A sermon on the Soul for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost by St. Jean-Marie Vianney
“And when He drew near, seeing the city, He wept over it.” —Luke xix. 41.
When Jesus was about to enter the city of Jerusalem, He wept over it, saying: “If thou wouldst at least have understood the grace I bring thee, and wouldst have derived benefit therefrom, then thou wouldst have still obtained forgiveness; but no, thy blindness has gone so far that all these graces have served only to harden thee, and to increase thy misfortune; thou didst kill the prophets and the children of God, and now thou wilt reach the pinnacle of thy crimes by putting to death the Son of God Himself.” This it was, my dear friends, that caused Jesus to shed copious tears when He was about to enter the city. In the calamity thus foretold, He foresaw and deplored the loss of so many souls, far more guilty than the Jews, because favoured with so many more graces. What moved Him so deeply was that, notwithstanding His merits and His bitter passion, which would have been sufficient to redeem more than a thousand worlds, the greater part of humanity would be lost. Indeed, even among ourselves, He perceived those who despise His graces and employ them only for their own destruction. Who would not tremble, when seriously thinking of saving his soul? Has not Christ warned us under His tears: “If my death and my blood do not serve for thy salvation, they will arouse the everlasting wrath of my Father.”
Is it conceivable, my friends, that in spite of all Jesus has done for the salvation of our soul, we could be indifferent? For the purpose of expelling this indifference from among us, let me endeavour to show you what a soul really is and our obligation toward our soul.
My dear friends, if we would really appreciate the value of our souls, with what care and zeal would we not try to save it! But we never really comprehend its value. To show the great value of a soul is impossible to mortal man. God alone knows the beauties and perfections with which He has adorned a soul. Let me point out to you that God has created heaven and earth, and all they contain, and all these wonders have been created for its benefit. Our catechism gives us an indication of the magnificence of the soul. If you ask a child, “What is understood by saying that ‘man is a creature whose soul is made to the image and likeness of God?'” the child will answer, “That the soul, like God, possesses the faculties to reason, to love, and to act on its own free will.” This, my friends, is the highest testimonial to the qualities with which God has adorned the soul, that it was created by the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity after their own likeness. A spirit like unto God, capable for all eternity of recognizing the sublimities and perfections of God; a soul which is the object of love of the three divine persons, a soul capable of adoring God in all His works; a soul whose whole destiny will be to sing the praises of the Almighty; a soul which has freedom in its actions, so that it may give its affection and its love wheresoever it pleases. It is free to love God or not love Him, but when fortunate enough to turn to God in love, then God Himself seems to be the will of such a soul, and dwells therein in happiness. We may positively state that, since the creation of the world there has never been anything refused to a soul if it was given over entirely to His love. God has instilled our souls with desires which find their gratification not in this world. Give a soul all the joys and treasures of this world, and it will not be satisfied, for the simple reason that God has created the soul for Himself. He alone is capable of satisfying its longings.
Yes, my friends, our soul is capable of loving God, and the love of God alone forms its happiness. If we love Him, all the good and the pleasures which we could ever hope for on earth or in heaven, are ours. We are furthermore enabled to serve God, that is, to glorify Him in our works and actions. There is nothing, down to the most insignificant action, by which it would not be possible for us to glorify the Lord, provided we perform this action out of love for Him. Our occupations upon earth are different from the occupation of the angels in heaven only inasmuch as we cannot as yet behold the Lord with our human eyes, but only with the eyes of faith.
Our soul is so noble, adorned with such beautiful qualities that God entrusted every soul to the care of a prince of His heavenly household, to a guardian angel. Our soul is so precious in the eyes of God, that in His wisdom He could find no worthier food for it than His own divine body, of which the soul may partake as its daily bread, if it so desires. St. Ambrose says, that God esteems our soul so much, that if there had been only one soul in the world, He would not have considered it too great a sacrifice to die for this one soul. He said to St. Teresa: “Thou art so agreeable to me, that, if there had not been a heaven, I would have created one for thee alone.”
“O body, how happy thou art!” exclaims St. Bernard, “to harbor a soul which is adorned with such beautiful graces!” Our soul is something so great, so precious, that nothing but God alone surpasses it. God once showed a soul to St. Catherine. She found it so beautiful that she exclaimed: “Oh, my Lord, if my faith did not teach me that there is only one God, I should believe this soul is another God. I can now understand that Thou hast died for so beautiful a soul!”
Our soul, my dear friends, will be as immortal as God Himself. Can we be surprised, therefore, that God, knowing the value of the soul so well, weeps such bitter tears at the loss of such a soul?
Now, let us consider how much care we must employ to preserve in our soul its great beauties. Oh, my friends, God is so sad over the loss of a soul, that He even wept over it. Already in His prophets, He weeps and bewails the loss of souls. We can see this clearly in the person of the prophet Amos. The prophet says: “When I had retired into solitude and meditated upon the terrible number of crimes which God’s own people committed every day, and when I saw that God’s wrath was ready to descend upon them, and that the abyss of hell was about to open and devour them, then I gathered them together, and said to them, with bitter tears: Oh, my children do you know what my occupation is by day and by night? It is to recall to my mind, in the bitterness of my heart, all your sins. If I fall asleep from exhaustion, I rouse myself immediately, and cry out, my eyes bathed in tears and my heart torn with pain: Oh, my God, my God! is there a soul left in Israel which does not offend Thee? And then, my mind filled with this sad and deplorable state of things, I speak to the Lord and, sighing bitterly in His presence I say: Oh, my God, what must I do to obtain pardon for them? And now listen what the Lord has told me: Prophet, if thou wouldst obtain pardon for these ungrateful people, go into their streets and public places, and let them resound with your lamentations; go into the stores of the merchants, and into the workshops; go into the courts of law; go to the houses of the rich, and the huts of the poor, say to them all, where thou findest them within or without the gates of the city: Woe, woe, unto you, who have sinned against the Lord.”
The prophet Jeremias, dear brethren, goes further still. To show us how grievous the loss of a soul is to God, he exclaims at a moment when he was inspired by the spirit of God: “Ah, my God, what will become of me? Thou hast confided to my care a rebellious people, an ungrateful nation, who will neither listen to Thee nor be subject to Thy guidance. Alas! what shall I do? What resolution shall I take? And the Lord answered me: So as to show them how sorrowfully I am touched at the loss of their souls, take thy hair, tear it from thy head, and throw it far from thee: for the sins of this people has obliged me to forsake them, and my anger is enkindled in the interior of their souls.” When the anger of God is enkindled on account of sin, that is the greatest sickness of the heart. “But, O Lord,” said the prophet, “what shall I do to induce Thee to turn away Thy angry regard from Thy people? Take a sack as raiment, said the Lord to me, strew ashes upon thy head, and weep without ceasing and in such abundance that thy tears will cover thy face, and weep so bitterly that your sins will be drowned in your tears.”
Do you realize, dear brethren, how grievous the loss your souls is to God? You see how miserable we are when we destroy a soul which God has so loved that He, when He had not yet eyes to weep with, borrowed the eyes of the prophet to shed bitter tears at their loss. The Lord says by His prophet Joel: “Weep over the loss of souls, as a young wife who has just lost her husband, who was her only consolation, and who is exposed to all kinds of misfortune.”
If we then consider what it had cost Christ to save our souls; if we consider His whole life, beginning with His lowly birth to His last breath on Calvary, all this suffering of a Godman, infinite in value, will tell us the value of our soul, because all He did was to redeem that soul, was the price paid for our souls.
If, on the other hand, we see what the devil is doing in order to destroy your soul, indeed your soul must be very valuable if he uses all his forces to destroy it. We will, however, not look into this sad picture. Enough to know that he is our greatest enemy, and that we must fight him, and that, with Christ’s grace, we can overcome him.
How true are, therefore, the words of Scripture: What does it profit man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul? O beloved brethren, the knowledge of the value of your soul should move you to guard it as your greatest treasure. Do not allow sin to blemish or to destroy it. As you know that sin will cause the loss of your beautiful soul, guard it, and let this be your resolution on this morning not only to avoid all mortal sin, but even every wilful venial sin, so as to save your soul for heaven, and allow it to reach its destiny, its home, and its reward, the eternal sight of the great glory of God. Amen.