In the Western Church, this Sunday is called that of the two masters, because of the Gospel which is read upon it.
The Greeks give it the name of the Sunday of the Invited to the Marriage-feast, or the fourteenth of Saint Matthew, unless the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross happen to fall during the ensuing week. In this latter case, this and the following Sundays are called of the Exaltation, and take for their Gospels the first from St. John, the second from St. Mark. After this, follow the Sundays called of Saint Luke, which go on till Lent, in the manner already described for Saint Matthew.
Behold, O God, our protector! and look on the face of thy Christ! Thus begins the Church, as the advances towards the Altar, whereon the holy Sacrifice is going to be offered up. The Church is the Bride of the Man-God; she is, as the Apostle says, his glory; but the Spouse, according to the same Saint Paul, is both the image and the glory of God, and the head of his Bride. In all truth, then, and with full confidence that she will be graciously heard, the Church, in presenting her petitions to the Most High, begs of him to look on the face of his Christ, who is also hers.
The remembrance of the future glories which fill the Church with gladness, and the dignity of the divine Union, which, even in this present life, makes her truly Bride—do not prevent her from always feeling the need she has of help from on high. Were she to be deprived one single moment of God’s assistance, she would see her children, through their innate human frailty, hurrying into the abyss of vice, such as the Apostle describes in today’s Epistle. Let us join with our Mother, in her Collect, and beseech God, that he will grant us that uninterrupted, that constant, mercy, which is absolutely necessary for us.
|Custodi, Domine, quæsumus, Ecclesiam tuam propitiatione perpetua: et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas, tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxiis, et ad salutaria dirigatur. Per Dominum.||Persevere, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy Church by thy constant mercy; and whereas, without thee, human mortality fails, may it, by thine aid, be ever delivered from what things are hurtful, and be directed towards such as are salutary. Through, etc.|
The Bride who came from the top of Sanir and Hermon that she might be crowned knows not the servitude of Sinaï; still less is she under the slavery of the senses. On the mountain, where her tent is fixed forever, her Spouse has broken the fetters of the jewish law, and that more galling chain which tied all people down—the web of sin that covered all nations of the earth. She, the Bride, is queen—her sons are kings; the milk whereon she feeds them infuses liberty within them. Filled with the Holy Spirit, who is their glory and their strength, they have the Lord of Hosts looking on them, as they bravely fight battles such as Princes should engage in. Satan too has beheld their glorious struggles, and his kingdom has been shaken to its foundations. Two cities now divide the world between them, and the Holy City, made up of vanquishers over the devil, the world, and the flesh, is full of admiration and joy at seeing that the noblest of the nations flock to her. The law which reigns supreme within her walls is love; for the Holy Spirit, who rules her happy citizens, takes them far beyond the injunctions or prohibitions of any law. Together with Charity, there spring up Joy, Peace, and those other Fruits here enumerated in the Epistle; they grow spontaneously from a soil which is saturated with the glad waters of a Stream which is no other than the Sanctifying Spirit, who inundates the City of God. We are not astonished at this new Sion’s being loved by the Lord above all the tabernacles of Jacob; beautiful as those once were. Now that the Blessing has taken on earth the place once held by the Law, the Servants of God have been turned into Children, Sons and Daughters. Even while living in the flesh, they bear evidence of their heavenly origin, by going on from virtue unto virtue. Though sojourning in this vale of tears, they are ever on the ascent, approaching gradually nigher to the high summits of holiness: they reflect in their lives the perfection of their heavenly Father who, surrounded as he thus is in Sion by his noble family, is seen to be, in all truth, the God of gods.
Flesh and blood have had no share in their divine birth; flesh and blood have no hand in their regenerated life. Their first birth being in the flesh, they were flesh, and did the works of death and ignominy mentioned in the Epistle, showing at every turn that they were from slime of earth; but, born of the Spirit, they are spirit, and do the works of the Spirit, in spite of the flesh which is always part of their being. For by giving them of his own life, the Spirit has emancipated them, by the power of love, from the tyranny of sin which held dominion over their members; and having been grafted on Christ, they bring forth fruit unto God.
Man, therefore, who was once a slave to concupiscence, has regained on the cross of Christ that equilibrium of his existence which is true liberty. The supremacy, which the soul had forfeited, in punishment for her revolt against God has been restored to her by the laver of the water of baptism, and now that she is once more queen, it is but just that she chastise the slave, who so long lorded it over her, his rightful sovereign. Man owes nothing to the flesh, especially after the miseries it has brought upon him; but further than this, God too has been insulted by the sensual abominations committed in his sacred presence; and he, too, demands atonement. For this purpose, her mercifully takes man, now that he is enfranchises, and confides to him the task of sharin gwith his divine Majesty, in taking revenge on their common enemy and usurper. Then again, this mortifying the flesh and keeping it in subjection is a necessary means for retaining the good position already obtained. It is true that the rebel has been made incapable of damaging those who are in Christ Jesus, and who walk not according to the flesh and its vile suggestions; but it is equally true that the rebel is rebel still, and is ever watching opportunities for assailing the spirit. If there be exceptions, they are exceedingly rare. The rule of the flesh is to attack the spirit all through life, and try to make it yield. If one were an Antony in the desert, the flesh would be fierce in its assaults even there. If the Saint were a Paul, just flesh from the third heaven of his sublime revelations, the flesh would have impudence enough to buffet even him. So that, had we no past sins to atone for, the commonest prudence would urge us to take severe measures of precaution against an enemy who is so fearfully untiring in his hatred of us, and what is worse, lives always in our own home. That St. Paul, of whom we were just speaking, says of himself: I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps … I should become reprobate!
Penance and Mortification differ in this: that, Penance is a debt of justice, incumbent on the sinner; Mortification is a duty commanded by prudence; which duty becomes that of every Christian who is not foolish enough to pretend to be out of the reach of concupiscence. Is there any one living who could honestly say that he has fully acquitted himself of these two duties: that he has satisfied the claims of God’s justice? and that he has stifled every germ of his evil passions? All spiritual masters, without exception, teach that no man who is desirous either for perfection or salvation should limit himself to the rules of simple Temperence, that cardinal virtue which forbids excess in pleasures, be they of one kind or another. This, they tell us, is not enough; and that the Christian, taking up another virtue, namely Fortitude, must, from time to time, refuse himself even lawful gratifications; must impose privations on himself which are not otherwise of obligation; must even inflict punishment on himself in the manner and measure permitted him by a discreet director. Amidst the thousands of holy writers who treat on this point of asceticism, let us listen to the amiable and gentle St. Francis of Sales: “If,” says he in his Introduction to a Devout Life, “If you can bear fasting, you would do well to fast on certain days, beyond those fasts which the Church commands us to observe … even when one does not fast much, yet does the enemy fear us all the more, when he knows that we know how to impose a fast on ourselves. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were the days whereon the Christians of former times most practices abstinence. Therefore, do you choose out of these for your fasts, as far as your devotion and the discretion of your director will counsel you to do … The discipline, when taken with moderation, possesses a marvelous power for awakening the desire for devotion. The hair-shirt is efficacious in reducing the body to subjection … on days which are especially devoted to penance, one may wear it, the advice of a discreet Confessor having been previously taken.” Thus speaks the learned Doctor of the Church, the saintly Bishop of Geneva, whose sweet prudence is almost proverbial; and they to whom he addresses these instructions are persons living in the world. In the world, quite as much as in the cloister, the Christian Life, if seriously taken up, imperatively requires this incessant war of the spirit against the flesh. Let that war cease, and the flesh speedily usurps the sway and reduces the soul to a state of torpor, by either seizing her very first attempts at virtue and chilling them into apathy, or by plunging her, at a single throw, deep into the filth of sin.
Neither is it to be feared that affability in the Christian’s social intercourse will be in any way impaired by this energy of self-mortification. That virtue which is based on such forgetfulness of oneself as to make him love discomfort and suffering for God’s sale, does not render such a man one whit less pleasing in company, nor rob the friendly circle he frequents of one single charm. But will it not interfere somewhat with an article which the world is very jealous about? No: when Dress is what every christian reserve would have it be—in other and plainer words, when it is the love of Jesus that regulates the arrangements—there is no toilet where the jewels of penance may not find their place without in the least intruding with those of the world. The day of judgment will give a strange lesson to those many good-for-nothing and cowardly Christians who feel sure that every one of their acquaintance is as fond of easy-going softness as they themselves are! Then will be revealed to them the pious schemes of penance, which christian love of the Cross suggested, as means for crucifying their flesh even amidst pleasures, and to those very persons, who were the most admired in the worldling’s earthly paradise of wild saloons.
And ought it not to be thus? ought not the Cross to be most dear to men? Yes, unless we hold that Christianity and divine love have entirely disappeared from this world. How is it possible to love Jesus, the Man of sorrows, and not love his sufferings? Can we say that we are walking in his footsteps if we are not on the road to Calvary? If any man will come after me, says this Jesus, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me! And the Church, who is one with her divine Spouse—the Church who completes Him in all things and therefore continues through all ages his life of expiation and atonement, puts on her children the sublime task, which the Apostle thus expresses: I fill up those things, that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, by suffering in my flesh for his body, which is the Church.
Sublime task indeed! filial, as far as the Church is concerned, but divine also, and deifying, if we consider the union it produces between the Word and the Soul: he, the Word, gives to the soul what he has not given to the Angels; that is, he invites her to a share of that Chalice, which the Eternal Father reserved to Jesus’ sacred Humanity. Here we have the intimacy of the Bride—the one same Cup for the Two, and it unites their two lives into one. It is a Cup of sorrow’s holy inebriation; they both drink it with avidity; and that avidity gives such vehemence to their union, that the creature at times leaves her ecstacy all stigmatized in soul, yea, it may be in her body too, with the Wounds of her Crucified Lord. But whether our Lord communicate or not, either invisibly or visibly, the stigmata of his love to the soul that is devoted to Him—there is always, under one form or other, the royal seal, which gives the surest sign of authenticity to the contract of divine union here below; that seal is suffering. Many—who on hearing or reading the favors gratuitously granted to certain saintly souls, are excited to a feeling of holy envy—would shrink back with dismay if they were told of the trials they had to go through before gaining such mystic ascensions. Even when the trials of purification (of which we were speaking on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost) are all over, the place of meeting is invariably that which the inspired Canticle calls the Mount of myrrh, which is but another name for suffering. Myrrh is the first fragrant herb culled by the divine Word in the mystic garden—nay, it is the only one he expressly mentions. Myrrh distills from the Bride’s hands, and her fingers are full of it; her Spouse is the bouquet she clasps to her heart, but that bouquet is one of Myrrh; and his lips are as lilies dropping choice Myrrh.
Of course, we are too miserable ever to aspire to be raised up by the Holy Spirit to those heights of the mystic life, where divine union produces such marvelous results as those we have already mentioned; but let us remember that neither the intensity nor the merit of love, no, not even the reality of effective Union, depend on those exterior manifestations. It should suffice to make us love, and even go in quest of suffering, to remember how faith teaches us that it was life-long with Him who wishes, and infinitely deserves, to be the one object of our thoughts and affections. We are members of a Head who was crowned with thorns; can we pretend to have nothing but pleasures and flowers? Let us not forget that all the Saints must, when in heaven, be likenesses of the new Adam; and that the Eternal Fathers admits no one into his House who is not comformable to the image of his Son.
In the Gradual, the Church sings the happy confidence she has put in her divine Spouse. The Alleluia-Verse invites us to rejoice as she, our Mother, does in God our Savior.
The supernatural life can never be healthy in men’s souls unless it triumph over the three enemies, which St. John calls concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life. As to the first of these, our Epistle has been instructing us upon the obstacle it raises against the action of the Holy Spirit, and on the means we are to adopt for surmounting it. Pride of life is overcome by Humility, on which the Church has several times spoken to us during the previous Sundays. The Gospel for today is the condemnation of the concupiscence of the eyes, that is, attachment to the goods of this world, which of themselves are but goods in name and appearance.
No man, says our Lord, can serve two masters; and these two Masters are God and Mammon; Mammon means riches. Richars are not, of their own nature, bad. When lawfully acquired and used agreeably to the designs of God, Riches help the possessor to gain true goods for his soul; he stores up for himself, in the kingdom of his eternal home, treasures which neither thieves nor rust can reach. Ever since the Incarnation, wherein the divine Word espoused Poverty to himself, it is the Poor that are heaven’s nobility; and yet the mission of the rich man is a grand one. He is permitted to be rich, in order that he may be God’s minister to make all the several portions of material creation turn to their Creator’s glory. He graciously vouchsafes to entrust into his hands the feeding and supporting the dearest of his children—that is, the Poor—that is, the indigent and suffering members of his Christ. He calls them to uphold the interests of his Church and be the promoter of works connected with the salvation of men. He confides to him the keeping up the beauty of his temples. Happy that man, and worthy of all praise who thus directly brings back to the glory of their maker the fruits of the earth, and the precious metals she yields from her bosom! Let not such a man fear: it is not of him that Jesus speaks those anathemas uttered so frequently by him against the rich ones of this world. He has but one Master—the Father who is in heaven, whose steward he humbly and gladly acknowledges himself to be. Mammon does not domineer over him; on the contrary he makes her his servant, and obliges her to minister to his zeal in all good works. The solicitude he takes in spending his wealth in acts of justice and charity is not that which our Gospel here blames; for in all such solicitude, he is but following our Lord’s precept—of seeking first the kingdom of God; and the riches which pass through his hands in the furtherance of good works do not distract his thoughts from that heaven where his heart is, because his true treasure is there.
It is quite otherwise when riches, instead of being regarded as a simple means, become the very end of a man’s existence, and that to such an extent as to make him neglect, yea, and sometimes forget, his last end. The ways of every covetous man, says the Scripture, destroy the souls of the possessors. The Apostle explains this by saying that the love of money drives a man into temptation and the snares of the devil, by the countless unprofitable and hurtful desires it excites within him; it drowns men in destruction and perdition, making then even barter away their faith. And yet the more an avaricious man gets, the less he spends. To nurse his treasure, to gaze upon it, to be thinking of it all day and night long, when obliged to go from home—that is what he lives for; and his money becomes, at last, his idol. Yes, Mammon is not merely his master, whose commands are obeyed before all others, but it is his god, before which he sacrifices friends, relatives, country, and himself, for he devotes and, as it is said in Ecclesiasticus, throws his whole soul and body away to his idol. Let us not be astonished at our Gospel declaring that God and Mammon are irreconcilable enemies; for who was it but Mammon that had our Lord Jesus sacrificed on its hateful altar for thirty pieces of silver? Of all the devils in hell, is there one whose hideous guilt is deeper than the fallen angel who prompted Judas to sell the Son of God to his executioners? It is the avaricious who alone can boast of deicide! The vile love of money, which the Apostle defines as the root of all evils, can lay claim to having produced the greatest crime that was ever perpetrated!
But without going into such crimes as made the authors of the inspired books of even the Old Testament say that nothing is more wicked than the covetous man … there is not a more wicked thing, than to love money—it is easy to allow oneself to be led, as regards this world’s goods, into an excessive solicitude, that is, into one which prudence condemns. What ineffable truth and clearness are there not in the reasoning of our Jesus, as put before us in today’s Gospel! To attempt to add any human words to these of His would be an insult offered to both their charm and their energy. The exquisitely beautiful comparisons of the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field, by which our divine Master shows how such solicitude is the very opposite of the confidence we should have in our heavenly Father—are beyond all comment. We may just add that solicitude of this sort would prove the existence of an attachment to earthly things, which is incompatible with anything approaching the christian perfection, or to the desire of making progress in the paths of divine Union. The Unitive Way is possible in every state of life; only there must be one consideration observed, and that is, the soul must be detached from every tie that could keep her from going to God. The Religious breaks these ties by his three vows, which are in direct opposition to the triple concupiscence of fallen nature; the layman who, though he is living in the world, desires to be what his Creator would have him be, must without the aid of the real separation which the Religious makes, be quite as completely detached from his own will, and sensuality, and riches, in order that all his intentions and aspirations may be fixed on the eternal home, where his one infinite loved Treasure is. If he does not bring himself, even in the midst of his riches, to be as poor in spirit as the Religious is in deed, his progress will be checked at the very first step he takes in the contemplative life; and if he allow the obstacle to block up the way, he must give up all idea of rising, in light and love, above the lowly paths of the majority of Christians.
Like the other portions of today’s Liturgy, the Offertory is all confidence and joy. The Prince of the heavenly hosts, the Archangel St. Michael—whose Feast is at hand, and whom the Church always invokes in the blessing of the incense at this part of the Mass—is he not ever ready to protect and watch over those who fear the Lord?
Let us, in the Secret, pray that the saving host, offered on the Altar, may by its virture purify our soul and draw the divine power to our assistance.
|Concede nobis, Domine, quæsumus: ut hæc hostia salutaris et nostrorum fiat purgatio delictorum, et tuæ propitiatio potestatis. Per Dominum.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that this saving host may both cleanse us from our sins and render thy majesty propitious to us. Through, etc.|
The Communion-Anthem, taken from the Gospel, which now is assigned to this Sunday, was not the one primitively used; the ancient liturgists make no mention of it in its present position, nor is it to be found there in any of the manuscripts consulted by Blessed Thomasi, when he was preparing the publication of his Antiphonary. The composition of this and some other Masses shows some few variations of this kind; but these are details which, whatever may be their interest in other respects, savor too much of erudition, and the nature of this Work necessarily excludes them.
An ever-growing love of purity, heaven’s protection, and final perseverance—these are the precious fruits of our frequent assistance at these sacred Mysteries. Let us secure them by joining our Mother in her Postcommunion prayer.
|Purificent semper etmuniant tua sacramenta nos, Deus: et ad perpetuæ ducant salvationis effectum. Per Dominum.||May these thy mysteries, O God, continually purify and strengthen us, and procure us eternal salvation. Through, etc.|