Rorate Caeli

The power of shame and death - and a civilization built on life

Tomorrow is a Feria. And this means there is once again a chance for us to meditate on the readings of the past Sunday, the Seventh after Pentecost. 

Sunday, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, and the seventh day of the seventh month, was also the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. Fr. Richard G. Cipolla's sermon reminds us of all the great heritage we receive from our forefathers in the Faith, founders of our Civilization - a civilization destroyed in its very foundations by sin that is proud of itself, pride that leads to death.


Sermon for the 
7th Sunday after Pentecost

From St Paul’s epistle to the Romans: But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.

Surely one of the seminal works of Western culture is Virgil’s Aeneid, the story of the founding of Rome but also the deposit of Roman ideals and values which became, along with Christianity, the foundation of Western culture. One of the most glorious parts of Vergil’s Aeneid really has nothing to do with Aeneas’ founding of Rome. Book 4 of the Aeneid deals with the passion of Queen Dido of Carthage for Aeneas and its tragic consequences. Dido has sworn a oath to her dead husband that she will never remarry, that she will always be true to the oath she made to her husband to be faithful and true to him even in death. When she meets Aeneas, she is stirred with passion, and in a famous scene she swears to her sister Anna, she swears by the gods that she will never set aside her pudor and embark on an affair with this man-god Aeneas. But she does sacrifice her pudor, and she loses her life.

That word pudor, a classical word that has come into the vocabulary of all the Romance languages. Those of you here who speak Spanish or Italian will recognize this word. Its meaning lies deep in the understanding of the human psyche, and its English translation, which is inadequate, is a sense of shame. For the classical author, to lose one’s pudor, one’s sense of shame, makes one less than human, more of an animal than a man or woman. This very word, shame, is something that is disappearing from our culture, our society. The post-modern man, who is a man who has shed or who is ignorant of the traditional culture, that of the classical Greek and Roman and of its flowering and sacralization in Christianity, has lost his sense of shame. And so he cannot possibly understand St Paul’s words in today’s epistle: Bu then what return did you get from the tings of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. The Latin text here uses the verb erubescere, to blush, and it is this word and the accompanying emotion that shows itself in a physical way, that points to this sense of shame. And this pudor, this sense of shame is deeply biblical. When Adam and Eve sinned in that cataclysmic way, they expressed their shame in a physical way by covering their private parts. Those of you who have seen Massaccio’s fresco of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden have seen the agony of the denial of pudor. When King David is confronted by the prophet Nathan about his murder of Bathsheba’s husband and his act of adultery with her, he is overwhelmed with a sense of shame at what he has done. And he acknowledges his guilt. When the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable realizes what he has done, he is overwhelmed with a sense of shame, and this sense of shame brings him to his moral senses and he returns to his father to ask forgiveness. Notice that in this parable, and in the story of King David, the sense of shame, pudor, is needed for conversion and for seeking forgiveness.

What happens when this sense of pudor is lost or is deliberately forgotten? Then we have a person who lives his life solely to satisfy himself, his needs and his wants. Literature is strewn with such characters. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina denies her marriage vows to give herself over to her lustful passion for Count Vronsky. And she deliberately denies any sense of shame about her behavior, she rationalizes her betrayal of her marriage vows in the name of freedom and finally, in a terrible realization of her crime, she kills herself. Now Tolstoy wrote this novel as a tragedy, to show how the denial of shame under the guise of a specious freedom must end up in self-annihilation. But what if a society, a culture, denies shame, relegates such an idea and such an emotion to the staid past? That question has great relevance for us today, for indeed we are a culture in which pudor has been set aside, has been denied, and all of this in the name of personal freedom. Remember that the whole concept of pudor requires a sense of the rightness of things, a sense of morality that does not depend on the individual but is grounded in an objective understanding of what is right and wrong, and for the Christian this grounding is in God and his revelation to us. If what I do and how I act and how I relate to people is grounded not in the commandments of God but rather in a personal freedom that knows no bounds except perhaps in what is euphemistically called hurting another person, that all is allowed if no one is apparently hurt, then pudor, that sense of shame, cannot be that natural warning that something is terribly wrong. If I can watch films that border on pornography without shame, or even closer to the truth, if I can watch pornography without a sense of shame—as is the case today in epidemic proportions—then there is no way out of the addiction that feeds the worst of the narcissistic self.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court to annul the Defense of Marriage Act and to rule in favor of same sex marriage could only happen, could only be understood, in a culture where pudor no longer exists and the rights of the individual have no objective context other than the subjective self. When there is no longer a belief in natural law or a belief in revealed moral truth especially as expressed in Judaism and Christianity, then all is possible, and same sex marriage then is possible and makes sense. In the discussions leading to the ruling there was no discussion of the moral issues involved in homosexual unions, there was no discussion of the traditional meaning of marriage. The whole thing boiled down to this perverse understanding of human freedom that has no grounding in the moral law of God but rather solely in an unrestrained understanding of human freedom that is not freedom but license to do whatever I want to do—as long as no one is hurt. This gross sentimentality obviously has relegated pudor, a sense of shame, to quaint novels of the past whose characters were not as enlightened as we are in this present age. This spawns an age in which there are demonstrations against laying new gas pipe lines and laws protecting endangered species of animals and at the same time the condoning of the killing of millions of unborn babies as a right.

In a sense, the genie has been let out of the bottle. But the answer is to not either pretend that this has not happened nor to try to live in some sort of Ozzie and Harriett or Leave it Beaver world, and to force one’s family to live in some sort of bubble that fears the world and tries to create an alternative universe to the one that exists. This is silly and disastrous on many counts. When Jesus sent out the seventy on a mission to prepare his visits to towns and villages, he sent them in haste, carrying no money bags, no sandals, no chatter, say what is necessary, a sense of urgency. And he sent them into a world that was hostile to his teaching and what he asked his disciples to preach: the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, believe the gospel, have faith in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. The world at that time was in many ways no more ready to believe any of this than in our own time. But the difference is this: that the apostles were preaching something new and true, something that spoke to man’s innermost heart. But today we preach to a world that was Christianized and now whose faith is gone. The gospel is stale news and incomprehensible. The pagan world was at least open to religious talk, it still had a sense of pudor, it still had a sense of objective truth. Our world is hell bent on denying that there is anything to be ashamed of—unless you are caught and even then the shame lasts only as long as people remember and then you can run for mayor of New York. And much of this is due to the inability of the Church, especially those charged with the preaching and teaching of the faith, to convey the gospel message to this post-Christian world. The lack of intellectual clarity and missionary zeal of the past fifty years in the Catholic Church has contributed greatly to where we find ourselves today. And so do we wring our hands and seek solace in our own individual pieties and hope for the best or hope for the second coming very soon? No. We must listen to our own sense of shame that allows us to open ourselves more and more to that grace of God that alone can turn us away from sin and death and to the light of Chist, that converts us ever more deeply in conformity to Christ and his saving work among us. We must be soldiers of Christ in our families, among our friends, we must live our lives in conformity to the truth of God so that we become those lights on the hill in a time of darkness, and all this with no sense of bitterness and fear but rather with joy and hope. And above all, we must worship. We must worship that God who is the very center of being in goodness, in beauty and in truth, and so hasten the transformation of this world begun in the Incarnation of the Word of God in the womb of Mary and launched into eternity by the Resurrection of Christ, God incarnate, and do all of this in wonder, love and praise.


JB said...

A brilliant homily. I have to fortune of attending St. Mary's in Norwalk and his sermons are among the best I've ever heard.

JB said...

My only slight area of disagreement is that we shouldn't refrain from availing ourselves of individual pieties... those come in handy in dealing with the brutal secularism we are now witnessing.

Eugene said...

How often do we hear great sermons like this?

newguy40 said...

That was a powerful homily full of truth and Truth.

My daily encounters with my brothers and sisters has been one where they, for the most part, see no relevance in God or Christianity. Or, worse, pervert Christ's teaching to justify their own perverted behavior. Their reaction is... "meh, I can decided what to believe and I just don't care to think about it..." It is very difficult and challenging for me to sow the seeds. Hard and stony ground, in fact.

And, yes, to Eugene, I am previleged to hear these types of sermons from an Oblates of St Joseph Priest.

Dan Hunter said...

"try to live in some sort of Ozzie and Harriett or Leave it Beaver world, "

Two of our favorite TV shows.

That's how I was brought up and that is how my wife and I live our lives [well a Catholic version]

And we love it!

Aloysius Gonzaga said...

Amen, let's take up the challenge.

Michael Ortiz said...

Excellent! May this priest be richly blessed by a long and fruitful ministry!

Bwangi Kilonzo said...

Any regular attendee of an FSSP parish hears sermons like this. Visit traditional sermons dot com for the gems.

backtothefuture said...

I never heard sermons like this until I started going to mass at Saint Mary's. God bless the wonderful priests there.

JB said...

It reminds me in some ways of of something Fulton Sheen once said. "The worst thing in the world is not sin. The worst thing the world is the Denial of sin." And we can see now how prophetic that comment was. He made it only 30 years ago or so.

poetcomic1 said...

When writer David Cornwall (John le Carre) was at Oxford, he was a student of the great poet W.H. Auden. He was in awe of the brilliant Auden and felt honored just to be chatting with him. Auden suddenly and out of the blue asked to perform an 'extremely personal act' on David. John le Carre remembers being intensely ashamed FOR Auden, this man he so admired. Auden shrugged it off and said , "Can't blame me for trying!" But this false bravado couldn't hide the shame that another person felt for someone they deeply admired. The bravado of the 'shameless' is a defensive fake.