Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday – February 5, 2012 by Father Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is already Septuagesima Sunday. Only two weeks now, a little over two weeks, and Lent will begin. So it is therefore time for us to start thinking about the sacrifices that we are going to be making this upcoming Lent. It is very advisable that we not just think about the material sacrifices, maybe for instance, Oh, I’m going to give up sweets, or I’m going to give up meat, or I’m going to give up whatever. A lot of times for many people that’s as far as they will go in terms of specific sacrifices because they, maybe not having meditated enough on one’s sins or maybe upon the root of sin, a number of people may just stay at the surface and say, Okay, just to be able to do something, so they’ll give up whatever.
This Lent we want to be a bit different than that. It is a time for us during Septuagesima to examine before God, if possible before the Blessed Sacrament, our predominant fault, which could be under one of three categories, as St. Ignatius of Loyola says, either pride, vanity or sensuality. So, all of us has a certain root of our sins, a certain cause. Now, we all commit sins of pride, sometimes of vanity as well probably or of sensuality or lukewarmness or superficiality. Maybe human respect, for instance, would be the most common form of sensuality. All of us are guilty of each of these categories of sins, but among them there is one predominant passion, something that continues to get us. And we may even understand exactly already, as I say, what that fault is, at least externally. But a lot of times we don’t really understand what it is underneath the surface, what it is that’s really leading us to sin. Where is it that we are rebelling from the will of God most strongly, what part of the cross is it that we are not accepting.
Okay, so this is what this period of time is for us because, if we understand before God what our predominant fault is, we will then begin to understand and God will reveal to us, the Holy Ghost will reveal to us, those means that are necessary for us to take in order for us to overcome the sin. Because otherwise, even if we are faithful to certain material sacrifices by the end of Lent, there is some gain to that. If we fast a lot, there is a certain payment, in a sense, made to God, there is a certain debt, as long as we have done so in the state of grace that helps us in its’ essence to take time off of purgatory. But then once Lent is over we will find that we are committing the same sins. We are really no better than we were before Lent began. We made the sacrifices only for a time and now we go back to doing everything we were doing before, and that’s not what Lent is meant to be. Lent is meant to comfort us to the image and likeness of Christ the Lord, our crucified Savior. So we have to pray for a longing to be remade in His image, we who through baptism are made in His image and likeness to be remade through penance. And the penance is specifically going to attack and uproot the weeds. We don’t want a lawnmower simply to cut over the weeds, because they will grow back. And if we simply make the material sacrifices, it’s like taking that lawnmower. But we have to be careful and diligent, because you know if you’ve ever tried to pull weeds before, and I know a number of you have worked in the garden, if you do so too quickly what happens? You don’t get it all and you have to wait until it grows back up again. Right? Or, if you are careless, you pull up a lot of the good plants as well, so you have to be very careful.
So, Septuagesima for us is meant to be a time of prayer, a time of preparation, even if it is 15 to 30 minutes every day, just taking before God to understand more deeply what it is that is leading us to sin, so that, in effect, we will know how exactly to pull that weed up. Not every weed is the same either. There are number of weeds that you cannot treat exactly the same. Some of them run off the route and some are just up and down. Some are more like the fungi that go throughout the network. All we need to do really is just to be willing to give this time and just spend it prudently, because it goes by so quickly. So we want to think, Okay, maybe we can automatically know what in particular we tend to do over and over again, but there may be something else again that we are neglecting to see that really is the cause, which is something completely different than what we are actually doing. It is not as obvious as it may seem to us. The devil works in shadows. He wants us to stay in the shadows also, and not actually confront ourselves face to face. And this is where we have to say, Okay, we just had the time of Christmas. Peace to men of good will. If we have benefited from the season and are truly of good will now, now is the time where we are tested, now is the time in which we have to take a certain account, not necessarily again right away of our specific — all of our many sins, but that one thing that is leading to all of the others.
Also, one of the things we are looking to do is once Good Friday comes, we want to be on the cross with Christ, we want to in union with the intentions of Our Lady of Fatima, she wants us to make reparation for sinners, for poor sinners who are going to hell. Well, how can we do that if we still have our sinful habits. After Lent, even if we have a really good Lent, we’re still going to be sinners, we’re still going to have those things that we do that are wrong. But at very least if we get the root of our habitual fault out, we will be prepared to be more pleasing to God, and the prayers of a just man are powerful indeed. Well, the point is, by the end of this Lent to be that just man. As we know from the Old Testament, just men fall seven times a day. So it’s not that we’re going to rid ourselves completely of all sin, but God is expecting of us to get rid of those things by which we habitually put in the way of His action, because that’s something at judgment He will say, Well, I wanted to do this for you. Why did you prevent me? And we won’t be able to say anything. I gave you the season of Lent, I gave you the season of Septuagesima to prepare for a good Lent. How did you use it? We will have to answer that question one day, and not just once but we’ve had how many Septuagesimas already, we’ve had how many Lents already. Where are we in the spiritual life. It is to be doubted that we have made the progress that God is expecting of us. So this time for us needs to be one in which we are going to — really, if we make a really good Lent and we may be more prepared having been detached from mortal sin and even detached from venial sin, even from committing sins, we are prepared for the plenary indulgence. So that no matter how negligent we have been to this point, if we make a very good Septuagesima and Lent and are detached from sin, all of that will be as naught. Then we will go before God and it is done.
So that is something to be very excited about. We have the opportunity by the time Easter comes if we should die then, to go directly to heaven. There is no reason why we cannot. But we have to be willing, again, and this is where it is difficult, it is very difficult to oppose ourselves in the most hidden recesses. Only the Holy Ghost can make known to us and reveal the true state of our souls. Do we want to know? And really maybe what it comes down to is that if we think about our judgment, what it will be like to have all of our sins revealed, the first thing we may be afraid of is that, Oh, I don’t want them to see this. I don’t want this one — I don’t want my friends or family or anybody to see that I’ve done this, that or the other thing. If we are saying that, then it shows that we are not ready yet to truly engage in the battle, because we need to be so detached from self that even if everybody should know everything we’ve ever done, we’re still going to make progress. We’re still going to say, Yes, I am a sinner, I am sorry, I am embarrassed, but, you know what? That’s what I am. We should be willing — don’t tell everybody your sins. Okay. That’s not what I’m saying. But remember in the early Church it was the case where they did reveal their sins publicly and they had to in order to be absolved, and then they’d have to be outside the church asking for prayers for like years (Father laughing) before they would be forgiven, or actually to be readmitted to the sacraments. We are not doing that today. But at least we have to be so detached, not just from sin but from self, so that we get to a point where — you know, I was just thinking about this the other day with Sharon Condon dying very recently, and I had that thought, that even she had a certain image of the priests and of me maybe in particular because I was a good friend of hers, and I said, Well, now that she’s on the other side, you know, not that I’m terribly worried about it, but maybe she knows more than she did, now, you know. And that’s fine. But actually I was using that to say, You know what? I was saying my prayers, Lord, whatever Sharon would know now even about myself, not that — I have nothing terribly to hide, but I’m saying that, yeah, whatever it is, fine, you know. And she will pray all the more for me now. So we cannot be afraid even though we don’t reveal our sins to anybody and everybody. That would be sometimes even scandalous. At the same time, even if somebody should find out our faults, we should not be afraid of that. And, once we have that detachment from ourselves, it is then that we are ready to engage truly in the spiritual combat. It is then that we can find our predominant fault. Because until we have the detachment from self, that is our predominant fault, at least very closely connected to it.
In conclusion, then, I’m going to read to you an excerpt from Dom Guéranger on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday, and he has a couple of thoughts here that may be beneficial for you in terms of entering into the spirit of the season.
“The calendar of the liturgical year will soon bring us to the commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection of our Redeemer; we are but nine weeks from these great solemnities. It is time for the Christian to be preparing his soul for a fresh visit from his Savior; a visit even more sacred and more important than that He so mercifully paid us at His Birth.
Our Holy Mother the Church knows how necessary it is for Her to rouse our hearts from their lethargy, and to give them an active tendency towards the things of God.
Let us, then, comply with the law She thus imposes upon us. If spiritual joy is thus taken away from us, what are we to think of the frivolous amusements of the world? And if vanities and follies are insults to the spirit of Septuagesima, would not sin be an intolerable outrage on that same spirit? We have been too long the slaves of this tyrant. Our Savior is soon to appear, bearing His Cross; and His sacrifice is to restore fallen man to all his rights. Surely, we can never allow that Precious Blood to fall uselessly on our souls, as the morning dew that rains on the parched sands of a desert! Let us with humble hearts confess that we are sinners, and, like the publican of the Gospel, who dared not so much as to raise up his eyes, let us acknowledge that it is only right that we should thus be forbidden, at least for a few weeks, those divine songs of joy, with which our guilty lips had become too familiar; and that we should interrupt those sentiments of presumptuous confidence which prevented our hearts from having the holy fear of God.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.