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3rd Sunday after Easter: Heat up the iron!

As the weeks stretch into the Easter Season, we continue to look into the Epistle reading for Sunday’s Mass in the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Rite. This week we’ve come to the 3rd Sunday after Easter. It is the 4th Sunday of Easter in the calendar of the Novus Ordo. By the way, did you know that in Latin the adjective novus very often carried a negative connotation in the Roman ear? The Roman thing Romanitas – tends to the conservative. New things are not instantly welcomed. The word for “revolution” is res novae, thus the opening of the great encyclical of Leo XIII about the dangers of the new kind of capitalism and the rise of socialism: Rerum novarum. A “new man” or novus homo was, in political and social spheres, in for a real uphill battle for acceptance. Furthermore, in Italy in the Vetus Ordo, the 3rd Sunday after Easter is bumped in favor of St. Catherine of Siena, who died just few minutes’ walk from where I write this on the anniversary of her death, 29 April 1380. St. Catherine is Patroness of Italy. Ergo, in the Vetus Ordo she is honored on this Sunday.

Context. We are in the Easter Season. We have had a chain of Epistle readings from 1 Peter, whereas in other times they are from the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul. As the great liturgist Bl. Ildefonso Schuster explains, while the Gospel readings are from the discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper,

During this paschal time the first lesson of the Mass is taken regularly from the canonical Epistles, since the Church before Pentecost was entirely gathered about the Apostles in the supper-room, and it was only after the descent of the Holy Ghost that Paul was especially destined by God to carry the good news to the Gentiles.

We have, then, a deep liturgical context suggested by the choice of readings. We can, in this Season of Easter, place ourselves in that time during which the Lord was giving privileged instruction to the Apostles, which we refer to today as Apostolic Tradition and Regula Fidei, not written word for word at the time – which the Beloved Apostle, John says,

there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

Thus, the importance of Tradition and the need that all that follows be in perfect harmony with Tradition for it to be recognizable as authentically Catholic and from the Lord. Innovation is not instantly to be trusted. It was not without reason that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council included in the document on sacred worship:

[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (SC 23)

Let’s just admit that the Novus Ordo was not what was foreseen by the Council Fathers. The only Ordo was what we call now the Vetus Ordo and that Ordo was to be adjusted in accordance with Tradition. But I digress.

Our Sunday Epistle is from 1 Peter 2:11-19:

Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.

For the last weeks we have looked into the context of 1 Peter, and I refer you to those columns for more. However, it must be underscored that Peter – and we accept that Peter was the author – wrote this letter to Christians who were suffering persecution in Asia Minor. Last week he described this suffering as a universal calling that all Christians have and that it must be embraced with the only power that can transform it into something fruitful, love of Christ.

In this section of 1 Peter, we hear about the ordering of secular society, which is connected with the divine will in v. 17: “Fear God.  Honor the Emperor.” The Emperor in question was persecuting Christians, and many others besides who were doing “new” things, for it was feared that their innovations would disturb the pax deorum, the contractual relationship with the gods that provided for a peaceful and orderly society.

Rather than take us back down an investigation of suffering and persecution in various walks of life, there is something else that we might consider.

We have all been wronged and hurt by others. I daresay we may have done our share of hurting and wronging. We have caused suffering and we have been caused to suffer. Putting apart the experience of illness and so forth, mostly our suffering is caused by others. Suffering that we cause ourselves is touched on by Peter elsewhere. In that case we suffer justly. Hence, let us limit ourselves to the suffering we endure, and we remember even when it has passed, at the hands of others.

It is important in the wake of suffering, from enduring it at the hand of others, and from the pains we inflict on ourselves by our own choices and sins, to engage actively in two things. First, we must “purify” our memories. Second, we must forgive those who harm us. In the case of the first, if we don’t come to peace with our memories, the Devil can use them, represent them to us, and prompt us to spiritual paralysis, backsliding or despair. In the second case, if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. And you know what that means, ultimately.

The idea here is not to “forgive and forget.” Firstly, we can’t really “forget.” “I’m not thinking about it!” merely means you are pretending not to think about it. Clinging to past wrongs and sins is dangerous. As that great expert on human psychology and man of deep spiritual progress St. Thomas Aquinas observed, clinging in the wrong way to a bad memory, a memory that is not purified and reordered to God, a memory that is disordered, can be the source of a kind of perverse joy in the sorrow. One can wallow in the pain. Instead, what we should undertake when these memories of inflicted (and self-inflicted) suffering come to the surface, we should right away say,

Lord, I forgive that person. Lord, please forgive that person. Lord, forgive me for whatever part I played in it. Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer.

And move on.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have to do any penance for your part. It could mean that you should perform acts of reparation for the wrongs inflicted by others. These you do with the help of sound spiritual direction and with deliberation lest they become traps of vanity.

Becoming upset or morose about the past, being discouraged because of past wrongs and sufferings, can be an indication of vanity. As my good friend Fr. Cliff Ermatinger has described it:

I’m not living up to my caricature I have of myself or what I would like to be.

A follower of Christ is not be dis-couraged. Acknowledge the memory and what happened as a part of who you are. Get on with life. These things, through Christ’s love and infinite power and desire to forgive, are not a problem for Him.

Can we for an instant imagine that Christ doesn’t know about them? We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We cannot do anything to make Him love us less. To imagine so is an act of vanity.

Of course, sins as they are being sinned are a problem. But your past sins and sufferings are past, finalized especially in the absolution of the confessional. Go to confession. Regarding your memory of your own sins remember that the Blood of the Lamb washed them clean, “though they be as red as scarlet” (Is 1:18). Recognize them for what they are, memories, and get on with it without tying them to your neck so they can drag you into the abyss.

If this is the way with memory of sins, it is also applicable to the memory of sufferings inflicted by others. When a memory or thought, a distraction or a bad image comes to mind, place them into Christ’s Sacred Heart, put them into the chalice during Mass, to be transformed. Take heart from the beautiful words in the Preface of the Requiem Mass, from St. Augustine, “for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended.” These little deaths don’t define us.

Interlacing Peter with Paul, we read in 2 Timothy 2:

If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.

So important is the need to forgive harms and wrongs that when Christ taught His disciples how to pray, the only thing He went back to explain, that we have in Scripture, is the need to forgive. Matthew 6:15. After assuring us of the Father’s forgiveness if we forgive others, Christ turns it inside out:

if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν.

si autem non dimiseritis hominibus nec Pater vester dimittet peccata vestra.

Cauterize your bleeding wounds with this remedy. Proclaim his Lordship in your life and burn this verse of forgiveness into your heart as if with a blazing branding iron aglow with His own love.

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