Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost given by Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro
Since the beginning, rational creatures had to choose to use their freedom either to serve the Lord or try to fall into the shortsighted illusion of trying to serve themselves. This is the option that the angels had. This is the option that we have. The majority led by St. Michael made the decision to serve their Lord and Creator – a minority regrettably decided to rebel and became demons. We can see that this option is presented with stark clarity both in the epistle and in the gospel.
St. Paul in the epistle to the Galatians that we have heard today presents the two possible paths: to walk with the Spirit or to follow the way of the flesh in its physical and intellectual aspects. St. Paul tells us something that we all know well, but is useful to hear from an inspired authority – that a war is being waged in the heart and the mind of every person. It is a struggle between that which leads to evil and the life in Christ that is given to us by the Spirit. Unless we follow Christ with all our minds and hearts, temptations will snare us and dominate our lives and make us slaves of sin. When we respond to grace, we enable the Spirit to work powerfully in us clearing away our sins and the evil tendencies that lead us away from God. Because of our weakness, victory in this struggle is certainly possible but not easy. St. Paul presents a list of mortal sins. These sins will cut of the offenders from Christ and will impede their entrance into Heaven if repentance is neglected.
The coming of the Spirit into the souls of the faithful and our subsequent acceptance will lead us into holiness. The first consequence of this presence of the Spirit is the love of God which is the source of all that is good and the virtue upon which all other virtues are grounded. It is very significant that St. Paul talking of the consequences of this presence speaks in the singular “fruit” meaning that the life in the Spirit is an integrated whole, not fragmented or divided.
A man who tries to serve two masters and tries to receive benefits from both of them is placing himself in an impossible and contradictory situation – no more than a man can follow two roads at the same time. It is an impossible option, based on a lack of faith in the value of divine providence, as Christ explicitly shows to us in the gospel. Some try to serve God and Mammon because they doubt that the Lord can provide the necessary earthy goods. To strengthen our faith in Divine Providence let us pray as the words of the psalmist and the tract of this Mass suggest: “It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in man. It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes.”
The person that tries to serve both God and the world will neither satisfy God, who is a zealous God and wants our undivided allegiance nor will it satisfy the world. A man of contrasting allegiances will neither be joyful in this world – because happiness is never possible in this world when we are separated from God – nor enjoy happiness in the world to come. Regrettably, many in our ranks today try to reach compromises with the world. That is like trying to serve two masters. In our times many have to tried to adjust the message of the Church to the world to make it more accessible to what they consider to be contemporary society, but they do not seem to understand that the world will always reject the substance of our message. The Lord Jesus has already warned us that the world would prefer darkness to light. We have to understand that if we change the substance of our message to make it acceptable to contemporary society we would be unfaithful to Christ and we would became like the salt that has lost its flavor and is only worth being trampled under the feet of men. Also, we have to be careful that in trying to change the external presentation of our message we do not alter the substance, because the internal substance of a thing is perceived by its external manifestations. We should ask ourselves if the change of many external elements of the Mass has increased our faith in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Also, we have to keep in mind that the person who, after choosing the path of God, looks back with regret will never be content and can easily fall from that path. We have to remember what happened to Lot’s wife who looked back and was transformed into a column of salt and also the warning of Christ: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Lk. 9:62)
Trying to serve two masters is a way of trying to remain non-committed. It is an erroneous, impossible option. In our days is useful to try to examine this possibility because many in the West seem to try to take it. To refuse to make a choice or a commitment is itself a decision. But we have to see the consequences of that decision. It will lead to solitude and isolation even in this world. This is solitude and isolation is a foretaste of the definitive solitude that the persons that refuse to choose sides will encounter in the world to come, in hell.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, to strengthen our ability to make the right decision to serve the Lord and only the Lord, presents in his Spiritual Exercises the meditation on the Two Standards. St. Ignatius knew through his own spiritual experience that there is a battle between good and evil going on in the world and in our hearts, minds and souls. It is important that we became fully aware of this battle. In this meditation, Ignatius instructs us to imagine the armies of Christ and Satan in a big field. Each group has a standard or flag, which helps everyone to know his position on the battlefield. If we use our imagination we can see Satan leading his rag-tag army from Babylon and Jesus leading His from outside Jerusalem.
First, Ignatius gets us to focus on Satan. He describes a fearful image of Satan sitting on his throne of fire and smoke and instructing his followers to go out into the world and ensnare our hearts so that we are not open to God’s will. Consider how he summons innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through the entire world, not omitting any provinces, places, states, or any persons in particular. To trap us, he uses wealth, possessions, honors, and pride. Satan starts by getting us to fixate on our possessions. Satan wants our wealth and possessions to become the focus of our lives and worldly success to be the goal of our lives. Satan also whispers to us that we need the praise and acceptance of others, and tells us that because of our successes, we deserve honors. Finally, Satan tries to convince that everything we have achieved is obtained through our own merit without any outside help. He tells us to be proud of what we have accomplished. He wants us to adopt the attitude of “look at me and what I have done.”
Let us imagine then Christ as our supreme and true captain as he stands on the great field in a lowly place. Consider how Christ sends so many persons, apostles, disciples and even simple believers and leads them to preach His sacred doctrine through word and example to all nations and to persons of so many different conditions and lead everyone to freedom. On Christ’s standard we see spiritual poverty, insults, and humility. These lead to true freedom and hope. We live in accordance with spiritual poverty if we place all our confidence in the Lord. We became true soldiers of Christ if we are ready to accept being despised and insulted by the world due to our committed allegiance to Him as He was insulted by the world. Spiritual poverty leads to humility because this virtue lead us to become totally aware our limitations and that everything that we have or we do comes through the grace of Christ. Our sense of spiritual poverty strengthens our sense of dependence on Him.
Today through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Ignatius of Loyola let us pray for the grace of following Christ with a total and undivided allegiance without making any compromises with the world.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Stained glass window is in St. Stephen’s Church, Manhattan (now closed)