Do not delay turning back to the Lord,
do not put it off day after day.
For suddenly his wrath will come forth;
at the time of vengeance, you will perish. (Sir 5, 7).
It is the prophet, or rather God himself, who speaks by my mouth today and addresses these words. Yes, turn back to the Lord now that you still have time, for fear that you would not be able to do it when you want. There is no better opportunity to return to the holy doctrine of the Lord than these precious days of retreat.
In need as you are to march on the paths of God and to hurry back to them, if you had the misfortune to leave, I will share with you two reflections.
What is the law of Christ? It is a law of love and charity, which civilized the world. Compare what the world was before Christ and what it was after. This holy law is the greatest benefit that the creatures of the Creator received. Jesus Christ himself gave it to the world, and was sealed by his blood and by the blood of all martyrs; we owe him our homage and our obedience, as we owe our adoration to his divine author. God wants us to follow it and, by a singular privilege of His divine grace, we can be happy, even here on earth, by following it. Oh young people, learn, then, to love the yoke of the Lord! It is easy to carry, it is full of sweetness. This divine law will teach you all your duties; it will teach you to bring to fulfillment all the hopes that your family and your country have put in you.
Could we perhaps wait some time to return to God? But, what moment can be more propitious than these holy days of prayer and blessing? You know it: the future is uncertain; a thousand unforeseen circumstances may surprise you and take away the means to return to God. Is there anything more uncertain in life? Who can count on the next day? You will keep away from circumventing with ruses of the important matter of salvation. On the other hand, never forget that the desire for conversion is a grace that God does not always grant. If you had the misfortune to cheat on the graces that are offered to you today, worry that none will be given to you when you claim for them. If you do not want to convert when you can, you may not when you want. It is the punishment that God often inflicts on those who ignore the graces he offers them. Yes, indeed, the mercy of God is great; but also his justice is infinite. It does not seem that his glory and the order of the world are asking you to reject a grace of which the sinner knows unworthy, closing the ear to all his demands.
Young Christians, turn to the Lord, who calls you through his minister. How great our sorrow will be if, as we see so many sinners returning to the paths of salvation, we reject this comfort. By preparing to be good Christians throughout your lives, you will also reach to be good citizens and to behave honestly in whatever career you are called to.
Frederic Ozanam, Lyon, March 1826. Cf. Urbain Legelay. Étude biographique sur Ozanam. Paris: Lecoffre, 1854, pp. 139-141.
- Although a little long, I did not want to condense this text of Frederic. It is one of the earliest surviving texts of him: he was only twelve when he wrote it. Before this text, we only keep three small letters, addressed to his father on his birthday or onomastic.
- In addition, only a handful of writings are preserved from his childhood and adolescence, mainly texts in Latin, texts published in the school newspaper of Lyon (named L’Abeille française, The French Bee) and brief letters to his parents.
- Ozanam made his First Communion on May 11, 1826. Prior to it he made, together with his companions, a retreat lead by Abbe Donnet. The preacher developed the subject of the conversion, and Frederic followed the sermons with attention and fervor; on which he later wrote this article.
- The style of this text, evidently far away from those wrote in his adult times, when devoted in word and deed in his work to defend the poor and the most unprotected classes in French society (the workers, for example) and to defend the fundamental work of the church as constructor of the western civilization. But it is important that we see in this primitive text of Ozanam the passion preserved throughout his life when defending his convictions. His language may sound high-pitched, haughty, even too severe at times; when analyzing this — and any other text — we have not to forget its “context,” which illuminates it and gives it its full significance.
- Let’s take a look at some thoughts that appear in this text of a boy (let’s not forget) of only 12 years:
- The law of Christ “is a law of love and charity.” The evangelical message has its culmination and center in the double commandment in which Jesus Christ condensed “the law and the prophets”: when they ask: “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mt 22:36), Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” But for a Christian, the measure of love will no longer be love for oneself but the love of Jesus Christ: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (Jn 13:34).
- The law of Christ “civilized the world.” One of Frederic Ozanam’s obsessions throughout his life was to show the important role that the Catholic Church played in the construction of modern civilization. He wrote several books about it, and even in his classes at the University of La Sorbonne the subject appeared very regularly. We read a distinguished modern historian to say that “Western civilization owes far more to the Catholic Church than most people — Catholics included — often realize. The Church, in fact, built Western civilization. Western civilization does not derive entirely from Catholicism, of course; one can scarcely deny the importance of ancient Greece and Rome or of the various Germanic tribes […]. The Church repudiated none of these traditions, and in fact absorbed and learned from the best of them. What is striking, though, is how in popular culture the substantial — and essential — Catholic contribution has gone relatively unnoticed.” (Thomas E. Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Chapter 1).
- “If you do not want to convert when you can, you may not when you want. […] Yes, indeed, the mercy of God is great; but also his justice is infinite. […] Young Christians, turn to the Lord, who calls you through his minister. How great our sorrow will be if, as we see so many sinners returning to the paths of salvation, we reject this comfort.” In the context of spiritual exercises preparing to receive First Communion, Frederic exhorted his companions to approach the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with words often heard in his time: we can almost intuit that the preaching of the Abbe dealt with the “Last Things” (Heaven, Death, purgatory…), since they were also subjects of the core preaching during missions. Times have changed and preaching forms have also been adapted. It is no longer the threat with punishment what is emphasized in preaching, but rather the merciful love of a God who is still waiting for us and calls us to build his Kingdom. But the call to conversion remains the same: God is the Father who waits, as in the parable, the return of his son, to receive him with open arms (Lk 15:11-32). The father of the prodigal son did not ask him about his past: he simply embraced him, saw his repentant and humble heart, and welcomed him with joy and feast. In the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation we acknowledge, personally and in community, that we are still on our way and that many times we fall, but that God is always willing to help us to raise … “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 135).
- “By preparing to be good Christians throughout your lives, you will also reach to be good citizens and to behave honestly in whatever career you are called to.” Frederic was clear: being good Christians, we will be good citizens. The true believer follows values that are positive and mostly shared by all members of society, whatever their creed. That is why it is absolutely undesirable for a Christian to not fulfill his social duties and even go beyond them. Let’s take a revealing example of the many that could be shown: a Christian entrepreneur will be generous, will pay appropriately to his employees, and not only will be satisfied with complying with the minimum wage. If he did not, he would not be a good Christian.
Questions for dialogue:
- What other ideas would we highlight in Frederic’s text? Are they still valid in our 21st century society?
- What value do the Sacraments have in my life, in particular the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?
- How important is the presence of Christians in society? In other words, are we considered good citizens? We really are? Could we be better?
- We can discuss the last example that appears in the reflection: “a Christian entrepreneur will be generous, will pay appropriately to his employees, and not only will be satisfied with complying with the minimum wage. If he did not, he would not be a good Christian.” Do we agree? Do we come up with other examples of how a Christian must fulfill — and go beyond — moral and social obligations?
Tags: Frederic Ozanam