Peace! What peace? No, says God, There is no peace to the wicked. (Is. xlviii. 22). If anyone has a powerful enemy, he can neither eat nor sleep in peace; and can he who has God for an enemy, rest in peace?
Not only does Solomon say that the pleasures and riches of this world are but vanities that cannot satisfy the heart, but that they are pains which afflict the spirit: Behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Eccles. i. 14). Poor sinners! They think to gain happiness by their sins, but they find only bitterness and remorse: Destruction and unhappiness in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known. (Ps. xiii. 3). Peace! What peace! No, says God: There is no peace to the wicked. (Is. xlviii. 22). In the first place, sin brings with it the terror of Divine vengeance. If anyone has a powerful enemy, he can neither eat nor sleep in peace; and can he who has God for an enemy rest in peace? Fear to them that work evil. (Prov. x. 29). If there is an earthquake, or if it thunders, how does not he tremble who is living in sin! Every leaf that moves alarms him: The sound of dread is always in his ears. (Job xv. 21). He is ever flying, though he sees not who pursues him: The wicked man fleeth when no man pursueth. (Prov. xxviii. 1). And who pursues him? His own sin. Cain, after he had killed his brother Abel, said: Everyone, therefore, that findeth me shall kill me. (Gen. iv. 14). And although the Lord assured him that no one would injure him–No, it shall not be so –yet, as the Scripture says, Cain was always a fugitive from one place to another: He dwelt as a fugitive on the earth. (Gen. iv. 16). What persecuted Cain but his own sin?
Moreover, sin brings with it remorse of conscience–that cruel worm that gnaws without ceasing. The wretched sinner goes to the play, the ball, the banquet; but, says his conscience: Thou art at enmity with God; and if thou wert to die, whither wouldst thou go? Remorse of conscience is so great a torment even in this life, that to rid themselves of it, some have even deliberately destroyed themselves. One of these, as we all know, was Judas, who hanged himself in despair. It is related of another, that, having killed a child, he became a Religious to fly from the pain of remorse of conscience; but not having found peace even in Religion, he went and confessed his crime to a judge, and caused himself to be condemned to death.
O my wasted life! O my God, had I but suffered to please Thee the pains that I have suffered to offend Thee, how much merit should I not now have for Heaven! Ah, my Lord, for what did I leave Thee, and lose Thy grace? For brief and empoisoned pleasures, which vanished almost as soon as possessed, and which left my heart full of thorns and bitterness. Ah, my sins, I detest and curse you a thousand times; and I bless Thy mercy, O my God, which has borne so patiently with me. I love Thee, O my Creator and Redeemer, Who hast given Thy life for me; and because I love Thee, I repent with all my heart of having offended Thee.
God compares sinners to a stormy sea: The wicked are like the raging sea, which cannot rest. (Is. lvii. 20). I ask of you, if any one were taken to a musical festival, or to a ball or feast, and to be there suspended with his head downwards, could he enjoy that amusement? Such is the sinner’s state whose soul is, as it were, turned upside down, being in the midst of the enjoyments of this world, but without God. He may eat, and drink, and dance; he may wear to great advantage that rich apparel, receive those honours, obtain that dignity, or those possessions, but peace he will never have: There is no peace to the wicked. Peace comes from God alone; and God gives it to His friends, not to His enemies.
The pleasures of this earth, says St. Vincent Ferrar, run dry; they enter not into the heart: “They are waters which penetrate not where there is thirst.” The sinner may wear rich embroidered robes or a splendid diamond on his finger; he may indulge the sense of taste according to his inclination; but his poor heart will remain full of thorns and bitterness; therefore shalt thou behold him, with all his riches, pleasures, and amusements, always unquiet, and at every contradiction infuriated and angry, like a mad dog. He who loves God resigns himself under adverse events to the Divine Will, and finds peace; but he cannot do this who is an enemy to the will of God, and therefore he has no way of tranquillising himself. The unhappy man serves the devil,– serves a tyrant who repays him with grief and bitterness. Ah, the word of God cannot fail, which says: Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God with joy and gladness of heart … thou shalt serve thy enemy … in hunger and thirst and nakedness, and in want of all things. (Deut. xxviii. 47, 48). What does not that revengeful man suffer when he has avenged himself! That unchaste man when he has gained his object! That ambitious, that avaricious man! Oh, how many, did they but suffer for God what they suffer in order to damn themselves, would become great Saints!
My God, my God, why have I lost Thee; and for what have I exchanged Thee? I now know the evil I have done; and I resolve to lose everything, even life itself, rather than Thy love. Give me light, Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus Christ; make me know how great a good Thou art, and how vile are those pleasures which the devil offers me to make me lose Thy grace. I love Thee; but I desire to love Thee more. Grant that Thou mayest be my only thought, my only desire, my only love. I hope all things from Thy goodness, through the merits of Thy Son. Mary, my Mother, through the love thou bearest to Jesus Christ, I implore thee to obtain for me light and strength to serve Him, and to love Him until death.
(Lenten Meditation for Friday after Ash Wednesday – St Alphonsus Liguori)