Pentecost - Fourteenth Sunday After (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"Living Up To Our Religion"
By Rev. H. G. Hughes
Men of the world, my dear brethren, take more care about their worldly interests and affairs, and spend more time over them, than do Christians, in many cases, in regard to the things of eternal salvation. The only remedy for this is a firm and constant determination on our part to live up to the teachings of our holy religion, to be, in other words, thoroughly good Catholics; and I shall speak to you therefore to-day on this important subject.
Let us go back to the beginning of the Church's history, and imagine one of the friends and followers of our Divine Savior standing at the entrance to the empty tomb of Jesus on the morning of His glorious resurrection. Imagine that he has lived, with the rest of Christ's friends, through the sad and terrible hours from the night when Jesus was betrayed to the desolate moment when the sacred lifeless Body was laid in the sepulcher. Imagine that now, standing before that tenantless grave, he realizes with unutterable joy the truth of the angels' words: "He is risen; He is not here." And suppose that a flash of supernatural light floods his soul, and reveals to him the whole meaning of the life, death, and Resurrection of the Savior of mankind. Then, if he had wished to sum up that meaning in one short sentence, he could not have done it better or more truly than in the inspired words of the Apostle St. Paul: "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification." In those few words, indeed, is summed up the whole spiritual history of the human race, the whole merciful purpose of God in our redemption. And the mental vision of that disciple whom we have imagined thus enlightened would have to travel backwards and forwards, would have to cover the past and the future, in order to see in its fullness the meaning of the life and death of Jesus summed up in those words: "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification." "Sin" and "justification," those are the two reasons for the death and resurrection of God-made Man; the reasons why He became man and fled, and rose again the third day. But those two words carry us back to the beginning of man's history upon earth, and on to the end of the world, when the work of God's redeeming Love shall be finished, ad the number of the elect made up, and Satan and his followers chained at last and for ever in hell, never to work their mischief again.
Let us now, my brethren, as far as time will allow, imitate what we have imagined that disciple doing at the empty tomb. Let us cast our mental vision back to the beginning of man's history - to his creation by God. As for the future, some of what was future to the disciples of Jesus is present to us; we live in it, and I shall not ask you to go beyond it except by remembering that what Jesus is doing for us now is to have its final and complete effect only after the last great enemy, death, has been destroyed, and the new heavens and the new earth are come.
When God created man He endowed him with wonderful natural powers and faculties, with a wonderful beauty that in themselves made him an image and likeness of his Creator. He gave him an understanding capable of knowing God, a will capable of loving God, many powers of body and soul capable of being ranged in an orderly harmony of subjection to man's reason and will and brought into play in that which would have been in any case man's highest end - the loving service of his Creator.
If God had left man in this natural condition, with simply his natural powers, and if man had served God with these natural powers, knowing God in the mirror of creation, loving God with a natural love proportioned to that knowledge, then man's reward would have been for eternity a very perfect, yet merely natural, knowledge of God through the study and contemplation of the works of His Hands, and a very great, but merely natural love of God corresponding to that study and contemplation.
There was no necessity for God to do more than this; no necessity for Him to call His creature to any higher destiny.
But God did not leave man with only his natural powers; He did call him to a higher destiny. When we open the New Testament, especially the Epistles of St. Paul and other Apostles, we find that we are called by God to a destiny so high and wonderful that even with our Christian faith to help us we can form a faint idea only of its nobility.
It is nothing less than the face to face sight of God in heaven, with all that this includes. And this means a direct knowledge of God - seeing Him, not in the mirror of created things, but "as He is." It means being adopted into the Divine Family of the Blessed Trinity; having God for our close, intimate Friend and Companion forever, sharing in God's own blessedness and happiness, sharing, by knowledge and love, the Divine Life itself. But God would not bring man to this glorious end without some cooperation on man's own part; or, to put it another way, God willed to put it into man's power to earn this heavenly reward by loving service. Yet no service of man, not the best actions of man have any power in themselves to deserve a reward so high; and besides this, man has no natural power of faculty in his soul by which He could see God face to face, or know Him as He is. That man himself should be raised to the capability and power of seeing God face to face, knowing Him as He is, loving Him with a love so intimate that the affection of lovers is but a faint image of it, and that man's actions during his earthly life should be raised to the capability of leading to this heavenly consummation, a supernatural gift was necessary, raising man's soul to a higher state, putting his actions upon a higher, supernatural plane.
That supernatural gift God gave to man at his creation; He gave it to Adam and Eve, our fist parents. By that gift, a heavenly gift, poured out in their souls by the Holy Spirit Himself; they were made holy with holiness from God; they were made God-like, their actions supernaturalized and made worthy of the eternal recompense of the Beatific Vision; they themselves made not merely servants, but loved children of their heavenly Father; and Divine charity, supreme love of God filled their hearts. It was the gift of GRACE.
Brethren, you know the sad history of how all this was lost, for them and for us. It was lost by sin. Because of that sin we are born into the world deprived of sanctifying grace with its right to heaven, with its sonship of God. That sad lack of grace, with the deformity of soul which is the consequence, is what we mean by original sin. I need not dwell on the other consequences of the sin of Adam, on the perversity of will, the inclination to evil, the personal sins which these things lead us into, the physical evil and woe, and death itself that came into the world through sin; its worst consequence is the one I wish to dwell on now, the loss of sanctifying grace, and with that the loss of heaven and of God.
Brethren, St. Paul tells us how sin brought death into this world. Had it brought only bodily death, that would have been a small thing. But it brought the death of souls, spiritual death; the death of supernatural goodness and holiness in men's hearts; the death of supernatural knowledge of God; the impossibility of reaching that high and noble destiny for which we were made by God: it closed the gates of the heavenly life to men, and opened the gates of death and hell; it tore man from God, his Father, and made him the slave of sin and Satan.
But "He was delivered up for our sins." By His death, Christ Jesus our Lord made atonement for all our sins, won back for us the lost gift of grace; gave us, too, in giving us grace, the gift of Divine charity, pardon of our sins, and the power of casting off sin and of winning heaven, made possible and more than possible for us the attainment of our sublime destiny - the blessed sight and possession of our God when this poor life is over. And all this, dear brethren, is what we mean by justification. When these effects are found in a man's soul, brought into that soul by the outpouring within it by the Holy Ghost, of the Divine gift and influence of sanctifying grace, we say that that man is justified. And this justification was won for all of us by the passion and death of our Redeemer.
But, my brethren, you may ask, and not unnaturally, "If the death of Jesus won our justification, how are the words of St. Paul true: 'He rose again for our justification'"
Brethren, I reply that, while the death of Christ merited of itself all the blessings that we have as Christians, yet those fruits of the Passion have to be applied to each individual soul throughout the ages. They might have been applied to us, brought into our souls - pardon, grace, charity, holiness might have been acquired had God so willed it, by a simple act of faith in the past.
But God has not chosen that they should be acquired regularly in that way. He has chosen a more wonderful way. He has chosen that the risen Christ should dwell and work amongst men now and always; that there should be on earth, and all over the earth, sacred places to which men can point and say: "Here dwells our risen Lord; there He works; there He may be found; there I can come to Him and there find His pardon, His grace and justification."
More than this, God has chosen that we should be brought into close and intimate touch and connection with our risen Lord, so that from the ocean of grace that is in Him, which flows from the Godhead into His sacred humanity, streams of grace should flow from Him into us.
Brethren, this is a reality. Christ said of Himself and us: "I am the vine, you are the branches"; and as the sap flows from the main trunk into the furthest tendrils that are putting forth their young life, so the grace of Christ flows from Him to the least of His members. Members, I say, for so again we are, members of Him who is our Head. Again and again St. Paul uses this comparison of the human body to teach us this doctrine of the close union of redeemed souls with our Incarnate Lord. We are members, he says, of Christ; Christ is the Head. But members and a Head make up a Body - and, says the Apostle, "so also is Christ." Christ has a Body, and we are members of that Body; and St. Paul tells us again what that Body is. "Christ," he says, "is the Head of the Body, the Church.
The living, risen Christ, has a body, then, on earth, animated by His spirit; and from Him grace and charity and all spiritual gifts flow throughout the body to each member; that body is the Catholic Church - the Church of which the Apostle says that Christ purchased her to Himself upon the Cross.
Thus, then, is it true that Christ rose again for our justification. He rose, indeed, because the gate of death could not confine the Lord of Life; He rose that the humanity in which He suffered might receive the reward of glory; He rose to prove that His message was true; He rose that it might be known that when He claimed to be God He did not deceive us; He rose to give us the pledge of a future resurrection; but He rose also to live on in His holy Church, to gather unto Himself living members till the end of time.
And so that disciple whom we imagined at the beginning, looking forward would have seen what we see now - the glorious Church of God, with her holy Sacraments instituted by Jesus when He was on earth, as the means of conveying grace and pardon to us. Her Holy Sacrifice wherein day by day Christ is offered up and His merits put into our hands to plead for us here below; the Church, Christ's Body, His means of carrying on still the life of the Incarnation amongst us, of working His work of salvation and preaching the truths of life through His consecrated ministers. He was delivered up for our sins; but He rose again for our justification, and in His Church on earth for our justification He lives His risen Life.
Brethren, I beseech you to walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called. Children of light, children of the Catholic church, members of Christ's Body, cast not away your glorious privileges by sin, by carelessness, by indifference. Be not less wise in your generation, that is, in heavenly things, than the children of the world in theirs. Oh, if all Catholics realized what it is to be a Catholic there would be no necessity to go and beg people to come to Mass, to receive the Sacraments, to listen to God's truth which only in the Catholic Church is fully known and taught. A Catholic can miss the blessings of Catholic life; by sin, by mortal sin, we can stop the channels by which Divine grace should flow into our souls.
Let it not be so with any of us, but rather let us drink in those blessings to the full, and cherish as our dearest possession that Divine grace that flows to us in the Church from Jesus, and will bring us to the sight and love of God in heaven.