Christ, the True Vine Icon

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John. 

Jesus said to his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

I call you friends, says the Lord.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Transcription of Sermon

St. Thomas Aquinas says that friendship requires a sort of equality, a sort of being on the same level and that’s why, as much as we may love our pet dogs, and cats, and hermit crabs, or porcupines, whatever we have, they don’t really love us back. There might be some animal like affection, but it’s not friendship, because we’re not equals. And friendship requires several things: It requires not only that certain equality, but also certain actions; communication, and spending time with that friend. So, if somebody says, “I have 108 Facebook friends.,” but has never met them, they’re really not friends. Friendship also, says St. Thomas, has to go both ways. This loving relationship is a two-way street; communication and wanting to spend time with the friend.

That’s why we are enjoined by our Lord to love our enemies but we can’t be friends with them because there isn’t that desire to be with this person. And it’s certainly not mutual. And so, He says we can’t be friends with our enemies, but we do love them. We have charity for them. We pray for them. And this charity, then, says St. Thomas, at the heart of all true friendship.

And this is expressed in desiring the good of the beloved. Charity is not simply an act of the intellect. It’s not merely an act of the will. It requires both of them, and that’s also why animals can be friends with us. So, if you have read the Narnia Chronicles, well, that’s a little fallacious in the sense that we can’t be friends with a horse; they don’t have a rational soul. So, it requires an engagement of the intellect, requires an engagement of the will, but it has to be shown, there’s a way of living this out. So, this desiring the good of the other excludes the passions.

And so, when we have our passions running amok within us. Thanks to the disorder residual from original sin we, seek a certain gratification, we want something for ourselves and this passion, I’m not even… I’m certainly not limiting that, or even saying in the area of concupiscence, of a sexual desire, but there can be a certain using of the other person. Because this person makes me feel good, because this person complements me, is very enjoyable to be around, well, then that’s really something I’m seeking for myself. So, Thomas is saying that friendship requires engagement of the intellect and the will, but as shown in actions, and these actions are emanations of the theological virtue of charity.

How do we explain what our Lord says… He calls us friends, and yet we’re far from equals with God. So how does this work? Well, He gives us the life of grace. And we know from the Second Letter of St. Peter 1:4 that grace makes us participate in divine nature. So, God elevates us. In the moment of baptism, He made us friends. In the moment of baptism, He elevated us. He invaded our souls to dwell within us so that we could, hopefully, have this two-way friendship. Spending time with Him. Communicating with Him. We call that Adoration. We call that prayer. But remember, charity in friendship is shown in actions, and therefore, our exercise of charity towards our Lord, and others, is the proof of it.

What good can we wish the beloved in our friendship with God? What can we give a Divinity who’s got everything? Well, we can give Him our hearts. We can give Him our minds. We can give Him our affections. We can give Him our time. We can give Him all that we do; our work, our recreation, our crosses, and elevate them to Him in praise, in thanksgiving, in adoration, in reparation. This is what friends do. Especially when one of the friends is Divine. We enter into a loving, adoring friendship in which we are certainly the winners in this deal.

Saints Nereus and Achilleus Icon

Today, we celebrate the glorious martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, the commentators on patristics and on hagiography are not exactly sure if they were slaves of a noble Roman household, or, more popularly and more firmly held, is the belief that they were Roman soldiers who were baptized as as adults. And in receiving baptism, they realize that my entire existence has to be given over to Jesus Christ and therefore, as a soldier of a pagan emperor, promoting pagan worship, I can’t participate in this anymore. They refuse to serve in the Roman army anymore, and they refuse to do the mandatory worship of the pagan gods of Rome.

Psalm 95:5 says all the gods of the Gentiles are demons. So, when you read Roman mythology and read Greek mythology, when you read Norse mythology, or the Hindu religion with – they don’t even know how many gods they have – all of those are real beings. They exist. Ares exists. Zeus exists. Loki, the Viking god exists. But they’re demons. And so, pagan worship is not some form of innocent expression of man’s innate religiosity. Rather, it is a dark, a cultic, demonic worship, and they understood this, and they couldn’t participate.

And so, they extracted themselves from the Roman army. They extracted themselves from promoting this paganism knowing what they would go through. And they went through horrible tortures before they were finally executed. There’s something demonic about the killing of Christ’s own, and certainly something divine in the way in which they undergo it out of love for Christ. And sadly, these stories are not simply left in the end of the third century as where the lives of Nereus and Achilleus, but in our own days in Africa, and in the Middle East, many Catholics are killed by bands, roving bands, of Islamic militants, and they give their lives for Christ.

Many martyrs in our own days, with our own regime, which has declared the Catholic Church if you read the memos from the FBI, has declared that your Catholic Church is suspect. Right? And they spy on the Catholic Church. Our own regime has really put itself against the Bride of Christ, and what do they promote anyway? What does America export now? Abortion and sodomy. And so, we are at odds as well. We have the Natural Law to pray for our leaders. We participate in government, but we are Catholics first. And this means our decisions have to be oriented towards Christ and heaven following the Natural Law, and supported by this Divine Presence within us, which has made us connatural with Him, through grace. And if it comes to it, and we have to give witness as many of our brothers are giving witness today in other countries, some in our own, we pray that we will cooperate with that grace. We can’t lose. We can’t lose. Christ is victorious. We have joined ourselves to Christ through the sacraments, through membership in the Church. What can happen to us except we give witness and win Heaven.

And may that be our lot: To give witness for the truth of the Catholic Church, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what this witness looks like, white or red, but may we be faithful to God’s plan for each one of us.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger