21 February 2012

Homily - 21 February 2012

This evening I had the pleasure of celebrating Mass for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George at St. Michael Convent in Springfield.  I also joined them for dinner after Mass.  What follows is the homily I preached for them.

The Memorial of Saint Peter Damian
Dear Sisters,

On this day before Ash Wednesday it is a great work of Providence to celebrate this memorial of Saint Peter Damian, the Doctor of Reform and Renewal. The aim of his life and the aim of Lent is really the same for which we prayed just a few moments ago: “[T]hat, putting nothing before Christ and always ardent in the service of your Church, we may be led to the joys of eternal life.”[1]
The only way to attain the joys of eternal life is through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In his sermon for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Saint Peter Damian addressed the Cross, saying:

You are the salvation of a ruined world, you are the light set amid the darkness, medicine for the feeble, strength for the convalescing, a haven for those in danger, a place of refuge for those fleeing the jaws of death.  Through you the foreign wanderers pass on their way to become members of the household.[2]
While it is true that we have already passed through the Cross when we were baptized into the death of Christ, it is also true that we are in continual need of conversion (cf. Romans 6:3).  As such, we must be constantly passing through the Cross, as if we lived in the midst of it.  Is this not what the Lord intended when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)?

Saint James reminds us today that we must strive to control our “passions that make war within your members” so as to daily “submit yourselves to God (James 4:1, 7).
Saint Clare, that wondrous woman of faith, teaches us to look at the Crucified Lord.  Her words echo well the words of Saint James.  “Look upon Him Who became contemptible for you,” she says, “and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in the world for Him.”[3]  She instructs us how to pray before the Crucifix:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!  Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!  Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!  And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation!  So that you too may feel what His friends feel as the taste the hidden sweetness which God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him.[4]
This is a difficult task to undertake and to accomplish it we must rely on God’s grace and seek to set aside our own fears.  In this effort of being transformed ever more closely into the image of Christ we must heed the words of the Psalmist: “Cast your care upon the Lord, and he will support you” (Psalm 55:23).

Whatever cross the Lord has seen fit for us to bear, whatever penance we must undertake in these coming forty days, it is not too much for us to bear.  As Saint Peter Damian teaches, “For the sake of overcoming the devil our emperor presented us with the insignia of the cross; and lest it seem too heavy for us he first bore it himself.”[5]
As we enter into these days of Lent, let us look to the examples of the those of who have loved the Cross of our Lord before us and seek their intercession and guidance. 

[1] Roman Missal, Collect of the Day.
[2] Saint Peter Damian, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 14.  In Christian Eloquence: Contemporary Doctrinal Preaching, C. Colt Anderson.  (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2005), 122.
[3] Saint Clare of Assisi, The Second Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, 19.  In Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, Regis J. Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady, trans.  (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 197.
[4] Ibid., The Third Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, 12-14.  In Francis and Clare, 200.
[5] Saint Peter Damian, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 11.  In Christian Eloquence, 119.

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