O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Victory in the Sacrifice of the Priesthood.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - II Cl.
Third Anniversary of the enactment of Summorum Pontificum

Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
Brethren: Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who though He was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has exalted Him and has bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: John 12:31-36
At that time, Jesus said to the multitudes of the Jews, Now is the judgment of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself. Now he said this signifying by what death He was to die. The crowd answered Him, We have heard from the Law that the Christ abides forever. And how can You say, ‘The son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man? Jesus therefore said to them, Yet a little while the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.

On Sunday I spoke about the devout soul and her connection to the Crucified Christ, who is her Divine Lover and Nymphios (Bridegroom, the Eastern name for Ecce Homo), so today I will speak about the priest's union with Christ. This is of course a very important topic for me because God is calling me to join the FSSP (the only major obstacle is getting the money to pay for the seminary education, so keep me in your prayers). 

The priest not only must act but live in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). He is the ministerial presence of Christ. At his ordination, he essentially dies and Christ possesses the body to use it as an instrument for salvation. The priest sacrifices himself in order to make Christ's self-sacrifice present. The priest, in order to be an effective, successful, and efficient instrument of salvation, must join his sufferings to Christ. The priest must join his wounds to the wounds of Christ. The priest must sanctify himself and join himself to Christ to profoundly that when he whispers "hæc dona, hæc múnera, hæc sancta sacrifícia illibáta" (these gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted Sacrifices) the words refer not just to the bread and wine, but just as easily to himself as well, for Christ is both Priest and Victim (Host) and that is what the priest must make of himself if the life-giving death of Calvary is to be made present. The priest must make of himself a "hóstiam puram, hóstiam sanctam, hóstiam immaculátam" (pure Host, a holy Host, an unspotted Host) in order to make present the "Panem sanctum vitæ ætérnæ, et Calicem salútis perpétuæ." (holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation).

Why is self-sacrifice so important? That is the path to glory. It is laid out for us in today's Epistle, that Christ "humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has exalted Him and has bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name". It is humility that leads to glory. Not, the humility by which we make doormats of ourselves, but rather the humility by which we give ourselves entirely to get someone to heaven. That is what the Nymphios did on the cross and that is what we must do for each other-we must get each other to Heaven at all costs. It is that self sacrifice, so profoundly manifest in the Holy Priesthood, that leads to Exaltation. All are enemies are crushed and put to the sword by Christ's self-sacrifice and we shall too be victorious if we join our suffering to His.

The priest says in the Preface of the Holy Cross today that "he who was victorious by a tree might be defeated by a tree", referring to Satan's victory in Eden and the Crucifixion. The Devil was so put to shame by Christ's victory that it was his own weapon that slew him. Satan was slain by his own sword. In the original words to Pange Lingua, which are sung at Matins and Lauds today (those written by Fortnatus in the 6th Century, which inspired St. Thomas Aquinas to write new lyrics in the 13th Century), we sing "Sing my tongue the glorious battle! With completed victory rife: and above the Cross's trophy tell the triumph of the strife: How the world's Redeemer conquered by the offering of His life." That is how conquest comes. 

Not only is this the path to victory, but it is the only path to victory. Christ alone wins the day. Only He is both human, since it is our sin, and also Divine, thus bearing the authority to cancel out the Divinely imposed penalty of death. That is why God had to become man. It was man's sin, so the one offering atonement had to be a man and Divine authority was needed to cancel out a Divinely imposed penalty. Christ is not just a promise of victory on the condition that we do not loose faith, but also the only possibility of victory; out only hope for surviving our inevitable deaths. That is why we proudly sing at Vespers tonight: "O crux, ave, spes unica, in hac triumphi gloria! Piis adauge gratiam, Reisque dele crimina." (Hail O Cross our only hope, on this triumphant day! An increase of grace for the pious and efface the sins of criminals.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pain is a blessing

XVI Sunday after Pentecost and II September - II Cl.

Epistle: Ephesians 3:13-21
Brethren: I pray you not to be disheartened at my tribulations for you, for they are your glory. For this reason I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from Whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name, that He may grant you from His glorious riches to be strengthened with power through His Spirit unto the progress of the inner man; and to have Christ dwelling through faith in your hearts: so that, being rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Now, to Him Who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or conceive, in keeping with the power that is at work in us - to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus down through all the ages of time without end. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 14:1-11
At that time, when Jesus entered the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to take food, they watched Him. And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had the dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath? But they remained silent. And He took and healed him and let him go. Then addressing them, He said, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fall into a pit, and will not immediately draw him up on the Sabbath? And they could give Him no answer to these things. But He also spoke a parable to those invited, observing how they were choosing the first places at table, and He said to them, When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not recline in the first place, lest perhaps one more distinguished than you have been invited by him, and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Make room for this man’; and then you begin with shame to take the last place. But when you are invited go and recline in the last place; that when he who invited you comes in, he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher!’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who are at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.

St. Paul says, "I pray you not to be disheartened at my tribulations for you, for they are your glory." This life is full of suffering. There are many different sources of suffering for us. Problems with marriages and relationships, problems at work, problems finding work, problems at home with family members, health problems, problems with an addiction to a particular sin, or having any of these problems happen to someone you love. Life has no shortage of pain and suffering. The world sees this as something to be avoided. There is a pill for everything these days. Every problem it seems has some sort of pill. From a swollen prostate to depression to a case of the sniffles, there is a pill for everything. There are self-styled experts that offer advice for everything, all with the intent of relieving pain and suffering in some way. The world hates pain. The world flees from pain the way it flees from God, but in some Divine irony, the world inflicts pain better than it does anything else. 

Shining through all this is the light of Christ emanating from the cross. The world sees the cross as pain and defeat, the Church sees it as pleasure and victory. The Church, upon looking on the cross, sees only her Nymphios (Bridegroom, the Eastern name for Ecce Homo) and the Holy Sacrifice that atones for her sins and makes possible entry into heaven. It is quite appropriate that we have this theme of suffering and humility today as on Tuesday we will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross and follow that with the penitential Ember Days of September next week to begin Autumn, which continues until Ember Week in Advent, which starts Winter. 

The cross serves two purposes for the devout soul. First, the devout soul sees that Christ is suffering more than her, no matter how much she may be suffering. Christ's pain on the cross was far greater than any pain any other person could ever endure for two reasons. First, Christ had a greater capacity for feeling pain because His Divinity augments the abilities of His Humanity, so he felt more pain because He has a greater capacity for feeling pain than any other Human. Second, He bore the emotional pain of every sin ever committed through all of time: past, present, and future. So when she sees Christ suffering on the cross, the devout soul knows that He is suffering much more than she ever could. No amount of emotional pain, even the greatest pain an extramarital affair or the death of a loved one can cause does not compare to the pain of every sin ever committed-including that same affair. Physical pain is likewise eclipsed. No physical pain the body could ever endure, even the most painful, excruciating death or the most painful childbirth, can compare with the pain Christ felt simply because He has a much greater capacity to feel pain due to His Divinity. This knowledge is a great source of strength for the devout soul, that Christ knows what it is like to suffer because He experiences our suffering more intensely than we do. It is a very powerful source of hope and strength to endure suffering. 

The other purpose that the cross serves for the devout soul is that suffering unites the soul to Christ. Suffering results in pleasure since the pain we endure is a way of uniting ourselves to the Suffering Lord on the Cross and union with Him is the most pleasurable thing a soul can experience. The devout soul knows her suffering and pain and she joins it to Christ's suffering on the Cross so that the two are united through suffering. Pain is a source of union with Christ so while it hurts at first, if she joins her pain to Christ's pain, then the soul feels joy at being united to Christ. Thus, as St. Paul tells us, our tribulations are our glory. Some people ask, "If God is loving, then why is there is there so much suffering?" There is so much suffering simply because God is loving. Suffering is the path to Salvation and without suffering, no one can be saved. The perpetual refrain repeated in the face of suffering is, "Offer it up." It is one of those Catholic catch-phrases. The devout soul welcomes suffering as a way to unite herself to Christ and once she has connected her suffering to Christ's she experiences joy at being so intimately united to her Divine Lover on the cross. Once the soul has made that connection, then she can say, I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus down through all the ages of time without end. Amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The beauty of virginity

The other day, for the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, I spoke about the beauty of the purity of the BVM. This is the example we all must imitate. I repeatedly speak about respect for the human body for what it is: God's artwork, the masterpiece of physical creation. Once we connect nudity with sexuality, then the body is degraded to a source of pleasure. It is something to be sought after because of the pleasure we can get out of it. We become blinded by lust and the most we can do is use modesty to run in fear from nudity.

Once the connection between nudity and sexuality is broken, then we see clearly. We see that the body is the ultimate creation, the last and greatest thing the Divine Artist created. We admire it because we see on it the fingerprints of God and it is no longer seen as being sexual. Now modesty is the least we can do, for the good of those around us who are not mature enough to look at a human body. We recognize that the greatest masterpiece of physical creation has been entrusted to each of us. The sexual organs previously were sought after most for being the greatest source of pleasure, now they are seen as the greatest treasure, to be protected most. It creates a certain sense of the sacred since the sexual organs are "set apart" from the rest of the body. They are like the "Holy of Holies", to which nobody has access.

This is what makes virgins so beautiful. They have not been desecrated by the world. They are still pure and in the state in which God made them. Women especially are exalted for being virgins, since Eve was created after Adam and thus women are more beautiful and a greater masterpiece. Once someone looses their virginity, they usually (these days) commit a sin. The soul can always have it's life restored in Confession and returned to it's beautiful state. The same privilege is not extended to the body. It's similar to original sin. Once human nature was distorted by the first sin, there was no going back. Ever. Even though we can be Baptized and heal, we all permanently bear the scar of a fallen nature. This is why the Church venerates female virgins as their own category of saints. They remained in their natal state. They guarded their purity and wouldn't let their "holy of holies" be desecrated. The ways of the world never reached them. St. Maria Goretti is one the greatest examples of this.

Whenever I serve Holy Mass, one of my favorite duties is holding the Communion Paten. It is a great wonder being there as the people receive Holy Communion. Being so close to that intimacy between the person and her Divine Lover is a privilege that I will be able to enjoy for the rest of my life as a priest of the FSSP (after I somehow find the money to enter the seminary in Nebraska of course, so pray for me). There really are no words to describe it. The best description is that of St. Thomas Aquinas in Panis Angelicus: "O res mirabilis! manducat Dominum" "O what wonder! who consumes the Lord" A beautiful soul, made so by confession, joined to the masterpiece of physical creation is nourished by the Lamb of the Sacrifice that washes away her sins with His Blood. It is all the more beautiful if the communicant is a virgin. Many times the communicant's age gives away that she is a virgin. Whenever this is the case, I see someone who is pure, not defiled by the world, who has kept her body and reserves it for the Lord, now being intimate with Him at the Altar rail. It is a thing of great beauty to see someone pure and beautiful be together with the Nympios (Bridegroom) of the Church.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seek pleasures of the Spirit and God will provide

XV Sunday after Pentecost and I September - II Cl.

Epistle-Gal 5:25-26; 6:1-10
"Brethren: If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual instruct such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let everyone test his own work, and so he will have glory in himself only, and not in comparison with another. For each one will bear his own burden. And let him who is instructed in the word share all good things with his teacher. Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what a man sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption. But he who sows in the spirit, from the spirit will reap life everlasting. And in doing good let us not grow tired; for in due time we shall reap if we do not relax. Therefore, while we have time, let us do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith."

Gospel-Luke 7:11-16
"At that time, Jesus went to a town called Naim; and His disciples and a large crowd went with Him. And as He drew near the gate of the town, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large gathering from the town was with her. And the Lord, seeing her, had compassion on her, and said to her, Do not weep. And He went up and touched the stretcher; and the bearers stood still. And He said, Young man, I say to you, arise. And he who was dead, sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother. But fear seized upon all, and they began to glorify God, saying, A great prophet has risen among us, and God has visited His people."

Lately I have not been able to stop preaching meditating on sexual morality. I suppose that the same way perverts are addicted to committing sexual sins, I am addicted to admonishing them. St. Paul tells the Galatians (and by extension all of us as well), "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what a man sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption. But he who sows in the spirit, from the spirit will reap life everlasting. And in doing good let us not grow tired; for in due time we shall reap if we do not relax." If we seek pleasures of the flesh, then we will rot and corrupt as the flesh corrupts. We then become enslaved to our passions. Someone who is addicted to sex is constantly seeking more. Life becomes about finding pleasure and other people become sources of pleasure and stop being human beings. Once nudity and sexual pleasure are equated with one another, then the body is just about pleasure. Their worth is judged by how much pleasure they can give you. An artificial standard of beauty arises by which everyone must be physically perfect according to a man-made standard in order to be of any value. One just simply uses others to please oneself. Life rots away. There is nothing but addiction and manipulation. When sex is used just for pleasure, it is nothing more than the stimulation of nerves to get high. Someone who sees sex as something for pleasure is sowing in the flesh and will reap corruption, decay. He becomes a drug addict and his drug of choice is sex. 

Let's look at the second part of that excerpt of today's Epistle. When one reaps in the spirit, it is the spirit and not the flesh that becomes one's master. The spirit sets you free because then you see the human nude for what it really is: it is a work of art made by God. It is the ultimate thing God made in physical creation, the last and greatest creation. Once the body is seen as God's masterpiece of physical creation, then it is accepted as is and not forced into a man-made mold of physical perfection. It is accepted in just the way God made it, and seen as beautiful just because it is God's work. It is only here that people see their true dignity. Once nudity and sexual pleasure are disconnected from each other, we see the true dignity of God's creation and are able to respect it in a manner keeping with the moral law. The body is no longer scandalous and no longer enslaves us. It is now that eternal life is within reach.

Let's look at the last part of that piece of the Epistle. "And in doing good let us not grow tired; for in due time we shall reap if we do not relax." It is very difficult to live this way. Human weakness compels us seek sexual pleasure. It is innate. It is necessary for procreation. The problem arises when sexual pleasure becomes  an end, a goal. In reality, sexual pleasure is not an end but rather an instrument, a means, to procreate. On top of that, society forces us to think that sexual pleasure is an end, and that it is a right of all people. Sexual pleasure in never a right, it is a privilege extended to married couples, in order to give physical life, similar to how God extends certain privileges to clergy to give spiritual life. We are in a fight against the world. It's not about people's rights. It's about obedience to God. Sexual pleasure is not a right. Only addicts and fools think that way. Sexual pleasure is a privilege, the same way that the ability to be intimate with the Lord at His Altar through the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice is a privilege. It is never easy to be faithful to God, but if we are, the pleasure He offers is far greater than any pleasure a human body can give. 

It is God that gives us joy, so let us not abandon Him. Others present us with sin and want us to sin with us in accordance with the ethics of our times, but we must admonish and correct them, not only for their salvation, but for our own good as well. The apostle tells us, "Brethren, even if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual instruct such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." Sin is very contagious. Since we are a social species, we pick up habits from each other. When we see another sin, we must correct him not only for his salvation, but for the salvation of those around him, including ourselves, for he sets an evil example. 

So upon hearing this, the soul becomes quite penitent. throughout the season after Pentecost, the verses and collects of the Sunday Masses are rather penitential. That is because people do not sin only during Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent. We sin all year, so we must be reminded to recant our sinful beliefs and practices always. This is all very difficult to accept in our times, but we must trust in God and put Him first. Today's Gospel is simply a lesson in Divine Providence. Trust in God and He will provide for you as He did for the widow of Naim. She had only her son to provide for her and when he died, she trusted in the Lord, so He helped her. He had compassion for her in her difficulty because of her faith in Him. Christ never worked wonders where faith was weak, only where faith was strong. Christ only worked wonders for those who had faith, so let us trust in Him and He will not let us break; He will let us bend, but never break. Even the strongest sexual addictions can be broken by Him. There is nothing He cannot do, but we must trust in Him first. Great wonders require great faith. So be it.