Last Sunday After Pentecost
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost. Today, we are reminded by Christ, in the Gospel, of the signs and warnings which shall herald the day of judgment, that terrible day which will witness at once the resurrection of the dead and the approach of the divine Judge. Of all these signs, I have selected for your consideration today the appearance in the heavens of the sign of the Son of Man, the cross, which will announce the coming of Christ.
What Christ has revealed to us of the signs which shall be sent as warnings of His advent, should cause us to reflect most deeply upon those things which shall come; upon us at the end of the world, when, in the expressive words of the Gospel, “Men shall wither away with fear and expectation of what is to come upon them.”
It should so dispose our hearts that we may be ready to appear before the tribunal of Christ, whenever He shall call us from this earth. There is one circumstance of which our Lord makes mention, and which alone is of sufficient weight to strengthen us in our resolution to live only for the purpose for which He has given us our very existence, and for which He has accomplished in us the great work of redemption. I allude to the appearance of the cross in the heavens on the last day. This cross will show forth all the infinite and adorable perfections of the divine nature.
Mary, mother of God and mirror of His adorable perfections, pray for us that we, upon the terrible day of final reckoning, may be enabled to rejoice with thee when that cross, by which thou didst stand to hear the last sigh of thy dying Son, appears unto the world once more! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
God would not one day judge the world if He were not just, on account of the angels, as St. Paul assures us. A remarkable expression. The sense of these words of the Apostle may be thus explained: If the ways of God were not all the ways of truth and emanations of His infinite perfections, the angels, whom God created as beings of the highest order, and at the same time pure and holy, would never allow what is wrong to pass as just.
In this world we are not permitted to behold our Lord face to face, nor to know Him as He is in the splendor of His majesty; so it is with His works which are, as it were, concealed by a vail which we dare not, if we could, remove. I will make use of a comparison. The mysterious workings of divine Providence, as time passes on, weave, as it were, a carpet of the various acts and scenes of our lives. Look upon the reverse side, and you will see the threads running hither and thither, without beauty or apparent design. But upon the day of judgment the gorgeous texture will be turned in the presence of all mankind, of the angels, and of all the devils. All will then behold with vision, clear and distinct, how the Lord hath ever worked to lead the souls created by His divine power to eternal happiness, and that what ever came to mar His benignant plans arose from an abuse of that free-will with which every rational being has been endowed. Even Lucifer, with all his fallen angels will pronounce his confiteor, and, with the millions of reprobate souls who chose to array themselves under his standard, will give testimony to the justice of God, impelled to it by the sight of the cross in the heavens.
The cross on the last day will stand forth in bold relief upon the sky, as the symbolical expression of the work of redemption, and also as a mirror in which the divine attributes appear most brilliant and resplendent.
First, it will reflect the splendor of the divine omnipotence by which He called the world into existence; for nothing is impossible with God, as the angel declared to Mary when he announced the great mystery of the incarnation, the most sublime triumph of the Almighty. By naught, save omnipotence, could this wonder of wonders have been effected. Omnipotence alone could unite the divine nature with a human nature by the hypostatic union of the second person of the blessed Trinity with that human nature. O miracle! God might create myriads of worlds, each one more glorious than the other, yet it would not be such a proof of His almighty power as His becoming man. For He did not join Himself to a human person, but assumed the human nature in Christ, and thereby became as truly man, as He was God from all eternity. O wonder of wonders!
The cross will also shine forth brilliantly on the last day, as the glorious reflex of the divine understanding and wisdom, whose triumph comes from the Incarnation of the Son of God. Only a God could have conceived this sublime idea of thus reconciling the fallen human race to God, of changing the curse of sin into a source of happiness, the loss of paradise into eternal beatitude.
The holy cross will also sparkle on the last day in the firmament as the reflected splendor of God’s in finite mercy. How fitting it is that this divine attribute should not only be glorified by the ransom of the fallen human race, as illustrated in the cross, but also be entirely vindicated before all men. If it were possible for one person to take upon himself the burden of the sins of the entire world, and if he had at the same time been guilty himself of the most heinous crimes which the heart can conceive, in the Sacrament of Baptism, at the words “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,”–supposing true contrition on his part,–all those sins would be remitted, and every stain washed away from his soul; so that if he were to die that moment, he would immediately enter heaven through the merits of Christ. And if a Christian had sullied the whiteness of his baptismal robe, and marred its beauty not only, with some venial faults, but with the most diabolical crimes; after a true contrition and sincere confession on the part of that sinner, at the words of the priest: ” I absolve thee,” united to the petition of Christ: “Father, forgive!” his guilt would be washed away.
Upon the day of final doom the cross will reflect the sanctity and holiness of the Lord of heaven and earth; for upon it the Sacred Heart of Jesus was opened, and from the wound came forth the Holy Church supplied with the means of salvation sufficient to make us, even in this life, pure as the angels in heaven.
On that momentous day, the cross will beam with glorious light,–indeed, the splendor of its radiance will fall with scathing brightness upon those wretched spirits whose doom is everlasting fire, for it will be the reflection of that divine attribute justice.
It will also irradiate the heavens with a lovely light, the reflex of God’s longanimity. As Christ stretched forth His arms upon the cross, so will He continue to do unto the end of time, as a sure refuge for all the children of men.
On that last and terrible day the holy cross will brightly shine to reflect the truth and fidelity of the Lord. For the truths of our divine faith are the Word of God promulgated by the Church, which remains as unchangeable and infallible in its doctrines as when it came forth from the Heart of our Lord on the cross. The work of redemption, consummated by Christ on the cross, was not a work of necessity, but of the infinite love of God.
Happy we, beloved in Christ, if we, as the cross continually exhorts us to do, glorify God in all His attributes by our virtues while on earth; then will we most surely hail its appearance in the heavens with joy and rapture on the resurrection morn! Amen!
“And there shall appear the sign of the Son of man in the heavens.”–Matt. 24, 30.
We are assured by Holy Scripture that man’s life is a warfare, and only those, most beloved in Christ, who valiantly fight, and bear away the palm of victory, will be rewarded by hearing those consoling words which are enunciated in the Gospel, which speaks of the signs which shall herald the end of the world: “Lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”
Man is free; salvation will not be forced upon any one; but Christ has given to every Christian sufficient grace to gain eternal life, while He also gives the admonition: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Man, then, must stand the test of freedom here upon earth, wage ceaseless war against the enemies of his salvation, and win a glorious victory against those who strive to turn him from the path of right. Certainly there are many and powerful foes, and yet we can overthrow them all, if we use one weapon, and that is the weapon of the holy cross.
On the day of judgment the cross will appear as a sign of victory before we are joined to the Church triumphant. Let this, then, be the subject of our meditation today.
Mary, who didst crush the head of the serpent, thus triumphing over death and hell, pray for us, that, shielded by the safeguard of the holy cross, we may valiantly combat as children of the militant Church. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
When Constantine approached the city of Rome, conquered Maxentius, that relentless persecutor of the Church of Christ, and pursued the flying foe until the waters of the Tiber engulfed them, a cross appeared in the sky in his presence, and before his entire army, with the following inscription, in Greek: “In this conquer.” All who witnessed this prodigy were struck with astonishment and awe, just as mankind will be overwhelmed with terror or delight at the sign of the Son of man, which shall appear in the heavens at the day of judgment.
“In this conquer.” The cross will appear in the heavens on the last day as a banner of victory for those who have fought the good fight and gained the crown of life; it will also be to the elect a sign of eternal bliss, a pledge of everlasting happiness, a token of that never-ending reward which shall be awarded to them in the presence of angels and of men.
And what of the reprobate? What of those lost and miserable beings doomed to dwell in everlasting fire? Oh, their cries of despair, when they first behold the “sign of the Son of man” in the heavens! How bitter will be the thought that they might so easily have conquered the enemy of their souls had they but employed this powerful weapon to vanquish that demon, who will now torment them forever! Yes, my dear brethren, despair will be their portion; and, at the sight of the cross, they will be forced to acknowledge that their punishment is just.
The three enemies against which we have constantly to struggle during life, are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
First, the world, with cunning malice, rather than with open warfare–this vigilant foe–is continually seeking our ruin, and with its brilliant allurements, pernicious examples and dazzling promises it too often succeeds. But here, my dear friends, we have a most powerful weapon in the cross of Christ, which will remind us of our Saviour, who will not accept a divided heart. He Himself says that no one can serve God and the world; that, as the world hath persecuted Him, so also will it persecute His faithful children, and that whoever loves the world will perish with the world,–“no one can serve God and mammon.” Whosoever views the world in that light which shines from the holy cross, lives indeed in the world, but not of the world. To him its enticements possess no charm, for he lives so that he can exclaim, with St. Paul: “I am crucified to the world, and the world to me;” and, although beset by snares on every side, he gains a glorious victory over this powerful foe. On the other hand, the Christian, who lives in the world without the knowledge which the cross of Christ imparts, pursues the broad and pleasant path which leads to ruin. How many! O how many! walk thereon! unmindful that the end is eternal woe!
Our second great foe is the flesh, with its mighty army of inordinate desires and deeply-rooted passions; but here, too, we are furnished with a powerful means of defense against their attacks. Look upon the cross; it seems to say: “Deny thyself.” If you listen to its exhortations, God will assist you, and you will be enabled to conquer this second foe. “Deny thyself; take up thy cross and follow Me.” Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with all its desires. Whosoever lives thus, beloved in Christ, ever pushing forward, though sometimes faltering on the rugged path, will reach the goal at last.
Our third foe and constant enemy in the pursuit of salvation is the devil; but here again we need not fear, for Christ has placed a weapon within our reach, the mere sight of which will put the evil spirits to flight. They know too well that cross which triumphed over them, and weakened their power to ruin souls. They know that through this blessed sign the Lord has brought to repentance many a precious soul redeemed by His blood, but seduced for a time by those wily demons of hell with their wicked arts.
In the Old Testament we read that the Israelites in the wilderness, having given way to sinful repinings, our divine Lord punished them by sending fiery serpents in their midst, from the bite of which many of them died. Brought to a sense of their ingratitude by this visitation, those who survived repented of their fault; and Moses, by the command of God, raised on high a brazen serpent, setting it up for a sign, and those who were bitten looked upon it and were healed.
The serpent thus placed on high in the wilderness is, according to all interpretations of the holy fathers, a figure and type of our Redeemer nailed to the cross,–of that Saviour who became man for us, who called us His brethren, sinful children of men as we are, and who suffered so many and such bitter torments for us. Our iniquities were placed upon Him, and He bore the heavy burden without a murmur.
Has the infernal serpent attacked you with its venomous fangs? One glance at the cross of Jesus Christ will save you from eternal death, as you will clearly understand if you consider the wounds made by the different passions. For every one you will find a cure in the saving balm which flows from the cross.
Are you tempted by pride, or has the infernal serpent inflicted thereby a dangerous and almost fatal wound upon your soul? Look at the cross, and find your remedy in the thought of Him who humbled Himself, “even to the death of the cross.” Perhaps avarice and greed of gold are the fangs by which the venomous serpent has wounded your soul? One glance at the cross will save you, for you will be reminded of Him who became poor and destitute for love of man. The serpent of wrath has, perhaps, enfolded you in its coils, and your peril each moment increases? Then call upon your Saviour; cast but one glance at his holy cross. One thought of the meek Lamb of God, “who taketh away the sins of the world,” and of your Saviour’s supplication on the cross,–“Father, forgive,”–and you will gain the victory. It may be that the infernal serpent of gluttony is winding its coils around you, or has even fastened its fangs in your soul? Look at the cross and think of the meek Victim Who hung thereon, exclaiming: “I thirst.”
Is it the serpent of impurity, of sensual gratification, which has twined itself round your heart, perhaps wounding your soul almost unto death? Oh, even here you will find a salutary balm in looking at the cross, and the five sacred wounds of your Lord! Consider that sacred Victim, whose lacerated flesh hung quivering on the cross, and you will conquer this sin so hideous in the sight of God.
Does the serpent of sloth and indifference in matters of religion threaten to ruin your soul? You are furnished with a weapon wherewith to fight and conquer. Look at the cross and at your dying Saviour, whose lips pronounce the words: “It is consummated.” Toil and suffering and persecution for three and thirty years has He patiently and joyfully endured for you, and now “it is consummated.”
To those also who are striving after perfection I have a word to say: You, too, have much to contend with in your zealous efforts; for the kingdom of heaven is gained by violence, but the holy cross will be a most powerful aid; glance at it frequently, and meditate upon the sufferings of Him Who died thereon!
Thus you will be wonderfully strengthened in faith, hope, and charity, as well as all the moral virtues, such as humility, patience, self-denial, that are the supports of a holy life.
That your lives may be a true and perfect imitation of His own, our divine Saviour will try your fidelity by trials and sufferings, as gold is tested in the furnace to prove its value. Here, too, look upon the cross, and you will esteem all sufferings light and all sacrifices pleasant.
Christ Himself had, through bitter sufferings, to enter heaven. Then, is it not just that you, too, should walk in the royal way of the cross for love of Him, before you win eternal joy? Oh, what joy will be your portion, if, when death is drawing nigh, you can say, with Jesus: “It is consummated.” Then, indeed, upon the last and terrible judgment day, the holy cross, upon which you have so often looked in life, will be a dear and familiar sign–a pledge of bliss, and a glorious token of victory for evermore! Amen!
“And there shall appear the sign of the Sun of man in heaven.”–Matt. 24, 30.
On this earth we behold collected together an immense number of people. The good and the bad, the believing Christian and the infidel who scoffs at the very existence of a God, those who defend and those who persecute the Church of Christ, those who profess her religion and those who are separated from her fold, all are living together, almost without a mark to distinguish them!
But it will not always be so; for the hour will come which shall witness the eternal separation of light and darkness. The Gospel wherein we read that the cockle is to be burned, but the wheat gathered up and cared for, assures us of this: “Let the good seed grow with the cockle until the harvest, then I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle and bind it into bundles to burn, but gather the wheat into My barn.” These are the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The reapers are the angels; the good seed signifies the just, and the cockle the unjust. Christ also compares the just to sheep and the wicked to goats, bidding the former go to His right; that is, the right of the cross, the wicked to His left; that is, the left of the cross, which sends forth its rays to herald the coming of the divine Judge! It is the cross that on the last day divides the wicked from the good!
And can you, my brethren, realize that each one of us will be there, either to rejoice at the vision of the sign of redemption, or to view it as a harbinger of woe? If the former, then must it be the standard around which we rallied during life, the light which guided us on our way to God. Then, indeed, the sign of the Son of man in heaven will be to us a sign of joy!
Mary, who with such admirable fortitude didst stand beneath the cross, obtain for us a portion of the spirit of endurance which animated thee, that we also may endure unto the end! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
We read in the life of St. Lawrence Justinian that, when in his youth he was about to make choice of a state of life, he took a crucifix, placed it before him, and fell on his knees. Gazing with loving devotion upon the image of his Lord, he mentally called up all the riches, all the honors and pleasures which he could expect in this world; while, on the other hand, he considered the treasures which faith bestows, and the Divine promises made of delights and treasures which last forever!
He compared the riches of earth with the glories of heaven, the fame of this world with eternal honors, and the empty joys which worldlings hold so dear, to the endless delights which are the portion of the blessed. Then he looked upon the image of the Crucified, and murmured: “What shall I do?”
Undoubtedly that glance decided him, by recalling to his mind that, if he wished to become perfect, to become truly holy, and to attain an exalted position in heaven, he must trample the world under foot and follow his divine Lord. He did so, and went on with such unfaltering zeal and unshaken fidelity that he became a glorious saint!
Lawrence Justinian is not alone in resolving to serve God in the most perfect manner. Many do the same, but they do not persevere. They begin well, but the path to perfection is narrow and beset with thorns, while the broad and pleasant road to perdition is bordered with lovely roses, whose fragrant leaves conceal the thorns that are not felt until too late. Thus the unstable Christian wavers in his efforts to lead a holy life, and too often abandons the pursuit of piety. Christ Himself suffered contempt and ignominy, and was held up to public scorn, while the multitude received Him with loud cries of “Crucify Him! crucify him!” Those very people who, but a few short days before, cried out: “Hosanna to the Son of David,” angrily demand His death. Think of this when you are tempted to waver in your resolution to follow the straight and narrow path. The kingdom of heaven is gained by violence; there is a struggle, and very often a severe and protracted one; there are storms and temptations which threaten to destroy even the well-trained virtue of a life-time. Be firm, therefore, and let not the allurements of the world, the temptations of the flesh, nor the snares of the devil, induce you to falter. Look frequently at the crucifix, and you will be strengthened, remembering how Christ suffered for you. Imitate His divine example. How can we look upon the cross without sentiments of the deepest affection? How can it fail to excite feelings of the most profound awe, when we reflect that it will one day appear in the heavens to bear witness to the justice of God in deciding the eternal fate of the millions who tremble in His sight? One glance at it must remind us that we are destined to be either eternally happy or eternally miserable.
Either, Or. Oh, words of terrible import! Let us consider separately the circumstances of the final judgment as they have been revealed by Christ Himself, and we will be the better enabled to realize what is to come upon the world!
When the warning sound of the angel’s trumpet penetrates to the very depths of the grave, your body will obey the summons, and arise either glorious and beautiful from the tomb, or come forth horrible and disfigured before all men. More luminous and brilliant than the sun, radiant in celestial beauty will the bodies of the blessed arise, while hideous beyond conception will those of the damned appear!
Enveloped in flames, more loathsome and repulsive than the most vivid imagination can depict, will be those bodies from which even their wretched souls will shrink away! Either, Or. Either your body will arise to be joined to a blessed and happy soul, or to be united to an infernal inhabitant of hell! Oh, what food for reflection! what a motive for firmly resolving, cost what it may, to follow Christ, to obey His commandments, and to walk in the rugged way of the cross, so that upon the last great day your body will arise glorious, to be united to your happy soul forever!
Then, most beloved in Christ, the eternal gates will open. Those above will disclose to view the regions of light, the haven of bliss unutterable, of joy eternal; but those below will reveal a scene of horror, which, could you behold it now, would strike you dead with terror! From above will be seen descending the transfigured souls of the blessed, more brilliant than the sun, winging their flight under the guidance of their guardian angels to the graves where they will behold their bodies coming forth to meet them, to be united to them for evermore. What inexpressible joy! What a contrast to the other side of the picture!
Through the yawning gates of the fathomless depths of hell, see those despairing souls conducted by demons to the graves where lie the bodies which they pampered and sinned for while on earth. What terror will seize upon those wretched souls when such bodies are forced upon them!
Reflect deeply upon this: Either your body will arise radiant and beautiful, or black and horrible! Either, Or. Two little words, but worthy of the deepest consideration.
Christ will send forth His angels to separate the good from the bad,–the sheep at the right,–the goats at the left. Either the demons of hell will clutch you with death-like grasp, and force you to the left, or the good angels will surround you and place you at the right. Either, Or. Can you reflect on those words and remain tepid in the service of God and the great affair of salvation?
After this momentous separation, a supernatural light will illumine each conscience, and the hidden secrets of all hearts will be made clear as day. Either, Or. The sentence will be either: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you;” or: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”
There is no third place. Either you will one day ascend body and soul into heaven, or go down to that region where darkness and horror dwell! Either high up in the kingdom of glory and joy, or beneath in the region of torments and woe! Either up with the glorious heavenly host, to live with them forever in beatitude and love, or down with the hideous infernal spirits to suffer in fire, yet never to die! Either up to Jesus and Mary, to claim the reward of a life well spent, or down with Lucifer and Anti-christ, to partake of their punishment! Either up to God, to be with God, to see God, to share His infinite beatitude, to become like unto God for all eternity, or down, to be apart from God, to be eternally separated from His gracious Majesty, to be the companion of the lost for evermore! Either up to the light of glory, or down to devouring fire!
Think frequently upon this alternative, and you will live in the service of God, firm in His love, and strong in your determination to imitate Christ until death. Then, on the day of judgment, you will salute the cross as the standard of your life. You will hail its appearance with joy, knowing that through that blessed cross and Him Who died thereon, your soul has been redeemed from sin and hell, and enabled to gain the port of safety, to obtain access to the heavenly Jerusalem! Amen!
Research by REGINA Staff