Sackcloth and Ashes

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by Rodney Pelletier  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 26, 2020   

A season of penance

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The following excerpt is from The Way of Salvation and of Perfection by St. Alphonsus Ligouri.


The Great Thought of Eternity.

Thus did St. Augustine designate the thought of eternity: "The great thought — "magna cogitatio." It was this thought that induced so many solitaries to retire into deserts; so many religious, even kings and queens, to shut themselves up in cloisters; and so many martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the midst of torments, in order to acquire a happy eternity in Heaven, and to avoid a miserable eternity in Hell. 

The Ven. John of Avila converted a certain lady with these two words: "Reflect," said he to her, "on these two words: Ever and Never." 

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A certain monk went down into a grave that he might meditate continually on eternity, and constantly repeated, "O eternity! eternity!"

How frequently, my God, have I deserved the eternity of Hell! Oh, that I had never offended Thee! Grant me sorrow for my sins; have compassion on me.

The same Ven. John of Avila says that he who believes in eternity and becomes not a saint should be confined as one deranged. He who builds a house for himself takes great pains to make it commodious, airy and handsome, and says: "I labor and give myself a great deal of trouble about this house, because I shall have to live in it all my life." 

And yet how little is the house of eternity thought of! When we shall have arrived at eternity, there will be no question of our residing in a house more or less commodious, or more or less airy. The question will be of our dwelling in a palace overflowing with delights or in a gulf of endless torments. And for how long a time? Not for 40 or 50 years, but forever, as long as God shall be God. The saints, to obtain salvation, thought it little to give their whole lives to prayer, penance and the practice of good works. And what do we do for the same end?

O my God! Many years of my life are already past, already death is near at hand, and what good have I hitherto done for Thee? Give me light and strength to devote the remainder of my days to Thy service.

To obtain salvation we must tremble at the thought of being lost, and tremble not so much at the thought of Hell, as of sin, which alone can send us thither.

Too much, alas, have I offended Thee; I desire henceforth to love Thee.

With fear and trembling work out your salvation. To obtain salvation we must tremble at the thought of being lost, and tremble not so much at the thought of Hell, as of sin, which alone can send us thither. 

He who dreads sin avoids dangerous occasions, frequently recommends himself to God, and has recourse to the means of keeping himself in the state of grace. He who acts thus will be saved. But for him who lives not in this manner it is morally impossible to be saved. Let us attend to that saying of St. Bernard: "We cannot be too secure where eternity is at stake."

Thy blood, O Jesus, my Redeemer, is my security. I should have been already lost on account of my sins, hadst Thou not offered me Thy pardon, on condition of my repentance for having offended Thee. I am sorry therefore with my whole heart for having offended Thee, Who art infinite goodness. I love Thee, O sovereign Good above every other good. I know that Thou willest my salvation, and I will endeavor to secure it by loving Thee forever. O Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.

To hear more about the Lenten journey toward holiness The Download—Sackloth and Ashes.

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