Rorate Caeli

"Meditations on Death" – Part 4 : A Lenten Series by Father Konrad zu Loewenstein

Part 4
A Lenten Guest Series by 
Father Konrad zu Loewenstein 


‘The number of fools is infinite’ (Eccl 1.15)

The men of the world are fools, but they have the temerity to call themselves prudent and wise, and the faithful Christians fools. They mock their child-like faith, their prayers and mortifications, their embracing contempt, poverty, solitude, humility, and the hidden life. They never reflect that the Lord has called the wisdom of this world folly (1 Cor 3.19).

St. Bernard saw a vision of four classes of fools all with a great thirst for happiness, and trying to quench it with earth, air, fire, or water: earth for possessions; air for empty honours; fire for passions and revenge; and fetid water for voluptuous and unchaste pleasures. Such are the desires of the men of the world: such are the desires around which their prudence and wisdom revolve: desires both irrational and insatiable: ‘The possession of great wealth’ says St. Augustine, ‘does not close, but rather extends, the jaws of avarice’, and similarly for honours; the more that the unchaste man wallows in the more of impurity the greater his disgust and the greater his desire; and similarly for all the other passions.

But God has created our heart for Him, and for Him alone, and for that reason only the possession of God can make us happy, and only He can give us true peace. Brute animals were made for sensual pleasure, and in that they find their peace, but man is made for God. ‘Soul, thou hast many goods laid up for many years’ says the man in the parable (Lk 12.19), ‘Take thy rest, eat, drink, and be merry!’ Wretched fool! Says St. Basil, ‘have you then the soul of a brute that you expect that to bring you happiness?’

For they seek happiness but never find it. ‘The goods of this earth do not enter the soul’, says St. Vincent Ferrier, ‘They are waters that do not penetrate the thirst’.‘Destruction and unhappiness in all their ways, and the way of peace they have not known’ (Ps 13.3). Rather, in their troubled quest for pleasure, and in the anguish of their guilty conscience ‘the wicked are like the raging sea that cannot rest’ (Is 57.20).

But in addition to all these earthly woes, they are preparing for themselves an incomparably greater misery for all eternity. What man would be so foolish to indulge in a forbidden pleasure, if to pay for it he had to have his hand burnt? Or if he could spend the whole year indulging himself, except for one day in which he would be tortured? Or if he could indulge himself for a whole life but in punishment he would have to be spend a year in a cold grave? But what they are amassing for themselves by their forbidden pleasures is not the pain of a moment, a day or a year, but for all Eternity.

Whence does their folly come? It comes from persevering in sin. Sin blinds the sinner, and the more he sins, the more it blinds him. God is light, so that the further the soul is from God, the blinder it is. A person before he sins, resists and combats temptation, at least for a little while, but after having contracted a bad habit, he instantly yields to every temptation.

St John Chrysostom says of habitual sinners that they despise corrections, sermons, censures Hell, and God: they despise everything, and resemble the vulture that waits to be killed by the fowler, rather than abandon the dead body on which they are feeding. On hearing sermons on the rigours of divine justice, on the pains of the damned, or on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, they remain unmoved, and listen to such words with indifference and boredom or even amusement, as if it did not concern them.

St. Jerome writes that they lose even the shame of committing sin. St Peter compares them to the swine that wallows in the mire (2 Peter 2. 22). And St. Bernadino comments: ‘What wonder is it that, after the more of sin has blinded him, he should not see his miserable condition, even when God scourges him for his iniquities.’ Instead of regretting them, he rejoices in his sins, he jokes of them and boasts of them. ‘He is glad that he has done evil’ (Prov 2.14); ‘the fool worketh mischief as for sport’ (Prov 10. 23).

Nothing touches the obdurate sinner: not disasters in the world nor in his family, not earthquakes nor thunder. The devil holds them in his grip, and like some-one who holds a bird on a cord, says St. Anselm: he lets it fly away, but whenever he pleases, he draws it back to earth. Habitual sin will rush upon him like a giant; it will oppress him like a huge stone (Lam 3.53) which, as St. Bernard says, makes it hard for him to rise.

But Our Lord calls: ‘Lazarus come forth!’ Respond at once to the call and rise from your death, form your sinful life. Give yourself to God! Tremble lest this should be His last call to you.

My God! Thou hast bestowed more favours on me than on others. And I have done Thee greater injuries than any other person that I know. O Sorrowful heart of my Redeemer, so much afflicted and tortured on the Cross at the sight of my sins: give me through Thy merits a lively sense of my faults, and a lively sorrow for them. Infuse into my heart Thy Holy Love. Amen.