Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Bridget of Sweden
July 23, 2014
Jer 1:1.4-10, Ps 71, Mt 13:1-9
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Every three years there’s a tight overlap on the Gospel of St. Matthew during the summer, when we have St. Matthew’s Gospel read both on Sunday as well as during the week. The very important Gospel we have today we considered a week ago Sunday when the Lord Jesus announced to us the Parable of the Sower, the Seed and the Soil. It’s an opportunity for us to examine our and others’ receptivity to the Word of God. If we have the type of openness God wants, if we receive with an intention to respond and have the Word of God change our life, then the Word of God will meet with explosive growth — 30, 60 or 100-fold, to use Jesus’ big Jewish numbers. But in the Parable Jesus describes three types of other receptivity, three types of infertile soil: the hardened soil of stubbornness and resistance to God’s word and how it perpetually calls us to conversion and holiness; the rocky soil of superficiality that responds with fleeting emotions to the word of God but not the will, such that the Word might a reaction that doesn’t last once any difficulties arise in living it; and the thorny soil in which the growth that the Lord wants to see is choked by a spiritual worldliness that gets us to pay more attention to pleasures, to money or to our fears and anxieties than it does to God. Jesus is not saying that our and others’ soil sample is assumed to be static, that if we hardened, rocky or thorny earth that that’s how we’ll always be, or even if we’re good soil that we’ll always be good without putting in the work of farming. No, he wants us to care for the field of our mind, heart and soul. He wants us to overturn the hardened soil, to drill through the rocky layers, to cooperate with the Lord in removing the thorn bushes or uniting them to the Lord in such a way that our soil may become ever more fruitful.
- That leads us to the end of today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. God describes the prophet’s mission as “to uproot and … to plant,” or said in more general turns “to tear down, to destroy, to demolish and to build.” There is Destruction and Construction. Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be listening to Jeremiah’s words as he sought to uproot and plant among the people of Judah from 627 BC through and beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. We’ll hear his famous “jeremiads” castigating not merely the sins of his contemporaries in God’s name but denouncing their proudly persisting in those sins as if they were good deeds (the distinction between being “sinful” and “corrupt” that Pope Francis has been describing). But after that verbal demolition, we’ll also see the words of anabolic hope: building the people up in anticipation of God’s giving them a new heart. Similarly, God always needs to tear down the ruins of our pride, he needs to destroy our old wineskins if he’s ever going to build us up and fill us with new wine. Jesus’ words at the beginning of his public ministry show this two fold action: “repent,” which means that act of tearing down our idols and all the houses we’ve built on sand, and “believe in the Gospel,” which means building our life on Jesus the rock.
- We see how God started this two-fold process in Jeremiah at the beginning of today’s reading. Jeremiah was born into a priestly family and so he would have grown up living the faith and hearing the word of God. But God’s formation of him to be a prophet began far before birth. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” God tells him. “Before you were born I consecrated you. A prophet to the nations I appointed you.” God was already tilling the soil of his heart from the beginning. He was consecrated to his mission by God himself in utero. But when God finally revealed himself to him as a boy we believe of 17 or 18, Jeremiah didn’t believe he was ready. He didn’t have the right receptivity of soul. He immediately made excuses. “Ah, Lord God!,” he replied. “I know not how to speak. I am too young!” This was not the excuse of Moses, who when meeting God in the burning bush and learning from God his mission to Pharaoh tried to use the excuse that “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, … but I am slow of speech and tongue.” This was not the excuse of Isaiah who protested, “I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.” For Jeremiah it wasn’t that he had a speech impediment or a problem with foul language; it was that he considered himself to naive, too young and inexperienced, even to know what to say and to be taken seriously by any grown men and women, not to mention savvy leaders. His anxiety was choking the seed of the growth of the fruit God had been waiting since Jeremiah’s time in the womb to see flourish. But God demolished his excuses. He said, “Say not, ‘I am too young.'” He was not too young because he would be God’s ambassador who would give him the everything he’d need. He wouldn’t have to choose to whom to speak. “To whomever I send you, you shall go.” He wouldn’t have to worry about what he’d say. “Whatever I command you, you shall speak.” He wouldn’t need to be anxious about being all alone. “Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then God did something great for him to show him that He meant business and would actually fulfill those promises. Jeremiah tells us, “Then the Lord extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying, ‘See, I place my words in your mouth!'” He gave him the mystical experience of having God’s own words on his lips, so that he would be able to be the instrument of God as God rooted up and planted, as he tore down in order to build up.
- Jeremiah’s vocation story and his mission, while unique in some details, have applications for all of us. Like him, our existence has been willed by God from before the foundation of the world. None of us is a number, a random product of conception. God intended us from eternity and each of us is a part of his plan for the salvation of the world. He may not want us to be a prophet to the nations on earth and to all peoples, but he certainly wants us to spread the faith. We all said five times today to God in the Responsorial Psalm, “I will sing of your salvation,” and we’ve got the task to go through the world singing that saving love of God, that salvation we received at the day of our consecration in the womb of the Church, the baptismal font, and have had reinforced over and again. But many of us have excuses, like Jeremiah and the other prophets, to that mission. I doubt anyone here at daily Mass will try to offer as an excuse, “I’m too young!” But many of us might say, “I’m too old!” Or we might say, “I don’t like to sing at all,” whether of God’s salvation or anything else. Others will proffer all of our supposed disqualifications, because we are more concerned with our thorns than with God’s kingdom and see our own defects more clearly than we do God’s power. But God says to us, “Don’t say you’re too [blank].” He’ll take care of the details. We need to go to whomever he sends us — and who, we may ask, is that? It’s to everyone we meet today, but especially our fellow parishioners, our neighbors, our friends and family, our colleagues at work. We don’t have to worry about what we are to say. We’re just to let our existence sing of God’s salvation and proclaim that Christ is truly alive in us. God in fact did something similar to what he did for Jeremiah on the day he made his vocation clear to us, on the day of our baptismal consecration. The bishop, priest or deacon touched our ears and then put his thumb into our mouth to touch our tongue, saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your lips to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father” (the Ephphatha Prayer). He placed his word on our lips. But he went further than that. He has sought to place his word in our hearts, since it is out of the heart that the words we speak flow, whether good or bad (Mt 15:15-20). But he wants to place it in good soil that bears abundant fruit in words and witness, as he found in Jeremiah.
- If we’re tempted to think that there’s too much water under the bridge for the Lord to be asking of us in our circumstances something similar to what he asked of Jeremiah, today’s feast day is a poignant reminder to us of how the Lord works. St. Bridget of Sweden (1304-1373) was married at the age of 14 in an arranged nuptials to Ulf Gudmarsson. She had eight children and she was an exemplary wife and mother, passing on the faith to her husband and children as faithfully as Jeremiah had to the people of his day. One of her children, Christina, also became a canonized saint, the greatest expression ever of a parent’s first duty and of a child’s keeping the fourth commandment. When Bridget was in her late 30s, she and her husband made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the shrine where the remains of St. James (whose feast day we’ll celebrate on Friday) are interred. Returning from Santiago, Ulf and Bridget decided that God was calling them, now that their children were older, to go their separate ways as they continued the pilgrimage of life. Ulf entered a Cistercian monastery and Bridget founded a new religious community, the Order of the Most Holy Savior, which has ever after been called the Brigittines after her. There she was blessed with many mystical visions of the Lord’s passion, which bore great fruit in her own life as she united herself to the sufferings of the Lord for the salvation of the world. In the opening prayer of the Mass, we turned to the God “who guided Saint Bridget of Sweden along different paths of life” — as a daughter, a wife, a mom, a religious and a foundress — and asked him, “grant us that, walking worthily in our vocation, we may seek you in all things.” St. Bridget sought God in all the phases of her life, a life that was never static but always a pilgrimage that contained along the way many surprises. But in each, she sought the Lord’s will and tried to do it. Likewise for us, even if we think we’re too old for a new mission, God remains a God of surprises. We need to receive every mission on good soil, as he places his words in our heart and on our lips.
- At every Mass God wishes to accomplish in us the work we see him do in Jeremiah and Bridget. During the penitential rite, he wants to help us tear down whatever ruins and idols we bear within so that he can then build us up through the liturgy of the Word, in which he seeks to implant the words of eternal life on our lips and in a cardiac soil so fruitful after the hard work of tilling that that word will change us — and the world in which we interact — abundantly. He wants to place within us the desire to sing of his salvation in our own voice, in our own circumstances, in our own history. He wants us to help us to reflect on the meaning of our life from before we were even born and even after we die and how we are part of his plans. And, having nourished us within by his very life, he wants to send us forth at the end to go out with him to uproot and to plant, to tear down and build up, knowing that he is always with us to deliver us!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
JER 1:1, 4-10
of a priestly family in Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin.The word of the LORD came to me thus:Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said,
“I know not how to speak; I am too young.”But the LORD answered me,
Say not, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying,
See, I place my words in your mouth!
This day I set you
over nations and over kingdoms,
To root up and to tear down,
to destroy and to demolish,
to build and to plant.
PS 71:1-2, 3-4A, 5-6AB, 15 AND 17
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”