Friday, December 26, 2008

First Obstacle--Tepidity

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus -- Fr. Croiset

I. FIRST OBSTACLE. — Tepidity.

As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ is a continual exercise of ardent love, it is very plain that tepidity is one of its greatest obstacles, and hinders all its fruit. Though the Son of God has an infinite hatred of sin, He has not a horror of the sinner. He calls him, He seeks him, and has compassion on him. But His Divine Heart cannot endure a tepid soul. I would thou wert cold or hot, says our Blessed Saviour to us, but because thou art lukewarm, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. The Heart of Jesus Christ looks for pure souls, who are capable of His love.

His Sacred Heart is always liberal. It seeks souls that are in a state to receive Its favours, and to reach the degree of perfection for which He destines them. This is what is not to be found in a soul that lives in tepidity. A tepid soul is in a state of blindness, caused by the passions that tyrannize over her ; by the continual dissipation in which she lives, and which prevents her from entering into herself; by the multitude of sins that she commits, and by the subtraction of heavenly graces, which her resistance draws upon her. This blindness leads to the formation of a false conscience, under cover of which, as if in security, a soul whilst frequenting the Sacraments, may remain for many years in considerable sins. They are hidden from her, or disguised by passion, because she has neither the will, nor the courage to correct herself of them.

We sometimes see religious persons, or seculars who make a profession of piety, nourish secret aversions, envenomed jealousies, dangerous affections, a spirit of bitterness or murmuring against their superiors, a fund of self-love and pride, that diffuses itself over almost all their actions, and other failings of a like nature. In the midst of these they live tranquilly, falsely persuading, or trying to persuade themselves, that there is nothing very sinful in all this, and seeking reasons to excuse faults, which Almighty God condemns as grievous sins, and which they themselves will condemn at the hour of death, when passion will not prevent their seeing things as they really are.

What makes this state still more perilous, and obliges Jesus Christ to reject a tepid soul, is, that she is in a certain way, beyond hope, for tepidity is scarcely ever cured. As the sins which a tepid soul commits, are not of that gross and scandalous kind, that horrify a soul which has a little fear remaining, but are purely interior and do not pass beyond the heart, they easily escape the notice of a conscience that is not over particular, and of a soul that pays little attention to herself. Hence, as she does not know the greatness of her malady, she does not take the trouble to remedy it. Whereas, a great sinner, as he easily knows his sins, is in a better state to feel their weight and conceive a horror of them. And in this sense our Lord says, it is better to be cold than lukewarm.

The most solid practices of devotion are useless to a soul that is in this unhappy state, either because the little profit she derives from the holiest exercises of piety takes from her the desire of making use of them, or because, in consequence of her being used to these holy exercises, they have less effect upon her. The great and terrible truths of salvation, which terrify by their novelty, and shake with their force the greatest sinners, make scarcely any impression on her, in consequence of her having gone over them so frequently and with so little profit. As soon as a soul gives herself up to tepidity, she no longer thinks of anything but herself. She continually seeks after what can give her pleasure. She has a delicacy that sometimes surpasses that of the most sensual persons : a love of self, which not being weakened by foreign objects, is the stronger from being shut up in herself alone, and is entirely applied in forming for herself an easy and tranquil life. A soul in this state, insensible to the most striking truths of eternity, is still more insensible to the manifest proofs of the love of Jesus Christ for us. She is too far removed from the necessary dispositions for devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to draw any profit from it.

The marks by which we may know if we are in the dangerous state of tepidity, are :

1. Great negligence in all spiritual exercises; prayer without attention, confessions without amendment, communions without preparation and without fruit.

2. The continual dissipation of a mind which is scarcely ever attentive to itself or to God, but which continually diffuses itself over all kinds of objects, and occupies itself in a thousand trifles.

3. A bad habit of performing her actions without any interior spirit, but either through caprice or habit, scarcely doing anything in which passion, self-love or human respect have not some share.

4. Sloth in acquiring the virtues belonging to her state.

5. A disgust for spiritual things, and especially an indifference for great virtues. The yoke of Jesus Christ begins to appear heavy ; the exercises of piety become burdensome ; the maxims of the Gospel regarding the hatred of self, the love of crosses and humiliations, the necessity of doing violence to oneself, of walking by the narrow way, seem impracticable. The continual exercise of modesty, mortification and interior recollection is found insupportable, the life of persons of solid virtue is regarded as unhappy, and the practice of virtue almost impossible.

The 6th effect of tepidity is an insensibility of conscience for lesser sins. We no longer feel remorse for our ordinary infidelities, or relapses, and we allow ourselves to commit all sorts of venial sins deliberately.

But how much is it to be feared that this want of tenderness of conscience — this facility in continually falling into the same faults, and in confessing them without amendment — this negligence — this contempt for small things — this indifference for the greater virtues — this inconstancy in the exercises of piety — this perpetual alternation between fervour and relaxation, may be visible signs of a dying faith, of an almost extinguished charity ? How much is it to be feared that this unhappy state of tepidity may lead us imperceptibly into that of hardness of heart and insensibility ? It is the more dangerous, as it is less perceived, and as its consequences are less feared. And yet, nothing is more common. Such persons as do not relish the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, those who draw no fruit from its practice, have great reason to fear that this is the obstacle which occasions their disgust, and hinders them from profiting by the holiest exercises of piety.

As the fatal cause of this unhappy state of tepidity is generally to be found in a great fund of self-love, the means recommended in the following chapter, for subduing, or, at least, mortifying self-love, will serve as a remedy for tepidity, since true mortification is inseparable from fervour. What has been said of tepidity is partly drawn from the Spiritual Retreat, according to the spirit and method of Ignatius, composed by F. Nepveu, of the Society of Jesus. It may be useful to add the following reflections :

1. It is extraordinary that there should be any religious persons, who, after having been generous, in leaving great things for God, should prefer afterwards in religion to be deprived of the greater graces of God, rather than abandon some trifles which constantly retard their progress in the way of piety. For faults, however slight, when they are committed with advertence, are a continual impediment to that joy and ineffable sweetness, which are experienced by those who serve God with fervour.

2. It is no less extraordinary that persons who have made such great sacrifices to secure their salvation and merit a happy and tranquil death, for want of a little generosity die with disquiet and full of regret, after having so long and so greatly feared to die.

3. What is it that keeps us back ? It is not possible but that, in religion, we should frequently have good desires. But it is astonishing that we fail to execute them through a kind of sloth, of which worldly persons would not believe us capable. We had begun so well to serve God : did we intend then to deceive men ? If God was really the motive of our conversion, whence is it, that though the same motive continues, we do not persevere ?

4. It is certain either the Saints have done too much, or we do not do enough to become Saints. But some may say we must be Saints, to live as the Saints have lived. Let us rather say : we must become Saints ; and it is only by living like the Saints, that we can hope to become so.

5. We are not easily tired, we do not find the time too long, when amassing riches to leave to others, or when occupied in procuring ourselves a vain reputation in the world. But to acquire eternal felicity in heaven, we think we have always time enough. A person with fine natural gifts, great talents and a lively disposition, some may say, cannot make up his mind to lead a perfect life. But when did the finest natural qualities, which have always been great helps to attain the most exalted virtue, become obstacles to sanctity?

6. What an error it is to imagine that there can be any age or condition unsuited to the practice of the highest virtues ! What will these persons say when they shall be shown a multitude of Saints of every age, of every rank, who have become great Saints in every state, and in all sorts of employments ? Not only will the example of these Saints one day form our accusation, we shall be ourselves our own condemnation. Whilst we attempt to excuse our tepidity, and our negligence, by alleging our age, our employments and our condition, it will be shown to us, that at the same age, in the same employments, and the same condition, we have suffered and laboured more for the world, than Almighty God required of us to labour in order to gain heaven.

7. There is no one who would venture to say, or who would believe, that after spending ten years in the study of human sciences, he would think himself fortunate if he knew as much as he had learned in the first six months after he began his studies. Yet we find persons who make profession of piety, persons whose chief employment is to become perfect, who, after ten and twenty years of study and practice in the sublime science of salvation, are not ashamed to say, and are not displeased if others believe, that they would think themselves very happy, if they were as fervent, as mortified and as holy, as they were after the first six months of their perfect conversion. It is true that they manage to stupefy themselves, as it were, by exterior dissipation, and the insipid pleasures of a tepid life : but, sooner or later, they will arrive at the end of their life, and what sentiments will they have at the hour of death ?

8. Are we well convinced of the great truths of our religion ? If we do not believe, we do too much. But if we believe, certainly we do too little. What is it that is at stake ? So much is said of the importance of salvation, of the value of the soul, of eternity. Is it true that I am in the world only in order to save my soul? that Jesus Christ became man only to show us that this is the only business of mankind, that it alone deserves our application, alone demands our whole application, and depends on our application ? Is it true that if this affair succeeds ill all is lost? that to put oneself in danger of succeeding ill in this, is to risk all ; and that to live in tepidity, is to place ourselves in a kind of necessity of succeeding ill ? Is it true that this is the affair of eternity ? Can Almighty God have been deceived in saying that all the rest is of no consequence ? Can He have employed His care and His providence without sufficient purpose, in referring all things to this one end ? Is God then of so little consequence, that it can be an indifferent matter to us whether we lose Him? Why so many tears, so many and such bitter regrets in hell, if the good, which the damned have lost, deserved so little effort to secure it ? Why shudder at the very thought of eternity, if it matters so little whether we be eternally unhappy ? But do we show any great apprehension of this misfortune, if we take so little trouble to avoid it ? Are we taking much trouble if we continue in the tepidity and indifference in which we live ?

9. If we were careful to make these reflections frequently, we should be ashamed to lead a tepid life, and to be so backward in God's service. We should soon take the resolution of loving Jesus Christ. But alas ! after we have made these reflections, and have been moved by them, the moment afterwards we seek to distract ourselves, as if we were sorry to have made them, and to have been touched by them. "Compared to a man (says St. James ii. 23) beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was."

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