Today is the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1882
“There met Him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off.”–Luke 17.
St. Augustine and the other holy fathers remark, that the words of the Holy Gospel are not only instructive, but that the deeds, of which mention is made, have almost always a spiritual signification.
Christ Himself gave us a manifest illustration, when, after the abundant haul of fishes He told St. Peter: That He would make him a fisher of men; also when He caused the tree to wither, because it did not bear good fruit. The holy fathers behold in the leprosy, of which the Gospel speaks several times, an image of sin. The reason for this comparison is very evident. There is a great deal of similarity between leprosy and sin which we should well consider.
Leprosy is one of those diseases which entirely disfigures the human body. It is at the same time a very contagious disease. This accounts for the precautions which the law of the Jews compelled them to take, in order to keep all those infected with leprosy at a distance from the others; on the other hand, we perceive the care and fear of those in health, not to come in contact with the diseased ones.
In the same manner, and still more frightfully, does sin disfigure the soul, and it is also very contagious. How just, therefore, is this warning: Avoid the company of sinners, especially of those sinners whose lives spread the infection by the bad example they give.
In this sermon, I will direct your attention to the kind of lepers you ought especially to avoid, lest the threat of Holy Scripture should be verified in you: With the wicked thou wilt become wicked.
Mary, protect us in our intercourse with evil men, when it is not in our power to avoid them! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
Although the company of sinners, in general, is the source of many dangers, as Holy Scripture assures us, yet there is a certain class of sinners whose company is particularly injurious to us, and whom we have to shun as much as possible. The Gospel of to-day speaks of ten lepers. And I will draw your attention to ten kinds of sinners with whom intercourse must be especially avoided.
To the first class of lepers, parents themselves but too often belong. They are those parents who do not carefully instruct their children in matters of religion, who do not urge them to prayer, who do not guide them in the path of virtue, and do not give them good example; but, on the contrary, give scandal to their own family by their bad example. They are those parents who do not care for the practice of their religion, who are themselves not instructed in matters of faith, who do not pray, nor let their children pray; who, on the contrary, by cursing and swearing, teach their children even at an early age to do the same; those who eat meat on fast-days, neglect going to Mass on Sunday, do not receive Holy Communion for a number of years, ridicule the priests and the precepts of the Church in presence of their children; who encourage them by word and example to care only for the increase of their temporal possessions, to enjoy this life to its full extent; who, perhaps, by intemperance, immoral language, immodest dress, offensive demeanor, sow the seed of the vice of impurity into the hearts of their children.
Who can calculate the number of children, especially in America, that catch the leprous infection of sin from their parents, who are covered with it from head to foot! Poor children! And when it does occur that such a child approaches a priest in the Sacrament of Penance, what is more natural than that he should advise the child: Endeavor to leave your home as soon as possible?
Yes, there are actually such monsters of moral depravity, that we are obliged to exact from their adult children the promise to leave their parental roof, under pain of being refused absolution. Terrible!
To the second class of lepers belong children whose company can not be frequented by those of their own age without danger of corruption. Familiar intercourse with brother or sister may become an occasion of sin. And the same is to be said of neighbors children and school-mates. What pest-houses of leprous children the public schools are, in many instances! and what an account will parents have to render, if, without further inquiry into the state of such schools, they send their children to them!
To the third class of lepers belong those with whom,, sooner or later social relations, bring us into contact as so-called friends, comrades, partners, associates in business, who lead a sinful life.
Fourthly, the old proverb is often verified: “Tell me your company, and I will tell you who you are.” And in this respect, we ought especially to avoid the following scandal-giving sinners, namely: Willful infidels or heretics, willful contemners of the religion of Christ those who, although baptized and raised as Catholics, do not fulfill the duties of their holy religion, and encourage others, by word or example, to imitate them. To this class belong those who do not hear Mass on Sunday, never attend divine service; but, on the contrary, spend the Lord s day in idleness, in visiting ale-houses, in going out hunting, or in some diversion or other. Avoid all these.
To the fifth class belong those of other denominations, who make it a point to tempt Catholics to attend prayer-meetings or Sunday-schools, or to send their children. Beware of these.
To the sixth class belong those who are addicted to drink, and whose only thought is the gratification of their senses who pass their nights at balls, theaters, picnics, and other places of amusement. Shun these persons, and also avoid the use of intoxicating liquors of every sort.
To the seventh class belong all those who do not make their Easter duties, even if in other respects they act like Catholics, and wish to be regarded as such. They are persons who, as a rule, care only for worldly treasures and enjoyments, and who stifle Catholic life in themselves and others.
To the eighth class belong those who are wont to remain alone with persons of the opposite sex. If you wish to preserve a pure heart, whoever you are, young man or young woman, heed the following admonition, and follow it inviolably as your rule of life:
Granted that your intention is to marry, still you are never allowed to hold clandestine intercourse with persons of the opposite sex; for, as Holy Scripture assures us: “It is putting fire and straw together.” Yes, even if both parties are good and innocent, they can not allow themselves secret meetings, since these are always an occasion of sin. And grant that one does not feel any temptation whatever, still the other party may, and you will be held responsible. And when parties are already engaged, there is still more reason to urge them not to remain alone, so as not to give occasion for false suspicions and insinuations.
Finally, to the tenth, and by far the most dangerous class, belong all those who, by their words, dress, forwardness, or in any manner whatsoever are occasions of temptations against holy purity.
If you value your happiness and the salvation of your soul, shun such persons, and never allow your self, under any condition, to remain near them, or to have any intercourse with them.
Flee! Only then will you conquer, and preserve your heart pure and free from the leprosy of sin! Amen!
“Go; thy faith hath made thee whole.”–Luke 17.
What a treasure is the gift of holy faith! No doubt it is the greatest blessing which God, the Creator, has bestowed upon man, both for time and eternity. For in what darkness of spirit lives the man without faith! how weak is he in the practice of virtue! how feeble in the combat against the world, the flesh, and the devil! And, on the other hand, how brilliant the light which the sun of faith sheds upon man’s path! for revelation gives him definite and satisfactory information about God, about the world–its creation, its destiny, and all that concerns us as human beings.
It is faith which clearly explains moral evil in this world, and likewise the origin and cause of all the tribulations and adversities with which we are obliged to contend during our brief and much-troubled life. And it is faith, again, which teaches us how God, in His infinite mercy, has sent us salvation through Jesus Christ.
But it is not mere faith which will save us; it is not because we professed the belief of the Catholic Church; but because we have lived according to our faith, and have performed our duties in the manner which our faith prescribes, that we shall be saved. In other words: If we, as children of the one saving Church, really wish to be saved, the words of St. Paul must be verified in us: “The just man lives by faith.” Let us to-day consider how this assertion of the Apostle is to be understood.
Mary, thou who hast believed, and whose life has been such a glorious testimony of the faith which animated thee, bless us, that we may follow thy example, and live according to our faith! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
I said, that the greatest blessing which the Lord has conferred upon us, and for which we can never be sufficiently grateful, is the happiness of being children of the one true Church. This is apparent from what I have remarked in the introduction, regarding the light which she imparts concerning our existence and our destiny; and because she offers us also the means to advance in the way of salvation.
This grace appears the more important and precious when we remember that, until the present time, so large a portion of mankind were deprived of it.
It is, therefore, our most sacred duty to prove our gratitude by making a proper use of the gift of faith; that, after having fought and conquered, as true children of the Church militant, we may, for all eternity, share the joy and glory of the victory with the Church triumphant.
And the better to appreciate the happiness of being called to the true, and therefore only saving Church, let us first consider the many nations that have lived in this world before the advent of Christ. The Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, under whose sway the world once trembled, were all denied the blessing to be children of the true Church.
Then, since the advent of Christ on this earth, how many millions of heathens have lived during these two thousand years that have almost passed, and how many are still living upon earth!
Furthermore, what a number of infidels, heretics, schismatics, Jews and Turks have, since the time of Christ, languished in the darkness of error! What would be our fate for all eternity if God had permitted us to be born in heathen lands, or to spend our lives among infidels?
Our Lord has chosen us to be the children of His Church, without any merit of our own. What an inducement for us to thank God, and, by our lives, to prove the sincerity of our gratitude!
What our duties are in this respect, and what God demands of us, is, that by our lives we give testimony of the truth and sanctity of our faith. If that were not the case, what would it avail us to be Catholics? Does not Christ Himself affirm, that of him “to whom much has been given, much shall be required? ” And again: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
St. James reminds us of our duties by still more forcible language. He says: “Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well; the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”
As to the qualities which should characterize our faith, in order that we may be saved by it, I will say: Our faith, in the first place, must be complete, which means not only that we believe all revealed truth without the admission of a willful doubt; but, more over, that we be instructed, as well as possible, in matters of faith, so that all its doctrines may be a source of enlightenment, encouragement, and consolation for us, and we may be thus enabled, when questioned by non-Catholics, to give an explanation of all the truths which our holy faith teaches, as the Christians were able to do in the time of the Apostles, and in the first centuries of Christianity.
This does not imply that we may be satisfied with the mere knowledge of the doctrines of faith, with learning them by heart, so as to fit ourselves for the reception of the Holy Sacraments; but it signifies, more over, that we must embrace every opportunity, and do our utmost to instruct others in the truths of our holy faith, and thus to bring them also to a knowledge of the same. But how small is the number of the Christians that do this! Many who call themselves Catholics are only superficially instructed in the doctrines of their Church, and hence can not do this. For this reason, every one should seek the company of the well-in-structed, and also accept the assistance which is offered him by the numerous books and pamphlets published for this purpose.
In the second place, ours must be a faith which enlightens; that is to say, not a faith in the letter of revelation; but one whose light clearly indicates the way of salvation, and which enables us to discern the particular state to which God has called us, and the means which He has given us, according to our vocation, that as children of God, we may serve Him and be made happy.
It must, likewise, be a living faith, an active faith, replete with the love of God and our neighbor. The first thing necessary in this respect, and which will prove that our faith is active, is, that the considerations of the truths of our holy faith incite us to use all means to preserve our souls free from the leprosy of sin. If all sins and vices, even when viewed in the light of reason, seem so detestable, how much more when we regard the capital sins of pride, covetousness, anger, envy, enmity, dissension, gluttony and lust, in the light of faith; and when we consider how much our Lord has suffered for us, to save us from the evil of sin, and regard the means He has left us for this purpose, in His Church, by the institution of the Sacraments! Who does not see from this, how abominable is sin in a child of the Church contemning all this, and how great therefore will be the extent of the punishment which awaits him in eternity?
That our faith may lead us to salvation, it must also be a sanctifying faith; first, as regards ourselves, that it urge us to follow in the footsteps of Christ and his saints, by the zealous practice of Christian virtues, for which the Church has provided us with so many and so efficacious means. But it must also be sanctifying with regard to others, in compliance with the advice of Christ: “So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven,” that they may be induced to profess the true faith, and to live according to it.
Finally, our faith must be firm and constant, that we may ever be prepared to sacrifice all, even life itself, in defense of our belief.
Examine, question yourself, whether these are the qualities of your faith. Are you thoroughly instructed, devoid of sin, actuated with a desire for holiness; and, at the same time, firm and constant in the practice of virtue? If not, then you are in a pitiable condition; perhaps infidels and heretics are then leading a far better life than you; then I fear Christ will one day, as your Judge, pronounce this sentence against you: Depart from me; your faith condemns you; because you have professed Me with your lips, but by your life you have denied Me! Amen! (2)
by Fr. Johann Evangelist Zollner, 1883
In the Old Testament, all lepers who had been cleansed from leprosy, either in a natural way or by a miracle, were to be examined by the priests, whose duty it was to declare them clean. Before this declaration had been made they were considered unclean, and were obliged to abstain from all intercourse with the healthy. In the New Testament, all Christians who are contaminated with the spiritual leprosy of sin, must show themselves to the priests, that is, they must confess to them their sins, that they may not only be declared clean, but that they may be really cleansed; for sacramental confession is the means ordained by Christ for the remission of sins. We may distinguish confession as ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary confession consists in accusing ourselves of the sins committed since our last confession; the extraordinary confession is that which extends itself over the sins of the whole life, or of a great part of it. As this extraordinary or general confession is very important, eternal salvation even sometimes depending upon it, I shall speak of it today, and answer the three following questions:
I. To whom is a general confession necessary?
II. To whom it is useful?
III. When is a general confession necessary?
A general confession is necessary whenever the previous confessions were invalid; for invalid confessions cannot be rectified and amended in any other way than by a repetition of them, i.e., by a new confession of the sins already confessed. There are six classes to whom a general confession is necessary for salvation.
1. The first class comprises those who through shame or fear conceal a sin which they know to be mortal, or in regard to the mortal character of which they entertain at least grave doubts. Every confession in which a mortal sin is knowingly and willfully concealed is invalid. The same holds good of confessions in which the number of mortal sins is not truthfully given, or purposely diminished, or in which essential circumstances which change the nature of sin are left out. He who, for instance, says that he committed the vice of impurity three times, knowing that he committed it oftener, confesses invalidly. If a married person has sinned carnally with a single person, and does not add that he or she is married, his or her confession is also invalid, provided he or she purposely conceals this circumstance. All those who have concealed anything that should have been confessed, have confessed invalidly; and if they wish to save their souls, nothing remains but that they repeat their confessions, i.e., make a general confession.
2. The second class comprises those who leave out mortal sins or aggravating circumstances, or such as change the kind of sin; because they either do not examine their conscience at all, or examine it only superficially. Every penitent must diligently examine his conscience and spend as much time in the examination as is requited for the knowledge of the sins committed, together with their number and circumstances. He who on account of a totally neglected or very careless examination of conscience does not perceive what he is bound to confess, and therefore does not confess it, receives the Sacrament of Penance sacrilegiously, and his confession is as invalid as if he had knowingly concealed some sin. For this reason all those who confess only once a year are in danger of making sacrilegious confessions. As they mostly live in thoughtlessness and forgetfulness of salvation, they ought, in order to overlook nothing, to examine their conscience very carefully, but this they frequently neglect; they think only superficially and hastily of their sins; and the whole business of the examination of conscience is done in a few minutes. How is it possible in such a way to come to the knowledge of all the sins which a man has committed in the space of a year? Hence it is that many confessions are invalid from the want of a proper examination of conscience. Now all these invalid confessions must be repeated and rectified by a general confession.
3. The third class comprises those who at confession have no true contrition for their sins. Most of the invalid confessions that are made, are perhaps so made from the want of contrition. How many are there who are not sorry at all for having offended God! They confess from habit; they do not detest their sins in the least, nor do they change the disposition of their mind. How many are there whose contrition is not universal! They are infected with certain favorite sins, to which they cling with all their soul, and from which they will not detach themselves. How many are there whose contrition is not supernatural! They are not grieved on account of their sins, but on account of temporal loss, temporal shame and punishment. All these confess invalidly, because they lack true contrition; and they must repair these bad confessions by a general confession.
4. The fourth class comprises those who make no firm resolution of amendment. This resolution is a necessary consequence of contrition, and is therefore absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sin. He who is not resolved not to offend God, at least by mortal sin, confesses invalidly. And from the want of this firm resolution many invalid confessions are made. If you never show an amendment of life; if shortly after confession you fall back into your former vices of unchaste conversation, of fornication, of drunkenness, of cursing and swearing, it is most assuredly a sign of a want of a firm purpose of amendment.
5. The fifth class comprises those who after confession are not willing to shun the proximate occasion of sin, which they could shun, and who did not employ the necessary means of amendment. Contrition and an earnest resolution are most assuredly wanting to such penitents; for if they really hate and detest their sins and are willing to amend their lives, they will gladly make use of the means which are required for that amendment, and which are a preventive against relapse. Those who by experience know that whenever they enter a saloon they become intoxicated, and who yet continue to frequent them; also those who fall repeatedly into sin with a person of the opposite sex, and yet continue to live under the same roof; those who make no use of the remedies prescribed by their confessor as absolutely necessary for an amendment of life, confess invalidly, and can find grace with God only by a general confession and amendment of life.
6. The sixth class comprises those who make no restitution of ill-gotten goods, nor repair damages inflicted on others, who practice injustices and impositions in business transactions, and continue them after confession; and lastly, all those who, living in enmity, refuse to be reconciled with their neighbor.
Now examine your conscience and see if you do not find sufficient reason to doubt the validity of some of your former confessions, from failure to comply with the conditions necessary for the forgiveness of sin. If you do, go, show yourselves to the priests, and make a general confession.
A general confession is useful and advisable to all those who have never made one. This is a rule admitting of few exceptions.
1. General confession is one of the principal means to obtain a true knowledge of the state of your soul. “If you set a forest on fire on all sides,” says Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice, “you will be surprised at seeing how great a multitude of wild beasts, wolves, bears and foxes were hidden in its coverts.” You witness a similar effect when you make a general confession, by which you set your conscience on fire on all sides. How great may appear the multitude of sins concealed from you heretofore! Many Christians who resolved to make a general confession only as an act of devotion, avow after its performance that they discovered sins and causes of uneasiness of which they had never thought before.
2. By general confession our heart becomes more contrite. In an ordinary confession our contrition is seldom very profound, because we do not know ourselves to be guilty of many and grievous sins. But it is different in a general confession. We see all the wild beasts of our sins, the monsters of our own soul, on the path of our past life, from our childhood to this day. This bewildering sight urges us to sigh with King Esdras: “My God, I am confounded, and ashamed to lift up my face to thee; for our iniquities are multiplied over our heads; and our sins are grown up even unto heaven (1 Esdras, 9: .6).” But the greater our contrition, the greater is our certainty of a worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the more abundant the sacramental graces, so that we may obtain even the release of all or nearly all the temporal punishment due to our past sins.
3. The result of a general confession is also that we make firmer purposes of amendment than is the case in ordinary confessions. He who once resolves to make a general confession, has also the earnest will to amend his life and from henceforth to be solicitous for the salvation of his soul. This resolution is still more increased when, in the course of the general confession, we come to a clear knowledge of our sins and see how often and how grievously we have offended God; how ungrateful we have been to him for all his graces and benefits; and in what peril our salvation has been. And if then we receive the priest’s absolution of all the sins of our past life, shall not this be a motive for us to remain faithful to our promises?
History and experience prove that a general confession is one of the most effectual means for a thorough and permanent change of life. How many sinners who confessed for years and always relapsed into their former sins, have amended their life after a general confession! And how many of them have by their penitential fervor reached a high degree of holiness! Even some of them, who after a general confession relapsed, rose again from their fall, for conscience gave them no peace till they resolved by a sincere confession to be reconciled again with God. Hence it is that most penitents date their conversion from the time of their general confession.
4. From this it follows that a general confession is the source of great inward peace. William, Duke of Aquitaine, after he had made his general confession to St. Bernard, felt a sweet peace and heavenly joy, such as he had never before experienced in the midst of all the joys and pleasures of the world. In like manner does every sinner, in consequence of a sincere general confession, experience the delight of heart which King David felt when he exclaimed: ”How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. Better is one day in thy courts above thousands in the pleasures of the world (Ps. 83: 2-11).”
5. Finally, by a general confession the salvation of our soul is made more secure. Suppose that you have not been careless in your former confessions, as many lukewarm Christians are, you do not know whether you have every time complied with the conditions which are required for a valid confession. At all events, it might be possible that in some of your former confessions you may not have sufficiently examined your conscience, may have had no true contrition with a firm purpose of amendment, or may have concealed something which you were bound to confess. In such a case you have confessed invalidly, and therefore all your subsequent confessions have been invalid. Do you not then act more securely when you make a general confession? Would it not be criminal negligence for you to neglect the many opportunities which are afforded you for making a general confession, and without such a confession to pass into eternity? The solicitude to secure their salvation as much as possible and to die quietly is one, of the principal motives why all good Christians make a general confession. A general confession, therefore, is necessary and advisable to all Christians who have never made one.
When is a general confession necessary?
1. It is necessary for every one who earnestly resolves to amend his life. Without such a resolution no confession is valid, whether it be an ordinary or a general confession. He who makes a general confession must be determined at any cost to shun evil inclinations, to put off sinful habits, and to lead a penitential life, because otherwise the general confession would be invalid. Every sinner has days and hours in which he deeply feels the misery of his sins and is urged to put an end to this misery. These are days and hours of grace, which God gives to man to save his soul. The sinner must make good use of these times of grace; for if he permits them to pass by without a thorough confession, he runs the risk of dying impenitently and of being delivered to eternal perdition.
2. When one changes his state of life; especially those who enter into matrimony. Most young people do not comply with the duties of this state as they ought; they live heedlessly, yield to many excesses, and confess often invalidly for the want of contrition or resolution or sincerity. How ill would it be with them if they should enter into matrimony without a general confession! They would begin that state with a triple sacrilege, therefore not with God, but with the devil. What can be expected from such a matrimony? How can it be expected of such married people to live contentedly and happily together, fullfil their duties and endeavor with their children to increase the number of the elect? It is therefore necessary for all those who enter into the nuptial state, to make a general confession before they receive the Sacrament of Matrimony.
3. When one retires from business to rest. Many Christians in their business life think little of God and the salvation of their souls; they accommodate themselves to the principles of the world, and burden their conscience with many sins; what can be more advisable on retiring from active business life than to make a general confession, in order to set the affairs of their conscience in order, and to devote the time of rest to the atonement of their sins and to the preparation for a good death?
4. At the time of a mission or a Jubilee. At such a time many spiritual exercises are performed; the word of God is preached frequently and forcibly and the faithful are earnestly exhorted to renew themselves in spirit and to bring forth fruits worthy of penance. The confessors have at the time of a Jubilee or mission greater faculties than at other times; they can especially absolve from all cases reserved to the Pope, with only a few exceptions. Moreover, God imparts at such times greater graces to sinners, often even extraordinary graces, which he is not wont to give at other times. What important reasons then have all who never made a general confession, to make it and to set the business of their salvation in order. He who suffers such times of grace to pass without profiting by them exposes himself to the danger of persevering in sin and of dying a bad death. This is corroborated by history and experience.
5. Finally at the hour of death. It is assuredly not wise to defer the general confession to the death-bed, for no one knows whether he will then be able to confess. Death may overtake him suddenly, or he may lose his senses and speech, when confession becomes impossible. Christians who are solicitous for the salvation of their soul do not defer their general confession to their death-bed. If it should, however, be the case that one never made a general confession in his life, he should do it at least on his death-bed, for, as already remarked, no one should go out of this world without having made a general confession.
After having explained to you why a general confession is necessary, useful and advisable, and at what times such a confession should be made, I conclude my instruction with a history of a certain nobleman who, in his youth lived a careless life, but having entered into himself, made a spiritual retreat and a very good general confession after it. After this confession he experienced sweet peace and heavenly joy; and as often as he thought of it, tears of joy trickled down his cheeks. Coming to his death-bed after a few years, he said to those who stood around his bed: “I would have perished eternally if I had not made a general confession. When I think of that confession, it appears to me to be a letter of introduction into heaven.” A quarter of an hour before he died he requested one of the attendants to read for him the good resolutions which he had made at his general confession and which he had written down. At the reading of each of these resolutions joy beamed from his face, for he had faithfully kept them, and thus he died with all the signs of a good death. Go and do likewise; make a good general confession, keep the promises and resolutions which you make, serve God with fidelity, and you will die well and be saved. Amen. (2)
Image: The Healing of Ten Lepers, artist: Jacques Joseph Tissot, circa: between 1886 and 1894
Research by REGINA Staff