THE LITURGICAL YEAR

Sermons, hymns, meditations and other musings to guide our annual pilgrim's progress through the liturgical year.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

PENANCE—THE RIGHT CHOICE

A SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be God?  I admit, sometimes, I indulge in a little fantasy about being made Pope, and what I’d do to try and fix things in Rome.  God help them if it ever comes true!  But to be God?  That’s a fantasy on a whole different level, and it feels almost unseemly to be thinking about it.  Nevertheless, I’m going to put a question out there for you—if you were God, not today, but back in the timeless infinity in which you, God, alone existed, and if, as God did, you planned to create another kind of being, called Man, to share with you in your eternal goodness and love…. here’s the question… what would be the first thing you would create?

You can’t just create Adam.  They need space and time to exist in.  Then they need a place in that space where they can comfortably exist.  Once you’ve worked out how to configure Man’s nature, you’ll need to make sure he has everything he needs before you create him.  He’ll need light to find his way around, air to breathe, gravity to keep him from floating away, food to eat, and so on and so forth.  And you know what?  That’s exactly how God did it.  You couldn’t improve on God’s creation in any way.

But what about the existence of evil in the world, you might ask?  Maybe I’d leave that bit out.  But think about it.  Did God really create evil?  The answer of course, is that he didn’t.  Everything he created, including man, was good.   But true goodness in creation is to be found in the conformity of the creature to God’s will.  In the case of animals, they do this instinctively, without the use of reason. In the case of man, though, goodness is to be found in their love, their voluntary sacrifice of self for the sake of God or their neighbor.  It’s the action only of a will that is free.  And it’s that free will that gets us in trouble.  If we’re free to do good, then we’re free to choose not to do good. That absence of the good that we should do, has a name, and that name is evil.  We produce evil ourselves by not choosing good, by not conforming our will to God’s.  It is man who is responsible for evil in the world, never God. 

 As we begin our season of Shrovetide today, the readings in the Breviary turn to the creation of man.  It’s the perfect time, as we prepare for Lent, to remember the events which made necessary our Lord’s Passion and Death, and why we’re supposed to do penance.  We read how God created everything in perfect succession, preparing for the creation of man.  But man betrayed his trust, repaying the gift of creation with disobedience and ingratitude.  And so our fantasies begin.  What if God had sent an angel to stop Eve from eating the apple, or what if he had just sent the serpent back to hell before Eve met up with him?

But having createdus with free will, God permits us to useit.  Hardly ever does he step in and prevent the consequences of our sin from taking us to places we never intended.  If we deliberately pull the trigger, he allows the bullet to shoot out of the gun and follow the laws of nature by traveling in a straight line. If there’s someone in the way, God doesn’t usually intervene to send the bullet off in another direction.  You may not have meant to kill someone, but you pulled the trigger and you’re responsible.  It’s not God’s fault, and you can’t blame it on the laws of nature. The laws of nature are just that, laws. And they would cease to be laws if God suspended them on a regular basis.  In the same way, man is a creature of free will.  If God were to regularly override our free will, preventing us from making mistakes, from doing bad things, just because he knows better, then let’s face it, we would cease to be men.  We would become mere robots, programmed by the Almighty to obey his input, while we remain powerless to act freely in any way.  We wouldn’t even be able to love God freely, and let’s remember, that’s the reason he created us in the first place.   

As we come to realize this, we will have a far better understanding the underlying reason we need to do penance during Lent.  We can start now.  Even now in Shrovetide, before Lent begins, we are invited to refocus on making voluntarysacrifices, making reparation freelyfor all the sins of debauchery and self-gratification that occur during carnival time and Mardi Gras.  Yes, we must refocus our lives on God by curbing our own appetites. Yes, we have to do God’s will rather than our own.  And yes, we’re obliged to make reparation for our own sins, for the original sin of Adam, and for the sins of mankind ever since.  Yes, we have to do all these, but more important yet, is that we do them freely.  

GOD, THAT MADEST EARTH AND HEAVEN

A HYMN FOR SEPTUAGESIMA


By Richard Whately and Reginald Heber

God, that madest earth and heaven,
Darkness and light,
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night;
May thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet thy mercy send us,
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.

And, when morn again shall call us
To run life's way,
May we still, whate'er befall us,
Thy will obey.
From the pow'r of evil hide us,
In the narrow pathway guide us,
Nor thy smile be e'er denied us
The livelong day.

Guard us waking, guard us sleeping;
And, when we die,
May we, in thy mighty keeping,
All peaceful lie:
When the last dread trump shall wake us,
Do not thou, O God, forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us
With thee on high.

IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME

A MESSAGE FOR SEPTUAGESIMA


It’s up to us to be good for all those who aren’t.  But how good can we be?  Can we ever be good enough?  When God created man, he began by making Light.  “Let there be light,” pronounced the Word of God, “and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.”  The light was good, but it wasn’t good enough.  God hadn’t finished.  He created the light to prepare a place for man to live.  The creation of light, as I’ve explained before, caused the creation of space and time—space for light to illuminate, and time for light to move through, in which causes may have effects.  But light alone was not enough for man to exist, and so this was only the first of six days of creation, as God continued to come up with all the other things necessary for a man to live.  

And just as light was not good enough, the same can be said for everything else God created. The sun and the moon, the mountains, and trees, and birds of the air and fishes of the sea, the vast assortment of animals, none of this was good enough.  None of it was sufficient for God.  He wanted something better, and all these creatures had been created for this new creature that would be better.  It would be a creature of free will, who would love God not from instinct but because his reason and will would love Him freely.  And so, finally, on the sixth day of the week, God created Man. And you know what really hurts?  Man was not good enough either!

Man was supposed to be God’s supreme creation, the one who would share God’s love in an eternal union of goodness.  But man bit into the forbidden fruit, the only law God gave him.  He failed the test!  God saw Adam and Eve, that they were good—but they weren’t good enough!

And so as soon as that first “original” sin had been committed, a plan was put into action that would redeem this “man who wasn’t good enough”.  God foresaw the entire history of the Old Testament and knew what would be the most propitious and appropriate time for this Redemption to take place.  The Bible tells us it happened “in the fullness of time.”  Church history books offer various reasons why God chose the time of the Roman Empire to be that “fullness of time” in which he would send his only-begotten Son to save us from sin—there was universal peace in the world, the world was united in language, policy, commerce, and so on, making it easier for the Gospel to be spread to every corner of the Empire.

But there’s another reason why God chose to redeem us at that specific “fullness of time”.  He waited until exactly the right moment, a moment when a certain young lady of Nazareth would be conceived without original sin, would be born, and would finally achieve her child-bearing years. Only now would the time be right. Only now, when this young lady would say the word “Fiat”, let it be done unto me according to thy word, would the “fullness of time” be achieved.  And this young lady, Mary, would be, in all truth, God’s greatest creation, his supreme creature.  God prepared her for the role of Mother of his Son, by granting her the privilege of being conceived without original sin.  She alone amongst all mankind would not inherit Eve’s stain of disobedience, and would join with her Son as Co-Redemptrix, in restoring man to his primeval innocence through the graces that flowed from her Son’s Precious Blood directly into our souls at Baptism.  And God saw this Lady Conceived Without Sin, that she was good.  And finally, here was a creature that was “good enough!”

Shrovetide begins today.  Our prayers should flow in abundance to this Lady Conceived Without Sin, without whom our Redemption would never have taken place.  Prayers of thanks for our creation and redemption, and prayers of supplication that we may follow her perfect example as perfectly as we possibly can, freely offering our own will, our penances and sacrifices, in reparation for mankind’s ingratitude to her divine Son and His Father in heaven.