The Danger of putting off our repentance



The Wisdom of Holiness


There are few individuals so completely lost to all sense of their own salvation, as not to flatter themselves that, before the close of life, they shall make their peace with their long-offended God, and do something towards the recovery of their eternal happiness. These are the plans and expectations of the generality even of the greatest sinners; for not even would these give up all hope as lost, even for all the satisfactions that this world can offer.

Among the various illusions which impose upon our reason, there is not, perhaps, any one that is more dangerous or more fatal to us than the blindness and flattery of this false security.For what, under its deceitful guise, is really the case? Under it we live on in our sins, adding each day to their multitude, and heaping up to ourselves fresh material for the Divine displeasure. Intoxicated by the fumes of our passions, or lulled to indolence by our self-love, we sleep. We sleep, and then foolishly imagine that the justice of God is asleep also, like ourselves. We mistake His silence for patience, and His forbearance for mercy... unaware that the very silence and forbearance of God are frequently the severest of His judgments. He waits, indeed, because He is merciful; but He waits only because we are always in His hands. I will awaken upon the sinner for his destruction. In reality, can anything be more insulting to the goodness of God than the circumstance of thus proposing to return to Him, only when we can enjoy the satisfactions of sin no longer, or when we are tired and disgusted with the pleasures of a worldly life? This is treating God, not as a friend, but as an enemy. And hence the strong expression of His indignation quoted above. But, besides all this, when we consider the shortness and precarious tenure of our lives, and above all, the nature and uncertainty of grace, there is in such conduct a madness, which in the eyes, not only of religion, but of reason itself, ought to appear almost unaccountable. It resembles the folly of the man who allows himself willfully to suffer shipwreck because he hopes that by some accident or other, a plank may chance to fall in his way that will carry him in safety to the shore. Accordingly, everything both in religion and in reason bids us seize on the favorable occasion while we may, and not to put it off from day to day. In religion, all its oracles and commands, its threats and its terrors, its figures and its examples, all tend to prove this alarming truth: the delay of our repentance is very displeasing to God and dangerous to our salvation.

Indifference to the Promptings of Grace

The passages in the Scriptures which relate to this awful subject, besides being numerous, are, at the same time, particularly striking. Seek the Lord, says the prophet, whilst yet He may be found. Walk, says St. John, while you have light, lest soon the darkness come and overtake you... Watch and pray, because ye know not the day nor the hour... At the hour when you least expect it, the Son of Man shall come. These are some of the invitations suggested to us by the tenderness of the Eternal Wisdom. In like manner let us consider some of its threats. Ye shall seek Me, says God to the sinner, and you shall not find Me. You have, during your career in the world, neglected and abandoned Me; and therefore (for I shall have My day too), I will, at your death, deliver you up to your just fate -- And I will laugh in your destruction, and you shall die in your sins. So, too, we are repeatedly forewarned that the specter of death shall steal suddenly upon us like the thief in the night, when we least expect it, surprising us in the arms of sleep and in the lethargy of sin. In the parable of the foolish virgins, who fell asleep while they were waiting for the arrival of the spouse, we are taught to trace alike the imprudence and the danger of false security. In the dead of the night, the spouse arrived. They instantly presented themselves, their lamps untrimmed; and they were rejected with the reproach: I know you not.

Not only this, but on the few occasions which are cited to us in the Scriptures where we find even the strongest expressions of sorrow for sin and regret for the imprudence of delay, we find that such sorrow was fruitless, such regret of no avail. Thus, Esau, the figure of imprudent sinners had lost his birthright. He repented sincerely of his folly. But his repentance came too late. The blessing was forfeited and lost forever. Thus Antiochus wept, and sighed, and prayed; and humbly craved for pardon. But his tears, and sighs, and sorrows, like those of Esau, coming too late, availed him nothing.

From these examples, and still more from the foregoing precepts, we ought to draw this conclusion that, if during our career of health we continue deaf to the voice of God and indifferent to the inspirations of His grace, putting off our conversion from day to day, we ought in such case to infer either that the time of repentance may not be allowed us; or that if it should be allowed, our repentance will probably be false, and we shall die in our sins. Such, at least, are the inferences which, referring to the principles and instructions of the Holy Scriptures, we ought in prudence to deduce, if we love our own security.

Spiritual Indolence
In reply to these clear and often repeated maxims, and by way of apology for our delays, we frequently remark that the laborers in the vineyard who, as it is related in the Gospel, were called only at the close of the day, at the eleventh hour, received precisely the same recompense as those who had been hired in the morning, at the first hour. Now, the truth is, that even this, though so exceedingly specious, is after all, but a very feeble argument. For there is this difference between the delaying sinner and the laborers here alluded to, that these were, all of them, waiting and wishing to be employed. They were standing in the marketplace, only unoccupied because no one came to engage them. Once engaged, they instantly set to work. Whereas, what is the case with the delaying sinner? He continues indolently living on in the midst of his pleasures, or in the habitual indulgence of his passions, neither seeking a reconciliation with his God, nor attending to the voice of religion, which urgently calls upon him to undertake the important task.

In like manner, there are persons, although the number of these may be few, who go so far in defense of their own indifference as to cite the example of the good thief, who was mercifully forgiven even in the very act of expiring. But, alas, this is not an authority to be quoted as an encouragement to procrastination, but as an extraordinary prodigy. The sinner who, so often called upon and admonished, still refuses to return to God, cannot, most certainly, with anything like rational confidence, pretend to expect such a miracle of grace as that was. But not only this -- the conversion of the good thief, in the hour of death is the only example of such a blessing that occurs in all of Scripture. He was converted, it is true; but it was by the very side of Jesus just expiring, and sprinkled with the blood of the Adorable Victim. Meanwhile, let us only cast a look on His other hand. There we behold with consternation the other thief dying in despair under the self-same shelter of his suffering Savior. Such an example is, therefore, no encouragement for our delays.

Rash Presumption

But it may be the case, that we propose, ere long, and perhaps even very soon, to renounce the pursuits of sin, and steadfastly to resume the cultivation of virtue. Such, no doubt, are the designs of many sinners who, having formerly tasted the delights of piety, have, by the torrent of bad example, been hurried away into the streams of worldly pleasures. "But then," they say, "we cannot, just now, undertake the task. We have engagements upon our hands which, for the present, make it inconvenient; and our passions have not as yet subsided into that calmness which renders its accomplishment practicable. By-and-by, however, we will begin the important revolution." Now all this, though flattering to self-love, is but mere trifling with salvation. It is a positive resistance to God's injunctions, which command us, and to His mercies, which invite us, to be converted without any delay or hesitation whatsoever. It is, too, an insolent assumption of the supposed certainty both of the time and the grace which are required to effect the great work of a conversion. In relation to time there is nothing more precarious. God has retained the possession and disposal of time entirely to Himself insomuch that we are not sure of one single day. It is so again with grace, that main essential in the business of our reconciliation. Grace is at least as uncertain as time. God is infinitely jealous of the sacred gift. He bestows it willingly upon us whenever, sincerely repenting, we embrace it readily. But He tenaciously withholds it whenever He foresees, either that we shall abuse, or when it is offered, shall refuse to accept instantly the salutary gift. Wherefore the consequence in relation both to time and grace is that, if we wish to entertain any well-founded assurance of salvation, our plan must be, not to dally with the business of our reformation, but at onceearnestly to set about it, saying to ourselves, in the words of the Psalmist: Now I have said, now I have begun, I have sworn and am determined to keep the commandments of Thy law.

The Acceptable Time

We very generally entertain an exceedingly erroneous, and often fatal opinion concerning the nature of a true conversion. We suppose such a revolution easy, or, at all events, a task of no very perplexing difficulty. We imagine that as we have formed our chains ourselves, so we can easily unloosen them; or, as we have been the authors of our own propensities, so we can, of course, as readily alter and reform them. Unhappy mistake! for so far is this from being the case, that, of all serious difficulties, the work of a real conversion from a life of habitual sin to a life of virtue is one of the most arduous, so arduous indeed, that St. Jerome asserts (his assertion, let us hope, is but the echo of his too trembling timidity) that, out of thousands who attempt the important task, there is hardly one so fortunate as to accomplish it, that is, to be converted truly. The fact is, that to root out bad habits, to change our inclinations, to hate what we have hitherto loved, and to love what we have long disliked -- this is a work beset with obstacles which are not easy to overcome. Indeed, not only this, but bad habits and evil inclinations are fetters, bolts of iron, so strong and massive that not a giant's strength, but only the most powerful grace can break them asunder. At all events, it is vain to imagine that indolence, or any ungenerous effort, can effect so great a conquest. Hence, therefore, again, the danger of delay. What is difficult today will be more difficult tomorrow; and passions, which are strong at present, may soon, by indulgence, become invincible. It is the same with the disorders of the soul as it is with those of the body; they are most easily cured when early attended to, irremediable often when for a length of time neglected. Now, that is, the present day, is the acceptable time.

True Conversion
These circumstances seriously considered, we cannot but feel how very little reliance is to be placed on those supposed conversions, or alleged repentances, which we often witness in the cases of sickness and on the bed of death. For, in the first place, it cannot easily be imagined that a few hours' or a few days' illness can well suffice to eradicate habits, to change inclinations, to break asunder the chains of sin which have been, perhaps, fast riveted to the heart by long years of indulgence. The new man is not, in general, thus created in an instant; neither are our evil propensities to be uprooted by such transient efforts. Sickness has not any advantages beyond health to produce these wonderful effects. Under the pressure, indeed, of sickness, when the force of our passions is suspended, and when the apprehensions of eternity are present to our minds, we then appear to relent, and express even a deep regret for the errors of our misspent lives. Alas! all this, we too often discover is little else than the mockery of penance, the artificial movements of the heart, the struggles of nature, distressed with pain, much rather than the motions of grace excited by the hatred of sin or the love of God. For, what is the ordinary conduct of our sick penitents when they are so fortunate as to recover their health? Why, the very same, most commonly, that it was before their illness -- a proof that nearly all these fine and supposed conversions which we witness on the bed of death are, in reality, not in the heart of the sinner, but in the mouth; not in his conscience, but in his imagination.

The work of a true conversion is, in fact, too important a revolution to allow us to suppose that it can be well completed during the brief interval of a short and painful illness. For, let us only calculate a few of the difficulties which oppress the suffering patient. He is overwhelmed with sickness and languor; tormented perhaps with pain; his mind distressed, his thoughts confused; agitated by the desire of life; terrified by the apprehensions of death; while the tears and afflictions of his family, and the necessity, it may be, of still attending to his temporal concerns come in to increase his anguish, and to disturb the few moments of his repose. Under circumstances like these, it is hard to imagine that the business of all others the most momentous, can be so well-conducted as to fit the unhappy sufferer to prepare, as he should do, for the awful solemnity of his approaching trial.

The real truth is, that we die as we live. It is most probable, that, unless we instantly embrace the proffered mercies of our God, we shall each of us die as we live at present. It is a very mistaken notion to suppose that death and life are unlike each other. They are very similar, if at all distinguished, for death is only life concluding; just as the waters of a stream when they disappear are still the same as when they flow in our sight before us. But, above all, it is true that old age, which is considered as the period of sinlessness, is, beyond any other season of life, the leastfitted for the work of real conversion. Experience every day proves this. It proves that the aged sinner is always the hardest to reform. His years and accumulated vices render him callous and inflexible. His sins, like a mortal poison, penetrate to the very marrow of his bones; and he carries them with him to the grave. To expect, therefore, as too many do, the conquest of our passions from the mere effect of years is a piece of folly. Old age but reaps what youth had sown.

Therefore, let us consider well. Let us at once and in good earnest return to God. He has long and often sought after us. He has often spoken to our hearts; often reproached our ingratitude, and shown us His judgments. There is not a path in which He has not pursued us, not a truth which He has not pressed upon us. In short, He has employed every artifice and expedient to win our hearts, and to attract us to His service -- love, kindness, the joys of Heaven, the punishments of Hell, the instability of human life, etc. Let us then remember well those words of the Holy Ghost -- Put not off from day to day. Even tomorrow, for aught we know, may be too late.



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The Wisdom of Holiness No. 16

The necessity of combating our passions

Besides the faculties of our reason, or the powers of our understanding, it has pleased the Divine Wisdom to confer also upon us certain affections of the will, which we usually allot to the province of the heart. Such are the feelings of love and aversion, the sentiments of joy, sorrow, fear, etc. Their end and design is to promote and facilitate the work of our salvation; to be the wings, as it were, of the soul, enabling it to soar to the heights of virtue, and to fly away from the haunts of vice. When properly directed, they become the chief instruments, both of our present comfort and of our future happiness -- so much so, that it is upon the prudent or imprudent use and regulation of our affections that everything depends, not only in the next life, but even in this.

as it is deplorable that, although these qualities have been thus bestowed upon us for the most beneficent purposes, they are still everywhere perverted; and instead of being made (as in the designs of God they should be) the principles of our salvation and the conductors to present happiness, they are on the contrary, converted into the prolific sources of vice, and into the instruments of our misery. It is when they are thus misapplied and degenerated that we give them the appellation of our passions.

In the great business, therefore, of our salvation, what, beyond every other consideration, demands our care, is the proper direction and the enlightened government of the dispositions of our heart. These, when neglected and once debased into passions, become the very tyrants of the soul, exercising over it the most despotic power, weakening its best faculties, extinguishing, not infrequently, the light itself of the understanding; in short, rendering their unhappy victims little else than so many sensual slaves. Hence it is that in the Sacred Scriptures, the individuals who are given up to their passions are compared to the beasts of the field, and placed on a level with them.

Effects of Unbridled Passions
If we trace the effects of the passions -- whether it be on the great theater of public life, in the private walks of domestic society, or in the breasts of individuals, we shall, in each case, find that their invariable operation is to produce wretchedness and distress. Thus, referring to the great theater of the world -- if we take a view of their consequences there, we find that the whole history of the misfortunes which have at anytime scourged and afflicted nations, is but the history of the workings of the passions. These alone were the causes and the instruments of all the crimes and disorders, of all the discord and confusion, of the wars, rebellions, tribulations, etc., which have so often rendered the world an Haceldama of blood and a vale of tears.

In the private walks of domestic life, although the evils are, of course, less striking, yet they are often truly awful and afflicting. It is the passions which, here again and alone, disturb the harmony and destroy the peace of families -- poisoning their comforts, and embittering their enjoyments. Experience everywhere proves that wheresoever these enemies prevail, no real happiness resides. Contentment and all real satisfaction fly away from the unhallowed roofs; and in their place there enter cares, anxiety, and fears, and not infrequently, temporal calamity, disgrace and shame.

The Reign of Lust
Neither is it the united concert of a multitude of passions that is required to produce these evils. Often the operation of a single passion will suffice to bring them into existence. Thus, let us only consider the long train of miseries and mischiefs which the passion of lust alone brings daily upon its unhappy victims. This is one of the primary passions which now reigns with tyrant sway in every avenue of society--corrupting every age, sex, and condition; tainting the purity of infancy itself, and degrading the decrepitude of old age. The first entrance into the paths of this fatal disorder often appears to its unthinking slaves as pleasant and bestrewed with flowers. Hence, urged on by the ardor of their feelings, they rush headlong and heedlessly into its inviting bowers; and there eagerly seizing, as they conceive, the cup of pleasure, greedily drink of its empoisoned beverage. It may be that for a time, while the intoxication lasts, they experience little or no uneasiness. But, oh! what ere long is the case? Soon, like the visions of a dream, their imaginary satisfactions fade away. The paths become strewn with thorns; and the fair flowers lose all their fragrance. The illusory charm has vanished. Disgust comes on, and a frightful void takes the place of that fullness of sentiment which the force of passion had created. The conscience becomes alarmed, and remorse -- a long, deep remorse succeeds, filling the soul with distress, and uttering groans through every recess and cavern of the heart. It is true, the feelings of the unhappy victims are by no means always alike. They must, of course, vary in different characters, ages, and situations. Still, the above are its frequent and general consequences. And in particular, they are almost invariably such in the case of those individuals, who, possessed of well-informed minds and trained once to virtue in the schools of piety, have either by accident or the effects of bad example, been unhappily drawn into the indulgence of this disorder. These experience all the horrors just alluded to. But at all events, if we only look around us and contemplate the public walks of society, we cannot but remark that whenever this passion prevails, there are seen attending it a long train of miseries and afflictions, distress, inordinate temporal cares, reputations lost, and fortunes squandered away; pain, sickness, and infirmity; youth fading in its bloom, and millions perishing under its terrible consequences. Whence a distinguished worldling has made this observation: "There exists, I believe, a Hell. But if there were no Hell to punish the vice of lust, what I have seen in the world, what I have witnessed in our hospitals and asylums, is more than sufficient to inspire any thoughtful mind with a deep horror of this disorder" Such as these, to say nothing of the prospects of future misery, and of the sacrifice of eternal happiness, are the effects and trophies of but one single passion.

Vigilance and Fortitude
In order, therefore, to preserve ourselves from the evils and miseries of our passions, it is both our duty and our interest to adopt every expedient that religion prescribes and that prudence dictates. We must, in the first place, be watchful. Watchfulness is here peculiarly necessary, because there is nothing in reality that is so artful and insidious, so flattering and treacherous as our passions. They insinuate themselves by so many artifices; they steal in upon us by so many inlets; they seduce us by so many wiles and stratagems, that it is only by means of the most constant vigilance that we can preserve and secure our hearts against them.

To this spirit of vigilance we must be careful also to unite the spirit of fortitude and resolution. This indeed, is a duty at least as essential as our vigilance. It is a duty, it is true, that is sometimes trying to our weakness and painful to our self-love; because our passions are portions of ourselves, dear to our vitiated tastes, and pleasing to our sensual inclinations. They are domestic enemies that we love. It is for these reasons, therefore, that it behooves us to fight so much the more generously against them. But above all, this fortitude is the most particularly requisite, whenever it so happens that our passions, in consequence of our having indulged them, are formed into a habit. In this case, our fortitude must be bold, stern, and determined. For then the very principles of our liberty are changed into the principles of our slavery; and we are bound fast in chains, stubborn as so many bolts of steel, but which still, because we have forged them ourselves, and wear them with satisfaction, appear to us light and easy.

There is here, too, another circumstance in relation to our passions which, still more than any other, should seem to require our most serious care and consideration. It is this: We, each of us, inherit or experience within ourselves one leading disposition -- one darling and favorite propensity. It is this that principally rules our feelings, regulates our desires, and forms the chief feature in our character. It is what we call our ruling or predominant passion. It is against this, therefore, and to its wise and proper government, that both all the prudence of our watchfulness and all the energy of our resolution ought most essentially to be directed. It is upon the art and fortitude with which we do this, that the success of our spiritual warfare and the prospects of our eternal happiness almost wholly depend. For should it ever be our lot to have our portion with the damned, it is our ruling passion, the chief source of our sins, that will prove the principal cause of our condemnation. Impressed, therefore, with this awful truth, let us consider this passion as our mortal and most formidable enemy. Let us look upon it as a monster, a serpent, whose head we must not fail to crush. Without this, its venom will infect and corrupt our hearts; and will, even in death itself, poison our last sighs and taint our expiring breath.

The Conquest of Our Passions
We often complain of the violence and importunity of our passions. We, perhaps, even pretend that it is vain to attempt, for now anyway, to subdue them. These pretexts are very frequently in the minds and in the mouths of a multitude of sinners. However, reasons such as these are only the apologies for our corruption and excuses for our indolence. They are opinions and judgments which we do not in reality entertain. We know and feel that we have a power within us by which we can, if we please, not only resist, but conquer our very strongest passions. If such were not our conviction, we should then be reduced to deny both the efficacy of grace and the first law of human morals. We, can, therefore, if we but choose to do so, restrain and subdue our worst and most dangerous inclinations. Ah! let us only think how often and how easily we do this when there is question of obtaining the benefits and honors or those distinctions of this world that we deem important. On such occasions we find little or no difficulty in sacrificing our very dearest passions. We can then combat every obstacle, renounce every pleasure, and give up our will to the will of others. But, if so, if we can conquer ourselves for the sake of the trifling advantages of this world, we surely cannot, with anything like consistency, pretend that we cannot do the same for the blessings of our salvation. However, unhappily, so it is: we can do a great deal for this world, but we are all weakness for the next. We find everything difficult that relates to God or to our future happiness. Did we only put half the restraints upon ourselves to preserve our virtue that we do to purchase the satisfactions of this life, with these precautions, the victory over our passions would be complete and our salvation certain.

But admitting that the conquest of our passions is a painful and arduous task, still we know that we have always at hand the means, and even, if we seriously apply for it, the easy means of overcoming them. Grace -- this is the powerful instrument, is far stronger than our passions, and this is always granted to our requests. It is the property of grace to change our inclinations, to exalt our weakness into strength and our timidity into courage. It even converts our very passions into virtues, making our sensibility the principle of Divine love; our ardor, holy zeal; our obstinacy, resolution. Saint Cyprian tells us that he was no sooner renewed by grace than all His difficulties vanished, and his perplexities died away; so much so, that what had before appeared to him insurmountable became at once easy and agreeable. It was so, too, with St. Augustine. He informs us that, after he had become fortified by grace, what had seemed to him but ten days before impossible, he now performed without any difficulty whatsoever. It was so, again, with the sensual and sinful Magdalene. She but cast herself at the feet of Jesus, and she quitted them victorious over her passions, her habits, and herself. Thus it will be with us, provided only that we follow the example of these saints, applying like them for aid at the throne of grace. In this case, our weakness, like theirs, will be converted into strength, and our slavery into freedom. The old heart will be broken, and a new one created; and our inclinations, which are now, perhaps, so sensual and corrupted, reformed in their tastes will begin to cherish and pursue what alone is innocent and pure.

Religion does not, of course, require anything from us that is impossible. It but requires of us that we should do for God and for our salvation what the generality of us do for this world and its trifling interests. Nay, it even, in most cases, requires less. For what we are commanded to do for God and for our salvation is neither so painful nor so fatiguing as what we constantly undergo in the service of the world and under the slavery of our passions. It is not equal to the labors of trade, to the hardships of war, to the toils of the sailor, nor yet to the fatigue and watchings of pleasure and dissipation. Surely then, to ask for God and for our salvation what we daily give to the benefits and satisfactions of this life ought not to appear unreasonable. However, let us but do this, and we may be confidently assured that the justice of God will be satisfied, and our passions conquered.

Wherefore, if we wish to secure our salvation, and to enjoy in this life true peace of mind, let us learn to govern our passions, and to give a right direction to our feelings. Thus, if we love pleasure, let us pursue that which is real; if riches, let us seek those which never fade; if honors, let us aspire to such as are worthy of our ambition; if joy, let us exult in the testimony of a good conscience. With our hearts thus regulated, we shall enjoy what the sinner never tastes -- contentment without bitterness, and satisfactions without alloy. Or should it so chance that our passions, notwithstanding our exertions, still give us pain, or that we sometimes think it hard to do violence to them, let us on such occasions, calling on the spirit of prudence, remember how much harder it is, and how much more cruel, to endure the torments of the world to come. It is hard and cruel to cut off the dead limb; but it is still worse to die for want of the operation, which alone can preserve life and give back health. With our passions subdued, both our peace of mind here and our happiness hereafter are secure. Let us but generously take the first step towards the conquest and the very next -- the second -- will prove easy.