Entering into Christ’s Consecration and Compassion, Renewal of Temporary Profession of Mirianna Sternhagen, December 3, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Mater Ecclesiae College, Greenville, RI
Wednesday of the First Week in Advent
Memorial of St. Francis Xavier
Renewal of the Temporary Profession of Mirianna Sternhagen
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 text guided the homily: 

How great and moving it is to be able to have this renewal of a temporary profession at the beginning of this new liturgical year, at the beginning of Advent, at the beginning, especially, of the first Year for Consecrated Life in the history of the Church. To renew is to make fresh, to return to the “love we had at the beginning,” and as you prepare to renew your temporary vows today, Mirianna, we rejoice to be able to accompany you in pondering what this means for you, for every member of Regnum Christi, and for the entire Church.

In Advent there is a double-dynamism. Christ comes to us and we go out to meet him. The double-dynamism of Advent is, in a sense, the double-dynamism of Christian life in general and the consecrated life in particular. Christ consecrates himself to the Father and to his will and comes into our world so that we might enter into that same consecration, something that begins in baptism and then is meant to be continually intensified and renewed. As Christians, we are reminded each Advent of our need to long for Christ’s coming and run out to meet him like wise virgins with expectant lamps lit and full of oil. We run out to meet him in history, mystery and majesty, in history at his incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection; in mystery in the prayer and the sacraments, in his Word, in others; and in majesty as he comes for us on the clouds of heaven to fulfill our prayers “thy kingdom come!” But it’s key for us always as we ponder our response, to spend more time pondering first God’s action, his grace, Jesus’ own love in running toward us and in consecrating himself for our salvation.

We see Jesus’ attitude today on full display in the crowds. St. Matthew tells us that Jesus was filled with compassion for the crowds. The Greek is that his innards were churning, he was sick to his stomach at seeing them. In the scene, that’s what led him to heal for hours the lame, the blind, the mute, the deformed. It’s also what led him to work his miracle so that no one would collapse from malnourishment along the journey of life. He wanted our cooperation in that great act of stomach-churning mercy asking the apostles what they had in order to feed the crowd. Jesus’ mercy to heal and then to feed explains not just what happened in today’s Gospel scene, but all of salvation history. It explains the three-fold purpose of Advent, because the Lord wants to give us a three-fold banquet and to get us to hunger for him in all thee ways. 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 seven 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 his feeding us in 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 consecrates himself and 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.

The first part of consecration is to be fed by Jesus in history, mystery and majesty, to entrust ourselves to him totally, to go out to meet him with lit lamps and follow the Bridegroom into the feast of time, of sacrament and of eternity. To be consecrated is, first, to be set apart, to be cut off from the profane so that we can be more united with the Lord. It’s to make a decision to responds to God’s grace and call to live off of every word that comes from the mouth of God, to hunger and thirst for holiness, for those things for which God himself hungers and thirsts. It’s to unite oneself to Jesus’ poverty in needing to turn to the Father each day to provide his daily manna without building grain bins for the morrow. It’s to unite one to Jesus’ obedience in such a way that we can echo his own, “my food is do the will of the one who sent me and finish his work” (Jn 4:34). It’s to join oneself to Jesus’ chaste love, which empties itself out totally in bowel-bursting compassion for all those who are blind, mute, deformed, lame, hungry, thirsty, naked, estranged, sick and imprisoned, lost, and hurting.

Today, Mirianna, when you say, “Here I am, Lord. You have called me!,” you’re first saying yes to being called apart by the Lord more intimately to live out the consecrated of your baptism, to live your life as Jesus and Mary lived their consecration. As you say yes to your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, you’re saying no to the idols, to the spiritual junk food on which so many in the world gluttonously gorge: the cotton candy of materialism, the ferocious idolatry of mammon, and the revived worship of the golden calf; the Twinkies of hedonism that thinks that happiness is to be found by maximizing pleasure, by sacrificing others for one’s own gratification rather than by sacrifice oneself for others’ good; for the candy corn of deracinated individualism that thinks that real freedom is to play God rather than to serve God and others, that genuine liberty is to determine one’s own truths to live by rather than to discover the truth and be set free to love. Through your consecration, you choose a different type of nourishment, a different type of banquet, a different type of restaurant and a different type of kitchen, one in which you look toward the Lord to give you every day what alone can feed your hunger while becoming the One whom you eat.

And all of this is hard work and requires a great deal of trust. But that hard work and that trust will increase your sense of the Lord. The readings of Advent point to that hard work and trust. 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 requires exertion so that we might think as he things, will as he wills, love as he loves and walk in his footsteps. We see that exertion 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 seashore, 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 and in the meaning of consecration. It’s through the valleys and the mountains that we begin to recognize that with the Lord as our shepherd, we lack for nothing, we have it all. So don’t be surprised that the Lord calls you, Mirianna, to these difficult exertions, to climb mountains with him, to follow him into dark pits, because it is through them that he will strengthen you in the meaning and reality of your consecration.

But there’s a second part of consecration that is equally important. We are sent apart, sacer, made sacred through union with the poor, chaste and obedient Christ precisely so that united with him we can be “con” or with him, so that we can share his mission and be sent back to serve the Lord and his Holy Church. We are perfected in charity precisely by loving together with Christ, by sharing his compassion and by acting on it. Today in the Gospel we see how people were carrying the blind, deformed, lame, mute and the otherwise handicapped up a mountain to encounter Jesus. 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. 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 to help us grow in this sense of the missionary aspect of consecration God has given us 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. Mirianna, you may not be sent to Goa, or to Japan or to China, but wherever you are, even here in Greenville, you’re called to find your Indies, to pour yourself out together with Christ in love for those in whom he puts you in contact. There’s no reason why any of us 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. He was united to Christ’s passionate love and he sought to light the whole world ablaze with the fire of that love.

And the best way to renew your consecration is every day at Mass. We use the same term to describe what you’re renewing today as to describe the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, because the two are very much related. It’s here we become united with Jesus and it’s from here he sends us out. This is where he enriches our poverty. This is where he helps us to love others to the extreme as he loves us to the end and lays down his life for us. This is where he helps us to grow in obedience to the Father as we do this in memory of him. This is where he makes us all eschatological signs pointing to the reality of his kingdom, which is already among us but still to come more fully. Today he has called you here, Mirianna, and you reply to him, “Here I am, Lord. You called me!’ We rejoice at your response and together we ask him who has begun this good work in you and brought you through the consecration of your baptism, through the daily consecration of the Eucharist, to renew your temporary vows today, to bring this beautiful work to completion, blessing you with all he knows you need to be faithful and blessing us all through your faithful and holy response.

 

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.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people;
blessed are those prepared to meet him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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.