Today is the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
“Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker . . . . for Thou
dost not regard the person of men.”–Matt. 22, 16.
There are two principal reasons why the Word of God has so little influence upon the life of man, two great obstacles which particularly stand in the way of the fulfillment of the duties which, as children of God, we are bound to comply with. The first is that an inherent love of truth is wanting in our fallen nature. Members of the Catholic Church, indeed, confess the truth, and their belief in it, but frequently it is a confession which cometh from the lips alone; for their hearts are closed against its influence, and their lives, therefore, continually contradict the professions they make. Too often men are deterred from opening their hearts to the divine influence of God’s blessed Word by human respect, by a sinful, slavish fear of poor, weak mortals like themselves. This is one of the greatest obstacles to salvation!
Can there be greater or more consummate blindness and folly than to refrain from living according to the spirit and direction of that which you know to be the truth, which you openly acknowledge to be the truth, merely from a despicable slavish fear of those who, while they seem to applaud, laugh you to scorn in their hearts for being afraid to practise what you profess to believe? The reason why this human respect rides with despotic sway over the hearts of mankind, is the little love they bear the truth.
O Mary, as mother of Christ, you stood beneath the cross, in presence of the executioners of your divine Son, obtain for us courage, not only to acknowledge our faith upon all occasions, but to practise it openly also, victoriously overcoming the promptings of human respect! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
“Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker.” Even the enemies of our divine Lord acknowledged this! Oh, what rare qualities are sincerity and integrity of purpose among the children of men! and how comparatively few among them can be said to give testimony to the truth, regardless of the world and its opinion! By this assertion I do no injustice to the human race; for the Holy Ghost, who knows and searches the heart of man, assures us, through the lips of the Apostle of love, that “men love darkness better than light;” and, loving darkness, they love evil also. It was the spirit of falsehood who caused our first parents to fall, and it is the same spirit who causes the Divine Word,– that Word which should bring peace and salvation to man,–to fall unheeded upon the rocky ground of his heart!
Had mankind really loved and sought after the truth, the entire world would have been converted to Christianity at the time of the Apostles; but such a happy result of their labors was not permitted. And why? Paganism allowed men to give themselves up to the lusts of the flesh,–the Apostles, on the contrary, preached penance and self-denial, and of these the people, buried in their sinful pleasures, cared not to hear! Had they come to inform the world of some speedy method of becoming rich, or of prolonging life, so that for centuries men might revel in one uninterrupted course of sinful pleasure, with what demonstrations of welcome would they not have been met, and countless disciples would have followed in their train. But the reward which was meted out to those followers of the crucified One, who preached truth to a people who were held in the thrall of the most degrading superstition, was persecution and death! In the very same spirit did the chosen people of God proceed in the old law. Recall the reproach of Christ to the Jews, that the warning words of truth from the lips of the prophets were unwelcome to their ears.
Relentless and bitter persecution still pursues,–yes, even at the present day,–in many instances all those who seek to spread the word of God, and dispose the hearts of His creatures to live as true children of the Church according to the principles of the Gospel.
The perversity of the human heart is manifested in this persecution, yet it stands forth in bolder relief in the lives of those Catholics who, with the lips, confess to believe in the Church, but whose lives are diametrically opposed to the same; who live sunk in sensual pleasures, even as the heathens; yes, some among them are more given to carnal lust than those who know not Christ. They give not a thought to the great affair of salvation. “With desolation is the whole land made desolate, because there is none that thinketh in his heart,” says the Prophet. And yet the teachings of faith refer directly to questions of most vital interest to man. Take, for example, the following: Who am I? What do I possess? What will become of me? How long can I expect this prosperity to smile upon me? and is it not fraught with danger to my immortal soul? Our holy faith supplies the answers, to which Catholics often care not to listen. And why? Because a love for truth is wanting in their hearts. If this virtue were more deeply implanted therein, what lives of holiness would result! What firmness in the pursuit of piety! what self-sacrifice and fidelity would characterize the Catholic then! Let us dwell for a few moments on the answers to those questions.
Faith teaches, child of humanity, that poor and miserable as you are in this world, you are still a child of God, and your soul is made to His image and likeness. As a child of the Church, you are a fellow-citizen of the angels, a brother, a sister, of the saints, a child of Mary, queen of heaven, a brother of Christ! What glorious titles! You recognize your right to them! why, then, do you live according to the spirit of the world? Because you love not truth in your heart!
Faith teaches that, as a true child of the Church, you are in the state of sanctifying grace, a state which exalts you above all earthly dignities, and enables you, with every breath you draw, to gain new merits for life eternal, and lay up a precious treasure in the kingdom of heaven, the glories of which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived! Man believes this, and yet he can live only to heap up riches for this world! In his heart the love of truth is lacking, therefore this solemn lesson is passed unheeded.
Faith teaches that all we gain for heaven by serving God remains forever; and yet, until the last hour of life, man is solicitous about those things which so quickly pass away, a fact most difficult to understand, yet it is so!
Faith teaches that no man is sure of his salvation, and we are told to labor for it with fear and trembling; and oh, how terrible are the eternal consequences of sin! What misery awaits us if we die in sin, and are lost for all eternity! And yet man lives as if he were well assured that grace and time would be given him to repent and be saved. Mow strange and sad is not this prevalent indifference to the truth!
Christ applied the epithet “blessed” to the virtue of zeal in striving after protection. The lovers of the world, and even members of the Church among them, on the contrary, cry out: Blessed are the rich; blessed are they whom no one dare offend; blessed are they who, unmolested by the poor, enjoy their wealth, flattered and esteemed by all; blessed are they whose lives know naught but pleasure, and who, without a thought of self-denial, enjoy the delights of earth! Sometimes, perchance, conscience calls loudly to these “blessed” ones of the world to give active testimony to that faith which, but too often, they disgrace and despise, but human respect steps in, and drowns the warning voice. That terrible, “What will be said of me?” is in the way. They have no time to go to church, to read spiritual books, to receive the Sacraments, to labor for the conversion of sinners, or the salvation of souls, to bring souls from the darkness of error into the light of our holy faith, and all through human respect! What would my husband, my wife, my friends, the world say? What would be said by those who move in a circle of society where it is my aim to be admitted and who despise Christ and the religion He founded?
There, alas! is the rock against which the noblest souls have suffered shipwreck! Who can deny the power which the torrent and whirlpool of public opinion exercises over man? Human respect! It is but another name for that want of truth which forbids the Catholic to live consistently with the faith he daily professes. Through human respect Pilate delivered Christ into the hands of His enemies! He asks: “What is truth?” and then leaves the judgment-hall before Christ has time to inform him!
Thrice happy are all to whom can be applied the words of Christ in regard to Nathanael: ” Behold an Israelite, in whom there is no guile?! Behold a true child of the Church, in whom there; is no falsehood, sincere, candid, and truth-loving soul, who will persevere to the end, and reach the abode of eternal truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen! (2)
THE LEGALITY OF THE TRIBUTE TO CAESAR
by Rev. Leonard Geoffine, 1871
Though the Pharisees often heard the instructions of Our Lord, they never drew any benefit from them. On this day they came to Our Lord, and proposed this question to Him, “Tell us, what dost Thou think. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” In this way, instead of trying to learn something of benefit to their souls, they became more blind. They were full of hatred of Our Lord, and full of jealousy because the people considered Him a prophet, and their intention was to destroy the respect which the multitude had for Him. Here was a question which they thought would certainly lead Our Lord into their meshes. “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?” The Jews hated the Roman dominion over them; they were a downtrodden race, and were obliged to furnish a throne and money for the Roman governor, while their religion was in confusion; and sometimes two highpriests were contending for the chief office. So the Pharisees said to themselves, “If this man consents to pay tribute to Caesar he will be hated by the people; and if on the contrary he disapproves of it, the government will have a case against him for inciting the people to resist lawful authority.” Jesus confounded the Pharisees by His divine wisdom. “Why do you tempt Me, ye hypocrites?” He asked. You have a very bad reason for this question–you are not honest. Our Lord was affable and kind to the greatest sinners who came to Him in the sincerity of their hearts; but with these double-faced Pharisees He had no patience. He called them vipers, impostors, whitened sepulchres, fair without, but most loathsome within. Does not Our Lord teach us here the hatefulness of the vice of hypocrisy, and how He detested it?
My dear young friends, there are hypocrites among Christians, among our youth. Many young people wish to appear like angels in the eyes of their superiors; before their parents they are careful not to say a bad word, while with their companions they do and say most scandalous things. They hide their sins so carefully that no one suspects them of any wickedness: even in the confessional they do not make known their great sins, and deceive the priest, the minister of God. There are hypocrites everywhere; in the sanctuary, in the choir, in sodalities, in the church, and at the sacraments. Never pretend to a devotion that you have not–it ia disgusting. Be not servers of the eye of man, but serve God in all sincerity. Men may praise you for your piety, honesty, and truthfulness, but God sees deep into the heart; you do not deceive God. You may gain some temporal advantages by deceiving men, but God’s time for punishment will come, and then to your shame, your hypocrisy will be made manifest to the world. We read in Job that, “dissemblers and crafty men provoke the wrath of God.”
“Show me the coin of the tribute,” said Our Lord. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked. They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then He said, ” Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The Pharisees were struck with the wisdom of the reply, and must have been covered with shame before the assembled multitude. St. Bonaventure asserts that this coin represents the soul of man, impressed with the image of God. A precious thing, of great value, is the soul in the eyes of God, and it derives its value from the blood of Christ. Our soul, my dear young friends, when gifted with the grace of the Redeemer is a most beautiful object; it is an angel hidden in a body of flesh, a beautiful spirit, radiant with thought and understanding. A soul in mortal sin has impressed on it the image of the devil. “What has become of me?” St. Augustine asks. “My soul, whither have your sins led you?” That bright image of God which was on you is there no longer; all is changed. “How has the gold changed its color!” Bewail your condition, my dear young people, if you should find yourselves in a state of sin. St. Jerome says, most lamentingly, “This I bewail, that you do not feel that you are dead; this I bewail, that you do not sorrow for yourselves.” Yes, young people who are in sin ought to weep continually; at night instead of closing their eyes in sleep, they ought to keep them open to shed tears; they ought not be able to eat, play or study,–so great should be their concern. But do they weep? Oh no! these miserable blind beings enjoy themselves, and never stop to think that God hates them. Oh, raise your eyes to the crucified Saviour, see His thorn-crowned head–has He not sacrificed it for your soul? Those bloodstained eyes, those colorless lips, those hands pierced with nails, those feet cruelly wounded and that side opened by a lance–did He not sacrifice all for our salvation? Are you going to allow His sacred Passion to be wasted so far as you are concerned? Jesus has purchased you with His blood, and you are His if you remain faithful to Him. “Take great care of your souls,” and Jesus will be satisfied with His purchase and will not consider His Passion too great a price for your soul.
“Give to God the things that are God’s.” Let us, for a moment, think of this. What do we owe God, that we must give Him? To God we owe honor and glory. Do we give this glory to God? Do we not give honor rather to men, to those especially who hold positions of dignity. When you enter the magnificent palace of the millionaire, how well-dressed you are, what politeness you assume, so that people may consider you well-bred; you tiptoe up the hall and in a humble whisper ask the servant to take in your card, to see whether you may be admitted; should you have the happiness of an audience, you hardly speak aloud and you put your demands in the most honeyed words. If such is our respect for men, what is not due to almighty God from a human being? Give to God, therefore, a little of the respect which you show to creatures.
God does not wish for a false respect. He wishes you to be free, gracious, and spontaneous in your worship of Him; to assume a pious attitude in church because you are watched is not a worship of God; to say your prayers night and morning for form’s sake, or because your parents insist on it, is hardly to be considered meritorious; for it is an unwilling prayer. Does God consider these acts worthy of Him when they are forced from you? He will not look at them with pleasure. He will say to you as He said to the Jews of old, “You celebrate great feasts, and hold certain days solemn, but they are not My feasts, they are yours, because you want them for your own purposes and not for My glory; they excite My indignation but not My mercy toward you.”
This forced devotion is similar to the mock adoration which the Jews and soldiers offered Our Lord in the hall of Pilate’s palace, when they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and made genuflections before Him; and at the cross, when the Jews cried out: “Let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him.” God looks at the heart. He pays little attention to our exterior actions; a good, strong, fervent, cordial intention is as good in the eye of God as is the execution of the noblest human action. Give then to God the honor and glory that are due to Him; there is no need to force the youth who is in earnest to honor God in church, or when he hears Mass or goes to the sacraments; he does it of his own free will and with the greatest devotion. Yes, my dear young people, give to God that honor, freely, not through routine or custom. With a great heart, give glory to God. Serve Him with a great heart, joyfully and with alacrity, and then you can say with truth that you have given to God the things that are God’s. (3)
Research by REGINA Staff