Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
September 13, 2014
1 Cor 10:14-22, Ps 116, Lk 6:43-49
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today, at the end of his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus summarizes how we’re supposed to respond to what he’s taught with two images. The first is of a good tree and good fruit. If we root ourselves in Christ and in his word, we will bear good fruit as naturally as a good tree does. But if we don’t really root ourselves in the gift of his word, then we will bear bad fruit. He states that just as we don’t harvest figs from thorn bushes or grapes from brambles, if we wish to have a yield of the fruit of charity it comes from being a good tree rooted in the Lord. If we ground ourselves in earthly ambitions, spiritual worldliness, vices and other things, however, we will reap what is sown, the evil fruit that grows out of an evil tree.
- The second image is of a house. Jesus calls us not just to cry out “Lord, Lord,” but to do what he commands, to build our life on his word. If we do so, we will be like a wise man who built himself on rock, something sturdy that would withstand storms and floods. If we try to take a short cut, however, to take the easy way out by building our house on the sands that would be left in the dry river beds during the drought season, when eventually the rain comes anew, the house will be washed away. God’s word is the rock on which we should be constructing our existence. When we’ve made the effort to build ourselves on that firm foundation that we will remain faithful and fruitful when the storms come.
- A great illustration of the strength that comes from building ourselves on Christ is shown in the great bishop and doctor of the Church we celebrate today, St. John Chrysostom, the patron saint of preachers and ancient patriarch of Constantinople (344-407). Although he was deacon in the prestigious patriarchal see of Antioch, the Christians in the rival competitive see of Constantinople elected him to be their Patriarch and he eventually accepted. There he saw how much the values of the Gospel were being violated by the imperial court and with all his eloquence he sought to bring a reform thoughout the people, beginning from the top. The empress Eudoxia was outraged at him for not going along with the excesses of political and moral corruption and for comparing her to Jezebel and to Herodias. She repeatedly and successfully sought to have him banished for his calling everyone, including the imperial family, to conversion. Before one of his exiles, he gave a sermon to the assembled Christians. It’s one of the most famous and moving sermons of all time. And we see how firmly he had rooted himself in Christ and built himself on the rock so that he was able to bear great fruit out of season. It’s worthwhile pondering his powerful words at length.
- “The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us,” he said, “but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain (Phil 1:21). Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord (1 Cor 10:26). The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it (1 Tim 6:7). I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence. Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world! If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say ‘Lord, your will be done’; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.”
- We see in his life that when one has constructed his existence on the word of the Lord, on the person of Jesus Christ, even if one is suffering all of the political machinations of the emperor and empress, one has nothing to fear. That’s the type of confidence Jesus wants us all to have. But in order for that to occur, we really need to build ourselves entirely on Christ. We can’t be divided. That’s what St. Paul was pointing out in today’s first reading, his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. Throughout this entire letter, he’s pointing out the importance of integrity, to recognize that to unite ourselves to Christ means to separate ourselves from everything that’s incompatible with Christ. If we’re really built on Christ, he said, we can’t pretend that we’re building our existence on Paul, or Cephas or Apollo. If we’re really united to Christ, we can’t unite ourselves to a prostitute. And in today’s Gospel, he says if we’re united to Christ we can’t go to fundraising dinners in pagan temples eating meat sacrificed to idols. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup or demons,” he says. “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and also the table of demons.” Our yes to God must involve a no to whatever is incompatible with God. That’s the first condition if we’ve built our life on God, that to say “Lord, Lord,” means that we’ve really made him the Lord of all the parts of our life and that we are cutting out from our life whatever is incompatible.
- The second condition if we’re building our lives on God that we’re building with others. When we construct our existence on Christ, because his mystical body is made out of living stones, we are building ourselves together with others. St. Paul points to that today in the excerpt of his letter to the Corinthians. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?,” he says. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The Eucharist brings us into communion not only with Jesus but with others. The real effect of Holy Communion is to make us “one body, one spirit in Christ.” This union with others will strengthen us when the going gets tough. We see this in the same sermon of St. John Chrysostom I mentioned above. After mentioning that he was grateful to God to remain with them or to be exiled from them, whatever God wanted, the holy patriarch gave a powerful, timely illustration of the apostle of Tarsus’ words: “Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people. You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.” He received his light, his strength, his inspiration from them. They received courage from him and he received reciprocal support from his people, which is exactly how Christ wants it to work in his Church.
- Today as we come forward to receive the one cup of blessing and one loaf, we ask the Lord Jesus, in uniting us to Him and to each other, to help us to live the truths of the faith with the same intrepid faith of St. John Chrysostom, so that building our lives on the rock no matter how stormy the seas, we may become sturdy trees that bear fruit in every season and come to experience forever the joy of the house that God the Father has built for us on the rock of his beloved Son.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 10:14-22
I am speaking as to sensible people;
judge for yourselves what I am saying.
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one,
we, though many, are one Body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.
are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
So what am I saying?
That meat sacrificed to idols is anything?
Or that an idol is anything?
No, I mean that what they sacrifice,
they sacrifice to demons, not to God,
and I do not want you to become participants with demons.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons.
You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.
Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger?
Are we stronger than him?
ps 116:12-13, 17-18
How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
R. To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me,
listens to my words, and acts on them.
That one is like a man building a house,
who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock;
when the flood came, the river burst against that house
but could not shake it because it had been well built.
But the one who listens and does not act
is like a person who built a house on the ground
without a foundation.
When the river burst against it,
it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”