Resumed Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The life of man is a struggle. We can also call it justly a tempest. This comparison is also applicable to the Church which St. Peter called a ship, and the ark of Noah. How often is Eternity compared to a haven where we shall land when we shall have crossed the ocean of time. As there are storms upon every sea, even upon that which is called the Dead Sea, so there are tempests in the life of all–as we know too well by experience–especially in the lives of those who earnestly desire to serve God and win souls for heaven.
But heedless of the wildly raging tempest upon the ocean of life, let us have recourse to Christ, and thus steering in the right course, we shall escape the dangers, and never perish. O Mary, thou star of the sea, pray for us that the Lord may assist us in the storms of life! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The cause of the storms which lash the sea from calmness into fury are the winds which cross each other. To these winds I compare all the different influences of those circumstances which awaken the storms of hinderance and opposition against us and our endeavors to work for the kingdom of God.
There are, first, the storms of our own heart, roused by the tumult of passion. We need only consider one by one the sources of sin, principally the deadly sins, and question our own experience, and we can recognize the truth of what I just have said, namely that unbridled passions raise the storms which disturb our hearts.
And the names of these storms are: pride, ambition, vanity, covetousness, anger, envy, gluttony, sensuality, lust. If in our hearts there were no trace of pride, covetousness, envy, enmity or impatience, how calmly would our lives pass on, how bright and clear would heaven reflect itself in the mirror of our soul!
We must therefore learn to master all these chief sins, all these disorderly inclinations of our heart, which are the consequence of the passions, excited to rebellion by original sin. In order to be able to do this we must hasten to Jesus, we must look upon Him as our model, and imitating Him, practice the virtues opposed to the disorderly inclinations of our heart.
If pride arouses the tempest, look upon the meekness Jesus. He, who was God “debased Himself, taking the form of a servant.” He appeared among men not as their Creator, Lord and King, but as their equal. He did not even appear in the splendor of temporal majesty but in the humility of a child and of a poor artisan. And if the commencement of His career was so humble, how much more humiliating was His departure from this world, nailed like a criminal to the cross, between two thieves!
Cry to Him: O most humble Jesus, have pity on me and bestow upon me the humility of Thy Heart! Pray to Him sincerely thus, and the storm of temptation will abate.
Is it covetousness, avarice, or immoderate cares over the goods of this world which arouse the storm in your heart so powerfully that your conduct plainly manifests the intense desire you have to enrich yourself? The fury of this tempest is aggravated by the storm-clouds rising from the example of others who have succeeded in procuring wealth. How shall this storm be calmed? Cast your eyes upon Jesus Who for our sake became poor. In the cold of winter He was born in a stable and laid in a manger where He was warmed by the breath of animals. Mary, when she presented Jesus in the temple, offered in sacrifice the gifts of the poor, and our Lord ever remained poor as child, youth and man. He possessed no house, no place upon earth which He could call His own; He lived by alms, and at last was betrayed for money, and died destitute of every thing, upon the cross.
Look up to Him, pray to Him: Jesus come to my aid, and pour into my heart the love of holy poverty that I may not become a Judas to Thee! Pray thus, and the tempest of temptation will be allayed. Is it anger which rouses the storm? Oh, how high swell the waves when the mind is tempest-tossed by this passion! To what fury does not anger rouse the mind when, excited to madness, man hesitates not to lay violent hands on those who are dearest to his heart–when under its influence he even takes his own life.
And what shall we say when we think of the horrors of war? Enmity and anger, moved by insult, raise the waves of animosity; thousands and hundreds of thousands endanger their lives to avenge the injury. Apart from this, however, do not countless occasions of irritation and impatience arise even in every-day life? We excuse ourselves and, laying the fault upon our irritable temperament, say we can not help it.
Look upon Jesus and listen to His words: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Think of the mildness of Jesus, Who even upon the cross prayed for His murderers, and who shed His last drop of blood for them; think of Him, and the storm of temptation will abate.
Does envy torment you? No doubt it is this temptation which disquiets the minds of many who number themselves among the good and perfect. The words of St. Ambrose: “Envy burns even in the hearts of the saints,” will ever remain a memorable saying. And why? Because envy approaches us under cover of zeal; we seem to be all aflame for the honor of God, while in reality it is only envy that animates us.
What remedy is there for this vice? Look upon Jesus Who has done for each soul individually what He did for all; Who will one day share His glory and bliss in heaven with all, and through Whom in communion with the saints we have all become brothers and sisters and joint-heirs of heaven. Call to Him: O most loving and generous Jesus! Thou Who hast done for each soul what Thou didst for all, grant that for love of Thee I may love all men as myself and wish them only good. Pray thus, and the storm will subside.
Further, who is not aquainted with the temptations of intemperance? Turn your eyes upon Jesus in the wilderness where He remained without food or drink. Think of Him on the cross, where to refresh Him, they offered Him vinegar and gall. Call on Him and, strengthened by His grace, you will be able to break the force of habit, and the storm of temptation will be calmed.
The wild waves of impurity, especially, disturb the peace of many hearts. Whilst the storm rages, irresolute souls find it difficult–they almost imagine impossible–to resist its violence. Soul in temptation! look upon Jesus torn and bleeding on the cross, and listen to the praises entoned by the virgin souls who follow the Lamb.
Look at Jesus, the King of virgins, embracing the cross, walk in the spirit of self-abnegation, then aided by Him you will find yourself strengthened, and by the power of His holy name you will overcome the temptation. Receive Him frequently in the Most Holy Sacrament, and the tempest in your heart will subside.
External circumstances frequently call forth commotions in the human heart. The first is: care for the necessities of life, which, no doubt, gives rise to troubles and storms. Look up to Jesus, confide in Him, our Father in Heaven, who clothes the lilies of the field and who nourishes the sparrows; He thinks of you, He knows what you need. Trust in Him, and the storm will be calmed.
Does sickness befall you? are you tormented by fear that you may never recover? look at Jesus and say with the leper in the Gospel: “Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean.” Say to Him, full of trusting love: “Lord, Thy will be done!” and the storm of despondency will subside.
If the tempest of calumny roars around you, look at Jesus and remember how He was numbered among thieves and murderers. Remember that He is your Judge, not men nor angels, and the storm in your heart will abate.
Are you assailed by persecution for the sake of justice? Look at Jesus and think of His example, His word: “If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you.” No, not one hair falls from your head without His knowledge, without the will of His heavenly Father. Should you even suffer martyrdom–what a grace!–it would carry you straight from earth to heaven.
If, however, no martyr’s death opens to you the portals of heaven, all the suffering which you patiently endure in this world will serve as an earthly purgatory, and increase your weight of glory in the scales of eternal joy! Amen!
Jesus sleeps, while the boat is cast about, the toy of the roaring tempest and surging sea. The disciples tremble and cry loudly for aid, but Jesus sleeps on and seems not to be disturbed by thoughts of them. Yet such is not really the case. He slept as man, but as God He knew the danger of the boat and of those who were in it. The disciples had nothing to fear. He was willing to help, and did help them, but not immediately, and, for the greater benefit of their souls, He chose to help them by a miracle.
Thus, to the soul assailed by the storms of temptation it often seems as it the Lord slept. He appears not to hear our prayers, to withdraw from us; and yet this is not the case; on the contrary, exactly at the time when He seems not to listen to us, Jesus watches over us most compassionately hears our prayer and comes to our aid in the way most beneficial to our souls. I will give you today my reason for this statement.
O Mary, grant that in our sufferings we bow submissively to the will of the Almighty, in order that our souls may profit thereby after thy example, O Mother of Sorrows and Queen of Martyrs! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
In adversity we call upon God and He appears not to hear us. He seems to sleep, His ears seem closed to our prayers, and yet this is not so. On the contrary, He often aids us the most efficaciously then, when He defers His help, or when He assists us in a manner different from that which we desire. Let us consider–in as far as human beings are capable of recognizing the ways of the Lord–the reasons which influence God to prove us in this way.
First.–He does it in order to strengthen our faith, our trust, our hope, our love, and to give us an opportunity to practise these divine virtues. If in our daily life we desire to learn or to excel in any thing we have to practise it diligently. Practice makes perfect. If this is so, who does not perceive at a mere glance what a splendid opportunity the Christian has to show his faith when, in adversity calling upon God and apparently not heard, he nevertheless faithfully believes and acknowledges: God knows my misery, it is He Who sent it to me; for not a hair of my head falls without His knowledge; He is my most kind and loving Father. He can and will help me, if it be for my good. I believe! Is it not humiliating when unbelievers or followers of a false creed show more calmness, more patience in suffering than those who call themselves believers and children of holy Church. You kneel before the cross at home and in the church, and yet in life you turn away from it in fright, refusing to accept it. How inconsistent with yourself!
Yes, even if inner storms against holy hope well nigh drive us to despair, as many a saint has experienced, how sublime an act would it then be to hope with Abraham the Patriarch against hope itself! How great and meritorious an act of love if entire union with the will of God permitted us to desire nothing in adversity, loneliness, persecution and sorrow, save the patience to endure whatever God chooses to send us!
St. Francis of Sales was right when he said: In sorrow and misery a single “Deo Gratias” is worth more in the eyes of God than a thousand of them when we have all that goes to make life pleasant.
As a spiritual writer of our day justly observes: Even the angels have reason to envy us this opportunity of meriting, especially in regard to the sufferings which we have to bear through others, and which we have not deserved.
He says: “If there were any thing more sublime than to suffer innocently, God the Father would have given it to His Incarnate Son to bear;” and I add: Neither would He have let Christ suffer so bitterly as to force Him to cry at the consummation ot the work of Redemption on Calvary: “My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Troubled soul, do you hear this? Why do you complain? Does God seem not to hear you? Make use of this precious opportunity, and give evidence of your faith, your hope, your love, and return thanks to Him. We cry to Him in our suffering and seem not to be heard. Why? He desires to show us the way to heaven. He wishes to teach us to walk till death in the path of tried virtue. He wishes to show us that the way to heaven is none other than the way of the cross.
Man vainly endeavors to find here below a paradise of happiness, undisturbed by suffering, and after death to enter heaven. Christ Himself went before us upon the path of sorrow and pain. A life in which suffering is borne for love of God, points like the hand of a guide to heaven; and in order not to forget this, God forces us to remember it, making us strive to imitate Christ in laboring after perfection.
For this the first thing necessary is: thorough humility. You suffer, the Lord does not seem to heed your prayers; beat your breast and say: I am not worthy that He should hear me. I have sinned so often, I have deserved still greater punishment. I am so imperfect, so covered with the dust and defilement of sin, I am not worthy that the Lord should listen to me and release me from my misery.
Humble yourself! How much you will gain if God seems not to hear you ! But, especially, the Lord tries us in this manner to strengthen us in the virtue of holy patience, and perfect our love for Him and our neighbor. Patience, as the Holy Ghost teaches us through St. James, hath a perfect work, for it strengthens in us, as we have already seen, the theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, as well as the cardinal virtues, Wisdom, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude.
What a grand opportunity of meriting is afforded us when we suffer innocently, when we can perform acts of heroic charity by forgiving for love of God the authors of all our woe, when we can bear our complaints in silence, without easing ourselves by complaints to relatives and friends, giving all a perfect example of Christian patience.
Do you understand now, O suffering soul, how much you may gain and how greatly your eternal joy may be increased when God seems not to hear you? And not only this, but furthermore such a life is equivalent to a martyrdom, as St. Bernard has said, a martyrdom which, though it kills not the body immediately, is the more painful on account of its duration.
Such sufferings, besides, may be sent us as a substitute for purgatory. And the exchange is in our favor, for, besides that the pains are shorter and less severe, they are also meritorious, which is not the case beyond the grave. I remember once having visited a sick man who was suffering the most excruciating pains. At the foot of the bed was placed a large crucifix. When I endeavored to comfort him with the remark: “Such great pains do not last long and they must either soon cease, or God will take you from this world,” the sick man said: “O Father, I suffer willingly, and let it last ever so long, I only hope that this is my purgatory.” Then he gazed full of love and confidence upon the crucifix and continued: “I trust, O Lord Jesus, that Thou wilt let me do penance here, and that Thou wilt take me from this bed of suffering to Thee in heaven.”
May you all think the same, when you pray in affliction and seem not to be heard by God. Persevere in trusting, in suffering humbly and patiently as long as it pleases the Almighty, and you will surely stand high in heaven, where no longer prayers of petition, but prayers of praise will resound, and that too for those very dispensations of divine Providence which permitted us to experience storm-tossed lives on earth! Amen!
“Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”–Matt. 8.
“Father, they know not what they do,” are the words of Christ upon the cross, and they are applicable to the conduct of most men. They do not consider what it means to offend God, they do not realize why man is placed upon earth, and that at the end of this life there is an eternity of joy or misery. Most men live unscrupulous, wicked lives, utterly careless of their salvation, among whom are even many children of the Church, who, from their youth up have been warned of the many and great dangers of this world, but who, notwithstanding, continue to live in sin. This is an extremely dangerous condition.
But the opposite state–that of despondency, is also dangerous, Christ reproaches His disciples for being in this state, and while He points out to them the cause, He at the same time presents them with the cure.
For the benefit of your souls I will today expound this subject. O Mary, thou strong woman, thou mighty tower of David, pray that we children of the Church militant, whose Queen thou art, may receive the grace to conquer death and hell! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The life of man is a combat, and the Church to which we belong is the Church militant. This truth bears directly on the subject of my discourse. The first quality requisite in a soldier is courage. Give soldiers the best weapons, let the number of their enemies be thrice, nay ten times less than their own, yet if despondency and fear fill their hearts, victory will leave their banner: perhaps the first encounter will witness their cowardly flight. The same applies to the timid soldiers of the Church militant.
Hence, if you would battle and conquer in union with the Church, avoid that timidity which clouds the mind with darkness. It a commander full of courage meets the enemy, despite advantages on the other side, he will find ways and means to conquer. If, however, he be wanting in valor or courage, he will retreat or surrender, though protected by walls and ramparts. This is strictly true of those children of the Church who fight for God and the salvation of souls. We must first of all clearly recognize what God demands of us, what we have to battle for, against what enemies, passions and temptations we must fight. We must further learn by what ways we must advance, how to forestall temptations, how to repel them when they set upon us without notice.
The greatest obstacle to a clear perception of our line of conduct is Faint-heartedness, which deprives our soul of vigor and decision. The soldier needs not only courage to withstand the foe, but also determination to attack and rout him. It has frequently happened that a small army has put to flight and conquered a much larger one, because it was ready and eager for the fray, and did not even allow the opposing forces to concentrate their strength.
The same may be said of the children of God’s Church. Timid souls perhaps see clearly what they must do to conquer, but they lack determination; they despair, and believe that they are unable to complete what they have begun. What a dangerous state of mind this is! The more timid they become, the bolder Satan grows, and thus they are driven to despondency and at last to despair.
In order to conquer, an army needs reliance on its own strength; it needs good weapons and perfect familiarity with their use; moreover, the men must be strong enough to endure the hardships of a campaign. The same conditions are necessary for our success in the warfare for God and the salvation of our souls. There are many and splendid weapons at our disposal. St. Paul enumerates them in the well-known words: “Wherefore take unto you the armor of God, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. . . , And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the sword of God)” (Ephes. 6, 13).
Each of these weapons, fearlessly used, will procure us victory. Faint-heartedness, however, takes away all strength, as every one will readily perceive; for it does not love truth, but, rather, follows the vain glimmer of a false light, and, as Holy Writ says, “trembles for fear where there is no fear” (Ps. 13, 5).
The faint-hearted heeds not the call of truth to trust in the protection of God and to walk with fervor in the path of duty; he says with the slothful man of Holy Writ: “There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the midst of the streets.” Faint-heartedness is not a breast-plate of steel, but soft and yielding as wax. Faint-heartedness can not furnish shoes wherewith to proceed on the path of salvation with heroic resolution, but sends us forth barefooted. Faint-heartedness is no shield of faith from which the darts of temptation rebound, but it leaves us defenseless in the face of the enemy. Faint-heartedness is no protecting helmet, but rather marks us out for the blows of the enemy. Faint-heartedness is no victorious sword, but a bending reed. How well protected is the soul that courageously confesses the truth, practises justice, and, strengthened by frequent holy Communion, remains firm in her resolves, who, well instructed in her religion, firm in faith, ever mindful of her last end and destiny, marches on boldly without swerving from her path. Such a soul will be victorious.
Finally, not till the combat is over can the victory be proclaimed. A partial or temporary retreat is not decisive; he who retains possession of the field in the end will wear the laurels of victory. The same is true in the struggle for God and for the salvation of our souls: “He that shall persevere to the end, shall be saved.”
Confidence in God strengthens in us those sentiments with which we should leave this world: “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be put to confusion.” Blessed is he who, when the darkness of death falls upon his heavenward-dazing eyes, has these words upon his lips; he has ended victoriously in the Lord.
What is the cause of our lack of courage? It is that same insufficient faith for which Christ reproved His disciples: “Why are you fearful. O ye of little faith?” Man would have reason to fear and despond when the storms of life roar around him, did he depend upon the aid of men. But one who has a living faith, whose mind is inundated with light from above, who is penetrated with the motives that the true religion inculcates for confidence in God, can not fall into the hands of faint-heartedness. He trusts in the goodness of the Creator and the merits of Jesus Christ, and in this confidence is saved!–Amen!