Today I preached for the first time at the seminary's daily mass. Seminary masses are a fairly formal affair because seminarians really like their liturgy. Additionally, the mass was in Spanish, so although I preached in English, I really didn't know my lines for any other part of the mass. Seminarians, like all students, are fairly stressed this time of year, so I addressed that stress by encouraging us all to rely more fully on Christ to get through it:
Sed sobrios, estad alerta, que vuestro enemigo el diablo, como león rugiente, ronda buscando a quién devorar
Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the Devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
Hopefully this line is familiar to you, because we pray it every Tuesday night at Compline. But if you're anything like me, it sometimes comes out as: "Stay sober...Into your hands...Protect us...Restful night, Peaceful death...Amen." When life starts to feel like a drudgery, it's difficult to stay sober and alert. Spring is here, maybe this time for good, were tired from the semester, and we don't want to be alert to these last two weeks of school.
But we must stay sober. We must stay alert. In the pressure and the exhaustion of the end of the semester, it's much easier for the devil to sneak into our hearts and into our seminary. He wants to sneak in here, especially at the end of the semester, when we're vulnerable. He wants to get in here to the seminary and ruin everything we're about, because he knows that otherwise many of us will become priests who will celebrate the Eucharist, this holy re-presentation of Calvary, where the devil suffered his most crushing defeat. The devil can't stand that thought.
But in order to infiltrate this place, he won't surround us with demons like death-eaters surrounded Hogwarts in Harry Potter, he's not going to station visible demons out on Steele or Monroe, he knows that's too easy for us to resist. No, he'll infiltrate us in subtle ways. Maybe he'll encourage a spirit of laziness. Just take the night off, skip prayer, you've been working hard. Maybe he'll encourage spitefulness, because darn it, you've got to tell that brother exactly why he annoys you. Or maybe he'll encourage a spirit of anger because there's just a ton of work to do, and the professors don't understand, and my house father doesn't understand, and no one understands, and hanging onto this anger feels better than surrendering it to Christ.
Msgr. Glenn has given an example of surrender to all of us as we pursue our vocations. This man has surrendered all of his own desires for average parish life in order to serve Christ, his Church, and us, here at the seminary for what 10 years, 30 years? I lose track. Msgr. Glenn, thank you for your model of surrender. Each of us will carry that example with us for the rest of our lives.
But we must surrender everything to Christ in these last weeks of the semester. If we are believers in Christ, this is the time, here at the end of the semester, to prove it by surrendering every evil spirit to him that comes our way. The Gospel passage for today, the feast of St. Mark, strangely enough, comes from the very end of the Gospel, which most scholars, including our own Dr. Gray, don't think Mark actually wrote. But in this passage, which ends with Jesus's ascension into heaven, Jesus lists some signs that will accompany those who believe in him, those who surrender everything to him. That's us, so I want to walk through these signs and see how we're doing.
In my name they will cast out demons. If we surrender every difficulty to him here at the end of the school year, and invoke his name, they will be cast out. They will speak in new tongues. Hablarán lenguas nuevas? Spanish Mass and I wimped out and preached in English. It seems I at least may have some more work to do in this area. They will pick up serpents with their hands. Anyone? I didn't think so. If they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them. Sometimes after Christmas break the milk is expired, and no one has died yet, so maybe that sort of. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover. We see this a lot, in one form or another, through our countless miraculous healings in our Church.
In this list of signs, there are several that we really don't see a lot today, especially the snakes and the deadly drinks. I don't think those are just strange things that happen out there in Bible world and don't really happen here in the real world. But I do think that signs like too easily become like throwing yourself off the roof of the temple, where really you're just putting The Lord your God to the test. If in particular circumstances it would be useful for a believer to pick up serpents safely, and that believer really acted from humility and not from pride, then of course I think we'd see signs like this. But I know for me, it would just be putting The Lord my God to the test.
So do not test the Lord in these last couple of weeks. He's got a lot of work to do already, getting us through the end of the semester. Don't add to it by letting those evil spirits of anger and bitterness in here. Watch for those spirits, those attitudes, that are unbecoming for those who are believers in Christ. Be sober, be alert, and cast all your cares on him in this Eucharist.