SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST SHOULD GIVE TESTIMONY OF HIM
“And you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning.”
John xv. 27.
When two kingdoms are at war with one another it is easy to distinguish the soldiers of either party by their arms, their uniforms, and their flags. A violent struggle has been going on since the beginning of the world between the King of heaven and earth and the prince of darkness as to which of them the human race should belong. Christ, the Redeemer, by His death and resurrection, has won the victory over hell. Before He entered gloriously into heaven as a conqueror, leading with Him the souls of the just of the old law, as the first-born of His victory, He founded His Church upon earth as His kingdom, in which we should continue to combat against hell, and by His power we should and could complete the victory. Therefore He says to His Apostles, the generals of His kingdom, “You will give testimony of me,” and Holy Writ says of them, “With great power did the Apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Acts iv. 33.) The words of Christ apply also to us. We are all obliged to give testimony of Him, not by sermons and miracles, as the Apostles did, but by our life, by the imitation of Jesus; for as we have all become members of His body, and have received from Christ the name of “Christians,” we are obliged to lead a life worthy of this Chief, not to bring disgrace upon His Holy Name, but so to live that in our life the Christian can be distinguished from the non-Christian. This is our testimony of Christ. I will now speak on this subject. In the Canticle of Canticles, the divine Bridegroom says to the soul that loves Him: (Cant. viii. 6): “Put me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm.” We bear this seal of Christ when we imitate Him:
I. In our will.
II. In our words.
III. In our works.
I. 1. David expresses what the will of our Redeemer was in these words, which the Holy Ghost permits Him to speak (Ps. xxxix. 8-9): “In the head of the book it is written of me that I should do thy will: O my God,I have desired it, and thy law in the midst of my heart.” But Christ says of Himself (John vi. 38), “Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me,” and (John iv. 34) “My food is to do the will of him that sent me”; and the Apostle extols Him, saying (Phil. ii. 8): “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” When He descended from the glory of heaven upon earth He sacrificed Himself to the will of His Father. “Thou wiliest, O my God,” He said, as it were, with complete resignation, “that I should be born in a desolated stable; that I should shed my blood at the circumcision; that I should flee before Herod; that I should bear the burdens and the troubles of this earthly life for three and thirty years. Thou wiliest that I should be betrayed, despised, spit upon, buffeted upon the cheeks and scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, and suffer the most cruel of deaths. My God, I will it also. I am ready to suffer these and still greater afflictions.”
2. Now, dear Christian, behold and act according to this model in thy dispositions. When a thousand disappointments beset you, say, too, “My God, I will it! “When poverty afflicts you, when the calumniator’s tongue wounds you, when false friends deceive you, when sickness visits you, when bodily pains torment you, with invincible patience imitate Christ, and say, “My God, I will it!” You must have these dispositions, this will; then the life of Christ is your model and you give testimony of Him.
3. How have you acted up to the present? Examine yourself and acknowledge how different your dispositions have often been to those of the Lord. Ah, how many ambitious people there are whose whole thoughts and actions are directed toward the acquisition of honor, recognition, offices, and dignities! How many avaricious people who ponder night and day how to increase their mammon! How many world lings who think continually of their pleasures! How many revengeful souls who will not forget the insults they have endured! Is this giving testimony of Christ? Do not the heathens do likewise, who give testimony of satan?
II. 1. Of what kind are the words of Christ the Lord? Peter once said (John vi. 69), “Thou hast the words of eternal life,” for all His words were directed to the honor of God, the extirpation of sin, the growth of virtue, and the salvation of souls. Consider this in the seven last sacred words which He spoke from the cross in the midst of His death-agony. First He prayed to the heavenly Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke xxiii. 34.) These are words of mercy and reconciliation. To the penitent thief He said, “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise “(Luke xxiii. 43)—words of blessed promise. He addresses these words to His Blessed Mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” and to His disciple, “Behold thy mother!” (John xix. 26.) What consoling words! In the moment of abandonment He cries out, with entire submission and confidence in God, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt,xxxvii. 46.) His desire to suffer still more and in the highest degree for the sake of our salvation is proved to us by His cry, “I thirst” (John xix. 28), “It is consummated” (John xix. 30). He says, full of joy, that He has completed our redemption, and He recommends His soul with resignation into the hands of His Father: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke xxiii. 46.) Now, dear Christians, look at this model and act accordingly in thy words. Whatever you speak must be to the honor of God, and to thine own and thy neighbor’s salvation. Speech is given to us, as a servant of God says, to praise God, to the edification of our neighbor.
Have your conversations been of this description, dear Christian? Ah, how different have they often been from the Lord’s! If we go into the houses and palaces of the rich and powerful, what talk, what conversations are there in vogue? What words do we hear in the halls of learning, in the assembly of the leaders of the people? In the streets we meet the indications of sensual pleasures, in the stores it is vanity; at home, in the workshops, too often, unfortunately, it is unbelief and blasphemy. Where is the place in which reputations are not blasted, slanders, blasphemies, oaths, and especially where improper conversations have not found a home, in our days? Even family life is no longer pure, and words are dropped into the ears of innocent children that poison their souls. Dear Christians, is this giving testimony of Christ? Do not the heathen do likewise, who give testimony of satan?
III. 1. Let us consider, in conclusion, the works of the Lord. St. Bernard describes them to us thus: “Under the name of Jesus I picture to myself a man humble and meek of heart, kind, temperate, chaste, merciful—in short, distinguished in every virtue and holiness.” Our Lord’s own teaching is witness that He was perfect in the practise of all the works which He taught. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and from His birth in the stable until His death upon the cross He was Himself the poorest, “for He had not where to lay His head.” “Blessed are the meek,” He says, and He forgives not only the wrong done to Him, but he rewards it with the richest of benefits. “Blessed are the sorrowful;” He expiated our sins by His whole body, and wept over them tears of blood. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice;” but His food was to do the will of His Father. “Blessed are the merciful;” He heaped good deeds upon His enemies. “Blessed are the peacemakers;” He made peace between God and man. “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice sake;” He bears hatred and persecution on account of His teaching until His death.
2. But how do we perform our works? Do you not love your body and your comfort inordinately, and adhere so obstinately to the maxims of the world that you are almost ashamed to be a Christian? Or you love sin, allow your vices to become habits, and have even laid aside all feelings of shame therefore, or you only think of that which is earthly, and live on like the unreasoning animal, constantly pursuing pleasures and sensuality. Unhappy Christian, is this the way to give testimony of Christ? Do not the heathen do the same, who give testimony of satan? Is it any wonder that heretics and unbelievers are not converted when they see that Catholics and Christians are worse than they are?
3. Therefore, my dear Christians, behold, and behave according to the model that is shown to you. It is your duty to imitate the teaching and the example of the Redeemer and to practise diligently Christian perfection. You must serve God and reflect night and day upon His laws; you must crucify your flesh with its wicked desires; you must not be overcome by adversity, nor dazzled by happiness. It is your duty so to practise the Christian virtues that even unbelievers shall admire them, and say that they are not able to reach to such a high perfection. If this could be said of all Christians, surely the whole world would soon be Christian! Do not delay, dear Christian, to conform your life to the life of Jesus Christ, and thereby to give testimony of Him. Hear how the Apostle exhorts you (II. Cor. iv. 10): “Always bearing about in our body the dying of Jesus: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” By mortification you must make your life a copy of His life. Your eyes should not be overcurious, nor your mouth without shame, nor your sensual desires ungovernable, as the heathens are; your conduct must not correspond with the life of the rich glutton. On the contrary, all those who see your retirement and your modesty must acknowledge that you are not only in name, but in deed and truth, a Christian, a follower of the Crucified One, and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. Amen.