Delay not you conversion to the Lord,
put it not off day after day;
for suddenly his wrath flames forth;
at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. (Sirach 5:8-9)
It is the prophet, or rather God himself, who speaks today and addresses those words to us. Yes, let us turn back to the Lord now that there is still time, lest we not be able to do it when we want. There is no better opportunity to return to the Lord’s teachings than during these precious days of retreat.
In need as we are to travel along the paths of God … or to hurry back to them, if we have had the misfortune to stray from the path, I would like to share with you two reflections.
What is the law of Christ? It is a law of love and charity, which civilized the world. Compare the situation of the world before Christ and after Christ. This law of love is the greatest gift that was given to men and women. Jesus Christ himself gave this gift to the world a gift that was sealed by his blood and by the blood of all the martyrs. Therefore, we owe him our homage and our obedience. God wants us to live in accord with that gift and, if we do so, we will find happiness here on this earth. May young people learn to love the Lord’s burden … it is easy to carry and is full of sweetness. This divine law will teach us about our responsibilities. it will teach us how to bring to fulfillment all the hopes that our family and our country have placed in us.
Could we perhaps wait for some time to pass before returning to God? But what time could be more propitious than these holy days of prayer and blessing? We know that the future is uncertain. A thousand unforeseen circumstances could 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? We must keep away from circumventing with ruses the important matter of salvation. On the other hand, we must never forget that the desire for conversion is a grace that God does not always grant. If we had the misfortune to reject the graces that were offered to us today, we should be concerned that none will be given to us when we lay claim for them. If we do not want to convert at this present moment, a moment when we can, then we may not be able to convert at some later time when we want to do so. God often inflicts a punishment on those persons who ignore the graces he offers them. Yes, the mercy of God is great; but his justice is also infinite. God does not want us to reject grace because we might feel that we are unworthy of such a gift. Such feelings can lead us to become deaf to all his demands.
May we, as young Christians, turn to the Lord who calls us through his ministers. How great our sorrow will be if, as we see so many sinners returning to the paths of salvation, we reject that consolation. By striving to be good Christians throughout our lives, we will also become good citizens and will act in an honest manner in whatever profession we are called to exercise.
Frederic Ozanam, Lyon, March 1826. Cf. Urbain Legelay. Étude biographique sur Ozanam. Paris: Lecoffre, 1854, pp. 139-141.
- Although somewhat lengthy, I did not want to edit this text of Frederic. It is one of the earliest surviving texts: Frederic was twelve years old when he wrote those words. Prior to that, we have only three short letters that were addressed to his father on his birthday.
- Only a handful of writings are preserved from Frederic’s childhood and adolescence, mainly texts in Latin that were published in the school newspaper of Lyon (named L’Abeille française, The French Bee). We also have some brief letters that he wrote to his parents.
- Ozanam made his First Communion on May 11, 1826. Prior to that event, he together with his companions, made a retreat that was conducted by Abbe Donnet. This retreat master developed the theme of conversion and Frederic followed those sermons with attention and fervor. Later he wrote an article on this subject and the above cited text is taken from that article.
- The style of this text is quite distinct from that of his adult years when he had committed himself to defend the poor and the most vulnerable members of French society. As an adult Frederic also defended the ministry of the church, a ministry that he viewed as the construction of western civilization. Nevertheless, it is important that we see in this primitive text of Ozanam the passion that he preserved throughout his life. His language may appear as lofty, haughty, and at times, even severe. When analyzing this text, however, we must be mindful of the context which illuminates it and gives it meaning.
- Let us reflect on these thoughts of the twelve-year-old Frederic:
- The law of Christ “is a law of love and charity.” The gospel message reaches its culmination in the twofold commandment in which Jesus summarized “the law and the prophets”: Jesus was asked: which commandment in the law is the greatest? (Matthew 22:36), Jesus responded, 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 (Matthew 22:37-39). But for Christians, the measure of love will no longer be their love for themselves but their 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 (John 13:34).
- The law of Christ “civilized the world.” One of Frederic Ozanam’s life-long obsessions was to show the important role that the Catholic Church played in the construction of modern civilization. He wrote several books about that them and in his classes at the Sorbonne addressed that matter on a regular basis. A distinguished modern historian has stated: 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 we do not want to convert at this present moment, a moment when we can, then we may not be able to do so at some later time when want to do so. […] Yes, the mercy of God is great; but his justice is also infinite. […] May we, as young Christians, turn to the Lord who call us through his ministers. How great our sorrow will be if, as we see so many sinners returning to the paths of salvation, we reject that consolation.” In the context of a spiritual retreat when preparing to receive First Communion, Frederic exhorted his companions to approach the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with words often heard at that time. We can almost imagine and hear the preaching of the Abbe as he developed the theme of the “Last Things” (Death,Heaven, Hell, Purgatory…). Those themes were central to the preaching the occurred during the time of the popular missions. Times have changed and preaching styles have also been adapted to the present era. The threat with punishment is no longer emphasized but rather the focus is placed on the merciful love of a God who is still waiting for us and who calls us to build-up his Kingdom. Nevertheless, the call to conversion remains the same: God is the Father who awaits the return of his children and when they arrive God receives them with open arms (Luke 15:11-32). The father of the prodigal son did not ask questions about his son’s behavior … he simply embraced him, saw his repentant and humble heart, and welcomed him with joy and prepared a feast. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we acknowledge, personally and in community, that we are still on a journey and that many times we fall, but that God is always there willing to help us lift ourselves up … His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 135)
- “By striving to be good Christians throughout our lives, we will also become good citizens and will act in an honest manner in whatever profession we are called to exercise.” Frederic was clear: being good Christians will enable people to be good citizens. The true believer adheres to positive values that are shared by most members of society, whatever their creed. That is why Christians should not be content with merely fulfilling their social obligations but should understanding that more id demanded of them. Let us look at the following example: Christian entrepreneurs will be generous, will pay their employee a just wage, and will not be satisfied with complying with the minimum wage laws … that is what makes them good Christians.
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 Reconciliation?
- How important is the presence of Christians in society? In other words, are we viewed as being good citizens? Could we be better?
- Discuss the last example that appears in the reflection: Christian entrepreneurs will be generous, will pay their employees a just wage, and will not be satisfied with complying with the minimum wage laws … that is what makes them good Christians. Do we agree? Could we cite other examples of how Christians must fulfill — and go beyond — their moral and social obligations?