Becoming The Compassionate Organs of the Mystical Body, 24th Tuesday (II), September 13, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. John Chrysostom
September 13, 2016
1 Cor 12:12-14.27-31, Ps 10, Lk 7:11-17

 

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

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Throughout this Jubilee of Mercy, we’ve been pondering the particularly visceral form of Jesus’ mercy. The English translation of the Greek verb splangchnizomai is tamely rendered as “his heart was moved with compassion,” but basically means he was sick to his stomach on seeing those in pitiable situations. Today we see in the Gospel that same compassion on display in Nain and in the first reading we are able to ponder how each of us is meant to become part of the “upset stomach” of the Mystical Body of Christ.
  • In the Gospel, we encounter one of Jesus’ great miracles, one that communicates far more than a great deed done for a particular family, but a whole way of life for us as Christians. There was a collision of two processions, the great crowd following Jesus and the large funeral cortege accompanying the widow who had just lost her only son. Because of Jewish culture at the time, which dictated that a woman needed to be cared and provided by for a man — first her father, then her husband and after her husband’s death, by a son — this woman was now in a particularly pitiful position. When Jesus saw her, his guts exploded with pity and he said something to her that must have at first seemed the cruelest thing anyone could: “Do not weep,” words I would encourage you never to say to a grieving family at a wake. But I like to think that Jesus said them in a way that inspired hope in her. He then stepped forward and touched the bier, an act that would have made him ritually impure according to the Jewish mentality and would have been the equivalent of going out into the middle of the street today and halting a funeral procession. But Jesus did what at first glance might seem the exact opposite of compassion. After Jesus had done so, he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” He was having him participate in what every act of mercy is meant to indicate: ultimately resurrection from the dead, an eternal triumph over sin and what sin leads to, death. And we see that the boy sat up and began to speak. I wish St. Luke would have recorded his words, because they would have been something! The response of the people is very significant. The first said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” Jesus had just done what they remembered the prophet Elijah had done in raising from the dead the only son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the prophet Elisha had done for the only son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:31-17). But they added, “God has visited his people.” The recognized that it was God who had worked that great miracle, that he wasn’t far off, but that he cared, and because he cared he drew near. Little did they know how true their words were. God visited his people with mercy. God always visits his people with mercy.
  • As individual Christians and members of the Church, we are called to grasp that Jesus’ compassion is meant to mark the whole way we approach life. Once we have experienced the compassionate visit of the Lord, a visit that is meant to continue within through remaining in the state of grace, we are capable of going out to visit others with God’s loving mercy. The Lord calls us to become Good Samaritans, not walking by others in need on the other side of the road, but drawing near, visiting them, helping them with compassion. Pope Francis has said that God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which we all draw near to others, when we compassionately weep for other’s sufferings, when we try to heal their wounds with the balm of the love that flows from Jesus’ heart and our own human hearts. God wants to visit others and draw near to them through us.
  • This truth helps us to understand what St. Paul teaches us about the Church in today’s first reading from an important angle. He describes the Church as Christ’s mystical body and mentions that even though in that body there are many different functions and services, we’re all needed to live according to our respective charisms, vocations and missions if the Church is going to thrive. It’s key for all of us to understand that every service he names is supposed to be an exercise of mercy: the apostles are sent out to bring God’s mercy, the prophets to preach it, the teachers to teach it, the administers to administer it, the miracle workers to exemplify it, those who speak in tongues to praise God for it. In an important passage that’s unfortunately excised, St. Paul describes individual members as if we’re organs of a body. Some of us are eyes, others hands, others feet, but we can’t pretend as if any of those organs is superfluous to the health of the body as a whole. In the same way, we can’t behave as if Jesus doesn’t want and need each of us to draw near to others with compassion in accordance with the gifts and talents he has given us and the situations in which he has placed us. To continue St. Paul’s image, if we’re an eye, we need to look on others with love; if we’re a hand, we need to extend Christ’s compassionate touch; if we’re a foot, we need to walk or run to the other side, bringing people Christ and his saving Gospel. Jesus doesn’t call any of us to be the hardened heart of his mystical body. He doesn’t ask any of us to be the blind eye or the closed ear when we see others in distress or hear the cries of the poor. He wants us to recognize that we are called to be his eyes, his hands, his feet, his ears, his mouth, his heart in the midst of a world that is still in so much need of his mercy. He wants us to grasp that he wants to visit them through us.
  • The great saint we celebrate today, called Chrysostom or Greek for “Golden mouth,” used his courage and eloquence to preach God’s mercy in various ways. He used it to call people to conversion. He used it to inspire people to trust in God’s mercy. He used it to help others learn how to pay God’s mercy forward in compassion to others. “I exhort, I entreat, and I beg you,” he said in a homily about the Sacrament of Confession about how to see God working through his ministers, “never to stop confessing your faults to God. I am not leading you onto a stage before your fellow servants nor do I force you to reveal your sin to men. Open your conscience before God, show him your wounds, and beg him for medication to heal them. Do not point them out to someone who will reproach you but to one who will cure you. Even if you remain silent, God knows all things. Tell your sins to him so that you may be the one who profits. Tell them to him so that, once you have left the burden of all your sins with him, you may go forth cleansed of your faults and free from the intolerable need to make them public.”
  • And with regard to compassion toward our neighbor, St. John Chrysostom said, in unforgettable words, “Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: ‘You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.’ What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication. … Give [God] the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts. Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honor? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted? Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”
  • So at this Mass, as the same Jesus who met the widow and her son in Nain comes to meet us here, he wishes to change our life by his compassion, to lift us up spiritually just like he had the young boy arise physically. He wishes that as we seek to adore him here that we can then venerate him in others.  And we’re called to do this with the attitude about which we prayed about in today’s Psalm: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” To a world grieving, we bring God’s nearness which is at the same time to bring hope, joy and gladness. As we prepare to be reconstituted by Jesus as his Mystical Body in this Mass as he receive his Body and Blood and become one body, one spirit, in him, we thank him for doing something in us far greater than resuscitating a dead boy on a bier. He’s about to raise us from the dead and send us out into the world as witnesses that God has indeed visited his people with his mercy. Let’s spread the good news and joy of this visit to whatever people and processions we meet today!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 cor 12:12-14, 27-31a

Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
Now you are Christ’s Body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the Church
to be, first, Apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 10:1b-2, 3, 4, 5

R. (3) We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
For he is good, the LORD, whose kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Gospel
lk 7:11-17

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,
“A great prophet has arisen in our midst,”
and “God has visited his people.”
This report about him spread through the whole of Judea
and in all the surrounding region.
johnchrysostom