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First Sunday in #Lent by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

From the website, Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals

Then Jesus said to him: Be gone, Satan!”–Matt. 4 : 10.

There is but one evil, and that is sin. This evil has many different paths by which it approaches us. These paths are called temptations. It is true that of themselves temptations can not injure us. On the contrary, Holy Writ says: “Blessed is the man that endureth, for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love Him.” All depends upon our withstanding them, and to be able to do this we must heed the admonition of Christ, we must watch and especially guard ourselves against those temptations through which Satan most frequently approaches man.

There are in particular three temptations to which today’s Gospel refers, and to which a large portion of mankind fall victims; the three temptations, namely, with which Satan dared to tempt Christ, our Lord, Himself.

Let us see, today, what sort of temptations these are. Mary, thou mighty stronghold against the hosts of the tempter, give us thy assistance, that we may come forth victorious from the fight! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

And the tempter approaching Him, said: “Command that these stones be made bread!” To what temptation do these words refer? I say to that temptation with which Satan assaults man when he enters upon life–the immoderate care for the goods of this world. It is the temptation of excessive labor, and anxiety after a business profession in order to gain a position in society. Yes, for a great number, even for many who otherwise seem to live piously, this is the net which entangles them in numberless temptations.

This regard for the world frequently causes men to forget their last aim and end. Instead of thinking only of what is requisite; for salvation, and pursuing it with their whole heart and the entire strength of their will, they live altogether for earthly things, and think seriously of nothing else. This worldly care extinguishes all their longing after perfection, and causes them to neglect those means of divine grace which are placed within their reach.

The man who is a prey to this inordinate care begins the day without prayer, and without a right intention; he neglects Mass, pious reading, and the holy Sacraments. His excuse is that his business leaves him no time for devotion, while in his intercourse with the world temptations approach him by countless roads. He hopes to satisfy the cravings of his heart with temporal wealth and pleasures; he expects to change the hard and tasteless stones of worldly enjoyment into bread which will nourish his soul but he is mistaken.

These perverse sentiments of the heart open wide the gate to all kinds of temptations; egotism, envy, anger, enmity, intemperance, deceit and injustice enter, and the wretched man endeavors to serve two masters, God and the world. But the world, at last, completely ensnares him, and, instead of conquering temptation, he is vanquished by it.

Satan said to Jesus after he had carried Him to the pinnacle of the temple: “Cast thyself down !” To what temptation do these words refer? To that dangerous state of the heart which causes man through presumption to fall a victim of his own foolhardiness.

And how? He neither fears God, nor the possibility of committing sin; he trusts in himself too much, and thinks that there is no danger of his swerving from the right path, and, while thus feeling secure, instead of avoiding temptation, he runs into it.

To this class of tempted persons belong those who are satisfied with being nominal children of the true Church, and who think that, because they are members of that Church out of whose pale there is no salvation, they will, without doubt, gain heaven. In a word, they are strangers to that fear of which St. Paul speaks when he says: “Work your salvation with fear and trembling.” To such people Satan need not go, they themselves seek him!

To this class belong also those who, in the selection of their place of business or their home, pay no attention to facilities for hearing Mass and receiving the Sacraments.

Finally, to this class belong those who are addicted to drinking, visiting bar-rooms, gambling; those who think only of pleasure, frequent dangerous company, read immoral books, and imagine that all this, in reality, has no evil consequences, and will not lead them into sin. Woe to these! They love the danger and will perish in it.

Lastly, Satan showed to Christ from the summit of a mountain all the kingdoms of the world, and said to Him: “All these will I give Thee if, falling down, thou wilt adore me.” What temptation is this? It is the temptation of self-love, of vanity, of pride in all its forms, a sin which deprives even virtuous actions of their merit. It is that self-adoration which causes man, even in a life devoted to piety, to seek more his own honor than the honor of God.

And yet how small, how trivial, is the honor which the world can give to man. Even were it to bestow all its glory and applause; how infinitely small would this be, when compared to God and the kingdom which He has promised and will give us! Those who are convinced of this truth will doubtless meet the tempter with an energetic: “Be gone!”

But it is in this determination, in this energy, that man is most deficient. Were this not the case, did he not waver, Satan would not hope, by again and again renewing his temptations, to succeed in the end; he would not even dare to tempt us. He knows well that he can do us no harm by tempting us, provided we remain firm, but that, on the contrary, he would only give us occasions to merit and adorn our crown of victory with jewels of virtue. St. Ignatius says: “Courage on our part discourages Satan.” If, however, he sees that we are in the least inclined to yield, then he is most persevering, and, tempting us again and again, attacks us on all sides and in all possible ways. Perceiving that he does not succeed in one attempt and through the instrumentality of one person, he makes a second attempt and seeks more efficient auxiliaries. He knows from experience how to undermine the foundation of great virtues and destroy them.

The one thing which frightens him and causes him to retreat is a decided: “Be gone!” In order, however, to feel strong and resolute, we must think daily and continually on the certainty of death, and on judgment, which one day will decide whether we are to dwell for evermore in heaven or in hell. If in temptation we turn to our crucified Saviour, and, making the sign of the cross, call on Jesus with the lips and the heart, Satan will flee, victory will be ours, and angels approaching us will console us with sweet thoughts of heaven! Amen!

“And the tempter coming, said to Him.”–Matt. 4 : 3.

God wills that all men should be saved, as St. Paul assures us, and Lent reminds us emphatically of the truth of these words. Many of the mysteries of the life of Christ, to which the Church refers during Lent in the Gospels at Mass, are evidences that Christ came into the world to teach men how to live in order to gain salvation, especially the mysteries of His apostolic life, which ended with His suffering and death upon the cross.

God, it is true, allows Satan to tempt us, but only in order to prove our fidelity, and to recompense us the more in the world to come. If men fail in this trial of liberty, then they have not employed the means God offers them to issue victorious from the strife. What means are these? A glance at the manner in which the: Church observes Lent will answer this question.

Mary, Mother of the elect, pray for us that we may be of the number of those who stand victoriously the test of temptation! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!

At the commencement of Lent the Church puts ashes upon the heads of her children, saying: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and that into dust thou shalt return.” The Church desires to keep the thought of the certainty and proximity of death alive in the hearts of her children. One of the chief reasons why so many souls, though ransomed by the blood of Christ, are lost, is their incomprehensible forgetfulness of death. If all men possessed that consciousness of death of which the Apostle speaks, and remembered its certainty, its nearness, they would never be lost for eternity. What is it that generally leads men into temptation and takes from them all strength and courage to withstand it?

His sinful inclinations, his desire for the goods, honors, and pleasures of this world, together with the forgetfulness of the certainty and nearness of death. Oh, that all men would each morning put ashes on their heads in spirit, and repeat the words of the Church on Ash Wednesday: Remember that thou art dust, and that to dust thou shalt return. Think that this day is perhaps your last! How many of those who in the morning go bright and happy to their labor, are brought home at night corpses! If this should be the case with you, what then? As ashes placed upon burning coals deaden and even extinguish their glow, so this recollection will reduce and stifle the fire of passion.

If men would occasionally take a solitary ramble in some cemetery, and thus awaken within themselves the recollection of the certainty and nearness of death, they would gain strength for the fight against temptations of selfishness, ambition, and worldliness. How wealth, honors, and pleasures lose their attraction in the silent cities of the dead! Smoke they are and vapor, viewed from the brink of the grave.

Is it not astonishing to see how anxious men are to render their condition in life as favorable to ease and comfort as possible, how careful they are to evade anything that might endanger their welfare in this world? They never give a thought to the shortness and uncertainty of this life, to the dangers that always hang over their heads; they do not consider that daily and hourly men die, and that soon they, too, must say to themselves: My turn has come.

They hear and know that nothing is so sure, nothing as inevitable as death, and yet as a saint of latter times, the blessed Hofbauer, whose canonization is now in progress, said: “Men know that they must die, and yet they do not believe it, but live as if this life were the only one they would ever possess, the only one for which they need care. Hence their negligence in all that pertains to their salvation, and hence also their eternal destruction.”

The Church requires her children during Lent to mortify themselves by observing the laws prescribed for this season. She not only demands of them to abstain from meat and partake of only one meal a day, but she desires above all to awaken and strengthen in their hearts the spirit of self-abnegation. Holy Writ says: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” To conduct it properly and victoriously we must follow the admonition of Christ and mortify our selves.

The second cause of so many being lost is the want of the true spirit of repentance, and self-humiliation. Christ sent His Apostles as missionaries into the world with this message: Tell the people that if they do not repent they shall all perish. And St. Paul says: “And they who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with its vices and concupiscences.” Man craves happiness; while here below he wishes to enjoy the pleasures of an earthly paradise, and hopes one day to share, besides, the joys of heaven.

How many there are to whom the reproach of the Apostle may be justly addressed: “Whose god is their belly!” The desire of pleasure and excitement leads man into temptation, and causes him to indulge sinful inclinations, to commit mortal sin, and so lose eternal life.

The Church exhorts her children to live in retirement and meditation during Lent, and to devote more time to prayer and religious exercises. Why are so many souls lost even among the children of the Church? I answer, because they have not the spirit of prayer and contemplation, because they have not recourse to pious books for holy thoughts. Men live thoughtlessly, and do not take time to say a daily prayer or think with recollected minds of God and the eternal truth of His Word. They do not reflect or meditate upon what they believe. They do not reduce to practice the teachings of their faith, but live, although members of the Church, like Pagans. It is for this reason that Christians as well as heathens are lost. Jeremias has said: “With desolation is the land made desolate; because there is none that considereth in the heart.” Would to God that this reproach could not be referred to Christians!

St. Teresa says: “I fear not for a soul who prays.” But how few really pray while they are going through their devotions! Only too many deserve the reproach of the Lord: “This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” We either pray not at all, or fail in the manner, frequency, and perseverance of our aspirations to God, especially in time of temptation. Hence so many are powerless to resist the attacks of passion, and miserably fall.

The Church desires that her children, during Lent, should frequently and attentively hear the word of God and endeavor to profit by it. All, however, do not listen to her. But too many read their reproach and their condemnation in the words of Christ to the Jews. Christ Himself reproaches them, saying: “You hear not the words of God, because you are not of God.”

There are many Christians who, throughout the year, never hear a sermon, or who, if they hear one, listen to it not as to the word of God, and as if God Himself were addressing them, but regard it merely in its human element; hence their indifference to profit by it for the life to come, and hence also their eternal destruction.

The Church wishes her children to meditate, especially during Lent, upon the passion and death of Christ, in order that the love of the cross may fill their hearts. Christ says: “He who will follow me must take up his cross daily;” and the Holy Ghost: “In your patience you shall possess your souls.”

How many Christians neither love nor esteem the cross! yet they must endure the trials and afflictions of life. Their aversion to suffering only makes their burden heavier and more irksome. Murmuring against the decrees of Providence, they carry their cross as did the thief who was crucified at the left of our Lord. They forget that they can only enter the abode of the blessed by following Christ who walked before us the road of the cross to open for us the gates of heaven. Hence their weakness and faithlessness under trials and tribulations; hence, too, their eternal destruction.

The Church further desires her children during Lent to confess their sins and receive the Most Blessed Sacrament devoutly and worthily. That all do not comply with this wish, is evident from the fact, that the Church, to our great shame, has been obliged to give the following precept: “Confess your sins at least once a year to a priest duly authorized, and receive holy Communion at Easter or thereabout.”

They are in the greatest danger of making it the occasion of still greater evil. People who can only be prevailed upon by the most positive order to have recourse to the Sacraments, run a great risk of receiving them unworthily. Human respect may drive them to the confessional and the holy table:, but the chances are that they return from them more wicked, more laden with guilt than before.

Were the children of the Church to receive the Sacraments frequently and worthily, the consoling words of Christ would be fulfilled in them: “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life;” he “abideth in Me and I in him.” Yet how many men neglect to receive the blessed Sacrament, or else receive it without preparation or unworthily. This is the cause of the loss of many souls among Christians. Therefore, let us live, not only during Lent, but all our days, in the spirit in which the Church observes Lent, and let us practise those pious exercises which she recommends in order that after the Good-Friday of our life here below, we may celebrate Easter in the joys of life everlasting! Amen!


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