PENTECOST - 2nd Sunday After
There was once a king and it was given to him to excel the monarchs of his time, in wisdom and in riches. His power was upon the sea and upon the land, and the greatness of Solomon, the wisest of Israel’s kings, was a theme of wonder to an admiring world. If ever there was a man whom the riches and pleasures of the world might have made happy, it was he. If ever there was one to whom the tings of earth might have been sufficient for his peace, here was the man. And yet, even he, who had drained to the last drop the cup of sensual and intellectual enjoyment, even he, in that most mournful of inspired books, the Book of Ecclesiastes, gives utterance, in what seem the saddest words that ever fell from human lips, to his thoughts about the world, and what the world has to give. “I surpassed,” he said, “in riches all who were before me in Jerusalem, my wisdom also remained with me. And whatsoever my eyes desired I refused them not, and I withheld not my heart from enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in the things I had prepared. And I esteemed this my portion, to make use of my own labor. And when I turned myself to the works which my hand had wrought, and to the labors wherein I had labored in vain, I found in all things vanity and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun. . . . All man’s days are full of miseries, and even in the night he doth not rest in his mind: and is not this vanity – vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.”
It is close upon three thousand years ago, since the heart of Israel's greatest and wisest king expressed its bitterness in these melancholy words. And I ask you, has the world changed since then? Have riches any greater power to make men happy? Can pleasure fill the aching void that makes life weary and labor vain? Can the "farm" and the "five yoke of oxen," and the marrying and giving in marriage, be deemed sufficient to exhaust the needs and complete the purpose of this mortal life? Look abroad upon the world, and see if the world is bringing happiness. Behold youth consumed with the fever of its restlessness, rushing on after some shadow of happiness that can be realized only in the future - the future that never comes. Behold age sitting sadly amid the ruins of a wasted life, mourning over dead hopes, and joys that are no more. Look abroad upon earth's swarming millions - harken to the cry for bread, listen to the moan of pain that rises up to heaven from the heart of humanity, and acknowledge that now, also, as of old time, weariness, and disappointment, and sorrow, are the inheritance of our race; and that still, as in the days of Solomon, the ground tone of the psalm of life is found in the sad words: "Vanity of vanities."
Men have heaped up riches, but care sat beside their pillows, and they sadly lived and sadly died, and brought with them no semblance of their wealth save the tinsel that glittered on the lid of the coffin. They have drained the cup of pleasure to the dregs, but at the bottom they found only remorse - remorse that is the type and the precursor of the "worm that never dies, and the fire that is not extinguished." They have sought for honor, to sit a little above their fellows, and to live upon the lips of men, and they died and were forgotten before the leaves of some few autumns had withered upon their graves - nay, the laurel lost its freshness in their hands even before they passed to that "silent land," where no trumpet-note of fame can pierce the unlistening ear, or wake one flutter in the silent heart.
This is a true statement of what the world can do, even for those who serve it best - even for those who postpone to its demands the highest and holiest duties, who give it the hard service of a lifetime, and sacrifice to it the salvation of their immortal souls. I appeal to the testimony of your own hearts - is not life heard, is not sorrow a frequent guest at your fireside, does not poverty take the spring out of hearts that are most hopeful, do not riches bring their ever-increasing train of anxieties and cares?
And if this, indeed, were all; if this were the full history of man's mortal life; if there were no place where the yoke of life could be laid down, and the burden of sorrow made light; if there were no kind hind to wipe the tears from off our face, no tender heart to compassionate our sufferings, no loving voice to soothe the trouble of our lives, what better would the world be than the gate of death and the porch of hell?
But, blessed be God! It is not so. blessed be God! - above all the wail of human misery rises a voice laden with one unceasing message: "Come to me all you that labor and are heavy burdened, and I will refresh you." The Master gives the invitation, the servants carry it abroad to the ends of the earth. The voice is ringing through all nature, it is speaking through man's conscience to man's heart, it may be heard in everything around us that can raise our thought from the creature to the Creator; but it has gathered up its strength, and its sweetness, and its force, to speak to us from the tabernacle, where Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - the remedy for all our evils, our consoler in every sorrow, our refuge in every trouble, our helper in every difficulty - this is the subject I wish to put before you to-day. I wish, as the minister of God and of His Church, to open my heart to the sorrow of your lives; to listen, as it were, to the long tale of your sufferings, and your struggles, and your trials, and your difficulties; to give you my most heartfelt sympathy, and then, to do more for you than any human sympathy could do; to impress on you the truth, that the unfailing remedy for all the sin, and sorrow, and trouble of our lives, is to be found in the Blessed Sacrament, where Jesus sits, not yet upon the seat of judgment, but on the throne of love.
For, in this Holy Sacrament, Jesus has loved us. Let us see with how great a love.
A very sure way to estimate the love manifested by a gift, is to consider at what a cost it was conferred. Let us, then, cast up the account of what it has cost our Blessed Lord to come and dwell with us in the Sacrament of the Altar; let us consider how the Great Supper was prepared, and what the love of Jesus made it necessary for Him to do, in order to make His abode beneath the sacramental species, among the children of men. For this, it was necessary that Jesus should leave the bosom of His Eternal Father, and come into a world that was cursed because of sin. For this, He should dwell for thirty years in the obscurity of Nazareth, and spend three toilsome years of labor, harassed by the pride and hypocrisy of Pharisee and Scribe. For this, He entered upon the unexampled agony of His Passion. The rain of blood poured down His face among the olives of Gethsemane; the scourge tore and hissed through His sacred flesh, and left such disfigurement upon Him that even Mary would scarce have recognized her son, save by the unerring instinct of a mother's heart. The thorny crown pressed sore upon His aching temples, the heavy cross crushed Him to the earth, the rough nails tore and crashed through bone, and sinew, and muscle; and in the end, they that loved Him - Mary, and Magdalene, and John - looked up through blinding tears upon the face of the dead Christ. Nay - more than this - He had to leave Himself powerless in the hands of those who, in the malice of their blinded hearts, would abuse His love. He had to leave Himself at the mercy of the unbeliever and the heretic, to be ready, at the impious demand, to be laid on blasphemous lips, and to enter into the hearts of the sacrilegious. He had to forfeit, as it were, not alone the glory of His divinity, but even the privileges of His human nature. And all this He did, that in this memorial of His Passion He might lie upon our altars, and dwell within our tabernacles; that He might bring pardon to the sinner, and peace to the afflicted; that He might be carried by His priests to the deathbeds of the dying, and soothe by His sacramental presence, the closing hours of lives that are soon to be laid before Him for judgment.
And in return for all this, what dies He ask? He asks only one thing - that we should love Him, "I came to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be enkindled?" He has exhausted in the Blessed Sacrament the infinite treasures of His love: has He asked too much when He asks us to love Him?
The love that dwells within a human heart bursts forth irrepressibly into outward manifestation. And if we have a real love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we will be sure to show it by the fulfilment of the obligations, which are imposed on us by the institution of this mystery of love. What, then, are these obligations? they are chiefly two: (1) we must often visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament, and (2) frequently receive Him in the Holy Communion.
We must often visit the blessed Sacrament. Oh, where is our faith! If Jesus were to appear again in the flesh; if He were to walk as He walked of old through the homesteads of Judea; would not the Christian world fling itself upon the Holy Land, as it did once when incited by a longing for the places that were hallowed by the mere memory of His sacred footsteps? And if we went there, in answer to the question - What came ye here to see? - the faith that is in us would compel us to answer: We came to see the self-same Jesus Who is present in the Tabernacle, which we so seldom cared to visit.
Through the weary day, and through the lonely watches of the silent night, Jesus is present upon our altars. The world goes upon its noisy way; men buy, and sell, and traffic in the streets; the waves of time make, still, their fateful music, as they dash upon the shores of each succeeding day; men eat, and drink, and laugh, and mourn, and die, and the fleeting business of the world goes on; and all the time, at a few paces from our homes, scarce secluded from the noise of rustic toil, or from the bustle of busy streets, Jesus is waiting in the Tabernacle. He could give powerful aid even to the world's business, He could give a blessing to the world's labor, He could heal the wounds of hearts which the hard world crushes in its relentless march. And yet men will not come to Him. Come what time you will during the busy week, and scarcely will you find a few to pay a visit to their Lord in the sacrament of His love.
To be sure, men have their excuses now, as those had of old in the Gospel. They have their "farm" and their "five yoke of oxen," they are marrying and giving in marriage, they are engrossed by worldly pursuits that are ripening their souls for the harvest of destruction - they have no time to come. Oh! believe me, there shall be time in hell for unavailing regret; and, amid all the tortures of that prison-house, none will be keener or more constant than the memory of the ever-gone time, when Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was near at hand, ready, nay, yearning to bestow the graces that would infallibly have ended, in a throne in heaven, and a crown of glory.
Say not, then that you have no time to come to Jesus. Do not plead your business, for even though your business had to be neglected, it were surely better so, than that it should prosper at the cost of your immortal soul. But, in truth, it need not be neglected. Have you no faith in the goodness of God, or do you suppose that the blessing of Jesus will not fully repay the loss of the few moments you spend before the altar?
But this is not all. We must not only visit Him, but we must frequently receive Him in the Holy Communion. Jesus has prepared a Great Supper. Not content with waiting in the Tabernacle to dispense His favors, He will go forth to seek a home in the hearts of sinners. Lips may have blasphemed Him, but not even on such lips will He refuse to rest. H is glad to make His home in a soul whence Satan has been just expelled; He condescends to beg for a heart, whose first love was with His enemy; and He is grateful for the remnant of a life, that has hitherto been expended in wickedness. He sends out His servants - the priests of His Church - to tell the people of the Great Supper, and to invite them to come. But they are met, of old, with the indifference of the worldly, and the sneer of the unbeliever, and the blasphemy of the heretic; and oh, saddest thing of all - they are too often met with coldness, and the apathy of those, who claim to be children of the household.
But someone may say - I believe that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist, I recognize the love that is manifested in its institution, but, I am a sinner; I have offended God so grievously and so often that I am not worthy to appear before Him, much less to receive Him in the Holy Communion. Here, under the guise of a false humility, is the most dangerous delusion that can blind the soul. You are a sinner. And, I ask, if you were the greatest sinner that the slow justice of a merciful God ever left unpunished, to whom will you go but to Him Who alone can pardon? Or, is it your mad purpose to carry your sense of unworthiness so far as to keep away from Jesus here, and, as a necessary consequence, hide yourself hereafter from His face in the depths of hell? sin need be no obstacle if you will but repent. Jesus will receive you with open arms. How did He treat the sinners who came to Him? Let us see.
was a woman in Jerusalem, whose womanhood had been degraded by a life of sin.
Her pen iniquity brought a blush to the cheek of the pure, and a sneer to the
lip of the uncharitable. Her sin was open before the world, and in the
spring of her young life, in the bloom of all her wondrous beauty, she stood
alone, a mark of scorn to the scornful, of deepest pity to the compassionate.
And in the midst of her excesses she heard of Jesus. She heard of His
power and of His miracles, and she felt her sin-stained heart grow hot within
her at the stories of his tenderness towards the fallen. And she, too,
polluted though she was, would go to Jesus - and she found Him as He sat at the
feat of a Pharisee. And, undeterred y the shrinking of the righteous,
heeding not the scorn of the scornful, regardless of the taunt of the malicious
- caring not for the bitter word, or for the look that can cut deeper than a
word or than a blow - her tears fell fast upon the sacred feet of Jesus.
And not a Pharisee of them all but thought that He would spurn her as she knelt.
Surely, they said, He knoweth what manner of woman this is - that she is a
sinner: and their indignation swelled into a murmur when He looked down
compassionately on the weeping penitent. But Jesus, reading their hearts
and hers, opens His sacred lips to pronounce her sentence - and what is it?
"Because she hat loved much, much also is forgiven her - woman, go in peace,
they sins are forgiven." And she went in peace, she lived down the memory
of her sin, she became the companion of Mary Immaculate. And a little time
passed by, and Jesus came to die. And in that most sacred and most solemn
hour that the world can ever witness, who stood by Him in His agony? Mary
might well be there, for she was His mother, and she was sinless; John might
well be there, for Jesus loved him for his purity; but Magdalen - she who but
little while ago had lifted an unblushing brow of sin the streets of Jerusalem -
should such a one as she be there? Oh, dear Jesus! Thou wouldst have
it so; and what
sinner can hesitate to approach Thee, when he knows that the last look of love from an expiring Savior was shared alike by Mary the sinless and Mary the sinner.
Come, then, with all your sins and all your sorrows to the feet of Jesus. Let your devotion to the Blessed Sacrament be part and parcel of your daily lives. Visit Him when you can in the tabernacle of His love; lay all the burdens of your life at His sacred feet; and, as you value the life of your immortal souls, refresh them often with the Holy Communion. Thus shall you bring a blessing on your lives, and to your hearts that peace which the world cannot give; thus, too, will you best prepare for the inevitable hour of death. And when you come to die - when the fight is over, when the weary march is done, when the affrighted heart is throbbing on in agony to the great silence - Jesus whom you loved through life will be carried to you in the last Viaticum: He will soothe the agony of your passing, and will, as it were, pass from the soul He has sanctified to the seat of judgment, when He will pronounce on you the blessed sentence of everlasting life. Amen.