Consider first, that although there be no manner of comparison between the guilt of a mortal sin and that of a venial sin, as there is no manner of comparison between a mote and a beam, Matt. vii. 3, yet the guilt even of the venial sin, considering that it is an offence to a God infinitely great and infinitely good, is so displeasing in his sight that no soul that is stained with it can ever be admitted into his presence till this guilt is purged away, and no man living can be allowed, by any power in heaven or on earth, to commit any one venial sin, no, not to save a kingdom, or even to save the whole world; because the offence to God is a greater evil than the loss of the whole world; and we are not to do anything that is evil to save the whole world. Christians, do you think of this when, upon every trifling apprehension of incurring the displeasure of man, you take refuge in a lie, which is sure to displease your God? Do you think of this when you go on with so little concern, indulging yourselves in vanity, curiosity, sensuality, loss of your precious time, anger, impatience, and other sinful habits, upon the notion that these are but venial sins, and therefore need not be regarded? Oh! you will find one day to your cost how much you have been deceived if you do not correct in time this dangerous and pernicious error.
Consider 2ndly, the danger to which the soul exposes herself when she makes light of venial sins; even the danger of the very worst of evils, that is, of mortals in, and of all its dreadful consequences, both for time and eternity: according to that of the wise man, Ecclus. xix., 'He that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little.' It is true, venial sin does not of itself immediately destroy, or drive away from the soul, the grace and love of God, and therefore does not of itself bring present death to the soul, as mortal sin does; but then it weakens and cools the fervour of divine love; it lessens devotion; it hinders the inspirations of the Holy Ghost from working effectually in the soul; it leaves the soul feeble and drowsy, sick and languishing; so that upon the coming of a greater temptation she easily yields, and quickly falls into mortal sin. and how can we expect it should be otherwise when we have so little regard for God, or his friendship and love, as not to care how much we displease him, provided we can but escape his avenging justice? Or how can the fire of the love of God be kept alive for any long time in the soul when, instead of being nourished with its proper fuel, it is continually losing ground by a diminution of its heat and strength?
Consider 3rdly, that this danger of falling quickly into mortals sin, by making little or no account of venial sins, is the greater because of the difficulty there often is in distinguishing between what is mortal sin and what is only venial; since even the best divines are often at a loss to find the limits between the one and the other. So that all such as are in the unhappy disposition of venturing, without scruple, as far as the utmost limit of venial sin can be extended, are daily exposed to an evident danger of slipping beyond the bounds, and falling into the pit of mortal sin; the more because of the manifold subtleties and deceits of self-love, which is ever ready to favour and to excuse the inclinations of corrupt nature, and in all such cases to make that appear slight which is really grievous; and the more so when persons give themselves up to a tepid, negligent life, as they generally do who make light of venial sins; for this negligence takes the soul off her guard, disarms her, and lays her interior open to the spiritual sins of pride, envy, and such like disorders, which are mortal sins, and which easily prevail over careless souls, and are seldom thoroughly cured.
Conclude with a sincere resolution of never wilfully, and with full deliberation, consenting to anyone known sin, how venial soever it may seem to be, and much more, of never indulging any habit or custom of any such sin. 'Tis hard to reconcile the indulging such habits as these with the great commandment of the love of God above all things; at least it cannot be expected that divine love should abide to dwell for any long time in a heart where God is so often slighted.
O admirabile commercium: Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est.
Consider first, that on this day the blessed Virgin Mary, according to the rites prescribed by the ancient law, came to the temple of God to be purified after her child-bearing, and to make her offering according to what her poverty allowed, of a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeon, the one for a whole burnt offering, the other as a sacrifice for sin - Lev. xii. Admire her ready obedience to a law in which in reality she was not concerned, being exempted by that singular privilege of hers of bringing forth her son without any detriment to her virginal purity. Admire her humility in being willing to pass for a person unclean, she that was more pure than the angels, and to be excluded for forty days from touching anything that was holy, or coming near the house of God, and to be cleansed by a sin-offering, as if she needed any such expiation. Admire her love of purity, which brought her on this day to the temple of God, to be there purified with these legal sacrifices, because she was desirous of omitting nothing, that could any ways contribute to increase or maintain purity. And learn to imitate these great virtues, viz., her ready obedience, her profound humility, and her great zeal and love of purity.
Consider 2ndly, that on this day, the blessed virgin made a rich present to God in his temple, infinitely surpassing all the offerings that had ever been made there before; when, according to the law of the first-born, Exod.xiii., she presented her Son, the first-born of the whole creation, by whom all things were made, both visible and invisible, to his eternal Father. Parents, learn to imitate this presentation, by making an offering of your children to God, by the hands of Mary, to be dedicated for ever to his love and service. Christians, learn to present him with your hearts, together with all their offspring, your thoughts, words, and deeds; learn to make an offering to him of your whole being, every day, and every hour of your life. But then you must not stop here, you must also present to him his Son Jesus Christ, and yourselves with him and through him, daily in the sacred mysteries, and hourly in the spiritual temple of your souls. The temple of God in Jerusalem was highly honoured on this day, by the presence of the Son of God, according to that prophecy of Aggeus ii., 'The desired of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts. great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first, saith the Lord of Hosts, and in this place I will give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts.' My soul, art not thou ambitious of a share in this glory, peace, and happiness? Invite then this same Son of God, the desire of all nations, into thy inward house, and he will come and make thee the temple of his glory, and bring thee his true peace, which will make thee happy indeed.
Consider 3rdly, that on this day the venerable Simeon, who had received a promise from the Holy Ghost that he should see the Saviour of the world before he died, coming by divine instinct into the temple, whilst our Lord was present there, took him into his arms, and declared him to be the promised Messiah, the glory of Israel, and the light of all nations. At the same time that holy widow, Anna the prophetess, who for a great number of years had attended on the Lord in his temple by continual prayer and fasting, was also favoured with the like grace, and made the like public profession of her faith in our infant Saviour. This sacred meeting of so many persons of such eminent sanctity in the temple of God, in company with the Son of God and his blessed Mother, the Church celebrates in the procession of this day, which we make with lighted candles in our hands, which are solemnly blessed in the name of Christ, and received from the hand of God's priest as emblems of the light of Christ. See then, Christian souls, with what affection of devotion you ought to receive, and to bear in your hands, those hallowed candles, as figures of Christ. O learn, on this occasion, of holy Simeon, to seek Christ alone, to sigh after him alone, to aspire with your whole souls after his embraces, despising all things else, that you may find him. O remember that he is the true light of the world, in his life and doctrine; and determine from this time forward ever to follow him.
Conclude to study well all the lessons which are to be learned from the presentation of the Son of God and the purification of his blessed Mother, and to conform yourselves to them in the practice of your lives; that so being purified from all your sins, you may also be worthy to be one day presented to God, in the eternal temple of his glory.
Consider first, that on this day we enter upon a time of devotion and penance in the way of preparation for the solemn fast of Lent, and therefore we are called upon by the church, both in the Epistle and in the Gospel of this Sunday, to begin, now at least, to be quite in earnest in the great concerns of our soul. In the Epistle, we are put in mind by St. Paul (1 Cor. ix. and x.) that we are all here running in a race, in which we must push forward, with all our power, or we shall lose the prize; that we are engaged in a conflict, for an incorruptible crown, which is not to be obtained without much labour and self-denial. That if we are not in earnest, notwithstanding all the distinguished favours we have received and daily receive from God, we shall be in great danger of being excluded, like the Israelites, from the true land of promise. In the parable of the Gospel we are put in mind that we have but one business in this world, which is here represented under the figure of labouring in the vineyard of our Lord; that in this labour we are to spend the short day of our mortal life, and by persevering till night in this labour, we are to secure to our souls the wages of a happy eternity. O let us attend well, that we may learn these great lessons!
Consider 2ndly, in the parable of this day's Gospel, the infinite goodness of God, manifested to us in that perpetual attention of his, in every age, since the beginning of the world, and in every part of the life of man, by which we are invited by his divine graces and calls, to go out and to hire and to send labourers into his vineyard. And after all, what need has he of our labour, or of what service can we be to him? or what can we give him, which he does not first give to us? Why then does he press us to labour in his vineyard? O! 'tis his pure goodness and love, that he may make us for ever happy by our serving him here, and enjoying him hereafter. But what then is the meaning of this vineyard of our Lord? and what is this labour that he calls for at our hands? 'The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts,' said the prophet Isaias, (v. 7) 'is the house of Israel,' that is, the people of God. Yes, our own souls are the vineyard we are commanded to cultivate - no one can be excused from his share in this labour; every one must at least take care of one. To labour here to the purpose, we must in the first place root out the poisonous weed of sinful habits, and cut up all the thorns and briars of our vices and passions, and then we must plant in their stead the good plant of Christian virtues, and bring them on, by proper care, till they are capable of bringing forth fruit that may answer the expectation of the great Lord and Master of the vineyard, and be agreeable to him. O how happy shall we be, if by our labours, and his blessing, we so cultivate this little part of the Lord's vineyard that falls to our share, as to engage him to come to us and recreate himself there with us!
Consider 3rdly, Christian souls, how early in the morning your good God invited you to work in his vineyard, by the early knowledge he gave you of himself, and of the end for which he brought you into the world, and how frequently he has pressed you ever since, by his repeated graces and calls, in every part of your life, to oblige you to set about this work in good earnest. But can you say you have yet begun? May he not justly reproach you, as he did those whom he found standing in the market-place, at the eleventh hour: 'why stand you here all the day idle?' Alas! are you not idle, when you are doing nothing to the purpose? And has not your whole life hitherto been spent in doing nothing to your purpose? Nothing to answer the great end, the only business, for which you were made? Have you not then been truly idle all the day, that is all the time of your life? O begin now at least to labour - perhaps this is your last hour, your day is far spent, the night is coming on 'when no man can work.' John ix. 4. Work therefore now, whilst you have time, lest being surprised by the night, you may have no more time to work in, and so starve for eternity.
Conclude to make good use of this fresh summons, by which you are called upon this day, by God and his Church, to go and labour in the vineyard of your souls; lest otherwise, by not corresponding with the call, and receiving the grace of God in vain, you verify in yourselves that sentence with which our Lord concludes the parable of this Sunday, 'Many are called, but few are chosen.'
Consider first, O my soul, how long it is since thou wast first so miserable as to fall from thy God by sin and how much thy sins have been multiplied since that unhappy hour. Alas! didst thou not, at thy first coming to the use of reason, forfeit thy baptismal innocence, and fall a prey to that hellish monster? It was thy indispensable duty, in consequence of thy creation, of thy redemption, and of thy baptismal engagements, to turn to God, as soon as thou wast capable of knowing him, as to thy first beginning and last end, and to dedicate thyself eternally to his love and service. And didst thou comply with this strict obligation? Lucifer and his companions were cast down headlong into hell, because immediately after they were created, instead of turning to God, as they were bound to do, and dedicating themselves wholly to him they turned away from him to take pride in themselves: and hast thou not imitated these rebels, at the first dawning of thy reason, by turning thy back upon God, and by preferring thy own irregular inclinations, and every senseless toy before him?
Consider 2ndly, how after so wretched a beginning, thou hast gone on for so many years, daily adding sin to sin against God, against thy neighbour, against thyself, by work, by word, or by desire; so that not one day, perhaps not even one hour, has yet passed without frequently offending God, either by commission, or omission, by ignorance, frailty, or malice. Alas! my poor soul, is it not true, that even from thy childhood, thou wast given to lies, passion, and impurity? Is it not true that even then thy thoughts went continually astray from God after lying fooleries and vanities; that thy prayers were without attention; thy confessions without sincerity, repentance, or amendment; and thy whole life and conversation without any true sense of God, or any solid good? And hast thou grown any better by growing older? Or hast thou not rather daily multiplied thy sins; and still more and more corrupted, and defiled all thy powers and faculties, and all thy senses and members, with repeated offences and treasons; and continually perverted and abused all the gifts of God against the giver? O pass over in thy mind, but let it be in the bitterness of thy soul, all thy years; and lament to find that thy sins have been indeed far more numerous than the hairs of thy head, besides an infinite multitude of hidden sins, or sins which thou hast occasioned in others, which keep out of sight at present, but will all one day appear against thee.
Consider 3rdly, to the end that thou mayest make a better judgment of the immense number of thy offenses and transgressions, how little thou hast complied in any part of thy life, with the great duty of loving God with thy whole heart; of dedicating thy whole self to his service, and of directing by a pure intention, all thy thoughts, words, and actions to him; how little restraint thou hast put upon thy natural inclinations, too strongly bent on evil from thy very childhood; how little guard thou hast kept upon thy roving thoughts and imaginations; how little attention thou hast had, not to offend in words nor to give occasion of offence to others, &c. Reflect also how much of thy precious time thou hast squandered away; how many graces thou hast received in vain; how little thou hast corresponded with the divine calls and inspirations; how little use thou hast made of the talents with which thou hast been intrusted; and how very ill thou hast discharged thyself of thy stewardship in every part of thy life. And then see what armies of sin will presently rise up before thy eyes, and stand staring thee in the face. And how wilt thou dare, after so much guilt, and so much ingratitude, which is a perpetual aggravation of every one of thy sins, to lift up thy eyes any more to heaven, or so much as to name the holy name of God which thou hast so often profaned.
Conclude to be always humble, by a true sense and daily remembrance of thy innumerable sins; to offer up daily for them the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart; and to embrace henceforward a penitential life, as the best security after so much guilt.
Consider first, the wonders of God's goodness in his dealings with sinners. See with what patience he bears with them, and that very often for a long time, notwithstanding their repeated provocations, their continually abusing all his bounty and mercy, and that infinite hatred he always bears to mortal sin, wherever he sees it. O my soul, how much art thou indebted to this patience of thy God, in bearing with thee all these years past, ever since your first fall into sin! Alas! hast thou not all this time been playing upon the very brink of that dreadful precipice which conducts to the bottomless pit? Hast thou not been all this while within a hair's breadth of a miserable eternity? Is it not true, that every night thou hast gone to bed, thou didst not know but that before the morning thou mightest find thyself in hell? Millions have fallen into that dismal dungeon of endless woe, whilst thy God has spared thee; millions are now burning in those unquenchable flames for fewer sins than thou hast committed. O blessed for all eternity be the infinite goodness of my God, and may all his Angels and Saints praise and glorify him for ever, for having endured me so long, for having preserved me all this time, and continually watched over me, or else my soul had long since dwelt in hell!
Consider 2ndly, the many ways by which God seeks to reclaim sinners, and to call them home to him. Reflect on the remorse and inward reproaches of conscience, with which he visits them; the terror of his judgments, and the allurements of his mercies, which he sets before them. See how he is continually calling upon them, by his word, by his preachers, by good books, by good examples, and wholesome admonitions, and by a number of interior invitations and graces. Has he not dealt thus with thee, my soul, all this time thou hast been going astray from him? And what is the meaning of all this goodness of thy God to such an undeserving, ungrateful, and obstinate rebel? Why, it is nothing else but his own pure mercy and love in consideration of the precious blood of his Son. And shall not all this love of his for thee soften thy heart, and oblige thee, now at least, to resolve in good earnest to return to him, lest otherwise, mercy being long abused, should give place to justice, and the soil which has been so often watered with rain from heaven, and still continues to bring forth nothing but thorns and briars, should fall at length under a dreadful curse, and be condemned to the fire? Heb. vi
Consider 3rdly, what encouragement God gives to all sinners to return to him. 'As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner; but that he may be converted from his ways and may live. O why will you die, O house of Israel?' Ezech xxxiii. 11. 'Return to me and live,' ch. xviii. 32, 'Thou hast gone astray after many lovers, but return to me, and I will receive thee,' Jerem. iii. See with what love the good shepherd in the Gospel goes after the lost sheep, and with what joy he lays it upon his shoulders, and brings it home to the fold. See how the father runs out to meet the prodigal child when he returns home from the husks of the swine; see how he embraces him, clothes him with the best robe, and makes a feast for him. Luke xv. Reflect how the Son of God when here upon earth, treated the penitent Magdalene, the thief upon the cross, and all other sinners that had recourse to his mercy; and how he has declared, that there is more joy in heaven over one penitent sinner, than over ninety-nine just. And let all these instances and testimonies of his goodness to poor sinners, encourage and determine you to stay no longer away from him by sin, but to arise without delay, and return to so good, to so loving a Father, by a thorough conversion.
Conclude to abuse no longer the mercies of God by continuing in sin, but to return to him now at least with thy whole heart, and never to depart from him any more.
Consider first, that every wilful sinner is guilty of two enormous evils, according to that of Jerem. ii. 12, 13. 'Be astonished, O ye heavens - For my people have done two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, (pits,) broken cisterns that can hold no water.'
Yes, Christians, in every mortal sin, there are always these two exceeding great evils, viz., the turning away from a God infinitely good, and the very fountain of all goodness and life, and the embracing in his stead, that hellish monster, sin by the allurements of some deceitful appearance of an imaginary happiness, justly compared by the prophet to a broken cistern, that can hold no water, but only filth and mud. Wherefore, in the conversion of a sinner, there must also be always two principal ingredients, opposite to those two great evils, viz., the turning away from sin, with horror, detestation, and sorrow, for having offended a God, infinitely good in himself, and infinitely good to us: and the returning back to God, to embrace his holy law, and to dedicate the years that remain of life to his obedience, service, and love. Happy conversion, that thus brings the poor sinner back, from the very worst of evils, to his sovereign good!
Consider 2ndly, that this turning away of the soul from sin, which is a necessary ingredient of the sinner's conversion, must be effectual, that is, the soul must turn away from her sins in effect; she must not content herself with a slight sorrow for her sins; nor with faint purposes of amendment, nor with a half will, nor yet with making some weak efforts towards beginning a new life. But she must renounce her sins with her whole heart; she must detest them above all evils; she must hate them worse than hell; she must fly and abhor like a pestilence all such company, or other occasions, as may expose her to the danger of relapsing into them; she must be absolutely and resolutely determined never more to return to them, upon any consideration whatsoever. This is being penitent indeed, but to pretend to be true converts without leaving our sins is all mockery.
Consider 3rdly, that the principal ingredient of the conversion of a sinner is the turning to God with his whole heart, as the principal ingredient of sin is the turning away from God. Wherefore the true convert must not only leave the husks of the swine, which he has hitherto set his heart upon, but he must arise and return to the embraces of his Father, with a contrite and humble, but loving heart, resolved henceforward to be the eternal servant of his divine love. he must remember that 'many sins are forgiven to him that loveth much,' Luke vii, and that he that has been the greatest debtor is the most obliged to love with his whole heart that merciful creditor, who shows so much love to him in being so ready to discharge him of his great debts. In a word, a constant adhesion to God, by love and obedience, must be the perpetual business of a true convert. His whole life, for the time he has yet to come, must be dedicated and consecrated to divine love. This is his best security for the remission of all his past sins; this is the best preservative form all sin for the future.
Conclude to show thyself to be a true convert from sin to God, by renouncing all thy criminal affections, and sacrificing them all to the love of God, by hating what thou hast hitherto loved, and embracing with thy whole soul thy Lord and Saviour, crucified for the love of thee.
Consider first, that according to the different steps that are usually taken in the sinner's conversion, different sentiments and affection gradually take possession of his soul. And first his faith, which was asleep before, awakened by serious consideration, or by hearing the word of God, or by reading good books, opens his eyes to discover, in part at least, how odious, how filthy a monster has hitherto had possession of his soul, and what dreadful dangers have surrounded him with the worst of judgments from God, both for time and eternity. This by the help of the Holy Ghost, produces in his soul a wholesome fear of the justice of God, and of that miserable death, judgment, and hell, which are daily overtaking unrepenting sinners. Now this fear is usually the beginning of the greatest conversions. How hard must that sinner be whom neither the sight of the sword of God hanging over his head, nor of a miserable death, following closely at his heels, nor of hell, open under his feet, and just ready to swallow him down, can move to repentance.
Consider 2ndly, that the sinner being alarmed by the terrors of divine justice, seeks to find how he may escape these dreadful evils, that continually threaten him on every side, and how he may rid himself of his sins, the true source of all these evils. And here the mercy and goodness of God, and the precious blood of the Son of God, shed for poor sinners, present themselves before the eyes of his soul, and encourage him to hope that the same God, whose mercy has endured him so long in his sins, whose goodness has watched over him all this while, preserving him from innumerable evils, and loading him with innumerable benefits, who has purchased this soul of his for himself at so dear a rate, and who has shed his own blood to wash him from these very sins, will certainly receive him, now he desires to return to him (according to his repeated promises made to repenting sinners), as he has received millions of others, that have returned to him after sin. And in this hope he firmly proposes to neglect no one thing required on his part, towards obtaining the absolution and full remission of all his sins, and a perfect reconciliation with his God.
Consider 3rdly, that the sinner being thus encouraged, and resolved to go and present himself before the throne of divine grace, and there to sue for the pardon of all his sins, through the precious blood of the Son of God, betakes himself to fervent prayer, in order to obtain the necessary disposition of a contrite and humble heart, without which there is no admittance to mercy and grace. This contrite and humble heart is an excellent composition of three great virtues, viz., penance, humility, and divine love. Penance fills the soul with a horror and deep sense of sorrow for sin committed, together with an ardent desire to abolish it; humility obliges the soul to condemn herself, by reason of her manifold crimes, as worthy of all manner of evil, and unworthy of the least good, and to sit down in the very lowest place, as the most wretched, the most ungrateful, and the most abominable of all creatures; and divine love teaches her to consider and detest in her sins, not so much the evil they bring upon her, as their infinite malice, from the infinite opposition they have to a God infinitely good in himself and infinitely good to her, and their enormous outrages against the Son of God, incarnate for the love of her. With these sentiments the true penitent endeavours to prepare and dispose himself for the confession of his sins, and absolution from them. And this is that 'contrite and humble heart which God never despises.' Ps. l.
Conclude, if thou would'st effectually turn from sin to God, to endeavour to walk in these steps, especially to meditate seriously upon the great truths that relate to eternity, and to labour with all thy power for the acquiring a contrite and humble heart.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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