By Rev. Henry Brinkmeyer
"I HAVE GIVEN YOU AN EXAMPLE."
IN our last conference we studied the human love which our Lord showed for man in His private life. We saw it manifesting itself in voluntary poverty, in obedience to creatures, and in attractiveness and grace of person and character. The next subject that presents itself is the love of our Lord as displayed in His public life until the hour which ushered in His dolorous Passion. From His birth in the stable until He reached the age of thirty, we know very little of our Saviour, but these years of His public life are more fully described by the Evangelists, and therefore reveal to us more of the wonderful and inexhaustible love that was contained in His Sacred Heart for man.
Our Lord exhibited His love for men by relieving their temporal ills and sufferings. He healed the sick, raised the dead, restored the blind, cured the maimed, and spoke words of comfort to the afflicted. None ever asked in vain of the Divine Physician. All that came to Him were relieved, without respect of name or degree. Even though He knew they would prove ungrateful and abuse His goodness, His Heart was never insensible to their misery. Still, it was not the intention of our Lord to remove all temporal suffering from the world: hence, we cannot very well measure the full depth of His tenderness by the assistance which He rendered to the poor and afflicted. If we would understand the intensity and magnitude of His love we must study earnestly His zeal for the salvation of souls. The more ardent that zeal, the more ardent must be His love; for zeal is nothing else than an eagerness to benefit the one loved. Since it would have been conflicting with the plans of Divine Providence to remove from mankind all temporal and bodily evils and other consequences of sin, the immense love that was throbbing in the Sacred Heart for men induced our Lord to pursue principally the eternal interests of their souls.
Now, who is there that does not admire the zeal of our Saviour for the salvation of souls? Does not every line written by the four Evangelists bear witness to that zeal? Follow Jesus through the three years preceding His Passion. He was never at rest. Rarely do we read of His having allowed Himself a brief repose. By day He journeyed from city to city, from hamlet to hamlet. In that period there were no railroads to lend speed to the traveler, and our Lord was too poor to have a conveyance of His own. He walked over the dusty roads and scaled the stony hills, only light sandals, if any, covering the soles of His feet. When He had traveled all day in the heat of the sun, and at dusk had reached the neighboring village, hungry and spent with fatigue, it was His practice to go up into the synagogue of the place and there preach to the people. And at night He would again leave the town and retire to some solitary place, a mountain, a grotto, a garden or lake, and there pass whole hours, frequently whole nights, in prayer. During these three years of His public life, there was not a village or hamlet of Judea and Galilee, that did not receive the sublime lessons He came to teach. Wherever the people assembled, there He was found eager to dispense to them the bread of heavenly truth. In the public markets, on hills and mountains, in the open fields and meadows, out in the desert, on the roadside, from a skiff floating on the lake, on the banks of the river, beside the well or at the gates of the city—everywhere He taught the people; and when He had thus instructed men in public, He did not weary repeating and developing His doctrines in private. Besides all this, He had no preferences; or if any, they were for the ignorant, the poor, and for children. He visits the rich and the poor, the master and the servant; He teaches the just and the sinner, the learned and the illiterate, the high and the low,—with equal zeal He labors to enlighten one or many. Whether three thousand or five thousand are hanging upon every word of His lips, or He is speaking to a few eager to ensnare Him in His words, He is ever the same zealous teacher. Mark the simplicity of His teachings. He could have thrilled the world with His eloquence and wisdom ; but no, He spoke to the people in their own language, made use of homely similes, and clothed His heavenly doctrines in parables taken from every-day life. The lily of the field, the sparrow, the grass in the meadow, the mustard-seed, the birds of the air, the lost sheep, the lost drachm, the lamp, the kingdom, the vine, the city, the net cast into the sea, the fig-tree,—in a word, whatever was apt to enlighten His hearers and touch their hearts, He employed as a means to illustrate the truth. And see with what patience He labored! We are sometimes amazed at the ignorance, the dullness, I had almost said, the stupidity of the apostles. It mattered not how lengthily and how clearly He had spoken, they frequently failed to grasp His meaning; they returned to Him again and again with the simplest questions. For example, how often our divine Lord had referred to His Passion and especially to His Resurrection,—yet He was never understood by them. Only after His Resurrection did they remember what He had so often and so clearly indicated in His touching discourses. Then again, they were so stubborn, so rude, and above all, so little-minded; even with the great example of our Lord before their eyes, they were frequently jealous of one another, quarreling among themselves who was to have the first place in His kingdom. Yet Jesus bore with all their weakness; He repeated His instructions, He acted towards them as if they were His masters, and He their servant; He knelt down before Peter who was soon to deny Him; He washed the feet of Judas who had already betrayed Him. And just here we find that His zeal was not only ardent, but gentle and compassionate, and therefore could not spring but from a love strong and deep and tender as a mother's love. Zeal is naturally ardent and passionate ; it is very apt to become harsh and exacting, and when it does not spring from a deep love, it is rigorous in judging, it grows angry at sin, and strikes against obstacles in its way. Such was the zeal of St. James and St. John when they were yet young in the spiritual life, and wished our Lord to rain down fire upon those who did not listen to His teaching. But such was not the spirit of our Lord: His zeal was as humble and patient and kind as it was ardent and exalted. When they accused Him of being the Friend of sinners, and by His leniency of encouraging sin, He answered: "I have not come to call the just, but sinners. It is not the healthy, it is the sick that need a physician." When they reproached Him with not obliging His apostles to fast, He replied: "Can the children of the bridegroom mourn while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, (namely, when the apostles were strengthened in faith and virtue); and then they shall fast." When the Pharisees were shocked at His eating with sinners, He related to them the touching parable of the Prodigal Son, and of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine in the desert and sought after the poor lost sheep until he had found it—"I came not to execute justice, but to grant mercy!" One day, a poor creature taken in adultery was brought to Him. According to the Jewish law, one sinning thus was to be stoned to death. The Scribes and Pharisees accused her before Him who is sanctity itself. He said nothing, but bending over, He wrote with His finger in the sand. They would not, however, be put off. They repeated their question,—what was to be done with her? He rose and said: "He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone." Tradition has it, that one hoary-headed hypocrite seized a rock to fling at the culprit, but Jesus looked up, then traced a sin of the wretch upon the ground. Terrified, the man fled. Another, more daring, it is said, was about to cast a stone, but the glance of Jesus and the mysterious writing in the sand caused the missile to fall from his sin-stained hands. At last the guilty woman was alone with her Saviour. Looking upon her, He asked: "Where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?" Trembling, she said: "No man, Lord." And Jesus answered: "Neither will I condemn thee. Go and sin no more." Truly, our Lord had reason to say: "I came not to execute justice, but to grant mercy." Another illustration. —Nothing shows more clearly the tender, human zeal and, in consequence, the human love of our Lord, than His conduct towards Judas Iscariot. He had called him to the Apostolate; had sent him out to preach; had given him the power of working miracles; had allowed him to listen to His intimate instructions and to share in all those marks of holy friendship bestowed upon the other apostles. He had even showed him a certain preference, a special confidence, in making him the treasurer of their little society. Judas, however, was preparing to betray his Lord. Jesus knew this. His heart was full of pity for His faithless disciple. He essayed to save the wretch by signifying that He knew of the meditated crime: "One of you is about to betray me!" But Judas was not moved; he even dared ask: "Is it I, Lord?" Jesus tried again; He knelt down before the perfidious one, His grace spoke to that hardened heart while He silently washed the traitor's feet. But Judas was unmoved.
They sat at table: Jesus instituted the Eucharist, He ordained Judas priest with the rest of the apostles, and, to screen the ingrate, even gave him the Sacred Bread of life. But Judas was not yet moved. They arose, and were about to leave for the garden on the mountain-side. Jesus turned again to Judas and, to convince him that his heart was known to his God, bade him do quickly what he intended, but in words that the other apostles could not understand. That night Judas entered the garden with the band of soldiers. He approached our Lord, Goodness and Sanctity themselves, and, embracing Him, pressed his foul lips to the cheek of the Holy One. The Heart of Jesus, how it must have bled! He knew that all would be in vain; still love, though despairing, makes efforts to win the object beloved. "Friend," He said, "dost thou betray the Son of man with a kiss?"
O! pray that such zeal and love may reign in the hearts of the priests of the Church, and in the hearts of all those who spiritually or corporally continue Christ's mission on earth. "Behold the harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers into His harvest."