Some Helpful Thoughts on Spiritual Progress BY REV. EDWARD F. GARESCHE, SJ.
THE MUCH REQUIRED
IN THE mysterious ways of God's providence it is quite clear that some persons receive vastly more of the gifts of grace and opportunity than others. In extreme instances one sees this very clearly. Consider yourself, for instance, yourself with all your knowledge of the Faith, the immense, unmerited favor you have received of Christian baptism, your opportunities for the sacraments, your many dealings with fervent Catholic people, your Catholic training at home and at school, the ministrations of priests, the good example of pious friends, the worthy books that are always ready to your hand to tell you more of Catholic truths and stir you to greater fervor, in a word, all the crowded mercies with which the special providence of God fills your days. You are one of the spoiled children of God. He has distinguished you—no matter how simple or obscure you may seem to yourself, provided only you are a member of the Catholic Church —He has distinguished you by incomparable mercies. Compare yourself as you now are with, let us say, one of the swarming millions in the populous cities of Asia, or with one of those blacks who lurk in the forests of Africa. Such a one is as human as yourself, as deserving in himself, antecedently to God's choice, of the grace of baptism, of the opportunity to be a Catholic. But not to him has come the immense blessing of the saving sacrament. God in His undiscoverable ways has other designs to save his soul, providing he on his part does all in his power to fulfil natural justice. But in point of fact he has received very little in comparison with you, who have received extremely much. You have obtained the abundance of the household of God, while he has barely the crumbs that fall from the table of the children. How unequally have spiritual blessings been measured out to you and to him!
Nor need you go so far away for a comparison. In your own city, among your own circle of friends, you will find many who are indefinitely poorer than yourself in the good gifts of God. Consider the state of those who have never received instruction in the Catholic Faith, who have never even got a glimpse of the beauty and the majesty of the Spouse of Christ, who do not even vaguely dream that the Catholic Church is the authentic voice of God on earth, the depository of salvation, the mother of men, the comforter of hearts, and the door to heaven. You leave your house in the morning and from another house across the street comes one of your neighbors. You greet him, for you know him well. He has grown up in the same city as you. You both have many of the same acquaintances and friends. Yet this man's heart is as starved of the truth of Christ almost as though he had been born in some jungle town of Africa or cradled by some broad yellow river in Asia. What are his chances compared to yours ^ He may spring from one of those families, too common in our land, where there is no religious tradition whatsoever, where neither the father nor the mother nor any of the children ever darken the doors of a church. Or he may have been cradled in one of those creeds outworn which, though they call themselves Christian, have so diluted the doctrines of Christ and so compromised with His teaching that for them Christianity is a respectable ethical system, sacraments are empty symbols, one church is quite like another, and one religion as good, or as little good (which often means the same thing) as any other religion.
Compare yourself with such a man. You have knowledge, he is in ignorance; you have guidance, he is quite at sea without a rudder or a sail; you are sure of your ground in religious things, he is walking on quicksands; you have the sacraments, the Mass, the sacramentals, all the consoling aids which the Church gives to her children, he has the barren ministry of preaching or the unintelligible word of the Bible, without true guide or right instructor to help him separate the false from the real. How much has been given you! To him in comparison has been given how very little!
Nay, perhaps even in the household of the Church you may find many a one who in comparison with yourself has been given extremely little. There are some fifteen hundred thousand children at this moment in our land. Catholic children every one by inheritance and most of them by baptism, who are not in a Catholic school. They are not receiving, in school at least, a Catholic education. Many of them, of course, are being taught at home or in catechism classes something of the doctrines of their holy religion. But they miss that constant influence, that priceless training which comes from the influence of religion in the very atmosphere of the schoolroom. They are not getting an education which is saturated with and ennobled by the Catholic Faith. If you have had an education in a Catholic school, how much more fortunate you are than they!
The inequalities, then, in the distribution of God's gifts are very evident. To some much, to others less, to still others little has been given. It is not for us to conjecture the hidden reasons of God's gifts and refusals. He is infinite and essential Wisdom, Mercy, and Love. To us is revealed, to use again an old but beautiful figure, but one side of the great tapestry which the eternal Weaver is forever making through the ages. We see the knots and the loose ends of the threads which He is using to weave the glorious design that shall be shown to us in heaven and shall bewitch our eyes with its consummate workmanship. We see too dimly and too feebly to conjecture, much less to criticise, the great designs of God. But we can discern this plain truth which is written evidently on the whole scheme of things—that some of us have received much, and others little; some have been blessed with many graces, others have received far less.
But there is one saying of our Blessed Lord which cuts through our tepid ingratitude for so many blessings, our supine indifference to the great multitude of God's favors, like a terrible sharp sword. It is a brief and simple sentence, most obvious in its truth, most tremendous in its significance. It brings us suddenly face to face with a realization that our worser self had rather not have brought home to us. It tears away with one sudden gesture the heavy cloak that hides our ingratitude from our own heart. The saying is this: "From those who have received much, much will be required; from those who have received less, less will be required."
I confess that it needs a great deal of moral courage to look this saying full in the face and let its true significance sink down into our hearts. But it is equally certain that few things can be more good for our souls than to realize the meaning of this word. We take God's gifts so much as a matter of course. While our hearts overflow with His graces and our souls are fat with the marrow of His gifts, we allow so much of His bounty to be wasted with so little compunction, even with such scanty thought. Having been brought up in the household of God, which is the Catholic Church, and been fed so constantly at His royal table, we think so little of the account we have to render for the very abundance of His good gifts. Gratitude is dull in us. We do not give thanks enough even for what we waste of the good gifts of God. Being in truth paupers who have been led in to the table of a king, we are more insolent than if we were princes of the blood. We take and waste and forget, and do not give thanks as we should.
Upon this dull ingratitude and slumbering sense of responsibility the words of Our Lord break like a clap of threatening thunder.
His saying is most reasonable, and for that very cause it is all the more impressive. God will require of us in proportion as we have received. We who have received so much, how much will be demanded of us! What great things God has a right to expect from those to whom He has so greatly given! This is no academic speculation, no glittering generality without practical import which we can toss ofF and forget. Our accounting is to be in proportion to what we have received. If you have received much, you must prepare to give the much that is required.
Because of the great importance of this truth and our great danger of forgetting it, Our Lord has not mentioned it only once, but He has driven it home with more than one vivid parable. There is the parable of the talents, which gives us to understand that when the great Householder shall exact an accounting, He will require of those who have received five talents a greater return than He will expect from those who have received but two. It is only another way that Our Lord has taken to show us that we who have received much must make a great return. From those who have received little He will demand a less strict accounting and be satisfied with a less bountiful return.
We shall do well to realize while there is yet time how much will be required of us for the great things that we have received and are receiving from Almighty God, because life slips away so fast and we are so likely to forget, and our days run so swiftly to an end. We must seize, hold to, and use betimes what He offers us, making good profit from what He gives, because we shall have to render an accounting. Time drives on so relentlessly. The moments fall behind us so ceaselessly. The gifts of Gk)d pass so swiftly. We must seize hold on the instants and make them yield to us all that God has entrusted to them, else they slip by and elude us and do not give up the merit here and the glory hereafter that we should have got from them. Yet for each one we shall have to make an accounting.
These thoughts must not make us discouraged nor sad, but rather they should stir us up to an intense interest and a weariless activity in good works to redeem the lost opportunities of the past and to make the present yield what God means it to give us. In a short space we can fulfil a great time. By loving God extremely much and doing all things very rightly and purely for His love, we can atone in great measure for our remissness in the past and make ready to render Him worthily the much required of us who have received so much. This thought should stir us up from that spiritual sloth which is a great and hidden temptation of these times, even among good people, and set us working like laborers that sweat for a wage and must earn their livelihood day by day, getting each day's food by each day's toil.
The reflection that we have received so much should likewise arouse us to a great compunction and grieving for our past sloth and wasting of the good gifts of God. By repentance for the little profit we have gotten from the great opportunities given us we can make amends in some degree for our sorry waste of God's gifts. We who are the spoiled children of God, upon whom He showers down all the blessings of those of His household, we have acted in a manner that will be put to shame by the good conduct of many outside the Church with not a tithe of our opportunities and graces. Our Lord directs us to say, even when we have done all that we should, that we are unprofitable servants. How much more should we beat our breast in sorrow and confess that we are unprofitable servants of God when we have received so much more than others, and yet have fallen so short even of our common duty. If we can weep in our hearts for our shortcomings, that will at least be some atonement. A heartfelt and abiding sorrow for the great measure in which we have wasted God's good gifts is the least amends we can make to the heavenly bounty.
To think of the much we have received and the much required of us will likewise be a great incentive to charity. We know by intimate and actual experience how very much God has given to ourselves. We know little or nothing of what He has given to others. We experience in our own souls the help and light of His grace. We are quite ignorant of what graces He gives or refuses to our neighbors. Ourselves we can judge severely.
Others we dare not venture to judge at all. This was the piercing thought which stirred the humility of the saints so that they truly said that in their own eyes they were the most unworthy of mankind.
For they knew how great were God's mercies and graces to their own souls, and they felt intensely their faults in corresponding to them. But they were quite ignorant what graces might have been refused to others. Therefore, they thought well of all others besides themselves, but themselves they judged most severely. We shall do well to imitate the example of the saints, to accuse ourselves lest God should accuse us, to make atonement by penance and effort for our shortcomings in the past, but to excuse others and treat them as our betters because they may not have wasted so many of the gifts of God as we. We shall do well, then, to write deep in our minds Our Lord's warning and admonition. Life passes and we go swiftly to our accounting. Let us prepare to render to God the much that is required of us. For surely we are of those of whom it may be said that they have much received.