We usually prefer to hear things that we like rather than things that displease us, and, therefore, we have a tendency to be evasive when it is time to tackle certain uncomfortable subjects. But burying our heads in the sand cannot be of any use in order to solve a problem, or simply to comprehend the truth. And when the truth regards our eternal destiny, it would be a great madness to refuse to face it. The Apostles refused to consider the whole truth about Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us repeat it. This was before their third conversion, prior to the effusion of the Holy Ghost in their souls. At this point, they had already accepted Jesus Christ, but not yet His Cross. Refusing to hear the integral truth, they were still remaining in the darkness, and they could not understand certain words of Jesus.
You remember, dear brethren, that we expounded in our previous sermons several reasons that prevent us from hearing the words of God. Haste and rashness of mind were two of them. We also mentioned last Friday the scandal of social and personal prejudices, how they only make us deaf to the word of God, and, in this regard, we had also denounced the occasion of prejudice with Bossuet as “an insolent enterprise toward the rights of God and against public liberty.” Prejudice is a social plague which can be very harmful to the true spirit of religion, affecting and infecting many souls, namely the souls who are guilty of such prejudices, and who may believe that they are religious when they are not.
There are souls of good will, but still too weak or too shy, who may suffer from prejudices. They feel confined or even incarcerated in a social fabric governed by rules and codes. They fear the reproachful look of their peers and neighbors, and unless they finally find the courage to break the institutional rigidity that surrounds them, they blend in with the masses like sheep. From the way people dress, to the kind of music to which they listen, from the food they eat to the people with whom they associate, everything is closely examined. The poor “trespasser” is already judged by the tribunal of the dominant ideology, and there is no appeal for the sentence, because “in our traditional community, we do not do such a thing.” But people are not always fooled by the hypocritical smiles of the public prosecutors, and since we cannot expect everyone to live the beatitudes and to be heroic in the practice of the virtues, it is not surprising to see people who turn away in order to escape the sectarian spirit of prejudice.
Let us leave this spirit to the Mormons, to the Amish, to the Quakers, to all these sects that have forgotten that among the gifts of God there is liberty, and that liberty is a condition to love God. Faith is not imposed on others by means of protocols and conventions, but it is proposed to the intelligence and to the heart. There is a true education in the Faith, an education that speaks to the intelligence and which moves the heart. Far from being indoctrination, it is rather a culture, and as such, it involves many fields of human life, like academics, arts, a certain enjoyment of life, and good taste, and some values and virtues like courtesy, civility, and urbanity, where refinement should not be excluded. These are Catholic, and, therefore, are universal marks of true Christianity, and we can see them flourish everywhere in the world where the Faith is sincerely lived. They flourish with different tastes, different colors, and different scents in different cultures, and they comprise a beautiful bouquet made of a great variety of flowers which embellish the society of men, and render honor and glory to God. When faith is truly received in a person or in a society, it does not confine men in a pharisaic system, but rather frees them from any system, and makes the society of men more enjoyable.
Finally, prejudices affect non-believers. Certainly, many of them may have their own prejudices toward religion and toward the Church, but this must not be cause to enable further prejudice. The prejudices of the faithful can only give more weight to the prejudices of non-believers.
Haste, rashness of mind, and prejudices are substantially the many obstacles that prevent us from receiving the full message of the Gospel. Let us add now the weakness of the will, which beckons us to refuse the Cross. Bossuet points out that the Apostles usually ask Jesus many questions regarding the mysteries of which He speaks. You remember that they did not understand the words of Jesus concerning His Passion: “But they understood not this word, and it was hid from them, so that they perceived it not.” But this time, instead of asking for some explanations as they usually do, Saint Luke reports that “they were afraid to ask him concerning this word.” Bossuet says that “one cause of their ignorance is that they were fleeing from the light, and did not want to hear what Jesus was saying about His humiliations.”
Yes, they had a true love for Jesus, but a love that was still human and sensible, to the extent that they refused to hear anything about His sufferings. Indeed, they knew that they were supposed to partake in His sufferings, and this hurt their feelings. Such is our human nature that we accept easily the greatness and the glory of Jesus, but we are reluctant when we hear about the Passion, the sufferings, and the death of Jesus. The contrast is huge between the crowd that welcomes with palms the King of Glory, who enters Jerusalem in triumph, and the few souls who accompany the man of sorrow on the Cross.
Let us take a look at Saint Mark, Chapter 10. The Apostles, who had followed their Master for three years, were thinking about their reward. Peter attracts the attention of Jesus on this point: “Behold, we have left all things and have followed you.” And, yes, Jesus promises a reward to those who leave house and family for His sake and for the Gospel. They shall receive a hundred times as much. But, He adds, with persecutions. (Mark 10:28-30) And right after, we see Jesus going up to Jerusalem. The Apostles are astonished, and, following Him, are afraid.
In Saint Matthew, Chapter 20, Jesus speaks again about His Passion: “And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart and said to them, ‘Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and the third day He shall rise again’.” And they still don’t want to hear this speech. James and John come right away, with their mother, and ask for the first place in the Kingdom of Christ. Then Jesus presents the Chalice.
Dear brethren, we have to understand that we cannot partake in the greatness and the glory of Jesus if we do not participate in His Passion. Again, we have to suffer, and we have to die. After Pentecost, the Apostles again hear these words. They hear them so well that they want to suffer for the love of God, and now they rejoice in their sufferings.
Christians, children of the Cross and of the wounds of Jesus Christ, do you hear these words? Do you understand that these words are spoken to all men, and not only to the religious? Open the Gospel and read: “And he said to all, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’.” (Luke 9:23) He said to all!
Alas, many Christians want to be the disciples of Jesus, and yet refuse the Cross. They make their own Gospel that is a compromise with the world. “All take counsel of Thee on whatever point they wish, though they do not always hear what they wish,” Saint Augustine says. “He is Thy best servant who does not look to hear from Thee what he himself wills, but who wills rather to will what he hears from Thee.”
May the Blessed Virgin Mary teach us how to hear and to accept the whole truth!