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Excerpts from Sermon XX: PALM SUNDAY
ON THE EVIL EFFECTS OF BAD HABITS
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
"Go ye into the village that is over against you, and immediately you shall find an ass tied." (Mat. 21, 2)
WISHING to enter Jerusalem, to be there acknowledged as the promised Messiah sent by God for the salvation of the world, the Saviour said to his disciples: "Go to a certain village, and you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them, and bring them to me." "The ass which was tied," says St. Bonaventure, "denotes a sinner." This exposition is conformable to the doctrine of the Wise Man, who says, that the wicked are bound by the chains of their own sins. "His own iniquities catch the wicked, and he is fast bound with the rope of his own sins." (Prov. v. 22.)

But, as Jesus Christ could not sit on the ass before she was loosed, so he cannot dwell in a soul bound with her own iniquities. If, then, brethren, there be among you a soul bound by any bad habit, let her attend to the admonition which the Lord addresses to her this morning. "Loose the bond from off thy neck, captive daughter of Sion." (Isa. Hi. 2.) Loose the bonds of your sins, which make you the slave of Satan. Loose the bonds before the habit of sin gains such power over you, as to render your conversion morally impossible, and thus to bring you to eternal perdition. This morning I will show, in three points, the evil effects of bad habits.

First Point. A bad habit blinds the understanding.
Second Point. It hardens the heart.
Third Point. It diminishes our strength.

First Point - A BAD HABIT BLINDS THE UNDERSTANDING

1. Of those who live in the habit of sin, St. Augustine says: "Ipsa consuetudo non sinit videre malum, quod faciunt." The habit of sin blinds sinners, so that they no longer see the evil which they do, nor the ruin which they bring upon themselves; hence they live in blindness, as if there was neither God, nor heaven, nor hell, nor eternity. "Sins," adds the saint, "however enormous, when habitual, appear to be small, or not to be sins at all." How then can the soul guard against them, when she is no longer sensible of their deformity, or the evil which they bring upon her?

2. St. Jerome says, that habitual sinners "are not even ashamed of their crimes." Bad actions naturally produce a certain shame; but this feeling is destroyed by the habit of sin. St. Peter compares habitual sinners to swine wallowing in mire. "The sow that was washed is returned to her wallowing in the mire." (2 Pet. ii. “22.) The very mire of sin blinds them; and, therefore, instead of feeling sorrow and shame at their uncleanness, they revel and exult in it. "A fool worketh mischief as it were for sport." (Prov. x. 23.) "Who are glad when they have done evil." (Prov. ii. 14.)
Hence the saints continually seek light from God; for they know that, should He withdraw His light, they may become the greatest of sinners. How, then, do so many Christians, who know by faith that there is a hell, and a just God, who cannot but chastise the wicked, how, I say, do they continue to live in sin till death, and thus bring themselves to perdition? "Their own malice blinded them." (Wis. ii, 21.) Sin blinds them, and thus they are lost.

3. Job says, that habitual sinners are full of iniquities. "His bones shall be filled with the vices of his youth." (xx. 11.) Every sin produces darkness in the understanding. Hence, the more sins are multiplied by a bad habit, the greater the blindness they cause. The light of the sun cannot enter a vessel filled with clay; and a heart full of vices cannot admit the light of God, which would make visible to the soul the abyss into which she is running. Bereft of light, the habitual sinner goes on from sin to sin, without ever thinking of repentance.

"The wicked walk round about," (Ps. xi. 9.) Fallen into the dark pit of evil habits, he thinks only of sinning, he speaks only of sins, and no longer sees the evil of sin. In fine, he becomes like a brute devoid of reason, and seeks and desires only what pleases the senses. "And man, when he was in honour, did not understand: he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them." (Ps. xlviii. 13.) Hence the words of the Wise Man are fulfilled with regard to habitual sinners. "The wicked man when he comes into the depth of sin, contemneth." (Prov. xviii. 3.) This passage St. Chrysostom applies to habitual sinners, who, shut up in a pit of darkness, despise sermons, calls of God, admonitions, censures, hell, and God, and become like the vulture that waits to be killed by the fowler, rather than abandon the corrupt carcass on which it feeds.

4. Brethren, let us tremble, as David did when he said: "Let not the tempests of water drown me, nor the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me." (Ps. Ixviii. 16.) Should a person fall into a pit, there is hope of deliverance as long as the mouth of the pit is not closed; but as soon as it is shut, he is lost. When a sinner falls into a bad habit, the mouth of the pit is gradually closed as his sins are multiplied; the moment the mouth of the pit is shut, he is abandoned by God.

Dearly beloved sinners, if you have contracted a habit of any sin, endeavour instantly to go out of that pit of hell, before God shall deprive you entirely of his light, and abandon you; for, as soon as he abandons you by the total withdrawal of his light, all is over, and you are lost.

Second Point. It hardens the heart.
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Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti; 1320; Assisi fresco Lower Basilica, San Francesco, Assisi, Italy; http://www.wga.hu
Among Christians, the title "Perpetual Help" is one of the better known titles of the Mother of God, especially among the most needy and afflicted who feel the need for love and protection. The original picture is an Eastern Icon that represents the Virgin of the Passion, painted to inspire hope and prayer. Its spiritual message far surpasses its artistic beauty. An icon is much more than the representation of a person or a historical event. The Icon of Perpetual Help raises our consciousness of the mysteries of the Redemption in Christ and of the intercession of Mary in favor of those who follow Christ, here in the arms of His Holy Mother.

Only with an attitude of faith and prayer can one admire this icon. The expression on Mary’s face is that of a mother who knows pain, and yet, extends her help with serenity and tenderness, as she invites us to obey the Will of God, even when we find it in suffering and the cross, and to offer our lives in service to Him and our neighbor as He did unto death.
http://www.catholictradition.org
"Make Her Known Throughout the World"
Pope Pius IX, January 1866, Church of St. Alphonsus, Rome
Prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Succor *
O MOTHER OF PERPETUAL SUCCOR, grant me the grace that I may always invoke Thy most beautiful name, which is the Succor, the help and deliverance of the living and the Hope of the dying. O Sweetest Mary, Mary of the small and forgotten, make it so that from this day forward your name be the breath of my life. Whenever I call you, my Mother, hurry to succor me, for, in all my temptations, in all my needs, I shall never cease to call on Thee, always invoking Thy sacred name, Mary, Mary, My Mother. O what consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what tenderness fills my entire being when I just utter Thy sacred name or think of Thee, my Mother. I bless and thank God for having given Thee, for our good, that name so sweet, so powerful, so lovely. Moreover I am not content with merely uttering Thy name; I want to pronounce it with love, I want that love to always remind me that I must always turn to Thee, Mother of Perpetual Succor. Amen
Our Mother of Perpetual Help, with Archangel Michael (left) and Raphael (right) holding the implements of the Passion; 15th Century Marian Byzantine icon; http://commons.wikimedia.org
Apse with Original Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori Church, Rome; http://commons.wikimedia.org
* N.b.: Succor means Delivery, Efficacious and Prompt Help,
   not just regular assistance or "Help".

   English translated from original Spanish by Jan Paul von Wendt
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