Pentecost - 19th Sunday After
These parables of our Blessed Lord come to us, my brethren, over the wide expanse of eighteen hundred years. Their wisdom, and their beauty, and their pathos, were the wisdom, and the beauty, and the pathos of another land than ours, and of a time that differs widely from the times in which we live. In a distant land, under eastern skies, many a long year ago, Jesus told these stories in the hearing of men, who had their day, and passed in their own time to graves that are forgotten now. And yet, though this is so, it must have struck you, as it has often struck me, how the music of the Gospel wakes its echo in our hearts, and how the homely wisdom of these Gospel stories has made itself a home in every land, however wide asunder, and in every phase of those varying moods of society that men call civilization. The Gospel has gone everywhere, has everywhere taken possession of the ears of men and their hearts, turns easily into every language, and has fitted itself into every healthy system of human society. It brings us back to world’s bygone years, and is the means of bringing each successive generation close to the feet of Jesus, to hear for their own selves the words that fell in old time from the sacred lips, which, divine though they were, the hand of death once touched into the silence that seals dead lips.
Jesus lived, and died, and rose again, and the clouds of Olivet closed for ever around His sacred Person, and earth shall see Him in the flesh never again, till the trumpet of the doom shall have wakened the dead world; but though this be so, His words have never died; ears heard them, and lips-spoke them to other ears, and each succeeding age caught them up, and told them to the children who were to be the men of the age to be. Ah! And the Church treasured them up, as loving children cherish the remembered wisdom of their dead parents, and she kept them pure, and if difficulty were in them she made it plain, and she put the book of the Gospel into the hands of her priests, and consecrated their lips with the obligation of keeping alive for ever in the memory of her people, the words and the acts of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And, to-day, there is put before us one of those homely parables, that makes us think, so familiar are its incidents, that it was meant specially for just such people as ourselves. Here we have a picture of various classes of people hung side by side n the same society. Some engaged labor, others in business, some living careless, easy-going lives, others again, finding little else to do in God’s world, than snatch whatever pleasure floated on the surface of each coming day; and other some with evil minds, and hard hearts, and cruel hands, ready always for mischief and for crime, and besides these, the great multitude of ordinary people, who live out, as best they can, their undistinguished lives, and die and are forgotten before the grass upon their graves is green, and leave no mark of their passing upon earth, save that of these too God has care, and His eye is upon them, and His angel writes their lives, with just as patient care, as the lives of greater than they, in the book of judgment. Such is the society to which the story of the Gospel introduces us; is it not strangely like the society of the world of to-day? Nay, is it not strangely like that little society, which we here form amongst ourselves? Could we not, if need were, lay our hands on the careless and the indifferent, and the busy and those who think of nothing but gain, and those who live pleasure, or what they call pleasure, and the wicked, who for a short time – ah! Believe me, only for a short time – are suffered to abuse God’s mercy, and disgrace the place that is cursed with the example of their evil lives. Yes; they are all to be met with even now, for, after all, Palestine or Ireland, the first century or the nineteenth, a noisy city or a monotonous town, the human heart is very much the same under every condition, and under every sky brings forth, in the sight of God, the same mixed crop of evil and of good.
Such as I have told you was the society of which our Blessed Lord told the story, and to these men, as to us, God had a message to send, amongst them He had an object to accomplish, and it was a message of the gladdest tidings that ever fell on human ears, an object the greatest that could ever engage the attention of men. God’s only Begotten Son had taken to Himself the human nature that sin had brought under the ban of God. He had, as it were, espoused that human nature, and men were to be gathered together to celebrate the nuptials – first, by presenting themselves before God, here on earth, clothed with the garment of sanctifying grace, and then, to be caught up with Jesus into the glory of heaven where the eternal nuptials will be celebrated, of which eye has never seen the glory, nor heart conceived the joy.
And the message went forth; God wanted to form a kingdom upon earth; He wanted to make upon earth a visible society in which men could see reflected His own purity, and His own truth, and His own mercy, where every member would work for Him and watch vigilantly over His interests. Since He was God, all-wise, and all-powerful, you would have said that He might have funded such a kingdom at a word; that, as in the beginning He sent light flashing through the long darkness that had been before the creation, as He sent forth His mandate and saw the fresh young world spring into existence; so also, you might have thought, He could have formed upon earth the kingdom of His justice. But easy though it might seem, God did not do it easily. He funded His kingdom, but His kingdom cost tears that were priceless, cost agony beyond our power of conceiving, cost blood that was worth, nay, that was the ransom of the world. For God had given man free will, and man had abused it, and sin had found its ways into the world that once was beautiful, and made itself a home in the human heart that once reflected the very holiness of God. And more than once all flesh corrupted its way, and men chose paths of their own that led them far from God, and found their ending in the hell of the damned. And times were when the cause of God seemed lost on earth, and any kingdom of His simply an impossibility. But God was not conquered yet. This human nature that He had given to man was saturated with sin, but His eyes of mercy saw in it still vast possibilities of good, and His only-begotten Son took that nature, sinless once again to Himself, and then when a human heart had throbbed in the very breast of God, there was a hope, nay a certainty, that out of human hearts sanctified by the graces that come from the Incarnation, God might yet build Himself a kingdom, whose title deeds would be written in the precious Blood of One Who was the Son of God, and at the same time made a Son of Adam, through the motherhood of Mary. And Jesus came, and came to conquer; yet, mark you, with means far other than the means that earthly conquerors adopt. But poverty, by meekness, by an obscure life, lived amidst the undistinguished villages of a far eastern land, by such a life as this, crowned by a passion of unexampled suffering, and a death that has been the wonder of the world – by these means He founded upon earth the Kingdom of God, that is the Holy Catholic Church. That Church, bought by blood, rose majestic upon the world, coming fort in power and in beauty from the shadows of the passion, as the sun of morning bursts from the clouds that hang about the gates of dawn. So was the Church founded, the Kingdom of God. And as it was founded, so has it been carried on. Not without cost of priceless tears and precious Blood, did God and the Son of God form the Church, and not without tears and blood has that Church made its way -upon earth. Martyrs died and rendered up in agony their souls to God, confessors bore His Name to a world that scorned them, virgins crushing out of their weak hearts the weeds of human passion, cultivated the affections of their hearts till they blossomed into the perfect flowers of Christian chastity, saints have lived, and labored and died for God, and, like angels, made earth holy by their passing, and all this that God‘s Kingdom, God’s Church might flourish upon earth. Nay, think for yourselves, you are Catholics, Ireland is Catholic. Well, what has her Catholicity cost? My brethren, when I take into my hand this book of the Gospel which it is my duty and happiness to preach to you, an Irish congregation, it seems to me to be not only written in the blood of Jesus Christ, but to be reddened through all its pages with the life-blood of the faithful hearts that clasped it to them when they died for God. Yes, you are Catholics; understand now what it cost to make you Catholics, what it cost to make you Irish Catholics, and try to be worthy of the name.
Such, then, is the Kingdom of God, always to be seen upon the highways of the world, keeping up the tradition of holiness in a world that is not holy, of truth in a world of falsehood, of charity in a world that is hard and censorious, that has no pity for the fallen, and no mercy for the weak. That Church will stand for ever, for ever will it do its work, it will outlast every human institution that is or that is to be, and from its hand the scepter shall not fall till in the world’s last day, Jesus from His throne of judgment shall crown its work, by the ban that dooms, and by the blessing that gives eternal life; yet, though this is so, not the less does God allow the storms of human passion to assail and harass the Kingdom of His Church. The world has seen before, what the world sees now, God’s captains sore beset, and the fate of the Church seeming to tremble, ah! Seeming only to tremble in the balance, and the fight raging along the live, and the standard of the cross trailing in the dust of battle, and the blood of those who bear it in their faithful hands, and almost borne down by the furious onset of the enemies who throng around it, with all the power of earth in their hands, and all the hatred of hell in their hearts. And yet, never for a moment is the issue doubtful, it has happened before, it will happen again; at the darkest hour the dawn will break, and God will still the tumult of human passion, and the dust and cloud of battle shall roll way, and then – this is not my prophecy but the promise of God Himself – the Church will still be there, wearing on her brow the glory of one other triumph, and in her crown, the jewel of a martyrdom the more.
But, meantime remember – it would be treason to forget it – that God works the triumph of His Church by the human hands of good Catholics; we may be his instruments if we will, but God does not change, and He still proclaims: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathers not with me scattered;” there is no middle class, either good Catholics, or enemies of God.
Now what is a good Catholic? Never was it more necessary than now to know what a good Catholic is, and to e that, my brethren, I know you fairly well, and I know this that I could find here now, in this congregation, many a one to shout for the Catholic cause, to denounce the persecutors of God’s Church, and the oppressors of God’s vicar. I could find here many a man whose heart would grow hot with indignation at the stories of persecution that reach us from every side, many a man who, if need were, and opportunity offered, would be ready to strike strong strokes of his right hand for what he knows to be the cause of God; nay, I have no doubt I could find some who wonder in their secret heat why God allows such things to be; who fear that God is forgetting His own cause, and who think He ought to strike just as they would strike, if they had God’s power without His patient wisdom. I could find men like these, but suppose I wanted something in addition to all this, suppose that; considering, as I do consider, outspoken zeal to be, in its own place and its own time a very useful thing, yet I wanted something more, and that a something infinitely more important, suppose I felt, as I do feel in my heat, that in the fight for God’s cause, one good Catholic is worth a thousand whose Catholicity begins and ends in protestations of fidelity to God’s cause, and God’s vicar, the Catholicity that talks big, but does nothing, that swaggers and loves display, and likes to be engaged in something that men will see and admire. Suppose I felt, as I do feel, that at this time, as at every time of crisis and of peril that has ever come to God’s interests upon earth; suppose I felt, that one saint were worth a whole army of ordinary Catholics, suppose, then, I looked for saints, suppose even, that I looked for good Catholics; ah! My brethren, these are more difficult to find.
As in the Gospel, so now in these timse of difficulty and of danger, God, our Master and our King, sends out His message, He wants good Catholics.
Well, some are too busy; their farm and their business are quite enough for them; they have no time to pray, to frequent sacraments. This would is all to them, their highest ideal of success is amassing a little of this world’s wealth. Well, to those who are too busy to save their souls what can I say but this, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? And I add this too, my duty leads me to the bedside of those who are about to die; and when they hold out their hands for the last unction, their hands are empty.
And some again are selfish, they grovel in the mire of selfishness, soiling with that fatal stain everything they touch; unable to rise even to the conception of the sublime self-denial of the cross of Christ.
And others love pleasure, and passion devours them, and they yield themselves a prey to some vice; drunkenness, impurity, or both together, and still they call themselves Catholics, and sometimes denounce the enemies of the Church, just as if they were not themselves the worst enemies of the Church.
Yes, it is true now, it is always true, what God wants is, good Catholics. You may think that you can do but little for the Church, and for the Pope; little to stem the tide of persecution that infidel statesman have let loose against the Kingdom of God, but I say to you, you would be mistaken if you thought so; not a little but very much can each of you do for the cause of God. There is not one, however humble, however obscure, who, if he lives the life of a good Catholic, frequents the sacraments, does what in him lies to show forth in his life the purity and the ruth, and the charity that begets a man whom Christ has made His brother, there is not one such, who will not be contributing in a most real and most certain way to shorten the time of trial, and hasten the coming of the hour that sooner or later must come; when God shall arise and His enemies be scattered, and those that hate Him, and hate His cause, and hate His vicar, shall flee before the wrath of His face.