Take Heed Lest You Fall
Rev. John Evangelist Zollner, 1884
“He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.”
These words, with which St. Paul exhorts us to caution, are very important,
(a) For those who are yet in the state of innocence, that is, for those who never yet in their life have committed a mortal sin, and consequently possess yet their baptismal innocence. When you have lost an earthly good, as health, the favor of an exalted personage, honor and reputation, a house or a farm, it is possible for you to repair the loss by renewed energy and industry and by correcting former errors and avoiding former mistakes, but if you have lost innocence, no possibility is given you to recover it again. He who by a mortal sin has lost innocence, may by true penance again recover sanctifying grace; he can save his soul from perdition, and go to heaven, but innocence remains lost forever. Innocence once lost is lost forever. Adam and Eve are in heaven; Peter and Paul are in heaven; Mary Magdalen and Mary of Egypt are in heaven; but we find them not among the Innocents, but among the Penitents; how much penance soever they may have done for their sins, they could never recover innocence.
Now if you take good and even the best care of your eyes, because you know that if you should lose them you could never recover them, should you not pay still greater attention to your innocence that you may not lose it? Should you not shun with the greatest care those places, amusements, and persons that are dangerous to your innocence? Parents, ought you not to use all possible diligence in order to preserve the innocence of your children? When innocence is lost by mortal sin, it is to be feared that the first sin will draw many other sins after it, and that the end will be final impenitence and eternal perdition. Think of Judas the traitor. He was a thief, as the Gospel says. Was he so before he became an Apostle? No, certainly not, but the donations of the pious, which passed through his hands, excited his avarice and made him a thief. And, behold! with the first theft his fate was decided, he stole as often as he could, and finally his avarice made him sell his Lord and Master for thirty pieces of silver; and then despairing, he hanged himself. If Judas had not committed the first sin, he would have been saved: but having committed the first sin, he fell deeper and deeper, and his end was eternal perdition. How wrong then are those frivolous people who say: “Once is no custom.” How? once should be no custom, when one mortal sin deprives man of his innocence forever, and is frequently the first link of an interminable chain of sins that leads to eternal damnation!
(b) For penitents. The penitent is exposed to still greater dangers of salvation than the innocent man. The devil pursues him with a particular envy, and endeavors to bring him again into his power, hence we read in the Gospel, that he takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, in order to make the penitent who has become lukewarm relapse, and to take possession of his heart. The world allures him and uses stratagem, flattery, promise, mockery and even violence, in order to win him back, as, v. g., we know of St. Paul, whom the Jews, because he had left them and embraced the Christian religion, hated most bitterly, and calumniated and persecuted in every possible way. His own evil concupiscence prepares for the penitent many hard struggles, for it resembles a spoiled child which, because its will is not done as formerly, behaves unmannerly, is noisy and cries, and can be silenced with only great difficulty.
(c) For those, finally, who have already served God long, and have made great progress on the way of virtue. No man, though he may have attained the highest degree of sanctity, is proof against a fall; he may sin, sin grievously and perish. Solomon was the wisest king, and not only served God faithfully himself, but his solicitude was such that his people adhered to God and walked in the way of his commandments. But, behold! this pious and enlightened king in his mature years and old age became faithless to God, and defiled himself with all the abominations of idolatry. James, surnamed the Penitent, who lived in the sixth century of the Christian era, had led so holy a life in the desert for forty years that God glorified him with miracles. But he met a woman, not with a bad intention, but to be a guide to her on the way of salvation. What happened? By little and little a sinful desire began to burn in him, which, because he did not immediately avoid the occasion, made him sin grievously with her, and in order to keep his vice secret, kill the accomplice of his crime. Despair took hold of him after the commission of these two crimes, and he was on the way to leave the desert, in order to plunge himself into all vices, to die and perish eternally. But he who wills not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live, had compassion on him; he was met by a hermit who raised his fallen spirits and induced him to return into the desert. There he did penance for ten years, up to his death, and thus saved his soul from everlasting ruin, (28 Jan.)
Whoever you may be, innocent, penitent, or even great Saints, you must be on your guard and remember the words of the Apostle: “He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.”
2. “Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.” With the words: “Let no temptation take hold of you, but such as is human,” the Apostle means to say, that if we are tempted, we should not allow ourselves to be captivated by the temptation so as to sin, that the temptation may remain human, for says St. Anselin: “It is angelic to have no temptation at all; but human to have temptations and overcome them.” The temptation is human if it is overcome. We can overcome every temptation, be it ever so lasting and vehement, for God is faithful, he will keep His word, and as He has promised, will assist us with His grace, so that if we have a good will and do what is required on our part for the overcoming of the temptation, we can persevere in good.
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