“And He was casting out a devil and the same was dumb.”–Luke 11: 14.
As St. James remarks, and as we are taught by experience, Satan exercises a great power over the tongue of man. There is, in fact, nothing through which man sins more than through the tongue, beginning with sinful gossiping, breaking the commandment of charity towards our neighbor, and ending with blasphemy.
Cursing and blasphemy is the language of devils, and they stamp men here upon earth as children of the Evil One! But Satan knows also how to offend God, and lead man to ruin, by influencing the tongue in the opposite direction, namely, by inducing him to maintain a sinful silence.
Let us consider, today, in how many ways this may be done, and I wish I could deliver every soul here present, who is possessed of a dumb demon, whose number, I fear, is greater than we suppose.
O Mary, thou who didst raise thy voice so powerfully in the “Magnificat” to glorify God, and who, after saying: “Be it done to me according to Thy word,” didst become the mother of the Incarnate Word, pray for us, that we may obtain the grace to glorify God by every word which our tongue pronounces! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
I said that there is a silence which is sinful, and which, in the words of the Gospel, may be called a dumb devil. I shall, in today s sermon, particularize and explain this assertion.
The greater part of men every morning commit sin by silence, in not opening their lips to honor God by prayer. They rise from their bed like dumb animals. It is a sin of omission not to give thanks to God for the night that has passed, not to worship Him with our first thoughts as our Creator, our Father, our final end, and not to beseech Him to bestow upon us the grace to glorify Him by our conduct during the day.
The dawn of morning, the first rays of the rising sun, ought to remind man of this holy duty, as well as the joyful songs of the birds, especially of the lark, which, rising high in the sky early every morning, shows man that it is his duty to praise with his tongue the Lord, to give Him thanks, to pray to Him as soon as he awakens.
But in order to serve Him well we should, not only in the morning, but also during the day, raise our hearts piously to God, and animate ourselves by short, pious prayers and ejaculations. We must also make use of every opportunity to remind others, by word and action, to serve and glorify God; and we must, further, admonish sinners, and instruct those in their faith, that are erring. How many opportunities we have of doing this during the day, had we but the will!
Such remarks and exhortations, however short, fall like seed upon the soil of the heart, and in due time bear fruit. Let us remember the exhortation of St. Ignatius to St. Francis Xavier: “Friend, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul?” and his oft-repeated admonition: “Xavier, conquer thyself!” These short exhortations were for Xavier the seed from which the holiness of his entire life proceeded.
Why are we silent when we have reason, in our association with our neighbor, to call his attention to the salvation of his soul, the only real necessary labor of man’s life, to speak to him of the truth of our holy religion,–to warn him of the evil of sin, to point out to him the corrupt principles of the enemies of the Church in these days, and to converse with him on the dogmas of our holy faith? Why is it that we are silent and do not speak to him of these things when ever an opportunity presents itself?
The reason is that we ourselves are not zealous enough in the service of God, and too little instructed in our faith, and think that it is the duty of the priest to teach others, and lead them upon the path of virtue, and not of every zealous child of the Church. What a deception! We speak to others of so many useless things, why not, rather, on this most important subject! Fear of man is what mostly prevents us. We do not possess the courage to speak, and are silent, even when the honor of the Church and her servants are publicly attacked. This is all sinful silence.
We can, however, sin still in another manner, by culpable silence, while associating with others. This is the case when we hear others spoken ill of, and omit, by a word uttered at the right moment, to remind the speaker that he is doing wrong. St. Augustine had placed on the wall of his dining-room the words: “Let all remain away, who would speak evil of others.”
Further, we frequently omit to admonish others, simply through a contemptible fear of man. This silence becomes the more sinful when false rumors are spread and the good name of any one is defamed by false hoods. Who knows but the slandered person may thereby lose his position, his office, his fortune? and yet, we are silent from fear of man how heartless! We do speak in behalf of the injured party, with the excuse: It is not my affair. Yes, it is your affair, for it is said: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The same takes place when, knowing that some one exposes himself to a danger, which threatens either his person or his possessions, we remain silent and do not warn him in time. So also in regard to personal enmity. How few misunderstandings would arise, or would be quickly righted, how seldom would neighborly love be wounded, were a word of excuse or of explanation spoken at the right time!
This admonition, concerning sinful silence, regards, in particular, parents and superiors, who, by their station and office, are obliged to speak to others, to instruct, to warn, and to punish them. Unhappy those children who, in youth, have not been instructed by their parents, in the truths and principles of their holy faith, on the necessity of perseverance in prayer, and who have not been taught in such a manner that when they leave home they are in no great danger of losing their faith! Unhappy the children, whose parents, when asked if their children know how to pray or receive the holy Sacraments, answer: I can not tell; I do not know. Father, mother, why are you silent? why do you not question your child in regard to this matter? Woe to the children whose parents are too indulgent, who never reprove them, but pass over their sinful life in silence, without warning or punishing!
The silent devil causes the greatest evil there, where all other bad spirits are forced to flee, when man speaks the truth; namely, in the confessional. How many confess, but confess unworthily, and why? They are possessed by the silent devil, who keeps them by a false shame from confessing fully and candidly.
They confess, but they confess only a few, instead of all their great sins! They confess, but they do not confess their great sins according to their number and kind as they should they are prevented by false shame. They pass over, for instance, in silence, a sin against the sixth commandment, or the circumstance that the persons with whom they sinned were married or related to them. They confess their mortal sins, but do not mention their number as accurately as they might; they either say nothing of the number, or seek to lessen it.
They confess that they sinned in words, but not that they were guilty in thought and desire. They are silent and conceal, and do not answer frankly when questioned by the confessor. They confess what they have done themselves, but speak of none of the nine ways of being accessory to another’s sin, such as provocation, approval, bad advice or example.
They are willfully silent concerning all this, and thus confess unworthily and what is the result? All the evil spirits, that is, the sins by which the sinner was possessed, remain in the heart. If they are to be driven out by absolution, the dumb devil must be the first sent hence.
God grant that this may be the case with all those of my listeners, who are possessed by the dumb devil! May it be so! Amen!
“And the last state of that man becometh worse than the first.”–Luke 11.
If there were no relapses into sin, few children of the Church would lose their souls. For where is the Catholic, who, having had the misfortune of falling into mortal sin, has not, at least once, confessed with the intention and purpose of sinning no more? But Satan endeavors to destroy the good which the Lord works in the heart of the sinner by confession, and if he succeed again in forcing an entrance into that heart, it will be difficult indeed to dislodge him.
In that case, as Christ himself both assures aud warns us, the last state will be worse than the first. Why? Let us consider this question today. Mary, thou faithful Virgin, refuge of sinners, protect us by thy prayers, in order that reconciled to God, we may not relapse and thus sink the deeper into the abyss of hell! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The evil spirit driven out of a house, which had opened its doors to him withdraws, as Christ says, into the wilderness; which means that when the sinner has returned to God, the tempter is careful not to approach him immediately. He has cause to fear that the newly converted man will, in his first zeal, withstand and repulse his temptations. He bides his time, and after the first fervor of penitential zeal has cooled, he tries again; and should he succeed, then the second state of the sinner is worse than the first. The reasons for this are obvious:
First, the sinner’s guilt is greater, because he committed the sin with a clearer knowledge of its malice, and with a greater abuse of divine grace. It is true there are some people who live wickedly from day to day, and who commit sin with so little concern, that the words of Christ: “Father, they know not what they do,” seem particularly applicable to them; but with these the sinner who once did penance and again relapsed, can not be classed. It is deliberate and forewarned opposition to God that makes a sin particularly odious and culpable. Hence, the rebellion of the angels was so grievous an offense in the eyes of God, that not one was offered time for repentance; for they opposed His will with full knowledge and consent. It is this same malice that, more or less, brands the relapse of a sinner.
If a person offends us once, but soon after shows signs of repentance, we easily condone the injury, even though it be great. But if the offense be again and again repeated, and if the transgressor manifest utter contempt for our feelings, we are far more sensible of the injury, and much less inclined to receive him again into our friendship, even though we do not hate him, we mistrust such an individual.
Secondly; These relapses open the door to levity, and the sinner becomes gradually insensible to the reproaches of his conscience and to the admonitions of that penitential spirit, by which, in the beginning, he was moved. Even the threats of divine judgment and the terrors of eternal punishment do not touch him. He endeavors to excuse himself.
What a dangerous state this is, especially when is joined with it the awful abuse of the Sacrament of Penance, and when a man, after changing this spiritual medicine into a deadly poison of the soul, quiets his conscience by saying: I have confessed that sin!
What is confession without true contrition and repentance? what is repentance without an earnest resolution of amendment? and of what avail, in the end, are good resolutions, if they are not put into execution? Confessions without true sorrow for sin or without firm purposes of amendment are, at best, delusions. St. Chrysostom calls them plays, in which actors pretend to be struck and fall down, but as soon as the curtain drops, get up and depart. St. Augustine calls them mock confessions.
The relapsing sinner, seeking to excuse himself, says: Men are weak, and God is good. This is certainly true, but not in the sense in which the sinner applies it to himself. Man is weak in regard to venial sins and slight defections; but with the aid of divine grace he is strong and invincible where mortal sins are concerned, especially those mortal sins, which easily become habitual, as, for instance: impurity, intemperance, enmity, and cursing.
The nullity of the excuse, that man is weak, becomes especially obvious from one fact which every relapsing sinner must admit to be decisive and convincing, namely: had he been persuaded that a relapse into his former sin would result, owing to his peculiar constitution, in complete blindness–had he been convinced, by the sad experience of others, that escape was impossible–had his physicians predicted the same inevitable fate if he disregarded nature’s laws–he would, whatever temptation might have assailed him, have avoided that sin.
Is this not sufficient evidence that man is strong enough to conquer every temptation to mortal sin, if his faith be really strong, and if he only has the will to co-operate with divine grace?
Thirdly: The condition of such a sinner is very dangerous, because his relapse makes him despondent, should he feel an inclination to repent. Satan desires to discourage him, and whispers into his ear that it is useless for him to think of conversion, for he has before now endeavored to cast off the yoke, but in vain.
In this case the sinner endeavors to persuade himself that it would be impossible to free himself entirely from this or that sin, and so delays his conversion from day to day, from week to week, from year to year, and finally falls into that depth of which the Holy Ghost says: “The wicked man when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth.” Yes, he holds in contempt at last the means of salvation, communication with God, holy Mass, the Church, the Sacraments, even heaven, until his soul finally becomes a prey to despair. What awful condition!
And what means must we use in order to avoid this state? The last words of today’s Gospel answer this question: “Blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.” That is to say, we must meditate upon what the word of God says of this state, and be penetrated with a holy fear. It is not a priest, a confessor, a human being who has uttered these words, but it is Christ, the Lord Himself, who likewise warns us: “And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
If we be lastingly penetrated with the fear of such an evil, such a misfortune, we shall attend also to what this same word of God teaches us concerning the means of avoiding in future all those temptations which threaten us with a relapse. We shall especially heed the admonition of the Lord: “If thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out; if thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off,” which means that, should anything whatever lead us into sin, though it be as dear to us as our eye or our hand, we must not hesitate to avoid it on all occasions.
But while doing this, you must watch and pray as Christ tells us. The tempter may seize other occasions, perhaps even more dangerous, to tempt you. Pray! pray! unite yourself to God by morning and evening prayers. Walk in His presence, receive frequently the blessed Sacrament, clothe yourself in the armor of God, as the Apostle exhorts you; put on the girdle of truth, the breastplate of justice; put on your feet the preparation of the Gospel; seize the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and repeat in your heart at the moment of temptation the most holy Name of Jesus. Do this, and you will be preserved from relapses into sin! Amen!