Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter – May 6, 2012 by Father Sretenovic
Today’s gospel actually seems out of order in a sense, because the gospel today is from St. John’s gospel, Chapter 16, verses 5 through 14. Last week’s gospel was the same chapter, St. John’s gospel, verses 16 through 24. So, this gospel actually comes before last week’s, but it is all a part of what is called the same pericope. It’s a formal name that theologians use for a certain passage in the gospel. And this was Our Lord’s discourse, one of His last ones before He died. And He was telling them, “I am about to leave you but do not be sad, don’t let your hearts be troubled because if I do not go you will not receive the Paraclete. It is necessary for Me to go because while I am here, He is not necessary. But when I leave, you will need Him”. And it was very important for them to be able to believe without seeing. Remember the gospel concerning St. Thomas a couple of weeks ago as well.
So, actually, it is the beginning of last week’s gospel that I think is very important for us in the spiritual life to consider. There is a direct relation between Our Lord’s words and our own spiritual life. So, if you think about what He said, if you recall, when Christ said that, “You shall not see Me in a little while, and then you shall see Me in a little while.” Obviously, what was directly being referred to was the fact that Christ was going to die on the cross and leave them for a time and then He was going to come back in the Resurrection, and then He would leave them again so that He could send the Paraclete. This was a bit of back and forth going on here, they would be sad, they would be glad, they would be sad again. And then they would be filled with the Holy Ghost and then they would be given the courage even to die for Him.
For us, though, what does this mean? Well, a few of you who have come to the Third Order meetings know that we have been reading through the book by St. Ignatius of Loyola concerning the discernment of spirits. This was written not just for the priests, not just for the religious, not just for those who are called to a special vocation or a special mission, but for all Catholics. And it was a book of spiritual combat, of warfare, and one of the things we want to be thinking about is the fact that when you read through and you see that even though most of the time we are somewhere in between — I remember when I was in the seminary one of the best conferences, series of conferences, I was given was on St. Ignatius of Loyola and these exercises. What was said to us is that eighty-five to ninety per cent of the time we are somewhere in between. We tend to be not on a high or on a low. If we are going about our daily duties, God honors that, He is pleased with that, and He does not give us a special insight and He does not make us very dry as a bone either. But about ten per cent of the time — again, this is a guess-timation because we don’t know exactly and for each soul it may be different — but, for at least some of the time there are to be consolations and desolations, and if we are not having these and it has been years and we have not had any real consolation or desolation, which I will explain in a moment what they are, that probably means that we are mired in lukewarmness. It means that we are not performing our duties worthily, worthy of God, and, therefore, He is still waiting for us to be serious.
So, when Christ says, “In a while you will not see Me and then you will see Me”, for us it means those times in which, like for instance, consolation. What St. Ignatius says, There are those times that God illumines our souls in such a way that it could not possibly be by our own effort. It could not possibly be because of what we have done in spiritual reading or any other meditation. It does not arise because of how we have prepared ourselves necessarily. What it is is that God enters in in a moment and He gives us a special insight about one of the truths of the faith, or He gives us more of a love for Him or desire for Him, a certain little reward, you could say. Also there are those times of desolation. That would be a time in which all of a sudden we see Him and we rejoice. But there are also those times in which the rug is pulled out from under us, and it’s not just, Oh, I don’t want to pray right now. It’s not one of those types of feelings. It’s one of those feelings when you have a disgust for prayer, you have such a dryness that even to force yourself to say a Hail Mary is very difficult. That’s desolation where all of a sudden it is really difficult to pray, or all of a sudden the temptations are really strong. You say, Where did that come from. And just like in the case of consolation, no matter what you are looking at, it’s not the cause of the consolation, in the same way desolation is not necessarily because we have been looking at anything that would cause us to sin. It’s just all of a sudden this wave that comes over us, or this void.
So, one is supernatural and the other is preternatural. And, if we are faithful to our spiritual exercises, if we are living the schedule that we have given ourselves to follow in order to serve God and to serve Him well, these are part of our daily bread. If you read in the Imitation of Christ, there are different visitations that Our Lord says He will give to the soul, and we are to prepare ourselves for them. And when He gives us those moments of consolation, we are to thank Him immediately for it. We are to humble ourselves and we are to prepare ourselves for temptation. Because oftentimes what that means is that God is giving us some plenty because there is going to be a time of want coming soon, like Joseph in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph and the seven years of food and the seven years of want in Egypt.
So, when we are given such consolations, we are to think about, What will we do, how will we conduct ourselves when all of a sudden Christ is not there, it seems, at least sensibly. In a little while we will not see Him. We see Him, and Christ is saying, I’m not going to be here with you forever. “I am going to leave you, but I will leave you the Holy Ghost. You will be able to fight the battle of the Lord, but without My sensible presence. We have to think about, What will we do, how will we conduct ourselves, when we are in such a state? Now, when we are in desolation, when all of a sudden it seems like the rug is pulled out from underneath us, what we are to do, St. Ignatius says, is to remember the consolation, to remember, that was real, that was Christ. To think about, Okay, is my desolation a result of my sin, did I do something to bring this about? Because that is possible.
There are three different possibilities when we are desolate. One is sin, we are in desolation because of negligence and it is a punishment for that. It shouldn’t be too difficult to discern if that’s the case. Another reason could be a test — actually, test is third. Another reason would be a means of purification because we have taken too much pleasure in our consolations. And God may give us a desolation to remind us that He is the source of all good gifts, and to love Him, the giver of His gifts, not the gifts of God.
The third thing would be as a test, because God wants to take us to the next level, but He has to purify us first. Before He can bring us closer to Himself, before He can give us the next consolation, we have to be made ready by desolation, by a longer desert than the last time, a more profound desert. Because if He were to give us the gift that He wants to give us now, we would not make use of it properly. We would not recognize the moment of His visitation. In fact, that’s from the gospel today. “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now”. A part of helping us to bear them is this period where we don’t have any sensible consolation, when we have to conduct ourselves as soldiers in the middle of the night and we don’t know exactly who the enemy is. So we have to watch and pray.
If we do that and we persevere in that and do not give into the temptations which will surely come in this time because it seems like God is so distant, and the devil wants to give us something as a replacement to God, to fill that void, rather than having us stay with Christ. Because it is Our Lord, we know, as the today’s gospel says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and overburdened and I will refresh you.” So, when we are in that desolation, if we make use of the sacraments properly, if we make use of the time of prayer and do not change our resolutions but continue to walk the walk and fight the fight, then God will bring us to the next level and the next consolation we receive will be even greater than the one we received the last time. But my hope is that when I say this to you that you are in some way familiar with what I am talking about. There may be some who are hearing me that may understand what I am saying theologically, who may understand point by point the analysis that I am giving, but may not understand from experience. And, again, while I cannot say in every single case it has to be the same for everyone because God treats everyone — He has made every soul different and He does not deal with each one exactly the same way. But at the same time, we need to recall that what St. Ignatius gave, again, was for all. And that in some manner we should be having some consolations and desolations. While we do not have necessarily mysticism, which is the way of some that are specially called by God, all of us are called to be in the aesthetical way, which is the way of prayer, of penance, of purification, of elevation in the spiritual life, so all of us are called to that. We need to remember that.
But, if we are not at least having some level of experience — again, it’s not just, Oh, I don’t feel like praying right now, or, Oh, I feel good about praying right now. That’s natural, okay. We are talking about the supernatural, the preternatural here. We have our guardian angel and, while we do not have an (un)guardian devil, the devil does have influence. There is that battle going on. If we are not aware of it, it’s because we are not doing what we are supposed to do.
If we are lukewarm, if none of this has made sense, or maybe, again, only on an intellectual level, what we need to first do is humbly acknowledge our state before God and say, Lord, I know that You want to give me Your good gifts. I know that You want — if I am present to you, if I remain with You, at some point You will introduce yourself on a more personal, intimate level to me. The reason this has not happened is because of my sinfulness, because of my wretchedness, because I had not put You first and the center of all things.
As St. Teresa of Avila would say, “Until we have given everything to God, we should not expect anything from Him.” God is still good. He gives us good gifts. But He only gives the signs of the saints, as St. Alphonsus Liguori says, “…to those who are weaned from the world. Only when we have our eyes set upon becoming saints — “His eyes were like flint toward Jerusalem”, as St. Luke’s gospel says of Christ. Only then will we receive the greater gifts from God. Only then will He begin to speak to us as a Father to a son or to a daughter. And so we must humble acknowledge our state, our apathy or lethargy before Him. Acknowledge that without Him we cannot make one step toward Him. And we know this from bitter experience. Once we humbly put ourselves before God’s presence and tell Him that, then we beg His forgiveness for our infidelities. That’s the second thing we do.
Once we recognize what we are and what we are not, we say, Lord, it is because I have failed. It is because I have left you. Please forgive me. And that is very pleasing to God when we do that. God cannot not hear that prayer. He who has made us for Himself will hear our prayer for mercy. He is the God of mercy and of truth, as well — of justice, but of mercy first. So, we beg His forgiveness after we acknowledge our wretchedness. Then we also pledge to be faithful in the future and we beg His assistance, confidently knowing we shall receive it. Then we set out, we seek opportunities for spiritual combat, all the while fulfilling our daily duties, fulfilling what we are supposed to be doing, in the meantime, while we wait. And if we have that disposition, God will give to us those trials to see whether or not we really are set on Him, those mortifications, those trials from other people, our family, our friends, our not-so-close friends. Right? Circumstances, some kind of test where we have a choice for God or for self. If we pass that test, consolation is around the corner.
Then, when God sees that we are resolved to be faithful, He acts either through consolation or desolation. But, one way or the other, it is for our good. And we will know it. The soul that is making progress knows whether or not they are given good things or bad things, that they are for their good, and that God is with them, whether or not they sense His presence, they know at last they are on the path to salvation. And that gives so much comfort in the midst of any desolation. And, then, at a certain point in the day, we make an examination of conscience and we repeat steps one through four again. Each time we go through and we make progress step by step by step. Because we are going to fail at times, but then, again, humbly acknowledging our state before God, begging His forgiveness and we get back up again.
That is what we need to do, because the chances are most, maybe not all, but a good many Catholics, maybe here, and many traditionalists, and it’s not just Novus Ordo, even though you have the faith, your practice of it is wanting. We don’t want to hear those words at judgment, “You are found wanting. Depart from Me.” Only those who walk with God will receive Him when they are judged. We will receive what we have desired in this life. We must ask ourselves the question today, What is it that I desire? Who is it that I desire. If the answer is not God, it is self in one form or another.
So, whoever we have as our ruler in this world, God or the devil, will be our ruler through all eternity. Today is a time to get out of our lethargy, out of our apathy, out of our lukewarmness, and humbly prostrate ourselves before the infinite majesty of God, that we begin. And as soon as we begin to walk in the path, there is a consolation immediately from that. We know, in fact, that God is hearing our prayers and He will, in fact, answer.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.