Becoming Humble Servants of the Servants of God, 22nd Saturday (II), September 3, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Gregory the Great
September 3, 2016
1 Cor 4:6-15, Ps 145, Lk 6:1-5

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We have been pondering all week the contrast between thinking as God thinks versus thinking as human beings do, between being wise in the mentality of the world versus truly wise in the seeing everything from the perspective of God in faith.
  • Today in the Gospel we see the contrast between the way God envisions true worship and the way human beings can sometimes form their own religion pretending it’s what God wants. God gave us the gift and the command to keep holy the Sabbath Day so that we would be able to be with God and allow him to refresh us in the “rest” that he gave us as an example by himself resting on the seventh day of creation. To keep the Sabbath holy, according to the Jewish conception of holiness (quadosh) was to consecrated it to God, to sever it from profane purposes so that it can be better united with God. After the exile, when the class of scribes arose to study the law and make sure the Jews weren’t violating it — because they recognized it was because of their infidelity that the exile happened in the first place — they began to create all sorts of regulations to keep themselves and their fellow Jews’ from getting anywhere close to breaking the law. So while God said “Keep Holy the Sabbath Day” so that they wouldn’t return to the slavery of constant work like they experienced in Egypt, the scribes said that they couldn’t do basically any work at all. With regard to today’s Gospel, they said that you couldn’t do any reaping (plucking), threshing (rubbing it in their hands), winnowing (chucking the husks) and preparing (eating), all things that Jesus and his disciples did in today’s Gospel. Their understanding had become that to honor God and grow in holiness, they couldn’t do any work at all to prepare the food that God had given them, as if wanted his sons and daughters to starve. But these commands weren’t God’s wisdom, but man’s foolishness. Those who were spying on Jesus saw that he and his disciples “violated” all of these restrictions. Jesus tried to take them back to the meaning of the law. Jesus reminded them that David had eaten the “bread of presence” in the temple, the 12 loaves that would remain there as a sign of God’s provision, and were to be eaten after their service only by the priests. Jesus was showing himself the new David and showing that his disciples were more important than David’s soldiers in fighting the battles of the Lord. It’s not a violation of consecrating oneself to God or the violation of sabbath rest to eat and to do a little work to obtain the food. But Jesus went further that this correction. In saying, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” he was saying that to find the sabbath rest, we would need to rest in Him: to take his yoke and learn from him, who is meek and humble of heart, so that we might find the rest for their souls that God wanted. To honor the sabbath was not to be neurotic about reaping, threshing, winnowing and preparing food but to honor and be with the Lord in meekness and humility.
  • That leads us to the first reading. St. Paul contrasts the way the proud way the Corinthians were living versus the way the meek and humble manner of life of the apostles, and by derivation all Christians should live. Corinth was a very wealthy city and after the conversion of Corinthians there was a battle because their old ways and their new ways, between their ways and God’s ways, their wisdom and God’s wisdom. Throughout this letter until now, Paul has been contrasting the wisdom of the world versus the wisdom of God, especially as it regards the Cross, which is folly to Greeks, a scandal to Jews, but to those who are called the power and wisdom of God. The Corinthians weren’t really experiencing this power because they weren’t really embracing the Cross. The Corinthians had been vainly boasting about their spiritual gifts, boasting of their favorite apostles, inflated with pride because of their connection to one who they thought made them better  than others. None of this was coming from God.
  • Paul reminds them first that everything is a grace: “What do you possess that you have not received?” Since they’ve received everything as a gift, they shouldn’t become personally inflated and boast as if any of those gifts of God were their own attributes. Rather they should be praising God who has given them everything. Paul teases them that they’re living with the arrogance and self-sufficiency of kings, who were “satisfied,” who felt like they didn’t need anything from God, the very things for which Jesus condemned the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:17).
  • In contrast to the way they were “inflated with pride,” St. Paul says that the apostles were rather last of all. He uses an image from the triumphal parades of ancient kings and emperors to contrast the Corinthian’s way of life to that of Paul and the other apostles, from human wisdom to God’s wisdom. Whenever kings were returning from victorious battles, they would have a procession with all of their soldiers carrying all of their spoils. At the very end of the procession, bound by chains or ropes, would be the slaves that they had captured, who often would be subject to derision on the part of the cheering crowds and many of whom would become food for the beasts in gruesome games. St. Paul says that that’s the way the apostles, like him, who are treated in contrast to the vanity of the Corinthians. “God has exhibited us Apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and men alike.” That’s exactly what happened to Christ before them.
  • St. Paul then that the apostles are “fools on Christ’s account,” but that they believe themselves to be “wise in Christ” while not becoming fools, by still trying to accommodate the opinions of their peers rather than conform themselves to the power and wisdom of the Cross. “We are weak,” Paul continues, “but you are strong; you are held in horn, but we in disrepute.” They don’t need anything but “to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands.” But the sufferings in union with Christ don’t stop there. According to the wisdom of the Cross, all of these are actually blessings by which they can become conformed to Christ in his power and wisdom. If Paul asked above, “What do you possess that you have not received?,” the same question pertains to the Cross. And so he and the apostles, he and faithful Christians, receive the Cross as a benediction because it unites them to Christ and all Christ himself experienced and called us to do. “When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.” He summed it all up by saying, “We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.” But he was happy to be considered among the scum of the earth, because as he said in his letter to the Philippians, he considers everything else as a loss, he had accepted the loss of all things and considered them as trash, compared to the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus and gain him (Phil 3:8). That is God’s wisdom, and St. Paul was as a father admonishing the Corinthians to learn how to live by it in imitation of Paul and the apostles.
  • This is a truly challenging message to us, who live in an American culture that resembles in many ways the culture of ancient Corinth and of Laodicea. We think we’re wise in worldly ways, often smarter than all the generations that have come before us, and superior to most other people alive, today. It’s easy for us to become inflated with pride, for us to think we really don’t need God in our schools, in our courts, in our legislative bodies, in our own homes. Few of us would sign up to be the scum of the earth, to become spectacles like those sentenced to death, to be weak, held in disrepute, hungry and thirsty, poorly dressed and roughed up, homeless wanders, toilsome workers, ridiculed, persecuted, slandered and thrown away like trash. We think we’re too wise ever to opt for that type of life and if that’s what it requires to be an apostle, we’ll just accept a watered-down version of the Christian life where we can believe in Jesus but not have to experience what Paul did, what Jesus did, what so many saints and martyrs have. We’ll take a Cross-less Christianity, thank you very much, and thank the Lord for letting Jesus’ message of self-denial, picking up our Cross and following him on the way of the Cross “expire” before we came of age. Today, St. Paul, as a spiritual father calling us to conversion as “beloved children” calls us, together with the Corinthians, to convert from living by worldly wisdom to living by God’s, so that we may in humility and meekness “know” and “gain” Christ Jesus in this life and know and gain him forever. But for this to happen we need to act on Jesus’ words from Sunday’s Gospel, to be wise enough in God and foolish in the eyes of the world to lose everything else in life to gain Christ rather than wise enough in worldly logic and fools in the eyes of God by gaining the whole world and losing our soul in the process. St. Paul’s is the path to heaven. Robin Leach’s is not.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of one of the greatest saints in history and in my opinion, the greatest Pope.  He was a man full of the Lord’s wisdom, rather than the world’s, and he dedicated his life to trying to bring that wisdom to the world through the Church in so many innovative ways. He was prefect (mayor) of Rome when he was just 30 and did a tremendous job in trying to rebuild the buildings and morale of Rome after four brutal sackings within a short period of time. He was able to be so successful because of his spiritual maturity; he saw his office as an opportunity not to serve himself but to serve others and used all his talents to try to establish and advance the common good. But in his mature discernment, he recognized that God was calling him to something different and more. So he left the civic power behind in order to become a monk, founding the first Benedictine monastery in Rome in his house on the Coelian Hill across from the Colosseum. There he grew in prayer and holiness. Eventually, however, the Pope asked him to leave the Monastery and go as his apocrisarius, his legate, to the emperor in Constantinople. It would have been easy for him to beg off returning to public life, but he maturely grasped that God was asking him to serve him in this new way, so he took the commission. He wisely brought along some of his monks with him so that he could keep up the good habits of prayer and divine wisdom that he had established and would need even more among all the intrigues at the imperial court. Eventually he was allowed to return to Rome, where he and his monks would regularly sacrifice themselves  by using their good health to care for those who were suffering from the plague and other illnesses in the city. Eventually, after the death of Pope Pelagius II, Gregory was elected his successor. He tried to refuse the office he didn’t want, but after it became clear it was God’s will, he accepted, and was ordained a priest and a bishop (he had already been ordained one of the seven deacons of Rome while still in the monastery). Over the course of his 15 years, he set an example of spiritual wisdom and sought to train others in the same discipline. He was one who wrote Dialogues for common folks, Pastoral Letters for priests, and a Commentary on Job for monks precisely so that they might be filled with the knowledge of God and his wisdom. He wrote a “Pastoral Rule” for all bishops, one that is still very much consulted today, in which he talked about the bishop’s duties to preach and to instill discipline, both of which are essential to the formation of Christians in wisdom. He reformed the liturgy, both with regard to its music (Gregorian Chant), with regard to the need for mercy (by introducing the three cycles of three Kyries at the beginning of Mass), the focus on God’s grace by inserting the “Hanc igitur” in the Eucharistic Prayer, and even the dependence on God the Father by moving the place of the Our Father in the liturgy. Because he knew lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, that the way we pray forms the way we believe that in turn forms the way we live, he wanted the Mass to be precisely that means by which we’re filled with God. He confronted, rather than ducked, problems in society and in the Church. He had special care for the poor, orphans and widows. He prayed and intervened to help out during terrible plagues that would come from the overflowing, polluted Tiber. He sent his monks to places near and far to evangelize and assist illiterate kings in the government of their feudal empires. He became truly what he chose as his papal title, a servant of the servants of God (servus servorum Dei). He did so much to help people live like Christian fools for Christ and seek to follow in the apostolic way of sanctity, becoming the world’s rubbish, blessing when ridiculed, enduring when persecuted, and responding gently when slandered. He helped others to live this way precisely by helping unite them to Christ who did all of these “foolish” things.
  • Today in the Gospel Jesus’ disciples accompanied him through fields of grain where they reaped, threshed, winnowed, prepared and ate corn in their hunger in imitation of the way David and his soldiers ate the bread of the presence in the temple. Today we have accompanied Jesus through the streets of Fall River here, where Jesus will have us eat something far greater, the fulfillment of what the “bread of presence” symbolized, Jesus’ own real presence here among us. This is where we come to rest in him, to yoke ourselves to him in humility and meekness and learn from him. This is where we’re strengthened by him to join the process of “fools,” like people sentenced not only to death but to resurrection, people who are weak but strong in Him, held in disrepute but to be honored forever, hungry and thirsty for the holiness he alone gives, poorly clad but adorned by his armor, wandering about homeless but ground on him who had no place to lay his head, like the world’s scum but carrying within the greatest treasure of all. As St. Paul reminds us, we have nothing that we haven’t received — and what we’re about to receive is the greatest gift of all.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 COR 4:6B-15

Brothers and sisters:
Learn from myself and Apollos not to go beyond what is written,
so that none of you will be inflated with pride
in favor of one person over against another.
Who confers distinction upon you?
What do you possess that you have not received?
But if you have received it,
why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?
You are already satisfied; you have already grown rich;
you have become kings without us!
Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,
so that we also might become kings with you.For as I see it, God has exhibited us Apostles as the last of all,
like people sentenced to death,
since we have become a spectacle to the world,
to angels and men alike.
We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ;
we are weak, but you are strong;
you are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clad and roughly treated,
we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands.
When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we respond gently.
We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all,
to this very moment.I am writing you this not to shame you,
but to admonish you as my beloved children.
Even if you should have countless guides to Christ,
yet you do not have many fathers,
for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

Responsorial Psalm PS 145:17-18, 19-20, 21

R. (18) The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him,
he hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD keeps all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
May my mouth speak the praise of the LORD,
and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

Alleluia JN 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 6:1-5

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath,
his disciples were picking the heads of grain,
rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.
Some Pharisees said,
“Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Have you not read what David did
when he and those who were with him were hungry?
How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering,
which only the priests could lawfully eat,
ate of it, and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

 

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