Learning Freedom and Its Purpose in a Fish with a Coin, in Ezekiel’s Visions and in the Life of St. Clare, 19th Monday (II), August 11, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Clare
August 11, 2014
Ezek 1:2-5.24-28, Ps 148, Mt 17:22-27

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the readings and in the feast of St. Clare we’re celebrating the Lord teaches us some very important, and very adult, lessons on freedom.
  • In the Gospel, Peter is approached by those collecting the annual Temple tax that all Jewish males over 20 were expected to pay each year not only to support the liturgical needs of the temple but to remind them that God ransomed them (literally redeemed them or “bought them back” from slavery). When they asked Peter if Jesus paid the Temple Tax, Peter was too much of a slave to human respect and replied that he did and sent the collectors away. When Peter returned to the house, Jesus, aware of the conversation, asked him whether it was foreigners or subjects, citizens or members of the royal family that paid taxes. Peter replied, in accordance with his knowledge of the customs of the times, that members of the royal family or citizens of an occupying power were free of the taxes. Peter got the initial point that Jesus knew he was exempt from the Temple Tax. Jesus had mentioned to his mother and foster father when they rediscovered him in the Temple after three days that he was in his “Father’s house” and for that reason would be exempt, because he was a Son of the King. But he was exempt for a more important reason: He identified himself as the Temple that would be destroyed and in three days rebuilt. The temple was a sign that was pointing to Him and it would be absurd for the Signified to pay taxes to the sign. By the same logic, because we have been made sons in the Son and have been made Temples of God’s presence, we are free of the requirement, too.
  • But Jesus then pointed to a higher understanding of freedom than a freedom from responsibility. The purpose of our freedom is so that we can choose to love God and others. And so Jesus said that lest they scandalize anyone out of their duties to God, they should pay the temple tax and Jesus instructed Peter of how to do so, through catching a fish that Jesus someone either knew or arranged was carrying a coin worth twice the tax, to pay for Christ and Peter both. Jesus was teaching Peter and all of us that we should focus more on our freedom for than our freedom from. Jesus was free from sin, yet he took on all our sins. He was free from the consequences of sin, death, but he freely underwent death so that we might live, allowing himself as he foretold at the beginning of today’s Gospel to be betrayed into the hands of men who would kill him. He didn’t stand on his dignity and his privileges, but with his dignity privileged others. We’re supposed to use our freedom in the same way.
  • The second illustration of freedom happens in today’s first reading from the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. We’ll be pondering Ezekiel’s prophecy for the next two weeks. Ezekiel was writing in 592 BC from Babylon. He had been born in the same home town as Jeremiah and a member of the priestly class, but after the Jewish leadership decided to oppose Nebuchadnezzar contrary to Jeremiah’s messages from God, Nebuchadnezzar brought many of the upper classes, including Ezekiel’s family, into captivity in Babylon. When he turned 30, the time when Ezekiel would have begun his service in the Temple in Jerusalem, he went down by the river Chebar and was given by the Lord seven different visions he was called to share with the people. The first visions pointed to the imminent destruction of Jerusalem five years later. But eventually the visions turned to ones of hope, as we’ll see over the course of the next two weeks. One of the main points of what God was revealed to Ezekiel and through him to the people was that even though they were in captivity, they were still free to pray. Even though it was impossible for them to worship God in the temple, they could worship him in Babylon. That’s a very important lesson in freedom that we all need to grasp. There are certainly privileged places to pray, but when we’re unable to be there, we can still pray with freedom, a lesson that St. Paul and so many martyrs have taught us all the way down to the martyrs of modern times like St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe whose feast we’ll mark on Thursday, praying in the midst of the concentration camps.
  • The third lesson in freedom is what St. Clare teaches us. She came from a wealthy and noble family in Assisi and had received an excellent education at a time in which most girls didn’t. One day she heard St. Francis preaching in a Church and she wanted to respond to his inspiration to live “after the manner of the holy Gospel.” But her parents didn’t want to have anything to do with her following Francis down a path they considered crazy, a path of radical poverty, of chastity, of obedience. But Clare recognizes that it was through uniting herself to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ that she would have real freedom, that she refused to be enslaved by materialism, or by sensuality, or by individualism, but saw real freedom in becoming poor in this world and rich in God’s, in saying yes to the precious pearl of God’s love, in freely saying yes to God and no to her own ego. She became free through her prayer, sacrifice and community life and service. And women have been joining her on this path of living according to Christ’s standards ever since.
  • All of these lessons on freedom become integrated here in the Eucharist. Jesus wants a communion with us in freely serving others. He showed that desire in having Peter catch a with a stater in its mouth to pay the Tax for Jesus and Peter both. Jesus could have easily had him catch a fish with two coins rather than one twice the value, but was emphasizing the union between Christ and Peter. Christ seeks that same union with us. And today he will put himself under the appearance of a host about the size of a stater within our mouths in order to bring about that communion and make us truly his Temple. It’s here at Mass that we see something far greater than what Ezekiel witnessed by the river Chebar, because we encounter the fulfillment of those prophecies and have a vision of the glory of the Lord in all his majestic humility in the Holy Eucharist. And this was the real foundation of the freedom of St. Clare, because it was what she used her freedom for, to come into true communion with Jesus. She was a woman of the Eucharist. When she was suffering late in life and couldn’t even make it to the chapel for Mass, she begged God to allow her to see the Mass in her cell, and the Lord gave her that grace. She saw everything that was taking place at the altar on the wall of her cell. (That’s why she became the patron saint of television, even though it was invented 700 years after her death!). And Jesus emboldened her to be free in the face of fears. When Frederick Barbarossa in 1232 was ravaging Italy and his troops were about to invade her monastery, she turned to her Eucharistic Lord for protection and she heard him say in response, “I will always protect you.” She took Jesus in a monstrance to a window of the monastery while Frederick’s troops were trying to scale the monastery with ladders. And the sight of the Eucharist, the soldiers fell down afraid and eventually left. Today as we come forward to receive Jesus, we ask Him for a double portion of St. Clare’s love for him so that, like her, we may always be united with him in con-templation (becoming one temple in prayer) so that we may come with her to the eternal temple of God’s glory in heaven where we will see something far greater than Ezekiel’s visions!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EZ 1:2-5, 24-28C

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile,
The word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel,
the son of Buzi,
in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar.—
There the hand of the LORD came upon me.As I looked, a stormwind came from the North,
a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness,
from the midst of which (the midst of the fire)
something gleamed like electrum.
Within it were figures resembling four living creatures
that looked like this: their form was human.Then I heard the sound of their wings,
like the roaring of mighty waters,
like the voice of the Almighty.
When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army.
And when they stood still, they lowered their wings.Above the firmament over their heads
something like a throne could be seen,
looking like sapphire.
Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man.
Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum;
downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire;
he was surrounded with splendor.
Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day
was the splendor that surrounded him.
Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14

R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights;
Praise him, all you his angels;
praise him, all you his hosts.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the kings of the earth and all peoples,
the princes and all the judges of the earth,
Young men too, and maidens,
old men and boys,
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
His majesty is above earth and heaven.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
And he has lifted up the horn of his people.
Be this his praise from all his faithful ones,
from the children of Israel, the people close to him.
Alleluia.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
MT 17:22-27

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee,
Jesus said to them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men,
and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”
And they were overwhelmed with grief.When they came to Capernaum,
the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said,
“Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes,” he said.
When he came into the house, before he had time to speak,
Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon?
From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax?
From their subjects or from foreigners?”
When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him,
“Then the subjects are exempt.
But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook,
and take the first fish that comes up.
Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.
Give that to them for me and for you.”