Childlike Receptivity, 19th Tuesday (II), August 12, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantal
August 12, 2014
Ezek 2:8-3:4, Ps 119, Mt 18:1-5.10.12-14

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel, the disciples approached Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” They took for granted that they were already in the kingdom and now were just jockeying for the path to supremacy. They had heard Jesus change Simon’s name to Peter and pronounce him as the rock on whom he would build his Church and to whom he would give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they had seen him take Peter, James and John up on the Transfiguration, and they were thinking about how to climb the ladder. In reply to their question, Jesus shocked them by swearing and oath and saying, “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” They were heading on a path of ambition  that wasn’t leading to the kingdom at all and unless they turned around and started to head on the path of spiritual childhood, they were not even going to be among the least in the kingdom. Jesus brought a child over and called them to humble themselves like a child in order to enter his kingdom and become great. A child isn’t ambitious but humble, full of wonder rather cynical, docile rather than a know it all, trusting rather than suspicious, dependent rather than self-sufficient, and perhaps most important, recognizes he or she is a child, rather than oblivious to filiation. Jesus is telling all of us that we need to be on this way of spiritual childhood described most powerfully by St. Therese Lisieux. Is that the path we’re on? I’ve mentioned several times before my problem with the spiritual attitude underlying the phrase, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” which sometimes is used by seniors as a general justification for not changing, for not growing. That’s the exact opposite of the path that Jesus is indicating to us today. He’s saying that as old dogs get older, they’re supposed to become more childlike. That we’re supposed to be more docile at 80 than we were at 70, than we were at 40, than we were at 20, even than we were at 5. As we mature and grow spiritually to full stature in Christ, we are paradoxically supposed to become more humble, full of wonder, docile, trusting, dependent, and filial.
  • One way many of us need to turn around and be far more receptive like a child is with regard to Sacred Scripture. In today’s first reading, God tells the Prophet Ezekiel to be obedient like a trusting child and eat what he would give him. The chief sin of the people of Judah that had led to the exile was their disobedience to God, their lack of being docile children of God, and Ezekiel was first to model the redemption by his obedience. Then Ezekiel saw a hand stretched out to him with a scroll with writing on front and back — normally scrolls had writing on only one side, but you can almost see how much God wanted to say! — and then he was told, “Eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.” And so he ate it until his stomach was satiated. It tasted like honey in his mouth, a sign of his love for it, and then he was prepared to go to the house of Israel to speak God’s words to them. Notice that it wasn’t enough for him to read the Scroll. God wanted him to eat it, to assimilate it, to be nourished by it. We eat in order to live, and God wanted him to live by the Word of God. We see that that’s God’s intention for all of us. When Jesus was being tempted by the devil in the desert to convert stones into bread, Jesus responded, “Not on bread alone does man live but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus wants us, like hungry children, to devour his word as the real sustenance for our soul. When I was a young child, my mother used to read to me children’s stories from the Bible, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I asked her to re-read these stories. I was so excited when she got new ones. That’s the type of attitude God wants us all to have.
  • The reality, however, is that few Catholics have this hunger. I’ve mentioned before that back in 2008, there was a huge international survey of Catholics and it showed that of Sunday Mass goers — already, in some ways, the crème de la crème — only three percent said that they had any substantial contact with the Word of God elsewhere during the week. The vast majority of practicing Catholics, 32 out of 33, were anything but living off of every word that came forth from God’s mouth. In the various parishes where I’ve been assigned, when we’ve offered Bible Studies, or lectio divina praying with the Word of God, or Liturgies of the Word, the vast majority of those coming on Sunday don’t take advantage of that opportunity. They often make all types of excuses, but at the most essential level, there’s a lack of a real hunger there such that if they don’t drive, they’d call someone for a ride, or if Wednesday nights are inconvenient because they have something else on the schedule they’d think about changing the other appointment. In the Responsorial Psalm today, which is always our response in faith to what God revealed in the first reading, we talk about what our attitude ought to be to God’s word in general. We prayed these words together, but the question for each of us is whether we prayed them sincerely. We told God “I rejoice in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. Yes, your decrees are my delight; they are my counselors. The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces. How sweet to my palate are your promises, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Your decrees are my inheritance forever; they are the joy of my heart. I gasp with open mouth in my yearning for your commands!” Do we really treat the Word of God as that valuable? If we had a choice between a bucket full of gold and silver pieces and an awesome book explaining part of the Bible, which would we choose? W0uld we rather receive a house in an inheritance or a letter from our deceased loved one describing the treasure of his faith in God’s word? Is God’s word really our counselor, the one that guides us, or do we read Dear Abby more than we read our dear Lord? Do we yearn for God’s commandments with an open mouth, more than a dog panting for a treat? If we’re not on that path, today Jesus is calling us to turn around and go back to the foundations of our faith and start to give the Word of God the place it deserves.
  • Our receptivity toward God’s word is really a sign of our receptivity toward Him and toward His Kingdom. And once we really start to hear his word and obey it as God called Ezekiel to do — for in Hebrew, the same word is used for “hearing” and “obeying” — then our recognition, receptivity and response to God totally changes. We begin to see Christ in others and receive them, including every child, as we would receive Christ. We begin to become one with the zeal of God that we’ve consumed in his word and go out in search of his lost sheep, because like God we’re consumed with a love for 100 out of 100 and will leave the 99 in search of the one. Everything changes when we turn and become like little children in our embrace of God, his word, and his holy will.
  • Today we celebrate the feast day of a woman who never lost her childlike faith even when God was asking her, like he asked Elijah, to accept some very difficult realities. She was married at the age of 20 to a nobleman in France in the late 1500s. She had 7 kids in 8 years, though she needed to mourn the death of three of them soon after childbirth. When he was 28, her husband was killed in a freak hunting accident by a friend and that devastated her. But in her grief she turned like a child toward God. She begged him to send her someone to guide her and God allowed her in a vision to see the person who he would send to be her spiritual director. She had never seen the person before but a couple of years later, at the invitation of her father, she returned to her hometown to hear the celebrated preacher and bishop of Geneva, the future St. Francis de Sales. She recognized him as the one in her dream, dressed exactly as God had shown her. He took her on as a directee, helping her grow in faith and piety, dealing with the situation of living with her difficult father-in-law, advising her about raising her kids and more. Six years later, St. Francis and St. Jane founded the Order of the Visitation where St. Jane would, as a childlike daughter of God, spiritually mother many others on the road to the Kingdom. One of the things that I’ve always loved about the Visitation Nuns, for whom I’ve had a chance to preach some retreat days and Triduums in the past, is that they really are open and docile to the ones God sends them. St. Francis had founded them with one of his aims to receive women into religious life who wouldn’t be able to get into other Congregations because of age or poor health. Today many great religious communities have as part of their rules something I do not believe comes from God, that if a young woman is older than 30, or 35, that they’re not able even to apply to that Institute, as if God could never call anyone to their community who was a month, or a year, or a decade older. There’s no question that the older one is the harder it is to adapt to religious life. There’s no doubt that communities can’t have a special postulancy or novitiate in the infirmary with sick sisters. But there’s no doubt that God does call older women (like St. Jane!), or sickly women (like St. Bernadette!) to serve him in religious life and the Visitation Nuns have always been open to receive the spiritually childlike applicants in Christ’s name as if they were receiving Him.
  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the little ones have “angels in heaven always look[ing] upon the face of my heavenly Father.” We, too, have our guardian angels there, with all the other angels, with St. Jane, St. Francis de Sales, St. Bernadette and all the saints. They’re all interceding for us before the Father that we might turn around if we have to in order to embrace God with the receptivity of a child, that we might base our whole life on his word, and come one day with them to experience the truth that God, his word and his will, are worth far more than all the silver and gold pieces the world has ever produced!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EZ 2:8-3:4

The Lord GOD said to me:
As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you:
be not rebellious like this house of rebellion,
but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me,
in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me.
It was covered with writing front and back,
and written on it was:
Lamentation and wailing and woe!He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you;
eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Son of man, he then said to me,
feed your belly and fill your stomach
with this scroll I am giving you.
I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.
He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel,
and speak my words to them.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131

R. (103a) How sweet to my taste is your promise!
In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Yes, your decrees are my delight;
they are my counselors.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
How sweet to my palate are your promises,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
the joy of my heart they are.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
I gasp with open mouth,
in my yearning for your commands.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

Gospel
MT 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”