Friday, January 18, 2008
Sermon of Fr. Gerard for The Octaive Within the Nativity
(Website Editor's note: this sermon was presented to me by Fr. Gerard this past weekend. It was recorded in Tacoma, Washington)
Today’s Gospel puts before us the presentation in the temple and this and the prophecy of Simeon provide us with and opportunity to consider what we might call the problem of suffering, or the mystery, enigma of suffering. The presentation and the words of Simeon open the doors to Our Lady’s sorrows this is listed as the first of her sorrows. It is a contrast to our natural tendency to flee from pain and seek only happiness when we see that in our churches there presides over the altars one who is hanging on a cross and at his feet, our sorrowing Mother. The problem of suffering has no solution outside Christian philosophy, Christian thinking. All pagan philosophers have tried to solve this problem for some, it was an evil to be avoided at all costs, for others it was something which must be carried with stoicism like a garment made of thorns, which can be worn so long as one does not move around in it. But at the least movement, the thorns penetrate the flesh.
Suffering is a defect, which is natural to man. It is turned into something good by the Catholic religion. Our religion alone has known how to change into something good, that which is undoubtedly a natural defect due to original sin. To see this clearly, it is enough to observe that the loving heart of God chose for his Mother the way of sorrows, which began with the prophecy of Simeon and lasted until those three days of solitude after Good Friday. Some writers even say that the sorrows of Our Lady began with the Annunciation because she knew the prophecies of the Old Testament and so she knew that the Redeemer, the Messiah, would be a man of sorrows. The prophet Isaiah in the 53rd chapter so clearly describes the sufferings of the Messiah that he is called the fifth evangelist. We can find in sorrow a restorer for man was seduced by pleasure in the case of Adam, our first parent. Our nature elevated to great heights by God because it was created free from sin, and Adam was endowed with sanctifying grace but through his sin our nature fell thus wiping away from it all that it had which was divine, all that was supernatural receiving in exchange condemnation. Why? Because pleasure seduced the heart of man to the point of inducing him to rob that what was really God’s. Adam would not submit to the command, the only command that God had made, that he should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and in so doing, he refused to submit and robbed God of that glory which he should have given Him by submission to his will, by obedience to His will.
Sorrow is a means of offering satisfaction to God. The natural thing to do is to give back to God what was stolen from Him. That is how we restore the right order, to follow the opposite path, which is opposite to sin, and deny ourselves some satisfaction in order to return to God what is his. That is why we see our head, Jesus Christ, paying tribute to God from the cross. He sacrificed His life, offered it to His Heavenly Father, to atone for the glory, which had been stolen from Him. Mary, Our Mother spiritually, with no personal guilt of sin, associates herself with Christ in this offering. I think it was Pope Pius X and maybe Pope Pius XII in the writings who said that: “His mother’s love and His mother’s rights were included during the holocaust that she could have prayed that her son be delivered from His torments but instead of doing that, she submitted to God’s will and offered up the sacrifice of her love, along with the sacrifice that He was offering up.
For us, sorrow and pain can be born as a voluntary satisfaction and penance. In these trials, we can find a way of pain, going back and obtaining from Him grace and favor again. Pain is a purifier, it frees us from attachment to creatures, not only does it serve to free us from the penalties we have merited by our sins, but also it removes the dust from the soul, which can impede the light of God’s grace and inspirations. This dust acts like a balance, a weight, which does not allow us to rise to the spiritual heights. Mary was always intimately united with God but her sorrows, bravely suffered, increased that grace in her soul. To such an extent that the angels could say: “Who is this whose coming shows like the dawn of day? No moon so fair, no sun so majestic, no embattled array gives aw to men’s hearts.”
Our sadness could be one of two things: Sadness, which is useless, or acceptance of sorrow, which purifies. Use sorrows in order to detach yourselves from creatures in happiness, it is easy to forget about God because everything is going your way. In moments of sorrow, we appreciate the fact that the things of this world are but passing pleasures and we learn to appreciate the eternal good. Sorrow is also a proof of love in so far as it implies the will of the person loved. Is it an easy way to sanctity? Two wills in love with each other tend to become almost one will. To demonstrate this so much the more when, what is willed by one, is difficult to accept on the part of the other. Thus, my love of God is proved by the acceptance of His will and so much the more when his desire for me is something, which I don’t like at all. Such as suffering.
As examples, we have the prayer of Christ in the garden and that of Mary in the temple. The former was the greatest of Christ’s whole life. Proving his love for the Father, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” He said. That of Mary was in the temple, after the prophecy of Simeon, she offered her son to the Father in complete acceptance of His will for them both. The way of sorrow is the way of sanctity. Do you wish to reach holiness quickly? Seek only God’s will, and you can be sure that if your holiness is sincere, God will reward you with even more grace. How? By the road, which he has always chosen for his saints: that of sorrows.
And if at any time the way should seem hard to you, then you have only to follow the advice of St. Bernard: “Look at the star, look at Mary and call upon her.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.