Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2011 by Fr. Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Given that we are living in a time of revolution against God, against Christ, and the Church, and have, therefore, never had the benefit of existing within the context of a Catholic civilization — by the way, neither did our parents, our grandparents, or our great grandparents or their great grandparents. For a Catholic civilization you have to go back many centuries even, because what we have had in the last four or five centuries is Protestantism. It is a gradual deterioration of the Catholic spirit, and in the beginning there were more remnants of that, but as time has gone on, everything has been stripped. Once the spirit is gone from the body, that is, once the soul is gone, the body gradually corrupts. It doesn’t look like it in the beginning, but give it a few days, you know, what happens. So, likewise, in like manner in civilization, when you take the soul, which is the Church, out of it, what is left but a skeleton. It makes for nice trappings and what have you, but that’s it.
So, it is a challenge, if not a problem for us, all of us, to live, and even to know how to live in an authentically genuinely Catholic way of life. Even those who may be doing more in this regard, have to recognize in all humility that it is a caricature of the real thing, because we are just basically in these times trying to make ends meet until God decides that it is time to bring Christendom back. Whatever form that would take, probably would mean in some form or another the restoration of monarchy. It doesn’t have to, because different forms of government can be pleasing to God. Although monarchy tends to highlight more of the structure of the hierarchy in heaven. But whatever form that would take, the point is that we would know not just the teachings of the Church, but authentically really how to really live the faith and to live for God and God alone.
I even heard the question, when I have tried to direct some people, and I say, Well, we want to live a Catholic way of life. And they will say, Well, Father, what is that? The answer is given to us, I think at least in spirit today, in both the epistle and the gospel. To live a Catholic way of life in whatever age, whatever the circumstances, is, as St. Paul says, “…to walk in the spirit that we may not yield to the cravings of the flesh”. And, as Our Lord, it says in the gospel, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, that all these things may be added unto you”. In any age of Church history, because there are those who lived during Christendom who were Catholic who were more than likely damned. So, it’s not just in these times.
What is it that we need? We need the absolute will to be a saint. That’s what every saint had, this longing, more than a desire, to basically get to heaven, and to live in this valley of tears as if it is a valley of tears, and not as if it is a home away from home. We are pilgrims here, we are in exile in this life. This is not home. And yet, I think it is a difficulty among many, if not most Catholics, even among traditionalists, and I can speak from my own experience here how difficult it is to be in the world but not of the world, to know what it is to make proper use of everything in order to give God glory in all things, not just from time to time.
Given especially the times that we live in, it is all too easy to seek balance before we seek God. Balance is good, but it is the fruit of an intense spiritual life and not its’ foundation. It says here, “They that are of Christ have crucified their flesh and the vices and concupiscences”. That comes first. Then the knowledge of what is licit and what is not. If we are seeking the eternal King in all of our deeds, as the Old Testament teaches us, then we become increasingly aware that God is always with us, and the holy fear that develops from a life of prayer reveals to us quite clearly what is of benefit and what is not in those things that are not strictly spiritual in nature. If we approach the spiritual life, however, as a part of the whole rather than the ensemble, then much of our daily lives involves walking not with God but alongside Him, parallel to Him. The end of such actions is self, not Our Lord. So the devil does not always get us by our sins, but having us not walk in the way that Christ trod. Remember St. John says, “Whoever claims to belong to Christ must conduct himself just as He did”. That needs to become the basis of our daily meditations, the way of the cross, the way of following in the footsteps of Christ. And it doesn’t matter what our vocation is. It is true that the priests and the religious are called to a higher degree — and maybe not of I want to say of sanctity, because there can be those who are not priests or religious who actually have a higher place in heaven. That’s not excluded, the possibility, but those who are called to that way of life, such as myself, we have the vocation not just to seek after perfection but to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Because we are supposed to lead the way for you.
But holiness itself is a vocation for all. And it is absolutely radical in nature. It is not simply about fitting everything in. It is about basically being in all things in every way for the Kingdom of God, to increase that Kingdom on earth, as we say in the Our Father, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Think about what heaven is, how the will of God is done in heaven. All they do is think and look upon the Savior and the Blessed Virgin. They bask in the Beatific Vision. Our Lord during His Passion, throughout His ministry, throughout His life, as He worked, as Our Lady worked, they never took their eyes off of prayer and heaven. As St. Paul says in one of his epistles, “Pray always, pray without ceasing”. We tend to forget this, again, for the interest of not burning out. But if we remember that if we are truly praying, prayer is the source of strength, not a source of weakness, it’s not meant to be a burden. “My yoke is easy, My burden is light”. So our prayer needs to be transformed, a source of strength, a source of guiding us not just again hour to hour or day to day, but moment to moment.
When we put balance ahead of God, the fruit is lukewarmness, and, in fact, we make such our God. The saints, as is evident from the biographies and even autobiographies, never stopped thinking about God. They never replaced Him with any other good, no matter how otherwise decent or even praiseworthy it may have been.
How many of the saints obtained their vocations from the Lord, because they saw Him both first and in everything, even as little children. St Thérèse of Lisieux was a great example of this, not surprisingly. She had her good-deeds beads that she would add good work onto good work, trying to keep herself focused on Our Lord by keeping herself doing what she believed that God was leading her to do. She would be with her older sisters, Céline and Pauline, before they went into the convent ahead of her. She also had immediate and profound repentance as a young child whenever she believed that she had, in fact, offended God and her parents and her older siblings. Remember, she was the baby, she was the young one.
Of course, there are saints, such as St Thérèse, who were also given many sufferings by God passively. Her mother was taken from her at the age of four. Her new mother, Pauline, the oldest of the daughters, was taken from her not long after that. Pauline became her mother, and then she lost her mother basically twice. So there were saints whom God was molding in a special way that maybe we have not had. Maybe we will not have the same degree of glory in heaven, maybe we are not called to the same level of sanctity as a Thérèse or a Teresa of Avila or St. Francis of Assisi whose feast we just celebrated yesterday, the receiving of the stigmata. But the difference between the saints and us should only be in degree, not kind.
While it is true that I cannot recommend to any of you necessarily the practice of many austerities of the saints, which are mainly well beyond the strength of us, our prayer and desire should be like what the Church recommends to us, to imitate the saints in charity when we cannot imitate them in penance. Sometimes the Church asks for the opposite for us, like in the case of Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga. We, who cannot imitate his innocence, let us at least imitate him in his penance. Prayer for St. Aloysius on June 21. But often times it is the opposite that we can’t really imitate them in either to that degree. So, which came first, the chicken or the egg. I guess part of this is because of the times that we live in, as we have said. In a prior time, corporal mortifications were central. Now, prayers and good works tend to go first, and the mortification is primarily spiritual in nature and by the denial of our ego. Once we have done this, this all becomes more open to the groundwork really of fasting and profits thereby from it. So, in this case, we want to be from moment to moment denying ourselves when we could give in to let’s say, anger or impatience or frustration. When we make that spiritual sacrifice, the result of that is that we become more open to carrying more, to denying ourselves actively. But, if we rebel in those moments in which God is visiting us, then what happens is our fasting will be not pleasing at all, these people honor me with their lips, not by their souls. So that is something we ought to be thinking about.
In the times in which we are living, even Our Lady revealed to one of the mystics, I think it was Lucia of Fatima, in our times corporal penances seem a weight too heavy to bear for many a Christian. This is one of the reasons why the rosary is special efficacy. Of course, it does go hand in hand, because we cannot really pray the rosary well if not fasting to some degree or another, because otherwise we become weighed down by the flesh. So, there has to be a balance there.
In prior times, people were more grounded in the spiritual life from their earliest days with both daily Mass and daily life so immersed in the spirit of the gospel. Again, this was centuries ago now. But there was such a time in Church history and there will be again one day. In the meantime, our real goal should be to do as St. Paul instructs elsewhere, again, as I said earlier, pray always, and not just when it is time to pray. Whether at work or at school, our growth in the spiritual life should be not just, again, a daily aim, but a moment-to-moment goal, as St. John Vianney put it, ever keeping one eye on heaven, with the other eye attending to things of the earth. So, one eye must always be on heaven. How often it is that both eyes are on earth. We either have both eyes on earth or we have both eyes on heaven. Normally, it’s one and one. We have to be able to see both.
We are men, not angels. But there is that spiritual and, therefore, angelic part of us which must not for a moment be neglected, because the angels are spirits, yes, but so are the devils, and they wait for us. Don’t forget.
So let us today, then, remember that our desire in our continual mortification of spirit, the crushing of the pride of life, when we’ve had our Holy Communion and we go from here, keeping our focus continually interiorly on the great gift we have been given, and not just simply leaving here and going and being with everybody else. I mean, even as we do that, that’s perfectly fine, but always at the same time to still be meditating, still be thinking about the gift we have just received. Otherwise, we lose it, and then in weakness we spend most of the day for ourselves, if not the whole day. So, it is of the utmost importance that we never stop praying. And if we do that, then we will have a peace that the world cannot give, and we will begin to avoid the things that get in the way of our spiritual advancement, and then we begin to hate sin, as well. The hatred of sin will help us many here to avoid the near occasions of sin that to this point have been such a detriment and even murderous to the spiritual life. Keep one eye always on heaven as you do your work on earth, and eventually one day you will be able to have both eyes on heaven, because that’s where we will be.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.