Following the Signs of the Kingdom like Vultures Seek Corpses, 32nd Friday (I), November 17, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal
November 17, 2017
Wis 13:1-9, Ps 19, Lk 17:26-37

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Yesterday we pondered how the Kingdom of God is among and within us because the King is here. It’s not supposed to be something that’s sought all over the place in spectacle but discerned and found in ordinary circumstances.
  • In today’s first reading we see that everything is meant to be a reminder of the King and the Kingdom. The Book of Wisdom tells us that from the “good things seen” we’re supposed to succeed in “knowing him who is.” From studying the “works of the artisan,” we’re supposed to discern the Creator. Everything — fire, wind, air, stars, water, planets — are supposed to remind us of the one who created them, “for from they greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” The problem is that often we lose the connection between sign and signified, we stop at the work and fail to get to the Creator. We “search busily among his works but are distracted by what [we] see because the things seen are fair.” This was the experience of St. Augustine, when he said, “In our unloveliness, we stopped at the loveliness of your creatures.” We sometimes fail to see the created world as the footprints of God, following them back to the Creator. We fail to see God’s fingerprints all over creation. That’s why it’s key for us to reconnect everything in the kingdom to its King. St. John Paul II, in 2002, toward the end of his papacy, returned to his love of poetry and gave us three great poems. The first is called “The Stream” and is broken down into two parts, the first on wonder and the second on following things to their “source.” He wrote, “The undulating wood slopes down to the rhythm of mountain streams. To me this rhythm is revealing You, the Primordial Word. … What are you saying to me, mountain stream? … If you want to find the source, you have to go up, against the current, tear through, seek, don’t give up, you know it must be somewhere here. Where are you, source? Where are you, source?! Silence…. Stream, stream in the wood, tell me the secret of your beginning! … How carefully you have hidden the secret of your beginning).” The Book of Wisdom is calling us to go from the created world to its Source, to find the fingerprints and footprints of the Creator everywhere. 
  • This is what the Gospel is all about, the contrast between living in the kingdom and being oblivious to it. Jesus contrasts Noah with those who perished in the flood, and Lot and those who perished in Sodom. Some were attentive to God through the signs of Creation and some were not. Jesus encourages us to be similarly on guard. He says that when he comes we shouldn’t head down into the house to get possessions or come in from the field, because we shouldn’t leave the Creator for creatures. Two will be sleeping, two will be cooking, but only one will be taken. This isn’t to be misinterpreted as if God’s going to do an arbitrary 50/50 split. Rather, it’s saying some in the very same circumstances will be ready because they’re connecting sleeping or cooking to God, and others won’t be ready, because all they think they’re doing is sleeping or cooking rather than doing it in communion with God, in the kingdom. When they ask where this will take place, Jesus uses an aphorism, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather,” to indicate that just as vultures find a corpse, so we should find the kingdom! But I think in his images he’s motivating us to respond morally to a factual situation. The two people in bed together point to a married couple, the two women grinding grain for a meal, to two friends, perhaps sisters, preparing for a big family meal. These are people we care about. God doesn’t want one left behind, but many are just not paying attention to the most important things. By this image, Jesus is not merely reminding us of the need to be alert but to help others wake up from the ways they sleepwalk through existence.
  • Someone who was constantly going from sign to signified in her life, from the created world to God, from the gifts of the kingdom to the King who never stops giving was St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) whose feast the Church celebrates today. She was the daughter of the King of Hungary and when she was four she was betrothed to Louis, the son of the Landgrave of Thuringia. She was raised with him for the next 10 years until the marriage, when she was 14 and he 21. Louis always supported St. Elizabeth’s piety and charity. In the opening prayer of the Mass, we noted that by God’s grace, Elizabeth was able to “recognize and revere Christ in her neighbor,” and because of that capacity to see and to love Jesus with passion even in the midst of the most distressing disguises, she is truly one of the most outstanding examples of charity in history. During a severe famine, she exhausted her treasure and distributed all her own store of corn to the poor. She build a hospital at the foot of the tall, rocky promontory on which the Wartburg Castle was built so that the infirm and weak wouldn’t have to climb it. She fed them with her own hands — as well as 900 others every day — made their beds and cared for them in so many other ways. She provided for orphans and helpless children. When many criticized her material benefactions as being excessive, her husband said that her charities would bring upon the whole realm divine blessings. But even he reached his limit once when Elizabeth brought a leper to the castle and had him sleep in their protected quarters as a type of quarantine. He rushed into the bedroom to drag away all of the bedclothes and other things that might carry the dreaded disease, but as he was doing so, he recognized that the leper had stigmata. Through his wife, he learned to recognize and revere Christ, to see and love him, in his neighbor, including the most revolting. She wants to help us to learn the same, as we like vultures around corpses always seek out and find Christ in the hungry, thirst, naked, stranger, ill, imprisoned and otherwise poor and in need.
  • The greatest way we have to acquire this capacity to view the whole world as sacramental, as signs leading us to the Signified, is here at Mass. This is where we recognize Jesus hidden under the appearances and bread and wine and learn how to respond. Jesus comes here and we should leave the rooftop and the field to come to meet him! The more we grasp that this is the most important thing that ever happens in the world on a given day, and the more we keep communion and awareness of him in the day, the easier it will be go from created things to him always. Today we pray that we may respond to this grace as St. Elizabeth of Hungary did, and begin living and showing others to live with this way of sacramental seeing!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 WIS 13:1-9

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God,
and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is,
and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them.
For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.
But yet, for these the blame is less;
For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
though they seek God and wish to find him.
For they search busily among his works,
but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.
But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
that they could speculate about the world,
how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

Responsorial Psalm PS 19:2-3, 4-5AB

R. (2a) The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

Alleluia LK 21:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 17:26-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be in the days of the Son of Man;
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage up to the day
that Noah entered the ark,
and the flood came and destroyed them all.
Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot:
they were eating, drinking, buying,
selling, planting, building;
on the day when Lot left Sodom,
fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all.
So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
On that day, someone who is on the housetop
and whose belongings are in the house
must not go down to get them,
and likewise one in the field
must not return to what was left behind.
Remember the wife of Lot.
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
but whoever loses it will save it.
I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed;
one will be taken, the other left.
And there will be two women grinding meal together;
one will be taken, the other left.”
They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?”
He said to them, “Where the body is,
there also the vultures will gather.”