Christmas Eve Solemn Chapter

Sr. Mary Martin's Solemn Chapter Sermon:

My Dear Sisters,

The first time I gave a solemn chapter sermon, in about 1980, I took my inspiration from a line of the hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Today I would like to quote the carol again. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ Incarnate Deity, Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”

Most Christmas carols are not this doctrinal, not even ones of Catholic origin, but this one, by the 18th century Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley, proves that Anglicans and their offspring were concerned about sound doctrine long before the 19th century Oxford movement. Indeed, as we Dominicans know, sound doctrine is something to be concerned about because sound practice can only come from sound doctrine and many an unsound practice stems from a hidden error of thought.

Let us return to our carol: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ Incarnate Deity, Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” Pope Leo the Great, in a letter to the erring bishop of Jerusalem, asks him how he can see with his own eyes the places where Jesus was born, laid in a manger, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead, and not believe that he was truly both God and man, a human being with human flesh and human soul. The bishop of Jerusalem was tempted to become a Monophysite, one who thought that there were two distinct natures present before the Incarnation, but that afterward they became mixed together in Christ, a kind of tertium quid. I have a feeling that there are a lot of Catholics today who, because of poor catechesis and fuzzy thinking, have a vague idea that Jesus is some kind of mix of God and man (Monophysitism) or that he is two beings joined together (Nestorianism) or that he was a good man who somehow became God (Arianism) or that he was God just appearing to be a man (Docetism) or that he is an example of the god within all of us (Gnosticism). All the old heresies are alive and well today and living within reach of us!

What does this have to do with us? As I said before, sound doctrine, sound thinking and sound practice go hand in hand. Notice that I distinguished between sound doctrine and sound thinking. None of us consciously holds heresy and all of us have been quite sufficiently educated in the faith and wholeheartedly recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday. Still, if we don’t really think that God the Word became man, with a human flesh and human soul, we are going to be secretly, if not openly, ashamed of our humanity, ashamed of our physical and emotional inclinations, especially when they want to run amok. Jesus knew all these inclinations: fatigue to the point of sleeping through a storm, thirst to the point of flaunting all social conventions and asking a Samaritan woman for a drink, grief to the point of tears, raging anger, fear “even unto death.”  Jesus is truly God-with-us in all things or he is worth nothing to us. As the Fathers of the Church said, “What was not assumed was not saved.” Jesus, you who have assumed our humanity, be God-with-us today as we go about our work, and God-with-us all the days of our lives, until we see you, God and Man, unveiled for all eternity. Amen.