Today is the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
“And the multitude glorified God that gave such power to men.”–Matt. 9, 8
As the body is subject to disease, so also is the soul; but with the latter the malady is sin. Great analogy exists, however, between the two, for by sin infirmity entered the world; and if man had not transgressed the divine command, he would never have become a victim to fell disease, much less a prey to death. St. Paul says: “By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”
But Christ, although He assumed human nature, was not subject to this involuntary death, or to sickness. Since He came into the world as Physician and Redeemer, it is clear why His power was manifested in so many instances in restoring the sick and afflicted. These corporal cures are types of the spiritual restorations accomplished by the priceless blessing of redemption. It is certainly to be believed that this power of occasionally healing diseases has been bequeathed by Christ to His Church, but a far more inestimable benefit has also been left by our divine Lord as a precious legacy to His children in that holy Church, viz.: the infallible means which we possess at all times for the purification of our souls.
Mary, mother of mercy, obtain for us, from Jesus, the grace to approach frequently and worthily the Sacrament of Penance! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
“And behold they brought to Him one sick of the palsy.”
I have said that sickness is a punishment entailed upon us in consequence of the sins of our first parents, and that it is a type of sin. The truth of this last assertion we can easily perceive by comparing the characteristics of corporal illness with the condition of a soul in the state of mortal sin.
When sickness visits us, we are unable to fulfill our daily duties. Our body, indeed, is there lying on a bed of pain; but its senses are dull and languid, our sight grows dim, we scarcely can hear! Tossing restlessly, burning with fever, we loathe the thought of food, and vainly long for rest. We feel that we are a burden to ourselves and to all around us; and this is the case, in a greater or less degree, with every sinner. The soul of the sinner is diseased; the peace of his conscience is disturbed by the thought of his guilt; he fain would sleep, that is, he longs to still its reproaches, but it is all in vain! He plunges into every sinful pleasure; but, wearying of them all, cries out, in the fever-heat of passion: “Oh, for some new and untried pleasure! oh, for some spot where I could spend my days rioting in forbidden joys, where the lashings of conscience would not be felt! Oh, for rest!” But vain are such wishes. The sinner closes the eyes of his soul by despising and turning away from the truths of faith. He closes the ears of his soul by refusing to listen to those inspirations by which the Holy Ghost is ever seeking to call back the erring children of the Church. He heeds neither those loving whispers, nor dreads the thunders of divine justice. He hungers not for truth or virtue; the very thought of either is loathsome. All his yearnings are for sensual pleasures, which serve but to intensify the thirst of that heart which was created for God alone. He wavers; he seems to be at times sensible of his miserable state; he wishes to change his life, but his resolution is weak. He goes hither and thither, seeking different confessors; but soon relapses into his evil ways, so that his condition is worse than it was before. St. Ambrose is indeed right when he characterizes the diseases which afflict the sinner as avarice, pride, envy, wrath, impurity and tepidity. What a fearful category! Poor sinner, only One can help thee, Christ, who styles Himself the true Physician of our souls.
“Be of good heart, son; thy sins are forgiven thee.” The one to whom these consoling words were addressed was sick of the palsy, a disease which is, in an especial manner, a figure of sin; for the sinner, although keenly alive to his earthly interests, to which he devotes the three powers of his soul, in every thing that concerns his salvation is a helpless paralytic. The plainest truths, the most forcible admonitions, the most terrible threatenings, are alike powerless to touch his hardened heart! Nay, the very instructions in his holy faith, to which, when an innocent child, he listened, seem to have vanished like a dream.
Oh, sinner, pray to God that He may restore that heart, so deaf to the pleadings of divine grace; and direct the energy of that will, now so depraved, to do His holy will. Sometimes you are sensible of the miserable state into which you have fallen; and it may be the last call which God, in His infinite goodness, will give you! Oh, let not His mercy he unheeded!
My dear brethren, remember the words of Christ to the man sick of the palsy: “Son, be of good heart, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Words full of consolation, and constantly repeated in the Sacrament of Penance. It is an article of faith that all sins, be they ever so heinous, or the number ever so great, can be forgiven by means of this Sacrament, if the penitent approach it with proper dispositions. “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church–the forgiveness of sins.” We make this declaration when we repeat the Apostles Creed, and it is to be remarked that therein no mention is made of any power granted by Christ to His Church, except the forgiveness of sins. Would it were in my power to gain the ear of every Protestant in the land, that by one single argument I could prove to them that their Church is not the one true Church, and that they are deceived, indeed, in thinking so.
My Protestant friends, if you are conscious of sin, and, with its weight heavy upon your soul, you seek your minister with the question: “Can you, in the name of God, forgive me my sins? ” they all reply: “I can not; you must go to God alone; you must help yourself.” What would be my reply, if I were a Protestant? What, you the minister of my religion can do naught for me when I have transgressed the law of God? of what benefit is that Church to me? and what good do I derive; from its existence, if I can obtain forgiveness and save my soul without it?”
Yes, the children of a fallen generation do need a Church, that one founded by Jesus Christ Himself– a Church wherein can indeed be found the forgiveness of sins, whose ministers have exercised that power even from the time of the Apostles. We know that our divine Lord left this authority to His Church from the words He spoke to those Apostles, and, consequently, to their successors in the holy ministry: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven,–whose sins you shall retain they are retained,”–words which would have been destitute of meaning had not our divine Lord intended to express by them the obligation of confessing our sins to a priest. And because “until time shall be no more” men will be liable to commit sin, the power of forgiving sin has been granted also to the successors of the Apostles, the bishops and priests of the Holy Catholic Church, and is constantly exercised over the whole earth.
Pope Clement, disciple and successor of St. Peter, as early as the first century, wrote to the faithful in Corinth, praying them, for God’s sake, to confess their sins, that the priests of the Lord might absolve them. St. Cyprian uses almost the same words. Tertullian, in the second century, admonishes Christians of the necessity of an entire confession of their sins, and compares one who conceals his sins in the Sacrament of Penance to a patient who, through shame, refuses to confide in his physician, preferring rather to die of some secret malady than to overcome this false shame and be healed. Irenaeus, Basil, Origen, Leo, Chrysostom and Augustine speak in the same manner regarding confession and the frequent recourse to it. Had not this Sacrament been instituted by Christ, it would have been known precisely at what period Christians began to confess. As it is, no one can fix a time–a proof that the practice existed from the very beginning. And, my dear brethren, we have great reason to praise God and to marvel that He intrusted this wonderful power, not to angels, but to the bishops and priests of His Church, who are but men.
Would to God that all children of the Church would avail themselves of this Sacrament for their eternal salvation, and take heed lest they abuse it to their everlasting condemnation! Amen!
“Son, be of good heart; thy sins are forgiven thee.”–Matt. 9, 2.
Happy he who was so favored as to hear those consoling words from the divine lips of Christ; but equally happy is the Christian who receives from the priest in the tribunal of penance the assurance that his sins are forgiven. This assurance is given whenever the confessor absolves a truly repentant sinner.
St. Augustine’s words, in regard to baptism, apply also to the Sacrament of Penance: “Peter baptizes, Judas baptizes, Christ baptizes.” The power of absolving does not depend upon the merits of the priest, but upon the infinite merits of Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, customary for the priest, after absolution, to say to the penitent: “Go in peace; thy sins are for given thee.”
But is he sure of this? Has the priest the right to give the sinner this sweet assurance? Yes, if it be a repentant sinner; it depends entirely on his interior disposition. Too often, perhaps, he could, with greater justice, say: Poor sinner, would that I could bid thee be of good heart, feeling that thy sins are forgiven, but, alas, I dare not!”
O Mary, obtain for us the grace to approach the Sacrament of Peace and reconciliation with such contrition, that we may deserve to hear those sweet words of peace and forgiveness! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
Confession is an essential condition for the valid reception of the Sacrament of Penance, according to the doctrine of the Church: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” How could the confessor exercise this power were the penitent to refrain from confessing his sins? Man knows his own interior, and he must manifest it to those appointed by the Church. No one else can do it for him, because appearances are deceptive.
Confess, my dear friends, with all sincerity to the minister of God; for, regarded even in the light of reason, it is most salutary. Is it not most fitting that man, rebellious man, who dares to transgress the law of his Creator, should humble himself to the dust before that Creator?
In a severe illness no patient is permitted to be his own physician, and in the adjustment of the worldly disputes no one is allowed to decide his own case. Now, one in the state of mortal sin is spiritually sick, the priest is the physician of the soul, therefore to him should the malady be disclosed.
Being a sinner, he is guilty in the sight of God; he is a criminal and inclined to excuse himself; he dare not be criminal and judge at the same time. How appropriate, therefore, and just is it not, that Christ obliges us to undergo the humiliation of confession!
Leibnitz, one of the most profound thinkers among Protestants, gave testimony of the excellence of this Sacrament when he declared that the practice of confession, as it exists in the Catholic Church, is divinest of the divine.
Even heathens, as Seneca, have testified to the happiness of having a friend to whom the inmost recesses of the heart might be unvailed; but where could be found the friend in whom we would be willing to place such confidence? Would not the friend have also a confidant to whom he revealed our secret?
My brethren, in the confessional sits one who guards until death the tale of sin and sorrow poured into his patient ear. Children of the one true Church! thank your Creator for that inestimable treasure, the Sacrament of Penance. Too often, alas! the efficacy of this means of salvation is lost. And why? Entirely through the fault of the penitent, who does not comply with the conditions necessary for its valid reception!
Some go to confession because a precept of the Church obliges them to do so at least once a year. But to such Christians, confessing as they do through constraint, and neither to increase sanctifying grace in their hearts, nor to secure themselves against relapses, the priest scarce ventures to say: “Son, be of good heart; thy sins are forgiven thee.”
If the penitent desire to hear those words, he must first earnestly and carefully make the proper preparation for confession, otherwise the reception of the Sacrament, far from being a means of reconciliation with God, will bring on the soul the additional crime of sacrilege!
Yes, too often the confessor has reason to doubt the validity of the confession he has been called upon to receive. That you may avoid the danger of a sacrilegious confession, I will point out some of the causes of that terrible misfortune!
In the first place, humility of heart is wanting, and the preparation is begun without the necessary invocation of the Father of light, for grace to know our sins.
Secondly, instruction is wanting. Many do not accuse themselves of their sins as they should, on account of ignorance, confessing frequently as a venial fault, or no fault whatever, what is in reality a mortal sin.
Thirdly, the proper examination of conscience is wanting. People, indeed, go to confession, but do not take time to look into their hearts, or search carefully into the motives of their actions. Again, they confess what they did, but not what they thought and desired; unmindful that there can be, and are, mortal sins, both of thought and desire. They confess their sins of commission, but do not think of what they are obliged to do under pain of mortal sin, but have left undone. How many confessions of parents are null and void for this reason! They do not accuse themselves of their negligence in bringing up the children whom God has entrusted to their care; they forget to say that they have not punished them when necessary, that they have not set them a good example. They confess their sins of commission, but pass over those of omission, in the sacred tribunal, as trivial indeed. Many, too, in confessing their sins, fail to say how many souls were led astray by the evil influence of those sins. Many confess their sins, but are silent as to the circumstances, which often materially affect the malice of the offense; as, for instance, in regard to the person with or against whom a sin was committed. It is, therefore, often difficult for the confessor to understand the nature; and quality of the transgression.
Lastly, the penitent, in his declaration of sins, frequently omits to say how often each sin has been committed.
But the requisite most generally wanting, in the preparation for confession, is exciting the heart to true contrition. This may be obtained by dwelling on those motives which faith suggests for our consideration. The sign and seal of true repentance is a firm and well-kept resolution not to fall again into the sins which a thorough examination of conscience has revealed to us.
Confess your sins sincerely, my brethren, and answer whatever questions may be put to you by the confessor, who but too often has to complain of an unwillingness on the part of the penitent to do so.
What sorrow must overwhelm the priest when he sees no reason for those words of hope: “Son, be of good heart; thy sins are forgiven thee!” when he fears that the penitent remains afflicted with his spiritual malady, and that instead of rising after the reception of this Holy Sacrament, perfectly restored, he rushes onward to eternal death!
“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”–Matt. 9, 4.
Our divine Saviour, penetrating to the inmost recesses of the hearts of those around Him, condemned the evil He saw therein. And as His enemies treated Him in ages past away, so now do they malign and vilify His Holy Church. She, nevertheless, opens her arms to them, and is ever ready to assist them in their spiritual necessities, especially if that most direful of all evils–sin–weighs heavily upon them!
And even in regard to man’s temporal happiness she has a fostering care, seeking not only to promote the welfare of nations, but the prosperity of families and individuals. But the world, “which thinketh not in its heart,” looks askance at her, censures and calumniates her, and accuses her of machinations and intrigues of which she never dreamed!
All this betokens a degree of malice so great as to afford but little hope of leading the votaries of that world to walk in the path of truth and salvation!
This disposition is the ratification of what St. John complains when he says that men love darkness better than light, and it may also be considered as a mark of reprobation. It is a lamentable fact that Protestants, although they have been refuted hundreds, nay, thousands of times, still hurl their calumnies at the doctrines of the Church, especially the doctrine of Indulgences. If such traducers, my brethren, love falsehood and the darkness of error more than the clear light of truth, it is beneficial nay, essential for Catholics to be well instructed on that point, that, when a fitting occasion presents itself, they make use of their knowledge.
I shall explain, therefore, to you today, what the Church teaches in regard to indulgences which she grants to all true penitents. Mary, most pure and immaculate, obtain for us the grace, that we may gain many indulgences, and gratefully appreciate their wonderful efficacy! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God.
“And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man sick of the palsy: Be of good heart; thy sins are forgiven thee.” By these words our divine Saviour points out the condition we should be in to profit by the means of reconciliation with which He has so mercifully provided us, that it may really and indeed tend to the salvation of our souls. Oh, what light, grace, strength and unction do we receive from divine faith! The more brightly it burns in our hearts the more clearly will we realize our obligations as Christians, and our transgressions against them; the more strongly we are confirmed in faith, the more forcibly do we perceive the magnitude and atrocity of sin, the greater the care we take in the examination of conscience, and the firmer our resolution to avoid the sins which we have discovered. The more lively our faith, the more fervent our contrition, the more earnest our determination to make a good confession, to perform our penance, and to avail ourselves of the means which Christ left to His Church to blot out the temporal punishment due to sin after the guilt has been remitted, viz : Indulgences.
What is an indulgence? Ah! here is the spot at which our separated brethren aim their direct thrusts; here is the point around which their most odious calumnies cluster. But we need not wonder at that, since the originator of Protestantism, Martin Luther, charged our holy Church with abuses, committed by individuals, finding therein a favorable opportunity to effect his separation from the one true fold. And what right had he to fasten upon the Church what had been done by individuals, even if the culprits were bishops and priests? We can abuse everything if we are maliciously inclined, even the Holy Sacraments, but the Church is not to be censured on that account. She bitterly deplores any abuses or wrongs, which may be committed by wicked and sinful men who call themselves Catholic, and claim to be members of her communion.
In what terms, then, my brethren, is this doctrine of indulgences expressed? How is the right to grant them proved? and what spiritual benefit do they produce?
An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin after the guilt has been remitted. Thus has the Church declared, through the Council of Trent, a declaration also supported by the testimony of Holy Writ. It is a commutation of a longer penance for a shorter, and hence it is styled an indulgence, or favor granted us. Thus an indulgence, to gain which the penitent must be in the state of grace, has nothing to do with the pardon of sin, but only with that debt of penance which must be discharged after the guilt has been remitted, as in the case of King David, where we have proof for this assertion. Holy Scripture records that the Prophet Nathan, after the king’s repentance, tells him that the Lord has taken away his sin, but warns him of the death of his child, and many direful evils which he would have to suffer on account of that sin all of which were inflicted on the royal penitent!
That the Church has power to remit the temporal punishment due to sin, on certain conditions, and that the exercise of this power is most salutary to her children if they make use of indulgences according to the spirit in which she grants them, is an article of faith of which every well-instructed Catholic is fully aware.
And indeed every one must perceive the truth of it, if, from love of truth, and, uninfluenced by prejudice, he carefully examines into the proofs. I assert that the Church has this power from Christ, who says: “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.” “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Now, the influence of that power most unquestionably extends to everything connected with the removal of sin and its consequences for time and eternity, otherwise the power would be incomplete.
It is in the most plain and unmistakable manner that Christ has bequeathed to that Church which he founded for the salvation and sanctification of souls, this divine gift: “As the Father has sent Me, so also I send you.” “Whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” Mark it well! He says: Whatsoever. Now, one who can perform the greater act can also perform the less important. If the Church can, through Christ, remit all sins, no matter how numerous or heinous, it follows that she can do as much in regard to their punishment; for it is a maxim of the schools, that whoever can perform the greater, can perform the lesser act included in it.
By “whatsoever” as above quoted, Christ of course implies the remission of the temporal punishment, and so the: Apostles understood it; for St. Paul granted to the incestuous Corinthian, an indulgence to be of avail for time and eternity. It was granted, my brethren, in accordance with the spirit of the Holy Catholic Church during the very earliest ages of her existence by bishops and priests. The practice existed in the time of St. Cyprian, when Christians, who had fallen away during the persecutions, were reconciled with the Church. Yes, my friends, the power of that Church on this point, so calumniated by Protestants, can not be questioned, no more than can the certainty that indulgences are most salutary and saving!
To gain an indulgence, we must first be in a state of grace, or if we are so unfortunate as to have committed mortal sin, we must have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance. An indulgence, then, will enable the repentant sinner to enter heaven sooner, and come into the enjoyment of the beatific vision. Oh, what an inestimable favor!
Protestants, then, when they assert that an indulgence is a license to commit sin, utter one of the most vile calumnies pronounced by the tongue of man; for unless the aspirant, after an indulgence, be not purified from sin by a sincere confession, there can be no thought of his gaining that favor!
A calumny, similar in malice, if not even more grievous, is that oft-repeated one, that the Church barters indulgences for money. She may, indeed, prescribe the giving of alms as a salutary condition for gaining them; but that there is trafficking in so holy a matter is false indeed!
As regards the division of indulgences, they are of two kinds, plenary and partial, the names indicating the difference. The former obtains for the recipient an entire remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, in such a manner that whoever gains it, and receives the perfect application of it, becomes entirely pure in the sight of God; while the latter remits only a part of the temporal punishment which man has incurred for sin, and which must be suffered either in this life or in purgatory. The means of gaining an indulgence, most earnestly recommended by the Church, is the heartfelt utterance of one ardent act of love towards God, which, in union with the reception of the Sacraments, will be most efficacious.
Thrice happy the Christian who, through a pure and ardent act of love, obtains a plenary indulgence, a grace which I fervently hope will be granted to each and every one assembled here! Amen! (3)
Research by REGINA Staff