|Why Is It So Necessary to Pretend that the Gospel Doesn't Require Us to Keep It Zipped?
The Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin & Martyr.
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Sirach 47: 2-11.
• Psalm 18: 31, 47, 50-51.
• Mark 6: 14-29.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Agatha, Virgin & Martyr.
First & second lessons from the proper, third & fourth from the common,* according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 1: 26-31.
• Psalm 45: 6, 5.
• Psalm 125: 5-7.
• Matthew 19: 3-12.
Cheesefare Friday; a Postfestive Day of the Enounter; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyr Agatha.
There is no Divine Liturgy today.**
10:27 AM 2/5/2016 — Today's Gospel lesson tells us of the martyrdom of the Baptist who died because he spoke the inconvenient truth to his king. Of course, you and I know that his death was necessary in the economy of salvation; but, taken by itself it stands witness to the words later spoken by the Blessed Apostle Paul: “…proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient…” (2 Tim. 4: 2 NABRE). And inconvenient it was in the case of John the Baptist. If he had simply challenged Herod on his neglect of the laws of fast and abstinence, or criticized him for not praying in the Temple or a synagogue on the Sabbath, of even admonished him for not giving enough to the poor, he would have probably annoyed Herod, but not the point of losing his head. Unfortunately, he chose to condemn Herod's sexual life, and that simply couldn't be tolerated.
And how little has changed. Why do even Catholics, who faithfully file into their pews Sunday after Sunday, seem so willing to accept things like homosexual “marriage”? Why is it, in today's society, that when someone identifies someone else as his or her “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” it is almost always automatically assumed that its a sexual relationship that's being described? The entertainment industry and media have a lot to do with it, for sure; but, why should those things succeed in watering down our commitment to the Gospel? Some years ago, then-Pope Benedict issued a decree concerning homosexuality and the priesthood, and in it he condemned the notion that the homosexual orientation was morally neutral, and forbid the ordination of any man to the Holy Priesthood who had this orientation, even if he was living a perfectly chaste life. And a friend of mine, another priest, forwarded to me an article about a priest who had been serving as a university chaplain, who had resigned from his position and was deserting his priesthood because—so he said—he felt he could not accept or defend this teaching, that there was no way he could justify it to the souls entrusted to his care. And I remember it causing me to ask a number of questions: our Church teaches that there are three Persons in one God, a dogma that can't be explained by any means of human reason, and he had no problem accepting or teaching it. Our Church teaches that our Blessed Mother conceived of the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the God-Man without loss of her virginity, and he felt completely able to accept and defend that. Our Church teaches that sins are forgiven by Christ through the instrumentality of the priest, which also cannot be explained by means of human reason, and he had no problem with that. Our Church teaches that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is present, whole and entire, under the appearance of bread and wine in the Blessed Eucharist, and this also was no challenge to his conscience. But a teaching far less irrational, for which one can, if one wants to, put forth a rational argument even if it's not accepted by everyone, could not be accepted, and necessitated him leaving the ministry. What is it about doctrines touching on sexual matters that puts them in a completely different category than any other doctrines the Church believes and teaches? Where did this notion come from that sexual gratification is a right, so much so that anyone who challenges the notion must be condemned as a kook?
Saint Agatha, whose memorial we observe today, died for a reason similar to the Baptist: challenging someone's sexual freedom. She was the object of someone's lust and, when she refused to surrender her virginity, she was arrested by the Emperor Decius. The charge, according to the sketchy records of the time, was “adhering to the Christian superstition.” What was it that made Christianity a “superstition” to the Roman emperors of the third century? It was no threat to the emperor's power, it had no economic ramifications, it didn't threaten national security; but, as a way of life it required sexual self-control. That could not be brooked.
The description of Agatha's tortures is pretty brutal, and I won't repeat it for you here; the question it raises is why those tortures were considered necessary. The same sort of thing goes on today, but in a different way. Make no mistake that it is the deliberate intention of the secular society to use television, the Internet, the cinema and the presentation of relativistic morality that they present to us constantly to titillate and tempt. Like Mephistopheles in Faust: always tempting, always criticizing, always ridiculing as backward and prudish until we finally succumb to temptation and fall, then he's the first to point the accusing finger and declare us hypocrites.
I've said before that we are privileged to live in a new age of martyrdom; but, we don't have to be Christians in the Middle East being slaughtered by ISIS to suffer martyrdom. We have martyrdom all around us. We suffer it ourselves almost every day. We can't watch television, we can't turn on our computers, we can't watch the news, we can't even walk out of our house without martyrdom starring us in the face. The blood John the Baptist shed, the blood Agatha shed, the blood shed by martyrs of all times through the centuries, unites us to the Blood of our Blessed Lord. Saint John Paul II once said:
Today there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the faith. They are often unknown to or forgotten by their contemporaries, or by “public opinion,” which finds its attention is taken up by other more engrossing events and personalities. Often only God knows them.***
And we are in that group every time we stand against the tide of contemporary presumption, and proclaim with our lives that we will not live as the world says we should.
During our Holy Hour today, let us make reparation for the sins of all mankind, and find in the worship of the Body and Blood of our Lord the strength we need to remain faithful to Him, and to always preach the truth whether convenient or inconvenient.
* The third lesson is the Tract, which replaces the "Alleluia" during penitential seasons; even so, there is no commemoration of Sexagesima Friday.
** The Churches of the Byzantine Tradition do not celebrate the Eucharist during the Triodion and the Great Fast, except on significant feasts.
*** Prayer of Petition, Lourdes, Aug. 14, 1983.