Wednesday, 10 September 2014
THOUGHTS ON THE WAY TO CHURCH - From A Sermon By St John Vianney
But, unfortunately, when the question is one of the service of our God and the salvation of our poor souls the whole thing becomes a matter of routine and inconceivable indifference.
Suppose someone wants to speak to a very important or influential person and to ask him some favour. He will dwell upon the matter for a long time in advance. He will consult others whom he thinks better educated or more experienced than himself in order to find out in what way he should approach this person. He will appear before him with that modest and respectful bearing which, generally speaking, the presence of such a personage inspires. But when he comes into the house of God, ah, there is no more of that sort of thing. No one thinks then of what he is about to do or of what he is about to ask of God.
Tell me, my dear brethren, who is there who, as he is going along to the church, is saying to himself: Where am I going?
Is it to the house of a man or to the palace of a king? Oh, no, it is into the house of my God, into the dwelling place of Him Who loves me more than Himself, since He died for me, Whose compassionate eyes are aware of my actions, Whose ears are attentive to my prayers, always ready to hear my prayers and to forgive. Filled with these blessed thoughts, why would we not exclaim with the holy King David: "O my soul, rejoice that you are about to enter the house of the Lord," to give Him your homage, to show Him your needs, to listen to His divine words, to ask Him for His graces.
Oh what things I have to say to Him, what graces I have to ask of Him, what gratitude I have to pay Him! I will speak to Him of all my worries, and I know that He will console me. I will admit my faults to Him, and He will forgive me.
I am going to talk to Him of my family, and He will bless it with all sorts of mercies. Yes, my God, I shall adore You in Your holy temple, and I shall return from there filled with all sorts of benedictions.
Tell me, my dear brethren, is that the sort of thought which occupies you when your religious duties call you to church?
Are those indeed the thoughts you have, after having wasted the entire morning in discussing your sales and your purchases, or at the least, some other entirely useless matters? You come along in a hurry to hear a Mass which often is half-finished.
Alas! If I dare to put into words how many go to visit the god of drunkenness before their Creator; and, coming to church full of wine, they will talk and concern themselves with temporal matters right up to the very door! Oh! Dear God! Are these Christians, who ought to be living like angels upon earth?
What of you, my good woman, are your thoughts any better now that you have occupied your mind and part of your time in thinking how you were going to dress, so that you might please the people you know; and then you come to a place where you should come only to lament for your sins?
Indeed, too often the priest is ascending the altar while you are still turning around and around, looking at yourself in front of a mirror. Ah, dear God! Are these really Christians who have taken You for their Model, You, Whose whole life was spent amidst scorn and tears? Listen, my dear young lady, to what St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, has to teach you. As he was in the doorway of the church one day and saw a young person approaching dressed with the greatest of care, he spoke to her." Where are you going, young woman?" he asked. She told him that she was going to church." You are going to the church," the holy Bishop said to her, "but one might rather think that you are going to the dance or to a play or a spectacle.
Go away, sinful woman, and weep for your sins in secret, and do not come to the church to insult with your frivolous adornments a crucified God."
Dear Lord! How our century has provided us with.... [sentence incomplete - Trans.] How many people when they are coming to the church think of nothing else except themselves and their clothes and styles.
They enter the temple of the Lord saying from the depths of their hearts:
"Have a good look at me." When we see such wrong dispositions, how can we help but shed tears?
And you, fathers and mothers, what are your dispositions when you come to church, to the Mass? Alas! We must admit it with sorrow that most frequently the fathers and mothers that we see are coming into the church when the priest is already on the altar, or even in the pulpit! Ah, you will tell me, we came as soon as we could. We have other things to do.
Undoubtedly you have other things to do. But I know very well, too, that if you did not leave until Sunday the one hundred and one things in your homes which you should have done on Saturday, and if you had got up a little earlier in the morning, you would have done them all before holy Mass, and you would have arrived at the church before the priest had ascended the altar. It can be the same thing, too, with your children and your servants: if you had not been giving them orders until the very last stroke of the Mass bell, they would have arrived at the church at the beginning. I do not know whether God will receive all these excuses easily; I hardly think so.
But why, my dear brethren, should I speak of particular cases? Surely it is the majority of you who behave in this way.
Yes, when you are called to church so that the graces of God may be administered to you, anyone may see this lack of enthusiasm in you, this indifference, this boredom which consumes you, this practically general inattention. Tell me, where will you see the majority of the general congregation when the services are beginning? Are the Vespers not half said by the time you arrive?
We have work to do, you tell me.
Well, my friends, if you were to tell me that you have neither faith, nor love of God, nor the desire to save your poor souls, I would believe you much better.
Alas! What can anyone think of all that? .... There is a great deal to lament in what is to be seen of the dispositions of the majority of Christians! A great many seem to come to church only in spite of themselves or, if I dare to put it that way, as if someone were dragging them there. From the house to the church, temporal matters only are discussed. A group of young girls together will talk about nothing except style, beauty, and all the rest of it; the young men only of games and amusements or of other matters which are more evil.
The fathers or the masters of households will chat about their property or business, about buying and selling. The mothers are preoccupied only with their households and their children. No one will go so far as to deny that. Alas!
Not a single thought will be given to the happiness they are about to have, not a single reflection on the needs of their poor souls or those of their children or their servants! They enter the holy temple without respect, without attention, and a great many of them as late as is possible. How many others do not even go to the trouble of coming in at all, but stay outside, in order to find better ways of distracting themselves? The word of God does not trouble their consciences: they look around at those who are coming and going....
Dear God! Are these really the Christians for whom You suffered so much in order to make them happy? And this is all they think of it? ....
With dispositions like that, how many sins must be committed during the services? How many people must commit more sins on Sunday than during all the rest of the week! ....
Listen to what St. Martin has to tell US.... While he was singing the Mass with St. Brice, his disciple, he noticed the latter smiling. After it was all over, he asked him what had made him smile. St. Brice replied: "Father, I saw something extraordinary while we were singing the holy Mass. Behind the altar I saw a devil and he was writing on a huge sheet of parchment the sins which were being committed in the church, and his sheet was rather full before the Mass was finished. So the devil took the sheet of parchment between his teeth and tugged it so hard that he tore it into shreds. That was what made me smile."
What sins, and even mortal sins, we commit during the services by our lack of devotion and recollection! Alas! What has become of those happy times when Christians passed not only the day but even the greater part of the nights in the church, mourning for their sins and singing the praises of God? See, even in the Old Testament, see holy Anna the prophetess, who withdrew into a tribune in order to leave the service of God no more. Look at the holy old man Simeon.
See again Zachary and so many others who passed the greater portion of their lives in the service of the Lord. And note, too, how marvellous and how precious were the graces which God bestowed upon them. To reward Anna, God willed that she should be the very; first to recognise our Lord.
The holy old man Simeon was also the first, after St. Joseph, to have the happiness, the very great happiness, of holding the Saviour of the world in his arms. The holy Zachary was chosen to be the father of a child destined to be the ambassador of the Eternal Father in announcing the coming of His Son into the world. What wonderful graces does God not grant to those who make it their duty to come to visit Him in His holy temple as much as they possibly can....