Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Easter 2019
Today we mark the fourth Sunday after Easter. The Church, both at Mass and at Matins, begins to read the
letter of St. James. James was a cousin of our Lord, chosen to be an Apostle, and the first bishop of Jerusalem,
martyred at the age of 96 in the city.
The letter of James is short yet filled with much practical wisdom, and a letter worth reading with some
frequency. The selection for today is taken from the first chapter and has the memorable verses, “Let everyone
be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to anger…for the anger of man does not work the justice of God.”
St. James paired speech and anger together because when we are angry, we often say too much, and vice versa,
when we speak too much, we often get into arguments and are offended by other people’s interjections into our
wise expostulations. Thus: too much speech and too much anger often go hand in hand.
Both speech and anger are ambivalent parts of human life, since they are good in themselves but so often used
to excess. Speech communicates truth, and anger addresses injustice; both are good and necessary human
actions. And it is also the case that if neglect speech or anger, we can be guilty of sin, for there are times when
it is sinful to remain silent or to not get angry. Thus: to be virtuous and grow in holiness, we must know how to
rightly use both speech and anger. Since a Sunday homily does not give sufficient time to cover both, and lest I
say too much and anger you by my wordiness, I will focus on anger.
Anger is first of all an emotion, a bodily response to a real or perceived evil which we cannot avoid. Unlike
other emotions, however, anger is closely tied to reason because anger arises when we judge someone’s words
or actions as offensive toward our person. Thus: there are times when reason dictates that we be angry—for
example, when a child insults a parent, the proper response is anger. The child’s action disrupts the natural
order and anger seeks to address the injustice. Anger also applies to offenses not only against ourselves, but
also against those with whom we are associated so closely as to consider them part of ourselves. An example is
that when someone insults Christ or His Church, we should be angry, and, more angry than we would be if we
ourselves were insulted, since His honor is more important than ours.
However, we know all too well that anger tends toward excess. Proof of this is that we do not praise people by
calling them angry—whereas we say ‘he is a courageous person’ or ‘she is a prudent person’ we do not testify
to someone’s holiness by saying ‘he is an angry person.’ Moreover, anger is hard to regulate because it is
attractive to us: its object, the administering of justice for offenses, which is called vengeance by medieval
authors, is good and so we wish to act upon it, but because it is so attractive, it encourages impetuosity and we
act hastily and disproportionately.
As St. James points out, anger also leads to sins of the tongue, for when we are angry, we often engage in false
accusation and detraction. With a person who hurts us or someone we love, we read into their actions and
assign motivations that are often not present and sometimes we go so far as to vocalize these accusations,
though that only adds to the gravity of the sin we have already committed through accusatory speech in our
minds. Other times we may confront the person, but we are not satisfied with addressing the grievance with
them alone, and so needlessly tell others of the offensive action, which sin is called detraction. Thus anger,
despite its inherent goodness, is also a capital vice, for it leads to so many other sins.
In Christian tradition, there are two virtues that moderate anger: meekness, which harnesses interior desire for
vengeance, and clemency, which mitigates the rendering of vengeance, meaning it tempers our use of
punishment. To return to the example of the parent and child, meekness helps the parent from disproportionate
interior anger by properly evaluating the injury suffered and placing it in context, while clemency ensures the
right exterior punishment when punishment is due. Since our interior dispositions lead to exterior actions,
meekness is the most important for us to cultivate, as then clemency will more likely fall in line.
Growth in meekness is fostered by two things in particular: first, silence; and second, the continual
remembrance of God’s mercy. Silence helps us to temper our anger because it creates an inner sanctuary where
we can evaluate the quality of an injury and respond to it properly. Silence also allows us to consider the other
person’s reasons for offending us, which is so often due to weakness rather than malice. If silence is given as a
punishment, that is, if we are obstinately silent on purpose with our offender, it is sinful; but to take space and
time to better consider an offense is virtuous.
The second help to meekness is remembrance of God’s mercy towards us. If the anger of God was given free
rein to act, each of us would be destroyed or plunged into hell—not only those whom we name as heretics or
infidels or sinners, but each one of us who has use of reason, without exception. We have each offended God to
such an extent that we deserve justice more than mercy, and yet He extends His mercy far more than He acts on
His wrath. If we are called to be like God, which is what it is to be holy and virtuous, meekness helps us put
our anger into perspective. As James says, the wrath of man does not work the justice of God, and this is worth
telling ourselves when we get hot under the collar about anything. The angry man thinks his anger is justified
in each situation and as he perceives it, without exception, so we should check ourselves in every case of anger.
God will have His day and so will His anger and His justice, but at the final judgment. In this life, He prefers
mercy to justice and thus so should we, for insofar as we extend mercy to others now, we will rejoice in His
anger at the end of time, rather than being destroyed by it.
As regards the current situation in the Church, we have reason to be angry. Christ is insulted by the ambiguity
of doctrine, especially the insinuation that the religion He founded is not unique, and He is insulted by the
duplicity of life in the person of His bishops and priests. But because anger is so attractive to us, we must
constantly reevaluate our wrath as to whether it is aiding us in virtue or eating us from within. Some vices
never tend toward the good, while others, like anger, tend to both good and evil alike. If our anger leads us to
more prayer and sacrifice, to measured speech, and to greater hope in God, it is good; if it leads us to excessive
speech and accusation, to spending more time reading of controversy than reading Scripture, to becoming men
of anger rather than men of mercy, our anger is deceiving us.
In this struggle to rightly employ anger, let us ask the Blessed Virgin for help. Though immaculate, she was
angry—angry against the devil, against sin, against lies. But at the same time, she is meek beyond compare and
the mother of mercy and repentance. She prays for all her children, even the duplicitous, that they may know
the fullness of redemption her Son won for us, and may not waste His precious blood by their indifference,
sloth, or malice. May she, by her intercession, teach us to use our anger well, for the salvation of souls and for
the building up the body of Christ, the Church. And may we, by her aid, thus reach the halls of heaven, where
there shall be no need for anger, for sinners shall be punished, the just rewarded, and the Holy Trinity glorified,
and we shall praise His justice and mercy forever and ever.
Sermon for the Third Sunday After Easter 2019
Jubilate Deo, omnis terra – shout with joy unto God all the earth, alleluia; sing ye a psalm to His name, alleluia.
Today our Easter joy is given a new color: in each of His earlier resurrection appearances to His disciples, Our Savior had brought them new and abiding gifts: “Pax vobis: my peace I give unto you”; “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen and have believed;” and again, “I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.”
But today He directs our hearts towards the closing mystery in the great Paschal cycle: “Vado ad Patrem: I am going to the Father.” And, in the exchange recorded in today’s Gospel reading, we sense an urgent curiosity among the apostles regarding these remarks of the Lord. In St. John’s inimitable style we hear Jesus and His disciples discussing this question: “a little while and now you shall not see me, and again in a little while you shall see me.” The questioning entourage “what is this ‘little while’ business?” and the Lord’s enigmatic response: “Amen I say to you that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice – but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you!”
In reference to all this, there is little wonder that the texts of today’s Mass are so filled with Alleluias! The curiosity of the Apostles concerning this “little while” has riveted the attention of all believers ever since; though the Gospel text is located in proximity to the crucifixion and resurrection, it has a deeper, mystical sense in its reference to the earthly consummation of the Lord’s Incarnation and His return to glory.
At the Ascension, we will commemorate the Lord’s being lifted from this world and carried physically into the presence of God the Father; at that time those men of Galilee will hear the angels asking them why they are standing there gazing into the heavens, for “this same Lord Jesus will come again in glory as you have seen Him go.” Beloved for the past twenty centuries the “little while” between this departure at Christ’s Ascension and our eternal and inseparable union with Him has been the cause of the Church’s vigilant expectation of His final triumphant glory: a glory He now possesses, a glory towards which we, in this world, are still longing but have foretaste in our participation in the eucharistic banquet, itself a type and foretaste of the heavenly banquet at which the Lord is already seated.
Say unto God “how terrible are Thy works, O Lord! In the multitude of Thy strength Thy enemies shall lie to Thee.” This is not some curious text; we know how fear can inspire lies and flattery from those unwilling to submit to rightful authority. For the children of grace, the Easter triumph finds its reflection in the final exaltation of Christ’s Ascension to the glory of His Father. And the eternal hope of heaven opened by the Redeemer to the children of His kingdom fills us with unspeakable joy. For the enemies of God it – the truth of Christ in glory – fills them with dread: if not now, assuredly so at the moment of their judgment.
Today’s collect takes up the theme: may those in error return to the way of righteousness; that is, to the true path of the Catholic Church and her teachings, by professing the name Christian by doing only what is consonant with Christian faith and morals.
In today’s epistle reading, St. Peter spells out, in all simplicity, the manner of our fidelity to this name we bear: it is not in using our freedom as a cloak for doing malice, but that through our free choices we may show ourselves as servants of God. The “little while” of which our Lord speaks is this present life, that length of time during which we sojourn here below before entering into the beatitude of God in heaven: that joy which no man will take away. This “little while” is the sojourn of our mortal lives as “strangers and pilgrims” in the present world so mixed with sorrow and joy. In it we have the ability to choose or reject that good to which God calls us. The Prince of the Apostles urges us to purity: an uncompromised integrity of body and soul wherein, by obedience to revelation, we will be found justified and vindicated by God at our life’s end. For the “joy no man can take away” is won by a sincere submission now to Him in whose image we have been created and by Whose Divine Son our redemption is made possible.
Christ’s coming again – that cataclysmic event for which genuine Christian faith ardently longs – is understood under two headings. The first is His gentle return to us in grace; the second will be Christ’s return at the end of the created order when He will come again, robed in the terrible splendor of the God that He is, and then judge this world with an exactitude of Divine Justice that will brook no compromise. This definitive coming will cut through the errors and delusions of an obstinate humanity and cast into the abyss any and all who have spurned His love. There will be no appealing to the ‘rights of man’ on that dread day, the Day of the Lord, for then the rights of God will be asserted without appeal.
That is why the liturgy prays in today’s prayer over the gifts that we may have the grace to “subdue earthly desires and learn to love the things of heaven.” We do not always perceive that this earthly pilgrimage is just a “little while”: we must learn to know what Our Lord means when He says, “you will grieve, but your grief will be changed into joy.” For even as we wait, even as we live the daily existence of children of God, we see that sorrow itself has a glint of heavenly joy: for when we see that fleshly desires reveal the bitterness of no lasting satisfaction it is then that our souls come to understand that the shortness of this life is made so because Jesus has gone to His Father. According to St. Augustine even the second coming is not far off: “It seems long now because time is still passing by; but when the wait is over, we shall see how short it was.”
Beloved in Christ, do not let your hearts be troubled by the apparent triumph of evil with which we seem to be surrounded. God has triumphed and will triumph forever even while His enemies now mock and scorn. We are taken for fools while the world rejoices, pursuing its road to perdition: “A woman, when she is in labor hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembers no more the anguish for the joy that a man is born into the world.” We labor as wayfarers in a world that is far removed from God. Yet time is short: have faith in the promises of Our Redeemer. We who share in the delight of His mystic banquet in this life are promised that by humility and grace we will come to an eternal felicity with God in a glory beyond all imagining. Be therefore faithful to God certain that He who died to redeem us from our sins, is standing ready, in the fullness of His own time, to receive our souls into that eternal glory which He has reopened to us by the fruit of His passion and glorious resurrection.
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 Octave Day Of Easter 2019
Today we celebrate the octave day of Easter, the eighth day of Christ’s resurrection. God had revealed to the Jewish people that they were to celebrate all the major feasts over the course of eight days, with the eighth day being as festive as the first and manifesting the joy of the chosen people. Being the fulfillment of the Jewish nation and the true Israel, we continue that tradition in the Church, and so celebrate today with as much solemnity and joy as Easter, for at this canonry, there is no such thing as low Sunday. But our marking of the eighth day is not merely due to Tradition; it is also a sign of our entering into eternity. The Son of God opened the gates for us in His rising from the dead, and today we enter into His rest through the action of the liturgy.
Today’s Mass goes by many names: Quasimodo, due to the first word of the Introit, taken from the first letter of St. Peter; Dominica in Albis, for the newly baptized would last wear their white garments today before joining the ranks of the other laity; and in more recent years, Divine Mercy Sunday. Yet all the traditions, both East and West, proclaim the Gospel of doubting Thomas, for it happened on this day some two thousand years ago, and it was surely due to the Gospel’s mention of Christ’s life-giving wounds that caused this day to be associated with the devotion to Divine Mercy.
As we just heard and as we know, St. Thomas was not with the other apostles on Easter Sunday, and when they told him they had seen the Lord risen from the dead, he said he would not believe unless he could see and touch the wounds of Christ. When the Lord appeared to the apostles again today, Thomas saw those wounds, and professed the divinity of Christ in the immortal words: My Lord and my God. When Mary Magdalene saw the Lord in the garden, she said Rabbi, teacher. But when Thomas saw the wounds, he did not call Him by a human name, but by His divine name. What the risen human nature did not provoke in Mary, the glorious wounds called forth in Thomas: the confession of divine faith.
We too are called to confess the divinity of the Lord in His wounds, but as Jesus says, we confess without seeing them. Yet though we do not see them, we do experience them, for we are His Body, we are his members. We are called to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ; not that they lack power, but that they lack fullness, for each Christian must suffer in participation with his Master; he must bear the wounds in his own body and soul so that Christ may fill all things and draw all men to Himself.
In each of our lives, we participate in Jesus’ wounds in two ways, one is active and the other passive. The active participation is through persecution, when we are calumniated for the sake of Christ, either explicitly, in that others hate us and malign us because we belong to Christ and His Church, or implicitly, because we stand for truth and goodness and so convict the world of its lies and sinfulness. Many of you defend the sanctity of life and of marriage and so are mocked or ridiculed or spoken ill of, and that is to bear the wounds of Christ in your own person.
The way that we can know that such persecution is life-giving is the way in which we respond to our persecutors; the more perfect our love for them, the more perfectly we are wounded in Christ’s name and not in our own. We begin by responding with pain of heart: we are sad because we have been maligned and mocked, which is the normal human response; insofar as we do not wish ill on the persecutor, we have done well. When we begin to pray for our persecutor, then we have reached a new stage, and more perfectly participate in Christ. The most perfect level is not only to pray, which we can do even while still bitter, but to weep for the other person’s sins and ignorance, asking the Lord to have mercy and forgive them, for they know not what they do.
The reason that such wounds in us correspond to the wounds of Christ and that we share the faith of Thomas in living them out, is that in such an interchange we see more than the human side of it, which is a difference of opinion among persons; we see instead the divine hidden in it, the fulfillment of the beatitudes, the sharing in the rejection that our Lord experienced because He lived and spoke of the light, but men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil.
Our passive participation in Christ’s wounds when we accept the wages of sin, and allow Jesus to heal us through His divine power. St. Paul tells us that the wage of sin is death; that is, sin brought about death, and it is the price we pay for sinning. Many of us experience death in a way that wounds us: the untimely death of a child, or a spouse, a parent or a friend wounds us, and we must live with that wound. Those in the world find cause for rebelling against God, for accusing Him of injustice or cruelty; that is the human way. But we see in the wound the divinity of Christ; the wound of death becomes for us a cause for greater abandonment to the Lord, for crying out to Him, for hope in eternal life, where we shall be reunited.
Sin also has other wages, for other evils have come upon mankind due to sin: the evil of physical and mental illness, and the evil of bad habits that burden us. Illness, whether of the body or of the mind or of the emotions, is a punishment for our sins, either as individuals or as a race, for we inherit many things from Adam by way of original sin, even if we personally do not deserve them. The wound of a prolonged or even lifelong illness is truly a wound; we can either see it as human, and something to be despised, or divine, and thus an opportunity to permit the Lord to work in us. He seems to be silent and to let us suffer, but in fact, His power is shown forth in our weakness, and the wound allows us to know that power, which is a grace and a privilege.
A final wage of sin is sin itself and the way our own sins and the sins of others weigh us down and keep us from making evident spiritual progress. We have separated ourselves from the near occasions of sin and have striven to move forward in holiness, but our emotions remained disturbed, our desires reach out to the wrong things, anger and lust and acedia still rear their ugly heads. But when a bullet is removed, it takes time for the wound to be healed, and in the case of sin, that time of healing is a time to know the mercy of the Lord and a time to grow in humility, without which we cannot be saved. The wound of pride is much more dangerous than the wound of any one individual sin, for pride can corrupt our whole soul and poison all our good works so that what appears to be spiritual progress is in fact self-will instead of divine grace. Instead of willing ourselves to holiness, we show Jesus our wounds so He may heal them; we admit our sickness to the divine physician, just as Thomas admitted the folly of his unbelief by his confession rather than stubbornly clinging to his own human demands and expectations.
In all these cases, we do not touch the wounds of Christ, but allow Him to touch our wounds; we do not hide in His side, but allow Him to hide in ours. And it is in this way that we imitate Thomas, for we allow the wounds that Christ now has in us, His members, to be infused with divinity, to be a cause for professing that Jesus truly is the Son of God. The Lord bore His wounds in pain for three hours, but now they are made glorious; we bear ours in pain for this lifetime, but when they are glorified, this life shall seem like a few hours. And the glory shall be everlasting, for they are wounds that have participated in the wounds of our loving Savior, and so they will come to be not a cause of shame, but a sign of victory. As St. Augustine says, “The love we bear to the blessed martyrs causes us…to desire to see in the heavenly kingdom the marks of the wounds which they received for the name of Christ... For this will not be a deformity, but a mark of honor, and will add luster to their appearance, and a spiritual, if not a bodily beauty.” We, too, will be beautiful in heaven; our beauty will come from our wounds: the wounds of death, the wounds of illness, the wounds of sin, which we bore out of love for Christ and with perseverance in faith.
And so, on this blessed day, the eighth day of the Resurrection and our participation in eternity, may we boast, as St. Paul did, of our wounds so that the power of Christ may be manifest in us. Let us, with Thomas, confess the divinity of Christ by entrusting to Him the wounds we suffer. And let us trust in His providence, that each wound is for our good and for the salvation of all those who believe, for in the world to come, there will be no tears, no crying out, no mental anguish, no separation from those whom we love. For this is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
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.”