Dom Benedict preached the following homily this morning:
18 October 2015 XXI SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Commemoration of St Luke, Evangelist
“All things are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will: For Thou hast made all things, heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven: Thou art Lord of all.” (Introit, Esther 13)
“O Lord, all things are in thy will”: in the midst of so many frightful things, so many threats, so many tragedies, so much sin and treachery against God and between fellow human beings, so much hatred, so much violence, so much unfaithfulness and forgetfulness of God’s commandments — not just in the world, but even in the bosom of our holy Catholic Church — our only consolation, our only hope, must be in the thought of today’s Introit: “All things are in thy will … Thou art Lord of all.”
Our Lord, of course, does not positively will these things for us, but we live in a world in which — because of free will and the continual fall of man into disobedience — these things are constant reality. No, God does not will these things for us, but because he respects the free will with which he has created us, he can only weep over the tragedies that we inflict upon ourselves.
Yet, in the mystery of his economy, his plan, for us and for our world, “all things [even the mystery of iniquity] work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
Indeed, we are constantly confronted with these things on a daily basis even in our Church. There is fierce, merciless persecution from without: I am thinking especially of the wholesale slaughter of Christians — men, women and even children — at the hands of Islamist fanatics. But, perhaps the most shocking of all, there is treachery against God and his commandments even in the midst of the Church, the Body of Christ.
In our day, we are witnesses to what can only be described as a mass apostasy of Christians in the West. We are witnesses to the advent of a new barbarism, a massive turning away from the very faith which gave birth to Western civilisation, and a turning towards false gods and idols — perhaps not of wood or silver or gold, but nonetheless idols of our own making.
“I marvel,” said Saint Paul to the Galatians, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). Another gospel, which stands in the place of the Gospel of God, fantasies and lying ideologies to which we have enslaved ourselves.
And, most inconceivable of all, in our days we can see this, even amongst the priests and pastors of Christ’s Church, those charged with feeding his lambs, but so often reveal themselves to be mere hirelings, or even the wolves themselves.
“This is Antichrist,” says the Apostle John, “of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world” (I John 4). Antichrist is all that stands in the place of Christ and his Gospel, even we must say with weeping, in the midst of the Church, his mystical Body.
And we know, as Saint Paul warns us in today’s Epistle, that ultimately behind these things stand the powers of spiritual darkness: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Epistle, Eph. 6).
And yet all this, deadly pressures from without and from within, even these things, perhaps, works together for good for those who love God, “according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3)
Yes, even faithlessness and treachery in the Church work together for good, in the loving Providence of God. We must not be frightened or despair for the Church, even when we are confronted on a daily basis with the faults of her children.
Our “refuge from generation to generation”, says today’s Gradual, is in God: it is not in men, not in priests, not in bishops, in councils or synods, and, we must say, no, not even in popes. “Put not your trust in princes,” warns the Psalmist, “in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 145).
“For my part", wrote Saint Gregory Nazianzen,
“if I am to write the truth, my inclination is to avoid all assemblies of bishops, because I have never seen any Council come to a good end, nor turn out to be a solution of evils. On the contrary, it usually increases them.” (Epistle CXXX)
We must love and pray for these our pastors, the successors of the Apostles, in loving communion with them, but we must believe that our salvation, our safety, our security is only in the Lord Jesus Christ. “My soul is in Thy salvation, and in Thy word have I hoped, O Lord” (Communion Antiphon, Ps. 118).
Our Lord Jesus Christ solemnly promised to his Apostles, that his Church would be founded upon solid rock, and that the gates of hell would never prevail, would never stand up to the godly assault of the Church (Matt. 16). “Behold, I am with you all days,” promises Christ, “even unto the end of the age” (Matt. 28).
“The Church, like the moon,” says Saint Ambrose,
“seems to lose light, but she does not. She can be cast in shadow, but she cannot lose her light. For example, the Church is weakened by the desertion of some in time of persecution, but is replenished by the witness of her martyrs … In fact, the moon undergoes a diminution of its light, not however, of its mass, at the same when it seems to give up its light in the course of the month, so that it may borrow from the sun” (Hexameron, book IV, 2, 7).
The sun which gives light to the moon is the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God.
We are assured by our Catholic Faith of the indefectibility and ultimate triumph of the Church, yet we are also warned by the Apostle Paul: “there must be also heresies” among you, yet, in the Providence of God, these are allowed “that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you” (I Cor. 11).
As St Ambrose says, the moon may wane, but she never loses her mass, and she is never ultimately without the light of Christ.
The suffering Church of God, torn asunder by persecution, by heresies, by schisms, is prefigured in the person of that man, “in the land of Hus,
"whose name was Job, simple, and upright, and fearing God: whom Satan besought that he might tempt: and power was given him from the Lord over his possessions and his flesh; and he destroyed all his substance and his children; and wounded his flesh also with a grievous ulcer” (Offertory, Job 1).
As Job, not knowing the plan of God yet trusting and never blaspheming his God, so the faithful sons and daughters of the Church must also trust in the ultimate purpose of God, continually beseeching the Lord, in the words of today’s Collect, “to keep [his] household in continual godliness, that through [his] protection, she may be free from all adversities, and devotedly given to serve thee in good works to the glory of [his] Name.”
Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, was commissioned by Pope Saint John Paul II to write meditations for the Way of the Cross for Holy Week of 2005. The words which Benedict penned for the Ninth Station are among the most striking, poignant, and luminous in all the corpus of his writings. To close this homily, I quote his words in full, because I believe that they help us make sense of the turmoil that we see in the Church, and have hope. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church?
How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words!
How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall!
All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us.
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures.
Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered.
But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.”