Second Sunday of Advent, Sermon #1, by Bishop Geremia Bonomelli, D.D.

Brethren: What things soever were written, were written for our learning; that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one toward another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind, and with one mouth, you may glorify God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honor of God. For I say that Christ Jesus was minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers. But that the Gentiles are to glorify God for His mercy as it is written: Therefore will I confess to Thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and will sing to Thy name. And again he saith: Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again: Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and magnify Him, all ye peoples. And again Isaias saith: There shall be a root of Jesse; and He that shall rise up to rule the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope. Now the God of hope fill you all with joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. – Romans 15:4-13

These words are found toward the end of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and I will ask your attention for a few moments while I explain them.

“Whatsoever things were written were written for our learning, that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.” To understand the meaning of these words it is necessary to show the connection between them and those that precede them. In the preceding verse the Apostle speaks of Jesus Christ, who in saving man did not consult His own natural inclinations, but bore all things; hence all the outrages committed against God were visited upon Him; He was the bailsman; and in confirmation of what he says Saint Paul cites the words of the Psalm: “The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell upon Me,” words put into the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself. Having called their attention to this oracle of Scripture, verified in Jesus Christ, the Apostle goes on to say that as a rule all the teachings of Holy Writ are for our spiritual advantage.

What are the books of Holy Writ? They are the divine law to which our whole life must be conformed; they are, as Saint Athanasius says, letters sent by God to men, letters which contain His will, the supreme law for us all. “All Scripture,” says Saint Paul in another place, “is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.”

We can not save ourselves unless we know what to believe and what to do. And where are we to get this knowledge? From God alone, the fount of all truth. And how and through what agencies does God make known these truths to us? Through His word, and this may come to us by word of mouth through the apostles and the Church; or by the written word, through the divinely inspired books of Holy Writ. The first way is the easiest and most expeditious, and is sufficient for all men without distinction; the second is more difficult, less expeditious, and not possible to all, but still always holy and good. What can be holier and better than to learn the truths of faith from those Books which God willed to write for our instruction and comfort? The truths which fell from the lips of Christ and His apostles are written in Holy Scripture, and between us and those who listened to Christ and the apostles there is no difference; the truths are the same – they came to them through the ears, they come to us through the eyes.

There was a time, my friends, when the Scriptures were in the hands of all who could read, when they were read and were the subject of meditation even for the simple faithful; but in these days how many even of the educated laity read occasionally and meditate upon the truths of Holy Writ? All sorts of books are read, but the Book by excellence, the Book that is all truth, which tells us of the things of heaven and points out the path of virtue, is, alas, neglected and forgotten. But if you will not read it, if you will not meditate upon the truths it contains, listen at least to the explanation of them, which Holy Church commands shall be given to the people every Sunday.

And what do the Sacred Books teach us, and especially the words of the Prophet quoted by the Apostle? They teach us, and bear it well in mind, they teach ns to be patient under trial and to be comforted in distress. Which of us, my dear friends, has not to suffer if we would be virtuous, and to struggle courageously? We must suffer, we must bear our cross daily, and often it is heavy enough. Very well, then. In Holy Writ, in the example of the saints, but above all in the example of Jesus Christ, we shall find light and strength, comfort and consolation amid the afflictions of this life, especially if we keep in view the reward which is promised us and which we confidently hope to obtain. A soul that kneels in the presence of Jesus Christ crucified and in the light of Holy Writ meditates upon His life, filled with sorrows and humiliations beyond all power of language to describe, and then reflects that He was God, the Saint of saints; a soul that believes that another life and an endless one will begin beyond the grave, in which the injustices of this life will be repaired and its fleeting sorrows compensated by ineffable and never-ending joys; a soul, having such thoughts, how can it do other than be comforted and rejoice? It should cry out with Saint Paul, that it exceedingly abounds with joy in its tribulations, and that to die is a gain.

Tasting in hopeful anticipation the joys promised to him who suffers for Jesus Christ, Saint Paul, in one of those impetuous bursts of love so frequent in his Letters, cries out: “Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to he of one mind toward one another according to Jesus Christ.

The words, the God of patience and comfort, are a Hebrew expression, which means, God the giver of patience and comfort; God, who is most patient, and patience and comfort itself, grant you what is the most precious fruit of patience and the source of the purest consolation, namely, peace and concord among yourselves, according to Jesus Christ, or such as He wills.

My friends, the Apostle desired for his dear children peace and concord among themselves, as the greatest of all blessings. Have we this blessed peace, this single mind, as the Apostle says, in this parish, in our families, among ourselves? Alas, how much ill will there is, how much enmity, how much uncharitableness, and these sow the seeds of discord and destroy the peace of families. If fraternal charity does not dwell in the heart, how can we with one mind and “with one mouth glorify God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” as the Apostle bids us? Can a loving father accept with pleasure homage and testimonials of reverence and love from his children when he knows that jealousies and enmities exist among them? Assuredly not; neither can God, our Father, accept with pleasure our homage and our prayers if our hearts are not aflame with the divine fire of brotherly love. We should all, like the Christians of the early Church, have but one heart and one soul, and then our prayers and our praises would go out from our lips like a sweet perfume to make glad the heart of God.

Jesus Christ should be the model, sovereign and eternal, upon whom we should ever keep our eyes, as the Apostle reminds us in every page and in almost every line of his incomparable Epistles. If the bond of charity in Jesus Christ binds all our hearts together and casts out from them all suspicion and strife, what will be the necessary consequence? “Then you will receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honor of God.” “And how,” the Apostle seems to ask, “has Jesus Christ received you? Some of you are the children of Abraham and bear upon you the mark of the Covenant and of the divine promise made to the patriarchs; and many of you are Gentiles, born and grown up in the midst of the darkness of paganism; but Jesus Christ,” the Apostle goes on, “has made no distinction; He has called equally to the Faith you Hebrews, and you Gentiles, and has taken you both equally to His Heart. If, then, Jesus Christ has received you all into His Church, if He loves you all as His children, and if He has loaded you with gifts, should not you also receive one another as brothers?” The reasoning could not be clearer or stronger. And here observe the difference between merely human societies and the divine society, or the Church. Here is a society, for instance, in which there are rich and poor, learned and ignorant, French and English, Germans and Italians, and so on; they are all men and recognize one another as such, but what a difference in the way each treats the other; they are mistrustful and suspicious one of the other; they call one another brothers, but their bearing toward one another is as that of strangers and sometimes as that of enemies. It is not thus in the Church, the great family of Jesus Christ. All are sons of the same heavenly Father, all are brothers, and if there is a distinction it is in favor of the poor and the ignorant, because Jesus Christ said: “I am come to preach the Gospel to the poor and to heal the contrite of heart.” In the Church of Jesus Christ there is neither Greek, nor Scythian, nor barbarian; all are equally redeemed by Him and all are brothers.

To prove that the Gentiles were called to the Faith as well as the Hebrews, Saint Paul quotes the four prophetical utterances, which I have just read for you and which it is not necessary here to repeat. But it is well here to note a difference between the way in which the Hebrews were called and that in which the Gentiles were called. Jesus Christ called the Hebrews “as minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the Fathers”; whereas He called the Gentiles “to glorify God for His mercy.” And wherein lies the difference, my friends? Is not the call of the Hebrews a mercy of God as well as the call of the Gentiles? Assuredly, and who can doubt it? Why, then, does Saint Paul attribute one to the truth of God, and the other to His mercy? The answer is plain. The conversion of the Hebrews is wholly and entirely the work of the goodness and mercy of God, as well as that of the Gentiles, as faith teaches. What right or claim have we to such a grace, we who have received everything from Him; we who have nothing of our own but sin; we who are but wretched creatures? We, who are not worthy to be His slaves, how could we aspire to that supreme honor of becoming His children by adoption? God, solely out of His boundless goodness, repeatedly promised salvation through Jesus Christ to the children of Israel by the prophets and patriarchs; while to the Gentiles He never made any direct promise; nor did He give them the law of Moses, nor did He give them prophets and patriarchs; He gave them only the light of reason and with it the law of nature. In offering the Faith to the Hebrews God kept His promises made to them in the Sacred Books, and this is why Saint Paul ascribes their call to the truth of God; while in offering the Faith to the Gentiles God does not mention any sort of promise, because He had made none to them, and hence Saint Paul attributes their conversion wholly to His mercy. In a word God called the Hebrews both out of mercy and to keep the promises He had made to them, whereas He called the Gentiles solely out of mercy, because having made no promise to them there was none to be kept. We, my friends, are the descendants of those Gentiles, whom God called equally with the children of Israel; we are the heirs to their faith and in us is continued the divine mercy.

The faith of the Romans, to whom Saint Paul wrote, was celebrated throughout the world; let me ask you, Is your faith like theirs, living and active? In the midst of the dangers that surround us and of the snares that are laid for us, do we preserve our faith pure and untainted, as the most precious gift of the divine mercy? Do our works do honor to our faith, do they prove it to be living and operative? What reply does the conscience of each of us give?

The last verse of the Epistle is this: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost.” This is a loving and a holy wish, which as a father the Apostle sends to his spiritual children. It is as if he said: may the God of hope, the author, the source, and the ultimate object of all hope, banish from you all strife and discord and fill you with that peace which is the daughter of faith, and strengthen you in the power of the Holy Spirit. Or, still more clearly, may God grant that you may remain firm in the faith you have received, and in the hope that is begotten of faith; the fruit of this faith and hope will be joy and peace; and may the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit preserve and multiply these blessings. Saint Paul represents the joy and peace, which he wishes to the faithful, as the fruits of faith and hope, and he does so with reason.

Faith, my friends, tells us clearly what our origin is; it points out the path along which we must journey and the goal which we must strive to reach; it teaches us whence we came and whither we are going. Hope, which is founded on faith, teaches the means by the use of which we may and must reach the end for which we were created. Fancy a man who knows not who created him or sent him into this world; who knows nothing of a life beyond the grave, of that region whither all must go and whence none return; that, in consequence, he has not and can never have a shred of hope in a future life – and would not such a man be as one lost upon the earth? Fancy that you had your eyes bandaged and that you were taken up by some unseen and powerful force, transported thousands and thousands of miles away and set down in the midst of a desert, that upon opening your eyes and looking about you you saw no trace of a road, not even a hill or a tree, that dense clouds shut out from you the light of the sun and of the stars, and that you saw only the arid sand and the desert in all the majesty of its oppressive silence. Could you tell whence you had come and whither you must turn your steps to escape from this desert, where, if you remain, you must die? It would be impossible. This is a true image of a man without faith and hope. He finds himself set down here on the earth as in the heart of a limitless desert. In his distress he asks himself, Who gave me this life? Who placed me here? Whither must I go? Ahead of me is the grave and I shall soon drop into it; but what is beyond the grave? Does all end in the graveyard? Will there be another life, and what sort? These are inevitable and dismaying questions to which he gets no reply; the voice of the wretched man is lost in the desert; it has not so much as a distant echo for an answer; all is silent as death. Such is a man destitute of faith and hope, and a condition more desolate and comfortless can not be imagined; it is nothingness and nothingness in its most dismal form. But let a ray of light shine out from on high, a ray of faith and hope, and the frightful desert is covered with blooming vegetation and beautiful flowers, and in the distance is visible the longed-for land of our home and the road that leads to it. Oh, the peace and the joy of the Christian’s faith and hope!

There are workmen who labor all the day long in shops and warehouses and on the public ways, farmers who endure the heats of summer and the frosts of winter, poor mothers and widows who are barely able to feed and clothe their children; they suffer and God alone knows all their sorrows; but they know that God has created them, that Jesus Christ has redeemed them, that He suffered as they suffer and still more; they know that the eye of God is ever upon them, that He numbers their tears, that He sustains them with His grace, that after death will begin another and an endless life and that then fullest justice will be done to all; they know that Jesus Christ said: “Blessed are the poor; blessed are they that mourn, blessed are they who suffer for justice’ sake, blessed are they who are persecuted, because great shall be their reward.” The thought of the eternal reward that awaits them gives them comfort, changes their sorrow into joy, and gives them in this world of exile a taste of the joys of heaven. We will close with Saint Paul’s words: “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Ghost.”