Do We Lead People to God or Away from Him?, 5th Saturday (II), February 10, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Scholastica
February 10, 2018
1 Kings 12:26-32.13:33-34, Ps 106, Mk 8:1-10

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • There’s a huge contrast in today’s Mass between those who lead people to God and those who lead people away from God. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, in the Gospel is the eternal high priest leading people to the Father. St. Scholastica, whom the Church celebrates today, like all the saints point us to heaven. The King of Israel, Jeroboam, had on the other hand an infernal genius in drawing souls from God. We have much to learn from all three as to how God wants us to live our life.
  • We begin with Jeroboam. Yesterday the Church had us ponder how Jeroboam, whom Solomon had in charge of his labor force, was met by the prophet Ajihah, who tore his new cloak into 12 pieces and told Jeroboam that ten of those pieces, representing the ten tribes of Israel, would be given to him when Solomon’s kingdom would be divided as a result of his fostering of idolatry. He had been chosen by the Lord to rule the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel precisely because of Solomon’s idolatry. And yet what do we see him do today? Despite the Lord’s promise, Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will return to David’s house” if they return to worshipping at the Temple of Jerusalem. They would return not to God, he thought in his politically corrupted musings, but to Rehoboam, David’s grandson and Solomon’s son through an Ammonite wife. And because of his ego and his paranoid sense of self-preservation, Jeroboam led his people into idolatry just like God had condemned Solomon for doing. He said, “If now this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, the hearts of this people will return to their master, Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they will kill me.” So he decided to change their deity, their temple, their rites, and their priests. Instead of the one true God who had chosen him, he made golden calves. Instead of the Temple where God’s presence dwelt, he built two shrines, one in Dan at the northernmost part of the kingdom along the Jordan River above the Sea of Galilee, and one in Bethel, at the southernmost part of the kingdom a short distance north of Jerusalem. Instead of the feasts God set up, he established his own. And instead of the levites, the priests God had chosen, he allowed anyone who wanted to be a priest to be commissioned. And the people were led away by him from the true God and the temple, the feasts and the priests God himself had established.
  • We might think that this is just a terrible thing that happened 920-930 years before Christ, but what Jeroboam did in drawing people away from God happens in every age. There are many rulers who have sought to suppress worship of the true God in order to advance their political objectives. Think of what happened to the Jews during the time of Antioches Epiphanes IV or the Christians during the 13 ferocious anti-Christian persecutions between 64-313 AD. Think about what happened to the Japanese Christians at the beginning of the 1600s or the Christians in communist countries last century and the Chinese and North Korean governments still today. There have been many Jeroboams over the course of history! But we also need to be aware of the more subtle ways that the same idolatry is promoted among us today. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that we are living now in a new age of the worship of the Golden Calf. “The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35),” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” So many in our culture have made money a god. The easiest way to prove that, as I often say, is that if I were giving away a million dollars this morning to everyone who came here to Mass this morning — even just having a free raffle for one million dollars to one winner — we all know that this chapel, this Church, this entire part of the city would be filled to overflowing. And yet we’re giving away God and far fewer come. There are more people in malls on Sundays than there are in houses of worship. Many Catholics choose to put in overtime on Sunday for time-and-a-half even if it means missing the worship of God. We’ll work like crazy for money but not for the kingdom. We’ve continued with the worship of the golden calf! Likewise many have substituted worship at the true temple for false worship. So many say that they don’t need to come to worship God in the Holy Eucharist with the other members of his family, but instead they can worship him just as well lying in their hammock in the backyard or in their favorite recliner. One of the newest temples built by our culture’s false worship of mammon and celebrity are sports stadiums, where 75,000 can go on Sunday to worship athletes. I love sports and there’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but we have to admit candidly that many people have turned sports into a new religion.Similarly, there has been a substitution of the true religious rites with different feasts, again for the most part driven by the worship of the golden calf. At Christmas time, many are led to prioritize trees, tinsel, mistletoes, fat white-bearded men and wrapping paper more over the One wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. At Easter, many kids are thinking far more about bunnies, chocolate, plastic eggs and jelly beans than they do the Risen Lord Jesus. It’s not that Christmas Trees and Easter Bunnies are necessarily idolatrous — they’re not — but when they substitute for true worship, they’re harmful, and many people have been led astray. And we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s also an attempt to change the priesthood God has established. Jeroboam allowed anyone who wanted to become a priest to become one, as if the vocations came from within and not from God. Today there are many who are trying to change the priesthood, whether we’re talking about married men who want to be ordained, or women who want to be ordained, or even non-Catholics who want to be ordained. At the same time, though, many in our culture have made a different type of priesthood altogether, turning instead to psychiatrists, or to celebrities, or to self-help gurus as the ones with the capacity to lead us to God rather than those sent to us by God. Today as we think about true or implicit Jeroboams, we should think about the larger point about drawing others away from the Lord. There are many who outwardly are ordinary, good people, but who when a family member begins to prioritize God, to put God first, by praying more, or coming to Bible studies, or getting more involved in charitable work, resist, because they get jealous. There are also those who give ordinary scandal leading others away, those who put work ahead of God and show their kids that money is more important to worship, or those who have time for television but not for prayer, or those who teach that we can pick and choose what commandments we want to follow. These are all those who follow in the line of Jeroboam. We need to ask God’s forgiveness for the times we and others have led people away from him by our actions!
  • But there’s another path. Jesus shows us in the Gospel today and throughout his life the means by which he seeks to lead people to the true worship of the Father. He shows us God’s compassion and how he seeks to bless us. And he shows that part of his leading us to God is by associating us with God’s work. In the multiplication of the 7 loaves and few fish to feed the crowd of 4,000 — just as in the multiplication of the 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed the crowd of 5,000 — Jesus was teaching us that he wants to incorporate what we have into his compassion on the multitudes. He asks, “How many loaves do you have?” He starts with what we give. We’re called to give him what we have, whether big or small, because he can do so much more with it. Then we see then how he has his disciples pass the food out, incorporating us in distributing his blessings to others. By cooperating with God in this way, we show others how to do the same, which is one of the most important means by which Jesus continues his work through the Church of leading others into the heart of the Trinity.
  • Saint Scholastica, who died on this day in 542, cooperated with the Lord in this way and has become over the centuries a means by which to lead so many Benedictine sisters — and through them, so many others — to God. But I’d like to focus on how she led her brother, Saint Benedictine — one of the greatest saints of all time, the founder of western monasticism, a patron of Europe — more deeply to God. Her brother St. Benedict would come to visit her only once a year even though she lived close by. He was so focused on this ora et labora, his prayer and work, than loving his sister and allowing God to lead each of them more to him through their spiritual friendship. It was never enough for St. Scholastica’s desire for communion. Once when Benedict wanted to cut it short, Scholastica turned to God for the communion to be continued. It’s one of the most beautiful stories in hagiography. I quote from Saint Gregory the Great’s account: “Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: ‘Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.’ ‘Sister,’ he replied, ‘what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.’ When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: ‘May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?’ ‘Well,’ she answered, ‘I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.’ Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.” We see in this lesson that Benedict just presumed what God would want, but he was mistaken. As Saint Gregory the Great, one of Benedict’s spiritual sons noticed, St. Scholastica loved God more and Saint Benedict needed to learn from her how to love God better. She led this great giant more profoundly to God. I think that this is a particular calling to all religious and consecrated women in the Church. God wants them to offer their loaves and fish lovingly to the Lord and to show everyone else — including great saints, not to mention ordinary popes, bishops, priests, deacons, male religious and lay faithful — how to advance closer to God through loving God and through loving brothers and sisters.
  • Today through her intercession, we ask God to give us the grace to be distinguished, like he was, for lovingly leading other souls to God. In a particular way we ask for the gift of being able to lead them here, where the Son of God continues to look on us with compassion, to feed us, to incorporate us and our gifts into his self-giving, and to send us out to share his blessings with the Lord. At every Mass Jesus asks us what we have, takes it, changes it, multiplies it, and then sends us to share those gifts with others. The Mass is what the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish points to. In it we have the great multiplication of the “living bread come down from heaven,” that Jesus celebrated not close to the sea but in the Upper Room. The breaking of the unleavened bread in the Last Supper, and how Jesus miraculously transformed it into himself, is what the Church has been distributing ever since, a distribution that continues still today here. Likewise there’s meant to be a multiplication of fish. We’re that fish — caught by “fishers of men” before us with the same bait (Jesus) with whom they were caught by other fishers of men, tracing themselves back all the way to the time of the apostles — and Jesus wants to multiply us. He wants us to “increase and multiply” first by our uniting to him all that he’s previously given us, receiving from him these changed blessings, and then sending us out to give people the blessing to lead others to him. May we respond to the power of the Eucharist the way Saint Scholastica did!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 12:26-32; 13:33-34

Jeroboam thought to himself:
“The kingdom will return to David’s house.
If now this people go up to offer sacrifices
in the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem,
the hearts of this people will return to their master,
Rehoboam, king of Judah,
and they will kill me.”
After taking counsel, the king made two calves of gold
and said to the people:
“You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.
Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
And he put one in Bethel, the other in Dan.
This led to sin, because the people frequented those calves
in Bethel and in Dan.
He also built temples on the high places
and made priests from among the people who were not Levites.
Jeroboam established a feast in the eighth month
on the fifteenth day of the month
to duplicate in Bethel the pilgrimage feast of Judah,
with sacrifices to the calves he had made;
and he stationed in Bethel priests of the high places he had built.
Jeroboam did not give up his evil ways after this,
but again made priests for the high places
from among the common people.
Whoever desired it was consecrated
and became a priest of the high places.
This was a sin on the part of the house of Jeroboam
for which it was to be cut off and destroyed from the earth.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 106:6-7AB, 19-20, 21-22

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
We have sinned, we and our fathers;
we have committed crimes; we have done wrong.
Our fathers in Egypt
considered not your wonders.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Gospel
MK 8:1-10

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat,
Jesus summoned the disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
because they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
If I send them away hungry to their homes,
they will collapse on the way,
and some of them have come a great distance.”
His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread
to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”
Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They replied, “Seven.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them,
and gave them to his disciples to distribute,
and they distributed them to the crowd.
They also had a few fish.
He said the blessing over them
and ordered them distributed also.
They ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.
There were about four thousand people.
He dismissed the crowd and got into the boat with his disciples
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.