As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
The season of Lent is nothing if it does not confuse human wisdom and turn man’s expectations upside down. For what the lections of this Holy Season attempt to show us is that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. iii. 19) And again, as Isaiah records, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29. 14) In Lent, we learn that the Wisdom of God revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, more often than not, challenges and overturns the wisdom of this world. And it is not that human wisdom is entirely destroyed, but rather that its true nature is revealed, for good or evil, and then offered an opportunity for redemption and perfection. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Cor. i. 18)
In last week’s Gospel we read of a real challenge to human wisdom, and not the least a trial of Christian human wisdom. For Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both God and Man, and so many wonder how, if Christ is God, God could be tempted. You will remember that the Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted. And from what we read, we learned that Christ resisted the temptations and, that in the end, the devil’s intention was undermined and overturned. The wisdom that we gleaned from that Gospel is that somehow this Jesus Christ, both God and man, faces evil, resists it, and in the end overcomes it. Man’s wisdom walks in step with the devil; it thinks that it can use the Divine Spirit for worldly ends, that it can make God subject to its whims and idle curiosities, and that it can be as absolute as God. (RDC. Lent I) What Jesus Christ reveals to us is that true wisdom is God’s will and that the new humanity which He struggles to reveal depends wholly upon it. The devil strives to sever Jesus and us from God’s will and way. He longs to hide us from ourselves, establishing and centering us in our muddled confusions and delusions, concealing from us the true way of liberation and healing. He longs to shield us even from the Wisdom of God, from seeing and knowing that the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job xxviii. 28)
But Jesus comes to reveal God’s wisdom in human nature for our benefit. He comes to bring us back to the fear of the Lord, and to the birth of Divine Wisdom in our hearts and souls. What becomes clear to us, however –if we heed the message of today’s Gospel, is that God’s wisdom cannot have its way in our lives without our desire for it. In other words, it must become the need we hunger and hanker after. It must become for us the object of our deepest longing and the end or our most earnest passion. And this can happen only when we come to see that human wisdom cannot produce or secure the end that it seeks.
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how alien, unfamiliar, and even foreign God’s wisdom is to most men in most ages. Jesus had departed from Jerusalem and a people who would not receive the wisdom that He endeavored to disclose and reveal. The ancient Old Testament prognosis of God’s people was finding its fulfillment in Jesus’ hearing: This people draweth unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Matthew xv. 8) God’s wisdom has found no place to plant and grow itself in the hearts of the religious Pharisees. Even Jesus’ disciples did not understand how to interpret and apply what He said to their lives. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (St. Matthew xv. 18-20) God’s wisdom cannot reach and touch those who do not need it from within. Those who come to realize that they need it within are those also who discover that they shall perish forever without it. So we read in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus leaves religious Jerusalem for the frontier territory where Israel borders the land of the heathen. Perhaps the wisdom that He carries will not be so dyspeptic and disagreeable to those who live at the furthest remove from Judaism’s heart.
What He finds will confound the customs and habits not only of the Jewish scribes but even of His own disciples. God’s Wisdom was, after all, aimed and directed first and foremost at them. That their blindness and ignorance should be overcome only by the discernment of its nature and desire for its power in the heart of a pagan woman is all the more astounding. Behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew xv. 22) Canaan means place of submission, humiliation, and lowliness. From this place we hear a cry for the Divine Wisdom and Mercy- that is with and in Jesus. Jesus remains silent to the cry. St. John Chrysostom writes that The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds his remedies. He ponders what will emerge from this encounter. Wisdom is quick to hear and slow to speak…(St. James i. 19) Divine Wisdom will elicit from its seeker a sincere and determined desire for its love and power.
Next we read that, His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew xv. 23) The disciples long to have Jesus for themselves selfishly and in one way. The woman will have Him selflessly for her daughter and in a way that is far better. But not before she has overcome a Jesus who will test her faith in Him to the utmost. He responds, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (St. Matthew xv. 24) Jesus reminds her that the Jews alone should receive what He brings. She will insist that the Gentiles should have their share of it also. He seems to insist that she explain why. Jesus’ trying of her is rooted in the tough love of the Old Testament: I will wound and I will heal. St. Augustine describes His method in these words: He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain; but if he did not, he would do no good. (Aug, Serm. xxvii) Knowing that she is in the presence of God’s Good Physician, she cries all the more urgently, Lord, help me. (St. Mattew xv. 25) Jesus sees into her heart and intends to draw out the faith that informs the passion that will secure her desire. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (St. Matthew xv. 26) To which she responds, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) Wisdom has elicited from her heart the confession of poverty of her spirit. She knows that she is alien to Israel’s promises; she claims no rights to God’s Word and Wisdom; she knows herself to a powerless creature in the presence of the Creator. She knows that no man can assist her. She cannot help herself. So she turns to the sole source and origin of all healing. The Wisdom in Jesus is met by her own. Yes Lord, in comparison with thee, I am a dog. But I have come to know this in the light of thy Wisdom, in the presence of thy Being. And surely Lord, all of this has come about that thou mightiest not merely enlighten me to the knowledge of my lowly sickness, but open me to the power of thine essential healing. God’s Wisdom desires to touch and to heal all men. God’s Wisdom is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) God’s Wisdom desires to draw out from us the knowledge of our need and then desire for its power. Jesus honors what he could not find in His Apostles. O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (St. Matthew xv. 28)
Today let us take note of the alien woman’s meekness and humility. Embrace her determined passion for Christ alone and what He brings. She claims not only that she is a dog, but that as a dog she can hope only for fragments and morsels that fall from Christ’s table. She knows that they are more than enough to heal both her and her daughter. Luther tells us that, Like her, thou must give God right in all He says against thee, and yet must not stand off from praying, till thou overcomest as she overcame, till thou hast turned the very charges made against thee into arguments and proofs of thy need, till thou, too, hast taken Christ in His own words.’ We might think it foolish to have to become as dogs in order to secure the power of the Divine Wisdom that Christ offers. But it is foolish only if human wisdom is the mark and measure of truth. Where is the wise person?...Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. i. 20, 21) The woman of Canaan was a fool for Christ. The Apostles crumble their meat away. But the broken meat of their spiritual privileges is a feast to the hungry soul of this faithful woman. This foreign woman, a dog, gladly and thankfully receives supernaturally charged crumbs that drop from Christ’s table. This is foolishness to respectable people who are too proud to admit their brokenness and thus their need for Jesus. But they are the real fools. Today’s broken woman has a wisdom for us that alone elicits from Christ the power of His love. Amen.
Thomas Aquinas: Is Sloth a Mortal Sin?
It would seem that sloth is not a mortal sin. For every mortal sin is contrary to a precept of the Divine Law. But sloth seems contrary to no precept, as one may see by going through the precepts of the Decalogue. Therefore sloth is not a mortal sin.
Sloth is not listed literally as what violates any of the Ten Commandments. The Commandments make no mention of sloth. So perhaps sloth is not a mortal sin.
Further, in the same genus, a sin of deed is no less grievous than a sin of thought. Now it is not a mortal sin to refrain in deed from some spiritual good which leads to God else it would be a mortal sin not to observe the counsels. Therefore it is not a mortal sin to refrain in thought from such like spiritual works. Therefore sloth is not a mortal sin.
Sloth does not seem to be a mortal sin in a spiritual sense either. For aversion of the mind from a spiritual good may be merely a consequence of human nature which cannot possibly live up to all the Divine Counsels at all times. Perhaps sloth is merely the intellectual or spiritual inability to will the good at all times.
Further, no mortal sin is to be found in a perfect man. But sloth is to be found in a perfect man: for John Cassian says (De Instit. Caenob. x, l) that sloth is well known to the solitary, and is a most vexatious and persistent foe to the hermit. Therefore sloth is not always a mortal sin.
Sloth can be found in the most perfect of the Desert Fathers. No doubt, if sloth is found in the perfect man, then it mustn’t really be a mortal sin. Perhaps it is a vexatious enemy that harasses and threatens a man against his reason and his will.
On the Contrary: It is written (2 Cor. vii. 20) The sorrow of the world worketh death. But such is sloth; for it is not sorrow according to God, which is contrasted with sorrow of the world. Therefore it is a mortal sin.
Sloth is sorrow that fails to hope in the Divine good. Sloth thus is of the world and consumed with its finite limitations and created imperfections. Sloth avoids the Divine Good because the good of the world has molded and defined the expectations and hopes of the sinner away from any transcendent perfection.
I answer that, mortal sin is so called because it destroys the spiritual life which is the effect of charity, whereby God dwells in us. Wherefore any sin which by its very nature is contrary to charity is a mortal sin by reason of its genus. And such is sloth, because the proper effect of charity is joy in God, as stated above while sloth is sorrow about spiritual good in as much as it is a Divine good. Therefore sloth is a mortal sin in respect of its genus.
Sloth destroys the spiritual life because it stands opposed to the Divine Virtue of Charity. Through Charity, God dwells in us and we dwell in Him. Charity yields joy in God as the sinner is made into a saint through Divine Grace. The experience of the Charity makes a man joyful and thankful for God’s condescending movement into his soul. Sloth is sorrow and despair over the spiritual good that God longs to bring alive in the human soul. It is a mortal sin because it rejects the life that God brings to the soul through His Charity.
But it must be observed with regard to all sins that are mortal in respect of their genus, that they are not mortal, save when they attain to their imperfection. Because the consummation of sin is in the consent of reason: for we are speaking now of human sins consisting in human acts, the principle of which is the reason. Wherefore if the sin be a mere beginning of sin in the sensuality alone, without attaining to the consent of reason, it is a venial sin on account of the imperfection of the act. Thus in the genus of adultery, the concupiscence that goes no further than the sensuality is a venial sin, whereas if it reach to the consent of reason, it is a mortal sin. So too, the movement of sloth is sometimes in the sensuality alone, by reason of the opposition of the flesh to the spirit, and then it is a venial sin; whereas sometimes it reaches to the reason, which reason in the dislike, horror and detestation of the Divine good on account of the flesh utterly prevailing over the spirit. On this case it is evident that sloth is a mortal sin.
Sloth is a venial sin if it does not reach the level of the consent of reason. If it remains in the body or the sensuality or the appetite it might be better called laziness or lethargy. The body often resists the soul’s pursuit of the spiritual good. But if sloth is consented to in the soul by reason because a man despairs of the spiritual good, then sloth is a mortal sin. A man might grow to hate and despise the possibility of the efficacious nature of Divine Grace. He might think God too perfect to desire any involvement in human life. Or he might grow impatient at the pace in which Grace operates on his life. He might give up on Grace because he cannot perceive or see its effects in himself or others. He might decide that his sin is too great for God to overcome and conquer. Or perhaps the power of the flesh is so strong that it overcomes the spirit in a man, and for that reason a man succumbs to despairing over the spiritual good. So a man might reject the spiritual good of God’s Grace because of his body or because of his soul, because the flesh possesses him or because his soul refuses to hope. Whatever the reason, sloth is a mortal sin if a man uses his mind to reject the power of God’s Grace in human life and thus fails to pursue it.
Reply to Objection 1.
Sloth is opposed to the precept about hallowing the Sabbath Day. For this precept, in so far as it is a moral precept, implicitly commands the mind to rest in God: and sorrow of the mind about the Divine good is contrary thereto.
Sloth is directly set against keeping the Sabbath Day holy and refuses to rest in God. It is thus implicitly present in the Fourth Commandment. Sloth is thus the willful refusal to keep God’s Day holy and to rest in it because the slothful man does not see or perceive that any good can come out of it.
Reply to Objection 2.
Sloth is not an aversion of the mind from any spiritual good, but from the Divine good, to which the mind is obliged to adhere. Wherefore if a man is sorry because someone forces him to do acts of virtue that he is not bound to do, this is not a sin of sloth; but when he is sorry to have to do something for God’s sake.
Sloth is a turning of the mind away from the Divine Good. We are made to adhere and cleave to the spiritual good of God’s Grace in order that our natures might be perfected. If a man is sorry about having to do something for God’s sake or because God wills it, this is mortal sin of sloth. A slothful man may either flee the spiritual good by entering into a state of physical or spiritual torpor or through a busy-ness that is equally fatal. In both cases either the increase or decrease of activity is slothful unto death because the sinner is fleeing the spiritual good.
However, sloth induces us to avoid not only pure goodness. It induces us to avoid all pain, sorrow, or threats to a limited good. Sloth moves us to avoid the spiritual good out of fear for spiritual pain and suffering. So sloth can be motivated by the fear for what the spiritual good might demand of us in the process of its purification of our souls. The slothful man is more often than not immersed in earthly pleasures. So the virtue that opposes and overcomes sloth is zeal. But to cultivate zeal we must come to know God’s Charity, His goodness, and His desire to fill our hearts with the effects of His Grace.
Reply to Objection 3. Imperfect movements of sloth are to be found in holy men, but they do not reach to the consent of reason.
Holy men like the Desert Fathers are tempted and tried by sloth. It does not, however, reach the consent of reason in them. They resist it and they flee from it by pursuing with much zeal the Charity of God’s Grace. Dearest brethren, let us do the same. Amen.
Saint John Chrysostom (c. 349–407)
For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, but ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says. (St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes: Hom. III)
I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honour fasting; for the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!
Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on. And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things. (On the Priesthood)
Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. (On Fasting)
As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul. Imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things, and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life.
Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but He in His turn treated death as a highroad for His own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means He would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying His cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross He summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.
Death slew Him by means of the body which He had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which He conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of His manhood, His godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.
Death could not devour our Lord unless He possessed a body, neither could hell swallow Him up unless He bore our flesh; and so He came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which He received from the Virgin; in it He invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.
At length He came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was that vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed Him up, and in so doing released life itself and set free a multitude of men.
He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up His cross above death’s all-consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognise the Lord whom no creature can resist.
We give glory to You, Lord, who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed Your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.
Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before Him who offered His cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.
St Ephrem of Edessa
St. Paul tells us, Be ye angry and sin not. Anger is a venial sin if it does not proceed to action.
Certainly there is a place for righteous anger. Righteous anger hates the sin but not the sinner. Righteous anger is the justifiable detestation and opposition to sin that a man must have in his heart if he is to be saved. This kind of anger is best turned back upon the self. First, a man prays for the man whose sin has made him angry. Second, he looks into his own heart and finds examples of this sin in his own life. Men are best able to judge others' particular sins because they are fitted to locate the sin by its near perfect presence in their own hearts. Righteous indignation and anger should proceed only into action as prayer on the part of the one who has detected it.
I answer that, The movement of anger may be inordinate and sinful in two ways, as stated above (Article 2). First, on the part of the appetible object, as when one desires unjust revenge; and thus anger is a mortal sin in the point of its genus, because it is contrary to charity and justice.
Anger is a mortal sin when the subject is moved to seek retribution and retaliation against an object who has wronged him. ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” (Deut. xxxii. 35) “Unjust” revenge is an exaggerated claim whereby the subject’s sense of hurt moves him to destroy the man who has become his enemy. Anger or Wrath here is contrary to both charity and justice. It is contrary to charity since it supersedes and extinguishes any sense of love towards a man. The object may indeed have made himself the subject's enemy. But this is no reason not to love his enemy in Christ and Christ in him. Anger or wrath is thus the vice that destroys its opposite virtue of charity. In another way wrath or anger destroys justice. Justice is giving to every man his due. Anger or Wrath is also contrary to justice. It is an expression of injustice. Rather than seeking a just solution to a disagreement, it resorts to violence of mind and body in order to punish an offender. Strictly speaking it is an exaggerated sensitive or appetitive response to an injury that ought to be resolved rationally. And even it the matter cannot be resolved rationally, the injured party is to endure the wrong with a justice that is merciful and kind, since this is the way of God towards man. God’s justice is merciful, and so too must the Christian’s be.
Nevertheless such like anger may happen to be a venial sin by reason of the imperfection of the act. This imperfection is considered either in relation to the subject desirous of vengeance, as when the movement of angerr forestalls the judgment of his reason; or in relation to the desired object, as when one desires to be avenged in a trifling matter, which should be deemed of no account, so that even if one proceeded to action, it would not be a mortal sin, for instance by pulling a child slightly by the hair, or by some other like action.
Sometimes anger is a venial sin because the subject acts impulsively, compulsively, and irrationally in the heat of the moment. In such a situation the subject is moved by bodily and appetitive irritability and discomfort. In another way the object may elicit from the subject a response of unpremeditated vengeance. The subject may wish to forestall any further offense from the object, and thus, for example, he might proceed to hit or pull the hair of an offending object. In neither case is the anger or wrath a mortal sin since it is not rationally contrived to injure the offending party excessively beyond the demands of justice.
Secondly, the movement of anger may be inordinate in the mode of being angry, for instance, if one be too fiercely angry inwardly, or if one exceed in the outward signs of anger. On this way anger is not a mortal sin in the point of its genus; yet it may happen to be a mortal sin, for instance if through the fierceness of his anger a man falls away from the love of God and his neighbor.
Anger is mortal if it becomes an inward habit of the mind and heart. It becomes mortal also if it becomes an external activity that is excessive establishes a sinful habit. So the sin becomes mortal because of its effect, as when anger moves a man to fall away from love of God and neighbor. Thus the effect or the activity draws a man by reason of repeated habits into the nature of the sin. Anger here is made a mortal sin by the activity that then draws the mind away from the rational good. So the habit overtakes the man and the man’s reason is then held captive to a habit that began through venial sin but has become mortal. So anger may become a mortal sin or habitual sin unto death if it is practiced and then formative of the sinner. Or it may become mortal if a man through reason desires vengeance against another excessively or inappropriately.
Reply to Objection 1. It does not follow from the passage quoted that all anger is a mortal sin, but that the foolish are killed spiritually by anger, because, through not checking the movement of anger by their reason, they fall into mortal sins, for instance by blaspheming God or by doing injury to their neighbor.
So the effect can lead to the development of the mortal sin. What begins in the appetitive and sensitive soul can overtake and overrule the rational soul. What begins in the body moves into the will. Once the habit is established in the heart or the will, it is then difficult for reason to overcome it. In this case a man acquires the sin that becomes worse the more it rules and governs his behavior towards God and neighbor.
Reply to Objection 2. Our Lord said this of anger, by way of addition to the words of the Law: Whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matthew v. 21). Consequently our Lord is speaking here of the movement of anger wherein a man desires the killing or any grave injury of his neighbor: and should the consent of reason be given to this desire, without doubt it will be a mortal sin.
A man may kill another man literally, spiritually, or both. The point is that reason is used to contrive or assent to the murder of another. That reason assents to it is evidence that the subject is perfecting mortal sin since he does not love his neighbor.
Reply to Objection 3. In the case where anger is contrary to charity, it is a mortal sin, but it is not always so, as appears from what we have said.
To be a mortal sin anger or wrath must work clean contrary to charity and justice as mercy. The mortal nature of the sin is evidenced in a real destruction of the mind’s ability to love and hope for the transformation of another. So the mortal sin or anger or wrath cuts a man off from God and his neighbor. It can be overcome only by a deep sense of God's merciful charity and His long-suffering and lenient justice. Let us embrace both as we seek to overcome all anger and wrath.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews iv. 15)
Monsignor Knox reminds us that the whole story of the Temptation is misconceived if we do not recognize that it was an attempt made by Satan to find out whether our Lord was the Son of God or not. (The Epistles and Gospels, p. 89) And perhaps this is our question too. To be sure Satan tempts Jesus, but so do we from the inmost regions of our being. We want to know if He is the Son of God. We want proofs that provide certain knowledge; we want evidence. And today on the First Sunday of Lent we are given good evidence that He is, at least, moving towards revealing this truth to us. After all, proofs aren’t bad things; and in this case we can thank Satan for making explicit what we might always have wondered or even doubted in our own hearts.
So we begin with our Gospel lesson for today, remembering that we have accepted Jesus’ invitation to go up to Jerusalem. Presumably, then, we are going up up not merely to be recognized and registered as pious pilgrims, but to find out for ourselves just who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. So we read that Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (St. Matthew iv. 1,2) From the historical record of Saints Matthew and Luke we learn that Jesus was alone. Having fasted for forty days, being truly and fully human, He was hungry. So the Devil starts in on him where He is weakest as a human being. Jesus is famished, and the nearest things in appearance to bread in the desert are stones. And so Satan says to Him, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (St. Matthew iv. 3) Jesus knows that God sent Him not to destroy nature but to redeem it. So why not ensure that the natural man is well fed before He moves on? Jesus the Man needs to eat. But natural men need also to be redeemed. Stones are stones, and bread is bread. He can feed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and the fishes after they, with Him, have made a spiritual journey. And besides, the poor ye have with you always, but the Son of God ye have…always. (St. Matthew xxvi. 11) The Son of Man is the Son of God that through Him men might hunger and thirst for [God’s] righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Things Divine must take precedence over things mundane and natural. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, that….all [other]….things may be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Jesus remembers who He is truly, and that He has meat to eat that Satan does not know of and that His meat is to do the will of Him that sent…. Him.(St. John iv. 32,34) Jesus is tempted here to sacrifice the Son of Man prematurely to the needs of His body. But He knows that, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) Man is made to eat spiritual food, God’s Truth, here embodied in the Son of Man’s hunger to be the Son of God by feeding first on His Word.
So Jesus’ physical hunger is overcome by His spiritual longing to eat and digest the bread of God’s will. The devil sees before him a spiritual man. So in His physical weakness and exhaustion, Satan thinks, let Him be wholly spiritual. Perhaps this Jesus is called to be a supernaturally inspired ascetic, perhaps some kind of mystical Desert Father, who in denying the body completely can become a kind of incarnated angel! He has denied the good of the body, Satan thinks, so let this man dispense with his body entirely, cleaving as he does to this ‘Word’ of God. He trusts in God, then let Him deliver Him now, if he will have Him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (St. Matthew xxvii. 43) Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew iv. 5,6) Satan tempts Jesus to provoke God to reveal His anointing by sending angels, pure spirits, to rescue His soul and body. The soul is the seat of unity with God; from the ground of the soul man chooses freely to worship and obey his Maker. If you cannot perform a miracle with regard to the body’s hunger, prove your unbreakable unity with God through the mind or the soul, Satan suggests. Cast yourself down; surely God will not let one perish who places the good of his soul above that of his body. Jesus, however, knows that this is no way for the Son of Man to reveal that He is the Son of God. Man’s soul is in a body. God doesn’t intend for us to prove the good of one by destroying the other. The Son of Man must reveal that He is the Son of God by taking on the whole of human nature. That He is the Son of God will require much much more than sparkling and dazzling supernatural Divine interruptions designed to startle men out of their dull spiritual stupor. Men must follow the Son the Man along the hard path of suffering that alone can bring belief. Their minds were made to be redeemed and reconciled to God not through supernatural magic, but through the common and familiar mode of pondering, wondering, studying, exploring, investigating, questioning, and finally assenting to what lies hidden in the heart of the Son of Man! Christ has come to redeem souls through faith, and not to compel conversion by force. To compel and force God to prove Himself can never perfect creaturely man’s faith. Belief can never be forced. It must be elicited and carried forward as it discovers God in the heart of the Son of Man, the Father in the life of the Son, and the Spirit at the root of both. Satan and his minions demand signs and wonders. Men of faith will see a sign and wonder in the Love of the Son of Man, who rather than throwing down His life will allow it to be hoisted up by others. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (St. Matthew iv. 7)
We come to the final temptation. Satan guesses that if the Son the Man will not prove that He is the Son of God by worshiping the needs of His body or exaggerating the excellence of His soul, there is but one option left. Surely if He is the Son of God as flesh, He can still be tempted by the will to power. Jesus has come to save all men, to be sure, but only in so far as the Son of Man is held captive to His Father’s will as the Son of God. His last temptation is to despair of His reconciliation with God through obedience. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (St. Matthew iv. 8,9) Satan is perfect desperation, and is thus the prince of despair. The temptation here is for Jesus to sever himself from his Father’s will precisely because He can resist all temptation. That it should be a temptation to Jesus at all surprises us. How does it make sense? Well, here we find that Jesus has forsaken all for God and His kingdom. He has rejected both bodily and spiritual threats to the free operation of His will. His act of will in submitting to the Father seems to have rendered Him utterly powerless. His sense of impending impotence is weighing so heavily upon Him in the face of long, hard road lying ahead that He is tempted to give it all up –to do evil that good may come of it. (Idem, Knox, p. 65) Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (St. Matthew iv. 10) The Son of God is God’s only perfect child. As God the Father rules the whole of creation, so He speaks through His invisible Word into the flesh of His Son. That Word has neither meaning nor significance apart from the Father who speaks it. His speech is obeyed as a command, willingly, in the humanity of the Son. Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.(St. Matthew iv. 11)
That Jesus is the Son of Man has never been doubted. Sane men know too that God alone should be worshiped and served. The Sons of Man are born to become the Sons of God. What the Son of God reveals to us is that the one must be sacrificed to the other because Man must die for God to be made alive. The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (St. Matthew xx. 28) In the end of our Gospel lesson for today we read that, Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) Luther tells us that the angels came down from Heaven to feed Him. This is the proper order and nature of God’s provision. The Son of Man is hungering and thirsting for the righteousness as the Son of God. God the Father feeds His Spirit, nourishes His soul, and now cares for His body. He has become an inferior being as the Son of Man in order that all men might partake of His superior nature as the Son of God. The superior creatures now honor and worship the inferior Son of Man, feed Him and equip His Sacred Humanity for more of the same devilish assaults that will contrive to construct a Cross for His Love. For out of that Cross the Son of Man will reveal to men of faith what the Son of God will do to win back the love of His people. Amen.
"Behold we go up to Jerusalem." (Luke 18.31)
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus invites us to accompany Him up to Jerusalem: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, he says, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. Today we go up. We have changed our direction. For we have just completed the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. In those liturgical seasons we meditate upon a certain coming down -God’s coming down in His Son, the Word’s coming down from the Father to be made flesh, Jesus’ coming down to purify and cleanse our consciences of the unclean, the unholy, and the unrighteous. But today we begin to go up, to travel up with Jesus to Jerusalem. He must go up to die for us. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem and we go up with Him to contemplate dying Love, that into its embrace we might long to be held. Behold we go up to Jerusalem in order to see and experience the love of God, and how the love of God while enduring all manner of malevolent rejection, will keep on loving. In faith we go up to Jerusalem, in hope we reach forward towards greater wisdom, and in love we desire to find a passion that can be made our own –that principle of Primal Motion that alone can heal, that alone can save.
But we all might be a little bit confused about this coming down and going up. We faithfully follow Jesus, we hope for the best, but we do not understand what it means to go up to His death. Death seems to be a kind of going down, like going down into the pit or going down into the grave. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? Shall it declare thy truth? (Psalm xxx. 9) Perhaps we are like the Apostles who went up with Jesus to Jerusalem. They were confused and blinded to the truth. For the more they went up, the less they understood or saw in the right light. Jesus said that the Son of Man…shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. (St. Luke xviii. 32,33) But we read that the disciples understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (St. Luke xviii. 34) It all seems as foreign to us as it was to the Apostles. After all, going up usually means ascending or rising out of darkness and into light, out of confusion and into clarity, and out of ignorance and into knowledge,
But as they will soon learn, travelling up to Jerusalem with Jesus will involve illumination or enlightenment of a most unusual kind –the illumination that Jesus is God and that God is Love. The eyes of the Apostles, our eyes, will be opened; there is no doubt about it. But not before, against the protestations of all others, we persistently cry out with the blind man in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me. (St. Luke xviii. 38) We cannot go up to Jerusalem with Jesus until we beg for the mercy of God in Jesus Christ to come down to us to open our eyes. Jesus asks the blind man what he desires of Him. The blind man responds, Lord, that I may receive my sight. (St. Luke xviii. 41) The blind man receives his sight and so too can we if Jesus comes down to us. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him….(St. Luke xviii. 43) Vision is the door that opens the heart to follow Jesus and to go up with Him to Jerusalem.
Vision is the reward bestowed upon the man whose faith persistently seeks out the source of true healing. What he thought would be the gateway to the world alone, became the door to a spiritual vision that can go up to the Cross of Christ’s Love. Christ says in this morning’s Gospel that His impending suffering and death will be necessary that all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. (St. Luke xviii.31) What the blind man will see and the Apostles will behold is a vision of a healing Love that is always moved and defined by an upward ascent into heart of our Heavenly Father. St. Paul speaks of this Love in this morning’s Epistle. King James’ able translators penned it as Charity.
Charity is the Queen of the Theological virtues. It outruns faith and fulfills all hope, since its passion is God’s, which finds no end. St. John tells us that, God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him.(1 St. John iv. 16) Love is Charity, and Charity is the everlasting expression of God’s nature. Charity is that one essential virtue that must command all others. St. Paul suggests this morning that Charity is preeminent because it alone binds God to Man and Man to God. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Cor. xiii. 1-3) Speech, knowledge, and kindness alone can never save a man, says St. Paul. All sorts of people can speak like eloquent earthly men or celestial angels. This virtue does not save a man. Countless others can have right belief, near-perfect knowledge of theological truth, and spiritual understanding. This virtue does not save a man. Generous and liberal people may spend their lives feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless. This virtue does not save a man. What they are missing is Charity. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.(1 Cor. xiii. 4-7) Charity is the pure, eternal activity of God. It sums up in one word God’s inestimable mercy, pity, compassion, and forgiveness that comes down in order that we may go up and back into Heaven. It fulfills all hope in His desire for every man’s redemption. It sees in all men the possibility of salvation, though their ways be wicked, their hearts hardened, and their motives murderous. Charity comes down to conquer all vice. Why? Because God is love, and thus God is Charity. And Charity will never cease to do all that He can to enable men to ascend or to go up and into the new life of everlasting virtue.
Charity is the passion that moves and defines the nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus is both God loving Man and Man loving God. In this one person then, what men have tried to divide since the dawn of time, is found in inseverable harmonious unity. And make no mistake about it; the devil will do all he can to divide these two loves, these two expressions of Charity in the heart of Jesus. As we go up to the Cross of Christ’s Charity, we shall see that Jesus will be tempted in His unjust suffering and execution to divide God from Man and Man from God. He will be tempted to call down legions of angels to destroy the human enemies of the Charity that moves Him. He will be tempted to forsake God in His human suffering and to forsake Man in His Divine perfection. Rather than going up and into the embrace of His heavenly Father’s Charity, He will be tempted to come down from the Cross and abandon God’s way of working out our salvation. But as we go up, we shall find that He will not come down into these temptations. He is God’s Charity made flesh for Man; He is Man’s Charity and Love for God made divine. He goes up in order to die for us. He will come down in order to rise in us. What we think of as two distinct kinds of Love will persist as one in the heart of Jesus. Sin divides; Love unites. This is the vision and expression of Love.
This morning a blind man became conscious that Jesus Christ was passing by. His cry goes up and Jesus comes down. Augustine exhorts us to imitate him.
Let Christ’s passing by make us prepared to cry out. What is Christ’s passing by? Whatsoever He has endured for us here is His passing by. He was born, He passed by: for is He yet being born? He grew up, He passed by; is He yet growing up? He was suckled: is He yet suckled? When weary He slept: does He yet sleep? He ate and He drank: does He yet do this? At the last He was seized, He was bound with ropes, He was beaten, He was crowned with thorns, He was struck by blows, He was defiled with spittle, He was hung on a Cross, He was put to death, He was pierced by a lance, He was buried, He rose again. Till then He passes by.
Christ is God’s Charity that has come down from Heaven in order to pass us by. True Charity comes down in order that through Him we all may go up and back to God. Christ is always passing by. The vision of Charity in the flesh will come down to us this Lent so that we may go up to the Cross to die. Christ is always passing by. Let us pray that this coming Lent we shall play the man, seeing and desiring the Charity that Christ is, cherishing and treasuring not only the vision, but enduring His call and claim of our hearts, as old loves fade and come down into death and true Love stirs and goes up into Life. Christ is always passing by. Our hearts will be broken if we go up to gaze upon this Charity; but in their breaking comes an opening, into which Christ will flow, grow, expand and triumph. Christ is always passing by. He intends to brings us into unbreakable loving union with our Heavenly Father. Christ is always passing by. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, to die, to rise, and impart the Divine Charity…that is always passing by…to others. Amen.
Whether Envy is a Mortal Sin: Summa, II, ii, 36, iii.
It is written (Job v. 2): Envy slayeth the little one. Now nothing slays spiritually, except mortal sin. Therefore envy is a mortal sin.
Envy kills the children of God. We are called to become as little children. The slay the growing and maturing little child of God in a man’s soul is to murder God’s offspring. To murder God’s offspring is to murder the Holy Ghost in another man’s life.
Envy is a mortal sin, in respect of its genus. For the genus of a sin is taken from its object; and envy according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity whence the soul derives its spiritual life, according to 1 John iii. 14. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. Now the object both of charity and of envy is our neighbor' good, but by contrary movements, since charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while envy grieves over it, as stated above (Article 1). Therefore it is evident that envy is a mortal sin in respect of its genus.
Envy is a kind or type of sin. According to the aspect of the object under consideration envy is the vice that stands opposite to the virtue of Charity. The soul derives its spiritual life from the Charity or the Love of God. If the love of God or Charity is the life of God in the soul, then the soul is animated by Charity that is extended to all others. The subject, being filled with Charity, turns to the object. The object is our neighbour’s good. Envy is sorrowful and grieves over our neighbour’s potential and actual good. Envy begrudges the Good’s presence and then perfection in our neighbour’s soul. Envy cannot bear the Good in any other man.
Nevertheless, in every kind of mortal sin we find certain imperfect movements in the sensuality, which are venial sins: such are the first movement of concupiscence in the genus of adultery, and the first movement of anger, in the genus of murder and so in the genus of envy we find sometimes even in perfect men certain first movements, which are venial sins.
Due to the fallen condition, even in the man who does not indulge the mortal sin of envy, there might be certain sensual movements of the body that resist goodness in the life of a brother or sister. So envy might be present as a venial sin in the body because of the Fallen constitution. That it is present in the perfect man as a venial sin, which might be better expressed as irritation, unease, and discomfort, does not mean that it is the same as a Mortal Sin. It can be present in sensual potential and yet not be fully perfected as a rational sin.
Some say that since envy is a kind of sorrow, it is a passion of the sensitive appetite. Now there is no mortal sin in the sensuality, but only in the reason, as Augustine declares (De Trin. xii, 12) Therefore envy is not a mortal sin. But I reply that the movement of envy in so far as it is a passion of the sensuality, is an imperfect thing in the genus of human acts, the principle of which is the reason, so that envy of that kind is not a mortal sin. The same applies to the envy of little children who have not the use of reason.
So envy is not a mortal sin before reason is fully developed. However, once reason is developed, the knowledge of begrudging another man his share in God’s Goodness renders the sin a Mortal Sin. That babies reveal a horrifically zelous form of envy cannot be held against them since they reveal merely the presence of Original Sin that is not yet perfected by reason.
Furthermore, According to the Philosopher (Rhet. ii, 9), envy is contrary both to nemesis and to pity, but for different reasons. For it is directly contrary to pity, their principal objects being contrary to one another, since the envious man grieves over his neighbor's good, whereas the pitiful man grieves over his neighbor's evil, so that the envious have no pity, as he states in the same passage, nor is the pitiful man envious. On the other hand, envy is contrary to nemesis on the part of the man whose good grieves the envious man for nemesis is sorrow for the good of the undeserving according to Psalm lxxii. 3, I was envious of the wicked, when I saw the prosperity of sinners. Whereas the envious grieves over the good of those who are deserving of it. Hence it is clear that the former contrariety is more direct than the latter. Now pity is a virtue, and an effect proper to charity: so that envy is contrary to pity and charity.
So envy lies between pity and nemesis. Pity is a passion that grieves over his neighbor’s misfortune or the evil in his life. Nemesis is a passion that grieves over a man’s undeserved and unmerited goodness. So nemesis grieves not over the good man but over the sinner. Envy grieves over the good man and his goodness. Pity is a virtue and is caused by charity. Envy is contrary to the virtues of charity and its pity. Envy is opposed also to nemesis. Envy mourns over the sanctity of the saint. Nemesis mourns over the success of the sinner.
Now envy can be a natural or a spiritual sin. It can be directed against a man’s earthly success or against his spiritual profit. The latter is far more sinful than the former, for in expressing it we wish to deny spiritual transformation and salvation to our neighbors. To sorrow over the Grace of God in another man’s heart is truly a Capital Sin. ‘Hence it is accounted a sin against the Holy Ghost because thereby a man envies, as it were, the Holy Ghost Himself, Who is glorified in His works.’ To envy the flow of Grace in another man’s heart is to begrudge God the Father, His Word, and the Holy Ghost their rightful place in our neighbor’s life. Such is a sin unto death.
A Light to Lighten the Gentiles,
and the Glory of thy people Israel.
(St. Luke ii. 32)
Today we celebrate the Feast of The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, which is also known as The Purification of St. Mary the Virgin, and also as Candlemas. It is called The Purification after the Jewish ritual custom proscribed in the Twelfth Book of Leviticus, where the mother of a male child is commanded to undergo forty days of cleansing from the blood of childbirth and then to offer herself and her child at the temple with an offering. Her purification is accompanied by the presentation of her child. The ritual itself is a consecration of both the mother and child’s lives to God, and the offering is sign of thanksgiving and gratitude for safe delivery of the child and the continued health of the mother. Were the parents rich enough, they would offer a lamb. Were they too poor, they would offer two turtledoves or two pigeons, as Joseph and Mary did. That the Feast is also called Candlemas originates with Simeon’s prophesy that the Christ Child would be a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of [God’s] people Israel. (Ibid, 32) Later Church tradition has this day as the Feast on which beeswax candles were blessed for use both in churches and in private homes throughout the year. In the old days, Candlemas Term denoted the second trimester in Scottish universities and secondary schools.
Now what I would like to focus on today is the designation of our Feast as Candlemas. And I would like to do this because I think that it fits nicely in with our Epiphany Season of light. In the past few weeks, we have been focusing on Christ the Light, or on the Light that has begun to illuminate our minds and warm our hearts to the mission and meaning of Jesus Christ. What we have seen is that Christ the Light is more often than not that spiritual brilliance and radiance that comes to transform and redeem human nature in such a way that He confuses and confounds before He adjusts and assimilates man’s vision to His meaning. What do I mean? Well think about our Epiphany Gospel lections. In them we found that the Blessed Virgin Mary was left quite confused about the meaning and nature of her young son’s life. She thought that she had lost Jesus in the temple, only to discover that it was she who was truly lost spiritually, since if she had had the eyes or vision with which to see who and what He was about, she would not have despaired. Also, later, when she provoked Him to use His power to overcome the depletion of wedding wine, she was reminded that both she and He were destined to face a far more urgent need in His future, when happiness would be no less at stake, but when its acquisition would be obtained not by signs and wonders but through merciful sacrifice. In both cases, the Blessed Virgin’s vision and sight were not yet capable of seeing the heavenly Light that informed and defined her earthly Son’s mission.
And we should not be surprised by this. The Blessed Virgin was Jesus’ earthly mother –the Mother of God as Flesh. In so far as she saw what she saw when she saw it, she was a good mother moved and defined by her own earthly light. In this, she was not unlike any of us. She, like us, followed Nature’s light. And Nature’s light is threefold. First, it is the light of the Sun that brings about new life that helps to conserve and perfect natural life. Through the energy and power of the Sun the world as we know it lives, and moves, and has its being. Second, it is the light of the Sun that sheds its rays on all of creation, so that all of creation is made visible. Third, it is the light of man’s intellect, by which he comes to encounter the universe, explore and plumb its length, breadth, depth, and height, in order that he may name, arrange, retain, and even remold and refashion it into the service of his existence. Nature’s light is, of course, a gift from God, though we do tend, I think, to forget its giftedness, and so take it for granted. At any rate, this is the light which moves most men, and, no doubt, defined and informed Mary’s relation to her son Jesus at the outset.
But there is another Light which stands above Nature’s light. And this is the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (St. John i. 9) Of course this Light is Christ, or the everlastingly-begotten Word of God. This is the Light that not only creates and informs all things, but also redeems and saves rational and free willing creatures. This is the Light that then joins Himself to human nature in Jesus Christ in order to elicit and grow another Light –the Light of faith in the hearts and minds of those who will follow Him. Of course this Light is not obtained or possessed easily. The Blessed Virgin, more than others I think, knew this most acutely and painfully. Faith is a gift that grows only with suffering through the trial and error of realizing that it does not yet grasp or understand the true Light. The Light of faith demands an obedience and willingness to follow in the path of a revelation and disclosure of God’s will and way that seem so contrarily set against man’s limited expectations. And the Light of faith must always be willing to grow and expand on the basis of what Christ says and does in relation to others. One of the hardest truths that the Blessed Virgin had to accept was that her unique role did not entitle the Light of faith in her to an immediate and self-evident knowledge or understanding of her Son Jesus. She was His earthly mother. God was His heavenly Father.
So it was the case that the Blessed Virgin would learn to follow her Son in faith and learn the Light of His truth from his encounters with others. Her own enlightenment and illumination began with the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation of Jesus’ conception in her womb by the Holy Ghost. It continued with the prophecy of her Son’s everlasting kingship, only to be challenged and disrupted by His unusually obscure, seemingly insignificant, and far from regal birth. Then she learned of the Angels’ glorious response to it…out of the mouths of poor and common shepherds. Imagine how confused this poor Virgin Mother must have been! How would this prophecy of glory and perfection emerge from conditions of such hardship and suffering? Through it all, Mary pondered all these things in her heart. (Ibid, ii. 19)
And today we find more of what must have been, at the very least, still more confusing. She and Joseph take the babe to the temple for her own ritual Purification and His Presentation. And so here, thinking that she was doing only what every other Jewish mother had been commanded to do by Jewish Law, her faith encounters a response to the event that she could not have expected. There she and Joseph find old Simeon and Anna. St. Luke tells us that Simeon was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Ibid, 25, 26) Simeon proceeds to sing the canticle that we know as the Nunc Dimitis.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word:
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
a light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel. (Ibid, 29-32)
Simeon directly sees in Jesus’ birth the salvation of the world; Mary and Joseph marvel at his prophecy. But it does not end here. Simeon addresses Mary and tells her that, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Ibid, 34, 35) The Light of faith will lead Mary, through Jesus, to a future of fall and rising, of death and new birth. The process of faith’s journey into Christ the Light will demand that the Light still shine, even in the face of that darkness which will pierce and rend both Christ’s side and Mary’s soul.
The Feast of Candlemas reminds us that our faith must never hesitate or waiver in the face of confusion, perplexity, or suffering, as it journeys into Christ the Light, who comes to reveal the truth of God’s plan and purpose for us all. The Light of faith demands patience, watching, and waiting. Today the Blessed Virgin meets the model of what her own life will be in the witness of Simeon and Anna. Both spent their lives in the temple guided by the Light of faith, patiently praying, keeping vigil, looking for the things that were coming from God with earnest expectation and hope. The reward of their faith and hope was a vision of the Saviour. They would not live to see the fall and rise of God’s Son. But Mary would come to see and understand those demands slowly and painfully. But first, the Lord places before her the Light of faith in the lives of Anna and Simeon. Through their faith, Mary is being purified of all earthly expectations, that the Light of her faith might discover what her presentation of the Christ Child to God would really mean.
My friends, today let us be determined to walk by the Light of faith. Today’s Purification and Presentation in the Temple should provoke us to cultivate and grow the Light of faith, and so to present ourselves to God with pure and clean hearts. (Collect) Let us, with Mary as the model of our purification, be patient, ever watching and waiting, and even suffering as the Light of faith discovers God’s knowledge and love in Christ the Light. From there, let us pray that the illumination and enlightenment of Christ the Light will emblazon and enkindle our zeal to follow Him wheresoever He bids us go and to obey Him in whatever He asks us to do. That His Light might become that knowledge which will compel our desire to embrace His saving love. And in the end, with Simeon, let us be prepared always to depart this life, having seen Christ the Light, who will blend illumination with future glory, and enlightenment with lasting joy because [our] eyes have seen thy salvation; which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons