Being Reformed by the Renewal of Our Mind, 1st Sunday after Pentecost (EF), January 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
First Sunday after Epiphany, Extraordinary Form
January 2018
Rom 12:1-5, Lk 2:42-52

 

This homily was prepared for Mass on January 14 anticipating, according to iPieta, that it was the First Sunday after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form. But iPieta was in error and it was the Second Sunday. So the following homily was not delivered. 

As we transition from the end of the season of Christmas and are becoming increasingly used to writing 2018 on our correspondence and checks, the Church gives us Saint Paul’s ever urgent challenge to guide our spiritual itinerary. It’s a summons that is becoming all the more pressing and relevant for us as our culture is growing increasingly secular. “Do not conform yourselves to this age,” he tells us, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

We have to note that Christians are increasingly conformed to the age. Their habits are, for the most part, indistinguishable from others. They get their information from the same sources, they seek the same things, they go to the same schools, they follow the same customs and morés, the polls say they think and vote the same way as most others. There’s an enormous pressure on Catholics to fit in with the dominant, so-called enlightened culture whose worldview is far different from that of Jesus Christ, the apostles and the saints. Parents are often greatly frustrated when they realize how hard it is, in the raising of their children, to compete with what their kids are watching and listening to, what their classmates and even teachers are saying. That’s why it’s essential for us to focus squarely on St. Paul’s unambiguous command: “Do not conform yourselves to this age.”

Instead, he summons us to “be transformed by the renewal of our minds,” to reform the way we think, to have our worldview influenced above all, he says, by discerning God’s will and doing it. Jesus in the Gospel called us to be in the world, but not of the world (Jn 17:14-15), which means that we don’t withdraw, but we don’t conform either. Jesus summoned us in the midst of darkness to unite ourselves to him who is the light; in the midst of various false understandings about God, about the human person, about right and wrong, he called us to unite ourselves to him who is the Truth (Jn 14:6). But this renewal is the result of a choice. God will give his help. He’s promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth. But we need to make the choice to listen to God rather than to the world. We need to enter into Christ’s school — and enter it, I like to say, full time — rather than do what everyone else is doing. We’ll never become the salt, light and leaven that Christ calls us to be and our age and culture desperately need us to be unless we prioritize this transformation of the way we look at things to which St. Paul lovingly challenges us.

In today’s Gospel, we see the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” and astounding “all who heard him … [with] his understanding and his answers.” It’s an amazing and mysterious scene on which the Church ponders at least twice a week in the fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. The same Jesus who was precociously dazzling the scholars of the law with his questions, answers and deep understanding wants to spend time with us, listening to us, answering our questions and prayers, and helping us to grow in understanding of the things that matter most. He wants us to come to be with him in the Temple, to stay behind with him, to center our lives on him. Later in the scene we see something similarly amazing. Even though Jesus already had demonstrated himself, at 12, to be capable of holding court with the greatest of the scribes, Pharisees and priests of the Temple, he went up with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth where, St. Luke tells us, he “was obedient to them” and “advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” He advanced through obedience, which etymologically first means an “attentive listening” (ob-audire) and then conforming one’s will to what one listened to as a word to be done. If Jesus advanced, according to his humanity, in wisdom and favor by obeying Mary and Joseph, how much more might we advance if we listen to him and act on what he teaches with a spirit of holy obedience?

At the beginning of this new civil year, it’s important for us to we participate actively in the renewal of our minds by entering the Lord’s classroom. Jesus calls us to love God with “all our mind.” He tells us, “Learn from me.” He calls us to convert and “become like children,” and we know that kids are always hungry to learn, to ask why, to seek answers (Mt 18:3). The Gospels show us how he crisscrossed the ancient dusty roads of the Holy Land preaching and teaching, so that we in fact might learn to live by every word that comes from his mouth. Jesus wants us to be as amazed and as astonished at his teaching that we read as those who heard him in the synagogues, on the mountainsides and plains, and from the pulpit of Peter’s boat were (see Mk 1:22). He wants the truth he taught us to set us free. The talent of the mind he has given us is something that he wants us never to bury. It should bear dividends—five for five, two for two—according to the intellectual gifts God has given us (see Mt 25:14–30). In response to what God teaches us, he doesn’t want our minds to be like hardened, superficial, or distracted soil, but rather like good soil that is receptive and bears the fruit of the truth (see Mt 13:3–23).

To be Jesus’ student is our lifetime vocation. Jesus calls us to be his disciples. In fact, the word “disciple” comes from the Greek for “student.” In Latin, the word “student” suggests a person who is zealous or hungry to the point of starving to learn. Sacred study, conforming our mind to God, seeking his wisdom and his will, is not meant to be a dry exercise in which we just read for a given period, or worse, a tiresome duty or a boring homework assignment. When we learn the faith, we’re supposed to be on fire, the way the most ardent fan of a sports team, or author, or band looks forward to going to a game, reading the next book, or attending a concert. In today’s culture, Christians need to be countercultural, knowing how to give reasons for the hope within them (see 1 Pet 3:15). We are called to have answers for the many people in our world who actively work against the faith, those who are confused, and those who are genuinely seeking truth. Christians need to know how to propose the real “yes” of the faith to those who may be baptized but have never been captured by the beauty of our faith. It’s an enormous task and our minds are finite. We’re never going to know everything. The Holy Spirit is present to help us as he helped the first apostles, (who certainly didn’t have PhDs). But it all begins with a hunger to learn and making the time to learn things profoundly and well.

And then we feed that hunger by prayer, by meditating on Sacred Scripture and by what the Church traditionally calls “spiritual reading,” like the lives of the saints and other important religious figures, books on prayer and the spiritual life, commentaries on Sacred Scripture or the writings of the saints and great spiritual authors, papal encyclicals and exhortations, bishops’ pastoral letters, and works of this genre. Today many people seek to eat healthy, avoiding junk food and filling themselves up with what is truly nutritious. We need to be similarly focused on what we feed our minds. So many of us take in the cotton candy or even the unhealthy food of the world, rather than being fed with the solid nutrition that strengthens us to become like God.

Spiritual reading is not so much about acquiring information but about formation. It is a particular type of reading done specifically to help us grow as a Christians. When we think about spiritual reading, we can ponder the life-altering impact it had in the lives of some of the greatest saints. Saint Augustine converted when he heard an angel saying, “Take and read,” and he picked up the Letter to the Romans and read a passage that spoke to him personally about what God was asking. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, having read numerous lives of the saints, was moved to ask why he couldn’t do what Saints Francis and Dominic had done. While still an atheist, Saint Edith Stein pulled an all-nighter reading the biography of Saint Teresa of Ávila and in the morning told her friends, “This is the truth.” She was baptized soon afterward. My own spiritual life began to take wings when I first started to incorporate spiritual reading into my life as a freshman in college. My parents bought me Butler’s four-volume Lives of the Saints for Christmas and for the next decade I spent ten to fifteen minutes each night reading about the saints whose feast day would be celebrated the next day. Not only did I learn about Church history, theology, and so many other subjects through getting to know the saints, but I also found great inspiration in seeing how God helped them overcome their flaws, grow spiritually, and make a real difference. To some degree, we become what we read, and so our appetite for spiritual reading is more important to our soul than eating in a healthy way is to our body. Spiritual reading really is a sweet duty that genuinely helps renew our minds so that we may indeed discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

At the beginning of today’s passage, St. Paul points to what the renewal is meant to help us to do: it’s meant to lead us here, to what we do here at Mass. “I urge you therefore by the mercies of God,” he says, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” The will of God is to have us do this in memory of Jesus, not just to receive him in the Eucharist, but to be transformed by him so that we will make of our life a commentary on the words of consecration, giving our bodies for others as he has given his body for us. This is what he calls our logike latreia, our spiritual worship, literally, the only worship that makes sense. It’s to love God and others with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength. Let me finish with Pope Benedict’s words about this passage from his exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis (70): “The eucharistic celebration appears in all its power as the source and summit of the Church’s life, since it expresses at once both the origin and the fulfillment of the new and definitive worship of God, the logiké latreía. Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Romans in this regard is a concise description of how the Eucharist makes our whole life a spiritual worship pleasing to God: ‘I appeal to you therefore, my brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom 12:1). In these words the new worship appears as a total self-offering made in communion with the whole Church. The Apostle’s insistence on the offering of our bodies emphasizes the concrete human reality of a worship that is anything but disincarnate. … This insistence on sacrifice – a ‘making sacred’ – expresses all the existential depth implied in the transformation of our human reality as taken up by Christ (cf. Phil 3:12)

As Christ seeks to renew our minds today through his word, and our whole human reality by our communion with him, he hopes that we will cooperate fully in the transformation he wants to give us this year, so that through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he can renew the face of the earth.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.

The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Luke
When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man.