Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost 2019

 

Dearly Beloved, 

Today we mark the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, formerly the Sunday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart.  The Gospel clearly relates to the feast which the Church celebrated two days ago, for Our Lord’s parables tell us of His heart seeking us, his lost sheep and his lost coins.  These parables come from the 15th chapter of Luke and culminate in the parable of the prodigal son, which, although it was not proclaimed today, I wish to comment upon since it has important details not found in today’s parables. 

Luke gives us the historical circumstances for all three parables as an introduction to the chapter, saying that “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus; the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” And so the Lord told them the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.  Thus they are parables for the self-righteous, for those who think of themselves as not needing the forgiveness of God, but also resenting when it is extended to those whom they view as sinners.  In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother is the self-righteous man who judges his brother, who complains when he is forgiven, and at the same time is ungrateful and takes God’s gifts for granted, for even holiness is a gift from God. 

But more important than the older son is the younger son and his father.  You surely remember the parable, but just in case: the younger son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, even though his father is still alive; he then takes it and lives elsewhere, in a foreign country, and spends it all, living badly.  When a famine breaks out, he finds a job feeding pigs and suddenly remembers that he would be better off at home and goes home to his father’s estate.  The father sees him from afar and runs to him, clothes him in fine things, and prepares a banquet for him, rejoicing that the one who was lost is found. 

The merit of the younger son is twofold: first, he recognized the sorry state he was in, and second, that he would be better off humbling himself before his father than continuing to attempt to survive in a land of famine.  This parable has a somewhat universal appeal: it is known to Christians and to non-Christians; it has been depicted in art and even has a catchy epithet: the prodigal son, much like the good Samaritan.  But the parable has no meaning if we do not acknowledge its content: it is not a story about a man who feeds pigs and praises himself for that; it is about a man who sees that what he is doing is wrong and disgraceful, and that it would be better to be an abject in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of sinners.  

The parable has meaning both for the man or woman whose life has changed from a state of sin to a state of grace, and for those of us blessed to be in a state of grace but still fighting against lesser habits of sin.  For most of us, the first meaning has significance, for we have been freed from some habit of mortal sin, or some degree of grave ignorance, or from both, and that deliverance is a gift from God.  Most of us can remember a time when we did not serve the Lord, when we were adrift, and then God came to us in grace and turned us to Himself and to His Church.  Being mindful of this moment or moments can help us to have proper perspective: continuing gratitude towards Our Lord, and mercy towards others who live in sin or ignorance, just as we once did. 

For those of us delivered from mortal sin and culpable ignorance but still fighting against the passions, there is the everyday return to God after we have fallen into sin, as even the just man does seven times a day: when anger gets the best of us; when we indulge in sensuality; when we give in to sadness; when we delight in our own excellence.  Whenever one of the capital sins takes hold on our minds and hearts, we have begun to feed the swine; whenever we realize our folly and turn back to God, we have been saved again, to begin the journey back to our Father’s house.  Each moment of conversion is a gift of God; each turning from selfishness and pride is due to grace, and so even if our sins are what the world might call ‘little sins,’ we should realize that they are serious and deserving of punishment, and if we became hardened in them, we would merit hell.  Pride tells us that they are but little things; humility and gratitude tell us that if not for the grace of God, we would be wallowing in mud. 

But even more important than the actions of the younger son is the love of the Father.  We are likely to think of that love most manifest in running to meet the son as he approaches the villa.  But in fact the love for the sinner began when he pricked his conscience amid the pigs and suggested to him that he return.  Divine love is not like our love, which works principally by outward action: we do things for the ones we love; we say things to indicate our love, but we cannot act on the interior of the person except by them allowing an exterior action to affect them inwardly.  God, on the other hand, can work interiorly without any exterior agent; He was the one who spoke in the son’s heart to remind him of what he once had and could have again if only he would admit his sinfulness. 

We have a tendency to think of divine action as following upon our decision to do the right thing; but in fact God is already active, moving our intellects to see the good and our wills to desire it.  As the collect for the Mass says, there is nihil validum, nihil sanctum without God; nothing strong, nothing holy.  God is the origin of our holy thoughts, holy desires and holy actions, and that is why the Saints can say in all honesty that whatever good there is in them is entirely due to divine action.  No man turns from sin without God; no man grows in holiness without God.  Thus the father not only runs to the son when he approaches the villa; he already ran to him in the pigpen, beckoning him to come home and stop destroying himself. 

This should console us in our endeavors to bring about the conversion of sinners: the Lord can act where we cannot.  We act exteriorly by witness or rebuke, by example or persuasion, but we so often fail.  In our culture, we call mud what others call pure water; we condemn what they extol.  We use reason to explain and argue; they use emotion and accusation.  Yet the Sacred Heart of Jesus can still touch them interiorly; He can show them that it is mud and not water; that they are dying of hunger and that the only remedy is the Bread of Life, his flesh given for the life of the world. 

We can help the Sacred Heart do its work in two ways: first, by accepting the grace of conversion day by day.  Each time we turn from sin back to the living God, we build up the Body of Christ, for St. Paul says that what happens to one member happens to all.  And so when we allow God to do good in us, we share the Lord’s grace with all in the Church, and by extension, with all in the world; we become salt and light, which are so needed in today’s world, for it has grown tasteless and dark.  Even should we fall into mortal sin, we do good for the Church and the world by not wallowing in the evil that has overcome us, but by quickly confessing our sins, so that the King and His army will not have to fight the battle against evil with one less soldier. 

The second way to help the Sacred Heart is to share in His pain of heart over sinners.  In our society, it is easy to have animosity towards the enemies of the Church and of humanity, those who promote vice and try to conform us to their standards.  It is easy to be angry towards those who insist on exhibiting their pride and disdain the need for a Savior.  But in the mess that is Western society, Jesus is most in need of hearts that will weep with Him over the folly of the prodigal sons who prefer their pigpens to the Father’s house.  They have wasted their inheritance, but they speak as if they still have it.  May we weep at this rather than get angry.  

When Jesus said that at the end of the world charity will grow cold, He meant that many would no longer value the redemption He won for us, but He also meant that many of His faithful would be too comfortable to weep for sinners; they would be lulled into a stupor that would keep their hearts from truly feeling pain over the sheep lost in the wilderness.  May we not be among those whose love grows cold, but let us entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart, that contact with His heart might cause ours to burn with love.  Though the month of the Sacred Heart ends today, let us continue to say the litany; let us continue to beg Him to makes our hearts like His, so that we may serve as instruments to draw many souls to Christ, souls that are in need not of arguments or explanations, but in need of tears and sacrifices offered in secret.  St. Paul says that the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men; so also, our tears for the conversion of sinners are more powerful than the world’s lies. 

And then, in the world to come, we will be gathered together by the Blood of Our Savior, rejoicing to be rid of this passing world, safe in the Lord’s fold, there to praise Him in the New Jerusalem, unto the ages of ages.

 

 

 

Sermon for the Feast Of Corpus Christi 2019

 

Dearly Beloved, 

In the sequence for today’s Mass, St. Thomas Aquinas writes,

Quantum potes, tantum aude:

Quia major omni laude,

Nec laudáre súfficis.

Colloquially translated: As much as you can, dare to praise; but even if all praise were given, your words would never suffice.  Thus, the preacher’s task today is difficult, but I will attempt to say something worthy, spurred on by Thomas’ admonition: Quantum potes, tantum aude

This feast was first celebrated in 1265, legislated by Pope Urban IV as a response to the private revelations of the Norbertine canoness Juliana of Liege, and more especially to the Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena where the host began to bleed on the corporal after the priest doubted the Real Presence.  By these divine interventions, we now have a day set aside when we adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with all our devotion and attention.  This is fitting because when we ought to most fully contemplate the mystery of His Body and Blood, at its institution on Holy Thursday, we are too overcome by the grief of Judas’ betrayal and Our Lord’s Passion to properly consider it.

St. Angela of Foligno says that "If we but paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament, the thought of Christ's love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude."  So, let us pause and consider attentively the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood.

The sacrament has a threefold significance, in regard to the past, the present, and the future.  In regard to the past, it is called a Sacrifice, for it represents the Sacrifice of the Cross in its symbolism.  When the priest consecrates the elements on the altar, the bread and the wine are consecrated separately, to symbolize the real separation of Christ’s Body and Blood on the Cross.  Although they are not now separated, for Christ’s body is glorified, on the altar the Body and Blood are symbolically distinct to remind us of His Passion.  But again, it is a symbol of the passion: when we receive one of the elements, under the species of bread or wine, we receive the whole Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, for that is how he lives right now.  We do not receive the dead Christ upon the Cross, but the Living Son of God, who reigns in heaven.

The sacrament is also a Sacrifice in that it is the same Priest and Victim as on the Cross, and it applies the merits of that Cross to each one of us.  It is true that Christ died for all, but that salvific death must be applied to each individual for it to benefit us.  And those benefits come principally through the sacraments, most especially the Sacrament of the Altar, which reminds us of the Passion, and then gives us the fruits to transform our lives from within.

In the regard to the present, the sacrament is called Communion, for it unites each of us directly to Christ, and then indirectly to one another by way of our union with Christ.  This ought to remind us that our goal in life is union with God first, and union with human beings, second.  If we kept this in mind at all times, how much happier we would be!  We commune with God first, then are joined more intimately to the other members of Christ’s Body.

But the union with one another is not optional or insignificant: we are truly united to one another through our union to Christ, and that means we ought to act like it.  As St. Paul says in Ephesians, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

And the future: the sacrament bears the name Viaticum because it is for travelers on the way to a final and unchanging destination, that of heaven.  We are reminded each time we receive that we are not made for this life, but for the next one.  There the manna will cease because we will have definitive union with God instead of the transitory unions of this life wandering in the desert.

To fully benefit from St. Angela’s wisdom: "If we but paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament, the thought of Christ's love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude,” we should also consider what our lives would be like without this sacrament.

Firstly, there would be no definitive, special presence of God on earth.  Catholic churches would still be consecrated for the worship of God, but upon entering them, we would not sense the divine presence as we do know, that presence that strengthens us to begin the day, consoles us in our trials, and reminds us that God is in control.  Without this sacrament, it would be a much lonelier, forlorn world and we would grope for eternity with much less peace.

Second, there would be no priesthood.  The primary purposes of the priesthood are to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass, and to forgive sins so that the faithful may better receive Communion to the glory of God and their own sanctification.  Although priests do many other good things, there would be no point in having a class of men set apart to minister at the altar unless Our Lord had instituted the Eucharist on the eve of His death.  A world without priests would be almost unbearable.

Third, we would not have a daily remedy for our sins, a daily healing of our interior wounds, a daily consolation in our sorrows, a daily boost in our striving for holiness.  The Eucharist supplies us with so much we do not see or fully appreciate.  It is like the parable of the man who sows the seed and then goes to sleep; each morning the wheat has grown higher, but he does not know how.  So it is that Jesus heals and refreshes us from within and slowly transforms us into Saints.  In heaven we will know how many times we would have failed had not we received Communion that day or that week, how much darker our lives would have been without this Sacrament, how many of us would have lost the Faith if Jesus were not here with us.

So, on this great feast day, may the coldness of our hearts be transformed into hearts on fire with love and gratitude.  May we worship this Sacrament with all our souls, minds, bodies, and strength, and receive it with contrite hearts filled with thanksgiving.  I close as I began, with the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Jesus, shepherd of the sheep, Thou thy flock in safety keep,

Living bread, thy life supply, Strengthen us, or else we die,

Fill us with celestial grace.

Thou, who feedest us below: Source of all we have or know:

Grant that with Thy Saints above, Sitting at the feast of love,

We may see Thee face to face.  

Amen, alleluia.

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2019

 

Dearly Beloved, 

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, the day on which, fifty days after the Resurrection, and ten days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lady and the Apostles as the Lord Jesus had promised.  He descended to teach them the full truth of the Gospel, to give them the courage to preach that truth, and to dwell in their souls in a new and powerful way.

Today’s feast has two dimensions to it, as the texts of the Mass make clear: the ecclesial and the personal.  In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the effect of the Spirit’s coming upon the Apostles—once afraid of even being associated with Christ, they now profess His death and resurrection openly and publicly before all those gathered at Jerusalem for the feast.  As at the time of the Passion and Resurrection, the Christian Pentecost coincided with one of the three major Jewish festivals, such that all adult males were required to come to the city to take part.  Jews from all over the diaspora descended upon the city, not knowing that the Lord would use the moment to manifest Himself more fully, and begin the preaching of the Gospel to the entire world.

The gift of the Holy Spirit both clarified and perfected the teaching the Apostles had learned from Christ, thus enabling St. Peter to preach the Lord’s death and resurrection as foretold in the Scriptures, and its importance for all mankind.  Moreover, the Apostles not only received the doctrine to be preached throughout the world, they also received the courage to preach it, and these two gifts—doctrine and fortitude—remain the principal gifts the Holy Spirit gives to the Church as a whole, so that all my hear the Gospel in its fullness and purity.

The Gospel, in complementarity to the reading from Acts, speaks more of the personal aspect of Pentecost, emphasizing the Holy Trinity’s coming into souls, to rest there and take up His abode.  The purpose of the apostolic preaching is this—that God may dwell in human souls as fully as possible, given our capacity.  Jesus says that anyone who keeps His word will experience the indwelling of the Trinity—literally, we will come and make a room with him.

Thus, the beginning of the spiritual life in Christ is to keep His word—to turn from sin and live according to the commandments; to believe His doctrines and to live by them.  When we turn form sin and remove ourselves from occasions of sin, then we not only begin to live a life of holiness, the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in our souls.  Through grace, we are made capable to this amazing gift and we become a resting place for God on this earth—God becomes the guest of our soul.

The literal phrase from today’s Gospel which describes the indwelling is the Latin, ‘mansionem facere.’  This Latin word ‘mansio,’ transliterated as mansion, should remind us of another verse in John’s Gospel, where Jesus says that He goes to prepare a place for us, for in His Father’s house, there are many mansions.  The old English translation is somewhat misleading, for mansio is equivalent to a room—thus in the Father’s house, there are many rooms.

St. Thomas Aquinas, following Augustine, interprets the rooms of the Father’s house, not as places in heaven, but as our souls.  When Christ ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to prepare our souls as rooms where He, the Father and the Spirit could dwell, and to further prepare each soul chosen by God to be worthy of heaven—to enlarge the heart so that it is ready to love God fully in heaven.           

The Gospel, then, speaks of an initial stage in which we seek to do God’s will by turning from sin, followed by another stage in which the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in us and our spiritual focus becomes not the avoidance of sin, but the making our souls a home so that God will never leave.  As St. Augustine says, “even were God to say to us, ‘Enjoy carnal delights, and sin as much as you wish, you shall not be cast into hell, but this only, you shall be with me,’ we shudder at the thought” and do not dread hell as much as the thought of giving offense to the Lord and being separated from Him.  This is a positive endeavor rather than a negative one—as St. Paul says, the charity of God has been poured into our hearts, and now we must respond in kind—we wish our love to be fervent enough that our guest will come and never depart. 

And this prepares us for heaven, for it makes our hearts grow so they will be ready to know and love God entirely in the Kingdom of heaven.  Not only that: the delight of knowing and loving God now and living in such a way that He will dwell in us more and more fully moves us to share the Gospel with others and work to free them from the slavery and idolatry that binds so many in today’s world. 

So, on this holy day, we do well to consider whether we work at making our souls a worthy room from God to dwell in.  When we await the arrival of guests, if we truly delight in their company, we prepare our houses to receive them, that they may stay as long as they wish.  We buy them food and drink which they like; we provide comfortable furniture to foster long conversation; and we even prepare a bed, should we be fortunate enough to have them spend the night.  In the spiritual life, God comes as a guest through sanctifying grace; He is present to us more or less based upon the intensity of our love and the effort we make to prepare a place for Him. 

The food and drink which He likes are daily prayer and sacrifice; when He finds that in a soul, He comes to visit with frequency.  The comfortable chairs for conversation are love of neighbor, for where fraternal charity is, mercy and forgiveness are present, and God can stay and speak at length.  The bed we make for Him is the lack of love of this world—every worldly attachment, however small in our eyes, means He is less likely to dwell perpetually; He may remain in grace, but He will be largely unknown to us, for we prefer the world to Him.  Love of the world is love of money, possessions, comfort, status, news, sports, entertainment; all things, even good things, which end with this life.  In whatever proportion we run to them, God hides from us.  But in whatever way we shun this world and give up temporal delights for eternal, spiritual goods, He dwells with us, not only for a time, but for many days on end. 

So, then, Pentecost is not about a minimalist view of the Church or of our lives with God.  The Holy Spirit did not come to spread ambiguity or mediocrity; He came to bring the fullness of truth and to make possible the height of sanctity.  Today, let us renew our commitment to both truth and holiness, inseparably bound as they are.  Let us renew our first fervor and seek to let Christ live in us in all fullness, and by so doing, to help renew the Church. 

In the book of Revelation, Jesus says to us, Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Let us prove ourselves worthy of these words, listening to the Spirit in such a way that the Trinity may dwell in us ever more and more, until we come to the house of our Father, the New Jerusalem, to live forever.

 

 

 

 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2019

 

Beloved in Christ, 

the Second Vatican Council in its constitution on the sacred liturgy states that priests are to preach by explaining either the biblical readings or the liturgical texts of Holy Mass.  Today being the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity I wish to make some reflections on this greatest mystery of our religion by reference to a liturgical text the priest prays at the ablution of the chalice after receiving the Precious Blood at Holy Mass.  Extending the chalice to a server for a drop of wine prior to rinsing it with water he prays: Corpus Tuum, Domine,quod sumpsi,et Sanguis,quem potavi . . . May Thy Body, O Lord which I have received, and Thy Blood which I have drunk, cling to my inmost being; and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament; Thou Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.

This magnificent prayer places in focus the whole of our relationship with God and the divine economy of our sacramental life. Today, what may seem incomprehensible in the Mystery of the Trinity is made the more adorable when we consider its relationship to ourselves and the prayer just cited: that is, the unfathomable depth of God’s love in opening His own divine life to our souls, our very being.

We know by faith that in God there are 3 distinct Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; though distinct in persons these three are of but one and the same nature or Divine essence. The Father, Who is also infinite understanding, has absolute and all pervading knowledge of His divine perfections. He expresses this knowledge in one unique utterance: it is “the Word,” the living, substantial utterance, the commensurately infinite expression of who the Father is. In uttering this Word, the Father begets His Son to whom He communicates all His essence, His nature, His perfections, His very life: “For as the Father has life in Himself; so He has given to the Son also to have life in Himself.”

Here I must put out a caveat, a caution against grasp too absolutely the meaning of human expression in the sense which arises from our own limited, created experience.  To say, “begets his son,” – if used of our life – would imply that there was a time when the son did not exist, and then, that he then came into being.  Here is the caveat: time does not apply to God: God simply is.  When we say, therefore. in the Nicene Creed that God the Son is “eternally begotten of the Father” eternally connotes there has been no beginning and no end.  Even though the Son assuredly “proceeds” from the Father, the Son is, nevertheless, absolutely co-eternal with the Father: the Son is eternal God as the Father is eternal God.

This eternally begotten Son is also entirely His Father’s own – entirely given up to Him by a total donation stemming from His nature as Son. From this mutual donation, which arises from only one, infinite and divine love, proceeds, (from that one unique source) the Holy Spirit Who seals the union of the Father and the Son.  This sealing union is the substantial and living love - which is the Father and the Son’s together.

This mutual communication of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, this adherence – infinite and all loving – of the Divine Persons between themselves is a supernatural revelation which regards the sublime holiness of God: it is the union of God with Himself, in the unity of His nature and the Trinity of His Persons.  This is not knowable from nature or reason, but has been revealed to this world through the Second Person of the Trinity, united in time with our flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son Who was born of the Virgin Mary. God, born of man – Who once walked among us and spoke to us of the things of eternity.

Let us reflect for a moment on this holiness of the Trinity. Each of the Persons is identical with the Divine essence and consequently of a substantial holiness; this, because each Person acts only in conformity with this essence considered as supreme norm of life and activity. The Persons are holy because each of them gives Himself – and is the Others’ – in an act of infinite adhesion. What is more, the Third Person, God’s Spirit, is particularly called “holy” because He proceeds from the other two through love ­– the principal act by which the will tends to and is united with its desired end.

Beloved, in this inexpressibly united and fruitful life, God finds all His essential beatitude. To exist God has need only of Himself: finding all bliss in the perfections of His nature and in the ineffable society of His Persons, He has no need of any creature. It is to Himself – in Himself, in His Triune being – that He relates the glory welling forth from His infinite perfections. One commentator has aptly said, “The whole divine life proceeds from God the Father to His Divine Son and returns to Him through their Holy Spirit: proceeds from Him without going out of Him: returns to Him without having been separated from Him . . .  It is like a fountain which ever springs and flows within its own Divine Self.”

By an absolutely gratuitous love which reaches beyond Himself, God resolved to give creatures a share in His own divine life. There is no necessity in God beyond the ineffable communications of the Divine Persons among themselves, mutual relations belonging to the very essence of God – this is God’s own life. Every other communication of Himself which God does make is the fruit of a love that is sovereignly free. But as this love is divine, the gift he gives is divine as well. God loves divinely; He gives Himself divinely. Thus we are called to receive, in ineffable measure, this divine communication. God means not only to give Himself to us as Supreme Beauty, object of contemplation, but He means – and actually does – unite Himself to us so as to make Himself, so far as is possible, one with us.

“Father,” said the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper, “may my disciples be one in us, as You and I are one, in order that they find in this union the unending joy of our own beatitude.”

Beloved in God, the absolute miracle of our religion is that God has decreed that we, wretches that we are, should enter and share this inner life which belongs to Him alone. God wishes to communicate to us the unfathomable happiness which has its source in the fullness of His Infinite Being.  That is grace beyond all telling.

And so, our holiness must consist in adhering to God as known and loved. Not simply as the author of creation, but as God knows and loves Himself in the bliss of His Trinity. To be united with God to the point of sharing His inner life – that is what our holiness must consist of.

It is for this very reason that St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that our subjective holiness must possess two characteristics: 1) purity – the distancing of oneself from every sin, every imperfection; detachment from everything created; and 2) stability – that we steadfastly adhere to God in all things. These two elements correspond, in God, to the all-perfection of His infinite transcendent Being and the immutability of His will in adhering to Himself as supreme good and love.

And so let us return, on this Feast of the Most Holy and Sublime Trinity, to the priest’s prayer after communion: May Thy Body, O Lord which I have received, cling to my inmost being; and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, who have been fed with this pure and holy Sacrament . . .

Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the abiding gift of Christ’s Body and Blood by which we are made, even now, participants in the divine life of the Trinity. Let us ask the Holy Spirit, Whose descent upon the apostles and unerring guidance to the Church we celebrated for the past eight days, let us ask this Personification of Divine Love itself, to keep us faithful to our Father’s will:  that in passing through the transitory things of this life – ever changing, ever fading away – we may never loose that one, true good for which we have been created: possession of the Triune God in the glory of the angels. That Most Holy, Most Sublime Trinity, God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, even now gives us a share in His own life by feeding us with the most pure Sacrament of His Son’s Body and Blood. By its power may we live in all purity, ever confessing our sins, and never departing from Him. To Whom be all honor, praise and glory, now and even unto the ages of ages. Amen

 

 

 

Sermon For Sunday After Ascension 2019

 

Beloved, 

On this Sunday when most of the Roman Church at least in America is celebrating the mystery of the Ascension, and historical known as the Sunday after the Ascension which we celebrated in conjunction with the Biblical indication of the mystery having taken place 40 days after the resurrection, I would like to return to something I mentioned Thursday day evening.  I will use the thoughts of Pope Benedict to illustrate, at least in part what I am going to say.  This is going to concern what constitutes authentic liturgy, upon which subject in this context I must necessarily place great limitations.

In Acts 1:11 we hear angels speaking to the Apostles staring into the skies into which the Lord had just ascended: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye there gazing into heaven?  This Jesus, Who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Taking this scriptural passage so pertinent to the Easter season and the great mystery of the Ascension which we are celebrating, I would like to speak to you of the historical basis for Mass celebrated – to use an expression rather indicative of gross ignorance – of Mass celebrated, so-called, “with the priest’s back to the people.”

If Christ be God and Scripture divine, then we do well to examine not the deceptions of modern men and the manu-factured ideas of a world divorced from its roots.  Rather should we, in humility, return to that apt phrase which has  happily fallen more than few times from the pen of “Go to Joseph,” our Pope, Benedict XVI. I want to bring to you some considerations regarding the position of the Christian altar by employing Pope Benedict’s “asceticism of the truth.”  How have the remarks of the angels of the Ascension found expli-cit expression throughout 20 centuries of true Christian faith?  That is, until brushed away these past few decades in the west by a cloud of ignorance as dark as its fruits ruinous to authentic Christian faith and practice?

When the Church has celebrated the holy Mass, century upon century as she has done in her historical rites, she has explicitly marked her longing for the Lord’s imminent return.  This expectation was a vivid hallmark of the urgency of apos-tolic belief: it was the seedbed of martyrdom. Nowadays, who gives it a second thought?

We know from Scriptural passages other than those speaking of the Ascension that the Lord is not only to come again, but will do so in order to judge the living and the dead.  Therefore, we understand, in considering His departure, to what end the angels say that He Who had just left our world will return to it in the way He went: He is going to come back to this present world from the realms of inaccessible light into which He departed.  Scripture also records that His re-turn will be heralded by the Sign of the Cross in the heavens and will be seen by all.  That all is the living and the dead: everyone, each of which will either cower in terror or radiate with joy – for the Lord’s Second Coming will bear directly upon the backlogged conduct of every person born into creation.  At that dread advent there will be no room for liberal whining about supposed rights on the one hand nor the shrill indignation of intolerant self-righteousness on the other.

This Second Coming is a dogmatic truth of Catholic faith. Do we ever think of it?  Do we long for it?  Yet for two thousand years the Church has kept this vigil, watching throughout this “little while,” for the return of her Spouse.  This watching has not been effected by papal decrees nor theological seminars but visually manifest through the prin-cipal font, the principal source, of our Christian life.  And what is that? 

In an age where mystery is overturned in favor of absolute transparency and symbols abandoned by an ascendancy of the superficial, it is necessary that we look at something delivered to us from another age: the liturgy handed down to us from history – not retouched productions imposed by a now dated “relevance” from the late 1960’s, rationalist, and eventually a misguided child of Descartes and what followed him in modern philosophical spheres.

To really understand the liturgy one must turn to the historical – the venerable – rites of ancient Christian worship, rites ever ancient, ever new. 

Let us look at what we are actually “doing” in church this morning.  Let us look at a Mass liturgy whose principles and broad patterns are shared by the whole history of Christianity, east and west; one rite among several whose origins are traced to an era when going to church was not viewed as an obligation – a rather unpleasant one at that – needing to be resolved in the shortest time possible to get on with other things by which the Lord’s day is secularized rather than sanctified.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life.  It is in enacting the liturgy – not just reading its words or studying documents about its content, but our active presence within the living context of its liturgical celebration – it is in the ritual expression of the Mass that the Church has marked its long vigil for the Lord’s return.  For holy Mass celebrated in its classic forms – you pick the rite for in this regard they are all the same – until the errors of Martin Luther every Eucharistic rite in Christendom always placed the faithful behind the priest, who together, face the altar surmounted by the Holy Cross – not a crucifix; not a tabernacle, but the Cross.  The whole is construed in such manner as to face East, the very Heavens into which the Lord ascended, the heavens from which the angels tell us we are to expect His imminent return.

While fulfilling the precepts of charity as commanded by the Lord Jesus, ever has His Church – the faithful – gathered again and again to celebrate these Paschal Mysteries, the Mass.  In so doing the faithful have expressed their belief in the Second Coming as many times by “turning towards the Lord” in the framework of their liturgical action. 

Here we have a classic example of the didactic role of ritual so rather completely overturned by the modern phenomenon of what Pope Benedict calls manufactured liturgy-by-committee.  Authentic worship speaks very, very often without words; it speaks to the heart by the integrity of its signs, symbols, gestures, actions, perfumes, lights, color, grace and glory.

Today Catholics may well ask, “How, in the actions of the liturgy, do we “turn towards the Lord”?  Modern Catholics especially need to rediscover that what is “done in church” is not a rational conceptualization but the formal rendering of hearts’ worship of God.  In theology this is known as latria – adoration given to God as to a god:  God as Master, Savior, Sanctifier – and to that God Who will come to judge our fidelity to Him

Thus, authentic worship is not a modern product of preconceived ideas.  Catholic worship is, by nature and necessity, the rich, harmonious fruit of 20 centuries of continuity in faith.  It is the product of God’s grace acting through men.  Its symbols from the various ages are superabundantly rich in content even if modern men have been produced by social conditions too shallow to know how to read them any longer. The Church’s received forms of worship are divine gifts to us from the past – not old baggage to be jettisoned at will.

In 1992, our former Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, managed to outrage the entire liturgical establishment by endorsing the posthumous work of the New Mass’s leading – and outstandingly qualified, and unrepentant – critic. 

The-then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a preface to  Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s book, La Reforme Liturgique en Question, (here is the English version of the same; neither edition was printed by any respectable neo-conservative press. But later Ratzinger was made Pope, wasn’t he?) 

One of the things most sharply criticized by Monsignor Gamber is the practical attack carried out on the Catholic faith itself by the unhistorical and anti-liturgical introduction of the so-called “Mass Facing the People.”  This seemingly shocking assertion, so abrasive to enthusiasts over the new, is an example of the “asceticism of the truth,” so beloved by Pope Benedict XVI. 

Beloved, what we are doing this morning is in deepest conformity with the continuity of all Christian tradition, east and west, with a basis in scripture itself.

The primary and central function of the Eucharistic liturgy has been served at all times, in all places, and in every rite by the traditional orientation of the people, priest, altar and cross in a single, telescopic, cosmological ordering. This is entirely the case, not withstanding archeological interpretations which run against the absolutely universal liturgical practices from the time of the Apostles, unbroken (in Catholicism) until the second decade of the 20th century.[1]  Fundamental to its liturgical significance is that this orientation is an harmonious expression of human psychology and the natural ordering of all the hierarchical values operative in worship.[2]  Its liturgical reason is the vivid expression of Christian belief in Christ’s Second Coming.

And so with these very few reflections I wish to recall us to the center of our faith and what it is that we do each time we are at Mass.  Christ through us, each according to his rightful role, priest, clergy, faithful, celebrates the totally of His Paschal mystery.  We, that is the Church, proclaims and lays claim to the pleroma, the fullness of Christ: His Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and return to the Father in glory.  By doing so we give the Trinity that glory which is its due.  We pray for ourselves and the needs of the world, we are fed by the divine Manna, that heavenly reality foreshadowed by the Manna of the Israelites wandering in the desert – itself a symbol of us lost in sin.  We are brought to the threshold of glory in the mysteries to which we give voice and action.  And by our very postures, standing as the church Militant, we are marching to the Judgment seat of Christ, turned to the Easts, waiting for him to come back in the same way we have seen Him go.  God grant that we live according to all these graces, and that He, our Victor King, will find us still gazing into the heavens when He comes to bring us back to himself, for judgement, and by our humility to share in the radiance of that place to which He has so gloriously ascended.

No less important is the truth that in the historical forms of liturgical celebration, the communal element has never been absent in any rite of the Church.  Inducing the congregation to respond and sing – that is to restore your rightful role in liturgical action - did not require the wholesale reor-dering of ancient rites themselves.  Integrating the faithful into the liturgical action requires priests who are actually knowledgeable and interested enough in their rites to educate the faithful in carrying out their proper role in worship. This had been taught and well on the road to realization in the Roman Rite for more than a hundred years, promoted by every Pope during that same time frame in conjunction with the ancient, received forms of the liturgy.  It was given further impetus by Pius XII and Vatican II.  Despite the near universal disappearance of Latin, the faithful still do not sing or respond in many instances.

 In his book, A New Song for the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI rightly puts the Church on guard against false expertise:

      “With all due respect for the eminent liturgist, his opinion shows that even experts can be wide of the mark.  First of all, mistrust is always in order when a large part of the living history [i.e. tradition] has to be thrown onto the garbage dump of discarded misunderstandings.  This is all the more true of Christian liturgy, which lives from the continuity and inner unity of the history of religious prayer.”

The Pope (Benedict) continues by saying that the popular notion regarding who gets to change the liturgy is no longer recognized as belonging to specialists or central authority, “but that in the end every “community” wants to be given its own liturgy.  But when the liturgy is something that everyone makes by himself, then it no longer gives us that which is its true quality: an encounter with  mystery, which is not our product, but the origin and source of our life. Dramatically urgent for the life of the Church is a renewal of the liturgical conscience, a liturgical reconciliation, that turns to knowing again the unity of the history of the liturgy . . .”

In his laudatory preface to the book of the late liturgical scholar, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, our former Pope noted that, “what is needed in the Church today is a new liturgical movement [which seeks to] rediscover the living center, of penetrating into the tissue of the liturgy itself, into its concrete realization, so that its accomplishment derive from its own substance.  The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself more and more from this origin.  The result has not been an animation but a devastation.”

Pope Benedict goes on to say that Monsignor Gamber should be a “father” to such a new movement, one that would reflect the Council’s right intentions (which Gamber embraced), and a continuation of the movement which bogus liturgists thought ended with Pope Pius XII’s November, 1947, landmark encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, highly praised by Pope John Paul II in November of 1997.

In looking at the actual changes that have utterly swept the traditional Mass Liturgy of Saint Gregory the Great from the churches of the Roman rite one sees at once the breach between the principles laid down in Mediator Dei and the praxis of the actual reform following the Council called by our former Pope a “devastation”. 

The contrast is most strikingly manifest by comparing the condemnation of Paragraph 62 in Mediator Dei to the actual state of affairs in the Roman Rite today:

        “It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches, were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

As for altars “being restored to their primitive table form”, Pope Benedict remarks, page 142 in his book Feast of Faith:

        “Not only had the awareness of the liturgy’s cosmic orientation been lost, but there was also little understanding of the significance of the image of the cross as a point of reference for the Christian liturgy.  Hence the eastward orientation of the celebration became meaningless, and people could begin to speak of the priest celebrating Mass ‘facing the wall’ or imagine that he was celebrating toward the tabernacle.  This misunderstanding alone can explain the sweeping triumph of the new celebration facing the people, a change which has taken place without any mandate . . .  All this would have been inconceivable if it had not been preceded by a prior loss of meaning from within.[3]

Monsignor Gamber rightly insists that Mass “facing the people” is by far the most radical change in the Roman liturgy.[4]  More than any other it has effected a deep psychological shift in the understanding of the purpose of worship and its impact on its participants, moving almost everything from a theocentric to an anthropocentric focus.  The former is insisted upon by Pius XII in Mediator Dei: “Let everything be theocentric…if we really wish to direct everything to the glory of God…”[5][6]

In rejecting the right principles articulated in Mediator Dei, its directive wisdom has been eliminated from the life of the Church as well.  With enthusiasm for the very thing Mediator Dei forbids, the nearly universal intrusion of Mass celebrated so that the priest intentionally looks at the congregation has led to the following:  Pope Benedict XVI:

“The general view [regarding this new practice] is totally determined by the strongly felt community character of the Eucharistic celebration, in which the priest and people face each other in a dialog relationship.  This does express one aspect of the Eucharist.  But the danger is that it can make the congregation into a closed circle which is no longer aware of the explosive Trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness.”[7]

Incredibly, the universal adoption of a condemned practice prescribed ordered by Conciliar directive nor any rubric in the typical edition of the reformed Missale Romanum is rooted in ignorance of the liturgical, cosmological, eschatological and psychological meanings of its historical antecedent – all freely conceded by the man who had become our Pope.  The one suggested meaning for its adoption is entirely secondary to the intrinsic nature of liturgical action, and, in virtue of its constitutive dynamic, the practice can not help but withdraw attention from the theocentricity of worship, its primary function. 

Little wonder that Pope Benedict XVI said in his autobiography, La Mia Vita, that “the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in a great part on the collapse of the liturgy.”  The liturgical reform has been a disaster – for those man enough to deal with the “asceticism of truth”.

I will close by quoting an article from an Anglican journal of all places. It was written in 1975 when the Episcopal Church was gearing up for its self-destruction over the ordination of women - now they have an openly homosexual bishop in Concord, New Hampshire – what next?  The article speaks volumes on the utter confusion heaped into Christianity by the broad-based 1960’s madness for liturgical change

“In Christianity prayer and worship have always been directed towards the east from the earliest of times and churches came to be constructed facing east or “oriented.”  This had nothing to do with sun worship.  The Ascension of Christ took place on the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem.  So it was believed that his Perusia or Second Coming, which was very vivid in the minds of the early Christians, would be heralded from the east.  Turning to the east meant turning towards the glorified Christ who would appear in the east at His Perusia since He had ascended into the east: “This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Beloved, this dogma of our faith is professed every time we go to Mass – or at least used to be before the liturgy was savaged.  Let me insist on this point: the reason we go to Mass is to worship God and subject ourselves to His saving grace.  The liturgy is Christ’s gift to us, His Church.  It is sacrosanct.  We should study it: its history, its sense, its mysteries, its layers, and this we should do fervently.  We should know our Mass Rite faithfully, sing it devoutly, and receive Our Lord Who deigns to come to us through it in profoundest humility.  Indeed, because the Lord Jesus will come again to judge our fidelity to Him.  This I believe with all my heart and soul as a man and a priest. 

I beg you to listen to Christ while venerating the wisdom of Holy Church. For she mediates the divine life of grace principally through this most august Sacrifice and Sacrament, product of 2,000 years’ wisdom and Holy Tradition.

 We will let a Protestant have the last word today for the article concludes:  “It should be made clear that the historical evidence for “Mass Facing the People” has not been carefully examined” [Indeed Monsignor Gamber whose work was thoroughly endorsed by the former Pope demonstrates it as an historical falsification] “and that [Mass Facing the People’s] precipitous adoption coincides with a seriously diminished belief in the Second Coming of Christ in the minds of many today.  But we must ask ourselves, as God has revealed in Luke 18:8, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man shall come again, will He find faith on the earth?

Beloved, the issue of a liturgical restoration is not merely some obscure argument between rubricists.  It is the backbone on which hangs our faith and salvation.

 

Notes:

                [1] Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, 138. “We can show with certainty that there has never been, neither in the Eastern nor the Western Church, a celebration versus populum (facing the people); rather the direction of prayer has always been towards the East, conversi ad Dominum (turned toward the Lord).”

                [2] It is also significant that through the eastward celebration of the classic rites of the Church the personality of the celebrant disappears from public view as is suitable to the role of alter Christus.  This is especially true when the priest conducts himself in an unhurried manner, carrying out his actions sensitively, submissive to the rubrics and ethos of the rite in use. The abuse of this last principle is at the root of much hostility directed to the older Latin liturgy.  The remembrance of some priest’s hurried inattentiveness or outright abusive treatment of the former liturgical directives is often confused with what is intrinsic to the rite itself.  An entire liturgical patrimony can hardly be reasonably dismissed on the grounds that it was ignorantly abused.  Such abuses revealed the “loss of meaning from within” that had already been ingrained into the Latin clergy long before the post-conciliar changes took place.  They indicate loss of a cosmological understanding of what liturgy is in the first place.  That was replaced long ago by a post-scholastic minimalism that contented itself with sacramental “validity” and its  “effects”.  This is what the authentic liturgical movement sought to redress. (cf. Gamber, 12.)

                [3] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 142.

                [4] Cf. Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, “Celebrating Mass Versus Populum: Liturgical and Sociological Aspects”, 78-89; and “Part II: On the Building of Churches and Facing East in Prayer”, 117-184.

                [5] Mediator Dei, 33.

                [6] Dietrich von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), 51.

                [7] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 142.