The Scandal of Sterile Piety

Father Guibert notes: “If every kind of distortion of piety is to to avoided, it must also be prevented from becoming barren. It is sterile in those who ask for nothing from it, and who also get no profit out of it. It is a loss to them, if the time and the strength they spend in pious exercises yields them no return.”

“Piety falls into contempt among men, when it appears empty and unfruitful in those who practise it. The world knows you for a man of faith and piety. It knows that you attend church, that you receive the sacraments, that you read religious books day by day, that you have taken up certain devotions, and that your name is in the front rank in confraternities and associations for good works. But the world has its eye on you, and takes note of all you do. It sees that you give up none of the pleasures of your position, that you are proud when you are out, harsh and bad-tempered at home, and that your tongue utters bitter and poisonous things; your passions are stormy and not at all under control, and your virtue is not above suspicion. Then, what is the use of piety? What difference is there between you, who make a profession of it, and unbelievers, who speak against it? What result has the grace of Baptism had in your case? What strength do you get from prayer? . . . See to what scorn you expose [your piety], when your life shows that it has not made you better.”

“Just as saints bring honour to God, so do people whose piety is sterile lower Him in the thoughts of men. It is not that piety is able, all at once, to raise a soul to the height of virtue, but that, where it is sincere and active, it at any rate puts it in the way of perfection. But who has not observed that men judge one another, not by the position in which they actually are, but by the direction in which they are going? As long as our course is toward that which is better, our life will testify to truth and to the value of our piety.”

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

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