Today is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.
By St. Alphonsus Di Liguori
“Redde rationem villicationis tuae”
“Give an account of thy stewardship,”–Luke, xvi. 2
Beloved Christians, of all the goods of nature, of fortune, and of grace, which we have received from God, we are not the masters, neither can we dispose of them, as we please; we are but the administrators of them; and therefore we should employ them according to the will of God, who is our Lord. Hence, at the hour of death, we must render a strict account of them to Jesus Christ, our Judge. For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body as he hath done, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. v. 10). This is the precise meaning of that “give an account of thy stewardship,” in the Gospel of this day. “You are not,” says St. Bonaventure, in his comment on these words, “a master, but a steward over the things committed to you; and therefore you are to render an account of them.” I will place before your eyes today the rigor of this judgment, which shall be passed on each of us on the last day of our life. Let us consider the terror of the soul, first, when it shall be presented to the judge; secondly, when, it shall be examined; and thirdly, when it shall be condemned.
Terror of the Soul when it shall be presented to the Judge
It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment (Heb. ix. 27.). It is of faith that we shall die, and that after death a judgment shall be passed on all the actions of our life. Now, what shall be the terror of each of us when we shall be at the point of death, and shall have before our eyes the judgment which must take place the very moment the soul departs from the body? Then shall be decided our doom to eternal life, or to eternal death. At the time of the passage of their souls from this life to eternity, the sight of their past sins, the rigor of God’s judgment, and the uncertainty of their eternal salvation, have made the saints tremble. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi trembled in her sickness, through the fear of judgment; and to her confessor, when he endeavored to give her courage, she said: “Ah! Father, it is a terrible thing to appear before Christ in judgment.” After spending so many years in penance in the desert St. Agatha trembled at the hour of death, and said: “What shall become of me when I shall be judged? The venerable Father Louis da Fonte was seized with such a fit of trembling at the thought of the account which he should render to God, that he shook the room in which he lay. The thought of judgment inspired the venerable Juvenal Ancina, Priest of the Oratory, and afterwards Bishop of Saluzzo, with, the determination to leave the world. Hearing the Dies Irae sung, and considering the terror of the soul when presented before Jesus Christ, the Judge, he took, and afterwards executed, the resolution of giving himself entirely to God.
It is the common opinion of theologians, that at the very moment and in the very place in which the soul departs from the body, the divine tribunal is erected, the accusation is read, and the sentence is passed by Jesus Christ, the Judge. At this terrible tribunal each of us shall be presented to give an account of all our thoughts, of all our words, and of all our actions. For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. v. 10). When presented before an earthly judge criminals have been seen to fall into a cold sweat through fear. It is related of Piso, that so great and insufferable was the confusion which he felt at the thought of appearing as a criminal before the senate that he killed himself. How great is the pain of a vassal, or of a son, in appearing before an angry prince or an enraged father, to account for some crime which he has committed! Oh! how much greater shall be the pain and confusion of the soul in standing before Jesus Christ enraged against it for having despised Him during its life! Speaking of judgment, St. Luke says: Then you shall see the Son of man (Luke, xxi 27). They shall see Jesus Christ as man, with the same wounds with which He ascended, into heaven. “Great joy of the beholders!” says Robert the Abbot, “a great terror of those who are in expectation!” These wounds shall console the just, and shall terrify the wicked. In them sinners shall see the Redeemer’s love for themselves, and their ingratitude to Him.
Who says the Prophet Nahum, can stand before the face of his indignation (Nah. i. 6)? How great, then, shall be the terror of a soul that finds itself in sin before this judge, the first time it shall see Him, and see him full of wrath! St. Basil says that it shall be tortured more by its shame and confusion than by the very fire of hell.”
Philip II. rebuked one of his domestics for having told him a lie. “Is it thus,” said the king to him, you deceive me?” The domestic, after having returned home, died of grief. The Scripture tells us, that when Joseph reproved his brethren, saying “I am Joseph, whom you sold, they were unable to answer through fear, and remained silent. His brethren could net answer him, being struck with exceeding great fear (Gen. xlv. 3). Now what answer shall sinners make to Jesus Christ when He shall say to them: I am your Redeemer and your judge, whom you have so much despised. Where shall the miserable beings fly, says St. Augustine, when they shall see an angry Judge above, hell open below, on one side their own sins accusing them, and on the other the devils dragging them to punishment, and their conscience burning them within? “Above shall be an enraged Judge–below, a horrid chaos–on the right, sins accusing him–on the left, demons dragging him to punishment–within, a burning conscience! Whither shall a sinner, beset in this manner, fly?” Perhaps he will cry for mercy? But how, asks Eusebius Emissenus, can he dare to implore mercy, when he must first render an account of his contempt for the mercy which Jesus Christ has shown to him? “With what face will you, who are to be first judged for contempt of mercy, ask for mercy?” But let us come to the rendering of the accounts.
Terror of the Soul when it shall be Examined
As soon as the soul shall he presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, he will say to it: Give an account of thy stewardship, render instantly an account of thy entire life. The Apostle tells us, that to be worthy of eternal glory our lives must be found conformable to the life of Jesus Christ. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; . . . them He also glorified (Rom. viii. 20). Hence St. Peter has said, that in the judgment of Jesus Christ, the just man who has observed the divine law, has pardoned enemies, has respected the saints, has practiced chastity, meekness, and other virtues, shall scarcely be saved. The just man shall scarcely be saved (1 Pet. iv. 18). The Apostle adds: “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? What shall become of the vindictive and the unchaste, of blasphemers and slanderers? What shall become of those whose entire life is opposed to the life of Jesus Christ?
In the first place, the Judge shall demand of sinners an account of all the blessings and graces which He bestowed on them in order to bring them to salvation, and which they have rendered fruitless. He will demand an account of the years granted to them that they might serve God, and which they have spent in offending Him. He hath called against me the time, He will then demand an account of their sins. Sinners commit sins, and afterwards forget them; but Jesus Christ does not forget them: he keeps, as Job says, all our iniquities numbered, as it were in a bag. Thou hast scaled up my iniquities, as it were in a bag (Job, xiv. 17). And he tells us that, on the day of accounts, he will take a lamp to scrutinize all the actions of our life. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps? The lamp, says Mendoza on this passage, penetrates all the corners of the house that is, God will discover all the defects of our conscience, great and small. According to St. Anselm, an account shall be demanded of every glance of the eyes. And, according to St. Matthew, of every idle word. Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it on the day of judgment (Matt. xii. 36).
The Prophet Malachy says that as gold is refined by taking away the dross, so on the day of judgment all our actions shall be examined, and every defect which may be discovered shall be punished. He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold (Malach. iii. 3.). Even our justices–that is, our good works, confessions, communions, and prayers shall be examined. When I shall take a time, I will judge justices. But if every glance, every idle word, and even good works, shall be judged, with what rigor shall immodest expressions, blasphemies, grievous detractions, thefts, and sacrileges be judged? Alas! on that day every soul shall, as St. Jerome says, see, to its own confusion, all the evils which it has done.
Weight and balance are judgments of the Lord? In the balance of the Lord a holy life and good works make the scale descend; but nobility, wealth, and science have no weight. Hence, if found innocent, the peasant, the poor, and the ignorant shall be rewarded. But the man of rank, of wealth, or of learning, if found guilty, shall be condemned. Thou art weighed in the balance, said Daniel to Belthassar, and art found wanting (Dan. v. 27). “Neither his gold nor his wealth,” says Father Alvarez, “but the king alone was weighed.”
At the divine tribunal the poor sinner shall see himself accused by the devil, who, according to St. Augustine, will recite the words of our profession, and will charge us before our face with all that we have done, will state the day and hour in which we sinned.” “He will recite the words of our profession” that is, he will enumerate the promises which we have made to God, and which we afterwards violated. “He will charge us before our face;” he will upbraid us with all our wicked deeds, pointing to the day and hour in which they were committed. And he will, according to St. Cyprian, conclude his accusation by saying: I have suffered neither stripes nor scourges for this man.” Lord, I have suffered nothing for this ungrateful sinner, and to make himself my slave he has turned his back on Thee who has endured so much for his salvation, he, therefore, justly belongs to me. Even his angel-guardian will, according to Origen, come forward to accuse him, and will say: “I have labored so many years for his salvation; but he has despised all my admonitions.” Thus even friends shall treat with contempt the guilty soul. All her friends have despised her. Her very sins shall, says St. Bernard, accuse her. And they shall say: You have made us; we are your work; we shall not desert you. We are your offspring: we shall not leave you: we shall be your companions in hell for all eternity.
Let us now examine the excuses which the sinner will be able to advance. He will say that the evil inclinations of nature had drawn him into sin. But he shall be told that, if concupiscence impelled him to sins, it did not oblige him to commit them; and that, if he had recourse to God, he should have received from Him grace to resist every temptation. For this purpose Jesus Christ has left us the sacraments: but when we do not make use of them, we can complain only of ourselves. But, says the Redeemer, now they have no excuse for their sin. To excuse himself, the sinner shall also say that the devil tempted him to sin. But, as St. Augustine says, “The enemy is bound like a dog in chains, and can bite only him who has united himself to him with a deadly security.” The devil can bark, but cannot bite unless you adhere and listen to him. Hence the saint adds: “See how foolish is the man whom a dog, loaded with chains, bites.” Perhaps he will advance his bad habits as an excuse; but this shall not stand; for the same St. Augustine says that though it is difficult to resist the force of an evil habit, “if any one does not desert himself, he will conquer it with the divine assistance.” If a man does not abandon himself to sin, and invokes God’s aid, he will overcome evil habits. The Apostle tells us that the Lord does not permit us to be tempted above our strength. God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able (I Cor. x. 13).
For what shall I do, said Job, when God shall rise to judge me? and when He shall examine, what shall I answer Him (Job. xxxi. 14)? What answer shall the sinner give to Jesus Christ? How can he, who sees himself so clearly convicted, give an answer? He shall be covered with confusion, and shall remain silent like the man found without the nuptial garment. But he was silent (Matth. xxii. 12). His very sins shall shut the sinner’s mouth. And all in iniquity shall stop her mouth (Ps. cvi. 42). There, says St. Thomas of Villanova, there shall be no intercessor to whom the sinner can have recourse. “There, there is no opportunity of sinning; there, no intercessor, no friend, no father shall assist.” Who shall then save you? Is it God? But how, asks St. Basil, can you expect salvation from Him whom you have despised? “Who shall deliver you? Is it God whom you have insulted?” Alas! the guilty soul that leaves this world in sin is condemned by itself before the Judge pronounces sentence. Let us come to the sentence of the Judge.
Terror of the Soul when it shall be Condemned
How great shall be the joy of the just man when, at death, he hears from Jesus Christ these sweet words: Well done, good and faithful servant; because, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord (Matth. xxv. 21). Equally great shall be the anguish and despair of a guilty soul that shall see itself driven away by the Judge with the following words: Depart from Me, thou cursed, into everlasting fire (Ibid. 41). Oh, what a terrible thunderclap shall that sentence be to it! “On, how frightfully,” says the Carthusian, “shall that thunder resound!” Eusebius writes that the terror of sinners at hearing their condemnation shall be so great that, if they could, they would die again. “The wicked shall be seized with such terror at the sight of the judge pronouncing sentence that, if they were not immortal, they should die a second time.”
But, brethren, let us, before the termination of this sermon, make some reflections which will be profitable to us. St. Thomas of Villanova says that some listen to discourses on the judgment and condemnation of the wicked with as little concern as if they themselves were secure against these things, or as if the day of judgment were never to arrive for them. The saint then asks: Is it not great folly to entertain security in so perilous an affair? There are some, says St. Augustine, who, though they live in sin, cannot imagine that God will send them to hell. “Will God,” they say, “really condemn us?” Brethren, adds the saint, do not speak thus. So, many of the damned did not believe that they should he sent to hell; but the end came, and, according to the threat of Ezechiel, they have been cast into that place of darkness. The end is come, the end is come, . . . and I will send My wrath upon thee, and I will judge thee.
Sinners, perhaps vengeance is at hand for you, and still you laugh and sleep in sin. Who will not tremble at the words of the Baptist: For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire (Matth. iii. 10). He says that every tree that does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire; and he promises that, with regard to the trees, which represent sinners, the axe is already laid to the roots that is, chastisement is at hand. Dearly beloved brethren, let us follow the counsel of the Holy Ghost–Before judgment, prepare thee justice (Exxlus. xvii. 19). Let us adjust our accounts before the day of accounts. Let us seek God now that we can find Him; for the time shall come when we will wish but shall not be able to find Him. You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me (John. vii. 31). “Before judgment,” says St. Augustine, “the Judge can be appeased, but not in judgment.” By a change of life we can now appease the anger of Jesus Christ, and recover His grace; but when He shall judge, and find us in sin, He must execute justice, and we shall be lost. (1)
INSTRUCTION FOR THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
By Leonard Goffine, 1871
The Introit of Mass reads: We have received thy mercy, O God, in the midst of thy temple: According to thy name, so also is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of justice. Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised; in the city of our God, on His holy mountain. (Ps. xlvii.) Glory be to the Father, &c.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Grant us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the spirit of thinking and doing what is right, that we, who cannot even subsist without Thee, may live according to Thee. Through etc.
EPISTLE. (Rom. viii. 12 – 17.) Brethren: We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also: heirs indeed of God, and joint–heirs with Christ.
Who live according to the flesh?
Those who follow the evil pleasures and desires of corrupted nature, and do the works of the flesh: impurity, lewdness, gluttony, &c. Such men are not directed by the Spirit of God, who dwells not in the sensual man (Gen. vi. 3.); they are no children of God, will be no heirs of God, and will die the eternal death. But he who is directed by the Spirit of God, and with Him and through Him crucifies his flesh and its concupiscence, is inspired by the Holy Ghost, who then dwells in him, with filial confidence in God, by which he cries: Abba (Father). By this confidence he is assured that he is a child of God, and also an heir of heaven and coheir with Christ. Prove yourself well, my Christian, that you may know whether also you live according to the flesh, and strive to mortify the carnal, sensual desires by prayer and fasting, that you may by such means become a child of God and heir of heaven.
ASPIRATION. Strengthen me, O Lord, that I may not live according to the desires of the flesh, but resist them firmly by the power of Thy Spirit, and that I may not die the eternal death.
GOSPEL. (Luke xvi. 1 – 9.)At That Time: Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said to him: How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer. And the steward said within himself: What shall I do, because my lord taketh away from me the stewardship? To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed. I know what I will do, that when I shall be removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. Therefore calling together everyone of his lord’s debtors he said to the first: How much dost thou owe my lord? But he said: A hundred barrels of oil. And he said to him: Take thy bill and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then he said to another: And how much dost thou owe? Who said: A hundred quarters of wheat. He said to him: Take thy bill, and write eighty. And the lord commended the unjust steward, for as much as he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation, than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.
Who are represented by the rich man and his steward?
The rich man represents God, the steward, man. To man God has confided the various goods of body and soul, of nature and grace: the five senses, health, strength of body, beauty, skill, power over others, memory, intellect, free will, faith, intelligence, aspiration, time and opportunity for good, temporal riches, and other gifts. These various goods of body and soul, God gives us not as our own, but as things to be used for His honor and the salvation of man. He will therefore demand the strictest account of us if we use them for sin, luxury, seduction, or oppression of others.
What was Christ’s view in relating this parable?
To urge us to works of charity, especially to the actual support of the poor, by giving alms.
What friends do we make by almsgiving?
According to St. Ambrose they are, besides the poor, the saints and angels, even Christ Himself; for that which we give to the poor, we give to Christ. (Matt, xxxv.) And: He that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him. (Prov. xix. 17.) “The hands of the poor,” says Peter Chrysologus, “are the hands of Christ.” By the hands of the poor we send our riches to heaven, where we will find them after death; for the prayers of the poor like the prayers of the saints, whom we thus make our friends, will decide God to give us the grace to die happily.
Why did his lord commend the steward?
Because of his prudence and foresight, but not for his injustice; for he adds: The children of this world are wiser than the children of light; that is, the earthly minded know better how to manage, and they take more trouble to obtain earthly goods, pleasures, and enjoyments, than do the children of light, the pious, to please God by good works, and to lay up treasures in heaven.
Why is wealth called unjust?
Because riches are often obtained and retained by injustice, often lead man to injustice, and because they are often squandered or unjustly used.
SUPPLICATION. Grant me the grace, O my just God and Judge, that I may so use on this earth the goods confided to me by Thee, that I may make friends, who at my death will receive me into eternal joys.
MORAL LESSONS CONCERNING DETRACTION
And he was accused. (Luke xvi. 1.)
The steward in the gospel was assuredly justly accused on account of his unjust stewardship; but how many there are who lose their good name and honor by false accusations, and are given a bad name by malicious talk! Alas, what great wrongs do detracting tongues cause in this world! How mean a vice is detraction, how seldom is attention paid to its evil, how rarely is the injury repaired!
When is our neighbor’s name slandered?
When a vice which our neighbor has not is affixed to his name; when a secret vice or undiscovered crime of our neighbor, is made known with the intention of hurting him, or when our duty does not require us to mention it; when we attribute an evil intention to him or entirely misconstrue his feeling or actions; when his good qualities or commendable actions are denied or lessened, or his merits underrated; when in cases where it is obligatory to speak in his praise, silence is kept, or the praise is only coldly given; when we lend a willing ear to detractions, and no effort is made to stop them, although it could and should be done; or lastly, when joy is felt in the detraction.
Is detraction a great sin?
Yes, for it is directly opposed to the love of our neighbor, therefore to the love of God and hence it is, as St. Ambrose says, hateful to God and man. By it we rob our neighbor of a wealth greater even than riches (Prov. xxii. 1.), and often he is plunged by into want and misery, even into the greatest vices; St. Ambrose says: “Let us fly from the vice of detraction, for it is altogether a satanic abyss, full of deceit.” Finally, detraction is a great sin because the injury done by it, is very great and irreparable; for as feathers which are shaken out of a bag, and fly , far and wide, cannot be collected together again, so words of detraction can seldom be called back and rendered harmless.
What should we do when we have committed this sin?
We should as soon as possible recall the detraction and repair the injury done to our neighbor in regard to his name or temporal goods; we should despise this sin, regret it, and be cleansed from it by penance, and as it is difficult to make reparation for detraction, we should daily pray for him whom we have hurt, and in future guard against committing such a great sin.
Are we not allowed ever to reveal the wrongs of our neighbor?
If it is done only for the entertainment of idle people, or for the sake of news, and to satisfy the curiosity of others, it is never allowed, and always a sin. But it is entirely different when after having reproached or advised our neighbor fraternally between him and ourself, but have not obtained our end, we then tell his wrongs, and sins to parents or superiors for the sake of punishment and reformation; this is not only no sin, but rather a good work and a duty, against which those offend who are silent about the sins of their neighbor, when by speaking they could prevent the sin and save him much trouble.
Is it a sin to willingly listen to detractors?
Yes, for we thus give the detractors occasion and encouragement to go on. Therefore St. Bernard says: “Whether detraction is a greater sin than listening to the stealer of a good name, I will not decide. The devil sits on the tongue of the detractor as he does on the ear of the listener.” In such cases we must strive to interrupt, to prevent the detracting words, or else to go away; or if we can do none of these, we must show by our sad face our displeasure, for the Holy Ghost says: The Northwind driveth away rain as doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue. (Prov. xxv. 23.) The same thing is to be observed in regard to improper language.
What varieties of detraction are there?
There is a special, hateful kind of detraction which by witty and sneering words degrades and ridicules others. But still worse is that which carries real or false faults and mistakes of others from one place to another, thus exciting those who are on good terms with each other to hard feeling, or making those who are living in enmity more opposed to each other, by repeating to each the other’s remarks. The whisperer and the double tongued, says the Holy Ghost, is accursed, for he hath troubled many that were at peace.
What should keep us from detraction?
The thought of the greatness of this sin; of the difficulty, even impossibility of repairing the injury caused; of the punishment it incurs, for St. Paul expressly says: Calumniators shall not possess the kingdom of God (i. Cor. vi. 10.), and Solomon writes: Suddenly shall rise the destruction of the detractors. (Prov. xxiv. 22.)
SUPPLICATION. Guard me, O most tender Jesus, that blinded neither by hatred nor envy, I may not rob my neighbor, by backbiting, of his good name, or make myself guilty of such a grievous sin.
CONSOLATION FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SUFFERED FROM DETRACTION
If your good name has been taken away by evil tongues, you may be consoled by knowing that God permits it to humble you, to exercise you in patience and free you from pride and vain self-complacency? Turn your eyes to the saints of the Old and the New Law, to the chaste Joseph, who lies in prison on a false charge of adultery (Gen. xxxix.), to the meek David publicly accused by Semei as a blood-thirsty man (ii. Kings xvi.), to the chaste Susanna, who is also accused of adultery, tried, and condemned to death (Dan. xiii.); above all look upon the Saint of Saints, upon Jesus, who is called a drunkard, accused and condemned as a blasphemer, a friend of the devil, an inciter of sedition among the people, and who like the greatest criminal is nailed to the cross between two thieves. Remember besides that it does you no injury in the sight of God, if all possible evil is said of you, and that He, at all times, cares for those who trust themselves to Him; for he who touches the honor of those who fear God, touches, as it were, the pupil of His eye (Zach. ii. 8.), which He will not allow to pass unpunished.
PRAYER O most innocent Jesus, who wert thus calumniated, I submit myself wholly to Thy divine will, and am ready like Thee, to bear all slanders and detractions, as with perfect confidence I yield to Thy care my good name, convinced that Thou at Thy pleasure wilt defend and protect it, and save me from the hands of my enemies. (2)