True and False Piety

St. Paul teaches: “Godliness [piety] is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tm 4:8). Father Guibert remarks that “this praise of piety by St. Paul must seem strange to worldly folk, for the world does not esteem piety. . . . The world looks upon piety as useless. . . . It declares that the grounds for such a judgment are supplied by the pious themselves. It has examined the connection between their piety and their life, and it claims that their life gains nothing from their piety. So far as their piety is concerned, their life is neither purer, nor more fruitful, nor more devoted, nor less worldly, nor less selfish, nor less full of pride.”

Father Guibert replies: “Such a sweeping sentence is assuredly unjust. For amongst the pious there are a number of choice souls who are truly holy, humble, sympathetic, generous, ready for every sacrifice, diligent in the hardest of tasks, boldly making their way in life, and who are second to none in moral energy, in nobility of heart, and even in practical success. And to anyone who follows them closely, it is plain that it is their piety that sustains and makes them great, and that they draw from communion with God the strength to subdue their lower passions, and owe to prayer their lofty aspirations. And were not the Saints, who are the greatest of men, all moulded by piety?”

“But it must be admitted that by the side of these characters, who get their greatness from their piety, there are commonplace and vulgar souls who are taken up with the externals and practices of piety, and who, nevertheless, have been made no better by it. They wear a mask of piety, but know nothing of its living reality. They flatter themselves that they please God with their long prayers and their numerous medals and scapulars, and by joining all kinds of confraternities and third orders; and they forget that God takes no pleasure in these external things, unless they help to purify the heart, to subdue the passions, to make one fulfil the duties of one’s state of life and grow in moral perfection and social influence.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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