Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
September 27, 2016
Job 3:1-3.11-17.20-23, Ps 88, Lk 9:51-56
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the email:
- Today in the Gospel, we encounter the mystery of rejection in the life of Jesus, and it leads us into the whole mystery of our rejecting Jesus and our feeling rejected either by others or even by God. St. Luke tells us that Jesus had literally “fixed his face” with determination on Jerusalem to complete his salvific mission, but before he would do that, he was going to try to include the Samaritans more intimately in that saving mission. He had already been to Samaria before, where he met the woman at the well. The end of that scene had the Samaritans all exclaiming in Sychar around the well of Jacob, “We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” But because Jesus was planning to head on to Jerusalem, with whom the Samaritans had been in a theological war for centuries, “they would not welcome him.” They put their disagreement with the Jews above their receiving their Savior! Many times people can put their own grievances, their own petty scores to settle, above God and the work of salvation he wants to accomplish. People put conditions on God’s saving work: “We’ll allow you, the Savior of the World, to enter our village provided that you promise that you won’t go to Jerusalem!” Even though all of us recognize how silly it is when the Samaritans of yesteryear do it, we need to become more conscious of the way we likewise refuse welcoming Jesus. This is important for us to grasp because Jesus tells us, for example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel that whenever we refuse to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care to the sick, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked and visits to the imprisoned, we fail to welcome him in need (Mt 25:31-46). What happened in Samaria in today’s Gospel is simply one more illustration of what St. John described in the prologue to his Gospel, that Jesus “came to his own and his own received him not.”
- Sometimes we and others can feel rejected, abandoned, all alone in misery. That’s what Job felt in today’s first reading. It was tough enough when he lost his cattle, sheep, camels and children, but now he was covered with boils and in such misery and pain that he wished he had never been born. It was a little foretaste of what Jesus himself had experienced in his fourth word on the Cross when he cried out, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But Jesus continued to trust as we see at the end of the Psalm, and we know how the story ends, which provides hope for us when we are in difficult circumstances. And just like the story of Job has become a sign of hope to so many in suffering, so God sometimes permits us to feel abandoned, rejected, so that we may like Job because signs of more credible hope to others as we seek to welcome them as Christ calls us to welcome him.
- This mystery of welcoming versus rejecting Jesus directly and indirectly in others played itself out very powerfully in its various dimensions in the life of the one whom the whole Church fêtes today, one of the greatest saints of all time, St. Vincent de Paul (1580-1660). His early life was a curious mix of both acceptance and rejection. He was the son of poor farmers in southwestern France, the third of six children. His parents struggled simply to make ends meet, but when Vincent’s father recognized how precociously intelligent his son was, he and the family sacrificed many of their animals to provide him an education through the Franciscan Recollects and later the University of Toulouse. Vincent wasn’t particularly grateful, though. One day when his father made a long journey on foot to visit him in his tattered peasant clothing, Vincent didn’t even go out to greet him because he was so embarrassed by his father’s poverty. Vincent’s ambition at the time was to become a priest, not fundamentally because he thought it was his vocation, but because he thought that that might bring him fame and notoriety and he knew that if he played his cards right, he might receive benefices for rich Churches and abbeys that would provide him enough income to permanently get his family out of the poverty that embarrassed him so. Because of his genius and motivation, he raced through university and was ordained a priest at the shockingly young age of 19, even though canon law required one to be 25. He wasted no time vainly trying to climb the ecclesiastical ladder. He became a chaplain to Queen Margaret of Valois and moved to Paris. As a brilliant “baby priest,” he quickly earned the reputation as a talented preacher, which gained him further entrée into French high society.
- But the Lord gave him two experiences that helped him to convert from his vanity and his rejection of Christ to serve his own ego. The first happened in 1605, six years into his priesthood. After having gone to Marseilles to acquire an inheritance — another sign of where he was placing his treasure — he boarded a ship to Narbonne that was captured by African pirates who brought him to Tunis, where he was a slave for two years. God eventually arranged for his escape when he was able to persuade the wife of an ex-priest who had converted to Islam to preserve his own life to convert her husband, give up their illicit arrangement and head back to France. And her conversion was an occasion of his. After his release, Vincent never forgot the misery these slaves were experiencing. He resolved to help them somehow, someway in the future. He would. There were about 25,000 poor slaves on the Barbary Coast, mostly Christian. He would send many priests and brothers to attend to their spiritual meets and never ceased to raise money to ransom them; by the time of his death, he had purchased the freedom of over 1,200. The second experience was a further crucifixion of his ego and pursuit of the esteem of others. After he had returned to Paris, his roommate was robbed of 400 crowns. Convinced Vincent was the thief, he maliciously accused him to the police and to everyone else. Whereas earlier Vincent may have trusted in his own abilities to defend his reputation, now he trusted only in divine Providence, who had just freed him from slavery. “God knows the truth,” he said calmly, as he bore the calumny for six months until the true thief confessed. It cured him of the vanity of placing his treasure in human respect.
- From that point forward, he was free to seek God’s interests in everything, and even though he would continue to walk in and out of French high society, his heart was set firmly on what the Lord wanted, on God’s glory, rather than fleeting this worldly success. He began from that period to welcome Christ in his poverty fully into his life and to help others to make the same exodus from rejection to welcoming. He was recruited by the powerful Count of Joigny, Philip de Gondi, to become chaplain to his family and tutor to his children. This was the assignment of the former Vincent’s dreams, but it was now an assignment that he twice laid down in order to become a pastor in rural areas in great need of conversion. Both times, however, Count de Gondi — who with his family loved Vincent — prevailed upon him to return. The latter time they enticed him by promising him that one of his tasks would be to teach the Gospel to the peasants throughout their expansive territory who were in ignorance and moral disarray. Count de Gondi, who was prefect of the French penal system, also arranged for Vincent to be named almoner and chaplain to the convicts in the galleys, which allowed Vincent to bring not just spiritual but material comfort to these prisoners across France. The more work he did among the poor and the outcasts, the more he became aware of how much work needed still to be done. He knew that organization was crucial. He began to recruit priests to help him in the work of preaching the Gospel to the poor; these clerics, drawn by Vincent’s example, became the first members of the Congregation of the Mission. With the help of St. Louise de Marillac, he established the Daughters of Charity, to work in the many hospitals he was founding to care for the sick, incurable, orphaned, aged and abandoned. To help in the relief of the indigent, he instituted the Ladies of Charity, a group of wealthy women who would use their social connections to raise the funds needed not merely for the immediate care of the poor, but for their long-term education and training. In Paris these Ladies helped to run a soup kitchen that fed a staggering 16,000 hungry people a day.
- Vincent saw how much the Church’s urgent charitable mission in France had been frustrated by incompetent and often immoral priests and bishops, clergy who were scandals to people and led them often to reject what God was wanting them to accept through the Church Christ founded. At that time, it was still not required for candidates to the priesthood to go to seminary. So he began to work with the Archbishop of Paris, Count de Gondi’s brother, to ensure that before a man was ordained, he would need to participate in spiritual exercises with Vincent and the priests of his Congregation. At first these retreat courses took two weeks; they eventually extended to two years. Through them Vincent began to form most of the young priests of France. Later, the Vincentians established full-scale seminaries all over France to ensure both that priests knew the Catholic faith well enough to fight against Jansenism and other heresies, but lived it enough to care for the poor and the needy. His work with priests made him ever more aware of the difference between holy, competent bishops and ecclesiastical disasters. In these years after the Protestant Reformation, it was clear that great bishops were needed and bad appointees with inadequate spiritual qualifications could not be tolerated. He therefore used his considerable influence with the king, who at the time wielded enormous power in the appointment of bishops, to set up a Council of Conscience to ensure that those nominated for the episcopacy were worthy of the office. The king made Vincent the head of the Committee and so Vincent had as big an impact on the formation of the French episcopacy as he did the French priesthood. The fuel for all this activity was the same that powered his prayer: deep love for the Lord and, with the Lord, for those for whom the Lord died. He had set his face resolutely on Christ and he found him in the faces of so many poor and needy. His work was to help others find Christ, too, and embrace him. His work continues from heaven and that’s the grace he’s praying for us today.
- As we prepare to receive the same Christ St. Vincent used to hold in his hands, receive devoutly, and give to others, we ask through St. Vincent’s intercession for the grace to keep our eyes fixed on him in such a way that we will find and welcome him however he comes to us today.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
jb 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23
Job spoke out and said:Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth,
like babes that have never seen the light?
Wherefore did the knees receive me?
or why did I suck at the breasts?For then I should have lain down and been tranquil;
had I slept, I should then have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth
who built where now there are ruins
Or with princes who had gold
and filled their houses with silver.There the wicked cease from troubling,
there the weary are at rest.Why is light given to the toilers,
and life to the bitter in spirit?
They wait for death and it comes not;
they search for it rather than for hidden treasures,
Rejoice in it exultingly,
and are glad when they reach the grave:
Those whose path is hidden from them,
and whom God has hemmed in!
ps 88:2-3, 4-5, 6, 7-8
O LORD, my God, by day I cry out;
at night I clamor in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my call for help.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
For my soul is surfeited with troubles
and my life draws near to the nether world.
I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;
I am a man without strength.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no longer
and who are cut off from your care.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,
into the dark abyss.
Upon me your wrath lies heavy,
and with all your billows you overwhelm me.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they journeyed to another village.