PENTECOST - 7th Sunday After
Beware of false prophets
In the passage I have read for you, my brethren, our blessed Lord conveys a warning, the necessity of which is not confined to any age, or any generation. There is a fight constantly going on in the world, it has been going on from the very beginning, between good and evil, and nowhere, and at no time, is that battle more vigorously waged than when there is question of taking possession of the intellect of man. There is no power more available for good, than the power of true teaching; and most, if not all, of the evils that have from time to time afflicted man and society may be traced more or less directly; to the teaching of evil. That it should be so arises from the very nature itself that God has given us.
In the very beginning, God created man to His own image, gave him a pre-eminence that brought with it dominion over al other creatures He had placed on earth. And the source of that pre-eminence is to be found in man’s understanding and will; God gave him an understanding capable of making the impressions he received through sense blossom into thought, and ripen to the golden fruit of knowledge. And this fruit was to be no mere ornament, it was to be a sacred bread to feed the living force that God enclosed in the human will. A man had power, first to know, and then, by the magic stoke of will, to make his knowledge live in practice. And God made his mind in such a way that for ever and for ever the only road to a man’s will lies through his intellect; what a man does not first know that he can never will. If you want a man to do, you must first teach him what it is to which you would have him direct his energy. And God having thus splendidly equipped man for the battle of life, gave also light to the intellect, and vigor to the will. He poured upon that intellect a portion of His own divine light, and He endowed that will with a participation of His own divine nature, by conferring upon man the gift of divine grace.
He gave him knowledge, a threefold knowledge of God, of man himself, and of the relations of sovereignty on the one side, and duty on the other, that arose between them. And it was by preserving that knowledge, and translating it, by the aid of divine grace, into practice, that man was to attain the end for which he had been created.
So you see the very foundation stone of all progress in teaching was laid by the hand of God Himself.
And forthwith the enemy of man was shrewd enough to read this primary law of human life, and he, too, set up his school in the newly created world, and began to teach. “Disobey God,” said he, “and you shall not do as He has said, but you shall become as Gods yourselves” And from that hour to this the two schools have been side by side in the world, each striving to seize upon the stronghold of the human intellect, knowing well that the power that enthrones itself there, will sooner or later, be master of the whole nature of man.
Hence, that there should be teaching of good, and teaching of evil, teaching of truth and teaching of what is not true, arises from the very nature of the human soul, and its present position in a state of trial; and consequently this twofold teaching will go on amongst men, not merely in one age or another, but in every age that is peopled by human beings. It will be carried on, too, in the case of every individual. There might possible be some here who, because they have never gone to school, or because their schooldays are long past, would be under the impression that they had received no teaching, and were not getting any. But they would be mistaken; not only has every man received an education, but he is constantly receiving an education. He has received it and is receiving it, by the very fact that he has five hungry senses that are constantly feeding upon the world around them, and drawing from it sustenance, wholesome or unwholesome, for his spiritual nature. A man’s position in life is contributing to his education, is teaching him a thousand things which, in another position, he would never know, and supplying him with a hundred motives of which, in another position, he would never know the force. A man’s work or business is educating him, teaching him not only skill in his work or business, but gradually teaching him to look at all other kinds of work through a medium formed from his own. A man’s habits are educating him, teaching him how to do a thing more effectually whether that thing be good or evil.
Hence, you see that, besides the religious and secular teaching that man gets, and which are known and called by the name of teaching, there are a host of other things that are really teaching men constantly, and, as in any one of them, there may be good teaching or bad, in every one of them, in a man’s use of his senses, in his everyday work, in his habits of life, an all, the warning of our Lord, finds abundant application: “Beware of false prophets.”
Do not for a moment imagine that when our Lord bids us, and He bids us as really as He bade those who listened to Him upon the mount, to beware of false prophets, he restricted the meaning of His words exclusively to those who would set themselves up as teachers of purely religious error. To be sure, as nothing can possible be more precious to a human mind than religious truth, so there are no “false prophets” so hateful to God and so pernicious to men, as teachers of religious error. But there are other “false prophets,” perhaps even more dangerous because less easily recognized.
You, my brethren, being a Catholic congregation, have religious teaching provided for you in a way that renders the work of a “false prophet” impossible among you, so far as regards the truths of the Holy Catholic Faith. God has Himself taught to you, from the beginning of your lives, by causing you to be born within the fold of the one true Church, thus saving you, and without any deserving of your own, from the blindness of heresy and the outer darkness of unbelief, into which millions, naturally as good as you, have, from their birth, been plunged. And as I know it to be a fact that, if anyone came to you teaching what was manifestly contrary to the teaching of the Church, you would so far be true to the traditions of the Catholic history of your country, as that you would shrink from him in horror, so I shall not dwell just now upon the danger of listening to false teachers in matters of religion, but I shall rather say something about other “false prophets” that are amongst you, visibly exercising their evil mission, and yet with such craft and subtlety that, ravaging wolves though they be, yet, to use the language of the Gospel, they may often seem, to simple minds, arrayed in the innocent clothing of sheep.
First, then, there is a man’s condition in life. A man may be born in any condition; his condition, so far as it is in itself concerned, is neither a fault or a merit. A man may serve God in any condition; he may be rich, for instance, or he may be poor, but, though poverty is far the safer condition, yet, rich men may be, and, as a matter of fact, have been, saints. But here is the danger, here is the false prophet of which you have to beware – discontent with the station in which God has placed you, a discontent which leads to envy towards those who are in a condition which you imagine, and often only imagine, is happier than your own. If a rich man, in lawful possession of his wealth, allow his riches to take such possession of his soul as to unfit it for working out its salvation, he is deluded by a false prophet; let him beware before it is too late. And if a poor man grow so discontented – with a lot which, after all, was the lot which Jesus selected from Himself – as to murmur against God, and cherish feelings of envy and dislike towards those who have been not always, blessed with more ample means, then he, too, is listening to a false prophet, and he will find in the bitter end that his own hand has blotted out his name from the catalogue of the poor of whom it has been declared that, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Again, with regard to a man’s work or business. It is not only a lawful thing to attend to it, but it is a highly meritorious thing. No less an authority that an Apostle has declared that, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” But suppose I ask a man why he does not pray, why de does not attend Mass, why he does not come to confession? Do you think it is any answer to say that, indeed, he was too much engages in his work or his business. Our Lord long ago laid down the rule – “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice.” Work is good, business good, attention to both very good in itself, but when work or business gets the first place in a man’s mind, when the attention he pays to them, hinders or destroys the attention he should pay to the salvation of his soul, then let him beware. His work or business, however good or necessary in themselves, however they seem to be in sheep’s clothing, have become for him “False prophets,” and inwardly they are ravening wolves. A man may say he has no time for this religious duty or that; no time, remark, for that for which all time was given. It is an old excuse, old s the corruption and fall of man, old, at all events, as the passage in the Gospel which relates that, of the men who were first invited to the Great supper some said: “I have bought a farm, I must go ut and see it, pray thee, hold me excuse;” some more said: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, I must go out to try them, pray hold me excused;” and another: “I have married a wife, therefore I cannot come.” Ah! They thought, as men think now, that their worldly occupations were excuse enough, but when the king heard, his wrath flashed out, and he declared that not one of them should ever taste of his supper. Here, then, is the rule – it is no rule invented by me or by any man, it is the rule laid down by our Lord Himself – “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” Do not put anything before the eternal interest of your immortal souls. And if at any time the world be alluring, the flesh rebelling against the spirit, the devil seeking to turn us from the path to heaven, then awaken the drooping energies of your spirit with the memory of this other saying of our Lord – a saying that solves all problems, dispels all illusions, a saying that might well be selected to wind up the dread proceedings of the last Great Judgment – “Shat doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?”
But there is another agency occupied at present with the teaching of men, about which, beyond all others, it is necessary to use the warning – “beware of false prophets.” If there be false prophets anywhere, they are to be fund amongst those who use, for the most immoral and anti-social purposes, the great power of the press.