Sometimes it seems like the whole Church has forgotten to include the Gospel’s “words of judgment with its words of hope”. This thought occurred to me this past Sunday at Mass, when I read the following prayer from the “Devotions in Preparation for and Thanksgiving After Mass and Communion”, in my pre-Vatican II missal:
Remember not, O Lord, our offenses, nor those of our parents; neither take Thou vengeance of our sins.
This falls under the category of “Prayers You Don’t Hear Anymore”.
Then last evening during my devotional reading I came across this passage, which ties the foregoing to the parable of the seed falling on rocky ground, in a way which had never occurred to me:
‘He that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it.’ [Mt. 13:20]
‘Straightway with joy.’ The message that began, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;’ the message that centres in the Cross, with its tremendous disclosure of the horror and awfulness of sin; the message which speaks to us of the Son of God, made subject for our sakes to hunger and weariness, to scorn and hatred, to agony and death; the message which declares again and again how we too must take up our cross and follow Him if we would be His disciples; the message which forces on our sight the unspeakable gravity of human life, and of its issues when this world is done with; the message that speaks to us of the day of judgment, and of the outer darkness, and of weeping and gnashing of teeth; … surely this is not a message which a man can really take in its entirety into his soul with nothing but immediate, unhindered joy; nothing but a light-hearted gladness in the moral beauty it presents, the hopes of which it speaks, its promises of forgiveness, and its note of victory.
Joy there is, indeed, for all who truly take the message to themselves, and humbly dare, God helping them, to seek to know all that it has to say to them; joy which has some semblance, some forecast of that for which He endured the Cross; …. Yes; but there is something else first; … something else, without which that inexpensive brightness, that easy hopefulness that somehow things will all come right with us, is apt to be a frail, resourceless growth, withering away when the sun is up, and the hot winds of trial are sweeping over it.
For if Christianity is to be to us what we know it has been, what we sometimes see it is to Christ’s true servants, in the time of trouble, when the heat is beating down upon us, we must have opened out our hearts to it, we must have broken up the soil for it, that freely and deeply its roots may penetrate our inner being; we must have laid bare our life to its demands; we must have taken to ourselves, in silence and sincerity, its words of judgment with its words of hope; its sternness with its encouragement; its denunciations with its promises; its requirements with its offer; its absolute intolerance of sin with its inconceivable and Divine long-suffering towards sinners.
Surely, surely we need to think more than many of us do think of these things; we need to realize that no religious life is strong which does not rest on penitence, penitence thorough and sincere and living; penitence such as brings the soul, with all its secret sins, all its half-conscious self-deception, all its cherished forms of self-indulgence, right into contact with the demand, the sternness, the perfect holiness of Him Who died for it.
Often, I think, there are trials of doubt and onsets of unbelief, in which the endurance of a man’s faith may depend on nothing else so much as on this, whether he has really known, not the evidences of Christianity, not its coherence as a theological system, not its appeal to our higher emotions in great acts of worship, not even the beauty of its moral ideal, but its power to penetrate the heart and to convince of sin; its power to break down our pride with the disclosure of God’s love and patience with us, with our blindness and ingratitude, our obstinate rejection of His goodness to us; its power, then, to bear into a broken and a contrite heart the first glimmer and the growing radiance of that joy that cannot be till penitence has gone before — the joy that no man taketh from us; the joy that all the discipline of life may only deepen and confirm; and that, through the heat of sorrow and suffering and persecution, when and as God wills, may be ripened unto life eternal.
Francis Paget, The Spirit of Discipline (London: Longmans 1902), pp. 148-151.
Hearing the Gospel and receiving it with joy — as indeed we should — but forgetting the part about dying to self, and taking up our cross daily, that is, repenting and resisting sin even to the point of suffering, or worse; failing to warn people of the danger of sin to their souls, even to their eternal peril, since the Gospel only means that God loves us so much that he would never punish us for our sins — though why such a Gospel involves a crucifix is a puzzle — is this the shallow soil in which the seed is unable to take root, and “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word,” perishes?
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