THOUGHT FOR TODAY BY
ST. ANTHONY ZACCARIA

If through perfect humility you will be able to know objec tively yourself, only then will you be.

4301 Hecktown Rd
Bethlehem, PA 18020

Sermon 1

"...let us first strive to keep God's cammandments,
and then we will reach the liberty of the spirit.
May God in his bounty grant it to us."

(Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Sermon I)
 
 

 

 

 INTRODUCTION* 

Sermon I is divided into two parts.
  • Part One deals with the proper order of the spiritual life. 
  • Part Two treats the First Commandment.
 

Part One: The Proper Order of the Spiritual Life
[I]
 Anthony Mary begins by addressing this question: what is the reason for your scant progress? He answers theologically and existentially.

[I.A] On a theological level, he first denies that God might be responsible for this lack of progress. Being all-powerful, God "can keep working in you"; being all-wise, "he knows which means to use for his purposes"; being all-good, he has given us a good disposition and a free good will to make progress. Secondly, Anthony Mary denies that we may face a commandment superior to our strength, because God is "a faithful and considerate dispenser of all things and distributes his gifts to everyone according to one's abilities and strength."

 [I.B] Furthermore, on an existential level, Anthony Mary reminds his audience that God has called them to belong to a special group and this is a "big favor and a special token of the divine goodness."

[II] Finally, to further buttress his contention that God is nothing but fair in his demands, Anthony Mary reminds his Christian audience that they were given a law of love and "love is natural to us." Our law is the "easy yoke of Jesus Christ who is the comfort of our hearts and the repose of our lives." Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly.

[III] So, what is the reason for your lack of spiritual progress?

[III.A] It is this: you fail to follow the proper order of the spiritual life: "if one wishes to reach God, one must proceed by steps." Specifically speaking, "it is imperative for you to keep the law of the old covenant if you wish to keep the law of the new Covenant, that is, the law of Christ."

[III.B] Of course, not everything in the old law is valid today. Cultic and juridical prescriptions were, in today's language, both historically and culturally conditioned. However, the moral content of the old law, says Anthony Mary, is based on the natural law and, therefore, has universal and permanent value. Consequently, the Ten Commandments are strictly binding for us, too (note Anthony Mary's symbolic interpretation of the renewal of the Tablets, Exod 34)

[IV] In conclusion, the proper order of the spiritual life means that "keeping the Commandments must precede the following of Christ." It is fine to belong to this special group. However, "before you walk and advance on the way to perfection (such as our N has in view), you must first keep the Ten Commandments - which I am afraid you don't." So, without further ado, "let us discourse on the first commandment which is about the honor due to God."

Part Two: The First Commandment
[I]
 Anthony Mary begins by quoting the scriptural text of the commandment [I.A], then offers a brief exegesis and a commentary of its content [I.B]. A practical application follows [II], directed to the audience at hand, namely, the married members of the Friendship group that met in the little church of St. Vitalis in Cremona, close to Anthony Mary's home. In an appendix , Sermon I has a second practical application which is directed to nuns. They probably belonged to the Augustinian monastery of Santa Maria Annunziata, also in Cremona. Both applications are identically structured.

[I.B] Anthony Mary begins his exegesis by calling attention to God's self-introduction: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." According to Anthony Mary this declaration contains God's three fundamental operative attributes, namely, creation, governance and redemption or liberation.
 
[I.B.1] "I am" (God's name) avers that God is being itself and only being itself can share being with others by creating them out of nothing.
"Lord" refers to governance for there is no lord without servants or subjects.
"Who brought you out of Egypt" refers to liberation from sin, that is, from Satan's power.

[I.B.2] When he treats the First Commandment proper, Anthony Mary points out two prohibitions, namely, the prohibition to adore any other god and the prohibition to carve idols.

[II] In the practical application, the first prohibition [II.A] targets pride, "God's primary enemy." The second prohibition [II.B] targets lust and greed: "You have set your heart on your wives more than you ought to" and "Paul says that love of money is the cause and root of all evil and greed is a kind of idolatry."

It is definitely noteworthy that out of the seven capital sins, Anthony Mary picks out the three that are directly opposite to the three evangelical counsels, that is obedience, chastity and poverty. In a practical application to nuns such selection is clearly to be expected. However, in a practical application to lay people (the members of the Friendship group), the choice of pride, lust and greed in opposition to obedience, chastity and poverty is quite surprising and intriguing. Actually, according to Anthony Mary, there is no dichotomy in the Christian call to holiness. All Christians must observe the Ten Commandments and all Christians must observe the evangelical counsels. Following patristic teaching, especially that of St. John Chrysostom, Anthony Mary did not misinterpret the episode of the rich young man as related by Matthew 19:16-21. A historic misreading of this passage was to give rise to a seemingly official dichotomous view of the Christian call to holiness. Only recently was this view authoritatively corrected when Vatican Council II declared that "all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964, 40). 

Appendix
Practical application of the First Commandment for Nuns
Adapting the same procedure as the one of the practical application for lay people, Anthony Mary again refers to the double prohibition to adore any other god and to carve idols.
In his view, the principal sin of nuns is to retain the "evil manners of worldly people." Basically this sin is manifested through pride, lust and greed. However, these three capital sins have different connotations with nuns than with lay people in the world. Their pride is manifested through the tongue (anger, gossip, divisiveness, idle chatter) through the heart (judgmental attitudes) and through the will (stubbornness). Lust is manifested through disorderly attachments. Greed dreads poverty.
In contraposition to the worldliness of nuns, Anthony Mary points to the cross as the essence of religious life.
This Appendix contains one of Anthony Mary's most incisive teachings.

 

NOTE:

* [This introduction is a free adaptation of Giovanni Scalese, "Approfondimento dottrinale del I sermone," A. Gentili, G. Scalese, G. Dell'Orto, Esercizi Zaccariani 1997, Roma 1998, Quaderni di Vita Barnabitica, 11, 43-56]

 

DOCTRINAL OUTLINE
 

Part One: THE PROPER ORDER OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

I. "The cause of our scant progress is not God"

  • [A] First series of reasons (theological)
    • [1] Omnipotence (to be able)
      • [a] God is Being and giver of being
        (= creator)
      • [b] God increases and perpetuates his influence over creation
        (= unchangeable)
    • [2] Wisdom (to know)
    • [3] Goodness (to will)
      • [a] Creation of the world
      • [b] Creation of humanity
      • [c] Old covenant
      • [d] New Covenant

Conclusion (I)

  • [B] Second series of reasons (existential)
    • [1] "Those who give what is more usually give also what is less"
    • [2] Spiritual experience of the audience

Conclusion (II)

II. "The cause of our scant progress is not the law or our inability"

  • [A] "To love is natural for you"
  • [B] Conclusion of sections one and two (III)

III. "The cause of our scant progress is our failure to keep the due order"

  • [A] General principle: the "principle of graduality"
  • [B] Application: the doctrine of "due order" in the spiritual life
    • [1] Distinction of commandments in the old law
      • [a] Ceremonial and juridical precepts are null and void
      • [b] Moral precepts are permanently valid (ten commandments)
    • [2] "Keeping of the commandments must precede the following of Christ"

Conclusion of part one (IV)

Part two: THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

I. Exposition of the commandment

  • [A] Biblical text
  • [B]. Exegesis
    • [1] Presentation
      • [a] Creation
      • [b] Governance
      • [c] Liberation
    • [2] Commandment
      • [a] "You shall not have strange gods before me"
      • [b] "You shall not carve idols"
      • [c] "You shall not make the likeness of anything"

II. Practice of the commandment

  • [A] "You have strange gods before God"
    • [1] Pride in evil deeds
    • [2] Pride in good deeds
  • [B] "You have made idols for yourselves"
    • [1] Lust
    • [2] Avarice

General conclusion (V)

Appendix: The practice of the first commandment as it concerns Nuns

  • [A] First series of sins against the first commandment
    • [1] Curiosity
    • [2] Superstition and attachment to creatures
  • [B] Second series of sins against the first commandment
    • [1] "You have other gods before God" ("you still have in your religious life the evil manners of worldly-minded people")
      • [a] Pride in the tongue (anger, backbiting, gossip, etc.)
      • [b] Pride in the heart (ill judgement)
      • [c] Pride in the will (stubbornness)
    • [2] "You make idols" ("you conform yourselves to worldly people’s way of life")
      • [a] Improper affections
      • [b] Avarice

Conclusion

 

SERMON 1

 

The First Commandment of the Law

 

  • Part One: The proper order of the spiritual life
    • [I] "The cause of our scant progress is not God"
      • [I.A] First series of reasons (theological)
        • [I.A.1] Omnipotence (to be able) 

My very dear friends,

     When I reflect on the cause of our scant progress and meager gains in the spiritual life, I cannot bring myself to think of God as being responsible for so bad a result except -- as they say --permissive, by tolerating it. In fact, He is the true and living Being. He created so many creatures, both spiritual and material, out of nothing. He brought the sun to a standstill at the time of Joshua [Josh 10:12ff.] and made it go back some steps at the time of King Hezekiah as a sign of recovery from his illness [2 Kgs 20:10ff.]. He set the bush afire without letting it burn [Exod 3:2]. He curbed the power of fire and even changed its nature so as to give relief to the three youths: Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego [Dan 3:49ff.]. Countless times He tamed wild animals on behalf of our saints. He had both the Virgin give birth, and His Son, Jesus Christ, die. Nothing, then, shall ever be impossible with the Almighty [Luke 1:37].
     It should be, then, much easier to admit that it is in God's power to increase and perpetuate His influence over his created things, for He has been able to display His powers again and again. God is not like man who often begins doing something, but does not bring it to fulfillment. God, my dear friends, is unchangeable.

  •  [I.A.2] Wisdom (to know)

     Is He, perhaps, resourceless? By no means. He has been able to make the earth so stable that it is a miracle indeed. You see a clod of earth placed on the surface of the water go to the bottom, and yet the earth, which has water underneath, does not fall into it. God has been able to suspend the waters above the heavens so that they would not fall. He was able to free the children of Israel, who were surrounded by the Egyptians and hindered by the mountains, by drying up the sea and having them walk with dry feet, while drowning the Egyptians all at once [Exod 14:9ff.]. He was able to draw water from the rock[Exod 17:6]and to change bitter water into sweet with a piece of bitter wood [Exod 15:25].
     He knew how to arrange creatures in that admirable order that you see. Notice that, in his Providence, God leads man, created free, in such a way as to force and compel him to enter that order; yet without forcing or compelling him to do so.
     O Wisdom above all wisdom! O inaccessible Light! You turn the learned into ignorant, and those who see into blind; and, on the contrary, you turn the ignorant into learned, and the peasants and the fishermen into scholars and teachers.
     Therefore, my friends, how can you believe that God, the very apex of wisdom, may have been wanting in resourcefulness and unable to accomplish His work? Don't believe that. In fact, God's wisdom "reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other and orders all things well." [Wis 8:1]

  •  [I.A.3] Goodness (to will)

     And above all, how can you imagine (if you have some common sense) that the infinite Goodness would undertake on his own initiative to create the heavens and the elements of nature, animals and plants, mines and rocks, for the good of man;

  • and again, to create man himself in His own image and likeness, as the temple of His grace and the ark of His blessedness;
  • and again, to provide him with so many aids -- such as His law, the holy patriarchs and the prophets, the continuous inspirations and services of the angels, and countless other favors;
  • and -- a thing that is far greater and more wonderful than all the other graces -- to give man His own Son in service, in ransom, and in death; in short, to give man everything He could (as He Himself said, "what more was there to do for my vineyard than I have not done in it?" [Isa 5:4]), yes, I say, to give man everything He could, and then forsake him altogether? I am sure that no such thought could ever come across your minds.

Conclusion

     Then, my friends, draw the conclusion that -- since God can keep working in you, and He knows how to use all the ways, all the paths, all the means for His purpose; and since He has given you free will -- it is not His fault if you make no progress.

  •  [I.B] Second series of reasons (existential)
    • [I.B.1] "Those who give what is more usually also give what is less"

     O my brothers! Would you give your life for your neighbor's health and, then, refuse them your money? You spend your life and your property for your children; could you, then, let them die by refusing them a glass of water? Not so. In fact, those who give what is more usually also give what is less.

  •  [I.B.2] Spiritual experience of the audience

     You may rest assured that God, in His infinite goodness, has gathered us here above all for our salvation and our souls' spiritual progress; and this F. [Fraternity?] to which we belong is not to be thought of as something yielding just a little profit. In fact, it is a big favor and a special token of the divine goodness -- something you shall know some day, even though you do not see it at the present.

Conclusion

     At any rate, it is not God's fault if we make no progress in good conduct.

  •  [II] "The cause of our scant progress is not the law or our inability"
    • [II.A] "To love is natural for you"

     Nor can God be accused of yet another failure -- if you observe with the keen and sound eye of your minds -- namely, that He would have ordered something difficult and far above your power. For He is a faithful and considerate dispenser of all things, and distributes His gifts to everyone according to everyone's abilities and strength [Matt 25:15].
     And particularly to us, Christians, mind you, He has given a law of love, not of fear; a law of liberty of spirit, not of slavery; indeed a law engraved in our hearts [Rom 2:15], and such that everyone can know it instinctively. There is no longer need for you to ask your neighbor. Ask your hearts, and they will give you the answer.
     And if, furthermore, you wish to get deeper into this matter, ask the elements of nature, ask all creatures visible and invisible, and they will teach you about your law. Your law is the law of love; your law is the easy yoke of Jesus Christ Our Lord, who is the comfort of your hearts and the repose of your lives, because He came "that you may have life and have it abundantly." [John 10:10]

  •  [II.B] Conclusion of sections one and two

     O my friends! Whose fault is it, then, if your progress is scant? As you can see, it is not God's lack of power, for "with Him nothing is impossible," [Luke 1:37] "and there is no one who can oppose His will" [Esth 13:9]. It is not His lack of knowledge, for "He sees everything, He knows everything, and all things lie bare and exposed to His eyes" [Heb 4:13] It is not His goodness, for how can you think that, after giving you His Son, God would not have already given you all things with Him, and continue to give them to you? [Rom 8:32] It is not His law, as if it were beyond your capacity and impossible for you to keep, because to love is natural for you [Deut 30:11].

  •  [III] "The cause of our scant progress is our failure to keep the due order"
    • [III.A] General principle: the "principle of graduality"

     But tell the truth: it is your fault.
     Why were God's people taken captive? Because they lacked knowledge [Isa 5:13]. Why did man fall from a place of honor and become like a beast? Because of his lack of understanding [Ps 49:13]. Why did those inhabitants of Sodom not enter Lot's house? Because they were utterly unable to reach the doorway [Gen 19:11]. Why don't you succeed in reaching the loft? Because you don't go up the staircase.
     If a man wishes to reach God, he must proceed by steps. And so, he must go up from the first step to the second one, and from this one to the third one, and so on. He cannot, of course, begin from the second step, jumping over the first one, for his legs as well as his steps are too short. Consequently, since you have not laid the foundation, neither can you build the edifice.

  •  [III.B] Application: the doctrine of "due order" in spiritual life

     It is imperative for you, my dear friends, to keep the old law first if you wish to keep the law of Christ.

  •  [III.B.1] Distinction of commandments in the old law

     Do not let this statement worry you, though; it is to be correctly understood. You see, the old law has three kinds of commandments: moral, juridical, and ceremonial.
     Of the three, the ceremonial ones are superseded, for they were only like shadows. Once the light has come, there are no longer shadows; once the reality has come, there is no need to keep the image. And superseded are also the juridical ones, because laws are made according to the status of persons. That is why servants are governed by one set of laws, and masters by a different one, just as one city is governed by laws other than those of another. So much more are we to be different in this matter from the Jews, for they were governed by the law of fear, and we are governed by the law of love.
     But the moral precepts remain, for they stem from nature itself. Therefore, the precepts of the Decalogue bind us also. And, as an illustration of this, keep in mind that Moses received the ten commandments from God on the mountain. Then, coming down from the mountain and finding out that the people had turned away from the Lord, he threw the two tablets to the ground and broke them [Exod 32:15ff.]. Then he went back on the mountain a second time and received from God the same commandments again. Thus God was showing that the commandments have to be observed always, and not only by Jews, but also by Christians.

  •  
    •  [III.B.2] "Keeping of the commandments must precede the following of Christ"

     Keeping of the commandments must precede the following of Christ as He Himself proved to you when that young man questioned Him, saying: "Lord, what must I do to have eternal life?" Our Savior answered him: "Keep the commandments." To which the young man replied: "I have kept them since my childhood." That was when Christ told him: "If you wish to be perfect, etc." [Matt 19:16-21]

Conclusion of part one

     Hereby, then, you come to understand that before you walk and advance on the way to perfection (such as our N. [Nobility?] has in view), you must first keep the ten commandments -- which I am afraid you don't. Well then, let everybody examine himself and take a look at what he is doing. And lest we should dwell on the subject too long, let us discourse on the first commandment which is about the honor that is due to God. Besides that which I am going to tell you, examine, please, your conscience very carefully. For, if you do not strive to keep the commandments, you can be sure that you will never make any gains.

  • Part two: The first commandment
    • [I] Exposition of the commandment
      • [I.A] Biblical text

     The first commandment, then, is this: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a mighty and jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" [Exod 20:2-6]

  •  [I.B] Exegesis
    • [I.B.1] Presentation

     At the beginning of these words, my dear friends, God points out the grace of creation, of the governance, and of the redemption of humankind. When He says, "I am" -- 'I am' sent me to you" [Exod 3:14] -- and when He says, "I am your God," He points out creation. For who can make something out of nothing except He who is? In fact, to create means nothing else but to make and bring into being something out of nothing. When He says, "Lord," He means government, for there is no master without servants. And when He says, "who brought you out of the slavery of Egypt," He means the grace of liberation from sin and from the devil's dominion, that is, redemption.

  •  [I.B.2] Commandment

     Then He gives you the commandment: "You shall not have strange gods before me"; namely, you shall not adore demons in any way; you shall not enter in a friendly relation with them, either by dealing with them in incantations and magic arts -- which I do not think you do -- or by being curious seekers of future events, and by interpreting dreams, and by observing those days that are supposed to be good for horse riding, for making clothes, and by a thousand other trifles.
     And again He says: "You shall not carve idols." This is meant to forbid you to follow human opinions and tricks, like heresies, new strange idols, and, in short, to be recalcitrant against the sound tradition of the Church.
     Then God goes on saying: "You shall not make the likeness of anything that is in heaven, or in the earth, or in the waters; neither shall you set your goal upon them." Thus, He concludes : "You shall not adore them." And, in order to frighten the wicked, He adds: "I am your God, mighty, and avenger of the offenses given to me. I retaliate very strictly and administer justice rigorously, for I punish the sins of the fathers in their children, even up to the fourth generation. But to those who love me -- which they prove by keeping my commandments [John 14:15] -- I do favors through all their generations."

  •  [II] Practice of the commandment
    • [II.A] "You have strange gods before God"

     You, my dear friends, understand what God wants from you, don't you? But go deeper into the matter and you will see that you do offend this commandment: indeed, you have strange gods before God.

  •  [II.A.1] Pride in evil deeds

     Which is God's first enemy? It is pride. The devil was the first to apostatize from God [1 John 3:8], and no other thing is the beginning of man's falling away from God but pride, as Scripture says, "The beginning of apostatizing from God is pride" [Sir 10:14]. The devil is indeed an unclean spirit [Mark 5:8], "and unclean is every spirit that becomes proud" [Prov 16:5]. God, of course, opposes the devils as His enemies, and of the proud it is said that God resists them [Jas 4:6].
     Thus, any time you perform actions affected by pride, you have strange gods before God. Take a look and see if you are proud in your wardrobe, in your dining with rich, exquisite, and sumptuous food (taking, of course, into consideration your social status) in your house furniture, in your manner of talking -- as, for instance, in raising your voice, praising yourselves, reproaching others, and in one thousand and one other ways -- in your sticking to your own opinions and in your judging other people's actions.
     No greater pride is there than judging others, nor is there anything for which God abandons man, more than for judging others. Everywhere in the Scriptures God tells us clearly not to judge others, but rather ourselves. Likewise spiritual writers condemn this fault of judging others with so many examples that the day would sooner be over than we could relate just a few of them. Take this thought for a conclusion: the beginning of the ruin of the spiritual life is judging others.
     There are yet other things to prove man to be proud. If you yourselves, my dear friends, endeavor to search for them, you will discover them. And once you have discovered them, you shall admit you have other gods before God.

  •  [II.A.2] Pride in good deeds

     It is not only in the bad deeds that we should dread pride; it is much more so in the good ones. The Pharisees were condemned by Christ because when giving alms they would sound the trumpet [Matt 6:2]. They would disfigure their faces to show that they were fasting [Matt 6:16]. They would say long prayers standing up at street corners for people to see them [Matt 6:5]. Furthermore, in their prayers they would praise themselves in God's presence, like the Pharisee, who prayed saying, "Lord, I give thanks, etc. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes, etc. I am not like the rest of men, etc." [Luke 18:11-12] Does it not seem to you that this man had other gods before God?
     Therefore, do not think too highly of yourselves on account of your prayers, of your fasting, of your confessions and holy communions, but, as sinners and scoundrels, walk humbly, even more often than others, inasmuch as you are greater sinners than others.

  •   [II.B] "You have made idols for yourselves"
    • [II.B.1] Lust

     My dear friends, you have made idols for yourselves. You have set your hearts on your wives more than you ought to. And, of course, I do not condemn marriage, but in all earnest I warn you: you must reverence marriage, and make use of it with holy fear, as so great a sacrament deserves, instead of losing your souls in it, as vulgar people do. And keep in mind that chastity and a spotless conduct are the things God wants, "This is God's will, your sanctification etc." [1 Thess 4:3]

  •   [II.B.2] Avarice

     Go on further: you have set your hearts on things. Keep in mind that any unlawful means to get things is the cause of eternal ruin, both in acquiring and retaining them, and in other ways as well. But this is not all, by any means. Ill acquired things are also the cause of numberless evils which you yourselves can examine. Anyhow, do not forget that God likens riches to thorns which, as soon as they spring up, choke the wheat [Matt 13:7].
     Paul says that the love of money is the cause and root of all evils [1 Tim 6:10] and greed "is a kind of idolatry" [Eph 5:5]. And our Savior pointed out greed as the cause of love growing cold when he said: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" [Matt 24:12]. Paul also says that in the last days men who are proud, arrogant, shameless, licentious, greedy, and followers of their own opinions will have the upper hand [2 Tim 3:1-3].

General conclusion

     Let us conclude, then, by saying that, far from being keepers of divine worship, we are its shameless offenders.
     The cause, then, of our scant gains is not God, nor the law, nor our supposed incapability to make progress; but we are at fault because we do not follow the proper order of the spiritual life and because we want to be teachers before being disciples. Therefore, let us first strive to keep God's commandments, and then we will reach the liberty of the spirit. May God in his bounty grant it to us. Amen.

     

    APPENDIX to SERMON  1

    The practice of the First Commandment as it concerns Nuns.
     
  • [A] First series of sins against the first commandment
    • [A.1] Curiosity

     You understand, dear Sisters, what God orders in this commandment. As I briefly reflect on it with you, I realize that you do not have strange gods before God, as, for instance, getting involved in magic arts, incantations, and divination as astrologers do. But I suspect that you have a great curiosity to know the secret of certain trifles which, of course, are none of your business. Be on guard, then, against such curiosity, for many times it causes dreams and diabolic delusions in tastes and in other things by which the devil deceives you and those other foolish nuns who want to scrutinize the mystery of God's majesty.

  • [A.2] Superstition and attachment to creatures

     Then you have some superstitious prayers of your own. And again, you are very much attached to creatures; and, although you have left the world, you still live in it. That is why you also shape idols out of different creatures.

  • [B] Second series of sins against the first commandment
    • [B.1] "You have other gods before God"

     Do you wish to know, dear Sisters, how you transgress this commandment? Be aware of this: you have other gods before God because you still have in your religious life the evil manners of worldly-minded people. Scripture says: "I said: you are gods" [Ps 82:6]. Man is god in so far as he conforms himself to God by imitating Him in doing His very deeds as much, of course, as is possible to a man. Worldly-minded people nowadays are devilish because they lie, use flattery, get angry, are proud, and take vengeance for any offense they receive; they are self-willed, not yielding to the wishes of others; they are extremely greedy of things, and indeed they have become the very image of the devils themselves in so many, many other ways.
     Well, dear Sisters, examine your own consciences. You will see that you sometimes easily get angry, you complain against your Superiors, you cause divisions, you sow weeds among your fellow Sisters; you are chatterboxes and corruptors of every good rule of your Constitutions. Sometimes you think ill of other Sisters, and some other time you are unwilling to yield to them.
     O you wretches! Do you think your fasting, your mortifying yourselves (and I wonder if you do this), your practices of piety and community prayers may be of any advantage to you? Do not think so. In point of fact, it does not profit to say: "Temple of the Lord, Temple of the Lord!" [Jer 7:4] Nor will it avail you, Sisters, to say: "We are religious, we are religious!" What! You, religious! You are not even good lay women.
     Religious life demands: bridling one's tongue [Jas 1:26], guarding one's heart from evil and perverse thoughts and those damning judgments against others, and pleasing others rather than oneself. None of your works and prayers is of any advantage to you. Why? Because when you fast, when you pray, yes in everything you do, you are the owners of all that, and you carry out your own pursuits [Isa 58:3]. Do you suppose it is a good thing to chastise your bodies and then be insincere with the Sisters, hate them, and, on occasion, avenge yourselves on them? Avoid offending your neighbor, do not sadden anybody, give in to other people's opinions, and thus you will win God's acceptance and will not have strange gods - worldly manners, that is - before God, namely in your religious life.

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    • [B.2] "You make idols"

     Moreover, my dear Sisters, you make idols when you conform yourselves to worldly people's way of life: you are fastidious, vegetables make you sick, fasting causes you headaches, early rising spoils your appetite. There is nothing, in fact, that suits you. O you wretches! Do you not know that "those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses?" [Matt 11:8] Do you not know that the worldly are those who give free rein to every comfort of the body, and hate to suffer any discomfort?
     Religious life is a cross to be carried a step at a time and in a steady fashion, "for your sake we face death all day long" [Ps 44:22], as the Apostles used to say [Rom 8:36]; and the Lord told us to take up our cross daily [Luke 9:23]. Are you disciples of Christ? Then, carry your cross, mortify your bodies with fasting and toiling, watch in prayer, spend your time helping your neighbor, nail yourselves to holy obedience never withdrawing from it. So, for Christ's sake, do not make any more idols.
     But the worst thing is that you have made idols out of creatures and adore them. How attached you are, dear Sisters to that booklet, to that pocket knife, to that statuette! You wear fine clothes because... well "best is cheapest": fine cloth and satin last longer.
Greed overwhelms you: you fear lest you should be short of air to breathe and of ground to stand on; you see yourselves going through long illnesses and worry about the poverty of your convent. And, again, you would like to be able to have some Masses celebrated just for yourselves, and to make some little gifts. So, you try to gain friends among the rich of the world in order to snatch some money from their hands. And if you, by chance, with the help of your friends in the world, or by some sneaky work of yours unknown to your Superior, or in any other way, come to scrape something together, you hug it tightly. Oh, how many castles in Spain, how much talking about those few pennies! And how easily would you flare up against your Superior, if she tried to take them away from you!
Of your greed, dear Sisters, I wish to say no more. I only want you to meditate that -- if you have kept some of your possessions, or you have changed your mind about that which you previously gave up, or you somehow happened to get hold of something you would never have thought of -- Scripture reports episodes and relates the most horrible deaths due to greed, such as Anania's and Sapphira's, Judas Iscariot's, and Gehazi's. O what an unexpected and instantaneous death! Scripture does not narrate in vain such exemplary stories. So, keep them in mind. Moreover, death is waiting for you and is at your side, but many of you do not think that soon, quite soon, you shall be ordered to leave this world. And only God knows in what situation you may find yourselves! It will be, of course, much worse for those to whom enough time is given, as you sinfully misuse what is granted you out of mercy and for penance's sake, thus provoking God's wrath and vengeance on yourselves.

Conclusion

     Now then, conclude: you do not observe your religious rule because you have not yet begun to keep the old law, and in particular the first commandment. You are, therefore, transgressors of all the precepts of God, and God cannot account for your not making gains, etc.

 


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