The dominical series—which, formerly, counted from the feast of Saint Peter, or of the Apostles—never went beyond this Sunday. The feast of Saint Laurence gave its name to those which follow; through that name began with even the ninth Sunday, for the years when Easter was nearest the Spring equinox. When, on the contrary, that Solemnity was kept at its almost latest date, the weeks began from today be counted as the Weeks of the seventh month (September).
The Ember-Days of the Autumn quarter sometimes occur even this week, while other years they may be as late as the eighteenth. We will speak of them when we come to the seventeenth Sunday, for it is in the week following that, that the Roman Missal inserts them.
In the Western Church, the thirteenth Sunday takes its name from the Gospel of the ten lepers, which is read in the Mass: the Greeks, who count it as the thirteenth of Saint Matthew, read on it the parable of the vineyard, whose laborers, though called at different hours of the day, all receive the same pay.
Now that she is in possession of the promises so long waited for by the world, the Church loves to repeat the words wherewith the just men of the old law used to express their sentiments. Those just men were living during the gloomy period, when the human race was seated in the shadow of death. We are under incomparably happier circumstances; we are blessed with graces in abundance; Eternal Wisdom has spared us the trials our forefathers had to contend with, by giving us to live in the period which has been enriched by all the mysteries of salvation being fulfilled. There is a danger, however, and our Mother the Church does her utmost to avert us from falling into it; it is the danger of forgetting all these blessings of ours. Ingratitude is the necessary outcome of forgetfulness, and today’s Gospel justly condemns it. On this account, the Epistle, and here our Introit, remind us of the time when man had nothing to cheer him but hope: a promise had indeed been made to him, of a sublime covenant which was, at some distant future, to be realized; but meanwhile he was very poor, was a prey to the wiles of Satan, is cause was to be tried by divine justice, and yet he prayed for loving mercy.
This day last week, we were considering how important are Faith and Charity to a Christian who is living under the Law of grace.There is another virtue of equal necessity: it is Hope; for although he already have the substantial possession of the good things which will constitute his future happiness, the gloom of the land of exile, where the Christian is at present living, prevents him from seeing them. Moreover, this mortal life being essentially a period of trial, wherein each one is to win his crown, the struggle makes even the very best feel, and that right to the end, the weight of incertitude and anguish. Let us therefore pray with the Church in her Collect, for an increase of the three fundamental virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity; and that way may deserve to reach the perfection of the good which is promised to us in heaven, let us sue for the grace of devotedness to the commandments of God; they lead us to our eternal home. Let us remember how the Gospel of Sunday last included them all in Love.
|Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, da nobis fidei, spei, et charitatis augumentum: et ut mereamur assequi quod promittis, fac nos amare quod præcipis. Per Dominum.||O almighty and eternal God, grant unto us an increase of faith, hope, and charity: and, that we may deserve what thou promisest, make us to love what thou commandest. Through, etc.|
Look up to heaven, and number the stars, if thou canst! So shall thy seed be! Abraham was almost a hundred years old, and Sara’s barrenness deprived him of all natural hope of posterity, when these words were spoken to him by God. Abraham, nevertheless, believed God, says the scripture, and it was reputed to him unto justice. And when later on that same faith would have led him to sacrifice, on the mount, that son of the promise, his one only hope, God renewed his promise and added: In thy seed, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.
It is now that the promise is fulfilled; the event justifies Abraham’s faith. He believed against all hope, trusting to that God who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things that are not, as those that are; and according to the expression of John the Baptist, from the very stones of the gentile world, there rise up, in all places, children to Abraham.
His faith, firm and at the same time so simple, gave to God the glory which he looks for from his creatures. Man can add nothing to the divine perfections; but—agreeably to God’s own words—though he sees them not directly here below, he acknowledges those perfections by adoring and loving them; he makes his faith tell upon his whole life; and this use which he freely makes of his faculties—this voluntary devotedness of an intelligent being—magnifies God by adding to his extrinsic glory.
Following in Abraham’s steps, there have come those multitudes born for that heaven of faith, which he showed to the whole earth. They live by faith; and thereby in all their acts, they give to God the homage of confession and praise, through his Son Christ Jesus; and like Abraham, they receive in return a blessing, a benediction, of an ever-increasing justice. The magnificent development of the Church, which gives this new posterity to Abraham, is greater and more visible since the fall of Israel. In countries the remotest, in the midst of cities that once were all pagan, we see crowds of men, women and children imitating Abraham, that is, at heaven’s call, leaving, if not their country, at least everything that once made earth dear to them; and like himm, trusting in the fidelity and power of God to fulfill his promises, they lived as strangers amidst their neighbors, yea, and in their very homes, using this world as though they did not use it. In the tumult of cities as in the desert, in the midst of the vain pleasures of the world, whose fashion and figure passeth away—they have no other thought that that of the unseen realities, no other care than that of pleasing God. They take to themselves the word that was spoken to their father: Walk before me, and be perfect! and in truth, it was to all of them that it was spoken; it was the condition in the alliance, concluded by God with those his faithful servants of all ages, in the person of the grand Patriarch, who was not only their progenitur, but their model too; and God responds also to their faith, either by private manifestations or by the still surer voice of his Scriptures, saying: Fear not! I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great!
Truly, then, the benediction of Abraham has been poured forth on the Gentiles. Christ Jesus, the true Son of the promise, the only seed of salvation has, by faith in his Resurrection assembled from every nation them that are of a good will, making them all one in him, making them, like himself, children of Abraham, and what is better still, children of God. The the benediction that was promised at the beginning of the alliance, was the Holy Ghost himself, the spirit of adoption of children that came down into our hearts, to make us all heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ. O mighty power of Faith, which breaks down the former walls of division, unites nations together, and substitutes the love and freedom of children of the Most High for the law of bondage and fear.
And yet, grand as was this spectacle of the Gentiles becoming incorporated into the chosen race, and being made sharers, in Christ, of the holy promises—it did not please all people. The carnal Jew, who boasts of having Abraham for his father, though he cares little about imitating his works—the Circumcesed who vaunts the bearing in his flesh the sign of a Faith which dwells not in his heart—these men who have rejected Christ now reject his members and would fain destroy his Church, or at least trammel it. They are enraged at seeing crowding in, from every portion of the globe, that immense concourse, which their vile jealousy has vainly sought to keep back. While their wounded pride kept them from going in, the Gentiles were sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the Prophets, at the banquet of God’s kingdom; the last became the first. Even to the end of time, Israel—who, by his own obstinacy, has forfeited his ancient glory—will continue to be the enemy of this spiritual posterity of Abraham, which has supplanted him; but his persecutions against the children of the promise and of the lawful Bride, will but result in showing that he is, as St. Paul says, the son of Agar, the son of the bond-woman, who, together with her child, is excluded from the inheritance and the kingdom.
He prefers to refuse the liberty offered him by the Lord, rather than acknowledge the definitive abrogation of his now dead Law: be it so; his hatred will not induce the children of the Church (who are prefigured by Sara, the free-woman) to reject the grace of their God for the sake of pleasing their enemy; it will not induce them to abandon the justice of Faith and the riches of the Spirit and the life in Christ, in order to go back again to the yoke of slavery which, let the Jew do what he will, was broken into pieces by the Cross he himself set up on Calvary. Up to the last, the true Jerusalem, the free city, our mother—she that was once the barren woman but now is so glad a Bride with her children around her—yes, she will meet the superannuated, yet ever busy, pretensions of the Synagogue, by reading to her assembled sons and daughters the Epistle we are having today. Up to the last, St. Paul, in her name—speaking of the law of Sinai, which was made known to its subjects, through the mediation of Moses and the Angels—will prove its inferiority as compared to the covenant made by Abraham directly with God; each year, as emphatically as on the day he wrote his Epistle, Paul will declare the transient character of that legislation, which came four hundred and thirty years after a promise which could not be changed; neither was such legislation to continue, when the time should come for that Son of Abraham to appear, from whom the world was waiting to received the promised benediction.
But what is to be said of the incapability of the mosaic ministration to give man strength and enable him to rise up from his fall? The Gospel on which we were meditating eight days back, and which, formerly, was assigned to this present Sunday, gave a symbolical and striking commentary on the uselessness of the Old Law in regard to this; at the same time, it showed us the remedial power which resided in Christ, and was by Him transmitted to the ministers of the New Law. “Every portion of the Office of the thirteenth Sunday,” says Abbot Rupert, “bears on the history of that Samaritan, whose name signifies keeper; it is our Lord Jesus Christ who, by his Incarnation, comes to the rescue of the man whom the Old Law was not able to keep from harm; and when this Jesus leaves the world, he consigns the poor sufferer to the care of the Apostles, and apostolic men, in the house of the Church. The intentional selection of this Gospel for today throws a great light on our Epistle, as also on the whole Letter to the Galatians, from which it is taken. Thus, the Priest and the Levite of the Parable are a figure of the Law, and their passing by the half-dead man, seeing him indeed, but without making an attempt to heal him—is expressive of what that Law did. True, it did not go counter to God’s promises; but of itself, it could justify no man. A physician, who does not himself intend to visit a patient will, sometimes, send a servant who is expert in the knowledge of the causes of the malady, yet who has not the skill needed fror mixing the remedy required but can merely tell the sick man whad diet and what drinks he must avoid, if he would prevent his ailment from causing death. Such was the Law, set, as the Epistle tells us, because of transgressions, as a simple safeguard, until such time as there should come the good Samaritan, the heavenly Physician. Having from his very first coming into this world fallen among robbers, Man is stripped of his supernatural goods, and is covered with the wounds inflicted on him by original sin; if he do not abstain from actual sins, from those transgressions against which the Law was set as a monitor, he runs the risk of dying altogether.”
It is on this account that the Gradual repeats the supplication of the Introit; Respice, Domine, in testamentum tuum; for as Rupert observes, it was the cry of the ancient people who, sighing at the weakness of the powerless Law of Sinai, besought God to fulfill the covenant he had promised to Abraham’s faith. They cried out to Christ, as the poor creature might have done to the good Samaritan, after he saw the priest and the levite pass him by, without an effort made to save him.
The Samaritan Leper, cured of that hideous malady which is an apt figure of sin, in company with nine lepers of jewish nationality, represents the despised race of Gentiles, who were at first admitted, by stealth, so to say, and by extraordinary privilege, into a share of the graces belonging to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The conduct of these ten men, on occasion of their miraculous cure, is in keeping with the attitude assumed by the two people they typify, regarding the salvation offered to the world by the Son of God. It is a fresh demonstration of what the Apostle says: All are not Israelites that are of Israel; neither are all they who are the seed of Abraham, children; “but,” says the Scripture, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” that is to say, not they who are the children of the flesh, are the children of God: but they that are the children of the promises are counted for the seed; they are born of the faith of Abraham and are, in the eyes of the Lord, his true progeny.
Our holy Mother the Church is never tired of this subject, the comparison of the Two Testaments, and the contrast here is between the two people. We deem it our duty, before proceeding further, to explain how this is, for there are many persons who cannot understand what benefit can come to us Christians from hearing this subject preached to us. The kind of spirituality which, with many of us, has nowadays been substituted for the liturgical life so thoroughly lived in, and so precious to our Catholic ancestors, gives a certain disrelish for the ideas which the Church so perseveringly brings before them during so many of her Sundays. They have become habituated to live in an atmosphere of very limited truth; it is all subjective, as well as litte; and they consider it a very excellent thing to forget all other teaching, except what they happen to possess, and beyond which it is a trouble to go. With Christians of this class, it is not surprising that they feel puzzled at finding the Church continually urging them to take an interest in a long past, which they call of no practical utility to them! But the interior life, truly worthy of the name, is not what these good people imagine. No school of spirituality, either now or ever, made the ideal of virtue consist in indifference for those great historic facts which are evidently so precious in the eyes of the Church and of God himself. And what is the usual result of this isolating themselves from their Mother’s most cherished appreciations? It is that by this determined shutting themselves up in their own private prayers, they, by a just punishment, lose sight of the true end of prayer, which is union with and love of God. Their meditation is deprived of that element of intimate and fruitful converse with God, which is assigned it by all the masters of the spiritual life; it soon becomes an unproductive exercise of analysis and reasoning, in which there is nothing but abstract conclusions.
Now, when God mercifully invited men to the divine nuptials by manifesting to them his Word, it was not by abstraction that he gave to our earth this the Son of his own eternal Substance. As to his divinity, men could not, in their present state, see it in a direct way. Had then God shown us, in this pretended abstract way, that eternal Son of his, in whom are found all beauty and warmth and life—it would have been imperfect and cold. This he did not do; but as St. Paul tells us, he manifested, he shewed, the great mystery of godliness in the Flesh; the Word became a living soul; eternal Truth assumed to himself a Body, that so he might converse with men; and grow up like one of themselves. And when that Body, which eternal Truth was to hold as his own forever, was taken up in glory,—the Church, the Bride of this Man-God, the bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh, continued in the world this manifestation of God, by the member of Christ; she continued that historic development of the Word, which is only to cease when time is no more. This manifestation, this development, surpasses all human calculations and reveals fresh aspects of the Wisdom of God even to the Angels themselves. Undoubtedly, a real regard is to be had for those axioms to which great minds have reduced the principles of science in an abstract logical order, quite independently of history and facts: but neither with God nor with man has this sort of petrified theorizing anything in it of the life, the influence, the activity of substantial truth. In the Church, as in God, truth is life and light; her grand Credo would never ring so triumphantly as it does through our churches, it would never make its way so irresistibly up to heaven, if it were but a bare series of true definitions and phrases: its superhuman power comes from each of its articles, almost each of its words, teeming with the blood of martyrs upon it, and radiant, for the Church and for God, with the splendor of toils and sufferings and combats of thousands of sainted Confessors and Doctors, the very aristocracy, that is, of human nature ennobled by Baptism, whose living is to be the completing the Body of Christ here below.
The subject is too full to be treated of here; but this much is irresistible—that after the master-fact of the Incarnation of the Word, who came upon our earth to manifest God, through the ages of time, by Christ and his members, there is not one which is more important, not one which has been and still is so dear to God, as the vocation of the two people that were successively called by Him to the blessing of an alliance with him. The gifts and vocations of God are, as the Apostle expresses it without repentance, or regret, on his part. Those Jews, who are now his enemies because they reject the Gospel, are still called charissimi, they are still the beloved and dearly beloved, because of their Fathers. For the same reason, a time will come and the whole world is waiting for it, when the denial of Juda being revoked and his iniquities blotted out, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will be literally fulfilled. The the divine unity of the two Testaments will be made evident; and the two peoples themselves will be made one under their one head Christ Jesus. The covenant of God with man being then fully realized, such as he had designed it in his eternal wisdom—the earth having yielded its fruit—the world having done its work—the sepulchers will give back their dead, and History cease here on earth, leaving glorified human nature to bloom in unreserved fullness of life, under God’s complacent eye.
The truths, then, which are again brought before our notice by today’s Gospel, are anything but dry or old-fashioned; nothing is so grand; and we must add, though superficial minds will wonder at it—there is nothing more practical in this season of the year, for it is the season that is consecrated to the mysteries of the Unitive Life. After all, in what, primarily, does union between God and man consist, but in unanimity of the divine and human minds? Now, we know that the divine mind has manifested all its designs in the respective history of the two Testaments and the two Peoples; and that the final result, which is to bring these two histories to their close, is the one only end which infinite Love was in the beginning and it now, and will forever be, proposing to fulfill. The Church, therefore, far from showing herself to be not up to the present age by recurring continually to truths such as these, is but clearly proving herself to be the most intelligent Bride of Jesus—is but evincing the changeless lovely youthfulness of a heart which ever beats in unison with that of her Spouse.
Let us now resume the literal explanation of our Gospel. As we were observing on a previous Sunday, our Jesus here again wishes rather to give us a useful teaching than to manifest his divine power. It is for this purpose that he does not cure these ten lepers who besought him to have mercy on them, as on another occasion he cured one who was suffering from the same misery. To this latter, who besought Him, he restored cleanliness by a few words: this was at the beginning of his public life; he said: “Be thou made clean!” and forthwith the leprosy was cleansed. But the lepers of our Gospel is an event that took place in the latter portion of our Lord’s sojourn amongt men: and they are made clean only while on their way to show themselves to the priests; Jesus sends them to the priests, just as he had done in the previous case; and thus from the beginning to the close of his mortal life, he gives an example of the respect which was to be paid to the Old Law, so long as it was not abogated. That Law gave to the sons of Aaron the power not of curing, but of discerning leprosy, and passing judgment on its being cured or not.
The time, however, is now come for a Law that is to be far above that of Sinai; and it has a priesthood, whose judgments are not to be concerning the state of the body, but by pronouncin the sentence of absolution, is to effectually remove the leprosy of souls. The cure which the ten lepers felt coming upon them before they had reached the priests ought to have sufficed to show them, in Jesus, the power of the new priesthood, which had been foretold by the Prophets; the power which, by thus forestalling it in their favor, surpasses the authority of the ancient ministration is, or should be, evidence enough of the superior dignity of Him who exercises it. If only they were in suitable dispositions for the sacred rites, which are going to be used in the ceremony of their purification—the Holy Ghost, who heretofore had inspired the prophetic details of the mysterious function about to be celebrated, would enable them to understand the signification of the expiatory sparrow, whose blood, being sprinkled upon the living water, sets free, by the wood, its fellow sparrow. The first bird typifies our Lord Jesus Christ, who likens himself, in the psalm, to the lonely sparrow; his immolation on the Cross, which gives to water the power of cleansing souls, communicates to the other sparrows, his Brethren, the purity of the Blood divine.
But the Jew is far from being ready for understanding these great mysteries. And yet the Law had been given to him, that it might serve as a hand leading him to Christ, and without exposing him to err. It was a signal favor, granted him, not from any merits of his own, but because of his Fathers. The favor was all the more precious, inasmuch as it was bestowed at a time when the tradition regarding a future Redeemer was almost entirely lost by the bulk of mankind. Gratitude should have been uppermost in the heart of Juda; but pride took its place. He was so taken up with the honor that had been put on him, that it made him lose all desire for the Messiah. He cannot endure the thought that a time will come when the Sun of Justice having risen for the whole earth, the limited advantage which was given to a few during the hours of night, shall be eclipsed by the bright noon of a light which all vie to enjoy. He therefore proclaims that the Old Law is definitive, though the Law protests itself to be but transitory; he therefore insists on the perpetuity of the reign of types and shadows. He lays it down as a dogma that no divine intervention can ever equal that made on Sinai; that every future prophet, every Sent of God, must be inferior to Moses; that all possible salvation is in the Law, and that from it alone flows every grace.
This explains to us how it was that of the ten men cured of the leprosy by Jesus, nine of them are found who have not even the remotest thought of coming to their Deliverer to thank him: these nine are Jews; Jesus, to their minds, is a mere disciple of Moses, a bare instrument of favors holding his commission from Sinai; and as soon as they have gone through the legal formality of their purification, they take it that all their obligations to God are paid. The Samaritan, the despises gentile whose sufferings have given him that humility which makes the sinner clear-sighted—he is the only one who recognizes God by his divine works and gives him thanks for his favors. How many ages of apparent abandonment, of humiliation and suffering, must pass over Juda too, before he will recognize and adore his God, and confess to him his sins, and give him his devoted love and, like this stranger, hear Jesus pronounce his pardon, and say: Arise! Go thy way! thy faith hath made thee whole and saved thee!
Let us, by our fervent prayers, hasten the time which will be so glorious for the two peoples when, united in the same faith by the consciousness of the same hopes then realized, they will cry out to our Redeemer the words of our Offertory.
It is the oblation that is now on the Altar, that is to obtain for us from God the pardon of our past offenses, and the graces we hope for, for the time to come. Let us, in the Secret, beseech him to accept, for the Sacrifice, these gifts which the Church, in the name of us all, has presented to him.
|Propitiare, Domine, populo tui, propitiare muneribus: ut hac oblatione pacatus, et indulgentiam nobis tribuas, et postulata concedas. Per Dominum.||Be thou propitious, O Lord, to thy people, and mercifully receive their offerings; that being appeased thereby, thou mayest grant us pardon, and bestow upon us what we ask. Through, etc.|
Oh! when will the children of Juda come and experience for themselves the superiority of the Bread of the New Testament over the Manna of the Old? We Gentiles, the last-comers, but who have preceded our elder brethren at the banquet of love—let us sing all the more fervently, in our Communion-Anthem, the divine sweetness of this true Bread of heaven.
As the Postcommunion expresses it, the work of our redemption by Jesus our Lord, is confirmed and grows within us, as often as we assist at these sacred Mysteries. The Church prays that her children may be blessed with the grace of this fruitful frequency, wherewith we are present at these Mysteries of salvation.
|Sumptis, Domine, cœlestibus sacramentis, ad redemptionis æternæ, quæsumus, proficiamus augmentum. Per Dominum.||May these heavenly mysteries, O Lord, which we have received, advance our eternal redemption. Through, etc.|