Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Quinquagesima Week. "The way that leads to God" by Abbe A. Saudreau.
'The sacrament of penance'
Lavamini, mundi estote....; si fuerini peccata vestra ut coccinum, quasi nix dealbabutur (Wash yourselves, be clean....;if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow). - Isa.I.16,18
I. Shame, the consequence of sin.
158. Man, before the Fall, could contemplate himself with pleasure, not in order to delight in his perfections, as being his own - for he knew too well that in himself he was nothing - but to admire God's gifts, and thereby to awaken feelings of gratitude in his heart. And the saintly soul regards itself with the same feelings of humility and gratitude. It cannot sufficiently admire God's mercy and goodness in thus taking pleasure in embellishing and enriching so wretched a creature, one that has offended Him and thus rendered itself all unworthy of the Divine blessings. The very elect know no other sentiments that these; they cannot contemplate themselves without offering up their homage to the infinite love of God. After our first parents' sin, a sensation which they had not yet experienced, and which was neither happiness nor gratitude, awoke in their souls. It was sorrowful; it overpowered them; in it they already found a punishment for their sin. And this new experience was shame. Their descendants also experience this result of Adam's and of Eve's sin when they initiate their wrong-doing, but the confusion may be either profitable or harmful. To the feeling of shame which, after the commission of a fault, arises spontaneously in the sinner's heart, a sentiment of humility may be added. He will then find peace in repentance, for humility abases us, but it does not wound; the humble man gladly recognizes the justice of the humiliations which he has suffered; he loves to do homage to the truth. But if the shame does not engender humility, it produces a quite contrary effect. The sinner in his confusion sees no attractions in the truth: it wounds him; he would fly from it, hiding his vileness even from God's eyes, from his own and from those of his brethren. Humility breeds simplicity, trust, and peace; shame, when the guilty person yields to it, gives both to false excuses, lies, anxiety, and distress of mind. In order to avoid these painful emotions, the sinner, unable to deny his fault, forces himself to forget it. He tries to stifle all recollection of it, and does serious harm to his soul by the dissipation which estranges him from God, making him neglect his duties and abandoning him as a ready prey to renewed attacks of temptation. And thus it is that sin engenders shame, and shame becomes the further cause of fresh sin.
159. But in the sacrament of Penance, God has given us a remedy for all this evils. There pride is broken down and humility becomes an inevitable duty. Far from hiding our weaknesses, even from our own selves, we must search them out and acknowledge them in all sanctity; instead of hardening ourselves against humiliation, instead of seeking how to palliate our faults with lying excuses, we must exhibit them honestly before the eyes of one of our fellow-men - a sinner like ourselves. God thus oblige us to triumph over the most deeply rooted of all the sentiments of the human heart; and if we enter fully into His designs, if we receive this great Sacrament with perfect dispositions, it will bring forth marvelous fruits within our souls. Qui se humiliat exaltabitur (He that humbleth himself shall be exalted - St. Luke XXIV.II).
Humiliations, practised heartily in the tribunal of Penance, will be recompensed a hundredfold by the glory that they will produce for all eternity. But those who have performed this duty of humility imperfectly will, on the other hand, derive but little fruit from their confessions; the expiation for their self-love is still to be made. And this compensatory expiation which they must undergo will be far more painful than it would have been if voluntarily performed.
160. In our old penal code there used to be an ignominious penalty, which has now disappeared from our statute-books, certain culprits being punished by a public exposure. In market-days, when the square was crowded, the condemned persons were hoisted upon a platform called the pillory, their crime being placarded so that all who passed by might read it. The shame which they could not escape was supposed to act as a just chastisement to the culprit and a salutary lesson to the bystanders. When we think of the pains of the world to come, the tortures of Hell, the sufferings of Purgatory, we dwell chiefly on the pangs caused by the flames or the privation of the vision of God. But Divine justice punishes man through the faculty by which he has offended. He who has sinned by pride deserves to be punished by humiliation, and it seems probable, therefore, that those who have not made reparation here for their faults of vanity or pride will be overwhelmed with confusion hereafter. "Nothing is covered which shall not be revealed," Our Lord has said, "nor hid that shall not be known" (St. Matt.X.26). May not this manifestation of conscience wear a punitory character even in Purgatory, and repair the sins of pride with which we have offended God? This will be the pillory of the proud, and those who refused to humble themselves as they deserved here will have to submit to terrible humiliations. All those faults, with their most secret details, their aggravating circumstances, the low motives which vitiated actions once applauded and praised by the world - all those thoughts which we conceal so carefully, and which would cover us with confusion if they were revealed in the light of day, God can make known. He can show the many graces which were offered to us, and all our abuse of them; the good which soul might have accomplished; the degree of glory to which it was called. He may ordain that other souls, holier, or already purified in part, should become aware of the faults and imperfections which He is punishing, and that the Angels should add their reproaches to the sufferings of the guilty. And what excuses can these unhappy ones offer?

Next: "Effects of the Sacrament of Penance", "Proper dispositions for the Sacrament of Penance"