Did you not know that I must be about the things that are my Father's? (Luke 2 : 49)
A boy of twelve years, full of heavenly wisdom and knowledge, in the midst of the doctors of the Temple, asking and answering questions and astonishing all who listen to him — what a strange and wonderful phenomenon ! Remaining behind in the Temple, he knows that his father and mother are seeking him sorrowing, yet he sits amid those grave, learned men, utterly absorbed in the questions of the Law; and all are astonished at the wisdom of his answers. What are meat and drink, home and friends to him, compared with the honor and glory of the One who has sent him ? At last, when his parents discover him, and his sorely-troubled mother pleads with him : "Son, why hast thou done so to us ?" he calmly replies : "How is it that you sought me ? did you not know that I must be about the things that are my Father's ?"
Where upon earth is there a child like unto this divine Child ? Yea, rather where is there an adult Christian who tarries in church with the same pleasure and zeal as the Child Jesus lingered in the Temple? Oh, how much does he abash us all, young and old ! For days together he remains in the house of God, and we complain, if the divine service lasts for an hour ? In our impatience, we pull out our watches several times during the sermon, and show them to our neighbors, giving all to understand, that we are tired of listening to the word of God. The Child Jesus gives his undivided attention to the things which concern his Father's glory; and we can scarcely keep our attention fixed for a few moments upon divine things. Whence this tepidity and sloth in the service of God, this drowsiness and distraction at Mass, meditation, and prayer ? Manifestly, from a paralysis of religious feeling, in short, from our lukewarmness. This tepidity in the service of God is a terrible malady of the soul; and I will now show you :
- The marks by which it may be known;
- Its sad consequences; and
- The most efficacious remedies for its cure.
As every disease of the body has certain symptoms whereby it can be distinguished from others, so lukewarmness, a disease of the soul, has its proper marks and characteristics.
A lukewarm person has a certain horror of gross crimes or grievous sins; but he makes little account of small faults and imperfections — he easily omits the good he is bound to do; and does not scruple the neglect of certain duties and obligations of his state of life.
The lukewarm Christian performs many good works — he says his prayers regularly, and assists at the different exercises of devotion; but without attention, without fervor; his heart belies the utterance of his lips. He goes to church, and hears Mass on Sundays and Holydays, but only because it is customary to do so. You can see in his countenance, in his posture, in his whole deportment, that he is there only in body, and that his mind is far away; the time hangs heavily on his hands, he yawns, rubs his eyes, and thinks — God knows what ! He wills and he wills not; he would gladly reign with God in heaven, but he will do nothing, suffer nothing, sacrifice nothing for salvation. The reward promised by God delights him, but as soon as there is question about doing violence to himself in order to possess it, he shrinks back — He goes to confession, but without an amendment of life; he receives holy Communion but without any benefit to himself; he thinks, reflects, and works all day — but without any reference to God, and therefore, without any merit for eternity. He gives alms to the poor, but only from natural compassion, or when compelled, as it were, by the importunity of the supplicant.
In all his practices of virtue, no true Christianity is discernible. He nourishes hatred and envy in his heart, and finds pleasure and delight in the company of lukewarm and indifferent Christians — he hears the Word of God, but without fruit — he beholds many beautiful examples of virtue and holiness, but he does not imitate them — he receives many good lessons and admonitions — and forgets them. God offers him abundant graces, but he neglects to avail himself of them; he declines to co-operate with them. He finds no relish inpious discourses; he hardly ever reads a spiritual book; in a word, lukewarmness is to the soul what blindness is to the body, — a disease most fatal in its effects, and most difficult to be cured.
2. Sad Consequences
The sad consequences of lukewarmness, will become clear to us.
When we consider God's horror for a lukewarm soul. "I know thy works; that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold, or hot; but because thou art lukewarm and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." (Apoc. 3 : 15, 16.) The lukewarm Christian is an abomination in the sight of the Most High; he is ready to reject him forever. Yes, that merciful, longsuffering Lord who goes to meet the greatest sinner, and tenderly embraces the Prodigal Son, even he can no longer bear with the lukewarm. He surfeits, as it were, the bowels of God's mercy, and fills the divine heart of Jesus with a disgust and nausea similar to that which a draught of lukewarm water produces on the natural stomach. O tepid Christians, consider this terrible position which you occupy before God. You are not with him, but against him; you do not gather with him, but scatter. "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth." (Luke n : 23.) Unless you change your life — unless you begin to serve God with fervor and fidelity — his terrible threat will be fulfilled, he will cast you from him in horror and disgust. But the lukewarm hear the judgments of God and tremble not; they hear these terrible truths — and persevere in their insensibility and indifference. Whatever they do for God, is done only by halves. Truly, a great sinner is more susceptible of a strong impression, more capable of a magnanimous resolution, and hence, more worthy of eternal salvation, than a soul that is plunged in the deadly torpor of lukewarmness and indifference. It is this that the Holy Ghost wishes to express, when he says : "I would thou wert cold, or hot." (Apoc. 3 : 15.)
No malady of the soul is more obstinate or harder to be healed, than lukewarmness; and this, for two reasons : First, because to the lukewarm Christian all means of salvation are changed into poison; and secondly, because lukewarmness causes blindness.
All means of salvation are turned into poison for the lukewarm Christian. Meditation, prayer, confessions, Communions, Masses, sermons — all these powerful means heal and sanctify others but they only confirm the lukewarm more deeply in their lamentable condition.
Furthermore, the lukewarm person is spiritually blind, a lukewarm soul does not realize its own mortal sickness; it lives carelessly and indifferently, imagining that all is right, when in reality all is wrong. A consumptive, although reduced and exhausted by his disease, and every day approaching nearer to the grave, far from noticing the ravages of his malady, rises when others rise, goes with them to his meals, occupies his place in society, shows himself in the streets, and seems to belong to the number of the living when he is already standing with one foot in the grave. He sleeps, he eats, and drinks, he converses with his friends as usual but suddenly, without expecting it death snatches him away. This is the picture of the lukewarm Christian. He says his prayers, goes to confession and Communion, takes part in the exercises of devotion; but, at the same time, he is guilty of various infidelities, which he makes light of, though they may often include mortal sins. He is blinded by the obscurity and mist in which his conscience is enveloped. In this manner, he loses, by little and little, the fear of God; he becomes familiar with sin; and finally, allows himself to fall into a fatal sleep from which he shall not awaken, until he has fallen over the precipice into the everlasting abyss. Oh, it is only too true what St. Bernardine of Sienna says: "I have seen usurers, cruel soldiers, harlots, and heathens doing penance and being converted to the Lord, but I tremble for lukewarm Christians, because I have never witnessed the conversion of one of them." And if we consult history we find this truth corroborated by facts. We read that David, an adulterer and murderer, was converted; that Mary Magdalen, a public sinner, shed copious penitential tears over her sins; that Zaccheus, a man guilty of much injustice, made most ample restitution; that St. Peter blotted out his denial of the Lord by his ever-flowing tears and life-long repentance; and that even the thief on the cross was converted in his last hour. These were great sinners, but their sins were not so great that God's mercy could not pardon them. But where do we read that any one of the Scribes and Pharisees those lukewarm, self-righteous souls, was converted to the Lord, and did penance ? It is certain that a great sinner is more easily converted than a lukewarm Christian. But you will ask : Is this malady, then, absolutely incurable ? No, with God, nothing is impossible. God is the physician, he is almighty, and with an omnipotent physician, no sickness is incurable; but we must do our part.
We must diligently avail ourselves of the infallible remedies against lukewarmness.
The first remedy is the frequent consideration of its sad consequences. He who seriously reflects whither tepidity leads, can not long remain lukewarm in the service of God and the business of his salvation. He who knows and feels that God abhors him, can not be pleased and satisfied with himself.
The thought of our eternal destiny. We are upon earth to serve God, and thereby, to be saved. "In spirit fervent serving the Lord" says St. Paul (Rom. 12:11). It is not possible for him to be lukewarm who serves so great and mighty a Lord, as is the Most High and Omnipotent God. St. Ignatius one day, seeing a lay brother careless in his work, asked him, for whom he was working. The brother answered : "For God "; and the saint replied : "If you had told me : for men, I would excuse you; but there is no excuse for him who works for God, and does his work as negligently and lukewarmly as you are doing this !"
The remembrance of the sweet consolation which a soul experiences in life and in the hour of death, from the consciousness of having served God faithfully and fervently. Go to the death-bed of a pious servant of God. There, you will witness the reward of the violence which the dying man made use of in life in order to gain heaven; you can read in every feature of his countenance the fulfillment of the promise: "Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his saints." (Ps. 115:15)
A salutary fright. The lukewarm need some powerful shock to rouse them from their tepidity. The thought of God and of his love, has no effect, they must be shaken out of their sleep, they must be scared and frightened into doing their duty. If an alarm of fire is heard at midnight in a hospital, who shall describe the terror, the wild anguish of the inmates ? The fear of being roasted alive makes the weak, strong. Even confirmed cripples have been known to rise up, on such occasions, and drag themselves hurriedly out of danger. A similar cry of alarm, is needed to arouse the lukewarm from their tepidity. Yes, far more terrible shall be the alarm that shall one day sound in their ears, when they shall hear first the voice of the mighty angel crying : "Arise ye dead, and come to judgment" and afterwards the awful voice of the angry judge, proclaiming : "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire ! "
Who does not know the parable of the unprofitable servant ? He had neither stolen, nor robbed, nor committed murder, yet from sheer laziness and tepidity, he had buried his talent and his doom was to be cast out into exterior darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Is not this example calculated to bring every slothful Christian to his senses and make him serve God with all his heart and strength? Philip II., king of Spain, whilst hearing Mass, one day, noticed two courtiers holding an idle conversation during the whole time of the holy sacrifice. Quitting the chapel, the king said to them : "Is it thus you hear Mass ? Never again show yourselves before my face." This rebuke was like a thunderbolt to both offenders. One of them died two days afterwards, and the other lost his reason and became a maniac. My dear brethren, how will it be when the tepid Christian shall hear these words from the mouth of the eternal king : "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." Truly, he who seriously reflects on this everlasting rejection, can not remain lukewarm or indifferent in the performance of his religious duties. A salutary fear and consternation must enliven his fervor and increase his vigilance.
But what is the panacea or universal remedy for lukewarmness ? PRAYER, fervent, devout, and persevering prayer. Prayer it is that draws the divine grace from heaven to earth; that moistens dry, arid hearts with the dew of heaven; and penetrates cold, careless souls with a holy fire and warmth. As St. Augustine says : "Prayer ascends to heaven, and grace descends in its stead."
My dearly beloved, search diligently your souls for the symptoms of this dangerous malady; and if you find yourselves infected with it, make prompt and faithful use of the prescribed remedies. Shrink not from any labor, pain, or sacrifice, no matter how hard or bitter, for heaven is worth it all. Advance in wisdom and grace as you advance in years. "Today, if you shall hear his voice, (the voice of God), harden not your hearts" (Ps. 94:8) and be ever fearful lest the prediction of St. Paul be verified in you : "According to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God." (Rom. 2 : 5.)