dimanche, septembre 24, 2006

Sermon for the 16th Sunday post Pentecost

Hotel-Dieu de Beaune
Healing of the man with dropsy

Once again, Our Lord silences the Pharisees by asking a simple question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” Always quick to tell us what we must do and what we must not do, now the Pharisees remain silent. What? The doctors of the law, the wise men who are supposed to teach the people of God don’t know the answer to this easy question? “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” They are too embarrassed to answer. It has to be said that it is not the first time that Our Lord asks this question. Those of you who came to Mass yesterday or who read their missal remember the gospel from Saint Luke, chapter 13. Jesus had healed a woman and the chief of the synagogue had become indignant. Jesus’ retort was cutting: “Hypocrites!” Saint Luke relates that “the people rejoiced for all the things that were gloriously done by him” while the Pharisees “were ashamed.”

Now Jesus asks them again if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. This episode takes place in Chapter 14 of Saint Luke, so, probably a short time after having been admonished. It is reasonable to think that they are not very comfortable in this situation.

Our Lord is a good master and a good teacher. His purpose is certainly not to belittle them, but rather to help them understand what the true law is supposed to be. The Pharisees knew the Law of Moses perfectly, but they have forgotten its true spirit. Year by year, they had changed the religion of their ancestors into a set of rules and obligations so restricting that very few, almost none, could fulfill them. By coming among us, the Incarnate Word didn’t abolish the law but He fulfilled it. For this, he gave a new commandment, the precept of charity.

Dear Brethren, we have to recognize that there is a tendency among many traditionalists to forget this precept of charity under the pretext of keeping the Tradition. This is obviously wrong, because Tradition teaches us to be charitable, as the Church reminds us regularly throughout Her Sunday readings. Today, for example, we are told by Saint Paul to be “rooted and founded in charity.”

It must be well understood that attending the Latin Mass or wearing a veil or knowing your Baltimore catechism well will not save you, but the grace of God. In fact, grace doesn’t exist without charity. Even if they are formally different according to the theologians, they are practically inseparable. I am not saying that Latin, veils and catechesis are not important. Indeed, they are, but I am saying that we must not forget what is essential because it is the essence of our divine religion: charity! There is more glory in healing a dropsy on a Sabbath day, than in, hypocritically, keeping this day holy. We are not sanctified by the simple physical accomplishment of the precepts of God but by the quality we bring to the accomplishment of these precepts. In all our actions, we first need humility, which is signified by the parable of Jesus: “sit not down in the first place!”

Humility gives value to our actions while pride removes their merits. The book of the Imitation of Christ encourages us to humble ourselves: “Oh, what a lowly and humble opinion I ought to have of myself, and how little I ought to regard whatever good I may seem to have! How deeply I ought to submit myself to Thy profound judgments, where I find myself to be nothing else but nothing, altogether nothing.”

Contemplating the greatness of God helps us to realize our smallness. It is for this reason that Saint Paul pushes us “to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth and to know also the charity of Christ.” Then the observation of our smallness is not an occasion of despair, but on the contrary, a motive of joy, because we are open to God Himself who can dwell and work in our souls. Knowing God’s love allows us to be filled unto all the fullness of God as Saint Paul asserts.

Dear Brethren, loving God is not so difficult, but we have to know Him first, which supposes from our part a certain mortification. None of us has an innate or infused knowledge of God, and we need to work and study, but first, to pray so that we can know Him and then love Him.

May Our Lady give us the courage and the strength to do it. May she teach us the way of humility, which supposes necessarily some humiliations. They are precious crosses we should accept gratefully. Then, let’s do everything with a true charity. This is the high road which leads to heaven.

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