Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Men’s justice is definitively not like God’s justice, and this is a very good thing. It is a very good thing because God is infallible in his judgments and infinitely good and merciful in his sentences, whether He condemns or He acquits. Men are certainly not infallible and as for their goodness and mercy, though it is possible to find them in certain noble hearts, it is still in a relative proportion that will never attain the divine perfection. Most of the men are rather prompt to condemn their neighbor while they so easily justify themselves. And when these men pretend to be religious, such an attitude becomes simply more obnoxious as it is a caricature of religion. It is true that men have the tendency to belittle the holy things that God has given. This is our nature: we have this treasure in earthen vessels, Saint Paul says.
But knowing this should precisely make us humbler, acting with fear, like a person who would have to handle precious porcelain and would be afraid of breaking it. Cardinal Newman, commentating on Saint Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, says that righteousness is in us, but not of us. The Corinthians "had had gifts given them, he says. They did not forget they had them; they used, they abused them; they forgot, not that they were theirs, but that they were given them. They seem to have thought that those gifts were theirs by a sort of right, because they were persons of more cultivation of mind than others, of more knowledge, more refinement. In spite of the clear views which the Apostle had doubtless given them on their conversion of their utter nothingness in themselves; in spite too of their confessing it, yet they did not feel that they came from God. They seemed, as it were, to claim them, or at least to view their possession of them as a thing of course; they acted as if they were their own, not with humbleness and gratitude towards their Giver, not with a sense of responsibility, not with fear and trembling, but as if they were lords over them, as if they had sovereign power to do what they would with them, as if they might use them from themselves and for themselves."
Such is the Pharisee of today’s gospel who reckons that he is justified. Such is his judgment. He is sanctimonious, satisfied of himself. He is so full of himself that he even gives thanks to God for what he is. He thanks God for not being like the others that he looks down upon. Pride and prejudice! It seems to be a very old sin. In fact, "in every age of the Church, Cardinal Newman says again, Christians have been tempted to pride themselves on their gifts, or at least to forget that they were gifts, and to take them for granted. Ever have they been tempted to forget their own responsibilities, their having received what they are bound to improve, and the duty of fear and trembling, while improving it."
Every age of the Church, Cardinal Newman says. Dear Brethren, let us well consider that we might be tempted to act like the Corinthians of the time of Saint Paul, like the Pharisees of anytime. For us, who by the grace of God, have been preserved from the modernist errors, for us, who might know well our catechism and the teaching of the Popes, for us who can worship according to the old and venerable Tradition of the Church, there is a danger if we forget that we have precisely some responsibilities for having received such gifts. God asks more to those who have received more, and if you take for granted what you have received, remember that it may be taken away from you one day.
Without humility, all these beautiful gifts from God would become the object of our condemnation. Attending the Latin Mass is not always and necessarily a ticket for heaven. It can also be your ticket for hell if you do not humble yourself. Dom Guéranger, commentating on today’s gospel, reminds us of what humility is:
Humility, which produces within us this salutary fear, is the virtue that makes man know his right place, with regard both to God and to his fellow-men. It rests on the deep-rooted conviction, put into our hearts by grace, that God is everything, and that we, by nature, are nothingness, nay, less than nothingness, because we have degraded ourselves by sin. Reason is able, of herself alone, to convince anyone, who takes the trouble to reflect, of the nothingness of a creature; but such conviction, if it remain a mere theoretical conclusion, is not humility: it is a conviction which forces itself on the devil in hell, whose vexation at such a truth is the chief source of his rage.
So, do not thank God for what you are, because you are just a sinner. Give thanks to God for what you have received. And since what you have is what you have received, do not keep it for yourselves, but share it with others. This is where charity blossoms and it cannot blossom if it is not rooted in the soil of humility.