A Reprise: Father Father X. Weninger's First Sermon for Easter Monday



(Book Publisher's Note. — This sermon was originally written in German, and sent to Berlin. It appeared in pamphlet form, under the title: “The Pharisees of Our Times.” We here give but an abridgment of it. Nevertheless, as an exception, it exceeds the usual brevity of the other sermons contained in this volume, and may serve as a lecture on this topic.)

“What are these discourses that you hold one with another as you walk, and are sad ? " — Luke xxiv.

SAD and sorrowful, as the Gospel of today tells us, the disciples went to Emmaus. Their converse turned upon what had happened to Jesus — His sufferings and death upon the cross. They spoke of their grief, although some of the Saviour's friends declared that He had risen and was alive, and, in short, they deserved the reproach which fell from the divine lips: “O foolish and slow of belief! why are you so sad?”

Confide in your Redeemer, who said that on the third day He would arise from death to life.

In a short time they recognized Him at the breaking of the bread, and knew that He had indeed arisen; and their hearts were, for the first time, filled with the plenitude of Easter joy. Then they hastened to Jerusalem, to tell the assembled disciples; and, behold, suddenly Christ Himself stood in their midst with the blessed words: "Peace be with you."

Now, the last trace of sadness disappears from their hearts, and glad rejoicing takes its place. Their beloved Master — their Saviour and Friend, the Lord of heaven and earth — has triumphed over death and hell, burst the bonds of His prison-house, and come to dwell with them again.

What a contrast to the feelings of the deicides, when the guards of the sepulcher returned with the message: “Jesus has arisen!”

Dearly beloved, in the daily walks of life, we meet with those faint-hearted children of the Church who falter and well nigh lose courage when they hear of, and even see, the violence suffered by the Bride of Christ in our day.

But to all such I would say: “Be of good heart; Jesus is alive and protects His Church. But let her persecutors tremble!”

Mary, by that joy which filled your heart on that Easter-morn, when you again beheld your beloved Son, pray for us, that we may have courage for the combat and gain the victory!

1 speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor and glory of God!

After the last spark of life had fled, the sacred body of Christ was pierced with a lance, and a gaping wound appeared; and from His heart came blood and water —a proof that He was indeed dead. The scribes and Pharisees, and all the enemies of the Saviour, rejoiced with a joy exceedingly great at the sight as they stood nearby.

It is true that the unprecedented phenomena succeeding His death gave rise to apprehension and consternation. The darkening of the sun; the trembling of the earth beneath their feet; the fearful spectacle which the streets of Jerusalem presented as the dead arose and walked the streets to reproach the inhabitants with the crime of deicide; and the rending, by an unseen power, of the heavily-wrought vail of the temple from the top to the very bottom, certainly made an impression on the enemies of Christ; but they derived consolation from the thought that He was dead and could trouble them no more. Yet, recalling His declaration, that in three days He would rise again, they hastened to Pilate; and, for greater security, demanded that a guard should be placed round the sepulcher. True, they affected to disbelieve the assertion of the Impostor, as they dared to style Him, but shuddered at the mere possibility of such an event being promulgated among the people, lest, hearing, they might believe, “and the last state would be worse than the first."

And so a guard was placed round the holy grave; and, what was the effect? The unwelcome tidings were announced, by the very soldiers of that guard, which served only to strengthen the belief of all who heard them.

The hush of midnight had fallen upon the world when, from the Choir of the Powers, a radiant angel swiftly descended and' removed the stone from the Saviour's grave. The earth trembled; and Christ, encompassed by heavenly light, arose from death to life.

In terror most abject the guards beheld the wondrous sight, and then in wild affright they fled to tell that Jesus lived! ''He lives! He lives!" ''Who?"

"Jesus, whom you crucified, has risen from the dead!”

“You dream you rave; this is but the wild fancy of a fevered brain!” cried out the Pharisees, pale with alarm.

We may well believe that they made every attempt to silence the guards; or, tempting them with glittering gold, induced them to tell some garbled story.

The scribes and Pharisees scarcely believed it themselves; thinking that, if it were true, Jesus would have at once manifested Himself to the people; for, foolish and blind as they were, they could not know that God's ways were not the ways of man. Yet, to be perfectly sure, they bribed the guards.

They prayed not to consider that the manner in which Christ arose was a splendid testimony in favor of the divinity of the Church; nor to reflect how that divinity would be more firmly established in the eyes of the people if the Gospel were announced, not by Christ, but by poor and humble men who would act under His direction, so that the faith which was founded upon the cross would be promulgated by them, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, in such a manner that it would not be forced on man, but would be meritorious for all who would embrace it with sincerity of heart. For, as St. Paul observes, this would afford to all an occasion to share in the merits of the Redeemer of the world.

Of all this, the Pharisees never thought; but deceived themselves with the hope that if Christ appeared not in public: the report of His resurrection would finally die away. In this, however, they were doomed to disappointment.

But fifty days elapsed, and the power of the Holy Ghost effused itself upon the disciples; and St. Peter, filled with that divine power, stood firm before the assembled multitude that came to hear his inspired words. And what was the subject of his discourse?

“This Jesus, who was put to death, is alive; we have witnessed the miracle. Do penance, and save yourselves; for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which he can be saved than the name of the newly-risen Jesus.”

And thousands believed — priests and people — and were baptized on the same day, becoming members of the one true Church. They could not resist the power of miracles, which the Apostles worked before their very eyes. And what mattered it to the two disciples of faith and love — St. Peter and St. John — that the rays of the setting sun fell upon the gloomy prison walls wherein they were thrown for confessing Christ?

They were taken before the Sanhedrim, the highest tribunal of the Jews. All that was required of them was silence. “Be ye silent; say nothing of the Resurrection.” But, for reply, they uttered the words which, during the long course of nineteen centuries, have been the watchword of those who have combatted for Christ and for His holy faith: “Judge yourselves whether it were better to obey God or man."

This reply, beloved in Christ Jesus, finds a ready echo in our own day, especially throughout all Germany, with the most sublime power of faith. ''Judge yourselves whether it were better to obey God or man." No earthly power can still the cry; persecution is powerless; Jesus lives!

Thus rang the cry of triumph throughout the holy city, and the heroic Apostles went forth to the confines of the earth: “He is risen, He is alive.” All peoples and nations shall hear it. This, as St. Paul remarks, places the seal upon our holy faith. Had Christ not arisen we would have been deceived, the Gospel a gross illusion, and we who preach it, what would we have been? Into what folly would we not have been betrayed had we not possessed a firm assurance of the Resurrection! For what other fruit would have sprung from our labors but want, misery, deprivation, persecution, and death? But Jesus did arise. Consequently faith, with all its promises, is true.

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” And again: “Behold, I send you as lambs among wolves.” “As they have persecuted me, so they will persecute you; “but fear not; I have overcome the world.” “Blessed are you if they persecute you for my sake. If they persecute and speak deceitfully of you, rejoice and be glad; for great, exceeding great, will be your reward in heaven.” Yes, Jesus lives.

This firmly-grounded and lively faith is the pulse which stirs the heart of the Church, and inspires her with courage to conquer, though tempests may lower and storms may rage. Also in this year of grace, the joyous Alleluia resounds throughout all Christendom, and ascends on high to the throne of the living God from the four ends of the globe.

The enemies of the Church do not regard her trials, no matter how nobly borne, as triumphs, but look upon them with disdainful eye. Let them not boast too soon. They can never destroy the Bride of Christ. It is true that the strongest military force is arrayed against her, so that if she had been founded by military power — and if Christ had entrusted His Church to the protection and favor of the great ones of the earth, and had not promised to them His protection and assistance until the consummation of the world — far different would be the result. Then, indeed, would she have now cause to tremble, since she would be totally forsaken by her own crowned children, and might well cry out with Christ: “I looked around, but there was no one to help; and I trod the wine-press alone." The Church, as the mystical body of Christ, knows that there is no other way to triumph with Him, than that which began on Calvary; and that to rise from the grave on the last dread day, as the Church triumphant, to celebrate an Easter-day with her divine Spouse in heaven, she must participate in the agonizing sorrow of His sacred Passion.

Her confidence, therefore, is not placed in the powerful arm of the mighty. Never has she trusted in them, for her general experience of them has been, as the Holy Ghost, through the psalmist, declared centuries ago: "The powerful and the princes of the earth have joined together against the Lord and His anointed; but the Lord laughs at them." Think of Sennacherib, who dared to send a derisive letter to Jerusalem — to the temple, and lo! the morrow's sun arose upon a vast army of soldiers, struck dead around the city, in one single night, by an angel of the Lord.

Jesus, the King of angels, needs not to exalt Himself. In His Passion He says: '' If I were to ask My Father, He would send Me more than twelve legions of angels to protect Me." Twelve legions! And one would have been a more than sufficient force against all the soldiers in the world. And the Church has the protection not only of angels, but of the Lord Himself. Therefore she appeals not to her enemies for pity, neither does she fear their hate. Most true it is that she enjoys not to-day the protection of a Constantine, a Charlemagne, a Louis, or a Ferdinand, who are gone, but One mightier than they remains with her. Jesus lives. The, influence of His presence may be felt from the tabernacle of the loftiest temple in Rome and Cologne to the poorest resting-place of our Lord in the humble little chapel of some American forest. The Church trusts in Him who liveth and has declared: “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth." He, the King of kings, the Lord of hosts, defends her.

Whence, then, O ye persecutors of the faith what comes your certainty of triumph which you expect  It is from your arrogant confidence in your own perfidious prudence and diplomacy, from the plans so admirably devised by the members of your secret societies, and, more than all, from the assurance you feel that you are collecting all your energies for the crushing blow which will ruin the devoted members of the Holy Catholic Church, even as the terrible avalanche which, as it rolls down the mountain side, destroys all who come in its way. O folly!

Yes, my brethren, had the Church been established and introduced into the world by human prudence, and her government founded upon the darkness and deceit of diplomatic combinations; if her duration and welfare were made to depend on such circumstances, then, you could hope to see her crushed; then would the Church have cause to dread the prospect of today. But this is so far from being true that St. Paul assures us that the children of the world look upon the Gospel as folly. Had its divine Founder proceeded in His great work according to human prudence, for the propagation of His Church, he would not have selected twelve ignorant fishermen, but His choice would have fallen upon men learned and skilled in diplomatic lore, or upon the great and rich ones of the earth.

The Church has ceased to look for aid and comfort now. Her confidence of victory is the consciousness of faith. ''Jesus lives!" Hear this, ye enemies of this holy faith, and tremble! You may hide your schemes from man, even from the vicar of Christ, but He the Lord, the Protector of His people, looks down and reads them all. Go on with your evil devices; surround them, as is most fitting, with the gloom and silence of the midnight hour; bury them deep beneath the weight of your secret oaths; the eye of the Lord is upon you, — that all-seeing eye which discerned the deeds of the Egyptians, and defeated their plans when they were so sure of victory. And Holy Scripture says, that as they beheld this terrible eye in the clouds, terror-stricken, they cried out: ''The Lord fighteth for Israel, let us abandon the conflict." But it was too late. The horses sprang forward, the wheels fell from the chariots, the turbid waters of the Red Sea rushed over them, and horsemen and chariots "were sunk in the wave." Yes, the eye of the Lord is upon you! Cease persecuting His Church while there is still time. Can you not hear the angry roar of the raging waters which threaten to engulf you in their depths? Do not rejoice in an ill-founded confidence of victory, trusting in the power of the law — in the protection of the State, which, in your eyes, is omnipotent With your unjust laws you wish to bind the Church, through her ministers, in fetters, which can not be loosed; and apparently you may succeed, for with you might is right ; and while no one is able to resist, you trample upon the weak and the poor. But hearken, O ye enemies of Christ! rivets if you will, the strongest chains around His ministers; force His vicar to dwell a captive within his prison home; you can never fetter the Church! The mystical Bride of Christ, free and unchained, smiles at your futile efforts; for Christ is her Head, her Defender, her Spouse; and He is free. “He has risen; He lives;” and will one day judge you according to His law.

“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead." One day, and God knows how soon it may be that the time is near at hand — the avenging arm of His justice will be stretched over you, and the sun of your power will set. Read old Lactantius, and see therein that not one crowned persecutor of the Church escaped a woeful punishment. The history of the present time will tell the same. Witness Cavour, the third Napoleon, and others who have been already swept away by death and brought before the stern judgment-seat of an angry God. And what would they tell you now?

Whence comes this confidence of victory in your warfare against the Church? You trust to public opinion, which you win to the side of wrong by fraud and falsehood. Yet beware, lest you stretch the line too far, and delude only the blind and unthinking populace — not men who love and try to see the truth. O Pharisees of modern times! you leave naught untried to make the world believe that you would be its greatest benefactors, and that only the Church stands in the way of the wealth and greatness which would pour in upon man, could that “vile dominion” of the priests be overthrown. But your works and the fruits thereof savor too much of the “sounding brass and the "tinkling cymbal" to influence reflecting men.

What! the Church an enemy of culture and progress? The history of the world, and especially of Germany, cries out "'tis false." What would almost all Europe be to-day if the Catholic Church had not educated barbarians up to the standard of civilized men? Most probably yet a wilderness. You glory in the idea that you have drawn the sword in the conflict of culture, and pretend to unsheathe it for liberty in opposition to the ultramontane clergy "in their vile oppression," while, in truth, you have unsheathed it but in the annihilation of their noble efforts for the welfare of mankind: You profess to create the happiness of nations, forgetting that it is "good to live under the crozier." Ask Rome herself! Had her citizens more weighty burdens under Pius IX or Victor Emanuel? You, who fain would rule the Church, educate her ministers, and judge of their every actions, still dare to speak of usurpations on the part of that holy, that divine Church! We ask, when did Pius IX or his successor Leo XIII ever think of examining your officers of the state, or attempt to control your treasury? You slander the Church and her ministers when you accuse them of believing that "the end justifies the means," for that is the very maxim which guides your course, as your deeds show but too well. You speak of the usurpations of the Church against the state, yet when did she take from you one little foot of soil? while you have robbed the Holy Father of the heritage which came and belong to Him by right, and styled it ''annexation." You have unblushingly stolen the property of the Church; you make, and annul contracts at your own good pleasure; but God is faithful and true.

Jesus lives, and will keep his word: "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."

''The gates of hell shall not prevail against her."

Certainly the successors of St. Peter die, but He Whom they represent, Jesus, dies no more. Therefore, my dearest children of Holy Church, rejoice and exult with your mother in this happy Easter-time; forget your fears; the Lord is nigh.

A few words before I close as to the resemblance between the Pharisees and all the enemies of Christ at Jerusalem, and the modern Pharisees and his enemies of the present day. We might well imagine that the gulf of nineteen centuries was bridged over, so wonderful is the resemblance between them. I look in spirit to that mount, so precious by its sacred memories, and see the crucified, dying Redeemer, the Soldiers, the Scribes and Pharisees; then turning to that Calvary, whereon the Church is daily crucified, I look on Soldiers, Pharisees, and Scribes, — Soldiers arrayed against her, men full of pretended righteousness — learned men who have so far forgotten their early lessons as to abandon the Church.

The enemies of Christ shouted in derision: "Let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him," but they were not sincere. Had the Saviour done so, they would have seized and bound Him to the cross once more. In like manner the enemies of Jesus act today, when they scornfully bid His vicar free himself from the Sardinian power; and when they haste to the assistance of that power, bid him secure their weapons, and they will then believe in his infallibility. But he can not do this!

The Pharisees appealed to the law to excuse their crime of deicide, and now the secret societies try to win over the officers of the state. They enact laws, and to what do they amount? Away with her! Crucify her! Let the very name of the Catholic Church be erased from the face of the earth.

The Pharisees gloried in their loyalty, and would acknowledge no other authority than that of the emperor. Jesus calls Himself the Son of God, but they place Him below the Caesar. So, too, did they act as diplomats, asserting that Jesus was an enemy of the state, and that He seduced the people. The most effective weapon they directed against Pilate to force him to condemn the Saviour, was this: '' If thou release this man, thou art not the friend of the Caesar."

And in our day, beloved in Christ, Catholics, be their station in life what it may, are called dangerous to the country which shelters and protects them. But we loudly protest that we are no more what they represent us to be, than was Christ an enemy of the Romans and dangerous to the state.

Say! were Christ to appear once more in the flesh on earth, would you permit Him to travel through your country, and preach the gospel unmolested? You would not, indeed. “Away with Him! away with Him! Cast Him into the deepest dungeon, or force Him to leave at once,” would be your verdict.

And yet, forsooth, you call a government which does behave in this way, a Christian one? Herod and Pilate were reconciled over the crucifixion of Jesus. History repeats itself, my brethren, and we see persons the most opposite opinions and characters join hands against the Church. Ministers and potentates, inimical to each other in every other respect, — Dollenger and Reinkens, old Catholics and Jansenists, Apostate Catholics and Protestants of the most divers sects, Spaniards and Brazilians, Russians and Prussians, Socialists and Capitalists, Republicans and Royalists, — unite in perfect antipathy against the Church.

From the guards themselves the Pharisees heard of the Resurrection, and yet they made no inquiries into it. They simply thought: “We will not believe it,” and remained indifferent; or rather, so obstinately were they disposed, that if they could have beheld the Saviour crucified a second, a third time— yea, a thousand times — rising again and again from the dead, they would not have believed in Him. And so it is with our modern Pharisees. They sentence to banishment those whom they are pleased to style dangerous to the state, before searching into a single case. They can not endure their presence, because they give glorious testimony to the truth of the Church. They do not want the Church, and so condemn her, and those who support her cause, always with the same injustice. The Pharisees bribed the soldiers to conceal the truth, and even to utter falsehoods the most direct and base; and those of our day seek to bribe the guards of the public press to conceal or distort the truth. The guards, in those bye-gone days, said that while they were asleep “the disciples stole the body." Most justly has St. Augustine ridiculed the absurdity of these lying hypocrites: “So, then, the disciples did it while you were asleep?” How could you, guards, have seen them if you were asleep? So you bring sleeping witnesses? O malice! we might almost think you slept yourselves, not to recognize such fraud and contradiction. And to our modern Pharisees we may say: “Have you passed your whole lives in sleep, dreaming the hours away, that you have never heard of, or read the glorious career of the Church, her combats and her victories?”

The enemies of St. Peter and the faith, in the early days of Christianity, could even then take to heart the admonition of Gamaliel in regard to the infant Church: “If this work is of God, you can not destroy it.”

And now over eighteen centuries have passed, during which the Church has suffered constant attacks, but from every one she has arisen more glorious and beautiful. How can you deny her divine character?

Look at those three hundred years during which the Roman emperors, with scarce a single exception, unsheathed their swords against the Church, and subjected her faithful children, among whom were many of the sovereign pontiffs, to the most cruel torments.

Many of them, indeed, gave up their lives rather than be unfaithful to Him Whose vicars they were.

Think of Arianism which crept into the Church directly after, when numbers of the bishops embraced the heresy; while now, among those who are false to the one true faith, there can not be found one single bishop. Think of the conflicts of the Middle Ages; the long and weary contest of the Hohenstauffens, — their outrages; the great schism; the Reformation.

Consider the French Revolution and its terrible results, — the Church persecuted, her ministers taken captive, and yet she issued victorious from all this.

In our own day the “Infallibility” of the successors of Peter has been defined, and the Church is as firmly grounded as in her earliest days upon this immovable rock. To so many proofs can our enemies be blind and deaf? If so, such stupidity richly merits the ridicule found in the caricature that was placed upon every corner of the streets in Berlin, representing an attempt to force the rock of Peter from its foundation, and hurl it over a precipice, together with the Church which is built upon it. The devil appears on the scene. “Go on,” he says, “and see how you will succeed. For more than eighteen hundred years it has been my constant aim to accomplish that feat, and I am no nearer to it than when I began.”

Therefore, Catholics, courage! Even now when the clouds of persecution lower so darkly over the religious horizon, fail not to rejoice, and to entone, also this year, the Alleluia of happy Easter. Victory is certain.

Persecution can only increase our merits in heaven, when, after a stormy combat here below, we celebrate with Christ a glorious Easter there, — the jubilee of the Church triumphant after the final downfall of her enemies! Oh, what thunders of a glad and joyous Alleluia will then eternally resound throughout that celestial dome, before the throne of Him Who conquered death and hell! Amen!