lundi, avril 04, 2011

Sermon for Lent IV

These are the sermons I give on Fridays and Sundays during this Lenten season. The four firsts sermons are not really mines, but a translation of sermons given by Father Chanut, then Pastor of Saulx-les- Chartreux (France), in 1997 at Notre Dame des Armees (Versailles). These first sermons were originally two. I translated them and reordered them in 4 sermons with some minor adaptations and changes for our Community of Cherokee Village. To the Highest Glory of God !

Sermon IV: Suffering and Dying!

We tried Friday to see the connection between faith and charity, and we said that the junction of these two virtues has to be found in the Cross of Jesus. We dwelled on the words of Saint Paul, who wanted to know only Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2) Yet, we have to go further than a mere intuitive and sentimental comprehension of these words. Yes, these words are the sublime expression of the love that Saint Paul had for Jesus Christ and His Cross, but we still have to explain why the Cross is the point from which everything radiates and toward which everything converges.

We are subjects, in this valley of tears, to different kinds of sufferings and pains, and we are all in the expectation of death, which is the only certitude we have concerning our future. Certainly, we find consolations and comforts when we turn to Christ crucified. He did not simply suffer and die as any other man. As the liturgy of Holy Week will soon remind us, He suffered and died in the most horrible ignominy, relegated to the rank of the criminals of the worst sort, though He was the Just One, par excellence. Do we have to conclude that suffering and death are the whole lot of our existence? Certainly not! It is rather the opposite. The Cross is the proof that we cannot be resigned to the fact that suffering and death are the whole lot of our life. Aroused by an invincible inspiration, we look for more than consolation and comfort. We look for a remedy, and even more than a remedy, we look for a liberating victory.

When we turn to Jesus Christ crucified, if we only contemplate the sorrow of Christ that is beyond compare, according to Isaiah, and if we only contemplate a death that has been so dramatic and so cruel, it would quickly appear to be useless. The sufferings and the death of Christ cannot be the end of everything. But when we turn to Jesus Christ crucified, we learn why He suffered and why He died, and we also learn why we have to suffer and why we have to die. The Cross, that is temporally the end of the life of Christ, is also spiritually its completion, its crowning, and its achievement. When the Savior accepts to carry the Cross as the instrument of His torment, and accepts to be crucified, He also expresses the sense of His suffering and of His death. Thereby He explains what sense we can give to our sufferings and death, through Him, with Him, and in Him, as the great conclusion of the Canon of Mass reminds us every day. If you think for one moment about this, you will understand that everything is said in these words.

It is obvious that it is only insomuch as we make sense of our suffering and our death, and we overcome the incessant scandal of our suffering and our death, that the mystery of our existence becomes clearer. Our religion is the science of life only because the science of suffering and of death exists in the light of the Cross. Our religion teaches us how to recognize in suffering and death some accidents and means by which we are called to find our fulfillment in the fullness of being and of life.

Thus, what Saint Paul means when he says that he wants to know only Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified, becomes now clearer. He tells us in what does the science consist, especially this supreme science without which any other science is not only vain, but also blinding. He who does not know why he suffers and why he dies, which is opposed to the aspiration to life and to happiness that is in our nature, has only a darkened knowledge of the other things. He may bustle, he may move heaven on earth, he may rearrange the world just as he likes, but he only undergoes his own existence after all.

So, again, when Saint Paul says that he wants to know only Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified, he certainly expresses the deep sentiment that attaches him to Jesus. But we have to admit that he also he formulates a doctrine that is inseparable from his sentiment. Saint Paul exclaims that he loves Christ, and that he is bound up with Him, only to teach us that such an adherence is the essential and universal condition of salvation.

Therefore, for the Apostle, the Cross is not only a fact, but it is also an idea. When we say an idea, we do not mean an idea such like the concepts of the Greek philosophy that are abstractions. No, it is an idea as a living principle to which Saint Paul refers in order to explain the living reality that we are, and to propose the idea of salvation that we have to pursue. And the scholastic theology tells us what such an idea means when, with Saint Thomas Aquinas, we contemplate ideas in God. The Divine ideas are, for the great Doctor, the spiritual and intellectual place of theology. In them, there is both a rational and a religious explanation of these things. And of course, when we say rational and religious, we do not oppose the two terms, but we consider the same reality under different points of view.

Saint Paul presents Baptism as a death. It is the death of the old man, or the carnal man, the man of evil or the man of sin. The death of Christ on the Cross is not only the type of this death, but its reason as well as its justification, as the death of Baptism receives from the Cross its whole effectiveness. “Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death?” he writes to the Romans. “In His death” means dying with Him and like Him. And then Saint Paul clarifies his thought: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin.”

Thus, dear brethren, at Baptism and by Baptism, the man of pride that we all are is called to die and to be crucified with Christ. But let us not delude ourselves. The man of pride dies at Baptism, but not in a way that he does not have to die again, and not in a way that he does not have to be crucified any longer. By Baptism we can say that this man of pride feels obliged to die, and that he receives the grace of dying, but he still has to actually die by voluntarily renouncing himself. This is what Saint Paul reminds the Colossians when he urges them with these vigorous words: “Mortify therefore your members who are upon the earth.” By members who are on earth, we have to understand fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which are idolatry. It means all the desires and all the actions in which pride manifests itself are the members by which the devil exercises his malice upon us.

It is clear that the task that Saint Paul urges us to perform is a permanent and constant work that will end only with our death freely accepted. So we can summarize the doctrine of Saint Paul in this way. Living in bodies of flesh, which means bodies that comprise carnal appetites, with such a tendency for selfishness, we are inclined to be unaware of God and of others, and to consider ourselves a whole. Therefore, we are doomed to suffering and to death, because our reciprocal selfishness clash with everything else and usually ends in being crushed. No matter what we do, we cannot escape from our condition. But instead of enduring this like powerless slaves, we have to suffer and to die by renouncing the old man, the carnal man, and the man of pride. This is how we accept to be crucified as Christ accepted to be crucified. So, Christian life should be a continual death, and this is why Saint Paul says, “I die daily.” (1 Cor 15:31)

Nevertheless, dear brethren, do not be mistaken. It is only one aspect of Christian life, and you would be completely wrong in pleasing yourself by wallowing in this state. You would give such a negative image of our religion, which has been so many times decried as a religion of suffering and of death, and which glorifies suffering and death for themselves, a religion comprised of faithful who would have to suffer and to die just for the sake of suffering and dying, as if God were a Moloch pleased to see His worshipers struggling in tortures and vanishing in emptiness.

Yes, suffering and death are daily realities. There is no point in negating this. There is no point in diverting oneself in order to forget this. There is no point in trying to eliminate this reality without fighting our selfishness, which is the principle and source of suffering and death. Again, there is no middle. Either you endure suffering and death as slaves, or you accept them and want them by voluntarily suffering and dying. It is precisely through the Cross, as Saint Paul presents it, that Christianity offers us the means to accept and to want suffering and death as free men.

Let us be clearer. It is not a stoical resignation to what is inevitable, suffering and death, without the hope that exceeds them. Such a resignation is nothing else than an enslaving subjection. Along with this kind of resignation, there is always a protest that is more or less admitted. In order to not revolt against suffering and death, and to accept them with a cordial and sincere acceptance, we have to see through them something more, and to believe in something higher than them. This is why Saint Paul says that if we die with Christ, we shall live with Him, and if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. Ultimately, the Apostle does not invite us to suffering and death, but to happiness and Divine life. “Buried with Him in Baptism,” he says, “in Whom also you are risen by the faith of the operation of God, who has raised Him up from the dead. (Col 2:12)

So, understand well that if Christian life is a continual death, it is only to our pride and selfishness that we have to die in order to increase daily in the true life. By doing such, we eliminate from our life any miscomprehension in the light of faith. We eliminate any interior conflicts, and we can blossom in the peace of eternity above the tribulations of time and of space.

When you consider the effects of pride that are present everywhere, within ourselves and at all the levels of society, within families and individuals, and when you hear Saint Paul and Christ speak of dying to yourself daily, if you are tempted to say that these words are too hard, please, reject this temptation. These words are too hard only because of the selfishness within and amongst us that only knock against each other. Consider the richness of the words of Christ who says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.” (Matthew 16:24) These words are nothing else than a call for a true, sincere, and total generosity. It is what, in the language of a Christian, we call charity. And charity, as it is something that proceeds from God, is something immense and tremendous like God, Who made man, Who becomes man, and Who dies on the Cross to redeem the sins of the world. To be and to remain in charity requires that we die to ourselves, to get rid of our selfishness, to get away from our individuality as flesh and blood. This is the gift of self, realized in the union to the God Who gives Himself in perfect charity.

And do not believe that God asks you for things that are above your strength, even though these thing might be impossible without the Divine grace. Before even thinking about martyrdom or any great work, simply thing about faithfully persevering in your daily thoughts, words and actions. The victor is the one who keeps the works of God unto the end. (Apo 2,26) To deny yourself means preferring the word of God to your own thinking and preferring the Commandments of God to your own will. This is what we call the new life in the Spirit.

It appears then that when Jesus teaches us how to suffer and to die, he simply teaches us how eternally live. The Cross of Jesus reveals and teaches the value of charity because by offering ourselves we forget ourselves and we can efficiently help to the conversion of sinners, the propagation of faith and to the salvation of the world as much as it depends on us.

In this in this light, dear brethren, that we have to consider during this Lenten season, our penances and mortifications, our public and private prayers, and our works of mercy. If for your own misfortune, you would refuse this high expression of charity that are the exercises of Lent, be aware that because of you, something would lack to the sanctification of the name of God, to the realization of His reign and to the accomplishment of His will. Because of you, the treasure of the Divine grace would become impoverished, while the power of darkness would be stronger in the world.

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