THE PRIEST UNDER FALSE ACCUSATIONS
GOD might have redeemed the world by a manifestation of His glory; but He chose to do it by shame. Jesus was rejected of men, and they hid their faces from Him as if ashamed to own Him. This lot He has bequeathed to us. Jesus was falsely accused. No man ever more so. He was called a Samaritan, and told that He had a devil. He was “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” He was a deceiver, and a seducer, and seditious; stirring up the people, feigning to be a king and a prophet, being a pretender and a blasphemer. He suffered all the penalties of sin, its guilt only excepted.
1. False accusation was hateful to Him, because of His perfect holiness. To be baptised as if He were a sinner was an act of divine humility. The eyes of all were fixed upon Him. He was counted as one of the sinners of Jerusalem. It was bitter to be even suspected. But to be accused as a sinner was an infinite humiliation. The bitterness of sin entered into His sinless soul. He tasted the horror and the shame even of those who are justly accused. Innocent men arraigned at the bar, and though falsely yet skillfully accused of atrocious crimes, have afterwards told us that, for a time, they had the horrible sense of guilt upon them. And, in the measure of their innocence, their hatred of the evil laid to their charge will be more acute. To the sinful it brings little pain; for sin deadens the perception of the baseness, the grossness, the deadliness of sin. The agony of our Divine Lord in the Garden came from the vision and the contact of the sin of the world. The sins of mankind before the Flood; the sins of the tribes of Israel, the sins of the Christian world, and, above all, the sins of His own priests these wrung from Him a sweat of blood. The sanctity of God in contact with the sin of the world caused a sorrow “unto death.” For though God cannot sorrow as God, God Incarnate sorrowed by the suffering of His sinless humanity in this world of sin.
In the measure, then, of the innocence and purity of a priest's life and heart will be his suffering when falsely accused. They who accuse him little know the pain they inflict. They have not his delicacy of conscience, or the purity of his heart, or his jealousy for the priesthood and for the Name of our Divine Master. So far “they know not what they do.” The coarse, and the rude, and the vindictive, and the malevolent, and even the foolish and the reckless in speech, with no ill-will, perhaps, but with great want of caution; often inflict wounds upon a good priest which are never healed. They would care little if it were said of themselves; and that is, perhaps, their only excuse, and a very mean one.
2. And the false accusations against our Divine Saviour came from those to whom He was always doing good. For three long years in meekness and gentleness He spoke with them of the kingdom of God. He healed their sick, and cleansed their lepers, and opened the eyes of their blind, and fed the hungry, and raised their dead. And the people heard Him gladly, and the little children came to Him without fear. Virtue went out of Him to illuminate, to sanctify, and to console. And yet He was hated; and at one time they sought to kill Him, at another to cast Him down from the hill on which they dwelt. And they spoke against Him, and accused Him falsely. They returned hatred for His love, and reviling for His patience. This added a special pain.
Every priest must be ready to bear the same. Those for whom we have done most are often the most thankless; and at the first reproof or the first refusal, however small, break out into bitter ill-will. It is a proverb that men forget the score of times that we have said yes, and remember only the once that we say no. Of the ten lepers only one returned to give thanks, and he was a Samaritan. Priests, Levites, and Jews passed the wounded man by the wayside. Only one was found to help him, and he, too, was a Samaritan. The Jews were blinded with the excess of light, and surfeited with the abundance of their mercies. They took all as a right, and crucified the Lord of glory. But the Samaritans, in their austere scarcity of light and grace, were quicker to perceive the goodness and the law of God. So it is often in our flock. The favoured become pampered, and they who have had least care have most gratitude.
3. And the false accusations came especially from those who knew Him. We read that at one time even His brethren did not believe in Him. And at last one of His twelve disciples betrayed Him. It often happens that a priest is falsely accused by someone for whom he has had a special intimacy, and on whom he has bestowed a special care. It may be some soul ready to perish whom he has plucked as a brand from the burning. It often happens that they for whom we do most are least grateful and most malicious. Because so much has been done for them, they exact more; and because more cannot be done, they break out in jealousy and vindictiveness. It would be but a little thing if enemies who do not know us speak against us; but when familiar friends, who have been freely admitted to our confidence and within our guard, who have lived under our roof and broken bread with us—when they turn and accuse us, it is far more bitter. Inimici hominis domestici ejus. The care and kindness and forbearance we have shown to them is all lost. Some passion of jealousy or self-interest has mastered them. They first turn from us, and then turn upon us. If they had been strangers and unknown, we could have better borne it; but from them it has a manifold ingratitude. They know us better than other men. Their accusations are not from ignorance or mistake. They know the falseness, because they know the truth: and that galls them. They can find nothing against us truly; therefore they are irritated, and go to Satan's forge for lies. Sister Emmerich says that Satan in Gethsemane asked our Lord what He had done with all the money that came from the lands that Mary sold at Magdala.
4. And the false accusation against our Divine Master was believed by, not a few, but by the majority of men. The bad believed it readily, and rejoiced that He was one of themselves. He had rebuked them, and warned them, and irritated them by His example; and crossed their trade of wickedness, and defeated their plans, and, it may be, had saved the innocent out of their hands. It was joy to them that He could be blackened by accusation, which, however false, would still leave its stain, and never be forgotten. This was sharp enough. But it was worse when He saw that the good believed Him to be guilty: that they forsook Him, and shunned Him, and passed Him by. The animosity of immoral minds was easier to bear than the condemnation of the good; who, being deceived, believed what was said against Him. Then the rulers and guides of the people—the scribes and the priests, the men of strict observance and large knowledge of the law—they disapproved and discountenanced His exaggerated teaching and His unusual way of life: sometimes all night in prayer, sometimes eating and drinking with sinners. This Man, if He were a prophet, would know; but He does not know, therefore He is no prophet; and if not a prophet He is pretentious in His ways, and presumptuous in His condemnations even of the scribes who sit in the seat of Moses. Have any of the rulers of the people believed in Him? If not, no one should believe in Him. Many a good priest is criticised, censured, accused, condemned, loudly or in silence, and all that is said against him is believed and repeated. In the homes where he used to be welcome there is constraint. In the friends who used to greet him there is a distance. The falsehood has done its work, and no contradiction can ever overtake it. It follows him like a shadow; and it darkens his path wherever he goes. It has become a part of his public reputation; the majority believe it to be true. His brother priests believe it. His Bishop believes it, and does not clear him. The holy angels know it to be false. But the priest was predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son; and He was accused falsely, and men believed it to be true.
5. Lastly, our Divine Master died under the cloud of false accusation. He was never cleared of the reproach, though the witnesses could not agree together. What matter? The high priest and the scribes condemned Him, and the majority cried, “Crucify Him. What more need have we of witnesses?” His name was blackened, and He died upon the Cross deserted by friends, abandoned by men, and forsaken by God. He died as a malefactor between malefactors, in the sight of the multitude who once believed Him to be a prophet, and now believed Him to be a blasphemer. Even after His death this ill name survived Him. “This deceiver said, while He was yet alive.” This same lot He left behind Him to them that are His. “God hath set forth us Apostles, the last, as it were, appointed to death. We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake; but you are wise in Christ. We are weak; but you are strong. You are honourable; but we are without honour. Even unto this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode. And we labour, working with our own hands; we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it. We are blasphemed, and we entreat. We are made the refuse of this world, the off-scouring of all even until now (1 Cor 4:9-13).” “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of the household (Mt 10:24-25).” Why should we complain if we be blackened with accusation, and die under it? Innocence falsely accused is a close conformity to the Son of God.
Three thoughts, arising from all this, may give us both peace and strength when we are falsely accused. The first is, that innocence, suffering under sin, suffers for sinners. It is what S. Paul describes as “filling up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24).” The sufferings of the Head redeemed the world. The infinite merits of the Cross have purchased all things for us. But the suffering of the mystical Body, and of every member of it, is united to the Passion of Jesus, and through Him it ascends, as an act of obedience, and patience, and self-oblation, to the Father.
The second thought is, that sinners are never so near their Divine Master as when they suffer innocently. S. Peter says: “Dearly beloved, think not strange the burning heat, which is to try you, as if some new thing happened to you; but if you partake of the suffering of Christ, rejoice that when His glory shall be revealed you may also be glad with exceeding joy. For if you be reproached for the name of Christ you shall be blessed; for that which is of the honour, glory, and power of God, and that which is His Spirit, resteth upon you 1 Pt 4:12-14).” If we are on our Lord's side we shall suffer both for Him and with Him. Wherever His Cross is, there He is also. Never so near as when we need Him most. Our shame, and pain, and burning of heart are the pledges of His nearness, and that He is opening our understanding to know what books cannot teach us. How often have we read the words, “A faithful saying: for if we be dead with Him, we shall live also with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim 2:11-12).” To be falsely accused is the last conformity of the servant to his Lord.
The third thought is, that our Divine Master has some greater work for us to do. He is fitting us for it by suffering, by taking away the sweetness, without which hirelings will not serve Him, by purifying our love from resentment against those who despitefully use us, and from all weak pity for ourselves. Till we have accepted our Master's lot, whose three companions, B. Angela of Foligno says, were Poverty, Sorrow, and Contempt, we shall not be worthy to be priests or soldiers of the Heart that was pierced. He gives to all His servants a measure of work according to their power. To the many He gives an easier task, to some a harder, to a few the hardest of all. All priests stand on Calvary; hut some are nearer than others to His Cross. He measures out the share of His Cross as each can hear it. Some it touches only for a moment ; on some it falls often ; some have the prolonged lot of Simon of Cyrene ; others have the mocking, others the vinegar and gall; some the desolation, and a few the false accusation under which He died. S. Romuald, S. Peter Martyr, S. Francis of Sales, S. Joseph Calasanctius, S. Vincent of Paul tasted this bitterness, and many more. It made them Saints, and fitted them for their work; for they were called to do the works of Saints. If, then, we have some share in this lot, it is a sure sign of His love and of His will to use us in some way as instruments of His power. Let us, then, never faint under it nor fear, nor go about for human defenders, nor use human arts for our justification. Leave it to Him. “Commit thy way unto the Lord, and trust in Him, and He will do it; and He will bring forth thy justice as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday (Ps 36:5-6).” When this token of His special service comes to you, give thanks. Say, Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore. I will bless the Lord in all times : in the time of peace, and in the time of trouble ; in the time of gladness, and in the time of affliction; in the time when men trust me, and in the time when they mistrust me; in the time when they speak me fair, and in the time when they lay to my charge evil that I know not, and falsehoods that are believed as true.