Translation of the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday After Easter

“Our Lady of the Cenacle, Pray for Us” (Armenian), Gospel, Aght’amar (MS 8772), 1391

Beloved: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. Of His own will He has begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be, as it were, the first fruits of His creatures. You know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. For the wrath of man does not work the justice of God. Therefore, casting aside all uncleanness and abundance of malice, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. John

At that time Jesus said to his disciples: “I am going to Him who sent Me, and no one of you asks Me, ‘Where art Thou going?’ But because I have spoken to you these things, sorrow has filled your heart. But I speak the truth to you; it is expedient for you that I depart. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send Him to you. And when He has come He will convict the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Of sin because they do not believe in Me; of justice because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no more; and of judgment because the prince of this world has already been judged. Many things yet I have to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will teach you all the truth. For He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He will hear He will speak, and the things that are to come He will declare to you. He will glorify Me, because He will receive of what is Mine and will declare it to you.”

The Saving Words of the Gospel.

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

Transcription of Sermon

Today’s Mass treats us to this beautiful first chapter of the brief Catholic Epistle of Saint James and it’s a beautiful letter, very brief, has so many nuggets of spiritual counsel, of beautiful doctrine. It was written by James the Lesser and called the lesser, Ἰάκωβος ὁ μικρός (Iakōbos ho mikros), not because of stature, moral or physical, but because of age, just to distinguish him from James the Greater. So, he was younger. He was a cousin of Our Lord and remained in Jerusalem after Pentecost as bishop. Tradition says that he spent such long nights in vigils of prayer that the skin on his knees looked like… had the texture of a camel hoof. If you’re familiar with a camel hoof, that’s what it looked like. Well, he was eventually martyred by the Jews and stoned to death and then received the coup de grâce with a fuller’s club. So, when you see him depicted, one of the devices that you see in the iconography of Saint James the Lesser is precisely that; it’s a club. 

I love his letter, and not because Martin Luther hated it, but because of the depth there, the beauty, the warmth, and the truth. It’s also brief. So, you can pat yourself on the back if you said, “I read an entire epistle of the New Testament last night,” and you don’t have to say you did it in eight minutes. Nonetheless, it’s a gem. I really recommend you take it for your meditation. There’s so much there. 

Today, he’s pointing us in the direction of patience. Patience, we all think we have an idea of it, not complaining when I’m in a long line, or something like that, but it’s much more than that. Patience, if it’s to be just a natural virtue – forget about infused supernatural virtue just to be a natural virtue – patience requires stability. In other words, it has to be a habit. That is my normal state of affairs. To not whine, to bear crosses, trials, difficulties, without it letting me get sad. So, that’s really kind of the nucleus of the natural virtue. And the difference between the natural virtue of patience and the supernatural is not a difference of degree but of species. 

So, it’s not like after a certain point it becomes supernatural; either it’s supernatural or it’s not. How is it a supernatural infused virtue? Well, there are two conditions: First of all, you need to be in a state of grace; otherwise, we can do nothing to please Our Lord if we’re not in a state of grace. It makes total sense, right? If I’m a declared enemy of God because I committed a mortal sin, well, I can’t do anything to make Him happy, right? I can’t please Him. Number two is I have to have a supernatural motivation behind it. In other words, if it’s just my temperament to not complain, well, that doesn’t get me anywhere, even if I’m in a state of grace. There has to be a supernatural motivation, and this is the importance of doing a morning offering. In the morning, when I offer up to God all of my thoughts, my words, my works, all that I am, all that I do, now I’ve got a supernatural motivation. It’s good to renew that throughout the day, especially in the moment of difficulty. 

Thomas tells us that patience regards something painful that does not sadden us. I find it’s helpful to know a virtue if we find out its neighbors. In this case, patience itself is a daughter virtue of fortitude; the cardinal virtue of fortitude. There are four cardinal virtues. Well, this is one of the six daughters of, they’re called daughters because in Latin they’re all in the feminine form, so patientia is one of six daughters. And I find we get to the nucleus in the particularities of a given virtue by seeing those around it in order to distinguish it, in order to live it better. So, who are the six beautiful daughters of fortitude? 

Well, there’s magnanimity. Now magnanimity is a virtue that strives for excellence in everything. So, there’s nothing really second-rate about the magnificent person. And this regards especially great endeavors. Now if we’re magnificent in patience – remember patience comes from the Latin word pati, passus sum, right, to suffer. We get the word passion in English from that word. So, these are also sister words, right? passion and patience, they go together. Well, a magnanimous patience is one that can take a very weighty, heavy, hard-to-bear cross and bear it with grace in a way that gives Our Lord glory, not whining about it, not telling everybody about it, not seeking human consolation, but offering it up to Our Lord. 

Magnificence is another daughter of fortitude. Magnificence regards great endeavors. Now, there’s a magnificence and munificence, they sound alike, they’re related, but they’re not the same thing. So, magnificence will regard a venture, an apostolate, a great work for the cause of Christ to spread the Kingdom of God. Munificence is a little more particular because its magnificence lived out financially. So, this is not in everybody’s capability, but munificence then is this liberality with one’s finances for the things of God. We can be liberal spending on ourselves and that’s not really necessarily something that we might be proud of on Judgment Day but those things that we give to the Church, to Our Lord, for His cause, for His Kingdom, for the salvation of souls, that is something that will bear fruit in eternity. So, there’s this difference between magnificence and munificence. They go together; particularities distinguish them. 

With regard to patience: So, patience is kind of the middle sister, and not to be forgotten, therefore. Thomas says, “This is a humble workaday virtue that doesn’t cause other virtues but paves the way for them.” So, what does that mean? That when we live patience… now patience doesn’t regard great crosses or long-standing trials. Patience regards those irksome things right now. So that’s why gnats, mosquitoes, bad weather, and cold personalities around us are all part of God’s plan for us, right? to live patience in little things constantly. So there has to be a habit of it. And when we live that habit, it breaks down the obstacles for the other virtues. So, it doesn’t cause the other virtues, it clears the way for them. It takes away obstacles for them. So, notice that the other virtues are going to have a pretty rough time if I’m not living this patience. 

A carnal man, a worldling, will see difficulties as the enemy, will whine about it, complain about it, tell people about it. Anybody can do that. And there’s nothing too appealing about that, especially if you’re on the receiving end of the whining. And it doesn’t make us any happier to whine about it either. And if it does, that is a psychological problem, probably not even a spiritual one; it’s just a problem. 

On the other hand, the follower of Christ sees the cross and little crosses, great, small, long-standing, or just punctual ones that come in a moment as gifts. Gifts. They should cause joy. If they’re not causing a certain spiritual joy, that’s also symptomatic of a smallness of heart. You know, when everything goes really well for me, I get nervous because in Our Lord’s designs, for those that are not going to Heaven, things go pretty well in this life. Things are comfortable, not too many difficulties, because Our Lord knows this soul is not going to heaven, “I will repay all of the natural things he has done with ease and comfort in this life.” So, when things are difficult, when you have trials and you have difficulties, that’s actually a good sign. “You’re thinking of me. Thank you, Lord.” 

And that is also a currency with which you can make reparation for your sins, for the sins of the world. Do you want to have your purgatory in this life or the next? Make your choice. Maybe you get both, but the fact is you’ve got an opportunity of gold with every trial, with every cross, with every difficulty, with every bad look, ugly tone of voice you receive, whatever, all of this is part of God’s providential plan for you to be a saint Am I going to take advantage of this or am I going to squander this grace that will never be repeated again? It will never come back. 

We’ll all be patient tomorrow. Well, today we have, tomorrow we don’t have, yesterday is in God’s heart. So, all you have is now. Do we really think we can improvise some heroic virtue at the end of our lives if we’re not exercising virtue in little things right now? That’s a little delusional. So, all of these things are part of God’s plan for our sanctification and for us to make reparation and some of the greatest crosses we can have are not those foisted on us by a mean nasty world. Okay? 

Most of them have to do with our own foibles, our own self-made difficulties. Now, if it’s one that is because of my bad actions, well there’s nothing good about that. If there’s just something about my own character, better said my own temperament, that is perhaps depressive, well that is a path to holiness. When I discover my difficulties, my challenges, my dominant sins, that’s where I’ve got to be working. That’s going to be the area where I’ve got to exercise this patience, and not just patience in resignation, patience in embracing this cross that God’s providential plan has permitted me. 

Right now, because young people haven’t been presented with the adventure of Christ and His cross and doing great things, like giving one’s life for the Kingdom, and at the same time they’ve rejected what the Boomers have given them of a simple, comfortable, sensual life, they’re embracing Stoicism. Well, this is not Stoicism, it’s neither concupiscence nor Stoicism. It’s giving Our Lord our all, heart, mind, strength, our passions, our disorders, all of it. When we give Him our passions, disorders they may be, and we channel our hearts, our minds towards Him, those passions are transformed into virtue. 

There’s also perseverance. Perseverance, Paul compares perseverance to endurance. He says, “I even boast of my afflictions knowing that the affliction produces endurance and endurance proves character.” When we persevere, we’re persistent in the good in the midst of difficulties because we have not taken our eyes off the goal. 

Longanimity as opposed to magnificence in suffering: Longanimity in suffering is bearing a trial that lasts, maybe my whole life long, a long-standing trial. It might not be heavy or very heavy, but it’s a difficulty. It might be very heavy over a long time; however Providence disposes of it. But longanimity is distinguished from patience in the sense that it is long and drawn out and therefore, ought to have a certain spiritual growth about it so that, as I get used to the cross, as I pass from resignation to embracing, rejoicing in it, it gets easier. And the easier it gets, not because it’s lighter, but because I’m more configured with Christ crucified, the more pleasing it is to Our Lord. That’s one of the secrets of the spiritual life, that the easier I deal with difficulties, the more pleasing it is to Our Lord. Why? Because I’m not calculating. I’m not taking into account how I feel, what I think, or how I would like things to be. Rather, I’m just simply trying to please Him. Virtue is its own reward. And so, virtue brings about a certain joy, a refreshment, as we live it. 

Mortification is the last and certainly not the least beautiful of the daughters of fortitude. Mortification is joyfully seeking discomfort. How many of you do that? How many seek discomfort? How many seek comfort? Right? It’s not a complicated question. Right? What’s my go-to? We look at the lives of the saints, they all had that. They all sought mortification. If you sacrifice, if you suffer, if you put yourself through all sorts of trials for sports or art, whatever, people think, “Oh, you’re so brave, you’re wonderful.” If you do it for Christ, they call you neurotic, right? It shows you the insanity of the world, okay? So, you’ve got a choice. You can be sane, or you can be a nut. Those are your two choices. And the problem here is not liberal, conservative, left or right. It’s up or down. Am I with Christ or am I against Christ? There’s no spiritual Switzerland, okay? So, you’ve got two choices: With Christ. Against Him. And even mulling it over is a problem. Ok? It’s not something that requires too much thought. Pius XI says, “The cross of Christ, the stumbling block and foolishness remains for the believer the holy sign of his redemption, the emblem of His moral strength and greatness. We live in its shadow and die in its embrace. It will stand over our grave as a sign of our faith and hope in eternal light.” 

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

— Fr. Ermatinger