Several hundred people joined us in Jacksonville, FL as we priests carried the Holy Eucharist before three abortion centers in the monstrance under a canopy.
Mary is the Heavenly Jerusalem even on earth at the cross, so we’ll consider the virtue that helps frees us from Satan’s bonds even before heaven. This sermon was given on Laetare Sunday, 2018. (I’ll be away from the parish next week so there will be no podcast next week. In two weeks you’ll hopefully have both a new sermon and Heresy Class 3.)
This sermon was given on the feast of the Purification, 2018.
Please note that my sermons for the next month will be very short, due to fundraising events in this diocese that will take place prior to Holy Mass.
Please also note that every other Monday, I will be publishing a new class here called “Heresies and Their Remedies,” beginning with Christological heresies that began almost immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first of these classes will take place with my parishioners on Sunday, 11 February. That Sunday (as usual) I’ll podcast my sermon. The next day, on 12 February (God-willing) I will podcast the first “Heresies and Their Remedies.”
The reason that podclass is only going to be every other week is because every other Monday I will be on Station of the Cross, a NY-based radio station that is also an EWTN-affilitate. We will be discussing a difficult Catholic topic every evening, live at 5pm Eastern. This will obviously be alternated every Monday from my above “podclass” on heresy.
In two days, on Station of the Cross, I will be discussing how the genesis of the current Church crisis was neither liturgy, nor issues of the sixth-commandment, but rather a denial of the traditional teaching of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. This didn’t enter the seminaries until sometime between 1905 and 1915. These radio shows will not be produced here, but rather only at the above link.
Now for today’s sermon:
This sermon was given on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 2018. The featured picture on the blog for this sermon is from a stained glass window at my basilica of residence downtown.
A continued thanks for the music-bumpers of my sermons to the holy nuns of Ephesus.
I was staring at the Eucharist in my private chapel, and I marvelled at how the Eucharist came from me. And the Eucharist is Jesus. And Jesus is God. So…God came from me? I immediately knew there was something wrong about in my thinking. It was this: The Eucharist did not come from me.
The best preposition is probably “through.” That is, the Eucharist came through me. The Catholic Church uses the verb to confect as seen in Canon Law: “Can. 900 §1. The minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone.” This verb comes from the Latin conficere, meaning to produce or to effect. It’s a variant-stem of con-facere, meaning “to make with.” Combine these two roots, and we have something like “to effect with.” So, the priest is an instrument who effects something with God…but even then it is only Christ Himself saying Hoc est enim corpus meum, or “This is my body.” This is the summit of a priest’s day when he functions in the person of Christ. He also functions as the person of Christ when the priest says Ego te absolvo or “I absolve you from your sins…” (See John 20:22-23.)
It is the priest who confects the Eucharist. In my chapel in the picture above, I stared at Our Lord and I realized that this is another link between the priest and Mary: Jesus came through Mary. In this sense, the priest is yet again like Mary: Jesus in the Eucharist comes through me. Although the dignity of being the Mother of God has no parallel, we can both say: I do not make God. The priest only confects the Eucharist, and even that is God’s own supreme act of love and sacrifice lived through me at my fingertips.
But why was Mary such a perfect vessel? In some sense (and I mean this with the utmost reverence to the fact she is the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of God) it was because of what she was not. She was not impure. She was not arrogant. She was not self-centered. She was not a braggart. She had no concern with being popular. The Uncreated Light of the Blessed Trinity was too transcendent for man to see. But at Christmas and Epiphany, the Divine Word was all of a sudden visible because of a pure prism with no selfishness.
That prism is of course the Holy Theotokos, Mary, Our Lady. Because of her purity, Christ could enter the physical world through her. Like a perfect prism, purity is more about what is not there. There are no blemishes, marks, scratches or cracks. Purity of intention is more than just matters of the sixth or ninth commandment. Purity of intention is to ascribe nothing to oneself. He must increase and I must decrease. In fact, the word arrogance means to ascribe something to oneself that should not be there.
The mystics tell us that no one in first century Israel was praying for the coming of the Messiah more than Mary. In fact, she only wanted to be the maid of the mother of the Messiah. That is all that she wanted—to be the sidekick of the Mother of the Messiah! Of course, it was her humility that “troubled” her (Lk 1:29) at the greeting of the glorious angel Gabriel.
Perhaps this is why the best of the desert Fathers did not want to be priests.
I have a good female friend who does a lot of good for the Church, but she is still unmarried and she does not have a religious vocation. The one place she finds great consolation is the most mysterious of all lines of the Apostle Paul: God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.—1 Cor 1:28-29. I can almost hear that deep movie-preview voice say, maybe for a new Lord of the Rings movie, that mysterious line about some barely-existing creature that would change the world: “even things that are not…” I don’t think she realizes how much this humility makes her like Mary, even when she doesn’t understand her vocation. This is how Mary saw herself, as something that was not. I don’t mean this in the way of self-pity or lack-of-self confidence. It actually takes an extremely humble person to have self-confidence.
In fact, without humility, God could not have made her the most famous woman in history. Yes, “He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”—Lk 1:48
What does this have to do with Our Lady’s priests? As Archbishop Fulton Sheen got older in all his sermons and retreats, it seems to my listening ears (many years after his death) that there was a progression in all his talks through the 1970s of his growing concern about how many priests wanted to exert their own personality…to be funny, to be entertaining, to be relevant, to be hip. Archbishop Fulton Sheen would frequently boom a mockery-motto of the modern priest: “I gotta be me!” No, Mary did not need any of these things for Christ to come through Her. Rejecting popularity, she became the most popular woman in history. It’s quite a mystery, actually.
This is true for preaching, too. We have had 50 years of the via positiva, people preaching from the pulpit that “God loves you.” And this is fine. But there’s a detriment to no preaching the via negativa. Years ago, when I first read the hellfire sermons of St. John Vianney, I was discouraged. When I first heard of St. John of the Cross, I thought that this saint spent too much time writing on detachment (the via negativa). Why not more time writing about God and His love? The answer is at the top of Mount Carmel: Because at the top of Mount Carmel, when one’s spiritual ego is totally sunk, the only thing that one experiences is in the honor and glory of God.
In blue-collar terms: All we need to do is reduce the bad, and God will do His job of turning up the good. The great saints of old spent so much time preaching against vice precisely because they were sure that God would do his job of shining through us if we could discipline ourselves (of course after the unmerited forgiveness of the blood of Christ arriving via the sacraments and faith.) The preaching of detachment was ironically a brilliant plan to make saints in love with God even more than the modern preachers who demand that we all become “saints in love with God” without any plan, without any content. The call to surrender without content is comforting…but not for long. People now again long for the clear moral directives of the old saints and Popes again. The old-school spiritual writers who wrote so much pro-detachment and anti-vice seem to have treated the spiritual life as an aqueduct: In a non-Pelagain way, after the grace of our initial conversion, the walls of discipline need to be built by us, and then the Divine Water will flow constantly.
My favorite line from GK Chesterton is: “And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was for good things to run wild.” Rules make us run faster! The zealous and scary saints like St. Vincent Ferrer spent so much time preaching on the moral life not because they thought the moral life is the end-all be-all of the life of grace, but because they knew that if we drew strong parameters, the aqueduct bridge of grace would flow quickly into our lives.
This was true for the Apostle Paul: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”—Rom 8:6-7. This certainly includes sexual sins for any vocation, for the Spirit of life cannot reside in a body that is impure: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”—Romans 8:10. All vocations must live this purity, but especially the priest. St. Alphonsus Liguori said that the priest who confects the Eucharist in mortal sin actually tags four new sins onto it!
But as I wrote earlier, this is not only about purity in body. Purity of intention is to want only one thing. That one thing is God’s glory, that is, sinking popularity and personality-cult followers. The priest must be like Our Lady, to want God’s glory alone, even at the price of a funny or witty mind. The truth is: None of it matters to Our Lady. She loves her priests, but not our egos. She knows that especially the priest’s heart will ebb and flow in one front of love and purity and orthodoxy as the Catechism points out:
The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith: The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed “so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.”—CCC 2518
Notice that the beginning of chastity is not doing seemingly-creative things with the body. Notice that orthodoxy is not doing seemingly-creative things with doctrine. Both seem boring, but both lead the via negativa to supernatural love (charity.)
How about the via positiva? How do we get to God through positive actions? In some sense, it really is how much time any of us in any vocation we spend with the Eucharist and with Our Lady. It’s not that God counts how many prayers we do (though He does know this, of course) but rather, as the Catechism says: “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart.“—CCC 2710
Why is the pathway to high levels of supernatural love in the 21st century going to be found in much time with the Eucharist and the Rosary? Because St. John Bosco predicted these days 150 years ago in his prophetic dream: “Very grave trials await the Church. What we have suffered so far is almost nothing compared to what is going to happen. The enemies of the Church are symbolized by the ships, which strive their utmost to sink the flagship. Only two things can save us in such a grave hour: devotion to Mary and frequent Communion. Let us do our very best to use these two means and have others use them everywhere.”
The Little Way as Spiritual Warfare: Lining up the Liturgy of several seemingly-unconnected saints this past week: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Therese, St. Francis, Mother Mary and the Gospel of the 18th Sunday After Pentecost.
Although the pro-life movement’s arguments can be proved from science as much as religion, one of the reasons that I am so involved in the pro-life movement is based on this piece of theology: God imagined every person as an unrepeatable blueprint long before their conception. Since God is the exclusive Creator of the Universe, and since God is in eternity (two philosophical necessities to a world with only One God) this means that God imagined the blueprint to each person’s genome long before an individual zygote was ever conceived. Of course, “imagined” and “before” are words that fail us, especially since we are speaking of a God who exists outside of time with a “mind” that is obviously not a physical cerebrum.
It is good that we say in the pro-life movement: “From the moment of conception you were a genetically unrepeatable human being.” But once we add the eternity of God into the mix, it goes even deeper: God had you perfectly planned before He created the Universe. See, if God is eternal, this is not pious or sentimental devotion. God actually loved you into existence during the specific time of history where you are placed (now, if you’re reading this now) but God also had you in mind as the unshakeable version of you. Yes, you are an unrepeatable reality of His own image and likeness which was blueprinted before the galaxy. You were originally the perfect idea of yourself as a “thought” of God before you were ever conceived in your mother’s uterus. In fact, God had you in mind trillions of years before that physical union. “Trillions” is a also weak word to imagine the one and only God who planned you outside of time. So, really God wanted you from forever as an unrepeatable receptacle of His creative Love and as an intimate reflection of His eternal Love.
Imagine a carpenter who is making a door. Philosophers call the wood the “material cause” where the word cause actually means “end” or “goal.” It’s the same as telos in Greek, that towards which a being is aiming its own reality as the goal of its existence (more being than doing.) So the “cause” is needed at the beginning as the intention, just as a door must actually have a form, not just random wood, but actually a cut and sanded door. (See St. Joseph working in the above image.) This “formal cause” is the telos or end toward which a being has its entire thrust of existence. Even more intimate to its existence is the “final cause,” which is in some sense the carpenter’s blueprint of his work. It exists in his mind before he actually takes the wood to task. This is why Aristotle wrote that “First in intention is last in execution.” The mental blueprint of the door is the final cause, end, goal, telos of the carpenter’s work, even though the idea and intention existed before the finished product. So also, each individual human soul had to be blueprinted in God’s mind just before conception. God Himself is the true meaning of Planned Parenthood. Everything else is a diabolical mockery.
October is the month of the Holy Rosary. Both the Roman Breviary and the Lesson from the Tradition Latin Mass for the Mass of the Holy Rosary today include some lines from Sacred Scripture that were ascribed to Mary by the Church for a very long time:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived.—Pv 8:22-24b
The old Roman Breviary also seems to ascribe pre-existence to Mary between the Psalms of Matins today: From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before Him.—Sir 24:14
I think many Protestants would be shocked to read that the Liturgy would ascribe to Mary the notion of pre-existence before time. They should be assured that we Catholics believe that Mary was not pre-existent. We do not believe that Mary existed before the galaxy like Her Son did. Jesus is the Divine Word and the Second Person of the Trinity, so He obviously existed before earth. But not Mary. So why then does it ascribe to Mary in both Proverbs 8 above and Sirach 24 that she was before He made anything and even before the world?
The answer is found in the first two paragraphs of this blog post: Mary was an idea of God long before she was conceived. Yes, she was conceived as the Immaculate Conception during the holy but normal intercourse of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. But her soul had to have been planned before that actual act, just as a formal cause or blueprint in the mind of the Creator of all things must exist. Your soul and my soul was planned on being infused into our bodies as God pre-destined and foreknew us.
Mary was not God. Mary is not God. She is not pre-existent. But the plan predestined for her is the supreme pre-existing blueprint of God’s best plan for not only humanity but all of creation:
“God could make a bigger world or a wider sky, but He could not raise a pure creature higher than Mary.”—St. Bonaventure
This means that besides the sacred humanity of Jesus (yes, Jesus had a created soul and body even though the center of His personhood is purely Divine as God the Son) Mary was the greatest thing God could think of. Besides the created human soul and body of Jesus (that Christ actually created as God!) we can put all of the above paragraphs together to say that the blueprint of Mary’s soul was the greatest thought that God ever had for creation. God outdid Himself in creating Mary. From St. Bonaventure, we might be able to go so far as to say that God Himself could not have had a greater thought than that of planning Mary’s soul. Even if this is going too far, remember that St. Thomas Aquinas (always quite sober on his Marian theology) admits that although only the soul of Jesus had the Holy Spirit to an infinite degree, the perfection and grace of holiness infused into the soul of Mary “bordered on the infinite.” So, if God Himself could not raise a pure creature to a higher degree than Mary, we can easily say without saccharine sentimentality that Mary was the woman that God dreamed of before all time.
And so, somewhere within the “eons” (so to speak) of this eternal plan of redemption, Christ made her perfect soul and Immaculate body…about 14 years before He made His own human soul and body.
This is why Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote my favorite book on Mary, The World’s First Love. He shows that Mary was God’s First Love. I am convinced Archbishop Sheen must have titled his book The World’s First Love after meditating on those Old Testament readings applied to Mary in the Traditional Latin Mass (Proverbs 8 and Sir 24, as seen above.) In order to contemplate what it means for a planned-but-not-pre-existent creature to hold the Creator for nine months inside her, the old Roman Breviary even ascribes this astonishing line on the Feast of the Rosary to the Blessed Virgin Mary: From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.—Sir 24:14. That is, Mary was planned to be Christ’s holy dwelling before her creation.
One last time, St. Bonaventure’s quote: “God could make a bigger world or a wider sky, but He could not raise a pure creature higher than Mary.” This means that Mary’s soul was planned before the creation of earth to be so beautiful that it would outdo the combined beauty of the souls of all the saints, all the heroic acts of the martyrs, all the beauty of a newly born baby, all the beauty of uncharted planets with their own unknown Grand Canyons and even more glorious than the invisible world of angels. Such is the soul of Mary.
When you say one “Hail Mary,” you approach this Immaculate soul to intercede for you. Whether you go to the old Mass or new Mass or you’re not even Catholic, you can still fulfill the prophesy that all generations would call Mary blessed (Luke 1:48.) With the Rose garden of the Rosary this month of October, you will see (even if you are not a Catholic) that it is no wonder that Mary’s intercession prompted the very first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2.) Just try to ask her intercession and you will see: Mary is the mother of Catholics, the mother of Protestants, the mother of Muslims and the mother of Jews. Mary is the loving Mother of both transvestites and saints. Mary is the Mother of atheists and Mary is the mother of Jesus. Try the Rosary and you too will see: How could God refuse the request of the most perfect and powerful soul that He Himself has ever created? 1
St. Junipero Serra wrote this beautiful prayer: “O Purest Queen of heaven and earth, most perfect work of the Holy Trinity, since from all eternity the Father chose you for His daughter, the Son selected you to be His Mother and the Holy Spirit selected you as His spouse, there could not be the slightest imperfection, not even the smallest shadow of original sin on your soul. As the first fruit of the redemption, your soul was free, beautiful and free from the initial moment of your conception. Receive, O Mother, in virtue of this singular mystery, my short but prayerful offering, or, to put it another way, the humble utterance of your lowly servant. I would like to offer you all the gold of the Indies and all the riches of the entire world. But what greater treasure could there be than a soul redeemed by the Precious Blood of your most Holy Son? Listen to this prayer, uttered by one of little virtue, for together with it I append the most fervent affections which the most gifted among your servants have offered you. In return, all I want is that for today, all the days of my life and at the moment of my death, I might have the grace of choosing you as mother, advocate and patroness. I ask that you take me under the mantle of your protection and, after gazing at me with your merciful eyes, you free me from human miseries, so that my soul may be happy with you in heaven. Amen. [3 Hail Mary’s in honor of the Trinity for the privileges accorded by the Father to His Daughter, the Son to His Mother and the Holy Spirit to His spouse.] God hails you, Mary, Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, temple and chalice of the Holy Trinity, Mary conceived without original sin.” ↩
In the TLM calendar, today is the external feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Although this sermon deals with abortion, I tried to avoid extremely graphic descriptions of the violence. In fact, the families with whom I inquired after Mass had no problem with my vocabulary in preaching. Nevertheless, I would highly encourage parents to preview this sermon in order to first determine the level of age-appropriate listening in your family.
Nota Bene: Future sermons will probably be released on Mondays, blog posts on Thursdays.
How to be holy like Mary (kind of.)
Covered in this podcast is a wide range of Catholic issues, from the first Pentecost to the charismatic movement today, to St. Maximilian Kolbe. We’ll especially consider Mary’s role against demons and the syllabus of errors in modern times.
Special thanks again to the Benedictine Nuns of Mary Queen of Apostles for allowing me to use their music as the bumpers to my iTunes sermons and podcasts.