Images de page

orders, whom the Church nourished and consoled ; litile children were among its chiefest cares.

The infirmities of human nature, old age and sickness, were more sacred still, and were tended with a greater love; for besides natural compassion in its most perfect form, the body of Christ was quickened by His divine sympathy. By the anointing of the Holy Ghost, charity and tenderness were shed abroad in the hearts of His disciples; and, above all, they knew that, in ministering consolation to sorrow and suffering, they were ministering to Him who in our nature had made suffering and sorrow peculiarly His own. " Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.” This is the true secret of the wonderful fact, that hospitals for the sick, poor, aged, and strangers, homes for the outcast and desolate, are peculiar to the Church of Christ. Heathenism had none. The cold and stately cities of the heathen world had no hospitals or houses of mercy. The very name of hospital was not in their language, because the grace of charity was not in their nature. Neither had they spiritual consolations, because the very idea of repentance and contrition was unknown. It was by the mystery of the Incarnation, and the coming of the Holy Ghost, by the regeneration of the faithful, by the knitting together of the members of Christ's mystical body, that the ministries of repentance and consolation were opened to mankind. The whole visible system of hospitals, asylums, almshouses, and the like, are the expression and means of fulfilling the ends of mercy for which the Messiah was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord. It is His commission which was opened in the synagogue at Nazareth, extended throughout the earth, and prolonged unto this day. This is the peculiar note and office of the Catholic Church. It was not the work of civil powers, nor could

be. Christian states have borrowed the principle, and

. reproduced cold and remote imitations of Catholic charity; but the true test is, to look at political governments before Christ came into the world. Take Athens and Rome, the greatest and most vaunted polities the world ever saw as detached from Christianity. What did they for the alleviation of human sorrows in body or in spirit? Refinement, and civilization, and warlike greatness, and high-sounding patriotism, and subtil philosophy, what did all these for the poor and miserable ? Sorry comforters are the men of this world at their best estate. It may be very unpalatable and offensive to statesmen and politicians to be told, that they can do little or nothing more than borrow grace and wisdom of the Church they despise and patronize. Yet so it is. Kingdoms and states can retain the semblance and organization of charity only so long as the Church quickens the mass of a people and the frame of government with its life. As that declines or withdraws itself, the distributions of state-charity dry up, and we hear of famishing poor and spiritual destitution. So also with Christian sects. Whatsoever of charity they have among them is borrowed of the Church, and belongs to it. Their institutions, few and scanty as they are, do but copy

and imitate the ministries of manifold charity through which the mystical body of Christ consoles meek, brokenhearted, and mourning spirits. And imitations as they are, they are short-lived—they die out. It has ever been an axiom in the Church, “The branch cut off withers, the stream cut off dries up.” At the outset, sects are always distinguished by a great profession of sympathy with the spiritual and bodily sufferings of mankind. They found themselves on the alleged neglect or inability of the Church to minister to the contrite and afflicted. Their strength lies in their popularity, in their moving affectionateness and for



ward profession of disinterested solicitude, and in stealing away the hearts of the people. As Absalom said, “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice! And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him.”* But this lasts only for a time. The first zeal dies when the point is gained ; labor and care grow slack, and self-denying charity cold and scant; the system relaxes, and shows inherent weakness; makes

many attempts to rally, and for a time seems to succeed ; but is always going down, losing its hold on inen's hearts, and with its hold losing its power of unity and control. At last men forsake it, because the deep yearnings of their hearts meet no sympathy; there is nothing to stay their souls on. They are stirred, excited, and vexed by its solicitations and upbraidings, its high-sounding words and cold affections; and in the end they are repelled by its antipathies, and fall into irreligion, or are drawn away by strong vital attractions of fervent charity in the Church. So end all schisms; sooner or later they cease to be. Howsoever long they may simulate the notes of the Church, adopt its language, and affect its charity, they sink by mere exhaustion at last.

“ Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”+

1. What has been said will show us the benefit of affliction to the Church. It is most certain that it was never so like to its Divine Head as when it suffered for His name's sake. It was never so full of the Holy Ghost, of humiliation, penitence, love, compassion, and unity, as in the ages of persecution. It cost too much in those days to be a member of the Catholic Church for any to venture upon it

* 2 Samuel xv. 4, 5.

+ St. Matt. xy. 13.

[ocr errors]

but such as were willing to lose their life for Christ's sake and the gospel,” that they might "find it unto life eternal.” They were knit together in a community of truth and spirit, of sufferings and sorrows; and the true sympathy of the members of one body ran throughout the whole. But when the tide began to turn, and the world to shine upon the Church, it was an easy and a cheap thing to be a Christian; and it grew to be a custom and a fashion, and multitudes of cold, worldly, unsympathising men mingled themselves in Church, and lowered its tone. As it has grown prosperous, it has left off to sympathise with the same vivid compassion for the sufferings of humanity. And yet through all ages

of the Church there has been a succession of saints dead to the world, likened to Christ, bearing the tokens of the Cross, disciplined in sorrow, full of living sympathy with the sufferings of the poor and penitent. Individual characters indeed have come out with an energy and intensity like apostles and martyrs. Sometimes they have kindled and, for a while, have stirred whole churches to the same fervent charity. But the secret of their perfection was still the same, that they were partakers of their Master's cross, and that by sorrow they were endowed with the gift of compassion and of love. The grace of their regeneration had v been developed by the things that they had suffered. Outward crosses helped their inward mortification, and wrought for their perfection. They were endowed with a large measure of that anointing whereby their Lord was consecrated to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to comfort them that mourn. It is most certain that the Church has never been less in sympathy with the inner world of spiritual sorrow than when it has been outwardly prosperous. And from this we may derive a great consolation. Whatsoever adversity be upon


us, it is manifestly a token not only of God's love, but of God's purpose to make us fitter for His work of mercy to the world. Just as these latter days set in upon us, and the first days seem to return in the last, just so may we all the more believe that He is calling His Church from earthly greatness, civil power, visible offices of counsel and authority in states and kingdoms, to its original separation from the world, to a life of unity, and to higher spiritual gifts.

Surely we may say of the Church what St. Paul says of individuals. If it be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then must it be of a doubtful legitimacy, and its commission to witness for God in the world of no certain warrant. There is something to fear in the sight of a Church easy, peaceful, prosperous, well furnished with goods, confident of its own purity and of its own right judgment in all things. There is fear that it is, or will become, unsympathizing, self-regarding, delicate, unhumbled : that it will one day hear from the mouth out of which goeth the sharp two-edged sword : “ Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing ; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten : be zealous therefore, and repent.""* And this shows us how needless are our popular alarms. Many good men, when they see the outward system of the Church threatened, think the Church is in danger. Ought we not rather to say, that then it is sate—safe from surfeit and self-trusting, from hollowness and unreality;


* Rev. ii. 17-19.

« PrécédentContinuer »