mardi, avril 12, 2011

Sermon for Lent

Sermon V: Why do we not understand the Divine things?

And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.” (Luke 18:34)

The Eagle of Meaux, Bossuet, says that the sacred history of the Gospel shows the holy Apostles in three different states since their vocation began. We can see them first in a great ignorance of the celestial truths, next in a glaring incredulity, and finally they appear to be filled with lights and knowledge, so enlightened that they proceed to enlighten the whole world. When Jesus Christ was still with them, their gross understanding did not penetrate the mysteries. When He left the world, the scandal of the Cross disconcerted them so much that they lost their faith. When the Holy Ghost descended upon them, their faith was immutably reestablished, and all the darkness that was yet enveloping their spirits vanished. These different changes which we can derive from the Gospel are of great use to us. Do not be tempted to think that they do not concern you. Saint Paul reminds us that “all scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to instruct in justice.” (2 Tim 3:16)

We know from the Fathers that the Apostles, chosen by God, do not only instruct us by their holy and salutary doctrine, but they also support us by their doubts, they strengthen our faith by their incredulity, and they teach us by their ignorance.

The sublime doctrine of Jesus Christ is the same for all. The laws of the interior life, an interior life which is absolutely impossible without the knowledge of this doctrine, are the same for all. There is both permanency and some constants not only in our nature, but also at the level of the Divine Grace, which makes our doctrine truly a science, as we have already said. And I beg you not to think for one instant that this science is reserved only for the intellectual elite of erudite persons. This would be totally contrary to the Divine Wisdom that wants to communicate Itself to everyone. Again, the doctrine of Christ is intended for everybody and proposed to everybody, but it is understood only by those who want to hear it and to receive it. Our Lord, who perfectly knows this, does even not deign to answer anyone who has no concern for the truth, and His silence after Pilate asked “what is truth?” is particularly eloquent.

The doctrine of Christ is first speculative, but it is not only speculative. In fact, it is ordained to action, according to the word of Saint James: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only." (James 1:22)

It is true that among the things we have to believe, there are some that are so mysterious and so high that even faith does not remove all the darkness that envelops them. Faith enlightens our intelligence and enlarges it. It gives it the greatest ability to understand the things of the earth as it gives us the knowledge of their Creator. Yet, faith is always received in a human and, therefore, limited intelligence. The part of darkness that remains even in believers does not come from the objects of faith that are believed, but from the limitation of the intelligences that believe. It is as much as we advance and progress in the interior life that we understand better the things proposed to our intelligence by faith.

When Jesus Christ proposes to the peoples with sublime words the inscrutable secrets that He has seen within His Father,” Bossuet says again, “when He wraps with parables the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, so that the proud and ungrateful men may see and not perceive, and may hear and not understand, it is not surprising that the Apostles do not understand this mysterious speech.” On the other hand, it is quite astounding when the certainly clear words of Jesus are not understood. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man; for He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spit upon, and after they have scourged him, they will put him to death. And on the third day he shall rise again. (Luke 18:31-33) Nothing is clearer than these words, and yet the Apostles do not appreciate them. Saint Luke makes sure that the readers of his Gospel grasp well that the Apostles understood nothing: “And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.”

Since all Scripture is for our instruction, we certainly have something to learn from the ignorance of the Apostles. By considering what darkens the minds of the Apostles, even in the presence of the light of the Sun of Justice, we may hopefully find out what darkens our minds to the extent that we sometimes miss the whole point of certain evidences of faith, or certain evidences that are to be learned from the Doctrine of Faith, which affect our life and the morality of our actions, and which will ultimately jeopardize our salvation.

For instance, it is clear that, for whoever reads well the Gospel, Jesus is the Bread of Life, and that one has to eat His flesh in order to have eternal life. He who does not believe at all in the Revelation will not see the necessity of receiving the Body and the Blood of Jesus, which is, after all, logical and coherent. But how is it possible that so many Christians, who claim to follow Jesus Christ, do not understand, or even explicitly reject, the teaching of Christ concerning His body and His blood? Yet, it is a doctrine that He has magnificently expounded with great clarity, found in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Saint John. All Christians can read these words, and they can see that when they were spoken, there were some disciples who left Jesus. Their reason could not adapt to the brightness of faith, and they remained in or returned to the darkness. And once again, and we will never grow tired of repeating it, those in darkness do not comprehend the light, because they simply cannot.

It is clear for whoever reads well the Scriptures that matrimony is a holy and divine institution, and that divorce is a serious trespass against the Divine Law, as it is clearly explained in any Catechism book. "Are there any reasons that justify divorce? No, divorce is never acceptable. It is a grave offense against the natural law, and it is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents, often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect, which makes it truly a plague to society." Our Lord has made clear once and for all that “what, therefore, God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” It won’t surprise us that the non-believers, who live in a time of enslaving consumerism, of hedonism, and of self-interest, regard marriage from a mere materialistic and practical point of view, and, therefore, marry and divorce as their passions dictate, and when the mood suits them. But how is it possible that so many Christians who read or hear the word of God justify what cannot be justified, if not because of the ignorance of the mind or the corruption of the heart, as we spoke about two weeks ago? Faith is not given to ignorant minds that are ignorant because of their own fault, or to corrupted hearts. Once again, and we will never grow tired of repeating it, those in darkness do not comprehend the light, because they simply cannot.

It is clear to whomever reads well the Scriptures that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, which even appears to be a result of the denial and disobedience of God, according to Saint Paul. By the way, we can here catch a glimpse of the infernal spiral to which mankind is attracted. We have already explained how corruption is a source of the lack or the loss of faith. We see also that a lack of faith usually generates more corruption. We are not too surprised to see this vice among the pagan people, even though it is against nature, but a careful reading of the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans shows us that it is this kind of thing that we should expect when people reject God. But how do Christians, who are supposed to know the word of God, accept such a shameful defiance? In the name of which Christian principle can they justify it? And here, I do not speak about those who have a disordered attraction, and who struggle and suffer with it while trying to live a good life. I speak about those who justify, and even publicly promote, homosexuality, and who relentlessly try to make everyone believe that it is something normal, just another way of life.

We said that sacred doctrine is first speculative, but then it is ordered to action. Therefore our actions and our way of life depend on how we receive the doctrine of Christ. Saint Thomas compares a well disposed mind to a well polished mirror, on which things appear as they truly are without being altered or distorted. He also explains that an act of intelligence is a movement, and he makes a comparison to corporeal movements. If you have to move, you can do it calmly by being sure you go in the right direction, and by avoiding the dangers you may encounter on your way. You can also rush with haste and, therefore, accept the possibility that you may go in a wrong direction or crash into an obstacle.

As Bossuet points out, it is very often haste and rashness that clouds and stains the mirror of the mind, impeding it from reflecting the true object which the intelligence considers so quickly. It is the source of all the prejudices that darken our intelligence and prevent us from receiving the teaching of Christ, even though it is clear and evident of itself. The truth may stand right in front of us, as simple and clear as it is, and yet, we do not see it, we do not hear it, and we receive it as we want to receive it, not as we should. We prefer to judge rather than consider the things and the facts. We do not penetrate the essence of the things, and we stop our minds at their exterior covers. We judge, and, therefore, we act according to the appearances, and not according to the realities. It is not the intrinsic and objective truth that governs our life, but our own subjective conception of the truth, which is a distorted and false image of it. And although we claim to follow Jesus and His teaching, the Gospel is not really and entirely the supreme and sublime rule of our life.

Look at the Apostles at this stage of their lives. They had already confessed that Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God. For his profession of faith, Simon even had his name changed to Peter. Yet he dares to contradict his master: “Lord, be it far from you, this shall not be unto you.” Hear the answer of Jesus: “Go behind me, Satan, you are a scandal unto me.”

What about you, Christians, who profess the Divinity of Jesus Christ? Are you sure that you are not a scandal unto Him for not hearing all His words? Are you certain that your minds reflect entirely the shining light of the truth? Are you aware of the stains of your intelligence that may still darken it? Let me ask you again the same questions I asked last week: Do you really accept in your life the scandal of the Cross, or do you desperately, like the Apostles, seek to turn away from the Cross? Or are you sure that the Cross you carry is the one that Christ has made for you, and not the one that you have carved for yourself according to your own will?

As you see, there are still many questions that need to be asked and need to be answered. This Lenten season is the time to ask yourself the right questions, and with the grace of God, to answer them in all objectivity.

This is what we intend to do, and to continue Friday and throughout Lent. May the Mother of God continue to help us to open our intelligence and our heart to the Divine truth! May she help us to understand all the things that are said by her Son!

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