13th Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s introit, we ask God not to forget us, not to forget the covenant He has established with us, the word which He has sworn, and of which He will not repent. The text is taken from Psalm 73, one of those plaintive cries the people of Israel sent up to Heaven while under growing pressure from foreign nations:
O God, why hast thou cast us off unto the end: why is Thy wrath enkindled against the sheep of thy pasture?… As with axes in a wood of trees, Thy enemies have cut down the gates of Jerusalem, with axe and hatchet they have brought it down. They have set fire to Thy sanctuary: they have defiled the dwelling place of Thy name on the earth. How long, O God, shall the enemy reproach: is the adversary to provoke Thy name for ever? … Deliver not up to beasts the souls that confess to Thee: and forget not to the end the souls of Thy poor. Have regard to Thy covenant …. (Ps 73)
But a question arises: does God forget? Can God forget? Of course He cannot forget. As He so lovingly says in Isaiah, Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? and if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee (Is 49:15). So why do we ask God not to forget, unless it is to remind ourselves, lest we forget. And what do we so easily forget? Those untold benefits and graces of God, which He has never ceased to pour forth upon us since the day of our conception in our mother’s womb. We are so easily absent-minded when it comes to the things we take for granted, but shouldn’t. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all he hath done for thee, as we sing in Psalm 102.
Lack of gratitude often entails loss of grace. Such is the great lesson of today’s Gospel. Of the ten lepers healed by Our Blessed Lord, only one returns to give thanks. And the Lord says to him: Thy faith has saved thee. What does this mean if not that the others were lost? They were healed, but because they failed to give glory and thanks to God, they lost the benefit of the Divine Goodness, and perhaps God Himself.
This becomes all the more relevant when we consider that the healing of the lepers is symbolic of the sacrament of penance. Leprosy in the Bible always signifies sin. So the ten lepers are ten people in a state of mortal sin who come to the Lord to be forgiven. The Lord says: Go and show yourselves to the priest, says Our Saviour. Indeed, in order to be forgiven our sins, we must show ourselves to the priest; we must unveil ourselves before him, not hiding even the most secret sins of our soul. By showing our soul to the priest, we receive forgiveness for our sins.
But after confession, we must take care to give thanks to God for His goodness and mercy. Forgiveness is not due to us. When we were dead in our sins, there was literally nothing we could do to save ourselves. God stepped in to save. When we become fully conscious of what we have been saved from, namely the awful separation from God in eternal fire, then our hearts must overflow with gratitude. With a great and loud voice (magna voce) he gave thanks to God, says the sacred text. We must not be ashamed to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to God. Gratitude, true, deep gratitude, is the gateway to further graces. For just as God despises the soul who, like a spoiled brat thinks that everything is its due, so He is moved by the humble soul that knows full well its utter unworthiness, and can only weep tears of heartfelt appreciation for so much undeserved attention.
With the theme of gratitude, today’s liturgy also presents the theme of the Covenant between God and His people, and God’s mercy in reestablishing that covenant when it is broken by our sins. Just as in the Old Testament, the Jews broke faith with God and were each time chastised, so in the New Covenant there are periods in which God’s people turn themselves away, seemingly en masse, from God. It has happened numerous times in the past, and each time God sends a great saint or several of them to wake the people up, to call them back to repentance. God remembers His covenant, and restores all things.
But we also know from Revelation that the ultimate trial of the Church, the final breaking of the Covenant, will not be followed by a historical restoration, but by the Second Coming of Christ Our Lord. The final trial of the Church will end in apparent annihilation of the faith and the Church, when the anti-Christ is revealed. St Paul speaks of this in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (ch. 2).
Unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god—… And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord (Jesus) will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved. Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned.
It is an awful perspective that we are given there, but the apostle himself teaches us how to make ready against it, when he writes shortly thereafter: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. In other words, it is fidelity to tradition that keeps us from being deceived by the anti-Christ. It is actually the Church which prevents his coming, as long as She is faithful. … And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. But the one who restrains is to do so only for the present, until he is removed from the scene.
So it is when the Church, and by this is understood shepherds and faithful alike, so remove themselves from Tradition, when they allow themselves to be deprived of their Traditions, then the path is open for the anti-Christ. Here we see the folly of any effort to adapt the Church and her liturgy to the modern world, for by doing so, the path is laid open for the “lawless one, the son of perdition”. St Thomas, in replying to the question as to whether there should be changes in the law, quotes an ancient decretal which surprises anyone who has come to know St Thomas’ usual discretion and moderation: “It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old” (Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 97, a.2, sed contra)
What that means for us, my dear Friends, is that if we would wage war against the enemies of Christ, our task is very simple. Hold fast to Tradition. It is not I who say it, but St Paul the Apostle Himself. As soon as one allows oneself to be detached from what has been handed down, one exposes oneself to the mystery of iniquity.
And if we have, in the past, allowed ourselves to be filled with the euphoria of novelty (which St Pius X tells us is one of the causes of the modernist heresy), it is time for us to run back to Our Blessed Lord, like the Ten Lepers, and cry out: Jesus, Master, have mercy on me! And when we have been reconciled to the Truth and to the past that is the vehicle of Truth, let us come back with a loud voice, giving thanks to God. And may that loud voice of witness be heard loud and clear throughout the world. For everyone who has come to know the truth should speak out.
St Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast we celebrated this week, and who lived and died in a situation that we are perhaps not far from seeing again soon, said: “In the face of such strong attacks by the enemies of the Church of God, are we to remain inactive? Is that all we can do, complain and cry? NO! Everyone of us has a holy obligation to build a trench and personally hurl back the assaults of the enemy.” (St Maximilian Kolbe)
So be it. May divine fortitude be given to all of us in this age of spreading apostasy, and may we be found persevering in compunction for our sins, and in gratitude for God’s unfailing love. Amen.