Noblesse Oblige

Noblesse Oblige

First Sunday of Advent

Each year at the beginning of Advent, Holy Mother Church turns our eyes towards the great mystery of the coming of the Lord in its triple aspect: His first coming in the humility of the flesh at Christmas, His Second Coming in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, and His coming into the souls of the just by grace. Last week we spoke of the end of time and the glorious coming of the Lord. Soon we will be focusing on the newborn babe of Bethlehem. For now, let’s turn our attention to the coming into the soul by grace.

In many ways, it is the most important of the three. Why? Quite simply because the first coming of the Lord had as its goal to bring that grace to us, and the second coming will find us in peace and rejoicing only inasmuch as we received that grace into our soul during our life on earth. But there is another very important reason for which we need to consider it attentively, namely that the great sin of our time is precisely the denial of grace and of the supernatural order. It began with the materialistic and rationalistic philosophies of the 19th century, gained ground with the modernist heresy, and finally made a move to kill  the Catholic faith with a spirit of compromise with the world. Sadly, the average Catholic today knows almost nothing about his faith. At best, he thinks the Church exists to promote peaceful coexistence among the peoples and protect that environment. A Catholic today is typically, a “nice”  person.

Sadly, however, that is a fatal caricature of what a Catholic should be. A Catholic is one whose soul as stamped at Baptism with the seal of the Most Holy Trinity. He is set apart and consecrated. He is one whose soul has become the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the place where God Himself deigns to dwell, to live among us. You might be thinking: yes, Father, we know all that. But do we? Really? How often do we find ourselves thinking like everyone else of things of this world? How often is our attention really focused on the most astounding truth on the planet, namely that God Himself dwells in us?

The indwelling of God is realised in us through sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is nothing less than a partaking of the Divine Nature, as St Peter already had pointed out: According to His great mercy He hath regenerated us unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: Unto an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled and that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you, Who, by the power of God, are kept by faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pt 1:3-5) … He hath called us by His own proper glory and virtue. By whom He hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world (2 Pt 1:3-4).

Those words Partakers of the divine nature are possibly the most important words in Holy Scripture. They are certainly the origin of the greatest spiritual revolution in history. Our God is not one who from the height of Olympus looks down disdainfully on the affairs of men, nor is he the impersonal force of the universe which allows us to raise ourselves up on a pedestal and pretend that since all things are divine we too are god. No, our God is the one, true transcendent God who is infinitely beyond all His creatures, but who has so loved us that He has stooped down, He has come down to be one of us, not just to show us the way to Himself, but to introduce us into the very life of the Godhead. That, my dear friends, is the most sublime and captivating of all the truths of our faith and which sets us apart from all other religions and all human considerations put together. But, as the French would say, “Noblesse oblige”: the lofty calling has its demands on us and on the way we live. If we fail to consider it attentively, we end up living like the pagans themselves, and then that Latin proverb is realised: Corruptio optimi pessima – the corruption of the best becomes the worst, just as nothing gives off a worse stench than festered lilies.

Whereas if we do live up to our calling and if we do come to realise the relevance of this truth on everything else, then we discover within our lives a unifying principle around which will revolve indeed many distractions of the world, but which will stand like an impregnable tower in a the midst of a storm. In that tower, the stronghold of the true faith and the grace of God, peace and tranquillity remain and stand supreme.

This it is, and this alone, which made Catholics throughout the centuries the unshakeable witnesses to truths that the majority of men either see not or refuse to accept, but which we know to be true and to which we give the utter and full assent of our minds and hearts. This it is that has been the underlying principle in the transformation of the world by Catholicism. Then we can understand too why it is that Catholicism, for the enemies of the Church, had to be deprived of the supernatural spirit, of its orientation towards the Divine life of the soul and towards eternity, why it is that the social Gospel had to replace the true eternal Gospel, why incessant gibberish about the common good of society and the protection of the environment must supersede preaching on the ultimate and eternal truths, why every effort goes into making sure that the Christian people are continually immersed in this-worldliness, to make them forget their dignity. From there it is only a step to make them live like everyone else, for this life and its fleeting pleasures, which in turn, brings them back to the slavery they had left behind when they crossed the Red Sea, were baptised and confirmed in the Holy Spirit and are fed with the most precious Body and blood of the Son of God.

Now all this has very important consequences for us right now, the most important of which is that, in a world that has massively returned to the slavery of sin and is dominated by atheistic ideologies under a legion of names and colours, we Catholics must take great care, in all of our efforts to achieve true justice – be they political, legal, practical… – we must never forget that the Catholic does not change the world without changing himself. He has neither the light nor the courage to change the world unless he is firmly anchored in the faith, and inhabited by the grace of God.

The enemies of the Church know this well, and that is why they strive to allure us out of our stronghold. And that is precisely why we must return to that stronghold, through renewed prayer, spiritual reading, suitable practices of penance ad mortification. Those are the weapons that conquer the world. They are the five little pebbles that David took in his bag along with the sling and with which he killed Goliath who remains the symbol of all worldly powers that seek to destroy God’s people. Like Goliath, the world only seems to be strong. In reality its only strength lies in the cowardice of those who have the power of God in themselves, but fail to use it because they fail to live up to it.

Christian souls, never forget the power you have in you, thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. Guard jealously that treasure of grace in your soul. Do not let the enemy steal it from you through the enticement of the passions, the allurement of error, or the fear of ridicule and persecution. A true Christian does not fear persecution, for a true Christian knows the power of the cross. One truly Christian soul can defy the entire world, because one Christian soul has all the power of the Godhead, and need fear no one, no one at all, be he wayward neighbour, corrupt politician, compromised priest or prelate, or the devil himself.

The collect for today’s Holy Mass reminds us that the only real perils that surround us are those of sin. Sin alone can undermine our lives in this world and steal from us a blessed eternity. The epistle reminds us that our salvation, that very salvation Jesus Our Lord brought to us, is closer now than when we first began to believe. Every day it approaches, we are going full speed towards it, and tomorrow it will be here. Finally, in the Gospel we heard Our Blessed Lord tell us for the second Sunday in a row: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Those divine words put everything into perspective. They remind us of the ephemeral, passing nature of all creation, and of that divine life into which we have been introduced.

O Christian, St Leo the Great will tell us on Christmas night, be conscious of your dignity, and fall not back into the darkness from which you have been set free. When we finally understand that God Himself comes to us, then nothing else matters really. All other things fade away, and then we learn what a blessed thing it is, like the Immaculate Virgin, to wait in silence for the salvation of God. To wait in silence, yes, to wait and pray, as the gradual psalm reminds us today, that His ways may be made known to us, His paths made clear to us, those paths which of necessity lead through the valley of the shadow of death, but only through, not to. They lead ultimately to God Himself who in this life reigns in our soul behind a veil, but who, soon, very soon, will rip open that veil and manifest Himself to us. My dearly beloved, St John tells us, we are now the children of God, and we know that when He shall appear we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is. And every one that hath this hope in him sanctifieth himself, as He also is holy. (cf. 1 Jn 3:2-3).