Third Sunday After Pentecost
By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
What man is there of you that doth not leave the ninety-nine sheep, and go after that which was lost until he find it?”–Luke 15.
“God wills the salvation of all men,” says the Apostle of the Gentiles. Should any one gifted with the use of reason fail to be saved, the blame, as well as the loss, will fall upon the unfortunate one. But if any one, whether child or adult, dies without ever having had the use of reason, and before baptism was administered, his soul will enjoy a certain natural happiness, a state of immortality suited for rational creatures. What this state is, exceeds the limited range of our knowledge. St. Augustine wisely remarks that all speculations about it are useless, as revelation throws no light upon it.
Those who have attained the use of reason, and who misuse not their freedom in offending God, the Lord seeks to save, and to bring to their supernatural end, as Christ Himself assures us: “The Son of Man came into the world to seek what was lost.” Beloved in Christ, that we may not be lost through our own fault, let us today consider the means which God uses to bring back poor sinners from their evil ways.
O Mary, good shepherdess, thou who dost endeavor with tender care to bring strayed sheep to the Good Shepherd, pray that the Lord may find us, and that no sin may again cause us to wander far away! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
“What man of you,” says Christ, “that has lost one sheep, does not leave the ninety-nine and go after that which was lost until he find it?” As though he said: You take it amiss that I pursue sinners, and lovingly embrace them. Know you not, Who I am, and Why I have come into this world? Even a shepherd seeks a lost sheep; and will you wonder and take it amiss that I, Who have taken upon Myself human nature, and have sacrificed My life from its first moments for each and every one of the children of men, and Who am willing to give for their salvation the last drop of My blood, should lovingly pursue sinful man, and try by all means to lead him back to God the Father?
What means does Jesus make use of to gain souls for heaven and for God? To know these we need only glance at the parables which Christ makes use of in today’s Gospel. He speaks of a shepherd seeking a lost sheep. What is probably the first thing a shepherd does when he looks for his sheep? He raises his voice and calls his sheep. “The sheep,” says Christ, “hear the voice of the shepherd; they know it, and follow him.” This refers also to Christ the Shepherd, who calls the lost sheep. The voices with which He calls, are the voice of nature, and the voice of that law which He has written in every human heart: “Avoid evil; do good!”
Blessed the man who, living even in the darkness of heathenism, hears and follows this voice: the Lord will lead him to the knowledge of the truth before he leaves this world. To these voices of nature and of conscience in the human heart, the entire outer world adds its voice: Serve your God! He has created me for you, and you for Himself! St. Paul tells us that the heathens are inexcusable, if in contemplating the creation they nourish not and strengthen not in themselves the desire and the will to ask: Lord, Thou our God and Creator, what wilt Thou have me do?
“Serve your God,” the world without us exclaims; “if you have not done so, repent and lead a better life.” To this call is further added the call of the primeval revelation which was made; known to the human race, through Adam and Eve and through the Patriarchs, and which has been more or less perfectly preserved among all nations of the earth. To this voice was subsequently added the Word of the Lord spoken upon Mount Sinai; then the voices of the prophets were heard, and finally Christ Himself came into the world and announced the Word of salvation to mankind, which, re-echoed by the Apostles and their successors for the last nineteen centuries, is now heard over all the earth.
If men do not esteem, do not follow this voice, it is their own fault. This is said especially to every erring Christian who once had the happiness of being a well-informed child of the true Church. If later on, such a person lose, apparently or really, the faith, yet whatever he has heard as a child, youth, or man, as maiden or woman, about religious truths, will some time or other resound in his breast, and call him to repentance. In regard to those wanderers who still believe, and who living outwardly a Catholic life, say their prayers, visit the Church, attend jubilees and missions, approach at times the confessional, live in the society of pious Christians, see their example, hear their exhortations–manifold are the voices with which the Good Shepherd calls these lost sheep: Return! Let me find you!
This voice calls from the heights and the depths, in the valley and in the wilderness; that is, it calls in happiness and in misfortune, in good and in bad times, even during the trials of temporal cares, as, when harassed by them, man considers how senseless is the sacrifice of peace, of health, and even of a long life, for money, or temporal possessions. Christ the Shepherd, however, calls after the lost sheep especially through the reproaches of conscience, which admonish the wanderer to say with the prodigal son: I will return to my Father; for Holy Writ says, that each sin carries its own punishment. There is not a sinner who is really happy even though he has opportunities of satisfying all his evil inclinations. In spite of all, he is forced to recognize that, what he thought were joys, are only the husks with which Providence fills the swine–i.e, sinners upon this earth, and a recompense for the little moral good which they perhaps did, and all the while his heart is compelled to sigh with Solomon: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” And why? St. Augustine answers to the point, when he says: “Thou hast, O God, created our heart for Thee, and it cannot rest, until it rests in Thee!”
But what will be the state of the sinner’s soul when the stinging reproaches of conscience, compared by the heathen to furies scourging wicked men in hell, begin to torment the unhappy sinner? And surely the voice of conscience will be heard sooner or later. To these voices may be added those exhortations which the second parable brings to our mind. We read that a careful housewife lit a light, swept the entire house, and moved every piece of furniture to find a lost coin. Like to this is the case of the sinner who, illumined from on high by the consideration of the awful word “eternity,” reflects upon his past conduct, and who, when by a merciful disposition of Providence his former circumstances change, and everything is, so to speak, moved from its former position, is enabled to scrutinize in all earnest the folds of his heart.
Lovely are the paths on which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads back the lost sheep. Ask your own self. Many a one has said to me: “Had I not come to America, and joined this very congregation in which I now have the grace to attend the mission, I believe I should have been lost for all eternity.”
If you, who are assembled here, reflect upon your past life, you will, no doubt, be able to recall many an event which at the time seemed strange, perhaps in compatible with a merciful Providence, but which withal was the very means of your conversion. This brings to my mind a remark, which one of my professors at the Vienna University expressed with much emphasis: “Gentlemen, he who does not see in his own life the Guiding Hand, and does not feel the manifold ways in which Providence endeavors to save him from eternal ruin, can be convinced by no professor of a university of the divine dispensations of Providence for the welfare of mankind.” This merits consideration.
Lost sheep, are you here today? Thanks and praise be to God. This very sermon, this voice of a priest is the voice of the Lord calling you: O sheep of Christ, where are you? Let Christ find you! Amen!
“I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just, who need not penance”–Luke 15
In the Gospel of today, Christ repeats the assurance that, in heaven, there is more joy over one sinner doing penance than over, ninety-nine just. These words are not only a justification of our Lord’s behavior towards the Scribes and Pharisees, but they, at the same time, hold out to the sinner fresh inducements to leave off his evil ways, that the Lord may not seek him in vain.
Two other parables have the same object in view, and give no less ground for encouragement to the poor sinner. When our Lord speaks of the good shepherd, who so diligently seeks his lost sheep, and when He speaks of the woman, who ransacks her whole house in search of a lost groat. His words evidently bear the same purport. In both instances He speaks of the great joy that followed the successful search.
Today, dear brethren, let us examine into the reasons why the angels rejoice at the conversion of the sinner. To comprehend why it is that in heaven there is greater joy over the conversion of one sinner, than over ninety-nine just, who need not penance, we have only to consider the nature and character of the angels and, further, bear in mind the relation in which they stand towards God, and the relation in which the sinner stands towards God.
The angels are holy, and highly gifted spirits, who are forever united with God, and, as Christ Himself says, always see His face. They are good angels, because they stood the test of their freedom, and with the mighty Archangel Michael at their head raised the watchword: “Who is like to God!” They now see God face to face. They know with divinely communicated knowledge the end and aim of creation, which is the exterior manifestation of God’s infinite perfections. They love and serve their Creator, and, therefore desire, above all things, His extrinsic glory, and the beatification of rational creatures by the clear vision of His essence, for which they were designed in the eternal decrees of His providence. They were seized with awe and fear at the awful display of His holiness and justice called forth by the sin of their brethren! As St. John says in the Apocalypse: “A great silence reigned in heaven.”
On man, however, God wished to show forth His infinite mercy, yet so that all His other perfections would be manifested with still greater magnificence, and, moreover, in such a manner that the exaltation, glory and happiness of the angels would proportionally increase. Hence, even at the birth of the divine Child, from Whom Redemption was to come for fallen man, the angels sang so joyfully their hymn of praise–a hymn that changes into loud hallelujahs of joy and benediction when the effectual grace of conversion is communicated to a soul; and the deeper her fall has been, the more hopeless her case appeared, the greater is the joy of the angels. And the reason of this is, because then not only the infinite mercy of God triumphs, but all His other attributes radiate with special glory.
For, what is it that God forgives? It is sin. But sin, in relation to God, is so great an evil, that, were He to forgive one man but a single mortal sin, it would still be an act of boundless mercy, so great is the inferiority of the offender to the One offended. Now, however, God forgives the contrite sinner each and every sin. What a source of joy for the angels is this return of the sinner to God, since, as has already been said, all the attributes of the divine nature shine forth therein with wonderful splendor!
First, His Omnipotence, as the Church declares in her prayer: “O God, Thou, Who revealest Thy Omnipotence most through Thy forbearance!” It is the power of grace, that raises the sinner from the abyss of hell and snatches him from the grasp of Satan. What a manifestation, likewise, of God’s omniscience, goodness, veracity and fidelity in the sinner’s conversion! It is His omniscience that knows what the sinner will do under these or those circumstances, with this or that grace, and He selects that grace which will effectually bring about his conversion.
His wisdom also is shown; for it is His wise providence that conducts the sinner by such ways, and brings him into such circumstances, that he finally thinks of returning to God and carries out his resolve. His patience and long-suffering is glorified; for it is by this attribute that He forbears judging the sinner and casting him into the depths of hell at the first offense, as He did the angels; but labors at his conversion for years, preserves his life though tainted by many crimes, feeds and clothes him, heaps temporal blessings upon him, and puts the means of salvation at his disposal.
But instead of thanking God for His goodness, the sinner uses these very favors to outrage Infinite Majesty, and still more grievously to add sin to sin. If, then, we bear in mind what an abomination sin is to God, how much He detests ingratitude, we can not sufficiently admire His patience and longanimity in waiting for the sinner’s conversion, even till old age weighs upon him, and the pangs of death overtake him. Has He not said by the mouth of the Prophet: “I will not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live?”
The angels witness all these effects of God’s mercy, and when, at length, the sinner returns to His loving Father, they rejoice and break forth in praise and thanksgiving. Even the manner of the sinner’s reconciliation and reception is a subject of joy for the angels. Let us call to mind how the father of the prodigal received his ungrateful son. God’s mercy demands of the sinner only a confession of his guilt, and that only to His representative, in the Sacrament of penance. If the sinner kneels at the priest’s feet with a contrite heart, and the words of absolution are pronounced over him, how the angels rejoice to see the shackles of sin fall from his hands, to see the gates of hell close and the portals of heaven swing open! They praise the power of God’s sanctifying grace, which transforms the sinner from a child of the devil into a child of God rivaling the angels in beauty; they exult over the prospect that this soul, readmitted to the friendship of God will henceforth acknowledge His goodness by the holiness of her life, magnify Him on earth and afterwards, in heaven, augment day by day the glory that will recompense her in the life to come.
What a subject of joy for the guardian angel of that soul! May every sinner who now listens to me rejoice by a return to God, his guardian angel, and the whole heavenly host! Amen!
And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners.–Luke 15.
The Pharisees and Scribes murmured that Christ received sinners. And yet He came into this world only to save sinners and to free us from the curse that, since the fall of the first man, rests upon the human race, and to which every sinner adds so fearfully by his own personal sin. Of course, God demands that man should co-operate, and earnestly make use of the means faith offers him for the salvation of his soul. In this respect, the most necessary disposition on the part of man is confidence in God’s goodness, a firm belief that it is possible for man, in the state of sin, however great and numerous his crimes, still to be saved; provided he is willing, with the help of grace, to fulfill the conditions that God demands.
Yes, yes, sinner whoever you are and whatever sin you have committed God desires your salvation. Throw yourself with confidence into the arms of His unbounded mercy. O Mary, mother of mercy, mother of holy hope, bless us, and increase in us trust in God! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater Glory of God!
“God wills that all men shall be saved.” The first reason that the mind discovers for this truth, revealed by Scripture, flows partly from the nature of God Himself, and partly from the nature of an immortal being, such as man is. God is in Himself the most perfect being, sell-communicating Goodness, as theologians rightly affirm. Just as the nature; of the sun, which is light, is to give forth light, so the nature of God, as infinite Goodness, is to communicate Himself to all His creatures; that is, to bless them and make them happy as far as their individual nature will allow.
Of course, this does not give to the rational creature a right to claim a supernatural union with God, and, still less, if he has torn himself away from God by sin; but the rational creature has not only the right but the duty to aspire after this union with the divine essence, if God deigned to grant it, as was the case with man at his creation. Man is made after the image and likeness of God. He has in his soul the image of God, because he is an intelligent being, but the likeness he possesses only by union with the divine essence by means of sanctifying grace, a union, that will be perfected in heaven by the beatific vision.
It is true, by the fall of our first parents we lost this supernatural union with God, and, hence, every claim on Him in the kingdom of glory; but as God, in His infinite goodness, redeemed us through the Incarnation of His Son, we regained the right and the happiness, according to the assurance of St. John, not only to be called children of God, but to be such in reality. Hence, it is also God’s will that we reach our final destination and possess it for evermore.
God is omnipotent and free, He can create intellectual beings or not. He is free; but He can not create them mortal–He can not again annihilate them; for He can not contradict His own nature, which would be the case did He create intellectual beings mortal; that is, only for a certain period of time, even were it more than a million of years. For in that case God would create such a reasonable being, either to be happy or to be unhappy. If He created it to be unhappy, He would be more cruel than any tyrant that ever existed upon earth; and if He created it to be happy, and then were to take this happiness from it, in order to annihilate it, He would be still more cruel; for such a being, living in accordance with God’s holy will, would have the right to say: Lord, Thou hast created me without me; Thou hast made me happy, and now Thou robbest me of my happiness without deserving it; I do not give Thee thanks for my existence!
Such a reasonable being could use this blasphemous language to God the Creator, had He not created it to become and remain happy. This desire of God to render man happy becomes still clearer to us, when we think of the work of Redemption, and of the character of our union and beatification with God and in God according to the order of grace. The aim and end of the creation is the outward glorification of God by the manifestation of His infinite perfections. The angels in heaven reflect His holiness. The fate of the fallen angels shows forth the depth of His justice. The universe proclaims His greatness, His might, His wisdom and wondrous care in preserving what He created.
Man was to become, in His salvation, the object of the infinite mercy of God: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” Rejoice, child of man, that you are human. If God had created you an angel, and you committed one single sin, you would have been lost for all eternity. You are human, and, therefore, were you laden with all the sins of the world, you might yet be saved through Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, became Man for you, devoted to you every breath, every step of the thirty-three years of His stay upon earth, offered up for you every prayer, every hardship. How dearly He bought you; for every act, every step of Christ is of such infinite value! But he who accomplishes something with great trouble, naturally does not wish to have labored in vain. This may be especially said of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. Listen to His cry from the cross: “I thirst! Your God and Redeemer thirsts for your salvation!
How your confidence will grow, if you, a child of the Catholic Church, think of the manner in which Christ made you a partaker of His indescribably great merits! You are a child of that Church to which He gave all the means of salvation: Prayer, the Holy Sacraments, the sacrifice of the Mass, participation in the merits of all the saints in heaven and upon earth, and even of those of His own mother as patroness of the Church.
Besides this, think how many instructions, interior enlightenments, exhortations of parents, teachers, friends, Christ has bestowed upon you! This, my sermon of today, is a call of God to you, and a new impulse, a new means of salvation which He sends you. How many opportunities had you not in your life to hear Mass, to go to confession, and you have them still! If you, therefore, harden your heart and go to perdition, the reproach which, like a worm, will gnaw into your soul is this: God desired my salvation, my misfortune I owe to myself alone, I did not desire to be saved. Woe is me!
May this never be! Instead, say now, filled with confidence: God, Thou desirest it and I desire also. I will save my soul! Live in this disposition of mind, and show by your life that you are in earnest, and you will be saved through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen! (3)
Third Sunday After Pentecost
By Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. Luke xv. 1 – 10. At that time, the publicans and sinners drew near unto Jesus to hear him. And the Pharisees and the Scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spoke to them this parable, saying: What man is there of you that hath an hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders rejoicing; and coming home call together his friends and neighbors, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. Or what woman having ten groats, if she lose one groat, doth not light a candle and sweep the house and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, call together her friends and neighbors saying: Rejoice with me, because I have found the groat which I had lost. So I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.
This Gospel is a most consoling one, for it speaks of the mercy of God. Often a sinner who hears himself menaced with the terrible chastisements of that great Last Judgment Day, or with sudden death, or with the never-ending tortures of hell, is not at all moved, but continues in his sins. But when he hears of the great mercy of God, and listens to such invitations as this, “Be ye converted to the Lord your God, because He is good and merciful,” he yields himself up as conquered, he sheds tears over his transgressions, and a most notable conversion is often the result. If any of you, my dear young people, find yourselves in the unhappy state of sin, and are putting off your conversion from day to day, when you hear today’s Gospel, treating of the mercy of God; of how much He desires the conversion of sinners; of how well they shall be received into the fraternal bosom of Jesus, I am sure you will abandon the ways of sin and become a victim of divine love. The Pharisees and people of bad repute were pressing about Our Savior and listening attentively to His sacred words. But they took occasion to criticize the conduct of Our Lord, and said of Him, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them.” Our Lord knew their thoughts, and refuted them with the parables of “The good shepherd” and “The woman and the lost groat.”
My dear young people, could Our Lord have given greater proof of His desire that the sinner may be converted and repent? Even in the severe law of the Old Testament, repentance was possible and the wicked invited to conform themselves to it. “I desire not the death of the wicked.” “O house of Israel, be converted and do penance.” Were these not beautiful expressions of God’s sympathy for the poor sinner; do they not show us that the sinner should be converted and live? But much more plainly does the parable of the good shepherd teach us this desire of God.
My dear young Christians, have you ever gone away from God by falling into sin, by giving up the sheepfold of the good pastor? No doubt there are some among you that have. This Good Shepherd did not delay an instant, but rose and went forth into the wild desert of sin to look for you in every place, watching over you, and inviting you to come back. What caresses and kindness did He not shower on you, just to make you look up at Him and recognize Him again! What inspirations did He not infuse into your hearts! What bitter hours of compunction did you not sometimes feel! To what disgrace you were reduced: loss of honor, loss of everything, so that you had to cry out with the prodigal son, “I perish with hunger.” When you were the most miserable and abject creature on the earth, did He give you up in disgust? No; the lower you had fallen, the greater was His mercy: even though fallen very low, you were still His lost son. He approached you in the kindliest manner, and said, “My son, we stand in such, relation to each other, that we ought to love each other. Why are you deaf to My entreaties? Why do you continue to commit sin? Not a day passes but you commit new sins. The earth with all its creatures cries to Me to pour My vengeance on your head; but I wish to pardon.” Why does the merciful Lord wait so long? The answer is plain from what we have seen: in order that you may have time to be converted and live again in His grace.
Will God really forgive us? Can any one doubt that God will not pardon us? Oh, I have been so sinful; from my very childhood I began to offend Him; in fact, my sins have become more numerous than the hairs of my head. Will He still pardon me? Ah, my dear children, do not add to your other sins one which is the blackest of all: the mistrust in God’s mercy, by the sin of despair. To despair is nothing less than condemning yourself to hell. If He did not desire to forgive, why has He waited so long, and so patiently? His desire is to pardon you, provided you are really contrite; provided you say with the prodigal: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee.” No sooner have you said these words with a heartfelt sorrow than He has already wiped out the account of your sins. “I will not remember all his iniquities.” He will place the kiss of peace on your forehead, He will give you back your heavenly inheritance. He will give all the angels a great feast on this occasion. “I say to you there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.” You shall be more dear to God the greater your sins have been. Is this strange, my good young people? Magdalene was a public sinner, her reputation was very bad; but after her conversion she became dear to Our Lord. How privileged she was in loving Him! how He defended her, and raised His hands in benediction and absolution over her! “Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace.” Never afterwards did He mention her faults. Margaret of Cortona had also led a scandalous life, but after her conversion Our Lord appeared to her and said, ” Thou art My beloved sinner,” and told her He would make use of her to bring back other sinners.
But I certainly hope I shall not be misunderstood, nor that some may say: “If God is so merciful, I can continue in my dissolute life; at some future time I will ask Him for mercy, and He will pardon me.” If such should be an excuse for our sins, God in His justice would withdraw His mercy: it is one thing to ask for mercy for sin, but quite a different thing to remain in sin because God is merciful. No, my dear young people, never abuse the mercy of God, because then you will excite the wrath of the Almighty against you. Once God has pardoned you who knows whether He will pardon you again; there is certainly a limit to His mercy, otherwise you might say with truth that God encouraged you in your sins. Because God is so merciful will you offend His goodness? Should you not be grateful for past kindnesses?
Ah, my good children, let us hate ourselves for our miserable conduct; let us chastise ourselves for having so long abused the divine mercy. Turn to your Father and throw yourselves into His arms, and He will carry the dear lost sheep back to the fold. (2)