THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
9 February 2020
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Jesus has said: "Many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first" (Matthew 19:30). Today's Gospel parable is a further explanation of this truth.
St. John Chrysostom tells us that "those standing idle are sinners: for they are said to be dead; for that man is idle who does not the work of the Lord. Do you wish then not to be idle: Then do not take what is another's, and give of your own: and thus, you shall labor in the vineyard of the Lord, cultivating the vine of mercy."
The sinners who act in this way cease to be sinners and make a great advance from death to life. The just who were never idle and were never dead in sin, have not made such an improvement in their lives. There is more joy in Heaven over the conversion of one sinner than over ninety-nine just who have no need for conversion (Luke 15:7).
Having life and continuing in life is a wonderful thing and truly a cause for rejoicing and it merits an eternal reward in Heaven. It is an even more wonderful thing to advance from death to life and then also to be found worthy to enter Heaven. We find this sentiment beautifully presented in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The father had two sons. The elder was good and faithful and the younger was prodigal and dead in sin. Upon the return of the prodigal son the Father was filled with great joy, even more than he rejoiced in the faithful elder son. They both received the reward of sonship, but there was greater joy in the spiritually dead son returning to life.
We must be careful not to despise those who are now sinners, for they may one day repent and thus enter the Kingdom of Heaven before us or even instead of us. The virtue of humility brings us down in this world, but it lifts us up in eternity. The lower we see ourselves (without falling into despair) the more pleasing that we are in the eyes of God. Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20).
This is not to suggest that we should seek to become ever greater sinners, or even more dead in sin so that we can rise in the last hour and take the first place. This is presumption. When we are called, we must answer immediately and enter our labors of repentance in the vineyard of God. If we reject the call, we may not receive another opportunity.
Every one of the workers was found in the world of sin and called upon to enter the labor of penance. Some were called early and some were called late. We have no grounds to stand upon if we despise sinners because we are or once were sinners ourselves. We have no grounds to think that our sins are less offensive than the sins of others because we do not know what graces others may have received or not received. Those who have received great graces and rejected them are more guilty than those who have not received them at all.
Those who rise from death to life cause the greatest joy, but those who fall from life to death cause the greatest sorrow. We must not envy the sinner who has risen from the extreme of death and sin to the opposite extreme of eternal life. What he has received does not take anything away from us. However, the sin of envy can quickly destroy all that we have worked for in a moment and thus bar us from entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. As the last can rise quickly and become the first, so too the first can fall quickly and become the last.
Our virtue and happiness are not to be measured in comparison with other men. Virtue is measured in comparison with Jesus Christ. He is the Standard by which we will be measured. In relation to Him, we are all miserable sinners who have been given a great opportunity to gain our eternal life by entering humbly into the vineyard of holy penance. If we do compare ourselves to others, we should always seek to truly prefer them to ourselves and thus hold on securely to the virtue of humility.
If we truly love God, we should be able to understand and share in His joy in lifting a sinner up to a life of penance. We should at least find joy in His joy. There is room in Heaven for all of us. Let us not lose our place through envy or any other sin. God is good, merciful, and just. All that He does should bring joy to our hearts even if we are to enter last into the Kingdom of Heaven. Does it make any difference who enters first or last when entering eternity?
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