SERMON XXXVII. EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT.
“Give an account of thy stewardship.” LUKE xvi. 2.
BELOVED Christians, of all the goods of nature, of fortune, and of grace, which we have received from God, we are not the masters, neither can we dispose of them as we please; we are but the administrators of them; and therefore we should employ them according to the will of God, who is our Lord. Hence, at the hour of death, we must render a strict account of them to Jesus Christ, our Judge. “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.” (2 Cor. v. 10.) This is the precise meaning of that”give an account of thy stewardship,” in the gospel of this day. “You are not,” says St. Bonaventure, in his comment on these words, “a master, but a steward over the things committed to you; and therefore you are to render an account of them.” I will place before your eyes Today the rigour of this judgment, which shall be passed on each of us on the last day of our life. Let us consider the terror of the soul, first, when we shall be presented to the Judge; secondly, when she shall be examined; and thirdly, when she shall be condemned.
First Point. Terror of the soul when she shall be presented to the Judge.
1. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” (Heb. ix. 27.) It is of faith that we shall die, and that after death a judgment shall be passed on all the actions of our life. Now, what shall be the terror of each of us when we shall be at the point of death, and shall have before our eyes the judgment which must take place the very moment the soul departs from the body? Then shall be decided our doom to eternal life, or to eternal death. At the time of the passage of their souls from this life to eternity, the sight of their past sins, the rigour of God’s judgment, and the uncertainty of their eternal salvation, have made the saints tremble. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzia trembled in her sickness, through the fear of judgment; and to her confessor, when he endeavoured to give her courage, she said: “Ah! father, it is a terrible thing to appear before Christ in judgment.” After spending so many years in penance in the desert, St. Agatho trembled at the hour of death, and said: “What shall become of me when I shall be judged ?” The venerable Father Louis da Ponte was seized with such a fit of trembling at the thought of the account which he should render to God, that he shook the room in which he lay. The thought of judgment inspired the venerable Juvenal Ancina, Priest of the Oratory, and afterwards Bishop of Saluzzo, with the determination to leave the world. Hearing the Dies Iræ sung, and considering the terror of the soul when presented before Jesus Christ, the Judge, he took, and afterwards executed, the resolution of giving himself entirely to God.
2. It is the common opinion of theologians, that at the very moment and in the very place in which the soul departs from the body, the divine tribunal is erected, the accusation is read, and the sentence is passed by Jesus Christ, the Judge. At this terrible tribunal each of us shall be presented to give an account of all our thoughts, of all our words, and of all our actions. “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.” (2 Cor. v. 10.) When presented before an earthly judge criminals have been seen to fall into a cold sweat through fear. It is related of Piso, that so great and insufferable was the confusion, which he felt at the thought of appearing as a criminal before the senate that he killed himself. How great is the pain of a vassal, or of a son, in appearing before an angry prince or an enraged father, to account for some crime which he has committed! Oh! how much greater shall be the pain and confusion of the soul in standing, before Jesus Christ enraged against her for having despised him during her life! Speaking of judgment, St. Luke says: “Then you shall see the Son of Man.” (Luke xxi. 27.) They shall see Jesus Christ as man, with the same wounds with which he ascended into heaven. “Great joy of the beholders!” says Robert the Abbot, “a great terror of those who are in expectation!” These wounds shall console the just, and shall terrify the wicked. In them sinners shall see the Redeemer’s love for themselves, and their ingratitude to him.
3. “Who,” says the Prophet Nahum, “can stand before the face of his indignation ?” (i. 6.) How great, then, shall be the terror of a soul that finds herself in sin before this Judge, the first time she shall see him, and see him full of wrath! St. Basil says that she shall be tortured more by her shame and confusion than by the very fire of hell. “Horridior quam ignis, erit pudor.” Philip the Second rebuked one of his domestics for having told him a lie. “Is it thus,” said the king to him, “you deceive me?” The domestic, after having returned home, died of grief. The Scripture tells us, that when Joseph reproved his brethren, saying: “I am Joseph, whom you sold,” they were unable to answer through fear, and remained silent. “His brethren could not answer him, being struck with exceeding great fear.” (Gen. xlv. 3.) Now what answer shall sinners make to Jesus Christ when he shall say to them: I am your Redeemer and your Judge, whom you have so much despised. Where shall the miserable beings fly, says St. Augustine, when they shall see an angry Judge above, hell open below, on one side their own sins accusing them, and on the other the devils dragging them to punishment, and their conscience burning them within? “Above shall be an enraged Judge below, a horrid chaos on the right, sins accusing him on the left, demons dragging him to punishment within, a burning conscience! Whither shall a sinner, beset in this manner, fly? “Perhaps he will cry for mercy? But how, asks Eusebius Emissenus, can he dare to implore mercy, when he must first render an account of his contempt for the mercy which Jesus Christ has shown to him?”With what face will you, who are to be first judged for contempt of mercy, ask for mercy?” But let us come to the rendering of the accounts.
Second Point. Terror of the soul when she shall be examined.
4. As soon as the soul shall be presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, he will say to her: “Give an account of thy stewardship:” render instantly an account of thy entire life. The Apostle tells us, that to be worthy of eternal glory our lives must be found conformable to the life of Jesus Christ. “For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his son ;…them he also glorified.” (Rom. viii. 29, 30.) Hence St. Peter has said, that in the judgment of Jesus Christ, the just man who has observed the divine law, has pardoned enemies, has respected the saints, has practised chastity, meekness, and other virtues, shall scarcely be saved. “The just man shall scarcely be saved.” The Apostle adds: “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?” (1 Pet. iv. 18.) What shall become of the vindictive and the unchaste, of blasphemers and slanderers? What shall become of those whose entire life is opposed to the lite of Jesus Christ?
5. In the first place, the Judge shall demand of sinners an account of all the blessings and graces which he bestowed on them in order to bring them to salvation, and which they have rendered fruitless. He will demand an account of the years granted to them that they might serve God, and which they have spent in offending him. “He hath called against me the time.” (Lam. i. 15.) He will then demand an account of their sins. Sinners commit sins, and afterwards forget them; but Jesus Christ does not forget them: he keeps, as Job says, all our iniquities numbered, as it were in a bag. “Thou hast sealed up my iniquities, as it were in a bag.” (Job xiv. 17.) And he tells us that, on the day of accounts, he will take a lamp to scrutinize all the actions of our life. “And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps.” (Soph. i. 12.) The lamp, says Mendoza on this passage, penetrates all the corners of the house that is, God will discover all the defects of our conscience, great and small. According to St. Anselm, an account shall be demanded of every glance of the eyes. “Exigitur usque ad ictum oculi.” And, according to St. Matthew, of every idle word. “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it on the day of judgment.”(Matt. xii. 36.)
6. The Prophet Malachy says, that as gold is refined by taking away the dross, so on the day of judgment all our actions shall be examined, and every defect which may be discovered shall be punished. “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold.” (Mal. iii. 3.) Even our justices that is, our good works, confessions, communions, and prayers shall be examined. “When I shall take a time, I will judge justices.” (Ps. Ixxiv. 3.) But if every glance, every idle word, and even good works, shall be judged, with what rigour shall immodest expressions, blasphemies, grievous detractions, thefts, and sacrileges be judged? Alas! on that day every soul shall, as St. Jerome says, see, to her own confusion, all the evils which she has done. “Videbit unusquisque quod fecit.”
7. “Weight and balance are judgments of the Lord. “(Prov. xvi. 11.) In the balance of the Lord a holy life and good works make the scale descend; but nobility, wealth, and science have no weight. Hence, if found innocent, the peasant, the poor, and the ignorant shall be rewarded. But the man of rank, of wealth, or of learning, if found guilty, shall be condemned. “Thou art weighed in the balance,” said Daniel to Belthassar, “and art found wanting.” (Dan. v. 27.)”Neither his gold nor his wealth,” says Father Alvares, “but the king alone was weighed.”
8. At the divine tribunal the poor sinner shall see himself accused by the devil, who, according to St. Augustine, “will recite the words of our profession, and will charge us before our face with all that we have done, will state the day and hour in which we sinned.” (Con. Jud., tom. 6.)”He will recite the words of our profession” that is, he will enumerate the promises which we have made to God, and which we afterwards violated. “He will charge us before our face ;” he will upbraid us with all our wicked deeds, pointing to the day and hour in which they were committed. And he will, as the same saint says, conclude his accusation by saying: “I have suffered neither stripes nor scourges for this man.” Lord, I have suffered nothing for this ungrateful sinner, and to make himself my slave he has turned his back on thee who has endured so much for his salvation. He, therefore, justly belongs to me. Even his angel-guardian will, according to Origen, come forward to accuse him, and will say: “I have laboured so many years for his salvation; but he has despised all my admonitions.” “Unusquisque angelorum perhibet testimonium, quot annis circa eum laboraverit, sed ille monita sprevit.” (Hom. lxvi.) Thus, even friends shall treat with contempt the guilty soul. “All her friends have despised her.” (Lamen. i. 2.) Her very sins shall, says St. Bernard, accuse her. “And they shall say: You have made us; we are your work; we shall not desert you.” (Lib. Medit, cap. ii.) We are your offspring; we shall not leave you: we shall be your companions in hell for all eternity.
9. Let us now examine the excuses which the sinner will be able to advance. He will say, that the evil inclinations of nature had drawn him into sin. But he shall be told that, if concupiscence impelled him to sins, it did not oblige him to commit them; and that, if he had recourse to God, he should have received from him grace to resist every temptation. For this purpose Jesus Christ has left us the sacraments: but when we do not make use of them, we can complain only of ourselves. “But, “ says the Redeemer, “now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John xv. 22.) To excuse himself, the sinner shall also say that the devil tempted him to sin. But, as St. Augustine says, “The enemy is bound like a dog in chains, and can bite only him who has united himself to him with a deadly security.” The devil can bark, but cannot bite unless you adhere and listen to him. Hence the saint adds: “See how foolish is the man whom a dog, loaded with chains, bites.” Perhaps he will advance his bad habits as an excuse; but this shall not stand; for the same St. Augustine says, that though it is difficult to resist the force of an evil habit, “if any one does not desert himself, he will conquer it with the divine assistance.” If a man does not abandon himself to sin, and invokes God’s aid, he will overcome evil habits. The Apostle tells us, that the Lord does not permit us to be tempted above our strength. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able.” ( I Cor. x. 13.)
10. “For what shall I do,” said Job, “when God shall rise to judge me? and when he shall examine, what shall I answer him” (Job xxxi. 14.) What answer shall the sinner give to Jesus Christ? How can he, who sees himself so clearly convicted, give an answer? He shall be covered with confusion, and shall remain silent, like the man found without the nuptial garment. “But he was silent.” (Matt. xxii. 12.) His very sins shall shut the sinner’s mouth. “And all iniquity shall stop her mouth.” (Ps. cvi. 42.) There,, says St. Thomas of Villanova, there shall be no intercessor to whom the sinner can have recourse. “There, there is no opportunity of sinning; there, no intercessor, no friend, no father shall assist.” Who shall then save you? Is it God? But how, asks St. Basil, can you expect salvation from him whom you have despised?”Who shall deliver you? Is it God, whom you have insulted ?” (S. Bas., Or. 4, de Fen.) Alas! the guilty soul that leaves this world in sin, is condemned by herself before the Judge pronounces sentence. Let us come to the sentence of the Judge.
Third Point. Terror of the soul when she shall be condemned.
11. How great shall be the joy of a soul when, at death, she hears from Jesus Christ these sweet words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matt. xxv. 21.) Equally great shall be the anguish and despair of a guilty soul, that shall see herself driven away by the Judge with the following words: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire” (verse 41). Oh! what a terrible thunderclap shall that sentence be to her!”Oh! how frightfully,” says the Carthusian, “shall that thunder resound!” Eusebius writes, that the terror of sinners at hearing their condemnation shall be so great that, if they could, they would die again. “The wicked shall be seized with such terror at the sight of the Judge pronouncing sentence that, if they were not immortal, they should die a second time.” But, brethren, let us, before the termination of this sermon, make some reflections which will be profitable to us. St. Thomas of Villanova says, that some listen to discourses on the judgment and condemnation of the wicked with as little concern as if they they themselves were secure against these things, or as if the day of judgment were never to arive for them. “Heu quam securi hæc dicimus et audimus, quasi nos non tangeret hæc sententia, aut quasi dies hæc nunquam esset venturus!” (Conc, i., de Jud.) The saint then asks: Is it not great folly to entertain security in so perilous an affair? “Quæ est ista stulta securitas in discrimine tanto?” There are some, says St. Augustine, who, though they live in sin, cannot imagine that God will send them to hell. “Will God,” they say, “really condemn us ?” Brethren, adds the saint, do not speak thus. So, many of the damned did not believe that they should be sent to hell; but the end came, and, according to the threat of Ezechiel, they have been cast into that place of darkness. “The end is come, the end is come… and I will send my wrath upon thee, and I will judge thee.” (Ezec. vii. 2, 3.) Sinners, perhaps vengeance is at hand for you, and still you laugh and sleep in sin. Who will not tremble at the words of the Baptist: “For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire.” (Matt, iii. 10.) He says, that every tree that does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire; and he promises that, with regard to the trees, which represent sinners, the axe is already laid to the roots that is, chastisement is at hand. Dearly beloved brethren, let us follow the counsel of the Holy Ghost “Before judgment, prepare thee justice.” (Eccl. xviii. 19.) Let us adjust our accounts before the day of accounts. Let us seek God, now that we can find him; for the time shall come when we will wish, but shall not be able to find him. “You shall seek me, and shall not find me.” (John vii. 36.)”Before judgment,” says St. Augustine, “the Judge can be appeased, but not in judgment.” By a change of life we can now appease the anger of Jesus Christ, and recover his grace; but when he shall judge, and find us in sin, he must execute justice, and we shall be lost.