February 2016 - The Words of a Bishop
This month Fr. le Roux, Seminary rector, passes on the sermon of H.E. Bp. Fellay, which he delivered on Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st at the Seminary. In his sermon Bp. Fellay considers three points which the Church presents to us from the liturgy of Sexagesima: Noah and the flood (the Breviary); the parable in which Our Lord explains how God spreads the seeds of grace in souls (the Gospel); and what can happen to the man who accepts grace, using the example of St. Paul (the Epistle). The Church's invitation is "to correct ourselves, to straighten out our lives, [and] to work hard in acquiring virtue - in other words, to become better."
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
There was a time when the pastoral letter addressed by a bishop to his clergy and faithful was awaited with holy impatience and was read with due respect. It was then the echo of the saving doctrines of Holy Mother Church. But today, who still receives the episcopal words with such impatience and respect?
This negligence is extremely regrettable and very detrimental: the Church being essentially hierarchical, the teaching of doctrine reaches us through these channels that Christ Himself instituted. Unfortunately, the episcopal word was desecrated by following the modern errors introduced since Vatican II into the very heart of the Church. The faithful ask for bread, but they receive only stones… (St. Matt. VII, 9).
The pastoral letter of a bishop for his diocese particularly helped the faithful to take the path of Calvary in the footsteps of Our Lord, in order to follow Him and die with Him according to His express will: He who wants to be My disciple, let him take his cross and follow me (St. Matt. XVI, 24).
Last month our General Superior, H.E. Bishop Fellay, visited our Seminary. During his canonical visit, he preached during the Mass on Sexagesima Sunday. Here we reproduce that sermon, with his permission. May it help us to turn this Lent into a journey of conversion and may these Catholic words, inviting us to do penance in the following of Our Lord, inflame in our jaded hearts the enthusiasm that moves mountains, at least those of our ingrained selfishness.
In Christo sacerdote et Maria,
Fr. Yves le Roux
H.E. BISHOP BERNARD FELLAY
SERMON FOR SEXAGESIMA SUNDAY
January 31, 2016
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost Amen
Dear Seminarians, my dear faithful.
On this Sexagesima Sunday, we will consider three points. The first point is to be found in the breviary, the second in the Epistle and the third in the Gospel.
These three points, presented by today’s liturgy, are the main concern of the Church during Septuagesima, the time preceding Lent. And this concern is a very, very strong invitation to correct ourselves, to straighten out our lives, to work hard in acquiring virtue – in other words, to become better. It is God’s will. For this did He create us. For this He made us free and gave us a reason and a will. He offers us His grace so that, by our own work, we may acquire more goodness, more virtue – so that we may fight against all the defects we have in us. It is really God's will. That is our work on earth. Every day, or at least every week, we should look at ourselves and ask: What did I do today to go to Heaven? Did I try to fight against my defects? What did I do to grow in virtue?
Three images, I repeat, are presented today to us by the Church. The first is in the breviary – and I must say that it is a pity that the faithful do not have habitual access to it, for it presents to us something very interesting. In this season, from Septuagesima up to Lent, every Sunday, during seven Sundays – that is, up to Passion Sunday – the Church presents to us one of the major figures of the Old Testament. The past Sunday, it was Adam. This Sunday, it is Noah. Next Sunday it will be Abraham, and then the other Patriarchs, up to Moses. Each one of them is, of course, an image of Our Lord. Each one of them announces the Redeemer. They all mark the path towards Easter and the Redemption.
Noah's time appears so similar to our own times. When we read these passages, we may think, well, that is today. The children of God looked far too much towards the women of the world: they found them beautiful and wanted to marry them. This union with a pleasurable world ushers in corruption, a terrible corruption. This being the state of earth in the time of Noah, we hear God say: I regret having created man. They behaved in such a wild way, they did not care for God, they were just looking for pleasures, they constantly sinned… – just what we see every day with our own eyes. God said: I regret… I will destroy all of them. And that is what happened.
The Flood is not a nice story. It is a reality. For their incredible provocation against God, well, men got His answer: the Flood. But even in God’s determination to punish the world, we see at the same time how He left mankind a chance through the very few He was going to save. He saved mankind through Noah. He ordered Noah to build a ship, not close to the sea, but in the middle of nowhere. And Noah obeyed. This work, the building of the Ark, took a long time. And the people came around to see that, looking at it as something very curious… What is this doing here? They laughed at Noah, of course. They did not take seriously the warning – and there was a very great warning.
Why was Noah building this ship there in the desert? Because there was a threat. The years passed, a very long time, and the people did not take it seriously. When there is a threat and you say that what is threatened will happen tomorrow, people are shaken with fear – but if the months and years pass and it does not happen, people forget about it. Look at Fatima. Look at the incredible warnings and threats we have in Fatima. Then, look at the way the world takes it. They do not care, not even churchmen care about it. In 2000 they just said: This episode of the history of the Church is over. We turn the page. Remember the threat: If the world does not convert... (it was at the end of World War I). If the world does not convert there will be a more terrible war. And we had it, World War II. Did the world convert, change, become better? Look at this world. And you think that God is giving up? You think there will not be a next chastisement? No punishment? Of course, it is coming. But as it takes time, the world does not care, not even the Church.
We should fear the punishment that will come to the world if we stop for a moment to consider that there must be a proportion between the crime and the chastisement. But should we abandon ourselves to despair? John Paul II, in 1980, just at the beginning of his pontificate, said in Germany: We cannot escape this chastisement. We can no longer it escape it. But we can diminish it by our prayers and our sacrifices. He said it once, but he said it. So we can still diminish something. But we better do something. If that is not a strong invitation to amend our lives, I do not know what it should be.
The second invitation is given by today’s Gospel, the parable in which Our Lord explains how God spreads the seeds of grace in the souls. God wants us to become better. He gives, offers us His grace. The threat of God’s wrath should not paralyze us but, on the contrary, encourage us. Look at God. Read what we have sung at the start of this Mass, the Introit. The Introit is a call to God from a soul that is really in a most difficult situation. It’s a cry, a shout to God! Exsurge! Wake up, wake up, O Lord. Why do You sleep? Come to our help. We need Your help. Without Your help we are nothing. We can't do anything, we need You.
But, at the same time, there is a great trust in God – which we find, for example, in the Gradual. We must always remember that: God is the only one to whom we can go, the only one from whom we get real help for our salvation. God wants us to work, yes, but, at the same time, He wants to help us. And so He multiplies the graces. He spreads this invitation to convert, to bring forth fruit. And souls respond to this invitation of God by doing penance, correcting our lives, fighting against our sins, and, of course, by acquiring virtue.
In the parable, He explains that there are different grounds – and these grounds are the souls. There is the very hard ground. Grace gets there and cannot penetrate. These hearts are too hard, and there is no fruit. Others have a bit of soil. Grace reaches to them and they are touched, moved. They have good inclinations. So they begin to do what is good. But there are also weeds, all these things of the world which take over, to which the soul gives more importance than to grace and God. In the end, this beautiful plant that was just beginning to grow is killed by all these things of the world. There are better grounds, where grace can penetrate and take root. And then the fruit will come forth – 30, 50, 100 times.
Which kind of ground are we? Let us examine our conscience. If I were to ask, we all would say: well, yes, we all want to be the best ground. Fine. Good. But what are we doing for that? What does the farmer do to the field that this ground may not be solid like a stone? What does he do that there may not be so many weeds? If one just lets it go, nothing good will happen. The farmer needs to plow to break this soil, to make it mild and soft. Then grace comes in.
We have to do the same with our hearts, and there is a name for that: mortification. This mortification is like a plow. It hurts. We have to renounce our own will, our own thoughts, to obey, to follow God's commandments. With these we are shaken, broken. Our ground becomes ready to bring forth much fruit. Once again, what do we do with today’s strong invitation to correspond to this grace? Not just by good words or good intentions, but we have to get to work. That is really the urgent call of this Lenten season. Don't just stay there and look, but get to work. Give yourself, please, each one of you, a good resolution and intention. Not just wanting to become better this time. No! Be much more precise. Look where do you fall the most. What is the sin that you accuse every time you go to confession? Which is that sin? Take a resolution. And then, much more concretely, how are you going to do it? Be very, very concrete.
Are you lazy? Force yourself to work. Are you prone to anger? Try to see what you can do there. To say I want to be more patient is fine, but you have to consider how you are going to do it. If you do not make concrete your resolutions, you will not make the progress you want. Then, every day, check yourself and renew your intention. Oblige yourself to do these acts of virtue, fighting your defects. Five times, ten times, in the morning, in the afternoon; the evening check again; renew your intention. If you focus like that you will make progress. If you just sit there and wait, nothing will happen. That is the great misfortune for most Christians. They don't seize the moment as they should, though God is constantly coming to them, constantly insisting, constantly offering His grace.
And then we have the third consideration in today’s Epistle. The Church wants to show us what can happen to a man who follows grace, and for that, she presents us St. Paul describing his own life, something absolutely spectacular, incredible. We see the number of his sufferings, of torments yet to go through, but we also see this saint standing up again. He is scourged many times. He is shipwrecked many times. He didn't say Now that’s enough, I have had it, here I stop. No! He goes on and on and on. He stands up again and keeps going. Without fear of man, without fear of the elements of nature. He just counts on God's grace. And he explains he is weak, he is like us. He is not a superman.
In his epistles, he acknowledges that he has a problem in speaking. He seems to be better at writing than speaking. Does it stop him? He has weaknesses. He describes how these temptations are bothering him and he explains that he has asked God several times to be freed from them. And what does God say to him? No! That's the answer from God: My grace is sufficient, just rely on it. You have enough with this. And that's what he did. He counted on grace and he won. We may say, Well, that's St. Paul, that's not us. No! Just the contrary. That's us! St. Paul says, I've done all this, I did not receive this grace in vain.
Therefore, let us go to Our Lord with a great trust. Let us ask Him for the grace He offers every day, that it may not be received in vain. Once again, we have to reflect. God has given us intelligence, reason. Thus, we have to reflect: How do I become better? In the confessional, ask the priest. Ask for advice. Read books. Reflect. Ask the Good Lord, but keep this fire in you. Remember that He gave us a commandment – the first, which summarizes all other commandments: we must love God with all our heart, all our spirit, all our soul. It is a command to be perfect. It is a commandment for every day, to stand up again and go back to work. We are not allowed to say, for example, I am sinning all the time, I am like this, I can't help it. We are not allowed to say so. That is a too human view of ourselves. God is offering us His grace. We don't count enough on His help. He has promised and He is bound by His promise.
Let us go to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us ask her for these graces, for the graces of this blessed season. Ah, I wish we would have the eyes of the angels. We would see all these many graces falling on us as the seeds on the ground, this constant invitation of God, who loves us, who wants us to become better, who wants to pour on us His treasures of grace, of perfections. He wants us for Heaven. So, let us really ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mediatrix of all graces, to perhaps shake us up a little bit, wake us, push us along the path towards perfection, that we may all get to Easter better, not only for this earth, but better for heaven. Amen.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.