Artikel: Necessity of Hearing the Word of God
(Transcribed by the sermon of Fr. Hunolt, ninth sermon of the first book.)
To hear the Word of God often in sermons is necessary. 1st. For the salvation of the majority of people. 2d. It is very useful for the Balvation of all. Preached on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
"Erat quotidie docens in templo." [Luke 19:47]
"He was teaching daily in the temple."
Christ taught daily in the temple at Jerusalem, and yet the Jews remained, as before, hardened in wickedness, so that when the Saviour looked on the city, His eyes overflowed and He wept bitterly: ”If thou hadst only known on this day,” when my teaching and instruction are not wanting to thee! Oh, if Christ, the Preacher who holds the hearts and minds of all in His hands, could do no more than that with His teaching, how can I and other preachers complain that our words often produce so little fruit in the hearts of our hearers? Still it is a lamentable thing! Every Sunday and holyday we cry out, or rather, Christ does so through us; how many Christians lead better lives on that account? We have now to see the cause of that, my dear brethren. Many do not come to the sermons; many do not come as they ought; others do not listen as they ought; others do not go away from it as they ought. These four faults shall furnish matter for the next four sermons, or instructions. And it is on this matter that the fruit of all other sermons must depend; if we do not understand and practise what it teaches, no other sermon will be of any use to souls. To-day I shall commence with those who do not come to sermons.
Plan of Discourse.
To hear the Word of God often in sermons is necessaryfor the salvation of the majority ofpeople. That will be the first part. It is very useful for the salvation ofall. Such will be the second part.
Oh, Holy Ghost! Thou alone shouldst speak by the mouths of preachers and move their hearers. We beg of Thee, through Mary, Thy Virginal Spouse, and through the intercession of the holy angels, as dispensers of Thy graces, excite in us the necessary fervor, so that we may in future hear Thy divine Word with great desire.
He who is ignorant of something that he is bound to know, is under the necessity of learning and of being taught. In the ordinary course of nature, no one is born learned. We all bring ignorance, as an effect of original sin, with us into the world; it is cradled with us and accompanies us for many years. Parents know by experience what trouble it costs them to bring up their children, until the latter are able to take care of themselves. For this reason there are universities and schools established in towns to give instruction in all kinds of arts and sciences. In one place, young people are taught Latin and other foreign languages; in another, oratory; here they can learn worldly wisdom; there, theology; here they are instructed in law; there, in fencing, dancing, singing, and music; and there is no one who would venture to enter on a profession, unless he has first been diligent in his at tendance at the schools, and gone through the long and wearisome task of learning all that is necessary.
Now if learning and instruction are necessary for natural sciences and vain arts, how much more are they not necessary for the art of living and dying well, and in a Christian and holy manner? Are the former, perhaps, more important than the latter? Asks St. Jerome: ”We learn all other arts with the help of a teacher; is this of such little value that no teacher is required for it?” And yet, this is the art of arts, the most important business that can engage our attention, on which our immortal soul and its eternal happiness depends; nay, it is the only business that must of necessity occupy us, the only art that we must be thoroughly acquainted with. I may not be able to speak Latin or other foreign languages, but I can go to Heaven, all the same, with my native tongue; I could even go there if I were dumb and unable to speak. I have not practised dancing or fencing, but that will not hinder my eternal happiness; there is neither dancing nor fencing in Heaven. I may have no knowledge of law, but I can find my way to Heaven. But, if I am ignorant of the one necessary science, that of leading a holy life, then all the others will not help me to save my soul. If I know and practise that science, no matter how inexperienced I am in all the others, then I am learned enough for the end of my creation.
But, alas! how many there are who are utterly ignorant of this holy science. The greater number of Christians, even those whom the world looks upon as wise, skilful, and learned, are only beginners in the knowledge of what concerns their soul and their eternal happiness. They know very well how to live before the world, according to their station and position, but they are very ignorant as to how they are to live for Heaven; they profess, in deed, to follow the law of the Gospel, but they know very little of its different obligations, and much less as to how they themselves should live as Christians; they can instruct others in worldly business, but they are unacquainted with the very first rules and principles of the science of salvation; for temporal matters they have a hundred eyes, for spiritual, not one that they can see clearly with. Therefore, I have reason to compare such people to monomaniacs, who are mad only in a certain thing, while they can talk for half a day on different subjects, without giving any sign of insanity; but as soon as that point is touched upon which is the cause and origin of their madness, then it is easy to see that they are not consistent and that they have not the full use of reason. See that man, how prudent he is in the management of his domestic affairs, how careful in all he undertakes to keep himself and his family decently; how far-seeing and skilful he is in buying, selling, and keeping accounts; how quick he is in foreseeing dangers and losses, ami how carefully he avoids them; how diligent and attentive he is to make use of every opportunity of gain that offers; how well he knows how to deal with people, and to treat them according to their rank and position. You wonder at his prudency, his intelligence, his cleverness, his skill. But ask the same man about something that regards the future life, his soul, his salvation, or his God; ask him what is the meaning of contempt for the world, self-denial, mortification of the flesh, poverty of spirit, the necessity of humility, continual repentance, love of the cross, patience under contradictions, union with God, contentment with divine Providence, purity of intention in all his actions, the love of his neighbor and of his enemies, hunger and thirst for justice. Ask him what does he know and think of God, whose infinite majesty is insulted by the least sin; the strictness of His justice, which punishes the sin of a moment by an eternity of fire; the irreparable loss caused by sin; the flight of dangerous occasions, so necessary to avoid sin; the sincerity of the sorrow that is necessary for the forgiveness of sin; the uncertainty of the hour of death, which will put an end to everything; the sanctity of the commandments of God, and how he must observe them according to his state in life; the exceeding great reward promised to the just; the happiness of the servants of God who love Him above all things; and many other such things which every Christian ought to know and to observe. Oh, what an idiot you will find him to be in all these things ! He will speak and judge of them as the blind man does of color, or as the monomaniac of his particular madness; these things are unknown to him, he does not understand them. Consider his mode of life, and compare it with the commandments and rules of our faith, and you will find one mistake after another, one error after another, one fall and one sin after another; as if all the things of the next life were nothing to him. And no wonder that he knows so little of them! How could it be otherwise? He never learned that science; he has not imbibed it with his mother's milk.
On the contrary, it is the lamentable condition of us all, inherited from original sin, that our understanding is darkened and blinded in the things that concern God, and our soul and its salvation; and it would remain so, if it were not enlightened supernaturally: so that, according to the Apostle, we cannot even think anything good by ourselves. [2 Cor. 3:3] If he has at one time received this light, if he has known something, nay, even all about it, he has lost it all again; for it is another of our deplorable miseries in this matter, that there is nothing so easily forgotten as the art and science of divine and heavenly things, unless one keens them always before his mind, and constantly studies and practises them. Even if he still preserves some knowledge and remembrance of them, they are kept out of his mind, his attention is distracted from them by a thousand thoughts, undertakings, and cares. If he does think of them, if his understanding is convinced of his obligation to regulate his life according to the sanctity of the Christian Law, his will still remains sluggish and inactive. And who can do all these things? he asks himself. Does he take counsel with his own nature and disposition? But that is corrupt and will lead him in quite a contrary direction. Does he ask and follow the advice of one like himself? Then it is one blind man leading another. Does he look to the customs and usages of the world for instruction? Alas! its false maxims are utterly opposed to Christ, and they are consequently lying and treacherous.
So that a man of this kind, of which there are countless individuals, if he wishes to attain eternal happiness, must go to some school in which he can learn how to live piously, or will at least be induced to do so. And what sort of a school is that? One to which the Catholic Church calls her children on appointed days, and in which good Christians assemble to hear sermons and exhortations. They are public schools, and may be attended by all, great and small, rich and poor, master and servant, learned and ignorant, clergy and laity, men and women, without distinction. They are holy schools, in which only holy things, and those that lead to holiness are treated of, namely, how we are to think, act, and labor as Christians. They are safe and certain schools, for the matter treated of in them is founded on the Word of God; the teacher who gives the instruction is the Eternal Wisdom, the infallible God Himself. If you look only at the person who stands in the pulpit and speaks, you see only a poor mortal, who is subject to the same faults and mistakes as yourselves; who, like you, is inclined to evil, who can sin like you, and who is, sometimes, even a more impious and wicked sinner than all of you together; and who, therefore, has himself need of sermons, exhortations, and warnings. But, do not for get the office he is entrusted with; in that, you will find another teacher who cannot betray you. The Apostle says, in the name of all Christians preachers: ”For Christ, therefore, we are am bassadors. God, as it were, exhorting by us.” [2 Cor. V 20]. It is God who makes use of our tongues to frighten you away from sin, to exhort you to good, and to explain to you His will. The Lord Himself says to them: ”He who heareth you, heareth Me.” ”For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaketh in you.”
God could certainly instruct our ignorant understanding in good, He could spur on our sluggish will in His own Person, as He spoke in the Old Law to His prophets; but, according to the present and ordinary arrangement of His Providence, He wills that men should be taught and instructed by men, and not other wise. Thus we see that, although our Saviour appeared to Paul to convert him, yet He sent him to Ananias, who was to teach and instruct him in what he had to do and how he was to live. This means God now makes use of so generally, that St. Augustine says that he would be guilty of rashness who would seek to be enlightened without hearing sermons. Could any one hope to excuse his own ignorance, and to free himself from all the sins he commits against the duties of his state of life; to excuse and exculpate himself from the neglect of so many good works that the Christian Law requires of him, when he seldom or never hears the Word of God preached? You will say that you did not know such a thing was a sin, that you did not think you were bound to perform such and such a good work; but you ought to, and you could have learned it. Why are there so many instructions, exhortations, and sermons on Sundays and holydays in so many churches? Are they not for you, as well as for others? Would the man who has violated some law of his sovereign be excused from punishment because he deliberately absented himself when the law was being published? Would he be freed from all guilt because he says, I knew nothing about it? He should have known of it, he should have inquired; the law was publicly promulgated for all.
It is therefore necessary to hear sermons attentively and frequently, for those who are ignorant of many matters connected with their eternal salvation, and also for those who forget these or who do not think of them, or who cannot consider them with sufficient attention, because they are occupied the whole week with temporal cares. I leave it to yourselves to say, my dear brethren, whether the number of such persons is not great, nay, whether it does not even include the great majority of men of the world? On account of this necessity, the Catholic Church, although she forbids excommunicated persons from hearing Mass, even on Sundays and holydays, prevents no one from hearing sermons. And I am fully convinced that there are some in such a state that it would do them far more good, as far more necessary for them, to hear a sermon, than to hear Mass or receive Holy Communion, and perhaps their sins would be worse and more dangerous if they neglected the former, than if they neglected the latter. Even if there are many who are not in the absolute necessity of hearing sermons, in order to save their souls, yet sermons are of the greatest utility to all, as we shall see in the
The frequent hearing of sermons is very useful for the salvation of all Christians, no matter who they are. It is useful to those who are in the state of sin, and to those who are in the state of grace. As far as sinners are concerned, they are compared in the Holy Scriptures to persons sleeping, according to the exhortation of the Apostle to the Romans: ”It is the hour for us now to rise from sleep.” [Rom. Xiii. 11]. Imagine, my dear brethren, that you see some one buried in a deep sleep; he is wanted in a hurry to attend to some business of importance; the servant goes to his door and knocks gently, thinking that that will be sufficient to awaken his master; but it is not enough. He knocks again, but hears no movement inside, and, at last, he enters the room, draws the bed curtains aside, and lets the light shine on his master's face; but even this does not do. Finally, be calls out once, twice, thrice in his ear, that he must get up at once, there is an important matter to be attended to, and the latter half opens his eyes, turns on his side and falls asleep again. What is to be done now? He must be shaken and pulled about, whether he likes it or not, until he is fully awake. That is a true picture of one who is buried in the sleep of sin, who completely forgets his soul, and thinks of nothing but satisfying his unbridled desires. Sometimes a good thought knocks at his heart, to remind him that he is in a bad state; that the life he has been leading hitherto cannot end well; and yet he will not overcome himself to abandon his wicked ways. The light of the good example of the pious shines in his eyes, but it cannot make them open themselves to the necessity of amendment. His conscience warns him, it calls and cries out to him: What you are doing is not right! It is high time for you to awaken from your sleep and to adopt another mode of life. Hereupon he begins to feel disturbed, to sigh and to moan, but falls back again into his former sleep. Then the God of mercy must go to him, and knock at his heart by the living voice of His preacher, in order to rouse him thoroughly and to exhort him, as the Apostle does Timothy: ”Preach the Word, be instant in season and out of season,” whether it annoys or not, ”reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” [II. Tim. iv. 2]. The preacher knocks, according to divine inspiration. Sometimes he frightens the sinner by the threat of an unhappy death, of a severe judgment, of the eternal fire of hell, unless he repents. Sometimes he promises him an everlasting reward and perfect happiness in Heaven. Sometimes he makes him uneasy by describing the infinite majesty of God, who is offended by sin, and the terrible sentence of the divine justice. Or he encourages him by reminding him of the patience, mercy, and goodness of God, with which He is always prepared to receive the sinner. Sometimes he condemns the malice of past sins, or entices to good by portraying the beauty of virtue, and the peace of mind that a just man enjoys. Sometimes he cries out: ”Be reconciled to God” do penance, or you are lost; restore those ill-gotten goods, leave bad company, give up impurity, avoid the proximate occasion, or you are lost; forgive your enemy, make friends with him with whom you have hitherto lived in hatred and discord, correct that bad habit of swearing and cursing, or you are lost. Such warnings are the shortest and surest way of touching obstinate hearts (as St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom say) whom God seeks out that he may arouse them from the sleep of sin. These are the pointed arrows that strike sinners in a vital place and arouse them to penance. These are the last means that God Him self uses to draw them to Him. For, as He created all things by His Word; as He has redeemed the world by His Incarnate Word; as He sanctifies man by the sacramental words; so he generally converts the sinner by no other means than His Word explained in sermons.
To this source are to be attributed the many wonderful conversions that have taken place at all times. David, enlightened as he was, did not enter into himself, or do penance, until he heard the accusing voice of the Prophet Nathan. Josophat refused to abandon his ill-made alliance, until Jehu upbraided him. Augustine was not converted by the acuteness of his understanding, nor by his daily studies, nor by the stings of conscience, but the truth shone on him through the sermons of St. Ambrose; he was overcome and converted by them. And, my dear brethren, if we could see the most secret thoughts of all men, what surprising changes of disposition might we not mark in them? How often might we not see men going home from a sermon quite different from what they were when they came to it! How many, who thought of nothing so little as of the amendment of their lives, yet, touched by some word or other, feel the influence of some great grace from God and go home full of repentance and determination to change their lives and to live better and more piously in future!
This is not unknown to the crafty tempter, and therefore he tries, in every possible way, to keep those who are under his yoke, from hearing the Word of God, for fear that he might lose the game he has caught in his net. When the time comes for the sermon, he puts all sorts of difficulties in their way, he suggests all sorts of excuses and pretexts and multiplies annoyances, so as to make them hate sermons; or at least he keeps them away from those sermons which would have most effect on them. If by some unlooked-for chance they happen to be present at a sermon, in which the right matter is treated of to stir up their conscience, he often secretly tries to drag them out of the Church immediately after it has commenced. So speaks St. Cyrillus of the traitor Judas who, at the Last Supper, went away during Our Lord's discourse. And do you know why? he asks: ”;so that he might not be induced to abandon his intended wickedness, by hearing the Word of God.” Oh, sinner! whoever you are, do not let your self be deceived and detained by the devil. Do not remain away from sermons, if you do not wish to persevere in that blindness that puts you in danger of eternal darkness. There is no use in looking for the divine light in any other way than that which God has generally established for the conversion of sinners, and that is the hearing His Word explained in sermons.
And you, just! Do you wish to be strengthened and confirmed in justice? then frequent sermons diligently. A white garment, the just, no matter how beautiful and precious it is, can easily be soiled, it can soon lose its splendor and become defiled, unless it is often cleaned; a house, no matter how strong and massive it is, may soon become shaky, if the parts that are injured by wind and weather are not repaired; a fire, no matter how clear it burns, will soon go out, unless you keep it supplied with fuel; a living body, no matter how healthy it is, must have food and nourishment at certain times, or it will soon die. Pious and just souls! oh, what a precious, snow-white garment adorns you, since you are in the state of sanctifying grace! Yet, you sometimes fall, through weakness, negligence, and ignorance, into a thousand faults and imperfections, which, although they do not make this garment black, yet stain it each time with spots that mar its beauty and make it less pleasing in the eyes of God. The Word of God is the water, of which the Wise Man says: ”He will pour forth the words of his wisdom as showers,” [Eccli. 39:9]. by which the soul is cleansed and filled with a greater knowledge of the Supreme Good, and a greater hatred of evil. You are the house and dwelling-place of God, according to the words of the Apostle. But, to how many storms are you not exposed, that is, daily temptations, dangers, and occasions of sin? And if these are not constantly opposed, will not the building soon fall down? The Church, in which the Word of God is explained, is the armory from which you must supply yourselves with weapons, in order to conquer the enemy of your souls and to defend yourselves against every attack. Your souls are in a healthy state; the Word of God is their food and nourishment; St. John Chrysostom says, ”what food is to the body, the Word of God is to the soul.” If you neglect to give your souls this food, they will get wearied in the service of God, will grow cold and will die through want of strength. You seem to be all on fire with the love of God; but no matter how burning this love is, it stands in need of fresh fuel. Where can that be had, if not in sermons? The Lord says : ”Are not my words as a fire?” [Jerem. 23:29]. which enlivens devotion by the continual remembrance of the divine mysteries, and which preserves and increases the impulse of the will to good.
And what should I think of all this, my dear brethren? Should I rejoice or fear, exult or deplore? I have certainly reason for joy, when I think of the wonderful goodness of God to us, who bestows this light, this spiritual food, so plentifully, so frequently, so generously on us, in preference to so many others. But, alas! it is this very thought which makes me fear and tremble for ourselves, since we have such little esteem for this precious grace, and neglect it so frequently. Perhaps there are many Christians nowadays, perhaps many even of those here present, to whom the words of Jeremias might be applied: ”The word of the Lord is made a reproach to me and a derision all the day.” [Jerem. 20:8]. For, they who seldom or never hear a sermon during the month, or during six months, or even during the whole year, and some of them because they fear that their secret wounds might be touched, or their consciences aroused, or their repose troubled, are afraid of being converted, and of being induced to lead better lives. Wretched and blind people! what other means have you of being enlightened as to your salvation? and yet you deliberately shun the light, like bats and owls!
There are others who seldom or never come to a sermon, because they think they are wise, learned, and experienced enough. I can read it for myself in books, they say; I have heard so many already that there is no chance of my hearing anything new. Now, you should be more modest; do not be so very proud; granted that you are learned enough; I will believe it with all my heart; but is that a reason why you should not stand in need of the living, inspiring Word of God? His Spirit does not breathe everywhere and at all times, but, ”it breathes where it listeth,” and dispenses its graces. You can hear nothing that you have not heard already. Be it so; but I tell you, confidently, that you will hear many truths that you have not yet perhaps put in practice. You can read them in spiritual books, and perhaps in a better style than you would hear in sermons; that may be true also, but it is one thing to read and another to hear, and it is to this latter that God has, generally speaking, given the power of moving hearts and bestowing the grace of the Holy Ghost. The rain, falling from the clouds, gives a quite different refreshment to the earth, to that which it would receive from artificial irrigation; and, in the same way, the word that God speaks to your heart, by the mouth of His servant, is much better able to produce fruit in your soul, than the thoughts which your own cleverness and ingenuity suggest to you. ”Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes,” [Isa. 5:21] and do not see the deceits by which the devil tries to keep you away from the Holy Ghost!
Finally, there are others who come now and then, when the whim takes them, but not regularly. As if God were obliged to store up the light of His grace, and keep it in reserve for them, until it may happen to suit their convenience to come for it, and even then, too, it would be necessary that the subject treated of be one that is suited to the state of their souls. All sermons can not treat of all subjects, nor can all be equally profitable to everyone; it may be that there is only one sermon to which God, in His wise decrees, has attached your conversion and the sanctity of your life, and your eternal salvation; and if you wilfully neglect that opportunity, you will never, perhaps, have a similar one again. But, yon think, if I miss the sermon, I will be told at home, afterwards, what it was about. That is good, and it is a work of Christian charity; but it is a different thing to hear a sermon second-hand, and to hear it yourself: the words that the preacher spoke may be repeated to you, but not the inspirations which God sends to the heart. To say the very least, such carelessness is a sign of a very indifferent appetite, of a very weak desire to hear the Word of God. If we had to do without food for a whole day, either through want, because there is no bread in the house, or because we are compelled to abstain from all nourishment, we should think it a very hard thing; and yet there are many who, through indifference, deprive their souls of nourishment on Sundays and holydays, and they think nothing of it!
What wonder is it that they should continue in their sins, or in their tepidity, or in their ignorance?
Oh, what a strict account will not many Catholics have to give, because they neglected so many and such frequent opportunities of being exhorted to good! That we shall see on the day when the Lord will show each one how well and how wisely He acted with regard to all of us; when He will show each one the great graces He had in readiness to bestow on him, if he had heard the exhortations, not of the priest, but which God Himself uttered by the mouth of the priest. He will say to them in reproof: ”How often would I have” enlightened thy ignorance in sermons, and thou didst not come to hear them. In that sermon, oh, sinner, I was ready to give thee a mighty impulse to sorrow and repentance, and to save thee from thy evil habits, thy bad company, and the proximate occasion of sins; and thou wouldst not come. I had then intended, oh, tepid Christian, to make thee zealous. Vain man of the world, I had intended to inspire thee with a disgust for the worthless things of earth, and thou wouldst not come. Thou, rich man, I would have taught thee how to use thy riches for thy last end, and thou, poor man, how thou couldst have profited of thy poverty; and thou wouldst not come, thou wouldst not listen to me. Thou who art in trouble couldst have found consolation and patience in thy difficulties; thou, just man, couldst have become more pious and have reached a higher degree of glory in Heaven; and thou wouldst not, thou didst not wish; the fault is thine, not mine. Poor, unfortunate souls! who seldom or never hear a sermon, although they could do so easily enough! They bear about them one of the certain signs of reprobation, since they have no taste for spiritual food. So say the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Christ Himself, the Infallible Truth, has said: ”He who is of God, heareth the Word of God;” ”therefore (oh, terrible conclusion!), you do not hear because you are not of God.”; If you are not of God, you have no part in Him.
Let it not be so, oh, Lord, for us! All of us, here present, hope to have a part in Thee and to possess Thee for all eternity. We thank Thee from the bottom of our hearts, that Thou hast bestowed so much light on us, in preference to so many others. We wish to receive this light, whenever it is offered to us. We shall seek it regularly on the usual days, by hearing Thy divine Word, unless absolute necessity prevents us. Do Thou speak to our hearts, Thy servants will hear Thee. Let Thy Holy Spirit suggest those words to Thy preachers which Thou knowest to be good for our souls, and grant us to hear them in such a way that they may not be fruitless in us. Amen.