jeudi, mars 08, 2007

Sermon of Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue

Last Friday, Archbishop-emeritus of Atlanta John Donoghue celebrated the first Mass for the Vigil of the Alliance of the Two Hearts at Saint Andrew Church ( Roswell, GA ). Here is the sermon that he gave during Mass.

Archbishop-emeritus John Donoghue

"Dear Friends in Christ,

All of us, during the Season of Lent, must answer the question, what is this time for? Why does the Church insist that these forty days of penitence precede our celebration of the Lord's Passion and Death, by which our redemption was won? And why, during these days, do all other devotions take a second seat to the relentless message of Lent, as the Church presents it, day after day, in the Gospel readings devoted to humility, contrition, poverty, and detachment?

Consider these lessons, each drawn from the daily Gospel of next week's Lenten Masses:
"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned."
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
"Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave."

And then, there is story of the poor beggar Lazarus, who died and was taken in to the bosom of Abraham, to await the coming of the Messiah, while the rich man, Dives, who had ignored the suffering of Lazarus, died and was sent into eternal torment, crying out perhaps the most wrenching, and the most terrifying words to be heard in Scripture: "Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames."

These warnings of our Lord, and especially this vision of Hell, direct us to one end concern with our own souls the immediate need to bring our own spiritual house in order, before it is too late. The Church understands how easy it is, even given the sincerity and ardor of our devotions, to still fall victim to the tricks of the tempter and the tempter uses nothing better, than our own sincerity, which can so easily lead to self-assuredness, and then to the fatal condition pride. And the tempter's most subtle trick? To trap us into believing that if we say this many prayers and make this many novenas, if we exhaust our bodies with penance and reparation, that we can somehow, by our devotional expertise, be freed, and free everyone else from suffering, from feeling the pain of the Cross, and the inevitability that as life lengthens, so does our suffering with the Lord deepen. What a devilish track this is: we slip into the role of judging ourselves, and declare ourselves to be on the right path suddenly supposing that we are the partner of Divinity, by virtue of our holy works and spiritual exercises. We count our prayers, our acts of piety we tally them up on a scorekeeper's board, and hold it up for the Father to see. But such pride is a sickness in the soul, the sickness of Adam and Eve, we have eaten the fruit of knowledge, thinking to be sure on our own thinking to become a god with God, and escape the trial of our own life, our the doubt of our human condition.

The Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, prescribes Lent like a purgative medicine, to cleanse us of self righteousness. She dispenses and insists on the ashen, violet, stringent remedy of Lent because she remembers the decisive words of Jesus Christ that speak of first things first: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. 'I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." The Church fears for us if we declare ourselves righteous, calling us to the Lenten awareness that we are not righteous, but wretched wretched and hopeful. Hopeful as those must be, who depend entirely on the mercy of a forgiving God, and the redemptive sacrifice of His loving Son.
Who then, are we to be? Judges of ourselves, clinging to a false conviction that our self-defined spiritual exercises, will set us apart from all others, distance us from their sins, exempt us from their fall? Or are we to admit our sins, fall to our knees, beg for, and even welcome the judgment of God upon our heads presenting our helplessness, and crying out for help, help from the heart of God, beating in the body of His Son. Where then, to look for our treasure? In the deception of self-righteousness, or in the lowliness of admitting who we really are? And where then to find our heart? For where our treasure is, there our hearts will also be.

What does our Lord's Sacred Heart tell us? Where does our Lord's Sacred Heart tell us to look for our treasure? This is the answer: when Jesus saw the crowd, the Gospel says, "His heart was moved with pity for them." Pity! The pity in Jesus' heart is our treasure. Do we want, do we desire, do we implore the Lord's pity, or do we scorn His pity, by presuming that our prayers will set us among the elect? Lent is here to steer us towards the former answer.

Dear friends, if we mind the Church's discipline, the season of Lent will be a hard experience, a rough road, a time of tumult within our soul, of staring down the worst fears that our imaginations can raise, and a desperate evocation of hope from within a shake-up which begins at the bottom of our being, and leaves nothing concealed or skimmed over by the normal habits of our normal lives. Nothing about Lent should be normal, and if we try to treat it as normal, then we will miss the Holy Spirit's special gift to us at this time of the year the opportunity the golden opportunity to be honest and humble, while there is still time. "Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court," the Lord tells us in today's Gospel.

The court is ahead, the judge awaits-- Holy Week is the court where the final judgment begins, and the verdict is read out --and the verdict pronounced on us is that we cannot live unless we cast ourselves on the mercy and generosity of Jesus Christ-- accepting the gift of His Body and Blood, admitting that the evil in us sent Him, once and for all time, to die on the Cross. The opponent would have us believe that we can merit these gifts on our own-that we should stride into court, secure in the belief that our case is a good one, and that our own efforts at holiness are enough to win the verdict, enough to make us worthy of sharing the award that will follow.
But the truth, the truth that Lent calls us to admit, is the opposite, even as God the Merciful Father is the opposite of His eternal enemy, the prince of lies, tricks and darkness. The truth
is that we should crawl to the court of Holy Week on our knees, and in shame, not even lifting our eyes to the face of the judge, knowing we deserve no part of the award, either for what we have done, or what we have failed to do--and on our knees, admit that our guilt can only be made innocent, in the innocence of the Lamb, who has shed His blood for our case, for our freedom.
Only if we do this, only if we take Lent as bitter but healing medicine for our souls, will we see, will we know, will we be given, a share in the reward that makes us clean and worthy the love flowing from the heart of Jesus Christ. Only then, out of our distress and humility and our poverty can we worthily receive our treasure, the heart of Jesus Christ. And only then, will we be where our treasure is, in the heart of Jesus Christ."

2 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Thank you for posting the Bishop's sermon and your own. Both are well said and food for much thought. We need words like these to put lent and indeed all of our life into perspective.

Anonyme a dit…

WOW! The is an excellent sermon and thank you Father for posting this. If I only heard such words at the homily in my parish!