According to Honorius of Autun (Book IV, chapter 93 of Gemma animæ), the Mass of today has reference to the days of Antichrist. The Church, foreseeing the reign of the man of sin, and as though she were actually undergoing the persecution, which is to surpass all others—she takes her Introit of this twenty-second Sunday from the Psalm De profundis.
If, unitedly with this prophetic sense, we would apply these words practically to our own personal miseries, we must remember the Gospel we had eight days ago, and which, formerly, was the one appointed for the present Sunday. Each one of us will recognize himself in the person of the insolvent debtor, who has nothing to trust to but his master’s goodness; and in our deep humiliation, we shall exclaim, If thou, O Lord, mark iniquities, who shall endure it?
We have just been rousing our confidence, by singing, that with God, there is merciful forgiveness. It is He himself who gives that loving unction to the prayers of the Church, which proves that he wishes to grant them. But we shall not be thus graciously heard, as she is, unless, like her, we ask with faith, that is to say, conformably with the teachings of the Gospel. To ask with faith is to forgive our fellow creatures their trespasses against us; on that condition we may confidently beseech our common Lord and Master to forgive us.
Deus, refugium nostrum, et virtus: adeato piis Ecclesiæ tuæ precibus, auctor ipse pietatis, et præsta: ut quod fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur. Per Dominum.
O God, our refuge and strength! give ear to the holy prayers of thy Church, O thou, the author of holiness; and grant that what we ask with faith, we may effectually obtain. Through, etc.
St. Paul, in the Church’s name, again invites our attention to the near approach of the Last Day, in the Epistle. But what, on the previous Sunday, he called the evil day, he now, in the short passage taken from his Epistle to the Philippians, which has just been read to us, calls, and twice over, the day of Christ Jesus. The Epistle to the Philippians is full of loving confidence; its tone is decidedly one of joy; and yet it plainly shows us that persecution was raging against the Church, and that the old enemy was making capital of the storm, to stir up evil passions, even amidst the very flock of Christ. The Apostle is in chains; the envy and treachery of false brethren intensify his sufferings; still, joy predominates in his heart over everything else, because he is come to that perfection of love, wherein divine charity is enkindled by suffering more even than by the sweetest spiritual caresses. To him, to live is Christ, and to die is gain; he cannot make up his mind which of the two to choose—death, which would give him the bliss of being with his Jesus—or life, which will add to his merits and his labors for the salvation of men. What are all personal considerations to him? His one joy, for both the present and the future is that Christ may be known and glorified, no matter how! As to his hopes and expectations, he cannot be disappointed, for Christ is sure to be glorified in his body by its life and by its death!
Hence, in Paul’s soul, that sublime indifference, which is the climax of the Christian life; it is, of course, a totally different thing from that fatal apathy, to which the false Mystics of the 17th century pretended to reduce the love of man’s heart. What tender affection has not this convert of Damascus for his brethren, once he has reached this point of perfection! God, says he, is my witness, how I long after you all, in the bowels of Jesus Christ! The one ambition which rules and absorbs him is that God, who has begun in them the work, which is good by excellence—the work of Christian perfection (such as we know had been wrought in the Apostle himself) may be continued and perfected in them all, by the day when Christ is to appear in his glory. This is what he prays for—that the wedding garment of those whom he has betrothed to the one Spouse, in other words, that charity may beautify them with all its splendor for the grand Day of the eternal nuptials.
Now, what is the sure means whereby charity is to be perfected in them? It must abound, more and more, in knowledge and in all understanding of salvation, that is, in Faith. It is Faith that constitutes the basis of all supernatural virtue. A restricted, a diminished, Faith could never support a large and high-minded charity. Those men, therefore, are deceiving themselves, whose love for revealed truth does not keep pace with their charity! Such Christianity as that believes as little as it may; it has a nervous dread of new definitions; and out of respect for error, it cleverly and continually narrows the supernatural horizon. Charity, they say, is the queen of virtues; it makes them take everything easily, even lies against Truth; to give the same rights to error as to Truth is, in their estimation, the highest point of Christian civilization grounded on love! They quite forget that the first object of charity being God, who is substantial Truth, he has no greater enemy than a life; they cannot understand how it is that a Christian does not do a work of love by putting on the same footing the Object beloved and His mortal enemy!
The Apostles had very different ideas: in order to make charity grow in the world, they gave it a rich sowing of truth. Every new ray of Light they put into their disciples’ hearts was an intensifying of their love; and these disciples, having by Baptism become themselves light, they were most determined to have nothing to do with darkness. In those days, to deny the truth was the greatest of crimes; to expose themselves, by a want of vigilance, to infringe on the rights of truth, even in the slightest degree, was the height of imprudence. When Christianity first shone upon mankind, it found error supreme mistress of the world; having, then, to deal with a universe that was rooted in death, Christianity adopted no other plan for giving it salvation than that of making the Light as bright as it could be; its only policy was to proclaim the power which truth alone has for saving man, and to assert its exclusive right to reign over this world. The triumph of the Gospel was the result; it came after three centuries of struggle; a struggle, intense and violent, on the side of darkness which declared itself to be the supreme and was resolved to keep so; but a struggle most patient and glorious on the side of the Christians, the torrents of whose blood did but add fresh joy to the brave army, for it became the strongest possible foundation of the united Kingdom of Love and Truth.
But now, with the connivance of those whose Baptism made them too be Children of Light—error has regained its pretended Rights; as a natural consequence, the charity of an immense number has grown cold in proportion; darkness is again thickening over the world, as though it were in the chill of its last agony. The children of light, who would live up to their dignity, must behave exactly as did the early Christians. They must not fear, nor be troubled; but, like their forefathers and the Apostles, they must be proud to suffer for Jesus’ sake, and prize the word of life as quite the dearest thing they possess; for they are convinced that, so long as truth is kept up in the world, so long is there hope for it. As their only care is to make their manner of life worthy of the Gospel of Christ, they go on, with all the simplicity of children of God, faithfully fulfilling the duties of their state of life, in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, as stars of the firmament do in the night. “The stars shine in the night,” says St. John Chrysostom, “they glitter in the dark; so far from growing dim amidst the gloom that surrounds them, they seem all the more brilliant. So will it be with thee, if thou art virtuous amidst the wicked; thy light will shine so much the clearer.” “As the stars,” says St. Augustine, “keep on their course in the track marked out for them by God, and grow not tired of sending forth their light in the midst of darkness, neither heed they the calamities which may be happening on earth—so should do those holy ones whose conversation is truly in heaven; they should pay no more notice as to what is said or done against them than the stars do.”
The Gradual hymns the praise of the sweet and strong unity, maintained in the Church, even to the end; she has done this by the charity in which the Epistle urged us to be making fresh progress, and which the ancient Gospel of this same Sunday put before us as the one means for funding a favorable sentence passed on us at the Day of Judgment.
The getting truths to be diminished is, evidently, to be a leading peril of the latter times, for during these weeks which represent the last days of the world, the Church is continually urging us to a sound and solid understanding of truth, as though she considered that to be the great preservative for her children. Last Sunday, she gave them, as defensive armor, the shield of faith and, as an offensive weapon, the word of God. On the previous Sunday, it was circumspection of mind and intelligence that she recommended to them, with a view to their preserving, during the approaching evil days, the holiness which is founded on truth, for as she told them the previous week, their riches in all knowledge are of paramount necessity. Today, in the Epistle, she implored of them to be ever progressing in knowledge and all understanding, as being the essential means for abounding in charity, and for having the work of their sanctification perfected for the day of Christ Jesus. The Gospel comes with an appropriate finish to these instructions given us by the Apostle: it relates an event in our Lord’s life which stamps those counsels with the weightiest possible authority—the authority of the example of Him who is our divine Model. He gives his disciples the example they should follow when, like himself, they have snares laid by the world for their destruction.
It was the last day of Jesus’ public teaching; it was almost the eve of his departure from this earth. His enemies had failed in every attempt hitherto made to ensnare him; this last plot was to be unusually deep laid. The Pharisees, who refused to recognize Cæsar’s authority, and denied his claim to tribute, joined issue with their adversaries, the partisans of Herod and Rome, to propose this insidious question to Jesus: Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not? If our Lord’s answer was negative, he incurred the displeasure of the government; if he took the affirmative side, he would lose the estimation of the people. With his divine prudence, he disconcerted their plans. The two parties, so strangely made friends by partnership in one common intrigue, heard the magnificent answer, which was divine enough to make even Pharisees and Herodians one in the Truth; but Truth was not what they were in search of, so they both skulked back again into their old party squabbles. The league formed against our Jesus was broken; the effort made by error recoiled on its own self, as must ever be the case; and the answer it had elicited passed from the lips of our Incarnate Lord to those of his Bride, the Church, who would be ever repeating it to this world of ours, for it contains the first principle of all governments on earth.
Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s; it was the dictum most dear to the Apostles. If they boldly asserted that we must obey God rather than men, they explained the whole truth, and added: Let every soul be subject to the higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. Wherefore, be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’s sake. For, therefore, also ye pay tribute; for they are the ministers of God serving unto this purpose.
The will of God!—there is the origin, there is the real greatness of all authority amongst men! Of himself, man has no right to command his fellow man. The number, however imposing it may be, makes no difference with this powerlessness of men over my conscience; for whether they be one, or five hundred, I, by nature, am equal to each one among them; and by adding the number of their so-called rights over me, they are only adding to the number of nothingness. But God, wishing that men should live one with the other, has thereby wished that there exist amongst them a power which should rule over the rest; that is, should direct the thousands or millions of different wills to the unity of one social end. God leaves to circumstances, though it is his providence that regulates those circumstances—he leaves to men themselves, at the beginning of any mere human society, a great latitude as to the choice of the form under which is to be exercised both the civil power itself and the mode of its transmission. But once regularly invested with the power, its depositories, its possessors, are responsible to God alone, as far, that is, as the legitimate exercise of their authority goes, because it is from God alone that that power comes to them. It does not come to them from their people, who, not having that power themselves, cannot give it to another. So long as those rulers comply with the compact, or do not turn to the ruin of their people the power they received for its well-being—so long their right to the obedience of their subjects is the right of God himself—whether they exercise their authority in exacting the subsidies needed for government; or in passing laws which, for the general good of the people, restrain the liberty otherwise theirs by natural right; or again, by bidding their soldiers defend their country at the risk of life. In all such cases, it is God himself that commands and insists on being obeyed: in this world, he puts the sword into the hands of representatives that they may punish the disobedient; and in the next, he himself will eternally punish them, unless they have made amends.
How great, then, is not the dignity of human Law! It makes the legislator a representative of God, and at the same time, spares the subject the humiliation of feeling himself debased before a fellow man! But in order that the law oblige, that is, be truly a law, it is evident that it must be, first and foremost, conformable to the commands and the prohibitions of that God whose will alone can give it a sacred character, by making it enter into the domain of man’s conscience. It is for this reason that there cannot be a law against God or his Christ or his Church. When God is not with him who governs, the power he exercises is nothing better than brute force. The sovereign, or the parliament, that pretends to govern a country in opposition to the laws of God has no right to aught but revolt and contempt from every upright man; to give the sacred name of law to tyrannical enactments of that kind is a profanation, unworthy not only of Christian, but of every man who is not a slave.
The Offertory-Anthem, as lso the Verses which used to be joined to it, refers, like the Introit, to the period of the last persecution. The words are taken from the prayer addressed to God by Esther, when about to enter into the presence of Assuerus, that she might plead with him against Aman, who is a figure of Antichrist. Esther is a type of the Church; and we could not better show the spirit in which we ought to sing our Offertory than by quoting the inspired words which preface this sublime prayer. Queen Esther, fearing the danger that was at hand, had recourse to the Lord. And when she had laid away her royal apparel, she put on garments suitable for weeping and mourning; instead of divers previous ointments, she covered her head with ashes and filth, and she humbled her body with fasts: and all the places, in which before she was accustomed to rejoice, she filled with her torn hair! And she prayed to the Lord the God of Israel, saying: O my Lord! who alone art our King, help me a desolate woman, and who have no other helper but thee!
The surest guarantee a christian can have against adversity is freedom from sin. It is sin that stirs up the anger of God and cries upon him for vengeance. Let us unite in the following prayer of the Church.
Da, misericors Deus: ut hæc salutaris oblatio, et a propriis nos reatibus indesinenter expediat, et ab omnibus tueatur adversis. Per Dominum.
Grant, O merciful God, that this sacrifice of salvation may, constantly, both free us from our sins, and protect us from all adversity. Through, etc.
The Communion-Anthem shows us with what perseverance and earnestness the Church prays to her divine Lord. We must imitate her.
While offering the sacred mysteries in memory of our Jesus, as he commanded us to do, we must not forget that these same are also our refuge in all our miseries. It would be presumption, or folly, to neglect to pray, that they may thus protect us. The Church, here again, is our model in utilizing these most powerful of all means for help.
Sumpsimus, Domine, sacri dons mysterii, humiliter deprecantes: ut quæ in tui commemorationem nos facere præcepisti, in nostræ proficiant infirmitatis auxilium. Qui vivis.
Having received, O Lord, the sacred mysteries, we humbly beseech thee, that what thou hast commanded us to do in remembrance of thee, may be a help to us in our weakness. Who livest, etc.