A Homily for the Last Sunday in the Liturgical Year
When we feel such anxiety, when there seems to be so much strife and division, when hatred and meanness abounds, when insult and vulgarity have become common speech, when the news feed make us afraid, when it seems that we’ve lost our sure footing—how, then, can we dare to give thanks? Or to praise the Lord of heaven? Or to sing Alleluia?
For isn’t Alleluia a joyful song? Doesn’t is feel natural only when we are hopeful and happy?
Yet at every Mass we sing “Alleluia.” Our hearts join with the chanters when they intone the words of praise. For you know that Alleluia means, “Praise the Lord.” And when these words are sung at Mass, the chanters do not sing a simple melody, but they sweetly send forth a beautifully elongated, melismatic “Alleluia”—urging us with their voices to believe that Alleluia should resound and resonate, not just for a few moments but for a lifetime.
It’s as if our chanters, with their God-given gift, are gently correcting every discordant note, every dissonate feeling; as if they are soothing our anger and desire so that we do not meet insult with insult. And it’s as if they are imploring us, with their many notes, to make “Alleluia” our never-ending and undying response to everything that happens to us. Especially these days. Especially here. Especially when it seems we’re at our wits end, and losing ground, and turning some dark corner.
Turn after turn, “Alleluia” is our song. That’s how we Christians—who are foreigners in this land, who refuse to see this place as our destination, who are citizens of a greater kingdom—with Alleluia in our heart and on our lips, that’s how we meet every fear and hope, every crisis and calm, every sorrow and joy.
But let us also understand that most of the things that make us anxious are things we have no control over; things that disturb us because we feel as if we are helpless. But perhaps we have forgotten that God is my helper; the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. And perhaps we were distracted when our chanters, only a few moments ago, reminded us of what Our Lord God clearly and consistently declares: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: ye shall call upon me, and I will hearken unto you: and will bring again your captivity from all places.
Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security. (St Augustine)
We are anxious because of what’s happening around us. But we should also be anxious—and even more concerned—because of what is going on inside our souls—our desire to give in, to be offended, to lash out, and to feel alone. Yet who is really alone when we have so many angels ministering to us? And what can harm us when the saints, by their fervent and holy prayers, intervene for us? And why should we give in to our base desires when we know that we are playing into the devil’s hand and driving us further from hope and pushing away God’s kindness?
To be clear, we live in anxiety. And that is how it has always been—especially for those who have been baptized into Christ.
Why do we live in anxiety? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when I read: Is not man’s life on earth a time of trial? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when the words still ring in my ears: Watch and pray that you will not be put to the test? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when there are so many temptations here below that prayer itself reminds us of them, when we say: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us?
Every day we make out petitions, every day we sin. Do you want me to feel secure when I am daily asking pardon for my sins, and requesting help in time of trial? Because of my past sins I pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and then, because of the perils still before me, I immediately go on to add: Lead us not into temptation. How can all be well with people who are crying out with me: Deliver us from evil? And yet, my beloved, while we are still in the midst of this evil, let us sing alleluia to the good God who delivers us from evil.
Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let everyone, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. (St Augustine)
And with every trial, he will give you a way of escape. An escape He has made, and which we must crawl through. An escape not where He magically whisks away everything bothersome or painful or distressing. But an escape in which He urges us to strive with Him, shouldering the cross that is a sign of victory through seeming defeat, and unimaginable and unending joy after heartache and sorrow.
So let us sing alleluia, even here on earth. Man is still a debtor, but God is faithful. Scripture does not say that he will not allow you to be tried, but that he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. Whatever the trial, he will see your through it safely, and so enable you to endure.
Like every Christian before us, we are living through a time of trial; but you will come to no harm—God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. (St Augustine)
And what does this firing by tribulation get us? Remember the words St Peter preached at Easter shortly before his execution:
Though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, [both from others and more so from within], in this you rejoice, because the genuineness of your faith—which is more precious than perishable gold—your precious faith is being tested by fire so that you may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1.6-7)
For isn’t Christ the one you truly love? And isn’t it His promises that bring alive your hope and joy? If so, why give permission to others to steal your joy or dampen your hope or mute your Alleluia song?
And listen: the happiness in our Alleluia means that we are secure and fear no adversity, no matter what is going on around us. And our Alleluia means that we look forward to the day when
We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.
So, then, let us sing Alleluia now. Not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. Sing as travelers sing. Sing, while you continue your journey. Sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.
What do I mean by keep going? Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. (St Augustine)
So let us continue to sing Alleluia together, even in the midst of anxiety and irritation. Sing, and keep going forward in virtue, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. For because of the joy He saw and anticipated, He endured the cross, despising the shame. And with His angels and the Saints, He and they await us so that our Alleluia becomes then more than it is now.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is praised and glorified in His saints, have mercy on us and save us.
The St Augustine quotes are from excerpts of Sermon 256 as they appear in The Office of Christian Readings