Better or Worse than Sodom?, Catholic Online Year of Faith Homily Series, July 16, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
July 16, 2013

God is incredibly generous to us, but he expects us to respond with faith, gratitude and a desire to pay those unmerited blessings forward.

When we fail to do so, he is — and is right to be — filled with a holy indignation, as we see in vivid detail in today’s Gospel. The lessons we learn are key for us in the Year of Faith.

Jesus begins to reproach, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, three villages on the north of the Sea of Galilee where he had twice fed the multitudes with miracles of the multiplication of buns and fish, where he had cured almost everyone in need of a doctor, cast out demons, and preached with an authority unlike anyone they had ever heard.

Jesus had done all of this, not for entertainment, but to bring the people to a new way of life, more precisely his way of life. He had done all of this to inspire their faith so that they would begin to live by faith.

Their response, however, was basically nothing except looking for other free meal and complimentary cures.

So Jesus preached with the fire of an Old Testament Prophet since they hadn’t changed.

He first compared them negatively to Tyre and Sidon, whose perversions, idolatry and opposition to Israel had been denounced by the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos and Zechariah, who had predicted its destruction, which Alexander the Great accomplished. Jesus also compared them negatively to Sodom whose abominations have earned it the most inhospitable and cursed place in human history.

Jesus said that the residents of each of those places would fare better at the judgment than the residents of the cities where he worked his miracles. To whom more is given, he would say elsewhere, more is to be expected, and Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were given not only Jesus’ miracles but Jesus himself.

If that’s the case, what would Jesus say about us and our cities today? We’ve been blessed even more than the town of upper Galilee. They were aware of Jesus’ presence only for a few years. Many of us have known Jesus from the time we were infants. He lives and preaches in the places he’s allowed us to build for him. He’s even made us his temple.

What’s been our response to those incredible gifts?

A little over a month ago I had the privilege to bring a group of 30 seminarians from various American seminaries to Paray-le-Monial, France, where we celebrated Mass in the Chapel where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received the apparitions of Jesus revealing his Sacred Heart to her.

During Mass, I pondered with the seminarians what Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary, something that should be a wake-up call for everyone who loves the Lord Jesus. It’s also a strong reminder that often those who say they believe in Jesus can treat Jesus with less gratitude and practical faith than Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon and Sodom combined.

Pointing to his heart that was aflame with love and enveloped by a crown of thorns, Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary, “Behold the heart that has so much loved men that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love. Instead of gratitude, I receive from most only the indifference, irreverence, sacrilege, and the coldness and scorn that men have for me in the sacrament of love.”

The “sacrament of love” to which he referred is the Holy Eucharist, a daily miracle far greater than anything Jesus accomplished at the Galilean seashore. Jesus indicated that in response to this total gift of himself to us, he receives from “most”  not faith, but only apathy, impiety, frigidity, contempt, and desecration.

Jesus went on to describe to St. Margaret Mary something that I wanted to underline for the seminarians. The greatest sorrow of his heart, he said, comes when those who should love him more don’t really love him much or at all, which is what today’s Gospel scene is all about. “What I feel the most keenly,” Jesus lamented, “is that it is hearts that are consecrated to me that treat me in this way.”

The ancient aphorism, “The corruption of the best is worst of all,” is applicable with regard to what most wounds Jesus’ heart. To whom more is given, more is to be expected, and when those Jesus has blessed all the more take his gift of himself in the Eucharist for grant for granted, it’s much more painful.

The response of the majority who treat Jesus in the Eucharist with little enthusiasm, love and reverence can be likened to the sorrow Jesus experienced in Capernaum, when after Jesus described for the first time in depth the mystery of the Eucharist, many of his “disciples” — those who had followed him for up to two years — abandoned him, saying that the teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood was too hard to endure. When those who have received special consecrated vocations treat the Lord in this way, however, it’s much more like the betrayal of Judas.

In response to all of these breaches of faith, Jesus asked for reparation, not to placate his wounded heart, but to change our hearts and the hearts of others with regard to how we should be responding to this greatest gift of all. It’s no surprise that the reparation he requested has a particularly Eucharistic form. He asked for the establishment of a Feast of his Sacred Heart within the Octave of Corpus Christi. He called for us to receive him frequently in Holy Communion, particularly on first Fridays, and to adore him, especially on Thursdays in memory of his agony and the desertion of the disciples.

Jesus wasn’t just asking for intellectual recognition of his Eucharistic love. He was asking for devotion, which means letting that truth descend from our heads to our hearts, to our knees, to our folded hands and to our missionary feet. The word “devotion” comes from the Latin expression de voto, which means we’ve made a vow, a total commitment of ourselves. Jesus is asking from us a covenant of love, in response to his toward us.

That’s what he wanted, but didn’t get, from the towns in today’s Gospel. Now it’s our turn not just to note the mistakes of these cities but to learn from them.

Each of us needs to ponder how we truly treat Jesus in the Eucharist, whom we have received so many times up until now, a blessing those in Galilee during Jesus’ public ministry could scarcely imagine.

Jesus told St. Margaret Mary that “most” treat him with indifference. We can clearly see that apathy in the three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. who don’t attend Mass each week or in the others who miss without compunction whenever something “more important” comes up, like work, or kids’ sporting events, or family outings. We also see it in priests, for example, who don’t celebrate or even attend Mass on their days off. This wounds Jesus’ heart. In contrast, he wants us to treat him in the Mass as the greatest difference-maker in our life, as our true priority, as the “source and summit” of our life, the fulcrum of our week and day.

He declared that most treat him with irreverence. We see this in the way many approach the Mass, without a sense that they’re in the presence of God. It’s shown when people attend Mass in a rush, when they dress in a way they’d never dress for an important engagement, when they receive Holy Communion lackadaisically or with dirty hands. It’s shown in the way people make poor or half-hearted genuflections or none at all. It’s shown in the way priests sometimes celebrate Mass with little or no devotion. All of this pains Jesus. In contrast, for our sake, he wants us to treat him with deep piety. One of the best ways to grow in Eucharistic reverence is through adoration: if we learn how to adore Christ outside of Mass, we can then much more easily adore him in Mass.

Jesus then said most treat him with coldness. We see this in the way many come to Mass without enthusiasm, as bored and distracted spectators rather than ardent participants. Christ wants us more passionate about him at the Mass than the most fanatical Bruins are during a successful playoff run. He wants us singing, sincerely meaning the prayers we say, treating others at Mass with us with warmth and love. When we don’t, he’s wounded.

He added that most treat him with scorn. It’s shown in the way some speak disdainfully about Jesus in the Eucharist, calling Eucharistic adoration “cookie worship” or the tabernacle “the bread box.” It’s shown in the way some priests and extraordinary ministers mishandle the Eucharistic particles or pour extra precious blood down the sink into the sewer system. Jesus, in contrast, wants us to treat him with grateful appreciation.

Jesus finally talked about sacrilege, seen most commonly by people’s receiving him without being in the state of grace. Most of us would never invite a guest over for dinner to a filthy house, but many receive Jesus with souls in need of thorough purification through the sacrament of his mercy. We likewise see it when priests celebrate Mass while living double-lives or when ministers of Holy Communion knowingly give Holy Communion to those who are obstinately persistent in manifest grave sin. Jesus wants, rather, for us to receive and share him in a sacred, not a sacrilegious way.

Jesus wants us to treat him with precedence, piety, passion, praise and purity — in short, to respond to him as he deserves.

This Year of Faith is a time for us to convert, to change how we respond to Jesus’ presence, so that on the Day of Judgment we and our cities and towns may not be mentioned in ignominy but may be treated as modern Bethanies where Jesus was welcomed, worshipped, and loved.