FIRST SUNDAY AFTER - 1
Once upon a time there dwelt in a city of Galilee a mother with an only son. Time makes few changes in the human heart; and it is within the range of our own experience how a mother loves an only child. So it was this mother loved her son – loved him all the more because she was a widow – and, doubtless, saw traces of his dead father’s face in the child who reminded to her in her widowhood, to recall the happiness of her lost youth, and to break the loneliness of advancing age. We may picture to ourselves how the boy filled her lonely heart, and became the sun and center of her desolate life. How her youth almost came back in her sympathy with his; how age grew to be less dreaded because it promised to be lighted by the glory of his youth; and how, even the thought of the grave became less bitter, because the hands she loved would close her dying eyes, and lay her beside the dead husband of her early love. We can picture, too, how her heart was set on him with tenfold deeper love, when he grew towards manhood, and bade fir to take his father’s honored place; how the flush of joy came on her faded cheek, when friends or neighbors praised her boy; and how her heart beat high with joy, as one by one, he realized her cherished hopes. A beautiful thing to see is a mother’s love, and many wonders can it effect; alas, one thing it cannot do, it cannot ward off the stroke of death; else never a son would die. And the lot of early death fell upon the son of this poor Galilean widow, and in the bloom of his life, in the glory of his youth, one day he died, leaving a vacant chair by his mother’s fireside, and in his mother’s heart an empty spot which no one else could ever fill again. And the mourners cane, and they mourned for his early death, and rising at least they put the body on a bier, and carried it out from the city; and the mother walked beside it, weeping such bitter tears as only mothers weep; and now, indeed, she was a widow.
With aching heart and streaming eyes she walked beside the dead body of the son who had been called away thus untimely, before he had left in the world he had scarce had time to greet, any record of himself, save that which was graven on a mother’s heart. Well might she weep; and are not tears shed over the dead idle tears? Even a mother’s tears she over the dead. Ah! But her tears could, and did: for Jesus was passing by, and her tears touched His tender heart, and remembering His own Mother, and foreseeing what desolation would come upon her, when she would see Him lying dead, he laid His hand upon the bier, and recalled the spirit that had fled, and gave the young man back to life and home, and to his mother’s widowed heart.
There are among ourselves young men aye, and old, who have died a worse death than this young man died. They are those who yielding to temptation, have fallen into mortal sin. A worse death than physical death has come upon them; and, very surely, as hour follows hour of their guilty lives, they are being carried out, out from the city of God, to be buried, where? To be buried in hell. And the Church of God, their spiritual mother, weeps over them; aye, and if tears could be shed there, tears would fall from the tender eyes of Mary, their Mother in heaven.
They, too, were very dearly loved. Jesus died for them. He had done to save them His very best, and He was God. Their mother, the Church, had received them from the waters of baptism, and had rejoiced with exceeding great joy over their innocent souls. Mary had loved them, and the angels and saints had prayed for them, that they might end as they began; and all heaven had gazed rejoicing, upon the vacant thrones of glory which God had assigned to them, if only they would be faithful to the end. But some sad day, sooner or later, they died the death of sin, and, though still within the Church, they lay dead, as in their mother’s house, waiting till the slow but certain justice of God would strike the hour, when they should be carried out to be buried in hell.
This is no over-drawn picture. I appeal in proof of its correctness to the faith that is in you. If any one here be in the state of mortal sin, is he not lying dead in the Church of God? And if the outraged majesty of heaven were to give the signal, where, but in hell, would such a one be buried for ever? He may cloak his guilt, he may carry his head as high as ever, he may wear a smile upon his lip, those who see him oftenest and know him best may discern in him no change; yet once he has fallen into mortal sin, a deadly change is there. The glory of his life has faded, the splendor of his soul is gone, the whiteness of his innocence is tarnished, its purity breathed upon, as by a blast from hell. Let him laugh if he will, and be gay as if no doom hung over him, but I ask his very self, if his heart went silent now, if his life stopped short this instant, if God, the God Whose patience he has stretched to a limit of which he can have no conception, were at this hour to send straight to his guilty heart the swift sharp stroke of death, where would his soul be hurried? Does he not believe, does he not feel, does he not know, that hell is kindled for just such as he?
And is there no hope? Listen: “He breathed upon them and He said to them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit, whose sins ye shall forgive they are forgiven.” Yes, there is a hope, the hope that proved a certainty in the case of the widow’s son. For the sinner, too, as he passes on, dead in his mortal sin, Jesus is waiting, ready to call back the life of grace which he had forfeited, ready to do for him a far greater miracle than he did at the gate of Nain. Yes, Jesus is waiting, He is sitting in the confessional in the person of the priest to whom he has addressed the sublime words: “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven.”
The Church brings before us to-day the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, as if to show us, during those days in which she commemorates the sojourn of our Blessed Lord with His apostles, that if we, too, wish to associate ourselves with Jesus, and prepare to ascend one day with Him to heaven, we must have recourse to this great sacrament of forgiveness.
To every one, who, after having been baptized, has fallen into mortal sin, the Sacrament of Penance is absolutely necessary. There are, for such a one, but two alternatives, a good confession or ever-lasting misery. It is my duty to-day to exhort sinners to have recourse, immediate recourse to the gracious mercy, which God hold out even to the worst of sinners, in this great sacrament. This duty I shall strive to do; I shall lift my voice in warning to the sinner, but while I do so, do you just reflect for one moment, that in a congregation so large as this, it is not very improbable that some one or other will hear the warning for the very last time. Some day you will come to Mass in this church, and you shall go out when Mass is done; and never again shall you kneel before the altar of God. It is certain that some time or other you shall hear the Mass that shall e your very last. When shall it be? In years to come, or only months, or now, aye this very day? Ah, neighbor I nor you know anything of that, so it is not out of place, never can it be out of place today: “To-day if you shall hear His voice, harden not year hearts.”
And first, I will suppose that there is no one here, however he may have fallen into mortal sins, who is so mad and so wicked as to make up his mind never again to go to confession. God forbid that a wretch so desperate should be found among you. There is, I may suppose, no one who, of his own deliberate will, selects for himself an everlasting place in hell. Even the worst of Catholics will not go so far in wickedness as that. Am I not right in believing that every sinner here has the wish cherished among the dearest wishes of his heart, not to die before he has made a good confession? Well, I say to them “Now is the acceptable time.” You wish to make a good confession before you stand before the judgment-seat of God! Well, to do so, three things, at least, are necessary; time, grace, a priest. These you have and can have now; can you cot on them for a week to come?
But let us hear some of the excuses with which sinners delude themselves. “I purpose, please God, to make a good confession some day or other, but at present I have no time.” Time for everything under the sun, except to put your soul beyond the peril of everlasting fire. Time to work and talk, and play’ aye, time to damn your soul still deeper; no time to win a place in heaven. No time! Ah, believe me, there shall be time in hell to deplore with unavailing sorrow the eternal loss of a soul that one good confession might have landed safe in heaven. No time! You know the inspired proverb: “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Suppose God were so to answer those who say they have not time. Suppose that after a life of sin, after slighting a thousand warnings, after spurning a thousand calls, after trampling on the countless graces that God presses into the lifetime of the worst of Catholics, suppose that such a sinner comes to die, that the world which he loved better than he loved his own soul slips away in spite of him, as he lies upon his death bed, affrighted by the approaching horror of the grave – he cries aloud: “Now at last I wish to make a good confession before I fall into the hands of the God Whom I have done so much to anger,” and suppose that God were to answer such a fool according to his folly: “You wish to make a good confession, but at last your hour has come, and the hour has come of My long-deferred vengeance. At last the excuse that was so long a lie upon your lips has come to be the bitter truth. Yes, it is true, at last you have no longer any time; your soul is ripe for the harvest of destruction.” God has answered sinners o, in time gone by. It is certain that He shall so answer, many a time to come.
Ah, be wise in time; come to confession after having asked grace to make it well; after due examination of conscience, confess your sins plainly as God sees them. Come with sincere sorrow for the past, and a firm resolution to avoid for the future, sin, and the occasions of sin, and God will break the yoke that galls, and take away the bitterness that sin leaves in the human heart. O sinner, dead though be they soul to-day, lying bereft of life in the Church of God, though the hour be hastening on, when you will be carried out to be buried in hell, still there is a hope. Over your dead soul Mary your Mother stands lamenting, and surely will her eyes of mercy touch the tender heart of Jesus. Turn to Him to-day, and He will lay His hand upon the passions that are carrying you away to a place in hell; He will draw you sweetly to His feet in the Sacrament of Penance. He will give back the life of grace that you have forfeited, and through the ministry of His priest to whom, for the sinner’s sake, He has given the power to forgive sin, He will take you by the hand and give you back living, to the Church, and to Mary your Mother.