by: Father Michael Muller, Imprimatur 1881
THE GREATEST AND FIRST COMMANDMENT
THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD
MANY centuries ago, there lived in the far Orient, in Asia, a great king named Solomon. In his search for happiness, he sought to gratify every desire of his heart. "1 said in my heart: I will go, and abound with delights and enjoy good things. I made me great works, I built me houses, and planted vineyards. I made gardens, and orchards, and set them with trees of all kinds, and I made me ponds of water, to water therewith the wood of the young trees. I got me men-servants, and maid-servants, and had a great family ; and herds of oxen, and great flocks of sheep, above all that were before me in Jerusalem : I heaped together for myself silver and gold, and the wealth of kings and provinces : I sought out singing men, and singing women, and the delights of the sons of men : cups and vessels for wine : and I surpassed in riches all that were before me in Jerusalem : my wisdom also remained with me. And whatsoever my eyes desired, I refused them not : and I withheld not my heart from enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in the things which I had prepared : and esteemed this my portion, to make use of my own labor." After so ample an enjoyment of all earthly pleasures, may we not think that this king was happy indeed? Nevertheless, he tells us that his heart was not satisfied. "And when I turned myself," he says, "to all the works which my hands had wrought, and to the labors wherein I had labored in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun." (Eccles. ii.)
What happened to Solomon happens still to every man on earth. Well has the poet written :
"Oh ! what is all earths round,
Brief scene of man s proud strife and vain endeavor,
Weighed with that deep profound, that tideless ocean river,
That onward bears time s fleeting forms for ever?"
Give to that man whose dream, whose waking thought, day and night, is to grow rich ; to live in splendor and luxury; whose life is spent in planning, and thinking, and toiling give him all the kingdoms of the earth, all the gold of the mountains, all the pearls of the ocean : give him the desire of his heart, will he be happy ? Will his heart be at rest ? Ah ! no. He will find that riches are
like thorns ; they only wound and burn. They seem sweet when beheld at a distance ; but indulge in them, and at once you taste their bitterness.
Dim twilight broods o'er land and sea,
The birds have hushed their melody :
I sadly gaze on yon bright star
My soul's true home is far, so far !
My restless heart's a stranger here !
Where e'er I wander far or near
I seek in vain for joy and peace,
My homesick soul longs for release.
Earth's sweetest joys last but a while,
Dark tears soon quench the brightest smile.
The sparkling eye is dimmed by death,
And beauty pales at his chill breath !
Earth's pleasures tempt but to defile,
Earth's beauty lures but to beguile;
Wealth, like the thorn, with stinging smart,
Can only burn and wound the heart !
Where have the joys of childhood gone ?
Where have youth's golden visions flown ?
Where shall my yearning hopes be bleat ?
Where shall my weary heart find rest ?
The stream e'er seeks the sounding sea,
The flow'ret lures the honey-bee,
The wild bird flies to its fond nest
In heaven alone my soul can rest !
All the goods and pleasures of this world are like the fisher's baited hook. The fish eagerly swallows the bait, it sees not the hook ; but no sooner does the fisherman draw up his line than it is tormented and soon after comes to destruction. So it is with all those who esteem themselves happy in their temporal possessions. In their comforts and honors they have swallowed a hook. The time will come when they shall feel the cruel hook which they have swallowed in their greediness.
Now, why is it that the riches and pleasures of this world cannot make us happy ? It is because the soul was not created by them and for them, but by God and for God. The enjoyment of God alone can make the soul happy. A thing is made better only by that which is better than itself. Inferior beings can never make superior beings better. The soul, being immortal, is superior to all earthly things. Earthly things, then, cannot make the soul better. Hence it is that here on earth we are never satisfied. We always crave for something more, something higher, something better. Whence comes this continual restlessness that haunts us through life and pursues us evento the grave ? It is the home-sickness of the soul; its craving "after a Good that is better and more excellent than the soul herself is. God alone is this Good, He is Supreme Goodness itself. He who possesses God, possesses the goodness of all other things ; for whatever goodness they possess they have from God.
Where, then, are we to seek true happiness ? In God alone. God has certainly reserved to himself far more beauty and goodness than he has bestowed upon his creatures. This truth admitted, it necessarily follows that he who enjoys God possesses, in him, all things ; and consequently, the very same delight that he would have taken in other things, had he enjoyed them separately, he enjoys in God, in a far greater measure and in a more elevated manner. For this reason, St. Francis of Assisi used to exclaim, "My God and my All" a saying to which he was so accustomed that he could scarcely think of any thing else, and often spent whole nights in meditating on this truth. So also St. Teresa would exclaim, " God alone is sufficient!"
True contentment is found in the Creator, and not in the creature. It is a contentment which no man can take from the soul, and in comparison with which all other joy is sadness, all pleasure sorrow, all sweetness bitter, all beauty ugliness, all delight affliction. It is most certain that when "face to face, we shall see God as He is, "we shall have perfect joy and happiness. The more closely, then, we are united with God in this life, the greater contentment of mind and the greater happiness of soul shall we enjoy ; and this contentment and joy are of the self-same nature as that which we shall have in heaven. The only difference consists in this : that here our happiness is in an incipient state, whilst in heaven it will be brought to perfection. The very essence of all happiness consists in being intimately united with God. Hence it is that St. Augustine, who had tasted all pleasures, exclaimed : "Thou hast made me, O God! for Thyself; and my heart was uneasy within me until it found its rest in Thee!"
Tell me why forever flowing
Hastes the streamlet to the sea;
Tell me why forever blowing
Speeds the wind o'er hill and lea.
Why the stream forever doth flow,
Why the wind forever doth blow
This deep secret I would know.
Tell me why the stars e'er wander
Through the darkling waste of space ;
Why the bright sun and the pale moon
Restless march from place to place ;
Why they wander to and fro ;
Tell me for I long to know
This deep secret I would know.
Tell me why the winds are moaning
Like a banished soul in pain ;
Why the waves are ever sobbing
On the restless stormy main;
Why the ocean's bosom heaves,
Like one who though sleeping grieves
O er the loved and lost he leaves !
Tell me why the birds are flying
Far away from their fond nest,
Why the roses bright are dying,
And the dear ones we love best
They whose love our life hath blessed
Why can they not with us rest ?
Why can they not with us rest ?
Why is my sad heart so restless ?
Why still longs my soul for bliss ?
Why are all earth's honied pleasures
Like the Judas traitor kiss ?
Riches bring but care and pain,
Beauty blooms to fade again,
Nought that's fair can here remain !
Restless heart so sad and weary,
Wouldst thou then the secret know ?
All thou seest above, beneath thee,
Stars that shine and streams that flow
All things yearn and seek for rest ;
And thy soul shall ne'er be blest
Till with God in heav'n thou rest !
Now, when is it that we possess God, are closely united with him, and find our rest in him ? It is only when we do his holy will. This God has given us clearly to understand in the words he addressed to Adam : "And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what
day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death." (Gen. ii., 17.) By this commandment man was clearly given to understand that the continuation of his happiness, for time and eternity, depended upon his obedience to the will of God. To be free from irregular affections and disorderly passions, and to transmit his happiness to his posterity, was entirely in man's power. If he made a right use of his liberty by always following the law of God, if he preserved unsullied the image and likeness of his Creator and heavenly Father, if, in fine, he made a proper use of the creatures confided to his care, he was to receive the crown of life everlasting as reward for his fidelity. But if he swerved even for a moment, from this loving will of God, he was to subject himself to the law of God's justice, who would not fail to execute the threatened punishment. But did God, perhaps, afterwards, when man was redeemed, lay down other and easier conditions for his happiness and salvation ? No; God did not change these conditions in the least. Man's happiness still depends on his obedience to the divine will. "Now if thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to do and keep all His commandments, the Lord thy God will make thee higher than all the nations of the earth, and all these blessings shall come unto thee and overtake thee : yet so if thou hear His precepts." (Deut. xxviii., 1, 2.) And our divine Saviour says : "You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you." (John xv., 15.) And again : "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven : but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, shall enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt, vii., 21.) Our Lord himself gave the example of obedience to the divine will, since he was obedient even unto the death of the cross. He thereby taught all men that their happiness and salvation depend on their unswerving obedience to the will of their heavenly Father. All men without exception were made by God to be happy with him for ever in heaven ; but only on this condition : "He that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter the kingdom of heaven." Now the will of God is expressed in his commandments and in the precepts of his Church. Hence the answer to the question -
1. Will faith alone save us ?
No ; Christ says : "If thou wilt enter life, keep the commandments." (Matt, xix., 17.) "Therefore, Faith without works is dead."- (James ii., 26.)
To be saved it is not enough to believe that there is a God, who is the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, the judge of the living and the dead, the just rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked ; it is not enough to believe that the Son of God became man and died for us on the cross ; that he founded the Roman Catholic Church, that it might, in his name and by his authority, teach all nations what they must believe in order to be saved ; in a word, it is not enough that our understanding be united to God by faith. We must also be united to him by the affections of our heart and will; that is, we must really love God and show this love by keeping faithfully all his commandments.
"Though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains," says St. Paul, "and have not charity, I am nothing." (1. Cor. xiii., 2.)
"What will it profit, my brethren," says the Apostle St. James, " if a man says he hath faith, but no works ? Shall faith be able to save him? " (Ch. ii., 14.)
"Every tree that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire." (Matt, iii., 10.) From these passages of Holy Writ it is evident that good works are required, that the keeping of the commandments is necessary, and that faith alone will not save us.
Indeed, a Christian, without good works, is like a tree without fruit, a field without produce, a lamp without oil. His faith is barren and this barrenness is a kind of iniquity which renders a Christian very culpable. The fig-tree, which produced no fruit, was cursed. The talent was taken from him who had hidden it in the earth. Those who do not practise what they believe will soon cease to believe. Faith does not long exist in the soul when the fruitful life of charity is destroyed. Those who believe and do not practise what they believe, will be more severely punished than those who are ignorant of the true faith.
Our delight and occupation in this world, then, should be to do the holy will of God. It was for his obedience to the will of God that Abel obtained from the Lord the testimony that he was just. It was for his obedience that Enoch was translated by God. On account of his obedience to the will of God, Noe with his family was saved from the deluge. It was for his obedience that Abraham became the father of many nations. It was for his obedience that Joseph was raised to the highest dignity at the court of Pharaoh. It was on account of his obedience that Moses was chosen to be the great prophet and law-giver of the people of God. As long as the Jews were obedient to the law of God, they were protected against all their enemies as by an impregnable rampart. Obedience to the will of God changed Saul from a persecutor of the Church into the Apostle of the Gentiles. The
martyrs merited their glorious crown, not so much because they shed their blood, but because they died in obedience to the holy will of God. In fine, Jesus Christ has declared :
"Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Matt, xii., 50.)
He who leads a life contrary to God's will, is altogether out of place. A tool which is useless is cast away. A wheel which hinders other wheels from working is taken out and replaced by another. A limb which is out of joint and endangers the health of the other members of the body is cut off. A servant who does no longer his master's will is discharged. A rebellious citizen who violates the laws of the state is put into prison or banished. A child who is stubbornly and sinfully disobedient to his parents, is disinherited.Thus men naturally hate and reject whatever is unreasonable, or useless, or destructive of good order. What wonder, then, that the Lord of heaven and earth, the author of good sense and good order, should bear an implacable hatred towards those who disobey his holy will? He who lives in opposition to God"s will suffers as many pangs as a limb which has been dislocated. He is continually tormented by evil spirits, who have power over a soul that is in enmity with God. He is no longer under the special protection of God, since he has voluntarily withdrawn from his holy will. God sent Jonas, the prophet, to Nineve, but the prophet, instead of going there, set out for Tarsus. What was the consequence the disobedient prophet was buffeted by the tempest, cast into the sea, and swallowed by a monster of the deep.
Behold the just punishment of all those who abandon God's will to follow their own passions and evil inclinations. They will be tossed like Jonas, by continual tempests. They will remain asleep in their sins, heedless of their danger, until they, finally, perish in the stormy sea, and are swallowed up in the abyss of hell!
"Know thou and see that it is a bitter and fearful thing for thee to have left the Lord thy God, when he desired to lead thee in the way of salvation, saith the Lord God of hosts." (Jeremiah ii., 19.)
God grants to the devil great power over the disobedient. As in Juda the Lord permitted a lion to kill a prophet in punishment for his disobedience, so he permits the infernal lion to assail the proud and the disobedient with the most filthy temptations ; and as they are too weak to resist, they easily fall a prey to the rage of the hellish monster.
Disobedience to God's will was the cause that the rebellious angels were cast out of heaven, and our first parents expelled from paradise ; it made Cain a vagabond on the face of the earth ; it was the cause that the human race was drowned in the waters of the deluge ; it brought destruction upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Disobedience to the will of God was the cause that the Jews were often led into captivity; it was the cause that Pharaoh and all his host were drowned in the Red Sea. Disobedience turned Nabuchodonosor into a wild beast ; it laid the city of Jerusalem in ashes ; it has ruined, and will still ruin nations, empires, and kingdoms ; it will finally
put an end to the world, when all those who have obstinately rebelled against the will of God, will be hurled into the everlasting flames of hell by the irresistible words of the Almighty :
"Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels," there to obey the laws of God's justice for ever.
To be continued. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .