Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Mercenary Piety" from "A Diary of Readings"

A quote from Père Jean Nicolas Grou The School of Jesus Christ (ca. 1795) English translation 1932 quoted in John Baillie A Diary of Readings ( (1955, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons)

"If we look into our hearts, we shall be filled with confusion when we see there the mean, mercenary ideas that form the bond of our intercourse with God.
Are we not of the number of those who, like the Jews [ read biblical Pharisees] have no object in their prayers but temporal benefits, those who pray earnestly for the fatness of the earth but never ask for the dew of heaven? Are not our churches full [ca. 1795] whenever public calamities overtake us, and quite deserted in times of prosperity? When our domestic affairs are disturbed, or we are involved in a vexatious lawsuit, or are in danger of some serious loss we become very devout, we resort to prayer, and ask our priest and pious friends to help us. When our life, or the life of our husband or a beloved child is in danger, we have Masses said, we begin Novenas and invoke the Saints. Events and circumstances awaken our religion, as though there were no need to pray to God except in illness and sorrow. As soon as affairs take a turn for the better and the danger is past, our devotion vanishes; the most we think of doing is to thank God for the successful end of our troubles; after a short act of gratitude we forget Him, and think of nothing but our pleasures. Speaking generally, it is true to say that the necessities and accidents of life form the main subject and the actuating motive of the prayers of the ordinary Christian."

Do you blame us, they may ask, for thus appealing to God in times of temporal need? I am very far from doing so, since it is God’s own intention to call us back to Himself by such needs, and we can do nothing better than appeal to Him on these occasions. What I blame is that He is never invoked except for these needs, as though there were no other blessing and no other evils than those of the present life. What I blame is that God is forgotten as soon as these needs are supplied, as soon as these evils are averted and these blessings secured. Truly it is altogether too material, too carnal, to make piety a matter of such aims and events as these."