“Whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth a service to God.” JOHN xvi. 2.
In exhorting his disciples to be faithful to him under the persecution which they were to endure, the Saviour said: “Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth a service to God.” Thus, the enemies of the faith believed that in putting Christians to death they did a service to God. It is thus that many Christians of the present day act. They kill their own souls by losing the grace of God through human respect and to please worldly friends. Oh! how many souls has human respect that great enemy of our salvation sent to hell! I shall speak on this subject today, that, if you wish to serve God and save your souls, you may guard as much as possible against human respect. In the first point, I will show the importance of not being influenced by human respect; and in the second, I will point out the means by which this vice may be overcome.
First Point On the Importance of not Being Influenced by Human Respect
1. “Woe to the world because of scandals.” (Matt, xviii. 7.) Jesus Christ has said, that through the scandals of the wicked, many souls fall into hell. But how is it possible to live in the midst of the world, and not to take scandal? This is impossible. To avoid taking scandal, St. Paul says, we should leave this world. “Otherwise you must needs go out of this world.” ( I Cor. v. 10.) But it is in our power to avoid familiarity with scandalous sinners. Hence the Apostle adds: “But now I have written to you not to keep company …. with such an one, not as much as to eat.” (Ibid. v. 11.) We should beware of contracting intimacy with such sinners; for, should we be united with them in the bonds of friendship, we shall feel an unwillingness to oppose their bad practices and bad counsels. Thus, through human respect and the fear of contradicting them, we will imitate their example, and lose the friendship of God.
2. Such lovers of the world not only glory in their own iniquities. “They rejoice in most wicked things.” (Prov. ii. 14); but, what is worse, they wish to have companions, and ridicule all who endeavour to live like true Christians and to avoid the dangers of offending God. This is a sin which is very displeasing to God, and which he forbids in a particular manner. “Despise not a man that turneth away from sin, nor reproach him therewith.” (Eccl. viii. 6.) Despise not those who keep at a distance from sin, and seek not to draw them to evil by your reproaches and irregularities. The Lord declares, that, for those who throw ridicule on the virtuous, chastisements are prepared in this and in the next life. “Judgments are prepared for scorners, and striking hammers for the bodies of fools.” (Prov. xix. 29.) They mock the servants of God, and he shall mock them for all eternity. “But the Lord shall laugh them to scorn. And they shall fall after this without honour, and be a reproach among the dead forever.” (Wis. iv. 18.) They endeavour to make the saints contemptible in the eyes of the world, and God shall make them die without honour, and shall send them to hell to suffer eternal ignominy among the damned.
3. Not only to offend God, but also to endeavour to make others offend him, is truly an enormous excess of wickedness. This execrable intention arises from a conviction that there are many weak and pusillanimous souls, who, to escape derision and contempt, abandon the practice of virtue, and give themselves up to a life of sin. After his conversion to God, St. Augustine wept for having associated with those ministers of Lucifer, and confessed, that he felt ashamed not to be as wicked and as shameless as they were. “Pudebat me” says the saint, “esse pudentem.” How many, to avoid the scoffs of wicked friends, have been induced to imitate their wickedness! “Behold the saint” these impious scoffers will say; “get me a piece of his garment; I will preserve it as a relic. Why does he not become a monk?” How many also when they receive an insult, resolve to take revenge, not so much through passion, as to escape the reputation of being cowards! How many are there who, after having inadvertently given expression to a scandalous maxim, neglect to retract it (as they are bound to do), through fear of losing the esteem of others! How many, because they are afraid of forfeiting the favour of a friend, sell their souls to the devil! They imitate the conduct of Pilate, who, through the apprehension of losing the friendship of Caesar, condemned Jesus Christ to death.
4. Be attentive. Brethren, if we wish to save our souls, we must overcome human respect, and bear the little confusion which may arise from the scoffs of the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. “For there is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that bringeth glory and grace.” (Eccl. iv. 25.) If we do not suffer this confusion with patience, it will lead us into the pit of sin; but if we submit to it for God’s sake, it will obtain for us the divine grace here, and great glory hereafter. “As,” says St. Gregory, “bashfulness is laudable in evil, so it is reprehensible in good.” (Hom. x. in Ezech.)
5. But some of you will say: I attend to my own affairs; I wish to save my soul; why then should I be persecuted? But there is no remedy; it is impossible to serve God, and not be persecuted. “The wicked loathe them that are in the right way.” (Prov. xxix. 27.) Sinners cannot bear the sight of the man who lives according to the Gospel, because his life is a continual censure on their disorderly conduct; and therefore they say: “Let us lie in wait for the just; because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law.” (Wis. ii. 12.) The proud man, who seeks revenge for every insult which he receives, would wish that all should avenge the offences that may be offered to him. The avaricious, who grow rich by injustice, wish that all should imitate their fraudulent practices. The drunkard wishes to see others indulge like himself in intoxication. The immoral, who boast of their impurities, and can scarcely utter a word which does not savour of obscenity, desire that all should act and speak as they do; and those who do not imitate their conduct, they regard as mean, clownish, and intractable as men without honour and education. “They are of the world, therefore of the world they speak.” (1 John iv. 5.) Worldlings can speak no other language than that of the world. Oh! how great is their poverty and blindness! She has blinded them, and therefore they speak so profanely. “These things they thought, and were deceived; for their own malice blinded them.” (Wis. ii. 21.)
6. But I say again, that there is no remedy. All, as St. Paul says, who wish to live in union with Jesus Christ must be persecuted by the world. “And all that will live godly in Christ, shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. iii. 12.) All the saints have been persecuted. You say: I do not injure any one; why then am I not left in peace? What evil have the saints, and particularly the martyrs, done? They were full of charity; they loved all, and laboured to do good to all; and how have they been treated by the world? They have been flayed alive; they have been tortured with red-hot plates of iron; and have been put to death in the most cruel manner. And whom has Jesus Christ the saint of saints injured? He consoled all; he healed all. “Virtue went out from him, and healed all.” (Luke vi. 19.) And how has the world treated him? It has persecuted him, so as to make him die through pain on the infamous gibbet of the cross.
7. This happens because the maxims of the world are diametrically opposed to the maxims of Jesus Christ. What the world esteems, Jesus Christ regards as folly. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor. iii. 19.) And what is foolish in the eyes of the world that is, crosses, sickness, contempt, and ignominies Jesus Christ holds in great estimation. “For the Word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness.” (1 Cor. i. 18.) How, says St. Cyprian, can a man think himself to be a Christian, when he is afraid to be a Christian? “Christianum se putat si Christianum esse veretur” (Ser. v. de Lapsis.) If we are Christians, let us show that we are Christians in name and in truth; for, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, he will be ashamed of us, and cannot give us a place on his right hand on the last day. “For he that shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him the Son of Man shall be ashamed when he shall come in his majesty.” (Luke ix. 26.) On the day of judgment he shall say: You have been ashamed of me on earth: I am now ashamed to see you with me in Paradise. Begone, accursed souls; go into hell to meet your companions, who have been ashamed of me. But mark the words “he that shall be ashamed of me and of my words.” St. Augustine says, that some are ashamed to deny Jesus Christ, but do not blush to deny the maxims of Jesus Christ. “Erubescunt negare Christum, et non erubescunt negare verba Christi.” (Serm. xlviii.) But you may tell me, that, if you say you cannot do such an act, because it is contrary to the Gospel, your friends will turn you into ridicule, and will call you a hypocrite. Then, says St. John Chrysostom, you will not suffer to be treated with derision by a companion, and you are content to be hated by God! “Non vis a conserve derideri, sed odio haberi a Deo tuo ?” (Hom. xci. in Act. xix.)
8. The Apostle, who gloried in being a follower of Christ, said: “The world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. vi. 14.) As I am a person crucified to the world an object of its scoffs and injustice, so the world is to me an object of contempt and abomination. It is necessary to be convinced, that if we do not trample on the world, the world will trample on our souls. But what is the world and all its goods? “All that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 John ii. 16.) To what are all the goods of this earth reduced? To riches, which are but dung; to honours, which are only smoke; and to carnal pleasures. But what shall all these profit us, if we lose our souls? “What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul ?” (Matt. xvi. 26.)
9. He that loves God and wishes to save his soul must despise the world and all human respect; and to do this, everyone must offer violence to himself. St. Mary Magdalene had to do great violence to herself, in order to overcome human respect and the murmurings and scoffs of the world, when, in the presence of so many persons, she cast herself at the feet of Jesus Christ, to wash them with her tears, and dry them with her hair. But she thus became a saint, and merited from Jesus Christ pardon of her sins, and praise for her great love. “Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much.” (Luke vii. 47.) One day, as St. Francis Borgia carried to certain prisoners a vessel of broth under his cloak, he met his son mounted on a fine horse, and accompanied by certain noblemen. The saint felt ashamed to show what he carried under his cloak. But what did he do in order to conquer human respect? He took the vessel of broth, placed it on his head, and thus showed his contempt for the world. Jesus Christ, our Head and Master, when nailed to the cross, was mocked by the soldiers. “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matt, xxvii. 40.) He was mocked by the priests, saying: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” (Ibid., v. 42.) But he remained firm on the cross; he cheerfully died upon it, and thus conquered the world.
10. “I give thanks to God,” says St. Jerome, “that I am worthy to be hated by the world.” (Epis. ad Asellam.) The saint returns thanks to God for having made him worthy of the hatred of the world. Jesus Christ pronounced his disciples blessed when they should be hated by men. “Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you.” (Luke vi. 22.) Christians, let us rejoice; for, if worldlings curse and upbraid us, God at the same time praises and blesses us. “They will curse, and thou wilt bless.” (Ps. cviii. 28.) Is it not enough for us to be praised by God, to be praised by the queen of heaven, by all the angels, by all the saints, and by all just men? Let worldlings say what they wish; but let us continue to please God, who will give us, in the next life, a reward proportioned to the violence we shall have done to ourselves in despising the contradictions of men. Each of you should figure to himself, that there is no one in the world but himself and God. When the wicked treat us with contempt, let us recommend to God these blind and miserable men, who run in the road to perdition; and let us thank the Lord for giving to us the light which he refuses to them. Let us continue in our own way: to obtain all, it is necessary to conquer all.
Second Point On the Means of Overcoming Human Respect
11. To overcome human respect, it is necessary to fix in our hearts the holy resolution of preferring the grace of God to all the goods and favours of this world, and to say with St. Paul: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, . . . .nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” (Rom. viii. 38, 39.) Jesus Christ exhorts us not to be afraid of those who can take away the life of the body; but to fear him only who can condemn the soul and body to hell. “And fear you not them that kill the body; but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body into hell.” (Matt, x. 28.) We wish either to follow God or the world; if we wish to follow God we must give up the world. “how long do you halt between two sides ?” said Elias to the people. “If the Lord be God, follow him.” (3 Kings xviii. 21.) You cannot serve God and the world. He that seeks to please men cannot please God. “If,” says the Apostle, “I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. ” (Gal. i. 10.)
12. The true servants of God rejoice to see themselves despised and maltreated for the sake of Jesus Christ. The holy apostles “went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.” (Acts v. 41.) Moses could have prevented the anger of Pharaoh by not contradicting the current report that he was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But he denied that he was her son, preferring, as St. Paul says, the opprobrium of Christ to all the riches of the world. “Choosing rather to be afflicted with the people of God;. .. .esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of the Egyptians.” (Heb. xi. 25, 26.)
13. Wicked friends come to you and say: What extravagances are those in which you indulge? Why do you not act like others? Say to them in answer: My conduct is not opposed to that of all men; there are others who lead a holy life. They are indeed few; but I will follow their example; for the Gospel says: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. xx. 16.) “If,” says St. John Climacus, “you wish to be saved with the few, live like the few.” But, they will add, do you not see that all murmur against you, and condemn your manner of living? Let your answer be: It is enough for me that God does not censure my conduct. Is it not better to obey God than to obey men? Such was the answer of St. Peter and St. John to the Jewish priests: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.” (Acts iv. 19.) If they ask you how can you bear an insult? or how, after submitting to it, can you appear among your equals? answer them by saying that you are a Christian, and that it is enough for you to appear well in the eyes of God. Such should be your answer to all those satellites of Satan: you must despise all their maxims and reproaches. And when it is necessary to reprove those who make little of God’s law, you must take courage and correct them publicly. “Them that sin, reprove before all.” (1 Tim. v. 20.) And when there is question of the divine honour, we should not be frightened by the dignity of the man who offends God; let us say to him openly: This is sinful; it cannot be done. Let us imitate the Baptist, who reproved King Herod for living with his brothers wife, and said to him: “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” (Matt. xiv. 4.) Men indeed shall regard us as fools, and turn us into derision; but, on the day of judgment they shall acknowledge that they have been foolish, and we shall have the glory of being numbered among the saints. They shall say: “These are they whom we had sometime in derision. …We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints.” (Wis. v. 3, 4, 5.)