( Sermon - Sunday Feb 19th 2006 )
Saint John Chrysostom was one of the greatest admirers of the Apostle Saint Paul. He wrote about him: we shouldn’t be wrong by comparing Paul’s personality to a grassland where all the virtues grow or to the garden of the Holy Ghost, so much so that the grace abundantly blossomed in him; and he put in all his acts a divine wisdom worthy of the grace received.
The vibrant words of Saint Paul heard in today’s epistle show us his nobility of soul. What a Apostle! What a Saint! And what an example for us! We, who have too often the habit of complaining when something annoys us, can only fall silent after hearing the works of Saint Paul. What have we done for the kingdom of Heaven in comparison to this great Saint? Almost nothing!
And be sure, dear Brethren, that Saint Paul doesn’t list his actions in order to get personal satisfaction or the praises of his fellows. His only concern is the glory of God, and in recognizing his own weakness he gives thanks to God from whom he receives the strength to do all these things.
By acting this way, the Apostle gives us an example, Him who says: Be imitators of me! So, considering this, we have two pitfalls to avoid, these are laziness and pride.
The first one could easily be based on a false humility: “Well I am too weak, it’s not for me! I cannot do that, I don’t have the strength for it.” But do you forget that God wants us do be the workers in his vineyard as we read last Sunday? And all members of the Church, whatever their ranks or states of life, are asked to work in God’s vineyard. So, concretely, what do you do every day for the building up of the Kingdom? Oh, God certainly doesn’t ask you to do the same things he asked for Saint Paul. But He certainly doesn’t want you to remain passive.
Here, we would be well advised to follow the Saint Theresa of Avila’s Advice. Christian life is like a great adventure with its nobility, its passions and its charms but also with its difficulties, its pains and its dangers. The issue is our salvation or our damnation. So, you have to embark on this adventure. If you don’t start one day, there is no chance that you will arrive safe and sound. Ant then, you have to summon up your courage and your patience, because the road is hard. Laziness has no place on this trip. And there are many obstacles you have to overcome. Listen to Jesus’ words in the gospel : Some people hear the words of God; but going their way, they are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit.
So, we must be strong, but once again, this strength we need is not ours but God’s. And God doesn’t refuse to give his strength to those who want to follow him with a real and sincere desire. Saint Therese of Avila tells us that we have to go forward every day, contemplating Our Lord and praying to Him constantly. Then we can obtain the strength we need, like Saint Theresa herself, like Saint Paul, like all the Saints who are now in Heaven. But if you give up your prayers, how can you imagine to be able to avoid sin and to remain in state of grace?
There are some Christians who don’t pray or only a little bit and then they become discouraged because they fall regularly in the same sins they have to confess again and again. I would say that is normal. You cannot persevere in good works if you cut yourself off from The One who is the source of all goods. You can still do a natural good, because we have this ability in us, in our nature, but there is no way to do supernatural good, the only type of good meritorious for eternal life. And Our Lord is very clear on this subject: I am the vine: you the branches: he that abides in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If any one abides not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and case him into the fire, and be burned.
So, it is true: we are weak, as Saint Paul was. But let this be a reason of glory for us as it was for Saint Paul: If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity. And don’t find any pretexts in your weaknesses to justify your laziness.
The second pitfall is pride. Pride, in fact, is the root of all sins. And pride is so pernicious that it can change even our best works into a motive of condemnation. Because a proud person is a kind of thief, a thief who steals the most precious good that exists, which is the glory of God. Saint Paul had many reasons to glorify himself, but he didn’t. He knew that all his works were not from him, but from God who gave him the ability, the power and the grace to do that. He was certainly tempted, because the enemy is crafty and knows how to interfere between a soul and God. He tries to fill us with pride, so that we can loose the benefit of our good works and turn away from God.
And the materiality of the good works of proud persons could not save them, because their wills change the goodness of these works into malice. Even their communions instead of giving them life, become an object of reproof. They steal the glory of God and God is very jealous of it. He wants to share his glory with us, but we have to humble ourselves first.
Dear brethren, give thanks to God for the good you do. That’s all. Don’t expect consideration from others, don’t expect any rewards on earth. But just act for the love and the glory of God. I know that is not easy. We like to show our good works. But they are not ours, bud God’s. Whatever I do, I do it with God’s gifts, with the talents He gave me. And they are for the common good, not for my personal glory. We are not the owners of our talents, but just the managers.
Let us pray to Our Lady so that she can help us to avoid these to pitfalls and obtain for us the zeal and the humility we need.