lundi, mars 02, 2009


Sermon for the first Sunday of Lent
Beginning our Lenten season, on Ash Wednesday, we were saying that having a good will is not sufficient in order to be saved. There are souls that are of good will and yet that are still in danger to go to hell. They do hear the word of God and even receive it with a certain good disposition, joy and peace, this peace that God gives to all the people of good will – et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. But then?

Then, there is just nothing, because their will is weak. They are those described by Our Lord, two weeks ago, that receive the word with joy but have no root. They believe for a while, and in a time of temptation fall away. They do not want to be enemies of Christ, but nor want they to follow him on the Calvary. They believe in the Divine Revelation and accept the Magisterium of the Church but they have not renounced to the world and remain its slaves. The love of the temporal good, human respect and maybe a certain fear inspired by Satan, keep them away from following Christ. It is true that following Christ means carrying His cross and that the cross of Christ is not something that we naturally love. It is true that the society where we live today does not encourage us to accept the message of the cross. We like our comfort, we like our habits and we certainly like ourselves too much. So, when we hear Christ say that if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, we might be seized with fear. Then, our souls become the places of interior battles where two different spirits fight each other. On the one hand, Christ calls us and asks us to be crucified; on the other hand, we hear the world offering all its pleasures, comforts and attractions: All these things will I give you!

Third temptation of Christ: "All these things will I give you"

The temptation is great! The voice of the world sounds good. It is pleasant to hear, while many find the word of God hard. Who can hear it? (Jn 6,60) So, dear brethren, let us consider what is at stake. Let us consider not only the present advantages that the world offers now, but also and mainly the consequences of our choices. Christ warns us. He warns us many times: wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. (Mt 7,13) That is the way of easiness, the way of the passions that are not submitted to the will, the way of the reason that has rejected its principle, the way of the society that has banished its Master. It is the way that many take because it is simply the most convenient one. It is the way of those who would like Christ but not His cross, the way of those of good but weak will. This way leads to eternal death.
But there is another way: narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! Few they are that find it! Terrible word!

Now I am speaking to men of good will, otherwise you would not be here today, unless you entered this church by chance. You hear the voice of God, and certainly with a certain joy, but is your will strong enough so that you can choose the good way? Are you just a listener of the word of God or are you really ready to follow Our Lord wherever He asks you to go? If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Are you prepared for this agenda? It is certainly not an easy one. You have to deny yourself.

John Henry Cardinal Newman tells us what it is about: Self-denial of some kind is involved, as is evident, in the very notion of renewal and holy obedience. To change our hearts is to learn to love things which we do not naturally love – to unlearn the love of this world; but it involves, of course, a thwarting of our natural wishes and tastes. To be righteous and obedient implies self-command; but to possess power we must have gained it; nor can we gain it without a vigorous struggle, a persevering warfare against ourselves. The very notion of being religious implies self-denial, because by nature we do not love religion.
Self denial, then, is a subject never out of place in Christian teaching; still more appropriate is it at a time like this, when we have entered upon the forty days of Lent, the season of the year set apart for fasting and humiliation.

Dear brethren, self-denial is hard because it is against our nature. It is not the kind of thing that we naturally like to hear, but it is precisely the narrow gate that leads to life. And it is, alas, something that is rare, as Cardinal Newman points out. What he wrote in the XIX century is even truer today in a more materialistic and individualist society.

The Cardinal adds: It is strange, indeed, how far this same forgetfulness and transgression of the duty of self-denial at present spread. Take a class of men who profess much love for religion. Such persons at best seem to say, that religious obedience is to follow as a matter of course, an easy work, or rather a necessary consequence, from having strong urgent motive, or from some bright vision of the Truth acting on the mind; and thus they dismiss from their religion the notion of self-denial, or the effort and warfare of faith against our corrupt natural will, whether they actually own that they dismiss it or not. I say that they do this at best; for it often happens that they actually avow their belief that faith is all-sufficient, and do not let their minds dwell at all on the necessity of works of righteousness. All this being considered, surely I am not wrong in saying that the notion of self-denial as a distinct religious duty, and much more, the essence of religious obedience, is not admitted into the minds of the generality of men.

In conclusion, let us finish with the words of Pope Benedict XVI said at the Yankee Stadium a few months ago: Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves.

May Our Blessed Mother help us surrender ourselves as she did during her life and especially at the Calvary! It is crucifying, but it is the way that leads to life and to true happiness.

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