By the Rev. H. G. Hughes
"Not everyone that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doth the will of My Father, Who is in heaven, he shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."-St. Matthew vii, 21.
It is right for us, dear brethren in Jesus Christ, to be proud of our Catholic name and our Catholic privileges, provided always that we are deeply thankful to almighty God, and acknowledge that we have been made members of His one true Church upon earth. But while we rejoice over our Catholic privileges, we must by no means forget our Catholic responsibilities. Against this forgetfulness our Divine Lord utters a serious and terrible warning in the words of my text, taken from the Gospel of to-day. "Not everyone that saith to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of My Father, who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." And to this Christ added: "Many will say to Me in that day (that is, in the day of judgment), 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy Name, and cast out devils in Thy Name, and done many miracles in Thy Name?' And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you that work iniquity" (St. Matt. ix, 21-23).
These words of our Divine Lord were spoken first, it is true, to the Jews; and they were aimed especially at the Pharisees, who made much more of the observance of their traditions than they did of a good life; but they are meant for us Catholics also, members of Christ’s Church. It is as necessary for us as for the Jews to remember that we cannot be saved by a nominal adherence to our religion; that faith alone will not save us without good works; that we must endeavor to live up to the truth that we possess and profess.
The Apostles of Christ plainly and forcibly teach the same lesson to the first generation of Christians. St. Paul speaks to Titus of those who "profess that they know God; but in their works they deny Him, being abominate, and credulous, and to every good work reprobate" (Tit. i, 16). And the same Apostle tells the Corinthians that neither the possession of faith, nor kind actions, nor suffering for religion, nor, as Christ also said, even the power of working miracles, are of any avail for salvation without charity, which leads us to do the will of God: "If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (I. Cor. xiii, 2, 3). And charity, love of God, is tested, Christ tells us, by the keeping of His commandments, by a good Christian life. "If you love Me, keep My commandments."
St. James gives us the same warning when he writes: "What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? . . . So faith, also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. . . for even as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (St. James ii, 14, 17, 26).
We Catholics, then, dear brethren, need this warning as much as the Jews of old. They expected to be included in the kingdom of heaven by the mere fact that they were of the chosen race of Abraham; and more than once our blessed Lord was forced to undeceive them: "Think not to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'" (St. Matt. iii, 9). And when on another occasion they appealed to the fact that they were Abraham's children, He pointed out that they were no true children of Abraham unless they imitated the good deeds of Abraham: "They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father,' Jesus saith to them: 'If you be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham. . . . You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do'" (St. John viii, 39 and 44).
Brethren, it would be a terrible thing for us if, standing at the bar of Christ's Judgment, we should hear the dreadful sentence: "Depart from Me, thou cursed, into everlasting fire." It would be of no use to say then: "Lord, I am a Catholic; the Church is my mother; I have professed the faith, I have received Sacraments, I have known and held the truth." Christ would say to us: "Not every one that saith, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father who is in heaven. . . . I never knew you; depart from Me, you that work iniquity."
For, my brethren, it is not professing the faith only that will save us. We cannot be saved without the faith, for, says St. Paul: "Without .faith it is impossible to please God." But faith alone will not suffice. "What dost thou ask of the Church O God?" the priest says to those seeking Baptism. "Faith," is the answer. "What doth faith bring thee to? Life everlasting." But then the priest in the name of the Church adds: "If, then, thou desirest to enter into life, keep the commandments. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself."
It is worth while, and not only worth while, but necessary for us to ask ourselves from time to time whether our conduct is in accordance with our profession of the faith and religion of Jesus Christ, whether we are seriously and earnestly endeavoring to live up to our Catholic privileges as far as, by God's grace, we can. Surely I need not remind you at any length what your Catholic profession demands of you, or what your privileges as Catholics are! Yet let me say a few words to recall these things again to your minds. Your Catholic profession, what is it?
At your baptism you renounced the devil with all his works, the world with all its pomps and vanities, the flesh with all its temptations. Then you were ranged with Christ under the banner of His Cross against Satan and his hosts, and against the sinful world and all worldly and irreligious men who are on the side of the devil. Then you swore allegiance through your sponsors, and have since personally ratified your allegiance to Jesus Christ, your King, your Lord and your Saviour. You profess to be on His side against all the forces of evil. You profess to be one of that great army of His on earth which through the centuries fights His battle, upholds His principles and His ideals in the face of a world which hates them and will have nothing to do with them except to persecute those who hold them, and tries by any and every means to root them out of the minds and hearts of men.
Now by open violence of persecution, now by insidious temptations of worldly advantages, now by attacking Catholic education, now by the spread of evil ideas, immoral ideas, revolutionary ideas by means of the press, by calumniating the Church, holding her sacred teachings up to ridicule as old-fashioned, childish and superstitious; attacking the sacred institutions of marriage and the family, advocating divorce and giving facilities by law for the violation of holy matrimony, the remarriage of divorced persons-you profess by your membership of the Catholic Church, to be against all this.
And, dear brethren, I firmly believe that you are' against all these things that I have mentioned; I believe that you are firmly and determinedly ranged on the side of Christ and His holy Church against all these things. But Satan is crafty, and the world is insidious. It may be that, while you would look with horror upon any suggestion from the evil one that you should advocate or support any of these evils; yet you may be induced, by the craft of our great enemy, from the plausibility o~ many of the maxims of the world, by the innate weakness of human nature, almost unconsciously to adopt worldly ways and worldly principles in things that appear perhaps unimportant, but are not unimportant, since laxity about them is bound to diminish the fullness of Catholic life and energy amongst us.
Let me try to explain more fully what I mean. There are Catholics who take, if I may say so, a somewhat selfish view of their religion. They wish to save their souls; they mean to do what is necessary to save their souls. They attend Mass, they go to the Sacraments from time to time; they observe what the Church puts upon them as of obligation-but are they enthusiastic, anxious, are they even particularly interested in the grand ideals and the grand work of the Church; are they at all alive to the interests of Jesus Christ in the world, interests which the Catholic Church represents and works for; the salvation of souls, the defense of the faith, Catholic education, the cultivation of the Christian life, of vocations to the religious life and the priesthood?
Do they realize that they are members of the fighting body an army sworn to fight to the death against the soul-destroying forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil? Do they see at all the vast conflict that is going on now in the world about them, a conflict that is being waged as fiercely now as ever it was between the Church and the world, between faith and unbelief, between Christianity and 'paganism-modern paganism, but still paganism? Are they awake to the fact that the enemies of the Church, of Christ's Vicar, the Pope, yes, and of Christ Himself and of Christianity are rampant and only too successful? Look at France, at Portugal, at Italy, and even Catholic Spain-in those countries the Church and the Pope are the objects of incessant and violent attack by the press, by legal enactment, by legalized robbery of Church property, by the oppression of religious orders and the attempted extinction of Catholic schools.
Brethren, these things do not come home to us so strongly in this country, but we know too well that there are millions of our countrymen who hate the Catholic name, and who, if we gain more power and influence, would not scruple to imitate the tactics of those who are persecuting the Church on the continent of Europe. And what are we Catholics doing? What are our Catholic men doing? Many, it is to be feared, are blind to the vast interest, the vast issues which are at stake for the Church and for the human race. For, brethren, since Christ came, the true interests of humanity are bound up with the interests of Christ's universal Catholic Church. What we have to ask ourselves then is this: Am I trying to be, in my place, and in my measure, an effective unit in the great army of Christ; does my life contribute to the forwarding and the effective defense of the interests of Jesus in the world as upheld and represented by His Church of which I am a member?
But, you will say, perhaps: "How can I do this? What influence have I? How can I work for these great interests?" Brethren, that is the cry of selfishness; it is the cry of the man who cares only about himself; who thinks, if he does not ask: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Who forgets that the Church of Christ is a living body of which the health and vigor and vitality depend upon the health and vigor and vitality of its single members; who forgets that an inert and useless member is a hindrance to the whole body to which it belongs.
You ask me how you can play your part, and an effective part, in the Church's work and the Church's battle. In reply I will ask you a question-it is this: If every man in our congregation here, and every woman too, were a truly enthusiastic Catholic, having thoroughly at heart the interests of Christ, and therefore of the Church of Christ in this place-a Catholic who first and foremost, of course, for it is the only foundation on which to build, is anxious for his own spiritual health and progress; who therefore is never absent from Mass, is willingly and frequently, not only now and then, at the Sacraments; who contributes to the keeping up of a good and fervent spirit in the whole body by assiduous attention at the various services, who is thoroughly loyal to Catholic principles in daily life and in business dealings; who, because he is a good consistent Catholic is therefore upright and honest, kind and charitable; who, besides this, looks out to wider interests than even those of his own soul; or, rather, who realizes that he can not save his own soul if be neglects his duty to others and to the Church; one who does what he can, by informing himself about his religion first, and then by a word in season, as well as by his good Catholic life, to impress the truth of Catholicism on others; who will not shrink, either through laziness or timidity, from taking his part in civic life or in any public good work that a Catholic can join in; who is not ashamed to profess the faith anywhere and everywhere; one upon whom the clergy can always depend for loyal cooperation in any work that is set on foot for the advance of religion; one, in a word, who identifies himself with the Church in her great fight, and, as a consequence, identifies himself with his leaders in that fight, the holy Father, the Bishop of the Diocese, and his own priests - I say, if all Catholics in this place were like that, would not the Catholic faith be more flourishing amongst us even than it is; would not our non-Catholic friends be struck by it; would not many more, seeing our good works, glorify our Father who is in heaven by their quick submission to the one true Church of Jesus Christ?
But extend this supposition, my brethren, to all Catholics, to the Catholics of this country, to the Catholics of the world. Were all Catholics what I have described, what limits need we put then to the success of the Church, to her victories, to her progress?
It is true, dear brethren, that we must act at home, in the place where we are. But it must be with a wide outlook, and in no narrow spirit.. The narrow parochial spirit, under the plea that charity begins at home, will inevitably have the effect of blinding our eyes and shutting up our hearts to the grand interests of Catholicism; and in that way, what we do here in this place will suffer; for it will be infected by that narrow spirit. And the effects of that narrow spirit in a parish are only too well known. It is a spirit of criticism; a man will not join in some good work, will not join, for instance, some sodality or association that is established because something in it does not happen to suit his ideas. He will even depreciate such things and hinder others from joining. He will not give money to some object because he personally is not greatly impressed with the necessity of that object; or, again, does not quite approve of the way in which it is proposed to carry it out. He does not reflect that the general interests of religion will gain, by such objects, and gain all the more for his loyal support, even though to his critical eye some improvement in detail might be introduced; he does not reflect that, by holding back, he is weakening the interests of his religion. The narrow spirit is an ungenerous, niggardly spirit. The man who has it will not do more than he need.
A general Communion is asked for. He says: "Why should I go to Communion? It is not my day." Or, he will not attend evening services; perhaps because he does not like the particular form of service that is used, or he does not like sermons, or the sermons are not up to his standard of what a sermon ought to be. He forgets that a full church and good attendance at the services help to put the spirit of enthusiasm into the whole body, to say nothing of the blessing of God that he may have every time he attends the services of the Church. He is not generous enough to take this wider view of the matter. Brethren, I need not enter into any more details; your own conscience will tell you in what ways, by what increase of loyal cooperation with the Church's work in this place you can level up your Catholicism.
God forbid that I should say that Catholicism is at a low level. I do not think so. But it would be conceited of us to think or say that it is incapable of being brought to a higher level, that there is no room for improvement; that the narrow, selfish spirit is wholly exorcised from amongst us. I spoke of our Catholic privileges. How great they are! How they accompany us through life, from the cradle to the grave; precious fruits of the Passion of Jesus, red with His Blood. The Holy Mass, what an unspeakable treasure! The Sacraments, the infallible word of truth; Christ's Vicar as our teacher, leader and guide; the examples and fellowship, the help and intercession of the saints; Mary, our Mother and our Advocate; the fellowship of Christ's Holy Bride the Church; her prayers and sacrifices and blessings, in which, as her children and members, we all communicate. What reasons for gratitude are all these; what incentives to generosity; what calls to do all we can for the interests of Christ and His Church to which He has given us the grace of belonging!
And I would say especially to the Catholic men of this congregation, take these things to heart. Men can do so much for the good of religion. Ask yourselves whether you have that wide and generous conception of your Catholic privileges and responsibilities which I have tried to put before you; ask yourselves whether, satisfied with a nominal Catholicism, or, since please God there are not many whose claim to the Catholic name is wholly nominal, satisfied with a Catholicism which is not altogether free from that reproach, you may not come to some extent under the category or those who say Lord, Lord, not doing whole-heartedly, generously, ungrudgingly the Will of their Father who is in Heaven, that Will which is not that we should be content with small things, but that we all, by our full and vigorous Catholic life, both as individuals and as a body, should unanimously work together, as St. Paul says, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ, until we all meet"-those as yet outside, dear brethren, as well as those within the fold-"into that unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. iv, 12, 13).
Adapted from Plain Sermons by Practical Preachers, Vol. II(©1916)
Nihil Obstat: Remegius Lafort, S.T.D
Imprimatur: John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York