Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
by Fr. Francis Xaveir Weninger, 1877
"By their fruits you shall know them."--Matt. 7.
The world is full of deception, and this deception is the more dangerous, because no one is secure from it. The Apostle assures us that Satan at times changes himself into an angel of light in order to corrupt souls under the appearance of good. Christ Himself speaks in today's Gospel of false prophets, who inwardly are wolves, but who have clothed themselves in sheep's skins. "Every tree that bringth not forth good fruit shall be cut down,
There is one kind of deception especially which is often practised by those having the happiness of being children of the Catholic Church, namely: the belief that their salvation is secured because they are children of that holy Church, and also because they really perform many of the duties imposed by Christianity. This apparently Catholic life is the sheep-skin with which they clothe themselves, while they secretly indulge in the most abominable vices, and are like rapacious wolves in the corruption of others.
The enormity of the deception of a person who is satisfied with living only nominally a Catholic life, becomes clear to us from the parable of the good and bad tree. A good tree brings forth good fruit, an evil tree brings forth evil fruit; and by the fruits will we recognize whether a man walks really upon the path of salvation or not.
Let us earnestly consider today this parable of Christ, for what would it avail us to be Catholics if we nevertheless went to eternal perdition? O Mary, thou tree of life, who hast borne for the blessing of all nations Jesus, the fruit of thy womb and of thy virtuous life, pray for us that His grace may bear fruit within us. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
"A good tree," says Jesus, "brings forth good fruit." Certainly, but it does not follow from this that every bough or seed of a good tree must bring forth fruit. That this may happen several conditions must be fulfilled which have all a spiritual signification. A short reflection on these conditions will be not a little beneficial to our soul, to the end that the fruit-tree of our life may not wither, or stand barren, and without fruit.
That a tree may bring forth fruit, it is necessary, first, that the roots have good soil, such as can give them nourishment and strength. The ground for the tree of a good life is faith-- instruction in religion, reflections on the truths of revelation, according to St. Paul, who says : "The just man lives by faith."
What an important admonition, especially for parents ! How often is it not the case that they themselves are only nominal Christians, imperfectly instructed in their faith, and hence but little concerned about the instruction of their children! This is particularly so here in America. What is the consequence? The sapling of life withers before it has grown up. The sand and rubbish of temporal cares is the earth in which such people place the shoot of their tree of life. It draws no sap from the earth, and soon dies.
Secondly, that a fruit-tree may grow, it must be watered, and the dews of heaven must refresh it. The water, the dew, is an emblem of prayer. How much this watering process is neglected in the education of the young! The parents frequently pray neither at morning nor at night, and thus accustom their children to live without having recourse to God. Hence no growth, no progress in virtue. Yes, even on Sundays and festivals of obligation, many parents neglect to hear Mass; and their children, following their example, do not go to Church either. Perhaps the parents even work on holydays, and in this the children also soon imitate their elders.
There is, above all, among Christians a neglect of spiritual reading, and of the frequentation of the Sacraments. They have recourse to the Sacraments only when the weeds and brambles of sin have outgrown the sapling of virtue. What is worse, even when at last they approach these fountains of graces, they commit sacrileges, and the young tree is poisoned and destroyed to the very roots.
Thirdly, if a sapling is to grow up and bear fruit, its trunk must be carefully watched, that it may not fork and throw out saplings, but grow up straight towards heaven; otherwise it becomes a bush, and perhaps instead of fruit bears thorns. What does this signify? It signifies that our will, our character, should be one and undivided, that we be resolved not to live for that which is earthly, but for that which is eternal for God, for heaven; to raise eye and heart continually upward, as the priest daily tells the children of the Church from the altar. This aim is the trunk of the tree of life.
But that this aim may be practical the trunk must spread out branches; we must namely make resolutions to live according to our station in life. Our life must be well regulated, our duties must stand clearly defined before our inner eye, and we must be determined to fulfill them from love to God. This desire makes the tree blossom, and brings out the buds of good resolutions. But that these blossoms may not wither and die, that they may develop into fruit, the tree needs light, as also that inner flow of the sap which the root diffuses through the trunk into the branches.
The light exemplifies our good intentions, our continual remembrance of the presence of God, which, like the sun, sends light and warmth through our interior life. The inner sap exemplifies sanctifying grace, which has to dwell within us if the virtues of life shall not be mere semblances, but be real solid fruit brought to maturity and ripeness. If this is the case fruit will not be wanting, especially if the disposition of the heart is such that it secures the ripening, and does not allow the fruit to fall and be lost before its time. This is the work of holy patience. How vigorously, how encouragingly this virtue acts upon the growth, the ripening of the fruit!
A fruit-tree does not stand in a conservatory, but in the open field, and is exposed to all the inclemency of the weather to rains and chilly winds, and the fiery rays of the midsummer sun. The branches are tossed by the storm, and the trunk sways under its violence. It is change of temperature and variations in the weather that develop the bud and mature the fruit.
"Heaven suffers violence." This admonition of Christ should be constantly before our eyes if we desire to grow up like a good fruit-tree, and not only bear some, but abundant fruit in accordance with the measure of divine grace which God has given us.
This is the parable that Christ proposed to us. May we carefully consider it, and make use of the lessons it points out to us, in order that our life may become fruitful, and bear a rich crop for eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the heavenly gardener! Amen!
and shall be cast into the fire."--Matt. 7.
How earnest and solemn is the Lord's menace in today's Gospel: " Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire!" And mark well, not only every tree that bringeth forth bad fruit is threatened with this dreadful punishment, but also such trees as do not bring forth good fruit. "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down,
For, if we wish to be numbered amongst the children of God, we must, as our Lord Himself declares in today's Gospel, fulfill the will of our heavenly Father, according to the spirit of our vocation and in conformity with the duties of our state of life. The neglect of this obligation is an evil in itself, and brings down upon us the sentence of condemnation.
Unless we strive with all earnestness to advance in the way to perfection, we shall, even in this life, be deprived of many consolations, without which we easily fall a prey to despondency and despair. Thus, through a neglect of our spiritual welfare, we shall never know the joy and happiness which flow from a peaceful conscience; nor shall we ever experience the complete security and cheerful hope with which the fervent, earnest Christian may look forward to the day of retribution.
But certainly the most awful punishment with which the negligent Christian is threatened in today's Gospel, is his eternal banishment to the flames of hell! For, "Every tree," says the Lord, "that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire."
Mary, our refuge and hope, obtain for us, thy children, the grace, that we may live in such a manner as one day to be found worthy of being united to thee for all eternity in heaven ! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first thing with which the tree that bringeth not forth frood fruit is threatened, signifies the chief punishment of the damned, "it shall be cut down." If we have fulfilled the will of God during our earthly life, if we have brought forth good fruit for eternity, we shall then be transplanted as good trees from the paradise of the Church into that of heaven. But should we have been careless in the service of the Almighty, should we have slighted His commandments and neglected our duties towards His holy Church, we should then be cut down like a tree that has brought forth bad and worthless fruit, and which is good for nothing but the fire!
What do we mean by the words "cut down"? It will be easy to understand the signification of this expression, if we but consider the joys of heaven as they are revealed to us by the light of faith. Holy Writ calls heaven a paradise; i.e., a world of wonders, created by God for the recompense of His faithful servants. And now, though no man can divine the beauty and splendor and grandeur of the paradise of God, still it does not surpass a mortal's comprehension to understand that a God, who is infinite beauty, infinite splendor, infinite might and glory, that such a God, I say, should be able, and is able, to call into being creations grander and nobler than the greatest beauties of the earth.
What a beautiful fairy world can the imagination of man conjure up, by recombining and rearranging the elements of the visible world about us! What grand and wondrous things, then, must not God, the almighty Creator, be able to design and execute!
And now, dear Christians, if you fulfill the holy will of God as it has been taught you by your pastors; that is, if, as good trees in the paradise of the Church, you bring forth good works for eternity, you will then soon be admitted into the heavenly paradise; where, rejoicing with great joy, you will exclaim: "I see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living;" heaven is mine, all is mine! If, on the contrary, you have not performed good works, or have done evil deeds, you will hear the voice of the Judge, saying: "Cut down the tree, and throw it into the fire." Far from tasting the indescribable joys of heaven, you will, O horror! be condemned to the everlasting torments of hell!
Holy Writ calls heaven the kingdom of joy. Indeed, nothing but joy, infinite joy, reigns in heaven! "I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them. And they shall be His people: and God Himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor weeping, nor sorrow."
Yes, dear Christians, nothing but everlasting joy is the inheritance of the blessed in the kingdom of God. There is not a moment of care, not a moment of sadness or sorrow. Such will be your reward, if, during your life here below, you will treasure up good works for the life to come. But if you have not brought forth good fruit, you will, like a dead tree, be cut down, and never, never taste of those pure joys, of which St. Paul tells us: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for those who love Him." Never, unless you be a tree productive of good fruit in the paradise of the Church of God, will you, even for one single moment, through all the ages of eternity, enjoy this heavenly bliss, this all-surpassing beauty!
What a loss! The tree is cut down and cast away. What a dreadful evil! Holy Writ calls heaven the place of reward for the good works which we have performed, and the sufferings which we have patiently borne for the love of God. Nay, not even a glass of water given to the least of our neighbors for the love of Jesus, shall remain without its reward. And what will be this reward? Ah, dear Christians, its beauty and splendor will surpass all imaginable magnificence in this world; not the richest crowns, not the grandest princely pomp, will bear comparison to the things which God has prepared for the reward of those who show themselves His faithful and devoted children!
Happy you, God-loving soul, who, as a good tree, have brought forth good fruit by a faithful observance of the Divine law, and by the patient endurance of your daily trials! Indeed, the day will come, when you will exclaim in astonishment: Too great, O Lord, too great is Thy bounty towards me; never have I deserved, O Lord, the good things Thou hast given to me!
But woe to you, O sinner, who have not brought forth good fruit! You will be cut down, and will for evermore lament your miserable lot in the flames of hell! The menace of the Lord will be fulfilled in you: "He shall die in his sin, and his justices which he hath done, shall not be remembered." What a loss! what a terrible punishment!
Holy Writ calls heaven the communion with angels and saints in all their bliss. Who can imagine what a flood of joy and happiness awaits the soul of the just in such an assembly! Happy you, who, during life, have endeavored to imitate the saints your departed brethren, and have, as good trees, brought forth good fruit in abundance! The bliss of angels and archangels will soon be your own.
But if you have not performed good works, or even have done evil deeds, then will your Judge pronounce the terrible sentence of condemnation against you: "Cut down the tree." And instead of enjoying the community of angels and saints, you will be most unmercifully tormented by the evil spirits and by the damned, especially by those souls to whom you have given scandal by your dissolute manner of life.
Instead of partaking of the beatitude of Christ and His blessed mother, the Lord will say to you: "Depart from Me, you cursed!"
But allow me once more to ask you : What is heaven? Holy Writ again answers for you, saying: "It is God!" "I Myself," says the Lord, "shall be thine inheritance." And what is God? God is infinite beauty, infinite bliss, infinite love. The possession of a God who is infinite beauty itself, did this possession last but for a single moment, would be, as St. Augustine says, an overwhelming recompense for a life-long martyrdom.
If our life has been full of good works, we will then be united with God, and will, through this union, be made partakers of His beatitude. If, however, our life has not been fruitful of good works, and even has been sullied with many a sinful deed and thought, then the terrible sentence, " Cut down the tree," will be unmercifully hurled against us. Our loss, in this case, will be God and His infinite glory. And this loss will be irreparable; it will last for all eternity! What a terrible loss!
Let us then, dear Christians, according to the counsel of St. Peter, secure our salvation by leading a truly edifying life, a life full of good and holy actions! Amen !
and shall be cast into the fire."--Matt. 7.
The cutting down of the tree that does not bear good fruit reminds us of the first part of the punishment in hell, namely, the loss of eternal beatitude, of eternal delight, of eternal union with God in His glory, and in the enjoyment of all created bliss. The last words of the menace of Christ: "and shall be cast into the fire," recalls to our mind the second part of the punishment in hell, namely, the torment which the sinner is forced to endure there, if he has led a life barren of good deeds, if he has not brought forth good fruit, but, on the contrary, evil fruit.
Christ, in today's Gospel, speaks only of fire; but, in several passages of Holy Writ, mention is made of other torments. Meditation on the pains of hell, strengthens the soul in her resolution, rather to forego every temporary pleasure, and to bear every transient affliction, than to expose herself to the danger of enduring the eternal sufferings of the damned.
We shall today consider, in order, these torments of hell. O Mary, mother, we beg thee, by thy maternal heart, not to permit even a single one of thy children here present to be subjected to the torments of the damned! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
"Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cast into the fire." Our divine Saviour here mentions the punishment by fire as the greatest and most painful torment that the damned suffer; but it is not the only one. Christ speaks also of other torments ; and He has revealed to us, through His Prophets and Apostles, that in hell the sinner shall have to endure hunger, eternal hunger; thirst, eternal thirst; the most profound darkness, the worm that never dies, gnashing of teeth and bowlings of despair, fire, eternal fire!
Holy Writ speaks first of the hunger of the condemned: "They shall suffer hunger like dogs." What a dreadful torment is hunger, even when endured but a few days! Josephus Flavius, in his description of the siege of Jerusalem, says that the pangs of hunger were so dire as to cause mothers to eat their own children!
In hell this hunger reigns forever! What distress that is, sinner, you will experience in hell! There, too, unrelenting thirst is experienced for ever! The torment of thirst is greater than that of hunger, as all those inform us who have traveled in deserts. But what is their thirst compared to that of the rich man in hell, who, as Christ tells us, thus called to Abraham: "Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in these flames."
Christ further assures us that hell is the place where the worm never dies, and by this worm He signifies the remorse of conscience: It is your own fault; it was not the will of God; it was so easy to save your soul; God bestowed so many divine graces upon you; you neglected them, set no store by them.
Bitter as these complaints may be, more bitter still will be the anguish of those who had during life so many opportunities of saving their souls; and such is the case with all the children of the Church. Woe to me, cries the unfortunate Catholic who has lost his soul! I had so many graces; I was a Catholic; God gave me good parents, teachers, confessors and priests; and I am damned! I had so many means of securing my salvation: Catholic instruction from my youth, sermons, Holy Mass, confession, communion; and I am damned!
But these are not all the torments which the sinner suffers in hell. Let us try to conceive all the pain of the manifold maladies to which flesh is heir, all the tortures the martyrs endured, the very thought of which causes us to shudder, and yet all these are as naught, compared with the sufferings of the damned in hell; for there, gnashing of teeth, howling, despair, fire, prevail!
That such is really the punishment of the damned, no one can doubt who considers what the Old and New Testament, the Apostles, the Holy Fathers, and Christ Himself have said concerning it. Isaias and all the Prophets expressly state this punishment of fire. They call hell, the pit of death,--the soil of curses,--the pool of brimstone,--the fire. Isaias says, emphatically: "Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings? " "He will," says St. John the Baptist, "burn the chaff with unquenchable fire." St. Peter and St. Thaddaeus exclaim: They will suffer the punishment of fire, which God has prepared for the devil and his followers. "And the smoke of the pit arose," says St. John, "as the smoke of a great furnace;" and Christ Himself assures us that those to whom He says depart, "shall go into eternal fire!"
The Holy Fathers, whose commentaries on Holy Writ we have to follow according to the laws of the Church, give their testimony with the same precision. What can be more explicit than what the Holy Fathers say of the torments of Hell? St. Cyprian writes thus: "There are various pains in hell, where, through the utmost darkness, the flames of eternal fire break forth." Before him St. Justin wrote : "They will suffer eternal fire for their crimes." Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostles, tells us: "Those to whom He says, Depart from me into eternal fire, are condemned to remain forever in the same." St. Cyril, of Jerusalem, teaches: "The sinner receives an immortal body in order that, though burning for evermore, he may yet never be consumed." "There even spirits are tormented by material fire," writes St. Augustine.
What torture! How is it possible that any one, who, as a child of the Church possesses the grace of faith, should not be willing to endure anything in this world, rather than expose himself to the danger of suffering such torments for all eternity!
The only means of guarding ourselves against so dreadful a future, is to make use of the divine graces and talents God has bestowed upon us, to avoid all sin, to overcome all temptations; and thus by bringing forth fruits of life, by fulfilling the most holy will of God, follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ.
In addition to this our reason alone should tell us that, if God created rational and, hence, immortal beings; if He endowed them with freedom to fulfill or transgress His laws, He was also obliged to support these laws with endless punishment, if these immortal beings dared to violate them. I say endless punishment, because, for an immortal being, no sanction of a law is adequate unless it be eternal; for the contemptuous sinner might brave God, and choose to undergo any temporary punishment rather than be deprived of the present satisfaction of his passions. In that case the punishment would, in time, pass, and all would be over. But if the punishment is eternal without end even the devil must tremble at it, and the eternal laws of God have a sufficient sanction; otherwise, not.
Deign then, O Lord, to protect us from the transgression of Thy law, and from the everlasting evil of hell! Amen!
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