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 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.
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 Septuagesima Sunday 2019
With this Sunday’s liturgy begins the season of Septuagesima, a 30-day period always beginning nine weeks before Easter. This liturgical season is a prelude to Lent, and a remote preparation for Easter itself. It serves as a time of transition between the joy of the Christmas which ended, absolutely speaking at Candlemas, and the stern penance of the 40 days of Lent. Even though the Lenten fast is not yet in force, the liturgical color has changed to the sobriety of purple. As during Advent and Lent, the Gloria is no longer sung at Mass. It will reappear at the Easter celebration when Christ is praised in His resurrected body.
In the Martyrology, Septuagesima is further described as a time in which “we lay aside the song of the Lord which is Alleluia.” For, as the psalmist says, “How can we sing the song of the Lord in alien soil?” For the practicing Christian this alien land is none other than the exile of the present world which abounds in sin. Alleluia will also return to our lips and ears at Easter, for this great Christian acclamation represents the future life; it is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy which our earthly worship imitates. It is towards the glory of God’s praises in eternity that we strive throughout the whole of our earthly pilgrimage.
The 40 days of Lent, known as Quadragesima, and the present season of three successive periods of ten days each, (namely Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, also represent the seventy years spent by Israel in exile under the captivity of the Babylonians. One reason that Alleluia is silenced during this long season is because its penitential spirit has been deliberately given by the Church. Throughout, we are vividly reminded of being, in fact, the “poor banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears and sorrows.
Indeed, the whole of this cycle of penance and Easter preparation is a time during which we must cry to God from the very depths of our souls as today’s Introit says, seeking the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation which Christ alone can give.
During this season the Church takes up a study of the Old Testament in the texts of her worship. There we find the great figures who foretold the Redemptive work of Christ and whose work, in prefiguring that of Our Lord, prepares us for the worthy celebration of Easter when the Church celebrates the Lord’s definitive triumph over sin and death. “Search the Scriptures,” says Our Lord, “they are the same which give testimony of me.”
Thus, were you to be present for the readings of the Night Office of Matins throughout this pre-Lenten season you would find that on this, Septuagesima Sunday, they begin the account of the fall of Adam which is the root of original sin; on Sexagesima they begin to speak of the malice of men, their actual sin and the terrible flood which was its punishment. On Quinquagesima the sacrifices of Abraham and Melchisedech, are begun to be retold. These foreshadowed the sacrifice God required of His own Son as satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race.
Today’s assertion of the dogma of Original Sin and the portrayal of its terrible consequences makes Christ’s title of Savior stand out more clearly in our approach to the penance necessary for Lent. Together they prepare us to more knowingly celebrate the triumph of His Easter resurrection.
The Gospel of the Laborers in today’s Mass and that of the Sower, next Sunday, both remind us that redemption is extended to all men alike. The cure of the blind man at Jericho following the proclamation of the Passion shows us the salutary effects produced in us by the cross of Christ. The epistles of Saint Paul read in their turn over these next three Sundays remind us during this season that the Church must complete Christ’s work by entering with courage into the purifying discipline of penance during the great Lenten fast.
As was just alluded to the Night Office this week, its lessons and responses, all taken from the Book of Genesis, relate the story of the Creation of the world and man, our first parents’ fall and the promise of a Redeemer, followed by the murder of Abel and a record of the generations between Adam and Noah. Next Sunday and its week take up the story from the Flood onward.
In this week’s account we are reminded that Adam very deliberately failed in the test that God put before him. “Because thou hast eaten of the tree whereby I commanded you thee that thou shouldest not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to the…In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken.”
“Being exiled from Eden,” says St. Augustine, "the first man involved all his descendants in the penalty of death and reprobation, being corrupted in the person of him from whom they sprung. The whole mass of condemned humanity was, therefore, plunged into misery, enslaved and cast headlong from one evil to another.” As though corroborating this great doctor’s words, today’s Introit sings, “The sorrows of death surrounded me.” The Collect adds that we are “justly afflicted for our sins”. In the Epistle, Paul represents the Christian life as an arena where a man must take pains and strive to carry off the prize after sacrificial preparation. The Gospel bears witness that the reward of eternal life is only given to those who work in God’s vineyard where work is hard and painful – all due to our sinful state in this present life.
But, “in His wisdom,” says St. Gregory, “Almighty God preferred rather to bring good out of evil than never allow evil to occur.” For God took pity on men and promised them a Second Adam, who restoring the order disturbed by the first, would allow them to regain heaven to which Adam had lost all right when he sinned and was expelled from the Garden of Paradise.
Beloved, this is the glory of our Redemption and the hope of our Christian faith. For through the providential fault of Adam has come the Lord Jesus, the mercy and love of God, Who wonderfully created man but more wondrously still has redeemed him. Indeed, in the words of a prayer from Holy Saturday, “the creation of the world in the beginning was not a more excellent thing than the immolation of Christ Our Passover at the end of time.”
Today’s Mass, when studied in the light of Adam’s fall, prepares our minds for the beginning of the Septuagesima Season, and helps us understand the sublime character of the Paschal mystery for which these next thirty days prepares our hearts.
In response to the call of the Master who seeks us in the depths into which we are plunged, let us stand aright: let us take up our work in the Lord’s vineyard; let us enter into the arena of our daily lives and struggle manfully as is the duty and challenge of the Christian life. This means death to oneself and complete submission to the commandments of God. In this season in particular, let us be mindful of the gravity of sin and its consequences – so evident everywhere around us – let us remind ourselves of the need of redemption and prepare ourselves, with humility, for the necessary cleansing of the yearly Lenten penance soon to come.