First Sermon, Loyola College, Watsonia, 2 October, 1959
It was ‘preached’ in the refectory during a meal with some 15 novices and 20 scholastics and 5 priests.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Psalm 26:1
My dear brethren, there was once a land ruled by a wise king. The people lived in perfect peace because he ruled so well. No matter what disaster happened to any of his subjects, if the subject turned to his king he would find relief and help. Indeed, the country was so well ruled that nothing ever happened which the king had not foreseen and if he did let it happen, it was for his subjects’ greater good. This people then, seeing that whatever happened to them was permitted by a king who loved them so much and to whom they could turn to find relief, help and encouragement, put their whole trust in him; they had perfect confidence in him; they found peace, free from the fear that what happened to them could harm them. Peace was the reward of their confidence. My dear brethren, God is this king, we are his people. God is ever present to bring us relief and help; God always foresees what we are to suffer. God loves us. To realize these truths and to live our lives through with them imprinted on our minds and revealed in our actions is to have confidence in God. And what is the reward of this confidence. It is peace. Christ said to his apostles: “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you”. His peace was not that of sufficient money or food or sufficient of any material thing. This peace was to rest on a confidence, a belief that whatever happened to the apostles, whether they ‘toiled hard, spent long days in prison, were beaten so cruelly or so often looked death in the face, whether they were stoned or shipwrecked’ or even put to death, this confidence assured them that all this was for their good. Let us then, have confidence in God.
God is the creator of heaven and earth. All things live, move and have their being in him alone. He sustains in being every stone, flower, and particle of dust as though he held them in his hand. Nothing exits that he does not wish to exist there and then. Since then God conserves all things as in the palm of his hand he must be present in everything not joined with it as our body is joined to our soul, but existing in it. And so, we understand partly and believe that God is present in all things, ‘in heaven, on earth and everywhere’. Though we truly believe that God is present in us or beside us, it sometimes seems that he is unaware of what we endure. But my dear. People God is not asleep; he knows exactly what we endure. We read in the Gospels that one evening Christ was asleep in a boat while his disciples were rowing it across the lake of Galilee. Suddenly a squall whipped up the lake waters. The storm grew more and more wild until mountainous wages threatened to engulf the boat at any moment. It was now night and there, lost in the waves, the terrified apostles despaired of riding the storm. At one moment the waves would raise the boat high on some crest only to let it sinks giddily into some hollow of a wave. Somehow Christ kept sleeping in the stern of the boat, and in terror, the apostles roused him crying: ‘Master, art thou unconcerned, we are sinking’. So, he rose up and checked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still’. And the wind dropped and there was a deep calm. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you faint-hearted, have you still no confidence’. The disciples were justly rebuked because they did not remember that Christ was present with them in the boat and that nothing could happen without his knowing it. God is present here beside us just as Christ was present with his disciples. So, with us, when things are not going well, when we feel dejected, dissatisfied, discontented or even frightened, when our lives seem to be facing disaster; when we lose our job, when we fail our exams, when a friend dies, or even more simply when we lose a purse, break a glass, when we knock our hand against a wall, let us remember that God is present right beside us and that he knows what we suffer. Just as a child runs to its mother for safety and comfort when it has been frightened or hurt, let us turn to God, our Father and seek comfort in him, at all times, in whatever troubles, no matter how trivial they may seem, for he is our God, our refuge and our strength. Let us remember that he knows what we endure.
But if we are to find confidence in God because he is present everywhere and knows what we say, do think and endure, how much more are we to find trust in him since nothing ever happens to us which he does not wish to happen to us. God holds everything in being as though in his hand. If not one grain of sand in the most remote wind-swept shore could not exist even for a second without God’s willing it to exist, how can anything happen to us, how can we do anything without God permitting it. The townsfolk of Nazareth ‘filled with wrath, led Jesus to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so that they might throw him down headlong. But, passing though their midst he went his way, for his time had not yet come’. The townsfolk were unable to kill Jesus because God did not will it. Judas on the other hand succeeded in betraying Jesus into the hands of his executioners, but only because his Father will it. God wills not this sin of Judas, that is impossible, he wills that surpassing union of justice and mercy, that crossbeam of justice in whose scales the Lamb annulled the crime and which also stretched out the arms of divine mercy to embrace the sinner. Just as nothing could happen to Christ without the Father willing and permitting it, so too nothing can happen to us without the consent of God. The exam we fail, the job we lose, the purse we misplace, the glass we break, these things happen to us because God so wills. But we wonder: ‘Why has God let this happen to me? I believe he has willed it but look what it means to me. How can God wish me to lose my job and in this way my livelihood?’ Let us trust in God. He knows when we stand up and when we sit down. If God knows our simplest aet, if he knows what we are doing, then surely, he knows what he is doing. God knows what he is making us suffer or undergo. We would indeed have reason to fear, if we did not know that all his actions are done out of love, out of a wish to draw us closer to himself, to give us a chance of winning greater merits and thereby a greater happiness in heaven. God loves us. ‘We can be sure of this love since what has revealed the love of God where we are concerned is that he has sent his only begotten son into the world so that we might be redeemed and thus have life through him’. God stood to gain no increase in happiness by our redemption since he is perfectly blessed, but solely out of love for us and pity for our weakness, He condemned his own Son to the cross. Since then we are sure of his love and of his desire for our well-being and since we are certain that everything befalls us in accordance with his will, then everything that befalls us is for our good. Therefore, though we fail in an important exam, God might be choosing this way to spur us on to greater effort and fuller victory; our lost job may be God’s means to punish us for our laziness in serving himself and man, just as a wise father with his son’s advantage at heart will punish him for not doing well his tasks. I lost my purse so that my confidence in the Lord of all might be tested. The broken glass may be a means of winning greater spiritual merit. In every apparent evil we can see good if only we believe that the God of love permits it only to our greater good. Lazarus, the gospel relates, had died. His sisters, Martha and Mary came and fell at Jesus’ feet saying, with sorrow and yet with full confidence that what he has permitted was best: ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here, our brother would not have died’. This prayer of resignation and confidence that what had befallen them was God’s will won for Lazarus a second life. In this way, in time of trial, even though death be the test, let us turn to God and say with confidence: ‘If it had been your will, this disaster would not have happened, but it is your will and since you love us with a love that forced you to send your one-begotten son to die on a cross and since you have my welfare at heart; this disaster, this mishap must be for my greater god, to draw me closer to yourself, to test me as gold is tested by fire, to win me a fuller happiness in heaven; my God, I trust you, I have confidence in you’. Let us say with the apostle Peter: ‘Bow down then before the will of God; he will raise you up when his time comes to deliver you. Throw back on him the burden of all your anxiety; he is concerned for you. If you do wrong and are punished for it, your patience is nothing to boast of, it is the patience of the innocent sufferer that wins credit in God’s sight. Then let us who suffer in fulfilment of God’s will entrust our souls into his hands; he created us and he will not fail us.’
Comment by Fr Kurts SJ, Deputy Master of Novices:
“A good first sermon, with much to recommend it. The words are simple, the style at times formal. God’s permitting evil is a very difficult matter to handle adequately.”