10 Feb Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Today is the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed
good seed in his field.”–Matt. 13.
Holy Writ compares the working out of our salvation and the using of divine grace to different occupations of men, such as building, fishing and commerce. In today's Gospel our Lord draws His comparison from a field which a husbandman sows with good seed. The field is the heart of man, the husbandman is the Lord, and the seeds are the communications of His grace, which through our co-operation bring forth fruit for eternal life.
Unhappily, this seed frequently fails to bring forth that fruit which Christ expected to reap when He intrusted it to our hearts. The enemy of God, the enemy of the children of God, the Evil One, endeavors to prevent the growth of the seed, and it is our duty to check his attempts. And how can this be done? We will consider this question today. O Mary, pray for us, that we may be filled with the desire to prepare our heart for the Lord, and that we may keep it closed to all evil influences! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
We have but one thing to care for here on earth, and that is to serve God, to know and fulfill His holy will, and to save our souls. We shall accomplish this task by earnestly endeavoring to co-operate with the divine grace which God bestows upon us for the growth of virtue in our hearts, and by eradicating from them all evil inclinations. Christ, as I said, compares the inspirations of His grace to seed which falls into the hearts of men. And how early, how ceaselessly, and in what manifold ways this seed falls into our hearts!
First, the sight of the entire world reminds us daily and hourly of the power, greatness, majesty, wisdom, and goodness of God, and is a perpetual admonition to serve God, and gather fruit for eternity, to employ for this end all the means which God has given us, to ask Him for help, return thanks for benefits received, and render Him all the honor in our power.
Were we always to bear in mind how perfectly nature fulfills the will of God, how with all its strength it strives after perfection; further, were we to remember how every breath we draw, every drop of water we drink, every morsel of bread we eat, each thread of our clothes is a gift of God, what an incentive would not these thoughts be to serve God, to praise Him and to do His holy will!
In the life of St. Paul of the Cross we read that when he walked through the fields he sometimes would beat the grass with a stick, and say to the flowers: “Be silent! ” Me felt ashamed at the sight of them, and thought: Oh, that I served God as perfectly as you do, and that the virtues of my life were as fragrant as you. How precious is the seed which God by the hand of nature sows upon the field of our heart to animate us in the service of our Creator!
Let us consider the effects of interior grace, and the influence it exercises over us, as also the instruction we receive as children of the Church.
First: In regard to the bestowing of His graces, what has God not done, and what is He not daily doing for us? The good seed fell upon our youthful hearts with every word which our parents spoke when instructing us in our faith and encouraging us to live rightly. Think too of all that you were told as children at school or in the Church, to encourage you to lead a virtuous life. Add to this the festivals of the Church, the good example of many of her children, the lives of her saints, and the countless good books which place the beauty of virtue before your eyes! All this is seed which falls ever anew upon the hearts of the children of the Church. So, too, all that we hear from the mouth of the priest in the pulpit, the very words I address to you now, are good seeds falling into the hearts of those who listen.
Moreover, all the inspirations of grace are greatly increased if we walk prayerfully in the presence of the Lord, and are zealous in receiving holy Communion. How abundant would our spiritual harvest be, were we to receive into our hearts the seed that falls upon it, and by our co-operation aid it to grow and ripen! Call to mind what doctors in theology tell us, that for each grace well applied, the Lord bestows a still greater one. It is, however, necessary to take care lest there be mixed with the good seed which falls into our hearts some of the bad seed which Satan is constantly endeavoring to sow. As regards the outer world, he is anxious to prevail upon us to esteem and seek inordinately the enjoyment of temporal good, and instead of praising, glorifying, and loving with all our hearts the Creator, to offend Him by misusing His gifts even to idolatry. Oh! how many weeds sprout up in the garden of our heart through this misuse, and how great the danger which menaces man, if he be not careful to root out the weed of inordinate love for creatures, lest it stifle the good seed and overgrow the ground of his heart!
I have said before that every word which was addressed to us in our youth, and which instructed us in our faith, was a good seed dropped into our hearts. Satan knows this, and tries to prevent the sowing of these seeds. He endeavors to create obstacles which will prevent parents from fulfilling their duties, so that the children grow up without instruction or the habit of prayer. He causes them to give scandal to their children by word and conduct, and thus sow the seed of evil. It is a subject for wonder that sometimes children are better and more pious than their parents.
School is the place where youth ought to be instructed in their religion, and trained to walk in the way of virtue; it is next to the family circle the place where the good seed ought to be sown most abundantly and fostered most carefully, and yet school is not unfrequently the most active field of Satan for the sowing of evil. Children are sent to godless schools, where they imbibe the spirit of the world, where, hearing our holy religion abused, and coming in contact with children of depraved morals, they take into their hearts seeds of immorality and irreligion.
In a short time the youth that have been under such influences avoid the church, and feel disgust at prayer and the word of God. They prefer to hear the frivolous conversation of children of the world and frequent their society; they read no longer good books, but peruse such as are filled with vain and worldly tales, perhaps even with immorality. Alas, what a vast amount of evil seeds falls into such hearts! And who is there to eradicate the tares? Those whose duty it is are careless, asleep. Satan has plenty of time to tend and water the sprouting tares.
As Christ says in to-day's Gospel, while the husbandman is sleeping the enemy comes and sows cockle. Sleep is the emblem of carelessness, and how fraught with danger is this our sleep for those whom God has placed under our guidance! Why is it that so many children, instead of progressing in virtue, grow in frivolity and wickedness? The carelessness of the parents is the cause. They sleep, fulfill not their duty, and the enemy cometh; they do not keep watch over the conduct of their children, and Satan enrolls them as his own.
Therefore if we earnestly desire to exclude from our hearts the seeds of evil, and to stifle the germ of sin within us, we must watch, and while rooting out the tares of evil, cherish and watch over the seed that produces the harvest which the hands of angels will one day collect for the granaries of heaven! Amen!
“Suffer both to grow until the Harvest”–Matt. 13
The question which the reapers and servants addressed to their master in today's Gospel seems quite natural; for as their master had sown only good seed in his field, they had reason to be astonished that weeds sprang up which threatened to choke the wheat. Their question: “Wilt thou that we go and gather it up,” appears praiseworthy; they were anxious to undo the evil that had crept in. Their master refused the request; and why? The spiritual meaning of this parable supplies the answer, and hence I say: Now God tolerates, but one day He will separate.
God suffers the wicked to live unpunished among the good, and He allows this in consequence of His infinite wisdom and justice. Let us consider our reasons for this assertion. O Mary, thou wise Virgin, as the Church salutes thee, pray for us that we may obtain the grace to recognize the ways of God, and to glorify for evermore His wisdom and justice! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
If we consider how and why God created man, how much He has done to induce him to serve and love his Creator and be saved; if consulting history and past experience we see how man, instead of living a holy life seems only to exist for the purpose of offending God, and if furthermore we reflect that God allows this to continue for thousands of years, we must be astonished!
Faith, however, enlightens and teaches us that God created man free and to His own likeness; that He put him upon this earth as in a place where he has by his own life to determine his future eternity. When through the fall of Adam we lost heaven and our supernatural destination, God did for us what of ourselves we could never have been able to do. The Son of God became man, and paid the price of our Redemption. But as man's first fall into sin did not deprive him of freedom, he was obliged on his part to do all that the grace of God enabled him to do. He was required to make, by a voluntary co-operation, the merits of the Redemption his own. God as the Creator of nature as well as of grace did not wish to disturb the natural order of things, and He willed that the kingdom of God upon earth should be extended among men by men. He gave them the liberty to do this and thus increase their reward in heaven, or not to do it and then suffer in the world to come a deserved punishment.
Unfortunately, a great number of people do not accept the grace of Redemption, or, as I said before, they misuse it to offend God. Hence the tares in the great field of humanity. I say the Lord suffers this state of things, and in order to manifest His wisdom, goodness and justice does not punish the wicked immediately. And how? St. Augustine answers this question when he says: “God is patient and suffers the sinner to remain among the good that he may he converted by their presence and example, and that the latter may be tried and sanctified through patience in persecution.”
Hence God suffers the wicked to remain among the good principally for their own benefit, to lead them into the path of righteousness, since nothing strikes the sinner more than the contrast between wickedness, as he sees it in himself, and virtue, as reflected in the lives of the just. Besides, the example of others shows them that it is possible to lead a virtuous life, if they only choose to do so.
St. Augustine, reading one day before his conversion of the austere lives which St. Anthony and thousands of holy hermits led in the deserts of Egypt, said to himself: “If they could live thus, why can not I?” And if he was so miraculously converted to God by merely reading the lives of the saints, what would have been his feelings had he witnessed their holiness and lived among them!
Ask yourself husband, wife, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, does not the example of those around you, who lead a pious and virtuous life, constantly admonish you of your duty and incite you to live as they do? This is even true of those sinners who refuse to hear a sermon or go into a church. The example of the good and pious with whom they come in contact supplies the place of church and sermon. If they would only allow themselves to be influenced, they have sufficient inducement to be converted.
But supposing the wicked to be obstinately perverse in their evil ways while living among the good, I say, secondly, with St. Augustine, that God suffers their conduct in order that the good, under the guidance of Providence, may draw profit from it for their own salvation and augment their glory in heaven. Think of the millions of martyrs who are now in heaven. Had God not permitted Nero, Antiochus, and the other persecutors of the just to live and pass their days in cruelty, we would have no countless throng of martyrs, nor would these have gained the glory which they now enjoy in heaven.
And even if we are not persecuted by the wicked unto the shedding of our blood, there is the unbloody martyrdom of patient endurance, which we undergo by having to endure their company and bear with their contumely. You know this well, pious wife of a godless husband, and you, pious husband of a wicked wife, and you too parents, children, servants, masters and neighbors. Under such circumstances how many occasions have we to practice patience, humility, confidence in God, to call faith, hope and charity into action? We can say with St. Francis of Sales: “It is the wicked, our enemies, who work most diligently to adorn our heavenly crowns.”
We read in the life of St. Ludwina, who was bedridden thirty-eight years, that one day longing to die and be with Christ she saw an angel who said to her: “Thy crown is not yet ready.” Soon after a band of wicked people invaded her room, and calling her an imposter dragged her out of bed and beat her. Then the angel reappeared and said: “Ludwina, thy crown is finished; enter into the joys of heaven,” whereupon she expired.
I say thirdly: God suffers to remain among the good even those who, He knows, will never be converted. And why? To glorify through them His justice. The wicked often possess some good qualities: They care for their families, are kind to the poor and perform other good deeds. God rewards them here upon earth by bestowing upon them temporal wealth. One day He will come and separate the good from the bad, and the wicked, having had their reward in this world, can expect only everlasting pains in the flames of hell.
But some one asks: Are the good not in danger of being corrupted by companionship with the wicked? Yes and no. Yes, if they do not avoid and flee temptation. No, if they shun evil and profit by the grace which God gives them to conquer sin and enhance by their victories the luster of their crown in heaven. Christ said: No one is able to take from Me the sheep which my Father gave Me. Therefore, by allowing the wicked to remain among the just, God glorifies His wisdom, goodness, patience and fidelity.
I shall use a comparison and conclude. God's Providence in the salvation of souls may be likened to a magnificent carpet whose beauty and richness we are not now permitted to see fully. But it will be exposed to the view of all on the last day, when the fineness and intricacy of its texture, the wonderful harmony of its colors, will strike the wicked with fear and fill the good with joy. In this world we see the wrong side of this divinely woven carpet with its confused, torn threads and dark stripes. When, however, on the last day the ways of eternal wisdom are unfolded to us, then we shall see how all combine to the glory of God and the good of His saints; and then we shall be separated from the company of the wicked forever! Amen!
In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather first the cockle,
and bind it into bundles to burn.”–Matt. 13: 24
During our short stay in this world the just and the wicked are mingled together. God who tolerates the wicked has in His Wisdom so ordained for the welfare of both, provided they make use of the graces which are connected with this decree of His Providence. God now endures this dwelling together, but one day He will separate and judge. But too often the companionship of the good becomes a burden and a reproach to the wicked, an obstacle in their path of evil, as the Holy Ghost testifies in the Book of Wisdom. They often use violent means to free themselves from the just, at times not even stopping short of murder. But we say to them quietly:
Why this haste? Soon we shall be separated for ever. Then you will weep and lament, but it will be too late. Now is the time to choose; to the right, or to the left.
O Mary, thou who didst stand with the evil doers beneath the cross, and who art now in Heaven with all saints, pray for us that we may one day go to thee, and remain with Thee for evermore! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
Jesus admonishes us, saying: Judge not by appearances; judge not hastily! This is an especial warning not to judge man's real condition from appearances here below. In man's narrow view the sinner seems to have the advantage and to enjoy greater privileges than the true Christian. But things will have a different aspect when God will make a division, sending forth His angels with the command; separate the good from the bad; place those on the right–these on the left.
Upon earth pride seems to be an earnest of success. The ambitious man finds his way to glory and distinction; he is exalted among his fellow-mortals, perhaps places on his head the crown that in right belongs to a just man. The humble occupy the lowest seats, as if these were their due. But in how different a light will both appear when the Lord will come to judge, and when the angels will separate and say: “The humble to the right; the proud to the left! The humble, then exalted in proportion as they lowered themselves, will shine in the glorious light of all their good deeds, while the proud will stand on the lelt covered with shame. Their cry then will be: “Ye mountains fall upon us, and ye hills cover us!”
In this life the rich seem to prosper, even though they crush the righteous poor, defraud them of their earnings and otherwise wrong them. When the angels, God's appointed reapers appear, they will say: “The patient poor to the right!” Then will the jewels of merit, which they earned by uniting their will with the most holy will of God. shine in all their beauty. To the rich sinner, however, will be said: “To the left!” Upon earth his sole thought was to accumulate perishable treasures, his idol was gold. His life said for him: Gold, thou art my god! Of thee I think always; thou art the object of my solicitude! For thy sake I neglect my prayers, mass, spiritual readings, confession and holy Communion; thy loss alarms me more than the loss of my soul!–Behold him on the last day in the poverty and nakedness of the demons.
On earth, the wicked often rejoice over the success of their evil deeds, while the just mourn their sins and the sins of others. But how will it be when the Lord sends His reapers? Then will be said: Blessed are they that mourn and weep, their sorrow shall be turned into joy–and those who have sowed in tears shall reap in gladness. All these to the right!
To those who on earth made no account of sin, who laughed and frolicked and danced, will come the word: To the left–prepare for that place where through all eternity the lamentations of woe, the cries of despair will resound. It will be said to them: In proportion to your delight while on earth in sinful pleasures, you must now endure pain in the flames of eternal fire!
On this earth there is joy among those who turn every thing to their own selfish ends, forgetful of the welfare of their fellow-men, who, instead of loving others as themselves, doing unto others what they wish others to do unto them, remain cold and unmoved at the sight of human misery, and give no thought to corporal or spiritual works of mercy.
But the reapers will come to make a division. To the left! they will say to all these nominal Christians, to egotists, to all that paid less attention to the alleviation of want than the heathen. But on the right will stand those to whom the words of Christ apply: I was naked and you clothed me; I was hungry and you gave me food; I was sick and you visited me. Especially great will be the reward of the just who have led others upon the path of justice. Happy those, who by their example, their exhortations, have edified those around them, by their piety prevented them from doing evil, and encouraged them to do good! Happy those who, not satisfied with influencing their own families, endeavor to win all sinners from their wicked ways, and to bring the unbelieving and irreligious within the pale of the Catholic Church. A gracious sentence from the divine Judge awaits them. To these will be said: Enter into the kingdom of eternal reward with Me and with all the souls saved by your zeal!
But woe to those who give scandal, an evil of which every sinner is more or less guilty. To them will be said: These to the left, together with the souls they corrupted bind a millstone around their necks, nay, not one but as many as the times they have given scandal during their life. How deep these will be drawn into the abyss of hell!
But my sermon would be too long were I to consider all the different lights in which this question can be viewed. I shall only add: When the reapers have fulfilled the Lord's command, Christ will say: “Bind the cockle into bundles!” In the same manner He speaks elsewhere of the sheaves of wheat. What does this binding signify? It is an admonition that the sinner on the day of Judgment must not only render an account for the evil he himself performed but also for the sins which others, seduced by his example, committed.
Who can enumerate the sins which you have caused others to commit by your pride, avarice, envy, intemperance, unchastity, enmity? Who can count the number of souls you have scandalized and corrupted by your speech, your example and your sins of omission? Ah! how many the bundles that the angel-reapers will bind together and cast into eternal fire! The sin of one has often a most pernicious effect upon countless others, and exerts its influence on generations to come. An example of this we find in the heresiarchs who led whole nations astray.
The same can be said of the good, their actions remain; their labors produce fruit long after they quit the earth. From generation to generation, from land to land, the examples of the saints are transmitted and reproduced.
In regard to the just Christ will say: Bind into sheaves their meritorious thoughts, words, wishes, works and suffering for the kingdom of God, that they may enjoy the reward of them all together. He will say unite the virtuous in special fellowship with those whom they led to heaven, that together they partake of eternal joy.
Let us ever bear in mind this separation which is to take place on the day of judgment; let us always remember the words: To the Right, or to the Left,–that now we may receive the grace, in virtue, of which we will stand at the right hand of God with Christ and His saints on that great day when Light and Darkness shall be separated for ever! Amen! (1)