Sermon 2. Preparation for the Judgment

Septuagesima, 20th February 1848

{31} The last shall be first and the first last, for many are called, but few are chosen. Such are the words with which the Gospel of this day ends, which is the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. In that parable, you know well, my Brethren, the Master of the Vineyard calls into his Vineyard all the labourers he can get together. He calls them in at different times, some in the morning, some at noon, some shortly before the evening. When the evening is come, he bids his paymaster call them together and give them their wages for the day past. It is very plain what this means. The Master of the Vineyard is our Lord and Saviour. We are the labourers. The evening is the hour of death, when we shall each receive the reward of our labour, if we have laboured well.

There is more in the parable than this, but I shall not go into the details of it. I shall here content myself with the general sketch I have taken of it, and with the words {32} with which it concludes, "The last shall be first and the first last, for," etc.

Well is the hour of death described as the evening. There is something in the evening especially calm and solemn, fitly representing the hour of death. How peculiar, how unlike anything else, is a summer evening, when after the fever and heat of the day, after walking, or after working, after any toil, we cease from it, and for a few minutes enjoy the grateful feeling of rest! Especially is it so in the country, where evening tends to fill us with peace and tranquillity. The decreasing light, the hushing of all sounds, the sweet smell, perhaps, of the woods or the herbs which are all about us, the mere act of resting, and the consciousness that night is coming, all tend to tranquillize us and make us serious. Alas, I know that in persons of irreligious mind it has a very different effect, and while other men are raised to the love of God and Christ and the thought of heaven by the calm evening, they are but led to the thought of evil and deeds of sin. But I am speaking of those who live towards God and train their hearts heavenward, and I say that such persons find in the calm evening but an incitement to greater devotion, greater renunciation of the world. It does but bring before them the coming down of death, and leads them with the Apostle to die daily. Evening is the time for divine visitations. The Lord God visited Adam after he had sinned in the garden, {33} in the cool of the evening. In the evening the patriarch Isaac went out to meditate in the field. In the evening our Lord discovered Himself to the two disciples who went to Emmaus. In the same evening He appeared to the Eleven, breathed on them, gave them the Holy Ghost, and invested them with the power of remitting and retaining sins.

Nay even in a town the evening is a soothing time. It is soothing to be at the end of the week, having completed the week's work, with the day of rest before us. It is soothing, even after the day of rest, though labour is in store for us against the morrow, to find ourselves in the evening of the day. It is a feeling that almost all must be able to bear witness to, as something peculiar, as something fitly prefiguring that awful time when our work will be done, and we shall rest from our labours.

That indeed will be emphatically our evening, when the long day of life is over and eternity is at hand. Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening, and then the night cometh when no man can work. There is something inexpressibly solemn and subduing in that time, when work is done and judgement is coming. O my brethren, we must each of us in his turn, sooner or later, arrive at that hour. Each of us must come to the evening of life. Each of us must enter on eternity. Each of us must come to that quiet, awful time, when we appear before the Lord of the Vineyard, and answer for {34} the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad. That, my dear brethren, you will have to undergo. Every one of you must undergo the particular judgement, and it will be the stillest, awfullest time which you ever can experience. It will be the dread moment of expectation, when your fate for eternity is in the balance, and when you are about to be sent forth the companion of saints or devils without possibility of change. There can be no change, there can be no reversal. As that judgement decides it, so it will be for ever and ever. Such is the particular judgement. The general judgement at the end of the world will be a time of dreadful publicity, and will be full of the terrible brightness of the Judge. The trump of the Archangel will sound, and the Lord will descend from heaven in lightning. The graves will open. The sun and the moon will be darkened and this earth will pass away. This is not the time of evening, but rather it will be a tempest in the midst of the night. But the parable in the Gospel speaks of the time of evening, and by the evening is meant, not the end of the world, but the time of death. And really perhaps it will be as awful, though very different, that solitary judgement, when the soul stands before its Maker, to answer for itself. O who can tell which judgement is the more terrible, the silent secret judgement, or the open glorious coming of the Judge. It will be most terrible certainly, and it comes first, to find ourselves {35} by ourselves, one by one, in His presence, and to have brought before us most vividly all the thoughts, words and deeds of this past life. Who will be able to bear the sight of himself? And yet we shall be obliged steadily to confront ourselves and to see ourselves. In this life we shrink from knowing our real selves. We do not like to know how sinful we are. We love those who prophesy smooth things to us, and we are angry with those who tell us of our faults. But then, not one fault only, but all the secret, as well as evident, defects of our character will be clearly brought out. We shall see what we feared to see here, and much more. And then, when the full sight of ourselves comes to us, who will not wish that he had known more of himself here, rather than leaving it for the inevitable day to reveal it all to him!

I am speaking, not only of the bad, but of the good. Those indeed who have died in neglect of good, it will be a most insufferably dreadful sight to them, and they will not have long to contemplate it, in silence, for they will be hurried away to their punishment. But I speak of holy souls, souls that will be saved, and I say that to these the sight of themselves will be intolerable, and it will be a torment to them to see what they really are and the sins which lie against them. And hence some writers have said that their horror will be such that of their own will, and from a holy indignation against themselves, they will be ready to plunge into Purgatory in {36} order to satisfy divine justice, and to be clear of what is to their own clear sense and spiritual judgement so abominable. We do not know how great an evil sin is. We do not know how subtle and penetrating an evil it is. It circles round us and enters in every seam, or rather at every pore. It is like dust covering everything, defiling every part of us, and requiring constant attention, constant cleansing. Our very duties cover us with this miserable dust and dirt. As we labour in God's vineyard and do His will, the while from the infirmity of our nature we sin in lesser matters even when we do good in greater, so that when the evening comes, with all our care, in spite of the sacraments of the Church, in spite of our prayers and our penance, we are covered with the heat and defilement of the day.

This, I say, will be the case even with religious persons who have laboured to save their souls; but Oh! how miserable will be the case of those who have never had religious thoughts! There are persons, for instance, who cannot bear thought of any kind, who cannot bear an hour's silent reflection. It would be a great punishment to many a man to be obliged to think of himself. Many men like to live in a whirl, in some excitement or other which keeps their minds employed, and keeps them from thinking of themselves. How many a man, e.g. employs all his leisure time in learning merely the news of the day. He likes to read the periodical publications, he likes to {37} know what is going on in the four quarters of the earth. He fills his mind with matters which either do not concern him, or concern only his temporal welfare; with what they are doing in various parts of England, what Parliament is doing, what is done in Ireland, what is done on the Continent; nay he descends to little matters of no importance, rather than entertain that thought which must come on him, if not before, at least in the evening of life and when he stands before his Judge. Others are full of projects for making money; be they high or be they low, that is their pursuit, they covet wealth and they live in the thought how they may get it. They are alive to inventions and improvements in their particular trade, and to nothing else. They rival each other. They as it were, run a race with each other, not a heavenly race, such as the Apostle's who ran for a crown incorruptible, but a low earthly race, each trying by all means in his power to distance his neighbour in what is called the favour of the public, making this their one end, and thinking nothing at all of religion. And others take up some doctrine whether of politics or of trade or of philosophy, and spend their lives upon it; they go about to recommend it in every way they can. They speak, they write, they labour for an object which will perish with this world, which cannot pass with them through the grave. The holy Apostle says "Blessed are they that die in the Lord, for their works do follow them" {38} (Apoc. 14). Good works follow us, bad works follow us, but everything else is worth nothing; everything else is but chaff. The whirl and dance of worldy matters is but like the whirling of chaff or dust, nothing comes of it; it lasts through the day, but it is not to be found in the evening. And yet how many immortal souls spend their lives in nothing better than making themselves giddy with this whirl of politics, of party, or religious opinion, or money getting, of which nothing can ever come.

Observe in the parable the Master of the Vineyard did but one thing. He told his servant to "call the labourers and give them their hire." He did but ask what they had done. He did not ask what their opinion was about science, or about art, or about the means of wealth, or about public affairs; he did not ask them if they knew the nature of the vine for which they had been labouring. They were not required to know how many kinds of vines there were in the world, and what countries vines could grow in, and where they could not. They were not called upon to give their opinion what soils were best for the vines. They were not examined in the minerals, or the shrubs, or in anything else which was found in the vineyard, but this was the sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it; these were the two things. So will it be with us after death. When we come {39} into God's presence, we shall be asked two things, whether we were in the Church, and whether we worked in the Church. Everything else is worthless. Whether we have been rich or poor, whether we have been learned or unlearned, whether we have been prosperous or afflicted, whether we have been sick or well, whether we have had a good name or a bad one, all this will be far from the work of that day. The single question will be, are we Catholics and are we good Catholics? If we have not been, it will avail nothing that we have been ever so honoured here, ever so successful, have had ever so good a name. And if we have been, it will matter nothing though we have been ever so despised, ever so poor, ever so hardly pressed, ever so troubled, ever so unfriended. Christ will make up everything to us, if we have been faithful to Him; and He will take everything away from us, if we have lived to the world.

Then will be fulfilled the awful words of the parable. Many that are last shall be first, for many are called but few are chosen. Then, also, will it be seen how many have received grace and have not profited by it. Then will be seen how many were called, called by the influence of God's grace, called into the Church, yet how few have a place prepared in heaven. Then will be seen how many resisted their conscience, resisted the call of Christ to follow Him, and so are lost. This is the day both of divine grace and of patience. God gives grace and is patient {40} with us, but when death comes, there is no more time either for grace or for patience. Grace is exhausted, patience is exhausted. Nothing remains but judgement, a terrible judgement on those who have lived in disobedience.

And oh! what a sight it will be, what an unexpected sight, at the last day and public judgement to be present at that revelation of all hearts! How different persons will then seem, from what they seem now! How will the last be first, and the first last! Then those whom the world looked up to, will be brought low, and those who were little esteemed, will be exalted. Then will it be found who are the real movers in the world's affairs, those who sustained the cause of the Church or who influenced the fortunes of empires, were not the great and powerful, not those whose names are known in the world, but the humble despised followers of the Lamb, the meek saint, the man full of prayer and good works whom the world passed by; the hidden band of saintly witnesses, whose voice day by day ascended to Christ; the sufferers who seemed to be living for nothing; the poor whom the proud world thought but an offence and a nuisance. When that Day comes, may it reveal good for each of you, my brethren, and may the blessing, etc.

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