PENTECOST - 3rd Sunday After
It seems a simple thing to say – a child will repeat it from his catechism – that the end of man is to know and serve God in this life and afterwards to see and enjoy Him forever in heaven. A simple thing, but are you sure that the full force of this momentous statement has ever reached your heats, has ever passed the barriers which indifference, and ignorance, and passion, the coldness of the heart, and the blindness of the intellect, and the corrupt weakness of human nature, contribute to interpose, between a man and the awful mysteries that lie around his life? Has the great truth ever gone home to your souls, and produced there, one of those sublime and fruitful moments in which a man stands face to face with his immortal destiny, rises far above the low levels of this earthly existence, and beholds that life of his stretching on beyond the limits of death and the grave, through the measureless spaces of eternity?
Our destiny is twofold, it is one for this life, and another for the life to come. Here, to know and to serve, there, to see and to enjoy. But not more surely does the rising of the sun produce the day, and its setting bring the night, than our eternal fate in the great hereafter is shaped and fashioned by our conduct in the living present. Hence, we shall consider, to-day, what it is that prevents a man from attaining his true end, prevents him from knowing God and serving Him; and then, if these obstacles have been exercising an influence on our lives, we shall see what a resource we have to draw upon, to avert the awful consequences of that fatal influence.
Nothing can frustrate in us the design
of God, but sin. And sin, as an obstacle to knowing God, and serving Him, takes
one or other of two dangerous forms (1) forgetfulness of God, and (2) positive
acts of wickedness.
St. Thomas of Villanova writes: - “What can man desire, that is not fund in God in its fullest perfection? If wisdom delight you, He is the wisest, if beauty, He is the most beautiful, if power, He is Omnipotent, if glory and riches and pleasure, in Him they are all united in their highest excellence.”
The greatness and the majesty of the God Who made us, His power, His wisdom, His holiness, all the attributes by which He deigns to manifest Himself, these should form, from time to time, subjects of special consideration for us, His people. Surrounded, as we are, by the works of His Omnipotent hand, circles round by the countless prodigies of His boundless power, ruled by a Providence that is equally marvelous whether we regard its extent, or its minutes, it is strange, indeed, that men can contrive to forget their Creator, can put aside the thought of god, and as far as the perverse heart can effect, blot out god’s name from the face of God’s creation. And how can men do this? They contrive to live without a thought of God, to gaze upon the wonders of His hand, and yet forget Him, to look upon the sun and moon, and cast not a thought on Him who said: “Let there be light,” to gaze upon the stars that twinkle like lamps of silver in the mighty dome of heaven, and yet be led not upward in their thought to the hand that flung that dome across the universe; contrive to look upon the thousand things of beauty, and the thousand sights of loveliness, that even a fallen world has yet preserved, and, all the time, spend not a thought on Him, of Whom all earth’s beauty and all earth’s loveliness are only faint and far off shadows. Yet, strange and almost incredible as all this is, it is the true statement of a melancholy fact, that faces us at every turn we take in the world around us; nay, that rises like a specter from the depths of our own hearts where a flash of awakened conscience reveals the hidden graves, where sin and the consequences of sin are festering with a corruption, that eats away our spiritual lives. Look abroad upon earth’s swarming million, harken to the mighty beat of the world’s busy heart, behold the struggle for life, listen to the cry for bread, listen to the thousand voices of pleasure and of poverty, of ambition and of failure, and it would almost seem as if all that wicked world was shouting up to heaven, in the words of the impious fool, “Non est Deus – there is no God.”
And yet, even this is not the worst. That men should forget God is sad, but it is sadder still that they should remember Him, when they remember only to offend Him. And this is the sinner’s acknowledgment of god, the acknowledgment of insult. The sinner casts his thoughts on God, and straightway blasphemes His Name, recognizes His supreme dominion, and disputes it in his own soul, weighs in the iniquitous balance of his perverse heart some vile passion, against the friendship of his Maker, and passion sinks the scale. Is there one here who has offended God by mortal sin, whose heart is troubled and whose peace is broken by spectral memories of his guilt? It is well that he should know what he has done, that he should tear away the veil, and stand face to face with his guilty soul, it is well that, estimating rightly the depth and malice of his sin, he should accuse himself penitently before God, lest he should one day stand clothed with his iniquity, as with a garment, before the assembled children of Adam, and take his portion with the reprobate on the day of doom.
What, then, let me ask you have you done when you offended God? And mind, I do not ask the question of people to whom the Name of God is almost unknown; people who have no light to guide them, no sacraments to succor them, no daily counsel to direct their steps. No, I ask you, you who been placed in the true Church, who have sworn allegiance to God in baptism, have knelt before His altar, and partaken of the graces of His sacraments. You, you I ask, what have you done when you offended God? Have you denied or forgotten His existence? You have done worse than this. You have recognized Him in the thousand graces He has showered upon you. You have attested by the sacraments you received that He was the Most High God. You have partaken of His sacred flesh and precious blood, and then, going forth, like Judas, you betrayed Him. You have cast off His sweet yoke, you have joined your voice to the voices of the impious host who cried out once in heaven, and cry for ever from the depths of hell, “we will not serve”; you have lifted up your puny hand against high heaven, and sought to strike the God of Majesty from His eternal throne.
What have you done when you offended God? Stand in spirit upon Calvary, look up into the face of the dead Christ, count the weals the scourge has made trace each thorn-mark left on that dead brow by the pressure of the crown of sorrow, see how the hands and feet were dug, and mark on the dead face the signs that tell too surely that life passed ut in agony; learn the keenness of the torment from the eloquent silence of death; and than ask yourselves who has done this? Was it some desperate God-forgotten wretch whom madness goaded to rebellion? Was it some lost demon, perverting to this fell purpose the power that once was known in heaven, the intelligence that once beamed down from a starry throne? Not these, not these; and who? Is there any one here stained with deadly sin? To him, I say, thou art the man, Thou it was, and not another, that brought thy Savior to such a pass. Thou it was, and not another that stood by pitiless, while the scourge tore and hissed through His sacred flesh; thou it was, and not another, that with all the firmness of a cruel purpose pressed down the crown of anguish on His aching temple; thou wert a chief actor in that awful tragedy. Yes; God though He was, sinless though He was, thy sin has killed Him.
And now to those who have forgotten God, to those who have let their days pass by without a thought of Him Who is from the beginning, to those who have sat idly letting the river of life flow on, and casting no bread upon the waters that might serve them after many days of this mortal pilgrimage, to those as well as to such whose only recognition of God has been the recognition of sin, it becomes a question of the last importance, how they shall return to God.
Shall they begin to meditate on the holiness they have outraged, the justice they have provoked, the power that is strong to punish? Shall the picture of God which I shall put before the sinner be that of a “jealous God” Who punishes not alone the sinner, but Who visits the sins of fathers on their children to the third and fourth generation? No; let my picture of God to-day be that which was conceived by the loving heart, and drawn by the inspired hand of the royal Psalmist: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, patient, and plenteous in mercy. The Lord is sweet to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works”
As the minister of Him Who came to save sinners, I have no message but one of mercy to the greatest sinner. My message is that of God to Moses: “If he cry to me, I will hear him because I am compassionate.” My message is the message that came of old to Ezekiel: “Thou, therefore, O Son of Man, say to the children of Israel, thus have spoken, saying – Our iniquities and our sins are upon us, we pine away with them, how then can we live? Say to them – As I live, says the Lord, God, I desire not the death of the sinner, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn you, turn ye, from your evil ways and why will you die, O house of Israel. The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him, in what day soever he turn from his iniquities.” My message is the message of the prophet Isaiah: “If your sins be as red as scarlet they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red as crimson they shall be made white as wool.”
Oh, how consoling the thought that no matter how grievous our sins may be, no matter in what writing of condemnation they may have been branded on the soul, however long their tyranny may have lasted, should the sinner turn to God, should one act of sincere sorrow rise up from the depths of his plague-stricken soul, the ear of God is open to hear, the hand of God is stretched out to save, the mercy of God is ready to pour balm into the wounds, which sin has made in the sinner’s soul. Go up in spirit to the highest heavens, stand before the radiant thrones of the holy penitents who, once, were sinners like ourselves, and learn from the luster of their crown, and the splendor of their glory, the greatness and the goodness of the mercy of the Most High God.
The earth, and the earth’s history, are one long record of God’s mercy. It has been ever making light in the dark places of the world. That mercy shone through the clouds of the first fall that brought a curse upon the homes of men, and made them desolate. It shed brightness on the life-path of the ancient patriarchs, and gladdened the else sad homes of the world’s early fathers. It shone upon the chosen people, and made their history one long stupendous miracle. It rang through psalm, and burned through prophecy, it made the one bright feature in a world that was cursed because of sin, and when the fullness of time had came, God’s mercy stood incarnate before God’s people, in the person of Him Who came to shed His blood for the sinners of the world.
If you wish to realize the boundless mercy of God, trace the life of Jesus from its first beginning to its latest close. Behold Him, as in this day’s Gospel, surrounded by publicans and sinners who thronged to hear Him till the proud Pharisee complained: “This man receives sinners and eats with them;” and then, as if constrained by their murmurs, He burst forth into those beautiful parables, which have won a place for ever in the hearts of men, and in which He shadows forth His infinite compassion for sinners – “Which of you having a hundred sheep, and if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go seek that which was lost?” “I came,” He said, “to call not the just but sinners.” Then and now, and always such has been His blessed way.
Our Blessed Lord is altogether intent on seeking sinners. He seems to lie in wait for them at every turn of life. However far they go, they never get so far, on this side of the grave, as not to hear His pursuing footstep. His voice makes itself heard amid the darkness which surrounds them. He seeks to glide into their heats with joy, and hides Himself in the sorrows, which are often sent to lead the sinner back to God.
It is often said that the battle of eternal salvation is a hard one; and assuredly it is. It has been said that it is hard to be saved, and in truth, it takes a strong and continuous and persevering effort. But there is another side to the matter, which should not be lost sight of. When I look upon the countless mercies that God as strewn so thickly upon the Christian’s life path, I cannot but say that it is a most difficult thing to be lost. For that a Christian, a Catholic, should be damned, it is necessary that he fight and fight successfully against God; that he should take the measure of God’s mercy and should baffle it; that he should battle against the loving purposes of the Omnipotent, and that the Omnipotent should be worsted in the struggle. O sinner, seeking thy own destruction, rush forward, if you will, upon the road to hell; but on that fatal road, a grace is staying you at every step, you must trample on it if you would succeed. Angels throng to hold you back. Mary’s eyes of mercy make your progress hard, and a silent figure meets you on the way. It is the figure of One who bears a cross; there are stripes upon His shoulders, there are wounds upon His hands and feet, a crown of anguish presses on His temples, and the blood runs down His pallid face. Yes, I say to you, if you will be damned, you must pass that silent figure, you must run the gauntlet of those eyes of mercy, you must exert your strength, put forth your impious hand, and hurl aside Jesus from your path to ruin, and then, trampling on His sacred blood, rushing on to your destruction, you will well have won, and hardly gained, an everlasting place in hell.
We cannot afford to despise the mercy of God. The more you have sinned, the greater and more glorious will be the work of mercy in your soul. Your sins may have been many and grievous, but He has sworn by His sacred life, that He desires not the sinner’s death.
Think of the poor prodigal when he was moved by his misery in that far-off land, to turn in thought to the home of his innocence. The memories of that long-lost home came thronging on his troubled soul, and the face of that kind father, whom he had deserted, haunted his weary sin-worn heart. He said, “I will arise, and I will go to my father, and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am not worthy to e called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants.” We can picture to ourselves that poor prodigal, way-worn and weary, sobbing out as he hastens home his words of repentance, resigning for every his old position of a son, and thinking how supremely happy he could be as servant, in the house where he once was master. But he had never guessed the depth of tenderness in his father’s heart. That father had never forgotten his wayward child. He was looking out anxiously for his return, and, seeing him a far way off, he waits not for his coming, but runs to meet him, and threw himself upon his neck, and kissed him. The prodigal sobbed out his broken words of sorrow: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, I am not worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.: But lo! The father seems scarce to listen to the words of repentance; never seems to catch the meaning of the humble proposal. He turns to his servants and said, “Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, put a ring upon his hand, and shoes upon his feet, and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry, for my son that was dead has come to life again, was lost and is found.”
Eighteen centuries have gone by, since that parable was spoken, and sill the scene that it typifies is being enacted in the church. It is repeated in every confessional whither the sinner comes from that far-off land of sin. He comes trembling with his words of sorrow broken by his sobs, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee,” and he pours his tale of guilt into the ear of the minister of God. There is no harsh chiding, no galling words of reproach. He who sits in that tribunal knows well that he sits there as the representative of Jesus, and he will not, he dare not on the peril of his sul, reject a sinner for whom Jesus died. The words of absolution are pronounced, and on conditions so easy that only the all-merciful God could have established them, the robe of grace is put upon the sinner’s soul, the ring of God’s friendship is put upon his finger, and he, who but a little while ago had starved uon husks of swinish passions, finds himself an honored guest at that great banquet, where Jesus gives him His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.
Avail yourselves then of your father’s kindness. If your heart is weighed down by the burden of sin, if the iron of that galling chain has entered your soul, come to the tribunal of penance that the chain may be broken, and the burden lifted off. Come, from the husks of swine, and taste the sweetness of the peace of your Father’s house. Learn for the time to come, to know that merciful Father, and to serve Him, and when, one day you stand upon the threshold of eternity, you, who had cause to tremble before God’s justice, being saved by His mercy, will find upon your dying lips the song that shall live there through the endless ages of eternity. “The mercies of God, I will sing for ever.” Amen.