Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2012 by Father Paul Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
There are so many things we could talk about today. But one thing that stood out in my mind as I was reading through the different texts for the Mass today is the Post communion. If there was ever a prayer that we as Catholics should make our own and make again and again, it is this prayer:
May the operation of this heavenly gift, we beseech Thee, O Lord, possess our minds and our bodies, that it’s effect and not our own inclinations have precedence within us.
Maybe you have seen this prayer already in preparation for the Mass. It’s very good to be able before the Mass to look at the readings and see something that may help you to focus yourself during the Mass. And this is for me something that really stood out.
I want to briefly highlight the key words in the prayer. First, the “operation” of the heavenly gift, the “operation” of the Blessed Sacrament within us — Are we aware, really, of what the reception of Holy Communion is supposed to do to our soul? The receiving of God in the flesh, what that, if we’ve just a bit of faith, if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, as Our Lord says, you would be able to say to this bush, Be uprooted and thrown to the sea, and also the mountains, Our Lord said. So, the Blessed Sacrament, the very action, the God who comes into us, if we recognize what is happening and we accept that gift, and we humble ourselves — remember what St. Paul says in one of the epistles. He says, “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives within me”. Now, St. Paul was saying this in reference to being in the state of grace, the action of Christ within him. If that is the case for us when we are in the state of grace, how much more the case when we have received Holy Communion. How much more does it have to be said of each of us, and if we are not able to say that, think about the ingratitude and the lack of understanding at what has just happened. This is why it is very important when we receive, to focus all of the powers of our soul on what has just happened. God Himself has come down from heaven and been made incarnate in me. Think about the connection with Our Lady. What filled her soul when she heard the words of the angel, Archangel Gabriel, when he said to her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. She realized in that moment that the Holy Ghost was taking possession of her, and began that work of bringing God to flesh.
So, it is such a mystery and it is one that we share in every Mass, every time we receive Holy Communion. If we remember also, Holy Communion, when we receive Our Lord, it is supposed to, if we receive with faith and devotion, act as a sword, cutting away our concupiscence and evil proclivities, while clearly increasing with us the knowledge of and longing for the virtues. If this is not happening, it is because we are not praying correctly. There is no reason why every single Mass we cannot have an increase in the understanding of what is happening, and this desire to become likened to God. Because as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux says, “When we receive Holy Communion, God does not become us. We become like Him.” God is conquering, wants to conquer within us, that He may reign. And if we look at our dispositions, what happens to us after we receive Holy Communion. How long does it take before we are distracted with all different thoughts of what we are going to do this day, or what’s already happened, either what’s already happened to us, or what we’ve done — we get so distracted. We go out of the Mass and then we begin to do all those things we would have done if we did not go to Mass at all that day.
So, each and every Mass is meant to change us, to change our dispositions, so that when we leave here, we become each and every time, apostles. Ite, Missa est,, Go, the Mass is ended. When Our Lord says in the gospel, “Go, preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that has to be, if we understand what has happened, and we recognize that it is not we who are fighting, it is God Himself who is fighting this war within us. The more we understand that, the more courageous we will be in suffering for Him, in our desire to die for Him. But, if we don’t understand what happens at the Mass, the opposite happens. We grow in ignorance and sin, and we go from bad to worse. There is no in between.
We cannot remain lukewarm forever. We either become good or we become bad in the end. And, so, this is something we need to really pray about. We want to make the most use we can of the Mass. And remember that given that we receive the Holy Eucharist at every Mass, if we think about the gift that God is offering, if we realize that, that in and of itself will help us to avoid mortal sin. Obviously, we should already be terrified of committing one mortal sin because we know that we could be judged. We know how many Catholics, we don’t know the number, but we know a number of Catholics are already lost, already damned. And, that in and of itself, should lead us not to commit mortal sin. But, if nothing else, even if that does not stop us, think about the fact that if you are in mortal sin right now, if you are not able to go to confession and you cannot receive Holy Communion, frankly, if I am you, I am going to confession after the Mass and staying for the 10 o’clock Mass and receiving Holy Communion. If every single time you can receive — you know, this is why St. Pius X spoke about frequent and early communion. This is why St. John Vianney did the same thing. I’m not saying Dom Gueranger, but at one point he probably will be canonized.
If we recognize the gift of God, there is never a time in which we would do anything to make ourselves unworthy of this gift. Even if it is through blindness, the ingratitude that is there, is mind boggling. And we don’t mean to do that. When we commit sin, it’s not what we are meaning to say, but it is what is said to God by sin, even one mortal sin, even one deliberate venial sin.
Remember the example of the saints who would spend, after receiving Holy Communion, a minimum of a half hour. For some that is very difficult and you work up towards that. They would spend a minimum of thirty minutes after the Mass in thanksgiving, because they were so enraptured in just recognizing how good God had been to them. St. Maximilian Kolbe would spend the whole day in thanksgiving. Again, nobody is expecting you to stay in the church until 5 o’clock this evening. Okay? Nobody is asking that of you. But, you know something? We should want that. Even though we have other duties, even on Sunday, even though we have other things to do, our longing should be, Oh, if only I could stay here, if only I could be worthy, if only I could stay here until tomorrow’s Mass. Obviously, we cannot do that. Not even I being a priest. I have other things I have to do. But that should be the type of desire we are fostering within our souls.
We think about Our Lady, Mother Mary, and how she grew in God’s grace from moment to moment, even before she was able to receive Holy Communion. Think about her as a little baby, Maria Bambina, whose feast was yesterday, even as a little child being filled with the grace of God, and then, as time went on, each and every day, the vessel of her soul grew until the time when she was at the foot of the cross. Think about how much holier she was. She was already, as a little baby, even at the Immaculate Conception, she was holier than all of us put together. And, yet, this is even before receiving Holy Communion, and then think about how much holier she was at the foot of the cross. Think about how much holier she was twenty, twenty-five years later when she would die after the Crucifixion. And think about us, then. Remember the words of St. Paul referring to us, and see how much different we are than Our Lady, when he says, I believe it was the Galatians, when St. Paul says, “I want to give you food, but you can only take milk”. So it is basically like saying to us, Okay, imagine if Our Lady was a baby and then she stayed a baby, and then was brought to the cross as a little child. It makes no sense. Right? But, basically, that’s what happens in our lives. If we do not make good use of receiving Holy Communion, then, it is as if we are at the foot of the cross every Mass still like little children, not even like adolescents in the spiritual life yet.
But if we do, even in this hour, we make good use of this time, it will change our lives. It cannot but change the way we are. Such reflection, if done resolutely, will increase the possession of the Lord within us. Another word from the Collect today, possessing both our minds and our bodies, giving to us simplicity of thought, and a certain lightness on our feet as well as direction for our will, as we hear those words again at the end of Mass, Ite, Missa est. To be conquered by Christ at the Mass is to conquer for Christ after Mass, including the ongoing warfare we are all too familiar with in our members, the world, the flesh and the devil. Only victory at Mass can insure that the effect of the Blessed Sacrament, and not our own inclinations will have precedence within us, as the Collect ends. Normally, again, no sooner have we left the Mass then all is virtually forgotten, and we begin again to do what we would have done, as I said earlier, if we had not gone to Mass at all. At least nine out of ten times is this not the case, the case in which our own inclinations win the war for our soul over this heavenly gift. Never again should this happen, never again.
And maybe what we can do is take a lesson from St. Padre Pio. I’ve been reading — I’ve just been given a book called Man of Hope by Renzo Allegri, and basically he compiles from different sources that were not known before, different interviews or different revelations that St. Padre Pio made of his life. And one of them was when he was 15 or 16 years old, just before he was going to become a Franciscan. His real name was Francisco and he actually had an older brother, Francisco, who died very early. And his mother said, No, I love St. Francis, I’m going to have another Francisco. And what happens? He becomes a Capuchin, a Franciscan. So, no coincidences. Mothers are so important in the formation and what happens to their children as they get older. But Francisco, the future Padre Pio, was having some difficulty discerning his vocation, not so much in knowing what he was supposed to do, but he was being played with by the devil. He heard God’s call, but he also encountered some difficulties trying to respond to it. I say this in reference to Holy Communion, because of how great Padre Pio’s Masses were, and what was the part of that formation. He was attracted by the simple and easy life that the world offered as well. He had both working within him.
Seeking to overcome these difficulties, he had some supernatural mystical experiences, which are difficult for others to evaluate. At the end of December 1902, about the time, again, he was 15 years ago, born in 1887, May 25th, while he was meditating on his vocation, Francisco, Francesco, I guess, the Italian, had a vision. Several years later, he wrote a description of his vision for his confessor. He used the third person to describe it as if he were an outsider to it.
He beheld a majestic man of rare beauty at his side, resplendent as the sun. This man took him by the hand and encouraged him by saying, Come with me, for you must fight like a valiant warrior. He was led to a vast field where there was a multitude of men divided into two groups.
If you’ve ever made an Ignatian retreat, there is one meditation on this, two standards, Christ and the devil.
On one side he saw men of most beautiful countenance, dressed in snow white garments. On the other side he saw men of horrendous aspect, dressed in black garments and looking like dark shadows. The young man who stood in the middle of these two groups of men saw a man coming up to him with a horrible face. He was so tall he seemed to touch the clouds. Very imposing figure. The resplendent man by his side exhorted him to fight the monstrous looking man. Francesco begged to be rescued from the furor of that eerie man. But the shining man at his side would not agree to it. Your every resistance is in vain. You must fight him. Take heart. Enter confidently into the battle. Go forth with courage. I will be at your side. I will help you and I will not allow him to kill you.
The battle was fierce. With the help of the resplendent man who always stood at his side, Francisco overcame his adversary. The eerie creature crawled into the multitude of horrible looking men who fled with shrieks, curses and deafening cries. The group of men of beautiful countenance broke into cheers and applause for that man who had helped poor Francisco in his fierce battle. All heaven is watching. The man who is brighter and shinier than the sun put a crown of rarest, most indescribable beauty on the head of victorious Francisco. But the good man immediately took the crown off explaining, I have an even more beautiful one set aside for you. Know that you are able to fight the good fight with the being whom you have just fought. He will come back to attach you. Fight valiantly. Do not doubt my help. Do not be afraid of him. Do not be frightened by his formidable might. I will be with you. I will always help you so that you will always succeed in conquering him.
This is the future saint, the one who at that moment by his interior battle could have gone to heaven. But God said no. And how is it that St. Padre Pio fought the battle of the Lord. I am not going to offer a three-hour Mass here unless the sermon goes on much longer. (Father laughing) However, at the same time, Padre Pio won his war at his Mass. That is how he obtained the grace, by the devotion with which the ardor of his soul, with which he offered the Consecration, his Thanksgiving after Mass, his focus on that great gift of God which brought him to tears, which brought him to his knees. If that is the way it was for this saint, who is our patron, it needs to be the same for us.
May Padre Pio, whose feast is coming up in two weeks, help us to gain spiritually by the most Blessed Sacrament in order that, like Padre Pio, we may receive that crown beyond all splendor.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.