Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Septuagesima Sunday—27 January A.D. 2013

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

    Today is Septuagesima Sunday, a Latin name that tells us that we are approximately seventy days before Easter.  That is approximate, but we are indeed beginning to prepare for the Easter season.  In the very early days of the church, the season of Advent had not developed, and this Sunday was considered the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year.  Scholars believe that the Gregorian Mass texts for Advent were not complete until sometime later in the seventh century.[2]

    The idea of Septuagesima being the beginning of the year is reinforced by the readings of Matins, the night office, which began this morning with the very beginning of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  For those of you who are not in the habit of following the biblical readings I recommend each month in the Parish Bulletin, this would be a good time to start—at the beginning.

    The reading of Genesis is also important for our remote preparation for Easter.  It calls to mind the fact that God created Adam and Eve in wondrous dignity to enjoy the fruits of His creation, and to exercise stewardship over it—but, through the sin of pride, accepting the suggestion of the Devil that through disobedience they could become “as gods”[3]—they fell from grace and nearly lost everything God had prepared for them and their descendants.  As we read the book of Genesis, we will witness this fall, along with God’s promise to send a Redeemer Who would repair the situation, and we will follow the history of Adam and Eve’s descendants (through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) up until the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

    The readings today suggest that we are starting out on some  sort of a journey.  St. Paul starts out by referring to a foot race—one in which h we hope to win the “imperishable crown” of heaven.  He reminds the Corinthians (and us) of the great efforts that we often make in worldly competition, where the prize is of relatively trivial value, and urges us to bring ourselves under discipline, lest we lose the all-important crown of eternal life.[4]

    Septuagesima is our “preparation period” for Lent, which, traditionally is a journey of bringing ourselves under discipline, to prepare for a holy appreciation of Holy Week and Easter—and, ultimately to prepare us for the journey through life that we intent to complete with the Beatific vision of God in heaven.  The traditional Lenten fast involves fasting for most of the days (other than Sundays and a few saints’ days) and abstinence from meat on about a dozen days.  (If this seems strict compared to the modern practice, consider the fact that there was a time when Catholics ate no meat, eggs, cheese, oil, or wine for the entire forty days!)  Some people begin their fasting with Septuagesima, but most simply prepare themselves for Lent.  This is the time to arrange your schedule so that during Lent you are not distracted by social commitments like parties and dinners.  It is the time to find some good spiritual reading.

    When we get there, the Lenten observance should be somewhat penitential—in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of the modern world.  But the Lenten discipline should also strengthen our resolve, so that by refusing the legitimate pleasures of life we may learn to refuse those that might be sinful.

    Please understand, though, that Lent is not about losing weight, eating less candy, or quitting smoking (although these things may be beneficial in themselves).  Our Lenten observance must be a journey of faith in what God has revealed, and submission to all that He wills.  Saint Paul hints at this in his epistle.  He writes about the Israelites wandering in the desert from Egypt to the promised land.  He likens their passage through the Red Sea to Baptism—and their refreshment with water from a rock, he likens, perhaps, even to Holy Communion, the refreshment of Jesus Christ.  The people had these things, and more, but the Scriptures record that most of them grumbled and complained most of the time.  Worse than the grumbling, many fell into idolatry and fornication, often allowing themselves to be separated from God by the pagans and the false religions they encountered on the way.  They did not believe in God as He revealed Himself to them, and they did not make His will their own—“with most of them God was not well pleased.”  Our journey—our Lent—should be different:  oriented towards the true God, toward His true religion, directed by His Commandments and His revealed will.

    The Gospel speaks of another sort of journey—of men doing hard work, in the sun, journeying through the heat of the day.[5]  Now, probably everybody, when he hears this Gospel for the first time, expects that those who labored all day would receive more than a single denarius when it is their turn to be paid—that seems only just.  But the other side of God’s justice is His mercy.  The honest Catholic will have to admit that there have been times in his life when he wasn’t so good—that there were times when, like those in the desert, he rejected God’s truth and refused to do His will.  The honest Catholic can point to others who have done a far better job:  to those who were serious about the Faith from a very young age;  to those who attend Mass and receive the Sacraments more frequently;  to those more devoted to prayer and divine adoration;  to those who are far more careful in keeping the Commandments;  those who more frequently perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

    Now, there may very well be differing degrees of reward in heaven, but we should all thank God for His mercy—that He grants us who are penitent, the same salvation as these who have, so to speak, “borne the heat of the day” by their enduring faith and their careful practice of all that He asks.  And the Gospel also demands that the holy not entertain any sense of spiritual pride against the latecomers to the Faith.  Catholics should rejoice when someone is give the grace to make a deathbed Confession or even to be baptized at death’s door;  we should rejoice when someone puts aside an evil life in their mature years;  we should rejoice at the vocation to the priesthood or religious life that comes only after years in the world.

    Again, God is merciful as well as just.  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  We must strive to make our choosing certain.  The Church offers us the coming season of Lent to approach God in mind and will.  Let us strive to win the race, to be pleasing to God on this journey through the desert of life, to be among those who receive the precious coin of salvation for whatever work we do in the vineyard of God.

    “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Let us all work diligently to be among those few!



[1]   Epistle 1 Corinthians ix: 24—x: 5

[4]   Epistle 1 Corinthians ix: 24—x: 5

[5]   Gospel:  Matthew xx: 1-16

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