Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost – August 7, 2011 by Fr. Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I was actually going to talk about a couple of things today, but I’m going to stick to one because this sermon is very image oriented. There is just basically one main image. But I find when there are a few things I want to talk about, if you go from one image to another, it is difficult to follow and to keep up. You start to get one image and you are already being taken to another one. But the next Mass that I have will be at 10, and I am hoping to speak a little bit about the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden.
What I am going to be looking to do is talk about consolation and desolation in prayer, and the Divine Purpose in such. So the rules for discerning spirits I’m going to be using for that are from of St. Ignatius of Loyola. You have the Transfiguration, which feast was yesterday, and to look at a little bit of that in terms of what a consolation it must have been for Peter, James and John, and then the Agony in the Garden was actually just the opposite, and how we are to act in each case, when God gives us consolation in prayer, and when He has withdrawn that consolation.
In the meantime, for today we want to speak about the Transfiguration and the true state of the soul, both in the present moment and at the general judgment, the general judgment as opposed to the particular judgment. The particular judgment is when we leave this world and go before God. The general judgment is when our souls are reunited to our bodies and the judgment that was past on us at the particular judgment is done again for the sake of all to see in one way or the other.
First of all, just to kind of paint a picture here, we know that the Transfiguration did not represent any actual substantial change in Christ. In fact, the Transfiguration that transfigured Christ was the natural state in which Our Lord would have appeared had the veil not been over him, in a manner of speaking. It was as if every other time of Our Lord’s life, as if He was walking literally with a veil completely over His flesh. Because the natural state for the God-man would have been to be walking around looking like the sun basically, literally the sun. It would be so bright that most would not have been able to even focus on Him. That would have been the natural state. But Christ, in order to show His humility, in order that He might suffer — but who would have put Christ to the cross or on the cross when He looked like that. Because nobody could have denied Him at that point. Seeing would be believing and there would be no way that the Son of man would have suffered for us if He did not take the form of man really and actually, in a certain sense, hide His Divinity. His Divinity was there all the same. But in order that the apostles might grow in their faith and might recognize that it is through suffering that they would come to the kingdom, Our Lord veiled Himself, that He would suffer first and they would follow in His footsteps.
This image of the Transfiguration would be fixed in the minds of Peter, James and John, even though they would later, to a certain extent, fall away, to one extent or another, in the Agony in the Garden, which we will talk about at another time. But still they would remember this later, after the Resurrection and the Ascension, and when they themselves would have to suffer, they would remember that Christ Himself had been transfigured, they would remember who He was and no longer be scandalized because of Him, because of His humanity.
So, again, the basic point in this is to say that physically, even though there looked to be a change, there was more a change of accident than substance, so when Christ all of a sudden appeared as He was, transfigured. So what this relates to for us today is how our soul looks. The flesh, our body — we’re not just basically disembodied souls, we are not simply souls that are covered with flesh. We have a body and a soul. Our body is good, not evil. But just for the sake of the image, we can imagine that the soul inside of us, what it looks like is being hidden by the covering of the flesh. So we do not see what we really look like. If we are in the state of grace, whatever stage we are in the spiritual life, whether we are on the way to perfection or whether we are just barely making it, if we are in the state of grace, then the soul is brighter than our eyes could bear presently to look at. If this was the Easter Vigil and we had somebody here in the state of grace and all of a sudden the flesh was taken away, they could light up the church, literally, without any exaggeration.
Depending upon the intensity of our virtues will determine just how bright we are. On the other hand, if we are not in the state of grace, then there are no words to describe the blackness, ugliness, deformity and odor of the soul that is thankfully hidden from our sight. Although for such a one, it would be good to recognize their state of soul so that they could repent now and not later. God has, from time to time, not often, but from time to time made use of such means to bring about great conversions. First of all, that person’s soul, and then the souls of those who are edified by the great penances that they tend to do after they recognize, Wait, I should be in hell right now but God has given me another chance. So that does happen. It has happened in the history of the Church and there have been whole villages that have been converted because of it.
So, then, inside of our bodies, where buried within ourselves, either that which would be too intense to look at directly, or too terrifying and turn away from. You know, when you get so — you look at something and it is so terrifying you want to turn away but you’re fixed in it. That’s what that would be like. It is a reality that we rarely think about but which we encounter countless times every day. Every single person we meet, everybody we shake hands, everybody we talk with, they are either brighter than the sun or darker than we can imagine. So, this is something again, it’s happening all this time but we’re not normally thinking about it.
At the general judgment, when the trumpets of the angels blast and our bodies are called forth from the grave, a most astounding occurrence will take place for each and every one of us without exception, which gets at this reality. If we are among the blessed, no words can describe the joy and the astonishment we will experience as we, and at that point we is our soul — right? Because our soul was separated from the body at death so we are our soul at that point, as our soul we move towards the body that we are now without delay to inhabit for all eternity. As we get closer we perceive more and more clearly the perfect body we never had. All right? Literally, the body that — you know, we have all these images that maybe you’ve read about or seen of the “Greek gods”, or the Adonis’s or what have you, and all that is fine and good, it’s normally vanity. However, what we will look like at judgment, the bodies that are then reunited to the souls that are then in glory will be so beautiful, so glorious, that words cannot possibly describe the experience. In fact, being reunited to those bodies will be such that it will intensify our joy in heaven many fold.
So, the souls that are in heaven now as perfectly happy as they are, there is something that they know they are missing, that they will experience when they are reunited to their bodies. And imagine going toward that body that we know we are going to inhabit for all eternity, the gratitude, the tears of joy and gladness that we will experience is something that we should meditate on. We are told that we should be meditating upon hell and judgment and that is true. In fact, we are doing a part of that in this sermon. However, just as important for us is to remember that as not to be crushed by discouragement — I know a lot of people who have told me that I have shown them the book on purgatory by Father Shouppe. They say they can’t read it because of how scary it is and what have you. Well, if you balance that with what we are looking forward to if we make it, that will help us to have that holy fear, help us to be encouraged to embrace that certain terror of judgment, because we recognize that that is not really what we are meant for. So, then, as we go towards this body, we say, Wait, that is my body. We will be struck by the brilliance, the fragrance, the perfection of the body that is ours, literally ours, just transformed. Then we enter it, and our experience of heaven, again, is better a hundredfold than what it was from our particular judgment at death until that very moment.
We should take note, also, that Our Lady did not have to wait, but had this experience from day one, the Assumption. What the souls in heaven are waiting for, this great experience, Our Lady has already had. Her heaven is that much more intense. She already was miles above the angels and the saints as it was. But Our Lord, seeing how much He loves her, would not have her to wait until the general judgment. That shows you right there, there has to be something much more intense, much more something to look forward to in the general resurrection than there is in the particular judgment. Otherwise, why would the Assumption have taken place. Why would it have been necessary at that point.
On the other hand, imagine what it would be like if we do not make it, if, in fact, we are among the reprobate. We have already been suffering in hell for seemingly an eternity, and now it gets worse, much worse. In fact, if it was that much better for the souls in heaven to receive their bodies, imagine the grave suffering, the terror and the horror of the soul that is already in hell that is called forth back to the general judgment to be seen for what one is before everyone that has ever been created and ever will be at that moment, and then you know that you see your body, you see what no tongue or pen can describe. That body that we cannot resist taking possession of. We move closer to it and then we are consigned to enter it. Imagine having to live in the shell of a locust or something like that. Imagine having to be clothed with the worst looking, smelling clothes and never to be able to change, and have to be like that around everyone. How embarrassing, how humiliating, how absolutely crushing eventually that would be. We can only take so much of that. Yet, for all eternity, something practically infinitely worse would be ours.
So we see just what opposite ends of the spectrum we are here. The soul just barely in the state of grace versus the soul just barely in the state of mortal sin, an infinite chasm. That’s the way it will be at judgment and that’s the way it is I each one of us right now.
All this gets back to the fact that one of these two images, contrary to appearance, like Our Lord’s Transfiguration, is us now. Either way, there is much to consider because if we are in the state of grace, that glorious body waiting for us can still be molded into a yet more astonishing entity. And it can also be shattered and become utterly deformed and putrefied. We can still lose that. If we truly consider this, then will there be a moment’s rest before we die, if we really recognize how much more glorious our bodies could be for all eternity. Or if we recognize the fact that we are only basically one mortal sin from losing it all. We will not rest. Remember, St. Augustine has said, “There is never a time we are standing still, either going forward or going back”. We must continually progress towards heaven. And if we do that, some tend to put off conversion. Some tend to say, Well, I’m generally okay now. I’ll just hopefully not commit a mortal sin, and then I’ll get to heaven. But the folly in that is even if we make it, even though in Heaven we won’t care, what we could have had if we simply applied ourselves with more diligence, how much closer to God for all eternity. If we believe that we may presently be among the damned, then behold yourself with horror and then look at what you can still be. See what you very well might be right now. I think we could all take a certain measure of good even if we don’t believe ourselves to be in this state, we should still look at ourselves as if we may be among those who are in this state, because even if we believe that we are in this state, there are two reasons: 1) for looking at ourselves as if we could be damned, because we probably have been at one time or another in the state of mortal sin. So if that is the case, then that’s what could have happened to us. And 2) we are only one mortal sin away from actually returning to that. So we always have to be aware of this. Imagine, though, that even if you possibly are in this state, think of yourself as you are still alive, God has not given up on you, and there is still a chance for you to be the envy of the angels. Remember, the angels, if they could envy, would envy us because they do not have a body and we do. We have been given something — that’s the putting the pride of Lucifer upside down. Lucifer rebelled because we were just flesh, we were a composite of flesh and spirit, and he is just pure spirit. But the angels, the good angels know what kind of great pleasure and what kind of honor and privilege that is. Because we who take flesh again at the general resurrection, we have that as a result of the Incarnation. What a privilege, what an honor to be that united in a more substantial sense with the Son of God and His Blessed Mother. We can take either way a lot of fruit from whatever consideration. Sometimes we want to consider ourselves among the blessed, other times among the damned and see what that would be like. And I’ll close with this. If images themselves do not plant themselves, behold them anyway. Something that came to my mind is that, you know, some of us — it might be like that one that I know who took two years to learn how to ride a bike. After one year of training wheels, the training got put up a little bit higher for another year. Whereas my little sister, four years old, gets on a bike and starts riding. (Father laughing) Five years old she steps up to the plate for the first time and hits a home run. Some are just very gifted, some just have gifts that kind of may actually — you know, when we see that, we may actually plug into the way we are spiritually. God makes us differently. Some of you when you hear these images that I’m giving you today of the soul, some of you immediately can do maybe a hundred times more than I can with it in prayer. But others may say, Oh, well, I understand that, but that doesn’t really bear fruit for me. Well, do it anyway and do it again. Because eventually those training wheels are going to come off. But be willing to have the training wheels on your bike no matter how long it takes. God has made us that way. Some he makes to fly, others he makes to drive. It’s different for each one of us and we are not to be jealous, we are not to be discouraged or angry at God in any way because we are not a certain way, because somebody else has it easier than we do.
If anything, if we find it more difficult, there is more room for virtue. So in these images and in a sermon like this which for some may be very difficult again to bear fruit, look at it anyway and just continue to mull over it and go over it, because you still have the virtue of having made the act of meditation. That’s where heaven or hell is, not in the pious sentiments and feelings that we have or just come to us, but the act of the will to make the meditation no matter what. And do that every day. If you do that, then at the end what is happening is that you are growing in virtue, getting strong, and again, at the end that is what we are going to be judged upon. And we’ll be surprised, even if you are the tortoise and not the hare, the hare lost the race in the end. So how many hares are there in hell and how many tortoises in heaven. That’s what we need to look at. We’ll be shocked. We didn’t think we were that good. But God looks upon us and says because you recognized what you were, I give you now a body of glory. And on the other hand that one who thought he was so good or she was so good, now who had all the gifts in the world, like Lucifer, is in hell. So fidelity is the king.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.