Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sermon of Fr. Gerard for The Last Sunday After Pentecost

During the month of November we think about the holy souls in purgatory, as this month is dedicated especially to their memory, and special indulgences are granted to the faithful that they may gain on behalf of the holy souls. I’d like to tell you a story that I read about the life of St. Vincent Frayer, who lived about the year 1400. He relates the fact that there was a person who was a great sinner who repented at the end of his life but he did not have very much time to do penance because he was dying shortly after his conversion and this man’s guardian angel appeared to him and said: “I will give you a choice: you can suffer purgatory for three days or suffer on earth for three years.” This man had been very sick and he was so desperate, because he was suffering, that he asked and prayed for death to come and relieve him of his pains and sufferings. So thinking that three days would be much better than three years of suffering the man took the three days. After a short time, the guardian angel appeared to the man in purgatory and the man called out to his guardian angel saying: “You traitor! You promised to leave me here only three days. I’ve been here three thousand years!” And the angel said: “Remember what time you died?” And the man said: “Yes, at one O’clock.” The angel responded: “Well, the priest was just then starting an hour of the office with the invocation: ‘Oh God, come to my assistance, oh Lord, make haste to help me.” And he had not even reached the Gloria Patri, which follows that before the guardian angel went back to see his charge.” And so the man realized how wrong he had been in choosing the time in purgatory. The guardian angel then said to him: “If you wish, I will take you back.” And so the man went back, came back to life and suffered for three years with great patience and in a very edifying manner, paying the debt that he owed to God’s justice and at the same time meriting a higher degree of glory because of suffering in this life. The next life is just a time of justice when the soul is purified but cannot merit. St. Teresa of Ávila said that very few souls go straight from their deathbed to heaven. Most all have to pass through a shorter or longer purgatory.

The Church allows for prayers to be offered for the dead, even centuries after their death, some religious orders have a commemoration of the deceased superiors of their order and some of them have been dead for hundreds of years. We don’t know God’s justice which exact punishment for the least fault. So let us, during the last few days of this month, remember to pray for the souls in purgatory. The holy sacrifice of the Mass is one of the best ways to assist them. If you don’t have the chance to offer a Mass for them, you can at least attend Mass for the relief of the souls in purgatory and this is very efficacious.

Coming to the Gospel of today, we find Our Lord predicting two things at the same time: The destruction of Jerusalem and the last judgment and the end of the world. These two are so intertwined in Our Lord’s speech that he gave on this occasion that it is difficult to determine which parts apply to the destruction of Jerusalem and which to the end of the world and the final judgment. But remember that our judgment, our particular judgment, comes the day and the hour that we die and that can come tomorrow, it can come after a number of years, most likely long before the general judgment.

St. Agustine, speaking of the day of death and of the general judgment, which will come at the end of the world, tells us that we are not told the day or the hour so that we may live in perpetual vigilance. And this was what Our Lord said in some of his parables that we do not know the day or the hour. We can live like men or we can live like sons of God. The damned prefer to live like men, not thinking of their eternity when they were called to live like sons of God. Therefore they receive the sentence of Psalm 81 verse 7: You shall die like men but if you live like sons of God, you will reign with God in heaven. Death is certain and so use it for your advantage since it is a lesson in humility and a gate to heaven. Only death is certain, all other evils are uncertain. A child is conceived but he may not be born alive. That fact is uncertain. If he is born, perhaps he will grow, perhaps not, he may die as a child. If he grows to be an adult, he may become rich or he may be poor, but is it possible to say he will die or perhaps not? Of course, this is not at all the same because death is a certainty. When doctors examine a sick person and find him incurable they say he will not be saved from death. From the moment a man is born, we must say the same thing. He will not be free from death. As a soon as he is born he begins to grow sick, to grow week. When he dies his illness is ended although he may not know if he is going to exchange it, the illness that brought about his death, for a worst one, purgatory or eternal punishment.

The rich man from the parable of the Gospel ended what we might call a delicious illness, in which he lived in delights. But he exchanged that for an eternity of torments. The poor beggar, Lazarus, in the parable ended his life of suffering and attained eternal salvation. He afterwards had what he had chosen here, by a life of patient suffering. He chose God’s friendship by patient resignation. Christ overcame the world by making himself man and by dying for us, let us then unite ourselves to our victor so that we may win the victory with him. His coming at the end of the world will be preceded by the appearance of the Cross in the heavens. Let us unite ourselves to the Cross by patience and suffering so that on the last day, his appearance will inspire us with joy and hope instead of fear.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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