IT WAS NICE to learn about Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) who, as the Wikepedia puts it, “was an Italian lawyer who has been beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. He was a former satanist who returned to the Christian faith and became a third order Dominican, dedicating his life to the Rosary and the Virgin Mary.”
Other sources provided some more information about him: he was orphaned early in life, he was involved in the nationalist movement of the time that was anti-Catholic, he became a Satanist in his 20s, he went into the occult, attended in séances, experimented on drugs, participated in orgies…There’s a lot more, but let’s spare ourselves from more unpleasant things.
But since all these did not give him peace, but rather a lot of problems including psychological and emotional ones, leading him to depression, he sought some relief and eventually was led back to the Catholic faith. Later, he became so deep a devotee of the Holy Rosary that St. John Paul described him as a man of the Rosary during his beatification.
His story, for sure, will elicit very reassuring responses from us who often wonder how we can become a saint as we should when we are hounded always by our weaknesses, temptations and sin itself. Sometimes, we think that to become a saint is impossible and that stories of saints are more fantasy and fiction than real. Or at best, saints are very special people who never went into really bad things.
Somehow, his story reminds us that God and his grace can take on anything we can mess ourselves in. There is always hope. As St. Paul said, “where sin has abounded, the grace of God has abounded more.” (Rom 5, 20) His story calls to mind that as said in the Book of Ezekiel, God does not take delight in the death of the wicked but in his salvation. (33, 11)
The writer Oscar Wilde also put it so succinctly: “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” In other words, we really have no reason to fear and to worry too much over our delicate condition here in this world.
But for all that, we should also be careful not to fall into the opposite side, which is presumption, or tempting God. That is to say, we can fall into the trick of the devil who can suggest to us that since God is very powerfully merciful and can forgive us our sins no matter how grave they are, then we can just go on sinning, or exert no adequate effort to avoid sin and temptation.
We have to be wary of the wiles of the devil who is good in the rebound if at a certain moment his initial attempts to tempt us fail. Tempting God by putting him to some test, or by presuming that he will forgive us anyway no matter what, is a grave sin and represents a big success for the devil.
Remember the devil tempting Christ himself. “The devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will life you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: Do not put the Lord you God to the test.’” (Mt 4, 5-7)
This is what tempting God is all about. When we are tempted by the devil, or by the world, or by our own selves, let’s never put God to the test by rationalizing that since God is all merciful, he will always forgive me if I fall to this temptation, or that he will not mind if I sin.
Fr. Roy Cimagala is the Chaplain of the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise, Talamban, Cebu City (email@example.com)/PN