PENTECOST - 14th Sunday After
When you come into the church, my brethren, if you come reverently, your fist impulse is to look towards the Tabernacle, where you know with a certainty as deep as the faith by which your souls are living, that Jesus is waiting for your homage. You have come from the busy world without, which bringing, though it does, so many a heartache, and so many a care, has so strong a fascination for the human heart, which yet it cannot satisfy; a world that by many an allurement so potent over flesh and blood and sense, strives to enlist us in its hard and thankless service, strives to buy our souls, that It may spoil them for higher duties, and waste them on the things that fade and perish in the bitter end.
Yet, let me hope that coming into the house of God, you leave that busy sinful world upon the threshold of the door by which you enter, and that though you cannot leave outside those restless hearts of yours that will be vexed, even here, by untimely distractions, and haunted even here by memories of worldly passions; yet you strive, any rate, to purify them in the sacred fire of the burning love, which, linking together the earth we see, and the heaven we hope for, has brought Jesus down from the bosom of His Eternal Father to dwell within our Tabernacles.
And as you raise your eyes to that Tabernacle, you see above it the sacred sign that means much to Christian eyes, and has so eloquent a language for Christian hearts, the emblem that tells so much that nothing else could tell about God’s justice, and God’s love, the standard beneath which saints have walked along the narrow rugged road that leads to heaven, the symbol of the Christian’s faith, the warrant of the Christian’s hope, the motive of the Christian’s charity; you see above the Tabernacle the image of Jesus crucified.
Look at it, my brethren: many of you there may be, that cannot read in any book, but there never was a human being yet who could not, if he wished, read the story that is told by the crucifix. What a picture of a life is there, and remember, a picture, that is put there, not merely to excite a barren admiration, but a picture that is placed before our eyes that every life that looks on it may model itself on the divine life that ended in the agony of the cross.
When a painter wishes to paint the portrait of some man whom the world deems worthy of honor, when he wishes to paint it so that it may be the best expression of the man whose portrait it is, he reflects upon the life of the man, and selects for painting, some scene wherein the qualities that constitute his greatness were most strikingly displayed. And so it was, when the Church wished to keep Jesus for ever before the eyes of the faithful, when she wished for an image of Him to crown the Tabernacle where He loves to dwell, she selected of all others, that closing scene, wherein His boundless mercy, His unutterable love, His divine unselfishness, His unspeakable humility, His hunger after justice, His ardent desire for the suffering by which alone justice could be satisfied, where all the sublime virtues of His human character sustained and glorified by His divine personality, shone forth with splendor all the greater, because of the clouds that hung round Calvary when Jesus died.
Look at it, my brethren, and ask yourselves the question which I now ask you; are your lives like it? Are your lives, the lives you lead every day, are they in any measure like that of the divine Master, whose services, alone, can save your immortal souls? You cannot serve two Masters, He Himself has told you so; is, then, the Master whom you are serving, that same Jesus whose crucified image is placed before you as the standard and the model, by likeness to which, and by that alone, your lives can find acceptance before the judgment-seat of God?
The life that the crucifix displays before you is, on the very face of it, a life on which mortification is plainly stamped. Whatever else might be deemed obscure or mysterious in the life of Jesus, this, at any rate, is undeniable, that it is a life of mortification, and a life, too, in which the mortifications of a lifetime found only their appropriate issue, in the crowning mortification of an ignominious death.
Now where is the mortification in your lives? Are you not striving with all your might, be that might little or much, to make life as easy yourselves as life can be made? Is there any measure to your vexation, when something or some person interferes with your keen pursuit of those worldly interests that are dear to your hearts? You will go out from the Church, to-day; many of you will not enter it again till another week be gone; many of you, too, let me say, who, having time and opportunity, having everything but the zeal for God’s service that would bring them, have need to be reminded, as I now remind them, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered up here every morning, many of you will not appear here for another week, and how shall that week be spent?
But there are others, who, whatever other cares they have, are spared the sordid care about their daily bread. What are their week-day lives? Alas! Are they, too, seeking to make life easy? Are they so bent on advancing in the world that they have scarce a thought to spare for God, or their eternal salvation? Have they a habit of measuring the advantage or disadvantage of everything that happens then, not by the teaching of the cross, but by the standard of worldly interest? Are they looking on their growing prosperity as an excuse for increased indulgences in the way of living? Do they deny themselves anything for God’s sole sake? Do they push themselves forward in the world, and come to think, so earnest are they in the endeavor, that it was for that they were created? Are they seeking themselves in the little world that lies around them, and seeing everything from the one point of view of their own selfish interest?
If there be no mortification in their lives, neither is there any unselfishness that would give ground for hope that they were serving a master Who denied Himself everything to which a human heart could cling. Are they in love with the humiliation that was the very crown of the life of Jesus? Not them. They dearly love and highly prize the little honors that life puts in their way. Their lives are narrow enough, God knows, their ambitions are as narrow as their lives, but what ambition loses by narrowness it can make up by intensity, and the man, living the narrow life of a country town, can, as far as the feeling of his soul, and the intensity of his purpose are concerned, be as ambitious as the man who hopes to make his individual name a part of the history of his country.
They are unmortified, self-seeking, self-indulgent, even where they seem to mortify one passion, they are but starving it, to gratify some passion still more deadly. Even where they seem to deny themselves something they are only hoarding up the means for some baser gratification. Success in life is the one thing they worship. If a saint of God were to live among them, and die among them, his life would seem to them a failure, because it would have surrounded itself with so few of the things which they are apt to look upon as the very prizes of life. They wish to stand well, not in the first place with God; there will be time enough to think of that when death’s unwelcome finger shall beckon them away to the land of mystery that lies beyond the grave. Rather, they want to stand well with the world, of which they shut their eyes to the fact that it is God’s deadly enemy. And the world honors them, and pays them compliments, and says fine things about them, and points them out as models to be imitated; as why should it not, for are they not the world’s most diligent servants? But do they, can they think that they are serving that other Master Whom it is so necessary to serve, Who holds in His hand the final issues of all man’s striving, and the key of the future dwelling-place that is to be His place for ever? Do they think they are serving God? And when they, be they rich or poor, who love such lives as I have been describing, when they bring their lives here to the Church, and in some moment of reflection, spread their unmortified, self-seeking, self-indulgent lives, before the altar; can they trace in such lives as theirs, and, even the most distant likeness, to the life of Him Whose crucified image is placed above the altar?
When our blessed Lord appeared on earth, He found the human heart very much the same as it is to be found at the present time. Most things change, but as the sea waves beat for ages on the shore with unchanging murmur, so do the passions of man’s heart dash through all the centuries over the face of the world. And when Jesus appeared among the men of that day, He appeared as the aged Simeon had foretold: “for the ruin and the resurrection of many, and as a sign to be contradicted.” Accordingly, when He began to preach, He gathered around Him a little band of faithful disciples. They were fervent, but they were few, and on the great world of Judea around Him his preaching seemed to have but little influence. They went on in those days buying and selling, even in the Temple, and the Pharisees paraded their hypocritical lives before the eyes of men, and the Scribes quarreled over the letter of the law, to the spirit of which they were utterly indifferent, and the Sadducees made the most of this world, because they do not believe that there was any world beyond the grave. And of the people at large some were busy, and some were worldly, and many were sinful, and only a few listened with under-standing hearts to the teaching of Jesus. But He was a sign, not be disregarded, but to be contradicted, and Him manner of life made the Scribes and Pharisees uneasy, and stirred the sleeping consciences of the wicked.
The Pharisees could not understand a life so utterly unlike their own, and, not understanding, they hated it with a deadly hatred. They were prone to make themselves excuses for the want of likeness between their own lives which were devoted to the world, and the life of Jesus that was wholly employed in the service of His Heavenly Father. When they saw that He was mortified and humble, that He loved poverty and despised riches, they made for themselves the very same excuses that worldlings are prone to make at the present day when they are warned against self-indulgence and love of the world. They said in their hearts: “Oh, it is all very well for Him to preach against riches, but if every one took His advice, what would the world come to. We must live, we must support our families, we must better our condition, we must lay by wherewithal to keep up our position in society. We will do as our neighbors to, and all the time we do not intend to sacrifice our souls. We will pray and go to the Temple at proper times, but we shall exercise a prudent caution lest our spiritual duties should interfere with our success in the world.” The short, simple, answer to these excuses is fund in the worlds: “You cannot serve two Masters.”
My brethren, in our day, too, there are persons such as I have been describing, who, steeped to the lips in self-indulgence, and living only for the world, yet strive to persuade themselves that because they indulge in no gross notorious vices, because at any rate they do nothing shameful before the eyes of men though many a shameful thing may pass within their sinful hearts, because they hear Mass on Sundays, and comply with a few of the external observances of religion, they strive to persuade themselves that though they are serving mammon, might and main, yet they are also serving God.
What is the test? It is the same as it was in the lifetime of our blessed Lord. As He was then in the midst of the world, so now, is His crucified image raised above our altars. Are your lives like it? If they be not, there is no possible excuse that can avail you anything. If the life of any one amongst you be unlike the divine life that the crucifix reveals; if there be in his life not mortification, no unselfishness, no humility, if, on the contrary, there be a seeking for ease and a love of pleasure, and a hunger for the good things of he world, and a craving after the world’s good word, and good opinion, and an esteem for the world’s honors, then let no delusion blind him to the fact that he is not a servant of Jesus. Whatever else he is, that he is not. Call him anything else you will, a successful man, a good citizen, a shrewd man of business, a man of great intellectual power, and a great public spirit, any, or all of these he may be, but not a servant of Jesus. He may call himself so if he will, he may boast of being a Catholic, he may attach himself to the body of the faithful, and be found in the Church on Sundays in as prominent a place as the Pharisee of old, but let him raise his eyes to the crucified image of the Master Whom he pretends to serve; and if he find in his heart no likeness to that image, nor any vestige of the virtues which that image represents, let him pause, before it is too late, upon the fatal road, which, however it may pass through the pleasant places of the world, leads ever down with steep incline, and has its certain end with Dives in the hell of the damned.
I am not speaking now to notorious sinners; of all days there is no need that I should speak of them to-day. What could I say so terrible, as the short, sharp, decisive sentence in the Epistle of the Mass?
I am speaking rather to the large body of people who are to be fund in every community, who, falling into no gross, shameful, external sins, have their hearts so engrossed with worldly pursuits that they have no longer room for any thought of God, who are self-seeking, self-indulgent, and unmortified, who worship worldly success and who are selling their souls for the poor and perishable prizes the world has to offer, and who, all the time they are doing those things, would perhaps feel insulted if I told them what is the sad truth, that they are not Catholics at all, in any profitable sense.
To all of you I say, there is the crucifix; make your lives like it in some degree. Remember on the last day when Jesus shall come to judge the world, the cross shall be borne before Him in the distant East. And it shall be so borne, because it shall be the measure by which He shall measure out judgment to His creatures in that judgment wherein: “He will scatter the proud in the conceit of their hearts, and shall raise up the humble;” in which “He will put down the mighty from their seat, and lift up the lowly, shall fill with good things those who have hungered: after justice, and shall prove to the assembled universe that the only true wisdom was what the world is wont to call the, “folly of the cross.”