“Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?”
Romans 2:4

FootpathThroughAWheatField(Weeds)Geograph.org.uk906848We read in the parable of the cockle [the weeds among the wheat], that the servants of the good man of the house, seeing that it had grown up in the field along with the wheat, wished to pluck it up. “Wilt thou,” said they, “that we go and gather it up?” (cf Matthew 13:28). No, replied the master; suffer it to grow up, and then it shall be gathered and cast into the fire. “In the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers. Gather up first the cockle, and bind it in bundles to burn” (Matthew 13:30). In this parable we see, on the one hand, the patience with which the Lord treats sinners; and on the other, the rigor with which he chastises the obstinate. St. Augustine says that the devil deludes men in two ways–by despair and hope. After the sinner has offended God, the enemy, by placing before his eyes the terror of divine justice, tempts him to despair; but before he sins, the devil encourages him to sin with the hope of divine mercy. Hence the saint gives to all the following advice: After sin, hope for mercy; before sin, fear justice. He who abuses God’s mercy to offend him, is undeserving of mercy. God shows mercy to those who fear him, but not to those who avail themselves of his mercy to banish the fear of God from their heart. Abulensis says that he who offends justice may have recourse to mercy; but to whom shall he have recourse, who offends mercy itself?

It is hard to find a sinner so sunk in despair as to wish for his own damnation. Sinners wish to sin, without losing the hope of salvation. They sin and say, “God is merciful; I will commit this sin, and will afterwards confess it.” They say, observes St. Augustine, “God is good; I will do what I please” (Tract xxxiii in Job). Behold the language of sinners; but, O God, such too was the language of so many who are now in hell. Say not, says the Lord, that the mercies of God are great; that however enormous your sins may be, you shall obtain pardon by an act of contrition. “And say not, The mercy of the Lord is great; he will have mercy on the multitude of my sins.” (Sirach 5:6). Say it not, says the Lord; and why? “For mercy and wrath quickly come from him, and his wrath looketh upon sinners” (Sirach 5:7). The mercy of God is infinite; but the acts of his mercy, or his mercies, are finite. God is merciful, but he is also just. “I am just and merciful,” said our Lord to St. Bridget; “but sinners regard me only as merciful.” St. Basil writes that sinners wish to consider God only as good and merciful. “Bonus est Dominus, sed etiam justus, nolimus Deum ex dimidia parte cogitare.” To bear with those who avail themselves of the mercy of God to offend him, would not, says Father M. Avila, be mercy, but a want of justice. Mercy is promised, not to those who abuse it, but to those who fear God. “And his mercy,” said the divine mother, “to those that fear him” (cf Luke 1:50). Against the obstinate, threats of just retribution have been pronounced; and, says St. Augustine, as God is not unfaithful to his promises, so he is not a liar in his threats. “Qui verus est in promittendo, verus est in minando.”

GerritVanHonthorstSaintPeterPenitentBeware, says St. John Chrysostom, when the devil, not God, promises you divine mercy, that he may induce you to commit sin. “Cave ne umquam canem ilium suspicias qui misericordiam Dei pollicetur” (Hom. i. ad Pop. Antioc). Never attend to that dog that promises you the mercy of God. Woe, says St. Augustine, to him who hopes in order to sin. “Sperat ut peccet: vae a perversa spe” (In Psalm 144 [145]). O, how many, says the saint, has this vain hope deluded and brought to perdition! “They who have been deceived by this shadow of vain hope cannot be numbered.” Miserable the man who abuses the mercy of God to offer new insults to his majesty! St. Bernard says that Lucifer’s chastisement was accelerated, because he rebelled against God with the hope of escaping punishment. King Manasses sinned; he afterwards repented, and obtained pardon. His son Ammon, seeing that his father’s sins were so easily forgiven, abandoned himself to a wicked life with the hope of pardon; but for Ammon there was no mercy. Hence St. John Chrysostom asserts that Judas was lost because he sinned through confidence in the benignity of Jesus Christ. “Fidit in lenitate Magistri.” In fine, God bears, but he does not bear forever. Were God to bear forever with sinners, no one should be damned; but the most common opinion is, that the greater part of adults, even among Christians, are lost. “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there are that go in thereat” (Matthew 7:13).

According to St. Augustine, he who offends God with the hope of pardon, “is a scoffer, not a penitent.” But St. Paul tells us that God does not allow himself to be mocked (Galatians 6:7). To continue to offend God as often and as long as the sinner pleases, and afterwards to gain heaven, should be to mock God. “For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap” (Galatians 6:8). He that sows sins, has no reason to hope for anything else than chastisement and hell. The net with which the devil drags to hell almost all Christians who are damned, is the delusion by which he leads them into sin with the hope of pardon. Sin freely, he says to them; for after all your iniquities, you shall be saved. But God curses the man that sins with the hope of mercy. “Maledictus homo qui peccat in spe.” The hope of sinners after sin is pleasing to God when it is accompanied with repentance; but the hope of the obstinate is an abomination to the Lord” (cf Job 11:18-20). As the conduct of a servant who insults his master because he is good and merciful, irritates the master, such hope provokes God to inflict vengeance.

Affections and Prayers

Ah, my God, I have been one of those who have offended thee because thou wert bountiful to me. Ah, Lord, wait for me, do not abandon me. I am sorry, O infinite Goodness, for having offended thee, and for having so much abused thy patience. I thank thee for having waited for me till now. Henceforth I will never more betray thee, as I have hitherto done. Thou hast borne with me so long, that thou mightst one day see me a lover of thy goodness. Behold, this day has, I hope, arrived; I love thee above all things, and esteem thy grace more than all the kingdoms of this world: rather than lose it, I am ready to forfeit life a thousand times. My God, for the love of Jesus Christ, give me holy perseverance till death, along with thy holy love. Do not permit me ever again to betray thee, or to cease to love thee. Mary, thou art my hope: obtain for me this gift of perseverance, and I ask nothing more.

Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).

Art: Footpath through a wheat field. The farmer has left a clear path through the crop but the weeds have taken advantage of the open space…, Pauline Eccles, 2 August 2008, CC-SA; Saint Peter Penitent, Gerrit (Gerard) von Honthorst, around 1618, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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