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Diebus Saltem Dominicis – 5th Sunday after Pentecost: Have no fear of their fear

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The 20th century liturgical commentator Pius Parsch thought that the 2nd and 3rd Sundays after Pentecost showed God’s love inviting us (the Parable of the Supper) and His seeking us (Parable of the Lost Sheep).  On the 4th Sunday, God revealed in the calling of Peter and the Apostles the instruments of administering His love and the messengers inviting us.  The Good Shepherd has Fishers of Men.  On this 5th Sunday after Pentecost we move from a painting by the Church of God’s love for us, to an image of our love for our neighbor, which is a demonstration that we have recognized God’s love and providence.

Our Epistle reading is from 1 Peter 3:8-15.  Peter addressed the distressed flock in Asia Minor in a time of persecution.  In such times, it is important to treat each other well.

Let me repeat that, calling especially the attention of those who are attracted to the Vetus Ordo.

It is important to treat each other well.  In Peter’s time, there was persecution.  Divisions in the community were fatal.  Is it not so now?

I wonder if the attacks on those who love the traditional Roman Rite would be so easy today if, from the beginning, as the restrictions were loosened up, all those involved had shown greater unity, charity, zeal also for neighbors in their parishes and chapels in cooperation and good works.  It is speculation on my part, but I suspect the numbers of attendees and devotees and refugees immigrating to the greater promises of the Vetus Ordo would have been staggering, unassailable.  But it is of the essence of the spiritual life to stay rooted in the hic et nunc, the here and now, not drifting dreamily in what might have been.  At the same time, it is also important to learn from our mistakes, make corrections, and move forward with confidence.

Peter, in the Epistle, exhorts the faithful not to lash out when wronged, render abuse for abuse.  Instead, bless and be merciful.  Christ is the model for this.  One who, in v. 15, “hallows the Lord Christ” in his heart, as the Douay-Reims Version (DRV) puts it, acts like it.

For the Sunday Gospel we have a pericope from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:20-24.  In this part of the Sermon, the Lord says that the comportment, the “dikaiosyn?… righteousness” of His followers must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  What does that look like?  In part, not rendering evil for evil.  Not being wrathful towards others.  Not insulting.  Instead, striving to reconcile, especially before sacred worship.  The Lord’s words admit little wiggle-room: “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).  Here, “fool” is in Aramaic, “Raka”, a clue that Christ, in fact, said this.  Raka means, “worthless”, which is as demeaning as it gets towards another image of God.  Shall we take the Lord at His word about that “hell” part?

Does the Lord’s teaching preclude all harsh language toward our neighbor or enemy?  St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) has a work specifically on the Sermon on the Mount in which he breaks down in incomparable commentary every verse.  Concerning being angry with one’s brother, Augustine stresses “without cause”.  He conjoins calling someone raka with “without cause”.  The Doctor of Grace then uses the example of St. Paul, who called the Galatians “brothers”, and also called them “fools”.

We had best be wary of anger.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (4:26).  If we are admonished by the Lord to make peace before going before the altar, then it is hardly to be questioned that we should make peace before going to our slumber at day’s end.

“Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  What wise words for members of families, especially, as well as towards extended neighbors of all kinds.

Finally, for this 5th Sunday after Pentecost, one of the verses of the Epistle caught my special attention.  In 1 Peter 3, in the Vulgate we have: “Timórem autem eórum ne timuéritis: et non conturbémini”, which in the DRV is rendered: “So have no fear of their fear and do not be troubled.”  The KJV says, “and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled”.  The Greek of the first part reads: “τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε… tòn dè phóbon autôn mè phobethête… be not afraid of their fear/dread/terror”.

Here phóbos could be the enemy’s fearful threat towards the Christians.  However, it could be the fear that the enemy has of the Christians.  This is the motivation for the persecution: fear.  The ancient Christians were being treated badly because those who were still mired in the world feared them.  They hated what they feared.  They wanted to eliminate what they feared so that they could stay mired in the world.  The lives and examples of the Christians, brought out by Peter in this reading (“sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind”, not returning evil for evil, but rather blessing) stuck in their craw.  Their example also converted many, which made their enemies’ phobos even sharper and more urgent.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  This dynamic is alive and well today in our “post-Christian world”, when the Church is waning.  It is not outside the realm of possibility that moves against the Vetus Ordo in our times have their precedent in the “pre-Christian” world, when the Church was waxing.  Those who are working to snuff out the Vetus Ordo are in fact aiming at the people who want the Vetus Ordo.  The content of the Vetus Ordo stands in the way of their ways.  Therefore, so do the people who want it.  Powers That Be want to “sunset” the Vetus Ordo and force those who want it to their sheer will.

Do not let the sun set and be wrathful.  Have no fear of their fear.

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

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