Pentecost - Twenty-Seventh Sunday after
Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
Both the Epistle and the Gospel for today teach us the value of Christian doctrine. The Gospel is preached to us in order that we may have the merit of believing it. But that is not the only and ultimate reason. It is preached to us in order that it may be a light to show us the way of living rightly, in order that we may save our souls. We live rightly in the natural order by following the guidance of reason. But then we are called to a supernatural destiny, and for that the mere light of reason is not enough. The mind needs the further enlightenment of a divine revelation. This Gospel is embodied in rational language, but it is made supernaturally effective by the inward action of the Holy Spirit. Like the whole of the Christian economy, the preaching of God’s Word is of a Sacramental nature. There is the outward written or spoken word and there is the inward spiritual and moving power. “For our Gospel hath not been to you in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Spirit.”
Our Lord Himself described this characteristic of His message in the two parables, the one of the mustard seed, the other of the leaven. He had previously shown how different people would receive His preaching of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven was likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Cockle might be sown by the enemy, but nevertheless the good seed would bring forth a rich harvest. The doctrine taught by Christ and preached by the Apostles was supported and vivified by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord would change His metaphor to illustrate this wonderful power of expansion.
The Kingdom of Heaven was like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. IT might look insignificant and, as far as appearances might indicate, incapable of producing anything great or important. But it had a principle of growth in it. The smallest could develop into the greatest. The little plant could become a tree, so that the birds of the air could dwell in the branches thereof. The Kingdom of Heaven was also like to leaven. Three measured of meal without leaven would give but poor satisfaction to the woman who had to provide food for a large household. But the leaven would make all the difference. The hidden working would produce results which a superficial observation could never have surmised. Thus the two parables show us the normal manner of the working of the Gospel. It is preached in plain and simple language. IT works quietly sand secretly. But eventually it transforms the whole world.
To expect such enormous results from so little a cause would seem to make a great demand on our venturesomeness. Yet our Lord expressly asks us to make the venture. He could hardly have chosen a greater contrast between effect and cause, than when he compared the mustard seed with a mountain. He had cast out a devil from a lunatic child, and when His Disciples wondered why they could not cast out the devil, Our Lord told them that it was because they had not made this venture of faith, so little and yet so great. “Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard see, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
Our Lord then, by His authorized preachers, sows this seed in the hearts of men. But also by His grace, He moves men to accept the authorized teaching. Thus, God works both from without and from within, in order to carry out His work of free Salvation. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God.” We see how very necessary this higher help was when we reflect on the nature of the revelation which was given to us. It was the doctrine of the Incarnation. We had to assent to such theses as these, that God suffered, that God hung on the Cross of Calvary, that God lay in the Holy Sepulcher, that God, who the Life of all, died and rose from the dead. This was a very simple story, but it was fraught with tremendous issues. And this seemingly little thing, the assent of an act of faith, was the means by which we were to apply to ourselves the great salvific sacrifice undertaken by God. So important was it that St. Paul preferred to spend his life preaching about it rather than administering the Sacrament. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not in wisdom of speech, lest the cross of Christ should be made void. For the word of the cross, to them indeed that parish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God.”
Then that which indeed is the least of all the seeds, when it is grown up, becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the branches thereof. It is greater than all the herbs. The law was for the Jews only. The Gospel is for all the world. It is a wisdom which is suitable for all sorts and conditions of men, for it places before all men their common origin, their common destiny, and the means by which they may arrive at their destiny. It seeks to adjust the relationship between various classes of men, the rich and the poor, the masters and the workmen, the rulers and the ruled, the married and the single, the clergy and the lay-folk. It regards the whole of the organic Kingdom of Christ. But meanwhile, until the final phase of the Kingdom is reached where everything is perfect, it has a special regard to each individual soul. The poor man may have to wait and wait until he gets a living wage. But with the Gospel of Christ in his heart he always has a philosophy of life by which he can bear with injustice, by which he can turn to his own eternal profit all unhappy experiences, by which he can rise above the sordidness of the world of sin and save his soul. It is the Christian doctrine which informs him and Christian grace which makes him certain that, “that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”
The continuance of injustice in the world ever tends to dishearten those who think a little about it and do not think enough. But the parable of the leaven enlightens us to a more reasonable judgment of the problem. The Kingdom which Christ came to preach was to have two phases, one initial, the other final. The work of spiritual renewal was to begin immediately. The Kingdom of Heaven is at the doors. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. But it was not to be made perfect until the end of the world. Meanwhile the work of spiritual renewal was to go on unceasingly. The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. It was to a little band of men that the commission to preach was given. That corporate body was to continue the leavening influence until the end of time. “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
The need of such a doctrine and of an authorized custodian and interpreter of the doctrine is realized, when we observe the tendencies in religious thought to-day. On all sides we see a tendency to undervalue definiteness in religious teaching. Words are used to signify religious verities, but there is frequently no definite meaning to the words. For instance, some preachers, not wishing to deny outright the Divinity of Jesus, will say that Jesus is unique, but will not admit that Jesus is God. They will speak of the Eucharist in such a way that one cannot tell whether they believe in the Real Presence or in the real absence. Hard and fast definition, the argue, is incompatible with living thought. Such cast-iron bonds, they maintain, only serve to fetter the soul in its flight heavenward.
These suggestions might have some force in them if the Gospel had been preached by word only. If the Apostles had gone forth with the principle of the Bible and the Bible only, then their teaching would certainly have become fossilized long before our present day. But that is just what St. Paul expressly denied. “For our Gospel,” he says, “hath not been to you in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Ghost.”
A time, however, did come when men broke away from the living deposit of the faith and pinned their confidence on the dead letter of the Gospel. But the result was that their spiritual energy gave out, whilst their sect gave birth to a class of philosophers who rejected the literal word of the Bible and set up the law of mere reason as the guide of conduct. Rationalism was the child of Protestantism. The rationalists wanted neither the revealed word for the mind nor the divine grace for the heart. Man was a law and a destiny to himself.
But, as it turned out, there were many urgent problems of life which such a philosophy failed to solve. Men professing no religion were living in a world in which men lived who did profess religion. There are 200 million Catholics in the world. And all, Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and Pagans, Theists and Atheists, Believers and Agnostics, all are part of the one social organism. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is working in the organism. There is a hidden leaven which is leavening the whole lump. Hence in this twentieth century we see a religious movement which acknowledges a Spiritual Power behind the phenomenal world, but which does not acknowledge the visible complement of the Spiritual Power. From the belief in the merely materialistic there is a reaction toward a position of the merely spiritualistic. The result is that the new movement comes to nothing. Its energy is dissipated for want of proper guidance. A religion of the spirit is as much unfitted for human nature as a religion of matter.
In the Gospel of to-day, Our Lord gives us the key which will deliver us from all these extreme doctrines. “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.” It is through he visible and the material that God utters the invisible and the spiritual. “All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitude, and without parables He did not speak to them”
The God of revelation is also the God of reason. The God of the supernatural is also the God of the natural. He who could evolve a great tree from the least of seeds, could first involve the power in the seed. He who could make three measures of meal could also make a leaven capable of fermenting the whole of it. So, also, He Who has made a whole world, the majority of whose inhabitants know Him so little, has also made a whole Church, which is capable of sanctifying the whole race. Philosophies come and go, but the Church ever remains with one and the same Gospel. Other doctrines may chop and change, may fossilize or melt, but the Christian doctrine, as guarded by the Roman Church, remains always as a stable guide of life. Universities, governments, secular societies, individuals may profess to ignore or despise it. But they can never escape its influence. It is a leaven which leavens the whole lump.
Of course, the more explicitly the Catholic doctrine is embraced and practically applied to life, the more fruitful it will be in its results. Hence there is a necessity for Catholics to cultivate the study of Catholic doctrine to the best of their opportunity. And this brings us to our practical conclusion. If our Church is the divinely appointed guardian of the Word of God, then ought we to be the first to respond loyally to all her decisions concerning it. When, for instance, we notice popular writers assuming as proved that St. John did not write the Fourth Gospel, and the Our Lord did not utter the speeches there attributed to Him, then the power of our faith enables to set such statements aside and to rely on the judgment of the Church when it asserts the contrary. So, too, ought we to be on our guard against indiscriminate reading. This is not advice to shut our eyes against evidence. It is advice to open our eyes to evidence. There is abundance of evidence in favor of ecclesiastical decisions. Let us first assimilate all that before we presume to talk so freely about the question. If loyalty to our friends is virtue highly esteemed by men, much more should we esteem loyalty to our very best of friends, God, His Son, and His Church.