God’s Power Working through our Poverty, 25th Wednesday (I), September 27, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
September 27, 2017
Ezra 9:5-9, Tob 13:2-4.7-8, Lk 9:1-6

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • As we continue for the third of three days to ponder the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem after the exile and apply it to the rebuilding (resurrection) of Jesus the True Temple, to the constant reconstruction of the Temple of the family of the Church, and each of us as a temple of the Holy Spirit, today we see that that rebuilding project is first and foremost the work of God.
  • Ezra tells us in the first reading that after all of Israel’s sins led to their being delivered up, the mercy of the Lord came to them, leaving a remnant, giving them a stake in his holy placed, relieving them of their servitude, turning even the will of the pagan kings of Persia toward them, and giving them new life by raising again the house of God and restoring its ruins. As we read yesterday, the Israelites of course needed to collaborate in this work by sacrificing their possessions and a lot of their elbow grease for this building project, but the work was principally God’s, and their principal contribution was their openness to and recognition of their need for him, for his mercy, for his word, for his help.
  • We see the same primacy of God’s action in the Gospel today as Jesus sends out the apostles to rebuild the People of God. He sent them out with nothing for the journey precisely so that they would be able to preach by their witness, and not just by their words, the God is provident, that he cares for all our needs, that if he cares for the birds of the sky and the grass of the field he will care so much more for us. After a few days of Jesus’ speaking to them and us about how to receive the seed of his word and bear fruit, to hear and act on that word, now he shows us that he plants it within us so that we can share it with other. After Jesus has healed us, he sends us out with the same medicine, to “proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Preaching and healing went together because just as much as God wanted to heal the wounds of the Israelites after the exile he wanted to address the sufferings of the people, transfiguring their wounds such that they could enter the Kingdom. Pope Francis, in his interview with Jesuit journals at the beginning of his pontificate, mentioned this connection between preaching and healing. “I see clearly,” the Pope declared in the interview, “that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. … You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds. Heal the wounds.” For people to be open to the proclamation of the Gospel, they have to have their wounds addressed. The Church is meant to be a family of Good Samaritans, who take responsibility for each other, who wash, clean and raise others up. This is the way we show that the Kingdom of God has really come, because we convey the presence, the love and the mercy of the King. It’s by allowing God’s mercy to shine through us that God continues to build up the Church in every age.
  • Someone who went out to preach and heal, someone who learned his need for God’s help in all his ministry the hard way and then acted on those lessons, the Church celebrates today: 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. Rather than preaching and healing, they were scandalizing and wounding. At the 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 went out, and formed others to go out, with nothing but the Lord and transformed the Church, history and so many lives.
  • 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 that we might act on today’s words in today’s Psalm, to consider what God has done for us, and praise him with full voice as we seek to bring him and his healing to others.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EZR 9:5-9

At the time of the evening sacrifice, I, Ezra, rose in my wretchedness,
and with cloak and mantle torn I fell on my knees,
stretching out my hands to the LORD, my God.
I said: “My God, I am too ashamed and confounded to raise my face to you,
O my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads
and our guilt reaches up to heaven.
From the time of our fathers even to this day
great has been our guilt,
and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up,
we and our kings and our priests,
to the will of the kings of foreign lands,
to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace,
as is the case today.“And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God,
who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place;
thus our God has brightened our eyes
and given us relief in our servitude.
For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us;
rather, he has turned the good will
of the kings of Persia toward us.
Thus he has given us new life
to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins,
and has granted us a fence in Judah and Jerusalem.”

Responsorial Psalm
TB 13:2, 3-4A, 4BEFGHN, 7-8

R. (1b) Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
He scourges and then has mercy;
he casts down to the depths of the nether world,
and he brings up from the great abyss.
No one can escape his hand.
R. Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
Praise him, you children of Israel, before the Gentiles,
for though he has scattered you among them,
he has shown you his greatness even there.
R. Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
So now consider what he has done for you,
and praise him with full voice.
Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of ages.
R. Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
In the land of my exile I praise him
and show his power and majesty to a sinful nation.
R. Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
Bless the Lord, all you his chosen ones,
and may all of you praise his majesty.
Celebrate days of gladness, and give him praise.
R. Blessed be God, who lives for ever.

Gospel
LK 9:1-6

Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority
over all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God
and to heal the sick.
He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey,
neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money,
and let no one take a second tunic.
Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
And as for those who do not welcome you,
when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”
Then they set out and went from village to village
proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.