Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Grace Chapel, Alma, MI
Retreat for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma
Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor
August 1, 2014
Jer 26:1-9, Ps 69, Mt 13:54-58
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel we encounter a real-life illustration of many of the lessons Jesus has been teaching us in the Parables of the Kingdom over the last eight days. When Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue to sow the Word of God, he didn’t find in everyone the fruitful soil he found in his Mother and foster-father. He found some rocky soil that immediately responded to his words with astonishment as well as much packed down soil by the wayside that totally resisted his message because their hearts were hardened to the possibility that someone who grew up among them could actually possess such wisdom and work such mighty deeds. They were the ones who would see but not understand, who would hear but not listen. Among the Nazarenes there were wheat and weeds growing up side-by-side sown from above and below, good and bad fish caught in the same net. There were those who were willing to sell all they had to obtain the pearl of great price and the buried treasure who is God and others who didn’t recognize the value of that Pearl and Treasure speaking to them in their own synagogue. There were those with the faith of mustard seeds that would grow large and others whose faith would grow smaller than a mustard seed, for to the one who had more would be given and to the one who had not, even what he had would be taken away. There would be those who, hearing Jesus, would become like the head of the household taking from the storeroom where he held his treasures things both old and new and others who would joylessly only draw from that storeroom what was stale. All of this would be seen when Jesus returned home. At first he was received with astonishment, but that soon passed to offense, and as we know from St. Luke’s account, it would then turn to homicidal thoughts and attempted murder as they sought to toss him off of a Nazarene cliff. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house,” Jesus would say, foretelling the opposition, the suffering, the rejection and sometimes even the martyrdom of God’s ambassadors. St. John’s words in his prologue, “he came to his own, but his own did not receive him,” can be applied not only to the Light who was rejected by those who preferred darkness, but to every prophet.
- We see this truth on display in today’s first reading as God sent the Prophet Jeremiah to the Temple to proclaim a message of conversion and an offer of mercy. Jeremiah said that if they would listen and turn back, each from his evil way, God would not allow them to suffer the consequences of their destructive choices, but “if you disobey me, not living according to the law I placed before you and not listening to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I send you constantly though you do not obey them, I will treat this house like Shiloh, and make this the city to which all the nations of the earth shall refer when cursing one another.” Shiloh, as you remember, was where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept for 369 years until the Philistines captured it. Now that ark was in the Temple and God was telling them that just as Shiloh lost the ark and was eventually destroyed, the same thing could happen to the Temple in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, the Holy City, rather than being a word of spiritual aspiration would become a word worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon hearing those words, “the priests and the prophets” — the leaders of the people, those who were expected holy, to be closest to God — grabbed hold of him and said words that prophesied what would be heard in the Praetorium 639 years later: “You must be put to death!” In order to suppress the message, they would need to extinguish the messenger. In God’s house, where his glory abided, his ambassador and his word were not only unwelcome but marked for extermination.
- These are strong experiences for us to consider at the beginning of our retreat, for two reasons. First, they are a powerful, almost shocking call for us to be truly docile on this retreat for what Jesus wants to do in us and for us. More than the people of Judah in the Temple of Jerusalem, more than Jesus’ extended family and neighbors in the Nazareth synagogue, we are “his own,” we are his native place, we have been his temple from the time of our baptism. During this retreat he is going to come to us to speak to us, to sow his word in the soil of our heart hoping to have it change our lives and change the world in 30, 60 or 100 ways or more. He will want us to examine the various parables he’s given us over the course of the last year and beyond to draw lessons that will have our faith grow and to make us leaven to help others’ faith grow. He will seek to have us discover in him anew, like at the beginning of our vocational awareness, that he is truly the pearl of great price and the hidden treasure worth far more than everything else combined. He’s going to want us to show us how Scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing and to have us shout, not, “You must be put to death!” but rather, “The old Adam in me must be put to death so that you must live!” Some of the things that we will hear on this retreat, that he will speak to us in the quiet of prayer, or in a conference, or in something that we read, or in a fraternal correction given by a fellow sister, will challenge us to conversion. We may bristle a little, attempting to resist the message and the messenger, but today’s readings are a powerful summons to true openness in faith, the openness that we see in the young Nazarene girl who became the ark of the covenant who upon hearing God’s words simply said, “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.”
- The second reason why today’s readings are particularly pertinent as we begin this retreat is because we will be pondering as our theme Pope Francis and the Missionary Transformation of the Church. The Pope is wanting everyone in the Church and all our institutions to be renewed in a missionary way, so that each of us, our communities, our parishes, our apostolates, more effectively announce that Jesus Christ is alive, that he loves us, that he saves us, that he walks with us, that he calls us to spiritual greatness. But since no prophet is accepted in his native place, we know that this missionary renewal of the Church is going to bring suffering. There are going to be many who treat the Good News as “bad news.” We need to be ready to have the precious pearl and the buried treasure that we will be offering free not only rejected but used as a grounds of persecution. Sometime we may sense that the words of today’s psalm will take literal fulfillment in us, “Those outnumber the hairs of my head who hate me without cause. Too many for my strength are they who wrongfully are my enemies. Must I restore what I did not steal? Since for your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s sons, Because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.” This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us during the Last Supper, “Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.” He also told us at the beginning of his great treatise on the Christian life, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
- Today, we have a great saint who helps us to understand these teachings. St. Alphonsus Maria Ligouri grew up with Jesus in a pious home. He received a superlative education with double law degrees at the age of 16 and was a legal wunderkind. Eventually, however, he realized that the Lord was calling him to spread the faith to the multitudes who were languishing without it. Against much opposition from his father, he persevered. He eventually founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which was dedicated to preaching missions, bringing people back to the faith. It was a work that brought great consolation in seeing people turn their lives around, receive God’s mercy for the first time in decades, reconcile familial disputes and more. But it also brought much opposition, especially from those who wanted to retain sinful structures and relationships, from those who didn’t want to convert. It also brought much suffering from within. St. Alphonsus was betrayed by other Redemptorists as well as by some in the Vatican. But united to the Lord, confident in the maternal love and help of the Blessed Virgin, he persevered through the age of 91 and now is experiencing the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise of a great reward in heaven. He was a much sought after retreat master who got his start preaching retreats for the religious sisters who would eventually go by the name the Redemptoristines. We ask him to intercede for us at the beginning of our retreat that Jesus may find us ready to receive him as he deserves, so that he may renew us on the inside and make us more and more a walking kerygma of the mercy he seeks to sow in the world.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
son of Josiah, king of Judah,
this message came from the LORD:
Thus says the LORD:
Stand in the court of the house of the LORD
and speak to the people of all the cities of Judah
who come to worship in the house of the LORD;
whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing.
Perhaps they will listen and turn back,
each from his evil way,
so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them
for their evil deeds.
Say to them: Thus says the LORD:
If you disobey me,
not living according to the law I placed before you
and not listening to the words of my servants the prophets,
whom I send you constantly though you do not obey them,
I will treat this house like Shiloh,
and make this the city to which all the nations of the earth
shall refer when cursing another.Now the priests, the prophets, and all the people
heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the LORD.
When Jeremiah finished speaking
all that the LORD bade him speak to all the people,
the priests and prophets laid hold of him, crying,
“You must be put to death!
Why do you prophesy in the name of the LORD:
‘This house shall be like Shiloh,’ and
‘This city shall be desolate and deserted’?”
And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.
PS 69:5, 8-10, 14
Those outnumber the hairs of my head
who hate me without cause.
Too many for my strength
are they who wrongfully are my enemies.
Must I restore what I did not steal?
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Since for your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
Because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
But I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
They were astonished and said,
“Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?
Is he not the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother named Mary
and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Are not his sisters all with us?
Where did this man get all this?”
And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and in his own house.”
And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.