3rd Sunday after Easter
In today’s oration Holy Church prays for the light of truth to be given to those who have gone astray from the path of holiness and justice. What does this mean if not that the light of truth is necessary in order to live in God’s grace? We are told nowadays that each person has his/her own truth, that being true to themselves is all that matters. The fact of the matter is that “our” truth has to be in conformity with the truth, under pain of being no truth at all. And if we are not in the truth, we will be led astray from the path of holiness. There can be no sanctity and no salvation but in the truth, for salvation comes from and in the truth.
This past week we celebrated the feast of St Peter Canisius, who, even though Dutch, is called the second apostle of Germany because of his efforts to bring back to the fold the souls who had been led astray by Luther’s errors. In the oration for his feast as can be found in the traditional missal, we might be somewhat stunned to read this prayer – and if we are, it just shows how brainwashed we have become by the modern ecclesiastical Newspeak. The oration then asks that through the intercession of St Peter Canisius, “those who are in error may be brought to repentance and that the faithful persevere in confession of the truth”. That those in error may be brought to repentance. The very expression tells us much about error and the frequent complicity of the heart which gives into it. The human mind is made for truth. By its very nature, it seeks it and finds rest only when it has found it. If, having come to know the truth, a person is led back into error, some sin has been the cause of that darkness which takes over the mind and the heart. As for those who by the grace of God have not fallen from the truth, we are reminded that we need God’s grace to persevere in the confession of that truth. It is indeed demanding to stand up for the truth, especially in a world of lies, lies which sadly penetrate the Church. From the rejection of God’s revealed word, to the distortion of science and the twisting of history, we are continually fed lies which hide behind facades of truth.
In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith, proclaims, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four….. How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” But his enemy O’Brien, putting him to torture replies: “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder.” “Political language,” wrote Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And that’s where we are today, the only difference being that even representatives of the Church play games with the truth, trying to give solidity to pure wind.
In that context, it is very easy to become confused, which is no doubt the very reason for which Pope Benedict XVI in his last testament wrote emphatically: Do not be confused! There is no confusion for those who are in the truth, and that truth is found in God’s revelation through Our Lord Jesus Christ to the holy Catholic Church. To hold firm to the truth, however we need God’s grace which is given only to the humble.
Nevertheless, even those who are blessed to hold to the truth know their hours of dark desolation. This is inevitable. It is actually part of the path to God. We must be led through the tunnel of faith. At such times we need to be put on guard, as we are today by St Paul, against the temptations that befall those who find themselves in spiritual desolation, in particular those of the flesh. It is easy to not fall into those sins when spiritual consolation abounds, but when it recedes, we can feel drawn to go back and find satisfaction in the fleeting consolations of sin. No, says St Paul, stand firm. You must stand, for upon your perseverance – even in those moments when you think you are alone and nobody sees you – upon your perseverance in God’s friendship depend many graces that God wants to give to souls by means of your fidelity. The world and the flesh will fight against the soul, but the soul, strengthened by the power of the resurrection, is stronger than they, if only it will avail itself of that grace.
Perhaps this is the reason for which, halfway through our paschal joy, today’s Gospel comes to cast a bit of sadness into our souls. We hear Our Blessed Lord say, as the apostles heard Him during the Last Supper: In a little while you will see me no longer (Jn 16:16). Like the apostles, we may be wondering what is meant by this little while before we shall no longer see Him and then again a little while and we shall see Him.
Our Lord was referring to His imminent disappearance when he would be betrayed and put to death. He would be seen no more by them and their hearts would be filled with sadness. But again a little while, three days to be exact, and they would see Him again to their hearts’ content. But the words are also applicable to the time He spent with them after His Resurrection before the Ascension. He would disappear from before their eyes, for He had gone to prepare a place and He would return to take them so that they may be with Him. They would see Him again in eternity.
This passage is also applicable to the trials of the Church. There are periods of glorious conquests for souls followed by periods of decadence and turbulence when the Church seems to have succumbed to the forces of evil. The world rejoices when Christ disappears, when His truth is no longer preached. The world rejoiced when He suffered His passion. It rejoices every time Christ suffers again in His saints, in His Church, when it seems that the lights have been extinguished and there are hardly any more holy souls, when the people cry out for the bread of the truth, and it is refused to them, when the sheep wander because the shepherds are concerned only with themselves or with money or with pleasing the world. The world rejoices especially when it succeeds is provoking the fall of the saints, as it rejoiced in Judas’s apostasy, and still does, as it rejoiced in Peter’s denial, and was dismayed at his conversion. Periodically throughout the history of the Church we have these situations of apparent blackout, and each time the world rejoices. The world rejoices because it cannot bear the truth, it cannot bear the practice of virtue, which is a reproach to its own ways.
And so my dear friends, let us stand firm in the truth, reminding ourselves of that most comforting word of Our Lord which concludes today’s Gospel: you now have sorrow: but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice. And your joy no man shall take from you (Jn 16:22). Yes, we have sorrow now. We go forth sowing seed in tears, as Psalm 125 reminds us. We sow the seed of truth. We repeat over and over again the truths about the Triune God, the divinity of Jesus and of His Church, the necessity of the sacraments for salvation, the moral code; in season and out of season we remind everyone of the mortal danger of sin, of those sins especially which have such a strong hold on the present day world (abortion, contraception, sodomy, the corruption of the youth, euthanasia), the repeated lies to lead souls astray. We go repeating the truth, we go on sowing, knowing that the seed will take root and the harvest will rise. Perhaps too we must be the seed that dies before the wheat can grow. And so we soldier on, with those divine words ringing in our hearts, knowing that it will only be a modicum, a short time, before the Lord will return: I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice. And your joy no man shall take from you.
Our blessed Saviour compares the anguish of the disciples during the time of darkness to the pangs of childbirth. When a woman comes to the moment of childbirth, she is sad because of the intense suffering she must undergo, but that sadness is short-lived because the birth of a child makes her forget the pain she had before. Our Lord uses an analogy here that really only half of humanity can relate to. We men only perceive birth pangs from the outside, we have no direct experience of it. But the analogy is a meaningful one nonetheless, for we are thereby given to understand that the sufferings of the Church, in imitation of Christ, are intense, often sudden and escapable, and above all, they are what allows the birth of souls.
St Therese of Lisieux understood this well when she wrote that she had to feed her children, meaning her spiritual children by her generosity in bearing sufferings, for only suffering gives birth to souls, as she writes. During passiontide we reflected quite a bit on this notion of suffering. Again here in our paschal joy, we are reminded that it is precisely by accepting the anguish of our daily crosses that we obtain the grace of spiritual paternity or spiritual maternity.
I will see you again. Those are words that we need to remind ourselves of each time we find ourselves in the throes of desolation. I will see you again. I do not leave you orphans. I go to prepare a place for you. In the meantime, we must simply trust that He has the situation in control, that nothing happens which He has not allowed for our good and the ultimate good of all.
May Mary Immaculate, whose month commences tomorrow, she who is the Mother of Divine Providence, the shining Star of the Sea, guide our every step in fidelity to truth, and may she lead us safely to the port of eternal salvation. Amen