Monday, June 1st, 2020

‘Sic Deus Dilexit Mundum’: a Homily for Whit Monday

Thus God loved the world, such that he gave his only son (John 3, 16).

Today’s Benedictus antiphon puts the mystery before us: the primacy of divine charity. Which is to say that the Father sent the Son out of love for the world, ‘so that all who believe in him might not perish, but have eternal life.’ Divine Providence is, ultimately, a work of love.—The baptized understand this. They may need the occasional reminding; they always need to live distinctly holy lives in order for this love to take hold of them; but that God is love and that he works all things for a loving purpose is not a novel doctrine.

However, for many souls—can we say, for most?—the truth of a loving Providence is not necessarily one of life’s givens. It is no enigma to see why, in view of the mortal troubles that can afflict the human family. But in fact the antiphon presumes this: ‘God so loved the world . . . so that those who believe in him may not perish.’ Ut non pereant. It is as Yeats wrote:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.[1]

The sacred liturgy is always profoundly realistic. Thus today we stand in the midst of both a sea of human ills and the mystery of Pentecost. We ought to think of some mysterious words which Our Lord spoke at the last supper regarding the Holy Ghost:

And yet I can say truly that it is better for you I should go away; he who is to befriend you will not come unless I do go, but if only I make my way there, I will send him to you. He will come, and it will be for him to prove the world wrong, about sin, and about rightness of heart, and about judging. About sin; they have not found belief in me.[2]

Mysterious that the Holy Ghost should come in order to convict the world of its wrongness. But this is not some literary expression of the intolerance of Christians: the Holy Ghost convinces man of his wrongness and sin precisely so as to move him in the other direction. This explains the prophetic mission of the Church (and, by extension, the prophetic munus of the holy priesthood.) Indeed, it is part of the logic of love to speak of error and danger, and the grace of Pentecost comes burning with this grace. We have only to study the preaching of the Apostles immediately after Pentecost to see this truth at work.

There is also a Marian component hidden in our text. ‘God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’ Christ the Lord did not simply appear spontaneously and specter-like in human history—he was prepared for and given. Our Lady, to put it this way, provides for the given-ness of the Jesus Christ. His coming is so complete and real that he took flesh of the Virgin Mary. The Christmas mysteries celebrate this particularly, and we are reminded of it here during the octave of Pentecost. Entirely fitting that we should be: for it was by the power of the same Holy Ghost that the Incarnation took place.[3]

A number of conclusions emerge. First, that the Catholic should recognize his glorious strangeness. He knows that charity is the ultimate thing. Despite all that may obscure the matter, the truth remains the same: in God all things work together for love. Sic Deus dilexit mundum. And the Catholic casts his hope on that. This ultimate charity can receive and support every one of his pains and perplexities. But it is a doctrine he must live courageously, because much of the world thinks him a fool for holding it. Yet it is why the Church may sing Alleluia so frequently. The Church’s Alleluia is not simply a liturgical nicety, but a little Credo about what is—it contains a world of shining metaphysics. Sic Deus dilexit mundum.

Second, therefore, to live outside of Christ’s influence—yea, to live outside of his Church—is not a safe place for the human being to be. For there is no benign, neutral state in which man may hope to eke out a safe and comfortable interim as he waits for death. Man either lives or perishes. But this dire truth makes the charity of God to shine out all the more clearly: for an entire system of means has been given for man’s benefit. That system of means is the Church. He has only to be humble enough to believe and submit to the work of grace.

Third, an august Queen presides in the light of this drama of charity. Concretely, this is the theological foundation of all authentic Marian apparitions—in our times, Lourdes and Fatima deserve special note. It is not without reason that she bears the titles Seat of Wisdom, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, and Gate of Heaven. Seat, house, ark, gate. And it is precisely this reason why it is fitting that we should have learned at Fatima that the Father desires to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for it is only to draw souls back to a work that he has already accomplished: Sic Deus dilexit mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret. Little wonder that the Holy Ghost is inspires the faithful never to forget this. In trouble and in happiness, ours it is to linger by the Virgin of Pentecost.



[1] W B Yeat, ‘The Second Coming,’ lines 3-8.

[2] John 16, 7-9; Knox translation.

[3] Luke 1, 35.

{Art Credit: Detail, Antonio Maria Esquivel (1806-1857), The Virgin Mary, the Infant Christ and the Holy Spirit with Angels in the Background, 1856. Museo del Prado.}

Homilies & Sermons, Our Lady