Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fr. Perrone: Greatest danger isn't attack from the world, but accommodation to it

As the world already celebrates it's secular "christmas", completely bi-passing Advent, Fr. Perrone encourages us to reflect on some spiritual realities that can easily be overlooked.  This is his homily for last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, and it was delivered at the 9:30 am Mass using the 1962 Missal.
1st Sunday of Advent 2011

Two words that define Advent appear and reappear in the liturgy of this Mass: the first is the verb ‘to await’ (expectare) and the second is the verb ‘to draw near’ (appropinquare). Advent is so short a season that we cannot afford to dillydally and slowly get ourselves acclimated to the season. Before you know it, it will be gone and it would be a shame and a great disadvantage to us if we were to forfeit its advantages. The Epistle is, in the literal sense, a wake up call, like the sounding of an alarm over someone asleep. The disturbance of being roused from slumber is for good purpose: the Lord is near (one of the two words I mentioned). In order for Advent to be especially useful to us we need to enter into its spirit in a way like that of Christians of the early times. They were not awaiting the day of Christmas with its holiday delights; they were awaiting the second coming of the Judge and Savior, Christ. Not only will He certainly come again but, in the liturgy, He is summoned to come soon: “stir up Your power”–we address Him thus in the Collect–“and come.” We are in the mode of ‘waiting’ (the other word of the day) for His arrival as the all-Just Rewarder and Punisher. Our living in anticipation of the final day of the world (that ‘awaiting’) can bring two different responses: one is waiting in hope for redemption and the other is the frightful anticipation of punishment. Both things are indeed coming, and the Church is trying to prepare us to meet them.

The nearness of the coming of Christ is often not taken with the urgency that we find expressed in the New Testament and in the Church’s liturgy. We don’t live ‘on the edge’ as if Christ might drop down upon us at any moment. And while we may rightly be amused over some Christian sects for their calculations and recalculations about the day of Christ’s return, we ought to admire and emulate them for the vigilance over themselves which ought to be the accompaniment of Christian hope. We are not meant so to settle ourselves in this world as to be made friends with it. We Catholic Christians are always in a precarious relationship to the world. It simply hates us and must do so necessarily since God’s word condemns its pursuits and purposes. The danger that we face every day is not so much the attack from the world (although this is happening ever more as the Church is being throttled by social pressures and by government strictures). The danger for us is accommodation to the world, that cozy alliance with the world whose spirit is antithetical, opposed and aggressive, towards Christ. The ‘nearness’ of Christ’s advent is not to be taken only in terms of time, of years, but of proximity of His Presence. It is our nearness to Him through decent living (the subject of the Epistle, that ‘sobriety’ mentioned by St. Paul) that should characterize our daily life. This is a manner of living in the world that keeps us distant from its charms and seductions. It’s a sequestering of ourselves from the noxiousness of sins which are indeed attractive. These are the concupiscences, the lusts, the “draws” of the world from which we must run away, close the eyes and ears and keep jealously enclosed within us our innocence. That’s what it means to be ‘expecting’ the coming of the Lord. It is a vigilance over ourselves, keeping guard over the movement of our senses, the curiosities of our lower nature. “No one who waits for You will be confounded” we say in this Mass. We need that wakefulness of mind, that quickness of recognition that there are dangers we have to avoid: first, by being keenly aware of their menace and their attractiveness. The moment we let down our guard, we are lost and the comforting bath of the world’s filth will find agreement with our lower nature.

Slinking into this worldly and sensual life requires a seduction of the mind, that is to say, a deception. There must be a plausible, attractive invitation to abandon all one’s upbringing and training to convince one that it’s alright to be accommodating to the spirit of the age, to the lure of the times. It is in this regard that I want to read for you a few passages often overlooked in the New Testament epistles that are fair warning about these sly suggestions that would carry us away from Christ and from salvation.

The first Pope, Saint Peter, wrote his epistles with a view of tipping us off in regard to being duped. He tells us that in being Christians we have “fled a world corrupted by lust” so that we might share God’s nature. The difficulty is not only that there is this evil in the world, but that there are teachers in the Church those who ‘smuggle in’ false teachings. And the secret to their success in convincing people towards sin is this: “their lustful ways will lure many away.” Heresy, in other words, comes out of lustful passion and not from mere intellectual mistakes.

I continue to quote him: “Through these false teachers, the true ‘way’ will be subject to contempt. (That is to say, that Catholic truth will be ridiculed, and its followers will be belittled for holding to its truth.) Saint Peter is speaking about men who (quote) “live for the flesh in their desire for whatever corrupts and who despise authority. They pour abuse on things of which they are ignorant. They act like creatures of instinct, brute animals born to be caught and destroyed. They too will be destroyed, suffering the reward of their wickedness. Thinking daytime revelry a delight, they are a stain and defilement as they share in your feasts in a spirit of seduction...Theirs is a never-ending search for sin. They lure the weaker types. Their hearts are trained in greed. An accursed lot they are!These men are waterless springs, mists whipped up by the gale. The darkest gloom has been reserved for them. They talk empty bombast while baiting their hooks with passion, with the lustful ways of the flesh, to catch those who have just come free of a life of errors. They promise freedom though they themselves are slaves of corruption. .. When men have fled a polluted world by recognizing the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then are caught up and overcome in pollution once more, their last condition is worse than their first. It would have been better for them not to have recognized the road to holiness than to have turned their backs on the holy law handed on to them, once they had known it. How well the proverb fits them: 'The dog returns to its vomit’ and ‘A sow bathes by wallowing in the mire.’”

This is all from the Second Epistle of Saint Peter. Though I have quoted him at some length, he is not yet finished speaking in this vein. Certainly you will have recognized how relevant his words are to us who have had to contend not only with our own weakness in being inclined towards sin, but have had the scandals of heresies and sin served to us by those in positions of authority, even in the holy Church of God, things which have tended to destablize us and make us questioning!

And so, the Apostle continues, so relevant to our day as to his: “In the last days, mocking, sneering men who are ruled by their passions will arrive on the scene. They will ask: ‘Where is that promised coming (the advent) of Christ? Everything stays just as it is.’ This point must not be overlooked... The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a ro (an echo of our Lord words in today’s Gospel); the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and its deeds will be made manifest. Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of men must you not be! How holy your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming of the day of God and trying to hasten it! So, while waiting for this, make every effort to be found without stain or defilement, and at peace in His sight. You are forewarned, beloved brothers. Be on your guard lest you be led astray by the error of the wicked, and forfeit the security you enjoy. Grow rather in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Better words could not be found for an Advent sermon than these by Saint Peter. They alert you to false guides in the Church, they show you how to identify them by their impure ways, and they goad you to keep on the original way of the Catholic faith in all its integrity. The Lord will come again and give everybody exactly what he deserves.

Two words: waiting and nearness. We are awaiting the justice of God while we are conscious of just how near He is.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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