As the madness continues and we deal with patently irrational policies enforced in both the secular and the ecclesiastical realm, it is important for us to formulate a properly ordered perspective that acknowledges the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Sacred history teaches us that this is ultimately the end result in every struggle between good and evil. ‘Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Lk. 12:32). God’s plan will not be thwarted even by the most powerful of this world. We sometimes think God requires us to do great or impossible things to demonstrate our love for Him, but constancy and integrity in ordinary things are the hallmarks of a penitent heart and a virtuous life. A penitent heart is a humble and contrite heart and a virtuous life is a life of devotion to God and of fidelity to His commandments. It is good for us to be mindful of this as the Traditional Liturgical calendar marks Septuagesima Sunday. Our preparations for the celebration of the Easter Mystery begin today.
The Church’s efforts are always described as pastoral because the Church, like the Good Shepherd Himself, is concerned primarily with the good of souls. As we undertake the spiritual journey to the celebration of Easter what each one of us should seek for the good of our soul is a true spiritual resurrection, a vivid and fortifying re-incorporation into Christ by our paschal communion, a resolve to be faithful to our baptismal commitments and a new and more profound adhesion to Christ Our Saviour – a stronger and more serious dedication to a holy Christian life.
God does nothing haphazardly. Through the Logos there is an inherent logic to the created order and so too in the re-creation that is the Mystery of Salvation. Our yearly celebration of the Paschal Mystery of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Saviour encompasses past, present and future. It is all a unity. All this is communicated to us in the Easter Vigil but our pre-Lenten and Lenten observances are also a means by which the details of God’s plan of salvation are communicated to us, so that we might benefit from this yearly celebration.
What God effected partially by signs and types in the Old Testament He wrought more fully and perfectly by the historic actions of Christ in the New Testament. Our Heavenly Father carries this work on now on a new plane – that of sacramental signs. All of this He will bring to its conclusion at the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, when all these signs will give way to the thing signified. Past, present, future: our outlook must never lack this eschatological perspective.
When we speak of the saving action of God we speak of the Paschal Mystery or mysteries. We often think of a mystery as some truth which is beyond our understanding, but which we believe because God has revealed it to us. The word however, also has another meaning; it means an action done by God in carrying out some plan. The Paschal Mysteries are the event which takes place in the Church at Eastertide. They are spread over the whole week, beginning with Palm Sunday and their great climax is the great Paschal Vigil on Holy Saturday.
Easter then, is not simply a date but an event. I suppose this is why we don’t have a fixed date for its celebration. Easter happens, as it were in accordance with the cycles of the heavens. The plan of salvation continues to unfold in our time not in any vague way, but specifically for us in this particular time in history and even more specifically in the circumstances of our life now; in our souls, minds and hearts. Together, we whom God’s Divine Providence has gathered together are to carry out the paschal mysteries which as the Hebrew word pasch indicates, means a passing over from slavery to freedom.
Perhaps, given the our anomalous situation and that of the Church more or less everywhere, our commemoration of these mysteries this year, as it was last year, may afford us the grace of a real experience of liberation or at least the hope of liberation from the slavery of a health dictatorship. For nearly a year now, we have been dispensed from the obligation of attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Moreover, even our ability to visit the Blessed Sacrament is for the most part circumscribed and the reception of Holy Communion in many places is nearly impossible for those who wish to receive Holy Communion orally, in the traditional manner. This is perhaps most painful for both the faithful and for priests who have been forbidden to administer Holy Communion on the tongue. This is unprecedented in our history; but we must not despair of the aid of God’s grace for to do so would mean that we have succumbed to a temptation leading to despair. We must look to the future realistically of course, but not without hope for the operation of grace cannot be thwarted by the action of men. Men can resist this grace but God cannot be prevented from communicating His grace to those who seek Him and who love him.
Even if we should be deprived of the opportunity to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries in all their splendour and spiritual import, still we can beseech the Lord to apply here and now to our own souls what Our Saviour did for us long ago. To understand these mysteries therefore, and to profit from this understanding we must bear in mind that the whole plan of salvation which includes us in our time was in action from the earliest days of human history, is an action taking place now, and it will not be complete till the end of time.
St Augustine of Hippo observed that against Christ’s army the world arrays a twofold battle line. It offers temptations to lead us astray; and it strikes terror into us to break our spirit. Hence, if personal pleasures do not hold us captive, and if we are not frightened by brutality, then the world is overcome. At both of these approaches Christ comes to our aid, and the Christian is not conquered. It is not wrong to think of ourselves as an army for we are the Church Militant. This knowledge disposes our hearts and minds rightly and in reality. The ‘pandemic’ that appears to govern the life of the world today is a pandemic of fear, and both the governed and those who govern are either the passive or active agents of this fear – irrational fear.
If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom.8:31). This is something we must never forget, trusting in the Providence of God which governs all things. The dispensation of Divine Providence is now such that we who wish to cling to Christ, to His truth, to His grace and to His unfailing love must resolve to persevere in unchartered paths. Our churches may not be open and may not even be accessible to us. We may be forced to make our own way, but the grace to be found in this is that God may be liberating us from another form of bondage, the pressure of conformity. We must conform ourselves to Christ alone; not to the state, not to those who wield power and not even to the dictates of a worldly church in collusion with the powers of this world that serve the prince of this world.
In our Epistle reading St Paul compares our life to an arena where we must fight and mortify ourselves, if we wish to obtain the victory; and in our Gospel text the parable of the vineyard shows us that we must all work to obtain the reward of eternal life. We disciples of Christ must live disciplined lives of prayer, devotion and of charity. This is our work and it is a work that we undertake not only for our own personal salvation but no less in union with one another and in Christ for the world’s salvation. Together, we whom God’s Divine Providence has gathered together are to carry out the paschal mysteries in union with our Saviour who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
Our challenging times call us to be witnesses of this truth by trusting in the power of God’s saving grace; never compromising our belief that our salvation and the ground of truth on which we establish our lives is Christ Our Saviour. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8). Our times are such that they bid us to imitate the patience of the saints, who keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12).
May the prayers of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross be for us both an encouragement and a source of strength as we look to our deliverance from bondage to the freedom and glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).