PENTECOST - 11th Sunday After
I do not know, my brethren, that there is any form of human misery that is calculated to make so large an appeal to the compassion of the human heart, as that which has been preserved for all time in the Gospel of this Sunday. There are, God knows, many afflictions to which man is subject, but perhaps there is not in all the catalogue of misfortune, any greater calamity than the calamity of being like the poor man in the Gospel – deaf and dumb. So much so that it would be utterly impossible for anyone blessed with the gift of hearing and of speech to bring home to himself adequately the sad condition of a man who has never heard the music of a fellow-creature’s voice, nor ever poured out his own full heart in articulate speech. Think of it a little. What is it to be deaf and dumb? It is to be in the midst of men and yet to be separated from them – from their joys and their pursuits – by a barrier never to be crossed. It is, to see men moving round, and see them as if they were silent phantoms. It is, never to hear in the dead ear to the voice of sympathy or the whisper of affection – to see lips move as if they moved in mockery or in sport, and never to receive into the soul the sounds that make life glad, the trills of joyous laughter, the whisper of a friendly voice – to know absolutely nothing of any music of sea or shore, of whispering wind or murmuring stream, nor any of those sounds by which nature speaks to man, and one human heart speaks to another. And then, to be dumb besides; to have the blind thoughts gathering around the heart, and never a voice to pour them into sympathetic ears; to have the tides of feeling running warm round the heart, but frozen into everlasting silence on the dumb lips; to live, and never to know the highest pleasure of which man is capable – of conceiving in the soul a noble, or a loving, or a holy thought, and then making it live in the ears of men in burning words. To look out upon the world and upon men with eyes that, yearn how they may, can ne3ver penetrate the mystery of human intercourse, nor ever make known its own heart, save by a laughter that is hardly human, by the cry of instinct, or the wordless moan of pain.
Such a man, and so afflicted, our Lord found, and made him hear and speak. But mark you this, though the look of His eye, or the whisper of His voice, or the mere motion of His Sacred Heart would have been sufficient for the working of the miracle, our Lord chose, on this occasion, to throw around the exercise of His divine compassion, a peculiar and elaborate ceremony. He took the man aside from the crowd, and put His fingers into his ears, and touched his tongue with the spittle of His mouth, and, looking up to heaven, He groaned, and said: “Ephpheta – be thou opened.” And He did all this, not because He could not have cured him otherwise, but to show, beyond all question, the grievousness of the affliction under which he labored, and still more, and above all, to impress upon the minds of those who in after-times would read about the miracle, the grievousness of the spiritual maladies, of which bodily deafness and bodily dumbness are only the mere images.
We have already seen, to some extent, at any rate, what it is to be deaf and dumb. We have seen that it cuts a man off from the communion of his fellow-men, removes him from the kindly charities of human intercourse, and leaves him in a state in which he may walk unwarned into the most fatal dangers, and is unable, even in the deadliest peril, to summon to his aid the help which he so sorely needs.
Now, there is a deafness and a dumbness far more terrible than that which was the subject of the miracle recorded in the Gospel. Who, then, you will ask, are the spiritually deaf: Well, they are of many classes. First, there is the class of those on whose ears has never fallen the music of the Word of God; those who have never received the gift of divine faith, without which it is impossible to please God, and who, being deaf to faith, are also necessarily dumb, not knowing how to speak to God the necessities of their soul in the voice of prayer. This is, of course, the worst possible form of spiritual deafness and spiritual dumbness that can affect a human being; but from this particular form of these spiritual maladies we, Catholics, are, thank God, exempt. We have heard the voice of God in the teaching of His Infallible Church. The time was, in the lifetime of each of us, when the priest at our baptism touched our ears and our mouth, and said; “Be opened,” and then the gift of divine faith was infused into our souls, and as we grew up the Church put the prayer upon our lips, and molded into living voice and burning word the sublime feelings which faith had created in the heart. Surely, then, you would say, of us, Catholics, there is no one who can be properly described as spiritually deaf and spiritually dumb. We have faith’; and, whether we pray or not, we have, at any rate, the knowledge of prayer, and the power to pray. But, alas! There are other forms of these spiritual maladies; and it may be, and, unfortunately, sometimes is, the fate even of a man who is a Catholic to be spiritually deaf and spiritually dumb. True, God gave him a spiritual ear, open to the very harmonies of heaven. True, God unloosed his tongue, and made it eloquent beyond what men conceive of human eloquence, for, when human eloquence has moved a human heart it has done its best, but the prayer that God and His church place on the lips of a Catholic has it within its competence to move the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Himself. No one who is a Catholic but has at some time possessed these great gifts; for, let a man be born into the church, he is brought to the baptismal font; receives there, not lone sanctifying grace, that makes the soul beautiful in the eyes of angels, but also the virtue of divine faith; and the names of Jesus and of Mary, the accents of prayer, and praise, and adoration, will be found upon the lips of the child long before his mind is capable of understanding the deep meanings of what he utters. This is true; but these gifts may be lost. Over every gift that God has given He has thrown the garment of free-will. Wrapped in that garment, which, according to our use of it, will be either a royal robe of honor, or a covering of shame, these things come to us. We can abuse them if we will, and we can abuse them to such an extent as that we may lose them altogether, or, even though we do not lose them, yet possess them in a way that will profit us nothing.
There is nothing more certain, for instance, than that a man may, by his own perversity, lose the gift of faith, and lose with that faith the power of hearing the voice of God, and the power of spiritual utterance. And it is at least equally certain that a man may bring himself to such a state that though he still retain the faith, though he be still a Catholic, though he take his place unquestioned amongst the faithful before the altar of his God, and seem to the eyes of men to be exactly like his fellow-Catholics, yet the faith that is in him may be a dead faith, and he may be living his life deaf and dumb – deaf to every voice that calls him to repentance, dumb to prayer, dumb to confession; deaf to the warning that would save him from impending doom, and having n his lips no cry for aid in the mortal peril in which his soul is placed.
Is there anyone here present who is not only in the state of mortal sin, but has been in that state for some considerable time. Let him listen while I try to put before him his own sad history. Let him look back, far back into his life, let him call to mind the days that are so far away, the days when he was innocent; or let him summon back in memory the feeling, half forgotten now, of the rapture that filled his soul when he stood up after making his last good confession. I care not how many a year may have gone by since then, I care not though his crimes be numerous as the das of all those years – I care not though his life have been one long uninterrupted sin – yet I say his heart must be harder than the heart of even the most sinful Catholic usually is, if he does not feel a thrill of emotion, a pang of agony, at the remembrance of God’s blessed peace, which he forfeited by his sinful life. Ah, that last good confession! How happy he felt when it was done; when he believed – nay, not merely believed, but felt – that a load was lifted from his heart, which only the hand of a merciful God could have ever lifted off, and when that heart swelled within his breast with a rapture that must surely be akin to the rapture of heaven, and longed to burst to bonds of flesh, and fly away to God’s eternal rest, of which the absolution of the priest had given it a foretaste. Ah, my brethren, there is not one amongst you who does not recognize what I describe, who has not felt what more than earthly joy from sin forgiven is poured into the soul in the Sacrament of Penance.
Let the sinner think of this, looking back over the desolate sea of his sinful life to the gleam of heaven’s light that memory brings back from the years gone by for ever, and then let him review his life since then. Alas! He fell into mortal sin; worse than this, he remained in mortal sin; nay, there was even worse, nothing propagates so fast as mortal sin, and one brought on another, and the count has long been lost – lost, save by the angel who has written them every one in the judgment-book of God.
Where was conscience, you will ask, conscience which God Himself had placed amidst his warring passions, to still their tumult and bring peace and order into the world of the soul? Well, I answer, God’s gifts do their work always – conscience was there, and well and nobly conscience did its work. It gave him no peace, it rose up and accused him, and its voice, low though it was, had a tone in it like the tone of the trumpet of doom. In the busy day it made itself heard, and in the darkness and the silence of the night its voice was terrible – so terrible that, like a madman who would strike down the friend who sought to save him from destruction, the sinner rose against conscience and choked it; he hastened to commit other mortal sins, and gradually the conscience sank beneath the weight, and almost, if not altogether, died of the countless shocks of repeated crimes.
And where was God, you will ask – had God abandoned him? Not so; God watched over him still. If he is not in hell to day it is because God holds him yet awhile suspended over the everlasting fire. And all the time God spoke to him y His grace, by his inspiration, by the vice of His minister, by the sermon on Sunday, by the troubles of the weekday life; but though God is Omnipotent, He does not choose to overbear by His Omnipotence even the sinner’s will, and that will was master, and chose to sin.
And did he never think of death? Sometimes he must have thought of it, for the mementoes of death lie scattered very thickly about the world. But he hears: “No fear, I shall not die yet;” he had almost persuaded himself that the hour of death would be of his own choosing. Did he never think of hell – or did he deliberately intend to live his life of sin as long as God’s patience would hold out, and the, struck by the lightning of His vengeance, die, and go for ever to his place in hell? Ah, no; he never for a moment meant to be damned. He had another place: he meant to commit mortal sin, and yet go to heaven; but these two things are beyond expression incompatible. He thought, at any rate, that he could sin as long as it pleased him, and then when he should have had enough of sin he would, at his leisure, turn to God, repent, receive the last sacraments, die, and having tried what it was to be God’s enemy during life, to be his friend in heaven for all the ages of eternity. Ah, my brethren, is it at all likely? You see he took for granted a number of things that are all of them necessary for his plan, and yet any one of which may fail him in his need. He took it for granted that he should have time – that he, of all men, should not die suddenly – that he should have grace, and that although he had been abusing grace all his life, yet when the extremity should arrive, he would be certain not to abuse it; that he shall have a priest – that no accident shall deprive him of that assistance. In short, he takes it for granted that things will arrange themselves as he needs and wishes, and not, ah! Not as he deserves.
Did he pray? Scarcely. A prayer may have lingered, by mere force of habit, on hi lips, but it never went down to his sinful heart. Mortal sin and real, persevering, fervent prayer, can never remain long together in the same soul. Sin has been in his soul, reigning undisturbed for many a long year: it is certain that out of that soul prayer has long since died.
Has he gone to confession all these years? Perhaps no, the hand of Satan hel him back; perhaps yes, and perhaps a dumb devil entered into him, and grasped his throat, and held his hand upon his lips, and choked back his sins; and to his other sins has been added the ever-growing and awful crime of bad confessions and sacrilegious communions.
There is his life; he is living on in sin, deaf and dumb. But still, my brethren, Jesus passes by; and Jesus loves hm so much, that if it would at all serve him, He would be ready to face once again in his behalf the terrors of Calvary, the sorrows of death. And Jesus, as He passes, perhaps at such an hour as this, Jesus touches the sinner’s ear and his lips, and an inspiration of God lights up for a moment the blackness of his sinful life, as a lightning flash lights up the darkness of the night.
Oh! If there be one here who this day hears, though but for a moment, the voice of God, let him listen and repent. And you, my brethren, like the friends of the deaf and dumb man, bring those sinners to Jesus by your fervent prayers.