Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
Memorial of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin
35th Anniversary of the Death of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
December 9, 2014
Is 40:1-11, Ps 96, Mt 18:12-14
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- For the second time in three days, the Church has had us listen to Isaiah’s prophecy about the way God seeks to comfort us. “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” God told Isaiah with regard to the Jews who would be suffering in exile during the Babylonian captivity. The consolation would take on a specific form: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that … her guilt is expiated.” He has Isaiah get them ready for the coming of the Lord, “A voice cries out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord!,” by filling in valleys, leveling mountains, planing rugged land, straightening crooked ways.” And then he Isaiah foretell of the Lord’s coming: “Go up onto a high mountain [and] … cry out at the top of your voice, …” Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God,” before describing what God himself will do upon his arrival: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” That is the comfort God wants announced. That’s the consolation God himself brings. God will bring expiation from our sins. He will gather us, carry us, guide us, feed us. These rich and consoling words of Isaiah’s prophecy provide the dominant lyrics for the first part of Handel’s famous Messiah, the part that gets us ready to appreciate Jesus’ coming as our Messiah. It’s fitting that these words have been set to some of the most beautiful music ever written.
- But the “lyrics” get even more beautiful and powerful in the Gospel. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who will gather and carry the lambs next to his heart and tenderly lead the ewes, but that’s only the start. He’ll also go out in search of the lost sheep, leaving everyone else behind, all the way to laying down his life for every single one of his wandering flock. Jesus asks, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.” From it he draws a lesson, “In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” This is an unforgettable lesson of God’s mercy, that he cares for us in such a way that he doesn’t want to lose any one of us, but that he wants to forgive us all. Pope Francis said in his homily this morning in the Vatican that many of us don’t understand this logic of love. We approach the subject like a “good businessman” who says, “Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem for the balance sheet, for gains and losses. It’s fine, we can get by.” God doesn’t permit that type of attrition, however, on his fatherly and shepherdly heart. He cares for 100 out of 100.
- During Advent, we celebrate the coming of a Savior who comes in search of us when we by sinful choices turn our back on him and wander from communion. We celebrate the coming of Him who took our own flesh in history to come to comfort us and expiate our guilt by paying the price of our sins on the Cross, who created the Sacraments to comfort us in mystery with his Mercy and his very Presence, who promised to come for us at the end of time in majesty in order to separate us as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and, we pray, lead us to the eternal sheepfold in verdant pastures to give us repose. God doesn’t want any of us to be lost. He wants all of us to experience his consolation. But as Isaiah told us today, and St. John the Baptist reiterated on Sunday, we need to heed the voice of Jesus crying out in the desert to make straight his paths by our own conversion. We need to use our freedom to make it possible for God to come as the Lamb of God to take away our sins. God never stops searching for us but we need to stop hiding, come out of the darkness into the light, leave behind our crooked ways and make them straight, level the mountains of our ego and fill up the valleys of spiritual minimalism. The only way we will receive his consolation is through conversion. The only way we will be comforted is by recognizing we really are sinners in need of a Savior and allow that Savior to do his saving work. “The Lord our God comes with power,” we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm, but St. Paul tells us that he doesn’t come with spectacular displays of worldly power, but rather the “power and wisdom of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:23-24). The Cross was the mountain he climbed in order to fulfill Isaiah’s words of God’s coming with power, the power to cleanse us eternally of our sins. During Advent we are all called to make straight the paths so that we may run out to meet him who is running toward us as a shepherd, as a Father of a Prodigal Son or Daughter.
- But the depth of God’s consolation doesn’t end there. God loved us so much that he wanted us to experience an even greater comfort, the comfort of helping him bring his consolation, expiation and merciful power to others. He wants us to become other Isaiahs announcing the consolation of his mercy and going out in search of the lost sheep. Jesus could have stayed in our world as the Good Shepherd to go hunt down every lost sheep himself. But he didn’t. When he ascended into heaven, he was himself making an act of great trust in us that we would actually go for him and with him to hunt down those who are lost, to announce to them the message of mercy, to gather them in our arms, hold them close to our heart, and lead them back to him and to his fold. There’s nothing more consoling than paying forward the Lord’s mercy, than being an instrument in helping someone turn his or her life around, than helping someone experience the true joy that comes from living in God’s pure love. God wants to give us all that comfort. But Jesus made that possible at great risk. He entrusted the salvation of some of his lost sheep to whether we actually fulfill the mission he’s given us of sharing our faith.
- Today we mark the 35th anniversary of the death of the greatest Catholic preacher in the history of the United States, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen whom we pray will soon be beatified. He was one who really grasped today’s Gospel and preached with all the skill God gave him so that all of us might embrace the lesson of divine love it contains and make that loving pursuit of God the magna carta of our life. In his great commentary on the Gospels, Life of Christ, and throughout his preaching he made plain that what distinguishes Christianity from other religions is that the natural religious desire is man’s search for God, but in Christianity we begin with God’s search for man. God comes as a shepherd in order to search for us when we alienated ourselves from him by sin. And Archbishop Sheen shared that great passion. For many years he was the head of the Propagation of the Faith in our country and crisscrossed the world in search of those who were yet unaware of God’s saving passion, raising money for the missions through his media work and other opportunities so that none would be lost. He grasped that the essence of the Gospel was God’s mercy and with all his talents he tried to echo the voice of Jesus crying out in the desert to make straight the paths for God to find us and for us to find salvation.
- Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, the 57 year old man chosen by Mary 483 years ago today to carry out a special mission of mercy. Mary identified herself to him as “your Merciful Mother” and sent him on a mission to the Bishop of Mexico City in order to have a teocalli, a temple, build on Tepeyec Hill where she was appearing to him. She was on a mission of mercy, to help bring not just a country but an entirely new continent to her Son. She appeared dressed as a pregnant mestiza of European and Indian features, about to give birth to Christ in this hemisphere. She is a figure, therefore, of the Advent of her Son. And after the miracle of the Castillian roses that blended into Juan Diego’s tilma and produced the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, over ten million converted in the first decade, whereas only a trickle had been brought to experience the saving name and relationship with Jesus over the previous decade since the Franciscan missionaries had arrived with the Spanish conquistadors. And the mission she gave St. Juan Diego is a significant one: to have a temple built, a temple where people would be able to come to experience the salvation of her Son, to experience her own maternal consolation, and to experience the comfort of Christ’s mystical body the Church. Every Catholic Church is supposed to be a place of comfort and consolation, a family home that we can go on good days and bad days, a place where we will always be taken in with love. It’s a place in which we long for the return of 100 out of 100 — and not just the physical return, but the true, full spiritual return through conversion and the adoption of a holy life — and rejoice when it happens. Mary wanted the people of this hemisphere to experience the comfort of God in the Church, in praying together with others, in strengthening others in the family of God. And she sent Juan Diego on that mission to help get a Church built. Today she wants to send all of us on a mission to build up the Church on living stones.
- The place we receive that power to do so is here at Mass. St. Juan Diego had Mary appear to him on a day in which he was walking 15 miles each way to daily Mass. Because of his hunger for God, God responded with a hunger to involve him in a plan of salvation that would have far exceeded even his most outlandish dreams. Today we’ve traveled far shorter distances to Mass, most of us in cars. But the same Mother of Mercy who encountered Juan Diego comes here to us to ask us to be built up not just individually but together into a teocalli, into a real spiritual home, into a place where the Church’s maternal love reigns, where people experience Christ’s consolation and are inspired to draw others to experience the same gift. It’s the Eucharist that was the source of Archbishop Sheen’s great spiritual fruitfulness, where he would come each day in adoration in what he called “the hour that makes my day” and which he never ceased to beg priests, religious and lay people to imitate. Archbishop Sheen made a promise on the day of his ordination to celebrate a Mass each Saturday in Mary’s honor (when a higher feast didn’t need to be observed) because not only did he grasp that Mary would help him better to love Christ in the Eucharist and keep him faithful, but so that he likewise could spread that same devotion to the Mother of Mercy who always leads us to her Son. Today as we pray for him on the 35th anniversary of his death and remember the great love Juan Diego had for the Mother of Mercy, we ask the Lord for the grace to respond like Mary to his plans for us and just like Mary, having conceived Jesus in her womb, immediately went in haste to bring him to her cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah and to make the St. John the Baptist leap in utero, so may we go with haste to bring the same Jesus we’re about to receive as St. John the Baptist’s to others, so that through the power of his mercy he might make them leap again — and leap forever!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 is 40:1-11
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their glory like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.
So then, the people is the grass.
Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
the word of our God stands forever.”
Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.
Responsorial Psalm ps 96:1-2, 3 and 10ac, 11-12, 13
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day.
R. The Lord our God comes with power.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. The Lord our God comes with power.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice.
R. The Lord our God comes with power.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. The Lord our God comes with power.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The day of the Lord is near:
Behold, he comes to save us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel mt 18:12-14
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”