All men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman. (Wisdom 13:1)
February 10, 2018 ~ Saint Scholastica, opn!
1. What is the Sacrament of Confirmation
2. Quinquagesima Sunday
3. Our Lady of Lourdes
4. Family and Marriage
5. Articles and notices
On a flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles this past week there was a woman who asked if she could take the seat next to me. Being on a plane and without observing who it was in particular, I replied out of courtesy that it was fine. After she had settled in she made it known that she was a porn star and comic stand-up and wanted to use the opportunity to sit next to a priest to get material for one her next gigs. Being that now I had little choice but to be patient—she didn’t seem to be immodestly attired besides pants—and I went on with my work and prayers. This woman soon began to extol her work in the sex industry and her rise in the stand-up comedy stage with a male neighbor and, further, how she wanted to make her lifestyle as acceptable in society as the LGBT had made theirs. She explained that when she was a teenager she left her mother because her mother was too strict and religious. She went to live with her father, a Freemason she said, who always approved of whatever she wanted to do. She also expressed she was disappointed that her mother still refused to approve of her lifestyle and even now would refuse to accept whatever she sent because it was gotten as a result of her immoral trade. She then began a tirade against large families because they supposedly all needed to receive welfare (because in her mind the mother does not work—and apparently this woman claimed she had to pay for people having children). Keep in mind that she knew she was sitting next to a Catholic priest. Next, she began to rant against home schooling children because (in her mind) children who were home-schooled were deprived of the (evil) experiences of the world, making them narrow-minded. She then asserted that home-schooled children were taught about Jesus as though this was the worst thing to be taught about. I interrupted my prayers (I was trying to say my Office) and made a comment that she should not generalize; and I then told her that she could not claim all families receive welfare. She immediately retorted that the Church charges people just for telling them stories. My answer was that she was also getting money for what she did, one of which—as she stated—was telling stories. She then replied that the conversation should end here—obviously unable to respond. I said, fine. But, of course it did not because she went on to say to me that I just talk to imaginary people and she talked to real people. I replied that she does not have true love for everyone as she claims to have if she hates those who disagree with her. She mocked me again, telling me that I should just go back to talking with my imaginary friends. Knowing I would be landing in California, a state known to be the most intolerant of truth and a great defender of immorality in the United States of America, and understanding she could simply accuse me of harassment (even though she was actually the one who was harassing—and deliberately chose to sit next to me to do so) since she was a woman (though immoral) and I am a priest (one of those “deplorables” Clinton speaks of), I chose to just ignore her continued rantings for the remaining few minutes of the flight.
Why do I insert this episode? Because it makes clear that these pharisaical perverts believe they can say what they want and are convinced at the same time that when they are told the truth the person telling them has no right to do so. It also means that hearing the truth becomes harder for our young people because the truth is silenced by unjust laws while error is promoted. It reminds one of the scene where Christ is condemned to death:
The chief priests and ancients persuaded the people, that they should ask for Barabbas, and take Jesus away. And the governor answering, said to them: Whether will you of the two to be released unto you? But they said, Barabbas. Pilate saith to them: What shall I do then with Jesus that is called Christ? They say all: Let him be crucified. The governor said to them: Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying: Let him be crucified. And Pilate seeing that he prevailed nothing, but that rather a tumult was made; taking water washed his hands before the people, saying: I am innocent of the blood of this just man; look you to it. And the whole people answering, said: His blood be upon us and our children. Then he released to them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him unto them to be crucified. (Matt. 27: 20-26)
I do not know what this woman looks like, nor do I know her name; but if perchance you hear of a show where a porn star stand-up comedian speaks of sitting next to a priest, you know the real story. In the meantime, please say a prayer for her to come to the knowledge of the Truth—right now she is doing so much evil.
As always, enjoy the readings and commentaries provided for your benefit. —The Editor
WHAT IS THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION?
by Rev. Courtney Edward Krier
Difference between Baptism and Confirmation
Both Baptism and Confirmation are called the Seal of the Holy Ghost, though later it would be reserved to referring to Confirmation. Bernard Leeming (op. cit. p. 162-164) shows the application of the term to Baptism:
As early as the middle of the second century the term ‘seal’ was used as a synonym for Baptism, understanding Baptism as the complex of initiation rites. [Cf. 2 Clement 6, 9 in conjunction with 7, 6, Lightfoot’s ed. p. 46.] The Shepherd of Hermas, who wrote between 140 and 155, and who was read in the churches and was quoted by Irenaeus in Gaul, by Tertullian in Africa, and by Clement and Origen in Alexandria, speaks of ‘receiving the seal’, where we should say ‘has been baptized’: ‘Before a man has borne the name of the Son of God, he is dead; but when he has received the seal, he layeth aside his deadness and resumeth life. The seal, then, is the water; they go down into the water dead and they come up alive.’ [Simil, 9, n. 16; Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers, London, 1893, p. 371; and cf. Simil. 8, n. 6, ibid. p. 457.] The same way of speaking of Baptism as the seal is found in the Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, which were written probably about 160, and were known to Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, Zeno of Verona, Methodius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epiphanius, Chrysostom and others. In the course of the narrative Paul warns Thecla of temptations to come, and Thecla answers: ‘Only give me the seal, and temptation shall not touch me.’ Paul answers: ‘Thecla, be patient, and you shall receive the water.’ [Tischendorf’s ed. n. 115, p. 51.] Clement of Alexandria, telling the famous story of the young man whom St John converted and entrusted to the care of a presbyter, says that the presbyter was most vigilant until, ‘after having enlightened him (i.e. baptized him), he lessened his former care and guard as having given him the perfect guard, the seal of the Lord.’ [Quis Dives Salvetur, 411, P.G. 9, 647.] Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, says that Constantine had contemplated ‘receiving the seal in the Jordan’; and St Basil, speaking of Philip’s dealing with the eunuch of Ethiopia, remarks that he ‘did not delay the seal. For when they came to water, “Here”, he said, “is water, what prevents me from being baptized?” [Hom. in Bapt. n. 6, P.G. 31, 437.]
This use of the term ‘seal’ for Baptism is derived from several passages of Scripture:
Eph. 1: 13: in whom also believing, you were sealed (or signed)—ἐσφραγίσθητε—with the Holy Spirit of promise.
Eph. 4:30: and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed— ἐσφραγίσθητε —unto the day of redemption.
2 Cor. 1: 21, 22: now he that confirmeth us with you in Christ, and that hath anointed us, is God: who also hath sealed us—ὁ καὶ σφραγισάμενος ἡμᾶς—and given the pledge of the Spirit into our hearts.
I John 2: 27; and. . . let the unction which you have received from him abide in you.
These texts gave clear foundation for the doctrine that the ‘sealing’ of the Christian in Baptism impresses an enduring mark on the soul. This mark is comparable to the seal of circumcision received by Abraham; St Paul says: ‘Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith’ [Rom. 4:1.]; and that Christians also are marked, but in a different way: ‘in whom also you are circumcised, with circumcision not made by hand, in despoiling the body of the flesh, but in the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in Baptism, in whom also you are risen again’. [Col. 2:11.] The Fathers naturally looked upon this spiritual circumcision as a spiritual seal. Sometimes, also, they referred to Exod. 28:36: ‘Thou shalt also make a plate of purest gold, wherein thou shalt grave with engraver’s work, Holy to the Lord’; and to Ez. 9:4ff; ‘Go through the midst of the city and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. . . but upon whomsoever thou shalt see Thau, kill him not.’
The Fathers use all these texts in their assertion that by Baptism the Christian is marked and sealed by God as his own. They speak of the seal in instructions about Baptism, in order to enhance the dignity of the Christian state, to comfort by an assurance that the seal is a protection against temptation and the powers of evil, and to exhort to a worthy Christian life. Occasionally the doctrine of the seal is used, as by St Athanasius, to prove the equality of the Holy Ghost with the Father and the Son, since the seal is the seal of Father and Son and is imprinted by the living action of the Holy Spirit. [Ep. I ad Scrap. n. 23, P.G. 26, 583; ep. 2, n. 3, ibid. 590.] St Ambrose argues from the seal to the equality of all three Persons of the Trinity, since in the imprinting of the seal ‘the whole mystery of the Trinity is bound up together.’ [De Sacramentis, 6, 2, P.L. 16, 455.]
As is seen sanctification, anointing and the spiritual mark given as sonship, confirmation and priesthood are attributed to the working of the Holy Ghost. The bestowal of the Holy Ghost, previously manifested outwardly in the Early Church through Confirmation with the attending charisms of tongues, prophecy, healing and miracles (cf. 1 Cor 12:7ff), was later to become unknown—not because the administration of Confirmation ceased, but the outward manifestation was reserved to the Apostolic age to spread the faith throughout the world and to enable it to take root. Saint Augustine (Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John, 10.) in his time pointed out the discrepancy:
In the earliest times, the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4) These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother the Spirit of God dwells in him. Let him see, let him prove himself before the eyes of God, let him see whether there be in him the love of peace and unity, the love of the Church that is spread over the whole earth. Let him not rest only in his loving the brother whom he has before his eyes, for we have many brethren whom we do not see, and in the unity of the Spirit we are joined to them. What marvel that they are not with us? We are in one body, we have one Head, in heaven. Brethren, our two eyes do not see each other; as one may say, they do not know each other. But in the charity of the bodily frame do they not know each other? For, to show you that in the charity which knits them together they do know each other; when both eyes are open, the right may not rest on some object, on which the left shall not rest likewise. Direct the glance of the right eye without the other, if you can. Together they meet in one object, together they are directed to one object: their aim is one, their places diverse. If then all who with you love God have one aim with you, heed not that in the body you are separated in place; the eyesight of the heart you have alike fixed on the light of truth. Then if you would know that you have received the Spirit, question your heart: lest haply you have the sacrament, and have not the virtue of the sacrament. Question your heart. If love of your brethren be there, set your mind at rest. There cannot be love without the Spirit of God: since Paul cries, The love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. (Romans 5:5) (Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John, 10.)
When the importance of Baptism was stressed in the preparatory ceremonies of baptism, it was natural for the Fathers of the Church to devote themselves to the Sacrament of Baptism—not overlooking Confirmation that would be administered still by the Bishop, nor underestimating the sanctification accomplished by the working of the Holy Ghost in the Sacrament of Baptism. Sacramental theology would not take precedence since, after the persecutions of the Christians in the early Church, the main discussion was proving Christ was God consubstantial with the Father, not just “Son of God”, as seen in the Arian heresy followed by the Nestorian. There was the further controversy of the place of the Holy Ghost as seen in Macedonianism. The Blessed Trinity is the foundation of Theology, the study of God as God; it was necessary to understand, explain, and defend the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as the Three Persons in God before being free to explain Sacramental theology—though besides the Donatist heresy there seemed little controversy in administering the Sacraments. Leeming lists the following reasons:
First reason for obscurity: the pastoral and not theological outlook of the early writers and Fathers. In dealing with the Incarnation and the Trinity, even early writers had reason to speak with theological accuracy, because of the heresies which deformed the true doctrine; but the Fathers spoke of the sacraments of Christian initiation exclusively for the purpose of magnifying the greatness of the gifts they conveyed, and of inculcating reverence, trust, and faithfulness. To fulfil that purpose there was no need to distinguish nicely between the effects of each single rite; and no heresy demanded such theological accuracy. Not even the Rebaptism and the Donatist controversies involved any need of distinguishing between Baptism and Confirmation, since the arguments both for and against the validity of heretical baptism applied equally to the validity of all sacraments. The Donatists rejected the validity of Catholic imposition of hands and of the Catholic Eucharist just as vehemently as they rejected Catholic Baptism. . . . (Leeming, 189)
Second reason for obscurity. All sanctification was attributed to the Holy Ghost. In early Christian writings, all God’s sanctifying action upon men is attributed to the Holy Ghost: it is the Holy Ghost who is active in the blessing of the baptismal water, of the oil and chrism, and in all blessings. It is the Holy Ghost who remits sin, who imprints the image of Christ, who causes Christ to dwell in the baptized, who prepares a temple for himself in the souls of the baptized, who gives his seven-fold gifts, and, above all, gives the all-important gift of charity, and is himself sometimes said to be charity. [Augustine, Tract. in Ep, loan. ad Parthos, 3, 12, P.L. 35, 2004; and cf. Tract. in loan. 75, nn. 1, 2, P.L. 35, 1827; De Trin. 6, 5, 7, P.L. 42, 927.] Consequently, such expressions as ‘to receive the Holy Ghost’, ‘to have the Holy Ghost’, are by no means self-explanatory, as the author of the De Rebaptismate clearly shows against Cyprian: those, he says, who die before the imposition of the bishop’s hands are certainly saved and ‘not without the Holy Ghost’, [N. 4, Hartel, p. 74, 1, 24.] and it is the Holy Spirit who cleanses souls from sins. [N. 18, ibid. p. 91, 1, 29.] In the reconciliation of heretics and of repentant sinners a gift of the Holy Spirit is given, [Cyprian, Ep. 69, 2, Hartel, p. 751; Ep. 73, 16, ibid. p. 789; Ep. 74, 5, ibid. p. 8o3; Ep. 69, 10, 11, ibid. p. 758; the De Rebaptismate, n. 10, Hartel, p. 82; the Council of Aries of 314, Denz. 53, Mansi, 2, 472; Leo the Great, Ep. ad Niatem etc., 6, 7, P.L. 54, 1138-9. Cf. Coppens, op. cit. pp. 276-7.] and St Cyprian says that where the Holy Spirit is not, there can be no sanctification of the oblation in the Eucharist. [Ep. 65, 4, Hartel, p. 725.] (Ibid., 193)
Third reason for obscurity. All sanctification is called an anointing. The Fathers sometimes understood the anointing of Christians, with which the signaculum or sphragis is so closely connected, in a general sense of their sanctification, and not necessarily of any particular rite in initiation. When St Athanasius says that ‘the Spirit is the unction’ with which ‘the Word anoints and seals all things’, it cannot be concluded that he refers to any physical anointing in a rite; Athanasius regards all action of the Holy Ghost upon the soul as a christening, an anointing. [Ep. ad. Serap, 23, P.G. 26, 565.] . . . (Ibid., 194-5)
Many of the Fathers held that, since Christ is the Anointed, all Christians are ‘anointed’ or christened; and thus an anointing becomes symbolic of the Christian’s union with Christ, and of any rite or ceremony which helps to that union. It symbolizes the fact that Christians become kings, priests, and prophets. [Cf. Chrysostom, on 2 Cor. 1 :21, 22, P.G. 62, 18.] To distinguish the literal sense from the figurative is often extremely difficult; the meaning of an anointing is not self-evident, but must be gathered in each case from the context and circumstances. (Ibid., 196)
(To be continued)
Dr. Pius Parsch
The Church’s Year of Grace (1957)
THE WEEK OF QUINQUAGESIMA
On this third Sunday in the series, Pre-Lent comes to its zenith. There is more intensity than on previous Sundays, as may be noticed in the choice of the patriarch, in the selection of the station church, and in the liturgical texts taken as a whole. Today is the Church’s third and final call inviting all to profit by the Lenten season of grace.
Again this Sunday three men appear and speak to us: Abraham, the Rock of the Old Testament, the hero of obedience through faith; on the summit of Moria (where Christ died), he offered the great sacrifice of his own child. Peter, the Rock of the New Testament; today at his grave we offer the sacrifice of holy Mass; with words taken from the life of his brother Paul he teaches us the ultimate goal of all our efforts during Lent, love. Finally, Christ rises up before us; He will help us “that we may see” by healing us of our spiritual blindness.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” to suffer; now the Church has raised the curtain, and in the distance we can see Holy Week and Easter. This very week Lent begins; its venerable portal is Ash Wednesday.
Station at St. Peter
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem
1. Today holy Church presents to us a drama in three acts:
Act I. An Old Testament passion play. Abraham, the man of obedience through faith, enters. The spirit and principle of his every act was total surrender to the will of God. When still a young man, God took him from his home and led him to a foreign land. Homeless, he put all his confidence in God. Relying upon divine promises Abraham hoped against hope for a son until his hundredth year. Then Sara gave birth to Isaac. The child grew up, a joy to his parents; the boy became a young man. One night God stood before Abraham—he must sacrifice his son with his own hand!
Abraham obeys. On the mountain where sacrificial lambs, types of the true Lamb, were immolated at a later date, where Christ Himself died, there on Mt. Moria we see the aged patriarch standing as a priest before an altar upon which Isaac lies bound. Abraham is ready to immolate the victim, but the real sacrifice he is offering is that of obedience and purity of will. We know how God responded, how He gave back to Abraham his son, alive; and in Isaac his son God gave Abraham His own Son as He made him the ancestor of the Messiah.
In the coming season of penance you can bring God no sacrifice that is more acceptable than that of your own will. Lent, in the last analysis, should align our wills perfectly with that of God.
Act II. At Peter’s grave. The Church conducts us to the grave of St. Peter in Rome where Christians from every quarter are gathered for a common service. First, a few scenes from Peter’s life. It is Holy Thursday. Peter is standing in the courtyard of Caiphas, the high priest; he wishes to see what will happen to Jesus. But he is recognized by a maidservant. He swears and curses, insisting that he has never seen the Galilean. Then the glance of his fettered Master falls upon him, the cock crows; he goes out and weeps bitterly! Another scene. Some time has elapsed since the Savior’s resurrection. The place is by the Lake Genesareth. Jesus stands before Peter and asks him three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” Peter answers, “You know that I love You. You know all things, You know that I love You.”
Now Peter turns and says to us: See in me an example of Christ’s great love, His love for a sinful creature. And from the lips of my brother Paul listen to a wonderful canticle on love!
Quinquagesima’s principal themes are illustrated in the drawing. Below we see Abraham and Isaac. Their sacrifice consisted in immolating their wills—God did not permit the performance of the act itself. Love of God burned brightly within both father and son; both, therefore, are surrounded by flames and incense. In the middle vignette Christ is passing through Jericho, the city of palms, on His way to lay down His life as a sacrifice for many in Jerusalem. Love again is the impelling motive. This blind man whom Jesus meets represents those without the light of faith; loudly and earnestly be calls: Son of David, have mercy on me. A virgin baring seraph wings and crowned with roses typifies charity where faith and hope are no more. She accompanies her song on a harp. Charity is greater than faith (cross) and hope (anchor). Here on earth love frequently involves sacrifice that sears and burns (bottom) or a road to Calvary (center), but in heaven love encounters nothing but eternal peace and joy.
Act III. The blind see. Our Lord is making His last trip to Jerusalem. Near the gates of Jericho He gives His apostles the third prophecy of His passion. Then He enters the city of palms and stays with the publican Zacheus. As He leaves, a blind beggar kneels on the roadside; he cries aloud with all his might for the light of Easter. Jesus heals him, and with seeing eyes he joins the procession to Jerusalem.
You, my Christian friend, are that blind beggar. At Easter time Christ heals your eyes.
During the holy Sacrifice we take part in playing these three acts. Like Abraham we give our most precious possession, our very self, and in exchange receive what is even more precious, Christ. Like Peter we grieve over our infidelity and receive the proof of highest love in the death on the Cross renewed. With eyes healed we already see the purpose of the bloody drama of the Cross, for it has brought us spiritual enlightenment.
2. Holy Mass (Esto mihi). Our preparation for the great season of spiritual renewal comes to a climax in today’s Mass liturgy celebrated at the grave of the apostle Peter. Seeking help we come to the house of God, to the Rock of Peter; but our mood is less despondent and more confident than on the previous two Sundays: “Be my leader and my nourisher” (Intr.) today and through the forty day “sojourn in the desert” of Lent. Psalm 30 leads us through the depths of the passion to the heights of the transfiguration on Tabor (Easter).
The Collect repeats the last of the requests in the Our Father: lead us not into temptation, deliver us from all evil. Epistle: the third Epistle of Pre-Lent takes us to the summit of preparation for Lent, love. Paul sings his magnificent canticle of love; nothing in God’s kingdom is nobler than this self-effacing, all-patient love which never passes away. Gradual: the song of love is followed by a chant in thanksgiving for redemption. In the Gospel the Church shows us the Savior upon the road to Calvary and in the glory of His resurrection. Holy Week and Easter come before our astonished eyes; now, during the Sacrifice, I am like the blind beggar who sat beside the road and Christ wishes to open my eyes as He passes.
In the Offertory “I follow Him, glorifying God” upon the road of suffering. May this offering, we ask in the Secret, wipe out sins and sanctify our body and soul, so that we may offer the holy Sacrifice worthily. In the Communion anthem the Church assures us that the Eucharist will quiet all our longing and desire for Easter happiness. In the Postcommunion we again ask for protection against all types of misfortunes.
3. Divine Office. A pleasing symmetry is immediately noticeable in today’s liturgical Offices. The blind man at the roadside (Gospel) and the hero of our faith, Abraham, (Matins) are with us as models throughout all the Hours of the day. Furthermore, at each day Hour the apostle of the Gentiles instructs us with his wonderful song of love.
“Abraham was truly a great man. He was distinguished by virtues so numerous and excellent as not to be attainable by mere worldly wisdom” (St. Ambrose, at Matins). Today the Church tells us about the patriarch’s departure from his unbelieving friends and relatives and his journey to the “Promised Land.” The Lord said to Abraham:
“Leave your country, your kinsfolk
and your father’s house,
for the land that I will show you;
I will make a great nation for you.
I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you shall be a blessing.
I will bless, them that bless you,
and curse them that curse you,
In you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
These words, a Messianic prophecy, have been fulfilled in Christ.
“Abram went away as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, all the property they had acquired and the persons they had got in Haran; and they departed for the land of Chanaan. At that time the Chanaanite was in the land.
“The Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.”
While the night service devotes more time to the Old Testament (eight responsories refer to Abraham!) the day Hours, with proper antiphons rich in meaning and artistically constructed, reflect almost exclusively the spirit of the New Testament. “The blind man is the human race. Cast forth in the person of Adam from the peace of paradise, men no longer know the brilliance of heaven’s light; they suffer from blindness, a consequence of their exile” (St. Gregory).
Again the Church shows us how to dramatize the Gospel throughout the day. At sunrise we hear from the lips of Jesus, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that have been written concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. He will be given over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and spit upon; and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, but on the third day He will rise again.” A most appropriate chant for the sunrise Hour! At the four stations of the day (little Hours) we are the blind man seeking “Light” from the Lord, and we do so more urgently and more fervently at each succeeding station.
In the evening at sunset the drama comes to a glorious finale as the Lord gives me (the blind man) the power to see. “Immediately he could see; and he followed Him, praising (magnificans) God.” In gratitude we sing the Magnificat, today it is the thanksgiving song of the healed blind man. See how the two great divisions of the day complement each other! For proper to nighttime is the figure of Abraham, a type of our work of fasting and of the suffering Christ; proper to daytime is the reality of fulfillment, i.e., Christ goes to His passion and we ask for the light of resurrection and receive it in advance.
4. The Catechumens. A Meditation. We shall arrive at a better understanding of the three Sundays of Pre-Lent if we study them from the viewpoint of the catechumenate in the ancient Church. Then we will more easily see how these three Sundays are of one mold, beautifully and symmetrically constructed, like a triptych above an altar.
The three Gospels show the development of a catechumen (i.e., a candidate for baptism) as he takes three ascending steps, viz., a) he responds to a call; b) he is instructed; c) he is enlightened. First comes God’s call. There in the market square of the world many idle heathens may be standing, the divine Father passes by and invites certain ones into the vineyard of the Church! Why not others? That is the secret of divine vocation. We do not know how it happened that this particular man was called. Apparently it was chance, perhaps he had a Christian office girl or saw a devout Christian’s example. But in every case it was God who called. God invites individuals without merit of their own, often simply because they are unworthy. He selects one from out of a thousand; and calls him.
You, who read these lines, are among the number called. Why do you stand idle in the market place of the world? Why do you delay entering God’s vineyard?
Vocation is first, but further steps are necessary. After selecting a number of individuals God begins training them. In ancient times this was the catechumenate; and the work for and by the candidate for baptism was taken most seriously. An ecclesiastical ruling of St. Hippolytus (about 216) prescribed three years of instruction. This training did not consist in memorizing abstract truths but in the practice of living a Christ-like life. We are all catechumens for many years, perhaps until we are thirty. By this time the essentials of Christian virtue should have been molded in us; but that does not imply that we need no further instruction. The school of God continues until death.
Now, to use terms from the Parable of the Sower, we must be receptive ground in order that the divine seed may not go lost or prove ineffective. Fellow Christians, let us use the graces offered us so profusely by God! I believe that as alert Christians, as Christians who try to live with the Church, we have received extraordinary graces. The whole treasury of liturgical life is at our disposal. With the psalmist we can say, “My lines are fallen in pleasant places; my inheritance is goodly to me!” (Ps. 15).
When the candidates for baptism had finished their term at school (Lent), the great day of initiation came. They were allowed to enter the “heaven” on earth, the “promised land flowing with milk and honey.” This constituted their “illumination,” the third and highest stage. Between this and the two previous stages there is no adequate equation. The call and the training are impulses which are due to God; but spiritual illumination brings into being a new creation.
Spiritual enlightenment, however, is not restricted to candidates for baptism. It is a process which continues throughout one’s whole life and reaches its consummation only when “eternal light shines” in the brightness of heaven. Repeatedly the Church bids us in the words of an ancient hymn: “Rise, you who are sleeping! Arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.” For us too Lent must be a catechumenate, that Christ may again enlighten us. Easter Eve with its pillar of fire must be the dawn of a new day of light in our minds and hearts.
Do you now see the lovely composition underlying these three Pre-Lenten Sundays? Vocation-Instruction-Enlightenment? But this
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