Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sermon of Fr. Gerard for Sexagesima Sunday

I would like, before going into the Sermon, to take a short time to share with you some of the events of our priest meeting in Spokane. All the priests who work with Bishop Pivarunas, the 14 of us, gathered there at Mount St. Michael’s and the purpose of these meetings is to discuss any pastoral issues that may need a solution and by solving them for one priest, it may hopefully be enlightening for the rest of us. Addressing any difficulties which may be occurring in various parishes, trying to look forward to see how the needs of the different parishes can be met as far as providing for them the services of a priest and unfortunately at this point it looks like Fr. Macillas and Fr. Gilchrist will have to return to their countries, for some time at least, because their paperwork did not go through with immigration and so we will have two less priests to cover all the places that we are already covering. There is some outside chance that the paperwork will be arranged so that they would be able to stay but that will require a great deal of help, I’m sure, on God’s part so please keep those matters in your prayers because as it stands right now, the parish in western Colorado that has a resident priest will soon only have a priest on the weekends. Those people have been blessed, they have a school, they have three or four religious sisters teaching in the school and helping in the parish but it seems that they stand to lose the blessing of having a resident priest. It’s a very fair sized parish, they have a school, they recently built a rectory, and they’re looking forward to building a larger church to accommodate their parishioners. The school chapel, which they use, is small and they have to have two masses to accommodate everybody. That means that there will probably be some places in the mid-west that only get Mass on a less frequent basis and so your prayers are important to hopefully bring out a favorable outcome with immigration authorities.

As a matter of course, the Bishop always tries to have some theological topic to discuss and so this time he brought a book, which he had, about the actual revelations in the Old Testament of the Trinity from several passages in the Old Testament it can actually be seen that there was reference to the persons in God because in some passages it uses the name of God "Elhoim" and that is actually a plural noun, but the verb, which is used with it, is a singular form. The very first words of the book of Genesis refer to the creation of the world and it says in our translation: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth and the spirit of God was moved over the waters and the world was empty and void.” Now here, there is a reference to three divine persons because the verb created as in the singular but the very first word of the Old Testament in Hebrew is a word, which refers to the principle or the beginning as far as some sort of work. When the 70 Jewish scholars went to translate the bible in the Old Testament as it existed then for King Ptolemy, the Pharo of Egypt, they were afraid that if they translated it in a very literal sense, he might think that they were worshiping more than one God because the word, which I don’t remember at the moment refers to a divine being. So we see right at the beginning of the Old Testament the beginning or principal that we have God, then we have the spirit of God.

There are several other places in the Old Testament. One was the apparition of three men who came to visit Abraham but in the process of addressing them he called them: “Lord, using the singular” and in the passage it goes back and forth between the three and the one and then it goes one and three, and in one of the responses in the breviary talking about that particular event in the book of Genesis, it says: “Abraham saw three and worshiped one.” So we have there a reference to the three persons and one God. Also, I think its in Isaiah, he had a vision of the heavens being opened and he saw the Seraphim there before the throne of God and he said: “Holy, Holy, Holy” referring again to the three persons. So this was quite interesting and there may be copies of this book available on a limited basis because it can be photo copied, it’s outside of the copyright period. The unfortunate thing is that the Jewish rabbis recognized this but they rejected the Trinity and so they, in the second century AD, they twisted the interpretation of these passages. If, in fact, they had been honest they would have seen in those three words: “Hear, O’ Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord our God, The Lord is one.” For God there are three different names used. One is “El” and the other two I don’t remember but they are distinct names. There are three names for God and the singular word is one. So again, three persons, one God. The Jewish Rabbis changed the interpretation of the scriptures and devised a warped interpretation to preserve their particular teaching so that the people who read the Old Testament would not be converted to Christianity, it was happening that many of the Jews seeing all the prophecies fulfilled in Christ were becoming Christians because the Apostles and the disciples and the bishops were going into the Synagogues and preaching the scriptures, the Old Testament, and proving that Jesus is the Lord, that he is the Messiah. So what these Rabbis did was twist the interpretations of scriptures, they watered down how scripture was actually written so that people wouldn’t see so clearly that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures.

We also had an opportunity as a group to go to the Minor Seminary in Idaho and visit with the Minor seminarians who are High School students taking studies to prepare them for the Major Seminary in Omaha. For them, I’m sure it was an encouragement to see the Bishop and 14 priests come to visit them and spend some time with them, talk to them and share their own stories with these boys and they boys give their own stories and talk about themselves to the priests so that hopefully the information would be carried out and shared and hopefully encourage other young men to go to the Minor Seminary. Hopefully there would be more vocations to the major seminary and as a result to the priesthood.

To go to the topic of the sermon, we are now in the pre-lenten period of the Church’s liturgy, which began last Sunday and takes it’s name from that Sunday, Septuagesima. This season of the Church year, even though it’s sort, was established as something definite in the time of St. Gregory the Great, who was Pope from 590-604. It is made up of three Sundays. The idea of it is: “What is to avoid an abrupt transition from Epiphany to Lent and also to prepare better for the entrance into Lent?” The Church, as a wise Mother and teacher knows that the passing from the joys of Christmas time to the rigors of Lent would be a difficult one. Therefore she instituted this period of transition to prepare the faithful both in spirit and in body for the Lenten fast. The main characteristic in this period of the liturgical year is penance, even if that is very much in a lessened sense. There is no fast prescribed but this spirit in penance appears in outward sings. The purple vestments, the Gloria is not said during Mass, the Alleluia, which is a frequent occurrence in the liturgy ceases from Septuagesima Sunday until the solemn midnight Mass at Easter because alleluia is a word of prayer and joy and the translation from Hebrew is: “Praise ye God” and during this time we are meditating on solemn somber topics. Topics of sins and the topic of Christ’s suffering and death. We can deduce the importance given to this period by the Basilicas, which were the stational churches of these three Sundays.

In ancient times, the faithful met at one Church, which was called the “Colecta” and from there they made a procession to the stational church, which was a particular church chosen for that Sunday for various reasons, sometimes it was because the Liturgy had a reference to a Saint that the church was dedicated to. In this case, the stational churches are very important. There are three of the seven churches in Rome for which there is a plenary indulgence for making a visit during a certain period of time. There’s St. Lawrence outside the walls, St. Paul’s which is also outside the walls of Rome, and St. Peter’s on the Vatican hill. Sts. Peter and Paul are called patriarchal churches, they are the two of the most important of the churches in Rome. St. John Lateran and other patriarchal churches, the Pope’s cathedral, but that Church is reserved for the first Sunday in Lent. Again to emphasize the very great importance of that Sunday because on Sunday the Pope would go there to have Mass.

In order to obtain the purpose the Church has in mind. She through appropriate liturgical texts tries to make Christians realize the misery of their state as sinners and their own weakness in order to prepare them for the need of penance and unite them to the one sacrifice of Christ, which is commemorated in the Lenten Cycle. The period of Septuagesima has one liken to the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. During that time, the Jews were convinced of their fault, they realized through the teaching of the prophets that it was because of their sins, because of their rejection of God that they had been carried off into captivity, they wept for their sins, they repented for them and longed for the return to Jerusalem. So during this period, the Church calls our attention to the exile of those who live far from Christ and allows us to weep for our sins. So that later, we may taste the joys of the Resurrection. Remember the saying, it’s almost a proverb, that “there is no resurrection without the crucifixion first.”

St. Gregory composed the liturgical texts of these Sundays at a time when the Lombards, a barbarian tribe from the north, were laying Italy to waste and threatened to conquer the Holy City itself. Hunger and disease were the order of the day because of these wars and because of the destruction of life in society and the cities because of the destruction. Therefore the text of these three Sundays reflect the misery and the weakening of a people who suffer deeply and paint in vivid colors the consequences of sin. The spirit in which we ought to observe in this pre-Lenten season is threefold. First, humility, recognizing our guilt this also is an emphasis in the holy season of lent, especially the first part. Then we must pray asking God to give us the grace to enter into lent, which is approaching in such a way as to get the most profit from it so that our spiritual lives may be revived. Finally, we ought to practice some acts of self-denial, some penance however slight, to prepare our minds and to prepare our bodies for the fast, which is imposed during the Holy season of Lent. If we take advantage of this particular part of the liturgical year, which the Church has wisely provided to prepare us for the Holy season of Lent, then that holy season will be a source of abundant graces for us, it would be as if it is meant to be the springtime for the spiritual life, that it will be renewed, that we will prepare ourselves to celebrate worthily the glorious feast of Easter.

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

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