Semon given by Father Pancras Raja on July 19th, 2020
“Every tree is known by its fruit” (Lk. 6:44)
The great lesson taught us today in the gospel is that Christian life of faith must show itself in good works.
Faith is the root – without which the tree of Christian life can not exist; but the root must grow into a tree, and put forth not only leaves and blossoms, not only pious thoughts and prayerful words, but the fruits of good works, the fruit of a life spent in conformity to the will of God, to the teachings of the gospel. “Not everyone that saith to me Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven….” (Mt. 7: 21)
The necessity of good works
Our divine Lord thus lays down the necessity of good works – which make our acts a public declaration of the sanctity of our life.
What are the good works of which Our lord speaks? They are included under three headings: Mortification, Almsgiving and Prayer.
Mortification means (not merely a restriction in the quantity or quality of food), but every kind of self-denial or of suffering “willingly accepted” and offered to God in a spirit of penance and reparation.
All our spiritual advancement and perfection consists in mortification. Hence all the Saints and Masters of spiritual life have come to the conclusion, that all our advancement and perfection consists in mortification. “You will advance just so much as you do violence to yourself,” says St. Jerome.
When we deny ourselves, we sacrifice some lawful or unlawful pleasure, or say “no” to some other gratification of our will. This denial of “self-will” is a “good work” – very pleasing to God. For example, when we resign ourselves to sickness, to some misfortune and to some other tribulation; or when we bear patiently the hardships of labour (manual work), hunger, thirst and fatigue – we bring forth “good fruit.”
How do we bring forth “good fruit” by mortification?
Mortification does repress vices, lifts our minds and satisfies our past sins – thus producing grace and sanctification in us! This grace and sanctification are the “good fruit” of mortification. This has been taught by St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa 2,2 – 147, i). He says that we practice mortification chiefly for three reasons: first in order to repress the concupiscence of the flesh; secondly in order that our mind may be the more easily lifted up to the thoughts of heavenly things; and thirdly in order to participate in the suffering of Christ and make satisfaction for our sins. Let us recall the words of Our Lord: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Mt. 16: 24); “Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13;5)
Would you therefore know what progress you have made in virtue? Examine what you have done to mortify yourself, to what extent you have overcome and curbed your passions and evil inclinations, how you stand for humility and patience, whether love of the things of this world and of flesh and blood is dead in you. It is in this, and not in sweetness and consolation in prayer, that you will see whether you have profited or not.
- Alms giving
Alms giving means every service or assistance rendered to our neighbour in the name of Jesus, that is to say – in a spirit of charity, and that in order to please God and to save souls.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, an alms is “something given to the needy, out of compassion and in the name of God.” (Summa Part 2 B, 32)
The different almsdeeds are well enumerated as corporal alms and spiritual alms. These are commonly called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The corporal works of mercy are seven: (a) to feed the hungry; (b) to give drink to the thirsty; (c) to clothe the naked; (d) to give harbor to the harbourless; (e) to visit the sick; (f) to ransom the captive (g) and to bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are seven: (a) to instruct the ignorant; (b) to counsel the doubtful; (c) to comfort the sorrowful; (d) to reprove sinners; (e) to forgive injuries; (f) to bear wrongs patiently; (g) and to pray for the living and the dead.
Those who possess wealth are bound to assist the poor by giving alms – and that in proportion to their means. While those who do not possess worldly goods, should give the merits of the charitable.
“Give, and it shall be given to you” (Lk. 6: 38) If you have much, give abundantly. If little, bestow what you can. But whatever you give, give it cheerfully, and without ostentation – without expecting any earthly reward.
How do we bring forth “good fruit” by Alms giving?
Jesus proclaimed that whatever benefits are conferred on the poor and wretched are likewise conferred on Himself (Mt. 18:15; 25:40-45). Furthermore, He will give the gift of eternal life to the faithful who engaged in works of mercy.
St. Cyprian of Carthage: “You, then, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself from Christ gold purified in fire; for with your filth as if burned away in the fire, you can be like pure gold, if you are cleansed by almsgiving and works of justice. Buy yourself a white garment so that, although you had been naked like Adam, you may be clothed in the garment of Christ.” “Our prayers become effective through almsgiving; life is redeemed from dangers by almsgiving; souls are delivered from death by almsgiving.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage)
Prayer is the elevation of heart and soul to God – to adore him, to thank him and to ask him what we need.
Neglect of prayer is a sin – because:
(1) it is a violation of the commandment of God, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Mt. 4:10) Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.
(2) It is an injustice to the divine majesty. Neglect of prayer is a failure to acknowledge the majesty of God. “Note,” says St. Thomas, “that prayer is necessary in order that God may know our necessities, but in order that we may know the necessity of having recourse to God to obtain the help necessary for our salvation, and may thus acknowledge him to be the author of all our good. As, therefore, it is God’s law that we should provide ourselves with bread by sowing corn, and with wine by planting vines; so has he ordained that we should receive the graces necessary to salvation by means of prayer: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find ( Mt. 7,7 ).”
(3) Neglect of prayer is a loss of the most essential means of our salvation and sanctification. THE GREAT MEANS OF SALVATION AND OF PERFECTION by St. Alphonsus Ligouri says: “He who prays not is certainly damned. All the blessed have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying; if they had prayed, they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be, their greatest torment in hell, to think how easily they might have been saved, only by asking God for his grace; but that now it is too late, — the time of prayer is over.”
How do we bring forth “good fruit” by Prayer?
Prayer exercises and increases virtues. It intensifies fervour, shows our dependence on God, makes us strong against temptations, promotes the love of heavenly things and appeases the anger of God.
Yes, my dear brethren, the performance of the good actions of Mortification, Almsgiving and Prayer is necessary for our salvation! And it is not above our strength.
The foolish virgins were accused of no other crime than that of neglecting to supply their lamps of faith with the oil of good works; and so, they were excluded from the marriage feast!
From this let us learn that the performance of good works is incumbent on us to exercise in the practice of Christian virtues, and edify our neighbours by our good examples, and to assure ourselves of eternal salvation!