Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dominica in Albis (Quasimodo Sunday)


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A Sermon by Rev. Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP
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JMJt

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

Today we celebrate the last day of our Easter Octave, the end of a day so solemn that it has lasted 8 days, and in the spirit of which we will continue for another 42 days until Pentecost. Dom Gueranger tells us that, “such is the solemnity of this Sunday that... no feast however great, can ever be kept upon it,” which is why for instance we still wait until tomorrow to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, as it has been trumped by every day of this octave of octaves.

Though often referred to as Low Sunday, it is more liturgically referred to as Sunday in albis, referring to the white garments of the neophytes which are only now set aside after their baptism at the vigil mass, which was the apex of the whole liturgical season, and indeed the center piece of the entire Christian life, as it is the mystery of all holiness and growth in holiness. For in baptism the old man is put to death, and we truly become “partakers of the divine nature,” temples of the Holy Ghost,” other Christs to now live and manifest His life throughout the earth. The Council of Sens, in fact saw the renewal of Baptismal vows, as the chief way to reform and renew the lives of the faithful, as all our sin springs from our neglect and depreciation of this mystery, this ineffable gift of God’s mercy.

It is a feast in which the liturgy has us meditate on the Divine Mercy, well captured in the Divine Mercy image, which echoes the Epistle we just read today, in which we are told that we have the victory which conquers the world- the one true faith, which we have received from the water and the blood which flowed from the side of Jesus Christ, and that we have received the testimony in ourselves, of the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost now dwelling in our soul, made present by the testimony on earth of the Spirit the Water and the Blood, given to us in Baptism. As Pius XII says in his Encyclical on the Sacred Heart, summing up the Catholic tradition, “from the wounded Heart of the Redeemer was born the Church, the dispenser of the Blood of the Redemption -- whence flows that plentiful stream of Sacramental grace from which the children of the Church drink of eternal life.”
Yet today, as the Church has the newborn children of God set aside their baptismal garment to live a new life, She is ever mindful of the battle that awaits them. And so today She has focus on the second great sacrament of His Mercy, instituted in the Gospel today, when our Lord says to his disciples, “Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you,” as other Christs sharing in the redemption of the world. Then, “he breathed on them,” to re-create the world anew, with the breath that hovered over the waters of creation, and says, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain they are retained.” Today the Church fortifies us all, white robes aside, with the Sacrament of Penance, so that if God forbid we neglect to care for the infinite gift of God Himself received in Baptism, we yet have a way to recover this divine state again, through the confession of our sins. But in order that we may understand confession well, and how to confess well, we must first understand what mercy is, which is hardly understood at all today.

“In God,” Blessed Dom Marmion tells us, “There is...one perfection which is perhaps the key of all that befalls us here below: it is mercy. Mercy is love in the face of misery; if there were no misery, there would be no mercy...we shall be in Heaven the living witnesses of the Divine Mercy.” St. Thomas explains this for us in more detail, noting that mercy is a compassionate response to another’s misery. Through our bond with them we sense the evil they suffer as our own, or if they are more distant to us we consider that the same evil could befall us. It arises often first in an emotion of sympathy, but in order to be virtuous it must be governed by right reason, without which it is in fact an emotion which greatly hinders reason and is greatly abused, as evident in those who waste their time for “animal rights,” “tree rights” or whatever fill in the blank “rights” which simply advances through a manipulation of human sympathy, via cute puppies, sad faces, sappy music, or whatever and has no real ordering toward the common good.
And what is the rule that the movement of mercy must obey? St. Augustine tells us, "this movement of the mind obeys reason, when mercy is vouchsafed in such a way that justice is safeguarded, whether we give to the needy or forgive the repentant." That justice is safeguarded. For note well that mercy has as it’s aim the fulfillment of justice, and not the casting off of justice. Consider the great mercy God has shown mankind, in coming to earth, and dying for our sins. He did not come down to earth so as to lower the bar of holiness, telling mankind not to worry about striving for a heavenly life, but rather to raise it, telling us to now be holy as the Father in heaven is Holy. The holiness of God himself! But he descended so as to make it possible- to give us the grace to ascend to heaven. He suffered and died so as to pay the debt of justice, and win for us the grace of justification in our union with Christ crucified. It is quite true that mercy goes beyond justice in that it strives for more than what is merely due, as Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, his enemies, but it is never contrary to justice as it always aims at making others just. Hence the more important spiritual works of mercy- like admonishing the sinner, and instructing the ignorant. How different are these from the world’s effeminate, irrational, counterfeit versions of mercy in tolerating sin, celebrating diversity, saving animals and trees, pacifism, financial assistance for the lazy, and whatever other act which has nothing to do with the true sanctification of souls and their eternal happiness. Such is not the mercy of God and such should not be the mercy of man. The mercy of God is indeed a chief manifestation of His omnipotence, as in it He shows Himself bountiful to our distress, says St. Thomas. Yet mercy is in no way incompatible with God who condemns the sinner to hell to punish him for all eternity unto the glorification of His justice, in which St. Thomas tells us there is yet found the mercy of God, as even this eternal torture is less than a sinner deserves for his infinite offense. Although they differ as acts toward us, in God, mercy and justice are the same, which is the great mystery of this life, of predestination, of heaven and hell. As the Scriptures tell us, “Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.”

In this light we can understand how confession works, in which the priest exercises the office of judge, as the council of Trent defined. A judge not only to forgive but also to retain sins, in those who are not to be forgiven, that is to say the unrepentant, who confess their sins with no thought of changing their sinful ways or avoiding the near occasion of sin. Contrition, remember is the necessary matter for a valid confession, and one must have a truly supernatural detestation, and resolve to change one’s life and avoid the occasion of sin, so as to be just, in order for it to be valid.. As St. John Bosco said in his day, “more souls are condemned by confessing badly than by not confessing.” The priest in the case of the unrepentant must guard the justice of God and not abuse the sacrament in such sacrilegious application, which would be a mockery of God’s mercy, God will not give His mercy so that we can more conveniently crucify the Son of God anew. But rather, as he extended His mercy to St. Mary Magdalene worthy of being stoned for adultery, so he does to us in confession, telling us “neither will I condemn thee,” but he adds, “go, and now sin no more.”

Let us then go forth with this understanding, confessing our sins from hence forth, not to get out of jail free, but so as to truly reform our life. And inspired by this mercy let us go forth to mercifully help others grow in justice, for St. Thomas says, as regards our external works, “the sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy.” And according to the challenge of exercising true divine mercy, which aims to increase one’s share in the faith that conquers the world, and the divine nature received from the blood and water of the heart of Christ, shall we be judged.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

Mary, Mother of Mercy: Pray for us.

AMDG
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