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Dominica III in Quadragesima

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Latin Mass Lent  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  unknown
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LESSON: Falling Back into Evil

The Pharisees continue to test Christ, looking to find anything they can against him.
So desperate are they, that they begin inventing nonsensical claims that Our Lord is in league with the devil in order to perform his exorcisms.
Spin is not just an invention of modern politics, as we can see it has been around for a very long time.
To refute their claims, Christ does not even need to appeal to the Scriptures, but appeals to simple logic, reminding them that if Satan were fighting himself, his kingdom would collapse.
But Our Lord does not stop there, he goes on to offer a short teaching, speaking about the return of the Spirit as he says:

24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest: and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out.

25 And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished.

26 Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself: and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

How are we to understand Our Lord’s words? How can being freed from the power of evil leave someone so vulnerable? How can one become so much worse off than before?
It’s highly unlikely that any of us has had the misfortune of being possessed by an evil spirit, but we have been freed from evil,
every one of us has been redeemed by the blood of Christ;
every one of us has had our sins forgiven by God’s mercy,
and like those that Our Lord mentions in the Gospel, every one of us is in danger of becoming what Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange calls a “Retarded Soul”.
What that means, and how to protect ourselves against such a fate, will be the subject of our reflection today.

ILLUSTRATION: The Sorry State of “Retarded Souls”

Our modern sensibilities might balk at the terminology, but it is an apt description of who we are talking about.
We are not talking about those hardened in sin,
nor are we talking about those who may be trapped in a cycle of sin or an habitual sin but nevertheless still pursue holiness,
we’re not even talking about those who have no interest in anything beyond the basics of the faith,
we’re talking about those souls who set themselves on the path to holiness, but end up sliding backwards into spiritual torpor and indifference.
Fr. Lagrange in his masterful work The Three Ages of the Interior Life tells us just how a soul can fall into this sorry state, and it comes principally from three things.
First is neglect of little things.
Quite often little things might seem just that, “little”, insignificant, but in the service of God even the little things matter.
Just like tiny drops of water when added together can eventually wear away an enormous bolder, the little things in the spiritual life when added together wear away sinfulness, build good habits, and virtues.
When neglected, little things quickly become big things, skipping a few prayers here and there can quickly lead to abandoning prayer altogether,
a few little acts of impatience added together quickly becomes anger and pride.
If we’re not attentive to these things they can quickly overtake us.
Second is the refusal of sacrifices asked.
There is no salvation without sacrifice.
Christ clearly demonstrates that on the cross, and reminds us that we also need to take up our crosses if we want to follow him.
If we constantly refuse to accept the opportunities for penance and sacrifice that God sends our way, and if we start slacking off in our own voluntary sacrifices, then our taste for the things of God will disappear too,
we’ll begin to seek the pleasures of this world to ease our sufferings, and possibly lose ourselves in the process.
Finally, we have the tendency to derision.
Not only is this a sin, and a mortal one if we deride those deserving of our respect and esteem, it can scandalize others and lead them off the past of holiness as well.
Often this will come from an (at least unconscious) recognition of one’s own lack of virtue, and so deriding others who are more virtuous makes us feel better about our state.
We then have no incentive to try and better ourselves and return to the pursuit of holiness.
Those who fall into this unhappy state can reach such a point of spiritual blindness and hardness of heart that it is difficult to reform them. St. Bernard says this, "You will more easily see a great number of seculars renounce vice and embrace virtue than a single religious pass from tepidity to fervor."
In other words, it is easier for a hardened sinner to become a saint, than for this type of soul to even return to the pursuit of holiness.

APPLICATION: Protecting Ourselves from Backsliding

How then do we protect ourselves from falling into this sorry state. I would like to offer at least two solutions today.
First and foremost is always the frequent Confession.
Not only does this give us the sacramental graces to help us persevere on the path to holiness,
it means frequently examining ourselves.
The more frequently we examine ourselves, the deeper we go in our examinations.
We begins seeing not just the sins we have committed, but our sins of omission as well,
the times we been neglectful of the little things, the times we have refused to accept the sacrifices God sent our way.
The more aware we are of these moments in our lives, the more we can work to overcome them in the future.
The second solution comes from Fr. Lagrange; being always mindful of our Lord’s command to perfection.
We are not called to be mediocre Christians, we aren’t even called to be good Christians, Christ has called us to perfection.
Of course it’s not up to us to become perfect on our own, that’s impossible,
but if we keep that command firmly in our minds, then we will settle for nothing less.
In a few moments Christ will once again visit us upon the altar, and as we receive him in our hearts in Holy Communion, let us ask him to give us the graces we need, to never settle for mediocrity, to never backslide in our spiritual lives, to always pursue holiness and perfection, so that the final state of our souls won’t be worse than the first.
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