Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prayers today: See, the Lord is coming and with him all his saints. Then there will be endless day. Zec 14: 5, 7

Father of love, you made a new creation through Jesus Christ your Son. May his coming free us from sin and renew his life within us, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier (1819-1876)

This woman who once wanted to become a Trappistine nun was instead led by God to establish a community of sisters who care for the sick and aged in the United States and throughout the world. Born into a distinguished family in Aachen (then ruled by Prussia but formerly Aix-la-Chapelle, France), Frances ran the household after her mother’s death and established a reputation for generosity to the poor. In 1844 she became a Secular Franciscan. The next year she and four companions established a religious community devoted to caring for the poor. In 1851 the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis (a variant of the original name) were approved by the local bishop; the community soon spread. The first U.S. foundation was made in 1858. Mother Frances visited the United States in 1863 and helped her sisters nurse soldiers wounded in the Civil War. She visited the United States again in 1868. When Philip Hoever was establishing the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis, she encouraged him. When Mother Frances died, there were 2,500 members of her community worldwide. The number has kept growing. They are still engaged in operating hospitals and homes for the aged. Mother Mary Frances was beatified in 1974.
The sick, the poor and the aged are constantly in danger of being considered "useless" members of society and therefore ignored — or worse. Women and men motivated by the ideals of Mother Frances are needed if the God-given dignity and destiny of all people are to be respected.
In 1868, Mother Frances wrote to all her sisters, reminding them of Jesus’ words: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.... I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (John 15:14,17). She continued: “If we do this faithfully and zealously, we will experience the truth of the words of our father St. Francis who says that love lightens all difficulties and sweetens all bitterness. We will likewise partake of the blessing which St. Francis promised to all his children, both present and future, after having admonished them to love one another even as he had loved them and continues to love them.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (21.28-32)

Jesus said, What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted? The first, they answered. Jesus said to them, I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Continual Repentance
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

One of the many obvious differences between Islam and Christianity is the denial by Islam of an inherited Original Sin. Man is not born into an inherited condition of sin. Rather he must choose to resist sin and by nature he is indeed able to resist it. In the early Church, the priest Pelagius insisted that man by nature is able to live a good and holy life — and so he too denied the inherited fallen condition of man. Man can choose to live a holy life and can do this by force of his God-given nature. This doctrine was, as is well known, combated by St Augustine who insisted on the Fall and the power and the necessity of grace. Now, the Protestant Reformers following Luther and Calvin made this a central issue of their Reform, and, filled with a sense of the helplessness of man before the call of holiness, insisted on the utter depravity of the human heart. It is God’s sovereign power which is his only hope. Ever since these positions were nailed to the mast there has been hard controversy between the Catholic insistence that man’s effort and choice also have a part to play and the Protestant insistence that faith alone avails. It is quite possible that there is no ultimate disagreement on this particular issue, despite the anathemas that arose as a result. Be all this as it may, it surely serves to introduce the great point of our Lord’s parable in today’s Gospel passage. His point is that we must choose to convert. There is the man who religiously promises to do God’s will, but in the event does not. In both personal inclination and external appearance he is religious and there is often on his lips and in his heart the promise to God that he will do his will. He does not entertain the thought of a life of sin or of general neglect of God. He is, let us say, a religious man as most would understand that to be. But in his heart he chooses to displease God. Secretly he fails to follow God’s law when it involves inconvenience. He gives very little indeed to the poor. In his heart of hearts all his life he refuses to forgive. His imagination is cluttered with images that are offensive to God. That is to say, he chooses not to obey God.

By contrast there is the person who for many years neglects God and everyone can see that. He does not live the faith he has received at his Baptism and in which he was raised by his dutiful parents. He hears that he must obey God to be saved and that Christ is the only Saviour, but he is interested in other things. This world is what he wants and to give his heart to Jesus Christ he regards as a waste and a mistake. So his life is godless and very secular. He does well in the world because worldly success is the focus of his life. But then he undergoes adverse experiences. He falls sick with a life-threatening condition from which he recovers but in the process he has come to see the ephemeral character of purely worldly attainments. After all, what can he take with him when his time finally comes? At the end of his allotted span, what will he really have to show? Such are the thoughts that gradually come — thoughts that are perhaps confirmed by a bereavement. His wife or child dies and he is absolutely devastated. What is it that makes life worthwhile? And so he comes to change. He gradually turns to God. Though his characteristic response to the call of faith and religion used to be “I will not,” now it is very different. Now he says in his heart, “I will.” He goes from strength to strength in his new direction, still sinning but now continually converting. His conversion was not a one-off event, but the beginning of a pattern. He is continually endeavouring to convert. Every day he reviews briefly the course of his service of God during the day and he resolves yet again to change. He will change in the areas he sees require a change. His goal now is to repent constantly not only of serious sin but above all of venial sin, the smaller sins of every day. This, then, is the secret of the sanctity that is growing in him due to the action of grace. He does not consider any sin, even the lightest and most venial, to be acceptable. He knows that all sin is odious to God, so he will recognize it and resolve to avoid it. The secret to his spiritual progress is that he is repenting daily of deliberate venial sins.

Let us resolve to be like the first son in our Lord’s parable who, though he refused to go to the vineyard as his father asked, repented and then went (Matthew 21: 28-32). This is what we should be doing not just once but every day of our lives. Though we fail to obey in this or that aspect of God’s law, we must repent and then by the power of grace, resolve to do better. The more faithful to the grace of God we are, the more will grace be given to us. The secret to spiritual progress is ongoing repentance from venial sin. Let us repent then, repenting every day, all the while relying on the powerful grace of God.

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