Monday, August 27, 2018

“They That Are Christ’s Have Crucified Their Flesh with the Vices and Concupiscences”

Monastic authors steeped in lectio divina often bear witness to the “liturgical providence of God.” Experience confirms again and again that the texts offered for us in the sacred liturgy, especially the fixed traditional texts, furnish a key to understanding what is going on in our personal lives at the moment, in our immediate community, in the Church at large, and in the world. The combination of proper antiphons, orations, and readings comes to us from without and presents a message that the attentive preacher or practitioner of lectio divina can tune into. As Dom Mark Kirby writes: “The man who trusts in the liturgical providence of God will never be without a glimmer of light in the night, a spark of fire in the cold, a cup of cold water in the heat, a signpost on the road.”

There are times when the message can be rather subtle, requiring well-trained ears. But there are other times when it seems as if Our Lord is positively whacking us over the head with the obviousness of His message to the Church. One such occasion was surely yesterday’s Mass for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, with readings and orations that the Church has proclaimed on this Sunday for 1,500 years or more — and still does, wherever the Roman Rite endures in its classical form.

The Epistle of the Mass is taken from Galatians, a letter of ever-growing relevance in the ecclesiastical situation in which we find ourselves today (one thinks of such luminous passages as “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” and “When Cephas [Peter] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed”), and more particularly, from chapter 5, with its famous contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit:
Brethren: Walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh: for the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another, so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the spirit is: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences.
As each day brings with it fresh revelations of clerical corruption in high places — indeed, in the very highest place of all, the seat of Cephas in Rome, whence proceeds a Gospel other than the one Christ and His apostles preached to us — we are comforted and strengthened by hearing these uncompromising words of St. Paul, who assures us that whoever does these works of the flesh, as well as they who approve or support those who do them or fail to take action against them, cannot be acting by the Spirit of Christ. (Indeed, as the Apostle teaches in Romans 1:32, with a nod to the death penalty: “Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.”)

They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences. On the very Sunday of the Viganò revelations, this is the message of liturgical providence for the Church in the United States of America, in the Vatican, and everywhere. They that are truly Christ’s will live a mortified life of battle against disordered concupiscence, striving for holiness in a relentless military campaign against interior vices and against the external manifestations of vice over which they have any control, especially if they have been given positions of authority by God.

And lest we rely on our own strength or on that of any earthly protector, the Collect of the Mass and the Gradual teach us where our victory will come from:
Keep, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy Church with perpetual peace; and because the frailty of man without Thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by Thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation. Through our Lord.
The Gradual of this day’s Mass tells us soberly and simply:
It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in man. V. It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes.
The Introit cries out: “Behold, O God, our protector, and look on the face of Thy Christ”! Many are they who feel like sheep abandoned by their supreme shepherd, abandoned to the wolves. At times like this, we feel and we know that God is our sole protector. Because He is looking on the face of His Christ, His well-beloved Son on whom His favor rests, and seeing us in Him, He loves us and will never abandon us.

In The Saint Andrew Daily Missal from 1945, each Sunday is preceded by a lengthy commentary on the readings and prayers of that day in the Divine Office and in the Mass. I am struck by two things about these commentaries: first, how tough they are (the doctrine is clear, its moral demands are stated with no compromise, and salutary rebukes are offered to the reader as an examination of conscience); second, how apropos they are to the tragic situation of the Church today, since they frequently diagnose the very diseases of intellect, will, and passions that harass us on all sides.

Here is part of the commentary offered for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
St. Gregory says: “There are men, all athirst for passing joys, who are ignorant or indifferent where eternal blessings are concerned. Poor wretches! They congratulate themselves on possessing the good things of this life without regretting those of the world above, which they have lost. Fashioned for light and truth, they never lift up the eyes of the soul; never betray the smallest desire or longing for the contemplation of their eternal home. Giving themselves over to the pleasures among which they are thrown, they bestow their affection upon a dreary place of exile as if it were their fatherland; and surrounded by darkness, they are full of rejoicing as if they were illumined by a brilliant light. On the other hand, the elect, in whose eyes fleeting goods are of no value, seek after those for which their souls were made. Kept in this world by the bonds of the flesh, each, none the less, is carried in spirit beyond it while making the wholesome resolve to despise the passing things of time and to desire the things which endure for eternity.”[2]
In a rare instance of alignment of liturgical planets, the readings of yesterday’s Ordinary Form Mass, for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), deliver the same message.

The first reading shows Joshua (Jesus) summoning all the tribes, their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers, and asked them whom they will serve — the true God, or the gods of the nations round about. In other words, accommodation to the world, or fidelity to God the revealer? The people respond:
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.”
This is the state of slavery St. Paul is describing with his “works of the flesh.”

The Sunday psalm declares:
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
The second reading, Ephesians 5:21–32, affirms traditional Catholic doctrine on marriage, with a strong emphasis on its heterosexual essence as a reflection of the relationship of Christ and the Church, with the Church being subordinate to Christ, who calls her to be “holy and without blemish.”

The Gospel, from John chapter 6, begins right after the Lord Jesus has finished His discourse about the Eucharist as the true flesh and blood of the Son of Man: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” This saying is indeed hard — like the sayings of Jesus about divorce, about celibacy, about welcoming the little children, and about the need for chastity and purity if we would enter the kingdom of heaven. In words that uncannily parallel those of the Epistle in the usus antiquior, Jesus says:
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe, and the one who would betray him — the lay people, religious, deacons and priests, and bishops, and the Judas in each generation, in whom the features of the Antichrist yet to appear are glimpsed as in a dark mirror.

May the striking liturgical providence of God, displayed on this Sunday of infamy, August 26, 2018, be an aid for us, a confirmation, a consolation, and a challenge, as we strive to reject Satan and his pomps and the works of the flesh, and cleave ever more to Christ the Head of the Church, the gardener who makes the fruit of the spirit grow within and around us.

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