Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019 by Father Paul Alvarez Norton
DOMINICA XI POST PENTECOSTEN
This Sunday is commonly called: “Sunday of the deaf-mute” in reference to the Gospel that is read today. And this gospel today is more opportune than ever, because many people need a miracle to open their ears so they can hear the voice of God.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the Jews today refuse to admit the miracles performed by Our Lord as proof of His divinity, even though among them there are those who say otherwise.
Today we hear the narration of one more of the miracles performed by Christ, a miracle that took place by means of an unusual procedure, one that, according to the Holy Fathers, prefigures the development of our understanding of our faith.
This process of the expansion of the faith throughout history is also prefigured in the text of Saint Paul that we hear today. The light of Christ illuminated Peter, James, the eleven, the five hundred and St. Paul himself. Saul, the murderer of Christians, who was even present at the murder of the first martyr, Saint Stephen, was miraculously transformed into one of the most important apostles of Christ, one of the columns of the Church and was constituted by Our Lord as one of the “Principes super omnem terram” (princes over all the earth).
Now, the μετάνοια, or change of life, is perhaps one of the most important miracles performed by Our Lord. A change of personal life and the transformation of the entire human race, plunged into the darkness of barbarism and subject to an imperfect law, is something impossible to achieve without revelation and without the sanctifying grace of the Redeemer. The Jews did not believe in physical miracles and they also could not perceive the most important miracle, the spiritual miracle. At another time, Christ emphasizes this by masterfully uniting the physical miracle and the spiritual miracle and presents them to his detractors who were shocked by these words:
“For which is easier to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee, or to say, Arise, and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say, Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And the man sick with palsy arose, and went into his house. And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified God.”
We can see from the miracle itself and from the very words that conclude this narrative (“And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified God”) that the miracles of Our Lord were always meant to lead people to Holiness. On the other hand, this also reminds us that everything we ask of God must also correspond to this purpose. Everything we receive from God is a gift of his generosity so we must dedicate everything to his greatest glory.
μετάνοια! What a mysterious word! If someone who changes his life and abandons sin feels an incalculable joy, can you imagine the powerful experience of a priest when he sees this miracle occur before his eyes? Hardly. And this is precisely one of the missions of men of faith: To bring about a positive change in others. Or at least that should be their mission.
But it’s not always like this. Since the time of Christ, He denounced the Pharisees to whom he said: “you compass the sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves”. As I always say: Perhaps all the evils of the world come from bad priests. Right now it’s hard for me to remember one single heresy that has been invented by a layman.
It’s sad also to remember that one of the times the word μετάνοια appears in the Gospel is when it refers to Judas: certainly he felt regret for what he did but that is not enough – you also have to take action and be strong enough to change your life. Maybe the difference between the treason of Judas and the betrayal of St. Peter was that the first despaired and killed himself and the latter wept at the feet of Our Lady.
On the other hand, the holiness of the priest also makes holy parishioners. It is enough to remember the life of the Cure of Ars. One single holy priest changed the whole town for the good.
Now, what can a priest expect from this world? Applause, success, material goods? No, that is nothing compared to the immense joy of contemplating with one’s own eyes the miracle of conversion that God performs in each one of those who come to confess his sins, to seek advice, to ask for prayers, to seek spiritual direction. St. John Bosco wisely said: “da mihi animas et caetera tolle” (Give me Souls and take away the rest).
I was speaking yesterday with a friend who called me from Spain to ask for advice. At one point he told me: “The modernist priests insist on not wanting to see,” to which I replied: “The worst thing is that they insist on making others not want to see.” These are our times. This is the most tragic part of the present day crisis. That is the mystery of iniquity: When religion works not to save souls but puts itself at the service of Satan.
Some say that the lamb is a symbol of the faithful soul because the lamb sees little and listens a lot. It is guided more by sound than by sight. In Sacred Scripture we find that sin enters mainly through the eyes while hearing the voice of God is related to the ears. For this reason the priest pronounces the exorcism, called “epheta,” during the ceremony of baptism. Nowadays many need their ears to be opened because they are in a worse condition than those of the deaf mute.
Christ not only opened the ears of that deaf mute, he also opened the ears of all those who contemplated that miracle and of all those who today place their hope in Him. He said that whoever believes in His name would make even “greater things” than the miracles He made. To resuscitate a child that has fallen from a balcony or turn bird figurines made with mud into real birds and make them fly are not the miracles that Christ wanted us to focus on, because healing a soul is a much greater miracle. As Our Lord said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one soul who repents than the 99 who need not repentance.”
In short, I do not mean to say that you have to go out two by two knocking on doors during the hottest hours of the “siesta” to “heal the souls” of strangers. In the majority of cases that is impractical. In fact, precisely yesterday I told some Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door that if next Saturday some of them knock again on my door at that time, Jehovah will lose all his witnesses.
No, everyone has his own vocation and priorities must always be ordered accordingly. The most important mission for Catholics of our time is to remain steadfast in the faith. To serve Christ faithfully, each one being committed to fulfill their duty of state. That’s probably why Our Lord told sister Lucy in 1943: “The sacrifice required for every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.”
In conclusion, I would like to say that in these times of crisis, we always must remember the words with which Saint Paul ended his last testament:
“Erit enim tempus, cum sanam doctrinam non sustinebunt, sed ad sua desideria coacervabunt sibi magistros, prurientes auribus, et a veritate quidem auditum avertent, ad fabulas autem convertentur.
Tu vero vigila, in omnibus labora, opus fac evangelistae, ministerium tuum imple. Sobrius esto.
Ego enim jam delibor, et tempus resolutionis meae instat.
Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi, fidem servavi. In reliquo reposita est mihi corona justitiae, quam reddet mihi Dominus in illa die, justus judex: non solum autem mihi, sed et iis, qui diligunt adventum ejus.”
[For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.
But be thou vigilant, labor in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober.
For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the Just Judge, will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.]