Catholic Virtues
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Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Audacity of Heresy & Chivalrous Humility

Fr. Paulo Alvarez Norton
Some people pretend that Aristotle said: "Anyone who tries to discuss whether it is possible or not to kill his own mother does not deserve arguments but lashes." On this saying I comment with the Italians: “Se non è vero, è ben trovato” [if this is not true, it is well founded] because today's liturgy of the Mass contains almost the same idea.

The Church today teaches us how to act before the pernicious tendency of people who with audacity put aside the will of God and do their own. This word "audacity" reminds us of another much more serious word: heresy.

A depiction of St. Nicholas striking Arius

St. Nicholas punches the heretic Arius in the Council of Nicaea

One of the meanings of heresy (from the Greek αἵρεσις) is "opinion." It is to abandon the doctrine of the Church and go “further,” as the Apostle says (1 Cor:4:6). Going beyond one’s right, a person declares his opinion as if it were a correct guide of conduct. Heresy is characterized by a position in which one pretends to know more than all the Apostles, Apostolic Fathers, Saints and Doctors of the Church.

Heresy is to go so far as to say "That is the opinion of the Church, but ... this is my opinion, which I prefer." No, Ma´am. No, Sir. When you know the teaching of the Church and you still prefer to go astray from it and follow "your opinion," you become a manifest heretic.

Now, the Church also speaks to us today of a fundamental issue for the Christian, something that distinguishes us from the Pharisees whom the Lord addresses in this Gospel: He speaks of the spirit of the law that surpasses the pharisaical heresy of the letter of the law.

As we heard, Christ was eating in the house of a Pharisee ... In fact, not all Pharisees were bad. Several of them were integrated into the first Christian nucleus: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the champion of the faith, St. Paul.

So, the problem with Pharisaism (which Christ denounces here) is the tendency of the Pharisees to manipulate Revelation to accommodate it to their own intentions. St. Paul in today's Epistle gives us the antidote: "Being rooted and grounded in charity you may be able to know Christ's charity which surpasses knowledge, in that you may be filled to the fullness of God."

It is interesting to see how St. Paul, even measuring everything – like the good Pharisee that he was – concludes his address with the words "love surpasses knowledge" as referring to a mystery, and then he moves on to simply talk about "love." But what is love? Love is the correspondence of our spirit to Truth, Beauty and Goodness, because, as St. John says: "God is love." (1 Jn 4: 8)

an angry Pharisee from the film 'Passion of Christ'

The hatred of the Pharisees well-depicted in the film The Passion of Christ

This is the spirit of the Law. The salvation of humanity through love (the true love we have just defined). Canon Law (the compendium of the Law of the Church) establishes the above by the phrase "Salus animarum suprema lex est" (The salvation of souls is the supreme law).

This is why we are gathered here today – because we want to remain Catholic and because we are fighting for the salvation of our souls. Any law that prevents this must be rejected, contradicted, disobeyed and fought. And this should be done not timidly but bravely and publicly. It is what Christ did, who cared little for the Sabbath laws when making His miracles.

As we said, there were also good Pharisees, but the ensemble of the Pharisees was evil and corrupted; they had departed from the will of God and certainly did not walk according to His spirit.

Now then, there is no better way to fight doctrinal corruption, heresy, than by exposing its intrinsic contradictions. From this it follows that, in order to know a man, it is not enough to listen to what he claims to defend, but also what he condemns. In fact, the practice of condemning errors was common in the History of the Church. And this is precisely what Christ does when confronting the Pharisees with their hypocrisy.

The main reason why most heresies have appeared in History is because of that which is called subversion, disorder, confusion. It is not in vain that the Devil is the father of confusion and heresy. He was the first rebel and always tries to subvert the natural order of Creation. That is why we see today that those who were made to obey are commanding, those who must teach cannot do so, the ignorant never remain silent, and the vote of the manipulated fool counts as much as that of the wise. This situation is a total absurdity, where ignorance has the same right as wisdom and social disease is esteemed as highly as health.

A chivalrous way to practice humility

a knight templar in full uniform and armor

The Knight Templar, model of medieval chivalry

Christ also teaches us how to fight the tendency to vanity on our own: Putting ourselves always in the last place.

In the days of the Roman Empire, what did the early Christians do? They went to the last place, to the desert. It did not occur to those who did not end up in the mouth of the lions to establish a Christian Democratic Party and start a campaign to be elected Emperors. In a subverted world, it is futile to seek titles or honors. We must flee to the desert, to the catacombs, and work from there to preserve the remnant. God raised up His Church from small groups of Christians who escaped from cities, from "civilization."

In the Middle Ages, God raised up great men known as knights to raise up the secular concept of honor to the supernatural ideal of Christian honor, characterized by a love for God and, through Him, for all men. These Christian knights were clothed in the armor of courage and guided by the principle of humility: "Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed Nomine Tuo da gloriam" [Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy Name bestow glory].

They used to "put themselves in the last place" in a very unique way. Should someone make a rude offense against them, they would intensify the harm to themselves. For example, when King Alfonso banished El Cid Campeador for a year, he banished himself for four:

a statue of El Cid

El Cid gave examples of how to shame an unworthy adversary with a noble gesture

Pláceme dijo el buen Cid, Pláceme dijo de grado
Por ser la primera cosa, que mandas en tu reinado.
Por un año me destierras, yo me destierro por cuatro.

[I am pleased, said the good Cid, I am pleased, he said voluntarily;
That this is the first thing that you command in your kingdom.
Since you deport me for one year, I deport myself for four].
("Romance del juramento que tomó el Cid al rey don Alonso," Anonymous)

Then, he fought his enemies in exile and created a Christian kingdom for himself. Then, when he returned to Burgos, he gave that kingdom to the ungrateful King. This is "putting oneself in the last place."

It is also to "turn the other cheek," which doesn´t always mean turning the other cheek literally, but rather seeking the conversion of the enemy by making him discover by a noble gesture his wrong position. This is precisely what St. Paul means when he tells us: "Do not take revenge on your enemy, just throw burning coals on his head" [Rom 12:20], that is, make him feel shame for his actions.

Finally, regarding that counsel of turning the other cheek, if we ever doubt how to respond to an aggression, and we ask ourselves “What would Jesus do in my place?”, it is important to remember that taking a whip, throwing tables and delivering the lashes that Aristotle recommended are among the possibilities.

If someone does not agree, he must show me a place in the Bible where Christ turned the other cheek. When He had the opportunity to do so in front of the servant of Caiaphas, He defended himself and exposed the foolishness of the guard in front of the whole court.

May God give us the grace to be humble, loving Him always above our own desires, and to have the courage to conquer ourselves each day.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted September 25, 2017