Saturday, July 3, 2010

Propers for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

The message for today's Propers are simple, yet profound.  The Church today wishes to remind us of the fact that God is the author of the universe.  Everything that exists is so because He has willed it.  Since He has willed it, He will provide for the faithful.

The Lord is the strength of His people, and the assurance of the salvation of His anointed. Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance, and guide them forever.  Ps. 27:1. I cry to You, O Lord my God; do not be deaf to me, lest if You heed me not, I become like those who go down into the pit.  (Introit)

Today's Introit offers one of those classic balances only Catholicism seems to achieve.  On the one hand, we speak of assurance of God saving His people.  We have this assurance because God acts to preserve His name.  Whenever one reads through the Old Testament, one hears God saying "Not for your sake do I act."  When the Syrians believed they could defeat the Israelite army on different terrain since "their God is a God of the hills", God provided Israel victory on flat land.  Yet He did so to shame the Syrians, not for the kings of the land, whom were quite wicked at the time.  We Christians can take comfort in the fact that ultimately, it is God who saves, not us.  We know that God protects His Church by the Holy Spirit not because of the sanctity of her rulers.  At times, we have had the opposite of sanctity.  Yet the promise of Christ stands firm in the Church, and our own lives.

Balanced by this tension however is the second part of the Introit.  Here the Psalmist speaks of the reality that he may be "like one who goes into the Pit", that is, Hell.  How can we have an assurance on one hand, and a very real fear of hell on the other?  Protestants frequently wonder this.  The answer comes in "I cry to You, O Lord my God."  Every moment of our lives, we must turn to God.  When we turn to Him, we can be assured He will answer us, aid us, and most importantly, save us.  Yet if we do not cry out to God, we are telling Him "I can handle this on my own."  Rather than a cry for help, we give the defiant cry of the world.  Left to our own devices, we most certainly will fall into the Pit.

O Mighty God, author of every good thing, implant in our hearts a deep love of Your name. Increase in us the true spirit of devotion and sincere virtue so that we may be supported by You and protected by Your loving care. Through our Lord . . .
Given the Introit we had, with good reason are these words chosen.  Devotion to God is not something that comes from the individual will, at least not completely.  Our wills have been corrupted by sin, so that, left to our own devices, 95% of the time we will not have a devotion towards God.  This is why we ask God to increase that devotion.  God is always willing to save, provided we call on Him.  The calling on Him, that is hard for a soul wounded by pride.  The grace of God transforms that selfish pride into devotion of another, devotion to God.    Through this devotion we have our assurance.

While God also increases that devotion, He gives us real tangible signs of this increase, as our readings make plainly clear.

Brethren: Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ. Knowing that Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Epistle, Romans 6:3-11)
What I find fascinating about this passage is when Paul states that we know the old man is crucified with Christ.  We know that we are a new creation, called to serve God in the vocation He has outlined for us.  Furthermore, we know that dying with Christ, we will rise again.  Many times we Christians are accused of living a rather blind faith, a trust without a shard of evidence.  This is not the Catholic faith.  If we were saved, what were we saved from?  We were saved from sin.  If sin no longer has dominion over us because of this salvation, what are we to do?  We are to do the works of God.  When we struggle with sin, we should take great consolation in the fact that the victory over sin has already been won, we only need attach ourselves to that victory.  

This is a truth beyond all truths.  Many times you will hear the saints such as St. Cyprian speak of the deep struggles he had with sin.  He overcame those sins not through mortification and fasting, important as those were.  He did not overcome his sin through all the good works he did, great as they were.  He overcame his addiction to sin because he finally realized that Christ had conquered those sins on the Cross.  All he had to do was to accept that fact with his full mind, body, and soul, and boldly strive in that victory.

Yet why do people fall away, knowing this truth?  If we know anything about human nature, we will frequently prefer a lie to the truth.  In our pride, we believe "we got this."  We don't need Christ conquering our sin, we can win our own victory.  Salvation history from Adam is full of this truism, that given a choice, more often than not men prefer to think they are able to handle things on their own, instead of just accepting that the victory has already been won.  This cannot be.  Rather than focusing on our own pride, we should turn to the Lord, recognizing and uniting ourselves to his victory.  If we stay close to the victorious one, we too shall triumph.

In those days again, when there was great multitude and they had nothing to eat; calling his disciples together, he saith to them: "I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way: for some of them came from afar off." And his disciples answered him: "From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness?" And he asked them: "How many loaves have ye?" Who said: "Seven." And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, he broke and gave to his disciples for to set before them. And they set them before the people. And they had a few little fishes: and he blessed them and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled: and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand. And he sent them away.  (Gospel, Mark 8:1-9)
When reading this Gospel, it is best to understand the context.  In the context, we find the mindset of today's liturgy being followed.  Why did Christ have compassion on this multitude?  Chapter 7 tells us that this discourse originally began in Jerusalem, after the Pharisees were rebuked over their views on ritual purity, in which they had distorted the law into a hyper-ritualistic creed, following the exact letter but forgetting the Spirit.  After this, Christ went away to Tyre and Sidon, many miles away.  The multitudes, so impressed with the teaching of Jesus, pursued him in a rather gigantic procession to Tyre and Sidon to hear more from Him.  This involved traveling all day and listening for 3 days to Christ speaking.

This is why Christ was so moved with compassion.  They were the ones calling on the Lord.  They were the ones who knew He offered the truth.  Christ wanted to show them that He will take care of them, fulfilling their needs.  Yet resources were limited.  The Apostles certainly weren't planning on having to cook for four thousand people!  They had enough food for themselves.

In response to this, Christ shows what he can do with little.  With just a few loaves and fishes, the entire multitude is fed.  Yet we know the purpose of Christ's miracle was not merely to satisfy temporal needs.  Ultimately, the hunger being quenched would be a spiritual one.  It is almost as if Christ wanted to say to the crowd:  "See how I have provided much out of little for your mere physical needs.  Will I not give you even more for the needs of your soul, which trump any physical need?"  

I believe at this time we are reminded of the beginning in the Introit.  We "cry" to the Lord.  This cry happen with humility.  We may not cry out with great knowledge or wisdom.  We may not even cry out boldly.  It might be a simple sobbing cry in our bed at 4am.  Yet presenting that small cry to the Lord, He does great things with it.  That 5% of the time we may turn to the Lord (typically when in grave danger) He turns into a life of continually calling upon Him.  The small amount of bread and wine we bring to the altar at Mass is transformed into the Eucharist.  That one reception of a host which has the appearance of simple bread is enough to satisfy every single desire, if we only let it.

This is ultimately the message of today's liturgy.  We need only approach the Lord continually with our pittance of offering in faith.  If we do this, Christ will transform that small offering into something grand.  He will fulfill our every desire that moment we turn to Him with almost nothing.  This is the assurance of salvation the Psalms speak of.

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