First Point.—What grace does for sinners. This young man, whom death has taken in the very flower of his age, is the image of so many young persons who are deprived of sanctifying grace by sin and whose spiritual death is more terrible than that which merely destroys the life of the body. This desolate mother who accompanies to its last dwelling-place the inanimate body of her son is the Church; she is our mother; since she has begotten us in Christ in our infancy she has nourished us by her first lessons, and she does not cease to instruct and exhort us, and she labors untiringly to make us grow in virtue and in piety. This tender mother follows with her tears all her unfortunate children whom the sad stroke of sin has robbed of the life of grace. And even when all hope seems lost she does not abandon them; she asks them again from Jesus by her sighs and tears. Touched by her sorrow, Jesus is moved at the sad condition of an unfortunate sinner whom the passions conduct to hell.
Jesus drew near. This is the first condition of a return to God and virtue. Unhappy beings as we are by our own depraved will, we can indeed go far from God and hasten to our destruction; but to leave the ways of iniquity, or even to desire to do it, is the effect of grace. How good God is! Insulted and outraged by sinners, He had no need to avenge Himself, but merely to abandon them to themselves. Still He does not wish to do so. He selects them, pursues them, and urges them to return to Him and save themselves. " He drew near and touched the bier." Thus it is that Jesus touches the sinner by the good sentiments with which He inspires him, He disturbs him by remorse, He enlightens him by good counsels, He encourages him by holy examples, He terrifies him by the fear of death and by the judgment which follows.
By this secret touch of grace conscience is awakened as if from a long sleep, and the passions which were dragging him down are arrested. The sinner begins to find pleasures not so pleasant and the world not so lovable; he stops short in the midst of the excitement which carries him away. This is the moment when grace is at work; it is the moment when she may make her voice heard. Alas, as long as the sinner is dissipated by pleasures, preoccupied by human interests, absorbed by business, he sins and he perseveres in his sin. This terrible indifference can be explained only by a want of reflection but at the moment he reflects he is saved. The prodigal child perceived neither his ingratitude, nor his degradation, nor the rags which covered him, as long as he was absorbed by pleasures; but it was in his misfortune that he reflected, and that one inward glance sufficed to reveal to him all his shame and to lead him back to his father. And so it is with the sinful soul: hardly has she been arrested, hardly has she looked upon herself than Jesus makes her hear His voice, which shall recall her as it recalled the young man from death in the city of Naim—"Young man, I say to thee, arise"
Young man, you who are meditating on these words, you are only on the threshold of your career. You may think that you are proof against the stroke of death; the world tells you to take advantage of your youth, to crown yourself with roses while they are fresh and in bloom; but the world deceives you. This young man whom they carried to the tomb was as young as you. The funeral cortege which accompanied him proves that he was rich. He was as you are—the idol of his mother, the only son, but nothing could guarantee him from death. To you, as to him, Jesus speaks these words: "I, thy Master, command you to arise from sin and to break the bonds which hold you in slavery. I say to thee, arise!" May you be docile to this voice, which calls you to life by recalling you to virtue.
Second Point.—What the sinner should do to correspond with grace. The first thing which the young man does when he feels himself restored is to arise in obedience to the command his Liberator has given him. This promptitude to correspond with grace as soon as it is felt is one of the most essential conditions of conversion. Everything is possible to the will when it is excited by grace, enlightened by its light, and inflamed by the holy ardor which the divine Spirit spreads in it when He communicates Himself to it. Then the strongest bonds are easily broken; remember Magdalen at the feet of Jesus. The greatest obstacles are overcome by the wise men journeying far to follow the star which leads them to Bethlehem. The most violent passions are conquered. St. Paul becomes a vessel of election, after having been the most ardent persecutor!
Now, why are so many sermons sterile and unfruitful? Why do so many graces remain unprofitable? Is it because the preachers are wanting in eloquence? No. There are indeed some truths which require to be presented in a certain manner to strike some souls; but is there need of having recourse to the artifices of eloquence to tell you that you must die, that you shall be judged, that there are a hell and an eternity? Is it because hearts are too hardened? Not a year passes that some sinners are not touched and their hearts moved, and yet very few are converted. And why? Because very few profit by the moment of grace. They hesitate, they defer, they put off—the light disappears, grace is withdrawn, and they remain irresolute and in their weakness. They are doubly unfortunate men, because they conceive the most generous projects and cannot attain the point of realizing them.
The Evangelist observes that the young man after his restoration began to speak. Of course his first words were the expressions of his gratitude, the declaration of his resurrection, and the request to those who carried him to set him free. Such should be the language of the sinner whom Divine Mercy deigns to withdraw from the state of death in which he had been plunged. Penetrated by the immense benefit which he had so little merited, he should from the bottom of his heart return grateful thanksgiving to his Benefactor. But this is not enough. He should put away and reject far from him all that which hitherto, by leading him into sin, conducted him to hell. Occasions, habits, affections-- he must quit them all. In fine, he is obliged to manifest his resurrection by the splendor of his virtues. The greater the scandal of his sinful life, the greater should be the edification of his new life.
Jesus crowns His work by restoring the young man to his mother. You may judge by the tears she shed over this cherished son what was her care to preserve for him the life he had just recovered by removing the cause which occasioned its loss. Jesus likewise confides to the Church those whom He has drawn from spiritual death, and this tender mother surrounds them by her care. She instructs them by her lessons, sustains them by her exhortations, strengthens them by her sacraments, and hinders them from falling again into death. If ever you have the misfortune of losing the life of grace, do not despair; but be generous in your correspondence to the goodness of God when He shall recall you to Him.
Source: Short Instructions on the Feasts of the Year, Imprimatur 1897