Light In A Dark Place

Light In A Dark Place

20th Sunday after Pentecost

Dearly Beloved,

Today’s Mass opens with an excerpt from the prayer of Azariah in the third chapter of the Prophet Daniel; it is an acknowledgement that we have sinned by violating the commands of God. The present calamity is due, says the sacred author, to the sinfulness of the people. The gravest aspect of that punishment is the taking away of the sacrifices of the temple, the ritual cleansing of the people. For God’s people, nothing could be a greater loss than not being able to celebrate divine worship the way it should be. O Lord, we are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins. Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of firstfruits before Thee, that we may find Thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted.

In their distress, they pray that, even though the sacred rites are no longer performed, God almighty might show mercy on us, accepting our deep sorrow and repentance in place of the ritual sacrifices: As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in Thy sight this day, that it may please Thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in Thee.

Since the Old Testament prefigures the New not only in its teaching but also in its historical events, this attitude is repeated throughout the history of the Church, each time that we find ourselves in a situation of despair due to the disappearance of structures in which we had thought ourselves safe and secure. Our sins often bring down God’s punishment, and when we convert, we can only rely on His merciful love to stoop down and save us. It is the same attitude that inspires the offertory verse in which we hear Psalm 136 telling us of how the Hebrews wept as they sat near the rivers of Babylon, mourning their separation from the promised land and longing to return.

Today we can certainly relate to those feelings. When we read about the golden age of Catholicism and compare the sad spectacle we now have before us with the triumph and glory of other ages not so long ago, we want to sit down and weep, we feel lost. We look for help and it does not come. We wake up each morning, or think we have awoken, hoping that it was all just a nightmare, but the nightmare goes on, and will not relent.

On those days, we should come back to chapter 3 of Daniel and say the prayer of Azariah. And now we follow Thee with all our heart, and we fear Thee, and seek Thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal. with us according to Thy meekness, and according to the multitude of Thy mercies. And deliver us according to Thy wonderful works, and give glory to Thy name, O Lord: And let all them be confounded that shew evils to Thy servants, let them be confounded in all Thy might, and let their strength be broken. And let them know that Thou art the Lord, the only God, and glorious over all the world.

In the communion verse we are given hope: Be Thou mindful of Thy word to Thy servant, O Lord, in which Thou hast given me hope: this hath comforted me in my humiliation. We remind the Lord that He has promised to succour the repentant soul and the repentant nation, and we can only hope that there are enough souls still in our depraved world to soften the heart of our God.

We can hope that we will be like the centurion of today’s Gospel, who had no other title to a hearing on behalf of Our Lord than his faith. He was a Roman, a pagan, and therefore at first sight, not a candidate for God’s mercy. But because he believes, his son is healed. All that is required is some good will on our part, and Divine Grace does the rest. But let’s be careful not to merit the reproach that Our Lord addresses him when he says: Until you see signs and wonders you will not believe. The centurion’s lack of faith was that he wrongly thought Our Lord’s corporal presence was necessary for Him to perform a miracle. To show him the incompleteness of his faith, the Saviour performs the miracle at a distance, manifesting not only His omnipotence but also His omnipresence.

Do we not imitate the centurion’s weakness of faith when we allow ourselves to be so terrified by the evils of the day that we imagine the Lord has no other option but to step in and pull the curtain? In reality, there is no crisis the Lord cannot resolve using the ordinary means He has always employed: authentic reform, true conversion of the hearts, incessant preaching of the truths of faith, the making of saints. The practical consequence of this for us is that we must redouble our efforts at becoming saints, renouncing the world, speaking the truth in season and out of season, when it is convenient and when it is not convenient. When he hear of a so-called right to abortion or to gay marriage or to contraception, we respond by practicing the opposite virtues and repeating the Church’s perennial and unchangeable teaching. When he hear of wayward shepherds promoting such evils and giving a platform to those who promote them, we respond by demanding of those shepherds an account of their stewardship and an apology for the grave scandal they give to God’s people. God’s day will come, when we truly believe and truly begin to become saints.

To conclude, let us, as St Paul admonishes us in the epistle, walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. The days can be evil and dark, and they certainly are, but we who have the true faith must be like lights in the world: And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Pt 1:19).

Burning Furnace