Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sexagesima Sunday


The word of God is compared, by the Prophet Jeremias, to a hammer which crushes hearts as hard as rocks, and to a fire that dries up the swamps of vice, and consumes inveterate evil habits (Jer.23: 29). The Psalmist compares it to thunder that makes all tremble, a storm-wind that bends and breaks the cedars of Lebanon, that is, proud and obstinate spirits; a light that dispels the darkness of ignorance; and a remedy that cures sin (Ps. 28:3-5, 118:105). St. Paul compares it to a sword that divides the body from the soul, that is, the carnal desires from the spirit (Hebr. 4: 12), the Apostle James to a mirror in which man sees his stains and his wrongs (Jam. 1: 23), the Prophet Isaias to a precious rain that moistens the soil of the soul and fertilizes it (Isaias 55: 10-11) and Jesus Himself compares it to a seed that when it falls on good ground, brings forth fruit a hundredfold (Luke 8: 8). One single grain of this divine seed produced the most marvellous fruits of sanctity in St. Augustine, in St. Anthony the Great, in St. Nicholas of Tolentino, and others; for St. Augustine was converted by the words: "Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy" (Rom 13: 13); St. Anthony by the words: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matt 19:21) whereas Nicholas of Tolentino was brought to Christian perfection by the words: "Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world" (1 John 2:15).

How should we prepare ourselves to be benefited by the word of God?
We must be good, well-tilled soil, that is, we must have a heart that loves truth, desires to learn, and humbly and sincerely seeks salvation; we must listen to the word of God with due preparation and attention, keep the divine truths we have heard, in our heart, frequently consider and strive to fulfill them.

What should be done before the sermon?
We should endeavor to purify our conscience, for, as St. Chrysostom demands: "Who would pour precious juice into a vessel that is not clean, without first washing it?" We should, therefore, at least cleanse our hearts by an ardent sorrow for our sins, because the spirit of truth enters not into the sinful soul (Wisdom 1: 4). We should ask the Holy Ghost for the necessary enlightenment, for little or no fruit can be obtained from a sermon if it is not united with prayer; we should listen to the sermon with a good motive; that is, with a view of hearing something edifying and instructive; if we attend only through curiosity, the desire to hear something new, to criticize the preacher, or to see and to be seen, we are like the Pharisees who for such and similar motives went to hear Christ and derived no benefit therefrom: “As a straight sword goes not into a crooked sheath, so the word of God enters not into a heart that is filled with improper motives". We should strive to direct, our minds rightly, that is, to dispel all temporal thoughts, all needless distraction, otherwise the wholesome words would fall but upon the ears, would not penetrate the heart, and the words of Christ be fulfilled: "They have ears, and hear not".

How should we comfort ourselves during the sermon?
We should listen to the sermon with earnest, reverent attention, for God speaks to us through His priests, and Christ says to them: "Who hears you, hears me" (Luke 10:16). We must listen to the priests, therefore, not as to men, but as to God's ambassadors, for every priest can say with St. Paul: "We are ambassadors for Christ, God, as it were, exhorting by us" (2 Cor.5:20). "If," says St. Chrysostom, "when the letter of a king is read, the greatest quiet and attention prevails, that nothing may be lost, how much more should we listen with reverence and perfect silence to the. word of God?" The word of God is, and ever will be, a divine seed, which, when properly received, produces precious fruit, by what priest soever sowed; for in the sowing it matters not what priest sows, but what soil is sowed. Be careful, also, that you do not apply that which is said to others, but take it to yourself, or the sermon will be of no benefit to you. Are you free from those vices which the preacher decries and against which he battles? then, thank God, but do not despise others who are perhaps laboring under them, rather pray that they may be released and you preserved from falling into them. Keep also from sleeping, talking, and other distractions, and remember, that whoever is of God, also willingly hears his word (John 8:47)

What should be done after the sermon?
We should then strive to put into practice the good we have heard, for God justifies not those who hear the law, but those who keep it, (Romans 2:13) and those who hear the word of God and do not conform their lives to it, are like the man who looks into the mirror, and having looked into it goes away, and presently forgets what manner of man he is (Fam. 1: 23-24). To practice that which has been heard, it is above all necessary that it should be kept constantly in mind, and thoughtfully considered. St. Bernard says: "Preserve the word of God as you would meat for your body, for it is a life-giving bread, and the food of your soul. Happy those, says Christ, who keep it. Receive it, therefore, into your soul's interior, and let it reach your morals and your actions."

That food which cannot be digested, or is at once thrown out, is useless; the food should be well masticated, retained, and by the digestive powers worked up into good blood. So not only on the day, but often during the week, that which was heard in the sermon should be thought of and put into practice. Speak of it to others, thus will much idle talk be saved, many souls with the grace of God roused to good, and enlightened in regard to the evil they had not before seen in themselves and in future will avoid. Let us listen to others when they repeat what was said in the sermon. Heads of families should require their children and domestics to relate what they have heard preached. Let us also entreat God to give us grace that we may be enabled to practice the precepts given us.

How much am I shamed, O my God, that the seed of Thy Divine word, which Thou hast sowed so often and so abundantly in my heart, has brought forth so little fruit! Ah! have mercy on me, and so change my heart, that it may become good soil, in which Thy word may take root, grow without hindrance, and finally bring forth fruits of salvation. Amen.

credits: text is taken from the classic "The Church's year" by Fr Goffine. The first drawing originates from the old book by Jacob and John Abbot "Illustrated New Testament" whereas second drawing depicts parable of the Sower in more spiritual and symbolic way and originates from medieval German Missal. The drawing can be interpreted as the manifold fruits of the Word of God such as virtues of virginity, chastity, and conjugality, likening the virgins to the hundredfold fruit, the chaste to the sixtyfold fruit, and the married to the fortyfold fruit, each personified as men and women, often with books, placed in a stylised tree, with Adam and Eve at the base and Christ at the top.