The Substance of Our Hopes, the Reality of Things Unseen.
The Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time; or, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday.
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Hebrews 11: 1-7.
• Psalm 145: 2-5, 10-11.
• Mark 9: 2-13.
When the memorial is observed, lessons from the feria as above, or any lessons from the common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Fourth Class Feria of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday; and, the Commemoration of Saint Simeon, Bishop & Martyr.*
Lessons from the common "Salve sancta parens…" of the Blessed Virgin, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 24: 14-16.
• [Gradual] Benedicta et venerábilis es…**
• [Tract] Gaude María Virgo…***
• Luke 11: 27-28.
If a Mass for the commemoration is taken, lessons from the common "Státuit…" of a Martyr Bishop:
• James 1: 12-18.
• [Gradual] Psalm 88: 21-23.
• [Tract] Psalm 20: 3-4.
• Luke 14: 26-33.
The Second Saturday of the Triodion; and, the First All Souls Saturday.†
First & third lessons from the triodion, second & fourth from the menaion for the dead, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• I Corinthians 10: 23-28.
• I Thessalonians 4: 13-17.
• Luke 21: 8-9, 25-27, 33-36.
• John 5: 24-30.
7:56 AM 2/18/2017 — Some of you who pray with us on Sunday may remember me mentioning that, beginning the week before, and continuing all this past week, we had read—and would be reading—from Genesis, beginning with the creation, then continuing through all the events immediately afterward: the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the murder of Abel by Cain, Noah and the flood, and yesterday the story of the Tower of Babel. And all of a sudden, today, our first lesson is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews as a kind of summation of everything we’ve been hearing, serving as a kind of moral to the saga. All of these Old Testament events are summarized for us as a lesson on the virtue of faith. Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God because of his faith; Enoch was taken up to heaven as a reward for his faith; Noah had enough faith to trust in the word of God transmitted to him, and built the ark to save him and his family. So, Hebrews frames the whole Genesis account in the context of faith.
Our first lesson, then, begins with what is probably the shortest yet most beautiful definition of Faith in the Bible: “What is faith? It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things we cannot see” (11: 1 Knox).†† It’s what we mean whenever we use the term “leap of faith.” And that, in itself, is a meditation. We all have hopes and dreams, and our Lord, through the author of Hebrews, is telling us that these hopes and dreams become real through faith.
Sometimes our hopes and dreams are hard for us to maintain, simply because they are just hopes and dreams, and hopes and dreams, so a person without faith would maintain, are not real. But it’s through faith that something that begins existence in our hearts can actually take on substance and change the whole of our lives. Hebrews reminds us of these Old Testament figures as a kind of proof that hopes and dreams can be real if our faith is strong enough; after all, what happened to the ancients actually happened.
That’s the whole point of the Missal pairing this lesson with Mark’s account of our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Peter, James and John were our Lord’s closest friends, but He knew that even they—who had more faith than all the others—still had their doubts. That’s why He let them see the Transfiguration, in much the same way that God rewarded the blind faith of those Old Testament figures. But bear in mind that, in both cases, these rewards for faith did not solve all their problems for them. Abel was still killed by his brother, Noah still had to build the ark, and—in case it had escaped our notice before—Peter, James and John, our Lord’s must trusted disciples, were the very same three whom our Lord chose to be with Him during His Agony in the Garden, and had to witness His passion and death.
So it would be trite to suggest that faith is some kind of magic bullet in times of trouble, because it isn’t. And yet, it’s faith that reminds us, if only like a faint whisper in our ear, that our Lord is there, and has not left us to twist in the wind. We all go up and down: sometimes our faith is strong, sometimes it’s very weak, most of the time it’s somewhere in between. But our Lord is always there even when we don’t sense Him there. If we make the mistake of equating the presence of God in our lives with some sort of emotional experience, that’s when faith starts to break down, because faith is not an emotion, nor is our Lord’s presence indicated by some sort of feeling. That’s all the result of the therapeutic approach to religion which is so common today. Faith is an act of the will, and acts of the will can be easy when we feel like it, and not so easy when we don’t.
Peter, James and John were all too pleased to have been given the grace to see our Lord in His heavenly glory on Mount Tabor; I doubt they were all that enthused to be on the Mount of Olives. But, they were still there, because they had faith. That faith didn’t spare them from sharing in our Lord’s sufferings, but it did give them the strength to persevere. And when the passion was over, what they had hoped for became real when they could be with our Lord again in His resurrected body. And so it will be for us, if only we can muster the will to keep faith, the substance of our hopes, and the reality of what we cannot see.
* It is commonly believed that the Simeon honored on this day was a close relative of the Mother of God. According to legend, he succeeded the Apostle James as Bishop of Jerusalem, and was crucified under Trajan at the age of 102 in the year 106.
** The Gradual is non-Scriptural: "Blessed and venerable art Thou, O Virgin Mary: Who without blemish to Thy maidenhood, wert found to be the Mother of the Saviour. O Virgin, Mother of God, He Whom the whole world cannot contain, enclosed Himself in Thy womb and became Man."
*** The Tract (added after Septuagesima) is non-Scriptural: "Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, Thou alone hast destroyed all heresies. Who didst believe the words of the Archangel Gabriel. Whilst a virgin, Thou didst bring forth God and Man; and, after His birth, a Virgin entire Thou didst remain. O Mother of God, Intercede for us."
† Cf. the first footnote in the post here for an explanation of the pre-Lenten seasons of Septuagesima and the Triodion.
While the Western Church commemorates the Holy Souls once a year on November 2nd, the Churches of the Byzantine Tradition do so five times a year: once during the Triodion, three times during the Lenten season and once during the Paschal season, always on a Saturday; these are called the All Souls Saturdays.
The commemoration of Our Holy Father Leo, Pope of Rome, is supressed because of the All Souls Saturday.
†† Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων. Literally: “Now faith is that of which [is] being hoped, [the] reality of things the proof [of which] not being seen.”