Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
November 18, 2014
Rev 3:1-6.14-22; Ps 15, Lk 19:1-10
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Those words of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel helps us to understand his strong words to the Churches in Sardis and Laodicea in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation. Jesus’ words are highly relevant because what he describes of these Christians in the sixth and seventh of the seven Churches to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed are applicable in many circumstances to many Christians in the United States. In saying these strong words, Jesus wasn’t castigating to put people down; he was summoning them to conversion, so that they would recognize that they were lost and open themselves up to the salvation he was seeking to bring them.
- To the Christians in Sardis, Jesus said, “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” On the outside and in name they seemed to be Christians but Jesus, who can read the heart, proclaimed that they were dead on the inside. It’s quite possible that he meant that they weren’t growing. To be alive is to be growing. When we stop growing, when our cells stop dividing, we’re dead. It’s also quite likely that many of them were in mortal sin and had voluntarily killed divine life within them. Jesus later noted that a few people in Sardis hadn’t “soiled their garments” and would “walk with me dressed in white,” implying that most of them had sullied their baptismal garments with serious sin and were no longer walking with Jesus, following him in the path of holiness. Jesus told them, “Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is doing to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of God.” He reminded them of the faith they had at the beginning and summoned them to “remember how you accepted and heard,” to live by it again and to repent. Otherwise, he warned, death will come like a thief and they wouldn’t be ready. Jesus wanted them to be ready. Jesus words are a powerful examination of conscience for us, to see if we truly are alive or whether we just have the appearance of being alive, whether we are truly living as Christians or just pretending to live as Christians, whether the white garments of our baptism are truly sparkling through a life of the sacraments and holiness or whether we’ve soiled them and just let them remain soiled, whether we’re truly walking in Jesus’ path or just self-deceived that we are.
- To the Christians in Laodicea, Jesus used even stronger language. “I know your works,” he said, and “that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot but since you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus ultimately wants us to be on fire with love for him and others, but he’d take our being cold because at least those who are cold shiver and recognize that they need the heat. Those who are tepid, he said, who are living in 65 degree weather, think that they can just go on that way. Jesus says that such lukewarmness makes him sick to his stomach, to the point of vomiting. The reason for their lukewarmness, he said, is a material self-sufficiency that leads them to place their faith, hope and love in money rather than in God. They think they don’t need God. “You say,” Jesus adds, “‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are [spiritually] wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” They don’t even grasp how sick and shameful their circumstance is because they’ve been deadened by their materialism and consumerism. Jesus, here, wasn’t insulting them in order to put them down; he was telling them the truth in order to raise them up. Like a doctor telling a patient straight out his cancerous condition and what brutal treatment would be needed, Jesus, who came to seek and save what was lost, was letting them know that they needed drastic treatment of their heart and what it desired, of their body, and of their eyes. “I advise you to buy from me,” he said, “gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.” He wanted them to “buy” it, rather than just receive it, because he desired them to grasp what he was giving as the pearl of great price worth selling what they presently had, their golden calves, to obtain. He wanted them to purchase the true spiritual wealth of fire-refined gold, the real treasure of the kingdom, through refining all they had through the fire of charity. He wanted them to purchase anew the white garments of baptism to cover themselves, as the sons of Adam and Eve who covered themselves, in the graces of baptism. He wanted them to obtain the ointment of the Holy Spirit for their eyes so that they might see and value things aright. All of this was precisely an offer of salvation. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I prove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” He finished the words to the seven Churches by saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Jesus is always knocking, politely asking entry into our lives, hoping that we will open the door to a life of total communion with him so that, as he promised, we can with him on his throne and share his victory.
- We see that saving will of the Lord on full display in the Gospel scene with Zacchaeus. Jesus had come to seek and save what was lost. For most of his life, Zacchaeus was like a Laodicean putting his treasure in money. He conspired with the Romans to rip off his own fellow Jews through the crooked Roman tax system. He was the head tax collector, which was the equivalent of the don of the mafia. But at least when Jesus was passing by, he knew that something was missing. He knew he was cold and needed God’s warmth. So he ran to a sycamore tree and climbed up in order to be able to see Jesus. I can’t describe how embarrassing such a gesture would be for a grown man, not to mention a public official. He was wearing a tunic and everyone would be able to take “upskirt” glances. Just to see a grown man climb a tree was to invite derision. But he didn’t care. He wanted to see Jesus. And Jesus came to knock on the door of his heart, to offer him refined gold, new white garments, and a salve to help him to see God more than shekels. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly,” Jesus said, “for today I must stay at your house!” And Zacchaeus opened the door. He embraced the salvation that was being offered. He converted totally. He committed himself to give half his possessions to the poor and to repay four-fold all those he had extorted, and he likely had distorted many. For a man who had been addicted to money, such was a true sign of conversion. Pope Francis this morning said that for those of us in a consumerist culture, the real proof of conversion is when it hits our wallets, and not just a little, but as profoundly as it hit Zacchaeus. Few of us, he said, convert in “our pockets,” and that’s why few of us become on fire. Zacchaeus’ example fired up the many following Jesus but unfortunately not in the right way, because they remained spiritually like those in Sardis. The people around, who had the appearance of being alive, were really whitewashed sepulchers on the inside, full of death and filth. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner,” they grumbled. Hopefully, they, too, eventually succumbed to Jesus’ knocking.
- One person who totally opened the door to Jesus’ gentle knocking was St. Rose Philippine Duchesne whom the Church celebrates today. She was born to a wealthy family; her father was a banker and businessman and her mother part of a family that eventually produced a French president. After having been educated by the Visitation nuns, she wanted to join them, but her father wanted her to enter into a fitting marriage, and so she needed to run away. The French Revolution closed her convent and after trying to reestablish it, she joined St. Madeleine Sophie Barat in the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and eventually accepted a mission to come to the United States, in Jesus’ name, to seek and save what was lost and to offer them gold refined by fire. At the age of 49, with five other sisters, she embarked on a grueling 20-week journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi River. Rose was sick the entire voyage and twice was near death, but she soldiered on until they arrived in St. Louis. The bishop established them in St. Charles and gave them a one-room log cabin, which they used to found a school for poor children, the first free school west of the Mississippi. Thus began 34 years of missionary toil in brutal conditions. The sisters needed to battle cold, hunger, sickness and deprivation, not to mention opposition to their French teaching methods, ingratitude and even calumny. “Poverty and Christian heroism are here,” she wrote succinctly back to the motherhouse, “and trials are the riches in this land.” About the calumny, she joked, “They say everything about us, except that we poison the children.” All of these crosses, however, served merely to prove and magnify her Christian virtue, to refine her gold. Vocations from among her students started to come in large numbers and she was able to establish new houses, schools and orphanages in Florissant, Grand Côteau, New Orleans, St. Louis and St. Michael. As hard as she was working among the settlers in the frontier, she longed to bring the Gospel to the Indians. She got her wish when she was 72. By this point, she had become ill enough that she had asked to step down as superior. When a request came in from the famous Jesuit missionary Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet to help establish a school for the Patawatomi in Sugar Creek, Kansas, she volunteered to go. Her fellow sisters wanted to prevent her from the difficult work in her frail condition, but not only did she insist on going but so did Fr. De Smet. “She must come,” the black-robed apostle demanded. “She may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us. Her very presence will draw down all manner of heavenly favors on the work.” That’s precisely what she did. It had been hard enough for her to learn English upon coming to America at about the age of 50. It was near impossible for her to learn the Indian dialect, but she did the best she could to teach the young Indian girls about Jesus. What she couldn’t convey in words, she conveyed in action. She spent most of her days and nights on her knees in prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist, which taught the Indians more about the real presence of Christ than hundreds of catechism classes. Once, young squaws placed small pieces of paper on the back of her habit to see if she’d move during the night and go to bed. They came back in the morning and the pieces of paper were exactly where they had placed them. So moved were they by her example that they gave her a precise nickname: Quah-hak-ka-num-ad, “the woman who always prays.” Her prayers led to many conversions. She’s no doubt praying for us today that we will hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches and convert in response to Jesus’ gentle knocking, who has come to seek and to save us, and to send us out as his collaborators to save the world.
- Just like the Lord went to the lowest place on earth to bring Zacchaeus back to the fold, so the Lord Jesus comes continually to save us, no matter how far we’ve sunk, and no matter how many times we’ve fallen. And there’s nothing he won’t do to save us. When we and the whole human race were incapable of seeing Him on account of the great weight of sin which was reducing our humanity to smaller and smaller images of what we are called to be, and thereby when we were incapable of climbing any tree at all, he, out of his great love for us, climbed one on our behalf, so that each of us might still be able to see him, perched upon his glorious wooden throne. He invites each of us here and now in this Eucharistic participation in his death and resurrection, to be lifted up by him onto that life-giving tree, so that as victors we might sit with him on his throne and as God’s children might spend eternity in a celestial tree house built upon the Cross’ firm foundation. Today Jesus knocks on the door of our heart and says, “I must stay in your house today.” Let’s let him in totally, so that he might dine with us and us with him, in a communion that as St. Rose Philippine Duchesne now realizes, will know no end.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 3:1-6, 14-22
“To the angel of the Church in Sardis, write this:“‘The one who has the seven spirits of God
and the seven stars says this: “I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.
If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief,
and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.
However, you have a few people in Sardis
who have not soiled their garments;
they will walk with me dressed in white,
because they are worthy.“‘The victor will thus be dressed in white,
and I will never erase his name from the book of life
but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father
and of his angels.
“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
“To the angel of the Church in Laodicea, write this:
“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works;
I know that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.
For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’
and yet do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me.
I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne,
as I myself first won the victory
and sit with my Father on his throne.
“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear
what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Responsorial Psalm ps 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5
He who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
By whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Gospel lk 19:1-10
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”