Part II of a IV part series on the person of God by Fr. Francis Hunolt (1694-1746). Part I here:
Et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei.–Luke iii. 6.
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Dearr Saviour! is it Thou who art to be our Judge on that day when all flesh shall rise from the grave? If so, why did I in the last sermon cause such alarm to myself and others by representing our Judge as a strict and merciless God? Thou art Man like to us, and hast loved us even to death. So it is, dear Christians. Rejoice, for we have a good Judge; our case will be tried under favorable circumstances. Rejoice then, pious Christians, who by your virtuous lives remain always in the friendship of your Judge. But sinners, alas! as far as you are concerned, you have just as much reason to fear as ever, unless you turn from your evil ways. He who will judge us is Jesus Christ, a Man like ourselves, that is true; but the sinner has no less reason for fear on that account, as I now proceed to show.
Plan of Discourse.
Because the Man Who will judge us shall then be quite different towards the sinner from what He now is: the first part. Because the sinner who is to be judged shall then be unworthy of pity or mercy from his Judge; the second part. Therefore let us change our lives in time if we wish to find our Judge favorable to us: the conclusion. And we hope that the same Judge will give us grace to observe it, through the intercession of Mary and of our holy angels.
Amongst all the titles that are given to Our Lord in the Gospels, there is none more common than “The Son of man.” He Himself hardly ever speaks of Himself otherwise than as “The Son of man.” Why is that, my dear brethren? To show that, as He has assumed our mortal nature, and become Man like to us. He has also taken on Himself the same tenderness, sensibility, and mildness which urge men to have compassion on those who are suffering. And truly there never was, and never will be a man so mild and compassionate, so friendly and meek, as Jesus Christ the Son of man, that is, of Mary. The holy precursor St. John cried out as soon as he saw Him: “Behold the Lamb of God.” What is meeker or milder than a lamb, in which there is no guile? When the prophets describe the future Messias, they all give that as the first mark by which He is to be known: His mildness. “He shall not cry,” says Isaias, “neither shall His voice be heard abroad.” He will not even open His mouth to speak in a loud voice. He will be a Man, says the Prophet David, “that hath no reproofs in His mouth.” “He shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer,” says Isaias again, “and He shall not open His mouth.”
Of His own virtues, Christ proposes for our special imitation His meekness and patience: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” What else has His whole life been but the constant practice of meekness? When did He ever show the least anger or indignation, except in the case of the Scribes and Pharisees, when there was question of His Father’s honor? What patience did He not show in His daily intercourse with His disciples, who were still very ignorant and full of imperfections? How friendly and lovingly did He not deal even with the worst sinners, without ever upbraiding them with their wickedness? How often did He not prove the sensibility of His heart for the woes of others, when He met with people who were afflicted and in trouble; when He actually mingled His tears with theirs? Not a single word of complaint did He utter even in His cruel passion against His torturers, but rather prayed for them while He was hanging on the cross, and begged of His heavenly Father to forgive them. And to prove still clearer that He has the greatest love and affection for us. He calls Himself our Friend, our Father, our Brother, our Spouse. To give hope and courage to sinners, He says that He is their Pledge, their Advocate, their Mediator with His angry Father; that He is the Intercessor between God and man to repair all that is broken. “There is one God,” says St. Paul, “and one Mediator of God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a redemption for all.” O sinner! hear the consoling words of St. John: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.” No matter how great your sins are, do not despair; have good hope and courage, for we have as our Advocate the only begotten Son of the Eternal Father, Who has gone bail for us, and offered Himself as full atonement: “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
O meekest Saviour! gentle Son of man! let me here again ask Thee, in the words that Thy precursor St. John said to Thee by his disciples, “Art Thou He that art to come?” Art Thou the Man that art to come as the Judge of the living and the dead? “Or look we for another?” No, no other; I am the one! “The Father hath given all judgment to the Son.” To what Son? To that very Son Who, meek and patient as a lamb, had not a word of contradiction in His mouth. “Then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud,” says St. Luke, speaking of the last judgment, as we have seen already. Away, then, with all fear and dread! I repeat: if that Man Who has just been described is to be my Judge, I could, not have or wish for any one better, or more favorable, or more gracious. No; it is Thou, Jesus Christ, my Saviour, and no other, whom I expect and desire as my Judge!
But, alas! I am not over-confident when I consider my own misdeeds, and the possibility of falling unrepentant into the hands even of this Man. O sinner, do not flatter yourself with a vain hope! Yes, it is that very Man who will judge you; but ah, He will be quite changed and altered from what He was before, from what He is at present towards you. All His mildness and tenderness shall be turned into severity and bitterness; all His pity into sternness; all His meekness into anger and indignation, when you shall behold Him coming in His power and glory. All the titles He has assumed out of love for men shall then be no longer used by Him; it will not then be said of Him: “Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world,” but rather: behold ”a lion ravening and roaring,” Who comes to devour His enemies! Father, Brother, Friend, Spouse, Saviour, Mediator, Intercessor, our Pledge with God; alas, there is an end of all that! His only name and title when He shall appear on His throne will be that of a strict Judge, whose duty and obligation it is to condemn those who are convicted of guilt, and sentence them to public execution, but in no way whatever to intercede for them or obtain a mitigation of their sentence.
A Greek philosopher was offered the position of judge, and as is usual in such cases, his wife, children, friends, and neighbors came to congratulate him; but all he said to them was: “In future I look on myself as a stranger to all of you.” Wife, thou knowest my heart and affections, and how I have loved thee hitherto. Children, you know that I have cared for you up to this as for myself. Friends, I have always been faithful to you, as you are well aware. But pardon me if I now speak the truth to you; I must be a stranger to you henceforth; all our relations are at an end; the change of office has also brought a change in my love and affection; I am now your judge, and therefore I cease to be your husband, father, and friend. Look on me therefore in future not otherwise than as a stranger. His meaning was: my present duties have no regard for love or friendship; if you commit a crime, I shall punish you just as I would any other criminal. Christian souls! in the same strain and even more emphatically will Jesus Christ, the most just of all judges, speak to you on the day when He shall appear in His majesty and glory, and seat Himself on His tribunal before heaven and earth: Christian soul! thou knowest the tender affection and love I have always had for thee during thy life on earth, as long as thou didst remain My faithful spouse in the state of sanctifying grace; thou knowest that while thou wert My child I loved thee better than My own life, which I gave up in pain and disgrace for thy sake that I might enroll thee among the number of My children, and keep thee there forever; thou knowest; that I have often admitted thee to My Table, and fed thee with My own body and blood, or at least that I was daily prepared to give thee this heavenly food. Thou must also acknowledge that when thou wert actually abandoning, despising, offending Me as thy sworn Enemy, and treating Me most unjustly while thou wert in the state of sin, I did not even then cease to heap benefits on thee; that for years and years I have borne with thee most patiently; that I have often gone after thee like a beggar imploring a crust of bread, and knocked at the door of thy heart, pressing as it were with violence on thee My grace and the pardon of thy sins; that as Mediator, Intercessor, and Pledge, I have promised to reconcile thee with My heaveniy Father. But now I am neither thy Spouse, nor Father, nor Friend, nor Pledge, nor Advocate; My office is changed; I am nothing now but thy Judge, and all I have to do with thee is after a strict examination of all thy actions to exact full satisfaction for all thy sins, even to the last farthing, and as thou art not able to pay, to condemn thee to eternal flames. Alas, how different that is to what He used to say! “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Yes, that was true; but it is so no longer; the Man has changed. O meekest Saviour! remember, I beg of Thee, how often Thou hast said: “Go then and learn what this meaneth: I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners.” True, such was the case then; but it is so no longer; now I am come to judge the living and the dead; now I am come to call the just to heaven, and to condemn the wicked to the everlasting flames of hell.
And, O Judge of infinite holiness, I must acknowledge that Thou art perfectly right! Thou canst not do otherwise; Thou shalt be compelled to turn Thy patience and meekness into wrath and indignation, and to deal with the guilty according to the strictness of Thy justice. You yourselves, O sinners, must acknowledge that when the crime in question is clearly proven and the perpetrator of it convicted, and he himself confesses his guilt, and when moreover the crime is clearly one that deserves the gallows, then there is no longer place for grace or mercy; the judge has no power to pardon, but is forced to sentence the criminal according to the rigor of the law, even if it were his own son whom he has to condemn to the extreme penalty. Now on that day, when the great account-book is opened, in which all our thoughts, words, and actions are written down; when moreover the consciences of all men shall be laid bare before heaven and earth; when besides, as we all know, the divine law condemns to hell all who are found guilty of mortal sin that they have not blotted out during life by sincere repentance; what else can the Son of man as the Judge of all men, appointed to that office by His heavenly Father,–what else can He do but punish the guilty according to the strictness of the law? All the circumstances of the case are evident, and nothing remains but to pronounce the terrible sentence: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” But, O God of goodness, if a judge appointed by the sovereign has not the power of showing mercy to the convicted criminal, yet we know that that power is held and is often used by the sovereign himself. Now Thou art the King of kings, and the only law-giver. Canst Thou not then respite a poor mortal in this case, and save him from eternal torments, or at least sentence him to a milder form of punishment? No! “I am the Lord, and I change not.” I am the Lord, and never retract what I have once uttered: “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away,” nor be frustrated. And, my dear brethren, suppose that Our Lord could change His law, and as supreme Judge show mercy on the last day; to whom should He show it? To the sinner, who departs this life without repentance? But for what reason? There must be some motive to urge the Judge to be merciful in such a case. And no such motive is at hand; for the sinner who is to be condemned shall then be utterly unworthy of any favor or mercy from his Judge.
There are three motives which can move the judge to pity, or justify the sovereign in dispensing the poor criminal from suffuring the extreme penalty of the law. First, when the crime is committed through accident or misfortune, without deliberation and for the first time. In such a case something is accorded to human weakness; for instance, if a man who is otherwise peaceably inclined happens to be overcome by drink, and in a fit of passion plunges his sword into the bosom of his friend. Hardly is the crime committed when he bewails his unfortunate friend with bitter tears, and actually gives himself up to justice, acknowledging that he deserves death. All agree that a homicide of that kind deserves compassion, and should be treated far more leniently than one who is always on the look-out for quarrels, and deliberately attacks a man and kills him. The crime of the first was due to sheer misfortune; that of the second to malice. Again, if the guilty person is of importance in the country, or of a good family, or nearly related to the judge himself, he is generally dealt with more mildly, or even released altogether from punishment. But if he is a stranger, unknown, a bad character, caught amongst the hedges and ditches, and convicted of crime, then there is no mercy for him; he must away to the gallows. Thirdly, the sovereign is often moved to pity and pardon, or at least to mitigate the sentence of one who has the tears of his wife and children, or the favor of some powerful man to intercede for him. Oh, how many would have lost their lives if it were not for such intercessors!
Mark, O sinner, how ill provided you are in this way! If we die in the state of mortal sin, neither you nor I shall have one of these motives to plead for us, even if the Judge were capable of changing; nor shall there be anything whatever to move Him to be favorable or merciful. We shall examine the matter in order according to the rules of right reason.
And, in the first place, shall we be able to allege that our past sins and obstinacy in remaining in them was merely the result of weakness, or indeliberation, or accidental misfortune? But how could we say that? Were we not well aware when we committed the guilty act that impurity, vindictiveness, injustice, gross uncharity, voluntary intoxication, or grievous scandal must be a mortal sin? Did we not know that the sovereign God, to whom we owe all respect, obedience, reverence, and love, is grievously dishonored by such actions, and that they offend and insult Him before His very eyes? Did we not firmly believe that the same God has strictly forbidden each and every mortal sin under pain of eternal damnation? And in spite of all this we have not restrained ourselves, but of our own free will, with full deliberation, for some wretched thing, to gratify our senses, to make some trifling profit, to please a mortal creature, we have accomplished the sinful act.
Have we not had examples enough of condemnations to eternal torments, examples that were intended to warn and terrify us, for these and similar sins? Millions of angels, creatures of a far higher order and much more capable of serving God than we are, sinned only by a momentary thought, and at once, without mercy, without having a minute granted them for repentance, like lightning they were hurled by the divine justice into the abyss of hell. That we have believed. Our forefather Adam sinned against the divine command by eating one mouthful of an apple, and he was at once turned out of paradise and condemned to eternal death with all his posterity. We still feel and suffer the hard punishments of this first sin; to atone for it the God of infinite justice and mercy allowed His only Son to be crucified on the gibbet of the cross, and cruelly done to death. That we have believed. Countless human beings have been condemned to hell for their sins, and they are burning there now and will burn forever. That we have believed. And yet it has not had the slightest influence on us; we have sinned without hesitation, shame, or fear. Can such guilt be attributed to mere misfortune? Can it be called deserving of mercy or pity? Does it not rather resemble the conduct of the thief who robs his very judge on the place of execution, while another thief is being put to death for a similar crime?
And how could we lay the blame of our sins on human weakness if we remained in them without doing penance? It is true, says St. Gregory, that a man sometimes commits a sin on account of a very alluring occasion, or because he gives way to temptation through the violence of his evil passions and inclinations; but after the sin he enters into himself, repents, and heartily detests the guilty action. Such a case indeed deserves pity, and can well be ascribed to human weakness; for “to sin is human, but to persist in sin diabolical.” But not to rise again after the fall, to remain in sin for a long tine, to put off repentance and wilfully expose one’s self to danger while death is liable to surprise one at any moment, and bring with it eternal damnation; that indeed is devilish, nay, worse than devilish, for the demons have never had a moment granted them in which to repent. And is not this the very state of him who dies in mortal sin? Does not the divine mercy concede him time and opportunity enough to repent of and confess his sins, and free himself from his misery if he wishes? Meanwhile he has not profited of that time, but has remained for weeks, months, and years in sin, until he is at last surprised by death. Could such a man lay any claim to pity, mercy, or grace from the Judge whom he has despised? No! Such a thought would be a presumption that should arouse the indignation of any reasoning man.
Again; I go, for instance, along the street, and see a dog lying there, lamed and crippled, and howling most piteously; oh! I say to myself, that is only a brute beast; he may die there for all I care; and I go along my way in utter indifference, or at most, if the matter interests me in any way, I should in all probability ask some one to kill the dog in order to stop his howling. On the other hand, if I met even the lowliest mendicant in a similar condition, I should certainly try to help him if my heart were not of stone. Why so? Because he is a man who has the same nature, and therefore some relationship with myself. All we human beings are members of the same Head, and therefore we must sympathize with the misfortunes of our fellow-men, as St. Paul says: “If one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member.” We have not the same feelings of sympathy and compassion for a dog or another animal, because they are not united with us by community of nature. Now tell me: is the sinner in any way related to our future Judge, so that He should have some reason for pitying the guilty one who is sentenced to eternal torments? As long as a Christian is in this life he is one of the members of Jesus Christ, from whose mystic body he is, so to speak, never separated, as long as he does not apostatize from the true faith; therefore on account of that relationship Christ is always full of pity for even the greatest and most wicked sinners; He is always running after them to offer them His grace, and He speaks inwardly to their hearts to warn and rescue them from the state of sin and bring them to heaven. But after death, on the day of judgment, he who persists in sin shall no longer be related to Christ, nor concern Him anymore than a dead dog now concerns me; for all relationship is broken off, and the sinner is not merely a rotten member, but is actually and completely separated from the body of Christ. Now an amputated foot, as we know, cannot cause pain; it may rot and be thrown out on the dung-hill like any other piece of carrion. “Depart from Me, you cursed,” shall Our Lord say to the reprobate; you are condemned and cast off; I know you no more; you are not members of Mine; you will never have part with Me, and therefore I have not and cannot have any pity for you in your eternal misery.
Finally, where are the patrons, the petitions, the sighs and appeals for mercy? Where are the tears that should flow on the last day to implore pardon for the sinner? Unhappy sinner, look around you and see if there is anyone to put in a word for you with your Judge! Look up! See Mary the Mother of mercy, the Refuge of sinners; she can do anything with her divine Son; perhaps she may help you? Look up and see the great host of saints, friends and children of God, the choirs of angels and ministers at the great Throne; can they do something for you? Alas! a vain hope. They, too, know you no longer! “The sun shall be darkened,” says the Gospel of that terrible day: and not only will the Sun of justice, Jesus Christ, be obscured for the sinner, but also “the moon shall not give her light:” Mary, that bright Moon, shall have no light for him; “and the stars shall fall from heaven:” the chosen saints, those brilliant stars in the firmament, shall fall, that is, they shall have neither the power nor the will to help the sinner by even a single word uttered in his favor; “the powers of heaven shall be moved:” that is, the angels shall rise up against the sinner and drive him out of the chosen flock of Christ as a loathsome goat. And is there no one then to implore the mercy of the Judge for him? No; not one.
But if, on the contrary, many voices shall be raised to embitter the Judge’s anger, what shall then become of the sinner’s hope? If an earthly judge saw before him the bleeding corpse of a murdered man, which in itself cries loudly enough for vengeance, and heard moreover the lamentations of the widow, the cries of the poor orphans calling out: Justice, O judge! there is the assassin who murdered our dear one and reduced us to this destitute condition, for we have no one now to provide for us; justice therefore on the wretch! let there be no mercy for him! what would you think, my dear brethren? There is no doubt that even if the judge were at first inclined to be merciful, those circumstances would inflame him with anger and turn his compassion into fury. And, O sinner! there shall be similar voices crying out for vengeance on you at the last day. Your own soul shall cry out against your body and say: this is the wretch that has slain me with its impure desires and love of luxury! And the body will cry out against the soul: this is the wretch that has conceded so much to my sensuality, and not held me in check by its reason, as it should have done; thus it has become the cause of my eternal damnation! And such, too, shall be the exclamations of all those whom you have led into sin by unlawful gestures and signs, by wicked talk, by impure solicitations, and love-letters, by indecency in dress, and bad example? this is the man, O just Judge, who has robbed us of our innocence! He it is who has taught us what we should never have learned! He it is who has led us so far astray that we have offended Thee! Children shall cry out against their father and mother: my parents are the murderers of my soul; they should have brought me up to Thy service, O Judge, but they neglected their duty and taught me nothing but the vanity and sinful customs of the world, or else they allowed me to indulge in them and did not punish me on account of that as they should have done. Such, too, shall be the cries of the weak whom you have oppressed and persecuted, of servants, laborers, and tradesmen whom you have defrauded of their just wages. Your wife shall accuse you of having treated her worse than a servant, and of having spent what belonged to her in drinking and debauchery, so that she had to suffer hunger with her children. All these will cry out in the words of the Apocalypse: “How long, O Lord! (holy and true) dost Thou not judge and revenge our blood?” And this is what the Holy Ghost prophesied long ago by the Wise Man: “Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them,” and against all by whom they have been in any way persecuted and oppressed during life.
From this we may conclude what sort of a sentence he has to expect on the last day who dies in the state of sin, and whether he has any reason to hope for grace or mercy from the otherwise meek and gentle Son of man. Oh, truly! neither the Judge, who will then be quite changed from what He now is, shall feel the least pity for the sinner, nor shall the latter have the least title to mercy. Therefore, Christians, let us fear, honor, and always love with our whole hearts the Man Who will come to judge the living and the dead. Alas! Jesus, my Saviour and Redeemer, if I should be so unfortunate as to leave the world in the state of mortal sin (may God save me from such a fate!), how terrible it will be to appear before Thee and to see Thee so changed and embittered towards me! How could I bear that change? I have never seen Thee as yet. Happy they who have beheld Thee as an Infant in the crib, or as a Victim for our sins on the cross! I have not had that happiness; but I believe without seeing! My faith convinces me that Thou art my only happiness, and alone canst satiate all the desires of my heart; my hopes and desires draw me constantly thither where I can behold my sovereign Good; and when I see Thee for the first time, must it be also for the last time for all eternity? And during the short time that I shall be in Thy presence, must I see Thee only as my Judge and, alas! as a terrible, angry, implacable Judge Who will condemn me, and as the first welcome will address to me the words, ” Depart from Me;” away, accursed one, into eternal fire? Sinful soul! what are you waiting for after such thoughts as these? Are you not yet resolved to do penance, to amend your life, and to escape such a terrible judgment? Wicked desires, sinful joys of the wanton flesh, money, and temporal goods, point of honor, human respect, vanity of the world, beauty of a mortal creature, will you still so blind me that for your sake I shall commit sin and make an Enemy of my Judge? What could be more foolish or more desperate? No; meek and gentle as Thou art, Jesus, my Saviour, “I am afraid of Thy judgments,” and therefore as far as my past life is concerned, I will cry out to Thee with a contrite heart, and bewail all my sins. I acknowledge myself to be a poor sinner; I bow my head with shame before Thee. Pardon me, O Jesus, before Thou comest to judge me! And with regard to the uncertain time that remains to me, I shall at once begin to lead a better life, so that when I see Thee as my Judge Thou shalt not be changed towards me, but be the same meek and loving Man as Thou always art. Amen.