Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Little Number of Those Who Are Saved -- St. Leonard


Thanks be to God, the number of the Redeemer's disciples is not so small that the wickedness of the Scribes and Pharisees is able to triumph over them. Although they strove to calumniate innocence and to deceive the crowd with their treacherous sophistries by discrediting the doctrine and character of Our Lord, finding spots even in the sun, many still recognized Him as the true Messiah, and, unafraid of either chastisements or threats, openly joined His cause. Did all those who followed Christ follow Him even unto glory? Oh, this is where I revere the profound mystery and silently adore the abysses of the divine decrees, rather than rashly deciding on such a great point! The subject I will be treating today is a very grave one; it has caused even the pillars of the Church to tremble, filled the greatest Saints with terror and populated the deserts with anchorites. The point of this instruction is to decide whether the number of Christians who are saved is greater or less than the number of Christians who are damned; it will, I hope, produce in you a salutary fear of the judgments of God.

Brothers, because of the love I have for you, I wish I were able to reassure you with the prospect of eternal happiness by saying to each of you: You are certain to go to paradise; the greater number of Christians is saved, so you also will be saved. But how can I give you this sweet assurance if you revolt against God's decrees as though you were your own worst enemies? I observe in God a sincere desire to save you, but I find in you a decided inclination to be damned. So what will I be doing today if I speak clearly? I will be displeasing to you. But if I do not speak, I will be displeasing to God.

Therefore, I will divide this subject into two points. In the first one, to fill you with dread, I will let the theologians and Fathers of the Church decide on the matter and declare that the greater number of Christian adults are damned; and, in silent adoration of that terrible mystery, I will keep my own sentiments to myself. In the second point I will attempt to defend the goodness of God versus the godless, by proving to you that those who are damned are damned by their own malice, because they wanted to be damned. So then, here are two very important truths. If the first truth frightens you, do not hold it against me, as though I wanted to make the road of heaven narrower for you, for I want to be neutral in this matter; rather, hold it against the theologians and Fathers of the Church who will engrave this truth in your heart by the force of reason. If you are disillusioned by the second truth, give thanks to God over it, for He wants only one thing: that you give your hearts totally to Him. Finally, if you oblige me to tell you clearly what I think, I will do so for your consolation.

Greater Number of Christian Adults are Damned

The Teaching of the Fathers of the Church

It is not vain curiosity but salutary precaution to proclaim from the height of the pulpit certain truths which serve wonderfully to contain the indolence of libertines, who are always talking about the mercy of God and about how easy it is to convert, who live plunged in all sorts of sins and are soundly sleeping on the road to hell. To disillusion them and waken them from their torpor, today let us examine this great question: Is the number of Christians who are saved greater than the number of Christians who are damned?

Pious souls, you may leave; this sermon is not for you. Its sole purpose is to contain the pride of libertines who cast the holy fear of God out of their heart and join forces with the devil who, according to the sentiment of Eusebius, damns souls by reassuring them. To resolve this doubt, let us put the Fathers of the Church, both Greek and Latin, on one side; on the other, the most learned theologians and erudite historians; and let us put the Bible in the middle for all to see. Now listen not to what I will say to you – for I have already told you that I do not want to speak for myself or decide on the matter – but listen to what these great minds have to tell you, they who are beacons in the Church of God to give light to others so that they will not miss the road to heaven. In this manner, guided by the triple light of faith, authority and reason, we will be able to resolve this grave matter with certainty.

Note well that there is no question here of the human race taken as a whole, nor of all Catholics taken without distinction, but only of Catholic adults, who have free choice and are thus capable of cooperating in the great matter of their salvation. First let us consult the theologians recognized as examining things most carefully and as not exaggerating in their teaching: let us listen to two learned cardinals, Cajetan and Bellarmine. They teach that the greater number of Christian adults are damned, and if I had the time to point out the reasons upon which they base themselves, you would be convinced of it yourselves. But I will limit myself here to quoting Suarez. After consulting all the theologians and making a diligent study of the matter, he wrote, "The most common sentiment which is held is that, among Christians, there are more damned souls than predestined souls."

Add the authority of the Greek and Latin Fathers to that of the theologians, and you will find that almost all of them say the same thing. This is the sentiment of Saint Theodore, Saint Basil, Saint Ephrem, and Saint John Chrysostom. What is more, according to Baronius it was a common opinion among the Greek Fathers that this truth was expressly revealed to Saint Simeon Stylites and that after this revelation, it was to secure his salvation that he decided to live standing on top of a pillar for forty years, exposed to the weather, a model of penance and holiness for everyone. Now let us consult the Latin Fathers. You will hear Saint Gregory saying clearly, "Many attain to faith, but few to the heavenly kingdom." Saint Anselm declares, "There are few who are saved." Saint Augustine states even more clearly, "Therefore, few are saved in comparison to those who are damned." The most terrifying, however, is Saint Jerome. At the end of his life, in the presence of his disciples, he spoke these dreadful words: "Out of one hundred thousand people whose lives have always been bad, you will find barely one who is worthy of indulgence."

The Words of Holy Scripture

But why seek out the opinions of the Fathers and theologians, when Holy Scripture settles the question so clearly? Look in to the Old and New Testaments, and you will find a multitude of figures, symbols and words that clearly point out this truth: very few are saved. In the time of Noah, the entire human race was submerged by the Deluge, and only eight people were saved in the Ark. Saint Peter says, "This ark was the figure of the Church," while Saint Augustine adds, "And these eight people who were saved signify that very few Christians are saved, because there are very few who sincerely renounce the world, and those who renounce it only in words do not belong to the mystery represented by that ark." The Bible also tells us that only two Hebrews out of two million entered the Promised Land after going out of Egypt, and that only four escaped the fire of Sodom and the other burning cities that perished with it. All of this means that the number of the damned who will be cast into fire like straw is far greater than that of the saved, whom the heavenly Father will one day gather into His barns like precious wheat.

I would not finish if I had to point out all the figures by which Holy Scripture confirms this truth; let us content ourselves with listening to the living oracle of Incarnate Wisdom. What did Our Lord answer the curious man in the Gospel who asked Him, "Lord, is it only a few to be saved?" Did He keep silence? Did He answer haltingly? Did He conceal His thought for fear of frightening the crowd? No. Questioned by only one, He addresses all of those present. He says to them: "You ask Me if there are only few who are saved?" Here is My answer: "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." Who is speaking here? It is the Son of God, Eternal Truth, who on another occasion says even more clearly, "Many are called, but few are chosen." He does not say that all are called and that out of all men, few are chosen, but that many are called; which means, as Saint Gregory explains, that out of all men, many are called to the True Faith, but out of them few are saved. Brothers, these are the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Are they clear? They are true. Tell me now if it is possible for you to have faith in your heart and not tremble.

If few out of those who are first in the Church of God [the clergy] are saved, what will happen to you?

But oh, I see that by speaking in this manner of all in general, I am missing my point. So let us apply this truth to various states, and you will understand that you must either throw away reason, experience and the common sense of the faithful, or confess that the greater number of Catholics is damned. Is there any state in the world more favorable to innocence in which salvation seems easier and of which people have a higher idea than that of priests, the lieutenants of God? At first glance, who would not think that most of them are not only good but even perfect; yet I am horror-struck when I hear Saint Jerome declaring that although the world is full of priests, barely one in a hundred is living in a manner in conformity with state; when I hear a servant of God attesting that he has learned by revelation that the number of priests who fall into hell each day is so great that it seemed impossible to him that there be any left on earth; when I hear Saint Chrysostom exclaiming with tears in his eyes, "I do not believe that many priests are saved; I believe the contrary, that the number of those who are damned is greater."

Look higher still, and see the prelates of the Holy Church, pastors who have the charge of souls. Is the number of those who are saved among them greater than the number of those who are damned? Listen to Cantimpre; he will relate an event to you, and you may draw the conclusions. There was a synod being held in Paris, and a great number of prelates and pastors who had the charge of souls were in attendance; the king and princes also came to add luster to that assembly by their presence. A famous preacher was invited to preach. While he was preparing his sermon, a horrible demon appeared to him and said, "Lay your books aside. If you want to give a sermon that will be useful to these princes and prelates, content yourself with telling them on our part, 'We the princes of darkness thank you, princes, prelates, and pastors of souls, that due to your negligence, the greater number of the faithful are damned; also, we are saving a reward for you for this favor, when you shall be with us in Hell.'"

Woe to you who command others! If so many are damned by your fault, what will happen to you? If few out of those who are first in the Church of God are saved, what will happen to you? Take all states, both sexes, every condition: husbands, wives, widows, young women, young men, soldiers, merchants, craftsmen, rich and poor, noble and plebian. What are we to say about all these people who are living so badly? The following narrative from Saint Vincent Ferrer will show you what you may think about it. He relates that an archdeacon in Lyons gave up his charge and retreated into a desert place to do penance, and that he died the same day and hour as Saint Bernard. After his death, he appeared to his bishop and said to him, "Know, Monsignor, that at the very hour I passed away, thirty-three thousand people also died. Out of this number, Bernard and myself went up to heaven without delay, three went to purgatory, and all the others fell into Hell."

Our chronicles relate an even more dreadful happening. One of our brothers, well-known for his doctrine and holiness, was preaching in Germany. He represented the ugliness of the sin of impurity so forceful that a woman fell dead of sorrow in front of everyone. Then, coming back to life, she said, "When I was presented before the Tribunal of God, sixty thousand people arrived at the same time from all parts of the world; out of that number, three were saved by going to Purgatory, and all the rest were damned."

O abyss of the judgments of God! Out of thirty thousand, only five were saved! And out of sixty thousand, only three went to heaven! You sinners who are listening to me, in what category will you be numbered?... What do you say?... What do you think?...

I see almost all of you lowering your heads, filled with astonishment and horror. But let us lay our stupor aside, and instead of flattering ourselves, let us try to draw some profit from our fear. Is it not true that there are two roads which lead to heaven: innocence and repentance? Now, if I show you that very few take either one of these two roads, as rational people you will conclude that very few are saved. And to mention proofs: in what age, employment or condition will you find that the number of the wicked is not a hundred times greater than that of the good, and about which one might say, "The good are so rare and the wicked are so great in number"? We could say of our times what Salvianus said of his: it is easier to find a countless multitude of sinners immersed in all sorts of iniquities than a few innocent men. How many servants are totally honest and faithful in their duties? How many merchants are fair and equitable in their commerce; how many craftsmen exact and truthful; how many salesmen disinterested and sincere? How many men of law do not forsake equity? How many soldiers do not tread upon innocence; how many masters do not unjustly withhold the salary of those who serve them, or do not seek to dominate their inferiors? Everywhere, the good are rare and the wicked great in number. Who does not know that today there is so much libertinage among mature men, liberty among young girls, vanity among women, licentiousness in the nobility, corruption in the middle class, dissolution in the people, impudence among the poor, that one could say what David said of his times: "All alike have gone astray... there is not even one who does good, not even one."

Go into street and square, into palace and house, into city and countryside, into tribunal and court of law, and even into the temple of God. Where will you find virtue? "Alas!" cries Salvianus, "except for a very little number who flee evil, what is the assembly of Christians if not a sink of vice?" All that we can find everywhere is selfishness, ambition, gluttony, and luxury. Is not the greater portion of men defiled by the vice of impurity, and is not Saint John right in saying, "The whole world – if something so foul may be called – "is seated in wickedness?" I am not the one who is telling you; reason obliges you to believe that out of those who are living so badly, very few are saved.

Very few are saved by the path of innocence, and even fewer by the path of Penance

But you will say: Can penance not profitably repair the loss of innocence? That is true, I admit. But I also know that penance is so difficult in practice, we have lost the habit so completely, and it is so badly abused by sinners, that this alone should suffice to convince you that very few are saved by that path. Oh, how steep, narrow, thorny, horrible to behold and hard to climb it is! Everywhere we look, we see traces of blood and things that recall sad memories. Many weaken at the very sight of it. Many retreat at the very start. Many fall from weariness in the middle, and many give up wretchedly at the end. And how few are they who persevere in it till death! Saint Ambrose says it is easier to find men who have kept their innocence than to find any who have done fitting penance.

If you consider the sacrament of penance, there are so many distorted confessions, so many studied excuses, so many deceitful repentances, so many false promises, so many ineffective resolutions, so many invalid absolutions! Would you regard as valid the confession of someone who accuses himself of sins of impurity and still holds to the occasion of them? Or someone who accuses himself of obvious injustices with no intention of making any reparation whatsoever for them? Or someone who falls again into the same iniquities right after going to confession? Oh, horrible abuses of such a great sacrament! One confesses to avoid excommunication, another to make a reputation as a penitent. One rids himself of his sins to calm his remorse, another conceals them out of shame. One accuses them imperfectly out of malice, another discloses them out of habit. One does not have the true end of the sacrament in mind, another is lacking the necessary sorrow, and still another firm purpose. Poor confessors, what efforts you make to bring the greater number of penitents to these resolutions and acts, without which confession is a sacrilege, absolution a condemnation and penance an illusion?

Most Christians are walking on the road to hell throughout their life

Where are they now, those who believe that the number of the saved among Christians is greater than that of the damned and who, to authorize their opinion, reason thus: the greater portion of Catholic adults die in their beds armed with the sacraments of the Church, therefore most adult Catholics are saved? Oh, what fine reasoning! You must say exactly the opposite. Most Catholic adults confess badly at death, therefore most of them are damned. I say "all the more certain," because a dying person who has not confessed well when he was in good health will have an even harder time doing so when he is in bed with a heavy heart, an unsteady head, a muddled mind; when he is opposed in many ways by still-living objects, by still-fresh occasions, by adopted habits, and above all by devils who are seeking every means to cast him into hell. Now, if you add to all these false penitents all the other sinners who die unexpectedly in sin, due to the doctors' ignorance or by their relatives' fault, who die from poisoning or from being buried in earthquakes, or from a stroke, or from a fall, or on the battlefield, in a fight, caught in a trap, struck by lightning, burned or drowned, are you not obliged to conclude that most Christian adults are damned? That is the reasoning of Saint Chrysostom. This Saint says that most Christians are walking on the road to hell throughout their life. Why, then, are you so surprised that the greater number goes to hell? To come to a door, you must take the road that leads there. What have you to answer such a powerful reason?

The answer, you will tell me, is that the mercy of God is great. Yes, for those who fear Him, says the Prophet; but great is His justice for the one who does not fear Him, and it condemns all obstinate sinners.

So you will say to me: Well then, who is Paradise for, if not for Christians? It is for Christians, of course, but for those who do not dishonor their character and who live as Christians. Moreover, if to the number of Christian adults who die in the grace of God, you add the countless host of children who die after baptism and before reaching the age of reason, you will not be surprised that Saint John the Apostle, speaking of those who are saved, says, "I saw a great multitude which no man could number."

And this is what deceives those who pretend that the number of the saved among Catholics is greater than that of the damned... If to that number, you add the adults who have kept the robe of innocence, or who after having defiled it, have washed it in the tears of penance, it is certain that the greater number is saved; and that explains the words of Saint John, "I saw a great multitude," and these other words of Our Lord, "Many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven," and the other figures usually cited in favor of that opinion. But if you are talking about Christian adults, experience, reason, authority, propriety and Scripture all agree in proving that the greater number is damned. Do not believe that because of this, paradise is empty; on the contrary, it is a very populous kingdom. And if the damned are "as numerous as the sand in the sea," the saved are "as numerous as the stars of heaven," that is, both the one and the other are countless, although in very different proportions.

When an end demands great efforts, few only attain it

One day Saint John Chrysostom, preaching in the cathedral in Constantinople and considering these proportions, could not help but shudder in horror and ask, "Out of this great number of people, how many do you think will be saved?" And, not waiting for an answer, he added, "Among so many thousands of people, we would not find a hundred who are saved, and I even doubt for the one hundred." What a dreadful thing! The great Saint believed that out of so many people, barely one hundred would be saved; and even then, he was not sure of that number. What will happen to you who are listening to me? Great God, I cannot think of it without shuddering! Brothers, the problem of salvation is a very difficult thing; for according to the maxims of the theologians, when an end demands great efforts, few only attain it.

That is why Saint Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, after weighing all the reasons pro and con in his immense erudition, finally concludes that the greater number of Catholic adults are damned. He says, "Because eternal beatitude surpasses the natural state, especially since it has been deprived of original grace, it is the little number that are saved."

Out of all the attributes of God, none is less known than His justice, because men refuse to believe what they are afraid to undergo.

So then, remove the blindfold from your eyes that is blinding you with self-love, that is keeping you from believing such an obvious truth by giving you very false ideas concerning the justice of God, "Just Father, the world has not known Thee," said Our Lord Jesus Christ. He does not say "Almighty Father, most good and merciful Father." He says "just Father," so we may understand that out of all the attributes of God, none is less known than His justice, because men refuse to believe what they are afraid to undergo. Therefore, remove the blindfold that is covering your eyes and say tearfully: Alas! The greater number of Catholics, the greater number of those who live here, perhaps even those who are in this assembly, will be damned! What subject could be more deserving of your tears?

King Xerxes, standing on a hill looking at his army of one hundred thousand soldiers in battle array, and considering that out of all of them there would be not one man alive in a hundred years, was unable to hold back his tears. Have we not more reason to weep upon thinking that out of so many Catholics, the greater number will be damned? Should this thought not make our eyes pour forth rivers of tears, or at least produce in our heart the sentiment of compassion felt by an Augustinian Brother, Ven. Marcellus of St. Dominic? One day as he was meditating on the eternal pains, the Lord showed him how many souls were going to hell at that moment and had him see a very broad road on which twenty-two thousand reprobates were running toward the abyss, colliding into one another. The servant of God was stupefied at the sight and exclaimed, "Oh, what a number! What a number! And still more are coming. O Jesus! O Jesus! What madness!" Let me repeat with Jeremiah, "Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to my eyes? And I will weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people."

Poor souls! How can you run so hastily toward hell? For mercy's sake, stop and listen to me for a moment! Either you understand what it means to be saved and to be damned for all eternity, or you do not. If you understand and in spite of that, you do not decide to change your life today, make a good confession and trample upon the world, in a word, make your every effort to be counted among the littler number of those who are saved, I say that you do not have the faith. You are more excusable if you do not understand it, for then one must say that you are out of your mind. To be saved for all eternity, to be damned for all eternity, and to not make your every effort to avoid the one and make sure of the other, is something inconceivable.

The Goodness of God

Perhaps you do not yet believe the terrible truths I have just taught you. But it is the most highly-considered theologians, the most illustrious Fathers who have spoken to you through me. So then, how can you resist reasons supported by so many examples and words of Scripture? If you still hesitate in spite of that, and if your mind is inclined to the opposite opinion, does that very consideration not suffice to make you tremble? Oh, it shows that you do not care very much for your salvation! In this important matter, a sensible man is struck more strongly by the slightest doubt of the risk he runs than by the evidence of total ruin in other affairs in which the soul is not involved. One of our brothers, Blessed Giles, was in the habit of saying that if only one man were going to be damned, he would do all he could to make sure he was not that man.

So what must we do, we who know that the greater number is going to be damned, and not only out of all Catholics? What must we do? Take the resolution to belong to the little number of those who are saved. You say: If Christ wanted to damn me, then why did He create me? Silence, rash tongue! God did not create anyone to damn him; but whoever is damned, is damned because he wants to be. Therefore, I will now strive to defend the goodness of my God and acquit it of all blame: that will be the subject of the second point.

Before going on, let us gather on one side all the books and all the heresies of Luther and Calvin, and on the other side the books and heresies of the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, and let us burn them. Some destroy grace, others freedom, and all are filled with errors; so let us cast them into the fire. All the damned bear upon their brow the oracle of the Prophet Osee, "Thy damnation comes from thee," so that they may understand that whoever is damned, is damned by his own malice and because he wants to be damned.

First let us take these two undeniable truths as a basis: "God wants all men to be saved," "All are in need of the grace of God." Now, if I show you that God wants to save all men, and that for this purpose He gives all of them His grace and all the other necessary means of obtaining that sublime end, you will be obliged to agree that whoever is damned must impute it to his own malice, and that if the greater number of Christians are damned, it is because they want to be. "Thy damnation comes from thee; thy help is only in Me."

God Desires All Men to be Saved

In a hundred places in Holy Scripture, God tells us that it is truly His desire to save all men. "Is it My will that a sinner should die, and not that he should be converted from his ways and live?... I live, saith the Lord God. I desire not the death of the sinner. Be converted and live." When someone wants something very much, it is said that he is dying with desire; it is a hyperbole. But God has wanted and still wants our salvation so much that He died of desire, and He suffered death to give us life. This will to save all men is therefore not an affected, superficial and apparent will in God; it is a real, effective, and beneficial will; for He provides us with all the means most proper for us to be saved. He does not give them to us so they will not obtain it; He gives them to us with a sincere will, with the intention that they may obtain their effect. And if they do not obtain it, He shows Himself afflicted and offended over it. He commands even the reprobate to use them in order to be saved; He exhorts them to it; He obliges them to it; and if they do not do it, they sin. Therefore, they may do it and thus be saved.

Far more, because God sees that we could not even make use of His grace without His help, He gives us other aids; and if they sometimes remain ineffective, it is our fault; for with these same aids, one may abuse them and be damned with them, and another may do right and be saved; he might even be saved with less powerful aids. Yes, it can happen that we abuse a greater grace and are damned, whereas another cooperates with a lesser grace and is saved.

Saint Augustine exclaims, "If, therefore, someone turns aside from justice, he is carried by his free will, led by his concupiscence, deceived by his own persuasion." But for those who do not understand theology, here is what I have to say to them: God is so good that when He sees a sinner running to his ruin, He runs after him, calls him, entreats and accompanies him even to the gates of hell; what will He not do to convert him? He sends him good inspirations and holy thoughts, and if he does not profit from them, He becomes angry and indignant, He pursues him. Will He strike him? No. He beats at the air and forgives him. But the sinner is not converted yet. God sends him a mortal illness. It is certainly all over for him. No, brothers, God heals him; the sinner becomes obstinate in evil, and God in His mercy looks for another way; He gives him another year, and when that year is over, He grants him yet another.

But if the sinner still wants to cast himself into hell in spite of all that, what does God do? Does He abandon him? No. He takes him by the hand; and while he has one foot in hell and the other outside, He still preaches to him, He implored him not to abuse His graces. Now I ask you, if that man is damned, is it not true that he is damned against the Will of God and because he wants to be damned? Come and ask me now: If God wanted to damn me, then why did He create me?

Ungrateful sinner, learn today that if you are damned, it is not God who is to blame, but you and your self-will. To persuade yourself of this, go down even to the depths of the abyss, and there I will bring you one of those wretched damned souls burning in hell, so that he may explain this truth to you. Here is one now: "Tell me, who are you?" "I am a poor idolater, born in an unknown land; I never heard of heaven or hell, nor of what I am suffering now." "Poor wretch! Go away, you are not the one I am looking for." Another one is coming; there he is. "Who are you?" "I am a schismatic from the ends of Tartary; I always lived in an uncivilized state, barely knowing that there is a God." "You are not the one I want; return to hell." Here is another. "And who are you?" "I am a poor heretic from the North. I was born under the Pole and never saw either the light of the sun or the light of faith." "It is not you that I am looking for either, return to Hell." Brothers, my heart is broken upon seeing these wretches who never even knew the True Faith among the damned. Even so, know that the sentence of condemnation was pronounced against them and they were told, "Thy damnation comes from thee." They were damned because they wanted to be. They received so many aids from God to be saved! We do not know what they were, but they know them well, and now they cry out, "O Lord, Thou art just... and Thy judgments are equitable."

Even people ignorant of Catholicism have no excuse; how much the more Catholics

Brothers, you must know that the most ancient belief is the Law of God, and that we all bear it written in our hearts; that it can be learned without any teacher, and that it suffices to have the light of reason in order to know all the precepts of that Law. That is why even the barbarians hid when they committed sin, because they knew they were doing wrong; and they are damned for not having observed the natural law written in their heart: for had they observed it, God would have made a miracle rather than let them be damned; He would have sent them someone to teach them and would have given them other aids, of which they made themselves unworthy by not living in conformity with the inspirations of their own conscience, which never failed to warn them of the good they should do and the evil they should avoid. So it is their conscience that accused them at the Tribunal of God, and it tells them constantly in hell, "Thy damnation comes from thee." They do not know what to answer and are obliged to confess that they are deserving of their fate. Now if these infidels have no excuse, will there be any for a Catholic who had so many sacraments, so many sermons, so many aids at his disposal? How will he dare to say, "If God was going to damn me, then why did He create me?" How will he dare to speak in this manner, when God gives him so many aids to be saved? So let us finish confounding him.

You who are suffering in the abyss, answer me! Are there any Catholics among you? "There certainly are!" How many? Let one of them come here! "That is impossible, they are too far down, and to have them come up would turn all of hell upside down; it would be easier to stop one of them as he is falling in." So then, I am speaking to you who live in the habit of mortal sin, in hatred, in the mire of the vice of impurity, and who are getting closer to hell each day. Stop, and turn around; it is Jesus who calls you and who, with His wounds, as with so many eloquent voices, cries to you, "My son, if you are damned, you have only yourself to blame: Thy damnation comes from thee.' Lift up your eyes and see all the graces with which I have enriched you to insure your eternal salvation. I could have had you born in a forest in Barbary; that is what I did to many others, but I had you born in the Catholic Faith; I had you raised by such a good father, such an excellent mother, with the purest instructions and teachings. If you are damned in spite of that, whose fault will it be? Your own, My son, your own: "Thy damnation comes from thee.'

The frightful prospect of abusing so many special graces for salvation

"I could have cast you into hell after the first mortal sin you committed, without waiting for the second: I did it to so many others, but I was patient with you, I waited for you for many long years. I am still waiting for you today in penance. If you are damned in spite of all that, whose fault is it? Your own, My son, your own: "Thy damnation comes from thee." You know how many have died before your very eyes and were damned: that was a warning for you. You know how many others I set back on the right path to give you the good example. Do you remember what that excellent confessor told you? I am the one who had him say it. Did he not enjoin you to change your life, to make a good confession? I am the One who inspired him. Remember that sermon that touched your heart? I am the One who led you there. And what has happened between you and Me in the secret of your heart, ...that you can never forget.

"Those interior inspirations, that clear knowledge, that constant remorse of conscience, would you dare to deny them? All of these were so many aids of My grace, because I wanted to save you. I refused to give them to many others, and I gave them to you because I loved you tenderly. My son, My son, if I spoke to them as tenderly as I am speaking to you today, how many others souls return to the right path! And you... you turn your back on Me. Listen to what I am going to tell you, for these are My last words: You have cost Me My blood; if you want to be damned in spite of the blood I shed for you, do not blame Me, you have only yourself to accuse; and throughout all eternity, do not forget that if you are damned in spite of Me, you are damned because you want to be damned: 'Thy damnation comes from thee.' "

O my good Jesus, the very stones would split on hearing such sweet words, such tender expressions. Is there anyone here who wants to be damned, with so many graces and aids? If there is one, let him listen to me, and then let him resist if he can.

Baronius relates that after Julian the Apostate's infamous apostasy, he conceived such great hatred against Holy Baptism that day and night, he sought a way in which he might erase his own. To that purpose he had a bath of goat's blood prepared and placed himself in it, wanting this impure blood of a victim consecrated to Venus to erase the sacred character of Baptism from his soul. Such behavior seems abominable to you, but if Julian's plan had been able to succeed, it is certain that he would be suffering much less in hell.

Sinners, the advice I want to give you will no doubt seem strange to you; but if you understand it well, it is, on the contrary, inspired by tender compassion toward you. I implore you on my knees, by the blood of Christ and by the Heart of Mary, change your life, come back to the road that leads to heaven, and do all you can to belong to the little number of those who are saved. If, instead of this, you want to continue walking on the road that leads to hell, at least find a way to erase your baptism. Woe to you if you take the Holy Name of Jesus Christ and the sacred character of the Christian engraved upon your soul into hell! Your chastisement will be all the greater. So do what I advise you to do: if you do not want to convert, go this very day and ask your pastor to erase your name from the baptismal register, so that there may not remain any remembrance of your ever having been a Christian; implore your Guardian Angel to erase from his book of graces the inspirations and aids he has given you on orders from God, for woe to you if he recalls them! Tell Our Lord to take back His faith, His baptism, His sacraments.

You are horror-struck at such a thought? Well then, cast yourself at the feet of Jesus Christ and say to Him, with tearful eyes and contrite heart: "Lord, I confess that up till now I have not lived as a Christian. I am not worthy to be numbered among Your elect. I recognize that I deserve to be damned; but Your mercy is great and, full of confidence in Your grace, I say to You that I want to save my soul, even if I have to sacrifice my fortune, my honor, my very life, as long as I am saved. If I have been unfaithful up to now, I repent, I deplore, I detest my infidelity, I ask You humbly to forgive me for it. Forgive me, good Jesus, and strengthen me also, that I may be saved. I ask You not for wealth, honor or prosperity; I ask you for one thing only, to save my soul."

And You, O Jesus! What do You say? O Good Shepherd, see the stray sheep who returns to You; embrace this repentant sinner, bless his sighs and tears, or rather bless these people who are so well disposed and who want nothing but their salvation. Brothers, at the feet of Our Lord, let us protest that we want to save our soul, cost what it may. Let us all say to Him with tearful eyes, "Good Jesus, I want to save my soul," O blessed tears, O blessed sighs!


Brothers, I want to send all of you away comforted today. So if you ask me my sentiment on the number of those who are saved, here it is: Whether there are many or few that are saved, I say that whoever wants to be saved, will be saved; and that no one can be damned if he does not want to be. And if it is true that few are saved, it is because there are few who live well. As for the rest, compare these two opinions: the first one states that the greater number of Catholics are condemned; the second one, on the contrary, pretends that the greater number of Catholics are saved. Imagine an Angel sent by God to confirm the first opinion, coming to tell you that not only are most Catholics damned, but that of all this assembly present here, one alone will be saved. If you obey the Commandments of God, if you detest the corruption of this world, if you embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ in a spirit of penance, you will be that one alone who is saved.

Now imagine the same Angel returning to you and confirming the second opinion. He tells you that not only are the greater portion of Catholics saved, but that out of all this gathering, one alone will be damned and all the others saved. If after that, you continue your usuries, your vengeances, your criminal deeds, your impurities, then you will be that one alone who is damned.

What is the use of knowing whether few or many are saved? Saint Peter says to us, "Strive by good works to make your election sure." When Saint Thomas Aquinas's sister asked him what she must do to go to heaven, he said, "You will be saved if you want to be." I say the same thing to you, and here is proof of my declaration. No one is damned unless he commits mortal sin: that is of faith. And no one commits mortal sin unless he wants to: that is an undeniable theological proposition. Therefore, no one goes to hell unless he wants to; the consequence is obvious. Does that not suffice to comfort you? Weep over past sins, make a good confession, sin no more in the future, and you will all be saved. Why torment yourself so? For it is certain that you have to commit mortal sin to go to hell, and that to commit mortal sin you must want to, and that consequently no one goes to hell unless he wants to. That is not just an opinion, it is an undeniable and very comforting truth; may God give you to understand it, and may He bless you. Amen.

In the first Rules on the discernment of spirits, Saint Ignatius shows that it is typical of the evil spirit to tranquilize sinners.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bishop Baraga's pastoral letter to the faithful of his vicariate-apostolic announcing his elevation to the episcopal dignity


"Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present wicked world, according to the will of God and our Father."

And the will of God, our heavenly Father, is our sanctification, our eternal happiness; that we should love him and serve him in this world, and be happy with him forever in the next. And there is no true happiness but with him and in him. God Almighty has created us for happiness; and he could not create us for anything else, because he is Charity, and all his designs and ways are charity and mercy. He has created all things for us, but he has created us for himself. And if we, nevertheless, see how much misery and unhappiness there is among us in this world, and are taught that innumerable souls are in eternal sufferings in the next world, we must acknowledge that the cause of all that, is not the will of God, but our own wickedness, our want of obedient submission to the most holy and merciful will of God Almighty. Our Savior and our God is infinitely faithful to his promises. He promised us solemnly that whosoever shall fulfill the will of his Father, and our Father, that is in heaven, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and be there eternally happy with God. We see, then plainly before us the way to happiness ; it is : The fulfilling of the will of God, the fulfilling of our duties towards him.

Dearly beloved, as I wish your eternal happiness with the same heartfelt desire as I do my own, I entreat you with all my heart, be faithful in the fulfilling of your duties toward God, and God will reward you for it in his heavenly kingdom.

I will now explain to you our, principal and most sacred duties, towards God, that you may mind them, and with the help of God fulfill them faithfully. Read these instructions with attention ; not only once and then throw them away and forget them, but read them repeatedly, and endeavor to practise them. This is the first time I speak to you, through these lines, as your principal Pastor and Bishop. Let. these words enter into your hearts as they come out of my heart. This heart has ever loved you, my dear children, but never so paternally as now.


I. Our first essential duty towards God is the duty of Faith, which consists in the believing of every word that God has revealed to us, without rejecting a single point of revealed faith. Some truths of our religion are so sublime that we cannot comprehend them with our feeble and limited reason. These truths we also must believe on the authority of God who never can err, never deceive nor be deceived. That there are in our holy religion some truths so sublime that we cannot comprehend them shows the divine character of it and admonishes us of the necessity, of the absolute submission of our limited reason to the infallible authority of God. To reject a single point would be to destroy the whole ; because if God could err or deceive only in one point, his authority would be no better than human.

This duty of faith is essential and the fulfilling of it necessary for salvation, because without faith it is impossible to please God. And Christ said very expressly; "He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believes not, shall be condemned." But we must not think that faith alone will save us, as many believe who do not belong to the true church of God. We have the infallible authority of the word of God for it, that faith without good works is dead ; and a dead faith will certainly not procure us life everlasting. The devils also believe and tremble, but they remain devils, because their faith is fruitless, and ever was so. Our faith must be a living faith ; and a living faith only will give, us life everlasting in heaven. In order to have a living faith, we must show it in our life and behavior; we must live by our faith according to the principles of our holy religion ; we must make it our rule of life. If we have, and preserve until death, the true faith, and do not live according to its precepts, we shall be cast out into exterior darkness on the day of judgment, like that slothful servant, who received a precious talent at the hands of his master, and merely preserved it, but made no profit on it. Our holy Catholic faith is a most precious and immense treasure, infinitely more precious than all the gold and silver of the universe. This is that precious talent which our heavenly Lord and Master entrusted to us, His servant?, that we may deal in it, and make all possible profit by it, against the day of account. He that merely preserves this talent, and makes no profit of it, will certainly be cast out into that horrid darkness of eternal damnation.

Examine yourselves, beloved children, whether your faith is living and profitable, or dead and fruitless. How unhappy is the negligent Catholic who possesses that precious talent, the true faith, revealed by the Son of God, and does not profit by it ! Oh, how those unfortunate victims of the justice of God regret that they did not make a better use of their religion when it was time ! Would they be allowed to return to this world, oh ! how faithful would they be in fulfilling all Christian duties ! They will never more be allowed to return to this world ; but you, my dearest children, are yet in this world. But your time will soon pass away forever. Profit by it ; it will be for your everlasting happiness. You have an immense treasure in your hands, you can buy heaven with it. How unfortunate would you be if you profit not by such an opportunity !


II. Another great duty of a Christian towards his God is the duty of Adoration. As soon as we believe in God and believe in His revealed word, we will easily understand how great our duty is to adore Him and Him alone. "The Lord thy God thou shalt adore and serve Him alone." We are often accused by our adversaries of adoring creatures equally with the Creator. Let them say what they please. Every Catholic child knows that we adore only God Almighty, and no other being. But we pray to the saints in heaven that they may pray with us and for us to God Almighty.

The duty of praying is a great and holy duty. We are expressly commanded to pray continually and never to cease. Not only the word of our Savior, but also His holy example teaches us the duty of praying ; He was continually praying and spent whole nights in prayer.

Never neglect your prayers, beloved children. A Christian without prayer is like a soldier without arms; exposed to every attack of his enemies, and easily overcome. We are soldiers of Christ ; our whole life is a kind of warfare against our enemies, visible and invisible; and our strongest weapon is prayer. If you throw away that weapon, how will you be able to withstand the violent and repeated attacks of your enemies? Remember the warning of our Savior, that we must watch and pray ; or else the enemy will soon overcome us.

Although we have always to pray and never to cease, still there are some periods of time in which we are more strictly obliged to pray. These are especially the beginning and the end of every day; therefore every faithful Christian ought, invariably, to perform his morning and evening prayer. And if he does not, he neglects a decided, and sacred duty towards God, and deprives himself of many graces; because prayer is the principal channel through which the grace of God flows into our hearts.

Dearly beloved children, be faithful in the fulfilling of this holy duty; and never say, I have no time to pray. Consider how ungrateful this is. God Almighty gives you twenty-four hours every day for your works and wants. And out of these twenty-four hours you cannot give a few minutes to God for the fulfilling of a great duty? Fear the reproaches of God on the day of judgment! It requires only a good will and a firm resolution to fulfill this duty, and you will find means and time to do it. And don't think, my dear children, that in remote; places you are not very strictly obliged to perform your prayers. This is a pernicious illusion. God is everywhere, and must be served everywhere. Our Savior says plainly that the true adorers and servants of God will adore Him everywhere in spirit and in truth.

Be especially faithful in fulfilling the duty of praying on the day of Our Lord, on Sunday, which is set apart by God Almighty for His special service. We read in Holy Scripture how severely God has punished Sabbath-breakers in ancient times. If He does not punish them always now in this, world, He certainly will in the next. It is a melancholy fact (but, nevertheless, very true, and it came a thousand times within my experience) that many Christians living in remote places neglect more their duty of praying and commit more sins on Sunday than on any other day in the week. How horrid this is! And what a responsibility on the day of judgment ! Be careful, dear children, and fear the judgment of God. It may fall upon you on a sudden and unexpectedly. Watch and pray. Perform your prayers every morning and every evening, and during the day frequently remember God ; and so you will fulfill that precept of our Savior : "Pray continually and never cease."


III. The third of our principal and most essential duties towards God is the duty of Respect; that we ought to respect God more than any person on earth. This duty seems to be plainly understood, and it seems to be a matter of course that God be more respected than any person on earth, because He is the most Perfect Being. And still there is hardly any other duty towards God that is so often transgressed, especially by many classes of people, than this very duty of respect.

To fulfill this duty, we ought never to forget the presence of God, but continually to remember, as we are taught by our faith, that God Almighty is everywhere present, that He knows our thoughts, hears our words, and sees our actions ; and then to behave as it becomes the awful presence of God. When a believing Christian (as they commonly are) is in the presence of a respected and worthy clergyman, he behaves decently; not a single word will escape his lips that could offend the respected person; not a single action or gesture will take place that could hurt the feelings of the person of that respectable character. But consider the same Christian when he is in his ordinary common society, amongst persons whom he does not particularly respect. He will behave quite differently, he will use bad language, he will curse, swear, blaspheme, and pronounce impure, obscene words. And all this in the very presence of God, the Most Holy, the Most High. What a want of respect ! And what a perversity ! He respects the presence of a man, and does not respect the awful presence of his God ! And transgresses horribly the sacred duty of respect towards God. If God Almighty would require of us only as much respect for His Most Holy Majesty as we use towards respectable persons on earth, every believing Christian would say that this would not be enough. And indeed it would not be enough, because there is no comparison between the respectability of the highest person in this world and the Most Holy Majesty of God! And still — to the shame of the majority of Christians we must acknowledge it — there is less respect among Christians for God Almighty than for respectable persons in this world.

Consider this, dearly beloved children, and reflect seriously how often you have transgressed this sacred duty towards God; how often you have spoken words and committed actions in the presence of God which you never would do in the presence of a clergyman or other respectable person. Repent of it, beloved children, and make a firm resolution never to forget the presence of God to look at Him constantly with the eyes of faith, and to behave in His presence as it becomes a believing Christian, who knows that God, his future judge, everywhere sees him, and hears all his words.


IV. The fourth principal duty of a Christian towards his God is, the duty of Obedience. We have strict duties of obedience even to certain persons in this world. Thus children are strictly obliged to be obedient to their parents; and servants are commanded by the word of God to be obedient to their masters in all things that are not against the law of God; and to be obedient even to wicked and peevish masters. But far greater is our duty of obedience towards God, who is our heavenly Father, and the best of Fathers, our Supreme Lord and Master, and the kindest of Masters.

To be obedient means, to fulfill the will of a superior. To be obedient to God means, then, to fulfill His holy will. When a master wants his servant to do something for him, he will tell him what he has to do, and the servant will know the will of his master. But how can we know what God, our heavenly Lord and Master, wants us to do ? God has established several means by which we may understand what is His will, in order to fulfill it. The voice of conscience is one of these means by which God gives us to understand His will. The voice of your conscience is the voice of God. Pay attention to the voice of your conscience and you will understand that. When you propose to do wrong, or are in danger of committing sin, your conscience will immediately warn you not to do evil, to avoid it by all means. On the contrary, when you propose to do good, and find opportunity to do so, your conscience will encourage you to do all good you can. See here the plain will of God. To avoid evil and do good, this is for us invariably the will of God. So, then, beloved children, in order to fulfill the holy will of God Almighty, listen to your conscience and follow its dictates, avoiding what it forbids and doing what it commands you ; and by so doing you will fulfill the sacred duty of obedience to God.

Another means by which God Almighty makes us know His holy will is the "word of God," which is written in the Holy Scriptures and other good religious books, and is announced to us by the pastors of His church. Their instructions have been called the "word of God" from the first times of Christendom, as we see in Holy Scripture (I Thee, ii, 13). And our Savior commands us expressly to listen to the pastors of His church with the same respect and submission as to Himself. He commands them to preach His doctrine to the whole world, and assures us that we hear Himself when we hear them. Dearly beloved children, in order to be obedient to God, your heavenly Father and Supreme Master, be faithful in the fulfilling of the precepts and instructions of your good pastors and confessors. Be thankful to God that He makes you know His holy will by these means and profit by them. Remember what an awful responsibility awaits you on the day of judgment if you do not profit by such means of salvation.


V. The fifth principal duty we have towards God, is the duty of Love; that we ought to love God above all. This is a most holy duty of every Christian ; but, unfortunately, much neglected, and very rarely fulfilled as it ought to be. How strict and important this our duty is, we may understand by the express command of our Savior to love God, and by his minute description of the character of our love towards God. Not only did he say that we must love God, but he explained that we must love the Lord our God "with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole mind and with our whole strength." The ancient Fathers of the church wondered that it was necessary to give to Christians an express commandment to love God. "Is it not natural," they say, "to the heart of a Christian, who is a child of God, to love his heavenly Father above all? Was it necessary to command it, to prescribe it?" Oh, certainly, it was! And notwithstanding this express commandment and the detailed description of it, very few Christians love God according to this description of our Savior.

Consider often, beloved children, these four marks of the true love of God, and examine yourselves whether your love has these marks. And do not think that only a few chosen and extraordinary souls are obliged to love God thus. No ! we are all obliged so to love Him !

The first mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole heart; that is, that we do not divide our heart between God and the world, between the Creator and the creature. God is a jealous God, as we see in Holy Scripture; He suffers no other lover besides, Him, much less above Him. He wants your whole heart, or nothing. If you love anything more than God, or as much as God, you have not the true love of God. And if you are not earnestly ready to part with anything in the world for the love of God, if He requires it of you through the mouth of a pastor of His church, you do not love Him with all your heart ; your heart is divided, and consequently not accepted by God at all. But understand well, beloved children, when we are commanded to love God with our whole heart, this means not that we must not love anything but God. We may love, and we are commanded to love, our parents, our relatives, our benefactors, our friends, even our enemies. But we must love all in God, according to the will of God, and for God's sake ; and God in all and above all. And so we will love Him with our whole heart.

The second mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole soul. This is a Scriptural expression. We often find in Holy Scripture the word "soul" instead of "life" So, for instance, our Savior says that whosoever shall lose his "soul" in this world for His sake, shall find it in the next; that is, whosoever shall, lose his "life"? for his Savior's sake in this world, shall find true life in the next. To love God with our whole soul, signifies that we ought to love Him more than our own life, and be firmly resolved to lose our life rather than to, lose Him, through sin. It ought to be our firm and earnest resolution rather to die than to offend God. But, alas ! how often will the Christian commit sin, even a mortal sin, not to save his life, but for a mere trifle, for the pleasure of a moment, for a small lucre, for the vapor of a worldly honor, for the sake of a worldly friend, and so forth. What would he not do if his life were at stake ! And still we are called upon — all of us — to lose rather our life than to offend God with, a single sin ! This is the meaning of the solemn appeal of Christ : "Love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul !"

The third mark of the true love of God is, to love Him with our whole mind; that is, that we should occupy our mind and our thoughts continually, or at least frequently, with the presence of God. It is natural to a loving heart to remember often the object of its affection. Imagine, a good loving child who lives at a distance from his kind and loving father. That child will almost continually think of his father, and will long after the happy moment of his reunion with the beloved object of his filial affections. So ought every Christian to do, because he has the happiness to be a child of the best of Fathers. And so he will do if he loves God with his whole mind. He will think continually of his heavenly Father, and never forget His holy presence. And happy, infinitely happy, is the Christian who never forgets the presence of his God and Father. He will behave decently, and will carefully avoid all that could offend his beloved Father in thoughts and words and actions ; and will lead a holy life in the love of God.

The fourth mark of the true love of God is, that we love Him with our whole strength. The true love of God is the greatest happiness and the most precious privilege of a Christian. It is that splendid wedding-garment in which he will be admitted to the happiness and eternal joy of the "Lamb's nuptials." Nothing in the world can be obtained without endeavors and labor; and the more precious the object and the greater the fortune aimed at, the more serious the efforts to obtain it. As the true love of God is decidedly the most precious treasure of a Christian, so also our efforts to obtain and possess it ought to be extreme. But when we consider Christians as they commonly are, we will see how earnestly and perseveringly they endeavor to obtain riches and honors and pleasures, and all the comforts of this perishable life. And the love of God? This is commonly crowded out entirely, or, sought after as a by-thing, not as the "One Thing Necessary." Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus! With all the eagerness and solicitude of a loving father's heart I entreat you, in the name of God, whose Holy Providence has now committed you to my spiritual care, be faithful in the fulfilling of these principal and most essential duties towards God our heavenly Father. Especially endeavor to have the true love of God, which is the very foundation of all Christianity, and the glorious mark of a happy predestination. If you love God sincerely and above all, you will easily fulfill all other duties towards Him. Nothing is difficult, nothing tedious, to a loving heart."

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen." +

FREDERIC, Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Upper Michigan.

Of the Small Number of Those that are Saved. By Fr. Jean Croiset

FIRST POINT. Our Faith teacheth us that but few shall be saved.

Consider that the Number of those who shall be Saved is very small, not only in Comparison of above Two Thirds of Mankind, who live in Infidelity; but even in Comparison of that vast Multitude, who are lost in the true Religion. There are few Doctrines of our Faith more clearly revealed than this; strive to enter in at the Strait Gate, (saith our Saviour) for wide is the Gate, and broad is the Way, that leadeth to Destruction, and many there be that go in thereat; but strait is the Gate, and narrow is the Way, that leadeth to Life, and few there be that find it.

And in another Place he tells us, That many are called, but few are chosen, even of those that are called; which he repeats in the same Terms on another Occasion; And the Apostle speaking by the Spirit of Christ, compares the Body of Christians to those who run a Race, where many run, but one only gains the Prize; to whom he likens those that are saved. And to let us see that he speaks of Believers, he cites the Example of the Israelites; You know, my Brethren, (says he) that our Fathers were all under a Cloud, and all passed through the Red Sea with Moses; that they did all cut the same Spiritual Meat. All these miracles were wrought only for their safe Passage to the promised Land, yet how few of them arrived in it? Of eighteen hundred thousand Souls that came out of Egypt, none but Joshua and Caleb entered into Canaan.

Isaias compares the Elect to those few Olives that are left here and there upon the trees after the Gathering; and to that few Number of Grapes that remain after the diligent Gleaning of the Vineyard.

Besides these Examples and Comparisons which the Scripture uses to convince us of this terrible Truth, we have the Examples of all the World: There was but one family preserved from the Deluge; of Five Great Cities only Four Persons were saved from Destruction, and we find but one Sick Man cured of the Palsy among the Crowd of Paralytics that flocked to the Pool of Bethesda. This dreadful Truth, which our Lord repeated so often to his Disciples, gave Occasion to that Question, Lord are there few that shall be saved? To which our Saviour waving the Question, lest he should terrify them, answers, Strive to enter in at the Strait Gate.

This is certainly the most awakening and terrible Doctrine of our Religion, and yet how little are we affected with it?

Were I sure that but one of ten thousand should be damned, I ought to fear and tremble lest it should be my Case; but alas! among ten thousand perhaps there will hardly one saved, and yet I am unconcerned and fear nothing. Is not my Security a sufficient Cause to fear? Does it not proceed from the Blindness and Hardness of my Heart? Which renders me insensible of my Danger, and thereby less capable of preventing or avoiding it.

The News of one Ship lost among ten thousand affrights many, every one that has Concerns at Sea apprehends for himself; but though we know that the greatest Part of Mankind shall be lost, that very few will arrive at the Port of Eternal Happiness, how little are we solicitous for ourselves? And who has told us that we shall arrive there?

If Jesus Christ had promised Heaven to the Christians as positively as he has declared that his Elect are but few, we could not be more unconcerned than we are. And will this Insensibility render us less miserable? Alas! If we had no other, this very Tranquility is a sufficient Cause to make us doubt of our Salvation.

We don't think of it; what is it employs our Thoughts if Eternity does not? Do we believe it? Can we believe it, and not fear it? And how can we fear it without thinking of it?

How can we be unconcerned at the Sight of so great a Danger? The greatest Saints were always afraid. S. Paul himself was never exempt from this saving Fear, yet we are free from it; for it is impossible to fear only, and not mend our Lives.

We sacrifice our Goods to preserve ourselves from Shipwreck; a Merchant makes a Difficulty to throw his most precious [property,] the Fruits of many Years Labour, overboard to save himself; but we will rather hazard all than part with anything to secure us from Damnation.

If the Infection be in the City everybody is afraid; with what Earnestness do we seek Preservatives? With what Care do we shun the best Companies, and condemn ourselves to Solitude, and all this because we are afraid to die. Are we not afraid of being damned? We believe that the greatest Part of the World will be lost, and yet we are unwilling to spare one Day for Retreat, we will do nothing to make sure of Heaven.

Do we rely upon our Vocation, upon the Sanctity of our Condition, upon the Talents God hath given us, or upon the Means of Salvation which he affords us. Alas! Remember Saul had a true Vocation to the Kingdom, Judas to the Dignity of an Apostle, yet Saul was rejected and Judas lost, even in Christ's Family. Solomon the wisest of Men, hath with all his knowledge left us in doubt of his Salvation and an infinite Number of Christian Heroes, who were exemplary for their Piety during the greatest Part of their Lives have fallen at last. Their too much Security hath ruined them in the End of their Lives, and they are damned with all the pretended Merits.

And yet, O my God, can I be without Fear? This Want of saving Fear should make me fear all things; I am certainly lost if I be not afraid of being lost, and can I fear anything so much as Eternal Perdition?

O my dear Saviour, who hast Redeemed me with thy precious Blood, and who art graciously pleased to make me sensible of my Danger, suffer me not to be lost forever. My God, let me not be found among the Reprobates. I confess that I have hitherto walked in the broad Way, but behold, O Lord, I will now go into the narrow Way, and will strive with all my might to enter into the strait Gate.

Let others run in Crowds to Hell: were there to be but One saved in this Place I am resolved to be he, and I depend on thy Grace; I know it is my own Fault if I be not One of the Elect. I have Abused thy former Graces, but I have Ground to hope that this shall be Effectual; for I am resolved, let the Number of the Elect be never so small, I will be One of that little Flock whatever it cost me; and I am persuaded it is thy Will as well as mine, since I could not form this Resolution if thou hadst not inspired it.

SECOND POINT. Our Reason convinces us that but few shall be Saved.

Consider that if our Faith did not teach us this terrible Truth, our own Reason would convince us of it; we need only reflect on what is required of us, and on our Manner of Performing it, and we shall presently Conclude that there will be but few saved.

If we would be saved we must live up to the Rules of the Gospel; are there many that observe them? We must profess ourselves openly to be Followers of Christ; is not the greatest Part of Mankind ashamed of that Profession? If we would be Saved we must either Actually, or in Affection, renounce the World, and all we have in it, and bear our Saviour's Cross daily.

The Pharisees had all the Appearances of Piety, they were extremely Mortified and their Lives were unblameable in the Sight of Men; and yet if our Virtue be not more Solid, and more Perfect than theirs, we shall never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

'Tis a great Matter to stifle our Revenge, it is yet greater to forgive Injuries, but this is not sufficient to obtain Salvation; if we would be Saved, we must love even those who Persecute us. It is not enough to abhor all wicked Actions, we must abhor the least ill Thought; we are not only obliged not to covet our Neighbor's Goods; we must bestow our own on those who are in Want. True Humility, which is the essential Character of a Christian, will not admit of Ambition or Vanity: Though you Labour never so much, if God be not indeed the End of your Labour, you will have no Thanks for your Pains to all Eternity. Be as regular as you please, God is not content with an outward Show; he requires the Heart, and that you should serve him in Spirit and in Truth; that is, sincerely and uprightly. One mortal Sin effaces in a Moment all the Merits of the longest and best Life; and One Hundred Thousand Millions of Years in Hell will not be a sufficient Punishment for the Sin of One Moment?

It is an Article of Faith, that neither the Proud, the Covetous, the Deceiver, the Slanderer, nor the Unchaste, shall ever enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; he that enters there must either have always preserved this Innocence, or recovered it by a sincere Repentance; and do we find many who offer continual Violence to their Inclination? Without which we can never come there. Where is that exact Purity? Where is that continual Penance, that Hatred of Sin, and that ardent Charity, which is the Character of the Elect? What is become of the Primitive Simplicity? Does not Interest govern? And is not Religion itself made subservient to it? Is not the general Example the Rule of most Men's Actions? Who look upon it as a Maxim that we must act like Men while we live among Men; but we must act like Christians if we will be Saved: We must lead a Christian Life in the midst of those who have only the Name.

'Tis likewise certain, that the Work of Salvation is our greatest Business; that we are sent into the World for this End alone; that we must employ our whole Lives in it, and that, after all, we cannot be sure of it; yet how few Christians do indeed make this their great and only Business?

We can never be Saved without Final Grace; 'tis an Article of our Faith, that we can never merit that Grace; that God might without Injustice refuse it to the most perfect Saints; what Reason then have we to expect it, who are so imperfect and so lukewarm in the Service of God?

These are not Counsels only, they are the Maxims of Jesus Christ; the irrevocable Laws, and indispensable Conditions of Salvation, which is not promised to the Knowledge, but to the Observation of them; to so exact an Observation, that the Neglect of any one damns us to Eternity: Let us now call to Mind at what rate Men Live, and then judge whether many can be Saved. Let us examine ourselves, and see whether we have any Reason to hope to be of that little Number.

Hear what S. Chrysostom says to the great City of Constantinople; how many (says he) do you think will be Saved out of this vast City? (one of the greatest and most populous in the World) I shall terrify you by my answer, and yet I am bound to tell you, that of so many Thousand Inhabitants there will hardly be One Hundred Saved; nay, I doubt even of the Salvation of these.

And yet this Imperial City was then as well regulated as any of those wherein we live, full of those we call honest Men; its inhabitants were reputed devout, frequented the Sacraments, and lived as we generally do: Let this great Saint's Decision, who would never have spoken so positively without an extraordinary Light, give us an idea of the small Number of the Elect.

Is it possible that we can cheat ourselves so grossly as not to see that we are running headlong to Damnation? And that if we continue to live at our usual Rate, our Religion obliges us to believe we shall be damned.

And certainly we could not believe our Religion true, if after having laid down such strict Rules, it allowed us to hope to be Saved in the Violation of them; this would be to impose upon the World: But blessed be God our Religion condemns most severely such an irregular Conduct; and careless, loose, Christians will not be excused because of their great Number.

It is an Article of Faith, that unless we be like our Redeemer we cannot be Saved; to be like him we must conform our Wills to his, we must hate what he hates, and love what he loves: Are there many who resemble this great Pattern? How little do we ourselves resemble him? And what will become of us if we continue so unlike him?

Now-a-days Men content themselves with some outward Appearances of Religion, with a Shew of Virtue; every Man makes to himself a false System of Conscience, with which he rests satisfied as to what concerns his Salvation; yet we believe that Heretics are lost, who have their Systems too, and who are as exact Observers of the External Part of Religion as we and have very often all the Qualities of meek, honest Men: What Ground have we for this imaginary Assurance? Have we any new Revelation or particular Gospel? Do we build our Hopes upon the Profession of the true Faith which Heretics have not? Surely, unless we take Pleasure to deceive ourselves, we must own that he who believes little of what he ought to do, is in a much better Condition than the Man who does little or nothing of what he believes.

If believing were sufficient, the Number of the Predestined would not be small; if we had Liberty to live as we pleased, we should make no Difficulty of believing anything; but Faith without Works is dead. Though you believe never so well, you can never hope for Salvation if you neglect to practice what you believe. The Devils believe more than we, but their Faith is only speculative; and Woe be to us if ours be no more than speculative.

Are the sublime Sanctity of Our Holy Religion, the admirable Example of the Son of God, the Shedding of His Blood, the Efficacy of His Sacraments, the Communications of His Grace, designed only to keep some measures, which serve only to encourage us to sin more boldly, by disguising those Faults which are common to us with the Pagans? Were the Saints Men of another Condition than we are? Were they excepted in the universal Redemption of Mankind? Was not the Way to Heaven discovered in their Time? Did they expect any other Recompense? How comes it that we are so very unlike them? They resolved to be Saints, what do we resolve to be? And can we hope to be Saints without following their Example? What Grounds have we to rely on the Mercy of God when we make sure of that Mercy to hinder our Conversion? Jesus Christ has expressly condemned lukewarm Souls, yet does not this Tepidity reign among Christians?

Am I convinced that the Number of the Elect is so small? And shall I do nothing to be of that Number? Yes, my God, were there to be but one Soul saved since it depends on my Will to be that Soul, I am resolved to be Saved.

I acknowledge that I have done nothing for thy Service which can make me hope, but my Confidence is founded on what thou art doing now for me.

Thy Design in giving me this Opportunity, and in exciting me to this Resolution, was not to increase my Guilt: I have no Need of any other Argument to convince me that thou desirest my Salvation, than this very Fear which thou hast imprinted in my Soul, left I should not be of the Number of thy Chosen.

I have often rendered my best Thoughts useless, but, my God, I have Reason to hope that this Resolution which I now make to work out my Salvation with all the Earnestness in the World shall be effectual. And because I have had too much Experience that these Pious Designs are easily forgotten, I will begin this Moment to turn to thee, and to devote myself entirely to they Service, and I rely upon they Goodness for Strength to persevere.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Of the Importance of Salvation

A Spiritual Retreat for One Day in Every Month

Of the Importance of Salvation

by Fr. Jean Croiset

First Point. The Business of our Salvation is the most Important of all Business.

Second Point. The Business of our Salvation is our only Business.

First Point.

Consider that no business is of so great importance to us as the business of our salvation; an eternity of happiness or misery depends on the success of this [?] other affairs are only permitted as they are subservient to this great work: If we do lose this, we lose all; for we lose God, who is all Good, and without whom there can be no Good; if we fail in this he is lost to [?] and lost forever, without recovery.

Salvation is our own business, everything else is foreign to us; in other things we do the business of our children, our friends, our family, our country, or of the community to which we belong, and not precisely our own business; everything else is a business of time, this of eternity.

If we lose other business, though of the highest importance, we may find a remedy; or if we do not we shall be no losers, provided we succeed in this. The loss of our souls is the only irreparable loss, eternity itself will not be sufficient to deplore it.

Shall we be able to comfort ourselves with the thoughts that we have been successful in all our other business of no consequence, and have only neglected this, which is the only business of eternity? It is no matter though we live obscurely and forgotten, without friends or support, and die poor, provided we secure our salvation. But what will all our riches and power, all our knowledge and wisdom avail us if we lose our souls? Though all the world should conspire together, they will never be able to deprive a man of heaven, and make him miserable to all eternity: Neither will they be able to make one damned soul happy, or so much as mitigate his torments. What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what can he give in exchange for his soul?

Is it possible that this business of eternity is the only business of consequence we have to do, and that yet we should neglect this the most, and lay it least to heart?

We fancy that our studies, our trade, our diversions, our visits and conversation, are of great importance to us, they take up all our time, we can never find leisure enough for them, we are unwilling to defer them; but when we should think seriously of our souls, we make no difficulty of deferring; we imagine it is too soon, and that we shall have time enough, and yet (which is still more surprising) we are never at leisure to set about it.

Certainly we must have odd notions of eternal happiness, since we are so careless of securing it; would we be content to take no more pains, and spend no more time in our studies and in temporal affairs, than we do in what concerns our eternal salvation?

If our salvation depended on another, could he have so little zeal or charity as to neglect it more than we do ourselves? Though we know it depends wholly on our own care. What pains does every man take in his calling? If we have a child to provide for, if we have a design to join in partnership with a merchant, how careful are we to inform ourselves, to examine, to advise with our friends? What measures do we not observe? What precautions do we not take? We think we can never be too sure. But when we are to spend a little time for salvation, we think a very little too much.

Salvation is the business of eternity, but it must be done in time; and we have need of all our time for it; God gives us our whole life to think of it; he judged it was all little enough, but we imagine it may be done in less.

If we spend in working out our salvation the hundredth part of the time and pains we throw away in worldly business, we should soon be great saints. This is the only necessary business we can have, and yet we hardly allot a little time for it, nay, we grudge it even that little.

By our proceedings one would think that we believe God our debtor, and obliged to us for saved.

If a man of business or letters pass one whole day in acquitting himself of the duties of a Christian, he looks upon that day is lost; but we spend whole months in vain studies, or in worldly business, and call this spending the time well.

Salvation is our great and chief business; now a man's chief business takes up all his thoughts, and hardly gives him time to think of any other; and if this succeeds he comforts himself for the miscarriage of the rest.

We commonly put off the care of our salvation to our last sickness; that is, we put off the business of eternity, the most important business we have, and which requires all our lives, to a time when we are incapable of following the slightest business in the world, when we are indeed incapable of anything.

Is God mistaken, who tells us, this only is of consequence? Is he deceived in the disposition of his Providence, and in all his care, which tends only to this? Is he, in whom are all good things, and who is all himself, so little to be valued, that we can be indifferent whether we lose him or no? Whence is all that Weeping, that cruel despair of the damned souls, if what they have lost be not worth our seeking? If everlasting misery be so slight a business, why do we tremble at the thoughts of eternity? and if we believe it so terrible, how can we be at rest while we are so careless about it, and in so much danger?

My God! How many days of grace have I abused? How many precious hours have I let pass unprofitably? Wretch that I am, to spend so much time in doing nothing: But how much more wretched shall I be if I do not now at length begin seriously to work out my salvation?

What do I stay for? For a proper time. Alas! That time perhaps is already past for me. Do I stay till thou callest me? Thou hast never ceased to do it. Oh! How long hast thou solicited me to no purpose? Shall this reiterated grace thou givest me now be in vain?

How long shall I spend the best part of my life in vain amusements, which I myself condemn; and do I condemn them only to aggravate my guilt, by losing that time in the pursuit of them which I ought to employ for heaven?

How long shall I fancy those things necessary which are of no use for the next life, while I neglect only the business of eternity?

My God, how great will my despair and confusion be upon a deathbed if I continue to live as I have done hitherto, when all the means and opportunities I have had of securing my salvation, when this present opportunity, and the thoughts I now have of doing it, present themselves to my memory?

O my God, since thou hast not yet punished me, though I deserved punishment, I trust thou wilt not refuse me the assistance of Thy grace, though I am unworthy of it. Since this is the day designed for my conversion, the present resolution shall not be like the rest. I believe, I am fully persuaded, I am sensible, that there is but One Thing Necessary, that Eternal Salvation is the only business that concerns me, and I am determined to begin this day to apply myself seriously to it.

Second Point.

Consider that our eternal salvation is not only the greatest, but the only business we have, to which we ought to apply ourselves entirely lest we should do it ill. Whatever else we call great business is not properly business, at least not ours; they concern others more than us, and we labor more for our posterity than for ourselves.

We may get others to do them for us, and we may let them along, without being everlastingly unhappy, but we must work out our salvation ourselves, and we are lost without recovery if we neglect it . This is that One Thing of which our Saviour speaks so often; this is our only business: Only, becasue this alone is of such mighty consequence, the success whereof depends on us; only, because no other deserves all our care; only, because it requires all our care, (and because we may do it if we will.)

It is equally the only business of all the world, of the king in the government of his kingdom, of the prelate in the administration of his diocese, of the learned in their studies, of the soldier in the war, of the merchant in his trade, of the artisan in his calling. 'Tis not necessary for a man to be a king, a prelate, soldier, a merchant, or a tradesman, a scholar, or a man of business, but 'tis absolutely necessary for him to be saved.

In other matters we have always some recourse in this life, or in the next, but there is none in this; he who has done this, has done nothing, and will never be in a condition to do it again: He who is damned, is damned forever.

What reception would an ambassador deserve from his master, who at his return from his embassy should give an account of the great things he had done during his absence, of the friends he had made, the reputation he had gained, the riches he had acquired, and how well he had diverted himself; in fine, that he had done everything but the business he was sent to do?

God has sent us into the world only to work out our salvation; this was his sole design in creating us, this is his sole design in preserving us; will he be satisfied with our telling him when we come to die, Lord, we have done great things, we have been in great repute in the world, we have got large estates, we have been in instrumental in the salvation of our neighbors, we have neglected nothing but our own salvation, we have done everything, but that One Thing for which Thou hast sent us into the world? And yet this is all the account the greatest part of mankind is able to give, because 'tis at this rate the greatest part of mankind live. And if we were now to appear before God could we give any other account?

Is all this true? Is there such an eternity? Is life given us only to prepare for it? If I lose my soul can I ever recover it? And shall I certainly lose it if I live as the greatest part of the world do, and as I have done hitherto? Shall I wish at my last hour that I had lived otherwise? That I had done what I could, and what I ought to have done? And will all those things that take me up now, seem vain and trifling then?

My God! Do we indeed believe this our great business? The devils and the damned have as good or stronger speculative belief than we, but do we reduce our faith to practice, which is the science of the saints?

Is it possible that other men's business should take me up, that worldly things, recreations and compliments, should have all our time, while the business of our salvation is the least minded, as if it did not concern us?

What are we the better for being endued with reason, if we make no use of it in the business of our salvation, for which alone God bestowed it on us? Alas! we in a manner wear it out in prosecuting trivial designs, we are proud of it in matters of no moment, we value ourselves upon our prudential conduct, and wise counsels in business; but we neglect the real use of it and we act the matters of eternity as if we wanted common-sense.

And (which is yet more surprising) we are all agreed in the importance of salvation, and the vanity of everything else; yet we apply ourselves only to seek those vanities, and are negligent in nothing but the business of salvation.

We are all conceited of our wisdom and capacity in business; every man pretends to understand it; we think ignorance in business, or neglect of it, shows want of sense and breeding, and that our reputation depends upon it; but if we neglect nothing but our salvation, if we live as unconcernedly as if we had no soul to lose, we are so far from blushing or hiding our carelessness, that we glory in it; and though we are never so indevout and irregular, we pass for very honest men; and if we understand the world, and know how to be successful in it, we are accounted wise.

'Tis an affront to tell a man that he does not understand his business; but 'tis no disgrace to be accused of negligence in the business of salvation; surely we do not look upon it as our business: My God! When did this one thing necessary cease to be so?

We can lose our souls with all the tranquility in the world, and we are reasonable creatures in everything that does not concern us; we do not deny that the saints were truly wise, yet all their wisdom consists in preferring their salvation to everything else, in esteeming it their only business.

Are we wiser than they, that our actions are so contrary to theirs? They spent their whole lives in preparing for eternity; to what end did they take so much pains, and spend so much time, for what we pretend to do with so much ease? Miserable, unthinking, wretches that we are, to allow so little time for what requires it all.

Have we found a new way to heaven, whereof the Son of God was ignorant? Or is the price of heaven fallen? And is that happiness, which cost the blood of Christ to purchase, became of less value?

What are now the sentiments of those famous statesmen whom we esteem the greatest politicians? Of those extraordinary men who were always busy in pacifying or troubling the world, which their heads were always full of. Those men of riches, as the scripture calls them, who lived without thinking on eternity, and who after an uninterrupted success in all their other business, have miscarried only in this great business of salvation? They are not damned for laziness and sloth; on the contrary, they owe their ruin to too much useless business; they were so busy that their very sleeps were broken by their cares, and they have lost themselves by labouring in what did not concern them, by taking too much pains about nothing, while they neglected their only real business; and 'tis by this that the greatest part of mankind are lost.

And shall not I increase the number of the lost if I continued to live as I have done? What have I done for Heaven? What have I not done to deprive myself of it? I have been careful of everything but my soul, and I act as if its ruin were nothing to me. But I trust in thy mercy, o my God, that the change of my life shall manifest that my heart is changed; I will save my soul; the care of my salvation requires all my diligence, and it shall have it all; I humbly beseech thee to give me thy grace to recover what I have lost, as thou hast given me time for it; I am sensible that this is my only business; I am resolved to do it, let thy grace make me successful.

Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pillar of Scourging of Our Lord JESUS

Pillar of Scourging of Our Lord JESUS

Shroud of Turin

Shroud of Turin