Fourth (Lætáre) Sunday of Lent—22 March AD 2009
Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
The rose colored
vestments for Lætáre Sunday tell us that Lent is roughly half over.
We are urged to rejoice today, but to rededicate ourselves to the observance of
Lent on the morrow.
We’ve been talking about the theological virtues
for the past two weeks. Faith, Hope, and Charity. I mentioned that
these virtues are called “theological” because through them we move into
closer and closer union with God, and eventually become suitable to dwell in His
presence forever in eternity. Like any of the virtues, they give us a
certain power, or inclination towards the good—with the theological virtues,
the good is God Himself.
The third of these virtues is called “charity”—but
(for the moment) we must distinguish it from the modern use of that word.
Only a few weeks ago we read the words of Saint Paul: “And if I
distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my
body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me
In modern English, charity means giving to the poor and otherwise seeing to it
that their needs are met. In this modern use, one’s motives may be very
altruistic, perhaps even motivated by the love of God and our Lord’s
admonition that we care for the needy as we would care for Him—but
on the other hand, modern charity for the poor might come from base motives like
seeking power through bureaucracy, or concern for one’s property values.
When we use the word “Charity” as the name of the
theological virtue, we are speaking of the pure and disinterested love of God.
Like Faith and Hope, Charity is an infused virtue—one that we receive at
Baptism, and one that can be nourished through the various sources of
sanctifying grace. It is a work of God in our souls. It is a virtue
of the will rather than of the intellect; it is not an emotional thing
that grows by being stirred up by hand waving, back slapping, the away of the
crowd or any other such thing. If we can do anything on our own to
increase Charity it can only be through purification of the will—that is to
say that we can put aside all of the conflicting desires which might keep us
from desiring God. That is one of the reasons for making a good Lent—to
learn on a first hand basis that we can do without many of the distractions of
the world—or at least that we can do with less of them.
All three of the theological virtues can be said to be
“interactive.” That is to say that one without the other two is
difficult or impossible to imagine. Faith, or Belief in what God has
revealed, would be rather meaningless without the Love of God and the Hope of
happiness with Him. Charity, or Love of God, would be equally meaningless
without at least some Belief in God, and would be the worst imaginable
frustration if there was no Hope of happiness with Him.
Saint Paul tells us that “Charity never fails, whereas
prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be
He doesn’t say so directly, but a moment of reflection will tell us that
Charity is the only one of the three virtues that will remain unchanged in
eternity. Faith will not be destroyed, but it will certainly be changed as
we come to know God face to face, rather than by knowing Him by His descriptions
of Himself. Hope may not be destroyed, but once we come to enjoy the
Beatific Vision of God, it will be more accurate to speak of “Fulfillment”
than of “Hope.”
Now, occasionally, you will hear someone say that God is
too great or too distant or too hidden for a mere human being to love. I
would suggest that there are three remedies for anyone who has difficulty in
First, remember that Charity is not an emotional thing.
If we seek an emotional attachment such as we might have with a husband or a
wife, we are seeking the wrong thing and will never find it.
Second, do try to purify the will of other attachments
which may compete with the love of God. That does not mean that everyone
must live the life of a monk or a nun, shut up in a monastery, doing perpetual
penance—although there may be room for some of this in everyone’s life, at
least part of the time. But, what it does mean is an ordering of
priorities. The legitimate pleasures of the world are just that—they are
legitimate, they are good when used with appropriate moderation. But they
are more immediate in drawing our attention than God is; we must not let
them crowd God out of our lives. There is such a thing as too much
entertainment, too much celebration, and too much pampering of
ourselves with attractive clothing and accessories. There are only so
many hours in the day, and often these excesses simply squeeze God out of that
day. There has to be time for prayer, spiritual reading, and
meditation—one ought not be a complete stranger to Mass during the week, to
frequent Communion, or to a few moments in the confessional now and then.
It is very difficult to love someone whom you do not know—if you want to love
God as you should, make use of these means to know Him, and to have Him refresh
that love with His sanctifying grace.
Pay particular attention to the things that are read at
Mass. Have a missal to read them at home on the days when you cannot
attend in person. For example, look at today’s Epistle and Gospel.
In the Epistle, Saint Paul tells us of the freedom that
Christ has won for us at great price. And as he tells us elsewhere in the
very same chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, “God sent his Son,
made of a woman ... that we might receive the adoption of sons” and daughters
God has made us not servants, but has made us welcome members of His own
In the Gospel we read of the Son of God curing the sick and
then, moved by compassion, feeding an immense number of people from but a few
loaves and fishes. Later on in the same chapter of Saint John’s Gospel,
He promised to give them not ordinary bread and fish, but to give them His very
own body and blood: “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for
ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
Virtually every time you read the texts, from virtually any
Mass throughout the year, you will read about God’s love for you.
Finally, do consider and act upon that connection that our
language suggests between Charity as the love of God, and charity as the love of
neighbor. No matter how un-loveable our neighbor may seem, we must not
lose sight of the fact that God loves him, and has directed us to love our
neighbor as though he were the Son of God. “I was hungry, and you gave
me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you
took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in
prison, and you came to me.... As long as you did [these things for] one of
these my least brethren, you did [them for] Me.”
If you say that you have difficulty in loving God because
he is far away, you need only look around to find any number of people to love
for the sake of loving God.
“Charity is patient, is kind; charity does
not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not
self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over
wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never fails, whereas
prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be
destroyed.... So there abide faith, hope, and charity, these three; but
the greatest of these is charity.”