Sermon for Easter Sunday 2019
“Speak, Mary, declaring what sawest thou wayfaring? “The tomb of Christ, Who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection…Yea Christ my hope is arisen, to Galilee He goes before you…” Christ, indeed, from death is arisen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, Victor King, ever reigning Amen. Alleluia.
Christ our hope is risen indeed! In this Easter Mass Holy Church sings with unrestrained joy the utter miracle of redemption obtained. Christ, born of the virgin flesh of Mary, once dead upon the cross, is now risen, living. The stupendous combat He waged against Satan and sin has come to its divine conclusion: the prince of this world has been vanquished by the Immortal King of Glory. The sinless Victim supplied by God of Himself in ransom for our sins is risen from the tomb - by His death He has trampled down death. Jesus Christ is truly risen from the grave and lives and reigns in glory with God and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages.
This is that joy which fills every man’s heart on this, the Queen of feasts. And yet modern errors demand that we recall the central truth of this great mystery.
The value of this feast – so central to our faith – derives from the fact that Jesus had, many times, given public demonstrations of His divinity through the working of miracles. These signs were intended to strengthen the hearts of those who came to understand Who He truly was, and underpinned the authenticity of the message He had come to deliver. That message is the call to every man that he surrender himself to the loving will of God. Through submission to Him in all things, we will find the only lasting resolution to the crucifixion of this world’s darkness and error.
There are many today who attack not only the historicity of Christ’s miracles, but the power of grace itself. Such denial ends - all too naturally - in vitiating the truth of this, the most stupendous work of Christ: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But without the miracles of Our Lord – culminating in Jesus’ resurrection of Himself from the dead – what is left of the real value of His mission to mankind?
The Jewish people had been waiting for a Messiah for centuries. Once He had come, the Lord often upbraided His listeners for their superficiality of seeking in Him for a material kingship destined to solve political problems. Have we not returned to this oldest of errors? Jesus always aims to lead His followers into the reality of an interior, spiritual grasp of what His Messiahship really entails.
The Jewish religion was an elaborate complex of laws governing blood sacrifice for sin. No one at that time would fail to understand the relationship between human sin and the sacrifice of blood as its atonement. Despite the errors of the ages, such bloody sacrifice addresses the perennial need for fallen man in returning to the One, True God a divine justice which is His due. Jesus, as Messiah, was born to be God’s own ransom for the whole of mankind. This is the central mystery of our Christian faith, celebrated as it is in the liturgy of the Church and clothed with twenty centuries of faith, repentance, art and culture.
This atoning role of Christ was foretold eight centuries prior to His coming by the Prophet Isaiah. As we heard in the readings throughout Passiontide, the great Prophet not only called Israel to repentance, he foretold with uncanny detail the very sufferings of the Redeemer to come:
“In those days,” Isaiah said, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? … there is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness … and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of Him: despised and the most rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity; and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath born our infirmities and carried our sorrows: … But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He was offered because it was His own will, and He opened not His mouth: He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before His shearer, and He shall not open His mouth. … He hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in His mouth. And the Lord was pleased to bruise Him with infirmity : if He shall lay down His life for sin, He shall see a long-lived seed…”
And so, my beloved, our Easter joy is purchased at the price of the Bitter Passion of Our Blessed Lord. This Man of Sorrows, by pure and gratuitous love, is become our full and everlasting hope. We must, therefore, embrace His love - not only with the longing of joy, but with tears of sorrow and repentance for the Father has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He, in an obedience of divine Love, has ransomed our souls with the price of His suffering and Blood, by His bitter death upon the wood of the Holy Cross.
This, dear Christian people, is the central mystery of Catholic faith. If we embrace His sacrificial love in the spirit with which it has been offered, we possess the promise of God Himself that in us will be found His own “long-lived seed”.
This Lord Jesus is our Christian Passover. He is not merely a great teacher or extraordinary Prophet. He is the true Messiah of Israel, and, though rejected by those to whom He was sent, the fullness of His grace is manifest to one and all by the fact that He Himself, Jesus, God and Man, raised Himself from the dead.
Witness to this shocking transgression of nature’ s law was not reserved only to a select few. The Risen Lord openly appeared to many – 500 people on one occasion – demonstrating in the most striking and public way imaginable, that He is living, and that He is GOD.
If this be the case – as the witness of the Church has always told - then the religion He teaches is both truly divine and divinely true. Therefore, the world which the Lord convicts of sin is called to conversion to Him, and the practice of His truths without compromise or attenuation.
This is at the heart of the Easter triumph and joy. Ours cannot be a hollow imperialism regarding the conduct of others. We are called by faith to bear a “long-lived seed.” In today’s epistle reading St. Paul reminds what Easter love calls from us. In place of dry religious formalism, Christianity demands the truth of an integral moral conduct towards God and neighbor.
“Brethren purge out the old leaven that you may be a new paste as you are unleavened: For Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
This new leaven is none other than Christ, our sacrificial victim lived in our daily lives. Risen from the dead and never to die again, He reigns, living and glorious, at the right and of the Father in heaven, ever making intercession for sinners. We, who have been bought at such a price – characterized by complete demerit on our part and infinite, unspeakable love on God’s – we must therefore, exclude from our lives the “old leaven” of sin – forever. In its place must reign Christ, the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Ours must be a loving submission to God in all things, at all times, and in all places. This is made possible by the grace of the Paschal Mystery communicated through the sacraments of Holy Church.
This, dearly beloved is the Easter triumph we now express with such unmitigated joy - in the splendor of our worship and the serenity of our souls. Christ, our Passover is sacrificed for us! Haec dies quam fecit Dominus. This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.
Let us, therefore, through the mystery of the Cross, be faithful to this Paschal mercy. In so doing we may truly celebrate with our lips and through our lives that long-lived seed of redemption offered.
This is the one and perfect mystery which, alone, can gladden this sinful world. Every Sunday reminds us of it; and from Sunday to Sunday, year to year, the Easters of this life lead us towards the blessed day when Christ will come to bring us to the glory of His Father in heaven.
Alleluia. The Lord is risen - He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Sermon for the Second Sunday Of Lent 2019
Today we mark the second Sunday of Lent. The program of this holy period is summed up well in the verse of Gradual: Vide humilitatem meam et laborem meum, et dimitte omnia peccata mea — Look upon my humility and my labor, and forgive all my sins. Leaning on the abundance of grace God gives us during this season, we work hard at fasting, prayer, and almsgiving that we may be forgiven, believing that the Lord sees our efforts and rewards us in His mercy. Lent is, then, an exercise of faith and works. We fast, but we do not fast as the world does, for the bodily benefits, but principally because we have faith that it atones for our sins. We do works of mercy not because it makes us feel good, but because we have faith that what we do to the little ones, we do to Christ.
Thus, the world does things that mimic the Church’s observances during Lent, but without the theological virtue of faith driving them, they are not salvific. The centrality of faith is found in the epistle for today’s Mass, where St. Paul tells us that we are not to be like the gentiles, who do not know God. We are not to be like them, he says, particularly in two ways: sexual excess and dishonesty in business. These actions, of course, violate the commandments. But St. Paul counsels against them not only for that reason, but because they manifest a vision of this life alone. Whether it is the person whose life choices revolve around the ‘passion of desire’ as Paul puts it, or the person whose life is characterized by lying and duplicity for the sake of making more profit, both behave as if there is no judgment at death, as if others are to be used for their gain, as if life has no value apart from pleasure, money, or power. Both ways of life betray despair and a subsequent grasping for whatever each can get, and these are characteristic of our society. Their actions say, this is the only life; those who believe in Christ and His resurrection are fools.
If we are called to not be as the gentiles, then, we are called to be people of faith. Faith tells us that purity of heart matters, that vows matter, that suffering has meaning, that honesty, even in trivial things, matters. Faith tells us that serving God now will lead to a reward in the life to come, that adhering to the will of God, even if it should at times grieve us, is more life-giving than doing our own will. Thus faith is work, and in the world as it is now, it is a lot of work. It is true labor to believe in the world to come when everyone around us lives as if neither judgment nor heaven exists. It is true labor when the world says we are weak or backward or naïve simply because we live for something we cannot see but that has been promised to us by Truth himself.
The challenge we face can be likened to what the Apostles faced: Peter, James and John had seen Christ transfigured on the mountain, they experienced, in a way, His divinity, and they heard the Father testify to the Son. But when they came down the mountain, they continued their journey to Jerusalem and to Calvary, and that journey ended in the rejection of their Master, not his exaltation. They knew what they had experienced on the mountain, but they had to continually recall it to mind so that their faith would not waver.
We also have experienced Christ’s power; we have seen him radiate in our lives and in lives of others, particularly the Saints. We know our faith is true, but now we must work to recall it, over and over again; we must be humble enough to believe, awaiting the fulfillment of the promises made to us by our Savior. It is dark, but faith is a light to guide our steps.
In his second letter, St. Peter writes about the Transfiguration, saying that he did not preach fables, but he spoke of things he had actually seen and heard. He had seen the glory and honor of Jesus on the mount; he had heard the voice of Father tell him to listen to Christ, since He is His Son, His Image, His ambassador. But even though he had experienced these things and hands them on to us as a witness, he compares them to a light shining in a dark place. The light is faith; the dark place is this world. And we are to wait with patience until the light rises and is as bright as the morning star. St. Peter lived this: he guided the Church in a time of intense persecution, when, from a human point of view, it seemed that Nero was determined to destroy it completely. But for the Christians who remained faithful, the light was not snuffed out, but grew into the intensity of noon-day when, upon their deaths as martyrs, they looked upon Light itself in the glory of heaven.
We are not yet living in a time of violent persecution, but we are living in a time of indifference to God and of disdain for faith and religion. It is fashionable to look down upon true, divine faith. As Elizabeth Goudge puts it, ‘Unbelief is easier than belief, it is less demanding and even flattering, for the unbeliever feels himself to be intellectually superior to the believer.’ And also, we could add, morally superior, for the things we suffer for righteousness’ sake, have no meaning to such persons. The notion of making a sacrifice now, especially a lifelong sacrifice, makes sense only if eternal life is real, and something we gain or lose depending upon our fidelity or infidelity on this earth. As the same author says, ‘Unbelief haunted by faith produces a pleasant nostalgia, while belief haunted by doubt involves real suffering.’
We know, however, that our task is not to convince the world of these things; it is rather, in union with St. Peter and the Saints who have proceeded us, to fix our eyes on the light shining in the darkness, and to be faithful to that light until all is light. Faith, as Dante says in his Paradiso, is “a spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers.” Let us not be like the gentiles; let us believe in the divinity of the Lord Jesus and the fulfillment of His promises, and let us do so no matter how dark the world becomes. There will come a time, and has already begun, when the spark that is within us, will be like Prometheus’ flame, sought by all who wish to truly live.
May the Lord strengthen us to persevere in faith with this Lent as our training ground. And may Peter, James and John assist us with their intercession until we reach that blessed place where “night shall be no more; we will need no light of lamp or the sun, for the Lord God will be our light, and we shall reign for ever and ever.”
Sermon For Quinquagesima Sunday 2019
Today, we mark Quinquagesima Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent begins. The Church has given us this season of two and half weeks, in order to prepare us for Lent, the season of penance and purification, for it is the acceptable time in which we make up for our negligence the rest of the year. If we spend Lent badly or lazily, we will suffer grave spiritual misfortune; many of us struggle spiritually even now because we wasted the previous Lent.
In order to avoid this, the Mass readings for these three Sundays have been purposefully intense: the parable of the workers in the vineyard, reminding us that we must work at our salvation and not assume we will receive the reward of eternal life; the parable of the sower, reminding us that we can be dried up by temptation and trial or choked by desire for riches and comfort; and today’s account, which serves as a sort of parable in that although the blind man certainly existed as an historical person, we also gain much fruit from considering him as a sign of our own situation.
The story of the blind man on the road is deliberately placed at this time in the calendar because Jesus is passing by, on His way to Jerusalem, and thus on the way to Calvary. Like the man whom Jesus healed, we are blind. Our sins, our selfishness, our attachment to comfort and pleasure and possessions all produce a sort of slime on the eyes of our heart that hardens as the months go by.
Lent is a time for asking Christ to take away that blindness that we may follow Him; we may claim to see the rest of the year, even if that is not true, but during Lent, if during no other time, we should be honest. God receives Lent as a tithe for the rest of the year; a tenth of the days to offset our usual spiritual sluggishness. Our hearts are cleansed through the generosity and pain of sustained fasting, prayer, and almsgiving so that we may see again: see the true gravity of our sins, see Jesus that we may follow Him, see the Cross as a door to the Resurrection.
The blind man stands as a parable for our spiritual state, and because of that, can help us in living Lent to the full as a time of spiritual cleansing. First, the blind man is not aware of other men’s blindness; he knows only his own. This is what our spiritual lives should consist of: admittance of our sinfulness while extending mercy upon others. Instead we too often focus on the speck in another’s eye and overlook the beam in our own. Unfortunately, the current situation in the Church and in the US government encourage us to seek out and to condemn blindness in others, and this habit can easily bleed into relationships in our families and workplaces. We permit ourselves to habitually pass judgment on another’s blindness—our spouse, our parent, our child, our co-worker—and never make any real effort to break that habit. We assume the other person lacks good judgment, is lazy, or has bad motives and we never take the time to consider their actions and choices from their point of view, given their temperament, their weaknesses, their way of relating to God. Now is a good time to ask Christ to help us see that in looking down upon the other person’s blindness, we have proven ourselves to be blind. As St. John says in his second letter, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
A second truth the blind man teaches us is that we depend upon others for nearly everything. In the Gospel, the man must be told that Christ is passing by, and we learn from Mark’s account that he also had to be told that Christ was calling him to come to him. Our material and spiritual lives are a network of support, much of which we overlook or fail to appreciate. And then there are times in which we resent needing help because we resent our weakness. As the book of Revelation says, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The blind man shows us that dependence upon others in normal to human life and also praiseworthy if it is a vehicle to understanding our own limitations and in growing in nearness to Our Lord. The crowd, though some discouraged him, did tell the blind man that Jesus was near and then they facilitated his approach to Him, and therefore were instrumental to his healing. So also the love and support we receive from our families, our friends, and our fellow Christians is a sign of God’s love for us. There are many times when we think God is silent when in fact He is speaking to us through the words or actions of a human being. He uses them as an instrument to love us. In spiritual terms, it is the prayers of others, both on earth and in heaven, who sustain us; our perseverance is tied undeniably to those who, in their love for us, cry out to God that we may be saved, be converted, be strengthened, be consoled. Our pride often keeps us from seeing this, but humble gratitude clears our eyes to see the cloud of witnesses upholding us.
A final, and most important truth of which the blind man reminds us, is the importance of desire for a pure heart and desire for God. When the blind man knew that Jesus was passing by, he did not ask for food or money; he knew whom he was addressing and so he asked well. His desire was rightly ordered; once he encountered someone who could grant his desire, he asked Him at once. Because our lives are hard, hard because of the normal difficulties of life in a fallen world—strained relationships, financial troubles, fatigue and anxiety—and doubly hard because we live in a post-Christian world which does not share our moral or religious values, we become accustomed to having small desires. We come to want things like success in business or a peaceful home life or better physical health, all of which are good things but too little for men and women of faith. Even if we had all we wanted of such things, we would not be happy; our hearts are restless until they rest in God, and that will principally occur in the next life, when we will see God as He is. That vision will fill our minds and hearts will the fullness we yearned for but could never articulate.
The blind man, then, shows us that our principal desire should be to see Jesus. When the blind man opened his eyes, he saw the Lord. So, too, we should want to see the One who has loved us and given His life for us. We have served Him in faith; we should desire to see Him face to face. So when Jesus asks us, as He does every day, what we want Him to do for us, we should respond well. Lord, that I may see: first, that I may see my sinfulness as you see it, so that I may have a pure and contrite heart; and second, that I may see all the ways in which you uphold me, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the prayers of friends and the help of the Saints, so that I may never lose the virtue of hope, and thus persevere to the end. Though we are not always in a state that allows us to easily say such a prayer, we can at least recognize that our yearnings for peace, for security, for love are all yearnings for God and the joy of being able to rest in Him definitively. This can help us to see that though we are blinded by our sins, our hearts are purified each time we renew our desire for God, and that renewal can be as simple as saying the words of the blind man, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.
So, let us undertake Lent with generosity and courage, realizing it is a gift from the Lord, a chance to make amends, an opportunity to grow in faith, hope and charity, which we so desperately need in this fallen world. And then, when Jesus opens our eyes as a reward for our penance over the next forty days, we will see better the road to Calvary and how that road leads to the glory of Resurrection. Let this be our unceasing prayer, Lord, that I may see, until we come to look upon the face of our Savior, in the kingdom He has won for us, in the New Jerusalem.
Sermon for the First Sunday Of Lent 2019
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Most beloved in God,
originally the forty days of the Lenten fast was counted from this Sunday. Since the fourth century St. John at the Lateran Gate has been the “stational church” or the site of the Pope’s Mass on this, the first Sunday in Lent. It is the patriarchal basilica of the Bishop of Rome, and was first consecrated to “Saint Savior”: it was the first Christian church to be built as such following the edict of Milan in 313 AD when Christianity was legalized by imperial command. Built by the Emperor Constantine from his own money and on his own property, it was and remains the principal church of all Christianity; its very name reminds us of the salvation accomplished by Our Blessed Redeemer, and all this sets the tone for Roman Catholics in their observance of Lent.
Immediately after His Baptism in the Jordan River our Lord began to prepare for His public ministry by a fast of forty days in the desert wasteland which stretches from Jericho to the mountains of Judea. In that appalling wilderness He was tempted by Satan who wanted to know whether this son of Mary was in reality the Son of God.
As the devil had done with Adam, he first directed His attack on Jesus through the senses. Our Lord was extremely hungry, and so the Evil One suggested that He turn the stones into bread. In this same way, he will try throughout these forty days to make each of us abandon the fasting and mortification we have undertaken in atonement for our sins and the quelling of our passions. This temptation appeals immediately to the our weak and wounded wills so ready to yield to the passions of our fallen flesh.
Satan promised Adam and Eve that they would be like God himself if only they ate of the forbidden tree. With the Lord Jesus, the Evil One took Him to the pinnacle of the Temple and tried to induce Him to cast Himself down, that the angels would save Him, and this to the praise of the crowd below. So too this demon seduces us in our worldly pride, so opposed to the spirit of prayer and meditation of God’s divine truths.
Finally, just as he had promised Adam know-ledge which was like that of God Himself – that he should know all things – Satan told Jesus he would make Him ruler of all the world if He would but fall down and worship him. So too the devil prompts us to lust after material things instead of doing good to our neighbor by giving alms and performing works of charity. This constitutes the concupiscence of our hearts and stinginess of avarice.
But Christ’s fasting and temptation was to demonstrate to us the need for us to follow the dictates of right reason over the shallowness which lies in the attraction to sin. His was the victory of life over death: slay the Evil One He used the bright sword of revelation found in Holy Scripture. He quoted from the 90th psalm, which we just chanted together in the tract – and this is the theme found throughout today’s Mass and Divine Office: “His truth” – the truth of God – “will cover thee with a shield,” says King David. This psalm is the ideal of holy Lent, that focused time of warfare against Satan and our passions. “He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” This verse occurs daily at Vespers as a refrain throughout the whole of this long fast. As I said the whole psalm made up today’s tract; and various of its verses constitute today’s introit, gradual, and communion verse. The offertory – normally made up of a single psalm verse – today has three, all taken from Psalm 90. These three verses represent the triumph of Christ over the threefold temptations revealed in today’s Gospel reading.
Side by side with Psalm 90 is today’s epistle reading which emphasizes one of the characteristic notes of Lent. St. Paul borrows a text from Isaiah, “In an accepted time have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee.” “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation.”
St Leo the Great, in commenting on this text, says, “Although there is no season of the year which is not rich in divine gifts and in which we, by God’s grace do not find immediate access to His mercy, nevertheless at this time when Sunday summons us to fulfill all the duties of Christian piety, the souls of Christians must be stirred with more zeal for spiritual progress and possessed of very great confidence in almighty God. In this manner with pure souls and bodies we shall celebrate this mystery of the Lord’s Passion, sublime beyond all others. True, we ought always to be in the Divine presence just as much as on the Easter feast. But because this spiritual vigor is possessed by only a few, while on one hand weakness of flesh leads any severe observance to be relaxed, and, on the other, the various occupations of this life share and divide our hearts, it necessarily happens that the dust of this world soils the hearts of even religious themselves. This divine institution [Lent] has been planned with great profit to our salvation so that these 40 days may help us regain the purity of our souls, making up in a way for the faults of the rest of the year, by fasting and pious deeds. However, we must be careful to give no one the least cause of complaint or scandal, so that our general behavior may not be inconsistent with our fasting and penance. For it is useless to reduce the nourishment of the body, except that the soul depart from sin.”
My beloved children in Christ, indeed now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Let us, like Christ, take up the bright armor of God’s truth and resist all the temptations of Sa-tan. Let us maintain our Lenten rule of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and “lest our behavior be inconsistent with our penance,” let us act with true chastity and genuine charity, conforming ourselves to Christ, as St. Paul admonishes. Let us persevere in our Lenten penance with longsuffering and sweetness, knowing that the goal is none other than the eternal Easter of heaven’s divine glory.
Sermon For Sexagesima Sunday 2019
Beloved in Christ,
We are in the midst of the Season of Septuagesima, a three-week period of transition between the joys of the Christmas cycle, just ended, and the beginning of the great Lenten Fast.
Christmas saw the coming of God into our human flesh – the great mystery of God’s love for us. On the other hand, the whole of the Easter cycle points to the reason for Christ’s advent among men: our fallen condition – the sorrow of sin and death.
During the first week of Septuagesima the Old Testament readings in the Divine Office spoke of the creation of the world and humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve. Their deliberate disobedience of God’s commands transgressed His divine love towards them. This disobedience, the first and most vicious of all human sins, lost for them sanctifying grace, immortality, and the prevailing balance between right thought and human passions. These were special endowments (in theology called the praeternatural gifts) with which they had been endowed at the moment of their creation. Expelled from the Garden of Paradise they and all their offspring passed into the world of suffering and death – the consequence of sin.
During this week of Sexagesima the readings from the Divine Office move forward in the history of salvation. They reveal the pernicious quality and persistence of men in their sin through the account of Noah and the Flood.
God saw that man’s wickedness was great upon the earth and said, “I will destroy man whom I have created.” He said to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with thee and thou shalt enter into the ark.” For forty days and nights rain fell as the ark was lifted by the waters which covered the tallest of mountains. In this chaos of retribution all men were carried away like so much stubble. Only Noah and his companions remained alive. In time God remembered Noah and brought the rains to an end. As we know, Noah released a dove which returned with a fresh olive branch indicating the earth was no longer covered with water. As Noah left the ark God cast a rainbow into the sky, giving it as a sign of His covenant in the reconciliation of man with Himself.
That this story is related to the Paschal Mystery is evident in that the Church reads it again during the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday night, applying it, in the liturgy, to Our Lord and His Church: “The just wrath of the Creator drowned the guilty world in the vengeful waters of the flood, only Noah being saved in the ark. But then the admirable power of love washed the world in Blood.” It was the wood of the ark which once saved the human race in that distant time. It is now the wood of the Cross which offers salvation to everyone throughout the ages. “Thou alone,” says the Church, speaking of the Cross, “hast been found worthy to be, for this shipwrecked world, the ark which brings safely into port.”
“The open door in the side of the ark by which those entered who were to escape the wrath of the flood and who represent the Church, are a prefiguring of the Mystery of Redemption; for on the Cross, our Lord had His sacred side opened and from this gate of life, went forth the Sacraments of grace, giving true life to souls. Indeed, the blood and water which flowed from thence are symbols of the Eucharist and Baptism.”
Thus, we see that the great Flood is a foreshadowing of the regeneration of our souls by grace, and that the same element – water – is, in a mystical way, is both the destruction of vice and the source of virtue in human life and affairs.
But more important still is that Noah is a figure of Christ since Noah was divinely appointed to father all succeeding generations after an epoch of sin. After surviving the flood Noah became the new father for the human race, an image of human life renewed by the divine will of God.
But now, it is Christ much more than Noah, the true second father of all Mankind in that Jesus peoples the world with a race of believing souls faithful to God. It was through the Word that God made all creation in the beginning, and now it is through the scattering of the seed of that Word – the preaching of the Gospel – that Our Lord brings men to new birth in Him.
This is the very context for the choice of today’s Gospel reading, the Parable of the Sower. Our Lord preached on the shore of Galilee, scattering His seed into the hearts of those more or less disposed to hear it. Matthew and Mark, in their accounts of this event, tell us that the different “crops” of such sowing results from the soil into which the seed is tilled. The crop fails when scattered onto rocky ground: hearts, that is, hardened with pride, barren – dried up by self-interest, or full of thorns – enslaved to sensuality. But three sowings produce excellent fruit: these are Christ’s truth when sown in souls disposed to receiving the liberating truth of God’s revelation. For they will bear fruit: thirty-, sixty-, one hundred-fold, each according to his capacity and divine grace.
In Noah’s days men perished because of their unbelief, while the few who did survive were saved by their trust in him – in his word, through his actions. In the same way, in the New Testament, those who trust in the words and works of the Lord Jesus will find their true and everlasting salvation. According to St. Augustine, “just as there were three floors in the ark, so there are three different spiritual harvests” evident in the Parable of the Sower. But the truth of God must be preached in its entirety and accepted without reserve, lest the seed spring up only to wither without fruit.
Hence in today’s lengthy Epistle we see Paul refuting the errors of the false teachers while holding up to the Corinthians his own life of suffering as an image and complement of Christ Who alone is grace, truth and salvation. Paul exhorts us to do as he himself has done. This is possible, for God wills our salvation and gives grace sufficient that we might achieve what God wills for us.
And thus, Beloved, through this rich fabric of liturgical worship and scriptural imagery, we are led to further understand the relation of our souls to God. In holy worship and consideration of the mysteries hidden within it we are made more aware of the evil of sin and the desperation of its consequences: they are – as we are painfully aware from life without the walls of a church – they are suffering, sickness, death – the full panoply of human ruin – against which is painted the grace of safe harbor and salvation, the gratuitous mercy of God which He sews into willing hearts.
Let us, Beloved, ponder these truths as we prepare our hearts and lives for the coming Lenten Fast. Let us deepen our life of prayer by establishing for ourselves a realistic – but real – rule of life through which our commitment to prayer is established daily, and deepened in practice. Let us ask God, in a spirit of humility and true repentance, for the grace of entering into the yearly atonement soon to begin.
For it is only through a just and commensurate penance that we may come to the threshold of grace and so enter into the glory of the world to come, the hundred-fold harvest, that true destiny for which God has given us life. This is the possession of Him, face to face, life in all abundance, even unto the ages of ages. Amen.