Diebus Saltem Dominicis – 18th Sunday after Pentecost: Have we forgotten who we are?

I’m pretty much at the end of  Trent: What Happened at the Council by John O’Malley. [US HERE – UK HERE]   O’Malley cannot be thought to be a proper theologian, but he is a pretty good historian and a good writer.  His book is so informative that, when I finish, I might start over.  There is so much to the Council of Trent that I didn’t know about and much that mirrors our own times.   In any event, because of the truly ghastly state of clerical formation and abysmal preaching at the time, which factors fueled the Protestant Revolt, Trent decreed the following:

Archpriests, priests and those who in any manner whatsoever hold any parochial or other cure of souls in the churches shall, at least on Sundays and solemn feastdays, feed the people committed to them, either personally or, if they are lawfully hindered, by someone competent, with salutary words according to their own capacity and that of the people.

They must teach the people everything necessary that they need to know for their salvation by announcing to them – with briefness and clarity of discourse – the vices they must avoid and the virtues they must practice, so that they may escape everlasting punishment and obtain the glory of Heaven. [Council of Trent- Session V, Second Decree, § 2]

Priests and bishops today would do well to review the decrees of Trent.  They waft a lot of the happy gas being spewed into the Church that drugs so many into thinking that everyone is automatically saved by our good buddy Jesus, who is your BFF rather than the Just Judge and King of Fearful Majesty.   However, it is precise the goal of many bishops and those very high in the Church indeed to keep pumping in that soporific gas.  They want to obliterate anything before the 1960’s in favor of the effectively gnostic potions they have alchemically extracted from the Rock through the application of the “spirit” of Vatican II.

That rant apart, let’s consider the upcoming Gospel passage for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost in the Vetus Ordo, recalling with a chuckle the accusation that before Vatican II there wasn’t enough emphasis on Scripture.

I always like to provide some context.  We’ve seen something about the ecclesial lay of the land.  Let’s liturgically expand.

In the northern hemisphere, the shift is on from summer to autumn.  In the sequence of Sundays, Holy Church – which rose and expanded principally in the north – begins her own spiritually autumnal meditation in our liturgical prayer.  As daylight wanes with each check on the calendar, more and more we hear in our sacred worship the eschatological themes of the end of the world and the coming of the Just Judge.  For this reason, in the Novus Ordo – now “Novus Ordo Only” – the Epistle reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians, heard on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, is read on the 1st Sunday of that most eschatological of church seasons Advent, albeit just in Year B.

Our context for Matthew 9.  Immediately in the previous chapter, Matthew 8:228 ff., Our Lord had just been east of the Sea of Galilee in Gentile territory, the country of the Gergasenes or Geresenes or Gadarenes where He worked the so-called Miracle of the Swine.  This miracle is not recounted in the Gospels of the Vetus Ordo, so it is worth a little space.

Matthew, Mark and Luke have parallel accounts of the Miracle of the Gadarene Swine with differing details.  Luke and Mark have one demoniac, naked, cutting himself, so strong he could break chains, whose demon is “Legion”.  At that time a Roman legion numbered, infantry and cavalry, almost 7000.  Luke has a curious feature.  The Lucan demoniac had been living in the cemetery and was naked.  But after Jesus exorcized him he is described as clothed.  St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) says of this detail that,

“Whoever has lost the covering of his nature and virtue is naked…. A man who has an evil spirit is a figure of the Gentile people, covered in vices, naked to error, vulnerable to sin” (Exp. Luc. VI,44).

Thus, the reclothing of the previously naked man is a return to the way humans ought to be, as Luke further describes him, “in his right mind”.  He begs Jesus to let him follow Him (Luke 8:38).

Although the demonically possessed are not automatically to be assumed to be in the state of mortal sin, we may take this reclothing symbolically to be a return to the state of grace after mortal sin.  The Lord didn’t just exorcize the man, He probably forgave His sins.  Forgiveness of sins and exorcism would also link this episode in Gentile territory in Matthew 8 with the very next chapter in Jewish territory.  Our Savior performed similar deeds in those two, disparate regions to show how He was bringing all the peoples together in His Person.  Think of two miraculous feedings of the multitudes, one in Gentile territory, the other in Jewish, recounted back to back in Matthew 14 and 15.

Meanwhile, Matthew 8 presents not one, but two demoniacs.  Ambrose comments,

“I think we should not idly disregard but seek the reason why the Evangelists seems to disagree about the number.  Although the number disagrees, the mystery agrees” (ibid.).

Ambrose, reading the Scriptures more deeply than just for bare facts, teaches us today how to look beyond the details for what they could suggest spiritually.  The great Fathers of the Church can teach us how to read Scripture so that it isn’t just a text to be deconstructed.

The exorcism and the subsequent possession of the herd of pigs, unclean animals for Jews (but this is Gentile territory), suggests that this isn’t just a concocted tale.  Something happened there that made a real impression.

Imagine the demonically frenzied sight, the demonically enraged porcine squealing of that forced suicide by downing. The swine “rushed violently” (Greek hormáo) into the thrashing waters. Onlookers would rightly deduce that Jesus had initiated this horrific scene.

It was so frightening for those Gentiles, that they begged Him to go away.

And so He went.

And so we finally arrive at this Sunday’s Gospel.

Jesus then crossed the Sea of Galilee westward and made His way to His hometown, Nazareth.  Four faith-filled men carrying a stretcher bearing man locked in paralysis arrived, maybe with others accompanying them, at the building where Jesus was.  While our Gospel passage is from Matthew 9, the parallel passages in Mark 2 and Luke 5 provide additional information, for example, there so a large crowd that there was no room left, “not even about the door”. They couldn’t get through the door to Jesus because of the press of onlookers. Mark relates that they went to the roof and pulled it apart to make a hole through which they lowered the paralytic’s pallet to where Jesus was within.

One assumes that people noticed that someone was tearing up the roof, the tiling (Greek keramos, Luke 5:19).  That would have caused a stir.   Normally, people don’t go around making holes in roofs.  In general, homeowners don’t like it when others pull the roof apart. They, reasonably, try to stop the destruction.  Hence, I am led to wonder if this event may have taken place in the Lord’s own house in Nazareth, which may have been small, because they were poor, and lacking room for a large crowd.  He and His mother didn’t protest the roof’s demolition because of what was going to occur.  Besides, it wouldn’t have been damage that a builder’s Son (“…ho tou téktonos uiós?” in Matt 13:55, asked about him precisely when in Nazareth again) couldn’t repair quickly with willing help, surely from the Faithful Four and Company.  There’s no evidence from Scripture for my conjectures, of course.

Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts both say that scribes (Greek singular grammateos – “lettered guy”, gramma are the Hebrew sacred writings) were present, Scripture scholars and interpreters of Mosaic law, also called nomikoi, “law guys, lawyers”. We saw them last week, too.   When practical questions came up about how to act under the law, these experts were consulted (when they weren’t already sticking their noses in) even by the priests and elders of the Sanhedrin.

In this dramatic setting, dust motes floating and debris from the roof perhaps still coming down, light streaming from above like in a Caravaggio painting, Our Lord read the thoughts and hearts of those present.  He knew that the people (Mark 2:3) who went to such lengths to get their friend to Him were men of faith (Matt 9:2).  In that moment, instead of healing the paralytic, which is surely what the Faithful Four had hoped, Jesus forgave their friend’s sins.

Then Christ read the thoughts and hearts of the scribes (v. 4).  Because only God can forgive sins, they thought, “Blasphemer!”.  Jesus had made Himself out to be God.  Ironically, they got it right but in the wrong way.  Our Lord challenged them with,

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, take up your bed and go home.” (vv. 5-7 RSV).

The Lord wasn’t toying with these scribes.  The Lord’s miracles demonstrated His divine personhood and His power over evil.  Words alone wouldn’t impress the scribes.  After all, gratis asseritur, gratis negatur, what is asserted without proof can freely be rejected.  He healed the man’s body. The malady which required an obvious miracle was the result of Original Sin, and it’s resulting separation from God, which He had come to heal in every one of us.

As He had exorcised the man who had been living like a self-mutilating non-human in the place of un-life, a cemetery, He restored to walking normally a man prone and captive in sin.   Draw the conclusion.

In our Epistle for Sunday, we will hear in 1 Cor 1:9: “[S]o that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing [apokalypsis] of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is an oblique way to talk about the Lord’s Second Coming.

I mentioned, above, that as we whirl from summer into autumn, the Church now presents end of the world themes.  For that paralytic in Nazareth, this encounter with the Lord through the help of the Faithful Four, this spiritual gift, was a Parousia, an Advent, an Apocalypse.  He received, with the agency of the faith of his friends, the immense spiritual gift of the revelation of the divine Lord and forgiveness of sins, together with the renewal of his physical body.

It all sounds rather like the sequence of our eventual judgement, possible purification in Purgatory, and resurrection of the flesh.

It is what happens in the confessional during our encounter with Jesus in the person of the alter Christus, the priest, the “other Christ”.  As we enter to find Jesus we are paralyzed in sin and acting in a less human way than we ought.  Then, suddenly, at the Savior’s command we are clothed in favor and we exit, risen in grace.  Ergo….

Lest I go on and on about going to confession, perhaps we can close with a couple of points.

First, like the Faithful Four we must ask for miracles.  If we don’t ask for them, we won’t receive them.  Why should there be fewer miracles now than before?   Have we forgotten who we are?

Secondly, please reflect on how the Faithful Four were so determined to get their ailing friend to the Lord that they tore up a roof.

It may be that you are the instrument by whom God wants to work in someone else a beautiful spiritual healing, a liberation perhaps from “demons” of the past, a rising to new freedom in grace.

Some people need to be carried to opportunities for their own mysterious, transforming encounter with Christ.   As a phrase sometimes attributed to St. Teresa of Avila puts it, “Christ has no hands and feet on earth but yours.”

Are you willing to expend time and effort to do that for someone who is spiritually sick or separated from the Church by their choices?   Someone who is not really himself?

Perhaps by inviting someone in spiritual peril to go with you to Mass or to confession or to some good scheduled talk at the parish, or even just to have coffee, will make an opening in a hard case and he will encounter grace.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    I would like to make a brief intervention on behalf of the pre-reformation church, at least in parts of the world like Germany. And at the same time, I would like to recommend the first volume of “History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages” by a great priest and historian, Johannes Janssen. (There are free scans up on Google Books) He presents a lot of actual evidence of vibrant Catholicism in Germany and the Low Countries, contrary to the typical narrative.

    But now the brief intervention. Including one such delightful fact, that there were Dioceses in Germany where one could be excommunicated for not attending the Sunday sermon. And there were very good preachers in those days, like the great Geiser von Kaysersberg, that people would flock to see. And not to forget that an enormous amount of copies of (really quite good) popular piety manuals in the vernacular were being printed at the time.

    I’m sure to be asked: if things were actually not as bad as we were told, how did the protestants suceed? How such a society could be gutted shows, if anything, the power of corrupt political actors to destroy.

  2. Imrahil says:

    Thank you for the explanations, rev’d Father.

    Pardon me, not in contradicting but merely trying to add, the following two things:

    1. Msgr Knox mentions the healing of the paralytic when he notes that the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has, chiefly, the forgiveness of sins as effect but does often result in healing of the body. “The Church thinks as her master does, who says ‘thy sins are forgiven unto thee’, and then ‘rise and walk'”; illness is a result of sin, in general, so it should not be wondrous that taking away the sins may yield healing of the body.

    The thing is in Belief of Catholics, chapter 16 “The Strength Catholics receive”, and in the original goes like this: It is not that we trace any direct connection between the soul’s state and the body’s. But we do think of disease, and whatever ills the flesh is heir to, as the punishment of sin, and primarily (though not exclusively) as the punishment in the individual life of sins which the individual has committed. In our view, then, forgiveness of sins could not be a corollary of physical health; physical health is, in this particular case, a corollary of forgiveness. The forgiveness of sins, therefore, although St. James mentions it as if it were an afterthought, is the direct effect, physical health an indirect effect, of the Sacrament.

    2. In this sense, it is perhaps of note that the ill man was a paralytic, of all illnesses: at least, into my language this is in the older translations the palsy is usually translated as gout, and it is well known that gout, while not a deterministic effect (no illness is), tends to be very closely linked to gluttony: not the worst of sins, but a sin still.

  3. ex seaxe says:

    Thank you Father for that extract from Trent Session V in 1546. They returned to preaching at Mass in September 1562, Session XXII chapter 8 with a slightly different emphasis – on the actual words of the liturgy, and more frequently than the moral instruction decreed previously.
    … that the sheep of Christ may not suffer hunger, nor the young children ask bread, and there he none who shall break it unto them,[14] the holy synod charges pastors, and all those who have the cure of souls, that they frequently, during the celebration of mass, expound, either by themselves or others, some portion of those things which are read at the mass, and that, amongst the rest, they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice, especially on the Lord’s days and festivals.
    Alas the 1570 Missal and its revisions failed to provide for this explicitly (or indeed to mention it at all) and in my childhood only one of our six Sunday Masses had a sermon or homily. I do not recall that our school Masses had any sort of instruction, and Holydays were similar.

  4. amenamen says:

    Regarding Legion.

    I have often wondered about the exorcism, and the miracle of the swine. Namely, who, outside of, maybe, a modern agribusiness in Nebraska, could maintain, feed, and slaughter a herd of 2,000 pigs? And who would have a market for so much unkosher pork, right on the border of the Jewish population of Galilee?

    It seems to me that the only large, wealthy Gentile organization in the area would be the Roman Legion. They would have both the resources, and the numbers of men, to raise and to consume such a large number of swine.

    It also seems to give an extra layer of meaning to the name of the “Legion” of demons that possessed the demoniac.

  5. amenamen says:

    Something about the mental image of 2,000 screaming and squealing hogs, racing down the muddy slopes, from their filthy pigpens into the turbulent, frothing waters of the sea, where their bloated bodies tumbled in chaotic suicide, makes me think a little of certain modern, synodal pathways.

  6. TheCavalierHatherly says:


    A map for context: https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CNM07-Healing.gif

    This area east of the Jordan would have been heavily populated by gentiles, a mixture of natives and Greek settlers. They would have come over with the conquests of Alexander, or is the subsequent wars of the Seleucids, as it was the practice of great generals to settle veterans on estates in conquered territories. Any observant Jews would be in the minority in such a reason. And they had an advantage over Nebreska: lots of slaves. We tend to underestimate just how many slaves were employed in antiquity. A good sized estate at the time would have anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand slaves.

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