Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter, May 29, 2011 by Fr. Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today I want to focus a little bit on the spiritual life, and the first thing I’m going to mention is the two different meanings of charity. The Collect today, in fact, the whole Mass today teaches us about the interior life. The Collect says that we cannot even have a meritorious thought without the grace of God, let along the grace to make good on it. As St. Paul teaches in the first chapter of Philippians, It is God who gives you the will and the power to act. So, in the Epistle we see that it is not enough to do or to practice charitable works in and of themselves, like we see different sports figures doing as advertised so often. It is not that these things are bad, but of themselves they merit nothing for heaven, apart from doing them in the state of grace for the sake of growing in that grace. So, we see that it’s not enough simply to do good. As St. Paul states, If I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. So, only good works, done in the state of grace, are good. And only works done by such souls explicitly for the love of God are truly good. The possession of charity is more than a disposition. It’s more than, again, simply seeking an occasion to do good. Because that, in and of itself on a natural level, is fine, it may dispose us to grace, but it is not the possession of it.
The Epistle from St. James today makes clear to us that both for the sake of remaining in the state of grace, and for the preservation of what is called the spirit of religion, meditation is necessary. At the beginning of the Epistle it seems to tell us something different. Hence, as we read, Be doers of the word and not just hearers. So we think, based upon that, Oh, we’ve got to be doing and not just hearing, which is true. But it seems like St. James is putting the doing before the hearing, which is actually not the case. Because later we read in the same Epistle that we must not forget the matter of man that we are. So we must be before we can do. We must have by meditation an understanding of what we are by the grace of God. Otherwise, we usually fall into what Dom Chautard calls in, “The Soul of the Apostolate”, the heresy of good works, being busybodies or do-gooders without actually meriting anything for heaven. We get caught up in good works without the possession of the interior life. But, then, what good is it to gains the whole world and lose your soul.
So, again, the whole Mass is about this today. If we look at what Our Lord said in the Gospel, I went out from the Father and came into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father. At the Mass, the source and the summit of the interior life we behold and we receive Jesus Christ. And we remember what Our Lord said, Whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father. So, when we come to the Mass, we receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we behold Him on the altar when the priest lifts the Host. We are going to the Father. Because, again, Whoever has seen Him, the Lord, has seen the Father. Like Christ who goes forth from the Father, we, who have received Our Lord, actually go and do the same when we leave here today. But, then, we have to return, unlike Our Lord, who left the one time and He returned. Christ Himself did not need to pray to stay united to the Father. He did so as an example to us, and also as something that His human nature even as God, owed to the Father. Yet, how much more do we owe.
We must return to prayer and to the Mass because it is absolutely fitting, absolutely necessary for us if we are to progress in the state of grace, if we are to grow in justification as the Council of Trent says. The state of justification is not just once and that’s it. Justification is not just a legal declaration of God about our souls. It is something we grow in, we become more and more just before God by returning to Him and receiving from Him what He wills to give to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
So, in a certain since, we imitate Christ when we leave the bosom of the Father here, and go out into the world, and then we return again to be refreshed. And there are different ways we can do this, because not everybody can get to Mass every day. But visits to the Blessed Sacrament when you can, spiritual communions, everybody can do that much. Each day, many times during the day you make an Act of Faith, Hope and Charity, desiring to receive Our Lord, something you cannot do right now physically necessarily, but you want to and you increase that desire. And that’s how you return to the Father and then you go back out again.
Spiritual reading also is very important. Daily meditation, which should be done, if possible, in the morning. We will talk about that briefly in a moment. And, then, if nothing else, different aspirations during the day. Even if we are not going through and making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or making a Spiritual Communion, or even doing spiritual reading, we can, at least, have different aspirations during the day. We lift our minds and hearts to God briefly, maybe it is only for a minute or just a few seconds, just to enkindle different desires in our soul. Because, otherwise we become to at home in the world, and then we have our reward here, as Christ says in another one of the Gospels. We make different aspirations throughout the day to remind ourselves why we are here, why we are doing this, why God has put us here. And this can happen, really — ultimately, we can only grow in this by doing good meditations. I am going to get to that in a moment.
Another point in the gospel we read, Ask and thou shalt receive that your joy may be full. Again, the interior life brings with it anything we want, because it makes us truly long for the things above which God wants to give us. It makes us joyful even in the asking before we have even received, whether or not we do receive. If we want something from God, just to ask for it is something that is a very joyful thing. It brings peace. We say, Wow, I have something I really want I can ask for here. What St. Theresa of Avila says, Entertain many desires. If we are not doing that, then chances are we might be a little lukewarm in the spiritual life. Not to desire is in and of itself a cross. It can make life very difficult. It can make life very long. But if we entertain many desires, time goes very quickly, because we already begin to possess that which we want, whether or not God gives it to us right away.
A wonderful example of all this is what happened to St. Therese, the Little Flower. I think a number of you are familiar with the story. For her clothing day at Carmel, she wanted God to make it snow just like she was being clothed in a snow white veil. So, St. Therese was making use of something that St. Theresa talked about as one of the ways in which we can pray, making use of nature. While one way is obviously thinking about God Himself, His perfections and things like that, but also making use of the world around us, the world that God has created for us. That is a way in which we can speak to Him. That is one of the ways in which St. Therese did. She wanted it to snow, there is a connection, to remind her. This is something beautiful, a little extra gift to go along with the clothing and the veil. And the thing was, it was especially warm that day and it was not looking good for it to happen. But, then, just in time for the ceremony it did snow. It was warm enough that normally it doesn’t change 15 or 20 degrees just like that. It can happen. But sometimes just the timing of things, when they happen, that makes it so special.
St. Therese was given her desire for snow because God wanted to show her that He was there and he really loved her. It was unnecessary but it was desirable. God’s always good. You see how much fruit came from this experience in St. Therese’s soul, how grateful she would have been. And this account, I believe, also teaches us that God really is our Father. If He was simply God and, therefore, strictly other, such a display of condescension in the proper sense of the word would never have happened. He would not have bothered. But to show us, in fact, that what we want and what we do really does matter to Him, He grants such small and insignificant otherwise requests. The students’ trip to Europe two years back was replete with such examples, if not maybe as striking. Also, the trip to Rome when the whole thing about they wanted to go see St. Philomena’s shrine, and it was already almost closed and by the time they got there, there was no way they could get in, except, they went anyway and got in. They desired and God kept the doors opened for them. I don’t remember the exact story, but I remember looking at the different slides when the school was showing them, and, I think, Luke Washiko and a few others, they really desired something in particular when they were at one of the sites in Rome, and they ran to it and they got exactly what they were looking for. A more timid soul would not have received the grace. I’m sorry I don’t remember what it is, but it was so obvious at the time. So, if we really ask, if we ask, we will receive. This is what we are taught by this. The danger, as I had mentioned before, is finding ourselves overly content with what we have and not really even desiring to be given such blessings. Again, they have had their reward. If we are to get to heaven, we need to regain childlike trust and desire. Such will feed the will for the interior life, and help us to recognize and understand how desirable it is. Next to this daily commune with Christ, everything else fades into the background.
Getting back just briefly here to what I had mentioned concerning being in the state of grace, obviously, all this is dependent upon that. And we need to understand and meditate upon what it is to do something good in that state. Think about it this way. If you’ve ever seen different films or read different books about these incredible stories of triumph against all odds — there was a story about this woman, I think, with autism — what happened with her that she actually did more in her industry than many of the men did. This is the particular example that comes to mind now, but there are a number of examples. You say, How many stories where against impossible odds people have done incredible things. On a natural level, that is good. There is nothing wrong with that. God probably certainly was helping them. But to understand, again, the interior life and how powerful it is before God, just as we looked a little bit at St. Therese and just how much she was able to gain something otherwise so insignificant, but because she was one with God she was able to get this gift. One meritorious act performed in the state of grace is much, much greater than the most amazing things done, even over the course of years, even decades, that have remained merely at the natural level.
Every work of Our Lord Jesus was enough to save us from sin. What took maybe five seconds was infinitely greater than aspiring stories that have transversed five decades. Here, again, we see the value and necessity of meditation to draw fruit from the insight. Or else we become what St. James warned about today, being a hearer and not a doer of the word. There is a hearing which is the insight, and the doing which is the meditation which brings fruit and helps us to remember our countenance and not walk away.
So, we want to be thinking about, you know, people have done such great things. Think about it, maybe a lot of things we could never do, we don’t have the strength to do or the courage, one thing done in the state of grace for God’s sake is worth more in His sight than even that. How many good works we would do if we gave time to consider that. In fact, St. Therese herself, how many of those good-deed beads she had when she was little. She would keep, as a child, moving them along and growing in grace that way, growing in strength. That’s what we need to do, walk from strength to strength.
I will conclude with this, making a meditation itself so that the truths of the faith may be impressed upon the soul, and that, in turn, we may go from the Father into the world. Very briefly, normally a better time is the morning because by the evening we are normally tired. We want to take the time, put yourself in the presence of God for a couple of moments, recognize that He is there with you. And then you make a renunciation of self will, of all distractions, and you say to Our Lord, you beg Him for His help. First of all, you say to Him that you are sorry for any infidelities in the past, and when we put ourselves in the presence of God we see this. We see how immediately we begin to see what we are in His sight. And we prostrate ourselves in His presence. And then we ask Him for the graces necessary to make a good meditation. A lot of times we don’t make a good meditation because we haven’t done the one necessary step. We just go right into it. And God is not mocked. He says, Okay, well, you have to ask Me for help first. I’m not going to give it to you unless you ask. I mean, it wouldn’t have snowed if St. Therese hadn’t asked. So we need to ask Him. We need to be willing to go to Him. He is our Father. He’s not just Our Lord and God. He has more goodness, goodwill toward us than even the best father imaginable. So, that’s what we do in the beginning.
Then, from there we start making the meditation itself, we go through different points, whether it be something like today, the state of grace versus the state of not grace, ungrace. So we look at it. What does it mean to be in the state of grace? If I was one of those people that all my life I did such great things, but never for Our Lord, and then died. What would have happened to me? I’m not saying that any one in particular of them has been damned, but just imagine if we were in that state, where we did so many great things, spending many decades, and then didn’t make it. Whereas, we can be a simple soul, we can do little things like St. Therese. And, then, done in the state of grace, how much treasure we are acquiring for heaven. One step at a time. Just to think about that a little bit, go through different points on that. A lot of times what you need to do, what the saints say, this is basically from, by the way — I don’t know if you know this already, but from St. Ignatius Loyola, and he goes through how to make this meditation. And so, what you want to do maybe the night before, write down a few points to reflect upon the next day. You don’t have to do the meditation at night. Again, you are probably too tired to do so at that point. You say, Okay, I want to meditate on this, this and this. So, after you put yourself in the presence of God, you’ve made, given a little bit of time, to ask Him, to beg His pardon for your sins and also to beg His help to make the meditation, you go through the different points of your meditation, and then you try to seek from it, draw from it, fruit and resolutions to be made in order to grow in a particular grace, to overcome some fault, or to grow in some virtue.
Once you have done that for a good 10 to 15 minutes, all together — that’s all meditation should go, about 20 minutes, then you begin having colloquy, you start having conversation with God, expressing different desires, different longings that have come from this meditation. And, then, from there, you show gratitude. Again, you humble yourself before Him, you thank Him, you say an Our Father, Hail Mary and you finish your meditation. That’s it. Maybe some of you might not remember what I just went through, but we can always go through it again. But that is what I wanted to talk about a little bit before closing, because it is one thing to talk about these things and look at what the saints have done, it’s another thing to recognize that we are supposed to be saints, too, and that we can be saints. And the saints were saints because they had confidence, because they knew that God wanted them to be saints. So that is something — we need to grow in our confidence, that we were put here for that purpose. And, if we don’t become saints, then our life was a waste. The main thing is, for us to be saints, to thus be better than simply Pharisees, is to learn how to meditate and how to meditate well. And if we do that, then we will get more out of our Holy Communions, we will grow in our love for God and, in the end, we will persevere and get to heaven. And that is obviously what we are looking for. So maybe today we can ask for that particular grace. And we can make a resolution every morning, at least 15 or 20 minutes, to start making those meditations. If we do that, you will find that during the day it is much easier to avoid sin.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.