Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Homily for the Sunday within Septuagesima

Sic Currite ut Comprehendatis

Homily for Dominica in Septuagesima
Sextusdecimus Dies Februarii, MMXIV

Saint Joseph’s in Troy
Rev. Michael Taylor

[In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite,
the Calendar has a pre-Lent season known as
Septuagesima (70ish days from Easter)
 in preparation for the great Lent.
Purple vestments are used instead of green,
the Alleluia ‘buried’ and the Gloria is omitted.]

Epistle: I Corinthians 9.24-27; 10.1-5
Gradual: Psalm 9.10-11, 19-20
Tract: Ps 129(130).1-4
Gospel: Matthew 20.1-16

Do you not know that they run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize?
So run that you may win.[1]

March 5th is closer than we thought….

Today marks the beginning of the Liturgical season known as Septuagesima, which marks roughly seventy days until Easter morning. Next week we’ll have Sexagesima followed by Quinquagesima before the season of Lent, or Quadresima, begins. Why do we have the preparatory period of time? Well, it must be remembered that the disciplines of Lent used to be much more severe than they are now. For us, as is still the case with Eastern Catholics and our separated brethren in the Orthodox churches,[2] fasting and abstinence looked quite different. Throughout Lent, there was to be no meat, eggs, dairy products, wine, beer or liquor, or oil for dressing. Fasting would be carried out on Wednesdays (as that was the day in which our Lord was betrayed), Fridays (as that was the day our Lord was crucified, died and buried), and Saturdays (as that was the day in which our Lord lay in the tomb). It was rather intense, to say the least. Now, I am not saying that you should all go out and throw away entire refrigerators of food.[3] In fact, that’s why we have the season of Septuagesima. Back in the day you didn’t just throw away good food. It took time to make ready one’s houses. That’s where Mardi gras came in. It wasn’t meant to be the glutinous excuse for licentiousness that it has become. Rather it was meant as the last chance to remove all the remaining items that would be sacrificed for the sake of Lent. That brings me to the main point I want to bring to your consideration. Are you ready for Lent? Just as it takes time for one to make ready their kitchens for Lent, so too does it take time to make ready our souls for the period fasting and abstinence. Lent is coming.

Lent Is Coming
It works…Winter and Lent both seem endless, dark and cold.

First, let us consider, where do we want to go? Where do we want to be, spiritually, when the sun rises on Easter morning? As Saint Paul says, knowing the season; that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.[4] You might have been watching the Olympics these past couple of days. Look at what those athletes are willing to do for the sake of the chance of winning. They deny themselves so many of the comforts that the world offers. No fast food, no lounging around, waking up early to train for hours a day. Studying, working out, ever pressing themselves forward, and for the slim chance that they might win a medal. How much time do we spend on our faith? What are we willing to give up for the sake of growing closer to Christ? We who know that the prize is assured for all who walk in the way of the Lord? This is the meaning in today’s gospel. We work for one prize, one wage; eternal salvation. There is nothing else to work for, and so many of us fall into a lethargic ease of the status quo.

And everyone that striveth for the mastery, denieth himself from all things;
and indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown;
but we an incorruptible one. I Cor 9.25
The first thing that I would encourage is for us to dedicate ourselves to spiritual reading. We cannot love those whom we do not know. Therefore we should know God in order that we might love God. I would like to challenge everyone to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is an absolute shame that not more of the faithful have utilized such riches as this. We are the most literate generation in the history of humanity, and yet this treasure goes neglected, replaced by reading that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,[5] or worse, television programming which numbs the mind and the soul for the things of heaven. In every other endeavor of our life, we spend hours in study or in preparation for it. Whether it be our careers or a hobby, we spend the time it takes to become knowledgeable in what we try to do.

Seriously…if I could just spend half the time
I spend reading Facebook on reading real books….

Yet how much time do we spend trying to learn about God? And yet so often I hear the complaint, “I don’t get prayer” or “my prayer is dry.” How deep would a conversation be between a man and wife, or a pair of friends, if they knew only the most superficial things about the other. Rather, we must strive to be like Saint Paul, who confessed from the depths of his heart, I know the one in whom I have believed.[6] We must dive ever deeper into the infinite truth of the triune God [7] and holy Mother Church.[8] We have a duty to learn about our faith. It is a scandal that we as Catholics don’t know our faith better. It is why both secularists and Protestants find it so easy to pick off members of our family. There is such an abundance of treasures that are laid before us. Within our grasp lies a great treasure, whether it be the lives of the saints, the writings of the great doctors of the Church, or the teachings of the great Popes. So often though we pass by as though it were mere piles of rubbish. We must thirst after God, and seek wisdom as gold. As the Proverbs saith, If thou shalt seek Wisdom as money, and shalt dig for her as for a treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and shalt find the knowledge of God. Because the Lord giveth wisdom; and out of his mouth cometh prudence and knowledge.[9] Let us dedicate ourselves to reading the entire Catechism within the season of Lent.

Available here (Amazon), here (pdf), here (vatican), here (usccb), .

Let us begin to figure out how we want our prayer life to work. The Muslim will pray five times a day, and that from the dictates of a false prophet.[10] How often do we enter into prayer? Is it really too much of God to ask us to turn to him five times a day and offer praise, blessing, adoration, thanksgiving and petition? Our Jewish forefathers often prayed seven times a day[11] turning to the Lord through the words of the psalms. How often do we pray with words beyond ourselves? How often do we allow scripture to permeate the very fabric of our being? When we are at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit, through the sacred Psalms, provides us the means of praying, fulfilling the words of Saint Paul, we do not know how to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.[12] Let us begin to think of where we want to go during the Lenten season. Let us prepare ourselves to accept the penances of the season with excitement and even anticipation, for the Lord is preparing to work wonders in our life.[13] Let us deny the flesh’s pursuit of passing pleasures for the sake of attaining our eternal reward.[14] As our Lord said, watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.[15] For many are called but few are chosen.[16]

[1] I Corinthians 9.24
[2] William Cardinal Levada, Prefect. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” 29th of June, 2007. Fourth Question “Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term “Church” in reference to the oriental Churches separated from the full communion with the Catholic Church?” Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”[II Vatican. Decree Unitatis redintegratio [UR], 15.3; cf. CDF, Letter, Communionis notio, 17.2], they merit the title of “particular or local Churches”[II Vatican Council, Decree UR 14.1], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.[cf. II Vatican. Decree UR 14.1; Bl John Paul II, Encyclical Ut Unum sint §56]

“It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature”.[II Vatican, UR 15.1] However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.[CDF, Letter Communionis notio 17.3]

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.[18]
[3] Pope Clement XIII. Appetente Sacro: On the Reasons for Fasting. 1759. “You will begin most appropriately, and with hope of the greatest profit, to recall men to the observance of the holy law of fasting, if you teach the people this: penance for the Christian man is not satisfied by withdrawing from sin, by detesting a past life badly lived, or by the sacramental confession of these same sins. Rather, penance also demands that we satisfy divine justice with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and other works of the spiritual life. Every wrongdoing -- be it large or small -- is fittingly punished, either by the penitent or by a vengeful God. Therefore we cannot avoid God's punishment in any other way than by punishing ourselves. If this teaching is constantly implanted in the minds of the faithful, and if they drink deeply of it, there will be very little cause to fear that those who have discarded their degraded habits and washed their sins clean through sacramental confession would not want to expiate the same sins through fasting, to eliminate the concupiscence of the flesh. Besides, consider the man who is convinced that he repents of his sins more firmly when he toes not allow himself to go unpunished. That man, already consumed with the love of penance, will rejoice during the season of Lent and on certain other days, when the Church declares that the faithful should fast and gives them the opportunity to bring forth worthy fruits of penance.”
[4] Romans 13.11
[5] Neil Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. p, 86: “In watching American television, one is reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. It must be beautiful, he said, if you cannot read. American television is, indeed, a beautiful spectacle, a visual delight, pouring forth thousands of images on any given day. The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see. Moreover, television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification.” That was written by Postman in 1985. Imagine what he would say now.
[6] II Timothy 1.12
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church §150: “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.”
[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church §§168-169: “It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains my faith. Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord: “Throughout the whole world the holy Church acclaims you”, as we sing in the hymn Te Deum [written by Saint Ambrose, 4th century]; with her and in her, we are won over and brought to confess:  “I believe”, “we believe”. It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by baptism. In the Rituale Romanum, the minister of baptism asks the catechumen: “What do you ask of God’s Church?”  and the answer is: “Faith”. “What does faith offer you?” “Eternal life.”

169: Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation” [Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto 1.2]. Because she is our mother, she is our teacher in the faith.
[9] Proverbs 2.4-6
[10] cf. I John 2.22-23: “Who is a liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist, who denieth the Father, and the Son. Whoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. He that confesseth the Son, hath the Father also.”

Compare with the Qur’an “Surat-al-Kahf” 18.4-5 “And to warn those who say, ‘Allah has a son.’ They have no knowledge of it, nor had their fathers. Grave is the word that comes from their mouths; they speak not except a lie.”
 Or the following text from “Surat At-Tawbah” 9.30: “The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of Allah’; and the Christians say, “the Messiah [Christ] is the son of Allah.’ That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before them. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded.”
[11] Cf.  Psalm 118(119).164
[12] Romans 8.26
[13] St. John Chrysostom. “Homily 13,” Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. “Yea, for therefore you took up arms, not to be idle, but to fight. For this cause neither does God hinder the temptations as they come on, first to teach you that you have become much stronger; next, that you may continue modest neither be exalted even by the greatness of your gifts, the temptations having power to repress you; moreover, in order that that wicked demon, who is for a while doubtful about your desertion of him, by the touchstone of temptations may be well assured that you have utterly forsaken and fallen from him; fourthly, that you may in this way be made stronger, and better tempered than any steel; fifthly, that you may obtain a clear demonstration of the treasures entrusted to you.”
[14] St. John Cassian. “Conference 20: First Conference of Abbot Pinufius. On the End of Penitence and the Marks of Satisfaction.” The Conferences. Ch. 8: “You see then what great means of obtaining mercy the compassion of our Saviour has laid open to us, so that no one when longing for salvation need be crushed by despair, as he sees himself called to life by so many remedies. For if you plead that owing to weakness of the flesh you cannot get rid of your sins by fasting, and you cannot say: My knees are weak from fasting, and my flesh is changed for oil; for I have eaten ashes for my bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, then atone for them by profuse almsgiving. If you have nothing that you can give to the needy (although the claims of want and poverty exclude none from this office, since the two mites of the widow are ranked higher than the splendid gifts of the rich, and the Lord promises that He will give a reward for a cup of cold water), at least you can purge them away by amendment of life. But if you cannot secure perfection in goodness by the eradication of all your faults, you can show a pious anxiety for the good and salvation of another. But if you complain that you are not equal to this service, you can cover your sins by the affection of love. And if in this also some sluggishness of mind makes you weak, at least you should submissively with a feeling of humility entreat for remedies for your wounds by the prayers and intercession of the saints.”
[15] Matthew 26.41
[16] Matthew 20.16

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