LENT - FOURTH SUNDAY
Reading over the history of our Blessed Lord, as narrated in the Gospel, I do not know, my brethren, that anything upon its surface will strike us more forcibly than the special influence, which Jesus possessed over the great body of the people. And considering further this phenomenon, w see with equal clearness that this special influence was accompanied by a very special regard which Jesus had for the people – for homely, unsophisticated people, as distinguished from those who either by wealth, or intellect, or talent, or birth, or position, had acquired, what might seem to the eyes of men, a special claim to special attention. There were Pharisees proud of their religious observance, Scribes learned in the law of Moses; but Jesus never seems to have made Himself at home with these. When He spoke to the, there was a sternness upon His brow, and a keenness in His glance, and a ring of reproof in His voice that mad4e Him seem for the time being, quite a different Person from the kindly compassionate heart that warmed to the poor outcasts of society, such as Zacheus the publican, and Magdalene the public sinner.
There were men of high position, of regal ranks; but Jesus never gained the friendship of such as these. At the very time of which this Gospel contains the record, there were Pharisees in high place who were plotting His ruin, and Herod, the King, was seeking his life because he had heard a rumor that Jesus was none other than John the Baptist risen from the bloody tomb, to which Herod’s cruel hand had sent him before his time.
Indeed, of the love, and if I may so speak, as surely I may, of the respect that Jesus had for the people, there needs no further proof than this, that when His divine wisdom devised the plan of an organized Church, through which the benefits of His Passion would be carried down by faithful hands to all generations of the world, it was among the poor and the unlearned, and the undistinguished – in short, among the people – that the same divine Wisdom selected the preachers of his Gospel, the pillars of His Church.
Not to any king – not to any statesman – not to any man of genius – not to any philosopher grown gray with life-long study, and wrinkled with life-long thought – not to any of those, fit though they might seem for such an office, did Jesus address the wonderful command that brought with itself the power to fulfill it: “Go teach all nations.” No; when He spoke these words He had before Him a handful of poor, unlearned men, chosen from the fruitful bosom of the people who live, and toil, and mourn, and die, and leave no record of themselves save what can be read by those who think, in the soil that they have coaxed into fruitfulness, and the furrow they have ploughed, and the trees they have planted, and the grass upon their nameless graves.
Ah! Yes, my brethren, very evident it is that Jesus love the people; and in this day’s Gospel we have a proof of what, for the honor of human nature, we would anxiously look for – the people loved Jesus.
On this occasion, when Herod was seeking His life, when He had gone out from the ungrateful streets that had witnessed His power, and yet rejected Him – out from the society whose evils He alone had power to remedy, but which refused to recognize Him; even in His desolation and His abandonment there was a nameless charm about His presence, and an attraction in His smile, and an invitation in His voice that drew after Him the multitude till they forgot the roughness of the way, and the discomfort of the desert places; forgot even the natural craving of hunger and of thirst, and came unprovided with meat or drink to feed upon the sight of His countenance, and drink in the music of His voice. Nor do we feel surprised that our Blessed Lord would take occasion to perform on behalf of the multitude, one of those stupendous miracles that stand a memorable instance of His compassionate love. They had followed Him without a thought and without a care about their daily sustenance; but He had taken thought for them, and His solicitude had been awakened in their regard, and the bountiful Hand that had from the beginning o ft eh world given fruitfulness to the seed, and fertility to the soil, was raised to bless and to multiply five barley loaves, till the multitude were filled with bread.
My brethren, it is obvious to remark – and it is what I wish specially to put before you to-day – that the love that Jesus had for the multitude of the people He wished also to be permanent in the Holy Catholic Church, which He purchased with His Precious Blood.
This trust – the people – has been committed to her; and well has she fulfilled her trust. Her apostles, selected from the people, preached the Gospel among the people; and though that Gospel is a message of good news to everyone, no matter what his rank, who ever heard it; yet to none, have its tidings been tidings of greater joy than to the poor, who must always constitute the great multitude of the human race.
Even when the Church was weak, she proclaimed the equality of all her people before God; and when she grew strong she threw the child of her protection over the multitude, whose weakness and want of knowledge, are a temptation to the oppressor. The Church made slavery impossible, for the chains fall off the limbs of slaves, once they bent their knee under the shadow of the altar where Jesus was present. To the poor, the Church revealed a new dignity which no human eye had seen in them before, for she declared that theirs, by a special right and a peculiar title, is the very kingdom of heaven. In short, in the words of the Epistle of this Sunday, the Church introduced the people to the blessed liberty with which Christ had made them free.
The Church has opened wide her gates to the multitude of men; she loves the people. In all her functions, n all her legislation, she alone it is who, of all the powers that re, consults impartially for the people’s interests. If she rears an altar, it is that they may see it; if she builds spacious churches, and lavishes upon them every ornament that human skill can devise, or human hands make visible in marble or in god, there is yet one ornament without which not the grandest of her world-famed cathedrals would be her eyes complete, and that ornament is the throng of the simple people filling the place with the incense of their prayers, and finding beneath the shadow of her altars a restring place, and often the only resting place their weary hearts can find, in this had and pitiless world.
For the people she has her sacraments, for them her worship, for them her every ministration; for them, because Jesus loved them so, she has reserved her sweetest smile, the most tender accents of her soothing voice.
See if it be not so. Come into this church, its door lies wide for every one of you; on your entrance look around, and you see the baptismal font. Well, does the Church ask or care about the worldly rank of the child that comes to be baptized? No; the waters flow, and the words are said without a variation, over the heads of prince and peasant; and as the poor have, everywhere and always, the strength of numbers, it is specially for them the baptismal font stands there. Advance a little further, you meet the confessional. What is the confessional? It is the place where Jesus, in the person of his minister, sits as really as He sat at that memorable feast of the Pharisee, and forgave the penitent, whose hot tears fell upon the sacred feet she kissed. That is the confessional. Well, has any anointed minister of God ever dared to suspend the absolution, till he had ascertained the worldly dignity of the penitent. An! No, he dare not do so; and if he dared, the Church would smite him with her anathema.
For a little further, you come to the communion rails that surround the altar. If you come there prepared, has it every made a difference whether you were richly dressed or meanly clad? And when men come to die, has it ever made a difference to the priest, whether the dying man lies in a mansion or a hovel? He goes to both alike, and if, as he brings Jesus Himself to the dying bed, if he recognizes a difference, it is this, that in his heart he feels that the choicest blessing of the hidden God Whom he He goes to both alike, and if, as he brings Jesus Himself to the dying bed, if he recognizes a difference, it is this, that in his heart he feels that the choicest blessing of the hidden God Whom he carries in his hands, must be reserved for those who are like Jesus in their poverty.
Ah! Ye poor; little kindness do you meet with at the hands of men, scant acknowledgment of the dignity of your manhood; but in the Church at least, and in her ministrations, you have the amplest right of free-born sons of God.
Why have I said these things to you? Why have I brought before you those proofs that the Church recognizes, as none other recognizes, the dignity of the manhood that is in you – dignity that is in itself so great, and that involves such momentous consequences, that all other differences that divide man from man, and class for class, and race from race – differences of wealth, and rank, and position, differences even of intellectual power and social education – shrink into comparative insignificance, before this dignity that gives to man his real value in the eyes of the almighty God? It is first, because I fain would have you to respect yourselves even as God and God’s Church respect you. It is because I wish to impress upon you, what is the simple truth, that now, as in the days of which the Gospel speaks, Jesus loves the multitude. Ah! Yes, my brethren, you the people, with your many weaknesses, and your many wants, you, the people, who, if there were no world but this, would be defrauded of that happiness to which the desire implanted in your souls by the God Who made them, gives you an inalienable right, and an indisputable title – you, the people, who throng the spaces of our churches, and open your simple hearts before the altar of your God - you it is, that now, as ever, Jesus loves.
Whatever else you despise, never cease to respect yourselves whom God and his church so constantly respect. Whatever else you may forget, remember this: that Jesus loves you; that He has introduced you to a liberty which the world never could have given; a liberty of the children of God, of which nothing can deprive you save the commission of a mortal sin. Jesus wishes your salvation with a wish, the intensity of which could never be satisfied till He had written it upon the face of the world’s history, in the red-lettering of His most Precious Blood.
And Oh! Especially to the great multitude of the poor, whose lives are hard; to whom each coming day brings no richer gift than the gift of toil; whose daily bread is bought by the sweat of their brow, and so often moistened by the tears of their affliction; to them I reckon it as one of the greatest privileges of my ministry that I can announce that Jesus regards them with a peculiar solicitude, and loves them with a very special love; that for them, above all others, for them who have so much to suffer, so little to console them, Jesus has specially provided the consolation of His sacraments; that their condition, hard though it is, is the condition of all others that Jesus, having the choice of all human conditions, deliberately selected for Himself; that theirs is, not this world that fleets so quickly, and that fades so soon – but theirs, by a special title is the kingdom of heaven; that, if only they faithfully correspond with the graces that God lavishes upon them more copiously than upon others, then, no matter into what slavery the chains of toil and of hardship may seem to have bound them, a day shall come, in God’s good time, when the priest shall stand beside their bed, holding in his hands Jesus in the last viaticum; and in that hour the angel of death, the real liberator of the poor, shall lay his hand in blessing on their world-weary hearts – shall close softly their dying eyes – and shall open them for ever and for ever to the glory which human eye hath never seen, which human ear hath never heard, nor any human heart been able to conceive.