I Have Overcome The World

I Have Overcome The World

5th Sunday after Easter

Just a few days before the Ascension which we will celebrate with joy this coming Thursday, we are reminded of the importance of prayer. The Church takes her cue from the words Our Lord spoke at the Last Supper and which we have heard in today’s Gospel. Ask and you shall receive. Up to now, you have not asked. Ask and receive that your joy may be made full.

As a practical means of putting into practice that command of Our Lord, the first three days of this week are celebrated the Rogation Days, days of special supplication and penance. Each day (with the exception of Tuesday which this year is the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians) we will begin Mass with a procession to the chant of the Litany of Saints, asking the Lord to bless us and to ward off the attacks of evil.

What are the things we should be asking for? First and foremost, all that we need for the salvation of our souls: the theological and moral virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. A petition of particular importance is the grace to see and to understand that this life is passing very quickly and that it has value only inasmuch as its leads to a blessed eternity. Can we pray for material things? Of course, and this is pleasing to God, inasmuch as they are necessary for us and profitable to our salvation. Should we pray for the conversion of all sinners and unbelievers? By all means. Only in Heaven will be see the fruit of our prayers. Most of the souls we helped convert will be made known to us only in eternity.

Prayer is given to us as the great means of salvation, that salvation which is the great work of our lives. If we become souls of prayer everything changes in our lives. Good works become a pleasure, the avoidance of sin becomes second nature. The grace to pray is the easiest of all graces to obtain, for God wishes all men to be saved. He gives all men the ability to pray. Sinners can pray, for the state of grace is not required to pray. And if the sinner, no matter how deep his guilt or the number of his sins, prayers sincerely and perseveringly, he is as certain to obtain the grace of repentance as the rays of the warm sun are sure to drive away the frost.

But the Christian soul in the state of grace has an extra reason for which his prayer is heard. And it is this: God has given us a share in His very nature. We are inserted into the very life of God. We are part of His family, and He hears the prayer of His children. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful, St James tells us (Jam 5:16). This astounding reality is intimated to us in those stunning words of our Lord in today’s Gospel, which a Christian soul cannot hear without emotion: The Father Himself loves you. Not only did He send His Son the flesh to lead us in the ways of peace and salvation, but He loves us! An utterly astounding truth that we will never tire of contemplating. Like so many other words of our blessed Saviour, these fell upon the world like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. The gods of other religions are gods of fiction created by the people groping in the dark. The God of Christianity is the true God who reveals Himself to us. And what does He say? I love you. We are loved by God.

St Peter, in his second epistle, in a passage that we read this morning at Matins and which does not receive the attention it should, summarises this ineffable reality in these terms: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire (2 Pt 1:3-4).

Yes, God has pushed the excess of His love so far as to give us a share in His own nature. We partake of the divine nature through grace, through the sacraments. We have been adopted into the family of God. Let us make a comparison. A poor peasant is chosen by the queen to not only receive favours and be entrusted with titles of honour, but is adopted into the royal family, with full rights as any other member of that family. What would not be the gratitude of such a person? And what would not be their faithful accomplishment of the duties of their new, lofty position? Noblesse oblige, as the French say: with nobility come prerogatives but also duties.

From the start the holy apostles made this abundantly clear: being partakers of the Divine Nature, we can no longer partake of the vices of the world. We are a chosen people, set apart to proclaim His marvels to the world. And the first of those marvels is that, thanks to divine grace, Christians do not live like others. They rise above the selfishness of the flesh and the world to live lives of greater dedication and self-sacrifice. They should be irreproachable in the eyes of the world. Such is the reason for which the Church has consistently challenged those in power, when they are honoured with the name of Christian, to distance themselves from advocating any activity that is contrary to the moral law. A recent case that made headlines around the world is the courageous intervention of the Archbishop of San Francisco, once again admonishing Nancy Pelosi to repent for her advocacy of abortion and, until then, to not receive Holy Communion. Archbishop Cordileone has done us all a favour. He is showing the world how a successor of the apostles deals with powerful leaders who have gone astray and who are causing grave scandal and harm to souls. He is lighting a path for others, a path that is not easy, but the only path worthy of someone who has understood what the true faith is, to what it gives access, to the great dignity of bearing the name of Christian and Catholic. In reality, he is only implementing the pure doctrine of the apostles and reminding Mrs Pelosi to be conscious of her dignity. Those who have been received into God’s family do not support the killing of babies, for any reason. Nor do they support the killing of the elderly and the terminally ill, nor sodomy, nor the corruption of morals in any shape or form.

And so my dear friends, let us become more conscious of our dignity. On these final days before Our Lord’s Ascension, let us read once again those chapters of Our Lord’s farewell to His disciples (14-17 in St John). Nothing is better suited to strengthen and console us in our trials. This discourse contains words of light, of peace, or courage. It tells us what to expect, but most importantly, it opens to us the very Heart of God. As we hear the consolation of those words, we are also mindful of the demands they place upon us. We must love in return. We must give ourselves and all that we are and have. The degree of our sanctity is correlative to the depth of our love for God, and the depth of our love for God is shown by our capacity to be opened up by the needs of others. True religion, St James tells us today, is to visit widows and orphans in their tribulation, to keep oneself undefiled from the world and its sins. (James 1:27)

Let us be renewed in heart. Let us move forward with great confidence in the Lord who opens to us His heart. At the end of chapter 16, He tells the apostles that they are about to be scattered and will leave Him alone. But, He says: I am not alone, for the Father is with me. We all feel alone at times, some more than others. Some are very alone in their struggles, but none like true and valiant pastors of souls. Let them take courage and remember those words: I am not alone, for the Father is with me. Who could ever be alone when God is with them? It matters not how many people are for or against us. All that matters is that God, our God, the true God, is with us.

In Psalm 4, that we chant every night at the office of Compline, we say with the psalmist: In peace I lie down to take my rest, for Thou O Lord, hast singularly established me in hope. Singularly here means: in my solitude. Even though I am alone, the Lord establishes me in hope. I am poor and needy, as we read elsewhere in the psalter. I am alone, but I am with the Lord. I have His love. He loves me. And therefore I have nothing to fear, nothing to apprehend.

What’s more, being part of His family, taking part in His divine nature, His own Mother is mine. Mary Immaculate is there to guide us, to hold us, to console us. This Tuesday we will honour her as our Helper, the one who lends a hand. As our own mothers helped us when we were small – they fed us, they clothed us, they tended our wounds, they helped us grow, they taught us – we were not alone. So now, we are not alone in the ongoing struggle against the powers of darkness. Let them come. We fear not. The victory is already ours. Have confidence, take courage, Our Lord tells us, for I have overcome the world (Jn 16).

Rogation Tide