Fulfilling the Law with Christ and Helping Others to Do So, 10th Wednesday (I), June 14, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for Religious
June 14, 2017
2 Cor 3:4-11, Ps 99, Mt 5:17-19

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s first reading, St. Paul features the great gift of the new and eternal covenant made for us by Christ by contrasting it to the former covenant. He calls the first Covenant one “carved in letters on stone,” meaning the Covenant of Sinai, and described it as a “ministry of death” or “ministry of condemnation” because it was meant to help us to learn to die to ourselves, die to our own powers, die to our dream to save us by our own efforts, and open ourselves up to God’s power and his life. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians would call it a pedagogue, a disciplinarian, a tutor, who, according to ancient custom, would drill us and even “kill us” in lessons so that we might be brought by him to the Master who would build on those foundations. It was to open us up to receive and respond to God’s covenant of salvation by grace received in faith. He says that if the first Covenant was “so glorious,” “how much more” will the new Covenant by the Spirit and the “ministry of righteousness … abound much more in glory.”
  • Sometimes when we read such contrasts in St. Paul, who was battling against a tendency among the Pharisees and the “Judaizing Christians” to find salvation in the works of the law rather than by faith in Christ through grace, we can think that the Old Covenant was annulled or even, perhaps, a bad thing. No it was a great thing and a preparation for the new! As one biblical scholar says, the Old Testament was like an unfinished symphony waiting for Christ to come and bring everything together. That’s what Jesus himself describes in the Gospel today, taken from the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He was coming to respond to all of the Old Covenant hopes, to be the “Yes” as we heard yesterday to all God’s promises, even the littlest: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,” he continued, “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” He was going to fulfill all of the typological signs of the Old Testament and bring the entire law to find its fulfillment in Christ’s two-fold command of love, on which all the law and the prophets he said “hang.” He would do this not just by his words but also by his example. Some of the old forms of the “disciplinarian” would fall away in this fulfillment — like dietary laws, even circumcision! — as we received new wineskins for the new wine of the Covenant, but they would not be “abolished.” They would rather be brought to completion, be fulfilled, in a similar way to how a seed metamorphoses into a tree or an embryo into an infant into an adult.
  • And he wants us to follow him, to be united to him, in this fulfillment of every letter, every smallest part of the letter, of the Law. He wants us, like him, not to live the letter by the “letter [that] brings death” but to live the smallest part of the letter by the “Spirit [who] gives life,” allowing God to unite ourselves to him in love. That’s why Jesus pivots and begins to speak about how he wants us to be great by living by the Spirit in fulfilling the law of love. “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments,” he said, “will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” And he wants each of us to be great in this way. He is also clear that the one who “breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so” will be “least in the Kingdom of heaven.” We don’t get a “pass” from the law by living according to the Spirit as “spiritual” people rather than “religious.” What Jesus wants, rather, is for us to fulfill the law by exceeding the letter and getting to what the letter was pointing to. The letter is meant to train us to recognize, ultimately, our need for the Spirit so that when the Spirit is fully given we will fully cooperate.
  • Today, Sisters, we are celebrating a Votive Mass for religious, praying for you, your fellow Sisters of Life, and all those in religious life male and female, because it’s through your religious life that you are to become truly great in Jesus’ kingdom by imitating him in living the fulfillment of the law of love and showing the Church and the world how to fulfill the new Covenant in all its glory. You do this in a special way by living out the evangelical counsels: showing by your obedience the filial, loving adhesion to God’s law not just in following the commandments, not just in giving a wholehearted fiat to your vocation, but even in the littlest aspects of your religious rule, and freely!; manifesting by your poverty your openness to God’s riches; revealing by your chastity the pure love for God and others, the gift of the Spirit, that inspires all you do. And to strengthen you, Jesus, the Teacher, comes to instruct you and all of us every day and then, in the Eucharist, allows us to enter into Him, who is the New and Eternal Covenant. The Spirit gives us life by incorporating us into him who is the Resurrection, Way, Truth and Life. The Old Covenant prepared us to receive Jesus, the New Covenant, who seeks to help us to fulfill every aspect of the law by yoking us to him. This is the way the life-giving Spirit helps us to become great, to become Holy like the Lord our God, and bring us with him to glory!

 

The readings for todays’ Mass were: 

Reading 1 2 COR 3:4-11

Brothers and sisters:
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit
for anything as coming from us;
rather, our qualification comes from God,
who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant,
not of letter but of spirit;
for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious
that the children of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses
because of its glory that was going to fade,
how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious?
For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious,
the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory.
Indeed, what was endowed with glory
has come to have no glory in this respect
because of the glory that surpasses it.
For if what was going to fade was glorious,
how much more will what endures be glorious.

Responsorial Psalm PS 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9

R. (see 9c) Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his footstool;
holy is he!
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
and Samuel, among those who called upon his name;
they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
From the pillar of cloud he spoke to them;
they heard his decrees and the law he gave them.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
O LORD, our God, you answered them;
a forgiving God you were to them,
though requiting their misdeeds.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.
Extol the LORD, our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for holy is the LORD, our God.
R. Holy is the Lord our God.

Alleluia PS 25:4B, 5A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Teach me your paths, my God,
and guide me in your truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”