February 7, 2010
Intent: The Holy Spirit as Sanctifier
Sexagesima is one of those days in the Christian calendar that will draw curious looks. Curious looks, mainly due to the fact that the Roman Church no longer celebrates this and the two other specific Sundays prior to Easter. Many Old Catholic and thus Liberal Catholic Rite churches still celebrate these days. To be true, I haven’t the faintest idea why we still do, aside from the fact that we still use a vernacular form of the former Latin Mass, and have therefore kept these on our liturgical calendar as they were then. I have been told once by another Liberal Catholic Rite Bishop that we have kept them mainly as a way of breaking up the liturgical colors for the Sunday celebrations. After all, we mainly use green, with white and purple being the next most used. Red is hardly used, so these three Sundays gives us an excuse to do so.
Due to an accidental goof on the calendar this year, we missed the celebration of Septuagesima, but we are back on track with Sexagesima this week. Translated, it is a form of the Latin Sexagesimus, meaning sixtieth (with Septuagesima meaning seventieth and Quinquagesima meaning fiftieth). Although we are not numerically 60 days from Easter, that is the representation. We use these three Sundays as days devoted to the Holy Spirit. Prior to Vatican II, the Latin Church recognized these as the start of Lent. Today, as we know, Lent starts with Ash Wednesday. All told, this bit of trivia may be useless to some and interesting to others, however, I for one like that we haven’t given them up as the Latin Rite has. Part of mystical aspect of ‘religion’ is the rituals, liturgies and set celebrations making each day of life so special. Ancient Judaism has kept most of their rituals intact these 3,000 or so years, and it is very special and meaningful for them. It can be equally the same for us if we allow ourselves to be drawn into their mystical expressions.
Due to our following this old Tradition, the placement of readings this week separates us from other Liturgical brethren who use a common lectionary. So, we take up a couple of readings that is sometimes a hard swallow. Sin, Judgment and Forgiveness are all well and good until they hit home.
Nothing delights God more than seeing His children care for one another in love and humility. It is in doing this, that we most emulate Jesus. It must break His heart when we serve our own desires in selfish and impure motives. Maybe we think of ourselves as more spiritually advanced than others. Maybe we write off a neighbor as hopeless or useless simply because he/she does not think as we do. How quickly judgments form in our hearts. We may be so accustomed to them, that we do not even realize we are doing it.
It is this aspect of life that Jesus warned us to become aware of in ourselves, when He told His followers to remove the ‘log’ that was in our own eyes before we tried to remove the ‘speck’ from our neighbor’s eye. Think about it a second. Let it really sink in. Jesus did not say ‘speck’ in our own eye; He said ‘log’. We need to take the larger piece from our own eye, before we can even think of suggesting to someone else to take their smaller piece from their eye. When we get right down to it, we know ourselves far better than any neighbor or friend. We can find a far larger amount of errors in our own lives than that of others .The blind leading the blind, Jesus said.
So, some would ask, “Should we stop helping others?” No, helping is not what Jesus was concerned with. His concern was judging other and/or placing ourselves in a perceived better position. Finding fault and helping are different things. Judging and helping are different things. If we stopped helping others, based on a faulty thinking that Jesus is instructing us to stop helping, then there would be no one left to help a living soul. So, of course we should still help those whom God may put in our path. However, all the while we should desire of the Lord to examine our hearts and souls and bring us to a deeper understanding of our failings and true repentance for our errors, so as we do not become tempted to judge someone we are meant to help.
As a suffering servant, Jesus embraced all pain and weakness of God’s people, even to the point of death on the cross. So selfless was His love for us, that even His last breath was not an appeal to punish us, but a prayer of forgiveness.
It is easy for us to think at times of such as these, when your pastor stands up here and talks of such things. We are ever so tempted to think, “Well, I haven’t anything to be concerned with. I am not like that.” Hate to tell you, but you are only deceiving yourselves. We all have something about ourselves that sometimes needs a little nudge from God telling us to humble ourselves some.
How often have we gotten angered at someone on the road as we were driving? We start to cussing and cursing about this and that and how they know very well what they did or they are one thing or another. We pretend to know what went thru the mind of the person who cut us off or turned in front of us. All as if God suddenly gave us ESP. Or maybe the clerk at the store that we may have thought as rude or unhelpful. Ooops, there goes that ESP again! What do you suppose they think of us, when we do something similar, no matter how unintentional it may have been? Maybe that was simply their personality, or maybe they were having a bad day. Either way, we have no way of knowing if their actions or words were as intentional as we may like to think.
We tend to say that someone did whatever it was that angered us on purpose. How do we know that? We need more information before we can pass judgment. We need more information about the whizzing by car or the two minute interaction of the store clerk. We have no way of knowing what is going on in their mind; what is in their line of sight; what may have preceded our rude clerk encounter.
Or bank executives. We hear, read and speak of the news about how some of the very banks the government bailed out have paid out bonuses. We do have a right to be concerned. After all, our taxes helped to bail them out. However, to automatically assume that we know all the facts as to who, what, where, when and why is presumptuous and judgmental. Innocent until proven guilty would be a good application here. As I tell my employees at work, who are in supervisory positions, one sometimes has to be humble and diplomatic. Assuming guilt without regard is wrong. After all, it is easy to do when you think of how much money or stock they may have received and think of our own state in life. I am willing to bet that a great majority of us would vote ourselves a bonus if we could.
We need to realize that we are simply a manifestation of our inner selves. We sometimes do not realize that we have what I call a “Scrooge syndrome” going on. We get so caught up in ourselves that we lose the focus on others. This leads us to the latter part of our Gospel reading. ……
Just what makes a tree strong? Doesn’t it have to have a great root system? Doesn’t it need to be rooted in good soil, and receive the right amounts of water and sunshine to be healthy and bear good fruit? Yes, if the soil is poor, if the water is too light and the sun negligent in lighting its leaves, it will be very ugly and/or die.
Jesus used this illustration to teach a fundamental lesson. Unless we are rooted in Him, the True Vine, we will not have a healthy and deep root system and therefore we will not produce good fruit. If we stay close to Jesus; if we imitate Him and what He teaches, we will have a hardy root system and grow wondrous fruit.
Have you even tried to emulate someone you admired? I know you all have, and so have I. However, like most of us, you probably started out well, but gave up once you realized how hard it is to be someone you are not. The good news is that with Jesus, this is not the same story. He died and rose so that we can be like Him. We can bear the same fruits the He bears, because we are baptized into His life. He has given us the Holy Spirit, the Intent of today’s liturgy; the Holy Spirit to help transform us more into His image and likeness.
As we remain close to Him in prayer and obedient to His commands, we will find ourselves changing at the very root of our being, our hearts and soul so that the whole tree will be pleasing to God the Father. By adding some extra prayer, the divine office, reading of the Bible, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, or helping with duties at church and many other possibilities, you open yourself up to the Holy Spirit to work in you.
Jesus makes this point by using another illustration of the house built on rock having a firm foundation. We too can have a firm foundation and a less judging attitude when we put Jesus at the center of our lives. You will be amazed at the change in yourself. Maybe, as we approach Lent, we would all do well to give up quick judgment and add more patience and prayer. Who knows, maybe the person who cuts in front of you on the road, instead of getting hand gestures, they may simply get a wave and a statement that maybe their day is going bad and they have a lot on their mind today. God’s speed to you!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.