The Importance of Attending to Salvation
Rev. H. G. Hughes
Brethren, these words of to-day’s Gospel are not only a question, but a warning; a warning to rouse ourselves and begin seriously to attend to the work of our salvation. There is nothing more important in comparison with which nothing else is of any importance at all. They are also an encouragement, for the householder found work, and God is willing to find work to do in the vineyard even at the eleventh hour, and for those who hitherto have been standing idle. How strange it is that men should be content to go on from day to day and from year to year wholly forgetful of the great work of the salvation of their immortal souls; blind to their own supreme interests! There are many other interests which occupy their minds fully enough. Look at any great city, with its thousands of souls. What are they thinking of? What are they aiming at? Let us look for a moment at the real facts about these souls – facts which so many forget, to their eternal loss. Whence do they come? Why are they here? This is a wonderful age for investigation; for finding out the origin of things, for going back to the beginnings of everything. Men will spend half a lifetime in trying to discover how this globe was formed, or how the multitudes of stars were evolved from the primal mass of unformed matter, or how, in the course of ages, the various species of animals and plants have come to be.
But human souls are surely far more interesting than all the universe of material things – for these shall perish – but souls shall live on forever, immortal and indestructible.
Let us ask, then, what is the origin and what the purpose of the millions of souls that live their lives on earth to-day?
Brethren, they are, each and every one of them, the outcome of the Infinite Goodness of God.
It is the quality of all goodness to communicate itself – to give itself out; and it is especially a quality of the Goodness of God, from which all other goodness comes, to do this.
There is one way in which God’s Goodness must communicate itself, must give itself forth, because it is God’s very nature that it should.
And the result – the never-beginning, never-ending eternal result of this necessary giving forth of the Goodness and Life of God – for in Him Goodness and Life are the same – is the Adorable Trinity of Persons in the One only Godhead. In that Blessed Trinity, the Life and Goodness of the Godhead is communicated without multiplication or division from Father to Son, and from both to the Holy Ghost, who is coeternal and coequal with Father and Son, as they are coequal and coeternal with one another and the Spirit with them both.
But there is also a way in which God’s Goodness was free to communicate itself or no, as He wished. And that is by creation; by making other beings upon whom His Goodness should be poured forth.
And God did create; and He created personal, intelligent beings – angels and men. And if we ask why He did this, the answer is, Love made Him do it; Divine love, that would not be satisfied with its own all-perfect bliss, but desired that other beings should have a share therein.
That is the explanation of all the souls in all the world. They are the outcome of God’s Goodness and Love; and each one of them has been called out of nothingness and made an immortal being by God’s Almighty Hand in order to be blessed for ever beyond all words to tell in the bosom of its Father and its God.
Oh, this is a great truth, surely! It tells us that from the beginning of life’s journey to the end, we are wrapped round by the mighty ocean of the Infinite Love of God. It is the great fact at the root of all human existence; it solves every riddle of life. It is a truth that makes the Catholic child wiser than all the sages of old – yes, and wiser than all those to-day who are learned only in worldly love – the little child who lisps the answer in the Catechism, “God made me. God made me to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life; and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
This is salvation, the great salvation of which St. Paul speaks, the salvation that draws nearer and nearer with every hour of this swiftly flowing life. Surely, my dearest brethren, surely this and nothing else – this great salvation that awaits us and for which we are made – sure this is what every living soul ought to be thinking of and aiming at – this is the supreme interest of life to which all others ought to be subordinated! Yet with what are the multitudes of men chiefly occupied? If we look around us and ask, what are the generality of people thinking of; what are their aims, their interests, must we not say that their thoughts, their aims, their interests are concerned with anything and everything but the salvation of their souls?
Yet, think of the inevitable alternative to salvation. Oh, it is in truth a terrible alternative, upon which we cannot look but with trembling awe at the mysteries of God’s dreadful justice.
While there are some in whom those words of our Blessed Lord will be verified, “When these things begin to come to pass, look up, for your salvation is at hand,” there are others, as we are reminded in the solemn words of our burial service, for whom the day of the Lord will be a day of anger, of calamity and misery; a day most bitter, a dreadful day, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved, and Christ shall come to judge the world by fire.”
Even now, while you sit in this church and listen to me; while life for you is sweet; while yet you have hope; while He who is the Awful Judge is enthroned upon His mercy-seat on this altar – even now, at this moment, the dark and fiery expanse of hell is resounding with that agonized cry of ruined souls: “I am lost; lost hopelessly, forever, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. I might have been saved; but now I am tormented in this flame?”
That is the other side of the picture – God made us or Himself: if we willfully reject Him, hell is the inevitable consequence. On the one hand is salvation and bliss – oh, so near to us – God’s embracing, all-satisfying love for all the ages of a glorious eternity; on the other hand woe and torment unspeakable, hatred and misery, worse than useless remorse for the eternal loss of Him with whom are lost at once all peace and joy and good.
Yet with these two pictures before them, pictures of the actual facts; true pictures painted for them by the hand of God – men will not open their eyes to see; slumbering on in dead forgetfulness of God, and heaven and hell and the business of salvation, standing all day idle in the market-place.
Let us this bring this home to ourselves. What of you and me? Do we forget whence we are, and why we are in this world? Are our minds occupied with anything and everything except the supreme aim of this human life? Are we, Catholics, children of God’s Church, with all our graces and privileges – are we dreaming away our precious lives in the sleep of sin and sloth, knowing not “the season,” that the hour is come to awake? You will say perhaps, “I remember at least sometimes; sometimes I wake up.” Thank God, that is better than slumbering on always in forgetfulness. But “sometimes”! Supposing death came when for a time you had forgotten? What then? Supposing it were said to you to-night, “This night, this very night they soul shall be required of thee.” How would it be with you then? Are you ready? Would you willingly stand to-night before your Judge?
Brethren, it is not safe to remember your salvation now and then – on Sunday only, or when you make your Communion. God, indeed, is very merciful; but it is not safe to sleep on even for a day, in carelessness and neglect. It is true He will receive you even at the eleventh hour; but which of us knows whether that has not already sounded for him?
It is an error of the world, and particularly of the modern world, to make a divorce, a separation between religion and the affairs of everyday life. It comes from forgetfulness of that great truth concerning our origin and destiny which I have dwelt on to-night – the truth that we are made by God for God. It is an error fostered by the Protestant system that has laid aside those things by which, in a hundred ways, the Holy Catholic Church of Christ teaches and helps her children to carry their religion into all they do.
It is an error, I fear, which infects some Catholics also. Religion is put on and off with the Sunday clothes; and it comes off quicker than it is put on. But God has never said, “serve Me for one day in the week, and look after your own interest for the other six.”
Salvation must be the business of every day; and that means religion must be the business of every day. And by religion I do not mean works of piety only – prayer, Mass and Sacraments. They, indeed, are indispensable, and must have their due place and time; but I mean also living for that God who made us for Himself; doing our daily work for Him, carrying out, each according to the measure of grace that God gives us, the Apostolic command, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It is to help us to do this that piety and prayer and the Sacraments are meant. This daily service of God in all we do is what is symbolized by the vineyard in the parable. That vineyard is our daily life, our particular state; its work is the duties of each one’s state of life.
“Why stand you here all the day idle?” God invites you to come now, even though it be the eleventh hour, even though hitherto you have been idle in the work of your salvation – He invites you to come now and work out the work of your salvation; and He promises you the same great reward – heaven with its eternal happiness, as He gives to those who “have borne the burden of the day, and the heart.”
But come now, begin to work now! Do not say, “I will begin to-morrow, or the next day,” for they may not be yours. Do not presume on that mercy which calls you even at the eleventh hour. Do not promise yourself to serve God in an old age that may never come; on a death-bed, when you may not have the chance, or, if you have the chance, may not have the power; not in some vague future, dear brethren, but now, as you value your souls’ salvation, now, when perhaps the eleventh hour has already sounded for you, and God is calling you for the last time, now begin with holy fear to work for your souls’ true interests, for “now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”