Christ’s Three-Fold Banquet and Compassionate Advent Invitation, First Wednesday of Advent, December 3, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Memorial of St. Francis Xavier
December 3, 2014
Is 25:6-10, Ps 23, Mt 15:29-37

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in this homily: 

  • Advent, as I never tire of saying, features a double-dynamism. The Lord comes to us in history (Bethlehem), in mystery (prayer, the sacraments, his word, others, all in the present) and in majesty (at the end of time or end of our time on earth whichever comes first), and we’re called to run out to meet him. Today in the readings we learn the deep motivations behind Christ’s coming and we learn not only about the effort our responsive dynamism takes but how to embrace Christ we need to share his motivations.
  • Let’s begin with that motivation. Today St. Matthew tells us that Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.” That expression in its original Greek means that his innards were exploding, that he was sick to his stomach, over the sufferings of those he was encountering. He spent hours curing those who were lame, blind, deformed, mute and had various other illnesses. Then he worried, because they had nothing to eat, whether they, out of hunger pains, would collapse on their way home. This compassion in his splanchna, in his gut, explains not only his action in this scene but his passion in entering our world and all he did. Jesus’ heart was always moved with pity for the crowd.
  • And out of that compassion, Jesus responded, as we see, with a three-fold banquet that corresponds to his three fold Advent. The first banquet is the actual multiplication of the loaves and fish in history, which occurred in today’s Gospel and occurs every day on our tables. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a place that means “house of bread,” and he is the Father’s answer to the prayer Jesus put on our lips, “Give us today our daily bread.” Jesus’ feeding the crowd of four thousand with 7 buns and a few fish is one of two recorded miracles of the multiplication of loaves and fish (the other was a crowd of five thousand, that multiplied five buns and two fish and the leftovers of which filled twelve baskets, more than the seven here). St. John called this miracle a “sign,” meaning that it points to something else. The first thing this miracle of feeding in history pointing to was the feeding his mystery,  when Jesus would take bread and wine in the Upper Room and totally change them into the richest food and choicest wine ever known, his own Body and Blood, the perpetuated Last Supper through time. But even that was a sign pointing to another feast, the one in majesty, the eternal wedding banquet in the heavenly Jerusalem, for which the Eucharist is a foretaste. This third banquet is what is pointed to most by Isaiah and Psalm 23. The prophet tells us that the Lord has prepared a feast for us “of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” in a place in which he will “wipe away the tears from all places,” in which he will “destroy death forever,” and where we will say, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” That is the banquet where the Lord will “set a table before us” and make our “cup overflow,” bringing us to repose in verdant pastures, refreshing our souls with restful waters, so that we shall “live in the house of the Lord all the days” of our life. In Advent we prepare for each of these three banquets. Christ comes to set the table for us in each of these three ways and we’re called to go out to meet him at all three, in a sense simultaneously.
  • Our response, however, requires effort. On Monday, with Isaiah, we said, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain … that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” To meet the Lord in this Advent requires exertion on our part. We see that in today’s Gospel. Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and could have stopped on there. But instead he “went up the mountain” and it was there that “great crowds came to him.” It would have been much easier for him to stay at the sea shore, but he wanted to have the people make an effort to climb a hill to be with him. Through his incarnation, he came near to us because he wanted to make the encounter with us easy. On the other hand, he didn’t want to make it too easy. He wanted us to sweat. He wanted us to overcome our inertia. He wanted to train us in little ways to be faithful to the pilgrimage of earthy life which is an uphill Way of the Cross following in his footsteps. We see a similar theme at work in the Responsorial Psalm. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls us by name and leads us into dark valleys, where we’re called to follow him on the path to verdant pastures where he will give us repose. Jesus doesn’t take us by a short cut or an easy route. Dark valleys can be frightening. But it’s by journeying through them following Jesus that we grow in faith. Are we willing to make that exertion? Are we actually making that effort to meet Christ in each of these ways, to meet him in the material food he gives us every day through gratitude and hard work, to meet him in the Eucharist where God the Father gives us every day our “supersubstantial bread” (epiousios), to meet him forever in the heavenly Jerusalem through a life of holiness, making our priority his kingdom?
  • We also see very clearly in the Gospel one of the parts of the effort Jesus wants from us to meet him in each of these ways. He wants us to bring others to him. He wants us to share his compassion. Today in the Gospel, the people needed to carry or guide the blind, the lame, the deformed, the mute and the otherwise handicapped up a mountain to encounter Jesus, and they did so, because they cared enough about others to bring them to Jesus. The Lord Jesus wants us to share that same passion, to bring others to him in their pain and suffering, to bring others to him in the Eucharist and in prayer, to seek to bring others to spend eternity with him in heaven. Jesus didn’t merely have them hike up a mountain to be with them. He had them bring the handicapped with them. Many of them likely would never have beheld this great miracle unless they loved their neighbor, their family members and friends, enough to lead them, or lift them, up the hill to Jesus. Likewise if we’re going to show up properly prepared for the banquet in history, mystery, or majesty, we’re called to show up with charity, to bring others, to lead others to the healing and transformation Jesus wants to give. One of the signs of the Messiah, as Jesus announced several times, was that he would make the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak and the prisoners experience liberation. He does that in all three banquets where we encounter him. We are called to bring others to experience this unbelievable triple gift. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium released last year, told us that when we seek to share the faith, we’re not seeking to put people in straight-jackets, burdening them with obligations. Rather we’re sharing the joy of our encounter with Jesus with them, we’re opening them to “horizons of beauty,” and we are inviting them to a “delicious banquet.” So we’re called to bring people to receive banquets here on earth, like we fed so many on Thanksgiving Day, and even to our homes, as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel. We’re supposed to invite them to the banquet of delight that is the Holy Eucharist. We’re called to invite them to the path that leads to the eternal wedding banquet, willing to carry them up a mountain to do it. We may not make the banquet, we may not meet Jesus where he’s at, unless we’re seeking him on this path of love of neighbor.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of a saint who clearly shared the Lord’s bowel-bursting mercy to have people share in the Lord’s feast. St. Francis Xavier’s incredible missionary work can only be explained by his sharing the Lord’s passion. And today the Church has us pray that we might have the same passion, raising up to God the petition in the Opening Prayer of the Mass that we might “burn with the same zeal” and in the Prayer after Communion that God will “enkindle in us that fire of charity with which St. Francis Xavier burned for the salvation of souls.”  St. Francis Xavier was the great 16th century Jesuit apostle of India and Japan who  died trying on the shores of China trying to bring the Gospel there. He did this not because he felt impelled by obligation but out of love for God and others, to bring God the joy of so many sons and daughters and to bring those sons and daughters to discover the reality, love and joy of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He’s the patron saint of the Church’s mission work and considering that the Church is a mission, he’s one of the most important patrons and models that the Church has.
  • His letters to St. Ignatius about his missionary adventures have not only moved tens of thousands to become missionaries, but give full evidence to the zeal Christ had for our salvation that he wants us to have for the salvation of others. Every year priests, religious and all those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours ponder this letter he sent in 1544 to his friend, former college roommate and religious superior, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. … The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law. I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: ‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians. Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’ I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them. This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.”
  • Reading those words soon after they were published for the first time, the future St. Philip Neri went to his spiritual director and said that he thought the Lord was asking him to follow Francis to India. His wise spiritual director told him, “No. Rome will be your Indies!,” and St. Philip worked as hard bringing people back to the faith in Rome after the sack and so much debauchery as St. Francis Xavier had been doing in far away lands. Likewise, for us, Fall River must be our Indies. There’s no reason why we can’t do here what St. Francis did in Goa, Malaysia and Japan. He had 46 chromosomes just like us. He needed to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom just like us. But he burned in his gut with a hunger to share with others not only the joy of faith in the Christian life here on earth but the eternal joy that comes from those who receive God’s revelation like little children and conform their entire lives to it. God through Pope Francis is trying to raise up a whole Church of St. Francis Xaviers, to have all Christians share Christ’s mercy and his desire for us to bring to him all who are blind, mute, lame, deformed and in need, to bring to him all who are hungry, who lack the nourishment he has sought to give us in history, mystery and majesty.
  • And the work to which he calls us is not that complicated. Yesterday, I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, which is the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States. In October 1859, Our Lady appeared there three times to a 28-year-old half-blind Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise, saying to her, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners.” When Adele asked what more must she do, our Lady responded, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” For the rest of her life, Adele Brise made that two-fold mandate the mission of her life. She began to pray insistently for the conversion of sinners and, though somewhat timid and formally uneducated, started to travel on foot all across the forests and farms in northeast Wisconsin, sometimes journeying more than 50 miles to visit children in their homes and teach them the faith. She soon assembled around her a group of women who, hearing of the message imparted by Mary to Adele, wanted to share in that prayer and catechesis; together they became Franciscan tertiaries. Adele’s hardworking father built a little shrine at the place of the first apparition, in what is now Champion, Wisconsin, and over time, with her fellow third order Franciscans, Adele opened up on the property an orphanage and Catholic school where they would be able to give catechesis and other schooling for children throughout the region. The shrine itself became a place of local pilgrimage, prayer and spiritual and physical healings.
  • Adele made the area around Green Bay Wisconsin her Indies and spread the faith in simple ways, because as our Lady pointed out and St. Francis Xavier himself noted in his letter, many people “know they’re Christian but don’t know anything else.” Pope Francis has called us all to go to the peripheries to bring the Gospel but for many of us the peripheries are not Papua New Guinea but next door, where children don’t know how to make the Sign of the Cross, they don’t know how to pray, they don’t know about how God comes to meet us in the Sacraments, they don’t know about the Bible which has the Words of Eternal life. Mary wants each of us to make Fall River our Indies. She wants us to “do more.” She wants us to gather around us not just little kids but all God’s children and “teach theym what they should know for salvation,” fearing nothing, because Mary promises, “I will help you.”
  • Today as we come to Mass we encounter double-dynamism of Advent. The Lord Jesus comes to us and we’ve made the exertion to climb the steps and come to him. But this encounter here is one that is meant to strengthen and inspire us, to light us on fire, to fill our guts with compassion, so that we will go out to feed Christ in the hungry giving them what we have so that they don’t collapse on the way, so that we will invite, guide and carry them here to be with Christ, and so that we might passionately accompany them all the way to the banquet of the choicest food of all, Lamb looking as if he has been slain (Rev 5:12), in that kingdom in which we and hopefully many others with us will behold that Lamb and say, ““Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 25:6-10A

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6

R. (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Gospel
MT 15:29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way.”
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?”
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.