Sunday, 27 September 2020

On the Love of God.

 The 17th Sunday after Pentecost serves as a wonderful opportunity to turn once more to the pages of St. Alphonsus Ligouri's homilies. His words are based upon the line from St. Matthew's Gospel: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind". Below follow his words:

“What object more noble, more magnificent, more powerful, more rich, more beautiful, more bountiful, more merciful, more grateful, more amiable, or more loving, than himself, could God give us to love? Who more noble than God? Some boast of the nobility of their family for five hundred or a thousand years; but the nobility of God is eternal. He is the Lord of all. Before God all the angels in heaven or all the nobles on earth are but as a drop of water or a grain of dust. ‘Behold the Gentiles are as a drop of a bucket behold the islands are as a little dust.’ (Isaiah. 40:15.) Who more powerful than God? He can do whatsoever he wills. By an act of his will he has created this world, and by another act he can destroy it when he pleases. Who more wealthy? He possesses all the riches of heaven and earth. Who more beautiful? Before the beauty of God all the beauties of creatures disappear. Who more bountiful? St. Augustine says, that God has a greater desire to do good to us than we have to receive it. Who more merciful? If the most impious sinner on earth humble himself before God, and repent of his sins, God instantly pardons and embraces him. Who more grateful? He does not leave unrewarded the smallest act we perform for his sake. Who more amiable? God is so amiable that, by barely seeing and loving him in heaven, the saints feel a joy which makes them perfectly happy and content for all eternity. The greatest of the torments of the damned arise from knowing that this God is so amiable, and that they cannot love him….

“Love also prevents us from feeling the pains of this life. St. Bonaventure says, that the love of God is like honey; it sweetens things the most bitter. And what more sweet to a soul that loves God than to suffer for him? She knows that by cheerfully embracing sufferings she pleases God, and that her pains shall be the brightest jewels in her crown in Paradise. And who is there that will not willingly suffer and die in imitation of Jesus Christ, who has gone before us, carrying his cross, to offer himself in sacrifice for the love of us, and inviting us to follow his example? ‘If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.’ (Matt. 16: 24.) For this purpose he has condescended to humble himself to death, and to the opprobrious death of the cross, for the love of us. ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’ (Phil. 2:8.)…

“St. Teresa used to say, that in calling a soul to his love, God bestows upon her an exceedingly great favour. Since, then, most beloved brethren, God calls us all to his love, let us thank and love him with our whole heart. Because he loves us intensely, he wishes to he tenderly loved by us. ‘When,’ says St. Bernard, ‘God loves, he desires nothing else than to be loved; for he loves only that he may be loved.’ (Sermon. 63, in Cant.) It was to inflame us with his divine love that the Eternal Word descended from heaven. So he himself has declared; adding, that he only desires to see this fire lighted up in our hearts. ‘I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?’ (Luke 12:49.) Let us now see what means we ought to adopt in order to love God. ..

In the first place, we ought to guard against every sin, whether mortal or venial. ‘If,’ says Jesus Christ, ‘any one love me, he will keep my word.’ (John 14: 23.) The first mark of love is to endeavour not to give the smallest displeasure to the beloved. How can he be said to love God with his whole heart, who is not afraid to commit deliberate venial offences against God? St. Teresa used to say to her spiritual children: ‘From deliberate sin, however small, may God deliver you.’ But some will say: Venial sin is a small evil. Is it a small evil to displease a God who is so good, and who loves us so tenderly? 

“In the second place, to love God with the whole heart, it is necessary to have a great desire to love him. Holy desires are the wings with which we fly to God; for, as St. Lawrence Justinian says, a good desire gives us strength to go forward, and lightens the labour of walking in the way of God. According to the spiritual masters, he that does not advance in the way of the Lord goes back; but, on the other hand, God cheerfully gives himself to those who seek after him. ‘The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh him.’ (Lamen. 3:25.) He fills with his own good things all who desire him through love. ‘He hath filled the hungry with good things.’ (Luke 1:53.) 

“In the third place, it is necessary to resolve courageously, to arrive at the perfect love of God. Some persons desire to belong entirely to God, but do not resolve to adopt the means. It is of them the Wise Man says, ‘Desires kill the soul.’ (Prov. 21:25.) I would wish, they say, to become a saint; but still, with all their desires, they never advance a single step. St. Teresa used to say, that ‘of these irresolute souls the devil is never afraid. Because, if they do not resolve sincerely to give themselves to God without reserve, they shall always continue in the same imperfections. But, on the other hand, the saint says, that God wishes only from us a true resolution to become saints; he himself will do the rest. If, then, we wish to love God with our whole heart, we must resolve to do without reserve what is most pleasing to him, and to begin at once to put our hands to the work. ‘Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly.’ (Eccl. 9:10.)…

“To obtain and to preserve divine love, three things are necessary: meditation, communion, and prayer. First, meditation is necessary. He who thinks but little on God, loves him but little… The communion is another holy furnace, in which we are inflamed with divine love. ‘The holy eucharist,’ says St. Chrysostom, ‘is a fire which inflames us, that, like lions breathing fire, we may retire from the holy table, being made terrible to the devil.’ (Hom, 41 ad Pop.).. Above all, prayer (the prayer of petition) is necessary. It is by means of prayer that God dispenses all his favours, but particularly the great gift of divine love. To make us ask this love, meditation is a great help. 

“Let us, then, continually ask of Jesus Christ his holy love; and let us ask his divine mother Mary, who is the treasurer of all his graces, to obtain it for us”.

So ends the selection from St. Alphonsus regarding the manner of the love of God which is proper to the Catholic soul. The three aspects he mentions, meditation, communion and prayer, are those which he constantly refers to throughout his writings. He identifies them as being the very foundation of any fruitful spiritual life. It is also so characteristic of him that he closes his beautifully rich lines with a commendation to Mary. She after all, is the one who can most perfectly guide each soul towards a proper love of God.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Regarding true humility.


“Because everyone that exalted himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted”. (Luke 14:11)

This final line from today’s Gospel serves as the theme for the meditation which we can draw from the text. The line has particular pertinence today due to the relevance, or lack of it, which the virtue of humility has in current society. It is an importance which cannot be missed by Catholics who live in a world in which this virtue is far from common. Indeed, such a virtue is rarely even praised or promoted - certainly the world proclaims on occasion to love a humble man, but yet the world is built and run by those who are far from humble. A humble man is seen as an anomaly, something to be wondered at initially, but soon scorned and forgotten. Pride is of course the root of all sin and the source of original sin, whilst humility, the opposing virtue, is necessary in order to combat pride. It is a virtue which is so clearly needed in order to reverse the state of affairs in this irreligious society.

Why then ought this command of Christ be implemented? In essence, it is the only way by which a society can survive. Humility is not something which should be practiced with great vigour one day and then dropped on the next, but rather a habit which one must work at every day in order to seek mastery of it. As such, the virtue of humility requires a constant act of fortitude. This ability to surrender one’s will or self-love, is directly opposed to the predominant spirit of modern society which proclaims the ideology of self-love and self-will as its chief mantra. Hence the great importance of humility in the current age, since it is the antidote to the crime of self-love which has taken over and destroyed the remnants of Christian civilisation. 

Comparing humility to self-love, we see that humility is the only path which leads to salvation. Christ teaches this in saying that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, whilst those who prefer to be humble will attain the exalted prize. It is only possible to prefer to be humbled, if one has Christ in mind. Reminding oneself of the glory of heaven and the sufferings which He endured for us, serves as an easy way to avoid falling into pride. However, this is a concept which modernity cannot fathom. Such is the corrupted nature of man, that he cannot understand how living for another, ultimately God, can be greater than living for oneself. 

This phenomena occurs as a result of a long process: over time, the revolutionary forces in the world have pushed the idea that religion and morality is coercive and forceful. These liberals, both in the Church and society, urged that man move away from a sense of duty towards God, which entailed hardships, and instead towards a life which was supposedly more ‘human’ and free. In essence, this more human life is merely a more selfish life, in which one chooses his own desires instead of the moral and divine law. Pride is thus the governing principle in this ideology. If we allow time for this process to take effect, then the current situation of free licentiousness and lack of morality is easily understood, since this is the logical effect of a life lived purely for one’s own desires. 

It is a vicious circle of vice which can only be stopped by a sudden and sharp action. The firm practice of the virtue of humility is this sharp action, which can be the only antidote to pride.

But it is important to note that the Gospel only refers to humility in terms of oneself. Crucially it does not mention that one should be humble in defence of the things of God. That is to say, whilst one can sacrifice his own wishes and desires out of humility, the laws of God are never things which can be compromised on. Hence, one ought never to promote some ecumenical worship in which Catholicism and other religions are viewed as equal, out of a perverted form of humility and respect. When it comes to defending the law of God, fortitude, not long-suffering, must be the predominant virtue. In fact, it is due to a misunderstanding of this very fact, that immorality has been allowed such a free spread. Clerics and lay have turned a blind eye to transgressions of the moral and natural law due to some fallacious concept of humility and not wishing to interfere or impose one’s will.

The enemies of Christ, particularly those who have infiltrated the Church, play upon this view of the virtue of humility,. They seek to push humility in all things but especially with regards to doctrine, stating that those who wish to preserve the truth are merely rigid and selfish. ‘Let go of your selfish attachment to those older ideas’ they cry: ‘you should be humble and not be so judgemental. Humility, brethren, humility!’. Then again they might say, ‘humility is acceptance, and you must be accepting of all in the world, else you cannot be like Christ’. Such phrases are not unfamiliar in the modern Church. 

But faithful souls must be on guard not to be taken in by these poisonous words and instead fight back with renewed vigour by attachment to and promotion of truth, morality and doctrine. Worship of God and fidelity to truth are the fundamental points which must be the guide for the life of all. These cannot be subject to ‘humble’ acceptance of innovation or compromise. Rather, the truth must be defended zealously and courageously. We must follow the example of the saints who became masters of their own passions and desires through humility, yet did not compromise on one single aspect of the faith. Indeed, their personal selflessness, combined with the unflinching proclamation of the truth, is that which drew many souls around them.

The virtue of humility calls us to sacrifice our wills out of love for Christ. It does not and cannot call us to sacrifice the truth taught by Christ for the sake of fellow man. To do so would be an aberration and corruption. Such would be a false humility, and it is precisely this which is taught by the false shepherds and leaders in the Church and the world. On the contrary, true humility consists in a certain twofold ferociousness: firstly against one’s own selfishness and then in defence of God. The humble saints embody this virtue in such a manner, for they were fully aware of the nature of humility. We so often describe humility as a death to self, but if one is indeed dying to self, then he must be doing so for something greater. This greater being is of course God, and so it goes against all logic as well as against humility itself, to be firm against self will but weak in defence of truth. 

Hence, today’s Gospel calls for a renewed practice of humility. It urges that we be filled with a strong spirit when resisting our own desires, as well as when we unflinchingly proclaim the truth of Christ.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Our Lady of Sorrows.


Consider the scene - Mount Calvary is topped with three crosses, and beneath them stand the cruel executioners of Christ. They cast lots for His garments and fill the air with their profanities, whilst above them the Saviour of the Universe pours out His blood for the salvation of mankind. Passing almost un-noticed by the mocking crowd of soldiers and townspeople, stands a woman. She is found next to the cross of Christ, her eyes gazing up at Him and her hand extended to touch the wood of the cross. The blood from His pierced and flagellated body falls down the beams and onto her hand as it rests on that sacred tree. She remains there, unflinching in the face of the torturous death of her Son, not filled with hate for his enemies, but freely offering herself with Him. She sacrifices her own will for the sake of God’s: she rejects the natural desire to wish Christ's preservation and instead unites her will to His in willing that His sacrificial death be the cause of salvation. This is the Woman of sorrows, her hand never moving from the cross, her will never wavering in its resolve. She thus unites herself to Christ in a manner which none else can do. Her heavenly crown is won here, on this bare hill, where she and Christ offer themselves for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. Such is our Mother of Sorrows. 

Holy Mother Church follows the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the instrument of Christ’s passion, with the great feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, or Our Lady of Sorrows. It is most fitting that these two feasts should be so situated in the Church’s liturgical year. Just as Mary and Christ were so united in their lives, especially in their suffering, so must the Exaltation of the Cross,  that instrument of His suffering, be accompanied by the exaltation of Mary’s sorrows. The union between Christ and His mother cannot be understood if one does not realise the deep union which is formed through their joint suffering. Christ offered Himself on the cross: Mary offered Him but also herself with Him. It is for this reason that she is hailed as the Co-Redemptrix, and consequently when we honour the passion of Christ, we rightly honour her also. 

Yet it seems strange perhaps to use such a term as the ‘exaltation of Mary’s sorrows’, for how can it be right to rejoice so in the sufferings of another? St. Alphonsus Ligouri mentions that her sufferings were so great that she is called the Queen of Martyrs, a title by which we hail her in the Litany of Loreto. Her sorrows were so great and so profound that she is likened to those who have died for Christ, but how then can this great sorrow be a cause of joy for the Church? One answer to this is to remember the role of suffering in the spiritual life and to further state that it is only through the suffering and death of Christ that we have access to heaven. Suffering is indeed the gateway to union with Christ, since it is the way by which one dies to self and imitates his Lord. This truth Mary knew more perfectly than all, and it was this which moved her to will her suffering.

For indeed, the sorrows which she endured were all voluntary. She willingly accepted the honour and the sacrifice of becoming the Mother of God, fully aware of the trials and the awful pain which this would cause. It was in the face of this realisation that she offered her fiat to the heavenly messenger at the Annunciation. This does not mean that her life was spent in sombre expectation of the dread moment of the joint passion she was to undergo with her Son. Her life was one of sorrow, yes, but it was also one of joy. Fr. Keen mentions this fact: “Mary’s life never ceased for a moment to be a life of intoxicating joy. Mary’s life was one of intense union with God”.(1) 

It is through this complete union and willing of the Divine will that Mary spent a life in joy and blissful union with God. Fully conscious of the torments that she would suffer along with her Son, this thought did not overwhelm her because she knew that such sacrifice was perfectly in accord with the will of God. He so wished that she should be united with Christ in the act of redemption. Indeed, the Catholic life is one of suffering, but sufferings united to God so that they became joys. Perfection is found in imitation of the life of the cross: Mary was the most perfect imitator of the way of the cross and in this suffering she found the heavenly joy which comes only from doing the will of God. Thus, whilst St. Alphonsus describes her sorrow as being all encompassing and without ceasing, we can also state that her life was one of heavenly joy.

The Church counts seven sorrows of Mary: the prophecy of Simeon; the flight into Egypt; the loss of her Son in the temple; her meeting with Christ on the way to Calvary; the death of Jesus; the piercing of His Sacred Side and His descent from the cross; Christ’s burial. All of these dolours are united by one point in particular - they are directed to Christ. Mary’s sorrows are not sorrows for her own account, as opposed to the majority of the sufferings which we undergo in daily life. Certainly, she felt a natural and just sorrow at all these events, particularly when witnessing the passion and death of her Son. But more than this is the sorrow she felt which was a sharing in Christ’s sorrow. At each one of these seven occasions, it is concern for her Son which moves her. She gives no thought to herself at all, but unfailing wishes to join herself to Christ. It is for this reason that St. Alphonsus writes thus: “To show the sufferings endured by other martyrs they are represented with the instruments of their torture…Mary is represented with her dead Son in her arms; for He alone was the instrument of her martyrdom, and compassion for Him made her the Queen of Martyrs”.(2)

The sufferings of this sweet, virgin Mother of God are thus transformed into the means by which demons flee and sin is vanquished. With and through Christ, Mary becomes the Co-Redemptrix of the human race, the Mediatrix of graces and the Exterminatrix of heresies. She is the woman who crushes the head of the serpent (cf Gen 3:15) and the humble new Eve who acts with the New Adam. Thus the Epistle of today’s Mass applies these words to the Mother of God: “the Lord hath blessed thee by His power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought”. (Judith 13:22) In dwelling upon each of the seven dolours of Our Lady, we are not commemorating some mournful event, but rather a signal triumph over the devil. Every sorrow endured by that humble Co-Redemptrix serves as a vicious blow to the devil, as Mary united her will to God’s. Through the sorrow she endured at the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt and the loss of Christ in the temple, she brought glory to God and confounded the devil. Through her willing and loving co-operation with Christ in the entirety of His passion, she planted her heel firmly upon the head of the serpent as she became the channel to the world for the graces which Christ won upon the cross. 

Just as God led the Israelites from Egypt with the pillar of cloud and fire, so Mary leads her children through the darkness of temptations and assaults. Thus, in the words of St. Lawrence, “behold the twofold object for which Mary is given to us; to shelter us, as a cloud, from the heat of the sun of justice, and, as fire, to protect us all against the devil”.(3) Her name has become a source of terror to the demons and her virtues, a scourge to the evil spirits. Well then can we pray the words of the Memorare: ‘Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession, was left unaided’.

Verily, Mary’s glory is found in her dolours and her sufferings. In turn, these sufferings and her life of sacrifice are centred upon God and the performance of His holy will. Christ was crowned mockingly with a helmet of thorns in his passion: Mary received no such physical torture but her heart was pierced with a sword that was keener than any earthly blade. He endured all and died so that He might perform the will of the Father and ransom fallen man from the slavery of sin. To this Mary united herself completely, not in a subdued or reluctant manner, but joyfully willing that she might receive her sorrows for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. 

In this manner, Our Lady of Sorrows becomes the mother of us all. Her sorrow can be understood only by understanding the immensity of her love for God. In fostering a devotion to her under this title, the Church exhorts us to thus imitate her in this virtue. St. Alphonsus teaches that “Mary’s whole martyrdom consisted in beholding and pitying her innocent and beloved Son, who suffered so much. Hence, the greater was her love for Him, the more bitter and inconsolable was her grief”.(4) This is great glory and joy of the dolours of Mary - for they are sorrows precisely because of her perfect love of God and the sorrow she endured from seeing Him so treated. This is the reason why faithful Catholics can and must take such joy and glory in the seven dolours of the Blessed Mother, because each moment of agony she endured was also a moment of perfect union with the will of God, of heavenly joy in being so united with Him, and a moment of absolute rejection of the devil. 

What words are truly enough to properly describe each of the sorrows which Mary underwent? Many tomes could not do justice to the awful weight of the suffering and martyrdom which she endured. Nor could they properly convey the truth of the reason for such willing suffering, namely the perfect and most intimate love and union with God. The pages provided for us by the saints, particularly Sts. Alphonsus Ligouri and Louis-Marie de Montfort, are full of immense beauty and can nurture many hours of fruitful meditation. But even these great Marian saints freely proclaim that their words do nothing to truly present the truths about the Queen of Martyrs. 

The dolours of Mary the Co-Redemptrix are the glory of the Church. The bitter sorrows which she willingly undertook became her sweetest joys in unison with Christ. Through these, the seven sorrows of Mary, Holy Mother Church calls us all to foster a deeper union with our heavenly Mother. We are urged to meditate often upon the dolours, because by doing so their mysteries will unveil themselves to the fervent devotees of Our Lady. The more that a soul contemplates these particular moments in the life of Christ and His Mother, then the more completely he is filled with an understanding of the intimate, loving, sacrificial union between them. With this knowledge, and with Our Lady of Sorrows as his guide, such a soul is able to imitate the Blessed Mother in willing all things for the sake of God.

1: Frs. Leen and Kearney, Our Blessed Mother, (Dublin, Clonmore & Reynolds, 1947), 63.

2: St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Glories of Mary, (London, Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1868),     598.

3. St. Lawrence, De Laudibus Virgines, Ch 12, source in The Glories of Mary.

4: Ligouri, The Glories of Mary, 413.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Raising the dead in Confession - 15th Sunday after Pentecost

And He said: Young man, I say to thee arise. And he that was dead, sat up and began to speak”.

The recount of Christ raising the young man from the dead seems, at first sight, to have little connection to the preceding epistle, or even to the sacrament of confession. Yet upon further examination the connection is exceedingly clear and can be used to make a beneficial meditation upon the necessity of that sacrament. Christ brought the young man back to life on account of the tears of his mother, who mourned the loss of her only son. As physically incredible as this is, such a miracle is not as wondrous as the forgiveness which one receives in the confessional in a worthy confession. 

For the effect of confession on the soul, especially a soul in mortal sin, is one of giving life to the dead. Through mortal sin the soul rejects God and His grace, closing oneself off from the path of virtue and choosing the path of perdition instead. If one were to carry on and eventually die in such a state, then hell would of course be the result. But through confession, this spiritual death can be overcome, much as the physical death was overcome. The Heavenly Physician in both instances is Christ, although in the regular sacramental confession it is not Him we see, but the priest. The confessional box receives those who are spiritually sick and dead and sends them away healthy and alive. 

Indeed, the necessity of confession is paramount for attaining Heaven, for who can claim to pass through life without falling into temptations and giving way to sin. Here is where we find a link to the Epistle, which states that “what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh of the flesh also shall reap corruption”. The wages of sin and virtue and fundamentally opposed: one brings death and the other brings life. One cannot escape the consequences of his actions, for even though a visibly evil man may seem to have great success, he must ultimately face the justice of God at the seat of judgement. How is it then, that we can hope to present ourselves before this heavenly court in a worthy state, if we do not avail of the healing graces found in the sacrament of confession? Hence, confession is an absolute necessity for those who have fallen into mortal sin since baptism.

Even if one has the strength of virtue and will to avoid mortal, the great number of venial sins committed in life darken the conscience and lessen the ability to perform acts of virtue. These venial sins act as a toxin which gradually but surely affects the system. With time and repetition they can lead to spiritual apathy and a rejection of truth. Confession is necessary for these also then. But it is also a channel of graces, bestowing these gifts: a remission of the eternal punishment and at least a partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sins; the restoration and increase of sanctifying grace; a renewed strength to avoid sin; the restoration of the merits of the good works which we lost through mortal sin. (1)

With such graces found in the sacrament why would one wish to avoid it? The Epistle teaches that “if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”. Such is not possible without the sacrament of confession. It strengthens us in the path of virtue, and gives life to those who have fallen into death. We are urged in the Epistle - “in doing good, let us not fail”. Yet if and when we surely fail, what could one do if he did not have access to the pardon and forgiveness of God in confession?

The difference between the Gospel passage and sacramental confession is of course the matter of repentance. Whilst the tears of the mother moved Christ to perform the miracle and restore life to her son, it must be the tears of each individual truly repentant of his own sin, which is the requirement for a worthy confession. A rejection of God’s grace, as occurs in mortal sin, requires a similiar return to Him. Repentance and a firm purpose of amendment must also be present in order that the spiritual health of the soul can be made anew. Without these two aspects, one cannot present himself at the confessional and expect to be forgiven for his offences. As St. Paul teaches in the Epistle, “for if any man think himself to be some thing, whereas he is nothing, he deceiveth himself”.

“And he that was dead, sat up and begun to speak”. These lines from the Gospel appear directly after the young man was brought back to life and present an important teaching about the disposition of the one who confesses his sins. Just as contrition and a purpose of amendment are necessary, these must be put into action. In other words, the renewed spiritual life must be a vivacious one, not merely a state of inactivity. The young man did not return to life but remain asleep in bed. Rather he got up and began to converse with those around him, with his mother and with Christ. He was determined to use his life properly and not to waste it. In like manner, after receiving the healing graces of confession, one cannot be idle or lazy in the spiritual life, but firmly active, desiring to make the most of this gift and to draw closer to God as a result. 

The sacrament of penance is the great sacrament of all who desire perfection. The devout soul finds in the confessional the loving forgiveness of the Redeemer, who tirelessly pardons the sins of those who come before Him with contrition. Through a worthy confession, we are restored to life and the grace which we rejected is returned to us. In order to make such a good and holy confession, we should carefully follow the steps of preparation, ensuring that we are fully aware of the faults which we have committed, and the gravity of these transgressions. When accusing ourselves of these sins, we ought to succinctly relay the details which are necessary, in order to present an honest account of our sins. Yet we should not attempt to excuse ourselves in any way - God knows the truth of our lives and any attempt to deceive Him only deepens the wounds which we have already caused. Having confessed to the priest, we should humbly and lovingly accept the penance which he imparts, remembering that “our sins have increased the bitterness of the chalice that was offered to Christ in Gethsemane”.(2) The acceptance and performance of this penance is a good sign of our contrition and the firm purpose of amendment, both of which are necessary in order to make a worthy confession. 

We may be often tempted to avoid confession out of fear or shame, yet we should turn to this sacrament as one of the most essential weapons in our fight against sin. It is such an incredible gift in the spiritual life, to be able to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess our sins and to be then forgiven. Even if our sins appear to us as the most terrible, we should not hesitate to avail of the sacrament, since Christ is waiting for us to confess to Him, ardently desiring to bestow His forgiveness upon us and draw us to His Sacred Heart. Fear of the confessional does not come from God; He wishes us to be free of our sins, not to avoid the sacrament and thus remain enslaved to sin. These are the words of Bl. Marmion, who thus beautifully describes the sacrament of penance: “each time God pardons us, each time the priest gives us absolution, it is as if all the sufferings, all the merits, all the love, all the Blood of Jesus were presented to His father and applied to our souls to restore life to them”.(3)

The Epistle and the Gospel form an exhortation and a promise. The exhortation is found at the end of the Epistle in the words “whilst we have time, let us work good to all men”. It is a command to go forth and “walk in the Spirit” as the Apostle stated earlier. By doing so, one is able to follow the law of God but also to instruct his fellow men. But when the time arrives, as it so often does, that this command is neglected and rejected, the words of the Gospel bestow the promise of God’s life-giving pardon which is to be found in the confessional. He restores life to those who come before him, humble, and desirous of being united to Him once more.

1: Connell, Baltimore Catechism No 3, q382.

2: Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, 400.

3: Dom Marmion, Christ the life of the Soul, 180.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

The problem of Two Masters.

 “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will sustain the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

With these words, the Gospel of this Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost begins. It is a passage so well known and one could easily proffer his own simple thoughts on the meaning of the text - ie. don’t be a money grabbing Scrooge. This basic type of understanding can be gained by just perusing through the lines of text and is often the only message taught. Yet by doing so, so much is missed in this Gospel. Indeed the entirety of the passage has a special resonance today, in a world which is so solicitous with preserving only physical health to the point of insanity. Such is of course foolishness, for later in the Gospel we read: “be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?”(Matt 6:25)

Indeed, there are so many themes in this Gospel that much could be written on each, but if they had to be summarised it can be termed thus - serve God only and trust in Him. For those of the world and those who do not choose God as their master, life becomes instantly twisted and centred upon humanity instead of upon God. This we see in the present global situation, in which Communism is implemented across nations and states, all apparently for the sake of preserving human life. It is this serving of mammon and self that leads men to view fellow men, particularly those without a mask, as being as dangerous as a nuclear explosion. Because when God is rejected in favour of man and mammon, the focus of life instantly moves towards oneself and the goods of the body. The ultimate good of the body is life and health, and hence society becomes increasingly concerned with the preservation of physical health at all costs. No matter the insanity of the demands made upon society, modern man will always cave, since if he serves mammon and self then he will always be chiefly concerned with himself. The spiritual health of the soul is of course left by the wayside.

One must choose between two masters, either God or the devil, for such is what the choice truly is. If one follows modern society and chooses the devil, then he will be constantly concerned for his every physical desire, since he cannot see beyond this. His heaven will be found in the lusts of the flesh described in today’s epistle: “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are, fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunken­ness, revellings, and such like”.(Gal 5:19-21) Is this not a description of current society? Indeed and sadly so, but is this not also a description of much of the modern Church: the Church is so widely dominated by modernism that dogma and doctrine are sidelined in favour of idolatry, sacrilege, immorality and general subversion of the faith?

Yet those who concern themselves with these earthly thoughts and pleasures, serving their infernal master in such a way, have had their reward on earth, for St. Paul states that “they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God”. Such is the path for those who place their trust in man instead of God. When so much is given to even the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and so much more is promised to the children of God, (cf Matt 6:28-30), why is it that modern man cannot put his faith in the providence of God? Is it perhaps because he does not wish to, preferring to enjoy the delights of this life rather than to “seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God”? (Matt 6:33). If this call to eternal beatitude is rejected, then so is God rejected and thus one de facto becomes a servant of mammon, of self and the devil. These masters cannot save the soul, but that is no matter to modernity since the soul is completely disregarded. Consequently, modern society becomes exactly that which God condemns, full of those who cry out “what shall we eat, or what shall we drink”, what vaccine shall we have, what steps must we take to preserve our miserable lives? How do such petitions serve the final end of man, when they are directed simply to the service of mammon? Truly “after all these things do the heathens seek”.(Matt 6:32)

However, if one chooses to serve the Divine Master, the thoughts and concerns of earthly life pass into nothingness when compared to the greatness of heavenly eternity. The service of God leads ultimately to happiness, no matter the apparent hardships which are endured on this earth. When the Church truly serves God, She places the salvation of souls foremost and takes every measure necessary to proclaim the truth. A soul engaged in the service of God comes necessarily to detest the service of himself and of mammon: “either he will hate the one and love the other: or he will sustain the one and despise the other”. (Matt 6:24) By answering the call of God to serve Him, life is thus ordered accordingly and more properly. Every event is understood to be under the providence of God, and nothing ought to unsettle such a soul who is under the care of God. As a result, love of God and properly ordered reason are the guide whereby one’s actions are determined. Physical health is not seen as the end of man, but as a means to the end which is heaven. Unlike the agenda pushed by current governments and international bodies, the service of God is one which leads to union with Him and to life of the soul. 

It is a life lived in accordance with the will of God, turning to Him as the pinnacle as well as the centre of life. Such a life is that life of union with Him, practicing the spiritual life and the virtues. When one is so devoted to this Divine Master then the trials of life, which so confound the servants of mammon, are able to be endured with happy and virtuous resolve. In fact, it is a life of generous self-sacrifice whilst having faith in the generosity and largess of God. Hence, Christ teaches “seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you”. (Matt 6:33)

The marks of a true servant of God are presented by St. Paul in the epistle, when he mentions the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mild­ness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity”. (Gal 5:22-23) They are in direct opposition to the marks of the servants of mammon and are signs whereby the children of God are distinguished from the children of the world. 

In essence then, this Gospel is a summary of the New Law, commanding us to serve God and trust in Him, rather than to serve ourselves and trust ourselves. It is a call to judge all things according to the Gospel and in so far as they are in line with Christ. Against this heavenly counsel, we have the recent orders of modern governments and organisations such as the W.H.O and the U.N, advocating for the implementation of Communism as an apparent means to take the place of God. We must also use this Gospel to examine the words of those even in the Church - groups such as the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales who call for the use of vaccines made using the cells of murdered innocents. So again must we examine the actions of those leaders, clerical and secular, who have used the guise of concern for health as a means to prohibit worship of God. These crimes by those who are called to lead the faithful are instantly explained when we realise that such people have chosen mammon, self and the devil as their master.

If one chooses to serve a master other than God, then one cannot also follow the teaching of the Gospel. The two are incompatible. What we see before our eyes in the world today is a society which is nearly completely at the service of self and the devil, whether this is an explicit or implicit decision. Secular leaders have abandoned their duty of leading the people to the attainment of the common good, which is ultimately the attainment of God through virtuous living. Ecclesial leaders have scorned the dignity and responsibility of their lofty vocation by softly undermining and corrupting the faith. For the faithful who seek to follow the Divine Master, the doors of the churches are shut and the sacraments denied. Power is abused as the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is illicitly prohibited. Fear is spread whilst God is further disregarded and offended. The servants of the devil have thrown themselves headlong into his service and it remains to the faithful few to stay loyal to the true Divine King. 

But - “seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice”. The service of God has no equals and its reward is God Himself. It calls for two forms of service, interior and exterior. The inner service of course relates to the practice of the spiritual life, the virtues and the ordering of one’s daily life so that God is at the centre. The exterior is the partaking in the liturgical life of the Church but, especially nowadays, includes Her public defence, as well as strong, active action against the forces of evil which seek to overthrow the Church. If we seek first the kingdom of God, then we can have no fear of the forces which oppose Him. 

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

 Apologies to regular readers of this blog, who will notice the absence of a post this morning, as a result of needing time away from the sc...