Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sermon of Fr. Gerard for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Gospel of today gives only a part of what we learn from the gospels about St. John the Baptist, who preached about baptism of repentance by the river Jordan in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the manifestation of our Lord, which took place during his preaching. St. John the Baptist preached interior penance, particularly the doing of one’s duty. When various people asked him what they should do, after they have repented of their sins, he told them in general to do their duty. All different classes of people came, even soldiers. Penance is primarily something interior it consists mainly in compunction of heart or an abiding sorrow for having offended God, which leads to our obtaining the pardon for our sins. But St. John the Baptist adds yet another element, which is also interior, the doing of our duty.
It is necessary to avoid wrong ideas about penance, there is an exterior penance certainly but it is only useful if it is the fruit of interior penance and leads to it. The Pharisees were well known for their external observances of the law of doing penance, as required by the Law of Moses, but there was nothing in their hearts, they had not an interior spirit of penance, sorrow for their sins and a desire to make atonement. The true penance is interior consisting in the doing of our duty in all things and at all times.
Sister Lucía, one of the three children who saw Our Lady at Fatima, wrote a letter to the Bishop of the area in 1942: “When Our Lord asks a sacrifice that penance, which everybody must impose upon himself, in order to live a life of justice in the observance of His law, and he wishes this road be made plain to souls for so many judging that the word penance means hostilities, which are too much for their weak strength, they’re bound to a life of tepidity and sin.” Then she relates the apparition of Our Lord to her: “At twelve O’clock at night, the Lord told me: ‘The sacrifice to be made by all is that of the observance of my Law and the fulfillment of the duties of each one, that is the duties of each one’s state in life, that is the penance which I ask for and demand now.’”
So we can ask ourselves at every moment: What is God’s will for me here and now? What is my obligation? The reply will be given by your profession, that is your work in life, your state in life, or by the commands of your superior, if you are subject to someone else’s direction, like children are to their parents and like employees are to their employers, do your duty as though it were the only thing you had to do here and now without argument or excuses with all of your strength. Whether you like it or not, whether it costs you an effort or not. That is true interior penance, which St. John the Baptist preached, and which the Church also encourages. This is the principle virtue of them all. There is no virtue so eminent as that of doing simply what we ought to do, but doing it for God’s sake, not just because we are driven to do it by some necessity.
One point, in particular, may be useful to emphasize with regard to parents and the religious education of their children, since that is one of their primary duties not only to bring children into the world but to raise them as members of the Church and future citizens of heaven. It is primarily the duty of parents to provide for the religious and moral education of their children. They even trust this education to others such as teachers and catechists but they are still obliged to make sure that their children are learning the faith. One of the problems in the 1960’s and 70’s is that while parents assumed their children were getting Catholic religious education, the courses had been changed following Vatican II. New Catechisms were produced and these were actually destroying their children’s faith. Many parents found out too late that the faith of their children had been destroyed because they were not actively involved in ensuring a Catholic religious instruction for their children. They assumed it was all being taken care of as it had for them when they were younger. Even when properly provided, religious instruction still needs reinforcement from the parent or parents. Children need to have the things they see in Church explained to them, if possible during a private visit to the Chapel, or very quietly at Mass. They need to be told how Jesus dwells in the tabernacle and the altar and how he becomes present upon the altar at the consecration of Mass. It is not enough for them to be able to come to the front, to the communion rail and kneel quietly while their parents and older siblings receive. They must understand the reason why their parents, why their older brothers and sisters come to the communion rail and receive the Host. They need to know that it is really and truly the body and blood of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. Parents are to work with their children regularly on their Catechism lessons making sure that they know the commandments, the seven sacraments, about the redemption, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity as far as it can be understood, to ensure that they have adequate knowledge of Christian doctrine according to their age.
These things that I just mentioned are necessary for first communion. Older children, preparing for confirmation, must do the same as well as adults, who may be preparing for conditional confirmation or receiving it for the first time if they never received it validly. There are booklets on preparation for confirmation, which can be acquired if you ask myself or Mrs. Balderrama for those. Bishop Pivarunas is scheduled to come here on the 13 of January for confirmation. If a child or a young adult is not sufficiently prepared, it would be much better to wait and to prepare more thoroughly as to understand better and receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and or Confirmation with a better appreciation. Because if they have a better understanding they can prepare their hearts better and receive more of the actual graces which would come from receiving the sacrament with a better disposition. Please make sure, those of you who are preparing for confirmation, that you provide the necessary copies of baptismal certificates, the names of sponsors and confirmation names, as they need to be in hand so things can be organized for confirmation. The date is only a couple of weeks away.
During family prayer at home, or during visits to the Chapel, if possible, children should be trained to sit still and be quiet to join in the family prayers or to listen, if they are too young, and be attentive so when they come to Church they can be bound to order by a few quiet words or a stern look. We don’t have the luxury of a cry room so the efforts of parents with young children are very important in training them and maintaining good order during our time to worship Almighty God through the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Remember that as members of the mystical body of Christ, you are not only allowed to be present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but you actually join with the priest in a secondary sense in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is the principle one who offers but the faithful also offer it with him as they follow along in the prayer books and read the prayers, the priest often times during Mass, recites the prayers in the plural, that means those present and those present are also remembered during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and on a number of occasions, at least once during the offertory and at least once during the Canon during the first part. So these things are all means hopefully to appreciate and profit by the sacraments, by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by so doing to prepare more fervently and more worthily to celebrate the “re-presentation” so to speak, through the liturgical prayers through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with our Lord’s birth, which we celebrate shortly on the feast of Christmas.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.