Apoc. iii. 19). Son, says God, I love you, and therefore I chastise you; "be zealous;" see how good I am to you; endeavor you to act in like manner towards me; do penance for your sins, if you wish that I should spare you the chastisement which you deserve: at least, accept with patience and turn to advantage the tribulation which I send you. In this cross which now afflicts you, hear you my voice calling upon you to turn to me, and fly from hell, which is close upon you. Behold! I stand at the gate and knock; I am knocking at the door of your heart; open then to me, and know that when the sinner who has driven me from his heart shall open the door again to me, I will enter, and keep him company forever. If any man shall hear My voice, and open to Me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Apoc. iii. 20). I shall remain united to him forever on this earth; and if he remain faithful, I shall seat him beside me, on the throne of my eternal kingdom. To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with Me in My throne (Apoc. iii. 21).
What! must we look upon God as a tyrant, who should take pleasure in our sufferings? He does take pleasure in punishing us, but exactly the same pleasure as a father takes in correcting his son: he does not take pleasure in the pain which he inflicts, but in the amendment it will work. My son, reject not the correction of the Lord; and do not faint when thou art chastised by Him, for whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth, and as a father in the son, He pleaseth Himself (Prov. iii. II). He chastises you because He loves you; it is not that He wishes to see you afflicted, but converted; and if He takes pleasure in your suffering, He does so inasmuch as it is an instrument of conversion--just as a father who chastises his son derives pleasure, not from the affliction of his son, but from the amendment which he hopes to see in him, and which will prevent him from working his own ruin. Chastisement makes us return to God, says St. John Chrysostom; and it is to this end God inflicts it, in order that we may not stay away from him.
Why then, my brethren, do you complain of God when in tribulation? You ought to thank Him prostrate on the earth; tell me now, if a man condemned to die were to have his sentence changed by the prince from death into one hour's imprisonment, and if he were to complain of that one hour, would his complaint be justifiable? Oh, would he not rather deserve that the prince should reverse the last sentence, and condemn him a second time to death? You have long and often deserved hell by your sins. And do you know all that the word hell conveys? Know that it is more dreadful to suffer for one moment in hell than to suffer for a hundred years the most frightful torments which the martyrs have suffered on earth; and in this hell you should have had to suffer during all eternity. And yet you complain if God send you some tribulation, some infirmity, some loss. Thank God, and say: Lord, this chastisement is trifling compared with my sins. I ought to have been in hell burning, deserted by all, and in despair: I thank you for having called me to yourself by this tribulation which you have sent me. God, says Oleaster, often calls sinners to repentance by temporal chastisements. By earthly chastisements the Lord shows us the immense punishment which our sins deserve; and therefore afflicts us on this earth, that we may be converted and escape eternal flames.
Wretched, then, as we have been, wretched indeed is that sinner who is left unpunished in this life, but still more wretched he who, admonished by affliction, does not amend, says St. Basil. It is not a grievous thing to be afflicted by God on this earth after one has sinned; but it is very grievous not to be converted by the affliction sent, and to be like those of whom David speaks, who, although visited by the divine chastisement, still sleep on in their sins. At Thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered (Ps. lxxv. 7). As if the sound of the scourges and the thunders of God, instead of rousing them from their lethargy, served only to make them sleep more soundly. I struck you, yet you returned not to Me (Amos, iv. 9). I have scourged you, says God, in order that you might return to me; but ye, ungrateful that you are, have been deaf to my calls. Unhappy the sinner who acts like him of whom the Lord says, He shall send lightnings against him; . . . his heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as frm as a smiths anvil (Job. xli. 14). God visits him with chastisement, and he, instead of being softened and returning to the Lord by penance, shall be as firm as a smiths anvil; he shall grow more hardened under the blows of God, as the anvil grows continually harder under the hammer of the smith; and shall become like the impious Achaz, of whom the scripture says, In the time of his distress he increased contempt against the Lord (Par. xxviii. 22). Unhappy man, instead of humbling himself, he the more despised the Lord.
Do you know what more happens to these rash beings? They begin to suffer hell even in this life. He shall rain snares upon the sinners; fire and brimstone and storms of wind shall be the portion of their cup (Ps. x. 7). The Lord shall rain upon them His chastisement, sickness, misery, and every bitterness; but this is not the entire, it is only a portion of their cup, that is, of their chastisement. "The Lord says, 'the portion' only of their cup," observes St. Gregory; "because their suffering begins here indeed, but shall be continued throughout eternity." He deserves all this who, being afflicted by the Lord for his conversion, continues to earn chastisement, and provoke the Lord to greater wrath, says St. Augustine. What can I do, O sinner! to work your conversion? will the Lord then say. I have called you by sermons and inspirations, and you have despised them; I have called you by favors, and you have grown more insolent; I have called you by scourges, and you continue to offend me. For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression; . . . and the daughter of Sion shall be left as a city that is laid waste (Is. i. 5-8). Do you not wish to hearken even to my chastisements? Do you wish that I should abandon you? I shall be obliged to do it if you do not amend.
My brethren, let us no longer abuse the mercy which God uses towards us. Let us not be like the nettle, which stings him who strikes it. God afflicts us, because he loves us, and wishes to see us reformed, says Oleaster. When we feel the chastisement, we should bethink us of our sins, and say with the brethren of Joseph, We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother (Gen. xlii. 21). Lord, Thou punishest us justly, because we have offended Thee, our Father and God. Thou art just, O God! and Thy judgment is right. Everything Thou hast done to us, Thou hast done in true judgment (Dan iii. 31). Lord, Thou art just, and dost with justice punish us; we accept this tribulation which Thou sendest us; give us strength to suffer it with patience.
Here we should do well to remember what God once said to a nun: "You have sinned, you must do penance, you must pray." Some sinners are satisfied with recommending themselves to the servants of God, but they must moreover pray and do penance. Let us do so, because when the Lord shall see our resignation He will not only forgive our sins, but even remit the chastisement; and if God continues to afflict us, let us have recourse to that Lady, who is called the consolatrix of the afflicted. All the saints compassionate us in our sufferings, but there is not of them, as St. Antoninus says, who feels so much for us as this divine Mother Mary. And Richard of St. Victor adds, that this Mother of mercy cannot behold unhappy sufferers without succoring them.
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.Other Related Links: