Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great
September 3, 2014
1 Cor 3:1-9, Ps 33, Lk 4:38-44
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- St. Paul in today’s first reading points to the type of spiritual growth he was seeking to help catalyze among the Christians in Corinth, something that points to the spiritual growth God would like to see in all of us. He began by saying that when he was first evangelizing them, he needed to care for them spiritually the way parents care for newborns. “I could not talk to you as spiritual people but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it.” That’s the way it is whenever we try to pass on the faith to young children. We don’t give them a copy of the adult Catechism of the Catholic Church. We speak to them very simply about God, about prayer, about charity, about the Bible, about the Sacraments. We “breast feed” them, digesting the truths of the faith and passing these truths on to them in ways they can assimilate. But we don’t want them to stay there. Just like a little child passes from milk to Gerber’s baby food to normal food for children to more healthy food for growing children to the challenging cuisine of adults, so the same passage is meant to happen in us spiritually. And St. Paul was saying that that’s what was not happening among the Corinthians. “Indeed you are still not able [to take solid food], even now, because you are still of the flesh.” They were living according to their earthly, fleshy desires, instead of living according to the Spirit. He then says why. “There is jealousy and rivalry among you.” Such things are not manifestations of a life according to God. We’re called to look at each other as brothers and sisters, not as competition, and we’re supposed to be happy to see them grow and thrive, not jealous. When we’re living by the Spirit, we love each other rather than resent each other. St. Paul gets specific about the envy and contention that was dividing the community: Some were saying “I belong to Paul” and others “I belong to Apollos” and later, as we’ll see, “I belong to Cephas” (Peter). St. Paul is clear that that’s the talk and behavior of spiritual infants, siding according to their preferences with “ministers through whom [they] became believers” instead of to the Lord who sent them to them and who caused the growth. They were focusing on earthly likes and dislikes rather than on God and St. Paul wanted to provoke them by his strong language to grow up.
- There are many similar issues of living according to the flesh in a childish (rather than childlike) way that afflict the Christians of Fall River and beyond. In an age of spiritual consumerism, people are led to focus more on their personal preferences rather than God when it comes to which Church they attend, which music is their favorite, which pew they want to sit in and more. Many pick and choose among popes, or bishops, or priests, or Church councils, rather than receive with gratitude and follow all the Lord sends. The names have changed — Francis, Benedict and John Paul, or Edgar, George and Sean, or Roger, Dick and Ernie for Paul, Apollos and Cephas — but the refrain is still heard in which people define themselves less with the Lord than with the instruments of the Lord that most meet their tastes. We see it even more with those who define themselves too much with the adjectives they put to their “Catholicism,” whether liberal, progressive, traditional, conservative or others, rather than with the faith that transcends any constricting label. And that’s why there is still so much “jealousy and rivalry” in parishes, dioceses and the Church, when Jesus prayed and worked that we might have a unity as profound as the unity among the Persons of the Blessed Trinity (Jn 17). Many people are still immature in their understanding and living of the Catholic faith and there’s a need for all of us to receive God’s help to grow in a healthy way so that we may live truly by the Spirit.
- I’m often asked by people to start a “children’s Mass” in which I’d preach directly to the children at their level. I have loved celebrating Mass for Catholic school children at those parishes where we had Catholic schools. I love teaching the faith to children as I do every Sunday between Masses to all the kids of our religious ed program. But I’ve explained to people that, as a general rule, I am reluctant to celebrate a children’s Mass on Sunday unless the Mass has a supermajority of young people because over the course of time, although their parents in general will “like” the Mass, they won’t grow spiritually as much as they should when they have a more challenging homily and message fit to their age group. When adults are the supermajority in a Mass I believe a priest must preach to help their spiritual growth and hopefully they will themselves digest and pass on that growth to their children in ways that are well adapted. If a priest preaches to the kids every week, it can become a little like a teacher’s teaching high school and college students and graduates as if they were first graders. They’re not going to grow anywhere near as much as they ought, even though some will prefer the simplicity and the lesser expectations. St. Paul treated the Corinthians as spiritual children when he began teaching them the faith but in his letters he wanted to help them to come to spiritual maturity.
- We have three different models of the type of spiritual maturity to which St. Paul was trying to lead the Corinthians in the Gospel passage and then in the saint whose feast we celebrate. The first model is the Lord himself. He shows us various aspects of the type of spiritual growth that he wants to help us all achieve. The first is in his charity. Even though he was doubtless tired from teaching in the Capernaum synagogue, he responded readily when the disciples interceded with him to help Simon’s mother-in-law who is in the grip of a serious fever. After curing her, word spread throughout all the town and at “sunset,” when he was probably getting ready to wind down for the day, “all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him” and “he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” It would have been easy, if he were living according to the flesh, to ask everyone to come back the following day. It would have been easy for him, by his power as God, simply to do a “group healing” and cure them all in a way that would have saved him hours, but the Good Shepherd knows each of us his sheep by name and he went one-by-one to cure each of them and cast out demons from those who were possessed. This is a great sign of spiritual maturity, that you put others ahead of yourself.
- Next we see that he went out “at daybreak” to a “deserted place” to pray. Those who are spiritually mature have priorities and for Jesus prayer was a higher priority than “sleeping the fat morning” as the French are accustomed to say (faire la grasse matinée). A great sign of being a spiritual adult is when we are able to put God ahead of our human appetites.
- The third thing we notice is that when the crowds came looking for him and tried to prevent him from leaving, he said, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” He would have had it good staying there in Capernaum. He had just cured and exorcised many in the town, the people were amazed and astonished at his preaching, and he would probably have been elected mayor in a landslide! But he didn’t forget his mission. He was sent for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and he needed to go out looking for the lost sheep rather than staying with the fold that would have made him as comfortable as anyone would want. There’s a great lesson here for us about putting the mission God has given us above our likes and dislikes and being willing to leave our comfort zones for God. That’s something those who are led by the Spirit do.
- The second figure we see in the Gospel who points us to spiritual maturity is the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. As soon as she was cured by Jesus, she used her health not to run the errands she couldn’t get to during her days in bed, but instead served them. St. Luke says “She got up immediately and waited on them.” Our health is a blessing from God that we’re not supposed to look at selfishly, but as a blessing to help us love others. When we’re very ill, when we’re bedridden, when we’re in the hospital and especially when we’re dead, we no longer can help others the way we ought. The spiritually mature don’t take their health for granted and seek to use it to love God and others.
- The last figure we have pointing us to spiritual maturity is Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604), in my opinion, the best pope we’ve ever had. He was prefect (mayor) of Rome when he was just 30 and did a tremendous job in trying to rebuild the buildings and morale of Rome after four brutal sackings within a short period of time. He was able to be so successful because of his spiritual maturity; he saw his office as an opportunity not to serve himself but to serve others and used all his talents to try to establish and advance the common good. But in his mature discernment, he recognized that God was calling him to something different and more. So he left the civic power behind in order to become a monk, founding the first Benedictine monastery in Rome in his house on the Coelian Hill across from the Colosseum. There he grew in prayer and holiness. Eventually, however, the Pope asked him to leave the Monastery and go as his apocrisarius, his legate, to the emperor in Constantinople. It would have been easy for him to beg off returning to public life, but he maturely grasped that God was asking him to serve him in this new way, so he took the commission. He wisely brought along some of his monks with him so that he could keep up the good habits of prayer that he had established and would need even more among all the intrigues at the imperial court. Eventually he was allowed to return to Rome, where he and his monks would regularly sacrifice themselves by using their good health to care for those who were suffering from the plague and other illnesses in the city. Eventually, after the death of Pope Pelagius II, Gregory was elected his successor. He tried to refuse the office he didn’t want, but after it became clear it was God’s will, he accepted, and was ordained a priest and a bishop (he had already been ordained one of the seven deacons of Rome while still in the monastery). Over the course of his 15 years, he set an example of spiritual maturity and sought to train others in the same discipline. He wrote a “Pastoral Rule” for all bishops, one that is still very much consulted today, in which he talked about the bishop’s duties to preach and to instill discipline, both of which are essential to the formation of mature disciples. He confronted, rather than ducked, problems in society and in the Church. He had special care for the poor, orphans and widows. He prayed and intervened to help out during terrible plagues that would come from the overflowing, polluted Tiber. He sent his monks to places near and far to evangelize and assist illiterate kings in the government of their feudal empires. He reformed the Church’s liturgy so that he would better form the Christians to the praise and glory of God. And he did so much more to try to raise Christian adults and not Christian children, to help people live by the Spirit rather than according to the flesh.
- Today as we come forward to pray this Mass, we ask him, St. Paul and St. Bernadette to pray for us that we may respond to all of God’s graces to mature to the “full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13) whom we are about to receive as he feeds us not with milk or spiritual Gerber’s but with Himself, the food that will bring us to true spiritual maturity if we allow the Lord to bring our whole life into conformity with Him.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 3:1-9
I could not talk to you as spiritual people,
but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ.
I fed you milk, not solid food,
because you were unable to take it.
Indeed, you are still not able, even now,
for you are still of the flesh.
While there is jealousy and rivalry among you,
are you not of the flesh, and walking
according to the manner of man?
Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another,
“I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men?What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul?
Ministers through whom you became believers,
just as the Lord assigned each one.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.
Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,
but only God, who causes the growth.
He who plants and he who waters are one,
and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor.
For we are God’s co-workers;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
ps 33:12-13, 14-15, 20-21
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
he sees all mankind.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
From his fixed throne he beholds
all who dwell on the earth,
He who fashioned the heart of each,
he who knows all their works.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever,
and they interceded with him about her.
He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her.
She got up immediately and waited on them.At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases
brought them to him.
He laid his hands on each of them and cured them.
And demons also came out from many, shouting, “You are the Son of God.”
But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak
because they knew that he was the Christ.At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.
The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him,
they tried to prevent him from leaving them.
But he said to them, “To the other towns also
I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God,
because for this purpose I have been sent.”
And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.