John McQuirk.

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terns of the true, but into Heaven itself, that He ma};
now in the presence of God make intercession for
us." "We have such an high priest, Who sits at
the right hand in the seat of His majesty in Heaven,
the minister of the saints and of the true tabernacle
which the Lord hath established, and not man."
— Heb. "We have an Advocate with the Father,
Who will make intercession for us because He can
commiserate with us in our misery, being made like
to us in all things save sin."

Let, then, your thoughts and hearts be in Heaven,
where your treasure is. We should show ourselves
as men whose hope is to be one day with Him ; ris-
ing above the vain concerns of this life, gazing in-
tently and steadily upon that future bliss which He
has purchased for us by His sufferings and death.


For all that is born of God, overcometh the world :
and this is the victory, which overcometh the world,
our faith. Who is it that overcometh the world :
unless he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
—I. John V ; 4-5.

While Christ was yet alive the Gospel was indeed
a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds ; it was but
little spread, and in the care of a few weak, illiterate
and humble-minded Apostles. But scarcely had He
left the world, and the Paraclete descended than His
own words began to be fulfilled. He indeed drew
all things to Himself. The mustard became greater
than every other seed. Within a generation the
Gospel was diffused throughout the whole extent of
the Roman Empire. It had reached into countries
which the Roman arms had never conquered. In
his time St. Paul, a few years after Christ's Ascen-
sion, could tell the Romans that their faith was
spoken of in the whole world. He had himself
preached the faith from Jerusalem in a circuit even
to Illyricum. And He says that the prophecy of
David, that the word of the Lord should be heard
to the ends of the earth, had already found its ful-



fillment. Nero, who began to reign about twenty
years after Christ's Ascension, burned the city of
Rome and laid it to the charge of the Christians,
who were there in large numbers. Seneca, in the
same time, writes that the sect of the Jews — for by
this name were the Christians first known among
the pagans — had penetrated into all parts of the
world ; that the conquered had given laws to the
conquerors. Pliny, the Proconsul, writing to the
Roman Emperor, declares that many Christians had
been summoned to judgment and would be sum-
moned again, because that superstition — by which
word he designates the Christian Faith — had found
its way not only into cities and towns, but even into
villages and hamlets and farms. Justin the Martyr,
who lived about the middle of the second century,
affirms that there is no nation, no people, whether
civilized or uncivilized, living in cities or in barbar-
ism, dwelling in huts or wagons, with or without
a habitation, among whom prayers are not offered
to God the Creator through Jesus Christ. Tertul-
lian, who lived in the same century but somewhat
later, exclaims in his Apo'logy addressed to the
Roman Senate : "We are but of yesterday, and we
fill everything, your cities, your towns, your muni-
cipalities, your forum, your armies, your palaces ;
we have left you but your temples." Here then on
the testimony of St. Paul, of pagan historians, of
Christian martyrs and fathers, is proved the won-
derful spread of the Christian Religion during the
first two centuries of its existence.

Now what was the cause of this marvelous diffu-
sion of the Gospel? how came it that this mustard


seed grew in so short a time to extend its all-embrac-
ing branches throughout the whole world, overcom-
ing pagan superstition, and numbering among its
followers the most gifted among men, and multi-
tudes from every rank, state and condition of life?
But this is not all. It is not its mere material diffu-
sion that must excite our amazement. We must con-
sider that this spread of the Gospel was in spite of
obstacles that, humanly speaking, should have been
fatal to it ; and that it was effected by means appar-
ently the most insignificant in themselves and utterly
inadequate to so great a result.

Consider the opposition which the truths of the
Gospel — impervious to human comprehension — met
with in the pride of the human intellect.

The Gospel was opposed to the fondest beliefs, the
most cherished prejudices of the human mind. If
its teachings were on a level with the human mind,
if promulgated by men of learning, if it came into
the world under the sanction and laws of princes,
if taught with craft in an illiterate age, it would have
been no such wonder that it obtained acceptance
among men. But it taught doctrines which were
indeed to the Jew^ a stumbling block, and to the Gen-
tile folly, although in the event it proved to the lowly
and humble and those whom God has called, to be
His very power and wisdom. It taught truths in-
comprehensible to human reason : and reason as
found in its present state in fallen man is the bitter
foe of what it cannot comprehend. It proclaimed
the mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the
Godhead, the birth of a Messiah and Redeemer from
the contemned and degraded Jewish people. It did


violence to all the religious notions which the pagan
world had. It assailed the attachment which the
people felt for that religion bound up with their tem-
poral welfare and martial glory. Far and wide was
spread the pagan superstition, propagated among
men when in want of all civilization and worship:
in process of ages confirmed by edicts of princes and
was so accommodated to depraved passion, that it
was justly regarded its offspring. The Gospel called
upon the pagans to renounce what at once was the
religion of their fathers and the worship of the state ;
which had become firmly rooted in their morals and
lives and grafted in their institutions, political, social,
religious, educational, throughout the world.

Consider the resistance which the human heart
and passion offered to the restraints imposed by the
Gospel's austere and crucifying morality. If it
taught doctrines flattering to passion, its victory
would have been no marvel, but a thing in course.
The heart in its affections is the great motor of
humanity. "Every one is drawn by his pleasure,"
says the poet. It is the heart that influences us for
good or evil. We believe what we like, we disbe-
lieve what we dislike. Control the heart and you
control the whole man. The heart makes us what
we are. We reluctantly accept what will be our re-
straint: we chafe under it: in the end we cast it off.
The Gospel came into the world imposing the most
urgent restraint upon the strongest passions of our
nature. It called upon us to sacrifice those feelings
which we feel are almost invincible within us ; to
practice a morality whose austerity and self-denying
character has never been called in question, and has


extorted the homage of the bitterest enemies of
Christianity. This repugnance of the heart to prac-
tice its morahty has been the Gospel's greatest ob-
stacle : its conquest has been the Gospel's greatest
glory. The spread of a religion that put no restraint
upon the heart, would be of things the most natural;
particularly so, if it even extended license or hope
to human passion. And then consider the inade-
quacy, humanly speaking, of the instruments which
God employed for the stupendous work of convert-
ing the world : a few men destitute of influence or
eloquence, unaided by human power or the favor
of kings and potentates ; not only unaided but perse-
cuted with every manner of cruelty and torture even
unto death, and not only them, but all who em-
braced their teachings. When we consider all this,
we are forced to the conclusion that it w^as by the
power and grace of God, that the Gospel was so
soon, and so extensively, and in spite of such obsta-
cles, and with such feeble instruments, propagated.
Twelve illiterate men destitute of all human ad-
vantages, ignorant of philosophy, strangers to
powerful speech and pagan literature, undertook to
convert the world to the Gospel, in an age of rare en-
lightenment, in an age of the highest civilization
which men had ever seen ; when temporal prosperity
and the arts of peace were developed to the highest
extreme, owing to the uninterrupted peace which
had long prevailed. The Gospel presented its cre-
dentials before pagan philosophy enthroned in pagan
civilization. Nor did it dread or decline the scru-
tiny. It pleased God by the folly of the Gospel to
confound the wisdom of the world. And its Divine


simplicity was more than a match for the wisdom of
the world.

The Gospel had no human advantage. No human
advantage was wanting to paganism : philosophy in
the highest excellence it had ever reached, genius
which has even till now never been outstripped ; the
most perfect human utterance, enshrined in a litera-
ture the wonder and despair of all succeeding gen-
erations, were at its command. It was a conflict be-
tween human strength, and Divine weakness; be-
tween human wisdom, and Divine folly ; between the
craftiness of men, and Divine simplicity. And yet
there was in the weakness of the Gospel strength
greater than the power of the world ; in its folly
more than the wisdom of men; in its simplicity
something more irresistible than human agency ; and
that was the supreme will of Christ, that had made
choice of the weak things of the world to destroy the
strong and the powerful.

The power of the world assailed the Gospel from
the beginning: persecution was coincident with its
birth. The world had murdered St. John the Bap-
tist, the precursor of Christ, and Christ Himself it
drove upon the cross. Their lives and deaths have
been perpetuated in the Church's chequered history
and varied fortunes and unceasing persecutions, and
the fierce warfare with pride and passion, which has
been her lot among men. While in the actual strug-
gle she may have suffered transient injury; yet it
was never irremediable, and always resulted in per-
manent good and augmented glory ; the struggle
served but to strike the roots of the Gospel deeper
and deeper in the hearts of men. In the early ages


the blood of the martyrs was the growth of the
Church ; it fertihzed the hearts of men for the recep-
tion of the Gospel. Already the blood of Stephen
was the purchase price of the conversion of the
Apostle of the Gentiles. In later times her trials
and tribulations served to purify her from the dross
of human imperfection and corruption which un-
broken peace and unruffled prosperity had accumu-
lated. She has converted what seemed failures into
triumphs; and counted victories where human eyes
saw^ but discomfiture and defeat. Never has she
shown her Divine vitality more clearly than in the
fires of persecution. From them she has issued un-
scathed, and even, like the Apostle, rejuvenated from
the caldron of boiling oil. Persecutions and human
vicissitudes alike, have found her invulnerable and
beyond disastrous influence. The conversion of
St. Paul, her bitter and unsparing enemy and the
the persecutor of Christ, into the fearless Apostle of
the Gospel and the subsequent martyr of Christ, was
the pattern and first fruits of all her victories, then
and since, over the world.

Riches and rank and power w^ere the inducements
offered to those who w^ould betray Christ. Calumny,
raillery and sarcasm sought to cover wath contempt
and odium those whom the world's blandishments
could not seduce, and for whom sufferings for the
faith had no terrors. If Christians would not give
up Christ for the world, the world resolved that they
should be deprived of all worldly advantages. Dep-
rivation of public office, exclusion from education,
the brand and ignominy of ignorance, should sink
them below their fellow men and be their portion


and lot forever. Countless were the multitudes who,
overcoming those trials and rising superior to these
tribulations, paid the penalty of their faith in their
blood. The infliction of death was not restricted to
any one part of the empire or to any one class of the
Christians. The blood of martyrs was shed every-
where. No age was spared, no sex, no rank, no con-
dition ; the young and old, venerable men and boys ;
women, matrons and maidens; the high born and
those of low estate ; those of rare endowments of
mind and genius; the ungifted and illiterate, were
forced to the alternatives of death or apostasy. Hu-
man ingenuity was taxed to devise unheard of means
of cruelty, instruments of torture ; death in the most
unheard of forms and amid the most atrocious suf-
ferings, was the jxDrtion of those whO' refused to
abandon Christ. And all this continued for three
hundred years, from Nero to Diocletian, throughout
seven persecutions, general and local.

All this the Church survived ; and, making allow-
ance for those whom she doubtless lost owing to
human weakness and the fury of the temptation and
the anguish of suffering upon free wills, she stood,
and stood strong and immovable. Not only did she
survive, but flourished. Defections gave way to con-
versions. Frequently, the martyrs' torments and
blood were the incitements to their executioners and
onlookers, to renounce all and follow them to glory.
The Divine vitality and inexhaustible energy and
fruitfulness and indestructible character of the
Church, was made manifest by this fierce and unre-
lenting warfare. It came forth unscathed and glori-
fied from the fiery ordeal. While, doubtless, many


fell, as was to be expected, yet always the issue was
complete and permanent and glorious triumph; the
general result was always to the glory and augment
and strengthening and deeper rooting of the

In all this we cannot fail to discern the abidance
of the Holy Ghost in the Church, the Mystical
Spouse of Christ. In this ever watchful providence
and unfailing protection of God, we see verified the
promises of Christ and His pledge to His Apostles :
that He would build her upon a rock : that the gates
of hell would never prevail against her: that He
would be with her all days to the end of the world :
that the Holy Ghost would dwell in her, teaching her
all truth, bringing to her mind all that He had taught
them, imparting to her light and strength and power
to overcome in the unceasing struggle which she
should ever wage against the world and the powers
of darkness.

The Church had to withstand the invasions of
Goths, Huns and other barbarous tribes and hordes
who poured down upon the fairest portions of
Europe, that she had civilized and Christianized,
engulfing civilization with barbarism and savagery,
and shedding swift destruction where they went, and
uprooting and undoing the work of centuries. She
not only withstood the impact of these tremendous
invasions; she not only was not overwhelmed, but
overcame and subdued these fierce barbarians; not
only was not conquered, but proved herself the con-
queror by taking them to her bosom and making
them her own ; civilizing them in all the arts of life,
and imparting to them the light of the Gospel, she


made them sharers of Redemption and the recipients
of the grace she had to bestow. Thus under the
providence of God she spread the Gospel among
those who by nature and habits were the least open
to her influence and the least unsparing of all that
would oppose a barrier or restraint to savage nature
or violent passions. If so powerful was her domin-
ion over such, what must not have been her influ-
ence over civilized men and more susceptible of the
claims of truth and morality? During the convul-
sions that shook Europe, consequent on the dismem-
berment of the Roman Empire, she was truly the
ark that rode the deluge amidst that long night of
darkness, chaos and disorder; bearing in her breast
all that was valuable of the old civilization together
with the precious deposit of Divine Revelation, till
the waters would have subsided, and the restoration
of light and the extinction of barbarism.

From the beginning she had to struggle with
domestic enemies, her own children ; who would
fain "preach another Gospel," unmindful of the
anathema of the Apostle. And among those who
professed and clung to the Faith, there never ceased
the struggle between what they believed and the
corrupt propensities of nature and the risings of
human passion. Many fell and were no more ; many
fell but arose again ; but all who persevered in the
Faith, conquered passion and brought wayward na-
ture into subjection to the precepts of the Gospel.

When external oppression ceased, the domestic
bonds were relaxed ; and then her "worst enemies,
those of her own household" appeared, working
fearful havoc with the Church, scandalizing the


faithful, and crippling her efforts and lessening her
influence for the conversion of nations. Then was
seen in her bosom, in her priesthood and episcopate,
the spirit of worldliness, the spirit of ambition and
avarice, the spirit of revolt and insubordination;
dissolution and scandals everywhere, even in her
highest places. All this naturally reacted upon the
faithful with direful results. What with heresiarchs
seeking to rend her seamless robe, with heretics
seeking to deprave her divine truths, with her
bishops and pontiffs imitating human rulers, seek-
ing to rule her, as Christ would not have ruled, as
a worldly kingdom; not ministering unto the flock,
but as ministered unto; what could have preserved
her through such trials and vicissitudes, and thus
proved her Divinity, but the indwelling of the Holy
Ghost, and the outstretched arm of Him Who had
sent that Spirit, and promised that protection all
days until the end ?

Warfare. What can be more deadly opposed to
the Church than warfare? What can be more con-
trary to peace than war? The Church's mission is
essentially that of peace ; for she is the work and
home of the God of peace ; against sin alone she
proclaims war. Nothing can be more disastrous to
the quiet, retirement, solitude, which constitute the
vital atmosphere of religion, and which it engenders,
than the confusion, havoc and desolation of war.
Temples of religion, institutions of learning, hospi-
tals for the sick, homes for charity which religion
gradually creates, perish in the blasting breath of
war, and the collision of conflicting armies. All
the institutions of civilization and civilization itself


go down before the far-reaching desolation which
accompanies and follows the devastating march of
beleaguered armies fighting even for the highest pur-
poses. The ruin of morals, the relaxation of the
restraints that hold men to observe their own, and
their obligations to others, are but feebly portrayed
in the material ruin and destruction everywhere
discernible. And yet the Church has, time and again
and continually, undergone and survived all this.
The earth has trembled under the tread of armies,
nations have changed places, maps been rewritten,
human society convulsed, dynasties overthrown ;
war has obliterated all things. But the Church has
outlasted; and, while enduring temporary injury,
has emerged from these moral cataclysms, stronger,
more potent, more prosperous, more invulnerable
and invincible.

Time. Of all the agencies of destruction that
this earth knows of, there is none greater than time.
Nothing can withstand its levelling influence, its all-
destructive fury. Nothing seems to defy it but the
works of nature ; and even these, indestructible as
they are, proclaim its all-corroding, though scarcely
perceptible blasts. For, even these are changing,
and assuming new forms : the earth retreating be-
fore the ocean, and the ocean diminishing before
the earth. All human works, the strongest and most
endurable of human hands; all the works of men in
the moral world, governments, dynasties, empires,
politics, laws, institutions, that gave promise of per-
petuity, and civilizations famed in their day and
since, have all succumbed to time, and are now as
if they had never been : revealed as buried in the


bosom of the earth, by a chance excavation or dis-
covery. Thus man and all his achievements, however
proud and great and filling the earth and the minds
of men, have become but mere reminiscences, feeble
and scarcely decipherable at that. The productions
of the human mind, as partaking of his immortal
spirit, seem alone to defy the ruthlessness of time
and the dominion of death. And even these are onlv
safe when so encased in man's spirit as to be free
from time's dissolvent : once embodied in material
vessels they are doomed to death.

Yet the Church has shown herself superior to
time ; thus evincing her superiority to all things else ;
thus showing that she is no human organization,
but the creation of a Divine Founder, the same to-
day as when she came forth from His hands.


*'We now see through a glass darkly : but then
face to face. Now I know in part : but then I shall
know even as I am known." — I Cor. xiii, 12.

We all have some idea of the misery of being
blind. We can not of course realize the awful dep-
rivation. To be shut out, and forever, from all
that the light has rendered familiar to us and upon
which we have come, in most part, to place our
pleasure, and even the satisfaction of our other sen-
ses. The improvement which is said to take place
in other faculties, consequent upon the loss or im-
pairment of the visual organ, can never compensate
for the utter blankness and darkness induced by the
suspension of sight. I say suspension, for the in-
herent power of sight always remains : it is its in-
strument that is impaired. As to those born blind,
their loss would seem to be less, or, at least, less
felt ; for the loss of what was never had, can not be
as painful as the loss of that which, once enjoyed,
comes to be forfeited by calamity or otherwise.

This physical blindness is an apt illustration of
mental blindness or blindness of understanding.
This likeness is the suspension rather than the de-
struction of intellectual power: intellectual light
abides behind the cloud induced by external cir-



cumstances or causes. If it comes from a natural
defect, of course it is not sinful. The privation of
the habitual light, which, superadded to nature,
dwells in man is blindness and a penalty ; but if one
turns himself from the light, or applies himself to
earthly matters which absorb his love, he sins. — St,
Thos. ii, 2 ; Q. xv. Blindness of mind comes from
luxury, as chastity and abstinence conduce to the
perfection of mental work : the flesh retards and hin-
ders the working of the mind which is spiritual.

What we have till now said prepares us to con-
sider the subject of our discourse, spiritual blindness
or the quenching of what we may term the light of
the soul; the obscuring of spiritual discernment or
knowledge of the great truths of religion and their
infusion into our character and daily life, as motives
for our right living and for reaching our eternal
life hereafter.

We all know what physical blindness is ; or, at
least, we can imagine it. While the inner faculty
always remains, the visual faculty being suspended,
not destroyed, external objects are more effectually
shut out from us than they are even when the light
of the sun is shut out from those who have sight,
and yet can not see, because deprived of the sunlight
which is necessary. In absolute darkness no one can
see. Many are the causes that lead to this unutter-
able loss. There is also mental light, which is neces-
sary to the operations of the mind. The perfection
of mental light will depend upon the force which is
inherent in it from nature, upon education, upon its
freedom from impurity and intemperance ; for these
last lessen its efficiency; a pure, mortified man will


more easily apprehend truth, and learn what he
proposes to learn than the drunkard or the impure.
Now then, as the eye needs the light of the sun, and

Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 27 of 43)