22 Oct Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Today is the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
“And there was a certain ruler, whose son was sick.”–John 4, 46.
Of all the consequences of original sin there exists one which, without exception, is common to all the children of Adam, and that is, death. “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned,” says St. Paul. And again: “It is appointed for all men once to die.” Almost as certain and universal as death, is its forerunner, sickness–a truth which daily experience teaches us. How many and what painful diseases are the portion of this poor mortal frame! Look at the long list enumerated in the physicians report! Think how soon sickness puts in its claims on us; not only the aged and debauched, but innocent little children feel the power of its torturing hand, and even helpless babes can not escape.
If, instead of accepting these visitations as coming from God, we are inclined to murmur, let us reflect that they are sent not only to punish us for our manifold rebellions against a God to whom we are inbebted for every blessing, but also that we may gather a glorious harvest of merits for eternity, by patiently accepting them in union with the most holy will of God. Let us consider today with what disposition of heart we should bear each sickness which is sent us, that we may derive therefrom profit for the salvation of our souls.
Mary, health of the weak, obtain for us the grace to employ our time, both in sickness and in health, to the honor of God and the salvation of our souls. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
The manner in which we bear sickness is of great importance, as we can see by the effects produced by it upon the mind. As man is composed of a soul and body, the latter, when enfeebled by illness, frequently influences the soul in a most injurious manner. The sick who are not blessed with the knowledge that in illness, as in health, God can be glorified, look upon such visitations with aversion and abhorrence, and only find in them occasions of murmuring against their Creator, and what they wickedly term His injustice. Many weary their attendants beyond measure, are guilty of sin by their impatience, and never give a thought to the duty of resignation to the divine will. Nay, some forget themselves so far as to break forth into curses at their affliction. Experience teaches, that even to the good and pious sickness is a sad trial, and one that severely tests their virtue. Thus, of holy Job, Satan said to the Lord, that if He would but overwhelm that righteous servant with troubles and trials there would soon be an end of his piety and devotion. Even the saints have felt this effect of sickness. Witness the great St. Teresa. Having suffered from a violent fever, she says that she could never have believed that sickness would or could produce such a change in any one as she experienced in the course of hers. And we have all, no doubt, felt the same during illness. Persons who have been generally blessed with good health, and whose piety seemed so solid and fervent that nothing could weaken it, have, during an attact of illness, become so impatient, feverish and irritable that they could scarcely be recognized as the same.
Therefore, is it not most advisable and reasonable to so dispose our souls during health that when our divine Lord, in His goodness, sees fit to afflict us with illness we may not repine, but receive it with patience? Otherwise we may increase the torments which, perhaps, await us at its termination in purgatory. Let it be your care, then, to meditate frequently upon the disposition in which you will accept the sickness which will certainly one day be your portion, and resolve to bear it with such resignation that those pains, so repugnant to our ease-loving nature, may, even more than the good works we can perform during health, tend to the sanctification of our souls.
Try, then, to bear with patience the pains of illness; the more severe the pain, the more fervently you can offer it up to Him who suffered so much for you, and thus you will become most dear to the sacred heart of our Lord, sanctifying not only your own soul, but the souls of others also, by your good example.
To those who truly love God, every thing tends to promote their salvation, and this is especially true of sickness. Therefore, when the hand of the Lord is heavy upon you, and your enfeebled frame lies weak and powerless, lift up your heart, O Christian, in loving humility to your God, and accept the affliction, acknowledging that you deserve it all, and promise to endure it in atonement for your sins. Do not fail to renew this offering many times during the day, because the pains of body which prostrate you will tend to weaken those salutary dispositions of the mind.
In this penitential spirit you may also sweeten the bitterness of the remedies prescribed, thus turning them into merits for eternal life. Moreover, my dear brethren, you should look upon sickness as the forerunner of death; even though the disease may not be dangerous, it should prove a serious reminder and a powerful admonition. Say to yourself: “Before long my last illness may come, and how then will I wish to have spent my life?”
A sick person can not fail to realize how empty is every thing which has hitherto proved an obstacle in the way of his salvation–wealth, honor, the applause of his fellow-men. Those sensual pleasures which he has enjoyed so fully in health can not avail him on his sick-bed.
The great St. Augustine says that many a one would have gone on leading a sinful life had he not been interrupted by an attack of sickness. Then, what a real blessing such visitations must be if they produce the acknowledgment: “Vanity of vanities, all is but vanity save to love and serve God, and thus secure my own salvation.”
In sickness a person can not labor as in health for the honor and glory of God; but he can, in another way, glorify God, viz., by submitting himself to the most holy will of God, by patiently bearing His sufferings, and by having the will, as well as the intention, to do good to his neighbor when he shall be able. Most acceptable to God is the practice of offering up the pains of sickness for the deliverance of the souls in purgatory, and for the conversion of sinners. Open the “Lives of the Saints” and you will see that it was in such a manner they endured the sickness with which God was pleased to visit them.
The sick should be particularly solicitous about their spiritual welfare, and take advantage of the time afforded them to attend to the welfare of their soul, first, by receiving the Holy Sacraments not only once, but, if the sickness be prolonged, as often as possible; and, secondly, as soon as the physician shall have pronounced the malady to be dangerous, they should ask to receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and, by heroic patience and endurance of pain, be to all around a bright example. Let sick persons, as the termination of their illness draws near, and the last moments of life approach, try not only to resign themselves to the will of God, but to put themselves in such a disposition as to accept death willingly, and in the manner in which God, by this present illness, pleases to send it. All those Christians who, when sickness is sent to them, accept it in the manner above described will find that, for them, that pain so severe and trying is a hidden treasure, wherein may be found the most glittering gems and precious stones of virtue to adorn their heavenly crowns, and the plegdes of a happy death! Amen!
“And he prayed Him to heal his son.”–John 4, 47.
The Gospel today presents for our consideration a father anxious for the restoration of his son, seeking our divine Lord that he might beg of Him the health of his child. In this we find no cause for wonder, since not only is it the duty of parents to care for the welfare of their children, but their own love impels them to make all possible exertions for their comfort and recovery in sickness.
The duty of caring for the sick is one which concerns not parents only, but calls upon every one to lend a helping hand, as far as he is able, and the situation of the sick person requires it. It is included in the commandment of love of our neighbor, to which naturally succeeds the injunction of Christ, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Therefore, as there are few who have not in sickness felt the need of the kindly aid and gentle ministrations of some pitying friends, be charitable when you are well, my dear brethren, and fail not to visit and comfort the sick.
Since the fall of our first parents, man has been constantly subject to illness, so that opportunities are never wanting to practise this excellent virtue.
Therefore, to remind you of your duty in regard to the sick, will be the object of my discourse today. No good work is more meritorious than attendance upon the sick.
Mary, saluted by the Church as health of the sick, obtain for us but a portion of the ineffable compassion with which thy immaculate heart is filled, that we may lend our neighbor, both spiritually and bodily, assistance in the sicknesses sent him by thy divine Son! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the honor and glory of God!
“Be not slow to visit the sick, for by these things thou shall be confirmed in love.” This is the admonition of the Holy Ghost, as we read in the Old Testament, and although this obligation, as I have already observed, is founded on the precept: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself,” there are other reasons why we should exercise kindness towards our suffering fellow-creatures.
Not only does this charity benefit them, but we ourselves are thereby benefited temporally and assisted spiritually. Temporally, because in assisting the sick with loving care, we set an example of good will and charity which will incite others to do likewise. We will so edify those with whom we come in contact that when our time for sickness arrives, they will, if possible, attend upon us.
We will derive spiritual profit in caring for the sick, for, in suggesting to them acts and prayers suitable to their condition, thoughts and sentiments must surely be awakened within us, which will be of the greatest profit to our souls. We will have occasion to practise many virtues in the sick-room, especially patience.
Our solicitude regards immediately the bodily welfare of the sick. We must try to alleviate their sufferings, and promote their recovery by securing or advising the attendance of a skillful physician, and seeing that the remedies are properly administered, and the directions conscientiously carried out.
Should a sick person be so afflicted as to be helpless, his attendants will have still greater merit in caring for him, which is true also of contagious or loathsome diseases. What acts of heroic virtue have not the saints practised in this regard! Some have even gone so far as to apply their lips to disgusting sores and suck out the poisonous matter. And it is recorded in several instances that such magnanimous victories over self were so pleasing to God that He restored the sick persons to health.
Think of such bright examples when you are called upon to perform duties repugnant to human nature for the sick. Many religious orders, as the Theatines, have taken vows to attend the sick, no matter what is their disease; and when pestilence rages in all its horrors, they joyfully go forth, perhaps to die.
A glorious occasion of merit is afforded by attending to those stricken down with some lingering disease, as consumption. How replete with charity, and how pleasing to God, is such attention! Greater merit, perhaps, can be gained by remaining with those unfortunate persons whom God has afflicted with nervous diseases, convulsions, or even insanity, where the patience of an attendant may be often and severely tried. There are many families whose children, from their earliest infancy, have been subject to epilepsy or falling sickness, and who are delicate until they have attained their full growth. In such cases parents can lay up a store of merits for eternal life by bearing with patience the heavy cross.
Parents whose children have been visited by illness, resulting in a total loss of reason, may derive consolation from the thought that these children may, at least, die in their innocence. It would be well for such parents to look upon the afflictions of their children, and all the trouble entailed upon them in consequence, as a purgatory, wherein they can atone for their sins. And, indeed, in many instances, such trials are sent in punishment of the sins of drunkenness, excess, and impurity which they have committed. If it be our duty to provide for the bodily comfort of sick persons, it is a far more essential one to bestow every attention upon their spiritual condition.
First, then, my brethren, you should seek to awaken such sentiments in the mind and heart of the invalid as will enable him to accept the sickness as coming from the hand of a loving Father; and while exhorting him to bear patiently his suffering, remind him that not a single hair can fall from our heads without the permission of that heavenly Father.
Secondly, constantly revive his courage by reminding him that in sickness, perhaps even more than in health, he can love God and do His holy will; that he can behold, as St. Bede advises, in his pains a method of anticipating and canceling those infinitely greater ones of purgatory. This voluntary expiation of our sins is not merely expiatory, like the pains of purgatory, but also meritorious for heaven.
One can make rapid strides towards perfection, and even lead others along the path to paradise during the weary hours spent upon a bed of sickness; he can prove the liveliness of his faith, the firmness of his hope, and the ardor of his charity towards God.
But, above all, those who are in attendance should see that the sick person neglects not to send for his spiritual guide, and be fully reconciled with God and prepared for death, should there be any danger of a fatal termination of the disease. Let no false shame, or motives of human respect, or mistaken kindness deter you, who have charge of the sick, from the performance of this duty. So far from being a kindness, it is the greatest cruelty to keep an invalid in ignorance of the danger he is in; however, it is unnecessary, and even wrong, to tell the solemn and often unwelcome truth so abruptly as to increase the danger.
Many physicians, even those differing from us in faith, have testified that a worthy reception of the Sacraments is most beneficial and conducive to recovery, on account of the peace and calm resulting therefrom. And, according to St. James, extreme unction was instituted to restore also bodily health if it be the will of God.
It is more prudent far to take the safer alternative, for, later on, the illness may take such a turn as to prevent all preparation for, and reception of, the Holy Sacraments. Oh, how many souls have been lost for ever through the mistaken kindness of their friends! Husbands and wives, parents and children, mark well my words, for if you neglect this sacred duty it may be a source of never-ending regret!
Should the sickness be a protracted one, care should be observed not to spend time in the sick-room, in conversing upon worldly or frivolous topics. Rather select some edifying subject or read aloud, if the state of the patient permit, from time to time, some portion of the “Lives of the Saints.” All who in this manner visit the sick, remembering the promise of our divine Saviour, that whatsoever is done to the least of His brethren He will look upon as done to Himself, may certainly have every reason to hope that at the last day they will hear those blessed words: “Enter into the joy of the Lord; for I was sick, and you visited Me!” Amen!
“Lord, come down before that my son die.”–John 4, 49.
This anxious father went with all haste to Jesus, but not until the illness of his son had reached such a point that his life was despaired of, and then he begged the Lord Jesus to restore that son to health. His prayer was granted; the boy recovered, but only by a miracle.
From this circumstance, I will take occasion to speak today of a singular infatuation which prevails to an alarming extent both among the sick and those in health, and which is fraught with danger to the soul. I allude to the delay of conversion. Confession is postponed from day to day, for each one hopes that he will have time for reconciliation with God, even though advancing age or increasing weakness should prove the futility of that hope.
I am sure that scarcely a sinner exists in whose breast a lingering spark of faith still glimmers, who does not cherish the hope that, at some future time, he may return to his duty. Yes, although he may have given over his soul to the devil, he does not despair to return to God, though it be at his dying hour. Very good! There is a possibility, of course, that he may be converted by a miracle at the last; but what folly to wait for a miracle! O folly! folly! O blind and infatuated worldlings!
A preacher can scarcely ever select this subject for a discourse to his hearers without having before him some one to whom it applies.
My subject today, therefore, shall be the great danger in which the soul is placed, of eternal reprobation, by this lamentable delay in returning to God.
Mary, patroness of a happy death, pray that thy poor, erring children may obtain the grace of a true conversion, and return, without delay, to the service of thy Son! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
“Delay not to be converted to thy God; today when thou shalt hear His voice, do not harden thy heart.” The Holy Ghost thus admonishes us; our own conscience whispers the same. Let us not still its voice; but walk according to the light of faith and the dictates of reason.
There are many, even among Catholics, who delay their conversion until the hand of the Lord is upon them, and they are stretched upon their dying bed. During life their object seemed to be to defraud their Creator of the love and obedience due Him; and now they would even defraud the devil of what they so assiduously prepared for him. Can aught but a miracle save such a creature? What can be said to one who thus delays his conversion?
Listen, sinner! your cry is: “Tomorrow! tomorrow! yet, for a little while, I will drive the thought of God away! “By this you acknowledge that you intend to change your life at some future time; then, too, you admit that at present you are leading an evil life. A sick person tries to obtain relief without delay. Christian! sinner! is corporal illness to be mentioned in the same breath with that dreadful malady which oppresses your soul? There is but one evil, but it is the origin and source of all evils, and that is: Sin! You believe this, and yet your cry is: “Tomorrow! tomorrow!” O folly! O presumption! You say: “Another time! Then, according to your own confession, sin is no gain. No, it is not. On the contrary, it is loss. And what a loss! It means the loss of God, of heaven, of all that is worth having, if you die in your present state.
Is there one among you who, losing a sum of money, would not immediately take steps to recover it? And what is money in comparison to divine grace? Christian! sinner! some other time, do you say? Would you say to the physician who comes to you in sickness: “I do not require your services now; come some other time; come in a month or a year?” Behold, you are sick unto death; and, according to St. Ambrose, your malady is either pride, avarice, anger, gluttony, envy or impurity. Christ is your Physician, the Sacrament of Penance your remedy; use it, and be healed.
“Some other time,” you say. If a conflagration were raging in your vicinity, and waves of the fiery sea were rolling madly towards your home, would you say: “Tomorrow! tomorrow! it will be time enough then to extinguish the flames?”
“Some other time,” you say. If you fell from a ship into the ocean; and if I, seeing you fall, hastened to your rescue, would you repulse my aid, and say: “Tomorrow! tomorrow! it will be time enough then?”
O sinner! your soul is engulfed in the restless waves of passion, and the priests of your Holy Church eagerly extend a helping hand, longing to aid you; but you say: “Some other time; I am not in danger yet!”
Now, I ask you one question: Will it always be in your power to return to God? You fain would answer : Yes! and believe you are in the right; but I must warn you that you may be most sadly mistaken. You are free; but do you consider the force of habit?
Holy Scripture assures us that the young man does not turn in old age from the path he pursued in youth. There are exceptions, it is true; but experience tells us that they are few. And when did our Lord assure you that His efficacious grace would be ready for you whenever it suited your convenience to accept it?
“I will have time enough, later on I will listen to the voice of God.” You have no assurance that you will. Listen to this terrible warning: ” You shall seek Me, but you shall not find Me; you shall die in your sins! As our sins have their measure, so also has the grace of God, which He alone knows. And are you willing to expose yourself to the frightful risk of losing your soul? Be wise, and today when you hear His voice, harden not your heart. Do not say: “God is merciful, and I can repent even on my death-bed.” He is merciful, but He is just also; and how many are called before the judgment-seat of Christ without a moment's warning! This is especially the case; in America, where fatal accidents are of constant occurrence. And even were you certain of the very day and hour of your death, are you sure that you will have a priest to assist you? Do not say: “Yes, I am sure; I live so near the Church, I can not fail to have the priest.” I tell you, that were the priest to take up his abode in your very house, you could have no such assurance. Many have allowed themselves to be deluded thus; and, death surprising them, they have gone to “the house of their eternity” without the support and aid of the Holy Sacraments, and, perhaps, alas, have been lost forever!
Be not presumptuous in postponing your conversion; for even if you should have a priest to assist you in your last moments, could you, after a life spent in forgetfulness of God and His commandments, so dispose your soul in a moment as to benefit by his assistance? You know not in what state you will be in that awful hour. Your mind may be weakened, and your body enfeebled and convulsed with pain, so as to prevent you from making your confession properly. And could you be absolved in that helpless condition?
I do not say that the priest would not pronounce the words of absolution, but would they be of any avail? You might be unable to elicit one single act of heartfelt contrition.
What is meant by true contrition? That sorrow which will enable you to detest sincerely all that you for years have loved and esteemed more than God, to whom you are indebted for every thing. Consider it well, O sinner! You have loved the world and its creatures during a life-time, clinging to them as long as you could; and now that you see them slipping away, you pretend to forsake them, and to turn lovingly to that God towards whom you have been more than indifferent. Ah, friends! nothing less than a miracle of grace is needed here! The priest may be deceived; but to God the heart of the dying impenitent sinner is fully revealed in all its deformity. Think of the terrible examples we read in Holy Scripture! The dying Antiochus was loud in his professions of repentance and of resolutions to lead a godly life, if God would spare him. “He prayed to the Lord, of whom he was not to obtain mercy,” because he only prayed as does a slave writhing under the pain of the lash. In health, he would have gone on in his wickedness. Therefore, O sinner! listen to the warning you receive today, and delay not to be converted to the Lord thy God!
We learn from this day's Gospel that the son grew better; for, as the ruler “was going down, his servant met him, and they brought him word that his son lived; and the father therefore knew that it was at the same hour that Jesus said to him, thy son liveth.” Would that, from all here present, who are in mortal sin, the priest, in the tribunal of penance, could receive the blessed assurance, that during this sermon, ” at the same hour” that you listened to my words, you resolved, within your hearts: “I will delay no longer; I will make a good confession, and save my soul.” To which the whole celestial host cry: Amen! (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff