Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dominica 3a in Quadragesima (3rd Sunday in Lent)


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A Homily by Rev. Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP
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“Resist the devil, and he will fly from you.”

In the Ancient Roman Liturgy which we follow so closely throughout Lent, this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, was known as “Scrutiny Sunday,” in which the Church began to examine more closely Her candidates for baptism, for proof of their zeal and good purpose, “so that, without error,” the ancient rite says, “we may proceed with the celestial mystery and open the gates of heaven, defeating the devil with all his works and pomps.” Hence the high moral standard highlighted in the epistle- “as befits saints,” who will be flooded with God’s own holiness at the baptismal font. Hence too, the stational Church of St. Lawrence today (Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura, pictured), where the Roman Pontiffs celebrated this Sunday, so as to inspire the catechumens by the zeal of this great martyr, who as you recall, while being burnt on the grid iron, said, “turn me over I am done on this side.”

But lest you think this sermon is intended solely for the catechumen, we must scrutinize ourselves still more. We, who have received the divine indwelling in our Baptism so long ago, and have been so frequently a partaker of our divine Paschal Lamb, the reception of whom but a few times made great saints out of St. Maria Goretti, for example, and Bl. Imelda who died of love at her First Holy Communion. How do we stand in our attempts to “defeat the devil with all his works and pomps?” If we neglect this struggle, and leave our own interior castle empty of virtue and sanctity, the gospel tells us we will wind up 7 times worse, which is readily verifiable in so many fallen away Catholics and once Catholic countries. Let us then review who the devil is and what are his works and pomps.

The devil you will recall is an angel, created by God. Indeed he was the highest of angels. He was created good, and as a creature depended entirely on God to exist and to act. He scorned this dependence however, and would not serve. Why? There are different opinions, as there is little revealed about it other than it was due to pride. Some of the Fathers and Schoolmen, however, give this for a reason, namely- he was shown a mystery far above even his own angelic understanding, that is, the mystery of the Incarnation, wherein God would assume human nature and not an angelic one, the nature of a rational-animal. And in this he was shown as well the mystery of the Mother of God, who as a mere human being would be placed above all the angels including himself the highest Seraph, in glory. This was something seemingly backwards as indeed in the angelic order, the more endowed the nature of an angel was the higher degree of glory it received in the supernatural order. Nature and grace were proportionate. But God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong both here and in the world above, to show that it is all His gratuitous gift, that everything is grace. But this Satan could not accept. He would not stoop down to obey and serve a mere human being. He would try rather to be like God without God. How foolish indeed!

And so he fell “and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven” away with him, the Apocalypse tells us, which is often interpreted as referring to the fall of the angels, the number of which were many. This leaves many empty seats in heaven, which St. Thomas tells us, expressing a common tradition, are to be filled up by mankind, which causes even greater resentment of the fallen angels toward us. For, they are condemned to hell for all eternity, which they chose by loving themselves more than God. And misery loves company. They are forever fixed in their hatred for God, who would place a mere human being above them. But they know quite well that they cannot harm God in any way, so they are left to make every effort to efface his image and likeness, and pervert the order that he has established on earth, where they prowl about seeking the ruin of souls.

So what exactly can they do to us? The Scriptures and the Liturgy remind us that we are slaves of the devil, the prince of this world, by our sin, and the Church takes great care to exorcize even infants who are about to be baptized. What is the meaning of this? It is to say that due to original sin, and our consequent disordered desires we will not be able to avoid sin without the grace of God, and so we are doomed to failure, doomed to everlasting hell. Yet we are not utterly corrupt as Luther and Calvin thought. And not everything the pagan does is a sin. We do retain our free will and the devil cannot make us do anything. What he can do though, is propose images and words to our imagination, stir up our passions, and arrange external temptations, through his powerful influence, or even by some extraordinary / preternatural activity, as we see in the lives of St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio, who were often beat up by the devil. The former even had his bed set on fire by the devil. And if people involve themselves in the occult, like Ouija boards, Tarot cards, satanic music, (and you’d be surprised to hear the names of the number of bands who were so involved in the occult and incorporated such occultism into their music, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, and other so called “light” rock bands), they can even open themselves up to full diabolical possession in which they lose control over all their motor faculties- speech, movement, etc. The demons are pure spirits and have a virtually unlimited power over matter. They could destroy the world in a matter of moments, as there is nothing to hinder the exercise of their power over it, as such.

But they wish not to simply destroy the physical world. They’d rather make use of it to destroy your immortal soul. What will be the plan of attack? Based on what we said, remember that they eternally resent you, as a bodily creature, as part animal, called to stand above them- pure spirits. And so they will make every effort to tempt you to an animal like existence, by tempting you to worship your body, to indulge in sensuality, to eat, drink and be merry inordinately, seeking nothing higher than sensual gratification; to cause you to spend most of your time preoccupied with games, sports, fashion, food, toys, cars, hunting, fishing, and all the other good things of this world, which are meant to be used to serve and love God rather than replace Him, whereas the devil wants us to worship them, and place our happiness therein. He will encourage especially immodest clothing, music, and media which are centered on unbridling the passions, which being undone cause souls to fall into hell as fast and numerous as snowflakes, as our Lady of Fatima told us.

Such self-centered worship of the appetites, which can never be satisfied, and which can never be shared, (in the sense that a material good is limited and can only be enjoyed by the one who has it, in contrast to spiritual goods which can be shared without diminution), will in turn lead to economic strife, and false economic solutions, which degrade man’s dignity still further, denying his rights to property, a just wage, etc., amidst the lust to consume and possess all for oneself or for the state, treating others and workers as mere animals without rights, meant only to work, and consume. Pope Pius XII described this very dynamic when he wrote, “The modern world is in a state of agitation which leads to a confusion between what is good and what is evil, together with a love of novelty. The forces of evil are solidly organized against us on all sides, while our archenemy, the devil, tries his best to harm mankind by all the means at his disposal.” “The spirit of evil” he says, “relies especially on the misery and despair of the unemployed to separate them from Christ, the one and only Savior, and to throw them into the stream of atheism and materialism, implicating them in the mechanisms of social organizations contrary to the order established by God.”

They hate and despise the hierarchical order of society, as they hate God from whom all authority derives. In short they are working for a social order, in which the Church would be subordinate to the State; the name of God merely tolerated at a distance if at all; children would not be subject to their parents, nor wives to their husbands. Man meant to increase and multiply for the common good, would subordinate new immortal lives to passing pleasure. And remember how much the devil hates Our Lady, and in Her, both virginity and maternity. In short it would be a society very much like our own: Secular, Sensual, Marxist, worshipping the dollar bill, the love of which is the root of all evil. You see now what we are up against? “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against Principalities and Powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”

How then can we stand against such an enemy? First let us recall that these wicked spirits are held in existence in every moment by the hand of God, in whom, like every other mere creature, they live and move and have their being. And thus all their activity, is entirely subordinate to His Providence, which activity he permits to strengthen and prove the just in combat, or punish the evil for their sin, who will glorify His divine justice in the end. And how are we to pass this test? First, there are the sacramentals that the Church gives us- holy water, the sign of the Cross, exorcised salt, scapulars, the Miraculous Medal, the very powerful Medal of St. Benedict, which contains an exorcism on it. There are also general exorcism prayers that the laity can say, invocations for deliverance by the power of the Most Holy Names of Jesus and Mary; invocation to St. Joseph the Terror of Demons and to St. Michael his ancient foe who cast him out of heaven, although as of 1984, by Vatican decree, the long prayer to St. Michael cannot be said by the laity, as it is taken directly out of the Roman Ritual reserved to priests, and even then only to a priest with the permission of the Bishop may say it. We must be careful not to usurp authority that we don’t have lest we wind up in worse trouble. So it is often best just to pray to Our Lord and Our Lady and the saints to deliver you, and to bind these demons in hell.

But of course diabolical possession is not so much to be feared as the slavery to the devil by sin, in which the devil will often just keep quiet so as not to startle you from your slow and sure slide into hell. As St. Cyprian says, “Caution is easier where danger is manifest, and the mind is prepared beforehand when the adversary avows himself. The enemy is more to be feared and guarded against when he creeps upon us secretly; when deceiving us by the appearances of peace, he steals forward by hidden approaches, whence he has received the name of serpent.” And so the best way to avoid this worse imprisonment is by frequent confession, frequent devout communions, the most holy Rosary, fasting, mortification of curiosity, time in prayer, and the overall practice of the virtues. If we fill up our house with such divine ornamentation we will have nothing to fear. “Be subject therefore to God, but resist the devil, and he will fly from you.”
As St. Augustine explains, “It is by true piety that men of God cast out the hostile power of the air who opposes godliness; it is by exorcising it, not by propitiating it. They overcome all the attacks of the enemy by praying to their God against him, not by praying to him. For the devil cannot conquer or subdue any except those who are in league with sin; and therefore he is overcome in the name of him who assumed a human nature, without sin.” The demons will not want to come back to be bound again by the strong man, Jesus Christ who reigns in the soul of the just, who has cast out the prince of this world. St. Teresa enrobed in such sanctity tells us, “for, although I used to sometimes see the devils... I have hardly ever been afraid of them again – indeed, they seem to be afraid of me...they are no more trouble to me now than flies. They seem to be such cowards – as soon as they see that one despises them they flee, powerless...May His Majesty make us fear Him whom we should fear, understanding that one venial sin can do more harm than all the forces of hell combined...If only we will hate everything for God’s sake and embrace the Cross, trying to serve him in truth, the devil will fly from those truths as from a plague...”

And if we have so plucked out the plank from our own eye, how soon our society will be re-conquered for Christ our King, for all culture depends on what we worship and love. As the great St. Augustine wrote, “Two loves have formed two cities; the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self...In the one, the princes and nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the person of its rulers; the other says to its God, ‘I will love thee, O Lord, my strength’.”

For, “men” he says, “are separated from God only by sins, from which we are cleansed in this life, not through any virtue of ours, but by the divine compassion; through his mercy, not through our own power. For whatever virtue we call our own is itself bestowed upon us by his goodness.”

For in the end, this is the whole reason that God allows the demons to buffet us. It is the truth that the demons didn’t understand in heaven, nor even St. Paul in the third heaven, but rather when the latter was on the ground being beaten by the former, crying out for deliverance, only to hear that most important truth, that rock of all humility and sanctity. “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Our Lady Queen of the Angels, and Virgin Most Humble: Pray for us.

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AMDG
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