samedi, octobre 24, 2009

Lead us not into the zone of dissimilarity

Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.
Dear Brethren, Saint Paul invites the Christians to praise God by speaking and singing. This is not the first time the Sacred Scriptures call us to sing. Saint Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians says: I will sing with the spirit, I will sing with the understanding. Certain English translations say ‘pray’ instead of ‘sing’ but the latin word of the Vulgat is ‘psallam’ which means I will sing the Psalms. This verse of Saint Paul seems to refer precisely to a Psalm: Psalm 48 that says: Sing praises to our God, sing praises to our King: For God is the King of all the earth, sing wisely.
About the fact that we have to sing to proclaim the glory of God, it is pretty obvious and it is certainly the only thing all the Christians of all denominations agree, except some "traditional" Catholics in the United States of America! But not singing is certainly not the tradition, and I would dare to say, it is even a kind of resistance to the grace of God. Saint Paul relates the fact of being filled with the Holy Spirit and singing and making melody. One causes the other. Because you are filled with the Holy Spirit, as a result, you sing to the Lord. Singing is also a spontaneous way of giving thanks to God, as we see when God has delivered David out of his enemies in the second book of Samuel: the entire chapter 22 is a tribute to God, and after recalling all His works, David said: Therefore will I give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and will sing to thy name.
Psalm 22 also says: I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee. It happens that these two quotes from King David are applied to Our Lord in 1 Co 15,9 and Hb 2,12. The Apostles and disciples have seen and heard Our Lord sing the Psalms. And it is Him who teaches us how to sing wisely with the understanding.

Singing is one thing. Singing wisely with the understanding is another thing. All the Christians of all the denominations – except some “traditional” Catholics in the United States of America – sing, but they certainly don’t sing wisely with the understanding. Apparently there were some charismatic brethren in Corinth and Saint Paul had to bring them back on the right way. It is at this occasion that he said: What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding, I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding.

Singing wisely with the understanding is after all not difficult. You just have to follow the rules of the Church, Mater et Magistra, who tells her children how to pray. It is with humility that we should receive her teaching, knowing that whatever we can think or imagine is certainly not better than what she teaches. The Liturgy is precisely one area – among others – where we can easily put into practice the “sentire cum Ecclesia” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Many times, the Church has called the faithful to sing. As Pope Benedict XVI recalled last year during his journey in France, Christian worship is an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination.
For Saint Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine – in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) – are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. – (Saint Benedict wrote his rule for the monks, but what is said about the chant also applies for all the faithful.) What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis. Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God’s likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the “zone of dissimilarity” – into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private “creativity”, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the “ears of the heart” the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

Zone of dissimilarity

Singing wisely with the understanding (The choir and the congregation alternate the Kyrie)

mardi, octobre 06, 2009

Sermon for the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

If only we knew the gifts of God! They are so marvelous, so beautiful and so powerful, and yet we do not value them as we should, because we are men of little faith. Among all the gifts of God, there is one that is a priceless treasure as Saint Louis de Montfort says. It is the rosary that Almighty God has given to you because he wants you to use it as a means to convert the most hardened sinners and the most obstinate heretics. He has attached to it grace in this life and glory in the next. The saints have said it faithfully and the Popes have endorsed it.
Blessed Alain de la Roche tells us the story of the origin of the Holy Rosary : Saint Dominic, seeing that the gravity of people's sins was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew into a forest near Toulouse, where he prayed continuously for three days and three nights. During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of God. He used his discipline so much that his body was lacerated, and finally he fell into a coma.
At this point our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by three angels, and she said, "Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?"
"Oh, my Lady," answered Saint Dominic, "you know far better than I do, because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation."
Then our Lady replied, "I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the principal weapon has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation-stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter."

So he arose, comforted, and burning with zeal for the conversion of the people in that district, he made straight for the cathedral. At once unseen angels rang the bells to gather the people together, and Saint Dominic began to preach.
At the very beginning of his sermon, an appalling storm broke out, the earth shook, the sun was darkened, and there was so much thunder and lightning that all were very much afraid. Even greater was their fear when, looking at a picture of our Lady exposed in a prominent place, they saw her raise her arms to heaven three times to call down God's vengeance upon them if they failed to be converted, to amend their lives, and seek the protection of the holy Mother of God.
God wished, by means of these supernatural phenomena, to spread the new devotion of the holy Rosary and to make it more widely known.
At last, at the prayer of Saint Dominic, the storm came to an end, and he went on preaching. So fervently and compellingly did he explain the importance and value of the Rosary that almost all the people of Toulouse embraced it and renounced their false beliefs. In a very short time a great improvement was seen in the town; people began leading Christian lives and gave up their former bad habits.
In 1917, Our Lady asked the children of Fatima to say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war. How powerful is this prayer when it is offered with the right intention and a good disposition of heart! It has defeated the Muslims at the battle of Lepanto on October 7th 1571. It can defeat many more enemies today if we say it well. Pope Leo XIII, who wrote eleven encyclical letters on the rosary, says that the three sets of mysteries, joyful, sorrowful and glorious correspond to three evils that are commonly spread among men: distaste for the sanctification of daily duty of state, aversion for suffering and oblivion of the future joy of the eternity. (Explain how the rosary can make us overcome these evils)
You see, we can conquer the world with the rosary – there is no doubt about that. But how can we conquer the world for Christ if we even did not conquer ourselves first? Many Christians want to reform the world, the societies, the national and international organizations that bring a culture of death as Pope John Paul II often said. Blessed are them for this. But many forgot that they are to reform themselves first. A militant Catholicism would never success without a spirit of sacrifice and renouncement and a true spirit of prayer. It is precisely what the daily meditation of the rosary can give.
Those who have followed the spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius know what it is about. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a valiant Spaniard Knight wanted to conquer the world to Christ. The purpose of his exercises, inspired by Our Lady, is the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life. The call for a temporal King comes only after the exercitants have reformed themselves.
We have to pray the rosary with the right intention and a good disposition of heart. The angel of Portugal told the children of Fatima: Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High... In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners... Above all, accept and endure with submission the sufferings which the Lord will send you. Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by sinful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.
Right intention and good disposition: importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, daily communion, spirit of sacrifice and of reparation (First Fridays and Saturdays) : Devotion to the Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady are united and supposes each other.
Our Lady: Here you see hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart... Pray, pray a great deal and make sacrifices for sinners. So many souls go to hell because there is no one to pray and sacrifice for them.
The daily prayer of the Rosary is a sacrifice. Let us offer it with generosity.