EASTER, FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER - 1
But when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, H will teach
you all truth - John 26:13
It has been no unheard-of thing in the history of the world, that men who God had blessed with intellect and genius, and the mysterious power of influencing others it has been, my brethren, no unheard-of thing that men like these, both before the time of our Blessed Lord and since, have striven to make the memory of themselves perpetual, and to retain their influence over men, even when the inevitable grave had closed over their ambition. There have been men history is full of them who sought to establish an empire that would have no limits save the limits of the world itself; and there have been other men, who sought not only to leave the stamp of their opinions and their doctrines upon the age in which they lived, but also hoped to speak from their graves to generations unborn, and to mold by their influence the hearts of men to whom they themselves, covered by the dust of ages, would be only the shadow of a name. There have been men who strove to do these things, but not one of them has ever yet succeeded. Before their tombs were old their empires had perished; when the waves of a few generations had broken over their graves their names no longer lived upon the lips of men; their opinions had ceased to have worth or weight, in the guidance of the world or the affairs of men.
And I shall tell you why. There are only two ways in which one man can hope to mold others to his will either by brute force, or by the influence of persuasion. A tyrant, strong with the power of intellect abused, and with the material force of the sword, may, for a time, bend the most stubborn necks; and though the sword cannot enforce upon others a belief in his right to be a tyrant, it may make them silent slaves, uttering no word of the hatred that swells their indignant hearts, waiting in patience or in despair for a better time. And to the slaves of tyrannical power since God is just a better time has always come. After long days, or longer years, the hand grows weak that held the sword. Time and death are the allies of an enslaved people, and the day inevitably dawns when the empire established by the sword is as lifeless as the hand that made it terrible. No; the empire of the sword cannot last for ever. So it has been in the past, so it shall be to the very end.
Again, a man of intellect and genius conceives certain opinions; he puts them before men with all the fascination of poetry or eloquence. Well, men may be charmed for awhile by the novelty of his views; some may hail him as a master, some, refusing to own his sway, may be unable to refute his doctrines; but these doctrines have arisen in a human intellect, and human intellect is fallible, and in a little time other intellects as powerful, or more powerful than his own, arise to confute him, and his power is overthrown. Such has been the history of the world since time began, a history which it is well that you should know, in the summing up of it that no man has ever yet succeeded in founding a lasting empire over either the bodies or the minds of men.
Yet, my brethren, there has been one empire founded, it is daily before your eyes, which has been crowned by the successive homage of eighteen hundred years of the human race, that has reckoned its subjects from every class, has found itself at home and honored in every clime, has approved itself to men of all ranks, and classes, and conditions, and which bears upon its regal brow the undying promise of a stability that shall outlast the world itself. This one empire has been established by Jesus Christ. It is His church, the Holy Catholic Church, to which you have the inestimable privilege of belonging.
In a remote corner of an eastern land, little favored by nature, amongst a people who had by the isolation of two thousand years broken away from the family of the human race, appeared a Man Who called Himself, and was known to His followers as Jesus Christ. On a certain day He was seized by His own people, and outside the Holy City of His race He was crucified between two thieves. In the hour of His desolation there was none to help Him. He died in torture, and there was none to compassionate His sufferings save the mother who bore Him, and one disciple, and the woman who had been a sinner but was then a penitent. With the tears of only these upon His dead face He was committed to the tomb. And what has happened since? This has happened. He has come out from the tomb, and has gone into the whole world. What has happened since? Well, this has happened is happening at this moment that we, separated from the land in which He lived and died many a weary league of land and sea, separated from the time in which He lived by no less than eighteen hundred years, we are here to-day in a temple and before an altar erected to His honor. Above that altar is lifted up the symbol of His ignominious death but the Crucifix has become the glory of our Catholic lives. Not only are we here to call Him God, and to join with the angels of heaven to adore His hidden presence in the Tabernacle, but His name has become our hope, His law and standard of our lives. We carry His sacred faith into the affections of our homes and the business of our streets; and when we come to die, it is our fondest and our dearest which, that the last word to linger on our dying lips may be the sacred name of Jesus, uttered in accents of the contrition and the love that shall save us from eternal doom, and bring us safely to His feet in the glory of heaven.
And how has it come, my brethren, the He alone has
succeeded in establishing an empire as wide as space, as lasting as time?
Of course you answer, and I answer because He alone is the only begotten Son of the Eternal God. But it will be very instructive to examine the peculiar mode in which His Divine Wisdom consulted for the stability and the perpetuity of the empire of His Church.
I shall put this before you, and I shall do so the more readily because, considering that mode in itself, and comparing it with the modes adopted by other men to establish influence over their fellows, I think I shall be putting before you another striking proof of the love of our Blessed Lord for men, and especially for the great mass of the common people, who have few but God to care for them, whose history the hard world sums up in these three stern words: To be born, to toil, to die; and then hasten to write above their graves thee further words: To be forgotten.
When other men formed certain opinions, and wish to leave them as an inheritance to the world, what did they do? They looked for disciples, and they looked for them, amongst those who were blessed with the gifts of intellect or the gifts of fortune. In the great multitude who had to work for their daily bread, who had no time nor ability for study, these men saw an unprofitable field of labor they would not waste their time in teaching the multitude. They hastened to pick out from the crowd a man here and there, equal or like in intelligence to themselves, and to such disciples as these they committed their peculiar opinions. They did no more than this. Seeing that all men die, and that even for them in a little time, the brain would cease to think, the heart to beat, they committed their opinions to books.
But, you will ask, what are mere books to the great multitude of men? What are mere books to men such as you? And it is of men such as you that the great bulk of mankind consists men who have little ability, and less inclination, and absolutely no leisure for the painful and laborious work of study. It is clear that if God had exacted from men like you the labor of long study if He required, under the penalty of damnation, that each and every one of you should examine for himself, by the aid of books, the doctrines of the holy faith without which it is impossible to please God it is clear, I say, that in such case only a few here and there in any society would ever find themselves in the way of salvation. It is also clear, from the very nature of the case, that no one, by the aid of books alone, will ever, or can ever, bring under the dominion of his influence the great mass of the poor, and the unlettered, and the toil-worn, of which our Catholic congregations mainly consist.
Accordingly, a far different way was employed by the Divine Wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the way He selected was different from the ways of others, because He alone has loved, with an impartial love, the great multitude of the people.. He wrote no books, He lived among the people, He showered His benefits upon the people. He died for the people; and when He was about to depart from the world He provided for the future teaching of the people. He, too, gathered around Himself a few disciples. But mark you this: He gathered them not amongst the rich, or the noble, or the learned, but from the obscure bosom of the toiling people; and to them He said: Go teach all nations go, preach the Gospel, not merely to the learned, who can examine its doctrines not merely to rich, who have leisure to study it, but preach it to every creature.
What qualifications had the Apostles for this mission? I answer humanly speaking, they possessed scarcely a single qualification. We can well imagine their shrinking back from the gigantic labor that was proposed to them; we can imagine them counting up their poor resources, and saying to themselves, and to our Blessed Lord, that the thing was impossible. And so it would have been impossible, I do not say merely to such men as the Apostles naturally were, but to any twelve of the most richly-gifted man that the long history of the world has produced; but to God, using them as His instruments, the thing was not impossible. And in the passage of the Gospel which I have read for you, our Lord has set forth the means by which they and their successors, to the very end of time, might teach all generations The Spirit of Truth will teach you all truth. In other words, there was established, by the divine authority of Jesus Christ, a living body of men who alone would have a right to teach, because they alone would be themselves taught by the Spirit of God. This living body is the Church of God, speaking by her pastors, and their Infallible Head, the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
That Church has not shut up its teaching in books, it is a living voice, because its business lay with the multitude of men. In every city, and town, and village, and across the broad face of the quiet country-side, that living Church has gone, in every age, teaching to the poor, and the ignorant, and the rude, and the unlettered to the sons of poverty and the slaves of toil the truth that is above all other truth, the truth of God, which she herself has been taught, and will be taught, in every age, even to the end, by the Holy Ghost Himself.
This Church has come to you it comes to you every day pointing out to every one of you, the way to heaven. That Church comes to you and she comes not with empty hands, she comes bringing her doctrine to enlighten you, her tribunal of confession to wipe away your sins her sacraments rich with the infinite merits of the precious Blood of Christ, to consecrate by a special consecration every momentous crisis fo your lives. She comes, not only lifting up above her altar the sacred symbol of her crucified Lord, but renewing daily before the eyes of her children, in an unbloody manner, the very sacrifice of Calvary, and holding Jesus Himself imprisoned, as it were, in the bonds of His undying love for men holding Him, a willing captive, in the Adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Thus has Jesus Christ established His empire, and brought it to the homes of the poor, and the toil-worn, and the weary; thus has He established the chair of truth, that everyone may gather around it, and be taught the way to heaven. These things are yours, your very own; the riches of the Church, which are the riches of God Himself, are for the people. Say not, think not, that they are poor, for they have the teaching of truth, the forgiveness of sins, the riches of the sacraments, the infinite treasures of the Eucharist.
And if I say these things if I am anxious to awaken you to a knowledge of the advantages you possess in being Catholics, if I have striven to show you to-day how Jesus established the empire of His living truth, so that it might be not the property or the privilege of a special class, but that the good tidings of His Gospel might be poured forth into the capacious heart of the people, and evoke from the gratitude of that heart that love for love which the people owe to Jesus, for the sake of their own eternal happiness, and because He bought a right to the peoples love by no less a price than His Precious Blood; if I have done this, it is because the longer I live, the more I see, the more I learn about the people, the more I feel that this world was not made for them. It is for them a hard world, a world that exacts from them life-long labor, and pays them back with little else than life-long sorrow. And, seeing this, the more must I also recognize, that the only real treasure which the body of any people has, is the treasure which the Church of God opens to their weary hearts.
This world passes quickly thank God, it passes quickly ! else how could the toil-worn multitude endure it? While it is passing before the time comes when the weary heart will lie all silent, and the had hands be freed from work, and stretched lifeless by our side I ask you, my brethren, has the world anything better than the Holy Catholic faith? Has it for you any greater consolation than the consolation of sin forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance? Has it any greater joy than the joy of the poorest amongst you, when he kneels with pure heart ad clean conscience, before th altar to receive the pledge of everlasting salvation in the Holy Eucharist? No, my brethren, for all men, no matter what their rank, but for men like you especially, there is no real hope, of real peace, no real consolation, except what is given by the Church of God.
And, oh! remember this it is a thought that never fails to strike me when I look down on this congregation it is a sad thing, how sad only God Himself can know, that anyone should be damned, even after the happiest and most honored life that man could live on earth, but that a man that men like you, who have so little in this world to make them happy, so little to console them that amy one of you should be lost! Oh! My brethren, let it not have to be said of anyone amongst you before the judgment-seat of God, that having been miserable in this life, he is to be also miserable through all the ages of eternity.
And should t ever happen and may God in His mercy, may Jesus in His boundless love, may Mary in the compassion of her motherly heart, forbid that it ever should happen! If it should happen that some one who is listening to me now should come to be damned, for what would he be damned? My brethren, his own conscience can tell him at this moment. Let him ask himself this if the hand of God were laid this moment on his heart, if the summons of death swift and sudden, were to ring in his startled ear, of what in particular would he be most afraid? Would it be that long neglect of the sacraments, would it be that bad confession, would it be that secret sin that has been eating away the soul, would it be that willful, that perverse return into the place or the company that bitter experience has shown him to be an occasion of sin; would it be that fatal sin, that sometimes makes me ashamed of the people whom I love would it be that sin of drunkenness, that seemed to begin in mere good nature and good-fellowship, that stole on by slow but sure degrees, as the devil kept forging with every glass one other link of the chain that is to keep his soul in hell for ever and for ever; nay, would it be a thing which is even worse than this would it be that he had been, for sake of gain, co-operating in the drunkards sin making himself on Gods earth the ally and the agent of the devil?
Let each mans conscience answer, what would trouble him most if his hour had come?
For us, the hour has not come, Gods trumpet of judgment has not sounded yet; when shall the hour come when shall the trumpet sound?
Ah! My brethren, neither you nor I know anything of that.