Third Sunday after Epiphany (3rd S. in Ord. Time)
FEAST OF SAINT AGNES
Sirach, Chapter 25, Verse 10-12
10 How great is the one who finds wisdom, but none is greater than the one who fears the Lord. 11 Fear of the Lord surpasses all else. To whom can we compare the one who has it? 12 Fear of the Lord is the beginning of loving him, and fidelity is the beginning of clinging to him.
If only congress had fear of the Lord as a prime motivator!
The quality of mercy is not strain’d; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. William Shakespeare
Saint Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on fear
2. Fear is called servile fear when it is the dread of punishment alone. It is called filial fear or chaste fear when it is primarily the dread of offending God, our loving father. Between these two types of fear is initial fear, which is properly the beginning of filial fear, and differs from it only as imperfect differs from perfect. There is another type of fear called worldly fear which is the dread of losing temporal things to which the heart clings as to the ultimate good.
3. Worldly fear is always evil, for it discounts God and eternity, and dreads only the loss of creatural goods.
4. Servile fear is not good in point of its servility, but it is good inasmuch as it recognizes and dreads the evil that attends upon sin. From such a dread a person may readily rise to the higher and noble type of fear, and through this, to charity and repentance.
5. However, servile fear is essentially different from filial fear. Servile fear dreads punishment; filial fear dreads offending God. These two types of fear differ in their specific objects, and therefore differ essentially from each other.
6. Yet servile fear, as we have seen, has a good aspect, and, in this respect it comes from the Holy Ghost; but it is not the gift of the Holy Ghost that we call fear. Hence, servile fear, in so far as it is good, can remain in the soul which has charity, that is, which is in the state of sanctifying or habitual grace, and therefore in the friendship and love of God.
7. Wisdom is knowledge of God together with the will to serve him and possess him. Now, the beginning of wisdom itself is faith, for by faith we know God and are directed to him. But the beginning of wisdom, in the sense of what arouses one and stirs one to be wise, is fear. This beginning of wisdom is both servile fear and filial fear; such fear puts spurs to a man, so to speak, and makes him cultivate wisdom. In this sense, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 110).
8. Initial fear is, as we have said, beginning fear. Both servile fear and filial fear may be, in some way, the start of fearing the Lord. Yet initial fear is closer to filial fear than to servile fear; indeed, it is, properly speaking, an imperfect form of filial fear.
9. Filial or chaste fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. By it we revere God and avoid what separates us from him.
10. Filial fear increases with charity, for the more one loves God, the more one fears to offend him. Servile fear loses its servility as charity increases, and then, as the non servile dread of deserved punishments, it decreases in the glow of charity. For charity fixes the soul more and more on God, and thus the thought of self, and even of deserved punishment of oneself, becomes less and less. Besides, the greater one's charity is, the more confident is one's soul of escape from punishment. And thus, finally, the only fear in the charity-filled soul is filial fear.
11. Filial fear will exist in a perfected state in heaven. It cannot be the same as it is during earthly life, for in heaven all possibility of losing or offending God will be taken away. Servile fear will not exist at all in heaven.
12. The first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," corresponds to the gift of fear. For if a man fears God perfectly, as he may do by the gift, he does not pridefully seek to be rich or honored, but is humble and poor in spirit.
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Under the traditional calendar the Church Christ cures the Jewish leper and the Roman centurion's servant, calling both Jew and Gentile to His flock.
GOSPEL. Matthew viii. 1-18
At that time, when Jesus was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him: and behold a leper came and adored Him, saying: Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, stretching forth His hand, touched him, saying: I will. Be thou made clean. And forthwith his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith to him: See thou tell no man: but go show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them. And when He had entered into Capharnaum, there came to Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying: Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously tormented. And Jesus saith to him: I will come and heal him. And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this: Go, and he goeth : and to another : Come, and he cometh : and to my servant : Do this, and he doth it. And Jesus hearing this, marvelled: and said to them that followed Him: Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel. And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said to the centurion: Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. And the servant was healed at the same hour.
Why did the leper say to Jesus, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean”? Because he believed Jesus to be the promised Messias, Who, as true God, had the power to heal him. When we pray, we must be careful not to prescribe to God what He shall give us, but begin by saying, “If it be pleasing to Thee, and advantageous to me, give me this or that grace.
Why did Jesus stretch forth His hand and touch him? So that he might understand that his leprosy was to be healed. Let us also imitate the example of Jesus by assisting each other in sickness, not shirking this work of charity from aversion or excessive delicacy.
Why did Jesus say, “I will, be thou made clean”? To reveal His almightiness, and to show that all things were subject to Him.
Why did Jesus say, “See thou tell no man”? To show His modesty and humility, and to teach us, when we do good works, not to speak of them, thus losing our reward (Matt. vi. 2, 3).
What does the Savior mean by saying, Go show thyself to the priest? 1. Christ wished to show His respect for the law of Moses, for lepers were required to show themselves to the priests, who were to decide whether they were clean or not. He also teaches us that priests should receive their proper respect. 2. He reminded him who was cleansed to give thanks to God by offering the gift which Moses commanded.
What does the solicitude of the centurion teach us? That masters and mistresses should take care of their sick servants, and do what they can to restore them to health.
Why did Our Savior say, I will come and heal him? To show His profound humility, for although He was God, and the Lord of lords, He did not hesitate to visit a poor servant.
Why did the centurion say, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof? Out of humility, for he acknowledged Jesus to be Almighty God.
What is the meaning of the words, “That many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham”? Christ meant that many unbelievers shall receive the Gospel, and, living according to it, shall thereby gain the kingdom of heaven, while the Jews, who were the chosen people of God, shall, for their unbelief and sins, be cast out into the exterior darkness that is, into the most excruciating pains of hell.
Today we honor the martyrdom of Saint Agnes, a God-fearing child of 12, when she faced her death. Here is St. Ambrose’s account of her demise.
This treatise has a favorable beginning, since it is the birthday of the holy Virgin Agnes, of whose name, modesty, and martyrdom St. Ambrose speaks in commendation, but more especially of her age, seeing that she, being but twelve years old, was superior to terrors, promises, tortures, and death itself, with a courage wholly worthy of a man.
And my task begins favorably, that since today is the birthday of a virgin, I have to speak of virgins, and the treatise has its beginning from this discourse. It is the birthday of a martyr, let us offer the victim. It is the birthday of St. Agnes, let men admire, let children take courage, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried take an example. But what can I say worthy of her whose very name was not devoid of bright praise? In devotion beyond her age, in virtue above nature, she seems to me to have borne not so much a human name, as a token of martyrdom, whereby she showed what she was to be.
But I have that which may assist me. The name of virgin is a title of modesty. I will call upon the martyr, I will proclaim the virgin. That panegyric is long enough which needs no elaboration, but is within our grasp. Let then labor cease, eloquence be silent. One word is praise enough. This word old men and young and boys chant. No one is more praiseworthy than he who can be praised by all. There are as many heralds as there are men, who when they speak proclaim the martyr.
She is said to have suffered martyrdom when twelve years old. The more hateful was the cruelty, which spared not so tender an age, the greater in truth was the power of faith which found evidence even in that age. Was there room for a wound in that small body? And she who had no room for the blow of the steel had that wherewith to conquer the steel. But maidens of that age are unable to bear even the angry looks of parents, and are wont to cry at the pricks of a needle as though they were wounds. She was fearless under the cruel hands of the executioners, she was unmoved by the heavy weight of the creaking chains, offering her whole body to the sword of the raging soldier, as yet ignorant of death, but ready for it. Or if she were unwillingly hurried to the altars, she was ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands, but no band could enclose such slender limbs.
A new kind of martyrdom! Not yet of fit age for punishment but already ripe for victory, difficult to contend with but easy to be crowned, she filled the office of teaching valour while having the disadvantage of youth. She would not as a bride so hasten to the couch, as being a virgin she joyfully went to the place of punishment with hurrying step, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All wept, she alone was without a tear. All wondered that she was so readily prodigal of her life, which she had not yet enjoyed, and now gave up as though she had gone through it. Everyone was astounded that there was now one to bear witness to the Godhead, who as yet could not, because of her age, dispose of herself. And she brought it to pass that she should be believed concerning God, whose evidence concerning man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature.
What threats the executioner used to make her fear him, what allurements to persuade her, how many desired that she would come to them in marriage! But she answered: It would be an injury to my spouse to look on any one as likely to please me. He who chose me first for Himself shall receive me. Why are you delaying, executioner? Let this body perish which can be loved by eyes which I would not. She stood, she prayed, she bent down her neck. You could see the executioner tremble, as though he himself had been condemned, and his right hand shake, his face grow pale, as he feared the peril of another, while the maiden feared not for her own. You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of modesty and of religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.
Pray that we may emulate Agnes who was martyred rather than forsake her betrothal to Christ and exhibited the traits of a true marriage.
Day 4, Hope and Healing
· Isaiah 9:2-7a, His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.
· Psalm 34:1-14, Seek peace and pursue it.
· Revelation 7:13-17, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
· John 14:25-27, Peace I leave with you.
MeditationThe kingdom which God promised, the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed and made manifest in his ministry is a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Violence is a problem to which the churches are called to respond. There is an alarmingly high rate of murder, much of which stems from domestic abuse, gang warfare and other forms of criminality.
What does the Good News mean for those trapped in the darkness of violence? How can Christians bring the light of Jesus to those living in the darkness of domestic and gang violence? What sense of hope can Christians offer? Christians striving for unity, offer the world a sign of reconciliation. Christians who refuse to seek special status, who refuse to demean others and their communities, give witness to the peace of God’s kingdom.
PrayerGod of all comfort and hope, your resurrection defeated the violence of the cross. As your people, may we be a visible sign that the violence of the world will be overcome. This we pray in the name of our risen Lord. Amen.
· Please pray for me and this ministry