“And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean,
with a loud voice glorifying God, and he fell on his face before
giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan.”
Ordinary of the Mass
As you might imagine, priests are always on the lookout
for good sermon material. The Sunday Epistle and Gospel readings are more
or less the same each year, so it is nice to see someone approach them from
a fresh perspective. I would never take another man’s sermon and preach it
as though it were my own, but I am always looking for ideas in other
priests’ work. The Internet has made this a lot easier in recent years.
Recently, I received copies of the same sermon from
three different sources.
It was by a“tradition minded” priest, which probably makes him a
“conservative” of the New Order. It does a fine job of dispelling the myth
that traditional Catholics are some-how guilty of the Pelagian heresy. For
those of you who read the Parish Bulletin, you know that I wrote about this
heresy in the July issue.
In that issue, I used a convenient but inadequate definition of this heresy,
that it “held that man could earn eternal salvation through good works
alone. It is more or less the opposite of Martin Luther’s heresy of
salvation through faith alone.” What I said was correct, but our “tradition
minded” priest expanded on it in a way that bears on what we heard from
Saint Paul today. (He related it to the Epistle two Sundays ago.)
He wrote that Pelagius’ error held five points—remember
that all five are errors:
the sin of our first parents was not transmitted to their posterity; [Adam’s
sin harmed only himself, not the human race, and children just born are in
the same state as Adam before his fall.] << that is to say that
there is no such thing as original sin.>>
Christ came into the world, not to restore anything we had lost, but to set
up an ideal of virtue, and so counteract the evil example of Adam; << that
is to say that Christ is nothing more than a role model.>>
we can, of our own natural powers, and without any internal assistance from
God, [do good that is pleasing to God and thereby] merit the happiness of
the Beatific Vision” (cf. Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine,
Archbishop Michael Sheehan, p. 456).
Law of Moses is just as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
(v) Pelagians considered death to be natural to man and not a consequence of
Adam’s sin. So even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died in any case.
The “tradition minded” priest pointed out that
not only were good works alone inadequate to salvation, but that
without the Redemption won by Jesus Christ on the Cross, there was
nothing that a human being could do to gain heaven — faith, good
works, prayer, fasting — there was nothing that a human being
could do to gain heaven! It didn’t matter what you tried to do.
All of this is significant when we read today’s
Saint Paul refers to the promise that was made in the Old Testament to
Abraham, the Father of the Jewish nation. “I will multiply thy seed like
the stars of heaven ... and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth
God was going to found His people on the descendants of
Abraham—and many of the Jewish people of Paul’s time thought that this
promise had been fulfilled roughly five hundred years after Abraham, when
God gave His Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The thinking was that all one had
to do was to follow the Law and one would be saved: Keep the Commandments,
circumcise your sons, wear tassels on your cloak, keep kosher, avoid lepers,
sacrifice a few animals—and you win admission to heaven—Right? No, Wrong?
The works of the Law kept you from making God any more
angry than He already was with the human race. But none of them repaired
the radical damage done by Adam to the human race’s relationship with God.
The promise of that reparation would be fulfilled only by one “offspring” of
Abraham—and Paul tells us, through his writing to the Galatians, that the
one “offspring,” is that one seed, “which is Christ.”
The Law given to Moses told men and women how to keep
from further offending God, but it did not give them the actual graces
necessary to observe that Law faithfully. As we saw in today’s Gospel, the
Law of Moses appointed the Jewish priests of the Temple to judge when
leprosy had been cured, but they were powerless to remove the original sin
which was at the root of all mankind’s sickness and death. The priests of
the Temple were powerless to absolve the sins of those who had broken the
Commandments of the Law. The graces of obedience to the Law, and the power
to forgive sins did not come through Moses, but came some 1400 years later
through Jesus of Nazareth. These graces, which come from God, through His
divine Son, come only through His Church.
This brings us to a number of practical considerations:
No one can call a Catholic who “counts his beads,” and counts
his Rosaries, a Pelagian heretic. As I said in the Bulletin, it is hard to
imagine a Pelagian—one who thinks he needs none of God’s graces—as praying
at all. And I am not at all sure how one can pray the Rosary without
counting—that’s what the beads are for!
No Catholic should ever give the impression that Baptism and
membership in the Church are unimportant. A few years back the Modernist
theologians raised a lot of doubt about the necessity for infants to be
Baptized—they gave the idea that the construct of Limbo was unnecessary; as
though all infants who die go to heaven—unwittingly, I presume, raising the
crime of abortion to the dignity of a “sacrament.” (If they’re all going to
heaven anyway, it would keep them from growing up and becoming sinners who
might go to hell!)
And while Catholics should strive to be at peace with everyone
around them, there should never be any suggestion that the Catholic Faith is
unnecessary, or no better than any other system of belief. If there is ever
any “interreligious dialogue,” it should be about purely secular
things, and never suggest that the True Church needs guidance from religions
merely invented by men or women, without Jesus Christ.
No Catholic should ever doubt the need for the Sacrament of
Confession. Without the graces of God, we can do nothing that is pleasing
in the sight of God. Pelagius would have rejected any need for the
priesthood and the Sacraments. Good Catholics will Confess regularly and
will receive Holy Communion whenever the opportunity presents itself—daily
if possible. And, through the graces received, our prayers and our good
works become meritorious in the eyes of God.
And finally, let us close with a lesson from today’s
Gospel. Ten men were cured of leprosy. But the Samaritan, a stranger in
Israel, who returned to thank our Lord was singled out for special praise:
“Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.” Without Jesus
Christ, nothing we could ever do would bring us to heaven: not faith, not
good works, not prayer, not fasting. But with Jesus Christ the things good
men and women do have been made pleasing to God—we should never be without
eternal gratitude. We should never go a day without returning to God and
thanking Him for all He has done for us!