His heart shall be as hard as a stone and as firm as a smith’s anvil. God does not indeed harden the habitual sinner, but He withdraws His grace in punishment of his ingratitude for past favours; and thus his heart becomes as hard as a stone. And St. Thomas of Villanova says: “Hardness of heart is a sign of damnation.”
A bad habit hardens the heart, and God justly permits it in punishment of resistance to His calls. The Apostle says that the Lord hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will he hardeneth. (Rom. ix. 18). St. Augustine explains it thus: It is not that God hardens the habitual sinner; but He withdraws His grace in punishment of his ingratitude for past graces, and thus his heart becomes hard as a stone: His heart shall be hard as a stone, and as firm as a smith’s anvil. (Job xli. 15). Hence, when others are moved and weep on hearing sermons on the rigours of Divine justice, the pains of the damned, and the Passion of Jesus Christ, the habitual sinner is in no way affected; he will speak of these things, and hear them spoken of, with indifference, as if they were things that concerned him not; and he will only become more hardened: He shall be as firm as a smith’s anvil. Even sudden deaths, earthquakes, thunderbolts, and lightning, will no longer terrify him; and, instead of arousing him, and making him enter into himself, they will rather produce in him that stupor of death in which he hopelessly sleeps: At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered. (Ps. lxxv. 7). A bad habit by degrees destroys even remorse of conscience. To the habitual sinner the most enormous sin appears as nothing, says St. Augustine: “Sins, however horrible, when once habitual, seem little or no sin at all.” How can I thank Thee, O Lord, as I ought, for the many graces Thou hast bestowed on me!
How often hast Thou called me, and I have resisted! Instead of being grateful to Thee, and loving Thee for having delivered me from hell, and called me with so much love, I have continued to provoke Thy wrath by requiting Thee with insults. No, my God, I will no longer outrage Thy patience; I have offended Thee enough. Thou alone, Who art infinite love, couldst have borne with me till now. But I now see that Thou canst bear with me no longer; and with reason. Pardon, then, my Lord and my Sovereign Good, all my offences against Thee; of which I repent with my whole heart, for I purpose in future never to offend Thee again.
The commission of sin naturally carries along with it a certain shame; but, says St. Jerome, “Habitual sinners lose even shame in sinning.” St. Peter compares the habitual sinner to the swine that wallows in the mire (2 Peter ii. 22) As the swine that rolls in the mire perceives not the stench, so it is with the habitual sinner; that stench, which is perceived by all others, is unnoticed by him alone. And, supposing the mire to have deprived him also of sight, what wonder is it, says St. Bernardine, that he amends not even when God chastises him! “The people wallow in sin, as the sow in a pool of filth; what wonder is it if they perceive not the coming judgments of an avenging God!” Hence, instead of grieving over his sins, he rejoices in them, he laughs at them, he boasts of them: They are glad when they have done evil. A fool worketh mischief, as it were, for sport. (Prov. ii. 14; x. 23). What signs are not these of diabolical obduracy! They are all signs of damnation, says St. Thomas of Villanova: “Hardness of heart is a sign of damnation.” Tremble lest the same should happen to you. If perchance you have any bad habit, endeavour to break from it speedily, now that God calls you. And as long as your conscience smites you, rejoice; for it is a sign that God has not yet abandoned you. But amend, give up sin at once; for if not, the wound will become gangrenous, and you will be lost.
What! shall I, perchance, always continue to provoke my God? Ah, be appeased with me, O God of my soul; not through my merits, for which vengeance and hell alone are reserved, but through the merits of Thy Son and my Redeemer, in which I place my hope. For the love, then, of Jesus Christ receive me into Thy grace, and give me perseverance in Thy love. Detach me from all impure affections, and draw me wholly to Thyself. I love Thee, O great God, O Supreme Lover of souls, worthy of infinite love. Oh, that I had always loved Thee! O Mary, my Mother, grant that the remainder of my life may be spent, not in offending thy Son, but only in loving Him, and weeping over the displeasure O have caused Him.
(Tuesday Meditation for the Second Week of Lent – by St Alphonsus Liguori)