Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi
October 4, 2016
Gal 1:13-24, Ps 139, Lk 10:38-42
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we continue in this Jubilee of Mercy, it is important for us to focus on God’s continually blessing us with his Mercy and how we’re constantly called to convert to live by it more and more. To live by God’s mercy means, first, that we recognize that God acts first, that our life is a fiat not a faciam, a “let it be done to me” rather than an “I will do.” It means that God takes the initiative and that our first action in a life of faith is to receive what God gives. Today’s Gospel opens us up to that conversion. Both Martha and Mary loved Jesus very much. As an expression of that love, Martha worked very hard to prepare a meal for him, something that was much more time-consuming in the ancient world without stoves, or refrigerators, or blenders or ready-made cooking supplies than it is today. She likely also cleaned her house, which, too, was much more challenging in the age before vacuum cleaners, running water, and so forth. It’s natural that she would have been exasperated doing all of this work while her sister Mary seemed to be doing nothing. After she complained to Jesus, however, Jesus corrected not Mary but Martha, telling her that she was anxious and concerned about many small things but only one was necessary. Mary had chosen the better part, the one thing necessary — Jesus himself — and it was not going to be taken away from her to focus on relatively less important things. What Mary grasped that Martha didn’t is that Jesus had come to their home primarily to feed and not to be fed, to serve rather than to be served, and it was Mary who grasped that and sat at his feet as he not only fed her with the nourishment of his word and presence but cleaned her interior house by his own purity. Often we, too, are in need of this conversion to letting the Lord act, to giving him a free hand, to allowing him to feed and serve us, rather than “taking control” of our relationship with him and structuring it according to the way we think we should love him rather than the way he actually wants us to love him. We know from yesterday’s Gospel of the Parable of the Good Samaritan that it’s not possible for us to be so concerned about the things of God that we can neglect the care of others. God, rather, wants us to “observe” the Word we hear, as we prayed in today’s Alleluia verse, and love others in deeds. But before we get to action, we need to permit God to act, to fill us with himself, so that we act in communion with him rather than just in his sight. No matter how long we live God will be calling us to this type of conversion, reminding us that he is the one things necessary, giving us the chance to choose him as the better part, and letting his life become more and more ours.
- In today’s first reading, we likewise see an important part of the conversion to which God calls us. On the surface, we see that Paul’s conversion was from “persecut[ing] the Church of God beyond measure and [trying] to destroy it” to “proclaim[ing] him to the Gentiles,” from killing disciples to making them. He summed up this aspect of his conversion at the end of the Gospel, when he, speaking about the Christians of Judea, said, “they only kept hearing that ‘the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ So they glorified God because of me.” Our constant conversion should be a means by which others are able to glorify God, seeing the wonders of his mercy in our own flesh. At the same time, however, that’s only a superficial look at his conversion. As Pope Benedict used to point out, St. Paul’s conversion wasn’t really from a “bad” life as a murderer to a “good” life as a Christian and apostle, but from a false notion of a holy life to a true one, from an erroneous conception of what was pleasing to God to a real one. He previously thought that he would be saved by his own works in fidelity to the Mosaic law, whereas afterward he recognized he was saved by Christ, by God’s grace, by his Mercy. His conversion was, in some ways, similar to the conversion to which Christ was calling Martha: to convert his zeal into allowing God to use him as his chosen instrument to the Gentiles rather than trying to love and serve him on his own terms. He eventually realized that to live was Christ. We’ll talk about this more a little below.
- But today I would like to spend most of our time on the conversion in the life of the saint whose birth into eternal life the Church marks today. St. Francis is far more than a spiritual Dr. Doolittle, a lover of nature and the animals. He’s more than one of the most famous peacemakers in the history of the Church and the world. He’s greater than the founder of one of the largest spiritual families in the Church. As Pope Benedict stressed when he went to Assisi in 1207, to mark the eighth centenary of one of the most important events in the history of the Church, St. Francis is above all a great witness to the power of conversion. St. Francis, in his own Testament at the end of his life, regarded the first 25 years of his life as a time when he was “in sin.” He lived a care-free life in which he was head of the fraternity, or as his friends called him, the “king of feasts.”
- His conversion happened, according to me, in four main stages.
- The first took place when he was riding his horse outside the city and met a leper who came out from a leper colony to ask him for an alm. Francis dropped him something and sped away, not being able to stand the sight and smell of the leper and also phobic about catching the disease. But a short distance away he was pierced to the heart by his lack of genuine love. He turned around, sped to the leper, dismounted, and then embrace him and kiss the lands he wouldn’t touch earlier when dropping coins. It was a conversion to charity. “After 25 years of a mediocre life full of dreams, spent in the pursuit of worldly pleasures and success,” Pope Benedict described, Francis “opened himself to grace, came to his senses and gradually recognized Christ as the ideal of his life.”
- The second stage happened in the Church of St. Damian on the slope of Assisi that we’ll be visiting later today. As Francis was praying in front of the Crucifix in the run down Church, Jesus spoke to him from the Cross and summoned him, “Francis, rebuild my Church which you can see is falling into ruin.” Francis, at first, took the Lord literally and, selling some of his father’s precious fabrics, with the proceeds began to reconstruct the dilapidated house of God. But the Lord had a far bigger building project in mind. Later Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis, whom he would meet for the first time the following day, holding up the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s principal Church, a sign that the renovation project God had in mind was the Church as a whole, which is not built of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but men, women, boys and girls, living stones built on Christ the cornerstone. That’s the building project Francis would undertake for God, one living stone at a time, beginning with his Franciscan brothers, and then the Poor Clares, and then the lay Franciscans, and through them in the Church as a whole. St. Clare would run away from home at 18 to “live according to the manner of the holy Gospel,” and that type of evangelical living is precisely what the Lord was asking for, what Francis would eventually inspire. That was the second stage of his conversion.
- The third happened in the courtyard of the bishop’s residence after Francis’ Father had denounced him to the bishop for stealing his fabrics to sell them to rebuilt the Church. What Pietro Bernardone was really hoping for was far more than the restitution of his sold property, but the restitution of his son whom he thought was losing his mind seeking to unite himself to Christ in radical poverty, chastity and obedience. When Pietro told Bishop Guido what his son had done, Francis readily confessed, promised to return the money, but then grasped that the clothes he was wearing were also the fruit of his father’s generosity. So he stripped naked in the bishop’s courtyard, gave the clothes back to his Father, and then said he was finally able to live fully dependent on the generosity of his Father in heaven to whom he prayed, “Padre nostro, che sei nei coeli,” “Our Father, who art in heaven.” That was the third stage, to take Jesus’ words seriously that just as the Father takes care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky, so he will always care for our food, drink, clothing and housing. He was to live totally by God’s providence and mercy.
- And his fourth stage happened when the Lord appeared to him once more from a Crucifix, a Crucifix in LaVerna, two years before he died, and from his wounds pierced Francis’ hands, feet and side with his Sacred stigmata, so that Francis could bear in his own flesh Christ’s wounds. This was the culmination, so to speak, of his journey of conversion, which was, as Pope Benedict said in 2007, a “daily effort to put on Christ.” This itinerary culminated with the appearance of the stigmata, which enabled him to experience fully what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Before he had received the visible wounds of Christ in his body, Pope Benedict stressed, Francis had received the wounds of Christ on his heart. He had been touched by the way his own sins had offended the Lord and had been moved with the same love for God and others that pierced Christ’s heart. This was his total conversion to Christ, “to the point that he sought to be ‘transformed’ into him, becoming his total image.”
- That’s the chief lesson of Francis’ life. As Pope Benedict said in the Basilica of St. Francis in 2007, “Today, everything here speaks of conversion. … Speaking of conversion means going to the heart of the Christian message, and at the same time to the roots of human existence. … Since the time when the faces of lepers, loved through love of God, made him understand in a certain way the mystery of kenosis (cf. Phil 2: 7) – the humbling of God in the flesh of the Son of Man -, from the time when the voice of the Crucifix in San Damiano put in his heart the program for his life, ‘Go, Francis, repair my house’ (2 Cel I, 6, 10), his journey was none other than the daily effort to put on Christ. … My dear brothers and sisters, what was the life of the converted Francis if not a great act of love? This is revealed by his passionate prayers, rich in contemplation and praise, his tender embrace of the Divine Child at Greccio, his contemplation of the Passion at La Verna, his living ‘according to the form of the Holy Gospel’ (2 Test. 14), his choice of poverty and his quest for Christ in the faces of the poor. This was his conversion to Christ, to the point that he sought to be ‘transformed’ into him, becoming his total image; and this explains his typical way of life by virtue of which he appears to us to be so modern. … May Francis of Assisi obtain the grace of an authentic and full conversion to the love of Christ!”
- Today at this Mass Jesus hopes that we advance along the journey of our own continued conversion. And we pray to the Lord, “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way,” we know that that is the way of conversion to sharing in Christ’s cruciform love, receiving it like Mary of Bethany and passing it on with all we have. Each of us is called to “relive the interior journey of Francis.” Each of us is called to hear the Lord’s voice to repair his Church, parts of whose living stones in every generation “falling into ruins” through sin. Each of us is called to let Christ fully come alive in us through being “crucified with Christ,” which means denying ourselves, picking up whatever hardships or crosses we are given, and following Christ (see Mt 16:24). It means, in short, offering our lives in love for God and for others. “In a word,” Pope Benedict summarized, “Francis was truly in love with Jesus.” That love for Jesus shone throughout his converted life and still shines 800 years later. It is a love that was so strong as to rebuild the Church. It is a love that is still powerful enough to rebuild the Church in our time, if we are able to experience that love through a conversion as profound as Francis’.To strengthen us in this continued assimilation of the life of Christ, Jesus is going to do something even greater for us than he did for Francis in the cave of LaVerna. We’re not just going to receive in our flesh his sacred stigmata, but we’re going to receive within his whole body, blood, soul and divinity, something that will help us from the inside to live a converted life, to live according to the manner of the Holy Gospel, so that others, in seeing our conversion, might “glorify God” because of us, just like the Judeans glorified God because of Paul and Assisi and the whole world glorifies God because of Francis.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 GAL 1:13-24
You heard of my former way of life in Judaism,
how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure
and tried to destroy it,
and progressed in Judaism
beyond many of my contemporaries among my race,
since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions.
But when he, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart
and called me through his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son to me,
so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles,
I did not immediately consult flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to those who were Apostles before me;
rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus.Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas
and remained with him for fifteen days.
But I did not see any other of the Apostles,
only James the brother of the Lord.
(As to what I am writing to you, behold,
before God, I am not lying.)
Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
And I was unknown personally to the churches of Judea
that are in Christ;
they only kept hearing that “the one who once was persecuting us
is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
So they glorified God because of me.
Responsorial Psalm PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Alleluia LK 11:28
Blessed are those who hear the word of God
and observe it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 10:38-42
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”