Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost 2019
Today we mark the seventh Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, and
the epistle from the Romans, and both speak of the fruits of good and evil lives. If we use the imagery of a tree
as Christ does, each of us is a tree that produces fruit according to the inner principle at work in us, either sin
and evil or the Holy Spirit and His grace, and the fruit we produce leads to a reward, either death or eternal life.
But whereas a tree cannot choose what fruit it produces, good or bad, and therefore avoid being cut down, we
can choose to bring forth fruit that leads to life.
The teaching of St. Paul in the reading from Romans is a stylized way of expressing the classic teaching on
human morality: our actions serve as means to achieve some end or goal, and depending on the end we hope to
reach, we act accordingly. Thus, there are some actions called intrinsically evil, which can never be chosen as a
good human action; they lead only to eternal death. Then there are others, the great majority of actions, which
are good or neutral in themselves and remain or become good by our doing them with the right intention, love
of God being the most perfect intention we can have, but others, like performing our duty, as also acceptable
By way of these actions, we choose what kind of person we will be: either a person worthy of God and of
eternal life, or a person deserving of separation from God and everlasting death. For by performing actions
repeatedly, we become what we do, and thus we can be called by the name of our virtues or our vices. We say,
he is a just man, or she is an angry person. Elsewhere in his letters, Paul gives us lists of things which lead to
life and to death: works leading to death are fornication, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy,
anger and selfishness; and, as St. Paul says, “I warn you that those who do such things will not inherit the
kingdom of God.” Paul’s fruits leading to life are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness
and self-control. These lead to eternal life and also help us to share in that happiness even now. If we are
honest with ourselves, we realize that we have the potential to engage in all the works of death, and that we
struggle to consistently bring forth the fruits of life. So, it is appropriate to discuss the moral life in more detail.
Thomas Aquinas teaches that human beings, despite original sin, still have an innate tendency toward good
desires and good actions. We all know, for instance, persons who have good hearts and are inclined toward
good actions in a natural way, as if they were born with it. Each of us has some of these inclinations; rarely do
people have all of them; Saints like Maria Goretti and Aloysius Gonzaga are exceptions in that they possessed
all of the virtues at a young age, and were likely prepared for that by being given dispositions to all the cardinal
virtues at their conceptions. Instead, most of us have tendencies to some virtues, like temperance and kindness,
but lack dispositions to other virtues like chastity and meekness. For each of us it is different, and that is why to
despise someone because they lack a natural disposition to a virtue is foolish and vain.
But such natural dispositions to virtue are only inclinations, they are not virtue. Virtue must be purposely
chosen, and it is through trial that we learn whether we possess a virtue or only an inclination. For example, a
person may be considered temperate because he is thin but when he is put in the presence of an abundance of
food, or when he is troubled by other circumstances, he becomes a glutton. Thus, he does not possess the
virtue, but only the semblance of it. It is also the case that the person who is overweight can be more temperate
than the person who is thin due only to a high metabolism rather than to virtue, for appearances deceive and
temperance is not about being thin but rather about eating properly for one’s state in life and one’s type of body.
So also many think they are kind and patient but when they have children or enter a monastery they learn they
are actually angry and mean. It is revealed to them that they appeared to be virtuous because they could avoid
difficult persons and control their lives, but when they face adversity and trying circumstances, they are less
holy than they thought. Such self-knowledge is good, because it reminds us that we’ve just begun in the
lifelong pursuit of virtue. Better to be a beginner aware that he is just beginning the race than a beginner who
thinks he’s already finished.
When faced with one of these revelations, we must set about doing the good action necessary to develop the
virtue in us, and that requires grace, hard work, and trials of every sort. Thus, temptations and adversities are
the means we need to grow and we should be thankful for them as often as possible. And the higher the virtue
at stake, the more we should thank God. Sufferings which cause us to develop our faith, hope and charity are
the most precious, for they increase in us the most important virtues for the Christian life and most perfectly
prepare us to persevere in this life and fully live in the world to come. Thus, when a tragedy or an intense trial
befalls us, we should strive to see God working in it, bringing us from a weak faith to a stronger one, from
worldly hope to supernatural hope, from love of earthly things to love of God and the things to come.
It is also good to consider that the persons who bring adversity into our lives are either knowing or unknowing
accomplices in virtue. We grow in holiness both by working together with those who support us and whom we
get on well with, and by those who try us and expose our vice and weakness. St. Augustine often made the
point in his preaching that evildoers help the just by providing opportunities for them to grow in virtue, and
even among good people pursuing holiness together, there are persons we don’t get on well with who still assist
by not allowing us to grow stagnant in certain virtues and by keeping us from growing in pride at our supposed
To help us in our pursuit of virtue, we should remember two final things beyond what I have already mentioned:
first, our decisions for virtue or vice are decisions for life and death; while we should not obsess over them,
which would not be productive in the long run, neither should we become complacent and satisfied with
ourselves. He who despises little opportunities to do good and grow in holiness will lose what he has little by
little, and then he will wake up with a vice he can overcome only with great suffering.
Second, the grace of Christ can overcome everything, our vices, our evil tendencies, our weaknesses. How
many of us have labored against a principal fault for years and still see little to no progress? We are still angry,
lazy, impatient, intemperate, unchaste. So we must rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of God’s grace, to
remember that one of the functions of the sacraments is to heal our interior wounds, and the greatest sacrament,
the Eucharist, heals our greatest wounds. The Postcommunion prayer testifies to this: “By the medicinal
operation of this sacrament, O Lord, mercifully free us from our perversities and lead us to the things which are
right.” We are sick, and the liturgy calls the Eucharist our medicine.
What we cannot do of our own power, Christ can do in us; we should not lose hope even when we wake up at
the starting line day after day. If we are committed to humility and to never giving up, God will save us. And
the Eucharist will be the food that sustains us, whether it seems that we ran with God or He carried us. And so
if we can do nothing else, if we are discouraged and wearied by our evil fruits, we can frequent the sacraments.
Christ will do in us what we cannot do ourselves, but only if we let Him work in us. Therefore, if we sense in
ourselves a vice or vices that do not go away no matter what we do, or which we have despaired of ever
overcoming, we must commit ourselves to weekly confession and as many Masses a week as our schedules and
duties permit. The Lord does want to heal us; we need only admit our illness and make use of the remedies He
Today then as we strive to bring forth good fruit that will lead to eternal life and everlasting union with God and
His Saints, let us consider the consoling words of Christ in Revelation: “I know your works. Behold, I have set
before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have
kept my word and have not denied my name. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep
you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am
coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who conquers, I will make him
a pillar in the temple of my God; and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my
God, the new Jerusalem.” May we give our weakness to Christ, enter the door He opens to us, and thus be
found worthy to bear the name of God and live in His heavenly city forever.
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost 2019
Today we mark the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, and, as is the case with so many of the summer
Sundays, while the Epistle and Gospel are worthy of meditation, the Collect is a perfect example
of Roman brevity and poetry: “O God of strength, possessor of all that is best; infuse into our
hearts a love of Thy name, and grant us an increase in the virtue of religion, that Thou may
nourish in us the things that are good, and by the zeal of Thy mercy, protect the things which
Thou has nourished.” Each phrase of the prayer deserves consideration, but I wish to focus on
the first petition: infuse into our hearts a love of Thy name.
But before we love the name of God, we must know it; love always follows upon knowledge;
while the Lord can infuse into our hearts a love of His name independent of our knowledge, it
makes sense to cooperate with His work in us and come to know His name so that we can love it.
Hopefully some of my words will help foster such knowledge and then such love.
First of all, names are important. We may live in a culture in which certain people name their
children Blue Ivy and North West, but names still matter. It is a unique aspect of intellectual
beings that we not only name the essence and important qualities of a thing, we also give persons
individual names. Adam was given the responsibility to name all the animals presented to him,
which he named according to their essences, but it was only his wife to whom he gave a personal
name. The bestowal of a name is a great privilege and duty, so those of us with beautiful and
thoughtful names should thank our parents. And even those of us with less meaningful names
should consider how God’s hand was in its bestowal, for His Providence works despite the
occasional short-sightedness of man.
Second of all, the exchange of a name is also important. It is a privilege to know someone’s
name: it is a significant moment in an introduction between persons, and it is even more
meaningful when we are allowed to use a name as a sign of love. Moreover, we don’t use names
that others don’t like, unless we don’t like that person, and if someone insists upon a name being
used, or drops obvious hints to that effect, we don’t use a different name. We use the name they
have given to us or revealed to us. A case in point is my middle brother Michael. Though we
called him Mike, our parish priest called him Steve. In the beginning it was funny, because his
middle name is James and no one in our family is called Steve, but eventually it became
offensive and even hurtful to my brother. He began to think he was not important enough be
called by his proper name.
In the case of God, we could say that the history of mankind is the history of forgetting God’s
name, and man’s fabrication of divine names based upon his knowledge or supposed knowledge
of God. In response to this folly of man, God revealed His name first to His chosen people, the
Jews, and then revealed it to all mankind in the person of Jesus. The most important thing that
Christ revealed to the world was the Trinity of persons in God, and that is, in a very real way, a
matter of revealing their names. By knowing their names, we know something about their
persons, and theology is, with the help of Scripture, a contemplation of those names. Thus we
should strive to know the names of the three divine persons, and them use them lovingly.
Father is the name of the first person of the Holy Trinity. Though it is rarely used in the Old
Testament, Jesus clearly taught us to call God Father, both in His own prayer and conversation
with the Father, and in the way He instructed us to pray. St. Paul also says that the gift of the
Holy Spirit moves us to cry out, Abba, Father, just as Jesus did in His earthly life. The name of
Father is a fitting name, since He is the origin of other two persons, and the Father loves the
name because it gives proper honor to His Son and acknowledges that He is divine and worthy of
adoration. Thus a religion which purposefully avoids the name Father and does so to deny the
divinity of the Son is in error, and insofar as it chooses to be in error, is offensive to the Father.
In our relationship with God, however, Father can be a difficult name for us to love, since our
experience of God the Father is so colored by our experience of our human fathers. If our fathers
have been absent, cruel, harsh, dismissive, or cowardly, we think of God the Father in the same
way. Yet it is not so—He is Father in the fullest sense of the word and all that we would wish of
a father: present, encouraging, protective, courageous, generous. Perhaps the best Scriptural
verse to help our understanding of this is Jeremiah 29: “I know the plans I have for you, says the
Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope…you will call upon me
and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me
with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord.” We should think of the Father as
providential: He knows the plans He has for us, which are for good and not evil, and He will
make them come to pass, not by forcing us, but by our free cooperation. And it is not like the
father who wants his son to do exactly what he did for a living, no matter what gifts or desires
the son has; this Father is divine, and therefore whatever desires He has for us to be like Him are
such that cannot but fulfill the desires of our heart: He is good, holy, eternal, happy, and He
wishes us to be like Him forever.
Jesus is also the one who gave us the name of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. His
name is, in a way, more generic than Father, for all three persons are holy, and all three are
immaterial or spiritual. Nevertheless, the name is personal, for, as St. Augustine explains, the
Holy Spirit has such a name because He proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and
therefore since He belongs to both, He bears a name from what is common to both persons.
The name of the Holy Spirit can also be considered in His relation to us, for He both makes us
holy by His presence and grace and He inspires us by moving our minds and hearts. St. Thomas
Aquinas explains that He moves us particularly in terms of the virtue of charity, since He
Himself proceeds as the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Thus, if we wish to love God, we
should love the name of the Holy Spirit, who moves us to love the Holy Trinity and to delight in
His love for us. And to love His name, as with the Father, is to ask Him to do in us what His
And then there is the name Jesus. In way, though the names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit
represent greater intimacy between us and God, the name Jesus is the name we should love most,
for it is the name of Our Savior. If He had revealed to us the truth of God but not died for us, we
would be the most pitiable of men. Instead, through His blood, we have the knowledge of God
and the power to live with that God forever.
In today’s Church, we could rightly say there is a certain embarrassment over Jesus’ person, and
therefore His name, and so all the more reason we should love that name. We should all
intuitively groan with St. Bernard and say, “If you write, I do not enjoy your writing unless I
read there the name of Jesus. If you teach me, or converse with me, I do not delight in your
words, unless I hear you say the name of Jesus.”
And what does Jesus mean? It means, the Lord saves. And if the Lord saves, you want to be in
need of saving and desire to be saved. When Jesus says in the Gospel that He is Physician and
Shepherd and that He has to heal the sick and find the lost, we should desire to be sick and lost.
Unlike the pharisees and scribes, we should admit that we are sick and lost so Jesus can minister
to us. Unlike today’s world, we should admit we are in need of salvation, so the Savior can save
us. The current debate over the morals of sexuality and marriage boil down to the question: are
we, as a race, in need of salvation or not? If we are born a certain way and cannot change it, and
there is no one who can help us live better lives, then what need do have of Jesus? But if we are
fallen and broken and weak, then we need a Savior and delight in Him. At the end of the world,
which we seem to be approaching, things will be simpler; we already see a sharper delineation of
good and evil and that will only intensify. In the end, there will be two types of people: those
who know they are sinners and wish to be saved; and those who say they need no Savior, and
even worse, that they don’t want one. “The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met
together, against the Lord and against his Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast
away their yoke from us.”
So how can we love the name of Jesus? Not only by saying it reverently and never using it in
vain, but by wishing to be saved. To admit that we have parts of us that are wounded and in
need of healing; and if we have think we have no wounds, to at least confess the wound of pride.
The more we realize our need for salvation, the more we will honor and love the name of Jesus,
for the Lord saves, and we are they whom we saves.
“O God of strength, possessor of all that is best; infuse into our hearts a love of Thy name, and
grant us an increase in the virtue of religion, that Thou may nourish in us the things that are
good, and by the zeal of Thy mercy, protect the things which Thou has nourished.” May our
prayer be heard, and may be thus come to be counted among those who are saved by the blood of
the Lamb and thus worthy to enter the New Jerusalem, and praise and thank the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit for all eternity.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost 2019
Dominus illuminatio mea. . . The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life, of what, then, should I be afraid?
With these opening words of this Sunday’s introit the Church puts on our lips a profound confession of absolute faith in God. For with the power of God on our side, truly, what is there for us to fear?
The whole of today’s Mass liturgy is pervaded with this sense of confidence in God, that complete trust shown by the Apostles in the Gospel account of the miraculous draft of fishes and the certitude of St. Paul in his passage on the expectation that all creation itself will be delivered from the “servitude of corruption.”
Beloved in Christ, this life and all its difficulties is not simply an exercise in futile despair to be dulled by a self-serving materialism, itself a chimera of empty distraction. Such is the reality – self-induced, mind you – of modern man living without God. But for the Christian – and in fact – this life is a time of divine trial which, in St. Paul’s words, “is not to be compared with the glory to come.” If Christ be as faith teaches, if He be risen from the dead as we hold to be true, then His promise of redemption, His assurance of the glory to be revealed in the world to come ought to be – for true Christians – more than a vague platitude about which we hear from Sunday to Sunday, and be forgotten the instant realty imposes its suffering and genuine hardship.
Man’ supernatural destiny is so central to God’s eternal plan that the whole created order is caught up into as St. Paul says. This is the meaning of that strange passage about “all creation is groaning” in today’s Epistle reading. In a word, mankind is the centerpiece of God’s creative will – therefore our bondage to corruption and dissolution is shared even by the natural order itself. The most distant galaxy with its least particle of matter is inextricably bound to the fall of our first parents, awaiting with all humanity that magnificent transformation God will effect in the glorification of our bodies and souls at the consummation of the ages.
My beloved in Christ: Christians must ask themselves, “What is the key for un-locking this redemptive plan?” The answer, – the key – is penance and prayer, so little appreciated in our times of widespread apostasy. This is exactly what the Gradual is today’s Mass has begged: “Forgive our sins, O Lord. Be Thou the refuge of the poor in their tribulation.”
God in Christ – this is man’s one, true hope. How often do we see Him in the Gospels using nature itself to draw attention to His divine power? and thus, to His ability for healing the very root of all human sorrow and ruin? Here I am speaking of moral evil, the source of all suffering and corruption. In using the natural order as part of His divine pedagogy, this often happened on or near the Sea of Galilee.
Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, Peter the fisherman, Peter the sailor, that un-worthy and frail person who would become the Rock on which Christ’s unfailing Church would be built, once cried out in a boat rocked on that sea by
a violent storm, “Help us, Lord, for we are sinking!” Could he have known that the human cry of terror welling up in his own throat was a prophetic voice speaking for whole of the ship-wrecked race of Adam’s descendants – which is you and me?
More than once the divine hand of God in the calm gestures of the Lord Christ restored order in the midst of the natural calamity of suffering – even to the overturning of death’s firm clamp on human bodies It is Jesus, my children, – God – Who saves those who call upon Him in faith, those who cry out against their drowning in the storms of this present life. That is, He comes to the rescue of those who truly turn to Him in trust with works of prayer and repentance: Save us O Lord, for we are perishing – save us, Lord, for Thou alone art our strength and refuge.
Beloved, this salvation is opened through obedience to His Church, the great net cast across the centuries by the first Fisher of Men. If Peter was astonished by the miraculous draft of which Our Lord was the cause, why do we not draw a greater profit through our own understanding of what this miracle truly means?
God is our safe harbor: Not this world, not ourselves. God. He is the one light by which we can walk through the shadows of this life. By humble submission to His will and providence we may find the comfort of forgiveness, the strength of virtue, the supernatural life and health which His Church imparts to those wayfaring here below.
And for this the Lord says: “Do not let your heart be troubled.” The sufferings of now – contradiction, sickness, death – are transitory, and salutary when accepted as means for attaching our hearts more firmly to the glory to come. Let us, therefore, by the grace of the sacraments we receive, be strengthened in our fidelity, our perseverance, in our love of God. He Who stilled the waters by the power of His creative might, leads us, through the Church He founded, along the path to salvation. Thus we should leave Mass this morning strengthened in our resolve to persevere in the doing of good, with humble submission to the trials we are called to bear. Let us seek this grace through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin, our guardian angels and the company of heaven. For it is by fidelity to such that we will come to the safe harbor of true peace – the vision of God in the glory of heaven.
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost 2019
as the Sunday cycle of Masses unfolds during this time after Pentecost the liturgy tends consistently toward one object: the deepening of our union of souls with Jesus Christ. There is, however, an indispensable prerequisite for this union – charity toward others. No one ever expressed this truth more clearly than St. John when he taught, “If any one says he loves God, and hates his brother, he is a liar.” A very searching and direct teaching. St. Paul puts it less bluntly when he says that we must “put on love which binds” all virtues “together and makes them perfect.” Charity, then, is that bond which unites the members of the Mystical Body under its Head, Jesus Christ. Hence there can be no genuine union with Christ without genuine charity towards others.
Beloved, faith demands that we examine our hearts as to this fundamental requirement of genuine, supernatural love of others, for Jesus tells us in a forceful manner that if we are not reconciled with our brother, God will not accept the gift we bring to Him at the altar; that is, He will not receive the offering of our hearts which we make in prayer.
Such reconciliation can be a real sacrifice of our wills: to ask pardon of God, suffer adversities, perform our duties of state all require sacrifice and self-control. But these may pale in comparison with seeking reconciliation with an equal or even our inferior and subject – especially one who has wounded us gravely. But this we must do or God will not accept us. And divine faith teaches that God will help us to accomplish this, which is His will, difficult as it may seem on the natural level.
Today’s collect cuts to the heart of the matter: it is an appeal for God’s love which kindles in us true love for our neighbor: “Fill our hearts with such a love that our desire for you in all things and above all things may lead us to what you have promised, which is far superior to anything we can desire.”
In today’s epistle St. Peter exhorts us to sincerity of heart towards our brethren, and to offer love and forgiveness in the face of wrong-doing. Jesus takes this even further in His Sermon on the Mount: He sets forth the program of genuine Christian conduct: it is all about conversion. In unmistakable language He draws sharp lines between the Old Law in its narrow Pharisaical interpretation of fear, and the New, which is the law of charity. Jesus stresses that His new covenant does not stop with external observances but reaches, rather, deep into the heart of man and his relation to others. In order to give proper sanction to this, the Master designates the highest punishment in the Old Law as the lowest punishment in the New!
In the Old Testament a murderer was “liable to judgment”: his crime was tried and sentence rendered by the court. The New Law penetrates more deeply: it punishes not merely the act, but the source of the act – anger. But the sin of anger has different degrees. “Raka” is an Aramaic word which means “empty headed fool.” It is a grave calumny, for the implication is that the individual lacks full human intelligence. Hence the Savior makes the culprit answerable to the Sanhedrin, which was the highest tribunal in the land. The greatest insult of all was to call a man a fool, for Scripturally a fool is one who blasphemes God and denies His existence. The crime is so great that there is no trial, and the proper punishment is the eternal punishment of “fiery Gehenna.” In effect, the sin of anger, if it arises from vindictiveness, is always grave. The Savior’s words imply as much, but He stresses the point that, whereas the Old Law merely punished the external act forbidden by the 5th Commandment, the New Law penetrates into the motives and purposes within and strikes the crime at its very root: the human will.
Our Lord wants true charity to reign in every heart: “Therefore, if at the moment you are bringing your gift to the altar, you recall that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go first and seek a reconciliation with your brother. Then come and offer your gift.”
These words of the Lord give focus to the power and dignity of the Eucharist. The altar is the central focus of churches because the altar is the heart of Christ’s Mystical Body. If we come with religious duty to the altar how can we claim to love Christ unless we love His members? The love of God and love of neighbor must run in tandem: if they do not, then we are as St. John states, liars. For this reason Paul has charity in mind when he says, “A man should first examine himself. Only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11: 28)
Beloved, let us humbly ask this indispensable grace from God: that we may sincerely put into practice this great commandment of love. Jesus Himself said it is the 2nd of the two great commandments : it is the reverse side, the connatural effect flowing from a true love of God. Let us therefore, today, in this renewal of Christ’s love for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, join our hearts and wills sincerely to the fruit of His Passion by putting into daily practice genuine, Christlike love of our neighbor. This means not merely loving those who please us, but forgiving and wishing good for those who we consider as having done us ill. In doing this – loving as Christ loves – we are being fitted for the glory of the world to come where we will see God face to Face and live in the light of His eternal Love which knows no measure.
Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost 2019
Today we mark the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, formerly the Sunday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart. The Gospel clearly relates to the feast which the Church celebrated two days ago, for Our Lord’s parables tell us of His heart seeking us, his lost sheep and his lost coins. These parables come from the 15th chapter of Luke and culminate in the parable of the prodigal son, which, although it was not proclaimed today, I wish to comment upon since it has important details not found in today’s parables.
Luke gives us the historical circumstances for all three parables as an introduction to the chapter, saying that “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus; the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” And so the Lord told them the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Thus they are parables for the self-righteous, for those who think of themselves as not needing the forgiveness of God, but also resenting when it is extended to those whom they view as sinners. In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother is the self-righteous man who judges his brother, who complains when he is forgiven, and at the same time is ungrateful and takes God’s gifts for granted, for even holiness is a gift from God.
But more important than the older son is the younger son and his father. You surely remember the parable, but just in case: the younger son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, even though his father is still alive; he then takes it and lives elsewhere, in a foreign country, and spends it all, living badly. When a famine breaks out, he finds a job feeding pigs and suddenly remembers that he would be better off at home and goes home to his father’s estate. The father sees him from afar and runs to him, clothes him in fine things, and prepares a banquet for him, rejoicing that the one who was lost is found.
The merit of the younger son is twofold: first, he recognized the sorry state he was in, and second, that he would be better off humbling himself before his father than continuing to attempt to survive in a land of famine. This parable has a somewhat universal appeal: it is known to Christians and to non-Christians; it has been depicted in art and even has a catchy epithet: the prodigal son, much like the good Samaritan. But the parable has no meaning if we do not acknowledge its content: it is not a story about a man who feeds pigs and praises himself for that; it is about a man who sees that what he is doing is wrong and disgraceful, and that it would be better to be an abject in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of sinners.
The parable has meaning both for the man or woman whose life has changed from a state of sin to a state of grace, and for those of us blessed to be in a state of grace but still fighting against lesser habits of sin. For most of us, the first meaning has significance, for we have been freed from some habit of mortal sin, or some degree of grave ignorance, or from both, and that deliverance is a gift from God. Most of us can remember a time when we did not serve the Lord, when we were adrift, and then God came to us in grace and turned us to Himself and to His Church. Being mindful of this moment or moments can help us to have proper perspective: continuing gratitude towards Our Lord, and mercy towards others who live in sin or ignorance, just as we once did.
For those of us delivered from mortal sin and culpable ignorance but still fighting against the passions, there is the everyday return to God after we have fallen into sin, as even the just man does seven times a day: when anger gets the best of us; when we indulge in sensuality; when we give in to sadness; when we delight in our own excellence. Whenever one of the capital sins takes hold on our minds and hearts, we have begun to feed the swine; whenever we realize our folly and turn back to God, we have been saved again, to begin the journey back to our Father’s house. Each moment of conversion is a gift of God; each turning from selfishness and pride is due to grace, and so even if our sins are what the world might call ‘little sins,’ we should realize that they are serious and deserving of punishment, and if we became hardened in them, we would merit hell. Pride tells us that they are but little things; humility and gratitude tell us that if not for the grace of God, we would be wallowing in mud.
But even more important than the actions of the younger son is the love of the Father. We are likely to think of that love most manifest in running to meet the son as he approaches the villa. But in fact the love for the sinner began when he pricked his conscience amid the pigs and suggested to him that he return. Divine love is not like our love, which works principally by outward action: we do things for the ones we love; we say things to indicate our love, but we cannot act on the interior of the person except by them allowing an exterior action to affect them inwardly. God, on the other hand, can work interiorly without any exterior agent; He was the one who spoke in the son’s heart to remind him of what he once had and could have again if only he would admit his sinfulness.
We have a tendency to think of divine action as following upon our decision to do the right thing; but in fact God is already active, moving our intellects to see the good and our wills to desire it. As the collect for the Mass says, there is nihil validum, nihil sanctum without God; nothing strong, nothing holy. God is the origin of our holy thoughts, holy desires and holy actions, and that is why the Saints can say in all honesty that whatever good there is in them is entirely due to divine action. No man turns from sin without God; no man grows in holiness without God. Thus the father not only runs to the son when he approaches the villa; he already ran to him in the pigpen, beckoning him to come home and stop destroying himself.
This should console us in our endeavors to bring about the conversion of sinners: the Lord can act where we cannot. We act exteriorly by witness or rebuke, by example or persuasion, but we so often fail. In our culture, we call mud what others call pure water; we condemn what they extol. We use reason to explain and argue; they use emotion and accusation. Yet the Sacred Heart of Jesus can still touch them interiorly; He can show them that it is mud and not water; that they are dying of hunger and that the only remedy is the Bread of Life, his flesh given for the life of the world.
We can help the Sacred Heart do its work in two ways: first, by accepting the grace of conversion day by day. Each time we turn from sin back to the living God, we build up the Body of Christ, for St. Paul says that what happens to one member happens to all. And so when we allow God to do good in us, we share the Lord’s grace with all in the Church, and by extension, with all in the world; we become salt and light, which are so needed in today’s world, for it has grown tasteless and dark. Even should we fall into mortal sin, we do good for the Church and the world by not wallowing in the evil that has overcome us, but by quickly confessing our sins, so that the King and His army will not have to fight the battle against evil with one less soldier.
The second way to help the Sacred Heart is to share in His pain of heart over sinners. In our society, it is easy to have animosity towards the enemies of the Church and of humanity, those who promote vice and try to conform us to their standards. It is easy to be angry towards those who insist on exhibiting their pride and disdain the need for a Savior. But in the mess that is Western society, Jesus is most in need of hearts that will weep with Him over the folly of the prodigal sons who prefer their pigpens to the Father’s house. They have wasted their inheritance, but they speak as if they still have it. May we weep at this rather than get angry.
When Jesus said that at the end of the world charity will grow cold, He meant that many would no longer value the redemption He won for us, but He also meant that many of His faithful would be too comfortable to weep for sinners; they would be lulled into a stupor that would keep their hearts from truly feeling pain over the sheep lost in the wilderness. May we not be among those whose love grows cold, but let us entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart, that contact with His heart might cause ours to burn with love. Though the month of the Sacred Heart ends today, let us continue to say the litany; let us continue to beg Him to makes our hearts like His, so that we may serve as instruments to draw many souls to Christ, souls that are in need not of arguments or explanations, but in need of tears and sacrifices offered in secret. St. Paul says that the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men; so also, our tears for the conversion of sinners are more powerful than the world’s lies.
And then, in the world to come, we will be gathered together by the Blood of Our Savior, rejoicing to be rid of this passing world, safe in the Lord’s fold, there to praise Him in the New Jerusalem, unto the ages of ages.