The final part in a series on the Person of God by Fr. Francis Hunolt (1694-1746).
Part I, II and III found here:
To be judged by Christ, a Man like ourselves, shall be a source of the most terrible pain to the sinner.
The Gospel that has been read for you shows clearly that Jesus was true Man, and a Man like to us in all things except sin, for He grew up as we do. “When he was twelve years old” His Mother and foster-father lost him, just as a little child is lost in a large town or in a great crowd of people and cannot find its way home again. He increased in age, understanding, and wisdom, just as all men are wont to become wiser as they advance in years.
“He advanced in wisdom and age.” Although in the very moment of His conception He was infinite wisdom and holiness, yet He increased in those; that is, He gave more outward evidences of wisdom and holiness in order to serve as a pattern for all, that we by following His example may, as we easily can, advance daily in grace and virtue before God. My dear brethren, hitherto we have considered Jesus our future Judge as God and as Man, and in both cases we have had to confess that He will be an exceedingly terrible Judge for the sinner; for as Judge He will be a God without mercy, and as a Man He shall become quite changed and without pity. There is still another circumstance connected with the same Judge which is not less terrible, namely: that He is a Man like ourselves, as I now proceed to show.
Plan of Discourse.
To be judged by Christ, a Man like ourselves, shall be a source of the most terrible pain for the sinner. Such is the whole subject of this meditation.
That we may derive the proper spiritual fruit from this and the preceding sermons, we expect the grace of God, through the intercession of Mary and of our holy guardian angels. To insure the conviction of a criminal, so that he will not have a word to say against it, there is no better means than to appoint one to try him who is either of the same standing and condition, or otherwise has known the accused for a long time, and is well acquainted with his manner of life and the various wiles he employs to carry out his plans. Thus it would be altogether unsuitable for a great king to try a peasant for not paying his rent or taxes. Why? Because the king who lives in a palace surrounded only by noblemen knows nothing of the condition of the peasant, nor how far his liabilities and obligations may extend. No matter how wise and experienced the king may be, nor how simple and ignorant the peasant, the latter might easily befool the king by alleging his extreme poverty, the pressure of hard times, the losses he has suffered, and so forth; nor would the king have any reply to make to all this, but rather, moved by compassion, would be inclined to believe the peasant’s lies and let him off scot-free. The proper thing in such a case is to leave the matter in the hands of one of the same condition, who knows by experience how to detect false excuses and to refute them.
Unheard-of, my dear brethren, are the love and goodness of the great God in deigning to take on Himself our lowly nature, and as St. Paul says, to put on the “form of a servant,” with all our weaknesses and miseries, sin alone excepted, even to sorrow and death and to the extent of being tempted by the devil: “Tempted in all things such as we are, without sin.” Therefore since He Himself has borne our miseries, He can have a heartfelt compassion for us. Truly, that is a great consolation for us as long as we are on this earth! But when I consider the matter aright, that very same circumstance makes the last judgment more terrible still to me and to all sinners; that namely, the same Man, like unto us in every respect, shall come as Judge invested with full power in His majesty and justice to examine into our sins against His commands and laws. For thus we shall be more clearly convicted, put to shame, driven into a corner, and be utterly unable to say a word in reply or excuse.
Why so? Because if our heavenly Father were to examine us only in the divine nature, He would condemn us merely for insulting His sovereign majesty; but Jesus Christ in addition to that will put us to greater shame and convict us more clearly by the life He led amongst us and the example He gave to all men to encourage them to the practice of virtue. If we heard the sentence of condemnation from God alone, on account of having transgressed His commands, we should be indeed convinced that we should have kept the commandments; but since that same sentence shall come from the lips of the incarnate God, it will convince us that we could easily have kept the commandments. Thus there will be nothing for us to plead in excuse, and the grievous injustice of sin will be made much more evident to us. If the Judge were to say to us as He did in olden times to the Hebrews: “I am the Lord thy God,” Who created thee out of the dust of the earth; how couldst thou, miserable worm, dare to disobey My commands and to live according to thy own will? we might answer perhaps, by way of excuse, great Lord and God! it is true I should have been most obedient to Thee; I cannot deny that I am guilty and deserve punishment; but remember, since Thou knowest all things, how frail is the handful of clay out of which Thou hast made me! “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;” the soul Thou hast infused into me was indeed ready to avoid sin and to do good, but my miserable flesh is too frail and has done violence, as it were, to the spirit in order to have its own way. Thus no matter how terrible the judgment may otherwise be, if we were to be tried only by the infinite majesty of God, we might have some way of escaping the penalty due to our disobedience in transgressing a law so hard for our weak nature. But before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, a Man like to ourselves and subject to the law as we are –“God sent His Son made of a woman, made under the law,” as St. Paul says before such a Judge what excuse could we put forward? fear without hope! Anguish without alleviation! Terror without excuse! Damnation without gainsaying! The example He gave us in our own nature shall close our lips and clearly prove to us that we could and should have kept the divine commandments and lived according to them.
Come now, sinner, and imagine with me that you hear the dread sound of the last trumpet calling you before the tribunal of this Man: Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! “Give an account of thy stewardship.” Where did you get the audacity with which you wantonly trampled My law under foot? Who has given you the courage to persecute and insult even to death Me, your Creator, your Redeemer, your Sovereign Benefactor? Give an account! Answer Me! Now sigh forth again: Ah, Lord, remember that I am a poor mortal clothed with flesh, and subject to many weaknesses and frailties! Thy law was altogether too hard for me, and therefore Thou shouldst forgive me for not having observed it! What! the Judge will reply, am I a stock or a stone? Am I not a Man like you and clothed with flesh as you are? It is true that as Man I could not sin because I had a full knowledge of the Godhead which was united to My humanity; but were you obliged to sin because you were at liberty to do so? Was My grace, My help, ever wanting to you? Was it not always ready to assist your weakness in temptations? Put me in remembrance, and let us plead together: tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.”
Wilt thou still try to excuse thyself, proud man? I, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, have not disdained to become like to thee; but thou, wretched worm of earth, wert ashamed to resemble Me. I took the form of a servant to teach thee humility: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart;” but thou hast not been content to remain in the limits of the station allotted thee. I have lived for thirty whole years hidden in the cabin of a poor carpenter, although I might have made a great name for Myself before the world by My preaching and miracles; I fled from the people when they wished to make Me king; but thou wert not satisfied to remain as thou wert; thou didst not spare any effort to extol thyself above others, and to treat with contempt and scorn thy fellow-men. I have worn during My whole life a poor garment; but nothing could content thee but a costly dress with which thou didst make a display before the world. I came to serve others; but thou wert filled with anger if anything happened to be wanting to thy comfort. I have not hesitated to cast Myself at the feet of poor fisher men, and to wash them with My own hands; but thou wert so fastidious that thou couldst not bear to go near My sick and suffering servants when they were abandoned by all and in need of thy help, although the Christian law obliged thee to assist them under such circumstances. I was not ashamed to take in My circumcision the likeness of a sinner; but thou wert ashamed to confess thy sins candidly in the tribunal of penance in order to regain My grace. I have prostrated Myself on the ground in prayer to My heavenly Father; but thou, even in church, in My very presence, didst refuse to bend both knees, although thou couldst bow and scrape easily enough before a mortal. Where is thy excuse? Hast thou anything to allege in thy favor? “Tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.”
“Put Me in remembrance and let us plead together,” O unjust man! Were My commandments too difficult for thee because thou wert a weak mortal? Then look at Me, thy Judge. I am a Man like to thee. I, to whom heaven and earth belong, have become poor in order to show thee the way to heaven, as I have told thee by My Apostle: “Being rich He became poor for your sakes.” I was so poor that I could not point out a foot of land as belonging to Me during My whole life; I was poorer than the birds in their nests, the foxes in their holes; I had not even a stone whereon to lay My head, nor a corner in a barn in which to be born; naked I lay in the crib, and naked I hung on the cross; but thou wert not content with what I so generously bestowed on thee. Thy greed for gold was insatiable, and to gratify it thou hast had recourse to dishonest means, and hast robbed thy neighbor. Thou hast lived in luxury, and when I came before thee in the persons of My poor brothers and sisters, thou hast not given Me a farthing. Thou hast gratified thy gluttony, indulged in immoderate drinking and gambling, conformed to the vain customs of the world, and given away money enough to the object of thy sinful passions. Thou hast not borne temporal crosses and secret poverty with patience for My sake and to win heaven. What excuse hast thou? Thy weakness? As if I did not know thee, nor ever experienced in Myself what a man can do and bear! “Tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.”
“Put me in remembrance and let us plead together.” Come, impure man! wanton, dissolute woman! whose god was thy corruptible body, whose thoughts and imaginations were filled with foul pictures, with a thousand sinful desires, with unlawful looks and touches, and other shameful things that may not be named, and who wert occupied in such filth day and night; who could not bear a forty days fast according to the law of My Church, or an hour’s cold in My house, or a slight mortification of the senses, a word of contradiction, or a slight, trifling cross; look at Me and see what a man can suffer! See the cross, the nails, the thorns; they condemn thy fastidiousness. See this mouth which so often bore hunger and thirst, and spent forty days without food or drink; it condemns thy luxurious living. See My body gashed with the scourge, and the still open wounds that cry out against thy unchastity. I did not wish to enter into My glory except by the rude way of the thorns and the cross; and thou hast tried to enter heaven by a pleasant road strewn with roses! Where is thy excuse? “Tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.”
“Put Me in remembrance and let us plead together.” Vindictive man! what hast thou to say for thyself? I have told thee and caused My preachers frequently to remind thee that thou shouldst love thy enemies. Thou didst think it impossible for thee to do that, and didst persuade thyself that thy honor required thee to take revenge, and that in any case there was no use in trying to conceal thy hatred, much less to think of a reconciliation. But how couldst thou err so far? How is it that I, a Man like thee, and the Lord of the world, whose honor is of far more importance than thine, could take the form of a helpless child and fly from a mortal Herod whom I might have destroyed with a breath? I could suffer the cruelties and insults that My enemies inflicted on Me, and repay them by miraculous healings and other benefits. I have allowed Myself to be mocked as a fool by the court and army of Herod, and have not said a word in My own defense. Like a lamb led to the slaughter I have not uttered a word of complaint against those who nailed Me to a cross, and even prayed for them to My heavenly Father. Why hast thou not done the same? Art thou not infinitely smaller than I, and must not eternal shame and disgrace be thy portion on account of thy sins? “Tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.”
“Put Me in remembrance and let us plead together.”Tepid, slothful Christian! thou hast disregarded many beautiful examples that might have helped thee to do good and save thy soul, and neglected them through sheer sloth; thou hast wasted many hours, weeks, and years, in which thou mightest have gained heaven at any moment; thou hast missed many Masses and sermons in which I could have brought thee to the knowledge of thy vices, to amend thy life to greater zeal in My service, and that thou hast done simply to indulge in sloth and love of sleep; thou hast consumed thy precious time in eating, drinking, and gaming; thou hast performed thy daily tasks without a good intention, without offering them up to Me. Couldst thou not have been more diligent and zealous? Hast thou not often heard that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”? Look at Me, a Man like thyself, and see how I have labored for heaven, as if I stood in the greatest danger of losing it, although it belonged to Me by right and I could have had it without the least trouble on My part. I have been as diligent in working for thy salvation as if I could not be happy without thee; for thy sake I have gone many a long journey, and have often fatigued Myself running after thee; all the thoughts, words, and actions of My whole life were offered to the eternal Father for thee and thy salvation. But thou hast been unable to do any work, to take any trouble except for the world and perishable things! wicked man! “Tell if thou hast anything to justify thyself.” What excuse canst thou offer? If thou hast any, let Me hear it; but “put Me in remembrance and let us plead together!” Think of what I, a Man like thyself, have done, and that will be enough to reduce thee to silence.
Cry out again, Malachy, the words: “Who shall be able to think of the day of His coming, and who shall stand to see Him?” I will not ask who shall be able to hear such a convincing Judge. Sedecias, the king of Israel who was taken prisoner by Nabuchodonosor, gives us a slight idea of the sad spectacle the sinner shall present when he appears before his insulted Judge to be put to shame. You may read all about it, my dear brethren, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Fourth Book of Kings. The city of Jerusalem was besieged and taken by the Assyrians; all the people took to flight, and Sedecias was captured, bound in chains, and brought to Babylon: “The army of the Chaldees pursued after the king and overtook him, . . .and bound him with chains, and brought him to Babylon.” There the unhappy king had to see his children slaughtered before the throne of Nabuchodonosor; his eyes were plucked out, and there was nothing more left him on earth to see or care for. Thus deprived of sight, childless, helpless, without consolation or hope, his most bitter torment and greatest shame was to know that he had to lie there a prisoner and slave to a king like himself, who was now his conqueror and sworn enemy. “So they took the king and brought him to the king of Babylon, and he gave judgment upon him,” and mocked at his misfortunes. That was worse to him than his imprisonment, his blindness, nay, even than death itself. Truly unhappy, Sedecias! But still more unhappy are you, sinner, if you have to stand with open eyes before a Man like yourself, and hear Him convict you as your implacable Judge!
For the same Man, when He was taken prisoner in the garden, patient as He was then, by merely uttering the words “I am He,” so terrified the shameless rabble and fierce soldiers that they fell to the ground in fear: “They went backward and fell to the ground.” The same Man, when He showed a few rays of His beauty and glory to His disciples on Mount Thabor, although they knew Him well and He was friendly disposed to them, filled them with dismay: “The disciples fell upon their face and were very much afraid.” The same Man, when He engaged in works of mercy and was healing the sick, frightened with one question the woman we read of in the Gospel of St. Mark: “A woman who was under an issue of blood twelve years,” says the Evangelist, “when she had heard of Jesus, came in the crowd behind Him and touched His garment” with the firm hope that she would be freed from her infirmity; meanwhile “Jesus turning to the multitude, said: Who hath touched My garments?” Whereupon the poor woman fell to the ground in terror: “But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before Him.”
If, I say, the mere voice of the then loving Saviour, when He was actually distributing His benefits, could inspire such fear, how will it be on that day when the same Man shall come in all His majesty and glory, surrounded by a thousand times a hundred thousand angels, having laid aside all His mercy and compassion, and resembling a ravening lion in His wrath and anger? How will it be when He shall have the sinner bound before His throne, and shall speak to him in a terrible voice, upbraiding him with having neglected the example of his Saviour’s most holy life? Oh, “who shall stand to see Him?” Will you be able to do it, wicked Christian? But what am I saying? Will you, holy and innocent Job? Oh, no! he answers; I shall not be able to bear the sight of my Judge, nor to look at His face! “Nor shall the sight of man behold me: Thy eyes are upon me, and I shall be no more.” Let the heavens thunder and send forth their lightnings on that day in the most awful manner; let the sun be darkened and turn day into night; let the moon lose her light and become blood-red; let the stars in confusion fall from the heavens, the sea roar and pass its bounds, and all the living things on earth grow mad with terror: all that will not frighten me so much as one look of that Man. Of what Man? Of Christ Jesus! Oh that I may not have to face Him!
But what are you saying? Are you afraid of that countenance that makes the joy of the angels and elect in heaven? that countenance that surpasses the sun in beauty? that countenance that so many patriarchs, prophets, and kings have longed to behold, and have not seen? Yes; that is what I fear. “Nor shall the sight of man behold me:” hell would be more tolerable to me than the sight of that Man. “Who will grant me this, that Thou mayest protect me in hell, and hide me till Thy wrath pass?” Thus, according to St. Basil, holy Job speaks in the person of the sinner before the sacred humanity of Our Lord in the tribunal of judgment. “Who will grant me this, that Thou mayest protect me in hell?” Eternal Father! protect me; hide me! What, accursed sinner! why should I protect thee? where should I hide thee? Ah, in hell! Let me go there! In hell? But that is the place of all imaginable pains and torments. No matter! let me go there! Cover me with flames! Bury me in them so deeply that I cannot come out! It will be more endurable for me there than the sight of this Man Who is my Judge. “Nor shall the sight of man behold me!” Let me not look at the incarnate God! I cannot bear the sight of Him, nor that He should see me. Mountains, fall upon me in pity! Hills, bury me in your mercy! “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: fall upon us; and to the hills: cover us.” Yes, miserable wretch, call out as loud as you will; bore into the bowels of the earth if you can; tear the eyes out of your head: you must stand before Me and see the Man Who will put you to shame: “Then they shall see the Son of man;” and then too, Lord, shall sinners wither away with fear before Thee. “They shall perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance.”
My dear Christians, there you have our future Judge as God, our future Judge as Man; our Judge who, in whatever way you consider Him, is all-seeing, and therefore nothing can be hidden from Him; almighty, and no one can escape Him; infinitely just, without mercy, without pity, without respect for persons, Who will pronounce final sentence on each one according to his deserts. This Judge, terrible in all respects, I have chosen as the subject of your meditation and mine too, that we may persevere in the way of virtue, have a greater horror of sin, and be more zealous in the performance of good works. It is indeed on the last day of the world that the sentence will be made known which decides the eternal happiness or misery of each individual; but now during this life is the time in which the trial is going on; all that we now do, think, or say, we shall then see written in the great account-book; what we now sow we shall then reap. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels: and then will He render to every man according to his works.”
Ah, above all things let us do what we can to ensure a favorable termination to our suit. If we have sinned and sinned often, and grievously even, let us not despair on that account. As long as we are in this life we have time to regain what we have lost, and to wipe out our sins so that they will not be brought up against us in the judgment. Now, incarnate God, Thy thoughts are full of peace towards me, and Thou art not minded to do me the least harm! Thine eyes are now opened to look on me with favor; Thine arms are stretched out to embrace me; Thy sacred head is bowed down; Thy whole body suspended on the cross, and all for my salvation and eternal happiness! Without danger I may hide myself in Thy wounds, and even if I have often dealt Thee a death-blow by my sins, provided I now sincerely repent and implore Thy mercy, Thy sacred Heart pierced with the lance shall be my sure refuge, in which Thou wilt receive me again into favor! But if through my own fault I allow the time of grace to pass by, alas! then it is all up with me forever! Thy Godhead, Thy humanity, Thy love and fidelity towards me, Thy life and example, Thy very looks shall overwhelm me with shame and condemn me! And that this may not be the case let my life be always conformed to Thine in future, and this resolution, which I now renew, shall be the fruit of this and the other meditations I have made on the last judgment and Thy second coming.
Sinners! I have said nothing yet of the terrible sound of the final trumpet which shall summon the dead out of their graves; nothing of the examination that shall take place in the judgment; nothing of the accusers and witnesses; nothing of the public manifestation of consciences and the intolerable shame of sinners before the whole world; nothing of the final sentence that shall call the just to the kingdom of heaven and condemn the wicked to the fire of hell. What I have hitherto treated of concerns only the Person of our future Judge, and this in itself is terrible enough, so that the bare remembrance of that Judge should fill even the most pious with fear and anguish. But there is yet another point which to my mind is still more terrible and worthy of admiration. What is that? Hear first what Father Ambrose Cataneus of the Society of Jesus writes of a celebrated preacher in Spain. The latter was once representing to his audience, in his usual eloquent style, the terrors of the last judgment; he portrayed its severity, its strictness, and all the other circumstances of it in such lively colors that everyone was stricken with fear. “See there,” he cried out, “in the midst of that altar, in a heavy, black cloud, from which come forth fearful thunders and lightnings, that awful and strict divine Judge, formerly a God of love and mercy, but now a God of wrath and anger and vengeance; a God armed with the thunderbolt! See whole legions of spirits soaring through the air, all ready to take vengeance on the sinner! See those sinners formerly so desirous of honors now put to shame before the whole world; how they stamp with their feet in their fury! How they struggle with the chains that bind them!” These and similar things the zealous preacher described to his audience in a voice of thunder. They were all as still as possible; all overwhelmed with fear; all hearts were moved to contrition, and at last the whole congregation broke out into tears. When the preacher saw the people so well disposed, he stretched forth his hand and ordered them to refrain from weeping, and to listen to the remainder of the sermon.
“I have,” he continued, “a more terrible thing to tell you than all that I have described hitherto: a thing that alone ought to be bewailed with bitter tears.” The people waited eagerly to hear what was to come. “The most terrible thing of all,” burst forth the preacher with flaming eyes and awful voice, “the greatest misery of all is that you who are now filled with a well-grounded fear, and who are shedding tears of true contrition, after the lapse of one quarter of an hour will forget everything you have heard here to-day; all your present feelings, devotion, and zeal shall vanish; you will go back to your former sins, and to much worse ones; you will fall still deeper into the mire, heap sin on sin, and at last die in sin and be sent to hell on the last day. This is indeed the worst of all evils: to hear those terrible eternal truths, to take them to heart and acknowledge them, to weep bitterly, and mourn with a contrite heart at the recollection of them, and yet not to change for the better, or to give up old bad habits. What can be more deserving of wonder than this? It is like the marble of which the altar is made; it weeps when the warm noon-day wind blows through the church, and becomes so damp that one might think it quite softened; but it is marble all the same, and harder than before.” So spoke the preacher, and left his audience filled with shame at his stinging reproof.
Ah, my dear brethren, it is this very thing that seems so terrible to me too, that namely, after all that we have heard about our divine Judge and meditated about Him, to conceive a greater horror of sin, nevertheless most people still persist in their old vicious ways: the unchaste return to their filthy pleasures, the blasphemers to their cursing, the uncharitable to their detraction, the drunkards to their intemperance, while the unjust refuse to make restitution, and the vindictive to lay aside their hatred. Thus the sermons they hear about the divine justice only serve to make them more hardened in vice, and less excusable before the tribunal of the Almighty. This, I repeat, is what appears to me far more terrible than all that you have hitherto heard about Christ our future Judge; and that also is what I am most in dread of. God of goodness, effect the contrary by Thy powerful grace in our hearts, of which Thou art Lord and Master; grant that this fear of mine may be unfounded, and that instead of that fearful curse, which I dare no more utter through terror, we may all hear Thy loving voice inviting us, “Come, ye blessed,” enter into the joy of your Lord. Amen.