lundi, juillet 07, 2008

Sermon for the eigth Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s parable heard in the gospel tells us the story of the steward of a rich man who was squandering the possessions he was supposed to take care of. Hearing that, the master called him and asked him to make an accounting of his stewardship. Afraid to lose his position, the steward found a way to keep it. The master commended him for his ability to handle the situation.
This parable has to be well understood. Our Lord certainly does not ask us to be dishonest, but He wants us to understand that we have to be clever in order to gain the eternal reward. Many people use different processes in order to obtain material profits. So we must implement different means in order to gain spiritual profits.
As the commentators have explained, the rich man is Our Lord Jesus Christ and we are the stewards of his goods. In fact we have received everything from God and Saint Paul warns us: what hast thou that thou hast not received, and if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (I Cor. 4:7) Saint Augustine explains that the first thing that we have received is divine grace. We have received it without any antecedent merits. It is the first gift of God – independently of the gifts of nature – that allows us to walk in His grace. After Saint Augustine, all the Catholic theologians say that the merits of men are void and vain without the work of grace. The Council of Trent teaches that because of original sin, neither nature nor the Mosaic Law can justify men. Justification presupposes faith which is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification (Trent, 6th Session, chapter 8).
Now, the book of Revelation admonishes those who have been justified: he that is just, let him be justified still: and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still. (Ap. 22:11) This increase of justification is a work of cooperation between God and us. It is still a gift of grace, and the grace is primary and initial, but we have to collaborate by mortifying the members of our own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, as the Council says again (6th Session, chapter 10), through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church.

If we live according to the flesh, we will die as Saint Paul clearly states in today’s epistle. We are debtors, not to the flesh! But we truly are debtors. To whom are we debtor? We are debtors to God who has given all that we have and it is an act of justice to pay off our debt. It is an act of justice, which means that it is something due to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has paid the debt of every man on earth with His most precious Blood and it is now justice to pay Him back. It is something that we are not able to do. An act of justice supposes that we give exactly what we owe. If I borrow 10 dollars, I have to give back 10 dollars. But how can we give back to God what we have received? It is impossible. The greatest thing that we can do is to give our lives, but even that remains still far below the cost of our redemption. We have to render God what is due to Him, but we are unable to fulfill the strict obligation of justice since it is impossible to pay back for the Sacrifice of the Incarnate Word.
So rendering God what is due to Him is not exactly an act of mere justice, but an act of a specific virtue, namely the virtue of religion. This virtue is, according to Saint Thomas, the first among all the moral virtues. As such, it leads the other virtues in a kind of harmony and allows them to reach their object according to our final end, which is God Himself, but when this virtue is not present in a soul, the other virtues lack a leader that would unite and conduct them in perfect order. In other words, if you are not established first in good relation with God, in one way or another, you necessarily have failures in other areas of your life. And the most serious thing is first that you cannot be received into the everlasting dwellings since the Master cannot recognize in you a good and faithful steward of His possessions. Saint Alphonsus Liguori has expressed this clearly, so that everybody, even the little children can understand it: He who prays will be saved, he who does not will be lost!
Prayer is actually one of the chief acts of the virtue of religion, along with adoration, sacrifice, oblation and vow; Sacrifice! How important it is! How necessary it is. It is so necessary, that it is a part of the authentic teaching of the Church, who cares for the good of souls. In the old traditional handbooks of religious instruction it was well explained to the children how important it is to make sacrifice to God. The notion of sacrifice has unfortunately disappeared from many new programs of catechisms and it is a shame and a scandal because it harms the souls. The religion founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ has not changed and cannot change and the virtue of religion is still necessary. And in addition to this, the teaching of the spirit of sacrifice is also a good way to make strong Christians able to fulfill their duties for the glory of God, true soldiers of Christ with noble souls and a valiant hearts as the image of the knights of the old days, men able to kneel in front of their God to worship Him and then to stand for the establishment of His Kingdom.
Prayer, sacrifice, oblation, adoration…. Are they really a part of your life, the usual acts of every day, or things that you do just once in a while? Are you a good steward or someone who squanders the possessions of your Lord? Or, if you prefer, do you live for God or for yourself?
Everything we have received comes from God. Everything! May Our Lady help us to understand this and help us to be good stewards so that Our Lord will be pleased by our administration of His possessions! May she help us to consider that the virtue of religion is not a kind a fawning outpouring of feelings but that it is the product of the recognition of the sovereign majesty of God and of our absolute dependence on Him. As Saint Joan of Arc’s motto reminds us, Messire Dieu premier servi! – God first served!

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