Getting Out of God's Way.
The Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop & Martyr.*
Lessons from the feria (the Seventh Wednesday of Easter), according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 20: 28-38.
• Psalm 68: 29-30, 33-36.
• John 17: 11-19.
… or, from the proper:
• Acts 26: 19-23.
• Psalm 117: 1-2.
• John 10: 11-16.
… or, any lessons from the common of Martyrs for One Martyr in Easter Time, or the common of Pastors for Missionaries.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Boniface, Bishop & Martyr.*
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 44: 1-15.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• Matthew 5: 1-12.
11:13 AM 6/5/2019 — It's pretty clear that Holy Mother Church never intended that there be a daily homily. Not that the Scripture lessons presented to us this time of year are not rich in meaning, because they are, but they're repetitive. Paul's trip to Ephesus is being dragged out piecemeal, and our Blessed Lord's priestly prayer from Saint John, in which he speaks of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit which we will acknowledge Sunday on Pentecost, can be downright ponderous in its repetition, though a lot of that is the fault of the translation: I am yours and you are mine and they are ours and we are all together, and I am the walrus. It wouldn't be so frustrating—from a preacher's point of view—if it was a one shot deal, but when both flights are being dragged out over the course of a whole week it's hard to know what to do with them.
That, of course, doesn't mean there's nothing to be had of benefit to the one who assists daily at Holy Mass. Paul's preaching of the Gospel in the heart of a pagan society is certainly enlightening in that it instructs us how to be attuned to someone's outlook and ignorance without watering down the message. He learned a valuable lesson when preaching in Athens: he had initially thought he was making great strides there because the Athenians seemed so interested in what he had to say; but, he had misread the situation, as Saint John Chrysostom explains to us: “… the Athenians were partial to new discourses, but then ignored them and paid no attention to their content. They were only interested in having something new to talk about.”**
Paul never forgot the lesson of his failure in Athens, and it reminds me of a little regarded encyclical by Pope Benedict the XV, after whom our own Pope Benedict XVI had named himself. The very year our Lady first appeared at Fatima he wrote:
What St. Paul taught was all the truths and precepts of Christ, even the most demanding ones, without silencing or watering down any. He spoke of humility, of self-denial, of chastity, of detachment from earthly good, of obedience …. And he did not fear to stress that one had to choose between serving God and serving [oneself], because it is not possible to serve the two together. He taught that after death all had to undergo a woeful judgment; that no one can bargain with God; that one can only expect eternal life if one has kept God's laws; that seeking pleasures by breaking these laws one can only expect eternal damnation …. Never did the Preacher of the truth think he had to omit these things because they might seem harsh to his listeners, especially in view of the corruption of the times.***
That’s a mouthful. Forget 1917; it’s prescient enough to have been written yesterday. The person who announces Christ must be willing to be unpopular at times, to forgo success in human terms, to row against the current without glossing over the more demanding aspects of our Lord's precepts. Nor does it suffice to suggest that if one doesn’t tone-down or “soft-pedal” the more odoriferous articles of the catechism, at least initially, people will reject what they hear. No one can come to believe what he hasn’t heard; and, even if he rejects it initially, the seed has been planted and may yet bear fruit.
Like Saint Paul in Athens, we make the mistake of thinking we've failed because we don't see any immediate effect. We make the mistake of thinking that, when we do something for someone or say something to someone, the success or failure of what we've said or done must be immediately apparent. We raise our children a certain way, then they go astray or get themselves into trouble later in life, and we assume, therefore, that we've failed as parents. We try, with our words, to convince someone to turn away from an immoral life, and they scoff at us and turn away. We try to make amends to someone whom we've offended in some way, but they seem to reject our apology. In all these cases, we've convinced ourselves that we've failed because we expect to see the results of our good efforts right away. But the effects of our good efforts often act like seeds: you don't plant a seed then sit there and expect something to pop out of the earth within the next ten minutes. And, more often than not—especially in the case of our children—the seed of goodness we plant in someone may not germinate until long after we're dead.
Insisting that we see the effects of our good efforts right away is a spiritual defect. It's rooted in the mistake of thinking that the good we do is done by ourselves and not by the grace of God working through us. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is used in the Byzantine Churches at certain times of the year, there's a line in the anaphora—the Eucharistic Prayer—where the priest tells God, “We have done nothing good upon the earth.” That's very true. Everything we do that is good is done, not by us, but by God's grace active in us. That doesn't mean that there's no merit in doing good; it does mean that the merit is not from us doing something good, but from us getting out of the way so that God can do something good in spite of us.
So, as we now turn our attention to the Holy Sacrifice of our Lord's sacred Body and precious Blood, let us strive ever more perfectly to get out of God's way so that we can be effectively used by Him; and, let us resolve not to look for any evidence that we've succeeded, but resolve instead to leave it in God's hands.
* An Englishman by birth, Boniface (680-754), a Benedictine monk, was the great apostle of Germany, and eventually became that land's first bishop, where he organized the Church, and was martyred while preaching among the Frisians.
** Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 39.
*** Humani generis redemptionem, June 15, 1917.