Sermon for the Circumcision Of Our Lord 2019

 

Dearly Beloved, today we celebrate what ecclesial tradition calls the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. It is, however, a celebration whose texts are of some historical complexity. We do well, therefore, to consider for a moment the content of the liturgical texts which occur throughout today’s celebration.


As you all know, in the reformed rites, today is known as the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. This is certainly not an arbitrary intrusion of a Marian Feast hitherto unknown in the Roman calendar. The circumcision of Our Lord, as such, is mentioned only in the Gospel reading appointed for today’s Mass Liturgy. In some instances of distant Christian antiquity, Mass used to be offered in honor of Our Lady on the eighth day following the Nativity.


In the liturgical complex we use, both the Missal and the Breviary call this feast day In Circumcisione Domini et Octava Nativitatis – Circumcision of the Lord and Octave of Christmas. But in fact the principal texts found throughout the full liturgy of today’s feast bear strong witness to the ancient devotion to the Divine Maternity of Our Lady on this day.


The Mass, for its part, is principally borrowed from the Third Mass of Christmas Day, characterized by the haunting Introit, Puer natus est nobis – a child is born to us, a son is given – taken from the Prophet Isaiah. This is particularly fitting since today marks the Octave of Christmas and the final day in which the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior is celebrated with solemn worship.


But this Mass originates in the Papal liturgy celebrated at the stational church of Saint Mary Major in Rome. From that source two of the three Mass orations (namely, the opening and closing prayers) were taken into the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin for the Christmas season. Both prayers speak of Our Lady as the vehicle by which the world has received its salvation.


In the Divine Office, however, the responses and antiphons all extol Our Lady’s privileges and prerogatives in a marvelous way. As an example of the mystical beauty of these less familiar texts, the third antiphon for Lauds and Vespers says “That bush, which Moses saw, unburnt, we acknowledge to be thy praiseworthy and unblemished virginity: O Mother of God, intercede for us.” The psalms for Vespers are those appointed for feasts of the Blessed Virgin and the hymns keep her constantly in view.


But it also should be noted that, historically, as paganism passed from the scene in antiquity the religious festival attached to the biblical significance of the Circumcision of Jesus became more conspicuous in the observance of this day. It is in this regard that today’s celebration came to be known as the Feast of the Circumcision.


Beloved, in Christ’s birth we must know that a marvelous event has taken place before the eyes of faith. The Old Testament and New are placed into focus: The Old prepared the world for its Savior – the New ushers Him into our presence. The Old was the type – the New is the substance.


In Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3 we read that eight days following the birth of a male child he was to be circumcised. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews, and though knowing the divine origin of their child, all the same, dutifully brought Jesus to the priests for this opening rite of the old law. For the Jews circumcision was the rite of initiation by which a male was joined to the company of God’s chosen people and received his name. It was for them, as it were, a quasi sacramental experience.


In giving Abram, our father in faith, the law of circumcision, God also bestowed on him a new name, Abraham. For Jews – from that time forward, then – the giving of a name had a spiritual significance. Obedience to the rites of the Old Law marked every step of the Lord’s “doing His Father’s will’. But more significantly, His obedience to the law of circumcision had the double effect of marking the first shedding of His Blood in atonement for our sins, and, in the reception of His holy Name, the assertion of His mission as Redeemer of the world.


It is as Savior that Christ breathed into the Old Testament types and shadows their fulfillment and divine life. The rite of circumcision carried no sanctifying grace – it was only an outward mark on the body, a sign of God’s promises. But with the Lord’s taking human flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s promises to His people were fulfilled in reality.

In the circumcision rite of the Old Testament the Church has always seen a prefiguring of the Rite of Holy Baptism which effects, by grace, that which it signifies by outward washing: the cleansing of the soul and infusion of the deifying life of grace, the gateway Sacrament by which a man receives the life of God and is grafted into His Mystical Body, the Church. The effect of Baptism is both physical and spiritual, touching not only the body, as in the old Law, but the very soul – the substance and concern of the New.


And so, Beloved in Christ, we continue this day in celebrating the unfolding of the Mystery of the Incarnation begun on Christmas Day. Jesus, in obedience to the laws of nature, – He who was creator of all that is – deigned to submit to the very laws He fashioned, being born of the humility of gentle Mary. That done, He submitted through the obedience of His earthly parents, to the religious laws of the old Testament. What is more, despite His absolute sovereignty over all, He did not neglect or destroy the old vessels or tools or symbols consecrated by the Law of Moses. Rather, He sanctified them – He renovated them by pouring into them spirit and truth and grace. Already in the Old Testament we had heard the prophets complaining that the children of Abraham were of “uncircumcised lips” (Ex 6, 12) and that “their ears are uncircumcised” (Jer 6, 10). In this same vein Saint Paul warned the Christians at Rome to be of “circumcised hearts”. This is because Christ Our God has called us, not to the emptiness of merely observing ritual forms, things of the flesh, but to the reality of grace: deep, heartfelt inward conversion to God, and its concomitant, love of our neighbor for love of God. It is by Jesus’ most Precious Blood that we have received the power to live these realities of conversion which divine faith demands.


It is in the light of this grace and conversion then, that we have accompanied the Church in her celebration of the Christmas mysteries. Let us continue in our prayers and rejoicing in today’s festival by doing as Saint Paul admonishes in the epistle reading: let us “deny ungodliness and worldly desires” – to the end that we may live “soberly and justly in this world looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” For, Beloved, it is by our heartfelt union with the Lord’s atoning Blood first shed as an infant of eight days that we can find the grace and strength to overcome this world’s contradictions and temptations, thus moving on our pilgrimage towards the eternal felicity for which we have been given life at all.


It is through Christ alone that our souls’ thirst for hope and happiness is made possible. We must always remember that God has created us, not for the distractions of this present world, but to see Him forever in the vision of glory. Let us, therefore, in this season of joy, turn to Him yet again with confidence, offering our souls and bodies to God in the reasonable sacrifice of spiritual worship and trusting surrender. For it is through such submission to the Father that the Christmas mystery un-folds its truest secrets – here we may partake of the divine flowering of God in hearts which are humble, and thus able to return love for Love.

 

 

Sermon for Sunday Within The Octave Of Christmas 2018

 

Beloved,

Today’s worship calls us to reflect on the wonder of our Lord’s incarnation and the grace it signifies and gives us pause to think why Christmas has happened and the power of its truth. For these reasons Holy Church opens today’s Mass liturgy with two verses from the Book of Wisdom: When all things were in quiet silence.


The Jews of the Old Testament had a particular veneration for the wisdom literature. The verses which make up the opening chant of today’s Mass place this wisdom passage within its true, Messianic, context: When a profound stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent . . . Thy almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven’s royal throne.


As often as the Jews read this passage they never grasped its true meaning. And thus, on the first Christmas night when His own knew Him not as St. John the Evangelist tells us, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word spoken from all eternity by the heavenly Father was His only-begotten Son. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This one line from the Gospels, so often repeated in the liturgy, is a profound meditation on the mystery of God’s love for all mankind. Could there be a more apt description of the eternal generation of the Son of God?


Here then, in the course of a long-lost winter’s night, the luminous clarity of God’s eternal splendor descended from heaven and was laid by gentle Mary into the poverty, obscurity and rejection of an animal’s manger. Born to such rejection by men, the Savior’s birth was heralded instead by a host of angels instead: Glory to God in the highest . . and though this story is so familiar, we must never forget the profound reality it represents.


Our Lord’s appearance in this world was not in the presence of royal splendor nor the politically important. Apart from His mother and Saint Joseph His first witnesses were simple shepherds watching their flocks. It is in deepest conformity to the reality of the Savior’s mission that His birth should have taken place in such poverty and obscurity – for this Child is a sign of wonder and contradiction, a corner stone for some and a stumbling block to others. Christ, by His mere presence, implies a choice for all men on their busy and oftentimes mindless path. It is for us to welcome into our lives Him Whom each one – for his eternal salvation or perdition – must receive or reject. Shall we accept this Almighty Word into our lives by a true conformity to His reign over us? Or shall we remain dead to His grace by the merely external appearance of religion – an empty practice of self-deception?


Beloved, let us truly awake to the new Light which is now born to us; let us join our hearts and voices to those of Blessed Mary and Saint Joseph, the angels from glory, the simple shepherds: for it is the small ones of this world who are privileged to accept Christ more readily into their hearts. Let us live for Him without equivocation. Let us lead others to Him by the charity we have for God – and our neighbor for the true love of God. For here, lying in the Christmas manger is none other than the eternal Word of the Father, Who invites us this day to true life . . . and should we bend our wills to accept such wondrous mercy, that we may have it in all abundance.

 

 

Sermon for Midnight  Mass of Christmas 2018

 

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore, he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
He will surely have pity on you; at the sound of your cry, as soon as he hears it, he will answer you.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.


Dearly Beloved,


Before the coming of Christ, there were two tendencies in the human race. The one was towards pride: many
people thought they could live upright, even happy lives by relying upon the power of their own minds and
wills. If one thinks rightly about human life, they said, and then applies one’s will to the carrying out of what
one knows, then life can be good. I can overcome my weakness; not only that, I will overcome my weakness.
It is based upon my approach; the success or failure rests wholly on my efforts. This is pride.


The other tendency was towards despair: many more people thought human life was awful. Overwhelmed by
the daily need to provide food, clothing, and shelter, and feeling as if they were mere gears in a machine, they
gave up on the possibility of a happy life. In its place, they focused on providing comfort and pleasure for
themselves, attempting to dull the pain of an existence that seemed to make no sense. They knew something
was wrong but thought nothing could be done about it. Since the good human life depends wholly on my
efforts, there is no point, they said; I am too weak and broken to do anything approaching happiness, so I should
focus on the here and now, making as pleasant a life as circumstances allow. This is despair.


Tonight, the Son of God is born of the Virgin Mary to heal these two tendencies, each of which we find within
ourselves. For there is also a third option, the joining of the two, which has prevailed in many societies,
including our own, and in many hearts of individuals. This tendency is to labor to appear strong on the outside,
as if all is within our control and we are infallibly striding towards self-possession, while in private we know
that we feel no more at peace than we ever have, and so we sometimes, perhaps often, give ourselves over to
sensuality and worldliness, or at least entertain thoughts of doing so: it is the deadly combination of exterior
pride and interior despair.


But the Son of God has entered our world, in His great love for the human race and for each individual which
makes up that race, in order to heal us. Tonight the angels tell the shepherds that a Savior has been born, who
shall be for all the peoples, and a Savior necessarily saves: this is the identity of Jesus Christ and His purpose—
to save us from pride and from despair, to save us from our unwillingness to admit that these two forces war
within us, to save us from using means other than His grace, for they only disappoint and destroy us.


He comes from heaven, from His eternal throne, to break our pride: His descent teaches us that we can only
ascend to heaven with His help. Our endeavors to reach blessedness without Him will go nowhere. And He
also comes to earth to raise us up: His resurrection and ascension into heaven teach us that we cannot wallow in
despair, comfort and pleasure—we are called to rise above this world and seek the things of heaven.


If there is one image of the way the Savior works prominent in the Gospels and the Fathers, it is that of a
physician. Christ says that he came to heal the sick, not those who think they are well. And so there is a further
aspect to the fact that He comes to us tonight as a baby, rather than as a fully-grown man. He descended into
the womb of the Blessed Virgin to heal our pride, to teach us that God must come to earth is man is to go to
heaven, if man is to know true blessedness, to have his heart’s desire. In order to heal our despair, though, he
grew in that womb, he was born, he matured in body and mind as any human does: slowly, by stages.


He desires to mature in us also, slowly, by stages. He comes to heal us, but in His own time, in the way proper
to each of us, in accordance with the wounds life has given us. Just as no baby comes out of the womb fully
grown, no one who surrenders his or her life to Christ is healed immediately. St. Augustine puts it well in his
De Trinitate, “It is one thing to throw off a fever, another to recover from the weakness which the fever leaves
behind it; it is one thing to remove shrapnel or a bullet from the body, another to heal with a complete cure the
wound it made. The first stage of the cure is to remove the cause of the debility, and this is done by pardoning
all sins in baptism; the second stage is curing the debility itself, and this is done gradually by making steady
progress in the renewal of the image” through receiving the sacraments and perseverance in prayer. This is the
paradox of the Christian life: we are healed deep down, in the center of our being, by baptism; but the disease of
sin is so powerful that it takes us a lifetime to fully feel this profound healing. Thus the world looks at us and
says that we are no better off than they are; even we are tempted to think that surrender to Christ is not the way
to strength, but to weakness, that somehow we can save ourselves by knowing all the right ways of human life
and then acting upon them.


But we know better: the Saints tell us so; our own experience tells us so. We know that by giving our life to
Christ He has cured us of the principal affliction of mankind, which is pride, and if we persevere in the humility
He has taught us and lived out, we will be healed. Jesus will come to full maturity in our souls, in His own way,
in His own time, but He will do so, just as the infant in the manger grew into the man who changed the world.


So tonight, as we approach the crib, as we receive the Body and Blood of this child who comes to save and heal
us, let each of us ask Him for something profound. Beg Him for something which you desire deep in your heart
and which you know that only He can grant: for the removal of guilt over past sin; for the healing of self-hatred;
for assurance that He loves you; for the conversion of loved ones; for grace to overcome habitual sin; for the
strength to keep going. Ask it with faith, believing that only He can take away our interior pain and fear and
loneliness and give in its place true peace. He will begin to save you and to heal you tonight, but keep asking,
day after day, minute by minute, as often as the desire overwhelms you or the fear and pain seize you, beg Him
to grant your petition. This begging is the ultimate sign of humility and is the rejection of the pride that is the
cause of so much of our sorrow. Our Lord has already answered us by coming in the flesh on this night; in
persevering in prayer we will know the fullness of the words of the prophet Isaiah with which I began:


Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore, he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
He will surely have pity on you; at the sound of your cry, as soon as he hears it, he will answer you.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.


Tonight, we recall and relive the Son of God’s surrender to mankind, His coming in the flesh, which resulted in
the ultimate surrender of His life on the Cross. May our surrender of our lives to the Savior, renewed tonight in
this Mass, be a source of joy and peace for us, such that we may have the humility and courage to let Him live
in us, to save us and to heal us, such that our eyes will see our Teacher and look upon His face for all eternity, in
the world to come, in the New Jerusalem.

 

 

 

Sermon for Mass Of Christmas Day 2018

 

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


At the beginning of his Gospel Saint John places a marvelous prolog which the Church reads at the end of Holy Mass in the historical Roman Rite of the eucharistic liturgy. Christmas is an occasion on which we should stop and savor the profound doctrinal richness of this most famous piece of Holy Scripture.


The Word of God, the Logos, the very manifestation of the Wisdom of the almighty Creator, subsisting with the Father from all eternity, becomes the Revealer of the Father and the light of all men: all those who receive Him He delivers from the dark-ness of sin and its consequence – death. By the grace of this divine Word the Father causes men to be reborn to new life. This is the new and eternal life of the children of God.


The liturgy of this, the Third Mass of Christmas Day, insists particularly on the divine greatness of the Word Incarnate rather than the lowly condition of His human birth. This latter was a particular development of popular piety originating in the 12th century but little known before that time. The text of this Mass, as I said, the Third Mass of this day stresses this profound aspect of Christ’ divine attributes. The magnificent and haunting chant, Puer natus est nobis which opens this liturgy sings, indeed, of the birth of a child, but one on whose shoulders rests a universal royalty and the salvation of all the world.


The Epistle reading, taken from the opening chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (written, most likely for Jewish priests who, in the immediate persecution of the earliest Christian times, were longing for the exquisite and priestly liturgy of the Temple) – Hebrews puts forward a striking doctrinal exposition on the incomparable greatness of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the one and true High Priest, Whom God “hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the world: Who being the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, make purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.”
Together with the mystical prolog of St. John’s Gospel, no better choice of readings could be made to show clearly the divine transcendence of Christ and the mission for which He descended into this world of darkness and sin and took upon Himself the yoke of our lowly nature.
Beloved, as we contemplate the crib with hearts full of wonder and love, it is necessary that we see there, by the eyes of faith, God’s Son in His transcendent glory. “God, Who at different times and in different manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days has spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all these things, by Whom also He made the world.” The remembrance of these profound truths is necessary in order to rescue Christ from the sentimentality which continues to threaten the real meaning of Christmas and the joy it imparts to true Christian hearts.


Dearly beloved, we are graced in a particular way as Catholics on this day of joy. Not only do we kneel in hearts’ submission before the eternal sovereignty of our New-Born King, we do so gathered at the altar of His Redemptive mercy. For even as we behold the fullness of His Divine majesty by faith in our hearts we are vividly reminded that this King is destined to another bed of wood than the that of His lowly manger: the ignominy of the Cross. It is for this reason that our Christmas crèche also includes our relic of the True Cross.
As Saint Paul reminds us, this child, born in our flesh of the Virgin Mary, had a singular purpose in His first Advent to men: He has come to make “purgation for man’s sins.” We see the intimate connection between this feast and our eternal salvation when, during the sorrows of Holy Week the liturgy places before our eyes the Suffering Servant of Whom Isaiah spoke so explicitly some eight centuries before His birth. This child, Who brings us such joy, came into this world to day as a blood ransom for the sins of all mankind. “For this was I born, for this have I come into the world.” The Wonder-Counselor and Prince of Peace is the lamb slain for man’s atonement.


The Incarnation of God is the very foundation of man’s redemption. God has come so that we might be saved from ourselves: our sins, our narrowness, our self-centeredness, from that stupidity which is the evil fruit of disobedience to the truth and the sovereignty of God.


At the Easter Vigil, Holy Church intones in solemn tones, O felix culpa – oh happy fault which despite the shocking prevarication of Adam and his descendants has merited for mankind such a wonderful Redeemer.


The grace of this redemption was born of gentle Mary in Bethlehem, yet its fruits are applied to us here today: Here in this very place we see brought together the true ecclesia which constitutes Christ’s Mystical Body in time and space. It is through the Catholic Church and her priesthood, and it alone, that the mission of redemption is engendered and brought to fruition.
Our foundation of Canons Regular bears these mysteries to heart in a particular way. For we are priests, or destined for that priesthood of Christ, whose sole purpose is the adoration of Christ’s divinity in maintaining the unchanging and unchangeable Revelation of God, delivered once and for all in these latter times through Jesus Christ, this humble child of Bethlehem, born unknown, in squalor and devoid of every human empowerment – this Divine Child Who reigns then – and ever – Creation’s Master and King.


To my brothers in community, if you would be priests faithful to the promises of your future ordination, you must study now to imitate this child before you: if you would ascend to the Altar and offer the most august sacrifice of His Redemption in the great Mystery which is the Holy Mass, you must learn of this Child to be meek and gentle of heart.


You must deepen your love of Christ by person-al and constant prayer, the fruit of patience and humility. You must perfect your souls under God’s grace by an unfeigned moral rectitude and comportment that will draw souls – not to you – but to Him Whom you seek to serve – this Child of poverty, this King rich in the light that fadeth never.


Let us all, beloved of God, children of grace, offer ourselves on this glorious day, with renewed fervor, in profound allegiance to Jesus, our God and King. Let us join our souls to Mary, the Theotokos – the Godbearer – in a renewed union to Jesus’ Holy Catholic Church of which Our Lady, the Rod of Jesse, is Mother.


Dearly beloved, at this Christmas, in the two thousand and eleventh year of grace, let us vow to serve this gracious and fearful king, so jealous for our love and hearts devotion. Let us do so by fidelity in our life’s state, fidelity in charity, longsuffering in our crosses, humble in our acceptance of God’s providential designs for our lives. In this we will give witness to our ever increasing love for God and neighbor.


If all the ends of the earth have, indeed, seen the salvation of God, let us, as believing Christians, live with conviction what we believe in our hearts and profess through the majesty of our holy worship.


Here, today, in body and soul, kneeling before the Crib and Altar, let us offer Him, the only gift we can: in the radiant glory of Christ’s majesty, let us give to Him the deepest love of our hearts.
May God grant each and everyone of you, your families, all those you love and all those for whom you pray His richest blessings and an abundance of His love in the coming new year of grace. And may the sweet Mother of God, the flower of our race, ever keep you safe within the folds of her arms.

 

 

Sermon for the Third Sunday Of Advent 2018

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. The Lord is near.

 

Dearly Beloved, 

Today, we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent, named “Gaudete” from the first word of the Introit, itself taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which served as the Epistle.  Gaudete is the Latin plural imperative for rejoice; hence the Church tells us today to do just that: to rejoice.  In the midst of our spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ and for his second coming, we are reminded that joy must be part of that preparation.  We are faced, then, with the question of what joy is and what role it has in the life of a Christian. 

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks of joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, following upon charity.  Thus, when we receive charity in baptism, a natural growth of that charity, the love of God, is joy.  Joy is the fulfillment of desire, a desire which stems from love.  Thus, if we love someone, we desire their presence, and when they are present, we rejoice.  In its essence, the concept of joy is simple.  But because our relationship with God is not simple, due to our current state and our fractured being, the way we experience joy is not as we would wish. 

First of all, God is both present to us and absent.  He is present in grace, in the Blessed Sacrament, in Holy Scripture, in priests and holy friends and in all who live for God.  He is absent in that we do not infallibly sense His presence—our emotions do not know what our mind knows, and so we waver.  We are beings that are made for intellect and emotions to function together, and as a rule, when we live by faith, they do not do so.  The mind and will must continually tell the emotions that what they know is more true than what the emotions sense, and this is a hard reality to live with, but it accompanies most of our human experience. 

Thus, it is helpful to know that St. Thomas Aquinas, common doctor of the Church, teaches that joy is not a virtue; it flows from the virtue of charity, but is not itself a virtue.  So when Paul commands us to rejoice, he is not commanding us to be charismatic in the contemporary sense; it is not a matter of emotion but a matter of the mind.  We are not called to unfailingly stir up happy emotions to feed our spiritual life, for that is a false way of being. 

But since joy flows from the virtue of charity, joy does have the quality of virtue in two ways: we can work to grow in the love of God, and we can choose to set aside sorrow so joy can flourish.  In regard to the first, there are ways in which we can encourage in ourselves a more profound love of God.  We do this by doing the things we would do if we wanted to fall in love with a human being: spend time with Him, read His letters, ponder His good qualities, converse with Him.  We ought to do these things as much as we can, for that is our part in loving God.  His part is that He can increase His love in us according to our desire and our prayer.  Thus, we should pray, ‘I love you, Lord; heal my lack of love for you.’  When our share in charity increases, then joy will also increase, according to the measure that we possess God and can rest in Him. 

In this vein, Aquinas adds that although in the abstract joy follows upon charity, it is also true that practically speaking sorrow can decrease joy.  He mentions three types of sorrow that take away from our enjoyment of God: past sins, current evils and the delay of beatitude.  Though we possess God now if we are in a state of grace, yet we know that could lose Him, as could others whom we love.  Therefore, we grieve over this possibility; we grieve over our own sins, which could keep us from salvation; we grieve over other’s sins, especially when they choose ways of life that separate them from God; and we grieve over the length of this life, since we would rather be dissolved and be with Christ and thus be freed from anxieties regarding definitive union with God.  

These types of sorrow are normal and even healthy in the life of a Christian; although union with God through grace should be sufficient to give us considerable joy, our fears over the state of our souls and those of others causes us grief.  In a way, if we did not have such sorrow, we could question whether we had any charity in us.  The saints suffered and wept over the sins of others and also were concerned about their own salvation, despite their sanctity.  Greater charity causes greater grief, for once one knows how beautiful God is, the loss of Him strikes us as all the more painful to consider. 

But there is a sorrow that is not good, that often invades our lives, a sorrow we must fight against, a sorrow that both Augustine and Aquinas say is the cause of all sin: inordinate love of self.  We love ourselves and our will so much that we would rather be sorrowful than be joyful; we choose to let grief reign in us because our lives are not what we wish they were.  Augustine writes in the City of God that “two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.”  Inordinate love of self, in which we consider all things in the world according to our own whims, eventually leads to contempt of God.  We choose to ignore Paul’s admonition to rejoice because things are not going our way; life is hard; we are misunderstood and unappreciated.  These things are true: life is hard and it is getting harder; we are misunderstood and unappreciated.  But “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”  He has rescued us from the power of darkness and has called us into His kingdom.  We should rejoice, then. 

What does this mean or what does this look like?  I am going to do what I never do—tell a story.  When Dom John and I were studying theology in Rome, we lived with the Norbertines, a medieval order of Augustinian canons.  Once or twice a year their abbot would come and take the seminarians away on a trip, and one year we were permitted to go with them to Venice.  It was February, and Mardi Gras season, and everyone was in costume.  We stayed there for about four days.  One afternoon, as we were walking through the city, as we crossed a bridge, a young woman, wearing a characteristic Venetian costume, moved close to me and said, “Laudetur Jesus Christus.”  That is joy—I was very unhappy in Rome, and not much happier in Venice, we were surrounded by crowds of worldly people doing worldly things, who seemed to care little for God, and yet there was someone who loved Him enough to share it with me.  I smiled and laughed happily and I have never forgotten her.   

This, then, is how we choose joy.  The world is going to hell, but the Kingdom of God is growing in number and in holiness.  Every time we get a glimpse of it, however small, we should rejoice, for the glory of God increases with each movement of love towards Him.  We love Him, and so we rejoice when He is loved by others.  That is our privilege when come together each Sunday and holyday for Mass: we see the kingdom of God, we see others striving for holiness, for all who come here come by choice; there is an urgency to the faith of all who pass through these doors.  And so when we see one another, we should rejoice: God’s kingdom is coming to pass on earth as it is in heaven.  

Even when we leave this place, we should also be open to joy: anywhere we see the love of God manifest, anyone whom we meet who loves Christ and strives to serve Him, people moving towards virtue and away from vice, the various beauties of nature which lead us to their Creator—we should allow these things to make an impression on us, to break through in us and let the virtue of charity spill over into joy.  It is like someone saying “Laudetur Jesus Christus” in a crowd; it is learning that whereas you thought you were like Elijah, the only one left to worship the true God, there are others like you, living for the Lord Jesus in the midst of a world that has rejected Him. 

A final point: as Catholics, our joy is grounded in the Blessed Sacrament; it is God dwelling among us.  What is more, every time we receive the Eucharist, we also receive an increase in charity, and thus in joy.  Today let us make an effort to rejoice over this sacrament and the intimacy with Christ that it gives.  And then may that joy work its way into all the darkness that we face each day, giving light to our souls and others whom we meet.  May it also grow into the joy that we shall know in heaven, when we shall no longer fear the loss of God, where we shall experience the fullness of His love, in the world to come, in the New Jerusalem.