Life Of Christ:
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Birth Of Jesus
Three Wise Men From The East Adore The Infant Saviour
Presentation Of Jesus In The Temple
Flight Into Egypt
Jesus, At Twelve Years, Visits The Temple
Baptism Of Jesus
Jesus Calls The Twelve Apostles
Parables Of Jesus
Miracles Of Jesus
Read More Articles About: Life Of Christ
Jesus Calls The Twelve Apostles
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
EVERY important act in the life of Our Lord was pre-ceded by prayer and meditation. "And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, He called unto Him His disciples: and He chose twelve of them (whom also He named apostles). Simon, whom He surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot who was the traitor." (Luke vi. 12-16.)
The election of the apostles occurred toward the beginning of the second year of Christ's ministry. By their sublime vocation, the apostles became the domestic companions and familiar friends of their blessed Lord. This gave them an opportunity of conversing more intimately with Him, and being witnesses not only of His public, but also of His private virtues. To them He manifested Himself more freely, and explained at large those points of doctrine and morality which He communicated to the people in parables. Immediately on calling them, He assembled them about Him and gave them particular instructions to prepare them for their work, to teach them how to perform it dutifully, and to encourage them to bear with fortitude the persecutions which awaited them.
Shortly after having thus initiated His chosen ones, He addressed Himself to all men, giving a summary of His whole doctrine in the sublime Sermon on the Mount. "And Jesus seeing the multitudes went up into a mountain, and when He was set down His disciples came unto Him. And opening His mouth He taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek : for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn : for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake : for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you for My sake: be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven; for so they persecuted the prophets that were before you." (Matt. v. 1-12.)
What a beautiful, heart-winning introduction to His sermon! Surely, He who thus speaks can have come into the world for no other purpose but to reunite heaven and earth, to restore man to his long-lost happiness. Hence Christ's gospel must necessarily be directly opposed to that system of teaching which severed earth from heaven. Worldlings praise the rich, the great, the powerful; but Jesus commends the lowly, the persecuted, the tearful poor. Again, it is poverty that Christ first recommends to all : poverty in spirit, that is, that holy spirit of poverty, consisting not so much in possessing nothing, but rather in having one's heart detached from earthly treasures, and in holding one's soul free from inordinate love of worldly goods, and seeking after the imperishable wealth of grace, truth, and happiness in Christ.
Avarice, which is directly opposed to holy poverty, is the source of all passionate contentions for the things of this world; it is the origin of every evil and misfortune. Hence the dreadful language of the divine Master : " But woe to you that are rich: for you have your consolation. Woe to you that are filled : for you shall hunger. Woe to you that now laugh: for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when men shall bless you : for according to these things did their fathers to the false prophets." (Luke vi. 24-26.)
Jesus, now turning from the multitude, directs His words to the apostles, whom He had specially appointed to heal the moral corruption of the world, to announce the glad tidings of salvation, to dispense God's grace in the sacraments, and thus become a leaven among men. " You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid; neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven." (Matt. v. 13-16.)
Whilst admonishing the future prophets and teachers of the New Testament, Our Lord adverts to the ancient prophets, and to the Old Law especially. This law is not to be repealed or destroyed, but rather developed, perfected, and sanctified. " Do not think that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets : I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass of the law till all be fulfilled. He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven : but he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. v. 17-20.)
Jesus here, and in the following passages, which treat of forgiveness, of chastity, of truth in speech, of obedience, and of love of enemies, lays down the fundamental principle fully and clearly, that the law is not to be abrogated in the new dispensation, but developed, perfected, and sanctified. " You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill: and who shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you: that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee: leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift. Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him : lest perhaps thy adversary deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing." (Matt. v. 21-26.)
See how Christ gives to the most important relations of daily life an entirely new and perfect character, by securing to the individual higher honor and more personal dignity than were required or secured in the Old Law. Even inward dislike, if voluntary, will be punished ; and the expressions of anger, hatred, and envy will receive castigation according to their degree of intensity.
" You have heard that it was said to them of old : Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you: that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee : for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off and cast it from thee : for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell. And it hath been said: Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery." (Matt. v. 27-32.)
Here our divine Saviour reestablishes and sanctifies the family in its very foundation, namely, in holy matrimony and in matrimonial fidelity. Henceforth lawful marriage is to be indissoluble. No power, whether temporal or spiritual, can ever again dissolve a properly contracted marriage. For all future time married people are to understand that they are bound under pain of grievous sin strictly to observe matrimonial fidelity, not only in act, but in word, thought, and look. They must be prepared to make heavy sacrifices, if necessary, in order to avoid the occasion of even an unbecoming thought or word. In this sense is to be taken Our Saviour's expression to pluck out an eye, etc., viz., that we should be prepared to make the most severe sacrifices in order to avoid the occasions of sin.
"Again, you have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not forswear thyself : but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool ; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King: neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be: yea, yea; no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil." (Matt. v. 33-37.)
In these edifying and instructive passages of the Sermon on the Mount Our Lord elevates and sanctifies business relations between man and man, by extolling and enjoining mutual honesty and confidence between them, to such a laudable and happy extent that the words yes and no may be sufficient, and all oaths unnecessary. But, in view of human imperfection, neither the judicial oath nor any just oath is forbidden in case of necessity, and in the cause of truth.
"You have heard that it has been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee : and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. You have heard that it has been said : Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. v. 38-48.)
In the above words our blessed Saviour first sanctifies Christian government, or society, by elevating, purifying, and perfecting strict justice, which is its very corner-stone, and by inculcating upon His followers sometimes to forego their rights for the sake of peace, especially in affairs of minor importance, when such concession will not, to any grave extent, injure themselves or those de-pending upon them. Then He teaches us that our charity must comprise all men, even our enemies, if we would merit supernatural reward. If men would only adhere to the observance of these principles, how secure the individual would be, how united the family, how plain and easy every kind of business, how peaceful the common-wealth, how happy the whole human family in its every relation! All those irritating questions which divide men into hostile camps, wasting their energies in useless and pernicious strife, would be settled at once and forever.
Our divine Teacher now passes on to the three principal works of Christian charity, namely, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. He warns us, first of all, that these three works have value before God, and merit the kingdom of heaven only when they are done, not to elicit the praise of men, but for the love of God and with the hope of divine reward. For the foundation of all real good is a disinterested motive, or purity of intention.
"Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them; otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when thou dost an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men : Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth : that thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee." (Matt. vi. 1-4.)
This reward will be given not only on the last day, when, according to St. Paul, "the Lord will bring to light whatever is hidden in darkness, and lay open the secrets of our hearts, and every man will receive his re-ward from God." (t Cor. iv. 5.) Even in this life the Lord will bless your almsgiving and return it a thousandfold in blessings to your soul and body. Almsgiving is an investment in the heavenly treasury, which will pay heavy interest. Give privately and secretly; although it may sometimes be advisable to perform your acts of generosity publicly, in order to stimulate the charity of others.
"And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men : Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens; for they think that in their much-speaking they may be heard, Be not therefore like to them; for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. Thus, therefore, shall you pray : Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen. For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences." (Matt. vi. 5-15.)
Our good and merciful Redeemer has given us a glorious prayer; a prayer of touching simplicity and deepest meaning. "Our Father," holy Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter, common Father of all men, who thus become my brethren. " Who art in heaven" with the angels and saints, whom Thou dost enlighten to a knowledge of Thy perfections, and inflamest with love for Thy infinite beauty, and fillest with ineffable happiness. " Hallowed be Thy name." May our senses and our intellects be so enlightened that we may every day learn more and more the extent of Thy goodness, the vastness of Thy promises, the splendor of Thy majesty, and the depths of Thy justice, and with this knowledge praise Thy glory. " Thy kingdom come," that Thou mayest reign, through truth and grace, in our hearts here below, and one day lead us up to Thy heavenly kingdom, where we shall see Thee face to face, love Thee with perfect love, and enjoy Thee in eternal happiness. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven ;" that is, may we bow down humbly and confidingly before the unfathomable decrees of Thy wisdom, thanking Thee for adversity as well as prosperity, and loving Thee with all . our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. "Give us this day our supersubstantial bread:" all that may be necessary for both bodily and spiritual life and for the fulfilment of our duties. "For-give us our debts " through Thy own mercies, and through the infinite merits of the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the intercession of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary and the other saints, "as we forgive our debtors who trespass against us. And as of ourselves and by our own strength we are not able fully to forgive our enemies, grant us strength to love them, to pray for them, and to do good to them, for Thy sake. " Lead us not into temptation ;" enable us to recognize the enemies of our salvation, to discover their artifices, and manfully and successfully to resist them, so that neither temporal nor spiritual adversity may overtake us. " But de-liver us from evil," past, present, and future sorrow and misery. "Amen." So may it be done by Thy grace, so may I persevere in faith, hope, and love.
Although our blessed Saviour advises us to recite this and other similar prayers in the privacy of our rooms, we must not therefore conclude that He does not require us to be present at and to participate in public worship. We must do the one and not neglect the other; and we must do both in a proper spirit and with true sincerity; not simply outwardly and with the lips only, but interiorly and with a vivid consciousness of God's sacred presence. Hence Christ warns us not to depend upon a multiplication of too many words when at our devotions. It is only when animated with the spirit of holy reverence, childlike love, and unrestricted confidence that our prayers have any value.
"And when you fast, be not as hypocrites, sad; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their re-ward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee." The Jews chiefly sought to please the eyes of men, who judge by what they see; the followers of Christ must seek to please the eyes of God, who regards the heart.
" Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth : where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven : where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also." (Matt. Vi. 19-2 i.) Again, Our Lord reverts to poverty in spirit, to detachment from the transitory goods of this world, to which men so tenaciously incline. He warns us earnestly of concupiscence of the eyes, that is, of the inordinate desire of possessing earthly things.
"The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil, thy whole body shall be darksome. If, then, the light that is in thee be darkness, the darkness itself, how great shall it be? No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will sustain the one and despise the. other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not of much more value than they? And which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment, why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow : they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice: and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not there-fore solicitous for to-morrow. For the morrow will be solicitous for itself; sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." (Matt V. 22-34).
Not less dear to the heart of our blessed Lord than poverty of spirit and childlike dependence and confidence in God, are the virtues of humility, charity, and concord and peace among His followers. Hence He warns us most emphatically and impressively against the loss of this spirit of charity, a loss that most frequently results from our own self-sufficiency, arrogance, and disposition to judge our fellow-men rashly and hastily.
" Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye : and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye Give not that which is holy to the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone? Or if he shall ask him a fish, will he reach him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the narrow gate : for wide is the gate and broad the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!" (Matt. vii. I-14.)
This doctrine of the narrow gate does not suit the worldly-minded man, who affects to disbelieve the teachings of Christ concerning the difficulties of the road which leads to heaven. Such persons would fain obtain the happiness of heaven, but meanwhile wish to be at liberty to gratify, here on earth, every inclination of their corrupt hearts. Alas! what is still more to be deplored, is the fact that there are never wanting teachers who are always ready to flatter these notions: they are false prophets, whose words lead to perdition. Our Lord warns us against them, saying:
" Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves: by their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit: neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven : but he that doth the will of My Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day : Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and cast out devils in Thy name, and done many miracles in Thy name? And then I will profess unto them : I never knew you : depart from Me, you that work iniquity. Every one therefore that heareth these My words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man, that built his house upon a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded on a rock. And every one that heareth these My words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man, that built his house upon the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof." (Matt. vii. 15-27.)
This beautiful parable terminates the Sermon on the Mount. It is a parable full of meaning for each and all of us. Every one amongst us is trying to build up his fortune. But how differently men build! Some found their happiness upon sensual gratification, or on wealth, or on honor and prominence among their fellow-men. A few years pass by, violent storms arise, and behold, their temple of happiness totters, falls, and crumbles into ruins. Others, more wise, found their happiness on the word of God and the observance of His holy law. Their building goes up quietly and slowly, but surely and permanently. The storms come the storms of sickness, old age, or misfortune, and finally of death : but a happiness built upon virtue is solid and durable, and outlasts these assaults. It is founded on a rock. "And the rock was Christ." (1 Cor. x. 4.)
"And it came to pass, when Jesus had fully ended these words, the people were in admiration at His doctrine. For He was teaching them as one having power, and not as the scribes and pharisees." (Matt. vii. 28, 29.)
O profound, admirable Teacher ! On my knees I thank Thee for Thy every word. I accept Thy doctrine with childlike faith, and will believe therein firmly in joy and sorrow, now and at the hour of my death. For Thine are the words of eternal life for all men of good-will. Let them sink ever deeper and deeper into my heart. Let their divine power penetrate my whole being. Let them become practical by a gentle sympathy and true charity, by a valiant and steadfast self-denial, and in the innocence of my life.