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“The Enemies of Our Salvation” by St. John Vianney

October 15, 2011

“And behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves.”-Matt. viii.24.

 

“This is the picture of the life of the Christians upon earth.  Our soul, subject to thousands of passions, exposed to thousands of temptations, is, indeed, like unto a little ship, covered by the waters, and never for one moment safe from shipwreck.  Who, then, my brethren, would rest contented in view of the dangers which expose us to eternal damnation?  Who among us, my brethren, would not feel the necessity of watching unceasingly over every emotion of his heart, that is to say, over all his thoughts, his words, and his actions, and to make sure whether they are bent toward pleasing God or pleasing the world?

But a great many of us seek in all their doings only to please the world.  And what is the consequence, my brethren?  Nothing else but that the devil can as easily lead us into hell as a mother can lead a young child wherever she wills.  Yes, a Christian who wishes to please God and to save his soul meets with two things which are liable to perplex him: First, the great number of enemies which surround him, and the eagerness with which they bring about his ruin; and, secondly, the carelessness and contentedness with which we live on among these many dangers, and to which we are continually exposed.

Now, to teach you how to watch and pray, I will show you what enemies we should fear and avoid most. 

Our real enemies are not those who damage our good reputation, who rob us of our earthly possessions, or who even try to take our lives.  These are only tools which Divine Providence uses to sanctify us, by giving us the opportunity to practise humility, meekness, charity, and patience.  If the salvation of our soul is dear to our heart, we shall, instead of hating and complaining about those who caused us these troubles, love them the more.  Naturally, it is hard for a Christian whose heart is set upon earthly goods to be deprived of his possessions.  An ambitious man must naturally feel sensitive at seeing his good name attacked.  Without doubt, it must be terrible for a man, who always lived as if death would never be his portion, to feel its approach.  And yet, my brethren, all these are not real enemies. 

On the contrary, they will be the cause of our reaching heaven, if we accept them in a Christian spirit.  If you, now, want to know which are the enemies we ought to fear, I will explain them to you, and I ask your undivided attention.

Our real enemies, my brethren, are those who make it their object to rob our poor soul of its innocence, to deprive it of grace, to kill it in the sight of God, and to cast it into hell.  Oh! how terrible and frightful are such enemies.  And as dangerous as they are, just so numerously we find them about us.

Yea, we carry them within ourselves; and this fact should impel us to be constantly upon our guard, as death alone can entirely free us from them.  And it is these invisible enemies which we have to fear the most.  Let us contemplate, at first, that foolish self-esteem which pervades most of us.  How proud we are of our little merits, our possessions, talents, and our family, and how ready we are to look down upon others!

How anxious we are to equal our superiors in the stations of life, and to leave that station to which we really belong!  And how often do we pride ourselves that our work is better than that of anybody else!  Observe, then, my brethren, this invisible enemy, who persecutes you unceasingly and causes your wrongdoing.

How proud we are when we have a little more than our neighbor, can dress a little better than he!  If a poor man addresses us in the street begging for alms, we pass proudly by him, not even giving him the recognition of denial.  We treat him as if he was an entirely different being to ourselves.  Do you see, then, my brethren, how filled we are with pride?

And, again, how sensitive we are of the way in which we are treated by our neighbours!  A word misunderstood, a slight joke at our expense, a cold greeting-how all that offends us, and how bitterly we complain of these little unpleasantnesses, and how we hate those people who have inflicted them upon us! O my Lord! what pride!  What self-love! Look at this man who has come into possession of a fortune.  How high he holds his head, and how eagerly he tries for recognition from those who would have no communication with him before, and how ready he is to drop all his friends of former days!  Remember how sad you are and full of trouble, if your neighbor prospers in his buisness more than you do in your own, if he gains an advantage which you have missed; but if, on the contrary, trouble comes to him, and he is hemmed in by embarrassment, how delighted you feel and glad in your hearts!  Do you see, my brethren, how you are persecuted by this spirit of self-esteem and envy?

We do not like to meet a person who has, perhaps without any intention of doing so, offended us.  We like to believe ill of her, and like to hear other persons speak ill of her.  We feel a great satisfaction when an occasion offers to anger her.  Observe, then, my dear Christians, this feeling of hatred, this desire of vengeance, this bitterness which prevails among us and devours us!

Do you wish to know, my brethren, how deeply we are attached to this life and the goods of this world?  Is not our mind filled day and night with temporal affairs, occupations, and business transactions?  Are you not always busy thinking how to make, and is not your conversation taken up entirely by that one subject?  Do you not continue these thoughts of your worldly affairs in your prayers, and do you not even bring them into the house of God during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?  How often have you not thought during Mass over matters which you had to accomplish afterward, about people whom you were going to see on business affairs!

How willing you are to travel miles for the purpose of gaining a few dollars, and yet how unwilling to walk a few steps for the purpose of doing good to your neighbor or attending to your religious duties! 

It is necessary to mention here the habit of most people to inquire curiously into the affairs of their neighbors and to criticize them, to meddle in other people’s affairs.  Do you recognize, in this, my dear friends, that secret enemy, who causes discord among neighbors and brings unhappiness into families?

Do you know, then, my brethren, why we know so little of these secret enemies?  For the simple reason that we shut our eyes and ears, so as not to see them or hear of them.  To learn to know them thoroughly, you have only to look into your own hearts.  There is their hiding-place, and of a great number of them, too.  I have mentioned to you only a few of the most conspicuous; but the more you examine your heart, the more of these secret enemies you will find.  Our poor heart is like the great ocean, which contains a multitude of fishes of all kinds and sizes.  In a like manner, our heart contains a multitude of evil inclinations, some stronger than others, which are all liable to cause our ruin, if we do not suppress them with great care.  These are the enemies that live within us.  It is impossible for us to get away from them.  Our only salvation is in fighting them.

Having told you of our interior enemies, it now remains to speak to you of our exterior enemies.  Pay attention, that you may learn to know, and with God’s grace, to conquer them.  Let us, first, state that these exterior enemies go hand in hand with our interior inclinations.  Yes, my brethren, everything has been created by God for the use and service of man, and will tend to his salvation or ruin, according to what use he makes of them.  Look at this poor man, who on account of his poverty should be sure of getting into heaven.  But what does he do?  He grumbles, complains, and envies the rich, speaks ill of them, and calls them cruel and tyrannical.  The sufferings and mortifications which God sends him as so many blessings, goad him on to despair. 

On the other hand, look at the rich and the well-to-do.  Instead of being thankful to God for the abundance which He has given them, and making proper use of it by helping the poor in their spiritual and temporal wants, what do they do?  Their riches make them proud and haughty, and cause them to live in entire oblivion of the necessities of their soul.  Thus we meet enemies in every station of life that must be subdued by fierce combat.  Here our ears have to listen to calumnies: there our eyes meet with bad examples.  No matter whether we are awake or asleep, drink or eat, we are surrounded with the snares of the devil, and must ever be ready to fight temptations, even by the most innocent amusements, or in company with the most virtuous persons: yes, even during the most sacred functions and during our prayers.

What distractions and what pride!  What excuses do we not make, when we confess our sins, so as to appear less guilty than we really are!  How often do we not go to some strange priest to confession, so as not have to be too much ashamed of ourselves!  Ah! and what sacrileges at Communions!  What regard for, and fear of, the opinion of our neighbor! O my brethren!  these are a few of the snares in our path of life, and there are many others.  The devil, who is bound to cause our ruin, is constantly about us, and ever ready to catch us in his net.  Yes,my brethren, he makes use of everything to lead us into sin.

Now, my dear friends, you know some of the enemies of our salvation.  Judge for yourselves whether they are to be dreaded; but judge rather more by the misery they have caused you, and the bad condition in which they have so often left you.  Let the years of your life pass through your mind, and convince yourselves that, since the early days of your youth, you have been the victim, the slave, and the unfortunate plaything of the devil, the world, and your own passions. 

O my brethren!  who could count all the evil thoughts which the devil instills into man’s mind?  Be convinced, then, that he who works really and truly for the salvation of his soul, will soon recognize the truth of what St. John says: “For all that is in the world, is concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”  We carry the seed of vice within us, and every one of us may be tempted and seduced by his own evil inclinations; everything about us may give us cause for sin.  If we would fully understand the dangers to which we are constantly exposed, we would live in constant fear of ruin. 

Yes, my brethren, in all we see and hear, in everything we do and say, we are drawn towards evil.  When we are at our meals, we are tempted by gluttony and intemperance.  At the time of recreation, we are tempted by frivolity and vain speech.  When we work, we do so mostly from avarice, profit-seeking, envy, or even vanity.  When we pray, we have to beware of carelessness, distraction, disinclination, and wearisomeness. 

If we meet with suffering or affliction, we are only too ready to grumble and complain.  Praise makes us proud.  Fault-finding makes us angry.  It was all this which made our greatest saints tremble, and populated the desert with hermits, caused copious tears, innumerable prayers, and penances.  Of course, the saints, though they lived in the wilderness, did not remain free from temptations, although they were free from the many bad examples which surround us constantly and are the ruin of so many souls.  But we see, my brethren, that they were ever watchful and prayed fervantly, while we poor deluded mortals live cheerfully and carelessly in the midst of so many dangers for the salvation of our soul.  O my brethren!  who will escape all these dangers?  Who will be saved?  Brethren, I say that nobody could live who would keep all these dangers constantly before his eyes.  He would die of fear.  But what should give us strength and consolation is the thought that we may have recourse to our dear Father in heaven, who will never allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, and who will always help those to victory who come to Him with confidence and prayer.  Watch and pray, therefore, and you will conquer. Amen.”

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