Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On human respect -- St. Alphonsus Liguori

SERMON XXVII. - On human respect. " Whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God "—John, xvi. 2.

IN exhorting his disciples to be faithful to him under the persecutions which they were to endure, the Saviour said: " Yea; the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God ". Thus, the enemies of the faith believed that in putting Christians to death they did a service to God. It is thus that many Christians of the present day act. They kill their own souls by losing the grace of God through human respect and to please worldly friends. Oh! how many souls has human respect —that great enemy of our salvation—sent to Hell! I shall speak on this subject to-day, that, if you wish to serve God and save your souls, you may guard as much as possible against human respect. In the first point, I will show the importance of not being influenced by human respect; and in the second, I will point out the means by which this vice may be overcome.

First point. On the importance of not being influenced by human respect.

1.      " Wo to the world because of scandals "—Matt., xviii. 7. Jesus Christ has said, that through the scandals of the wicked, many souls fall into Hell. But how is it possible to live in the midst of the world, and not to take scandal ? This is impossible. To avoid taking scandal, St Paul says, we should leave this world. " Otherwise, you must needs go out of this world "—I. Cor., v. 10. But it is in our power to avoid familiarity with scandalous sinners. Hence the Apostle adds: "But now I have written to you not to keep company with such an one, not as much as to eat"—ibid., v. 11. We should beware of contracting an intimacy with such sinners; for, should we be united with them in the bonds of friendship, we shall feel an unwillingness to oppose their bad practices and bad counsels. Thus, through human respect and the fear of contradicting them, we will imitate their example, and lose the friendship of God.

2.      Such lovers of the world not only glory in their own iniquities—("They rejoice in most wicked things"—Prov., ii. 14)— but, what is worse, they wish to have companions, and ridicule all who endeavour to live like true Christians and to avoid the dangers of offending God. This is a sin which is very displeasing to God, and which he forbids in a particular manner. "Despise not a man that turneth away from sin, nor reproach him therewith"—Eccl., viii. 6. Despise not those who keep at a distance from sin, not to draw them to evil by your reproaches and irregularities. The Lord declares, that, for those who throw ridicule on the virtuous, chastisements are prepared in this and in the next life. " Judgments are prepared for scorners, and striking hammers for the bodies of fools "—Prov., xix. 29. They mock the servants of God, and he shall mock them for all eternity. " But the Lord shall laugh them to scorn. And they shall fall after this without honour, and be a reproach among the dead for ever"—Wis., iv. 18. They endeavour to make the saints contemptible in the eyes of the world, and God shall make them die without honour, and shall send them to Hell to suffer eternal ignominy among the damned.

3.      Not only to offend God, but also to endeavour to make others offend him, is truly an enormous excess of wickedness. This execrable intention arises from a conviction that there are many weak and pusillanimous souls, who, to escape derision and contempt, abandon the practice of virtue, and give themselves up to a life of sin. After his conversion to God, St. Augustine wept for having associated with those ministers of Lucifer, and confessed, that he felt ashamed not to be as wicked and as shameless as they were. " Pudebat me ", says the saint, " essepudentem ". How many, to avoid the scoffs of wicked friends, have been-induced to imitate their wickedness! Behold the saint, these impious scoffers will say; get me a piece of his garment; I will preserve it as a relic. He ought to go into the desert. Why does he not become a monk? How many also, when they receive an insult, resolve to take revenge, not so much through passion, as to escape the reputation of being cowards! How many are there who, after having inadvertently given expression to a scandalous maxim, neglect to retract it (as they are bound to do), through fear of losing the esteem of others! How many, because they are afraid of forfeiting the favour of a friend, sell their souls to the Devil! They imitate the conduct of Pilate, who, through the apprehension of losing the friendship of Caesar, condemned Jesus Christ to death.

4.      Be attentive. Brethren, if we wish to save our souls, we must overcome human respect, and bear the little confusion which may arise from the scoffs of the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. "For there is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that bringeth glory and grace"—Eccl, iv. 25. If we do not suffer this confusion with patience, it will lead us into the pit of sin; but, if we submit to it for God's sake, it will obtain for us the divine grace here, and great glory hereafter. "As", says St. Gregory, "bashfulness is laudable in evil, so it is reprehensible in good"-—horn, x., in Ezech.

5.     But some of you will say: I attend to my own affairs; I wish to save my soul; why then should I be persecuted ? But there is no remedy; it is impossible to serve God, and not be persecuted. " The wicked loathe them that are in the right way"—Prov., xxix. 27. Sinners cannot bear the sight of the man who lives according to the Gospel, because his life is a continual censure on their disorderly conduct; and therefore they say: " Let us lie in wait for the just; because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law"—Wis., ii. 12. The proud man, who seeks revenge for every insult which he receives, would wish that all should avenge the offences that may be offered to him. The avaricious, who grow rich by injustice, wish that all should imitate their fraudulent practices. The drunkard wishes to see others indulge like himself, in intoxication. The immoral, who boast of their impurities, and can scarcely utter a word which does not savour of obscenity, desire that all should act and speak as they do: and those who do not imitate their conduct, they regard as mean, clownish, and intractable—as men withoivt honour and without education. " They are of the world; therefore of the world they speak"—I. John, iv. 5.

Worldlings can speak no other language than that of the world. Oh! how great is their poverty and blindness! Sin has blinded them, and therefore they speak so profanely. " These things they thought, and were deceived; for their own malice blinded them"— Wis., ii. 21.

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