PENTECOST - 8th Sunday After
There are some illusions that grow around our lives, and are found in so many minds that they seem to be the inevitable inheritance of the human race. And they are so cherished, in the face of so many things that ought to dispel them, that to tear them away seems to require the tearing away of some portion of the mind itself, to which they cling. For instance, is there anything so certain in the life history of any one, as that he shall die? Of every infant lying in its mother’s arms with the hopes and fears of the uncertain future around it, there is just one thing which it needs no prophet to predict, that, be its fortune what it may, let the world smile on it or frown, as surely as it began its infant life in its mother’s bosom, so surely shall it be one day folded to the bosom of mother earth. It was born, it shall die; whatever it may deserve, neither the injustice of men, nor the justice of God, will refuse it a grave. And, yet, withal did you ever meet a man who seemed to have thoroughly got it into his mind that he is to die? To be sure, if you ask him, he is not mad enough to make any other answer / than the he shall die; but the words have very little meaning for him, as applied to himself. He sees others die; he feels, at times, the pang that every heart must feel when the “cords of Adam” break at the touch of death, but as for himself, was there, is there ever a man who does not imagine that, come what may to others, he will live a little longer? There are here representatives of every stage of life; well, I appeal to them. Is not what I say true? Does not everyone here think, nay, does he not feel certain that he will live a little longer? And, believe me, it is not youth alone that cherishes this feeling. Perhaps it is not wonderful that youth with its high hopes and its hot blood, and its eager outlook to the golden time that is always coming, but that never comes, perhaps it is not wonderful that youth should have, as it were, a sort of doubt about death, and should find it hard to think that it shall die. Yet, I do not know but old age makes the illusion still more difficult to dispel. Come, when the fire of life has burned down to the grey ashes, when the hair is white and when the heart is cold, when memories are piled on memories of many a long gone year, when the friends of youth are dead, when the best of life’s hopes and dreams have parted without a fulfilment, and when, to the old man of so many memories and such sad experience, there seems very little worth living for, come, even then, and you will find down beneath the grey ashes, a hope and an expectation of living on still. I have met them, and so have you, old men tottering on the brink of the grave, and talking with the confidence of twenty, of what they mean to do in a year, or in years to come. Well, the old die, and the young. Each day that passes has its list of dead, its line of graves, there is a death list in the annals of every home; but it is still one of the great illusions of life that no one seems thoroughly t bring home to himself, that he shall die certainly, and may die soon.
And then, there is another illusion. We seem so convinced that everything we have is our very own. As well might you question the existence of any man, as question his complete ownership of everything he calls his own. Life, youth, beauty, talents, time, wealth, does not everyone seem to think that these things are his own? Well, look at any life around you, look at your own, and do not men seem to be under the impression, that not alone their soul and body but their talent, their time, their wealth, are all their own to use them as they list? Here, again, men speak more wisely than they act; they will, when asked, acknowledge that these things are God’s; but if you want to know what a man really thinks, do not mind so much what he says as how he acts, and if you watch how men use those things of which I have spoken, will you not conclude that the second great illusion of life is to think that the things that God has given us are not so much His, as our very own?
Now it is against these two illusions that the lesson of this day’s Gospel is specially directed. The condition of human life, your condition and mine, is there represented under the figure of a man who was a steward, and who had for a time the administration of the goods of another, and who, very like us too, quite forgot that these goods were not his own, and lived on just as if he thought that there never would come a time when he would have to render an account. He had doubtless been living on, spending with a free hand, lavishing upon himself and upon his own enjoyment the goods that had been given into his charge, working for his own purposes, planning schemes for his own advancement, forming, as we too form, many a project for the long future that seemed to lie before him, and in the midst of it all, his dream of self-delusion is rudely broken, his airy visions of the times to be, scattered to the winds by the Master’s voice ringing in his startled ears these terrible words: “Render an account of thy stewardship, for, now thou canst be steward no longer.” For thou hast forgotten thy position, and been unfaithful to thy trust. You were but a steward, and you have been thinking yourself a master, the accusation has been laid against you, my eye has been upon you, the day of reckoning is at hand, your place shall know you no more, never again shall you be in a position to abuse a master’s trust.
My brethren, do not think it a mere story to amuse you. It is, ah! Is it not, the very history of the lives we have been leading in the world where God placed us to do His work, and to use, and not abuse, the countless gifts that His gracious hand has given into our keeping; for we, too, are simply stewards, placed here to administer things which are not our own, to hold our office for a few years or for many, and one day, as surely as God our Master lives and looks on, to hear sounding in our ears the inevitable summons: “Render an account, . . .”
And we, too, shall suddenly pause in the labor of ur life, and we shall feel upon our restless hearts the touch of a cold hand, and see through the glazed eyes of death a fateful finger beckoning us way from the press of men, from the highways of the world, and things we have been using will drop from our nerveless hands, and we shall have to face, as best we may, the awful truth that we, too, had been only stewards, and that we can be stewards then no more.
Take an account to-day of the things you have received from God, render the account to conscience, before the night shall have fallen upon you, when God with the lamps of His unerring justice shall search your souls.
What have we received: to any one who read this gospel, and did not go beneath the surface of it, it might well seem that our Blessed Lord, on this occasion lifted up His voice to warn those exclusively who are known amongst men as “the rich,” and, indeed, to them the warning is obviously addressed, but not, by any means, to them alone. Let me suppose that such a person hearing this Gospel, were to address me thus: “The story of the unjust steward conveys, indeed, a fearful warning, but then, the warning was never meant for such s me. I am poor, no earthly goods have I to administer, there is nothing over which I can be a steward. The morning comes, and when I ask God for daily bread, I have no certainty of the quarter from which that daily bread will come. The day wears on, the richest gift it ever brings is the gift of toil; the night comes, I am shelter-less and desolate without a roof that I can call my own. Am I a steward”? And I answer, I do not ear to answer: Yes; you are a steward, and the steward of a wealth priceless beyond the dreams of poet’s fancy.
You have first, the gift of life. What is life? It is a spark of the very fire of God. To make a man, God not only molded the clay of the earth, but He breathed into it the breath of life, and forthwith through the inert clay an immortal spirit sent surging the never-resting tides of undying thought. Having life, then, you have a soul. And what is your soul like? Beautiful is the earth we see around us in its favored spots, beautiful when lake and forest lie shrouded in the silver veil of dawn, or lighted by the sunshine of midday, or touched into unearthly loveliness by the spell of moonlight, beautiful is sky and flower, and tree and star, but not in any of those or in all of them, is there to be fund anything to give the faintest shadow of the beauty of a human soul. God made all these, and left upon them the mark of His beautifying hand, but when He came to make a man, He said: “Let us make Him to our own image and likeness.” Hence, if you want the type of the soul’s beauty, you must rise beyond the beauty of the earth, you must rise above the sun in its midday splendor, must fly beyond the stars that tremble gem-like on the brow of night; you must pass to heaven to the very throne of God, for it is to His image, and not another’s, that the soul has been created.
You have life; you have an immortal soul stamped with the living image of God. What wealth could be greater than this, and yet the poorest man that ever lived has these gifts. And with them come to everyone other gifts, and every gift placed, as in a golden vase, is the gift which a monarch’s ransom could not buy, the gift of time. Think you, have I not made out the case against the man who thought he was too poor to be called God’s steward? Is he – can he be poor who has riches like these, life, soul, time? Need I go further still; need I remind you of those other gifts that are amongst the common things of your Catholic lives? You are members of the one true Church of God; being so, you have gifts which an angel might almost envy. An altar and a sacrifice, prayer, and praise, and sacraments, saintly intercession, the tender motherhood of Mary, the priceless treasure of the infinite merits of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These things you have, every one of you, and over these, God has made you stewards for a time, to use them in His interests, which He has deigned to make identical with the interests of your own immortal souls.
How have you been using the things that God has given you, life, soul, time, talents, sacrifice, sacraments, grace, all these, how have you been using them; or have you been acting as an unfaithful steward, abusing them all or some of them, but the commission of mortal sin? Suppose that unfortunately you have, suppose there is some one here, in the awful state of mortal sin. Well, be sure the master’s eye is upon him. An enemy has made the charge against him; his enemy the devil whose sleepless vigilance is quickened by the relentless fires of his doom; he who was once the Son of the Morning, whose heart is gnawed by bitter memories of the crown that once blazed upon the brow which the lightning of god’s vengeance has since smitten and scarred; he, envious of the happier fortune of those who are not yet damned, has laid the charge against the sinful soul, and has appealed to the Justice that damned him for one sin, to call to his account the human sinner, who has, perhaps, not once but countless times, abused His mercy, and trample on His grace. In the Gospel, we find that the Master listened to the voice of the accuser, and there is nothing more certain than that mortal sin remaining on the soul, hastens the time of judgment and of death. If, then, any one here is in the state of mortal sin, it may well be that already the trumpet of his doom is lifted to the lips of the angel of death; if such there be, let me ask him, which will he rather submit the account of his stewardship to the justice or to the mercy of his God? Well, the justice of God is an awful attribute; weak hearts like ours will turn to His jerky. And the sinner will answer that he will submit his sin to the mercy of his God; and I, as the minister of that God, tell him that he can do so. God’s priests are sitting in the confessional, the only real tribunal of mercy that the world has; and they sit there for just this, to receive from the sinner’s trembling lips and from his penitent heart, the account of his stewardship and to receive it in this spirit and for this end; that even though the sinner’s breach of trust has lasted through a life-time long, even though it has extended to every gift of all that God has given, though the sins were black as hell in their enormity, and countless in their number as the moments of his existence, I, the minister of God, will say to him – not, ah! Not what was said to the steward in Gospel; “Go, thou canst be steward now no more.” Not that shall I say, not that, as I hope for heaven, dare I say. No; but this, go with the peace of god renewed within your soul, go with your soul white, your sins forgiven; go with the evil past blotted out for ever from the judgment books of God, to appear against you never again, either here or hereafter. Go and be God’s stewards still, working for Him, and so, in very truth working for yourselves, and laying up for yourselves he reassures of that rich reward, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of any man been able to conceive.