The Office for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, which began yesterday evening, reminded us, in its Magnificat Antiphon, of a repentence which has never had an equal. David, the royal prophet, the conqueror of Goliath, himself conquered by sensuality, and from adulterer become a murderer, at last felt the crushing weight of his double crime, and exclaimed: I do beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done foolishly! “I have acted as a fool!”
Sin is always a folly, and a weakness, no matter what kind it may be, or who he be that commits it. The rebel angel, or fallen man may, in their pride, make efforts to persuade themselves that, when they sinned, they did not act as fools, and were not weak; but all their efforts are vain; sin must ever have this disgrace upon it, that it is folly and weakness, for it is a revolt against God, a contempt for his law, a mad act of the creature who, being made by his Creator to attain infinite happiness and glory, prefers to debase himself by turning towards nothingness, and then falls even lower than the nothingness from which he was taken. It is, however, a folly that is voluntary, and a weakness that has no excuse; for although the creature has nothing of his own but darkness and misery, yet his infinitely merciful Creator, by means of his grace, which is never wanting, puts within that creature’s reach divine strength and light.
It is so with even the sinner that has been the least liberally gifted—he has no reason that can justify his offenses: but when he that sins is a creature who has been laden with God’s gifts and, by his divine generosity, raised higher than others in the order of grace—oh! then, the offense he commits against his benefactor is an injury that has no name. Let this be remembered by those who, like David, could say that their God has multiplied his magnificence over them. They may, perhaps, have been led by him into high paths which are reserved for the favored few, and may, perhaps, have reached the heights of divine union: yet must they be on their guard; no one who has still to carry with him the burden of a mortal body of flesh is safe, unless by exercising a ceaseless vigilence. On the mountains, as on the plains and the valleys, at all times and in all places, a fall is possible; but when it is on those lofty peaks which, in this land of exile, seem bordering on heaven, and but one step from the entrance into the powers of the Lord,—what a terrific fall, when the foot slips there! The yawning precipices, which that soul had avoided on her ascent now are all open to engulf her; abyss after abyss of crime, she rushes into them, and with a violence of passion that terries even them that have long been nothing but wickedness.
Poor fallen soul! pride, like that of Satan, will now try to keep her obstinately fixed in her crimes: but from the depths into which she has fallen, let her lament her abominations; let her not be afraid to look up, through her tears, at those glorious heights which were once her abode,—an anticipated heaven. Without further delay, let her imitate the royal penitent, and say with him: I have sinned against the Lord! and she will hear the same answer that he did: The Lord hath taken away thy sin; thou shalt not die; and as with David, so also with her, God may still do grand things in her. David, when innocent, was a faithful image of Christ, who was the object of the love of both heaven and earth; David, sinner but penitent, was still the figure of the Man-God, as laden with the sins of the whole world, and bearing on his single self the merciful and just vengeance of his offended Father.
It is difficult to see what connection there is between the Mass and the Office of this Sunday, at least as we now have them. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Honorius of Autun and Durandus applied the Introit and the other sung portion to the inauguration of Solomon’s reign. At the time when these two writers lived, the Scripture Lessons for this Sunday were taken fron the first pages of the second book of Paralipomenon (2 Chronicles in Bibles other than Douay), where we have the account of the glorious early days of David’s son. But since then, it has been the Church’s practice to continue the reading of the four books of Kings (again, first and second books of Samuel; and first and second books of Kings in Bibles other than Douay) up to the month of August, omitting altogether the two books of Paralipomenon, which were but a practical repetition of the events already related in previous Lessons. So that the connection suggested by the two writers just mentioned has no foundation in the actual arrangement of today’s liturgy. We must, therefore, be satisfied with taking from the Introit the teaching of what it is that constitutes the Christian’s courage—his faith in God’s power which is always ready to help him, and the conviction of his own nothingness, which keeps him from all presumption.
The Collect gives us an admirable summing up of the strong yet sweet action of grace upon the whole course of Christian life. It has evidently been suggested by those words of St. James: Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.
The Epistle teaches us that, dead through sin, we have been plunged and buried with Jesus in the baptismal water. Christ atoned for our sins, by dying on the Cross, and our old man (our old nature) was crucified with him. After the Resurrection Christ walks in a new life; we must also walk in newness of life.
The Masses of the Sundays after Pentecost have, so far, given us but once a passage from St. Paul’s Epistles. It has been to Ss. Peter and John that the preference has been hitherto given of addressing the Faithful at the commencement of the sacred Mysteries. It may be that the Church, during these weeks, which represent the early days of the apostolic preaching, has intended by this to show us the disciple of faith and the disciple of love as being the two most prominent in the first promulgation of the new Covenant, which was committed, at the onset, to the Jewish people. At that time, Paul was but Saul the persecutor, and was putting himself forward as the most rabid opponent of that Gospel, which later on he would so zealously carry to the furthest parts of the earth. If his subsequent conversion made him become an ardent and enlightened apostle even to the Jews, it soon became evident that the house of Jacob was not the mission that was to be specially the one of his apostolate. After publicly announcing his faith in Jesus the Son of God; after confounding the synagogue by the weight of his testimony, he waited in silence for the termination of the period accorded to Juda for the acceptance of the covenant; he withdrew into privacy, waiting for the Vicar of the Man-God, the Head of the apostolic college, to give the signal for the vocation of the Gentiles, and open, in person, the door of the Church to these new children of Abraham.
But Israel has too long abused God’s patience; the day of the ungrateful Jerusalem’s repudiation is approaching, and the divine Spouse, after all this long forbearance with his once chosen, but now faithless Bride, the Synagogue—has gone to the Gentile nations. Now is the time for the Doctor of the Gentiles to speak; he will go on speaking and preaching to them, to his dying day; he will not cease proclaiming the word to them, until he has brought them back, and lifted them up to God, and consolidated them in faith and love. He will not rest until he has led this once poor despised gentile world to the nuptial union with Christ, yes, to the full fecundity of that divine union, of which, on the 24th and last Sunday after Pentecost, we shall hear him thus speaking: We cease not to pray for you, and to beg that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of God, in all things pleasing him; being fruitful in every good work. … Giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the Saints in light, … and hath translated us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
It is to the Romans that are addressed today’s inspired instructions of the great Apostle. For the reading of these admirable Epistles of St. Paul, the Church, during the Sundays after Pentecost, will follow the order in which they stand in the canon of Scripture: the epistle to the Romans, the two to the Corinthians, then those to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossions, will be read to us in their turns. They make up the sublimest correspondence that was ever written—a correspondence where we find Paul’s whole soul, giving us both precept and example how best we may love our Lord: I beseech you, so he speaks to his Corinthians, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.
Indeed, the Gospel, the kingdom of God, the Christian life, is not an affair of mere words. Nothing is less speculative than the science of salvation. Nothing makes it penetrate so deep in the souls of men as the holy life of him that teaches it. It is for this reason that the Christian world counts him alone as Apostle or Teacher, who in his one person holds the double teaching of doctrine and works. Thus, Jesus, the Prince of Pastors, manifested eternal truth to men, not alone by the words uttered by his divine lips, but likewise by the works he did during his life on earth. So too the Apostle, having become a pattern of the flock, shows us all, in his own person, what marvelous progress a faithful soul may make under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of sanctification.
Let us, then, be attentive to every word that comes from this mouth, ever open to speak to the whole earth; but at the same time, let us fix the eyes of our soul on the works achieved by our Apostle, and let us walk in his footsteps. He lives in his Epistles; he abides and continues with us all, as he himself assures us, for the furtherance and joy of our faith.
And this isn’t all. If we value, as we should, the example and the teaching of this father of the gentiles, we must not forget his labors and sufferings and solicitudes, and the intense love he bore towards all those who never had seen, or were to see, his face in the flesh. Let us make him the return of dilating our hearts with affectionate admiration of him. Let us love not only the light, but also him who brings it to us—and all them who, like him, have been getting for us the exquisite brightness from the treasures of God the Father and his Christ. It is the recommendation made so feelingly by St. Paul himself; it is the intention willed by God Himself, by the fact of his confiding to men like ourselves the charge of sharing with Him the imparting this heavenly light to us. Eternal Wisdom does not show herself directly here below; she is hidden, with all her treasures, in the Man-God; she reveals herself by Him; and by the Church, which is the mystical body of that Man-God, and by the chosen members of that Church, the Apostles. We cannot either love or know our Lord Jesus Christ, save by and in Him; but we cannot love or understand Jesus unless we love and understand his Church. Now, in this Church—the glorious aggregate of the elect both of heaven and earth—we should especially love and venerate those who are, in a special manner, associated with our Lord’s sacred humanity in making the divine Word manifest—that Word who is the one center of our thoughts, both in this world and in the world to come.
According to this standard, who was there that had a stronger claim than paul to the veneration, gratitude, and love of the Faithful? Who of the Prophets and holy Apostles went deeper into the mystery of Christ? Who was there like him, in revealing to the world the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus? Was there ever a more perfect teacher, or a more eleoquent interpreter, of the life of union—that marvelous union which brings regenerated humanity into the embrace of God, union which continues and repeats the life of the Word Incarnate in each Christian? To him, the last and least of the saints (as he humbly calls himself), was given the grace of proclaiming to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; to him was confided the mission of teaching to all nations the mystery of creation—mystery hidden so long in God, as the secret to be, at some distant day, revealed to men, and would show them what was the one only meaning of the world’s history—the mystery, that is, of the manifestation, through the Church, of the infinite Wisdom which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For as the Church is neither more nor less than the body and mystical complement of the Man-God, so in Paul’s mind the formation and growth of the Church are but the sequel of the Incarnation; they are but the continued development of the mystery shown to the angelic hosts, when this Word Incarnate made himself visible to them in the Crib at Bethlehem. After the Incarnation, God was the better known of his Angels; though ever the self-same in his own unchanging essence, yet to them he appeared grander and more magnificent in the brilliant reflection of his infinite perfections, as seen in the Flesh of his Word. So, too, although no increase in them was possible, and their plenitude was their fixed measure; yet the created perfection and holiness of the Man-God have their fuller and clearer revelation in proportion as the marvels of perfection and holiness which dwell in Him, as in their source, are multiplied in the world.
Starting from Him, flowing ever from His fulness, the stream of grace and truth ceaselessly laves each member of the body of the Church. Principle of spiritual growth, mysterious sap, it has its divinely appointed channels: and these unite the Church more closely to her Head than the nerves and vessels, which convey movement and life to the extremities of our body, unite its several parts to the head which directs and governs the whole frame. But just as in the human body, the life and the head and of the members is one, giving to each of them the porportion and harmony which go to make up the perfect man, so in the Church, there is but one life: the life of the Man-God, of Christ the head, forming his mystical Body, and perfecting, in the Holy Ghost, its several members. The time will come when this perfection will have attained its full development; then will human nature, united with its divine Head in the measure and beauty of the perfect age due to Christ, appear on the throne of the Word, an object of admiration to the Angels, and of delight to the most holy Trinity. Meanwhile, Christ is being completed in all things and in all men; as heretofore at Nazareth, Jesus is still growing; and these his advancings are gradual fresh manifestations of the beauty of infinite Wisdom.
The holiness, the sufferings, and then, the glory of the Lord Jesus—in a word, his life continued in his members, this is St. Paul’s notion of the Christian life: a notion most simple and sublime which, in the Apostle’s mind, resumes the whole commencement, progress and consummation of the work of the Spirit of love in every soul that is sanctified. We shall find him, later on, developing this practical truth, of which the Epistle read to us today merely gives the leading principle. After all, what is Baptism, that first step made on the road which leads to heaven—what else is it but the neophyte’s incorporation with the Man-God, who died once unto sin that he might forever live in God his Father? On Holy Saturday, after having assisted at the blessing of the font, we had read to us a similar passage from another Epistle of St. Paul, which put before us the divine realities achieved beneath the mysterious waters. Holy Church returns to the same teaching today, in order that she may recall to our minds this great principle of the commencement of the Christian life, and make it the basis of the instructions she is here going to give us. If the very first effect of the sanctification of one who, by Baptism, is buried together with Christ, is making him a new man, the creating of him anew in this Man-God, the ingrafting his new life upon the life of Jesus whereby to bring forth new fruits—we cannot wonder at the Apostle’s unwillingness to give us any other rule for our contemplation or our practice, than the study and imitation of this divine model. There, and there only, is man’s perfection, there is his happiness: as then ye have received the knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord, walk ye in him; for as many of you as have been baptised in Christ, have put on Christ. Our Apostle emphatically tells us that he knoweth nothing, and will preach nothing but Jesus. If we are to be of St. Paul’s school, adopting the sentiments of our Lord Jesus Christ and making them our own, we shall become other Christs, or, rather, one only Christ with the Man-God, by the sameness of thoughts and virtues, under the impulse of the same sanctifying Spirit.