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3rd Sunday of Lent: “Do you hear what you are saying?!?”

The Roman Missal, polished after the Council of Trent and promulgated by St. Pope Pius the V and his successors until the 60’s, is surely one of the most important books that has ever been published. Having its roots firmly in a millennium of devotion and fidelity of worship in Rome, it became both bulwark and beacon to the world. Liturgy is doctrine. Doctrine received brings about life being lived. The Missale Romanum became a bulwark against error that would harm people’s lives on earth and the chances for Heaven, and a beacon to guide them through life’s challenges while breathing and the light to direct their souls when they breathed their last.

How many countless souls were formed by the rites described and prescribed in the Missale Romanum, over how many generations, not only across borders but shaping those borders, not only making use of every human means of the expression of goodness, truth and beauty in painting, sculpture, music and architecture, but also shaping those very arts. The Missale Romanum is one of the principle means by which Holy Church gave two great gifts to the entire human race across the globe through centuries: art and saints. The one reveals God in material works. The other reveals God in His living images.

In the gift that is the Roman Missal, during Lent, there is an daily indication of the assigned Roman Station church. Even if you are Pascagoula or in Porto Alegre that daily Roman Church is still a gift that keeps on giving.

For example, this 3rd Sunday of Lent is when the catechumens were “scrutinized.” They would undergo questioning and instruction at least seven times before baptism. On Septuagesima Sunday they had started their journey into the Church at this very place, the Basilica of St. Lawrence outside-the-walls. It is the burial place of that deacon martyr so beloved by the Romans. As Augustine of Hippo said, where there is charity there are no distances. We of our troubled century, far-flung across the globe and joined through digital marvels, can be present at St. Lawrence with the feet of desire and the eyes of our imaginations and the ears of our intention. Firstly, we know that the blood of martyrs grew up the Church and cemented together us, her living stones. So, being at St. Lawrence this Sunday already strengthens our identity and resolve for the rest of Lent.

The Basilica was founded by Constantine. It was rather small, so in the 6th century Pope Pelagius II added a large hall bringing the structure to the level of the adjoining cemetery which let much more light into the interior. In the mosaic of the triumphal arch Pelagius wrote in a lovely distich how light was now given back to the temple which was the place where the deacon martyr endured the flames. In the Acta of the St. Lawrence, recalling his martyrdom, we read that as the deacon was being enveloped in flames there was another great light from above that filled his soul. The very architecture of the place and its illumination, with the solemn significance of his place and raising, contribute to our Sunday participation in the sacred worship of the Roman Church no matter where we are.

The Epistle for the Mass, from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians continues on a theme we have seen in the past weeks. Paul is contending, from far away, with division in the community and trying to keep his new flock on the moral straight and narrow, to abandon pagan ways and live as disciples of Christ. It is no wonder that the Church chose these texts for the Sunday as she prepared the catechumens (and us) for Easter. They, we too, must give up whatever there is of the wrong way to live and embrace what is good, true and beautiful, even in the face of the suffering we will endure because of pressure from others and because of interior suffering because we are saying “no” to baser habits. This is important for convert and seasoned Catholic alike to know. When we seek to eradicate a vice, a rooted habit that we easily slide into, usually in a recognizable pattern of behavior, and we begin to say “no,” we begin to suffer. We have to be willing to stay on the Cross.

Let’s see the Epistle reading for this Sunday, placing ourselves in the sandals of the early catechumens, emerging from the darkness into the beautiful light and freedom of a child of God. This is the RSV. I include the last part of the section ending in verse 10, though the reading is Ephesian 5:1-9:

Brethren: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

You see how the Church is, with Paul, trying to move people away from evil ways to the ways of saints (which today, especially, includes Lawrence on his fiery grate). We are to “walk as children of the light.”

I will underscore one thing before moving to a brief observation about the Gospel passage. Note how Paul inveighs against certain kinds of speech including “silly talk” and “levity.” “Silly talk”, in Greek morología, is really hard. Paul isn’t saying that people can’t ever say anything light or funny. It could be that he is, again, trying to pull people away from something the pagans employed in scurrilous pastimes and plays such as those of Plautus, which could be seriously ribald. Notice that this sort of talk is juxtaposed to “filthiness.” In Colossians 3:8 Paul uses the word aischrología …foul language, abusive speech.

Two things. First, our speech reveals our inner selves to others. But we fall into patterns and habits of speech. When we are in the company of others, we tend to start speaking as they do. So, we should be careful of our company and not condone bad speech. Sometimes our habits are engrained to the point that we don’t even take account of how we talk. In that case, listening to ourselves reveals to ourselves who we are. I am mindful of the admonition, “Do you hear what you are saying?!?” Moreover, if we fall into a pattern of talking badly, we make it easier for others to do the same: that’s classic “giving scandal.” Second, we don’t always have to talk. Sometimes just shutting up is the best thing to do. How many sins could we avoid by keeping our mouths shut? Especially in our dealings with loved ones?

A quick note about the Gospel and how it ties into the Epistle. Paul, to the Ephesians, called them away from impurity or empty frivolity in both deed and – here it is – in word. In the Gospel, from Luke 11, Our Lord cast a demon out of a man who couldn’t talk, who was mute.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, the Word made flesh. We express our innermost ourselves outwardly in our speech. The demon in the Gospel bound the possessed man so he could not talk, locking him within. Hence, he had to depend on others to bring him to the Lord for unlocking.

Do not be “tongue tied” when going to confession. Of course… GO TO CONFESSION! But when you go, say everything. Don’t allow the demon, the Enemy, to fool you through fear of human respect, fear of what the priest might think, into holding back the mortal sins that must be released and cleansed forever from your soul. What freedom and light comes into the soul in that moment! It is a good idea for priest confessors to say a binding prayer on the Enemy as a penitent comes to confess, just as it is good for penitents to ask their angel guardians to protect and prompt them in that solemn moment, that mysterious and transforming moment of encounter with Christ.

About that point, above, that the mute demoniac had to depend on others. Others who are in great need may be depending on you, even though they don’t know it yet. Bring them to the light.

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