21st Sunday after PentecostThe lessons in the divine office for this Sunday are often taken from the Book of Machabees.
As St. John Chrysostom says: "Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes, having invaded Judea and ravaged wholesale, forcing many Jews to give up the holy practices of their fathers, the Machabees remained steadfast and uncorrupted, amidst all these trials. Traversing the whole country they gathered together all the faithful and loyal citizens whom they met, and even a great number of those who had allowed themselves to be discouraged or led astray, urging them to return to the law of their fathers.
For they remembered that almighty God is full of indulgence and mercy, never refusing to repentance the gift of salvation.
These exhortations resulted in the raising of an army composed of men of the utmost bravery who were fighting not so much for their wives and children and servants; not to ward off slavery and ruin from their country, but for the laws of their fathers and the rights of their nation. God Himself was their leader. Moreover, when they went into battle to sacrifice their lives, this alone was enough to put the enemy to rout; in fact they trusted less in their arms than in the cause for which they had armed, which they considered sufficient to secure victory even if armour were altogether lacking. When on the march, they did not, like the people of some races, fill the air either with curses or profane songs; no flute players were to be found among them as in other camps; but they prayed God to send them aid from on high, to help and keep them, and to give them His strength, since they made war for His sake and not for their own glory" (Fourth Sunday in October, 2nd Nocturn).
God's primary care in the world is for His own people, i.e. Christ and His Church who together make only one. Everything else is of secondary importance. "Lord," says the Gradual, "Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation." While the Alleluia psalm relates that "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people, Judea was made His sanctuary," and "Israel His dominion". And then having recounted all the wonders wrought by God for the preservation of His people, the psalmist adds: "But our God is in heaven: He hath done all things whatsoever He would ... The house of Israel hath hoped in the Lord: He is their helper and protector."
The psalm, from which the Communion and the verse of the Introit are borrowed, repeat the cry of hope raised by just souls to heaven. "My soul is in Thy salvation ... When wilt thou execute justice on them that persecute me? The wicked have persecuted me: help me, O Lord my God."
In the same sense the Church prays in to-day's Collect: "Lord, we pray Thee, keep Thy household the Church in continual godliness ; that through Thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to good works, to the glory of Thy holy name."
The ancient people of God and His people to-day, have the same end in view, to glorify God and to assert His rights ; and both have the same adversaries, the devil and his agents. To-day the Church draws on the breviary lessons of the preceding Sundays, reminding us of Satan's onslaught upon Job and the treatment of Mardochai by Aman who was "a slanderer like the devil" (See Introit psalm). God delivered these two just men, as He freed His people from the bondage of Egypt, and as He came to the aid of the Machabees who were fighting in His cause.
In the same way Christians are attacked by evil spirits, for the persecutors of the Church, like those of Israel under the Old Law, are really stirred up by the devil. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places" (Epistle). Moreover, like the Machabees, who, valiant soldiers as they were, trusted more in God than in their arms, the means of defense used by Christians must be chiefly of a supernatural kind. "Be strengthened in the Lord," says the apostle, " and in the midst of His power ... Take unto you the armour of God ... that you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one."
St. Paul's Roman guards (and the Machabees were accoutred like them) here serve the apostle as a model for the detailed description which he gives us of the mystic panoply of the soldiers of Christ. Its defensive armour consists of justice, peace and faith, while its weapons of offence are the inspired words of the Holy Ghost whom the Church received at Pentecost.
Now that portion of the divine Word which we have in to-day's Gospel sums up the whole Christian life in the practice of that virtue of charity which makes us treat our neighbour as almighty God has treated us. He has forgiven us great sins; let us in turn, learn how to forgive our brethren their infinitely less important offenses against us. The devil in his jealousy drives men to act like the wicked servant who seized by the throat one who owed him a trifling sum and cast him into prison because he could not pay at once. In the day of Judgment God will treat us as we have treated our neighbour. Of that day this Sunday's Mass warns us in our Lord's words: "The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king who would take account of his servants." At that time of justice pure and simple, He will be merciless like us if, during this life when He is all mercy to us, we have not learned to be merciful like Him. The wicked servant was delivered to the torturers. "So," says our Lord, "shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts."
The executioners to whom we shall be delivered by our Lord in His just anger against us, will be the powers of hell from whom He has protected us on earth, but whom He will then leave to indulge their hatred against us. It is enough to recall their rage against holy Job. Let us be on our guard against them, the more so, that this Sunday reminds us of the time when the devils will use their power against men with greater violence, since they will soon lose it altogether.
If we seek strength from God, whose will none can resist (Introit), we shall be victorious over the devils even in those troublous times, and we shall have no fear of the judgment to come.
In voluntáte tua, Dómine, univérsa sunt pósita, et non est, qui possit resístere voluntáti tuae: tu enim fecísti ómnia, coelum et terram et univérsa, quae coeli ámbitu continéntur: Dominus universórum tu es. * Beáti immaculáti in via: qui ámbulant in lege Dómini.
All things are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will: for Thou hast made all things, heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven: Thou art the Lord of all. * Blessed are the undefiled in the way; who walk in the law of the Lord.
(Esther 13:9-11 and Psalm 118:1 from the Introit of Mass).
Famíliam tuam, quaesumus, Dómine, contínua pietáte custódi: ut a cunctis adversitátibus, te protegénte, sit libera, et in bonis áctibus tuo nómini sit devóta.
Lord, we pray Thee, keep Thy household in continual godliness; that through Thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to good works, to the glory of Thy holy name.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
At that time Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants. And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him that owed him ten thousand talents: and as he has not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. But that servant falling down, besought him saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with pity, let him go, and forgave him the debt. But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him a hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest. And his fellow-servant falling down besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison till he paid the debt. Now his fellow-servants, seeing what was done, were very much grieved; and they came and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him, and saith to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me; shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow-servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his lord being angry delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
(St Matthew 18:23-35)
Immortalitatis alimoniam consecuti, quaesumus, Domine: ut, quod ore percepimus, pura mente sectemur.
Having been fed with the food of immortality, O Lord: we beseech Thee, that what we have received with our mouth, we may follow with a pure mind.
Serve nequam, omne debitum dimisi tibi, quoniam rogasti me: nonne ergo oportuit et te misereri conservi tui, sicut et ego tui misertus sum? alleluia.
Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt because thou besoughtest me: shouldst thou not then have had compassion also on thy fellow-servant, even as I had compassion on thee? alleluia.
(Antiphon at the Magnificat: St Matthew 18:32)