PENTECOST - 9th Sunday After
Gospel – Luke 19:41-47
It is a melancholy reflection, my brethren, but one that must often occur to anyone whose duty it Is to preach the gospel, that every sermon – however is may, by the blessing of god, do some good – must almost necessarily result in evil to some of those who listen to it.
You are, perhaps, surprised – nay, it may even be, shocked – at such a notion. You say within yourselves: “We are here in the House of God, under the shadow of His Altar, in the very presence of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament; we have laid aside, for the present, our worldly work; here, at any rate, we are, for the time, removed from the thousand occasions of sinning that meet us in our week-day life; our ears are open to listen to the Word of God – what possible evil can befall us here?
I answer: This evil may befall you – it has happened t many like you in time past. You may hear the Word of god, and may not give to it that heed that your eternal interests demand. You may receive light to know the “things that are for your peace” and you may despise them – to know the things that are evil, and yet go out and do them. You may sin against the Light, and so surely as anyone does, so surely shall the instructions he has received rise in testimony against him at the judgment-seat of God. Yes; you may, in the course of any sermon you hear, you may receive the “visitation” of God, and receive it for the last time. You may let the day of your visitation pass by; and so, though you may not know it, between the time you enter the church and time you leave it, you may have wrought the ruin of your immortal souls.
God, in His Gospel, has a whisper for every ear, a message for every heart – for the rich and for the poor for the ignorant and for the learned, for those who stand fast in the grace of God, and for those who, thinking they stand, are very near a fall – and on the reception of that message, on some particular day, the salvation of anyone amongst you may absolutely depend.
Suppose there is amongst you, as there easily may be, a sinner whose time of judgment is drawing very near. He has been living a long time in sin, in forgetfulness of God; living as if death, and judgment, and hell fire, were mere fables of the imagination. He has, for he is a Catholic, vague notions of repenting, at some time or other, but the most definite notion he has about the matter is, that it is time enough yet. Occasionally, it may be, there rises before him a vision that ought to terrify him, but that only serves to lull him into fatal security, a vision of the time, a long way off yet, he thinks, when he shall come to die. Then, indeed, he will repent. Of course he takes it for granted that he, of all men, shall not die suddenly. After a long life of sin, when powers of his body shall be exhausted, and the passions of his soul tired out by the mad riot of an evil life, then the priest shall come, shall snatch him from the jaws of hell, and he, sinner though he was, while sin was possible, shall cheat the eternal justice of the Living god. These are his notions, vaguely floating through his mind, and his days pass by in sin, in forgetfulness of god, in abuse of grace.
He has forgotten God, yet, in all his sin, he has not been himself forgotten. Angels and saints have been praying for him; his angel guardian has daily, for many a long year, poured forth his whole angelic being in supplication for the soul of the unhappy man. More than all, Mary has been coming between him and the vengeance of God. Many a night, when he lay down in his mortal sin, hell grew hungry for his soul, and refused to wait, but Mary’s prayer pushed back the shadow of the dial, and, instead of being in hell, he woke to the freshness of a new morning, and went on – to sin anew.
But at last it is announced in heaven by a decree from which there is no appeal, that time and grace are nearly spent, and that on such a day the soul must stand before the judgment-seat of God. The angels, and the angel guardian, and the blessed saints, and Mary, the Queen of Heaven, make one last effort, and God says: “Well you have prevailed. What I can do, that I shall do; but as this man has free will, I cannot prevent him from damning himself if he chooses. I can only give him one last call, one last grace – a call and a grace amply sufficient to save him even yet; but if he despise that call, if he abuse that grace, then shall swift destruction be upon him.”
Well, on the next Sunday the sinner comes to Mass, and, somehow, he feels as he has not been in the habit of feeling for a long time. There is something in the sermon that God seems to have intended specially for him; and he is moved, and no wonder, for the powers of heaven and of hell are making their last struggle for his soul. And perhaps he says: “I will go to confession, I will repent. On Saturday next, please God, I shall come to the Church, and do what I ought to have done long ago – go to confession.” He goes away, and Monday comes, and with it comes the business of the world – with it comes the distractions, and the temptations, and the occasions of sin. Still he holds to his resolution. Tuesday come – ah! The business is more engrossing, the temptations more alluring, the occasions of sin have more fascination than ever; and the devil sings in his ear the old tune – time enough . . , time enough.
Wednesday – worse than ever. The devil suggests – remember that in this, as in all things, he is a liar – the devil suggests that after so long a time confession will be a work of some difficulty, that it would be well to think over it for some little time longer, in order that it may be better made. Thursday, Friday – alas! The devil is winning the unholy game; and Saturday comes, and the sinner does not go, and the result is that never again shall he make a good confession. I do not say that he shall die on Sunday, but I do say, that whether he die then or at a later time, he has not known the time of his visitation. The day of God’s mercy has passed by, and left him to the long and hopeless night of everlasting ruin.
Hence, the first thing that should strike us is the necessity of deriving profit to our souls from every opportunity that God puts in our way. And one of the most important and oftenest recurring occasions of which God makes use, is the occasion of your attending here on Sundays to hear Mass and to receive instruction.
The great majority of a congregation like this must consist of persons who have a daily struggle for their daily bread, of persons, consequently, who have neither time nor opportunity, many of whom have not even the ability, to derive instruction from reading pious books during the week. And of this large class it is true to say, that the short instruction or exhortation they receive on Sundays is their only available opportunity of hearing the Word of God. And it is, consequently, the time, of all others, that God is likely to select to give them that call to repentance on which their eternal salvation will depend.
But let no one imagine that this is the only class whom these instructions concern. They concern another a a different class from these. There are persons who have leisure and ability, persons who have received what they themselves, at any rate, would call a good education – persons who can read, and are in the habit of reading, who are well up in their newspaper, and who have a decided opinion of their own on the most important question of politics. And yet, it may unfortunately be, that from one Sunday to another, they may never either read or reflect upon a single word that would help them in the affair of their eternal salvation. If such there be, believe me, they are in much worse case, and have much more need to be awakened by instruction than the poorest and most ignorant amongst you.
There are some persons who listen to a sermon as if it were something got up for their entertainment, something meant merely to while away a tedious half hour. They pay more or less attention to it, according as it is more or less in accordance with their critical taste. Some things in it please them, other things perhaps, sound unpleasant, but, whether the one or the other, they never seem to think that a sermon ws meant for nay practical purpose. Not that they do not make practical application of it, for they do, but is in the fashion. The carefully pick out the bits of the sermon that appear to them to apply to their neighbors, and they apply them with a zeal that is sadly wanting in charity. “Oh!” they sill say, “if such a one heard that, it ought to make him blush, for it suite him admirably. You you not thin the priest meant so-and-so?” And thus it goes on; but never a thought seems to arise in their own hearts that God ma have been speaking something specially addressed to themselves, and specially adapted to the special needs of their own souls.
Others, again, feel deeply moved, and in consequence of that emotion they feel quite virtuous for the time being. But they do not carry their emotions into practice. They forget them soon. Well, the Apostle has described them when he spoke of the man who looks at himself ina glass, and then goes his way, and presently forgets what manner of man he was.
All this is true of sermons, and I have spoken of them more particularly because the very occasion suggested them; but it is equally true of every grace and every opportunity that God gives you to help you in the great affair of your eternal salvation. If anyone be lost, it shall only be because he shall have abused graces that were amply sufficient to secure form him an everlasting place in heaven.
It will have been plain to you, my brethren, how I have been led into the thoughts I have been putting before you, by the Gospel of the Sunday.
Our Blessed Lord, the the Sunday before His passion, ws entering Jerusalem, well knowing that He was going there to die by the cruel malice of His own creatures. The multitude around strewed psalm beneath His feet, and cried, “Hosanna to the son of David.” But in the midst of the acclamation His Sacred Heart grew very sad, and, looking down upon Jerusalem, lying below in seeming peacefulness, with the sun glinting on its white walls, and flashing back from the pinnacle of its temple, the tears rolled down His cheeks. He saw the history of the city at a glance. He saw how it had been favored above all the cities of the world, and how, by long abuse of grace, it had not arrived to such a itch of wickedness that, in a few days, it would add to the long catalogue of its offences the crowning and unparalleled crime of crucifying the Savior and its God. And then He saw the destruction that was about to come on it – how its enemies would beset it, and straiten it around, and beat it flat to the ground.
But Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and wpt because it had not known the time of its visitation; but the story of His tears is recorded in the Gospel because the whole scene bring vividly before ur minds God’s dealing with the human soul, even in ur own day.
What is your soul? Let me ask the question of some one who is in the state of mortal sin. What was it? Once you were baptized it was, as it were, the city where God loved to dwell. He poured His graces upon it beyond all counting, His sacraments were as perpetual fountains of salvation. Jesus died for I, and yet this sinful soul would not open its eyes to the day of its visitation. It would continue in its evil way. God often touched it with His grace, but it was hardened, and it would not heed Him. He cast the Cross before it on its road to hell, it trampled on it, and with evil courage pursued the fatal road. It heard the voice of God in the exhortations and instructions that ere addressed to it, it closed its ears to warning and to threat. What shall be the end? The Gospel tells us. Some day, O sinner! Jesus will come and look down upon they sinful soul. To the eyes of men it may seem, like Jerusalem, to be in peace; the sunshine of worldly prosperity may be upon it, but Jesus sees only the near approach of its irreparable ruin. He weeps over it because He sees that the day of its destruction is at hand. The day when the sinner shall lie upon his deathbed, when his enemy the devil shall beset it – shall surround it with a trench of indifference that even the sacraments cannot cross, or pour around it a mist of despair which even the light of faith cannot dispel – shall mock it in the bitterness of is passing, and hurry it, when life is sped, before God’s judgment-seat, to have it sealed with the fiery seal of everlasting reprobation.
Recognize the day of your visitation. It is now, this very hour. Jesus is in the midst of you, with blessings in His wounded hands, with words of the most tender mercy dropping from His sacred lips, with a love for you stronger than death burning in His Sacred Heart. Now – now, is the day of your visitation, when the sacraments, Confession and the Holy Communion – the “things” are for your peace” – are ready to your hand. My brethren, neglect them not, lest on you, too, should fall the awful fate that has fallen upon those who “hae hot known the time of their visitation.”