Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Ave Maria!
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost—23 August AD 2015

Ordinary of the Mass
English Text
Latin Text

“To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed.”[1]

    Christianity was, of course, rooted in Judaism.  God had picked the Jews as His special people.  In the Garden of Eden, the threat to the Devil—“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”—was actually a promise to Adam and Eve that one day one of their descendants would undo the damage of their original sin.[2]

    Later on in the Book of Genesis, a second promise was made to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation:

    I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore: thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies.”[3]

    And I will give to thee, and to thy seed … all the land of Chanaan for a perpetual possession, and I will be their God.[4]

    And a third promise was made to one of Abraham’s descendants, King David:

And when thy days shall be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will raise up thy seed after thee … and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house to my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.[5]

    All of these promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the descendant of Adam, of Abraham and of King David.  Jesus Christ came into the world and crushed the Devil and conquered original sin.  Jesus Christ established His descendants in His Church, numbering in the millions over the years.  Jesus Christ reigns as our eternal King—Long live Christ the King!

    But, for many of the Jews of Saint Paul’s time, the promises of God to Adam, Abraham, and David were tied up with the observance of the Mosaic Law (which didn’t even exist until 430 years after Abraham, and  perhaps, a few thousand years after Adam).  To many of these people, it was essential to keep the Jewish feast days, to circumcise the male children, to keep Kosher, and so forth, observing all the ritual works of the Old Law.  This presented a problem to Saint Paul, for most of his congregations included at least a few such Jews.  (He usually started his preaching in the synagogue of the cities he visited.)  They often insisted that the pagan converts to Christianity had to begin their conversion by becoming Jewish, and practicing the works of the Law, before being baptized.

    This is what Saint Paul was refuting in what he wrote to the Galatians in today’s Epistle.  God promised Abraham and David an inheritance. 

[But] if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise. Why, then, was the law? It was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom he made the promise.

    The seed of Adam, Abraham, and David to whom God made this promise was Jesus Christ.  The moral precepts of the Law were still to be observed, for they are a summary of the natural law which governs all mankind, not just the Jews.  If anything, there was now an even greater emphasis on doing good and avoiding evil, for good works on behalf of another were praised as doing good works on behalf of Jesus Himself:  “You did this for me when you did it for the least of my brethren.”[6]

    But, instead of observing the rituals of the old Law, the Christian was expected to nurture the virtue of Faith (along with doing good for the least of Jesus’ brethren).

    And what is this thing called “Faith”?  It is not, as some supposed Christians would have us believe, an emotional hope for salvation—it is not gritting one’s teeth, throwing up one’s hands, and loudly shouting “I believe”—it is not that.  It is not coming up to the altar and “accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior”—He is that, but there is much more to Faith.  And, Faith is certainly not belief in the impossible.

    Faith is the virtue by which we believe everything that God has revealed—God who cannot deceive us.  That inability to deceive, by the way, is not an imperfection for the ability to deceive is an imperfection when compared to perfect Truth, which is what God is.

    As a virtue, Faith is a free gift from God.  We receive it at Baptism, and we strengthen it through prayer and the frequent reception of the Sacraments.  But like all of the virtues, God expects a human response.  We are not born knowing the truths God has revealed, so we must go about learning them.  We learn them through reading the Bible and other Catholic literature, from the sermons of orthodox priests, but ultimately it is the Church that decides what is in the body of revelation that we must believe.  The Popes and bishops exercise what we call the extraordinary magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church.  The authentic teaching is found in the documents issued by the Popes and the Ecumenical councils, which specify what we must believe in order to be Catholics.  Anything else ought to be read respectfully, but it will always be clear when we are required to believe something.

    In normal times one can feel comfortable in accepting the ordinary magisterial teaching of the Church.  In his Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater writes:

     The ordinary magisterium is continually exercised by the Church especially in her universal practices connected with faith or morals, in the unanimous consent of the Fathers (q.v.) and theologians, in the decisions of the Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals, in the common sense (q.v.) of the faithful, and various historical documents in which the faith is declared.[7]

    In summary, in order for good Catholics to know their Faith, they will pray and receive the Sacraments regularly, be attentive to orthodox Catholic sermons, and read good Catholic literature.  But being a scholar does not make one a saint.  Sanctity comes from humble acceptance of God’s Truth, and from doing what we can for the “least of our Lord’s brethren.”


[1]   Epistle: Galatians iii: 16-22

[6]   Cf. Matthew xxv: 31-46, especially 40

[7]   Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary (NY: Macmillan, 1958), s.v. "Magisterium," p. 301.


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