Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberal Catholicism is slavery to mammon, Sermon of February 27th

And he saith to him: Follow me. And he rose up and followed him.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
February 20th, 2011
Matthew 6:24-34

You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.

It is not uncommon to hear people today – both those who are outside the Church and even, most regrettably, some of those who are within the Church – it is not uncommon to hear people today say something like this: “Why doesn’t the Church allow married priests?”, or “When is the Church going to get with the times and allow priests to have a wife and kids and a more normal life?” Such persons will likewise often be baffled at the thought of traditional religious life: “How can anyone be happy as a monk or nun?”, “Why does the Church still require monks and nuns to live such austere lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience?”, “Wouldn’t they be much happier if they lived more like the rest of society?”, “Didn’t the Church do away with the habits for monks and nuns after Vatican II?”
To persons such as these, it seems impossible that a man could be happy living the life of a celibate. They cannot believe that a life, separated from the world and from worldly pursuits, could be fulfilling. They are shocked – or even saddened – at the thought that some young men and women today still are willing to leave the world and enter religious life.
And what shall we say to such persons? There are, of course, many things we could say, but this alone will suffice: Persons who think such things have not yet begun to live in the freedom of the children of God, but are yet slaves of mammon. Such persons cannot believe that a man or woman could ever be happy without mammon, that is, without worldly possessions and secular pursuits. These people approach the Church from an incredibly worldly and secular perspective – they judge things according to the ways of human beings, not the ways of God.
When they desire that priests and religious should be more like ordinary people, what they really are asking is that those consecrated to the Lord should find their consolation not so much in the hope of heaven, but in the vanities of the world.

Christ tells us, “You cannot serve both God and mammon. You cannot both love God and love money, honors, and luxuries.” Therefore, our Savior commands us, “Do not worry.” How challenging this teaching is! How radically contrary to the mentality of the secular world.
The Lord does not merely say, “Do not worry about luxuries – that is, do not worry about special vacations or fancy cars and homes.” Rather, Christ tells us not to worry even about the necessities of life! We are not to be anxious about even what we will eat or what we will wear.

But the Good Jesus does not want us to be discouraged. He does not want us to despair. Therefore, he gives us three reasons why we ought not to worry, why we ought not to be anxious.
First, he points out that our worrying doesn’t do any good anyways – We cannot add a single moment to our lives through worrying. Why then should we worry? It leads only to evil.
Second, the Savior gives us an example – He directs our thoughts to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, which do not worry and are not anxious but are yet well provided for by the Almighty. And here we point out that Christ did not say, “Do not work.” He said, “Do not worry.” For, of course we are to work! The birds of the air work, and even St. Paul worked as a tentmaker during his apostolic missions. We most certainly must work, but we ought not to be anxious about our work. We ought to entrust our work to the Lord, knowing that he will make it profitable in his good time. After all, God takes care of the sparrows, and you are worth more than many sparrows.
This, then, brings our Lord to his third point – Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Why then do you worry? For God is all-powerful, and he loves you very much. Don’t you know what that means? It means that you win! If God so loves you as to give you eternal life, will he not provide you with all your necessities – but persevere, seek first his kingdom and all the rest will be given you besides.

And here I recall the words of Mother Teresa: “God is so good. If only we remembered that more often, we would be much more joyful!”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love your enemies and you will conquer, Sermon of February 20th

St. Thomas More died
the King's good servant, but God's first.

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
February 20th, 2011
Matthew 5:38-48

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. […] Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

In the Sermon on the Mount our Savior speaks with such clarity and precision as to cut through all our personal issues and excuses, piercing us to the heart and convicting us in his Love. In the words of today’s Gospel, Christ offers a teaching at once utterly simple and yet also extremely challenging: Love your enemies. This is at the center of the Christian life, this is the one necessary thing – supernatural Charity, Divine Love.
And what is the difference between a natural human love and a supernatural Divine Love? Both are good, but that Charity and Love which is supernatural so far surpasses that love which is natural, that it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. For this is natural and human love: that we should love our friends and neighbors, that we should do good to those who do good for us. This love is good, but since it is natural it cannot suffice unto life everlasting.
Salvation in Christ requires supernatural Charity: a Love which expands beyond our friends even to our enemies. If we do not love our enemies, we cannot be saved – for we have not the Love of Christ within us.

Now, when we are confronted with such a radical teaching as that which is given in the Sermon on the Mount, we may be tempted to come up with hundreds of little objections and qualifications. We hear Christ say, Offer no resistance to one who is evil, and Turn the other cheek. To this we may be tempted to respond that such an attitude just won’t work in the real world. In the world we live in today, we can’t just turn the other cheek, we need to defend ourselves – Jesus’ teaching just doesn’t match up with contemporary life.
To this objection, Christ might well respond, “Indeed, you are right. The commands I give you will not accord with the world – that is because the world is passing away. I have come to make all things new.” The wisdom of the world is utter foolishness compared to the Divine Wisdom, and the power of the world is weakness before the Divine Strength.

Certainly, we must admit that the ethic which Christ here gives to us is primarily a personal ethical code. There are times when nations have the right and the duty to defend themselves, there are times when a war can be just; and even individuals may legitimately defend their lives and their families.
Nevertheless, the teaching of Christ applies even to war and self-defense: For we are never to kill another out of hatred, but even in war we are commanded to love our enemy. How radical is the teaching of Christ!

Lest any should think that this teaching is impossible, or that such humility would result in our utter defeat; we ought briefly to consider several examples from history which prove Christ’s teaching. Here we will take on something even of a scientific method: showing, from real historical experience, that turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies will bring about the final victory of truth.

Consider the deacon St. Stephen, the first martyr. Only a few years after Christ’s Resurrection, the leaders of the Jews arrested Stephen and condemned him to death – for they hated Christianity. But Stephen did not resist those evil men, he did not cry out against them, he did not curse them; rather, his final breath was spent in interceding in their behalf. Stephen prayed, “Father forgive them.” Through it all, St. Stephen loved his enemies, even as they murdered him.
And it would seem that this was the end, that nothing else would come of Stephen’s death – the wisdom of the world could see no further. However, there at the martyrdom, Saul of Tarsus stood by, complicit in the murder. Saul too persecuted the Church, but by the merits of Stephen’s prayers, he was converted on the road to Damascus and became the greatest preacher of the early Church – St. Paul the Apostle.
How wonderful is the Divine Wisdom. Stephen turned the other cheek and won the conversion of Paul. Paul, in his turn, spread the Gospel to the Gentiles and won the conversion of the whole world. Loving one’s enemies does accomplish great things indeed!

Take another example, one closer to modern times: That of St. Thomas More. Thomas More was a laymen, a lawyer, and a politician in England during the time of the English Reformation under King Henry VIII. For his part, Thomas was a good friend of the King; but as far as the King was concerned, Thomas was an enemy – since St. Thomas More would not abandon the Catholic faith for the heretical church of England.
King Henry persecuted Thomas terribly. He took away his titles, impoverished his family, and ultimately had him imprisoned and sentenced to death. But, through all of this, St. Thomas More harbored no hatred against the King. Indeed, so true was he to Christ’s words, that St. Thomas would not only not speak evil of the King himself, but he would not suffer any to criticize the King in his presence. If any wanted to speak ill of the King, Thomas More would silence them and even threaten to throw them out of his house – for he loved the King and was concerned for his honor and well-being. Indeed, in all of England the King had no more loyal a servant than Thomas More.
Yet, for all this, St. Thomas was beheaded and, just before his execution, he said, “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Then, turning to the executioner, St. Thomas pulled a coin from his pocket and himself paid the man his daily wages – he even encouraged the man (who felt guilty and was very disturbed at the thought of killing the Saint) and he said to him, “Do not be sad, for you send me heaven.” This is the supernatural Charity which wins salvation!

Even in our own lives, we can think of persons who are always defending themselves and who refuse to suffer even the least slight against themselves. They constantly feel wronged and always desire recompense and justice to be meted out against their enemies. How unbearable such persons are! They will soon have no friends.
Those, on the other hand, who are humble and meek, who don’t count any injustices against themselves, but are quick to forgive; these people are always most welcome. Such persons are happy and have many friends. Their lives are successful and filled with joy. Even in this life, we can see that supernatural Charity, which must be expressed in loving one’s enemies, brings greater success than hatred and anger.

Ultimately, we recall the Love with which God has loved us. For we have many times set ourselves against God – conceived with original sin, we have added to this countless actual sins throughout tour lives. How many times we have strayed from God and made ourselves to be his enemies! And yet his Love is greater than our wickedness. As we wondered far from him, he came in search of us, and brought us back into communion through his Son. When we have received such immense Love, how can we fail to Love others?
May the Love of God, dwelling within us, bring us all to life everlasting.