2nd Sunday of Lent
Preached February 25, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
When St. Peter says, Rabbi, it is good that we are here, it is one of those occasions in which he is saying more than he knows, though he does have some inkling. He is there on the mountaintop with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, revealed in his glory. Truly it is good for him to be there because it is good to attain the goal of our life; what Peter tastes upon the mountain top, union with God, is indeed the supreme goal of our life.
That means we can view the whole of the Christian life in this world as exemplified in the scene of Peter, James, and John, climbing the mountain, led by the man Jesus, to reach the goal of beholding the divine glory of Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; he is the way by which we travel so as to attain the goal of living forever in the truth of the vision of God.
Today I continue with my series of catechetical homilies. The underlying theme has been the life of grace, which is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and the Holy Spirit is given to us by Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who was crucified, rose again from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. It is from there that he pours forth the gift of his Holy Spirit upon his Church.
Earlier I mentioned that besides the basic life of sanctifying grace, through which the Holy Spirit makes us to be sharers in God’s life and nature, true children of God in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit bestows upon us his seven gifts, and the theological and moral virtues. Together these realities form within us the “new heart” that belongs to the new covenant. (cf. Je 31:33; Ez 36:26-27; Ps 51:12) Through the infused moral and theological virtues the Holy Spirit puts the life of grace into action; he gives us the power to act, beneath his guidance, as children of God.
Today my theme will be the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity or love, especially as they are exercised in the life of prayer.
The theological virtues orient our life directly towards God, through giving us to share in his own activity of knowledge and love. The moral virtues, as works of the Holy Spirit, are, we could say, the expression of the theological virtues in the day-to-day activity of our human life; they are guided by and ordered to the activity of the theological virtues.
Through the theological virtues we climb the mountain of the Transfiguration in the company of Peter, James, and John. Indeed, faith itself is represented by Peter, hope by James, and charity by John.
The theological virtue of faith, the foundational virtue, opens us to God who reveals so that we believe everything the supreme truth he makes known to us; faith introduces us above all into the mystery of the Incarnation (the dispensation of the humanity of the Son of God, our Savior) through which we receive the promise of eternal life in God and the mystery of the Holy Trinity the origin of all things in whom we receive the fulfillment of the promise.
The theological virtue of hope opens us to “desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1817) Our supreme happiness is achieved most of all in the face-to-face vision of God, the Most Holy Trinity.
“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822)
Following upon the words of Jesus himself, I no longer call you servants but friends, (cf. Jn 15:15) St. Thomas Aquinas explains that charity is a love of friendship with God himself. This is truly extraordinary because friendship is a love between equals who share a common life. Through giving us to share in his own divine life through the life of grace, God raises us, sinful creatures that we are, to a sort of equality with him, an equality that will be brought to perfection in the glory of heaven. The shared life of grace is the basis for the love of divine friendship; that love is made concrete for us through our relationship to the man Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God; he shares our human life and gives us to share in his divine life. This sharing or communion of life and love is embodied for us, here and now, in the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist and the life of grace that it nourishes also binds together the Christian faithful as a true brotherhood in the love of Christ.
We received the theological virtues as pure gifts from God in our baptism. Through mortal sin we lose the theological virtue of charity, just as we lose the life of grace. Faith and hope are not lost by mortal sin (unless the sin is directly contrary to faith, as unbelief, or contrary to hope, as despair of eternal salvation), but remain in the souls as anchors that call us to return to God by way of repentance. As for charity, when it is lost it is restored when we are restored to the life of grace in the sacrament of confession. God’s pardon restores us to the life of grace and the friendship of charity.
For all that, these virtues are given to us as the talents in the parable. They are powers that we have been given and that we must exercise. That means we need to work with them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; we need to practice them; we need to exercise them, climbing the mountain like Peter, James, and John, so that they can grow.
Since the theological virtues direct us above all in our life with God, prayer is most of all the way we exercise the theological virtues, prayer that involves listening to and speaking to God, or just being in his presence.
Here I want to say something about prayer in reference to the rosary.
When we pray the rosary we take the Blessed Virgin Mary, Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, as our teacher in the way of prayer. More than any other human being she exemplified the life of the theological virtues. Standing at the foot of the Cross she believed that her Son would rise again from the dead, she hoped for the salvation of the world, and she offered her Immaculate Heart as a loving sacrifice, in union with the sacrifice offered by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our High Priest and King.
The rosary has a physical element, the beads, that remind us of the physicality and concreteness of the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. (cf. 1 Jn 1:1)
The rosary contains the vocal prayers (the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory be) that are the most basic and necessary prayers that every Catholic should know by heart and teach to their children.
Very often today on the subject of prayer we are told that we should simply speak to God, in our own words, with the confidence of little children speaking to their father. That is all fine and good, but if the truth be told, very often we do not know how to pray as we ought, and even when the words are ready at hand, unless we have been well instructed, they easily become little more than a self-centered babble.
Now when we recite vocal prayers, we must call to mind to whom we are speaking and reflect on what we are saying. When we do that the basic vocal prayers, given to us by Jesus himself, or by the words of Sacred Scripture, or by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, begin to shape our desires in accordance with what we believe, teach us to place our hope in the promises of Christ, and help us to reach out to God in love. In other words they set us on the road of exercising the theological virtues.
The rosary, though, moves beyond vocal prayer to meditation on the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. We learn to do this in the company of Mary, who treasured everything that had to do with her Son in her maternal heart. (cf. Lk 2:19, 51) In faith we set the mysteries of the life of Jesus before our eyes; those mysteries direct our hearts to hope for the fulfillment of all that he has promised and as we keep him company, naturally we will grow in love; growing in love we will desire to imitate him, living as he lived, doing as he did.
Another key way to practice the virtues of faith, hope, and love is through adoration of the Holy Eucharist.
Faith rests not on what we are able to see and know and verify for ourselves, but on the word of God. Faith in the real presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood beneath the appearances of bread and wine relies wholly on his word; we believe because he who is truth itself said, this is my Body; this is the chalice of my Blood.
When we visit Jesus in the church building, whether he is hidden away in the tabernacle or exposed for adoration in the monstrance, we make a very profound act of faith, saying, “Though I can see only the appearance of bread, I believe you are here, because you have said so.”
Jesus’ body, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, is the nourishment of hope. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (Jn 6:54) It is also the supreme gift of his love, which kindles love in our hearts the more we spend time in his presence. Friendship grows when friends spend time together.
The Holy Spirit wants to form in our hearts this life of faith, hope, and charity. Jesus says, A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good. (Mt 6:45) We acquire that ‘store of goodness’ when we live a life of prayer, exercising the virtues of faith, hope, and love, guided by the Holy Spirit.
That life of prayer, though, needs protection. If we let our mind and our way of thinking be led astray by the mentality of the world, faith, the foundation is undermined, hope becomes misplaced, and love misguided. The Holy Spirit comes to our help with his gift of knowledge, giving us a truly Catholic instinct, which enables us to recognize and embrace ways of thinking that are in conformity to the faith, while rejecting those ways of thinking that are contrary to the doctrine of the faith.
Even on the mountaintop, the Apostles had not only the glory of Jesus, but the witness of Moses and Elijah. So to the Holy Spirit, with his gift of knowledge, leads us to rely not only on our personal experience, but also on the witness of the word of God and of 2,000 years of Catholic tradition.