Sermon for the Solemnity Of The Immaculate Conception 2018

 

Dear Beloved, 

Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, her preservation from original sin at the moment of her conception, such that she was never stained by inheriting human nature from Adam and Eve, our first parents and the first sinners.  Because she had been chosen before time began to bear the Son of God in her womb, the Holy Trinity kept her soul free from all sin, intervening lest she inherit the loss of grace and separation from God that is original sin. 

Mary was kept sinless in order to be a fit tabernacle for the Word of God when He took upon Himself a human nature.  She is the burning bush: fiery from contact with the divinity, but not destroyed because she was immaculately conceived.  She alone can endure such intimacy with God and live, for she alone was prepared for it by the same God who came to dwell in her womb. 

But the Immaculate Conception not only prepared Mary for her divine motherhood; it also prepared her to be Mother of the Church.  We may think of the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin as being a hindrance to any real union with her or imitation of her; other saints have some weakness or deficiency of character that appeals to us and makes them approachable, but Mary has no stain, no weakness, no deficiency.  She is wholly set apart and therefore she can seem wholly inaccessible. 

The key to understanding the significance of the Immaculate Conception for us in the here and now, though, is not about imitating Mary’s sinlessness, which we cannot do.  It is rather about accepting her as our Mother and trusting her to lead us to her Son with all the tenderness and tenacity that a mother can possess. 

In the Gospels, the blessed Virgin is presented as a disciple of Christ and as a model of a holy life, but she is above all presented as a mother.  In the Gospel of John, she is known only as the mother of Jesus; it is as if she does not even have a name apart from that of mother.  The genius of John’s Gospel, or one of them, is that he writes it in such a way that we identify with his person; each of us is the beloved disciple, and at significant moments we are allowed intimate access to Our Lord and Savior.  We are also given nearness to the Mother of the Lord.  We read, “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her as his own.”  After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said, "I thirst."

Jesus knew that His last act before His death was to entrust the Church, in the person of the beloved disciple, to His mother.  Once He had done that, John says that all was finished and Jesus could allow Himself to die.

So, the Immaculate Conception has first significance for us in that this mystery, this beautiful and powerful intervention of God, is the means by which God became man.  Mary’s preservation from sin makes her fit to be the Mother of God.  The second significance is that it makes her fit also to be our mother, to be Mother of the Church.  Though she is a disciple and a saint, for us she is first mother and we benefit most from her not necessarily in imitating her, for that can be overwhelming to consider, but in allowing her to care for us and fight for us, as any good mother does for her children.

The first Eve, who was called mother of the living by her husband, plunged the world into sin.  We all know what it is to have sinful mothers: they comfort, they encourage, they listen, they pray, but they are always limited, they cannot but fail us in some way.  Eve began this unavoidable reality of mankind: we are all wounded and therefore even when one heart wants to save another, it can never do enough.

The new Eve, in contrast, is the true mother of the living: it is through her that Grace has entered the world, giving life to souls and raising them from the death of sin, vice, and the despair that follows in their wake.  She has given birth to the Savior, and now her entire life is oriented towards reconciling the Savior with those whom He has saved.  She wishes nothing but to unite her Son to her children, the Head with the Body, the Lover with the beloved.  And it for this that she is sinless: she helps us from her throne of grace, from her place of security; she had no need to labor at her salvation in the way we do, and so she is able to be immediately attentive to our needs, her children who walk in the valley of tears.

Paul says in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus was not as the high priests of old, who need “to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people.”  Instead He is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Mary is the parallel to this; she is the Immaculate Conception, and she is that not for own sake, but for the sake of others, for our sake.  She is, like her Son, “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  But her separation from sinners is precisely so she can lead us, without stumbling in any way, to the safe harbor of heaven.  She knows grace in its fullness, and so she knows which graces each of us needs to be saved, to join her among the choirs of angels.

With these things in mind, then, let us rejoice on this holy festival.  Let us be grateful to God that He has given us such a mother, a perpetual sign that He truly is the lover of mankind and never wished our demise, our collapse back into nothing.  Woman, behold your child.  Child, behold your mother.  Let each one of us cry out to her in the depth of our hearts for the things we need that Christ may live in us.  She knows our sadness, our anxiety, our weariness, our lack of faith.  But she knows these as the Mother of God, and therefore she has the power to make happen in us what we cannot. 

As the hymn for Vespers prays, “Show thyself a mother to us; He will hear thy prayers, He who was born for our sake and chose thee to be his own.  Grant us a pure life, prepare a safe path, that seeing Jesus, we may always rejoice.”  Today, then, may the mystery of the Immaculate Conception be a source of confidence for us; a reminder that no matter how much we fail or how far we seem from God, the Mother of God is fighting for us.  She is accompanying us to our heavenly home.  We need only recommit ourselves to her and call on her each day to be with us and to guide us, that we may look upon her Son in the glory of heaven, in the world to come, in the New Jerusalem.

 

 

 

Sermon for the First Sunday Of Advent 2018

    

Stir up we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power and come –

so that by Thy protection

we may be rescued from the imminent dangers of our sins

and made free by Thy deliverance.

 

Beloved in Christ, 

it is with this Collect that the Church opens the liturgical year: Advent – that short season during which we pray and anticipate the Redeemer’s coming. With this heartfelt plea to God, the Church asks Him, in faith, for nothing less than a direct and divine intervention in the created order.  With this collect – and the whole of the Advent liturgy – the Church places on our lips and in our hearts her own desire for the speedy coming of our long-awaited Messiah.  And who is this prophetic figure?  It is the Legate of God, the emissary from before the dawn of creation, God Himself, destined by the Father before time began to rescue His chosen people from the shipwreck of their fallen nature.

        In the Advent liturgy the Church brings before our hearts a magnificent procession of patriarchs and visionaries of Israel who, like us now, longed for the coming of the Anointed One of God.  They looked for His coming in time, only dimly aware of the possibility that He might come in grace and glory as well.  And so, the liturgy marks the words and witness of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the long procession of major and minor prophets, among whom Isaiah stands out most strikingly. 

This march of time and faith in the Old Testament ends with the voice of John, crying in the wilderness: “Repent; prepare ye the way of the Lord,” even as the Virgin Mother had, thirty years before, in her prophetic role as God-Bearer conceived and bore Him in the flesh.  This child Whom angels adore and Who fulfills the longing of every human desire even unto the close of the ages.      

        Beloved children, this Messiah is none other than God Himself, Who conquers Satan and reigns over His people forever.  It is He Whom all nations must serve.  “Come, O come, Emmanuel” we cry – for the love of God in Christ extends not only to the people of Abraham and his descendants, but to all men of good will everywhere, in every age. 

In the words of Isaiah, “And when He comes we shall all be guided together by this divine shepherd…He shall feed His flock and He shall gather together the lambs with His arms and shall take them up in His bosom.”  This Christos – the Anointed One – Who is our Lord and God.

        On Christmas day, in Bethlehem of Judea, the Christ child was born in time – 2000 years ago.  Yet, in a special but very real way, on Christmas Day, 2018, He will be born again in our hearts by Sacrament and Sacrifice as we solemnly commemorate the anniversary of His birth.  He refuses nothing to the prayer of His Church for it is His Mystical Spouse – the Bride for Whom He has given His life.  He has come in time, and longs from eternity, to convey to our souls that same life, grace, and peace which animated the shepherds and wise men who drew near to His manger in adoration, wonder and love, lo these two thousand years.

        But the first two weeks of this season remind us of another Advent of the Lord: that Christ will come again at the end of time.  As the Matins hymn proclaimed earlier this morning, Christ will come “to condemn the guilty to flames and call the just with His loving voice into heaven.”

        This twofold Advent represents through liturgical worship God’s twofold coming in time: that of mercy and His return in judgment.  The first was marked by the poverty of His humanity; the second will be seen in the glory of His divine majesty.  As the Old Testament prophets did not distinguish between these comings of the Messiah, neither does the Church in the mysterious manner in which she draws our attention to both in today’s Eucharistic liturgy.

        As the first coming opened the way for fallen man’s ascension to the Father, so too, says old Simeon, “This child is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel and will be a sign of contradiction.”  Through the signs and wonders which Christ performed came also the witness of the Father, Word and the Spirit, by which all men decide for themselves their eternal fate.  “Blessed,” says Jesus to John the Baptist’s followers, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me,” and later, “For he that shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He shall come in majesty . . .”

        The whole of this first Sunday of Advent is taken up with our preparation for God’s twofold coming mercy and judgment.  What we need to bear in mind today and throughout the next four weeks – and indeed the whole of our lives – is that the same welcome will be given to us by Our Lord when he comes as Judge, as we give to Him now when He comes to us as Redeemer

Let us therefore “cast away the works of darkness” and act as “children of light” through an Advent marked by prayer, fasting, and penance; in short, by a month of ascetic consideration with faces turned to God and not the empty distractions of vain commercialism and hallow entertainment.  Certainly this is a season characterized by joy, but real preparation for the real Christmas requires a sober, confident return to God in repentance for our many and constant sins.  By a godly Advent we make ourselves ready not only for Christmas but for that final judgment on which the eternal destiny of our souls depends.  May He who is a sign of contradiction be for us, truly, the long-awaited of Israel.

 

Stir up we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power and come –

so that by Thy protection

we may be rescued from the imminent dangers of our sins

and made free by Thy deliverance.

 

 

 

Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost, 2018

 

Dearly beloved, 

"Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities, against the rulers of the world of darkness, against the spirits of iniquity in the heavenly places."  So does St. Paul say in the epistle for today's Mass, and so we know it to be in the midst of the current scandal in the Church.  The devil is the sure source of the evil carried out by the clergy and especially our prelates, for only he can convince men who once loved the Church, at least on their ordination day, to now seek to destroy her from within; only he can persuade such men that their sins are not really sins, that they should lie and dissimulate and that the lies will never be exposed; only the devil can convince such men that they will escape eternal damnation even if they do not repent.  The plan to destroy the Church is of the devil; he found willing accomplices, but he was and is the mastermind, and we should bear this in mind no matter what happens next.  The Church is the ark of salvation, the priest acts in persona Christi to offer Mass and forgive sins, the Pope is the rock against which hell will not prevail, and so quite naturally Satan hates all of it and wishes to undermine it and confuse and dishearten all who know the truth and strive to live according to it. 

But this teaching of St. Paul is operative on more than just the global level; it also applies to our individual lives, and that is made evident in the Gospel parable.  The protagonist of the parable made two significant errors which led to his damnation, and they are two sides of the one truth: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the world of darkness. 

Just as the devil has worked hard to divide the Church, so he works to divide our families and our communities.  He loves nothing better than to create dissension and distrust between husband and wife, parents and children, priests and their people.  The main character in the parable saw his fellow man as an enemy, a person whom he had to throttle in order to reestablish his relationship with God.  In fact, it was the devil who encouraged him to harass his friend and create enmity with him, because that served as a larger plan to affect the man's damnation.  We too often fall prey to the fallacy that we can be saved by our own efforts, and this in two ways, which reflect the two mistakes the man made.  First, we think we can be saved without other human beings.  Second, we think we can be saved without God. 

The devil tries over and over again to make us think that the person or persons to whom we are bound by blood or vow are actually a hindrance to our salvation.  We would be so much better off if only they would change, if only they would grow in virtue or wisdom or holiness, then life would be easier and I would finally prosper.  Instead I labor under the burden of this person.  How long do I have to endure this?  This line of thinking then leads us to strangle our neighbor, trying to exact the pittance they owe us, while we overlook the fortune we owe God. 

When St. Augustine wrote his rule of life for himself and the monks living with him, he began the Rule in what seems a curious way.  He said that the reason the monks had come together was to live in unity in the house.  Not grow in holiness, not fast and pray, not accomplish great works for the Church, but to live in unity.  Augustine understood that unity, real unity in Christ, is the mark of holiness and a bulwark against which Satan fights in vain.  The Latin words Augustine used to describe this could also be translated as living harmoniously: unanimiter and concorditer

Based upon this insight of Augustine, the image of an orchestra is a helpful one when considering how Christian unity actually works in a household, a religious community, a business or a group of friends.  There is a goal to be achieved: we are all striving for union with God and holiness of life.  And yet each of us strives for holiness in a distinct way and brings different gifts and weaknesses, virtues and vices to the common endeavor.  It is music with a purpose and a goal, but it is achieved by a variety of instruments, each adding its own voice to the whole: the trombones that are courageous but always flat; the percussionists patient but lacking enthusiasm; the cellos playing perfectly but a bit too proud of that.  

In the orchestra that is life there are two principal temptations that arise due to our place in the whole.  For those who play first violin—husbands, parents, superiors, managers, older siblings—there is the temptation to force the other musicians to take on the characteristics of the violin, to play in unison rather than harmony, to play with perfect pitch even if it means breaking the spirit of the one playing out of tune.  This is not right: yes, the first violin gives the pitch to the rest of the orchestra, yes, it sets the standard for tempo and dynamics, but it is not the only instrument in the group; it is one of many and it is called to lead rather than compel, foster love rather than fear, and humble itself so others may be encouraged to grow and mature.  There are not just violins and all other instruments, known as non-violins; there are French horns and trumpets, timpani and oboes, violas and even the triangle.  There is one who exalted himself above others and thought his way was the only way, who said, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, … I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.”  Though the devil has his comrades in evil, the fallen angels, he despises them and merely uses them to attempt to achieve his purpose. 

The other temptation is more subtle, for it belongs to the one who plays the tuba in life—the wife, children, the employee, the novice, younger siblings, the subprior.  The tuba is very necessary to the orchestra, though it is surely less glamorous than the violin.  But because God has made it such that the violin leads and the tuba follows, the tuba can experience the desire to do better, to write, as a friend of mine once did, a solo for unencumbered tuba.  But a tuba is good because it is a tuba; it is not good when it acts as if it is a violin.  The pride of a tuba is not to despise its subjects and lord it over them, but to second-guess the violin, to murmur under its breath, to complain to others that if only it were first violin, then the orchestra would be truly grand.  Remember that according to Tradition the devil rebelled because he objected to God’s plan for the universe, especially the inclusion of man in beatitude. 

The prideful violin and tuba both throttle the other instruments just as the man in the parable did, but from different angles.  Both forget that it is not they who are directing the orchestra, but God.  It is God who puts people into our lives, who sends us our spouse or our siblings, our children, our novices, our superiors, our bosses and employees. It was an adage among the desert Fathers that if one was soft, lazy and gluttonous, that monk should seek a hard and even cruel father to place himself under.  We do not necessarily benefit from having persons in our lives like to us in temperament and virtue and desires; we often grow more when people who are contrary to us live with us and work with us, because it draws from us the virtues of patience and charity and longsuffering and courage.  

It is God who wishes to unite mankind; it is the devil who wishes to divide us.  And so every time we allow pride to intervene in our relationships with others, when we strangle our fellow in order to exact a supposed debt from him, rather than pleasing God, we please the devil.  He applauds when we tear others down in our speech or our thoughts, for he knows that by creating division, he will win our souls; he will separate us from the very ones with whom God willed that we should work out our salvation.  On the other hand, the remedy to our pride is simple and pleasing to the Lord: to see the good in others, to rejoice in their strengths, to overlook their faults, to pray for the other person each time we are tempted to despise or to complain.  The spiritual giant is not the one who throws off his yoke and liberates himself, but the one who keeps struggling to love even when the yoke seems too heavy to bear. 

A final point: the Collect speaks of the Church as being God’s family.  In a family, there are sometimes cases where a certain member not only has character flaws and vices, but is abusive, and therefore the family members are obliged to separate from that person.  Many of our bishops and priests have been abusive fathers, not only in horrible ways which have finally been exposed, but also in promoting heresy, in neglecting their duty, in countenancing moral depravity, in destroying the liturgy, in furthering their own cause; in short, in directing the orchestra rather than playing in it.  These men need to go.  But we ought not abandon them to the torturers.  These men will never be able to repay Christ for the debt they have incurred, but neither will we be able to pay our own debt.  

The point of the parable is not that there are some of us who are more righteous and therefore owe God very little and have the right to strangle our neighbor, but that each of us is in the same boat—if it were not for God’s mercy, we would all be handed over to the devil for all eternity.  The fall of a priest or bishop, especially if he is to all appearances unrepentant, is something over which to weep, not gloat.  Perhaps our tears will win their conversion.  In his own battle against the status quo, the prophet Jeremiah once said to the priests, “Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord has spoken.  Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.  But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock has been taken captive.”  These are the words of a saint.  May we strive to imitate him, and in so doing save our souls and the souls of other sinners for whom Christ has shed His blood.

 

 

 

Sermon for the 24th And Last Sunday After Pentecost 2018

 

Dearly Beloved, 

Today we mark the last Sunday of the liturgical year, with Advent beginning a week from today.  As is always the case, in the Gospel, Our Lord tells the Apostles and us of the signs that will accompany the end of the world.  What Jesus says is a complex combination of events that have already occurred, events that occur more than once, and some events yet to come.  In each age, some aspects of today’s Gospel are fulfilled, for it is meant to spur us to greater fervor and vigilance.  If Christ is coming, and He surely is, then we should prepare ourselves and not suppose that we will have another day to right ourselves or to love God more generously. 

If anything in the account jumps out to our imagination, it is mention of the abomination of desolation.  This is one of those events in the Lord’s prediction that have happened more than once, and is destined to happen again before the end of time.  The manifestation of which Jesus speaks regards the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. 

But we can think of other times in which this abomination also showed itself, both based upon the meaning of the phrase, and especially if we couple it to the testimony of Paul.  The phrase ‘abomination of desolation’ occurs first in the book of Daniel.  There it is translated both as the abomination that makes desolate and the abomination unto desolation, with both phrases clearly conveying a sense of movement: this is something that makes the area in which it is found desolate, inhospitable, forsaken, bleak, barren.  The abomination, whatever it may be, whether a thing or an idea, makes desolate wherever it is exalted. 

Added to this is that Paul says in 2 Thessalonians that there will an Antichrist in the end who combines in himself all the worst elements: “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”  Since the abomination of desolation and the antichrist are related, there have been many times in history when some person or group of persons set themselves against God with utter rebellion and lawlessness.  One need only think of the French or Bolshevik Revolutions, and how a supposedly political movement quickly became an attempt to destroy every object of worship and proclaimed itself to be God.  All the signs of today’s world point to yet another abomination that makes desolate, this one being the exaltation of selfishness, sensuality and cowardice, under the name of human love.  

In 1976, while still a cardinal, St. John Paul II journeyed to our country to attend the international Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia.  Before he left in September, he spoke about the state of the world, saying, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.”  That is, the abomination of desolation is perhaps making its final appearance. 

If we quickly consider the controversies and heresies in the Church, they began with Christology and Trinitarian theology, then shifted to the theology of the sacraments and of the Church, then to the value of Revelation and faith, and now finally to the family and to the very nature of the human being.  It seems that there is nothing left for the devil to attack, nothing more that he can do, and so instead of attacking the divine and the divine means to salvation, he is now attacking man himself, with no attempt to mask his plan.  The devil, who is always the agent behind every age’s abomination of desolation, for it is a continuation of his rebellion against God, hates mankind and knows that true love will orient us toward God and heal and save us, with the help of grace. 

Thus he has done two things to undermine marriage and human love: first, he has glorified artificial birth control and abortion.  He does not want more humans entering this world; he knows that they will necessarily lead to a decrease in selfishness and an increase of sanctity and charity, that the ranks of heaven will be more full, and so he convinces mankind to avoid more children.  Second, he has exalted and sanctified homosexuality and other forms of promiscuity; he knows that if people freely engage in such behaviors, even to the point of marriage, he can keep them from experiencing true, selfless, healing love, for such behavior of its very nature has a selfish quality to it and it can never open to the sacrificial love required by the conception of children.  

Marriage is supposed to be an image of Christ and his Church and thus life-giving and salvific, giving life to the souls of the spouses through their mutual love and sacrifice, and giving life in generating new human beings to be members of the kingdom of God.  Even an unhappy marriage is a sign of Christ and the Church for if the spouses remain faithful, their fidelity on earth will blossom into real, mutual love in the world to come.  Perseverance in a difficult marriage is a testimony to our faith that we are made not for this world, but for the next, and that unhappiness suffered here for love of God will be transformed into peace and joy in the next life.  

If these things are true, that we are in the midst of the final confrontation between good and evil, and that the truth about marriage and sexuality is at the center of the conflict, what can we do?  This homily is meant to encourage, to give meaning to our current struggle, to reinforce our intuitions; it is not intended to discourage and sadden.  So what can we do?  

In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote his immortal words, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.”  We are, then, not to live in these dark days as if there is no hope, no purpose, to live as if fear ought to be stronger than love.  We are to love the coming of Christ and to lift up our heads to welcome Him when He returns to earth.  So we can and should ask ourselves: do I love His coming? 

There are three reasons to love His coming, in ascending order.  The first is to escape the evils of this world.  This is the most imperfect reason, for we desire the coming of Christ out of fear or out of weariness.  We groan at the possibility of facing the apparent unraveling of society and our hearts melt within our breasts.  This kind of yearning for Our Lord’s return can exist while higher loves are also operative, but if it is the only love of His coming we experience, we should pray for an increase in charity and fortitude.  Our forebears in the faith have suffered worse than we have; there are Catholics throughout the world at this very moment who are suffering more than we do.  What will come upon us in the end we do not know, but we must say with Job, Deliver me O Lord, and set me beside thee, and let any man's hand fight against me.”  Our Lord has died for us; even should what remains be cause for fear, it should not be debilitating fear, for we are victorious through the Blood of our Savior and He will not abandon us. 

A second reason for loving Christ’s coming is to be freed of the moral struggle.  This is still an imperfect reason, but loftier than the first reason because by His coming in the flesh the Lord called us to holiness, to cooperation with His grace, to the using of His spiritual gifts to the full.  So by desiring the return of Jesus to bring an end to our personal moral battles is not wrong; we weary of overcoming our sins and vices, and also grow weary of other people’s sins and vices.  We long to be freed from sin, both our own and that of others; we long to rest in God.  Surely this pleases Christ, but it still remains self-centered. 

And thus the greatest reason to love the coming of Christ is for His sake; to rejoice at the presence of the One whom we have served and sought since we gave our lives to Him.  St. Augustine puts it this way, “There are men who with patience submit to die; but there are some perfect who with patience endure to live. What do I mean? When a person still desires this life, that person, when the day of death comes, patiently endures death: he struggles against himself that he may follow the will of God, and in his mind desires that which God chooses…But when a man desires, as St. Paul says, to be dissolved and to be with Christ,  that person, not patiently dies, but patiently lives, delightedly dies. See the apostle patiently living, how with patience he here, not loves life, but endures it.” 

This is that to which we are called.  We desire Christ not for what He brings, whether it be the destruction of evil men or definitive freedom from sin, but we desire Christ for His own sake.  We have been asking, seeking and knocking most of our lives and now He is here: He responds, He is found, He opens to us, not in a veiled manner as now, but manifestly so.  The One who has died for us has returned—He has come, and He has come to take us with Him. 

So in this final week of the liturgical year, as the season of Advent is about to unfold, let us learn to love the Lord’s coming.  Let us ask Him to purify our hearts, to cast out the fear He finds there, and in its place, to cause courage and charity to grow and come to maturity. Continue to have children, continue to support marriages, continue to take elderly parents into your homes, continue to live chastely, to be generous with your spirit and your other resources, to extend charity whenever you can, to try to pull people back from the brink of suicide and selfishness, to fast and pray and love as much as you can, to never give up.  

And when the Lord comes, we will be able to say with the Psalmist:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? 

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall.  

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock. 

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies round about me; and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord!”

 

 

 

Sermon for the 19th Sunday After Pentecost 2018

 

“Salus Populo ego sum, dicit Dominus . . .”

 

I am the salvation of the people saith the Lord: in whatever tribulation they shall cry to me, I will hear them.  And I will be their Lord forever.  Attend, O my people, to my law.  Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.”  Most beloved in Christ, with these words the introit has opened the ineffable Paschal Mysteries on this, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.

Judging from the quality of our society, arisen as it has from modern philosophical opinions and driven on by technology – a world become instantaneous, materialistic and superficial – the very concept of God seems to be a merely  superstitious relic from the past, hanging on from a different time when man had not been enlightened by science, medicine, and feats of technology, when man had not yet realized he was, as it surely seems in our days, the master of his own destiny.

The proponents of change as both necessary and good – which it is automatically neither one or the other – usually point out how we are in the process of creating a better world, a better society, a world in which our children will live deeper an richer lives.

The problem with this vision is that it is not corroborated by reality.  A better society is not one that advocates, for example, the legalized barbarism of mothers murdering their children, or the practitioners of medicine exterminating the terminally ill to name but two examples.

In truth, our world which is sinking more deeply into a dark age of moral depravity each day, rejects, ever more and more, the most fundamental law which governs human conduct: the Natural Law.  This is not what scientists refer to when speaking of the laws of nature.  Rather, it is that universal law which determines the finality or purpose of all things.  This purpose inheres – or belongs intrinsically – to all things according to the nature of each:  gravity pulls, teeth are for chewing, language is for communication.  The world-wide ascendancy of the acceptability of artificial birth control which has taken place since the 1950’s is a spectacular example of what I am speaking.  It is self-evident that sexual activity has, as its natural purpose – its finality according to the Natural Law – the propagation of the human species – even when and if a specific act does not result in fertilization. I say self-evident because the pharmaceutical industry generates its multi-billion dollar business from devotees of artificial contraception precisely because by the use of their products – and far from unawareness as to what sexual acts have for their purpose – they recognize the Natural Law perfectly: such people deliberately choose to violate that law in order to obtain the pleasure of sexual acts while ridding themselves of its purpose and responsibility.

The Church’s teaching on this matter is considerably older than Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae.  It is older than Christianity itself, but found already explicitly taught in the Didache, the oldest magisterial document known and dating around 90 AD.  This teaching is also found consistently down through the ages.

I cite this as but one example of how our modern society has not come of age, but is sinking ever more deeply into a moral abyss indistinguishable from barbarism.  The ultimate cause of all our social ills is traceable, without much effort, to society’s attitude towards God and religion.  Our world, quite simply, has rejected God in the public order, and claims, at best, that God is your opinion or mine, and thus must be kept in the domain of what is called “private.”

The First Vatican Council teaches in Session Three in its dogmatic constitution concerning the Catholic Faith that “…Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude from created things by the light of human reason,” and anathematizes those who oppose this teaching willfully.  Be assured, my beloved, that the Church has not changed, nor has this teaching changed, nor can it change.  And whereas God transcends the order which He has created, and therefore human reason can only know Him analogously and imperfectly from the natural world, His existence remains knowable without an act of faith.  This fact is arrived at quite naturally by young children – the best philosophers since they are not yet old enough nor corrupted enough to have personal interests to protect through falsified opinions.  Children quite easily arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence and so they say, “But something had to make everything.”  This is the first cause, itself uncaused, and what is known as God.  In a word this God is the source and purpose for our being.

This superficial world in which we are living is certainly not liberated from yesterday’s superstitions: rather it is alienated from the life spring of its own health and salvation.  God, knowable by reason and yet Who has splendidly revealed Himself through the Prophets and His Incarnate Son, has been, quite simply, rejected by individuals and entire societies for selfish motives.

Liberation movements whose ends have now developed into legalization of murdering the most helpless members of human society, sexual depravity on a scale hitherto inconceivable in human history, the development of Amazonian women difficult to comprehend and impossible to control, are not indication of better world.  Our society’s rupture with its past, its discontinuity with its Christian heritage, the bashing of the Catholic Church and harping on its supposed crimes across the centuries, always judged by the incoherent principles of modernity - are the root causes of underlying today’s massive defection from God and religion.  This has permitted the establishment of a new morality predicated on moral license.  This is not freedom: it is slavery.

Against this St Paul says in today’s epistle reading, “ Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man.”  He is referring to the very real need for the interior con-version of men’s hearts, the “new man” being none other than the human person who, fallen in nature, is regenerated from sin and death by the waters of Baptism and nurtured in the life of God by sanctifying grace.  Yet is this some dark superstition of past centuries?  The unenlightened religion of some bygone day? Something which needs overthrowing in order to create a better world?

Certainly not.  Christianity is that bright sword of truth which divides – the sons of light from the sons of darkness.  And our God, - Jesus Christ – has told us that the Prince of Darkness – Satan – is the Prince of Lies as well.  Being as he is the highest angel God created – and angels are pure spirits of pro-found intellectual prowess – Satan’s hatred for God is total.  He has worked for centuries in the heart of human civilization to sow error under the guise of truth to bring men to their ruin.  This does not become untrue merely because it is politically incorrect to say as much!  No merely human power ingenuity could have affected the evils which are now freely legislated and protected by civil states.

“I am the salvation of the people, says the Lord.  In whatever tribulation they shall cry to me, I will hear them.”  Beloved, God exists, and He calls us to Himself – for our health and salvation.  But it is only those who respond to that call who will be saved.

The parable of the wedding feast in today’s Gospel reading is directly connected to this universal call for our health and salvation.  But it depends, as we will see, on two factors:  the first is that it is God Who has chosen to save man in the first place; the second is that each man, individually, must accept the offer of salvation by an interior and exterior adherence to God who has done the calling.  This adherence must be without compromise: that is, each person must submit 100% to God: the Natural Law which He has imbedded in the nature of His creation, to His revealed Law, and to the authentic teaching of the one Church He has founded.

To the idea that everyone will be saved because God would never cast anyone into perdition the church answers: those who are lost have condemned themselves.  Jesus Christ – true God and true man – has revealed in to-day’s parable that those who are found at the wedding feast, that is at the gates of paradise at life’s end, without a wedding garment are to be bound hand and foot and cast into the exterior darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  This is Hell.  Elsewhere Jesus says, “Though many are called few are chosen.”  The Church has always understood this as meaning many are Baptized and offered salvation, while it is only those who respond in humility and fidelity to grace who will be saved.

St. Pius X once said the true friends of the people are men of tradition.  The Catholic religion is, essentially, the tradition of the revelation of the Son of God.  It is a divine, revealed Truth coming from Christ, which fits with perfect harmony not the natural world in which we are placed.  These truths – nature itself as constituted by God and Divine Revelation as given through Jesus Christ are mediated to us across time through the guardianship of holy Church and her true pastors   If we do not stray to the right or left, if we do not listen to the allurements of this world – which are many and insidious – we will come to win our souls by the true Christian way.  This consists of our pursuit of virtue at the expense of vice:  that we pray and seek true humility of heart that we may know ourselves as God knows us, and that we practice charity towards God and our neighbor for the love of God in that way which places ourselves, and all our sinful tendencies, in lowest priority.

“I am the salvation of the people, saith the Lord.”  Most beloved in Christ, let us truly believe what we pray in our worship.  Let us turn to God with renewed acts of gratitude and hope.  Let us repent from our sins of self-centeredness and forgetfulness of God.  In so doing we work out our salvation by the wed-ding garments of grace; the more we receive the sacraments of the Church in humility and charity towards our neighbor the more god will hear us when we cry for His help.  This is the way of our faith in this life here below, and the gateway to that bliss which is the reward of the just in the world which is to come.   

 

 

 

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