SUNDAY AFTER - 2
And when He is come He will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment,
When God called into existence the world we see around us, when H poured forth the riches of His creative power through all the spaces of the universe, the new creation lay spread before Him in all the freshness of its young beauty. The shadow of His glory lay upon the land and sea, and the traces of His power were written across the dace of heaven in the sun and stars, that hung like lamps of gold in the vast dome that overhangs the earth. On the mountain, in the valley, on sea and shore, on field and flower, and tree and flood, was imaged forth, faintly indeed, yet in surpassing form, the beauty of the God Who made them all. Very fair must the new world have seemed as it lay spread in the freshness of its beauty before the eyes of God. Yet, not amidst all these things of beauty could He find and fix upon the possession which He would reserve specially for Himself. When all the rest was done, He created man, and breathed into him the thing which of all the things He had created He most highly prized, the human soul; just such a soul as every one who listens to me has had given into his own keeping. On other things were traced the mark of God’s beauty and God’s power, but on the human soul, in addition to these, He had stamped the living image of His very self. It is worth your while to think of it, you especially, who hold your souls so cheap as to risk their eternal ruin by mortal sin; it is worth your while to think of it, the soul you are doi8ng your evil best to damn, is the choicest work of God, and bears upon it in spite of you, the image of His very self. The other things that God created, neglect if you will; shut your eyes to the beauty of the sunset and the glory of the dawn, but I ask you, can you dare, O creature of an hour! To employ the fleeting moments of your little life in striving to efface and to blot out in your soul the image of the God Who made it? And this is the work of him who commits mortal sin.
Let one of you, the very worst amongst you, take into his hands an image of Jesus crucified, let him look closely on it and bethink him of the story that it tells, let him gaze upon the outstretched arms, on the nails that hold the tortured body, and when he has filled his heart with the sight on which he gazes, oh! My brethren, would he not be struck with horror at the suggestion that he would take the image of his crucified Lord, trample it under foot, and, in an hour of devilish malice, beat it out of all likeness to what it represents? You would stand aghast at the notion of such wickedness as this? But what do you do when you commit a mortal sin? You take the soul that God has given you, you know here is upon it His living image, that it bears the stamp of His most sublime wisdom, and His most extreme love; that it has cost the very life-blood of Jesus to buy it back from hell; and then, knowing all this, and committing your mortal sin, you do your evil best to destroy the image of God that is upon it. Ah! My brethren, the other things that God created bore within them the seeds of decay; the soul of man alone was immortal, because it was meant to be, for all eternity, God’s very own. Inexpressibly dear to the holy Trinity is the human soul, so dear, that each Person laid claim to a special part in the accomplishment of its destiny. God the Father was in a special manner to create it, God the Son, in a special manner to redeem it, God the Holy Ghost in a special manner to sanctity it.
The Church has lately been celebrating the mysteries connected with the redemption of the human soul. She has been, as it were, consecrating the energy of her devotion upon the part which the Father and the Son took in that redemption. How the Eternal Father after creating man, and seeing him fall from grace by the deliberate malice of his perverse will, in His infinite mercy sent His only-begotten Son to remedy this worst of evils. How the Eternal Son taking upon Him the form of man came down and dwelt with winners. How a life of poverty and toil was ended by a death of ignominy and anguish, and how by the agonizing death of the Man of God the fallen world was redeemed. How, trampling upon death and dominating the mystery of the grace, He proved His divinity by the stupendous miracle of rising Himself from the dead. These mysteries the Church has hitherto been celebrating, and now, in to-day’s Gospel she rings before us the office which the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, exercises in the work of our salvation.
His office is twofold; one office He has to the Church at large, the other to the soul of each individual amongst us, both offices strikingly alike in their effects, but differing in this, that the work of the Holy Ghost in the Church is discharged constantly, infallibly, absolutely, in every age, at every time, under every circumstance; whereas the work of the Holy Ghost in our individual souls, depends on ur co-operation, and may be hindered of its purpose, and robbed of its reward, by the perverse malice of the sinner’s will.
It is my purpose briefly to explain the office of the Holy Ghost, as declared in this day’s Gospel, both in its relation to the Church, and to the individual soul. We read that He will convince the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment. In this way: by enlightening the Church with the light of truth, and by guiding her in her sacred mission, He establishes in the midst of the sinful world the kingdom of God, and thus convicts the wicked world that strays outside its pale, of the damnable sin of its unbelief. By setting before the world through the Church’s teaching, the example of Christ, and by assisting the followers of Jesus to walk in the footsteps of their Blessed Master, the Holy Ghost convinces the world of the possibility, and the existence of a sanctity diametrically opposed to the pernicious maxims of the evil world. Finally, the Holy Ghost, by placing before men’s minds, by the teaching of the Church, the awful truth of the judgment toc come, plainly announces to the wicked world, that the devil, its prince and its master, is already judged and that they who, following the maxims of the world, make themselves disciples of Satan, shall in the last day become partakers in the sentence of his damnation.
But, my brethren, much more nearly concerning ourselves is the analogous office which the Holy Ghost discharges through the agency of those who strive to save their souls; and each one of us, if he wish to escape hell, must be able to proclaim before the judgment-seat of God, that we, too, by the aid of the Holy ghost, have done our part to convince the world of sin, of justice, and judgment – in other words, that by being members of the Church, not in name only, but in the reality of our practical lives, we show ourselves to have no part with the wicked world, that by imitating our Blessed Lord, we prove that we are His disciples, and that, in our every word and in our every act we live as having constantly before us, the awful truth that we are one day to render an account before the judgment-seat of God.
But first let us ask, what is this “world,” against which it is the office of the Holy Ghost to give testimony? We have only to open the New Testament to see that it is something very wicked and very dangerous.
If your Blessed Lord, while on earth, had one feature more prominent than another in His human character, it was His exceeding meekness. He would not break the bruised reed, the smoking flax. He would not quench. There was a sweetness in His voice that brought tears to eyes that had been unused to weep, and stirred the depths of hardened hearts. Sinners came to Him, and found some nameless charm in His surpassing sanctity; they saw no frown upon His brow, they found themselves talking to Him in the streets, or sitting with Him at table, and before they well knew how, they fund themselves beginning to be saints. A woman of Jerusalem whose life had been a scandal and a shame, came one day and laid her sinful lips upon His sacred feet, and to the surprise of the ce3nsorious Pharisee, never a word of chiding falls from His sacred lips, which open but to pronounce t6hat her love was the measure of her forgiveness. A thief and a murderer hangs beside Him on the cross, and for one short word of penitence He canonizes him in his agony.
But there were times when even the Sacred Heart of Jesus was moved to indignation; there were times when His voice had a sound in it like the trumpet of judgment; times when His eye flashed, and His words went home to their mark like arrows of fire. It was when he had occasion to speak of the “world.” In many a short sharp sentence, that stands out in letters of fire from the sacred page in which it is recorded, He denounces against that world everlasting woe. Sin He was ready to forgive; not alone forgiveness, but the tenderest mercy and the most abiding love He had for the poor sinner; He could make Magdalen the companion of His Immaculate Mother, and seat the penitent thief upon a throne of glory; but with one thing, even His all-merciful heart could make no terms, and that one thing was “the world.”
The world is that large body of men who do not believe in Jesus Christ; who, even though believing, will not be guided by His instruction, or influenced by His example; who fill their hearts with the fleeting vanities of this life, and take no thought about the salvation of their souls; who will not deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus; who live careless, tepid lives; in a word who are affected in many of its manifold forms with the sin of worldliness, which, in its essence, is the habitual placing of any interest in this life above the interest that is highest of all, the salvation of the soul. For remember, in order that a man incur the deadly sin of worldliness, it is not necessary that his aims in life be actually bad; it is only necessary that he prefer them to the saving of his soul. His business may be lawful, his objects in life harmless, nay, even good in themselves, yet if in pursuit of them he sacrifices his faith or his conscience, he takes his part with the world, and places himself in a state of damnation.
With that portion of the world that is altogether outside the pale of the Church, who openly scoff at the precepts of the Gospel, we have at present nothing to do but pray for them. Rather we are concerned with the case of those who, outwardly submitting to the guidance of the Church, are nevertheless so entangled in the snares of the world, as to give no proof in their own lives of the working of the Holy Ghost. They are the Catholics who, called by God to the true Church, are a disgrace to it by their evil lives, who are every moment trampling on the gifts which an all-merciful God is showering upon them. You know them well, my brethren, they are the nominal Catholics, the bad Catholics, the careless Catholics. The nominal Catholic, let us see what he is: save that he calls himself a Catholic, save that the responsibilities of his baptism are upon him, that its stamp is imprinted upon his soul so indelibly that even the very fire of hell will not efface it, save for this, he might as well be a pagan, for all the traces of Christianity he exhibits in his life. He calls himself a Catholic. Well, go were real Catholics are to be found, go to the confessional, or to the Communion rails; you will not find hm there. He may talk big about the Church, he may pretend to push her interests, but the highest of all her interests, the salvation of souls, he does not even faintly understand. He may talk about the Church, but there is one place from which he jealously excludes the influence of the Church, and that place is his own soul. He will sometimes seek to use the Church as far as she will let him. He will labor to identify her glorious mission with the poor objects of his paltry ambition, and when the Church says to him, “Go no further, your object may be good in itself, might be very serviceable if it were once attained, but now it cannot be attained with a a mortal sin;” ah, then the nominal Catholic will despise the warning, because in his heart he prefers the object, or the success he seeks, to his soul’s salvation. He will go a little further; a little? Ah! Not a little, for it is far enough to land him in hell. Let me tell you, my brethren, that the nominal Catholic has always been, and is at this day, a curse to the Church of God.
Closely allied to the nominal Catholic is the bad Catholic; indeed, there does not seem to be such to choose between the two. The bad Catholic believes, but will not act upon his belief. He steeps himself to the lips in sin, he is a curse to the society around him, a scandal to the Church of God. He has some passion, some favorite vice, and for the indulgence of this he has given up his soul He is a drunkard, or a blasphemer, or a sensualist, or all three together, and worse: - he knows, for strange as it may seem he has faith, he knows that they who do these things shall never see the face of God in heaven, but what cares he? He will have his little hour of sin even if it cost him the eternity of hell.
Sometimes the world, whose slaves these men are, pays them a portion of the wages they bargain for. Though men who are drunkard and unchaste do not commonly succeed even with the poor success of this fleeting world, yet sometimes they do, and at any rate, there are other sins no less deadly that do not seem to hinder an advance in life, and accordingly you will find nominal Catholics and bad Catholics, sometimes having a fair share of worldly success. Sometimes around such a man wealth grows rapidly, men speak highly of his shrewdness and his ability; he wins honor among his fellows, he surrounds himself with comforts, makes friends on many sides, holds his head high like the Pharisee, and wins an honored place in his little world. All the time he sees his sin in secret where no eye can see him, no eye but the eye of God. He may carry the mask to the very end, for the eye of man cannot read the heart, he may live his sinful life and go down to hell without any one of his neighbors or his friends ever knowing what a hypocrite he was. But God knew it all and hated it, and oh! My brethren, let not the poorest among you, or the most miserable, envy him a prosperity so deadly bought, a success that cost him his immortal soul; for, though his path through life was smooth, though the lines were cast for him in the pleasant places of the world, the path led ever down the fatal slope that ends in hell.
I fain would hope there is not one amongst you who deserves the name of a mere nominal Catholic. Some had Catholics there unfortunately are, men who are, and who know themselves to be a scandal and a disgrace to the name they bear of Christian and Catholic; men who will not pray because prayer would make their sins unbearable, who will not go to confession because it would exact a change of life, who keep themselves, as it were, carefully out of the reach of God. Ah! But not for ever; one day His hand shall be laid upon them sore and heavy, and then it shall be a hand of unrelenting vengeance. I believe, my brethren, and I am happy to testify that bad Catholics are few amongst you; may God make them fewer every day.
But I am afraid there are many who would come under the description of careless Catholics; so many, that if I were to describe them as I know them, many a one here would be convinced that I was speaking of his very self. They are the Catholics who, with the best of all reasons for believing in their proneness to sin, yet seem to have so high an opinion of themselves as to think that they can afford to dispense with the means of perseverance which even the greatest of God’s saints cannot afford to despise. They do not like frequent confession; they make a hard bargain with the Almighty God, and are bent upon getting to heaven on the lowest possible terms. They will go to confession twice a year, chiefly because their station is published. But confession is difficult to them, because it is strange. Sin, on the toher hand, is so usual, that it has ceased to make a vivid impression on the conscience, and, altogether they find it hard, not to say impossible, to tell the number of sins they have been committing for six months. It is a good thing to make a good confession, even though only twice a year. Let us give these people the benefit of every doubt, let us put aside the uneasy doubts that will arise about the goodness of their confessions, let us hope, even against hope, that they are good. What happens then? They go away, keep fairly good for a week or a fortnight. If they had the good sense to come again to confession they would be infallibly strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, but this they will not do; after a fortnight or so, they go back to the occasions of sin, fall back again, and take their chance whether God will let them live till their station comes round again.
At the very best the history of their lives is this: out of the twelve months, they spend one, or at most two, free from mortal sin. My brethren, is this a life that exhibits the working of the Holy Ghost? Between the two station times many of these poor people die; God will not always wait for their time; I hope they are not lost, but ah! I do not now; and God forbid that I should die so myself.
My brethren, as you have the inestimable privilege of belonging to the true Church, be Catholics not in name only, but in deed and reality. The great night of death is hastening on, and soon shall come the end. And when that end comes, will it profit you anything to have gained the whole world, if ou lost your souls? No by calling yourselves Catholics shall you be saved, but by being good Catholics making full use of the sacraments of the Church. Says our divine Lord, “Not every one who saith to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”