(Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P. was born in 1968 in Puerto Rico, but grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the middle of five kids. After a bried stay in the navy he attended the University of Utah, where he met his first Dominicans. He was baptized Catholic but had never gone to Mass. After college, her entered the Catholic Church and was confirmed at the Dominican Newann Center in Salt Lake City in 1990. Few years later in 2000, he entered the novitiate in Oakland, California. He was ordained priest in May 31, 2008, the Feast of the Visitation. He is presently residing at the Monastery and serves as chaplain to the Nuns).
Readings: 24th Week, OT (Cycle C)
Theme: Acknowledgment of Shame
Homilist: Fr, Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Shame” has become, ironically enough, a shameful word in our days. Society decries “shame” as a vestige of a puritanical society, of by-gone norms and values, and revels in what was forbidden, not because it was shameful, but because it is not good for us.
Ironically, modern society still uses “shame”, perhaps more so today than in times past. Every thought, act and policy must be measured against the rule of political correctness and a false notion of “tolerance.” All those things which fail to fit within this narrow ruler are brought to public shame. “He is intolerant. She is a hatemonger. He is so close-minded. She is prudish and uptight. You’re not one of those Catholics, are you?”
But we forget the real sense, the true purpose of shame, and that is, conversion. Without conversion, without a turning to God, to what is good, shame is corrupted into despair, into envy, into jealousy, into self-hatred. And in order for shame to arrive at conversion, there is one intermediate step in between, and that is humility, especially humility before God.
Our Holy Father Francis recently preached, “We look at the wisdom of Christ and our ignorance, at his omnipotence and our weakness, at his justice and our inequity and at his goodness and our badness. We ask for the grace of shame, the shame that comes from a continuous conversation of mercy with him, the shame that makes us blush before Jesus Christ."
The sense of shame leads to the virtue of humility, he said, and a recognition that each Christian "carries a great treasure in fragile, inadequate, insufficient earthen vessels."
From his utter shame, in his utter debasement, King David composed one of the most beautiful psalms, the Miserere, with the powerful confession of hope: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, You will not spurn. These words are so beautiful, that the priest paraphrases them at every Mass, after giving thanks to God for the bread and wine, he silently prays, “We humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord Jesus welcomes those who live in shame are welcome them and dines with them. The purpose of this is not to keep them in shame, but to help them realize that there is a way out of that shame, through humility, to reconciliation with God, to a restoration of their dignity. The Pharisees seem to delight more in keeping the sinners and tax collectors in shame, so that they themselves, the Pharisees, would be exalted in the eyes of men and God.
And so Our Lord gives them the three-fold lesson for today: the Good Shepherd looking for the one sheep out of a hundred; the woman who lost one coin out of ten; and the story of the Prodigal Son. In each parable, we notice God’s solicitude and concern for sinful man, and how He delights at every lost treasure recovered, most of all, when one of those treasures is a child of God.
But there is another theme common in all three, and one that most of us don’t notice at first blush: the person representing God in each parable acts in what society might consider a shameful or foolish manner. First, Our Lord asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Well, the answer is that NONE of them would do it. Nobody would take such a risk! Any shepherd that did so would be called a fool, bringing shame upon himself. Yet, God humbles Himself for the sake of that one sheep.
Then, the woman rejoices over what others might consider nothing, a mere coin, a mere day’s wage, and the invites everyone over to celebrate? What a foolish woman! Yet God is happy to play the fool, to humble himself in order to recover what for others might be something of small and insignificant worth, but which is priceless in His eyes. And that thing is you.
Finally, we arrive at the Prodigal Son. One of the things that most people overlook when reading this parable is not that the Father forgives, but that the Father humbles himself, makes himself the old fool so readily, out of love for his lost son. According to cultural norms of the time, an old man was considered a dignified person, worthy of respect and honor. Old men did not normally run places, with their robes hiked up, bare legs showing. Imagine your father running after you in his bathrobe, with his robe hiked up. We would say of either father, “What an old fool! Does he not know he is bringing shame on himself?” In each case presented by parable, God humbles Himself, in order to recover what was lost. The shame his actions bring mean nothing to him, if it means bringing the Prodigal Son home.
As our brother St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Christ therefore chose poor people for his parents -- people nevertheless perfect in virtue, so that none of us should glory in the mere rank or wealth of our parents. He led the life of a poor man, to teach us to set no store by wealth. He lived the life of an ordinary man, without any rank, to wean men from an undue desire for honors. Toil, thirst, hunger, the aches of the body – all these he endured to encourage men, whom pleasures and delights attract, not to be deterred from virtue by the austerity a good life entails.
He went so far as to endure even death… And lest any of us might dread to die even a shameful death for the truth, he chose to die by the most shameful death of all, by crucifixion.”
What shame is there in shame, then? It would seem the only shame would be to be shameless! For shame, if it be good, leads to humility, which leads to confession and conversion, which leads to a restoration of friendship and sonship with God. Only the Devil feels no shame, only the Devil has no potential for humility, and thus for conversion, for turning back to God.
Let us, then, with humble and contrite hearts always and everywhere be ready to acknowledge our shame and our sin before God, who did not disdain to take on our human condition, even our shame, unto Himself, for His glory and our own.
Readings: 22nd week, OT
Theme: On Humility
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
When I was first getting into reading the Church Fathers, I was struck by a certain phrase: The Church as Vera Israel, that is, the Church as the True Israel. That sounds pretty cool! In today’s Gospel, we get a strong sense of that shift from one covenant to another. Yet, the older I get, the more I come to wonder if the Church Fathers weren’t also paying us a backhanded compliment sometimes. Instead of being so proud of being the TRUE Israel, aren’t we sometimes “Truly Israel,” warts and all, like the Pharisees in the Gospel?
What do I mean by this? I think sometimes we see ourselves as privileged, and interpret being part of God’s people as somehow putting us above a little fraternal or divine correction once in a while. We see things OUR way and see nothing wrong with that. Sure, we may claim to ask God’s will be done, but we might mutter under our breath something like “Thy will be done… as long as it’s done according to MY idea of Heaven.”
Let me give an example: about a hundred years ago, a certain Cardinal Merry del Val had a certain, not necessarily enmity or rivalry, but disagreement with one bishop Della Chiesa. The young Merry del Val leapfrogged over the older Della Chiesa in the diplomatic corps. As Secretary of State under Pope St. Pius X, Cardinal Merry del Val had a fair amount of power, and managed to block bishop Della Chiesa’s appointment as a cardinal. For some reason, Merry del Val did not see him as a fit cardinal and bishop. Eventually, though, St. Pius X did elect him cardinal.
That didn’t stop the machinations, though. Because once Pope St. Pius X died, a new conclave was called, and after much deliberation, now Cardinal Della Chiesa was elected pope on a ballot by one vote. Cardinal Merry del Val insisted that the ballots be checked, however, to ensure that pope-elect Della Chiesa did NOT vote for himself, which would have invalidated the election. After a quick vote check, it turned out he did not, and so Cardinal Della Chiesa became Pope Benedict XV.
And so as the cardinals knelt before the new pope to pay him homage and obeisance, and who would come before Pope Benedict XV, but Cardinal Merry del Val, the man who tried to block his cardinalship and papacy. When he put his hands into the new pope’s, and before Cardinal Merry del Val could say anything, the new pope jestfully quoted the psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” To which Cardinal Merry del Val unabashedly continued, “And it has become a wonder in our eyes!” From then on, they were friends, and Cardinal Merry del Val was appointed to another high office under the new pope, what we would call today the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a rather important role, mind you, hardly a “banishment.”
Brothers and sisters, remember: even a cardinal does not get to tap into God’s knowledge directly. Sometimes, the right person for the job, the one whom God calls to spread His Gospel and act as his agent, might come from the most unlikely source, even our enemies. Pride, dangerous pride, and envy can definitely obscure our vision about our brothers and sisters, obscuring even God’s own Son.. This is what kept the Pharisees, the People of God from hearing God’s message, until eventually even God’s own chosen one, His only Beloved Son, would pay the ultimate price for our pride. Cardinal Merry del Val thankfully was able to swallow his own pride, and actually give thanks to God that he was wrong. How many of us would rejoice if our so-called rival or enemy passed us by for a promotion? Cardinal Merry del Val was not simply a career or professional Vatican bureaucrat – he was truly a humble man and priest, even though he was lifted from a life of simple priesthood to great honors and titles and offices in the Church. Yet he did not change from a humble man.
He learned well under Pope St. Pius X, who exclaimed that “I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor,” and tried to follow this humble pope’s model as well as he could in his own life. His cause for canonization is now even open. This is a living example from the first reading, “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God!”
How can we imitate such a man? Well, for himself, he composed a daily reminder, a beautiful daily call to humility, the Litany for Humility. You are invited to keep it, use it, meditate it, live it. But first, let us kneel humbly together before our God, asking for mercy, that He may give us this great gift, humility.
Litany on Humility
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart ................................................................. Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed ................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved ......................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled ..................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored ..................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised ...................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others ...................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted ................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved .................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated ..................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised......................................................................... Deliver me. Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes .....................................................................Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated ................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten ....................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed ........................................................................ Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged ........................................................................ Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected ...................................................................... Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I ............................................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ......................................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ............. Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside ......................................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ....................................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything ............................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier that I, provided that I may become as
holy as I should .......................................................................................... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Readings: Eccl 1:2, 2: 21-23; Ps 95 : 1-2, 6-9;
Col 3: 1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Theme: Religious Vocation and Response
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
I am going to make a bold claim to you today: there are more than enough vocations. There are enough young men to fill every rectory in this archdiocese, there are enough young women to fill every convent and monastery in this nation, there is a young man for every young woman and a young woman for every young man who seeks sanctity in the bond of Holy Matrimony. So what’s the problem? The problem is not in the vocation, it’s in the response. God has called each and every person here, each and every person in the world to some purpose. It may be great or it may be mundane in the eyes of the world, but it is there. As Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
My brother, my sister, you have been called. Perhaps you have already found the purpose for which God has placed you on this Earth. May you be blessed in it and remain faithful to it to the End of Days! Perhaps you are a wandering pilgrim, searching. Stay searching, stay true to His commandments, and as the psalm for today’s Mass goes, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” As Blessed John Henry Newman tells us, perhaps we will not really understand or know our purpose here. But still we are called down a path, though the light be dim.
The problem is this: we are listening, but not to God; we listen to our media, to our entertainment, to our appetites, to our property – we are listening to all things but God and each other. We have hardened our hearts against Him, not out of open rebellion, but out of fear. We fear what God has called us to, we fear what the other person has to say. We find ourselves in the silence, and we fear silence, not realizing that it is in the silence that we will find God, and we fill our world with noise and distraction. We become so plugged into our electronics and entertainment that it becomes our world. Our brother, our sister, right next to us, we pass them over for the song we hear, the email we send, the text message we receive. All this information, and we completely lose the message.
Let us look at our friend in the Gospel today. What does he do? After our Lord finished preaching about how though five sparrows might be worth two small coins, we are infinitely worth more than all the sparrows in the world, and about relying on God, our friend demands that Jesus compel his brother to share his inheritance with him. It might seem like a decent thing, after all, should we not share? Not at the cost of your soul, no. Greed has entered this man’s heart, and the two brothers are now divided, all over some property that neither one will be able to take with him into the next life. Our friend is listening to the demands of the property, not the demands of charity.
And what is property? What are things? The Russian Dostoevsky wrote well of this enigma of property and things. He tells us, “Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.”
Only God can satisfy. After all these things in the Gospel, our Lord finishes with this valuable lesson: “All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides… for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
All vocations, my brothers and sisters, ALL vocations are built on this truth: that we must seek God, that we must listen to Him, be waiting for Him at all times. All vocations are meant for us, yes, but for others as well. As no husband is for himself alone, as a wife is not for herself alone, neither is any Christian, any priest, any religious. We are for God first, then for each other. In this is our happiness. Not in things. Parents, how often do we discourage our children; friends, how often do we discourage each other: “Get well-settled, get a career, leave all things aside, and then marry.” It is good to be prudent, but does it not seem to us that too often we rely on things and not God or others? How do you know that you won’t simply become focused on acquiring, and forget what you are REALLY here for, to love and be loved? As the Song of Songs teaches us, “Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked.” So, parents, friends: do not discourage the vocations of the young.
So many of those who come to us tell us how their friends and family, many of them faithful Catholics, discouraged their religious vocations, telling them that they would be lonely or unhappy. My friends, do you not know? Priests and religious have one of the, if not THE highest “job satisfaction” ratings. Did God not promise me all things if I sought His kingdom first? Is not the Lord my lot and my inheritance? Did He not promise me eightfold, a hundredfold return for the little I gave Him in return? Did He not promise me mothers, brothers, and sisters?
Let the young explore their religious vocations! Perhaps in your youth, you saw your beloved across the room one day, and thought, “It is she! I must ask her out, I must see what this beautiful woman is like, who she is!” Well, so is a religious vocation. A religious vocation is a beautiful thing. Perhaps she is the one for me, perhaps not. But how would I ever know if my parents never let me ask for her hand? How would I ever know if I would rather sit in the corner, listening to my mp3 player, while the celestial band plays the song that invites us to dance? If it turns out that this religious vocation is not the one for me, so be it. What I would not want is to live life regretting that I had not the courage to ask, to find out, “Was this the one for me?”
If only we would hear the voice of the Lord. If only our hearts were for Him alone, and not for the things we covet so much. If only our hearts were hearts of flesh and not hearts of cold metal! If only we would seek what is above and not the things of this world! If… if… if… what if? What if, brothers and sisters? What if… why not…
Readings: Nm 11: 4b-15; Ps 81: 12-17; Mt 14: 13-21
Theme: St. Mary Major in Rome
Homilies: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Today is the memorial of the dedication of the basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. It is, in a way, not our diocesan patronal feast day, but our patron’s patronal feast day, the original feast day of all churches dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, for St. Mary Major is the first church dedicated to the worship of God honoring Mary in the Western church.
So why was this Church dedicated to the honor of Mary? Well, in the early fifth century, some not-so-bright theologian, chaplain to the Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinopole, decided it would be more “accurate” to stop calling Mary “TheoTOkos”, meaning “Mother of God,” or more literally, “God-bearer.” After all, how could someone be a mother of an infinite God? So he influenced the Patriarch to suppress that title in the city. Well, that started a small rebellion among the lay faithful and monks, and the army had to be called in to keep the peace.
But this debate was actually more Christ-centered, than Mary-centered. The main question was, how could Christ be God and Man at the same time? Nestorius’ rationale was basically that if we keep the God part and the Man part separate, there’s no risk of the “Man” part “polluting,” so to speak, the God part. Mary gives birth to Christ, but not God. As the Gospel says, talk about what comes out of our mouths being what defiles us! Well, the great Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, decreed that no, Christ was TRUE God AND true man. No splitting hairs, and no splitting Christ. That meant that yes, the beloved title that the faithful has used for so long, TheoTOkos, was correct. The Virgin Mary bore Christ, and as the hymn says “To the wonderment of nature, you bore your Creator, yet remained a virgin as before.”
In the first reading, we hear
Thus says the LORD:
See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,
his dwellings I will pity;
City shall be rebuilt upon hill,
and palace restored as it was.
From them will resound songs of praise,
the laughter of happy men.
I will make them not few, but many;
they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them
This has been shown especially true today, for from them on in the Latin Church, countless palaces, countless temples of worship have been dedicated in honor of Mary, Mother of God, and countless hymns in her honor.
It is especially appropriate to remember the first one we have still extant, from around the year 250 AD: the Sub Tuum, whose original Greek version goes:
Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O TheoTOkos:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.
Theme: See God in others and you can catch a glimpse of Heaven
Readings: Jl 2: 13-18; 2 Cor 5: 20-6: 2; Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Once upon a time, in the magnificent Byzantine empire, a high member of the imperial court was plagued with many doubts and questions about his faith. He tried time and again to present his troubles to the court chaplains, to see if any could remove his doubts. But the question that plagued him most of all dealt with Heaven and Hell. What were they like? And why did it matter? The priests tried to paint him a picture of the afterlife, but all failed to satisfy his endless questions. The court official became more and more annoyed at the priests, as many are wont to do. Nervously, one of the priests suggested to him, “Sire, seek the old hermit that lives in the monastery outside the city walls. He is not far. Surely, he will bring peace to your heart.”
Thus, our imperial official left, and climbed the mount where the monastery was built. He asked the porter to show him to this monk, and the porter guided him toward the side of an orchard, where the hermit dwelled alone. The official found the old hermit, but apparently napping, taking advantage of the afternoon sun. The official placed himself in front of the old hermit, blocking the Sun. “Father,” he said, “I have come to ask you one thing, for I have been told you can tell me: what is the difference between Heaven and Hell? Neither end seems real to me.”
At this, the old hermit opened one eye, and without moving a muscle shouted at the official, “Move, you fool! You’re blocking the sun!” On hearing this, the enraged official drew his sword from its scabbard, and raised it, ready to strike down this insolent old fool with one mighty blow. The old hermit then pointed directly at him and shouted, “THAT is Hell!”
The court official was left stunned, realizing what he was about to do, but not knowing what to do. After a moment that felt like an eternity, he sheathed his sword. The old hermit then spoke softly, “And that, my lord, is Heaven.”
Heaven and Hell – both exist, and are quite real, brothers and sisters. Let no one confound you, for while we dwell in our earthly plane, we see glimpses, hidden clues out of the corner of the eyes of the soul of both ends. And the story I have just told you is not an advertisement for a self-improvement. It goes beyond that.
Once more to the high court official -- when he heard these words of the insolent hermit, what did he do? He was overcome with wrath, and this blinded him so deeply, that he could no longer see the man who was in front of him. All concern for the hermit vanished, and the official’s gaze was twisted to see only inside of himself, not to repent, but to satisfy his thirst for vengeance. Hell laid siege to his soul, and brought down the flimsy spiritual defenses the official had, and won. A man blinded by rage cannot walk the narrow path that leads to Heaven, and so he fell. He is now alone in his sin.
Every class of sin, some by imperceptibly minute increments, and some that strike as suddenly and as fierce as a mighty lightning bolt – one and all blind our vision, our vision of God and neighbor. Perhaps you have not fallen into utter wrath. Good, so we are able to see. So let us look back toward our first parents. At their disobedience in the garden, they turned their backs to God, so ashamed were they. They became lost, and a love mutual and full was twisted into itself, becoming lust. The beloved, the companion, right in front of each of them, the other lost all reality, becoming a phantasm, a mental construct of lust and nothing more. All for fleeting pleasure.
And it is not solely that sins of passion that blind us, for even “passive” sins, spiritual sloth, or cold indifference, each bear its own dangers. For through them we lose the focus on God and neighbor, inly sighted but outwardly blind, the light and flame of love extinguished bit by bit, until the last day, when we find ourselves truly and terrifyingly alone.
How to avoid Hell, be it here on Earth, or in the infernal depths? Let us return to our high court official. When the sudden words of the old hermit struck through his rage and pierced his soul, these words made manifest his grave sin. He found himself dumbfounded, sword in hand, and seeing the end to which he was headed, he sheathed his weapon and his ire. Suddenly, he saw himself again, his place in this world, and where he should be. He remembered God, and that the person God placed before him was not simply an old fool that merited a death sentence by a furious strike of the sword, but a companion, a fellow human being, a brother. Repentance trickled into his heart, and he was filled with peace, and Heaven broke from on high, to shine unto him through darkness and shadow of death.
Let the sin be what it may, it will find a way to weaken us, to blind us. In today’s Gospel, the Lord hints to us something, for which the Romans had a saying: corruption óptimi, péssima. That is, the corruption of the best is the worst thing. Even faith and religion can turn on itself and lure us away from our true and original goal: to see God, to see neighbor, to see brother, sister, friend. Thus, our Lord warns, “Take care! Watch out!”
The faith that should be an instrument of salvation, aiding the hypocrites to see their neighbor and above all, God, would become the instrument of their perdition, that twisted religion to see only inwardly. “Look at me, one and all! Come to see me!” How twisted. How sad. How… alone.
One final warning: although true repentance begins looking inwardly to see our faults and failings, if it ended there, we would be lift in hopelessness and despair. Do not let that happen! Do not let that wolf into your hearts! A bishop once wrote, “Repentace is not self-regarding, but God-regarding. It is not to hate oneself, but to love God.”
When we repent, we turn our backs, yes, but we turn our backs to pride, to our self-focus; we begin with all that is God and His authority, His love, and yes! Our eyes are opened. So suddenly that I see God anew, I see not only myself as I am called to be, but I see you, and who you were created to be. I see the poor, I see injustice, I see the oppressed, I see the corruption of the good, and how things should be. I see God, and yes… I can catch a glimpse of Heaven.
Saint Thomas of Aquinas: A Man Deeply In Love With God
Readings: Wis 7: 6-10, 15-16; Mt 5:13-19
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
What is a theologian? When I was in seminary, I read many works from many so-called theologians. But they seemed to be missing… something. It was actually rather easy to figure out just what was missing: love. I don’t mean “love” so much in the romantic terms we confused love with in our days, but a profound love, a deep thirst seeking the knowledge and Wisdom of God, but seeking, most of all, a true, deep and intimate friendship with God. To be able to lose oneself in God. Dry academic statements in themselves do not a theologian make.
On the other hand, monks throughout history would often repeat that “a theologian is one who prays. One who prays is a theologian.” But the most devout person, the one most in love with God may well find himself unable to put to pen and paper just who and what God is. And often, if the ideas that we form go unchecked, in spite of all our best intentions and love of God, we could end up going horrifically astray. Heretics don’t normally hate God – they just don’t have the right words and ideas!
This is not the fault of the devout but poorly educated man. After all, one would expect a poet to be able to write a profound love poem. I propose to you that in St. Thomas Aquinas, we have the best of both world: a rigorous academic theologian, and a man who loved God and was gifted with a tongue that was able to write and sing His praises, not only well, but imbued thoroughly with both love and knowledge of God.
Aquinas’ thought may seem to be a bit out of reach for many of us today, but that is not Aquinas’ fault, by any means. His most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, which you normally see in multiple volumes, seems a daunting and imposing work, but few remember that this was a work written for beginners. Most of us simply don’t have the academic background to decipher it all.
I’m not saying that *I* have all the tools, either. But in reading Aquinas, you come across a disarmingly simple scheme in laying out the Summa. It was what Aquinas called “exitus-redditus,” or, that is to say, “exit and return.” Aquinas began everything with God, for God is the source of all that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful. When he was a young boy, studying under the Benedictine monks, he was often heard asking his tutors, “What is God?” And so all good things have their source and being from God, and Creation flows from God. So Aquinas then writes in detail about us, mankind, and our relationship with God, especially by way of the Sacraments, and friendship with God. Then, Aquinas would have us return back to God, back to Love.
Aquinas was one for who, as the Gospel says of Our Lord, would have been horrified to throw out the law or the prophets, or even the smallest letter of Scripture. Thus he sought out all Wisdom, but natural and supernatural, in seeking to speak about God. As Aristotle was making his way back into academia in the West, Aquinas sought to “baptize,” if you will, Aristotle, so far as he is possible. From there, Aquinas gets many philosophical ideas we use today, most famously, the idea of substance, essence, and being, and, of course, transubstantiation. Now many accused him of throwing out Plato and buying wholesale into Aristotle, but that is far from the truth. Aquinas sought Wisdom wherever he could find it. His thought is really heavily influenced by both, and taking the best words of each, formed his theology. Not only that, but he borrowed from whatever the greatest pagan, Jewish and Muslim thinkers and philosophers would come up with, examining each one to see where God could be in all this.
Some Protestants, and even some Catholics, then, would accuse him of relying more on philosophy than the Bible. If you read anything from Aquinas, or any Scholastic, really, you find the pages absolutely dripping with Biblical references. Almost embarrassingly so for modern “theologians!” One of the ideas floating around at the time of Aquinas was that natural reason and Revelation were two irreconcilable truths. Nonsense! All good things come from God, and all bear, in some way, a hint of God, as the potter leaves traces of his fingerprints on the clay. If God is truth, and we have to remember, for Aquinas to seek the Truth meant above all to seek God who IS truth, then what is true, what is real, reflects in some way.
Again, his goal was not a dry academic exercise. He sought what was of God with the goal to go back to God, to the One who is to be loved above all else. And, he was also extremely pious, a man deeply in love. Who else could have written such beautiful hymns, such as the Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, or some of the beautiful prayers that priests can say before Mass, or other wonderful poetry? He could also be quite practical. Pope Leo XIII, the Father of modern social justice, based much of his ideas on the thought of Aquinas.
If you doubt that Aquinas was a man fully in love, writing of God his beloved, then I remind you of perhaps the most famous scene in Aquinas’ life. Near the end, as he prayed before the crucifix, a fellow friar happened to come upon him at prayer, and he heard a voice from the crucifix: “Thomas, you have written well of Me. What would you desire as a reward?” His reply, said in tears, should be a motto engraved in allour hearts: “Nothing, Lord, nothing other than You Yourself.” Does this sound more like a dry academic, or a man profoundly in love? Let us likewise, then, friends, love God, who is love, and seek Him always, above all things.
Theme: The Church, the Woman that God Loves
Readings: Neh 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12: 12-30; Lk 1: 1-4, 4: 14-21
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
In one of my favorite shows when I was much younger, there was one hapless young man, who doggedly pursued his one true love. In spite of repeated failures, misunderstandings, fights, and hurts, he never gave up. For six seasons, that is, six years, he did everything he could to win her heart. Just as he’s thinking that the time is right to propose to her, a friend of his asks him: “Tell me, the woman you love, what kind of person of she?” Before he can answer, his friend changes her mind and takes back the question, but our young protagonist ponders carefully, and later answers himself: “The woman I love… she gets jealous suddenly, she’s impatient, she cries often, and she gets angry at the drop of a hat… but when she smiles… there is no greater joy.”
Now, were I to survey many of you in the pews, you could answer that same question. Those of you who are younger in love, perhaps your true love has no faults… not YET, anyway. For those who are older, like our hero in the story, you can list everything good and bad about your love, down to the smallest detail.
In the Bible, the love story between God and His People, those whom He calls His beloved, this story does not span six seasons. It spans six millennia! The Bible is, in a sense, a love story, book after book, chapter after chapter, of a hero describing His love, warts and all. Poor God. His beloved is unfaithful with other gods, she forgets Him repeatedly, she’s easily distracted by pretty, shiny things, like money. But when she causes Him to smile, ah, for God there is no greater joy!
Today’s readings, and our Catholic faith, speak on what qualities God loves most in His spouse, the Church. You know them already, because we say them every Sunday. These qualities are also often called the “four marks of the Church.” The Spouse of Christ, the Church, the woman that He loves, she is ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, and APOSTOLIC. –THAT-- is the woman that God loves.
She is ONE. God does not want other lovers. He wants ONE love, His TRUE love. God does not have a girl in every port of the world, but ONE love, the Church, constituted from people all over the world. In today’s second reading, St. Paul continues his constant point: the Church must be one, even, as he says elsewhere, as man and wife are one – and not just one, but one flesh, one body. She is His Jewish love, but She is missing her Gentile part. St. Paul admonishes the foolish Corinthians: you cannot divide apart the Body of Christ, any more than one could divide one’s own body against itself. And in the first reading, Ezra the priest is, in a real sense, renewing the Covenant, a type of marriage covenant, with Jews. The people renew their vows as one, saying “Amen, amen,” a type of “I do! I do take God as my own!” Notice that the people are not allowed to mourn – this is a wedding feast, rejoice! No sad faces here!
What else is God’s beloved? Yes, HOLY. Now, I don’t have to look far into the pews to tell you that individually we’re not all quite holy. Heck, I don’t have to look past the ambo! But as the Catechism teaches us, “The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is ‘the sinless one made up of sinners’”. And, let me add, it’s also made up of the saints preceding us in Heaven. God wants all peoples, all of US, up on that Holy Mountain, with his saints in His Heavenly home. If some of us are further up the holy mountain than others, fine. Whatever holiness we may lack, God wants to provide that for us, so much does He love us.
Ezra knows full well what kind of people he’s talking to. They’re… well, people. Sinful people, but if they keep the covenant they made with God, then they will share in His holiness. The situation is not much different today, is it?
What’s the next oh-so-special thing that God loves so much about His Church? She is CATHOLIC. “Catholic” is nothing more than a Greek word meaning “universal.” That is, EVERY culture, EVERY people, in EVERY part of the world. Some have lost the missionary zeal, saying that the Christian God or His message is not “relevant” to such-and-such a people. What foolishness! Tell me, if you’re drowning, is a lifeboat not “relevant” to you because you hadn’t seen one or heard of one before? No, God was born as a Jew, as a man, in Palestine, but He took on our HUMAN nature. If you’ve got a human nature, then God thinks you’re pretty relevant to Him, at least relevant enough to die for you. Yes, this catholicity is such a beautiful thing, my brothers and sisters. And as St. Luke begins his Gospel this day, we read something interesting… he is addressing specifically to someone of Greek descent – a gentile! St. Luke, especially, is the “Gospel to the Gentiles,” but the teachings he passes down are for one and all.
Lastly, Christ’s Bride the Church is APOSTOLIC. This means that since the time She was born at Pentecost, born of the Jewish faith, the Church has never died out, will never die out. Christ’s teachings and sacraments are safeguarded, thanks to this unbroken line of apostles, from the first twelve and St. Luke, down to our own bishop today, José, leading us, preaching to us and teaching us. It is evident in our Gospel, as St. Luke says, “JUST as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word” have what? “have handed them down to us… so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” The Deposit of Faith is kept whole, from the first Apostles to their heirs, today’s bishops, to us.
This is a real, visible, unity in faith, under the bishops the vicarious heads of the Church, as the ONE body is under ONE head. Thanks to Her apostolicity, the Church shall be ONE, HOLY and CATHOLIC even at the end of days.
My brothers and sisters, were I were to ask our God, “Lord, this woman that you love, this “Church” – was She worth it; was She worth the cross?” What would He answer? I believe He would answer, “Yes. In spite of all the pain, the hurts and sorrows She has caused me, yes… because when She is all those things I love about Her… there is no greater joy.”
The Conversion of St. Paul
Readings: Acts 9: 1-22; Mk 16: 15-18
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Let’s face it: the world does not understand Christianity, not when Paul was still Saul, and not now. And it may never. For as we hear from St. John in his Gospel, “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While the light might not present itself as bright as it did to Saul, it shines nevertheless, and it continues to work miracles, and one of the greatest modern miracles was that of one Mitsuo Fuchida, a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, most famously known as the pilot who led the first wave on Pearl Harbor on Decemer 7th, 1941. He was fortunate enough to survive the Battle of Midway, alive but wounded, assigned to spend the rest of the war as a staff officer, in offices and away from battle.
And in God’s mysterious ways, Captain Fuchida was almost struck by a different kind of blinding light, for he was working in Hiroshima, and was called to Tokyo the day before the atomic bomb dropped. As we know, Japan wound soon surrender unconditionally to the Allies. As a biographer wrote:
After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of some of the Japanese military for Japanese war crimes. This infuriated him as he believed this was little more than “victor’s justice”. Convinced that the Americans had treated the Japanese the same way and determined to bring that evidence to the next trial, in the spring of 1947, Fuchida went to Uraga Harbor near Yokosuka to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war. He was surprised to find his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who all had believed had died in the Battle of Midway. When questioned, Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they were NOTtortured or abused, much to Fuchida’s disappointment, then went on to tell him of a young lady who served them with the deepest love and respect, but whose parents, missionaries, had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines.
For Fuchida, trained under an intense version of the Bushido, or the Samurai Way, such a thing was mind-boggling. How could that young missionary lady forgive the ones who killed her parents? Such a thing called for vengeance. Not to avenge your parents’ murder would be an unforgivable act of cowardice and weakness. And thus began Fuchida’s quest to understand these baffling Christians. His curiosity only became more intense when he was handed a pamphlet about Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid over Japan, who was captured and tortured by the Japanese. But instead of becoming bitter, DeShazer became forgiving, for it was in his cell that he his heart was finally opened to God’s mercy. Fuchida was finally able to procure a Bible, and then he understood. Not long after, DeShazer and Fuchida, who would’ve been mortal enemies only a few years before, met for the first time. As friends… no, as brothers in Christ.
Now, while almost no one in the world follows the Samurai Way, forgiveness and repentance for one’s own sins are almost incomprehensible. In our society, what is our first instinct? Well, we don’t get to do frontier justice any more, and so we will sue them, WE WILL MAKE THEM PAY FOR WHAT THEY DID TO US! And, if we are at fault, do we not try to give legal boilerplate explanations, or very weak and insincere apologies, just enough to protect ourselves?
Well, as St. Paul found out, when we first repent, when we finally see the light, when those first stirrings of the Holy Spirit work within us, we might be more than a little frightened. Then, and only then, might we start realizing just what a horrible thing we might have done. Yes, it might be frightening when we meet our former enemies, when we seem weak before them. But if your enemy is a Christian, a true Christian, then you begin to understand something wonderful. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “Repentance is not self-regarding, but God-regarding. It is not self-loathing, but God-loving. Everything you feared, everything you hated, perhaps even if you hated yourself for your former way of life, your sins, all those things fall away like so many scales from your eyes. Your universe has changed, because God is now at the center, and you finally realize His love for you, a love that cannot only forgive all, but bless you and strengthen you even more richly with His gifts than you thought possible.
But, you might think, I know God has forgiven me. I have been the worst of sinners. Let me sit here alone in this corner, afraid of God and man. If that is the case, then you have not let God forgive you. You still hold on to some strange and outdated warrior code, that you feel you have dishonored. What Saul, now St. Paul realized now, after experiencing the baffling mercy of God and His followers so personally, was something that Cardinal Wyzzynski once said. Quote, “The greatest weakness in an apostle is fear. What gives rise to fear is the lack of confidence in the power of the Lord. This is what oppresses the heart and tightens the throat. The apostle then ceases to offer witness.” My brothers and sisters, I find it hard to believe that any of us have been as guilty as Saul of Tarsus, or perhaps Captain Fuchida were, in attacking their sworn enemies with such zealotry.
Three things are absent in a heart that knows it has been forgiven by God. Hatred, vengeance, and fear. Leave unholy trinity of things behind, for they belong to Satan! Forgive your enemies, for God has forgiven us for our sins against His infinite holiness. Release the infernal chains of vengeance from your heart and fly free toward the Heavens. But most of all, be not afraid. Go forth, go out into the world, proclaiming the Good News as our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel, as he told St. Paul, as He told Captain Fuchida, proclaim Him, in word, deed, and action, with every fiber of your being that God loves so much. You may not be a samurai or a zealot, but I can guarantee you this: once you surrender to God, you will win the fight that matters, the fight for your own soul, and perhaps that of your own enemies. No, strike that. You will win the fight for your own soul, and for that of your new brother or sister in Christ.
Theme: St. Francis de Sales: Most Patient Man
Readings: Mk 3: 7-12
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Today is the feast day of probably one of the nicest and kindest and most patient of modern saints: St. Francis de Sales. He often used to say, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” Well, St. Francis de Sales was at least partly wrong. Because if you put out a little bit of soured wine, or balsamic vinegar, you will attract flies, especially fruit flies like mad, much more so than honey. There’s a reason why when priests celebrate Mass, it’s a good idea to use a pall to cover the chalice, otherwise you might get some, ahem, tiny and most unwelcome communicants. But the saying rings true for the other kind of communicants, the kind we like to see at Mass, and that is Christian souls, and this is where St. Francis de Sales excelled.
From the beginning, we see one of his key characteristics: patience. He thought that he had a vocation to the priesthood, but waited 13 years before mentioning it to his father, who was not so keen, since he had greater and higher secular things in mind for him. And so we hear an echo of today’s Gospel in his life early on. He went to Paris to study, then to Padua for a doctorate in law. He patiently studied theology on the side and developed his prayer life. He was simply waiting for God’s will to manifest itself. He was patient – even with God! Well, one day Francis fell from his horse three times and each time his sword would come loose from its scabbard on falling, and each time the sword and scabbard would form the shape of a Cross. The Catholic bishop of Geneva intervened for him, and his father finally yielded, and thus he was ordained for the diocese of Geneva.
Now, Geneva might not sound like a bad assignment to us at all. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go skiing on the Alps by day, and enjoy fine Swiss chocolate and cheeses by night? Well, I think chocolate would still be a few years away, and we have to remember that at that time, Geneva was the epicenter of the Calvinistic movement, and the city was formally a Calvinistic theocratic government. So as you can imagine, that left little wiggle room for the Catholic Church to work in. The seat of the Catholic bishop of Geneva had to be, in fact, in Savoy, France. And even when he was made bishop of Geneva, he was only able to go there twice.
So St. Francis began his priestly career in France, although he had a bit of difficulty when he began. And then he had an idea that seemed like sheer and utter madness to everyone else: he would just go over the mountains into Switzerland, and lead an expedition to win Switzerland back to the Faith. He didn’t exactly attract an army of followers for this seemingly wacky idea: it was just one of his cousins and himself! And he also had no financial backing, since his father refused, and his diocese was broke.
And so, for three years, he went into Switzerland. He was about as welcome initially as a Jehovah’s Witness or salesman would be at most doors in the United States today. Door after door slammed on his face, and he would also get the occasional rocks thrown at him. Winters were not exactly a “winter wonderland,” and he was lucky not to have lost his feet to frostbite. After three years of a not-so-glorious apostolate, without the gain of even one convert to the Faith, even his patient cousin decided to abandon this missionary enterprise.
But remember how I said that St. Francis was a most patient man? Well, if no one would listen to him, if no one would even open their door to him, then he decided it was time for a new approach: he wrote out his sermons by hand, no help from the printing press for him, and he would slip them under the doors that refused to open for him. This is the first record we have of what we call “tracts” being used in the Church. And if the parents would not come to him or give him the time of day, then he would work with their kids, who would be outside playing. When the parents saw what a kind soul he was, then the doors began to open bit by bit. It was said that he converted 40,000 back to the Faith they had left. He even invented a kind of sign language, just so he could catechize a deaf man so that he could make his First Communion. Many of us know already of his great work with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a noblewoman, a woman he had seen before in a dream, in founding the Visitation sisters.
Many of us know of his great little books, especially Introduction the Devout Life, written as a way to encourage holiness in the lay life. His advice is as timely today as it was then, for he reminded us in his writings to, quote, “retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in various discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.” And thus enters the key to love of God: “By turning your eyes to God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God.” With growth in the love of God, he tells us that “The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone they express their feelings in letters, and can't pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus too those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all mankind." And I was delighted and chastened to read that one of the worst sins for him, is a sin that is far too tempting: that of gossip, for even if we say we do it out of love, our motives are too often soiled by a desire to look well and knowledgeable in the eyes of others. Should we not be gentle and patient with others? For, he would remind us, our words are like a surgeon’s scalpel. Used well, they can excise the disease in our neighbor’s heart. Used cruelly, they are more like a butcher’s cleaver.
And finally, one good piece of advice, more important today than in his time: “NEVER be hurried in anything. Do all things calmly and in a spirit of repose. Do not lose your inward peace even if everything seems to be going wrong. What is anything in life compared with to peace of soul?” Small wonder that God chose such a saint for such a difficult and arduous apostolate! See, there is the problem for many of us: we might have a good moment of prayer and love of God, but then the stress and business of life makes us impatient and unkind towards our neighbor. Do we expect to convert others when we are brusque and impatient with them and their weaknesses?
So, sisters and brothers, let me encapsulate his advice: always find time to pray and be in the presence of God. Growing in love of God, we should remember our love of neighbor, speaking well and kindly of others, bearing with their faults as God bears with ours. And finally, life is too busy. Slow down! Patience, patience, patience! Do not let your hearts become a house divided, one of love in one chamber and slander and hate of neighbor in the other. We may not win over 40,000 back to the faith. But we will, with God’s grace win our own souls, and thus perhaps, win over a few more. Amen.
Theme: Respect for Life
Readings: Heb 6: 10-20; Mk 2: 23-28
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
Not too long ago, perhaps a year, I was reading a story online. Some other thing about some city taking something down, because it had a “religious character.” One of the commenters online wrote that what was right was a certain “freedom from religion,” and that religion needed to be blotted out from the public square.
I then proceeded to point out that not only did a statue just go up of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC, as a federal monument, but that he was, in fact, a Christian religious leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. “Would you like to ask Congress to have the statue torn down, you know, for ‘Freedom from Religion?” He then countered with the statement, “Well, he was simply a good man doing good things. Religion had little or nothing to do with it.” “Oh, really?” I said. “Have you read Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s works? His famous ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which outlined his entire reason and methodology, was fully centered and motivated by his Christian faith in the Christian God.” The comments ceased.
Have you noticed something strange in what I just said? I said Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I grew up hearing that name, over and over, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I have really yet to hear it or read it this year. It’s always the Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a kind of revisionist history that my friend online fell into: the scrubbing away of the Christian faith from the public square.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote this letter in the Birmingham Jail, not to pass the time, or write a friend. He was responding to fellow religious leaders, other Christian ministers, who told him his methods were too confrontational. That it would be better to “just wait.”
“Just wait,” as he said, is something that he could not do. But, as he said, “Wait” often becomes “Never.” And so we are here at the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We have waited, we have been told that things can’t “go back,” or they can’t change, or that it’s legal now. Are we not also often told to “wait” by other religious leaders? That we should work on other life issues, and that this is a lost cause, or that it is a “Catholic bishop” issue only?
No. The Reverend pointed out that the black man had waited “more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.” How many unborn have waited in vain for the last 40? Who can imagine 300 more? Enough! As the Reverend pointed out, citing our St. Augustine, “an unjust law is no law at all.” And, the Reverend added, “To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” And as the Reverend added, in harmony with Catholic theology, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” What could be more unjust than the taking of innocent human life?
As our Lord points out today, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Law of God in its fullness was made for man. Laws are not meant to be followed because they are legal. They are meant to be followed because they are good. Law’s job is to protect and serve, not be the master of human affairs. If laws are not good, if they are not morally good, then we become a people bound by unjust laws. Where is the mercy in that? Where is the justice in that?
As Alveda King, niece of the late Reverend pointed out last week, “The Negro cannot win as long as he willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety… I know in my heart that if Uncle Martin would agree that we cannot end poverty, hunger, or suffering by killing those who might suffer. We cannot claim to guarantee equal rights if we deny the rights of the helpless. And we cannot feign ignorance of the fact that those who are torn apart, crushed, or left to die on an abortionist’s table are just as human as we are… Abortion is genocide… It’s killing generations and certainly the population that is most impacted by abortion in America is the black community… The great irony is that abortion has done what the Klan only dreamed of… Roughly one quarter of the black population is now missing.”
This is not a woman speaking from an ivory tower. She speaks as one who experienced twice the great pain of aborting her children. She believed the lie. She found the truth, and Truth set her free.
And who is leading this fight for Life? As the Good Scripture says, “and a little child shall lead them.” The media tries to paint this issue as one of old men. The Marches for Life, which receive almost zero media coverage, are filled with fresh generations, young women who do not feel bound by unjust laws.
I leave you with this last thought of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” Does this make the Civil Rights struggle sound as purely secular enterprise? Will we toss rights out the window for the ‘stain’ of religion? In their struggle to be ‘authentic’ and ‘up to date.’ millions have left churches. Our job is not to be what the world wants us to be. To simply wait and be quiet. Our job is to speak out, to disregard unjust law, to protest against it, to give witness. We must capture that “sacrificial spirit of the early church,” as the good Reverend said. No more waiting. No more injustice. No more genocide. No more.
Readings: Is 62: 1-5; 1Cor 12: 4-11; Jn 2: 1-11
Homilist: Fr. Dismas Sayre, O.P.
There’s a very good play and movie about the life of one John Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, called Amadeus. In it, we first encounter, not Mozart, but his long-time rival, and now a has-been Antonio Salieri. Salieri begins by telling the tale to a visiting priest of his fall from grace, and his destruction of Mozart. In those happy days, Salieri hears of this gifted Mozart, and longs to meet him and discuss joyfully things of music. But Mozart is not exactly what Salieri expected. He is a lecherous boor, a man-child, yet God granted this twit unequaled musical genius. Vienna falls in love with this, this… nincompoop. Salieri, slowly seething; his envy rising drop by venomous drop, Salieri, who up to then had been a faithful Catholic stares at the crucifix, and finally gives vent to his surging rage with these blasphemous words to Almighty God.
SALIERI: Capisco! I know my fate. Now for the first time I feel my emptiness as Adam felt his nakedness ... [Slowly he rises to his feet.] Tonight at an inn somewhere in this city stands a giggling child who can put on paper, without actually setting down his billiard cue, casual notes which turn my most considered ones into lifeless scratches. Grazie, Signore! You gave me the desire to serve you - which most men do not have - then saw to it that the service was shameful in the ears of the server. Grazie! You gave me the desire to praise you - which most do not feel - then made me mute. Grazie tante! You put into me perception of the Incomparable - which most men never know! - then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre. [His voice gains power.] Why? ... What is my fault? ... Until this day I have pursued virtue with vigour. I have labored long hours to serve my fellow men. I have worked and worked the talent you allowed me. [Calling up.] You know how hard I've worked! - solely that in the end, in the practice of the art which alone makes the world comprehensible to me, I might hear Your Voice! And now I do hear it - and it says only one name: MOZART! ... Spiteful, sniggering, conceited, infantine Mozart - who has never worked one minute to help another man! - nonsense-talking Mozart with his botty-smacking wife! - him you have chosen to be your sole conduct! And my only reward - my sublime privilege - is to be the sole man alive in this time who shall clearly recognize your Incarnation! [Savagely.] Grazie e grazie ancora! [Pause.] So be it! From this time we enemies, You and I! I'll not accept it from You - Do you hear? ... They say that God is not mocked, I tell you Man is not mocked! I am not mocked! ... They say the spirit bloweth where it listeth: I tell you NO! It must list to virtue, or not blow at all! [Yelling.] Dio Ingiusto! - You are the Enemy! I name Thee now - Nemico Eterno! And this I swear. To my last breath I shall block you on earth, as far as I am able! [He glares up at God. To the audience.] What use, after all, is man, if not to teach God His lessons?
And Salieri succeeds. He drives Mozart mad and pushes him to sickness and death. And Salieri is left as an old man, demented in the prison of his own mind, because all he can see is his own mediocrity in comparison to the genius of Mozart.
Now, we might not be lead, exactly, down the same road. But envy, oh envy, is so easy. It’s so prevalent. In the dark and fetid soil of our pride, envy springs up and flowers, its poisonous flower sending its seed throughout the human heart, like a twisted and venomous dandelion. In this movie, the little dandelion seed of envy finds the weak point into Salieri’s heart, and chokes all the flowers of virtue from within.
What is envy, then? Envy and her twin, Jealousy, are often together, but both spring from pride. Pride, however, is self-regarding, first and foremost. Envy looks, not on oneself, but on another. Envy covets, envy lusts after the good or gifts another has. And if the other falls and fails, envy delights with its own devilish cackle at the evil that befalls the other.
Do not think that anyone can be safe. See this cloister of beautiful flowers for God? All the devil would have to do is plant a few of these venomous seeds, and bit by bit, he would ruin it from within. And it’s a most insidious enemy, this envy. Envy can masquerade as virtue. Salieri saw envy, not as sin, but as justice. We might feel righteous as we go about spreading slander, gossip, rumors of our sisters. Soon, the monastery would be broken into camps at war with one another.
I see it in families. A man recently won the lottery. Now, the police are investigating, certain that the one who poisoned him was a member of his own family, who could not delight in the good that this man had won, but wanted it so much for him or herself that they would kill their own brother so readily.
I see it in heroes. Do we not build up actors, or athletes like Lance Armstrong, and once they fall, the press is more than glad to deliver them up to sacrifice and ridicule, the envious among us delighting in this bitter dish of envy?
I see it in parish groups and communities. It can be as petty as eating something. I’ve seen rivalry break out, gossip and slander surge, simply because I ate from one dish, but not her dish. Why did father eat her food and not mine? Perhaps we have an extremely talented singer in the choir. All people praise his beautiful voice. And someone, as I stand here before God, will almost certainly give in to envy, because he or she does not receive the same measure of praise. Little Salieris spring forth from what garden should generate sweet music to honor Our God.
Envy is dangerous, my friends. It is a primal evil and most insidious. It blinds us. As Fulton Sheen once said, “The envious never know that their criticism of others is vicarious self-criticism. The man who accuses another of infidelity, jealousy or pride is generally guilty of those sins himself. Thus he projects to others his own faults and is judged in his judgment of others.”
Do you not believe it primal? The Bible tells us that by Satan’s envy, death entered into the world. Our Lord tells us “Love one another as I have loved you.” Satan whispers sweet nothings in our ear, “Envy one another, as I have envied you.”
And we bite. Envy poisoned Cain’s heart against Abel, envious that Abel offered a better sacrifice to God, and thus Cain murdered his very brother in cold blood.
Oh, but the early Church, father! People imagine this perfect church. As the Acts of the Apostles says, chapter 4, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” However, they forget to read the rest of Acts, or pretty much all of the Epistles in the New Testament. St. Paul spends most of his time trying to restore peace among the faithful. The perfect Church never really existed, my friends, and never will, as long as envy finds a ready home in our hearts.
Today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians sounds so peaceful and nice, God giving His gifts, different gifts to all. But the reading ends with both praise of God and a warning. St. Paul says, “But one and the same Spirit produce all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.” Too bad Salieri forget THAT part.
And not long after, Pope St. Clement, the third bishop of Rome, wrote a couple of letters to these same Corinthians about 100 AD. Guess what he spent most of his time talking about? ENVY! Envy among these same Corinthian Christians who could do nothing more than envy one another, and destroy peace.
As St. John Chrysostom, the patron name saint of Mozart, incidentally, said, “We fight one another and envy arms us against one another… If everyone strives to unsettle the Body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ’s body a corpse… We declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.”
How to kill envy, then? First, again, we look at the problem at its root: envy comes from the Latin invidia, which meant something akin to looking at something inside out. We see things inside out. We hate when we should love. We mourn when we should rejoice! What is the solution, what remedy can exterminate this vile weed? Generosity.
It is no accident that Dante, in his vision of Purgatory, chooses the scene of today’s Gospel as a mural for the stage where the envious are purged. The envious have their eyes sewn shut, and they must rely on one another to get through. They cannot see the other. They must look to themselves and be rid of envy. They must learn to how to see one another. Our Lady thinks not of how others see her at this wedding. She does not delight in the shame of the newlyweds, who have run out of wine. No, she is generous, and likewise implores Christ to show His generosity, not for her own sake, but for the sake of these poor wedding guests, and thus God is manifested at Cana.
As St. John Chrysostom teaches us, “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised!”
So let us catch ourselves, brothers and sisters, if we find ourselves spreading rumor, slander, gossip… sometimes even if it’s true. Let us ask ourselves, “Do other people really need to know this? Or am I backstabbing?” Let us exterminate all envy. Away with it! Let God be praised by our words… or lack of words, sometimes. Let God be praised by our generosity and charity to others. Let God be praised in our humility and servitude.