Fr. Roger J. Landry
Chapel of the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, Potomoc, MD
Monday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
September 5, 2016
1 Cor 5:8, Ps 5, Lk 6:6-11
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
- Jesus’ mission was not just to save and sanctify but to revolutionize, to turn right side up, the way his people had distorted religion, to give us new wineskins to receive new wine. This distortion was epitomized by the way they treated the Sabbath, making it a day of extraordinary rules about everything they couldn’t do, rather than a day of loving God with all they had and loving their neighbor. The Scribes and the Pharisees went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, but they really weren’t going for that reason. St. Luke tells us that their main focus was to “watch Jesus closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” The suffering of the man with the withered hand didn’t matter much to them. On this Labor Day in the US, we can note that St. Luke’s term for this man’s hand was that it had “dried up”: in other words, it had once had life in it but no longer did. One of the apocryphal Gospels in describing the scene said that the man was a mason who had been injured on the job and could no longer work and support himself and his family. But the injured laborer’s plight didn’t concern the Pharisees at all. Even though they would rescue an animal from a trap on a Sabbath, they wouldn’t care for their fellow man, as if restoring him to health would somehow be offensive to God. So Jesus, reading their hearts, asked the question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” It was a poignant question because he was intending to do good and to save life, and they were intending to do evil and destroy life. What Jesus was doing somehow they found objectionable, but what they were doing — focusing themselves on preventing Jesus’ doing good and then conspiring to plot his demise — was somehow licit to do, not only at all but especially on the Lord’s Day. They didn’t answer for obvious reasons.
- Jesus then worked his miracle of mercy, not only to do good to the man with the withered hand and restore his livelihood but do good to his objectors and to all of us by showing us the true meaning of the Sabbath and revealing to us God’s desire to make us whole. He had the man with the injured hand come and stand before everyone, the first of the two steps of faith by which the man would cooperate in his own healing. Then he said to the man, in the second step of faith, “Stretch out your hand!” He was telling someone who hadn’t been able to move his hand for who knows how long to make an act of the will and do the impossible. And St. Luke the beloved physician says something beautiful and noteworthy: not “his hand was restored and he did so,” but, “he did so and his hand was restored.” He extended himself in faith and that was part of his restoration. As this man was stretching out his hand in response to Jesus’, we can, in a sense, imagine an act of recreation in which, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s scene of creation, God stretched forth his hand as his creature likewise did and it was in that action that the breath of life was given.
- As we celebrate today for the first time the feast of Saint Mother Teresa Calcutta, on the 19th anniversary of her being called home by Christ and the day after her canonization, we can recall how her 51 years as a Missionary of Charity were an extended commentary and putting into practice of the mercy we see from Jesus in today’s Gospel. She spent her life, together with her spiritual daughters, going out to rescue people from pits, to care for those with withered and leprous hands, to restore to dignity those who were treated worse than animals. She not only knew that it was lawful to do good and to save life but she took it as a command, seeing in every person in any way withered Christ in a distressing disguise, the only worthy response to whom was love. Jesus worked the miracle in today’s Gospel not only on the Sabbath but in a synagogue to show that he had come as Messiah to rehabilitate the meaning of worship, indicating to us that to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength involves loving our neighbor as he loves them, and Mother Teresa always grasped that there was a connection between her worship of God and her reverence of others: the same Jesus who says “This is my Body,” and “This is the chalice of my Blood,” is the one who says, “I was sick and you cared for me.” And care for Christ she did and for all those Christ loved enough to die for so that they may live. The new worship Christ came to inaugurate involves this union between faith and live, between what we believe and what we do. Our worship of the God of love is meant to transform us more and more into his image so that all of us may make our lives living exegeses of St. Paul’s phrase, “caritas Christi urget nos,” the love of Christ — both subjectively and objectively — compels us (2 Cor 5:14).
- But that’s the big question on which the meaning of our life hinges: Does love really compel us? Is our passion for God something that transform the way we treat everyone else? Do we see that the way we treat the least among us is the way we treat the Lord? Do we grasp that whenever we receive someone in Christ’s name, even a child who was insignificant at the time of Christ, we receive the Lord himself? Do we behave toward each other, even in community life, with the reverence with which we would give to Jesus himself? The Servant of God, Dorothy Day, once said, in a harrowing but enormously helpful point for our daily examination: we love the Lord to the extent that we love the persons we like the least. And so does our consecration to the Lord drive us toward really sacrificing, praying, forgiving, caring for those people we don’t get along with, those who might treat us poorly, those who might even behave as if they despise us? Does Christ’s mission of charity toward us change us in such a way that we, too, become missionaries of charity?
- These thoughts are very relevant for us to understand what was happening in today’s first reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He had been told that it was now widely known that among the Church in Corinth there was “an immorality of a kind not found even among pagans,” an incestuous relationship in which a man was in a relationship with his own stepmother. That was problem enough. But the bigger problem, St. Paul says, was that they were “inflated with pride” whereas they should “have been sorrowful.” Rather than being ashamed, rather than mourning the offense against God, the damage being done to both the man and his step-mother, and the scandal that was now widely reported, they responded with proud neglect, as if that sin really didn’t impact them. In Corinth, there was so much debauchery among the pagans that people had easily become used to it, and not only were they not properly scandalized, but they also didn’t love their brother enough to do anything about it. Like the Pharisees callous heedlessness of the man with a withered hand, they were indifferent to their fellow believer with the withered soul. They were the ancient version of those who were “personally opposed, but” Catholics of today, who would never involve themselves in incestuous relations but who would go on with life as normal despite the rotting souls of those who would come to worship with them on the Christian Sabbath. St. Paul needed to show them the way. The man needed to be excommunicated — “expelled from your midst” — and “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” The world itself was considered under the dominion of the evil and St. Paul was saying that this man, as medicine, needed to be shown that by his actions he was cutting himself off from grace, from Christ’s body, from the Church and choosing Satan over God, Barabbas in the disguise of his stepmother over Christ, choosing destruction over life. This would be the means by which, hopefully, the man would come to his senses like the Prodigal Son, convert and return to the path of salvation.
- This is something Saint Teresa of Calcutta clearly grasped. Urged on by the same charity by which she cared for lepers, those with AIDS and HIV, those covered with maggots drowning in gutters in their own and others’ urine, the untouchables, dying, orphaned, abandoned, unwanted and unborn children and so many others, she likewise denounced the sins that so many others out of cowardice, pride and a lack of genuine concern for the good of the neighbor refused to touch. In her Nobel Peace Price Speech in 1979 and on so many other occasions she said that the greatest destroyer of peace in the world was abortion, because once a mother can take the life of her child, once that most precious of all relationships could turn into a thing of destruction rather than life and love, then every relationship can end in murder. At the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, in the presence of President and Mrs. Clinton, she denounced contraception. On so many occasions she spoke about the worst poverty of all that she found rampant in the United States, spiritual poverty. Like St. Paul, this teacher of the nations said what so many Churchmen and believers didn’t have the faith, courage and charity to say.
- Paul says at the end of today’s passage that “a little yeast leavens all the dough.” It’s necessary to clean out the “old yeast … of malice and wickedness,” he said, and “celebrate the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is not the “yeast of the Pharisees” about which Jesus would warn the apostles in the boat, but the yeast Jesus would call his Church to become, where one person would be able to lift up a whole neighborhood toward God. Mother Teresa was that type of leaven who raised up the entire world.
- As we come together today on the day after not only Mother Teresa’s canonization but also Amelia Hoover’s definitive and perpetual consecration, we can likewise reflect a little on Mother Teresa’s thoughts on consecration, so that all of us may be able to perceive that this “Caritas Christi” is meant to “urget nos” not just episodically but as a permanent way of the living out of our own “call within a call,” as our own more intense summons by Christ to live out the call to holiness we receive in baptism. Every year the Missionaries of Charity renew their commitment devotionally on August 22, which in the old calendar was the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which they by special indult have been able to retain. They have a preached Triduum prior to the renewal in which the preacher is asked every year to help them get ready to recommit themselves by preaching on the Spirit of the Society of the Missionaries of Charity, which is “loving trust, total surrender and cheerfulness as lived by Jesus and Mary in the Gospel.” Saint Teresa’s approach to consecration involves these three elements. First entrusting oneself to God not in a dry way merely out of faith but suffused with love; that leads, second, to a surrendering of oneself, not partially but totally, to God and his will for us and for the world; which in turn, if it’s total and trusting leads to joy, because if we’re giving without joy we’re not trusting and surrendering totally. This is what we see in Jesus’ consecration, his “not my will but thine be done,” his “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and in Mary’s consecration, her “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” This is what we see in every Missionary of Charity. This is what God would like to see in my priesthood and in your consecration. She would write in the constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity that for a consecrated woman, consecration is a “visible sign of her unbreakable covenant bond with Christ her spouse; her holiness in the perfection of charity. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, communicated to us in the liturgy and the sacraments, we are called to radiate Christ’s life; her mission by dedicating her whole life in a new and special way to the service of God and his Church; by fulfilling the special mission our Society has in the Church and in the world today. Through us,” she continued, “the Church truly wishes to encourage other Christians to live out the implications of their baptismal consecration, inspiring and upholding their response to Christ and to give an increasingly clearer revelation of Christ who ‘went about doing good’ both to believers and non-believers alike.” This is a beautiful summary of the meaning of consecration and its importance in the world.
- Saint Teresa renewed that consecration each day in the consecration of the Mass, when we loving trust, total submission and joy she gave herself to her Bridegroom and received him within in the consummation of the spousal union of her will and life. This is where she received her strength and strength to allow Christ’s love for her to urge her own as a missionary of love for the world. “If we have our Lord in the midst of us, with daily Mass and Holy Communion,” she said once, “I fear nothing for the Sisters nor myself; he will look after us. But without him I cannot be. I am helpless” She described her union with Jesus in Holy Communion and adoration as the source of her strength to care for him in the poorest of the poor. “Every Holy Communion,” she said in Los Angeles is 1977, “fills us with Jesus and we must, with Our Lady, go in haste to give him to others. For her, it was on her first Holy Communion day that Jesus came into her life, and so for all of us also. He made himself the Bread of Life so that we, too, like Mary, become full of Jesus. We too, like her, be in haste to give him to others. We too, like her, serve others.” And she summarized the secret of holiness, hers and others, by saying: “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.” Today as we come together on her feast day, we ask her intercession that we might pray this Mass with the devotion with which she did, as if it were our first Mass, our last Mass and our only Mass. We ask her to pray that our union with Christ in Holy Communion may spur us on his love in the world. And we beg her to continue to pray for us so that our consecration may be as fruitful as hers and do something beautiful for God so that we, with many others, may come to the place where she now rejoices with Jesus and all the saints forever. Today Jesus says to us as he said to her, “Stretch out your lives!,” and we now beg his help to do so with the loving trust, total surrender and joy that is consistent with our consecration.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 COR 5:1-8
It is widely reported that there is immorality among you,
and immorality of a kind not found even among pagans–
a man living with his father’s wife.
And you are inflated with pride.
Should you not rather have been sorrowful?
The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst.
I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit,
have already, as if present,
pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed,
in the name of our Lord Jesus:
when you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit
with the power of the Lord Jesus,
you are to deliver this man to Satan
for the destruction of his flesh,
so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.Your boasting is not appropriate.
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Responsorial Psalm PS 5:5-6, 7, 12
For you, O God, delight not in wickedness;
no evil man remains with you;
the arrogant may not stand in your sight.
You hate all evildoers.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
You destroy all who speak falsehood;
The bloodthirsty and the deceitful
the LORD abhors.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
But let all who take refuge in you
be glad and exult forever.
Protect them, that you may be the joy
of those who love your name.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
Alleluia JN 10:27
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 6:6-11
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up and stand before us.”
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
“Stretch out your hand.”
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.