Translation of the Epistle for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Saturn Devouring His Children, Francisco Goya, cir. 1820

Dearly Beloved, Be you humbled under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation; casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch, because your adversary, the devil, as, a roaring lion, goeth about seekinq whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith; knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, Who hath called us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you. To Him be glory and empire for ever and ever, Amen.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke

At that time, the publicans and sinners drew nigh unto Jesus to hear Him: and the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them. And He spoke to them this parable, saying: What man is there of you that hath a hundred sheep, and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders rejoicing and coming home, call together his friends and neighbors, saying to them; Rejoice with me because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you that even so there shall be joy in Heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. Or what woman having ten groats, if she lose one groat doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, call together her friends and neighbors, saying: Rejoice with me because I have found the groat which I had lost? So I say to you, there shall be joy before the Angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.

The Saving Words of the Gospel

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

Transcription of Audio

These two readings today, the Epistle of Peter, and then the beginning of this Gospel from Luke, speak about two extremes in which we see, and for example, the Pharisees and the Scribes, they’re murmuring when Our Lord is spending time precisely with those people that need Him – and their murmuring. And this word in Greek that Luke uses for a murmur is an onomatopedic word, which is kind of like the crackling of a campfire or the bubbling of a brook; it’s just a constant background noise. And even in English, we have murmur itself is an onomatopedic word. But this murmuring is the polar opposite of recollection, because it’s an internal noise that doesn’t allow us to turn our heart and our mind towards Christ. So, they’re seeing problems when Christ the solution is there before them, and they’re focused on problems.

And then, we see in Peter, in this epistle from Peter, in which he says, Cast all your care upon him. The word in Greek is μέριμνα (merimna), so it’s a plural of anxieties. Cast all your ‘anxieties’, and it has a common root with the word “distraction” in Greek. So, notice how our anxieties, which is a hyper-focusing on ourselves and on our own difficulties, then is a distraction from Christ, is a distraction from the solution precisely, or the real context for those anxieties. So, how do we do this?

Well, Peter tells us, Be you humbled under the mighty hand of God. Humility is the foundational virtue that makes all of the other virtues possible. And without humility as a foundation, the other virtues simply won’t happen. Augustine says, Dig within yourselves the foundation of humility and you will reach perfect charity. Notice too, that when Our Lord describes Himself, He doesn’t refer to His omniscience, He doesn’t refer to His omnipotence, His eternity, His omnipresence, He refers to His Own humility, Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart. And it’s precisely that humility that Our Lady speaks of in the Magnificat that so wins the heart of the Father, that makes Him exalt her above all other creation. It’s because of Our Lady’s humility.

I knew of a, he’s a priest, he just had his 98th birthday, he told me one time, in his first year as a priest, in his parish, he was bringing the First Communion children around the church, giving them a tour of all of the different places in the church building and the statues, and at one point he asks the first communion candidates, he says, “Why do you think Our Lady is standing with her feet on top of the serpent’s head.” And this one little girl said, “I don’t know, I never thought about that, but I’ll go ask her.” And so, she went and knelt before Our Lady and there prayerfully closed her eyes and came back and told this newly ordained priest, “Well she told me something that I didn’t quite understand.” And he said, “What was that?” She said, “She said to me my feet crushed the head of Satan because I’m the most indigent of all creation.” And he said he kind of kept his distance from that little girl after that. He was a little nervous around being around this mystic as a newly ordained priest.

Well, notice how humility helps us to see things as they are, right? Ourselves as we are, and as we are not, and humility also allows us to see Our Lord for who He is. So, humility doesn’t mean we see ourselves worse than we are. It’s not a false humility that still has ourselves as the reference point. But if we’re to learn from Christ who is meek and humble, then He is the only reference point, and we see ourselves in light of Him. He is the reference point. He is the goal. He’s the model. But He’s also the means.

And so, we’re not set up for failure, no matter how many times we fail; it’s not his fault. So, He puts Himself there as the standard and says, Learn from me. And this learning from Him means imitation. And we know what lengths Our Lord went to because of His humility, which was the foundation of His Sacred Humanity and certainly revealed this perfect charity of His on the Cross. And it’s this humility then that allows us to take our minds and our eyes, our hearts off of ourselves and keep them on Him.

Even in the midst of trials that we all have, and Peter is quick to say that the same affliction befalls all your brethren in the world. In other words, sometimes we can become absorbed by our anxieties, our difficulties, the trials, the crosses that we have, and we think we’re the only one. “Nobody suffers like I do. Nobody could understand me.” Well, whatever we’ve suffered, whatever crosses we’ve had, whatever trials we’ve had, Our Lady had it worse, Our Lord had it worse. And so, keeping our eyes on ourselves then is condemning ourselves to a certain imprisonment that has no escape except Christ.

And the key out of this self-imposed prison is to turn our hearts inside out, not having a hypersensitivity with regard to our own selves, but turning that sensitivity towards Him taking into account His passion, His sorrow, His grief in this month – which is not the month of pride, but the month of humility because it’s the month of the Sacred Heart – then we ought to be moved to make reparation to the Sacred Heart, to consider His sorrow, His grief, and truly live the Beatitude Blessed are those who mourn, and this mourning means we grieve for a Lord who sorrows over sin, over rejection, over Catholics who won’t spend time with Him, over Catholics who don’t go to Confession, over people who don’t want to be baptized when that’s the way to salvation. How many psychological and spiritual ills could we avoid if we were truly humble and kept our hearts and our minds on the Heart of Christ, rather than on ourselves and our own difficulties.

I hear people, and it’s a common retort to just the basic belief in God, “Well, with all of the horrible things in the world, why should I believe in a God who allows all of that?” Well, how does that make it better? When we take him out of the equation, all of a sudden all of those horrible things are absolutes. There is no context for them. They become it. They become the context, whereas our Lord is the context. And as we see Christ on the cross then redeems suffering. He redeems even our memories through purification of them. When Peter says, “Be sober and be watchful,” he says, Νηψατε; γρηγοωσατε (Nepsate; gregoresate). Νηψατε, this watchfulness actually means, literally, νῆψις means sobriety. So, having this sober interior, it’s a vigilance; not being dragged by passions, not being dragged by desire, but being awake, not woke, being awake to what’s going on in my mind, in my heart, as Paul says, taking thoughts prisoner.

Does this thought, does this desire, does this inclination give God glory, or does it bring Him grief? It’s a simple test, and it ought to become a habit. This is what is called νῆψις, this vigilance over one’s own heart. Does it give you glory, Lord? And we ought not ask ourselves, we ought to ask Our Lord frequently, “Does this thought, this inclination, this desire, this plan, this thing I’m going to say, does it give You glory, or does it bring You sorrow?” So, νηψατε is this sober watchfulness, it’s a vigilance over our hearts. And then this γρηγοωσατε is also a another variation on that same theme of vigilance over our hearts. 

Now, because Peter, who knew himself quite well, remember he’s the one who, when he realized who was in his boat in Luke Chapter 5, when he realized this Jesus of Nazareth is actually God, what is his first reaction? Go away from me. Leave me, I’m a sinful man. He was still thinking about Peter. And what is Our Lord’s perfect response to him? He doesn’t say, “Yes, I know you’re a sinful man. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” He doesn’t say that. He says, Follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men. In other words, He gives him a mission: “I want you to do something. Don’t focus on yourself. Don’t wallow in your own misery. Do something to save souls.” How important this is to put us back into reality when we’re tempted to be absorbed by difficulties, anxieties.

St. Francis de Sales says that after venial sin, the worst evil that can befall us is anxiety. He has some really practical advice, as does St. Thomas Aquinas, for how to deal with anxiety. St. Francis de Sales says first ask God for help and guidance, and then, resolve not to follow that inclination until you’ve regained peace of soul. And thirdly, meekly and calmly assess the nature of this inclination, isolating it, and analyzing it. When we do that, it’s kind of unmasked, and we can see things a little more clearly. And then, he says reveal it to your confessor or spiritual director.

Thomas, not contradicting him, has quite different counsel for how to deal with anxieties that Peter says are what we all suffer in this world. He says that there are five means that he enjoins us to use. One of them he says is weeping. He said, Smiling and laughter increases joy. Tears decrease sorrow. So, notice that the tears are not an end in themselves; they’re, actually, he says they’re something of a release of sorrow. That’s number one. Number two, he says share the sorrow with a close friend. He says it lightens the burden. Number three he says contemplation of the truth, primarily God’s greatness and heaven’s glory. Number four, find something and do something you enjoy. So, he’s very practical. You know, think of how when you have many trials, many things weighing on you, if you read, you play music, you go hiking, you do something that is ordered recreation. It takes your mind off of the problem, kind of resets you. And then he says, interestingly enough, he says, Another great help for sorrow and anxiety is taking a nap and taking a warm bath” So very, very practical, humane, accessible means from these horrible dark Middle Ages. So, Thomas Aquinas there tells us, in very human terms, how to respect our own limitations and he’s not denigrating the human body at all.

Notice too, how many mental health problems could be spared if people simply went to Confession. When Peter refers to the devil, the word is διαβολος (diabolos), which means Accuser. Well, we’re all accusers in a certain sense, but we ought to be accusing ourselves before God in Confession, so we’re not accused later. If we accuse ourselves properly with simplicity and clarity and just leave it, the devil can make all the accusation he wants, but we can always retort, “Yes, but God has forgiven me. Yes, but God has forgiven me.” The devil wants us to hyper-focus on our past sin. We have to hyper-focus on God’s mercy. We submit our sin to His mercy and get on with things. Yesterday is in God’s hands, tomorrow doesn’t exist, all I have is now. And so, how much anxiety can be spared also then by humble Confession, recognizing where we’ve offended our Lord, recognizing where we haven’t lived up to our filial duties, and with simplicity and clarity we say our sins and move on.

And then, we can go about taking care of what really matters, which is bringing glory to God and making reparation to the Sacred Heart.

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

— Fr. Ermatinger