THOUGHT FOR TODAY BY
ST. ANTHONY ZACCARIA

If through perfect humility you will be able to know objec tively yourself, only then will you be.

4301 Hecktown Rd
Bethlehem, PA 18020

Sermon 2

"...let us first strive to keep God's cammandments,
and then we will reach the liberty of the spirit.
May God in his bounty grant it to us."

(Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Sermon I)
 
 

Introductory Overview

Sermon II is divided into two parts. Part One deals extensively and inspirationally with the true nature of the spiritual life. It is widely agreed that this is one of the most beautiful sermons of Anthony Mary. Part Two briefly treats the practical application of the Second Commandment.

Part One: The True Nature of the Spiritual Life

It must be noted that this topic does not substantially differ from that of Sermon I. However, Sermon II does bring into sharp focus three related questions that demand unequivocal answers, namely: What exactly is the spiritual life? Can it be attained? How?
[I] What is the spiritual life?
Anthony Mary's essential answer is that it is a life single-mindedly God-centered. The reader will surely enjoy Anthony Mary's detailed description.
[II] Is it possible to attain it?
Anthony Mary's answer is that to attain it is difficult but not impossible.
[II.A] It is not impossible.
[II.A.1.a] Human beings have a spiritual nature which is capable of controlling our material nature, though we should ever be aware that "the perishable body weighs down the soul and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind" (Wis 9:15).
[II.A.1.b] Love is inseparable from its object.
[II.A.1.c] Our own personal experience can confirm the possibility of attaining the spiritual life. We can aver at least to a certain extent, the words of St. Bernard: "once spiritual things have been tasted, all things carnal lose their appeal." (Bernard, Ep. III.3, P.L. 182,255). Echoing the words of Scripture, "while you sleep, your heart watches" (Cant 5:2) and no doubt speaking from his own personal experience, Anthony Mary tells his audience: "The Holy Spirit helps you to think of God always, even in your sleep."
So, we may confidently say that Anthony Mary's personal experience confirms the possibility of attaining the spiritual life, a true and enduring spiritual life. A fleeting spiritual experience is accessible to everyone, but a true spiritual experience must endure, touching on mysticism. We can be sure that Anthony Mary's experience of God-centeredness had attained a remarkable degree of mysticism. It is manifested by his way of speaking. For example referring to those who have tasted God's infinite goodness, he exclaims: "how happy are they who remain in the abyss of that everlasting sweetness." Again quoting from the Song of Songs, "Show me him whom my soul loves. I found him and I will not let him go; but I will take hold of him (Cant 3:4), Anthony Mary once more exclaims: "O sweet embrace! O how happy are they who at last find themselves in those embraces and in them take their rest." Indeed, this is the vocabulary of Christian mystics.
[II.A.2] As a thoroughly spiritual man, Anthony Mary has gone beyond the "figures and shadows" of natural knowledge (cf. Rom 1:20). He fully agrees with St. Paul, his model and master: "All of us, gazing on the Lord's glory with unveiled faces [that is, through supernatural faith], are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18). Admittedly, this is a difficult process.
[II.B] It is difficult
Both our personal experience and the teaching of Christ confirms this fact: "how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road and how few there are who find it" (Matt 7:14).
[III] How can we attain it?
[III.A] Our spiritual nature, our inner being should never forget or ignore our material nature, our senses. It is through them that our inner being is connected with the outside world, our milieu. In patristic traditions well known to Anthony Mary, our senses are appropriately called windows. What enters through them definitely affects our inner being and all its relationships up to and including our love of God, the essence of the spiritual life. It follows that the control or custody of the senses is indispensable if we wish to attain the spiritual life.
[III.B] Since he is about to deal with the Second Commandment, Anthony Mary singles out the tongue for special treatment. Hence, he immediately quotes from James, the classic scriptural authority on restraining the tongue (Jas 3:1-12). In addition, the parable of the talents reminds Anthony Mary that there is an inescapable relationship between the talent of the tongue and the talent of the mind. Because the mind belongs to our spiritual nature, it is much more complex and hard to handle than the tongue, an element of our material nature. Since both have to be controlled, the control of the tongue bodes well for the control of the mind, as Scripture puts it: "If you can trust a man in little things you can also trust him in greater." (Luke 16:10). As the tongue needs to be bridled, the mind needs silence to be united with God. Anthony Mary quotes Matthew. "When you pray, go into your room - in your heart, that is - and closing the door - namely, your feelings - pray to your Father in secret and He will reward you" (Matt 6:6).
In conclusion, Anthony Mary compares our mind to a water mill that grinds whatever is thrown into it. The tongue has a lot to do with what gains entrance into our minds, either to help them or to hinder them, in the pursuit of the spiritual life. As St. James peremptorily states: "If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless" (Jas 1:26).

Part Two: The Second Commandment

[I]
 Anthony Mary begins by quoting the scriptural text of the Commandment (Exod 20:2-6).
[II] He then immediately proceeds to a brief practical application of its content. [A] First of all, truthfulness and sincerity are absolutely required. Swearing by God should be reserved to a bare minimum, that is, only in the uppermost important matters. [B] Secondly, blasphemy is utterly forbidden. [C] Thirdly, flattery must be shunned without exception. A lover of straight talk, Anthony Mary obviously detests all manner of empty ceremoniousness and frivolous formalities: "If anyone would like to recount to you all the evils caused by flattery do not believe him at all, for there are far too many to be counted." 
[D] Hypocrisy is next to be unequivocally condemned. No one likes a hypocrite and "the Holy Spirit abhors those who are double-hearted." [E]Finally, lying is evil because it is contrary to the primal Truth and Anthony Mary adds that "just one lie is enough to deprive you of your credibility."
General Conclusion
At first sight, it appears that by using the expression "I want" seven times in a short paragraph, Anthony Mary is adopting a type of voluntarism akin to Fra Battista's condemned Semi-Pelagianism.
However, Anthony Mary's concluding lines contain a statement of crucial theological importance. He says: "I will prepare my heart for God." Preparation of the heart (Praeparatio cordis) is well known in Catholic tradition. It is vintage Catholic doctrine: salvation is God's exclusive free gift. Our human role is simply to open our heart to him who initiates and brings to completion the work of salvation. There is unequivocal orthodoxy in Anthony Mary's very last sentence: "May (God) dwell in my heart forever through His grace and make it His temple. Amen."

Doctrinal Outline

Part One: THE TRUE NATURE OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

I. What is the spiritual life?
II. Is it possible to attain it?

  • [A] It is not impossible
    • [1] First series of reasons
      • [a] Spiritual nature, and ensuing stability of
        • {1} Angels
        • {2} Human beings
      • [b] Love is inseparable from its object
        • {1} Motherly love
        • {2} Sensual love
        • {3} God's love
      • [c] Spiritual life allows no turning back

Conclusion: "The Holy Spirit helps you think of God always"

  •  [2] Second series of reasons
    • [a] Natural knowledge
    • [b] Supernatural knowledge
  • [B] It is difficult

III. How can we attain it?

  • [A] General principle: "interior life is affected by the exterior world"
  • [B] Practical application: control of the senses, mainly the tongue
    • [1] Biblical references
    • [2] Experience
  • [C] God's way versus humans' way

Conclusion of part one: the human mind is like a water mill

Part two: THE SECOND COMMANDMENT

I. Exposition of the commandment

II. Practice of the commandment

  • [A] Truthfulness and swearing
  • [B] Blasphemy
  • [C] Flattery
  • [D] Hypocrisy
  • [E] Lying

General conclusion

 

The Second Commandment

  • Part One: The True Nature of the Spiritual Life
    • [I] What is the spiritual life? 

     My dear friends,

     If you consider Christ's saying that God is Spirit and that those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth [1 John 4:24], and that they become one spirit with Him [1 Cor 6:17], you will not find it difficult to understand that true spiritual life consists in this: that man keep his eyes on God all the time, long for nothing but for God, keep nothing in mind but God, begin every single action in the Lord's name, and direct it to Him [Col 3:17]: in short, that he unify his whole being -- mind, will, memory, senses, and actions -- in God, that his heart and his flesh sing for joy to the living God [Ps 84:2], and Christ live in him, not he for himself [Gal 2:20], that his soul be led by the Spirit of God as the body is led by the soul, and the Spirit Himself bear witness to him that he is a child of God and a living pattern of Christ. As a result he can say with the Apostle, "be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" [1 Cor 4:16], as if he were saying, "are you looking for a living model of Christ? Well, look at me."

  •  [II] Is it possible to attain it?
    • [II.A] It is not impossible

     My dear friends, this kind of life is not impossible to attain, but difficult indeed, as you can see from what follows.

  •  [II.A.1] First series of reasons
    • [II.A.1.a] Spiritual nature, and ensuing stability, of
      • [II.A.1.a.1] Angels

     Nothing can distract angels from the vision of God -- no matter where they are -- because they are spirits and have no body; they, therefore, can hardly remove themselves from where they are fixed.

  •  [II.A.1.a.2] Human beings

     It likewise happens to men: the greater their intelligence, the steadier their thinking. This is, of course, the consequence of their being more spiritual than corporeal, "for a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind" [Wis 9:15]. This, of course, spells trouble for intelligent men if they stick to evil things which they come to consider as good: they can seldom withdraw from them.

  •  [II.A.1.b] Love is inseparable from its object

     If, then, your souls adhere to God, they become simpler and more spiritual; and so "once spiritual things have been tasted, all things carnal lose their appeal" ["Gustato spiritu, necesse est decipere carnem." See Bernard, Ep. III.3 = PL 182,255], an experience your souls will always remember.

  • [II.A.1.b.1] Motherly love

     Oh please! my friends, consider the love of mothers. These good women do not sleep nor eat without thinking of their children. But the love of the spirit is such that it does not tolerate your forgetting it, even though a mother might forget her child [Isa 49:15].

  • [II.A.1.b.2] Sensual love

     And, moreover, consider those crazy people who, fascinated by dishonest love, never give up thinking of their partners, and even if they do, it is with the greatest difficulty, only on account of their partners' betrayal with somebody else. By the same token, spiritual love makes you run after those who have offended you and, for this reason, have divorced you, as it were, by committing a kind of adultery with another person.

  • [II.A.1.b.3] God's love

     How much more is this to be said of God. He makes Himself lover, son, father and mother in one, and always remains with you. Indeed, if you betray Him and separate from Him, He searches for you; He calls for you and keeps inviting you. That is why there have been only a few people who have tasted how good He is and left Him. And if, by chance, they have left Him, the infinite Good, they have never or almost never returned to Him. O how unhappy are they who forsake Him, and how happy are they who remain in the abyss of that everlasting Sweetness!

  •  [II.A.1.c] Spiritual life allows no turning back

     And this, dear friends, is the reason why the spiritual life demands that you never turn back or stop going forward; but rather that, as soon as you taste it, you make progress day by day and, forgetting what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead [Phil 3:13]. This is, in fact, such a food as to leave anyone who eats it with further desire for it; and such a drink as to leave anyone who tastes it with further thirst for it [Sir 24:19]. It quenches your thirst, so to speak, and causes it at the same time. No one, of course, can appreciate it unless he tastes it; and no one can know the marvelous effect of this wine unless he drinks it.

Conclusion: "The Holy Spirit helps you think of God always"

     You will be content, then, with this conclusion: The Holy Spirit helps you think of God always, even in your sleep. For, while you sleep, your heart watches [Cant 5:2], and with the bride of the Song of Songs you too can say: "Show me him whom my soul loves. I found him and I will not let him go, but I will take hold of him" [Cant 3:4]. O sweet embraces! O how happy are they who at last find themselves in those embraces and in them take their rest!

  •  [II.A.2] Second series of reasons
    • [II.A.2.a] Natural knowledge

     You see, my friends, that it is possible to attain to this state of life, which is sublime indeed. In fact, by the light of reason you come to know God through created things and the invisible things through the visible ones [Rom 1:20].

  •  [II.A.2.b] Supernatural knowledge

     By the revelation of the Old Testament you come somewhat to understand God, as if through figures and shadows. But in the present revelation you see Him as if "with unveiled face" [2 Cor 3:18]; you can talk to Him and communicate with Him, and without lying you can call yourselves gods on earth.

  •  [II.B] It is difficult

     O happy, though difficult, state of life, and found only by few! This is the state to which you are led and called and invited by these meetings in our A. [Amicizia = Friendship]; for this state you have to long and yearn night and day; toward this state all the saints have directed the course of their lives, and to abide in it seemed to them a good thing indeed. Foolish and unhappy are they who do not live in it.
     Few, my friends, are those who are willing to enter this life because narrow is the way that leads to heaven, and few are those who enter it [Matt 7:14]. Few like to force themselves -- only the violent take it by force [Mark 11:12] -- and of those few, fewer still attain it. Strive to belong to their number, so that you may find yourselves among those few. "Those who run in a race, all indeed run, but one receives the prize" [1 Cor 9:24]. I am much afraid that we are not of those few because, as I have said before [In Sermon I, "Why don't you succeed in reaching the loft? Because you don't go up the staircase"], we do not enter the door. Namely, we do not start with the first step and do not go on gradually.

  •  [III] How can we attain it?

     Do you wish, my friends, to keep your spirit tranquil? Do you want your soul to abide in God and experience nothing but God? Begin controlling your feelings, for death enters through the windows [Jer 9:21].

  •  [III.A] General principle: "interior life is affected by the exterior world"

     You know that your whole interior life is affected by the exterior world you come in contact with, don't you? Take for instance the faculty of love -- which proceeds from knowledge -- and you will see that one can love things never seen, but not things never known. Your intellectual and spiritual activities, too, are conditioned by external things. That is why, in its act of reflecting on God, your intellect perceives Him under corporeal forms, shapes, and other physical conditions.

  •  [III.B] Practical application: control of the senses, mainly the tongue
    • [III.B.1] Biblical references

     O my friends! Watch over your senses and, above all, over your tongue: small as it is, it can often be the cause of great evil [Jas 3:15]. Perfect indeed is the person who never makes mistakes in what he says [Jas 3:12]. Worthless is the religion of the person who thinks he is religious, but does not control his tongue [Jas 1:26]. That is why the prophet, who was a truly spiritual man, declared: "I said, I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue" [Ps 39:2].
     So, draw the conclusion: you begin to ruin your spiritual life by letting your minds go astray uncontrolled because you do not curb and purify your tongues.

  •  [III.B.2] Experience

     Is it any wonder that such a great evil originates from so small a beginning? Experience teaches you that if you are unable to perform the easiest duties, much less can you perform the hardest ones. The tongue is confined by teeth and lips and is also controlled by the will; hence, being bound with so many chains, it is not very difficult to tame it. Your mind, instead, is controlled only by your will, and so it is freer than the tongue and harder to be quieted down.
     The tongue is corporeal, the mind is spiritual. The tongue sometimes gets tired, the mind is more resistant and stronger. If you, therefore, let yourselves be overcome by what is weaker, you will easily be overcome by what is stronger. He who is unfaithful in a very little is that much more unfaithful in much [Luke 16:10]. God has given you this gift of the tongue, and yet you squander it by dishonoring and insulting Him and His saints. How much greater dishonor will you give to God in the more precious gift that is your spirit!

  •  [III.C] God's way versus humans' way

     Dear friends, you should know that God acts in ways contrary to man's. God first creates His grace and light in the soul and then infuses light into the body. Likewise, He first infuses his light in the angels and then in the prophets through the ministry of the angels. Lastly, He infuses his light in His people through the ministry of the prophets: that is why in the Scripture prophets and priests are called angels [Mal 2:7]. I mean to say that God begins from the higher place and comes down to the lower place. Man, instead, as he strives to ascend, goes from the lower to the higher place. In other words, man first leaves aside the exterior world and enters his own interior world, and only then from there he ascends to the knowledge of God.
     Well, how do you expect to be in your house if you are disturbed and full of external noise? Keep in mind what Jesus said: "When you pray, go into your room -- in your heart, that is -- and, closing the door -- namely, your feelings -- pray to your Father in secret and He will reward you" [Matt 6:6].

Conclusion of Part One: the human mind is like a water mill

     Conclude, then, by saying: That which causes us to be imperfect and unable to obtain the composure of our minds is our tongues and our failure to keep the second commandment. You see, your minds are like a water-mill, the wheel of which is in a continuous movement. Your minds, too, are in a continuous activity. If you throw wheat into the mill, it will grind wheat; if you throw darnel and vetch into it, it will grind darnel and vetch. Likewise, if you fill your minds with good images and good thoughts, your minds will be engaged with good thoughts; otherwise your minds will grind evil thoughts. This is mainly the result of idle and bad words, for these are often the seed and the fruits of human thoughts. That is why "your speech betrays you" [Matt 26:73].
     Examine, then, your tongues quite carefully, my friends, and see most of all whether you keep this second commandment or not. For, by keeping it, you will easily be able to reach perfection, else you will be toiling in vain, no matter what other people may think. Keep in mind the above mentioned saying, "If anyone thinks himself to be religious while not restraining his tongue, that man's religion is vain" [Jas 1:26].
     Well then, in order that you may more easily discover the corruption of your consciences, give heed to a short explanation of the second commandment, and then you will give your opinions.

Part two: The second commandment

  •  
    • [I] Exposition of the commandment

     God said: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" [Exod 20:7].

  •  
    • [II] Practice of the commandment
      • [II.A] Truthfulness and swearing

     By these words, my friends, we are commanded to tell the truth and forbidden to make false statements. We are, moreover, ordered never to swear except very seldom and only in order to witness to the truth. Thus, to swear frequently, even supposing that we tell the truth, is wrong because we call on God as a witness; and, of course, since God is the supreme Majesty, it is quite out of place to call on Him for any trifle. Besides, people many times swear out of bad habit about things for which they are later sorry. Herod, for instance, swore to his dancing step-daughter: "Whatever you ask of me I will give you, even half of my kingdom" [Mark 6:23] and later regretted it. Unwilling to break his oath, he gave her the head of John the Baptist -- leader in the school of virtue and grace. You see what a great evil came out of heedless swearing, don't you? O wretchedness of men! To them, swearing seems to be a trifle. They swear what is false as true, what is true as false; what is good as evil, what is evil as good; what is just as unjust, what is unjust as just; what is doubtful as certain, what is certain as doubtful. They swear against the commandments of God, against the commandments of the Church, against the salvation not only of their neighbor, but also against their own. How many times they promise to do and not to do something with opposite intention, knowing for sure that they will not be able to keep their promises! O wretched, unfortunate people! As long as they can make "a buck", they disregard everything else!

  •  [II.B] Blasphemy

     This commandment also forbids blaspheming, which all good souls abhor. Leaving, then, this topic aside, my friends, I now wish to have all your attention; for, if the above mentioned matters are grave, the following ones -- no matter how insignificant they appear to be to the worldly -- are nonetheless the cause of great evil.

  •  [II.C] Flattery

     You believe that flattery is an evil root, don't you? Well, keep believing so. People say: "It's raining." The flatterer backs up: "It's raining." And, "It's snowing;" "it's snowing." "So-and-so is a scoundrel;" "he truly is." "I'd like to do this;" "That's fine." "I wouldn't do that;" "that's wrong." Do flatter, if you wish: you will ruin yourselves and your brothers as well. And the worst of it is that flatterers many a time enjoy doing evil because you do not reproach them for it - indeed you praise them. All people who stand on ceremonies belong to this category. They are mainly the inferiors towards their superiors, but there are also some who esteem their neighbor far too higher than themselves and pay them excessive respect. If anyone would like to recount to you all the evils caused by flattery, do not believe him at all, for there are far too many to be counted.

  •  [II.D] Hypocrisy

     And again, dear friends, you may ask: how much evil is caused just by dissimulation and duplicity? It is enough for you to know that it is hateful to God [Prov 8:13], to the whole world, and to nature itself. Dissimulators deceive their friends, and the Holy Spirit abandons those who are double-hearted.

  •  [II.E] Lying

     And now, what about lying? Lying -- I mean that lying which does no harm to one's neighbor -- is quite the opposite of God. And yet, you people who by modern standard pass for "spiritual," you are such great liars! Paul, instead, never wanted to tell a lie, even though he could have won the whole world, and have it won for Christ [Phil 3:8]. And what about you?... Well, I'd rather keep my mouth shut, for charity's sake. Lying is contrary to the One who said, "I am the Truth." Lying is an offshoot of the devil [John 8:44]. Just one lie is enough to deprive you of your credibility. One lie caused Ananias and Sapphira's death. Lying destroys the whole foundation of the spiritual life. So, my friends, I urge you: shun lying, oh yes, shun it.

General conclusion

     Conclude, then, and say: I want to live according to the spirit; I want to become one spirit with God [1 Cor 6:7]; I want my citizenship to be in heaven [Phil 3:20]. I want to have God in my heart always, and indeed I can have Him -- difficult as it may be. Therefore, I want to bridle my tongue.
     I no longer want to swear and -- if I have to -- I will swear in truth, judgment, and justice [Jer 4:2].
     And I no longer want to use flattery, for they who flatter people are the very same ones who deceive them.
     I will no longer dissimulate, for God speaks only with the simple [Prov 3:22]. I will no longer lie, for otherwise I would be an offspring of the devil, who from the beginning did not stand in the truth and is a liar and the father of lies [John 8:44]; and, consequently, I would belong to his kingdom and be his heir.
     On the contrary, I will prepare my heart for God in all truth, in all simplicity, and in all sincerity. May He dwell in my heart forever through His grace and make it His temple. Amen.


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