6th Sunday after Pentecost
This morning at Matins, we were given to read of the exemplary penance of King David after his double crime of adultery and murder. David’s fall was tragic, it was as disgrace. After all he had received from God, he fell into the most abominable of crimes. And so far was he from feeling remorse that God had to send Nathan the prophet to tell him a parable about a rich man who, not wanting to take one of his sheep to offer to a guest, steals the only sheep of a poor man. David is outraged, and justly so. So true is it that we easily see the splinter in our brother’s eye but are oblivious of the beam in our own. But Nathan fears not to reproach the King, and, marvel of Divine grace, David repents and intones the Miserere, that most gracious of psalms that the Church has been singing ever since.
This history is intimately connected with today’s Mass in which we are reminded of the new life brought to us in Baptism and nourished by the Holy Eucharist, foreshadowed by the multiplication of the loaves. Every Christian, like David, is a forgiven sinner who is in need of spiritual nourishment lest he fall back into his old ways. Dead to sin, we must continually nourish within ourselves the life of grace, for life that does not grow, diminishes and falls back into death.
The key to making sure we grow in grace is given to us in today’s collect, in which we ask for the love of God to be infused in our hearts and for an “increase of religion”, unusual expression, but easily understood when we remember that religion is one of the moral virtues. It is a virtue closely related to the cardinal virtue of justice, by which man gives to God his due. In other words, the virtue of religion is that virtue which regulates in us our relationship to God. It therefore dictates to us the proper amount and forms of prayer, adoration, penance, almsgiving.
The virtue of religion is a virtue dear to monks, to anyone who is a “religious”, and who therefore makes his life an act of religion, that is to say, and act of worship to God. St Thomas tells us that the religious offers to God totam vitam suam – his entire life. Being consecrated by vows, the monk’s entire life becomes cultic, that is to say, an act of worship.
But truth be told, religious life is nothing more than the Christian life lived to its utmost consequences, in its totality. Religious profession is only the perfect living out of one’s baptismal vows. What that means is that every baptised Christian is bound to practice the virtue of religion, not only by offering worship to God and receiving the sacraments worthily and regularly, but also by giving the example of virtue, according to their state of life.
We can see that already the apostles had this concern. They perceived that the temptation for those who had been regenerated by the waters of baptism was to go back to Egypt, that is to say, the satisfactions of worldly pleasures and pursuits, whence the insistence in the apostolic writings on the newness of life in Christ, the ineffable gift of grace, the unspeakable honour of belonging to Christ. That is why they consistently warn of the dangers of going back to the idols and the onions of Egypt.
St Paul tells us today that “our old man is crucified with Christ that the body of sin may be destroyed, and that we may serve sin no longer”. What that means is that the Christian can no longer live like everybody else. He can no longer serve idols – by idols, understand the idolisation of the flesh, so prevalent in New Testament times and even more so today. To Christians then, as to Christians now, the apostles cry out: You are dead to all that. Your members are no longer yours. Do not go and hand them over to harlotry or any kind of impurity. You belong no longer to yourself if you have been baptised into Christ. Henceforth you must only live for Him, you must beg Him to increase in you the virtue of religion, that attitude of devotion, thanksgiving and mortification that makes truly great souls, the souls our world needs as models.
To make sure that we have everything we need to march in the ways of the Spirit, the Lord has bequeathed to us the Most Blessed Sacrament, the living Presence of Christ Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. If you feel weak, go to the Eucharist. If you feel the sting of the flesh, go to the Eucharist. If you feel the insidious temptations of pride, go to the Eucharist. If it is envy that torments you, go to the Eucharist. If anger and the desire for vengeance seem to leave you no rest, go to the altar, go to the Living Presence of the Son of God. No one can ever be excused for lack of strength, when the very source of all spiritual energy is in our midst.
The soul that has learned the secret of that Presence can then, as we shall sing in the communion verse, “go round and offer up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation”. It will “sing and chant psalms to the Lord”, psalms of confidence and psalms of victory, because God is with us and we have nothing to fear.
Indeed “the Lord is the strength of His people and the protector unto salvation of those who have been anointed” with the Holy Ghost, that is to say us, who are “a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people who must declare the power of the One who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. In time past were were not a people, but now we are the people of God. We had not obtained mercy, but now we have obtained mercy” (1 Pt 2).