PENTECOST - 13th Sunday After
Our Blessed Lord knew well – as well as we are reading the story now after all these years – our Lord knew well what was about to happen when He came towards the ten lepers as they stood by the wayside watching, loathsome to men in their foul disease, and awakening in the minds, even of their nearest and dearest friends, nothing but unconquerable disgust. Jesus, as He came near them knew why they were there; and the fountains of human tenderness and of divine compassion unsealed themselves within His Sacred Heart, ready to cleanse the lepers of their foul disease. He knew that He would say the word, and send them on their way, and that as they went they would be healed; and then, that nine out of the ten would forget Him utterly, and would forget Him, or, if they remembered Him at all, would only think of Him as one whose appearance had been a happy accident in their sad existence, as one who, having done towards them the part of kindly service, might pass for ever from their memories and from their lives, as one, who probably did not need, and certainly would not receive even the poor return of their thanks.
And do you think, my brethren, that Jesus did not keenly feel the ingratitude of the nine, who went away and never thought it worth their while to thank Him for having relieved them of a malady that made life itself a burden? It is true, that He was God, and as such, infinitely independent of human gratitude, but it is equally true that His Heart was a human heart, a heart exquisitely fashioned, so keenly sensitive to human emotions that every sorrow woke in it a pang far more intense than any that our hard hearts could ever feel. And we, even we, who can be ourselves ungrateful sometimes, even we know what it is to be wounded in heart; and how much more keenly the wound is apt to smart when it has been inflicted by some one whom we loved and served, and found delight in serving. We know how the heart within us rises against ingratitude, and bans it as the one sin of man to man that can scarcely be forgiven. This is so true in the dealings of men with each other, that even men who have steeped themselves, body and soul, in vice, who have no longer preserved that shame which often outlives the innocence from which it first was born, even they will shrink sensitively back, and repel with indignation a charge of being ungrateful. So men deal with one another, but it scarcely seems to be so when there is question of God. He it is Who is the real and the constant benefactor of the world and the human race. God does not, and it is well for us He does not, portion out His favors by our deserving, or even by our gratitude, but rather by the gracious bounty of His own divine compassion.
Many a deed has this broad earth witnessed that might well have saddened the eyes of angels with unwonted tears, and made the very heart of God repent, as it repented in the old time before the flood, that He had ever given an opportunity to man to make so fair a world the theatre of his wickedness. And yet, after the blackest deed that ever cried to heaven for vengeance, the sun rises to give yet another day, and bathe the world in a radiance that seems the very smile of God. God pours His favors out so copiously, that men quite forget to lift their hearts to Him Who gives them everything. Yet God is not tired out; the sun rises on the just and the unjust, the sun sets and touches into grateful sleep the weary hearts of men, even where a sin is nestling there that makes them deserve to have their sleep broken for eternity by the trumpet of God’s doom.
The sinner lives on, and sometimes prospers like his neighbors, for him the sunshine and the shower come in their appointed season, for him the heavens are gracious and the earth is fertile, his trees blossom, and his harvests ripen, even though all the time he is the enemy of God.
So men treat their God; so have they treated Him from the beginning of recorded time. And God never wearied of bestowing favors upon them, and at length, He sent to them His only Begotten Son made man.
And how have men treated Jesus Christ? He who took unto Himself a human heart exquisitely fashioned for the fullness of human joy, and the fullness of human sorrow, and filled that Heart as full as it could hold of love for men, nay, filled till the love flowed over and spread across the whole broad earth, and touched with its consecrating touch every soul that lived and is to live, filled it so, that a last that Sacred Heart burst with love, and wrote the passion of its affection upon the world in the red letters of its precious Blood. What has He met with, after all, in nine cases out of ten, but the blackest of ingratitude. Look through the history of the Christian centuries; was it not pictured prophetically in the story that Gospel tells to-day, of ten lepers who were healed, and of whom one only thought of coming back to gladden with his gratitude the Heart that healed him?
For remember this – it was not merely during the three years of His public ministry, it was not merely during the thirty-three years of His mortal life that Jesus has gone about the world to seek those who are stricken, and to heal them. No; for ever, and for ever, from the beginning until now, and from this hour until the day shall dawn, that shall be the last of days when the blast of the trumpet of Judgment shall bring to a close the long and eventful history of the human race of which He made Himself the brother, it is the self-selected task of Jesus Christ to go about through His Church, if invisibly, yet not less really, to throw Himself in the ways of those who are stricken with the foul disease of sin, and to draw from their weary sinful hearts, by the divine compassion that lives within His own, and flashes from His wounded hands, and His bleeding brow, to draw from them the cry: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
And when that cry rises from the sinner’s heart, little, then, does Jesus think of the sins that have stained his soul. Not apt is He to remember the malice of the sinner’s sin. He does not forget, He never can forget, the hour of His desolation, when He gathered unto His Sacred Heart all the sorrow of which a human heart was capable, and offered it in atonement for the sinner who is crying now for mercy. And when He looks upon the sinner with the divine compassion of those eyes that once were shrouded with the mists of death, and when He hears the voice of his repentance: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me;” then, I say to you, that not from any harp of all the harps of heaven, sweet though are they chords b the breath of seraphim, not from any one falls upon the ears of Jesus, a music half so sweet as that which gladdens His Sacred Heart at the first faint whisper of a sinner’s sorrow, and the first low sound of the cry for mercy that goes up to Him from lips that had almost forgotten how to pray.
Ah, be very sure, He hears that cry, and does exactly what He did of old: “Go,” He says, “and show yourselves to the priests,” and the sinner goes. He presents himself to the priest, he makes his good confession, and in the very heart’s blood of Jesus Christ he is healed from the leprosy of sin.
Ah! I know it well – that work of the divine compassion of Jesus Christ – I know it well, and you know, too, how many a time He repeats that miracle in the tribunal of confession; and they go away, pure and spotless, clothed with the robe of sanctifying grace, and they are found receiving into hearts that had once and so lately been the homes of sin, the body and the blood of the God who has forgiven them.
What is – what ought to be, their after-history? First, what ought it to be? Well, you, my brethren, are a grateful people, you are a people easily led by your affections, and none knows better than a priest how he who is your servant in offices of kindness, becomes, through the warmth of your gratitude, the very master of your hearts. Well, tell me, you, what ought to be the after-history of one who has been cleansed from the full leprosy of sin in the tribunal of confession? Let me say for you, what you would say yourselves, in answer to the question – He ought to go, and sin no more; He ought to return to Jesus and stay at His sacred feet, and let the shadow of the cross be on his life, ever till it falls upon his grave. Clasped to the breast of Jesus, his life should be like the life of Magdalen, all whose life is told in this, that having been a sinner, her love surpassed her sins, and she became a saint. But above all, never from that forgiven sinner, never from his lips should fall a word, never by his hand a deed be done, never in his heart a thought should rise, that could sadden, for a moment, the Sacred Heart that had been so merciful. That should be his life, it would be simple gratitude that it should be so.
And now, what is it, very often? Well, there were ten lepers cleansed, and one went back and acted as became him, and so, thank God, there are, amongst those who are healed in the tribunal of confession, there are grateful souls, who do thank Jesus, by their sinless lives, for the mercy He has shown. But are they one in every ten? Ah! I fear to answer, but I know that there are some whose history has been told in the history of the ungrateful nine.
They come to confession; on their lips, at any rate, is the cry: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us, heal us, and by the sacrament we receive, to which Thy blood gives efficacy, we promise to sin no more. We take thee, God, to witness, and blessed Mary, and Michael the great archangel, and John the Baptist who preached and practiced penance, and the holy Apostles, Peter who holds the keys of heaven, and Paul the teacher of the nations, we call all the saints to witness that we are sorry for the past, and that going we shall sin no more. Nay, further, we promise as God sees us, and His Mother, and the angels, that knowing by the bitter experience that left its brand upon the soul, knowing how weak we are, how prone to sin, how open to temptation, we promise to avoid for all the time to come, the occasions of sin, to keep away, as we would keep away from the very porch of hell, from the public-house, the evil companion, the bad book, from whatever in the time past led us into mortal sin.”
And then the sinner goes away, and scarcely is he out of the sight of Jesus when He begins already to forget Him. Ingratitude, which he would be ashamed to show to men, he is not ashamed to show to Jesus, Who has loved him, as never man could love. With the touch upon his soul of the hand of Jesus, with His blessed sacraments fresh upon his soul, with the shadow of the Eucharistic presence of his God still falling upon his life, he does not fear, he is not ashamed to go back into the occasions of sin which he promised so solemnly to avoid. He begins to hanker after the unholy freedom of his sin, he begins to grow weary of the very God Who gave His blood to save him. He goes back into the occasion of sin, and then what happens? You know what happens. The sinner who has been forgiven, who has tasted the sweetness of God’s peace for ever so short a time, he does not deliberately propose to himself to go back into the slavery of mortal sin; and do not think either that the devil suggests to him all at once to commit a mortal sin. No; the devil knows both the good and evil of the human heart. He begins a long way off, or what seems a long way off, from mortal sin. He whispers in his ear, you are safe now, you have broken with sin for ever, you are in no danger, you can go back now to the old haunts, and enjoy the old pleasures with moderation which is not sin; the old companions were very pleasant. And, then, the poor wretch goes back, and what comes of it all? This comes of it and only this, a grave in hell, and above that grave, as an inscription and as a doom, are written the awful words of the holy Ghost: “He who loves the danger, in the danger shall he perish.”
For those, my brethren, who are in mortal sin, there is the one cry that should fasten upon their lips: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And Jesus will have mercy, and when the sin is washed away by a good confession, there is just one way of showing gratitude, there is just one way of escaping the doom that follows, and sooner or later overtakes the relapsing sinner, and that one way is to avoid, as you would avoid a pestilence whose touch is death, anything that has ever been an occasion of sin.