I. The care of our soul is the most necessary duty of our life.
1. All the other cares which engross our attention, have reference to the perishable things of this earthly life. But can you name to me a care or a duty as pressing and important as that of our eternal salvation? All other cares are but transient, superficial, trivial; the care of our souls involves our deepest and holiest interests, the decision of our lot for all eternity. Before many years, this body of ours, the object of so much solicitude, which we feed and clothe so carefully, will return to dust. The goods and joys of life are as glittering dust, which will be swept away by the storm preceding the General Judgment, and which is of no value in the eyes of God and his Saints. The friends and relatives whose well-being is very near our heart, are little more than transient acquaintances whom we meet and part from at a wayside inn, bidding them farewell after a short greeting. "I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." (Eccles. i: 14.) Our souls will not die nor decay. Their eternal happiness or misery depends on the care or carelessness we manifest in their regard. Is there then a greater necessity than to care for our immortal soul?
2. This affair cannot be neglected without incurring the greatest damage. Many evils may attend the neglect or careless conduct of our earthly affairs, but temporal calamities are rarely irremediable or utterly barren of good. There is scarcely any earthly calamity which can not either be repaired or soon forgotten. You may win back lost possessions, or gain still larger ones. Other and better friends may take the place of those whose loss you mourn; and the most delicate health may be restored. All temporal things may be given back to man, or he can console himself for their loss with the hope of higher possessions in the future. But if, through indifference, your soul is once lost, all is lost--And Lost Forever! Nothing can compensate you for this loss or misery. Not a single moment of the time wasted in any other occupation than in the care of our souls, will be given back to us a second time. He who has not saved his soul for everlasting life in the short span allotted to him, is cast out into exterior darkness. He is a branch cut off from the vine to be thrust into the fire. Like the foolish virgins, he stands without a nuptial chamber whose door shall never open to him. As in the case of the unprofitable servant, the talent buried by him, is delivered into the hand of another. Is there any other care on which such momentous interests depend?
3. This care admits of no delay and of no substitute. Time flies with lightning speed, and we should not waste a single hour of it. That which is put off, is already lost. What is neglected today, cannot be recovered tomorrow. There is no tomorrow, or the next day; there is only today and now. Neither can you employ a substitute in this matter. I, myself--you, yourselves--must care for the immortal soul God has given each one of us. Though you possessed along retinue of servants, though you claimed command over thousands, not one or all of that great army of subordinates could relieve you of this important duty. No friend, on earth or in heaven, can take your place in this momentous concern.
4. What does the Sacred Scripture say of this necessary care? "Martha, Martha! thou art careful, and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary (Luke 10: 41-42)." Martha is fulfilling the holy duties of hospitality to Christ himself, yet he says to her: "But one thing is necessary." "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul (Matt. 8 : 33)?" Alas! where are those who daily put the question to themselves: "What shall I do, that I may have life everlasting (Matt. 19 : 16)?"
II. The care of our soul is not only the most necessary, but also the most sublime business and duty of our life.
1. What is the value of the soul in the eyes of the world? In the judgment of the world, a soul is of little or no worth. Countless myriads of men go through life in poverty and want, covered with miserable rags. The world passes them contemptuously by. In great armies, they are led to battle, and a cannon-ball mows down whole ranks of them, as a scythe mows down the grass of the field. Millions, again, are bound in the chains of slavery, and are only prized, like animals, for their physical beauty or strength. Hundreds and thousands are employed in the unwholesome air of mills and factories, which slowly, but surely, poisons their lives, that others may live in ease and luxury, or that the capital of employers may be increased. My God! of what worth is a man in the eyes of the world? A valueless creature--he is made still more wretched by the ruin which sin brings on his soul. For a transitory pleasure, for the gratification of a sensual lust, some men are as ready to sell their souls to the devil, as Judas was to sell his Lord and Master for thirty pieces of silver.
2. But what is a human soul in the eyes of God? A jewel of such value that human reason cannot comprehend it.
(a.) From all eternity, the soul of man was the object of God's thoughts. He made her according to His own image and likeness; for which reason, she surpasses in beauty and dignity all visible things. He built the universe for her, to lead her, as a queen, into her own palace. All visible things are assigned to her service.
(b.) The Son of God left the glory of his Father, became man, and embraced a life of poverty and suffering for the sake of our soul. He shed his precious blood to cleanse her from sin. For her, he established His Church, and dwells day and night in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, as an unceasing renewal of his love for her.
(c.) The Holy Ghost has consecrated the human soul as His temple, in order to make his abode in her with the Father and the Son. He has adorned her with the richest gifts of His grace; He descends into her in a sevenfold stream, enlightening her with the beams of His wisdom. He is her counsellor and her strength. He supports and protects the Church from error, so that she may continue her efficacy for the salvation of mankind to the end of time.
(d.) As if this were not enough, God, so to say, moves the heavens, that He may save our soul, His beloved bride, for whose protection he sends down the blessed spirits. He gives her the name of a saint, whom He appoints to watch over her as her patron; and, finally, He commits her to the care of a guardian angel. Could God do more in order to show us the value of our soul?
3. And what value does the devil set upon a human soul? He is willing to pay a big price for it; he is willing to give for her all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.
4. And what do men think of the soul so highly prized by God and the evil one? Alas! how foolishly the great mass of men act! They live as if they had no souls. They exchange that priceless treasure for the perishable things of this world, for a handful of barley and a piece of bread, for a sinful enjoyment. They barter away the bride of heaven, entrusted to their care, for the gratification of a base passion.
III. The care of our soul, through the mercy of God, is, at the same time, both light and sweet. Convinced as we are of the value of our soul, no sacrifice should be too great, no labor too hard, if it is for her salvation. But the Lord has made the care, for our soul, easy and sweet. "Come to me, all you that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." "My yoke is sweet, and my burden is light (Matt. 11 : 28, 30)." He calls His service and the care for the salvation of our soul, a burden and a yoke, but He declares, as well, that joy and delight will be the portion of him who loves this burden, and carries this yoke cheerfully, unto the end.
1. What does the Lord require from us that we may save our soul?
(a.) A firm and living faith in His holy word, announced by His own divine lips, or by the mouth of His infallible Church. Is this a sacrifice too great and oppressive? Is not faith the light of life, and our strength in every difficulty and trial? Is it not our hope and consolation in the dark and bitter hour of death? Faith beautifies our life, and pours heavenly peace into our hearts. How miserable and wretched we should be if deprived of this light and balm! Mustwe not exclaim with St. Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6 : 69)."
(b.) God commands us to love Him with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with all our strength. Is this difficult or impossible? Is He not the supreme Being, and the best of Fathers? Is He not the most amiable Being, worthy of all our affections? And are we not happy in His love ?
(c.) He commands us to keep the commandments. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments (Matt. 19 : 17)." They are the foundation of our happiness, here and hereafter. And if some commandments involve a sacrifice, is not every sacrifice made for the love of God, the source of new joys?
2. Christ Himself has done the greater part of the work of our salvation. "I will come and heal him," said He to the Centurion who implored Him to speak only a word from a distance for the cure of his servant. "I myself will come and heal her," said the Son of God, when He was about to deliver our soul from sin and perdition. And He has healed her by fulfilling for us the entire law so that nothing more is left for us than to partake of His merits. "He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things (Rom. 8: 32)"? What there is yet left to be done, the Lord will help us to accomplish by giving us His grace; and fortified by that grace, we may exclaim with St. Paul: "I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me (Phil. 4: 13)."
3. Furthermore, our Lord has solemnly promised that He will give an eternal reward for every effort made through love of Him. "He that shall persevere to the end, He shall be saved (Matt 10: 22.)." "To him that overcometh, I will, give the hidden manna (Apoc. 2 : 17)." No labor done, no sacrifice made for God and the salvation of our soul, is vain or fruitless. "Our present tribulation which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4: 17,18.)." What will men not do in hope of a reward? And how seldom is the promised reward worthy of the toil that purchases it! The sea hides in its bosom a mighty ruin of shipwrecked treasures; but the ocean of human life conceals in its depths still vaster wrecks of disappointed hopes and fruitless labors. Men never weary of launching their frail bark on the same treacherous sea; but no matter what loss or ruin may come to temporal things, God never deceives the hopes of man in the matter of his soul's salvation.
When Jacob had served Laban, his father-in-law, for a long time, he approached him and said: "Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how great thy possession hath been in my hands. It is reasonable, therefore, that I should now provide also for my own house (Gen. 30 : 29, 30)." Let this be the sentiment wherewith you enter into the New Year: "Many, many years have I served the world and sin. It is reasonable, that I should now provide also for my own house." Yes, it is time for us all to love God and care for our immortal soul. Amen.