Faith Working through Love, 28th Tuesday (II), October 14, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Callistus, Pope and Martyr
October 14, 2014
Gal 5:1-6, Ps 119, Lk 11:37-41

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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • There seems to be a serious contradiction in today’s readings. In the Responsorial Psalm, we expressed a great love for the law of the Lord. “In your ordinances is my hope and I will keep your law continually,” we prayed, “because I seek your precepts. I will delight in your commands which I love, and I will lift up my hands to your commands and meditate on your statutes.” Yet in the first reading St. Paul implies that the law is a “yoke of slavery,” that circumcision, which featured prominently in the law, “does not count for anything,” and that those who are “trying to be justified by law” are “separated from Christ” and “fallen from grace.” In the Gospel, Jesus scandalized the Pharisee who had invited him to dinner because he didn’t undergo the elaborate hand-washing ritual that the Scribes prescribed had to be done before eating, pouring a half egg-shell’s worth of water down his folded hands from fingers to wrists, drying the water by making a fist and rubbing the other hand, only to repeat the gesture of another half egg-shell of water poured from wrists to finger tips. Jesus replied by calling the Pharisees “fools.” What is it? Is the law our hope, delight, and meditation or is it worthless and foolish?
  • This leads us to two central truths that need to be grasped in our faith. The first is the purpose of the law of God. As Jesus would say elsewhere in the Gospel, the entirety of the law and the prophets hangs on the two-fold command to love God with all we are and have and to love our neighbor. The second is that, on occasion in salvation history, some began to look at the law not within this lens of helping us to love God and others, but as an end in itself, almost even an idol. People, like the Scribes and the Pharisees Jesus confronts and the Judaizers against whom St. Paul battles, began to focus more on the law than on the Legislator and those made in his image and likeness. Over time they began to create a system of interpretations and “fences” around the law (to try to prevent someone from even getting close to breaking it) that often directly opposed love of God and neighbor. We see this often in the Gospel when Jesus is accused of doing evil because he healed people on the Sabbath day, as if the only day we couldn’t love our sick neighbors was on the day of the Lord. The harmony that flows out of the apparent contradiction in today’s readings is that we are called to hope, seek, delight in, love, meditate upon and keep the law of the Lord continuously, but what God means by this is his law of love for God and for all those God loved enough to take on our human nature and die before. Some aspects of the law, like St. Paul described for us last week, were a “tutor” that meant to train us out of our fallen nature and love God and neighbor in little things, preparing us to accept what Jesus himself would come to teach as a fulfillment of that preparation. The law of circumcision, for example, consecrated human generation to God’s plans so that men and women would not forget that human love was meant to be part of the Covenant, but the physical act of consecration was surpassed in the new Covenant by the spiritual dedication: a circumcised heart was far more important than the snipping of foreskins (Deut 10:16; Deut 30:6; Jer 4:4). The dietary laws were likewise meant to consecrate one’s appetite for food to God’s plan, to train them to recognize that it was God who gave animals life (and hence the need to drain them of blood, which symbolizes life) and therefore that they should be slaughtered with a sense of gratitude to God and reverence for the way he has provided, so that even human instinctual behavior would be put into relation to God. After this period of training, Jesus and others would be able to carry out that consecration not by the physical draining of blood or the avoidance of certain animals but spiritually.
  • The goal of the pedagogy of salvation history, of meditating on the law of the Lord, is to see that the law seeks to bring us to what St. Paul says at the end of today’s first reading as “faith working through love,” to a trust in God, to a receptivity to all his gifts, that overflows in deeds of love for God and others. Jesus makes the same point at the end of the Gospel when he says, “As to what is within, give alms, and behold everything will be clean for you.” God wants to bring us to a living faith that is operative in love. St. James will tell us in his epistle that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). True Christian faith is shown by the way it leads us to try to love like God loves, to the way it makes us patient and kind and all the other attributes St. Paul describes in his Canticle of Love (1 Cor 13), to the way it helps us to sacrifice for God and our brothers and sisters, even to the point of laying down our lives for them. We clean our insides not by rituals of egg-shells of water but by self-giving love, which when done from the heart rather is a great spiritual detergent. Today is a day on which the Lord is calling us to ponder whether our faith bears fruit in generous giving of ourselves and what we have to others, whether our faith leads us to “work” for God and others with loving affection.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of a saint whose life, like that of all the saints, is a commentary on almsgiving and faith working through love. St. Callistus was a slave who eventually was made by Pope St. Zephyrinus at the beginning of the 200s the steward of Christian cemeteries (the underground catacombs), was eventually ordained a deacon, and after St. Zephyrinus’ death was elected his successor. He was distinguished for his great love and care for the faithful departed and for their families. After he became pope, he became famous for his mercy toward sinners — a mercy that scandalized many of the priests of Rome as he made it much easier for those who had been misled by sects and heretics to be welcomed back into the fold, for reducing the length of penances necessary for those who had committed sins to be readmitted to communion and for recognizing the marriages among different social classes in Rome against Roman law. It’s reported that as a young man he himself had made a mistake while working at an ancient bank and had been sent to forced labor in Sardinia as a result, but that he had “let [the Lord’s] mercy come to me” and now was going to generously share what he had so generously received. Mercy is always the Church’s greatest alms, but his faith working through love didn’t stop there. ‘t set up diakonia for the poor throughout the city so that the Mystical Body would all give alms in accordance with the Lord’s command and following his example. According to the tradition of the early Church, he eventually gave all that he had, giving his life for God and for his people. His faith worked through love to the extreme and today he is interceding for us that we may follow him down the same Christ-like path.
  • Today we have come together to meditate upon and delight in the true law of the Lord, which is a law of faith working through love. Jesus comes to help us to cleanse our insides inspiring us to follow his Eucharistic example, giving our body and our blood out of love for God and alms for others, so that our insides will be made clean and one day we’ll have a chance, by God’s mercy, to enter into friendship with St. Callistus, St. Bernadette and all the saints.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
gal 5:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.It is I, Paul, who am telling you
that if you have yourselves circumcised,
Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Once again I declare to every man who has himself circumcised
that he is bound to observe the entire law.
You are separated from Christ,
you who are trying to be justified by law;
you have fallen from grace.
For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness.
For in Christ Jesus,
neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but only faith working through love.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 119:41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48

R. (41a) Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
Let your mercy come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
Take not the word of truth from my mouth,
for in your ordinances is my hope.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
And I will keep your law continually,
forever and ever.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
And I will walk at liberty,
because I seek your precepts.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
And I will delight in your commands,
which I love.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.
And I will lift up my hands to your commands
and meditate on your statutes.
R. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.

lk 11:37-41

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”