Sermon Given on Septuagesima

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Father Roberto Cano FSSP

And having agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

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

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            On this Sunday of Septuagesima, our Holy Mother the Church bids the faithful to prepare their hearts and souls for the holy season of Lent.  The three preceding Sundays before the First Sunday of Lent are days of preparation and transition.  By means of the liturgical year, we go from the days of rejoicing and feasting of Christmas and the Epiphany to the rigors and sobriety of the days of Lent.  However, the Church is aware of our human frailty and knows how difficult it is for us to go from great feasting to a sudden spirit of fasting and penance.  Thus, the Church has instituted this season and has observed it even up to our day since the time of St. Gregory the Great.  The violet vestments, the omission of the Gloria and Alleluia and the almost mournful tone of the propers are all indications that we have entered upon a season of preparation and penance.  This time of Septuagesima has been likened by many liturgists to the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity.  There the Jews were convinced of their fault, wept for their sins and longed for their return to Jerusalem, so too, the Church, during this season, would have us consider our earthly exile here, repent for our sins and work for our entrance into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Both the Epistle and Gospel of today have a central theme and that is the theme of our salvation.  What better way then to prepare for the upcoming Feast of Easter, the feast of our redemption, than by considering for some moments our eternal salvation?

            In the parable of today’s Gospel, the householder contracts the laborers of his vineyard for a denarius.  The denarius, as some of the Fathers of the Church tell us, is a name given to our salvation.  For the denarius was a coin which was received in exchange for ten smaller pieces and was equivalent to a full day’s wage, and thus it has been associated to the reward we receive for keeping the ten commandments, namely, eternal salvation.    We learn from the sacred text concerning the denarius three basic points: 1) the reward is the same for all 2) the reward does not depend on the length of time one has worked 3) one man may do as much work in an hour as another man in a whole day.  These points are really lessons Our Lord wishes for us to understand, the great gift of eternal salvation.

            When we speak about salvation the first thing we must realize that it is truly and really a gift from Almighty God.  As we know by the doctrine of the Faith, salvation is something man cannot merit on his own, but rather the infinite merits of Christ have made salvation possible.  Recall the words of St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, “For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just” (Rom. V, 19).  If salvation is a gift from God, then it should be clear to us then that He is certainly free to bestow it upon whom He wills, namely, the elect.  This is why false doctrines which claim universal salvation for everyone as long as “they are good persons” are so ridiculous.  God who is infinitely free has the right to bestow His gift on who He wants and according to what terms.  And this is where Divine Revelation becomes essential, so we can come to know what those terms actually are.  In order to do so, however, we must possess Divine Revelation in its totality, the totality of which is found only in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Hence, the meaning of the traditional doctrine  “nulla salus extra ecclesiam” (there is no salvation outside the Church).  For if any man is saved it is by Christ the one mediator between God and man and through His Church, His Mystical Body on earth.  For it was only to the Catholic Church that the means of salvation, namely, divinely revealed Faith and the sacraments have been entrusted. 

            Therefore, if we understand that salvation is a gift, it should not surprise us that the gift is the same for all who are saved.  This is why the householder grants to each of the laborers the same wage regardless of the hour they began to work.  Eternal salvation consists essentially in the vision and enjoyment of God.  This is what we call the Beatific Vision.  That vision by which the soul sees God “face to face” in an intuitive and immediate manner, that is, without the aid of the senses or  another medium.  This is possible by the supernatural light we call the lumen gloriae (the light of glory), which basically elevates and fortifies the intellect in order that it can see God as He is in Himself, that is, all His attributes, His essence and the three divine Persons.  Nevertheless, we cannot forget the words of Christ who said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” (Jn. XIV, 2).  Which means that the souls of the just in Heaven will possess this vision in different degrees according to their merits and degree of charity.  Obviously, what the Blessed Virgin Mary sees compared to what any other soul of the just sees is different according to intensity.  If we were to compare souls to glasses of water, a glass of water which is 32 oz. compared to a 8 oz. glass, clearly holds more water because it has a greater capacity even though both glasses are full.  In the end, it is the soul who is capable of greater love, that is, supernatural charity who will possess a higher degree of this vision and of glory.  Again the words of St. John of the Cross apply, “In the evening of this life, we will be judged by the way we loved.” 

            The second lesson that we are to consider is that the reward does not depend on the time of our labor.  Indeed, what absolutely matters is that we die a good death, that is, in the state of sanctifying grace.  This grace of a good death is what the Church calls the grace of final perseverance and as the name suggests it is also a gift which no man can merit.  This is why it is so important to begin to pray for this grace now while we still have the opportunity.  While it is likely for a man who is sincere and honest in the practice of the faith to die a good death, it is not guaranteed, however.  Therefore, we should take the counsel of St. Paul and seek to work out our salvation with fear and trembling cf. Phil. II, 12.  Why is it, dear brethren, that we always put off for tomorrow what we can do today?  How many times have we said I will begin to lead a deeper life of prayer, or a more virtuous life or receive the sacraments with greater frequency and so on and so forth?  Yet, we have failed to carry out our resolutions.  I believe it is because we are not more generous with God, that is, we are stingy with our love.  And I say this from personal experience.  What we have to realize is that the reward of eternal salvation is not due to us simply because we have been baptized and possess the True Faith.  That is why Christ said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Just look at the situation of the Church today, where there are over 1 billion baptized Catholics in the world, yet how many truly live like Catholics?  What should be clear is that we are called to heroic sanctity by our baptism, but if we fail to reach it is because we have willed it to be so.  This is the reality!  We should also realize that the reward of eternal salvation does not depend on the duration of that calling, that is, of our baptism.  Undoubtedly, St. Augustine who received baptism as an adult shares a greater degree of the Beatific Vision than many of the just who were baptized in their infancy.  How many times have we seen it that those who are converts to the Faith often possess a greater zeal than those of us who have had the faith from the cradle?  And this is why Christ also said, “the last shall be first and the first last.” 

            The third lesson that we are to consider is that one man may do as much work in an hour as another man in a whole day.  This lesson has to do with the gratuitous Will of God as it is quite clear that all of us here are blessed with certain gifts both supernatural and natural which others do not possess or in the same degree.  Why is that so?  Before answering that question, we need to recall a principle of St. Thomas Aquinas which states that God’s love is the cause of goodness in things and therefore anything that exists has existence because God has willed it and therefore loves it.  Therefore, according to St. Thomas, “Since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another…And the reason why some things are better than others, is that God wills them a greater good.  Hence it follows that He loves more the better things” (ST, Ia, q. 20 aa. 3-4).  We pose the question again, why does one man possess more gifts supernaturally and naturally than another?  To put it simply, God loves that person more.  And this shouldn’t surprise us when we think of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Since God loves Our Lady with an immense love from all eternity and chose her to be the Mother of God, it follows that by a singular grace God preserved her from the stain of Original Sin and has filled her soul with grace and unparallel virtue. That God loves some souls more than others perhaps may sound unfair or unjust to our modern sensibilities.  Particularly for us who live in such an egalitarian society where we are taught to believe that there are no differences between one person and the other and that differences are actually evil or solely occasions for discrimination.  Just like in the natural world where some forms of plants and animals possess higher perfections and abilities so too in the supernatural world are some souls endowed with higher perfections and gifts.  To use the words of St. Paul, “Is there injustice with God?  God forbid!  For He saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.  And I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Rom. IX, 9-10).  The point of all this, is that what might take an entire life for one man to merit eternal life it may take another but a matter of years. All of this is according to the divine plan and therefore it is not for us to ask “why” or “how,” but rather to cooperate with the grace given to us.

            This lengthy discussion on salvation brings us full circle to consider the season which we now begin, the season of Septuagesima.  For this season in conjunction with that of Lent is a time particularly for conversion and penance.  If in the past we have been like those laborers of the eleventh hour who were idle most of the day, now is the time to labor spiritually in the vineyard of our soul.  How much do we realize that we are stewards and not owners?  That we are stewards of our lives and not the masters of it.  For just as God gave us life, it will also be He Who will take it away.  All too often we get distracted with the affairs of the world and the affairs of others.  Indeed, how much time have we spent on those things that don’t concern us, all to the detriment of our spiritual welfare.  But we must remember that the world is not our home!  Our Lord said to Martha, “Martha, Martha thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: but one thing is necessary.  Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken from her” (Lk. X, 41-42).    I won’t fail to repeat, salvation is a gift and that is why so often the Church through the Sacred Liturgy reminds us of this reality.  By having our final end always before us, we may never deviate from the path to attain it.  It is there for the taking, but we must then employ the gifts and means Almighty God has given us to reach it.  Let us, then, embrace the work God has sent us, namely, to work out our salvation and may we respond at last to Our Lord’s appeal, “Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. XCIV, 8).

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

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