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Diebus Saltem Dominicis – 7th Sunday after Pentecost: Operatio medicinalis

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This 7th Sunday after Pentecost is the 17th anniversary of the day Pope Benedict XVI released the text of Summorum Pontificum, 07-07-07, the liturgical “emancipation proclamation” for those who desire the benefits of the Vetus Ordo.  Let us pray earnestly for those who are charged with the governance of such matters now, that they eschew past cruelty and embrace true pastoral charity and generosity.

In our Epistle reading from Paul’s Letter to Romans 6:19-23, the Apostle to the Gentiles brings up the issues of the past sins of the former pagans.  Once they thought they were free to do as they pleased and were slaves of sin in false joy.  Now they are slaves of God, which is true freedom bringing authentic joy.  Paul is addressing a community in a difficult location, Rome, which is still in formation.  It is a tenuous situation.  Therefore, he brings up the issue of their past sinfulness, giving them a dose of humiliation and contrition, medicinal shame which might help them to stay strong and not backslide into spiritually mortal peril.  It is in this passage that we have the famous phrase, “the wages of sin is death” (v. 23).  Immediately after the Epistle, the Gradual brings up the contrast between the sinner’s shame and godly joy, a true reason for former pagans to rejoice:

Ps 33:12, 6
Come, children, hear me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
V. Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. Alleluia, alleluia.
Ps 46:2
V. All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness. Alleluia.

In the Gospel pericope there is another set of contrasts, not with freedom and wages but rather similarly famous images of wolves in sheep’s clothing and trees know from their fruit.  Christ warns His disciples, and us, about outer appearances and reality.  Some fruit trees (for the sake of having a reference point, let’s think “ecclesiastical authorities”) look really great in the spring.  They flower, and they are great to look at.  But in the autumn, they don’t bear the fruit which their flowering suggested.  Outwardly, they were great, they put on a great show.  But when it came right down to their purpose, their final end, which is good fruit, they were empty, barren and false.  Being fruitless, they are bad fruit trees.  There are bad trees who say, “Lord Lord”, full of pious sounds and even actions, but inside are quite false.  Our Lord has the harshest words he speaks for hypocrites.  He calls them whited sepulchers.  Remember how in the parable the Lord describes how the master deals with the servant whose debts he forgave after that servant went without mercy after fellow servants who owed him.

Sometimes trees can be helped.  They should at least be given a chance to bear fruit.  Let’s track back to Paul, and his reminder of the shame of the former pagans and their sinful conduct.  He beat them up a little to help them to be better.  It is good to remember our past sins and feel anew a sense of shame for them, not in a morbid way of darkness and discouragement but with joyful gratitude to God for forgiveness and as life lessons to bring us wisdom and prudence.  It hurts, but it helps.

Consider again the fruit tree or any valuable plant which we desire for sustenance or ornament.  For example, a rose bush.  I once lived in a place where there were many rose bushes, planted quite a long time before I got there.  One day the old groundskeeper was rather savagely hacking them up with big sheers.  Alarmed, I asked in my ignorance why he was doing this.  He responded that in order to blossom better, they needed to be cut back.  On another occasion I was amused to see this same old fellow bashing the trunk of an apricot tree in the back yard with a baseball bat.  Of course, I had to ask.  He responded that the tree hadn’t borne much fruit for a while and that sometimes they start producing again if they are distressed a bit.

Christ warns us:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Paul teaches us:

 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hardship, deprivation, suffering, challenges are not always only mere evils to be endured.  Sometimes they are needed corrections, cures, even coercions allowed or provided by God to help us get to the truth of who we are.

The Postcommunion oration of this Sunday’s Mass ties this up in a nice bow for us.

Tua nos, Domine, medicinalis operatio, et a nostris perversitatibus clementer expediat, et ad ea quae sunt recta perducat.

Super literally,

O Lord, may Your medicinal operation both mercifully deliver us from our perverse inclinations and guide us to those things which are right.

That Latin operatio has several layers in meaning.  It is, of course, “a working, labor”, it is also in ancient religious contexts, “a religious performance, service”.  Here, in this oration which is immediately after reception of Communion is concluded, we can find another way to phrase it, “healing Sacrament”.  Also, perversitas is literally “turned away from”.  Recta is from rego, “to keep straight, keep from going wrong”.  Hence, we might take another crack at the translation:

O Lord, may Your healing Sacrament mercifully extricate us from our perverse ways and lead us unto the straight paths.

Given what’s going on these days, my choice of “perverse” and “straight” was not by accident.

Take on some penances and examine your consciences remembering, in a healthy way and with sorrowing joy and gratitude toward God, already confessed and absolved sins.  Moreover, if there is something you know about or remember that is unconfessed, you can, as they say, run but you cannot hide.  God knows it better than you do.  Will it hurt to drill in deeply and find the problems.  Of course, but Christ is our great healer.  St. Augustine (+430) wrote often of Christ as the Physician of the soul, who corrects us sometimes with nearly unbearable means.  Using an image from the medical practices of the time, before anesthesia the Augustine states that the doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop.  This also is a medicinalis operatio.

May we all deal swiftly with our inner wolves and bad trees, so that we can be in the inside what we also strive to be outwardly.

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