The Hour of Chastisement
Excerpts taken from St. Alphonsus de Liguori
My brethren, if we do not amend, the chastisement will come; if we do not put an end to our crimes, God will. He deals mercifully with those who fear Him; He cannot act thus towards the obstinate.
Such a person laments when he sees himself punished, and says, why has God deprived me of my health? Why has He taken from me this child, or this parent? "Ah, sinner! what have you said," exclaims Jeremias, "your sins have withheld good things from you" (Jer. 5:25). It was not the desire of God to deprive you of any blessing, of any gain, of your son, or your parent; it would have been the wish of God to make you happy in all things, but your sins have not allowed Him.
In the book of Job we read these words: "Is it a great matter that God should comfort thee? but thy wicked words hinder this" (Job 15:11). The Lord would fain console you, but your blasphemy, your murmuring, your obscene words, spoken to the scandal of so many, have prevented Him. It is not God, but accursed sin, that renders us miserable and unhappy. "Sin maketh nations miserable" (Prov. 14:34).
We are wrong, says Salvian, in complaining of God when He deals harshly with us. Oh! how much more harshly do we deal with Him, repaying with ingratitude the favors which He has bestowed on us!
The Lord is patient, but when the hour of chastisement arrives, then will He justly condemn to hell those wretches who continue in sin, and live in peace, as if there were no hell for them.
Let sin be no more for us, my brethren; let us be converted if we wish to escape the scourge which hangs over us. If we do not cease from sin, God will be obliged to punish us: "For evil-doers shall be cut off" (Ps. 26:9). The obstinate are not only finally shut out from Paradise, but hurried off the earth, lest their example should draw others into hell.
And let us reflect that these temporal scourges are nothing in comparison with those eternal chastisements, hope of relief from which there is none. Give ear, O sinner! My brother, give ear! "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees" (Luke 3:9). The author of The Imperfect Work, in his comment upon this passage, says: "It is said that the axe is laid, not to the branches, but to the root, so that it will be irreparably exterminated."
He says that when the branches are lopped, the tree continues still to live; but when the tree is felled from the root, it then dies, and is cast into the fire.
The Lord stands with the scourge in His hand, and you still continue in disgrace with Him. The axe is laid to the root. Tremble, lest God should make you die in your sins, for if you die thus, you shall be cast into the fire of hell, where your ruin shall be hopeless for eternity.
St. John Chrysostom says that some pretend not to see; they see the chastisements, and pretend not to see them. And then others, St. Ambrose says, have no fear of punishment until they see it has overtaken them.
To all these it will happen, as it did to mankind at the time of the deluge. The patriarch Noah foretold and announced to them the punishments which God had prepared for their sins; but the sinners would not believe him, and notwithstanding that the ark was building before their eyes, they did not change their lives, but went on sinning until the punishment was upon them, until they were smothered in the deluge. "And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away" (Matt. 24:39).
Brother, who knows whether this is not the last call which God may give you? "Let not the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me" (Ps. 68:16). It is that which sin effects, causing the mouth of the pit, that is, the state of damnation into which the sinner has fallen, to close over him by degrees.
As long as that pit is not entirely closed, there is some hope of escape; but once it is shut, what further hope remains for you? By closing of the pit, I mean the sinner’s being shut out from every glimmer of grace, and stopping at nothing; that being the accomplishment of what the wise man has said: "The wicked man, when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth" (Prov. 18:3).
He despises the laws of God, admonitions, sermons, excommunications, threats; he despises hell itself; so that persons have been known to say, ‘numbers go to hell, and I amongst the rest’. Can the man who speaks so be saved? He can be saved, but it is morally impossible he should.
Brother, what do you say? Perhaps you have yourself come to the contempt of the chastisements of God. What do you say? Well, and if you had, what should you do? Should you despair? No; you know what you have to do. Have recourse to the Mother of God.
Although you should be in despair, and abandoned by God, Blosius says that Mary is the hope of the despairing, and the aid of the abandoned. St. Bernard says the same thing when he exclaims, "The despairing man who hopes in Thee ceases to be desperate."
But if God wishes that I should be lost, what hope can there be for me? But, says God, "No, My son, I do not wish to see you lost: I desire not the death of the wicked" (Ezech. 33:11). But what then do you desire, O Lord? I wish him to be converted, and recover the life of My grace: But that the wicked turn from his way and live. Hasten then, brother, fling yourself at the feet of Jesus Christ; behold Him! See how He stands with His arms open to embrace you.
Lord, Thou hast often pardoned this people; Thou hast threatened it with destruction by earthquake, by pestilence in neighboring countries; by the infirmities and death of its own citizens; but Thou hast afterwards taken pity on them: "Thou hast been favorable to the nation, O Lord, Thou hast been favorable to the nation; hast Thou been glorified?" (Is. 26:15) Thou hast pardoned us, Thou hast dealt mercifully with us; what hast Thou received in return?
Have Thy people abandoned their sins? Have they changed their lives? No, they have gone on from bad to worse; that momentary fear passed, they have begun afresh to offend Thee and provoke Thy wrath. But, my brethren, perhaps you imagine that God will always wait, always pardon and never punish? No; God is merciful for a season; then He punishes.
We must persuade ourselves that God can not do otherwise than hate sin; He is holiness itself, and therefore cannot but hate that monster, His enemy, whose malice is altogether opposed to the perfection of God. And if God hates sin, He must necessarily hate the sinner who makes league with sin. "But to God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike" (Wis. 14:9). O God, with what an expression of grief and with what reason do Thou not complain of those who despise Thee, to take part with Thy enemy.
"Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children, and exalted them; but they have despised Me" (Is. 1:2). Hear, O ye heavens, He says, and give ear, O earth, witness the gratitude with which I am treated by men. I have brought them up, and exalted them as My children, and they have repaid Me with contempt and outrage. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known Me. They are gone away backwards" (Is. 1:3, 4).
The beasts of the field, the ox and the ass, continues the Lord, know their master and are grateful to him, but My children have not known Me, and have turned their back upon Me. But how is this?
"Services are remembered even by beasts," says Seneca. The very brutes are grateful to their benefactors; see that dog how he serves and obeys, and is faithful to his master, who feeds him; even the wild beasts, the tiger and the lion are grateful to those who feed them. And God, my brethren, Who till now has provided us with everything, Who has given us food and raiment: What more? Who has kept us in existence up to the moment when we offended Him, how have we treated Him?
How do we purpose to act in the future? Do we not think to live on as we have been living? Do we not perhaps think that there is no punishment, no hell for us? But hearken and know that as the Lord cannot but hate sin, because He is holy, so He cannot but chastise it when the sinner is obstinate, because He is just.
When He does chastise, it is not to please Himself, but because we drive Him to it. The wise man says that God did not create hell through a desire of condemning man thereto, and that He does not rejoice in their damnation, because He does not wish to see His creatures perish: "For God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living; for He created all things that they might be" (Wis. 1:13, 14).
And what are we to do? You inquire: are we to despair? No, God does not wish us to despair. "Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace:" that is what we are to do, as St. Paul exhorts us, in order "that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb. 4:16).
Let us at once go to the throne of grace that we may receive pardon for our sins, and the remission of the punishment which overhangs us. By seasonable aid the Apostle means to convey that the aid which God may be willing to lend us today, He may deny tomorrow. At once, then, to the throne of grace.
But what is the throne of grace? Jesus Christ, my brethren, is the throne of grace. "And He is the propitiation for our sins" (I John 2:2). Jesus it is, Who by the merit of His blood, can obtain pardon for us, but we must apply immediately. The Redeemer, during His preaching in Judea, cured the sick, and dispensed other favors as He went along; whoever was on the spot to ask a favor of Him, obtained it; but whoever was negligent, and allowed Him to pass without a request, remained as he was.
"Who went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). It was this that caused St. Augustine to say: "I fear Jesus passing by"; by which he meant to express that when the Lord offers us His grace, we must immediately correspond, doing our utmost to obtain it, that otherwise He will pass on and leave us without it.
"Today, if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps. 94:8). Today God calls you; give yourself to God today; if you wait for tomorrow, intending to give yourself to Him then, perhaps He will have ceased to call, and you will remain deserted.
Mary, the Queen and the Mother of Mercies, is also a throne of grace, as St. Antoninus says. Hence, if you see that God is angry with you, St. Bonaventure exhorts you to have recourse to the hope of sinners. "Go, have recourse to the hope of sinners:" Mary is the hope of sinners, Mary who is called "the Mother of Holy Hope" (Ecclus. 24:24).
But we must take notice that holy hope is the hope of that sinner who repents of his evil ways, and determines upon a change of life, but if any one pursues an evil course in the hope that Mary will succor and save him, such a hope is false, such a hope is bad and rash.
Let us then repent of our sins, resolve to amend, and then have recourse to Mary with a confidence that She will assist and save us.
Editor’s Note: Let us now make a good Act of Contrition. And in this time of crisis, let us fervently pray the Rosary (and frequently) because in the Fatima Message of July 13 we were told, "Only Our Lady of the Rosary can help you."