Summary: We are told to have salt in us. Salt was used in the ancient world, and occasionally today, to preserve meat from corruption. So if we have spiritual salt, we will be preserved against that kind of corrupt thought and behavior.
Thursday of the 7th Week in Course 2019
Today we have a rare treat because of the late date of Ash Wednesday and Easter. We get the rare festival of St. Hilarius, about whom I will speak in a moment. By now, most years, we are deep into Lent, and so the saints’ days are suppressed in favor of the Lenten readings. But Hilarius died on February 29, 468 AD, so his day was moved to February 28. So most people forget him, but occasionally in the Hispanic world a boy is named Hilario. The Church never forgets her saints.
Our Gospel is particularly memorable, because it seems to be counseling us to mutilate ourselves. That’s sinful conduct, so Jesus couldn’t be asking for that behavior. No, He is pointing out that the most important thing to avoid is eternal separation from God, which is the state of hell or damnation. The “little ones” who believe in Jesus are not so much children as they are children in the faith, people who have come recently to Christ and are learning how to follow Him. Anyone who causes them to fall away, to sin mortally, are the worst of enemies of humanity. And remember that the word for “adversary” in Bible language is Satan. If you are a foe of God’s plan, God’s design to make all humans happy in His presence forever, you are a divine adversary. Even St. Peter got that word thrown at him by the Master when he opposed His giving up His life for us.
No, instead we are told to have salt in us. Salt was used in the ancient world, and occasionally today, to preserve meat from corruption. So if we have spiritual salt, we will be preserved against that kind of corrupt thought and behavior that makes us enemies, little satans.
That is very much along the lines of what Jesus ben Sira is telling us in the first reading. He is warning us against the sin against hope called “presumption.” We are presumptive if we commit a sin with the thought that God will forgive us. "His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins." That’s certainly true, but if we keep sinning, telling ourselves that, we do not have the true contrition and firm purpose of changing behavior required for God’s forgiveness. We’re treating God like a chump, like a grace-dispensing machine, not like a loving Father.
Pope Saint Hilarius is one of those saints of the early “dark ages” who kept the faith alive and the Church operating during a time that was even more challenging than today. His papacy lasted less than seven years, but he did much in that time to foster true religion. When elected pope he kept the name Hilarius as a kind of tribute to his sense of humor. (Those of us who have been close to bishops know that to be functional, and keep their sanity, they have to have a good sense of humor.)
About twelve years before he became pope, as a deacon of Rome, he was assigned to be one of the papal legates to the second council of Ephesus. It was a contentious and even violent gathering, called the “robber” council by Pope St. Leo when he heard about it from Hilarius. The short form of the problem is that this robber council tried to impose the Monophysite heresy on the Church, the idea that Jesus Christ was one person with just one nature. Christ, our Lord, was one person with two natures, both divine and human, in the one person, as the later council of Chalcedon affirmed. Hilarius uttered the famous one-word response to the acts of the council: “‘Contradicitur’, annulling the sentence in Leo's name. He then barely escaped with his life to return by a circuitous route to the Pope. The Pope then wrote to the emperor annulling all the acts of the Council.
Saints practice “heroic virtue” and Hilarius’s work for Pope Leo would have been enough to earn him that honor. But there was much more during his service in the papacy: “He worked diligently to strengthen the Church in France and Spain, calling councils in 462 and 465. Hilary also rebuilt many Roman churches and erected the chapel of St. John Lateran. He also publicly rebuked Emperor Anthemius in St. Peter's for supporting the Macedonian heresy [which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit] and sent a decree to the Eastern bishops validating the decisions of the General Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.”
We are again in a contentious and violent time, and we need the support of celestial champions like this. So we pray together: “Pope Saint Hilarius, pray for us.”