Sunday, 11 April 2021

Thomas Sunday: “The Mouth of the Devil’s Evil Persuasion Devours, Day After Day, Those Whose Bad Lives Are in Disagreement With the Faith They Confess.”

A sermon preached by Pope St Gregory the Great on this Sunday over 1500 years ago.

From Rorate Cæli

Saint Gregory the Great 
on the Gospel of the Sunday in Albis (John 20:19-31)
Paschaltide, 591



When reading this gospel, a first question agitates our mind: how did the body of the Lord, once resurrected, remain a real body, while he was able to enter the disciples despite the closed doors? But we must know that the divine action would have nothing more admirable if it were understood by reason, and that faith would have no merit if human reason furnishes it with experimental proofs. Such works of our Redeemer, which can in no way be understood by themselves, must be meditated in the light of his other actions, so that we may be led to believe these wonderful facts by others who are more again. For this body of the Lord who introduced himself to his disciples despite the closed doors is the same as his Nativity brought out in the eyes of men the closed breast of the Virgin. It is not surprising, therefore, that our Redeemer, having risen to live forever, entered despite the closed doors, since coming [into this world] to die, he came out of the Virgin's womb without opening it.

As the faith of those who looked upon this visible body remained hesitant, the Lord immediately showed them his hands and his side; he presented them with touching the flesh he had just introduced, despite the closed doors. In this, he manifested two astonishing and very contradictory things to each other in the light of human reason, since after his Resurrection his body revealed itself to be both incorruptible and tangible. Now, what touches is necessarily corruptible, and what is not corrupted can not be touched. But in a way that forces amazement and beyond comprehension, our Redeemer gave us to see after his resurrection a body that was both incorruptible and tangible: by showing him incorruptible, he invited us to reward; in giving him to touch, he confirmed us in the faith. He showed himself at the same time incorruptible and tangible, to show clearly that after his Resurrection, his body remained of the same nature, but that he was raised to a very different glory.

He said to them, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you. "That is to say," As I am God, the Father who is God has sent me; I am a man, I send you, you who are men. "The Father sent the Son deciding that he would incarnate for the redemption of mankind. He wanted him to come into the world to suffer, and yet he loved that Son whom he sent to suffer. The apostles whom he has chosen, the Lord does not send them into the world to taste the joys of it, but he sends them, just as he himself was sent to suffer. Thus, just as the Father loves the Son and still sends him to suffer, so does the Lord love his disciples and send them into the world to suffer. This is why he says: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." In other words, "By sending you into the midst of the traps of the persecutors, I love you with the same love of which the Father loves me. who brought me [to the world] to endure the suffering. "

"To be sent" can yet be understood also in the order of the divine nature. Indeed, it is said of the Son that he is sent by the Father in that he is begotten by the Father. Although the Holy Spirit, who is equal to the Father and the Son, did not incarnate, the Son testifies that He sends it, saying, "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father. "(Jn 15:26). If we were to understand "to be sent" only in the sense of "incarnate", it is obvious that we could not say in the Holy Spirit that he is sent, since he did not by no means incarnated. But his "mission" is the procession by virtue of which he proceeds from the Father and the Son. Therefore, just as it is said of the Spirit that he is sent in so far as he proceeds, so too can the Son be said, without being deceived, that he is sent as he is begotten. .

"And having said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" We have to look for why our Lord gave us the Holy Spirit, a first time during his stay on the earth, then another time since he reigns in Heaven. For nowhere else are we clearly told that the Holy Spirit is given, if not here, where he is received in a breath, and later when he reveals himself as coming from heaven in the form of tongues. multiples (see Acts 2: 1-4). Why, then, is it first given to the disciples on earth, then sent from heaven, if not because there are two precepts of charity, love of God and love of neighbor? The Spirit is given to us on earth to love our neighbor, and we are given from Heaven to love God. Just as there is only one charity, but two precepts, there is also only one Spirit, but it is given twice: the first time by the Lord dwelling on the earth, the second time from Heaven. Is it not through the love of neighbor that one learns how to reach God's love? Hence the word of John: "Whoever does not love his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he does not see?" (1 Jn 4: 20)

If, even before the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit resided in the hearts of the disciples to bring them to faith, it was not given them visibly until after the Resurrection. So it is written, "The Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified." (Jn 7:39)

Moses said on the same subject, "They have sucked honey from the rock and hard rock oil" (Dt 32:13). Now, even though we will study the whole of the Old Testament, we will find no corresponding fact in history. The people nowhere suck the honey of the rock, no more than the oil. But since, according to Paul's words, "the Rock was the Christ" (1 Cor 10: 4), those who saw the facts and the miracles of our Redeemer sucked the honey from the Rock. And they sucked the oil of the Hard Rock, because after his Resurrection, they deserved to be anointed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So it is, so to speak, a still unsteady Rock which gave honey, when the Lord, still mortal, showed the sweetness of his miracles to the disciples. But the oil has flowed from a hard Rock, since the Lord, who can no longer suffer after his resurrection, has poured out the gift of his holy anointing by the breath of the Spirit.

It is from this oil that the prophet says, "The yoke will rot by the presence of the oil" (Is 10, 27). The demon held us under the yoke of his dominion, but we were anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. And the yoke of the dominion of the devil rotted from the fact that the grace of freedom has anointed us, as Paul testifies: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor 3, 17 )

Let us know it well: if the disciples began to possess the Holy Spirit to live themselves in innocence and to make themselves useful to a small number by their preaching, they received this same Spirit in a visible way after the Resurrection. of the Lord, so that he may be useful not only to a few people but to many.

Hence the word that accompanies this gift of the Spirit: "To whom you will forgive sins, they will be forgiven them; and those to whom you will retain them, they will be withheld from them. "It is good to consider to what summit of glory God sends these disciples whom he had called to such heavy humiliations. He not only reassures them for themselves, but also gives them the power to release others from his chains and to exercise the primacy of the heavenly judgment, so that in the place of God they hold sins back to some and forgive others. It was thus that those who had consented to such an abasement were to be brought up by God. See, those who fear the severe judgment of God become judges of souls; and those who dreaded their own condemnation condemn or free others.

Without a doubt, the bishops now take the place of these disciples. Those who are entrusted with jurisdiction are given the power to bind and untie. The honor is great, but the responsibility corresponding to this honor is heavy. It is hard for those who do not know how to hold the reins of their own lives to become judges of the lives of others. However, it is not uncommon to see some of them hold the position of judges while they do not lead a life in harmony with such a function. It happens frequently to them, either to condemn those who do not deserve it, or to absolve others even though they are themselves related. Often, to bind or untie their flock, they have regard to the inclinations of their own will, and not to the gravity of the judgments. It follows that they lose this power to bind and untie, to have exercised it according to their own will, and not according to what the conduct of their penitents required.

It often happens that pastors are guided by their dislike or sympathy towards one of their relatives. But they can not judge with dignity the causes of their flock, those who follow their aversion or sympathy. This is why the prophet rightly says: "They killed souls who did not die, and they gave life to souls who do not live" (Ezek 13:19). He destroys someone who is not dying, who condemns a righteous person; and he tries to make someone live who can not live, the one who tries to spare a guilty person the punishment he deserves.

It is therefore necessary to examine each case before exercising the power to bind and untie. We must see the fault that preceded, and the penitence that followed this fault, so that it is indeed those whom the almighty God visits by the grace of compunction1 who are absolved by the sentence of the pastor. Indeed, the absolution of the prelate is valid only if it follows the decision of the Internal Judge.

The resurrection of Lazarus, who has been dead for four days, expresses this truth well; it manifests it in that the Lord began to call the dead and gave him life, saying, "Lazarus, come out!" (Jn 11:43), and that the latter came out alive from the sepulcher, he was then loosed by the disciples, as it is written, "When he who was bound by strips was gone out, the Lord said to his disciples, 'Delay him and let him go.'" (Jn 11:44). You see that the disciples release alive the one who, dead, had been raised by the Master. For if they had untied Lazarus when he was still dead, they would rather have discovered his stench than makes their power appear. We must draw from this remark the following observation: we must untie, by our pastoral authority, only those whom we recognize that our Creator has given them life by resurrecting them by his grace. And their return to life begins to manifest itself in the confession of sins, even before it can be translated into works of justice. This is why the Lord does not say to Lazarus, who was dead: "Revisit!" But: "Come out!" Every sinner who conceals his fault in his conscience hides himself and himself in the depths of his soul. But the dead man comes out when the sinner spontaneously confesses his iniquity. Lazarus thus hears himself saying, "Come out!" As any man who died in his sin could be told clearly: "Why do you hide your fault in your conscience? Go ahead without confessing this fault, you who conceal yourself inside refusing to confess it. "Thus, let the dead come outside, that is to say that the sinner confesses his fault. And let the disciples loosen the one who comes out, that is to say that the pastors of the Church are taking away from him the pain he deserved, since he was not ashamed to confess what he had made.

I have given these few indications as to the order to be observed in order to absolve, so that the pastors of the Church may apply to bind or untie only with great discernment. But whether the sentence by which the pastor binds is just or unjust, it must be respected by the faithful, lest he who suffers it, although he may have been bound unjustly, come to deserve another fault that sentence which binds him. May the pastor be afraid to absolve or bind without thinking. But let the subject subject to his power fear to be bound, even if unjustly, and be careful not to criticize his pastor's judgment with fear, for fear that even if he has been bound unjustly, he does not renders guilty, by the pride of his presumptuous criticism, of a fault he has not yet committed.

Having told you these few words in a way of digression, resume the thread of our comment.

"But Thomas, one of the Twelve, nicknamed Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." This disciple alone was absent; back he heard what had happened, but he refused to believe what he was hearing. The Lord came a second time; he offered the incredulous disciple to touch his side, he showed him his hands, and showing him the scar of his wounds, he healed the wound of his unbelief.

What do you notice, dear brothers, what do you notice in this? Is it by chance, according to you, that this chosen disciple is at first absent, that on his return he hears [this story], that hearing him he still doubts, that in his doubt he touches, and that touching he believes? No, it is not due to chance, but to a divine disposition. Celestial goodness, in fact, has led everything in an admirable way, so that this disciple, under the influence of doubt, touches in his Master the wounds of the flesh, and thus heals in us the wounds of unbelief. And the incredulity of Thomas was more useful for our faith than the faith of the disciples who believed: when Thomas is brought back to faith by touching [the wounds of Jesus], our mind is delivered from all his doubts and is comforted in her faith.

The Lord thus allowed a disciple to doubt after his Resurrection, without however abandoning him in this doubt, just as he wanted that before his birth, Mary had a husband, who nevertheless did not consummate the marriage . And the disciple, doubting and then touching, became the witness of the truth of the Resurrection, just as the husband of the Mother had been the guardian of the inviolable virginity of the latter.

Thomas touched and cried, "My Lord and my God!" "Jesus said to him, 'Because you saw me, Thomas, you believed.'" As the Apostle Paul tells us, "the faith is the reality of the things we hope for, the proof of those we do not see "(Heb 11: 1), it is very clear that faith is the proof of things that can not be seen. Because those that are visible do not come from faith, but from knowledge. But since Thomas lives and touched, why do you tell him, "Because you saw me, you believed." It was because Thomas saw one thing and believed another. The deity can not be seen by a mortal man. Thomas therefore saw the man, and he confessed God, crying, "My Lord and my God!" He believed on seeing, since considering the one who was truly man, he proclaimed that he was God, what he could not see.

The rest of the text gives us immense joy: "Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed." This sentence does not designate us especially, we who are attached to our Redeemer according to the mind, without having ever seen it with our eyes of flesh? It is us that this sentence designates, if, however, our faith is accompanied by works. Because this one really believes who puts into practice in his works what he believes. Conversely, Paul says about those who are faithful only by name: "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds." (Tit 1,16). And James says, "Faith without works is dead." (Jas 2: 26)

It is in the same sense that the Lord declares to the blessed Job about the ancient enemy of the human race: "He will absorb the river and not be surprised, and he remains confident that the Jordan will flow into his mouth "(Jb 40:23). What symbolizes the river, if not the rapid course of the human race, which flows from its origins to its end, and like a torrent formed by the waters of the flesh, continues its course to the end which is fixed to it? And what does the Jordan represent, if not the baptized? Since it is in the Jordan River that the Author of our Redemption deigned to be baptized, the Jordan rightly designates all those who have received the sacrament of baptism. The ancient enemy of the human race has thus absorbed the river, because from the origin of the world to the coming of the Redeemer, with the exception of a very small number of elected officials who have escaped him, he has dragged the whole human race in the belly of his wickedness. It is rightly said on this subject: "It will absorb the river and not be surprised", because it does not make much of ravishing infidels. But the following is very serious: "And he remains confident that the Jordan will flow into his mouth", that is to say, after having delighted all infidels since the beginning of the world, he thinks he can catch also the faithful. And the mouth of his evil persuasion devours, day after day, those whose bad lives are in disagreement with the faith they confess.

Fear such a fate, dear brothers, fear it with all your strength! Put to think all the attention of your mind. Here we celebrate the Easter solemnities; but we must live in such a way that we can reach the eternal feasts. They pass, all the holidays we celebrate in this life. You who participate in the solemnities present, take care not to be excluded from the eternal solemnity. What good is it to take part in men's festivals, if we come to miss the feast of angels? The solemnity of this life is only the shadow of the solemnity to come. We celebrate the first year each year only to get to the one that will not be annual, but eternal. By celebrating the first fixed date, we remember better that we must desire the second. May our spirit, by participating in this transient joy, warm and burn with love for the eternal joys, so that we will taste in the Fatherland the full reality of this joy whose shade is the subject of our meditations in the way.

Remodel, my brothers, your life and your manners. Consider in advance how severely you will judge the one who rose from death full of sweetness. In the day of his dreadful judgment, he will appear with the Angels, the Archangels, the Thrones, the Dominations, the Principalities and the Powers, while the heavens and the earth will blaze and all the elements will serve him trembling with terror. So keep this terrifying Judge in your sight, and fear him as he prepares to come, so as not to be frightened, but confident, when he comes. In short, it must be feared to no longer have to fear it. May the terror it inspires us to push us to good works, and the fear to preserve our life from all misconduct. Believe me, my brothers, we will be all the more reassured in his presence that now we are more worried about our faults.

If one of you had to come to court tomorrow with his adversary to defend his cause, worried about himself and the restless mind, he might spend a whole night of insomnia that we could well tell him the next day, and what he would answer to the accusations. He would be very much afraid that I would be intractable to him, and he would be afraid of appearing guilty to me. Now who am I? Or rather, what am I? In a short time, after being a man, I will only be worm, and after being worm, dust. If, then, we tremble with so much apprehension at the judgment of what is only dust, how seriously should we not think of the judgment of such majesty, and with what terror we must not he not foresee it?

But since there are those who are hesitating about the resurrection of the flesh, and our teaching is better if it answers the questions you secretly ask in your hearts, we must speak a little about faith in the resurrection. For many are doubtful of the resurrection - as some of us have sometimes also been able to see: seeing at the sight of the sepulchers that the flesh is falling into decay and the bones into dust, they can not believe that the flesh and bones can form from this dust; and they conclude, so to speak, by asking themselves, "How could a man be reformed from the dust? How could one make a soul for ashes?

We will answer them briefly that for God, to restore what existed was much less than to create what did not exist. And what is so amazing that he redoes a man from the dust, who created everything from nothing at the same time? It is indeed more admirable to have created the sky and the earth without starting from anything preexisting than to restore man from the earth. But we pay attention only to ashes, and while we despair of seeing her become flesh again, we seek in a way to embrace by reason the power of the divine work.

Such reflections come from the fact that divine miracles that are daily lose value to them because of their frequency. Is it not true, however, that the entire mass of a tree that will be born is hidden in a single tiny seed? Let us put before our eyes the magnificent image of an immense tree, and then let us know where this tree was born, which has reached such a mass by its growth. Surely, we will find that it originates from a tiny seed. Let us now examine this little seed: where are the hardwoods, the rough bark, the intense taste and smell, the generous fruits and the very green leaves hiding in it? To the touch, the seed is not robust; Where does the hardness of wood come from? Nor is it rough; where does the roughness of the bark spring? She has no taste; where does the flavor of its fruit come from? She does not smell; from where the smell of its fruits exhales? In her, nothing green; Where did the greenness of its leaves come from? All these things are hidden together in the seed, though they are not expected to come out together. The seed produces a root, from the root comes out the shoot, from the shoot sprouts the fruit, and in the fruit a seed is re-formed. Let us add that a seed is also hidden in the seed. It is no wonder, then, that God brings back from the state of dust bones, nerves, flesh and hair, he who daily renews the miracle of bringing out a little seed of wood , the fruits, the leaves that form the immense mass of a tree?

Thus, when a soul, prey to doubt, seeks to explain what power can produce the resurrection, it must be questioned about facts that are of the current reality and that we can not yet understand at all by reason, so that this soul, seeing itself incapable of penetrating a thing which it sees, after having ascertained it with its eyes, comes to believe in that power of which it hears the promise.

So think in yourselves, dear brothers, that God promises us; these things will remain. Despise however what passes over time, as if it was already lost. Hurry with all your desire for this glory of the resurrection, whose Truth shows us in it the realization. Flee the desires of the earth, which separate us from our Creator, because the contemplation of the almighty God that you reach is all the higher because you love more exclusively the Mediator between God and men, he who, being God live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

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