Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Handmaid of the Lord
October 29, 2016
Phil 1:18-26, Ps 42, Lk 14:1.7-11
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today, as on every Saturday, the Church calls to mind in a special way the Mother God the Father chose for his Son and that Son himself from the Cross chose to be our spiritual mother. And today, because of the readings, we are celebrating a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Handmaid of the Lord. Mary is the Mother of the Word. She shows us how to listen to the Word as a word to be lived. St. Luke tells us in two different places that she responded to the Word by reflecting on it in her heart and treasuring it. She pondered the Word so deeply that that by the power of the Holy Spirit that Word literally took on her flesh. And with maternal care and wisdom, she seeks to help us to respond to the Word proclaimed to us, tenderly telling us what she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, to do whatever her Son tells us. And so today we turn to the Gospel with a desire to treasure it and do what Jesus tells us in it. The same Holy Spirit who inspired St. Luke to write it down for us wants to help us to put it into practice in such a way that we will become living commentaries of its truth for others to witness and imitate.
- By means of a parable on seats at a dinner gathering Jesus teaches us about the humility necessary for us to come to the eternal banquet. The parable goes flat against the way many in the world, including many of us Christians, behave. In this world so many want to be noticed, esteemed, and exalted. They want the places of honor at table, first class seats on airplanes and front row seats at concerts. They want waiters and butlers to serve us, chauffeurs to drive them, and the rich, famous and important to call them. At a human level, this is not only common but understandable. But Jesus calls us to a different standard, a higher standard that is at the same time paradoxically a lower one. He tell us, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” He wants us to learn from him how to serve rather that to be served, to seek the lowest place rather than the highest, to treasure God’s esteem rather than others’ adulation so that God may say to us, in this world and the next, “My friend, come up higher!” The way to be exalted at Jesus’ right side forever is humbly to serve at Jesus’ side here on earth, and to follow him not just in seeking the lowest places at table but in getting up from the table like he did at the Last Supper, picking up the basin and towel to wash others’ feet, and serving them in such self-effacing ways.
- This is the type of humility we see in the Blessed Mother. As soon as she had responded to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word,” we know that she went with great haste to care for her elderly cousin Elizabeth, whom the Archangel had told her was pregnant for the first time late in life. It would have been theoretically easy for her just to stay in Nazareth saying, “Wow! I’m going to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah! The dream of every young Jewish girl is going to come true for me. The greatest miracle of all time has just happened within me. God himself not only is going to be my Son but is already growing within me! God’s holy archangel called me ‘Full of grace.’ Am I special or what?” But we know that that’s not what she did. She immediately went on a 70 mile journey to care for someone whom she knew needed help. And when her cousin St. Elizabeth greeted her as “Blessed among women” and “Mother of my Lord,” Mary didn’t respond with pride but with humility, magnifying not herself but God as she let her soul praise him at full volume. And the words of her prayer illustrate what her Son is teaching us in today’s Gospel, thanking God for having “looked upon the humility of his handmaid” and saying that that was the reason why “all generations will call me blessed.” She went on to describe how God disperses the “arrogant of mind and heart,” casts down the “might from their thrones,” sends the “rich away empty,” but lifts up the lowly, and fills the “hungry with good things.” The Lord indeed exalts the humble and humbles the self-exalted and we see the beauty of that lesson in her life and her assumption to her Son’s eternal right side.
- We also see this lesson described for us in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians from which we have our first reading today and more generally in St. Paul’s life. When he was young, Saul of Tarsus was a superstar. He was brilliant, one of the best students of the Great Rabbi Gamaliel, someone who had been trusted with a huge commission at a young age to try to destroy the Church, which he was convinced in his Pharisaical arrogance couldn’t have been from God. But the Lord converted him as we know and led him along a path of humility, blinding him in order to show him his spiritual blind spots before the illumination of baptism. Rather than continuing on the path to fame, he became a hunted man, needing to escape by being lowered in walls through baskets. He disappeared into the desert for 14 years to pray and learn anew. Because others didn’t trust his conversion, he returned to serving God quietly through making tents. He had a humiliating “thorn” in his flesh, whatever that was, but it was through bearing it that he learned that God’s grace was sufficient for him. Eventually after many years, St. Barnabas came for him and the Holy Spirit set them both aside for the Mission he had planned for them. And cooperating with the Spirit, he proclaimed the Gospel to the furthest expanses of the world. He proclaimed that God called nobodies, the humble of the world, to shame those who thought they were somebodies. He grasped that it was truly when he was weak that he was strong, because then God’s power was able to work through him with no resistance. And from prison, as this humble but great man wrote this letter, he sought to decrease so that Christ would increase, saying, as we heard today, that for him “life is Christ and death is gain,” that because his soul was athirst for the living God, he longed “to depart and be with Christ,” and yet was “happy to remain in the flesh for the benefit of others,” so that he could continue to serve and help save others as Christ had served and save him. He gives us the secret of humility here: that to be humble, Christ must be our life. We must yoke ourselves to him, as the Alleluia verse indicated, and learn from him humility and the strength expressed in meekness. To yoke ourselves to Christ, to die to ourselves so that he becomes our life, is to enter into his humility before his Father’s majesty, and his humility before others.
- This is what St. Paul goes on to develop throughout his Letter to the Philippians. If All Saints Day were not Tuesday, we would have the real highlight of the Letter; but insofar as it is, we can anticipate it today. It’s in the second chapter, when St. Paul speaks about Jesus’ humility and tells us to imitate him. He calls us to have in us the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus” who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Indeed in Christ we see how God exalts the humble and that it was through incarnation and then his crucifixion out of love for others that God the Father lifted him up as the source of salvation for everyone. And St. Paul wants us to have that same mentality, emptying ourselves out humbly in loving service of others.
- One of the most important things that should happen at Mass is to take on Christ’s mind and imitate Christ’s meek and humble heart. When we come to pray together, we come not as self-righteous Pharisees arrogantly thanking God that we’re not like the vast multitude of sinners — as Jesus illustrated for us in a Parable last Sunday — but rather like humble tax collectors who cry out together to God for mercy and help. And when we pray with that humble need for God, like a deer longing for running streams, Jesus yokes us to himself so that we can learn from our communion with him how to be meek and humble, too.
- One of the greatest and most challenging prayers that I think has ever been written was composed last century by a diplomat of the Holy See, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val. He was chosen by St. Pius X when he was just 38 to be his secretary of state and it was natural that many were sizing up his head one day for a papal tiara. He responded by writing his famous Litany of Humility, asking God to deliver him from the desire of being esteemed, loved, extolled, honored, praised, preferred, consulted, and approved and from the fear of being humiliated, rebuked, calumniated, forgotten, ridiculed, wronged and suspected. He humbly begged the Lord that others might be more loved, esteemed, chosen, praised, and preferred to him, that others might increase and he decrease, even that others might become holier provided that he become as holy as he should. His Litany of Humility is a really a Litany that will make saints insofar as it is in the saints that we fight this prayer answered and lived. St. Bernard used to teach that the three most important virtues are humility, humility and humility. St. Therese used to teach that the way to grow in the spiritual life is by subtraction, not addition; it’s not to climb a high mountain, but to go down into the valley of humility before God and others. And so it’s unsurprising that both regularly prayed for the gift of humility for themselves and others and sought to convert all of the experiences in life — both the ups and the downs — into means to grow in this virtue. And they, with St. Paul and the Blessed Mother, are doubtless in the heavenly charismatic prayer group to which we aspire, praying for all of us now to follow them along the road of humility to exaltation in the heavenly Jerusalem.
- Today at this Mass, as we prepare to receive the food that makes saints, we ask the Lord to help us to enter into communion with Jesus humility. What he does in the Eucharist is something far humbler even than the Incarnation: the eternal Son of God, the King of Kings, hides himself behind the appearance of Bread and Wine in order that we might eat him without being sickened. And then he tells us “Do this in memory of me!,” which means not just that we come to Mass but that we make his type of humble self-giving the true pattern of our life. May we receive Humility Incarnate with faith and learn from the self-abasement of the One who is “meek and humble of heart” the path to exaltation with Mary, Paul, Bernard, Therese, and all the Saints at Jesus’ glorious and eternal right at that banquet where he promises in the Gospel to serve us forever!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 PHIL 1:18B-26
As long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth,
Christ is being proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.Indeed I shall continue to rejoice,
for I know that this will result in deliverance for me
through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
My eager expectation and hope
is that I shall not be put to shame in any way,
but that with all boldness, now as always,
Christ will be magnified in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
And I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.
And this I know with confidence,
that I shall remain and continue in the service of all of you
for your progress and joy in the faith,
so that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound on account of me
when I come to you again.
Responsorial Psalm PS 42:2, 3, 5CDEF
As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
R. My soul is thirsting for the living God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
R. My soul is thirsting for the living God.
I went with the throng
and led them in procession to the house of God.
Amid loud cries of joy and thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.
R. My soul is thirsting for the living God.
Alleluia MT 11:29AB
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 14:1, 7-11
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”