Consider first, in the prodigal son, a lively image of the misery of every poor sinner, who by wilful sin goes away from his father's
house, into a far country, even the region of death, and there wastes all his substance, by living riotously; that is, loses and squanders away all the graces he had received from God, and abuses all his gifts and talents, by making them all subservient to his criminal passions and lusts. Alas! how soon does he experience the famine that reigns in the country! A mighty famine indeed! A dismal want of the bread of life, and of all true nourishment; a perpetual emptiness of the soul; a hunger and thirst that is never to be satisfied. For all that is brought to market there, though sold at a very dear rate, is but mere wind, froth, and bubbles, that can never fill the belly. In vain does that poor wretch, under this famine, sell himself for a slave to one of the citizens of that region, even to Satan, the ruler of that land of darkness, who sets him to feed his swine, viz, his own brutal passions and carnal inclinations: for he finds himself still perishing for hunger and want; he is not allowed to fill himself, even with the husks which the swine eat; they leave him still empty. Ah! sinners, see the dismal state you reduce yourselves to, when you turn your backs upon your Father and choose rather to be slaves of the devil than children of God. O never expect any solid satisfaction or so much as one happy hour till you return home again to your Father's house!
Consider 2ndly, the steps by which the prodigal child was reclaimed, and brought home to his father; and thou shalt find that the beginning of his conversion was his return to himself, and being made sensible of his great misery. Alas! the poor deluded soul, at the same time that she leaves her Father's house, by forgetting her God, leaves also and forgets herself; and is so strangely blinded and bewitched by the world, the flesh, and the devil as to imagine herself free, under the worst of slaveries; rich under the extremity of want; and honourable and happy in the very midst of disgrace, confusion, and perpetual uneasiness. But when she begins to open her inward eyes to the light of God by serious consideration, and to return into herself, she is greatly alarmed at the sight of her present wretched condition and the dreadful dangers that surround her on all sides, and threaten her continually with nothing less than a miserable eternity. No, it is a ready correspondence with this heavenly light and grace, by a desire to return to the best of Fathers, that is the first step to the prodigal's conversion. But then see, my soul, how he rises up immediately, without the least delay, to follow the call. See with what dispositions of a most profound humility, with what a sense of his own unworthiness, with what a deep sorrow and contrition for his sins, he makes the best of his way home. O give ear to his sentiments on this occasion: 'I will arise,' saith he, 'and I will go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not now worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.' O that all sinners, who have imitated the prodigal in his extravagances, would imitate him also by returning to themselves, as he did, and by rising without delay, to go and to seek the true Father of their souls, with the like dispositions of a contrite and humble heart!
Consider 3rdly, the infinite goodness and mercy of God, expressed to us in the manner in which this heavenly Father received the prodigal child returning to him. He did not stay till he came to his house; but 'when he was a great way off, he saw him, and was moved with compassion; and running to him, he fell upon his neck, and kissed him.' He scarce gave him time to confess his guilt, before he ordered 'his servants to bring forth quickly the first robe and to put it on him, and to put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and to bring the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat,' said he 'and make merry: because this my son was dead, and is come to life; he was lost, and is found.' O blessed be this infinite goodness and mercy for ever, which daily exerts itself in this manner, and works the like wonder in favour of penitent sinners! He first excites them to desire to come home to him; he has pity on them, when as yet they are a great way off; he runs out to meet them; he lovingly receives them into his embraces; he clothes them again with the sacred robe of his divine grace; he restores them to the honour and dignity of his children, and to all the ornaments of virtue and grace, which they had forfeited by sin; he admits them to the divine banquet of the body and blood of his only Son; and curses all his heavenly court to celebrate a feast of joy upon their conversion. And shall not all this loving kindness, this tender mercy, these extraordinary favours shown to penitent sinners, encourage thee, my soul, and effectually determine thee to quit for good and all the husks of swine, and to run to the embraces of this Father of mercies?
Conclude, if thy case be like that of the prodigal, in being in a far country, away from thy Father's house - that is, at great distance from thy God, by mortal sin, perishing for hunger and want, among the husks of swine - to determine to imitate the prodigal, in his ready correspondence with grace, in the resolution with which he presently rises and returns to his Father, in the dispositions of humility and contrition, and this great Father will undoubtedly receive thee as he did him; and all his heavenly family shall feast and rejoice at thy conversion.
Consider first, that this steward being accused to his Lord of having wasted his substance, as called upon by him, 'to give an account of his stewardship, for that he could now be steward no longer;' and friends among his master's debtors, by discounting a considerable part of what they stood charged in their bills to his master, that so they might be willing to receive him into their houses, and to entertain him. In which, though he acted iniquitously with regard to his master, he did wisely according to what the world calls wisdom, with regard to the providing for himself against the evil day: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. 'And I say to you,' saith our Lord, 'make to yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.' See here, Christians, the great lesson designed for you in this parable. Your having so often wasted the goods of your great master, ought to give you a just apprehension of your being quickly called by him to an account, and deprived of your stewardship. What then must you do in order to your future support, and everlasting livelihood? O, you must make yourselves friends, by the good use of the mammon of this world; that is, by liberal alms to God's poor servants; you must diligently exercise charity in all its branches; you must use your best endeavours to reclaim sinners from the error of their way, and by that means procure for them a discharge from their debts; and your Lord will commend you for having done wisely for yourselves; and these friends you have thus made for yourselves will, through his mercy, be qualified to receive you hereafter into his eternal mansions.
Consider 2ndly, in how many respects we are all stewards to this great Lord. All that we have is his; our very being is his; our whole soul and body; all our powers, faculties and senses; all our gifts and talents; all that we possess corporally, or spiritually, our whole time, and all our worldly substance. In regard to all these things, we are stewards of God, and accountable to him. All these are goods that have been entrusted to us, but belong to this great master. We are unjust stewards if we waste any part of these goods; and the employing of any of them otherwise than according to his holy will and his divine ordinances, will be accounted wasting of them in the eyes of him before whom we shall one day most certainly appear to give an account of our whole stewardship, and of all the years we have had his goods in our hands. O, who shall be able to stand this examination of accounts, upon the issue of which an eternity depends! O, who shall be able to answer for one article in a thousand!
Consider 3rdly, O my soul, those words in the parable, as addressed to thee this day: Give an account of thy stewardship, and see what thou couldst say for thyself, if this day were to be thy last, and thy accounts were to be immediately inspected. Thou knowest not the day nor the hour - see then what account thou couldst give, if this were to be the day. For why shouldst thou expose thyself any longer to the dreadful dangers of being called upon when unprepared, to thy eternal condemnation? Alas! has there been hitherto any part of thy life, in which thou hast acted the part of an honest and faithful steward, with relation to the goods of thy master? How little share has he had in thy thoughts, words, and actions? How little of thy time has been employed in his service? How often have all thy powers and faculties, and all thy senses, both exterior and interior, been alienated from him, and made instruments of offence? How often have his choicest gifts and talents been abused and perverted? What is become of all the graces purchased for thee by the blood of Christ? Where are all the inspirations, calls, and reproaches of conscience with which he has visited thee? Where the sacraments thou hast received? The word of God, and so many other spiritual advantages, or temporal blessings, thou hast been favoured with? How few are there of all these goods of thy master which thou hast not wasted or perverted? He has even made over in a manner to thee the passion and death of his only Son, and deposited all his merits with thee in the sacred mysteries; and what little use or advantage hast thou hitherto made of them? Ah! my poor soul, in how wretched a state indeed are all our accounts! And what have we not to apprehend from the justice of our Lord for having been such wicked stewards all our lifetime?
Conclude now at least to set thy accounts in order, to rectify all that has hitherto been amiss, and henceforward to begin anew by dedicating thy whole self and all thou hast to the love and service of him, to whom all belongs upon all manner of titles. It is a most crying injustice to waste his goods - how much more to employ them against himself by wilful sin?
Consider first, the words of our Lord in the gospel: - 'There was a certain rich man,' saith he, 'who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores: desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table: and no one did give him: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom; and he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me; and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him, Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime; and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot; nor from thence come hither,' & c. See here, my soul, a great difference in life - between the rich man abounding in all that this world could give, and living in pleasures and delights, and the poor beggar wanting even the necessaries of
life, and languishing under a multitude of sores and ulcers; but look, and observe how quickly the scene is changed, and what a great and eternal difference immediately succeeds after death, when the one is comforted with everlasting joy and happiness, and the other plunged into the extremity of endless misery, where he cannot be allowed even one drop of water to cool his tongue.
Consider 2ndly, what it was that brought the rich man to this place of eternal woe, since there is no mention in the gospel of any scandalous excesses that he was guilty of; no blasphemies, or perjuries, or profane swearing; no murders, no adulteries, or other impurities; no thefts, no rapines, or extortions; no slanders, or detractions, or lies: it is only said that he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day - things in which, considering his state and condition, the world apprehends no sin. What, then, can we suppose to have been the occasion of his damnation? O! Christians, his sins were chiefly sins of omission of the service of God. He led an idle life; he loved his pleasures more than God; he made a god of his belly; he had no concern for the poor; so that he lived in a continual breach of the two great commandments of loving God with his whole heart, and of loving his neighbour as himself: and certainly there need no other sins to send any man to hell. See then, my soul, thou never flatter thyself with the imagination of thy being innocent, or promise thyself any security because thou art not guilty perhaps of the grosser sorts of sins, whilst thou leadest an idle, unprofitable life, following the ways and maxims of worldlings, and loving the honours, riches, or pleasures of the world better than God: for such a life as this can never bring any one to heaven - 'tis too remote from the narrow way that leads to life.
Consider 3rdly, in the case of the poor beggar, the happy fruits of patient suffering, of a true conformity in all things to the will of God, and of always keeping one's self close to him, by recollection and divine love, in every place, occupation, or condition of life. For it was thus the poverty and the pains of Lazarus where sanctified and made the seeds of his eternal happiness. O that all such Christians as share in any part of his sufferings were so wise and happy in their comportment under them, as to reap the like fruits for eternity, from their temporal evils! But O, it is the want of a lively faith in the great truths of God delivered to us in the scripture; it is the want of a true sense of the goods and evils of eternity; it is the want of seriously thinking and considering that it is too often the bane both of the rich and of the poor: for otherwise, as our Lord here informs us, these scripture truths ought to influence us more powerfully, towards the total change of our lives, than even if any person were to come from the dead to preach unto us.
Conclude to labour and pray for heavenly wisdom to conduct thee in such a manner, in the midst of the goods and evils of this transitory life, that both the one and the other may be made subservient to thy eternal happiness.
Consider first, that our Lord, to teach us that general charity which we owe to the whole world, without exception or distinction of nation or opinion, proposes himself to us in this parable, as the perfect pattern of this charity, in the person of a Samaritan, a people differing both in nation and religion from the Jews. 'A certain man,' saith he, 'went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, who also stripped him, and having wounded him went away, leaving him half dead. And it chanced that a certain priest went down the same way, and seeing him, he passed by. In like manner also a Levite, when he was near the place, and saw him, passed by. But a certain Samaritan, being on his journey, came near him; and seeing him, was moved with compassion; and going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and
wine; and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said: take care of him: and whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I at my return, will repay thee.' See here, my soul, in this charitable Samaritan, an image of what thy Lord has done for thee, and go thou, as he tells thee in the application of the parable, and do in like manner; that is, show thou the like mercy and charity to thy neighbours, as Christ has shown to thee. This will be indeed a charity both to them and to thyself; since it will bring thee to possess eternal life, v. 25. Yes, my soul, 'this do, and thou shalt live,' v. 28.
Consider 2ndly, in this parable the wretched condition into which man has fallen by sin. Going down from Jerusalem, which is interpreted the vision of peace, to Jericho, which signifies the moon (that is, turning his back to his God, and to all true peace, to seek a false happiness in the forbidden fruit of worldly enjoyments, which are continually changing like the moon.) he fell among robbers, that is he fell into the hands of wicked spirits, and became their prey. He was stripped by them of all the gifts of grace, with which he had been adorned by his creator, and was grievously wounded in all his powers and faculties. His understanding was darkened with ignorance and error in his notions of good and evil, and his will perverted with malice in the preferring evil before good: all his passions were let loose upon him, having lost their bridle of original justice, and his whole soul was in a strange disorder - weak beyond expression to everything that is good, and violently bent upon evil. thus he lay half dead; his better part, viz., the soul, being dead indeed by the loss of its true life, the grace of God; and both the soul and body being condemned by divine justice to a second and eternal death; and in this state he was like to remain, being utterly incapable of himself of making one step towards his deliverance, and so must have inevitably perished to eternity, had not this charitable Samaritan come down from heaven to his relief. O the dismal consequences of sin! O the infinite goodness of God! And shalt not thou, my soul - who hast had the experience both of the one and of the other - from henceforth at least, dread, detest, and fly with all thy power from that worst of evils, sin, and embrace henceforward, with all thy affections, this sovereign goodness of thy God?
Consider 3rdly, by descending to particulars, what his infinite goodness has done for lost man, in sending down his only Son to be our pious Samaritan, to deliver us from all our evils, and to impart all good to ours souls. Alas! the priest and the Levite passed us by, and left us languishing under our wounds and miseries. For the law and its ministers were not able to heal or to relieve us. but our good Samaritan had compassion on us; his tender mercies brought him down form his throne of glory to our assistance. He has bound up our wounds, by suffering himself to be wounded for our iniquities; that by his stripes we might be healed. He has applied to our wounded souls the heavenly medicines of his sacraments, signified by the wine and oil. He has set us upon his own beast, by bearing our sins himself in his own body upon the tree of the cross. He has brought us to the blessed inn of his holy church, where all graces and means of salvation are abundantly furnished to all that ask and seek for them. He has given the charge of our souls to the keepers of this inn, that is to his apostles and their successors, the pastors of this his holy church, divinely commissioned and assisted by him; and he has promised them a most ample reward for all eternity, to repay them for the care they shall take of us. O what return shall we make to our Lord for all this mercy, and all this love he has thus shown to us! O, he desires no other return, but that we should love him, and show mercy to one another.
Conclude to make him this return of love; but see it be with thy whole heart; for he will not accept of a love that allows of any creature to stand in competition with him. See also thou never forget that there is no loving him without a sincere disposition of showing mercy to thy neighbours for his sake, and by his great example.
Quae est ista quare processit sicut sol, et formosa tamquam Jerusalem?
Consider first, that the church celebrates on this day the early dedication which the blessed Virgin made of herself to God, and to his eternal love and service; when, as we learn by pious tradition, she was presented by her holy parents, St. Joachim and St. Ann, in the temple of the Lord, and remained there in the company of other virgins, in an apartment allotted for that purpose in one of the courts of the temple. Learn, my soul, from this presentation of the blessed Virgin, the great advantages of early piety, and the happiness of dedicating one's self from one's childhood to divine love; as also the duty incumbent on all parents to present their children to God; to keep them at a distance from the contagion of bad company, and from all the false maxims and corrupt ways of a wicked world; and to train them up in the love and fear of God. The blessed Virgin was brought by divine inspiration to the house of God, where she lived remote from the noise and distractions of the world, because she was to be the house where the Son of God himself would be incarnate, and the living temple in which he would live. Christians, do you desire that your souls should be also the house of God, and the living temples of his glory? It is by withdrawing yourselves as much as possible from the tumult and confusion of the world: it is by continually presenting yourselves to God in his inward temple, by a spirit of recollection and mental prayer, that you are to attain to this happiness.
Consider 2ndly, in this presentation of the blessed Virgin - on the one hand, the voice of God calling her to his house, (in order to the disposing of her soul for the great things he was to work in her,) in the words of Psalm xliv., 'Hear, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear, and forget thy people and thy father's house; and the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore;' - and, on the other hand, the devotion and fervour with which she corresponds with the call; the resolution with which she ascends the fifteen degrees or steps that lead to that temple, resolving to ascend in like manner by all the degrees of virtue, to the very top of perfection; the profound adoration with which, prostrating herself upon the ground, she adored his divine majesty at her first coming into the house, and the oblation she there makes of her whole self to his perpetual service. Learn, Christian souls, the like correspondence with divine grace, when it calls you to God; the like devotion, fervour, and resolution in his service; the like adoration and oblation of yourselves to him. In this sacred retreat the blessed Virgin gave the first example of a consecration of herself to God, by a vow of perpetual virginity, (as she was inspired to do by the Spirit of God,) desiring in all things to choose the better part, and to render the sacrifice she made of her soul and body more perfect, more firm, and secure, by the means of her vow. Learn of her a love of purity and chastity, and a resolution of preserving it with all the perfection that thy condition of life shall allow of, and for this end daily beg the assistance of her prayers.
Consider 3rdly, the exercise which the blessed Virgin followed in the temple, for she certainly was not idle there. As the Holy Ghost continually visited and solicited her with his heavenly inspirations and graces, so she, who never received the grace of God in vain, continually opened the door of her heart to these visits, and co-operated with these graces with all her strength, and by these means every day of her life, as she increased in age, so she grew in virtue, grace, charity, and sanctity. And as to the employment of her time whilst she was in the temple, her whole life there was spent in ascending or descending by the mystical ladder of Jacob, Gen. xxviii. 12, which reacheth from the earth to heaven, and has God at the top of it. She ascended this ladder by employing a great part of her days in spiritual reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, which are named by St. Bernard for the steps or degrees of this heavenly ladder. And she descended again by the humble exercises of working with her hands for the service of the temple, for the use of her companions, or for the benefit of the poor. Yet so, that even whilst her hands were employed at work, her heart was still with God by prayer and love. O how holy, O how happy, is this kind of ascending and descending by Jacob's ladder! Lord, give us grace to follow this great example, and to be always upon this ladder which conducts to heaven.
Conclude, O my soul, to imitate this presentation of the blessed Virgin by frequent oblations, at least, of thyself to God every day of thy life. Be cautious indeed how thou engagest thyself by vow, without taking good counsel, and mature deliberation, because of thy frailty; but as to making an offering of thy whole heart and soul to thy God, with all thy thoughts, words, and actions, it is what thou canst not do too often.
Consider first, how our Lord spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others. 'Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a Pharisee and the other a publican. This Pharisee standing prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust,
adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner! I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.' O my soul, beware of this unhappy disposition; dread these two most pernicious evils of trusting in thyself as just, and of despising others. Those that are truly just, are far from thinking themselves so. They are far from glorying in themselves, far from attributing anything of good to themselves, or preferring themselves before any one living. In the judgment they make of themselves, they always sit down, according to the rule of their great master, in the lowest place of all. Their eyes are ever open to their own defects, and shut to those of others; at least where their duty does not require their inspection or correction of them. They are convinced that they have nothing in themselves that they can trust to; and that it is only owing to God's great mercy that they have not been guilty of the most enormous crimes that any poor wretch has ever committed; and therefore they never presume to despise anyone, not even the most scandalous sinner, lest they should be found worse than him in the sight of God, through their pride and self-conceit; crimes which they know to be always an abomination to the Lord. See, my soul, if these be thy sentiments.
Consider 2ndly, that it was this pride and self-conceit that is here condemned in the Pharisee, and which was the cause of his condemnation. He was of the number of those that trusted in themselves as just, and despised all others. He was full of himself. In his prayer he neither craved mercy nor grace of God; he asked for nothing, because he took himself to be rich and wealthy, and not to stand in need of anything; whereas, indeed, through his pride he was 'wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,' Apoc. iii. 17. His whole prayer was only an enumeration of his own good works, with a censure upon the rest of men, and condemnation of the poor publican. And as he asked for nothing, so he obtained nothing, but only carried home with him his own condemnation. See, my soul, the sad consequences of pride, and its particular opposition to the spirit of prayer; and learn to detest with all thy power, and to drive far from thee, an evil that is so detestable in the sight of God - whom it sacrilegiously robs of his glory - and so pernicious to the souls of men, whom it transforms into devils, and condemns to hell.
Consider 3rdly, the lessons we are to learn from the example of the publican set before us by our Lord in this parable for our imitation. he had a true sense of his sins, and of what he had deserved for his sins; and therefore he condemned himself as unworthy to lift up his eyes to heaven, or to come near to the altar of God; but standing afar off, with his countenance humbly cast down upon the ground, he struck his breast, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner' Now this profound humility, this great sense of sorrow and contrition for his sins which accompanied his prayer, was that which procured him a favourable audience and a ready discharge from all his sins. His prayer was heard because it was presented and recommended by a contrite and humbled heart, and by the efficacy of it he went home justified; whilst the proud Pharisee, who was so full of the conceit of his own good works, met with nothing but his condemnation. O let us learn these great lessons of humility and of perfect contrition for our sins; let us, as often as we go up to the temple of God to pray, carry with us this sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, and we shall not fail of meeting with the like mercy as the publican did.
Conclude to study well these lessons, so much recommended and so frequently inculcated by our Lord in the gospel. Oh! ever remember that humility and contrition of heart bring us to God; but pride and self-conceit carry us far away from him. For 'He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble,' St. James iv. 16.
Consider first, that under this humble similitude of so small a thing as a grain of mustard see, great and divine truths are delivered to us by truth itself, when he tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven, in the gospel, is taken in three different ways; sometimes for God's eternal kingdom, to which the just are invited, Matt. xxv. 34, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you,' & c., of which also it is said, Matt. xiii. 43, 'The just shall shine, as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.' At other times the kingdom of heaven is taken for the church of Christ, in which he reigns for ever, as in his kingdom; and the institution and intention of which is to bring men to heaven: and thus the kingdom of heaven is likened to 'a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kinds of fishes,' & c., Matt xiii. 47; 'and to ten virgins who went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom,' Matt. xxv. & c.: and of this kingdom it is said, that our Lord shall send his angels, (at the end of the world,) and 'they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity; and shall cast them into the furnace of fire,' & c. At other times again the kingdom of heaven is taken for the kingdom by which God reigns, by faith, grace, and love in the soul of good Christians: and thus 'the kingdom of heaven is likened to a treasure hidden in a field;' and to 'a pearl of great price,' Matt. xiii. 44, 46; and of this kingdom it is said, Luke xvii. 21, 'Lo, the kingdom of God is within you.' Now, the kingdom of heaven, according to all these three acceptations, is likened to a little grain of mustard seed; because all our good, faith itself, grace, and all our happiness, both for time and eternity, is grounded on humility. We must be little and humble upon earth; and we must become 'as little children, or we shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven,' Matt. xviii. 3.
Consider 2ndly, how well this similitude agrees to this spiritual kingdom of Christ in his church. Take a view of the beginning of this kingdom of heaven in a few poor fishermen, utterly destitute of any one of those advantages that might recommend them according to the world; see its very founder himself, a poor man, rejected, condemned, and put to a most disgraceful death, by public authority, at the unanimous desire of both the senate and the people of his own nation: then observe the most fundamental principles and practices upon which this kingdom was first founded and established: its doctrines most shocking to human pride; its maxims and precepts most insupportable to the natural inclinations of flesh and blood: and you shall find in all this the resemblance of the mustard seed; small, mean, inconsiderable, and contemptible in the eyes of the world. But then observe how quickly this little grain, after it had been buried, as it were, in the earth, sprung up, and even grew up into a large tree, which spread it branches far and near, by the wonderful progress of the church and kingdom of Christ made in short time over all the earth; see the many thousands of martyrs and other saints, of all states and conditions, it quickly produces; with innumerable examples of the most heroic virtues, such as none of the schools or sects of the philosophers, or any of the ancient or modern sages of the world, with all their learning and eloquence, and all their pretensions to wisdom, could ever come up to. And in all this admire and adore the wonderful ways of God, who ever delights in showing forth his greatness in things that are little; and in choosing the foolish things of the world and such as are weak, mean, and contemptible in the eyes of the world, to be the instruments of his greatest works.
Consider 3rdly, that this grain of mustard seed is also very expressive of the kingdom of God, by which he reigns by grace in our souls. The beginnings of this kingdom are small, like the mustard seed; the very first foundation of it must be laid by humility, of which the mustard seed is the emblem: for a contrite and humble heart is the most essential ingredient of the conversion of the soul to God, without which the kingdom of divine grace can never be established in the soul. Then this divine grace, like the grain of mustard seed, before it can spring up and produce the tree of Christian perfection, must first be sown, and as it were buried in the earth, by letting it sink deep into the soul and by harbouring it there, by the means of serious and frequent meditations, and the practice of mental prayer. For it is thus only that the soul can be qualified to grow up in all Christian virtues, till she become herself the kingdom of God, and a kind of heaven upon earth; the very temple in which God chooses to dwell; the house of God and the house of prayer. And thus the little grain of seed will grow into a great tree.
Conclude with a serious resolution to seek henceforward in good earnest this kingdom of heaven, represented by the mustard seed; which, as thou here seest, is not out of thy reach, since it may be found here upon earth, and that too without going any farther to seek it than into thy own interior; where, if thou properly seek it, by recollection and mental prayer, thou shalt quickly come at it, and be put in the possession of it. And all good things shall come to thee together with it.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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