"But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot; I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." Apocalypse iii. 16.
SYNOPSIS.These words a warning to lukewarm Christians.
I. By lukewarm Christians are not meant those who entirely neglect to approach the Sacraments. Nor those who strive to serve two masters, God and the world. What is a lukewarm soul? The difference between a good and a lukewarm Christian.
II. To which do you belong, to the bad, the good, or the lukewarm? If lukewarm, what means must be used to escape that dangerous condition?
Can we, my dear friends, listen without fear to this expression from the mouth of God Himself against a bishop who seemed to be fulfilling all the duties of a worthy servant of the Church? This man led a well regulated life, and his fortune was not spent in the ways of the unjust. Far from approving vice, he opposed it vigorously. He gave no bad example, and his life seemed really worthy of being imitated by others. And yet, notwithstanding all this, we learn that the Lord let St. John say to him, that if he should continue in his way of living, He would cast him out, i. e., punish him, and not admit him to salvation. Yes, my friends, this example must fill us with all the more horror because there are so many who tread in the same path, live in the same manner, and consider their salvation perfectly assured. Oh, how really small is the number of those who, in the eyes of the world, are positively lost or positively saved ! Which path do we follow? Are we on the right path? We should tremble at the thought that we do not know. Let us try, then, to discover whether we are so unfortunate as to belong to the lukewarm. I will tell you:
I. How you can tell whether you belong to the lukewarm, and
II. The means by which you may avoid that misfortune.
If, my dear friends, I speak to you to-day of the terrible condition of a lukewarm soul, I do not mean those who never go to Confession and Communion. Such people are not lukewarm. They are cold, and their souls are lost, even if they still come to Church and perform some good works. Let us leave them to their perdition, because they wish for no better. But you may ask, will not all those who receive the Sacrament at least at Easter time, be saved? Surely, my friends, not all of those will be saved, because if all those who make frequent use of the Sacraments would be saved, the number of the elect would not be as small as in reality it is. But let us acknowledge at the same time that all those who will have the great happiness of going to heaven, will be chosen from those who make frequent use of the Sacraments, and not from those who do not go to Communion and Confession at least at Easter-time. You will think that, if all those who do not perform their Easter duty will be damned, the number of the condemned will be very great. No doubt it is very great. Whatever may be said to the contrary, there is no doubt that all those who lead a sinful life must share that fate. Is not your heart troubled at this thought?
Again, my dear friends, I do not classify as lukewarm those who are striving to belong to the world without ceasing to belong to God. One moment you will see them throw themselves down upon their knees before God, and the next you will see them perform the same act before the idols of this world. The poor blind man! He stretches forth one hand to the Almighty and the other to the world, calling to both for help, and promising his heart to both. He loves Godat least he would like to love Him-but at the same time he wants to please he world. But, soon tiring of his efforts to give himself to both, he finally gives himself entirely to the world.
Now, let me tell you, my friends of the condition of a lukewarm soul. A lukewarm soul is not yet quite dead in the eyes of the Lord, because faith, hope, and charity, which are its spiritual life are not entirely extinguished in it. But it is a faith without zeal, hope without firmness, love without ardor. Let me describe to you a zealous Christian, i. e., a Christian who really and ardently longs to save his soul, and then a person who leads a lukewarm life in the service of God. Then we will compare the two, and you will see to which class you belong. A good Christian is not satisfied to simply believe in the truths of our holy religion. He loves them, he ponders over them, he tries in every possible way to acquire a knowledge of them; he loves to hear the word of God, and the more he hears it, the more he longs for it. He believes not only that God sees him in all his actions, and judges them all at the hour of death, but he trembles at the thought that he will have to render an account of his whole life to God. He not only thinks of this, and trembles over it, but he strives earnestly to improve himself daily. He never ceases in his endeavors to find new ways in which to do penance.
How different from this is the Christian who lives a lukewarm life! He still believes in all the truths which the Church believes and teaches, but his faith is so weak that his heart has not part in it at all. He does not doubt that the good Lord sees him, and that he is ever in His holy presence. But while believing this, he does not amend, nor sin the less. He falls into sin as easily as if he did not believe in anything. He is fully convinced that so long as he remains in this condition, he is an enemy of God, and yet he makes no effort to extricate himself from it. He knows that Jesus Christ has given to the Sacrament of Penance the power to remit our sins, and help us in the acquisition of virtue. He knows that this Sacrament gives us graces in accordance with the state of mind in which we receive it. But all this has no effect. He remains throughout his life just as indifferent, just as lukewarm. His Confessions and Communions are few and far between. He generally waits for a great feast-day, or a jubilee, or a mission, or he goes because others do so, and not because his poor soul needs it. He not only does nothing to merit this happiness, but he does not even envy those who partake of it frequently. If you talk to him of heavenly affairs, he is uninterested. Nothing touches him. He hears the word of God, but it wearies him. He listens to it from habit. Long prayers he dislikes. His mind is full of what he has done, or is going to do. His poor soul is fighting the battle of death. It is still living, but it is unable to do anything for heaven.
The hope of a good Christian is firm; his trust in God is unshaken. He never loses sight of the next life. The remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus Christ is ever present to his mind, is always in his heart. At times he directs his thoughts to hell, so as to picture to himself how great is the punishment for sin, and how boundless the misery of those who commit it. At times he raises his thoughts to heaven, to arouse his love of God, and that he may be sensible of the happiness of those who prefer God above all things. He represents to himself how great the reward is of those who forsake all things to do the holy will of God. Then he longs for God alone, and desires Him only. The goods of this world are as nothing to him. The pleasures of this world fill him with aversion. He does not fear death in the least, because he well knows that it will merely deliver him from the miseries of this life, and unite him with God forever.
But a lukewarm soul is very far from thinking thus. The next life is no serious consideration for him. If he does think of heaven, it is without a real desire to enter there. He knows that sin closes the doors of heaven against him. At the same time he does not strive to amend, at least, not in an earnest manner. Consequently, he finds himself always in the same condition. The evil spirit deceives him by inducing him to make numerous good resolutions to do better, to be more cautious in his words, more patient in his trials, kinder to his neighbor. But all this does not make the slightest change in his way of living. For twenty or more years he has made these good resolutions without, however, losing any of his bad habits. And if he could pass his life without crosses and trials, he would never want to leave this world. If you hear him say that this life is very long and miserable, it is only when everything does not go as he wishes. When God sends him crosses or want, to compel him, as it were, to detach himself from this life, behold! he is filled with bitterness, gives way to complaints and murmuring, and very often to a sort of despair. He appears not to understand that it is God who sends him these trials for his own good, to detach him from this life and to draw him to Himself. What has he done to deserve this, he thinks to himself, as there are so many others more culpable than he, who are not subjected to such visitations?
A good Christian, my friends, is seldom occupied with the things of earth. If you speak to him about them, he is as indifferent as the people of the world when you speak to them of the things of eternity. Finally, he lets his happiness consist in crosses, tribulations, prayer, fasting, and the thought of God. Now, the lukewarm Christian loses his trust in God, though, perhaps, not entirely; but he does not distrust himself sufficiently. Although he very often is exposed to the occasion of sin, he still believes that he will not fall. If he does fall, he ascribes it to his neighbor, and assures himself that another time he will be more firm.
He who really loves God, and is anxious to save his soul, will employ every possible precaution to avoid the occasions of sin. He will not only avoid the grievous faults, but he will also be very careful to avoid the very least of them. He considers everything that can displease God as a great evil, or rather, everything that displeases God, displeases him, too. He considers that he is standing at the foot of a ladder which he must ascend. He perceives that to reach the topmost rung he has no time to lose, so that every day he advances from virtue to virtue, until the day of eternity. He is an eagle which cleaves the air, or rather as the lightning which, from the moment that it appears until it vanishes, loses none of its velocity. Yes, dear friends, this is what a soul does who works for God, and' who ardently desires to behold Him.
This sort of love for God is not to be found in the lukewarm soul. You do not perceive that ardent desire, and the burning flame which overcome all obstacles to salvation. If you want to picture to yourselves, my dear brethren, the condition of a lukewarm soul, I can only tell you that it resembles a turtle, or a snail. They move about in such a slow way that you can hardly tell whether they have changed their position or not. The love which lukewarm Christians feel for God in their hearts, is like a tiny flame which is buried under a heap of ashes. This love is so surrounded with earthly thoughts and desires that if it is not choked, it is prevented from progressing, and is gradually extinguished. The lukewarm soul goes so far that he is indifferent about his ruin.
A Christian who leads a lukewarm life still fulfils his duties, at least, as far as appearances are concerned. He may say his prayers every morning upon his knees, he may go to the Sacrament once a year and even more frequently, only in all this he shows so much reluctance, so much aversion, so much indifference, so little preparation, so little change of life, that you can see plainly that he does his duty from habit and negligently, because he is compelled to do it. His Confessions and Communions may not be sacrileges, but they are Confessions and Communions without result. Instead of making him more perfect and more acceptable to God, they render him still more culpable. A lukewarm person thinks very little about the state of his soul, and he seldom reflects upon the past. If he does think of his soul, he believes he ought to be perfectly satisfied because he has confessed his sins. He thinks of the needs of his soul, but in a feeble way only. He appears in God's presence without knowing what he is going to ask for.
Now, my dear friends, examine yourselves, and find out upon which side you stand: On the side of the sinner who has given up everything; who thinks no more about the salvation of his soul; who plunges into sin without any remorse of conscience? On the side of those just souls who behold God alone, and seek after Him? Or do you belong to those poor souls, to those lukewarm, indifferent Christians, that I have just described to you? On which path are you walking? Who can say that he is not a sinner, nor lukewarm, but one of the elect! Alas, my friends, there are many who, in the eyes of the world, appear to be good Christians, but in the sight of God, who knows our intentions, are but lukewarm.
But you will say to me, what means shall we employ that we may get out of this miserable state? Let me first tell you that those who live in lukewarmness are, in a certain sense, in greater danger than those who live in mortal sin. A sinner laments his condition when his conscience awakens. He even longs to leave his sinful life, and he will leave it some day. But a soul which lives in lukewarmness never thinks of quitting that state, because he even thinks that he stands well with God. What shall we conclude from all this? This, dear brethren, that the lukewarm soul is in the sight of God more offensive, so that He will spit it out, that is, will leave it to perdition. O how many souls are ruined by this state!
If you desire to shake off this lukewarmness, dear brethren, you should betake yourselves from time to time to the portals of the abyss, whence you can hear the shrieks and howls of the lost, then you would have an idea of the tortures which they have to undergo, because, during their life they neglected the affair of their salvation. Raise up your thoughts to heaven, and behold the glory of the Saints, which is theirs because, while they were upon earth they fought and did violence to themselves. See with what zeal and earnestness those religious shut themselves up in the cloister, seeking to become worthy to receive the Sacraments frequently. See how willingly they forgave, and did good to those that persecuted them, or spoke badly of them. Look at their humility! How they despised themselves, and how much they dreaded the praise and good opinion of the world. See how carefully they avoided the least occasion of sin, and what copious tears they shed over their past sins. See how pure their intention was in all their good works. They thought only of God, and sought to please Him only. Let us conclude, dear brethren, by saying that there is no state so much to be feared for a person as that of lukewarmness, because a great sinner is more easily converted than a lukewarm soul. Let us pray to God with our whole hearts, if we find ourselves in this state, that He may grant us the grace to leave it, and to take that path which all the Saints have taken, that we may attain to the bliss which they enjoy. This is what I wish you all. Amen.