Sunday, February 16, 2020
The Church offers to our consideration, during this week of Sexagesima, the history of Noah and the deluge. Man has not profited by the warnings already given him. God is obliged to punish him once more, and by a terrible chastisement. There is found out of the whole human race one just man; God makes a covenant with him, and with us through him. But, before He draws up this new alliance, He would show that He is the sovereign Master, and that man, and the earth whereon he lives, subsist solely by His power and permission.
As the ground-work of this week's instructions, we give a short passage from the Book of Genesis: it is read in the Office of this Sunday's Matins.
From the Book of Genesis.
And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth. And being touched inwardly with sorrow of heart, he said: I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth, from man even to beasts, from the creeping thing even to the fowls of the air. For it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace before the Lord.
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just and perfect man in his generations: he walked with God. And he begot three sons: Sem, Cham, and Japheth. And the earth was corrupted before God, and was filled with iniquity. And when God had seen that the earth was corrupted (for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth), he said to Noah: The end of all flesh is come before me: the earth is filled with iniquity through them, and I will destroy them with the earth.
This awful chastisement of the human race by the deluge was a fresh consequence of sin. This time, however, there was found one just man; and it was through him and his family that the world was restored. Having once more mercifully renewed His covenant with His creatures, God allows the earth to be repeopled, and makes the three sons of Noah become the fathers of the three great families of the human race.
This is the mystery of the Divine Office during the week of Sexagesima. The mystery expressed in to-day's Mass is of still greater importance, and the former is but a figure of it. The earth is deluged by sin and heresy. But the word of God, the seed of life, is ever producing a new generation: a race of men, who, like Noah, fear God. It is the word of God that produces those happy children, of whom the beloved disciple speaks, saying: 'They are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.'1Let us endeavour to be of this family; or, if we are already numbered among its members, let us zealously maintain our glorious position. What we have to do, during these days of Septuagesima, is to escape from the deluge of worldliness, and take shelter in the Ark of salvation; we have to become that good soil, which yields a hundred-fold from the heavenly seed. Let us flee from the wrath to come, lest we perish with the enemies of God: let us hunger after that word of God, which converteth and giveth life to souls.2
With the Greeks, this is the seventh day of their week Apocreos, which begins on the Monday after our Septuagesima Sunday. They call this week Apocreos, because they then begin to abstain from flesh-meat, which abstinence is observed till Easter Sunday.
At Rome the Station is in the basilica of St. Paul outside the walls. It is around the tomb of the Doctor of the Gentiles, the zealous sower of the divine seed, the father by his preaching of so many nations, that the Roman Church assembles her children on this Sunday, whereon she is about to announce to them how God spared the earth on the condition that it should be peopled with true believers and with faithful adorers of His name.
The Introit, which is taken from the Psalms, cries out to our Lord for help. The human race, all but extinct after the deluge, is here represented as beseeching its Creator to bless and increase it. The Church adopts the same prayer, and asks her Saviour to multiply the children of the Word, as He did in former days.
Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord? Arise, and cast us not off to the end. Why turnest thou thy face away? and forgettest our tribulation? Our belly cleaveth to the earth. Arise, O Lord, help us, and deliver us.
Ps. We have heard, O God, with our ears: our fathers have declared to us thy wonders. V. Glory. Arise.
In the Collect, the Church expresses the confidence she puts in the prayers of the great apostle St. Paul, that zealous sower of the divine seed, who laboured more than the other apostles in preaching the word to the Gentiles.
O God, who seest that we place no confidence in anything we do: mercifully grant that, by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles, we may be defended against all adversity. Through, etc.
Then are added two other Collects, as in the Mass of Septuagesima Sunday, page 120.
The Epistle is that admirable passage from one of St. Paul's Epistles, in which the great apostle, for the honour and interest of his sacred ministry, is necessitated to write his defence against the calumnies of his enemies. We learn from this his apology what labours the apostles had to go through, in order to sow the word of God in the barren soil of the Gentile world, and make it Christian.
Lesson of the Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.
2 Ch. xi.
Brethren, you gladly suffer the foolish, whereas yourselves are wise. For you suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take from you, if a man be lifted up, if a man strike you on the face. I speak according to dishonour, as if we had been weak in this part. Wherein if any man dare (I speak foolishly) I dare also. They are Hebrews: so am I. They are Israelites: so am I. They are the seed of Abraham: so am I. They are the ministers of Christ: (I speak as one less wise) I am more: in many more labours, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck; a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren. In labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things which are without: my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever, knoweth that I lie not. At Damascus the governor of the nation under Aretas the king, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to apprehend me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and so escaped his hands. If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed), but I will come to the visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ about fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not, God knoweth), such an one rapt even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell, God knoweth), that he was caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter. For such an one I will glory; but for myself I will glory nothing, but in my infirmities. For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish: for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or anything he heareth from me. And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me: and he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
In the Gradual, the Church beseeches her Lord to give her strength against those who oppose the mission He has entrusted to her, of gaining for Him a new people, adorers of His sovereign Majesty.
Let the Gentiles know that God is thy name: thou alone art the Most High over all the earth.
V. O my God, make them like a wheel, and as stubble before the wind.
Whilst the earth is being moved, and is suffering those terrible revolutions which, deluge-like, come first on one nation and then on another, the Church prays for her faithful children, in order that they may be spared, for they are the elect, and the hope of the world. It is thus she prays in the following Tract, which precedes the Gospel of the word.
Thou hast moved the earth, O Lord, and hast troubled it.
V. Heal the breaches thereof, for it is moved.
V. That they may flee from before the bow: that thy elect may be delivered.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time, when a very great multitude was gathered together, and hastened out of the cities to meet Jesus, he spoke by a similitude. The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And other some fell upon a rock: and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other some fell among thorns; and the thorns growing up with it, choked it. And other some fell upon good ground, and being sprung up, yielded fruit a hundred-fold. Saying these things he cried out: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him what this parable might be. To whom he said: To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables: that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. And they by the wayside are they that hear; then the devil cometh, and taketh the word out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved. Now they upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy: and these have no roots; for they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns, are they who have heard, and going their way, are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. But that on the good ground, are they, who in a good and very good heart hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.
St. Gregory the Great justly remarks, that this parable needs no explanation, since eternal Wisdom Himself has told us its meaning. All that we have to do, is to profit by this divine teaching, and become the good soil, wherein the heavenly seed may yield a rich harvest. How often have we, hitherto, allowed it to be trampled on by them that passed by, or to be torn up by the birds of the air! How often has it found our heart like a stone, that could give no moisture, or like a thorn plot, that could but choke! We listened to the word of God; we took pleasure in hearing it; and from this we argued well for ourselves. Nay, we have often received this word with joy and eagerness. Sometimes, even, it took root within us. But, alas! something always came to stop its growth. Henceforth, it must both grow and yield fruit. The seed given to us is of such quality, that the divine Sower has a right to expect a hundred-fold. If the soil, that is, our heart, be good; if we take the trouble to prepare it, by profiting by the means afforded us by the Church; we shall have an abundant harvest to show our Lord on that grand day, when, rising triumphant from His tomb, He will come to share with His faithful people the glory of His Resurrection.
Inspirited by this hope, and full of confidence in Him who has once more thrown this seed into this long ungrateful soil, let us sing with the Church, in her Offertory, these beautiful words of the royal psalmist: they are a prayer for holy resolution and perseverance.
Perfect thou my goings in thy paths; that my footsteps be not moved. O incline thy ear unto me and hear my words. Show forth thy wonderful mercies; who sayest them that hope in thee, O Lord.
May the sacrifice we have offered to thee, O Lord, always quicken us and defend us. Through, etc.
To this are added the other Secrets, as on Septuagesima Sunday, page 127.
The visit, which our Lord makes to us in the Sacrament of His love, is the grand means whereby He gives fertility to our souls. Hence it is that the Church invites us, in the Communion antiphon, to draw nigh to the altar of our God; there, our heart shall regain all the youthful fervour of its best days.
I will go up to the altar of God; to God, who rejoiceth my youth.
Grant, we humbly beseech thee, O almighty God, that those whom thou refreshest with thy sacraments, may, by a life well pleasing to thee, worthily serve thee. Through, etc.