First Point. — How men become wicked. We cannot accuse God as the cause of this mingling of good and bad which afflicts the Church so much; every sinner must accuse himself only for his perversions. God has done everything for us that we should be good and virtuous. Not to mention here the sacrifice of the cross, which has been the principle of all justice and every virtue worthy of the name, how many graces have followed for us? Grace of the sacraments, grace of holy inspiration, grace of instruction and good example. There has been no admixture; yet after all this the servants of the good master were obliged to say: "Master, have you not sown good grain in your field? How comes it we find cockle there?" Was ever reply more just? "It is my enemy that has done this." Yes, the demon, ever hostile to Jesus, and the passions ever hostile to our happiness — these are the enemies whose artifices and cruel influence we must always fear. And how does the demon come to pervert even the most virtuous hearts and subject them to his rule? Jesus Himself tells us; he comes in the night, and as a thief. Well does Satan know that, if he presented sin in its true colors to an innocent soul, he should be surely rejected; therefore he presents it under a deceitful color and as if in the night. He persuades us that this thought, this doubt, this society, this association is most innocent, and under the pretext of that pretended innocence we yield and insensibly entangle ourselves in his snares. The evil which is the consequence of our want of foresight is not perceived at once, but it is not the less real. Thus the cockle while it is only in the germ does not appear, but after its growth it saddens our heart. We must constantly watch and be on our guard, if we would protect our hearts from the first attacks of evil; every temptation is easily rejected at the outset, but once let it enter the soul, it will be a difficult thing to drive it out. Therefore it is our blessed Saviour gives us this advice, to which we cannot be too faithful: "Watch," not indeed to hinder the temptation: that is impossible; but "lest you enter into temptation" — that is, not to allow it to enter your heart.
Second Point — Why does God allow this mingling of the good and the wicked? It is through His bounty for sinners; the tolerance which God manifests for them is a marvel of His mercy. '*The long patience of God" says St. Paul, " invites sinners to repentance." Isaias says "it is to pardon them that he awaits them; and the prophet Ezechiel adds: "God does not wish the death of a sinner, but that he may be converted and live." We cannot but admire here the unspeakable goodness of God. If divine justice had struck you when you were under the yoke of sin, where would you be now? Alas, even in this very moment where would you go, if the Supreme Judge came to demand the account which you must one day render? With regard to the just, their mingling with sinners serves for their sanctification. It is in persecutions that virtue is purified; it is in temptations it is strengthened; virtue must be exercised if it shall become sustaining. The trials of every kind to which the wicked subject the good keep them in continual activity and hinder them from growing weary in well-doing. Virtue is never more beautiful than when it is victorious over illusions, seductions, bad examples, contempt, threats, and the persecutions of the world, which are always anxious to corrupt and desirous of being corrupted.
Third Point — What should our conduct be with regard to sinners? The tolerance which God man- ifests towards them must oblige us to tolerate them also, and to treat them with sweetness and indul- gence. And by what right could you reject those whom God Himself tolerates? Perhaps this impious one or that sinner, whose conduct is revolting to you, may be destined to become a vessel of election. Perhaps these sinners may be called to a higher sanctity than you whose indiscreet severity would hurl anathemas against them. Alas ! you who have such great need of indulgence, how can you show such little indulgence to others? A second duty towards sinners is to labor as much as you can for their conversion. There are two means to attain this desirable end, and the first is our own example. This means is, the first of all, the most efficacious and most free from all inconvenience. We should give to sinners a salutary horror for vice by the sight of our own virtues, and by seeing what we are they shall learn to blush for what they are. The second means to convert the wicked is prayer. The prayers of the just shall procure for them the grace of conversion. To the prayers of St. Stephen and St. Monica the Church is indebted for her two great lights — St. Paul and St. Augustine. God wishes only to pardon and to bless, but His mercy must be implored by the prayers of the just. By the mouth of His prophet He tells us: " I have sought a man who shall stand between My justice and the sinner, to arrest My arm, but I have not found him." Make it your duty to interpose between God and so many sinners who are rushing blindly to the abyss; this should be a sweet duty to discharge when it is a question of obtaining the conversion of a friend or the salvation of a father So or a mother. How can you refuse to procure for yourself a joy so worthy of a Christian heart?
Fourth Point — How shall the mingling of the good and bad terminate? By the chastisement of the wicked and the recompense of the good. " At the time of the harvest, I shall say to the reapers, Gather up first the cockle and bind it in bundles to burn, but the wheat, gather into my barn." Behold the destiny of both: strive to comprehend the consequences, first with regard to sinners. The words of the parable alone suffice to make you appreciate the rigorous chastisement which awaits them. The time of the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. In the harvest time the cockle is gathered and given to the flames, and so the Son of man, at the end of the world, shall send His angels, who shall take from His kingdom all scandalous sinners and those who have committed iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire, where "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'' Behold the frightful destiny of the wicked. But oh, how much the destiny of the just is to be en- vied! Jesus Himself says: "Then the just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." He then adds: "He that has ears to hear, let him hear." O my God, who is there that shall not be awak- ened from sleep, in reflecting on these great truths? Let the impious and libertine close their ears, lest they should hear, but it shall be their own folly and misfortune.
For myself I ask, O my God, a docile heart to profit by such an important lesson. Detach my heart from all that is transitory, that I may comprehend and taste what is eternal. Ah, Lord, grant that Thy justice may terrify me, that Thy goodness may assure me, that Thy law may be my rule, and that, walking here below in Thy light, I may attain, one day, to Thy glory.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897