"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Homily on the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent by Pope St Gregory the Great

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 12, 2011
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It is often asked by some people what spirit it was by which Jesus was led into the wilderness, on account of the words a little further on: Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and again: The devil took Him up into a very high mountain. But in truth, and without any further searching, we may believe it was the Holy Ghost who led Him up into the wilderness. His own Spirit led Him where the evil spirit found Him to tempt Him. How ever, when it is said that He, God and Man, was taken up by the devil, either into a very high mountain or into the holy city, the mind shrinks from believing, and the ears of man tingle when hearing it. Yet we know that these things are not incredible, when we consider certain other things concerning Him. Indeed, the devil is the head of all the wicked, and every wicked man is a member of that body, of which the devil is the head. Was not Pilate a limb of Satan?  Were not the Jews who persecuted, and the soldiers who crucified Christ, likewise limbs of Satan? Is it then strange that He should allow Himself to be led up into a mountain by the head, Who allowed Himself to be crucified by the members? Therefore it is not unworthy of our Redeemer, Who came to be slain, that He should be willing to be tempted. It was meet that He should thus overcome our temptations by His own, even as He came to overcome our death by His own. We ought to know that temptation works under three forms. There is first the suggestion, then the delectation, or pleasure, and, lastly, the consent. When we are tempted, it often happens that we fall into delectation, and even into consent, because in the sinful flesh of which we are begotten, we carry in ourselves matter to favour the attack. But God, when He took flesh in the womb of the Virgin, and came into the world without sin, did so without having in Himself anything of this lusting of the flesh against the spirit. It was possible, therefore, for Him to be tempted in the first stage, namely, suggestion; but there was nothing in His mind, in which delectation could fix its teeth. Thus all the temptation He endured from the devil was without, and none within Him.
If, now, we consider the order of the temptations attacking the Redeemer of the world, we see with what power our Saviour delivered us from the snares prepared for us by the enemy of our" salvation. For, when the old Serpent rose against the first man, the father of the human race, he attacked him with three kinds of temptations, namely, intemperance, vain-glory and avarice. And being thus tempted, he was overcome by the devil, for he gave his consent. When Satan showed to man the forbidden fruit, and persuaded him to eat of it, he attacked him with the weapon of intemperance; then he tempted him with vain-glory, saying that he would be like to God; lastly, avarice was his weapon, since he assured him that he would possess the knowledge of good and evil. For avarice consists not only in the inordinate love of riches, but also in the desire of exaltation; and we are in reality avaricious, when in an ambitious manner we desire to obtain dignities to which we cannot lay claim. This is also the teaching of St. Paul, who, speaking of Jesus Christ, says: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6, 7). The devil, therefore, attacked our first parent with the arrows of avarice, for he awakened in him the desire of exalting himself.
But this tempter, the old dragon, who by his artifice had overcome the first man, was in his turn overcome by another Man, with the very same weapons he had used in former times. For our Redeemer, the Man-God, was assailed by the devil in the same manner as our first parent; first, with the sensual appetite, since he said to Him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Then he tempted Him with vain-glory, asking Him to cast Himself down from a pinnacle of the temple, and so to show that He was the Son of God, saving His life by a miracle. Lastly, he tempted Him with avarice, when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and promised to give them to Him, if falling down He would adore him. But our Saviour overcame this enemy by the same means that He had employed to tempt the father of the human race. And after this defeat he was enchained by our Lord, and forced by Him to go out of our heart by the same door by which he had entered to enslave us. Yet, beloved brethren, there is another lesson contained in this temptation of our Lord. He could cast His tempter into the eternal abyss by one single word, He being the Eternal Word. But He only answered with the commandments contained in Holy Scripture, so as to give us an example of His patience and moderation, instead of a brilliant sign of His almighty power. By this He teaches us that, when our sufferings are caused by the wicked, we should make good use of such persecutions, and be instructed by them, rather than take revenge. But are we not ashamed, when we consider, on one side God’s patience, and on the other our own impatience, when suffering injustice? It often happens, when we are unjustly treated or despised, that anger fills our heart at once. We try to take revenge, as far as lies in our power, and even threaten with a revenge of which we are powerless. Our Lord overcame the temptations of the devil through His patience and meek words. He bore an enemy who deserved the arrows of His justice, and He is thus the more worthy of our admiration and praise, since He was victorious over that enemy by His moderation rather than by the stripes of His anger.
Take notice of the fact that, as soon as the devil left Jesus, Angels came and ministered unto Him. Thereby we are given to understand that there are two natures in Jesus Christ. By the temptation of the devil we know that He was true Man, whilst the coming of the Angels and their ministering to Him, teach us that He is also true God. Let us, then, recognise our own nature in our Saviour, for the devil would not have dared to tempt Him, had he not perceived in Him our humanity. At the same time we bring Him our adorations, for the Angels would not have considered it their duty to minister unto Him, were He not as God exalted over them and all creatures.
This Gospel, calling to our mind the forty days and forty nights of fasting spent by our Lord in the desert, entirely agrees with the fast we observe during this holy season. But why was this number of forty days fasting sanctified? We read in the history of the Israelites that Moses prepared himself for the reception of the Law by fasting forty days; that Elias observed the same fast; that Jesus, before beginning His public life, abstained from food for forty days and forty nights; and lastly, that we also, as far as lies in us, observe this abstinence and fasting during the time of Lent. Though several motives may be set forth to explain this law of the Church, we can say in all truth that, by observing this commandment, we offer to God the tenth part of the year granted to us for satisfying our corporeal necessities. After living solely for ourselves during the course of the year, we now in Lent live for God, offering Him by our abstinence a part of that year. Now, after deducting from the six weeks of Lent the Sundays on which we do not fast, we find that there remain thirty-six days, so to speak, the tenth part of the year that we offer to God. The Lord God, beloved brethen, commands you in the Old Law to offer to Him the tithe (tenth part) of your possessions; it is, therefore, just that you should give Him the tithe of your days. For this reason it is every body s duty to mortify his body, according to his strength, to crucify his desires and subdue his sinful passions, that he may be, as St. Paul says, a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). For we are a living sacrifice when, as long as we live, we mortify the desires of the flesh. Just as the lust of the flesh led us to commit sin, true penance must bring us back to God. Consider, again, that since by the eating of the forbidden fruit we were shut out of heaven, so we must endeavour to re-enter these gates by that temperance and abstinence which will atone for all the offences against God committed by our intemperance.
Yet, let us not think that our fasting will be sufficient to appease God, if it is not accompanied by the merits of almsgiving; for He said to us: Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and harbourless into thy house; when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh (Isa 58:6, 7). This testimony teaches us that the fasting most pleasing to God is the one accompanied by alms offered by our hands, that is, by the love for our neighbour, perfected through works of mercy. Of what soever you deprive yourselves, give it to your poor neighbour, to relieve him; and these goods, of which you deprive yourselves by mortifying your appetite, will re joice your neighbour who is in need. Hear the Lord’s complaint: When you fasted and mourned, did you keep a fast unto Me? And when you did eat and drink, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? (Zech 7:5, 6). Now, we eat for ourselves when the needy has no share in the food we are taking, which, being a gift of God, has been created for all men. And he keeps a fast for himself, who, depriving himself for a time of the food he used to take, preserves it to satisfy his desires later on, instead of giving it to the poor. The prophet Joel exhorts us to sanctify a fast (Joel 1:14), teaching us, if we wish to make our abstinence worthy of God the Almighty, to unite the mortification of our flesh with the practice of other virtues; to refrain from anger and banish hatred from our heart. In vain do we chastise our body, if the mind is not subdued by our victory over sinful passions. God Himself declares this through His prophet: Behold, in the day ofyour fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors. Behold, you fast for debates and strife, and strike with the fist wickedly (Isa 58:3, 4). No injustice is committed when you ask your debtors to pay what they owe you. Yet you easily understand that he, who practises penance, will even abstain from exacting that which is owed to him in justice. When he mortifies himself in this manner and feels real sorrow for his sins, then God will be ready to forgive the debts due to His justice, seeing that for His sake the sinner forgives to others what they owe him in justice.

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