Pentecost - Eighteenth Sunday After (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"Our Individuality Before God"
By Rev. T. J. Brennan
My dear friends, the Gospel I have just read for you contains several lessons, this among others; that both we and our actions stand out distinctly in the sight of God. Numbers, however great, do not confuse Him; distance, however remote, does not dim His vision. Whether in the crowded city or in the trackless desert, we are known and noted, with everything that individualizes both ourselves and our conduct. Let us dwell on this thought for a moment.
You know it is very confusing to think of many individuals. The more acquaintances we have the less distinct are they in our minds. We all know, perhaps, twenty or thirty people well, as well as one human being can know another. We know a few hundred to talk with them socially, when we meet them, about the interests of life. And perhaps we know a few thousand by sight. Outside of these there are hundreds of millions living with us on the earth. We may speak of them as a body, yet to us they have no individuality. They are as undistinguished as the trees in the forest, or as the heads of corn in the field. They are always changing, the old ones departing, the young ones arriving; but to us the great mass always remains the same. If you add to these the millions and millions that were, the millions and millions that are to be, the thought becomes positively bewildering, the imagination refuses to act.
And yet every single one of those has a character, a history, an individuality of his own. We may, indeed, divide them off into races or generations, but that does not destroy their individuality. When we think, for example, of the English or Germans or Chinese we take certain types and multiply them by the number in these countries, and that is all. But that is a delusion. The type simply exists in books or in the imagination. When you come down to individuals there is only the faintest likeness to the type; the faintest likeness one to another. You may go into London with its millions, or into China with his hundreds of millions, and there are no two exactly, or even approximately, alike, either in body or in spirit; in disposition or endowments; in passions, temptations or difficulties. We can realize this best by considering and comparing those we know. Is there anyone among our acquaintances whom we can not distinguish from another without the slightest difficulty? Even in the same family, born of the same parents and raised in the same surroundings, how easy to tell them apart! Well, it is the same among the millions that now people or have peopled the earth. They are so many millions of individuals; it is only because of our limited powers of apprehension and attention that we think of them as nations or races.
Now this limited power of attention influences us to our injury. For unconsciously we transfer these limitations to God also. We all indeed feel that God looks down on and regards the human race that he has created; that He knows the wants of humankind and sends the rain and the sunshine in season. But then, latent within us is the idea that just as the individual character and doings of the multitude are obscure and vague in our minds; so also that to the mind of God the individual is lost in the teeming mass that moves hither and thither on the face of the earth. Each one of us has the idea that we do not stand out distinctly before God clothed in our individual joys and sorrows, needs and temptations. When we pray we have the idea that we are disadvantaged by the fact that we are but one among millions that are besieging the throne of God; when we sin or neglect our duties we shelter ourselves under the thought that our sin or neglect is lost in the multitudinous sins and negligences of the race; that though the race may have its prayers granted or its sins punished, yet that my individual prayer is too weak, my individual sin is too insignificant to be noticed by God. Hence, we become careless in prayer and good works; we become unscrupulous in doing evil. This, I say, comes from transferring to God our limited power of apprehension and attention.
Now, my dear friends, to correct that evil we have only to remember what God is in Himself, to remember what He has told us about Himself. In the second lesson of the Catechism it is asked: "Does God know all things?" And the answer is; "God knows all things, even our most secret thoughts and actions." That is the simple statement of a truth which we ought to keep constantly in our minds. God being infinite in all things must be infinite in knowledge; there can be no place, no being in creation beyond His vision. To him there is no such thing as near and far off, because He is in all places equally; there is no such thing as clear and obscure, because His light shines on every work of His hands; there can be no such thing as attending well at one time, and attending carelessly at another time, like a child at school, because in Him there is no change nor shadow of alteration. And however little we may understand it, yet it needs must be that each one of us must stand out individually, distinctly, in all our relations and characteristics before God. Supposing that only one human being existed in the world, and that he had been told, as we have teen, that God sees and knows all things, how he would have that as a guiding thought before him; how it would serve as an incentive to good, as a a check to evil. Well, each one of us is seen and known by God as if no other existed; to imagine it otherwise would be to misunderstand the infinite character of God's knowledge and vision. The single blade of corn in the field receives its plentitude of sun: but not the less fully does it come to the waving millions that grow by its side. So is it with us. God sees the race; but He sees you and me, as if you and I were alone in the world. Reason tells us that it must be so.
Has not our Divine Lord told us the same thing? Nay, He tells us that even the little birds of the air, which flit about so numerously and seemingly so undistinguished, that even these are noted and numbered by the all-seeing eye of God. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing; and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father" (Matt. x, 29). He even goes farther, and says: "The very hairs of your head are numbered" (Matt. x, 30), Does not the same appear from the recent Gospel: "There met Him ten men that were lepers." He took pity on their sad condition and He healed them. Only one returned to give thanks. Which of the Apostles, which of the bystanders, do you think, could have told how many more ought to have returned? I doubt if any could. But there was one who could and did: "Were not ten," He said, "made clean and where are the nine?" Which of those standing by could have told what was the nationality of him who came back to give thanks? Only He who knows all things: "There is no one found to return and give glory to God but this stranger." Number did not confuse Him; nationality did not escape Him; each one of the ten stood before Him marked and noted as if there were but one instead of ten.
That is what we must all remember, and that is what those nine forgot. Of the ten that were cured these nine said, each to himself: "I have indeed received a great favor; but there are nine others, and I leave it to them to return fitting thanks to our kind benefactor." Only one of the ten remembered that there was a personal obligation on himself, which no one only he could fulfill. He remembered the days of aching and sorrow through which he had passed; he remembered the prompt and kind answer of the Nazarene; so "he went back with a loud voice glorifying God; and he fell on his face before His feet giving thanks." It mattered not to him what the others did; his duty was plain and he did it. And that should be always our principle; To remember that God deals with us individually; to remember our individual relations with God. Neither the good nor the evil that we do is lost before God because of the amount of good or evil in the world. We may be one of ten, or we may be one of a hundred, or we may be one of millions, but we are always individualized in the sight of God. It must have been a revelation to the grateful Samaritan after returning to thank his benefactor to find that to such wonderful power he added an equally wonderful knowledge: "Were not ten made clean and where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God except this stranger."