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Erasmus’s appeal for priests and missionaries to labor in the harvest fields, Ecclesiastes 1535
We hear daily complaints from those who deplore that the Christian religion has collapsed and that the authority that once embraced the entire world has been reduced to these straits. It is fitting therefore that those who grieve sincerely over this should ask Christ with ardent and constant prayers to deign to send out workers for this harvest or, to put it better, to send sowers to his field. ..Yet it must not be doubted that …there are rude and simple peoples who could easily be attracted to Christ if men were sent out to make a good sowing. I pass over now the boundless number of Jews commingled with us, I omit the many who are pagans cloaked under the name of Christ, I omit the great phalanxes of schismatics and heretics. How much profit for Christ would there be in these if good and faithful workers were sent to cast good seed, to tear up the weeds, to plant good seedlings, root out the bad, build the house of God, demolish the structures that do not rest on the rock of Christ, and finally to harvest the mature crop but harvest it for Christ, not for themselves, and to collect souls for the Lord, not wealth for themselves.
There remains the final excuse, mortal danger. But, since all must die once, what more attractive or what happier death could befall than for the sake of the gospel? Those who travel to Jerusalem from the farthest regions of the earth expose themselves to mortal danger, and all do not return home safe from that pilgrimage; yet every year such a multitude of men runs to Jerusalem to see some place or other, and is mortal peril offered as excuse here? What, I ask, is the importance of seeing the ruins of Jerusalem? But building a spiritual Jerusalem in men’s minds is truly important. How many soldiers fearlessly commit themselves to battle, holding their life cheap for the sake of a mortal prince? And does that highest monarch, who promises in return for military service a crown of eternal glory, not find soldiers endowed with similar courage? How much more desirable to die as Paul died than to wither away from consumption, to be tormented for many years by gout, to be twisted by paralysis, to die again and again from the stone.
Moreover, supposing death should come, it will not come before the day that the Father has appointed for his own. The apostles lived in a world of noisy confusion and reached a full old age; therefore there is no reason to fear death under the protection of Christ, who will not allow a hair to fall to the earth unless by his Father’s will. Finally, how is it proper that those who profess the apostolic life are deterred from the apostolic office by love for life? To give up one’s life for the gospel is perhaps truly apostolic.. ..
Come on then, you men of bravery, you glorious leaders of Christians soldiery, put on the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of devotion, take up ‘the shield of faith’ and the ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ and ‘girding your loins’ with the belt of modesty and with your feet shod, which represent the emotions, ready with the whole spiritual panoply to preach the gospel of peace, gird yourselves up with fearless courage for the glorious enterprise; cast down, kill, slaughter — not men, but ignorance, impiety, and every vice, for to kill in this way is to save. Ensure not that you return home from them richer, but that you enrich them with a spiritual wealth; count it a rich booty if you snatch so many souls from the tyranny of Satan and claim them for the Redeemer, if you lead hordes of captives in triumph into heaven for him. That to which we urge you is difficult, but it is also the most beautiful and excellent enterprise of all.
And if any labor is to be expended here (for nothing important is accomplished without effort), let them consider how great a solace it will be to hear the beatific words, Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord; come, valiant leader, and celebrate a heavenly triumph, take your share ofjoy since you did not refuse to share afflictions for my sake.’ What a celebration there will be, what applause, what a glad acclamation when you see many there who will attribute to you the receipt of their happiness, of their salvation, whom you led to godliness, whom you recalled from error, whom you inflamed with a love for the blessings of heaven. Indeed, since perfect charity makes everything there common to all, what will be more fortunate, more splendid, more glorious than you when the countless myriads of heavenly orders will congratulate you on every side with one mouth, with harmonious voice, and will give thanks to Christ the prince, who deigned to increase through you that blessed company that for perfect beatitude needs only to have the number of the elect filled up, and happiness will be full and absolute in every respect after the resurrection of bodies! CWE 67, 438.