Low Sunday (First Sunday After Easter)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“Peace be to you!”–John xx.
Peace be to you!” With these: words Jesus greeted His disciples when, entering through closed doors, He suddenly stood in their midst. The circumstance that the doors were locked is an evidence of the fear and sorrow which filled their hearts. They were tossed by the storm of persecution which had broken upon them, and deprived them of the presence of the Lord.
What confidence, therefore, must have filled their hearts, when the Lord stood once more alive in their midst, and brought with Him the peace they had lost. No doubt, each one of us wishes, that he too had been with the Apostles, and heard from the mouth of Jesus that greeting of peace.
But why should we envy them? Behind the closed doors of the tabernacle, in every place where the Holy Eucharist is kept, our Lord and Saviour is to be found. And every soul that approaches Him with love and faith hears that same greeting: “Pax vobis! Happy are we, if we listen to it and treasure it up in our hearts!
The peace which Christ wishes us–which He gives us–is true, complete, holy, and imparts sanctity and beauty to our souls. Let us consider it to-day, and endeavor to receive it in all its fullness. It will be our most precious Easter-gift.
Mary, Mother of fair love and holy peace, pray for us that the peace of God may strengthen our hearts as it strengthened thine! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
I say that the peace which Christ wishes us and which He imparts to us, is true peace; it is that peace which He alone is able to bestow. “My peace I give unto you! ” says the Lord; “not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.” No, it is a peace of which the world has no idea; it is a peace which the world can never bestow. It is that peace which we lost by the fall of our first parents, and which could not be restored to us but by the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour.
Man, as he came from the hands of the Creator, was endowed with sanctifying grace, was at peace with God, at peace with himself, at peace with the whole outer world; but sin destroyed all this, and instead of peace came war, and instead of spiritual life came spiritual death. By sin man was set at variance with God, with himself, and with the outer world. As Holy Writ assures us: “There is no peace for the wicked,” at least no peace of soul. Though a man be on good terms with his fellow-men, yet as long as he lives in a state of sin he will enjoy no peace; for sin is a revolt against God, and every revolt brings with it trouble, anxiety, and war. Without Christ there is no true peace; no peace with God, the only peace which is worthy of the name, and which alone is able to calm our agitated hearts.
Listen to the warning of the prophet: “They cry: Peace, peace! and there is no peace.” There is no communion between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. There is no place where the banner of Christ and that of antichrist wave together, nor where men desire to serve God and the devil at the same time.
Moreover, the peace which man enjoys with the world is not complete. But the peace, which Christ gives unto his own, is perfect. We shall understand this, if we regard one by one the results of the first sin and of all individual sin, and the relation in which soul and body stand to God. By his very nature man has a soul, reason, will, and heart. He thinks, he wills, he suffers or enjoys. Now, the fall ot Adam darkened the understanding of man, weakened his will, made his heart suffer; and but one can free him from the anxiety which all this causes: one alone, Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have said that understanding, and will, and heart, each has suffered: man’s understanding is beset with doubts in regard to his existence and to his relations to God; his will is weakened, and he frequently feels its moral feebleness and impotence. But, above all, it is the heart of man which is exposed to the stripes of adversity and to the stings of suffering; nor can it anywhere find comfort but in Christ but in Him Whom Holy Writ emphatically styles: “The Prince of peace!”
Before Him, before His Word and example, every cloud of anxiety vanishes, and perfect peace makes its dwelling in the soul.
I have already said that when the soul is left to itself it is disquieted in regard to its relations with God and concerning its fate for eternity; it is darkened by ignorance and beset with doubts. “Pax vobis!” “Peace be to you!” says Christ to all men. It is He who spoke through Moses and the prophets; it is He who came Himself into the world, and opening His mouth preached to us the Word of salvation, explaining all those questions and doubts in regard to the other world, which excite, frighten, and harass the mind of man.
He calls himself the Light of the world; and as the sun sends forth his rays, so Christ sent forth His Apostles, that by the light of their teaching day might break for all the nations upon earth; that all might open their hearts to the sweet influence of truth. And great, indeed, is the peace which is instilled into believing hearts with the word of faith spoken by the mouth of the infallible Church; it is felt by all her truly believing children.
The will of man also is enfeebled by the fall of Adam; hence he feels his weakness, his impotence in the light with temptation. Hence the anxiety which excites and torments him. How differently man feels when Christ greets him and calls to him “Pax vobis” Peace be to you! When the power of divine grace enters his heart, and he can say with St. Paul: “I can do all things in Him who strengthened me.” A calm conscience comforts his heart, from which all anxiety has lied; yes, all that anxiety which, the consequence of his sins, had for years tormented him.
After the fall of Adam the heart of man felt the burden of suffering and the insufficiency of every merely human consolation. How often a friend can only say: I can weep with you, but I can not console you! How differently a child of the Church feels when Christ who has Himself suffered upon earth calls to Him from the cross: “Pax vobis!” and when he recollects that the Lord Himself said to His disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so enter into His Glory.” How inexpressibly great was the consolation which fell from the five wounds into the hearts of the disciples when Jesus suddenly appearing among them, gave them that Easter greeting: ” Pax vobis!” All truly believing children of the Church partake of this consolation in the midst of all the cares and sorrows of this life. For whatever we may suffer, one glance at Christ risen from the dead and marked with His wounds will cause us to cry out with St. Paul: “I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”
But far more grievous does the anxiety of man’s heart become, if he has the misfortune to turn from the path of virtue, to precipitate himself into the abyss of sin, and if he is tormented day and night by the reproaches of his conscience. No one but Jesus can give him calmness and peace. He alone redeemed us, sinners! He alone gave His Apostles and their followers the power to forgive the repentant! a power which Christ bestowed upon His Church until the end of time, and of which we are solemnly reminded by the words of the Apostolic creed: “I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins.”
Into the breast of the greatest sinner there enters an inexpressible peace, if he receives the Sacrament of Penance as Christ has instituted it in His holy Church. Ah! what joy when the priest, the representative of Christ, says to his troubled soul: “My son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven!” Pax tibi! Peace be with you! Oh, the happy peace which then through Christ enters the heart reconciled to its God!
Finally, the heart of man is frequently pained by the fear: Shall I continue to the end? and what will become of me if Satan, in my last hour, should beset me with temptation, and place all the sins of my life before my eyes in order to drive me to despair? “Pax tibi,” says our Lord to the loving child of His Church. I shall complete in you my work of mercy. Trust!
Never can your own heart desire your salvation so ardently as I desire it: Peace be to you! Nor must we forget the consoling inspirations which Christ sends to all who bow, in suffering, to His holy will, and unite themselves to Him. Yes, yes, “Pax vobis!” I call in the name of the risen Christ to every soul here present.
“Pax vobis” the peace of Christ be and remain with you now, and for evermore! Amen!
“Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.”–John 20.
In today’s Gospel Christ says to Thomas: “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed,” whilst at another time we find Him saying: “Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see.” What is the explanation of this seeming contradiction? Were not the eyes of Mary and of Joseph blessed? were not the eyes of all who beheld our Saviour in the flesh blessed? Yes, but only in so far as they believed in Him and regarded Him with eyes of faith, listening to His divine lessons, and imitating His holy example. For does He not say again: “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it in their hearts?” Of what avail was it to the Scribes and Pharisees to see and hear our Lord, since they hardened their hearts against Him? Of them and such as them He said: “If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
If, then, the words: “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed,” are to be realized in us, our lives must agree with our faith. I shall today endeavor to answer the question:
In what relation does faith stand to our spiritual life? O Mary, thou who didst see and believe, but didst live according to this belief far exceeding any saint or angel, pray for us that we may bear witness by our lives to the faith we profess! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
“The just man,” says St. Paul, “lives by faith.” To know whether this text applies to us, we have but to look at the chief properties of life, and we shall be able at a glance to see how far faith influences our daily conduct, how far it is a vital force within us. A living man breathes. This breathing is an emblem, a figure of the influence of sanctifying grace, that vivifies our souls, enabling them to perform works meritorious in the sight ot God. As St. Paul assures us, we could not of ourselves pronounce the name of Jesus in a meritorious manner. To do so the assistance of divine grace is needed, of sanctifying and of actual grace, the latter coming to our aid as soon as we have reached the years of discretion. This action of grace in the soul is the breathing and pulsation of the spiritual life.
He who lives, sees. He sees the bodies by which he is surrounded, he knows that they exist, he can distinguish their various qualities, and judge how far he can use them towards any aim or object he has in view. Now, faith does the same for our souls. The mind of the unbeliever is obscure, he does not know why God created him, why the universe was called into existence. The believer, on the contrary, sees the whole universe like an open book illumined by the light of faith; he sees himself created by God, for God, destined, after serving his Creator during this short life, and using all things of earth for that sole aim, in a future life to be made a partaker of the infinite enjoyments and the infinite glory of God Himself. The lives of the saints teach us what strength and zeal the knowledge of this sublime destiny can impart.
He who lives, hears. A lively faith gives sensitive ears to the soul. The teachings, the promises, the menaces of Holy Writ are listened to readily by the man of faith. Countless whisperings of the Holy Spirit are caught by his attentive ear, and so he is at once informed of his duties towards God and animated to fulfill them. What does the infidel know of whisperings of the Holy Ghost? Deafened by the noise of the material world, his spiritual senses are clogged and he remains unconscious of the voice that is ever warning men to follow Jesus and to serve their God. The promises and menaces of revelation are alike void of effect when they reach only the ear of the body and are not heard by the soul. Different, indeed, is the state of him who is animated by a lively faith. How quickly he hears the inspiration from on high! In the hours of temptation, how cheering the promise of eternal happiness, how terribly plain the menaces of eternal woe!
He who lives speaks, enjoys, grows. Faith gives to the spiritual life speech, pleasure, development. “I have believed, therefore have I spoken,” confessed David, and with him all who have living faith. St. Bernard says: ” Nothing pleases me, nothing interests me to which the name of Jesus is not united.”
Why do we possess the gilt of speech? why has God given us this power of communicating our thoughts to our fellow-men, if not that we may use this gift to draw men to Him by persuasion? When the Holy Ghost appeared on Pentecost in the shape of tongues of fire, it was not upon the heads of the Apostles only that he rested, but upon the heads of laymen and women too, thus to signify that all Christians should be inflamed with the desire of helping by word and work to spread the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth. To be able to do this all must be well grounded in the doctrines of our holy faith. Let this be an admonition to Catholics of their duty (a duty which is incumbent upon all, especially in our day) to read good books and pay careful attention to sermons, that being thus well acquainted with the foundations of their faith they may help both to defend it against its enemies and to enlighten their countrymen who wander in the darkness of unbelief.
Let us see now how faith gives rise to enjoyment, growth, development in the spiritual life of the soul. Is it not faith that enables us to participate worthily in the sacraments? What but faith leads us to the sacred tribunal of Penance, and to the holy table where Jesus Himself is our food? The more a man’s soul is enlightened by faith, the more does he realize the weaknesses, the imperfections, the miseries of his poor nature; and consequently the more comprehensive and frank is his confession, the more ready his disposition to do penance, the more steadfast his purpose of amendment. How much greater, then, must be the grace of this sacrament in such a man than in one whose belief is neither lively nor earnest? What shall I say, then, of the effects of this virtue on the soul that humbly approaches Holy Communion? The heart filled with lively faith can not but be aroused and inflamed at the thought of Who it is that thus deigns to come to us. Faith makes us feel and realize fully the personal presence of Christ within us, and thus binds us anew to His holy Church by kindling in us the desire of living as true children of so loving a Master! and finds expression in the deep prayer of adoration that fell from the lips of St. Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
Blessed indeed are those who see not, but who believe, and live according to their faith! Amen!