mardi, août 10, 2010

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Saint Paul helps us today to continue our meditation on the virtue of humility. We have seen last week that this virtue is necessary for justification, and that all the works performed without this excellent virtue are useless. We have also seen that everything we have has been given by God and that, therefore, there is no reason for us to be proud. True humility does not make us deny our gifts, but rather use them for the glory of God. It supposes that we acknowledge first our gifts. It is what our Blessed Mother did when she said her Magnificat: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty has done great things to me: and holy is his name. It is what Saint Paul does when he says: By the grace of God, I am what I am. He, who was a persecutor of the Church, is now one of her Apostles, and this is the work of the grace of God.

Holy Scriptures teaches us about the virtue of humility. Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Commentating on this verse, Saint Benedict tells us what to do in order to be exalted. He describes humility as a ladder – the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream – on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending. By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility. And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled. This ladder has 12 degrees that we have to climb one by one.
The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keeps the fear of God before his eyes and bewares of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear Him. Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices, whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet,
or the self-will, and check also the desires of the flesh.
This is basically what Holy Mother Church constantly recalls us during the Sundays after Pentecost. There is even not an ounce of humility in a person who still lives in sin.

On the 5th Sunday, we were told by Saint Peter to refrain our tongues from evil and our lips that we speak no guile. We can never speak enough of the seriousness of the sins of the tongue, which are often the sins of the coward. Someone once asked Saint Anthony, "What is backbiting?" and he replied, "It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking." This is truly the nature of backbiters. They cannot do physical harm to those who are absent, so they strike at them with their tongue. Saint Thomas Aquinas says, "Destroying a person's reputation is a very serious wrong." And Saint Bernard declares, "Backbiting is a great vice, a great sin, a great crime."

The Scriptures says You shall not curse the deaf! Here is how Saint Gregory explains these words: "Backbiting someone who is deaf means backbiting one who is absent and cannot hear you. Just as a deaf man cannot hear or understand what is said, so it is with an absent person someone backbites. He cannot reply or rectify the errors of which he is the object."

He who speaks evil commits a great sin. So does he who listens to him, as Saint Bernard explains: “I would have difficulty deciding which of them is more damnable," he says, "he who backbites or he who listens to the backbiter. Even if we excuse it as wit or banter, every jesting word must be banished not only from our mouth, but also from our ears. "

In today’s gospel, Our Lord heals a deaf and dumb man. Speaking and hearing are such gifts from God! But as well as every other gift, they must be used with humility for a good purpose. Sins of the tongues are unfortunately so common throughout the world. But when they come from Christians, they are even more serious, more reprehensible and more harmful. They hurt the Mystical Body of Christ and are object of scandal. On the day of your Baptism, the priest put the salt of wisdom on your tongue and touched your ears saying like Jesus: Ephpheta, be opened. This was done so that you can hear the teaching of God and speak out wisely in order to praise God.

Let us remember, brethren, that we are accountable for what we say and what we listen. The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keeps the fear of God before his eyes. May this fear make us use well all our faculties and abilities for the glory of God and not for our own satisfaction!

lundi, août 09, 2010

In Memoriam

August 6th 1945 - Hiroshima: about 90,000 casualties
August 9th 1945 - Nagasaki: about 40,000 casualties
Plus about 80,000 injured people who eventually died

Total: about 200,000 victims.

I have always considered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a crime against humanity, there is absolutely no doubt about this. Then I was surprised, for not saying shocked, to hear some Traditional Catholic Americans who say that it was a necessary thing to end the war and to save the life of American soldiers. Ending the war and saving American lives is definitely a good purpose, but not at any cost. And patriotism is certainly a very good thing…as long as it remains virtuous, which means as long as it remains a prudent medium between defect and excess. One can love his country very much without justifying the crimes of its Government. The fact is that on a moral level, nothing can justify the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to the old principle: the end does not justify the means.
Besides, in the opinion of many, this was totally useless, as Japan was already almost defeated.

Dwight Eisenhower:
Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. ...the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude.. "

Admiral William Leahy:
"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

"Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." (Cathechism of the Catholic Churc # 2314)

mercredi, août 04, 2010

Righteousness is in us, not of us!

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Men’s justice is definitively not like God’s justice, and this is a very good thing. It is a very good thing because God is infallible in his judgments and infinitely good and merciful in his sentences, whether He condemns or He acquits. Men are certainly not infallible and as for their goodness and mercy, though it is possible to find them in certain noble hearts, it is still in a relative proportion that will never attain the divine perfection. Most of the men are rather prompt to condemn their neighbor while they so easily justify themselves. And when these men pretend to be religious, such an attitude becomes simply more obnoxious as it is a caricature of religion. It is true that men have the tendency to belittle the holy things that God has given. This is our nature: we have this treasure in earthen vessels, Saint Paul says.

But knowing this should precisely make us humbler, acting with fear, like a person who would have to handle precious porcelain and would be afraid of breaking it. Cardinal Newman, commentating on Saint Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, says that righteousness is in us, but not of us. The Corinthians "had had gifts given them, he says. They did not forget they had them; they used, they abused them; they forgot, not that they were theirs, but that they were given them. They seem to have thought that those gifts were theirs by a sort of right, because they were persons of more cultivation of mind than others, of more knowledge, more refinement. In spite of the clear views which the Apostle had doubtless given them on their conversion of their utter nothingness in themselves; in spite too of their confessing it, yet they did not feel that they came from God. They seemed, as it were, to claim them, or at least to view their possession of them as a thing of course; they acted as if they were their own, not with humbleness and gratitude towards their Giver, not with a sense of responsibility, not with fear and trembling, but as if they were lords over them, as if they had sovereign power to do what they would with them, as if they might use them from themselves and for themselves."
Such is the Pharisee of today’s gospel who reckons that he is justified. Such is his judgment. He is sanctimonious, satisfied of himself. He is so full of himself that he even gives thanks to God for what he is. He thanks God for not being like the others that he looks down upon. Pride and prejudice! It seems to be a very old sin. In fact, "in every age of the Church, Cardinal Newman says again, Christians have been tempted to pride themselves on their gifts, or at least to forget that they were gifts, and to take them for granted. Ever have they been tempted to forget their own responsibilities, their having received what they are bound to improve, and the duty of fear and trembling, while improving it."

Every age of the Church, Cardinal Newman says. Dear Brethren, let us well consider that we might be tempted to act like the Corinthians of the time of Saint Paul, like the Pharisees of anytime. For us, who by the grace of God, have been preserved from the modernist errors, for us, who might know well our catechism and the teaching of the Popes, for us who can worship according to the old and venerable Tradition of the Church, there is a danger if we forget that we have precisely some responsibilities for having received such gifts. God asks more to those who have received more, and if you take for granted what you have received, remember that it may be taken away from you one day.

Without humility, all these beautiful gifts from God would become the object of our condemnation. Attending the Latin Mass is not always and necessarily a ticket for heaven. It can also be your ticket for hell if you do not humble yourself. Dom Guéranger, commentating on today’s gospel, reminds us of what humility is:

Humility, which produces within us this salutary fear, is the virtue that makes man know his right place, with regard both to God and to his fellow-men. It rests on the deep-rooted conviction, put into our hearts by grace, that God is everything, and that we, by nature, are nothingness, nay, less than nothingness, because we have degraded ourselves by sin. Reason is able, of herself alone, to convince anyone, who takes the trouble to reflect, of the nothingness of a creature; but such conviction, if it remain a mere theoretical conclusion, is not humility: it is a conviction which forces itself on the devil in hell, whose vexation at such a truth is the chief source of his rage.

So, do not thank God for what you are, because you are just a sinner. Give thanks to God for what you have received. And since what you have is what you have received, do not keep it for yourselves, but share it with others. This is where charity blossoms and it cannot blossom if it is not rooted in the soil of humility.