The Failure and Success of the Gospel
by Rev. Francis Baker
The Second Sunday before Lent
    

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“Saying these things he cried out: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)
 

 I                                                   

                                              

There is one measure by which, if our Lord’s work were tried, it might be pronounced a failure; and that is by the measure of great immediate, visible results.  The thought might come into our mind, that it is strange our Lord was not more successful than He was.  He was the Son of God, no one ever spoke as He did.  He conversed with a great number of men – in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Galilee.  He was always going about from place to place.  He died in the sight of a whole city.  Yet what was the result of it all?  On the Day of Pentecost, His disciples were gathered together in the upper chamber, and  numbered, all told, one hundred and twenty.  So it is, likewise, with the Church.  After all, what has she done?  Put her numbers at the highest.  Say she has two hundred millions of souls in her communion.  What are they to the eight hundred millions that inhabit the globe? (1865 data)  And how many of her members are there who can be called Catholics or Christians, only in a broad, external sense!  Has Christianity, then, accomplished the results that might have been looked for?  Is it not a failure?

 

II

 

I will attempt this morning to give some reasons showing that Christianity is not a failure, although it has accomplished only partial results.  And the first remark I make is this: that partial results belong to everything human.  Although Christianity is a divine religion, by coming into the world it became subject in many respects to the laws that govern human things.  To specify one, Christianity demands attention.  “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Without attention, Christianity will never produce its impression on our conduct.  Now, attention is a thing hard to get from men.  It is one of the greatest wants in the world, the want of attention.  “With desolation is all the land made desolate,” says the Holy Scripture, “because there is none that considers in the heart.”  (Jeremiah 12:11)   We see examples of this on every side.  Take the instance of young men at college.  After passing several years there, at a considerable expense to their parents, professedly for the sake of acquiring an education, a certain number of them know nothing but the names of the things they have been studying.  This is the entire result of all they have heard or read, an acquisition of some of the terms made use of in science. Others have gained some confused and partial knowledge, which for practical purposes is all but useless; while those who have acquired precise, accurate, useful information, that is, who have gained any real science, are few indeed.  It is the same in business.  Every trade and profession is crowded with bunglers who do not know their own business, because they have been too lazy to learn it, and who grumble at the success of others who have not spared the pains necessary to become masters.  So also it is in politics.  We hear a great deal about the general diffusion of intelligence in this country, and are told how the sovereign people watch the actions of public men and call them to account.  Now, I suppose there is more wide-spread information on public matters in this country than in any other in the world, but what does it amount to after all?  A great many read the newspapers without passing any independent judgment on their statements, while those who really shape political opinions and action are but a small clique in each locality.

 

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III
 

This being so, it ought not to surprise us that men give but little attention to religion.  If learning, business, politics, things that touch our present interest so closely, can only to a superficial extent engage the thoughts of men, will religion, which relates chiefly to man’s future welfare, be more successful?  In one sense, Christianity is as old as the world; for there has been a continuous testimony to the truth from the first, but it has never yet had a full hearing.  How do men act about religion?  Some listen to its teaching only with their ears, as a busy man in his office listens to idle conversation noises on the street.  So Galileo listened, who “cared for none of these things.”  Some listen with their hearts, that is, with attention enough to awaken a passing emotion or sentiment.  So Felix listened, when he trembled at St. Paul’s preaching, and promised to hear him again at a more convenient season.  Only a few listen with attentive ears and hearts and hands, the only true way of listening, the way St. Paul listened, when he said, “Lord, what will you have me do?” (Acts 9:6)  When you say, then, that Christianity has produced but partial results, you are but saying that men are frivolous and thoughtless, that there are many who do not listen to religion, or do not listen to it with earnestness and lay to heart its practical lessons.  “Wisdom preaches abroad; she utters her voice in the streets; at the head of the multitude she cries out;” but it is of no avail to the greater number, “because they have hated instruction, and received not the fear of the Lord.”  (Proverbs 1:20,21,29)  Moreover, our Lord foresaw that the success of His gospel would be but partial.  We see this in the very passage from which the text is taken.  There is something melancholy in the way the evangelist introduces the parable of the sower: “And when a very great multitude was gathered together and hastened out of the cities to him, He spoke by a similitude: A sower went out to sow his seed,” etc.  This was the thought which the sight of a very great multitude pressing around Him awoke in the mind of our Lord: how small a part would really give heed to His words, or really appreciate them: how in some hearts the word would be trodden down, in others be choked or wither away; and this is the secret of the energy with which He cried out at the end of the parable, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  The same thought comes out in the conversation which he had afterward with His disciples, when they asked an explanation of the parable: “The heart of this people is grown gross; and with their ears they  have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  But blessed  are  your eyes  because  they see,  and  your ears because  they hear.”  (Matthew 13:15,16)

 

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IV

 

Our Lord was as far as possible, then, from expecting that the course of things would stand still, and all men comply instantly with his preaching.  Nor were His predictions respecting His Church such as to warrant more sanguine expectations of her success.  In His charge to His disciples, He let them know what they were to expect: “When you come into a house salute it, saying: Peace be to this house, And if that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it; but if it be not worthy, your peace shall return to you.  And when they shall  persecute you in this city, flee into another.”  (Matthew 10:12,13,23)  Nor were their trials to be altogether external.  “And then shall many be scandalized, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  And because iniquity has abounded, the charity of many shall wax cold.”  (Matthew 24:10,12)

 

When, then, you say, See! In that country the Church has all but died out; in that country faith is weak, and the most active minds in it are estranged from religion; in that country scandals abound; in that country there was a great apostasy; that other was fruitful in heresies: - I reply, you are only verifying our Lord’s predictions; you are only saying what He said before the event.  If religion has not accomplished all that could be desired, it has at least done what it promised.


V

Nor is this all.  Not only did our Lord foresee that many would reject His grace, but He acquiesced in it.  His work is not a failure, because He does not account it so.  What though many refuse to listen?  They that will be saved, those of good will and honest hearts, they will be saved, and that is enough.  He saw of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied.  Our Lord shed His blood for all men; He willed seriously the salvation of all men; but since all will not be saved, He is content to give it for those who will.  He “is the Savior of all men, especially of the faithful.”  (Timothy 4:10)  When He came to Jerusalem to die, looking at the city, He wept to think how many were there who knew not the time of their visitation; but that did not deter Him from marching on to Mount Calvary.  When He foretold to St. Peter, before His passion, all He was about to suffer, St. Peter, with mistaken affection, begged Him to spare Himself.  “Far be this from Thee.”  How much more would he have dissuaded  our Lord, if he could have foreseen in how many cases these labors and sufferings would have been fruitless.  Would he not have said to Him, “O Lord! Do not suffer so much, turn away Thy face from the smiter, and Thy mouth from gall.  Do not crush Thy heart with cruel grief, or bathe Thy body in the sweat of agony.  The very men for whom you die will disbelieve you, or believing, will disobey you."

 

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VI
 

Can we doubt to what effect our Savior would have answered?  “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to Me, and all will not resist Me.  I shall see of the travail of My soul, and shall be satisfied.”

 

Or I can imagine that at the Last Supper, as our Lord was about to institute the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood, the same warm-hearted disciple, laying his hand on his Master’s arm, might have said, “Do not do it!  You think they cannot withstand this proof of love.  But, alas! They will pass by unheeding.  You will remain on the altars of your churches night and day, but the multitude will not know you, or ask after you, and they that do know you will insult you in your very gifts, will treat you with disrespect, and receive you with dishonor.”  But our Lord gently disregards his remonstrance, and having loved His own who were in the world, loves them to the end, and for them is contented to make Himself a perpetual prisoner of love.  Oh, my brethren, our statistics and our arithmetic are sadly at fault when we are dealing with divine things.  When Abraham went to plead with Almighty God to spare Sodom, he began by asking as a great matter that the city might be spared if fifty just men were found in it, and the answer was prompt and free, “I will not do it for fifty’s sake.”  Somewhat emboldened, he came down by degrees to ten, and received the same answer, but stopped there, thinking that he could make no further demand on the mercy of God.  It is a thing we will never understand how much God has the heart of a father.  When news was brought to the patriarch Jacob, that Joseph, his son, was yet living, all his woes and hardships were forgotten in a moment, and he said: "It is enough.  Joseph, my son, is yet alive.”  So, all the unkindness, disobedience, unbelief of men, are compensated to the heart of Christ by the fervor of His true children.  His servants whom He hath chosen, His elect in whom His soul delights.  Weary on the cross, His fainting eye sees their fidelity and their love, and His heart revives, and He says: “It is enough.”  Christ accounts the fruits of His redemption great, and they are great.  This is our temptation, to undervalue the good that is in the world.  Evil is so obtrusive, that we are but too apt to attribute to it a larger share in the world than it really holds.  How much of good, then, has been and is in the world?  The Blessed Virgin, the Queen of Heaven, the perfect fruit of Christ’s redemption, once walked the earth, engaged in lowly, every-day duties, like any maid or mother among us.  Moses and Elias and St. John the Baptist once lived our life here on the earth; and the hundred and forty-four thousand who sing a new song before the throne of God, and the great multitude that no man can number out of all people and kindreds and tribes and tongues, clothed in white and with palms in their hands.  You talk of failure!  Why has not the sound of the gospel gone into all lands, and its words to the end of the world?  Have not empires owned its sway, and kings come bending to seek its blessing?  Have not millions of martyrs loved it better than their lives?  Has not the solitary place been made glad by the hymns of its anchorites, and the desert blossomed like a rose under their toil?  Is there a profession, or trade, or court, or country which has not been sanctified by moral heroes who drew in their holy inspirations from its lessons?  And who can tell us the amount of goodness in every-day life, to some extent necessarily hidden, but of which we catch such unearthly glimpses, and which is the practical fruit of its principles?  The virtuous families, the upright transactions, the glorious sacrifices, the noble charities, the restraint of passion, the interior purity, the patient perseverance!  Listen to the description which God Himself gives of the results of the gospel:


VII
 

Who are these, that fly as clouds, and as doves to their windows?  For the islands wait for me, and the ships of the sea in the beginning; that I may bring your sons from afar; their silver and their gold with them, to the name of the Lord your God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because He has glorified thee.  Iniquity shall no more be heard in your land, wasting nor destruction in your borders; and salvation shall possess your walls, and praise your gates.  Your sun shall go down no more, and your moon shall not decrease: for the Lord shall be unto you for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.  And your people shall be all just; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hand, to glorify me.  The least shall become a thousand, and a little one a most strong nation.  I, the Lord, will suddenly do this in its time.”  (Isaiah 9:8,9,18,20,21,22)

 

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VIII

Now, this is the Catholic Church, as God saw it in the future, and as He sees it now.  These beautiful words are true in their measure, of ever diocese, of every parish, in our day.  Today, as the Holy Church throughout the world flings open her door and rings her bells, and the crowd press in, in cities, in villages, in country places, God recognizes thousands of his true worshippers, who worship Him in spirit and in truth.  We see and know some of them, but only His all-seeing eye sees them all, and only His omniscience, which foreknows the number of those who shall be His by faith and good works, can measure the greatness of the harvest of souls which He will reap at the end of the world.  The Lord comes with ten thousand of His saints.  The Last Judgment is the victory of Christ.  Then again, surrounded by the fruit of His passions, He may repeat the words which He spoke at the close of His earthly ministry: “I have glorified you upon the earth.  I have finished the work which you gave me to do.   Those whom you gave me I have kept, and none of them have perished except the son of perdition.”  (John 17:4,12)

 

These thoughts point the way to two practical lessons, one relating to our duty to others, the other relating to our duty to ourselves.

 
IX
 

We see here the spirit in which we ought to labor for the conversion of others.  There is certainly a great deal of good to be done around us.  How many in this country are out of the Ark of safety, the Catholic Church of Christ!  How many in her fold need our efforts and labors to make them better!  Why are we not more active in laboring for them?  We say it is of no use; we have tried and failed.  Those whose conversion we had most at heart seem farther off from the truth than ever.  It is no use hoping for the conversion of those who are not Catholics; they are too set in their ways.  Many of those Catholics, too, who were doing well as we hoped, have fallen off again, and we are weary of laboring with so little success. Oh! what a mean spirit this is; how unlike the spirit of Christ!  How unlike the spirit of that apostle who made himself all things to all men that he might save some.  You will put up with no failures.  Christ and St. Paul were content to meet with many failures for the sake of some success.  How unlike the spirit of St. Francis of Sales, who labored so hard during so many discouraging years, for the conversion of his misguided Swiss.  Christ was rejected and crucified by those whom He came to teach.  The apostles were despised and their names cast out as evil.  And you will not labor because you cannot give immediate and full success.  But some success you will meet with.  You may not convert the one you desire to convert, but you will convert another.  You may not succeed in the way or at the time you look for, but you will succeed in some other way and at some other time.  There is nothing well done and charitably done for the truth that falls to the ground.  God’s word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes the thing whereunto He sent it.  We labor, and other men enter into our labors.  But the good work is done, and the fruits are garnered in heaven.  Be of great hopes, then.  You, my brethren of the priesthood, dare to undertake great things for the honor of our Lord and the extension of His kingdom.  Use every means that prudence and charity can suggest to gain souls to Christ.  In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hand.  Labor in season and out of season.  For Zion’s sake hold not your hand, and for Jerusalem’s sake do not rest, until her justice comes forth as a brightness, and her salvation be lighted as a lamp!  And you, my brethren of the laity, labor each in your place, as far as may be given you, in the same work.  Blessing must come from labor, and reward from Him who has promised that “they that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.” (Daniel 12:3)

 

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X
 

The other lesson we learn is one which teaches us how to guide ourselves in a world of sin and scandal.  It is no uncommon thing for men to draw injury to their own souls from the disorders around them, by making them a pretext for neglecting their own salvation, or taking a low standard of duty.  One says, there is a man who does not attend to his religious duties, and makes out of this an excuse for his own neglect.  “What is that to you?  Follow thou Me,” is the answer of Christ.  There is another who does go to the sacraments, but whose life is not edifying.  He is profane, quarrelsome, untruthful, and artful.  Perhaps he is guilty of worse sins than these,  What is that to you?” is again the answer: “Follow thou Me.  My love, my life, my teaching is to be the rule of your conduct, not the doctrines of others.”  Oh! how this cuts the way open to a solution of that question with which we sometimes vex ourselves.  Are there few or many that will be saved?  There are few if few, many if many.  Few if few hear and obey, many if many hear and obey.  Wisdom cries aloud, she utters her voice in the streets; he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  One hears, lays up and ponders in his heart, like Mary, what he hears, and becomes a saint.  Another hears as one who looks in a glass and immediately forgets what he saw reflected in it.  Here is the distinction which produces election and reprobation, salvation and damnation.  This is the practical question for each one of us: To which of these classes do I belong?  This is the prayer which ought to be our daily petition: Give me, O Lord, an understanding heart, to know the things that belong to my peace, before they are forever hid from my eyes.  How great the misery of passing through life slothful, careless, inattentive, and so losing the heavenly wisdom we might learn!  How great the happiness of keeping the world in a good heart, and bringing forth fruit with patience!  Those who do this not only secure their salvation, but they console Christ for all His cruel sufferings, for  they  constitute the fruit of His Passion, the success of His Gospel, the crown of Glory which He receives from the hand of His Father, the Royal Diadem which He will wear for all eternity.

 

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