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Next to the Holy Mass, the Divine Office (or Breviary) is the most important prayer offered to God.  It is offered by the Church and in the name of the Church, conferring multifold graces and blessings on those who recite it worthily, attentively and devoutly.  Normally the domain of priests and religious, the Church has continued to recommend her official prayer to the faithful.  However, until now, the complexity of the rubrics and a lack of suitable translations has deterred many.

 

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  Sexagesima

February 8, 2015

My Strenth is Made Perfect in Weakness

Today I want to tell you a story about an old man. He appears in today’s Lessons at Matins and he reinforces for us the parable in today’s Gospel of the sower who went out to sow his seeds.

This old man lived many thousands of years ago, but his story is still told today in catechism classes to children the world over. It’s a very familiar story. It’s the story of an old man named Noah, and we find him all the way back in the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. We think of Noah as a fairly elderly man with a long white beard. But do you know how old he actually was? He was in fact more than just ‘fairly elderly’. The Bible tells us that when God called him to do that little carpentry job called Noah’s Ark he was already in his late five-hundreds, and by the time the Great Flood came, he had reached the age of six hundred. Obviously he was doing pretty well for his age. Perhaps that had something to do with today’s Epistle where St. Paul says “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Not only was he strong, but it was grace that made him strong. In six hundred years a person can commit an awful lot of sins, but Noah had used the time to gather up grace instead.

Noah might have been an old man, laboring with the infirmities of age. He might very well have been a decrepit six-hundred-year-old senior citizen. But grace was enough to overcome his weakness, and he was chosen for salvation. As happens so often God did not choose the rich, the intelligent, the mighty men or giants who walked about the earth at that time. Think of the twelve Apostles, think of saints like the Curé of Ars and St. Joseph Cupertino. It was Noah who was chosen to receive the gift of God’s grace and who would be saved, while those around him, including the giants and mighty men of old, would drown in the waters of the Great Flood.

And what of ourselves? We know our own weaknesses. Hopefully we try and fight against them, replacing the vices of our fallen nature with the virtues of grace. But we are weak. As St. Paul says in the Epistle: “Of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” We glory therefore in our weakness. Why? Because if we are weak, no one can point to us and say that we find salvation through our own strength. No, like old man Noah, we will find our salvation only by the grace of God. It is he, and he alone, that chooses us for salvation. And, like Noah, he will choose the weak, he will choose only those who rely and wait patiently upon the grace of God. So let’s not be ashamed of our weakness, even our moral weakness. Let’s not be ashamed that we are tempted. It’s in our nature, after all, our fallen nature, to be tempted. Let us repent our sins, naturally, but let us rejoice in our infirmities.

And these infirmities or weaknesses, these temptations, where do they come from? They come from three sources, as you might remember from catechism. They come from the Devil, the World, and our own Fallen Nature (the Flesh). Today we read in the Gospel the parable of the sower who went out to sow his seed. It is no coincidence that there are three places where he sows his seed and it dies. The Devil, the World, and the Flesh are always there to prevent our good seed reaching maturity and bearing fruit. This lesson is so important that Our Lord himself explains the parable to us. It is not for once left to us to figure it out ourselves.

He tells us that the sower of the seed is God, and that the seed is the Word of God. And what are the three places where the seed is sown only to die? These three places, by the wayside, on a rock, and among thorns, are the three ways those who hear the Word of God still do not save their souls. Because of the Devil, the World, and the Flesh.

The first seed is sown by the wayside. In other words off the true path. Those who receive this seed in their hearts have no true focus on the reason why they exist. They are not on the path of salvation. They are by the wayside, open to all the distractions and temptations of the Devil. They don’t think about their eternal salvation. And to make sure they never do, the Devil throws them a hundred thousand little things that seem more interesting, more attractive, more pleasurable, more cool. And so this seed that falls by the wayside withers and dies.

What about the seed that falls on the rock? Here there is no soil for the seed to take root. The souls that receive this seed are those who are so entrenched in sin that the seed just sits there, either unnoticed or deliberately ignored, burnt up by the heat of the next temptation. Lust, gluttony, sloth, sins of the Flesh. And those in their grasp, when they hear the Word of God, are either too lazy or too busy gratifying their own sinful pleasures, to even take the time to notice.

And what of the thorns? Those prickly plants that stifle the growth of the good seed. Again, look around you at the World. Think about your own life in that world. The distractions that stifle your desire for heaven, that take away your time, stifling your interest in the things of God. Your job, for example, and the necessity of providing for your family. A good and necessary thing perhaps, but nevertheless a distraction. And it can be a temptation too: the idea of pursuing a career – ruthlessly perhaps and at the expense of others that stand in your way. Or the idea of accruing riches or a lucrative position with power. And then the other distractions of the world: the latest episode of Downton Abbey, the Superbowl, Mardi Gras, fishing off Cape Cod, jelly donuts. All the things that make life “fun”, “worth living”. Perhaps not bad things in themselves. But do you not find they stifle your thoughts of God? That they distract you from what is truly important?

So we have these three enemies of the soul: the Devil, the Flesh, and the World. All of us fall prey at some time to one or other of these enemies. Some unfortunately wallow in the misery of all three. But any one of these enemies, given half a chance, will stifle the life of the soul, tearing it away from God, and dragging it down to an eternity without him.

It’s entirely up to each one of us to make sure that when the divine Sower sows his seed, we see to it that it falls on good ground. The good ground that stands for the life of grace. That grace which nourishes the soul of those who, says the Gospel, “are of an honest and good heart, and having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Men like Noah, who when they heard the word of God, (“Build an ark!”) – they kept the word of God. Noah built his ark. He waited patiently, for six hundred years, living a life of grace, and finally he brought forth fruit with his patience.

We need to follow in the path of Noah. Firstly by recognizing that our most important priority must be our eternal salvation. To achieve this we will do everything it takes to make sure our souls are firmly planted in the good soil. Not by the wayside, not on a rock, not amongst the thorns. This is the very first priority of our lives, making sure we are on sure footing on good earth. Making sure we are in the true Church of God, that we are in the state of grace, that we are leading a life pleasing to God.

The next thing we must do is to keep the word of God that we hear. In other words, we must obey the commandments, the little ones as well as the big ones. Love God and your neighbour, and all else will follow. But follow they must. Even the smallest commandment represents the will of God, and woe unto us if we deliberately defy that will of God and do our own will instead. Hear God’s word, then keep it. Do this and when the day of wrath comes, the day of death and judgment, we will find ourselves with Noah, safely on the Ark of Salvation, ready to spend an eternity of happiness with God.

There’s just over a week left now before Lent begins. Today we have been told how to prepare for it. We have been given the task of building our own Noah’s Ark, our very own Ark of Salvation. Of preparing our own soul by fighting the Devil, the Flesh, and the World. Make your resolution today to fight the Devil by keeping the word of God and patiently observing his commandments. Fight the Flesh, by doing penance, renouncing your own appetites, and practicing the virtues. And fight the World, by stifling the distractions of life, focusing instead on the spiritual, by a greater prayer life, by closer union with our good God.

And when you’re done, make sure you don’t just sit back and wait for it to start raining. Get on the Ark while there’s time. Your forty days and forty nights of deluge are about to begin. It’s called Lent, and so let’s pray to Our Blessed Lady that it may be for us a Great Flood of grace, washing away our sins certainly, but not the good seed that Our Lord has sown in our hearts.


 Sermons from the Chaplain