Known, Consecrated and Sent Out as Prophets to Love like Christ, 4th Sunday (C), January 31, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Mass to Celebrate the Conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life
St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, Manhattan
January 31, 2016
Jer 1:4-5.17-19, Ps 71, 1 Cor 12:31-13:13, Lk 4:21-30

 

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

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

Consecrated Life and the Past, Present and Future

I would like to thank the priests of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament for welcoming us this afternoon for this Mass to thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and especially for the grace of the Year of Consecrated Life that concludes on Tuesday. Their hospitality is an expression of their being faithful sons of St. Peter Julian Eymard and this exquisite Church is a fruit of their faith and of the way that for over a century their consecrated life and service has inspired the people of New York with them to build and maintain something truly beautiful to the honor of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and to the glory of God.

At the beginning of this 430-day Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis said that it was a grace-filled occasion for the whole Church and in particular for consecrated men and women to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope. As this Holy Year draws to its conclusion, we have even greater reason to thank God for all the blessings of this past year and to ask him to continue to fill with passion for the present and hope for the future all those who have said yes to his calling to dedicate themselves to him as contemplative monks and cloistered nuns, as religious brothers and sisters in education, health care and charity, as members of secular institutes living out their consecration in the middle of the world, as members of societies of apostolic life, as missionaries spreading the faith, as consecrated virgins, hermits, widows and widowers and in so many new expressions by which they make the life, virtues and values of Jesus more visible and draw the Church and the world from the superficial to the sacred and from the ephemeral to the eternal.

Consecrated Life and the Mass

We conclude this year most fittingly within the context of the Mass, which is the source and summit, the root and center of the consecrated life, where their consecration is renewed in the consecration of Christ on the altar, the Bridegroom who in the Upper Room consecrated himself to the Father so that we might be consecrated in the truth (Jn 17:19). The Mass is where the consecrated help lead the entire Church in the prayer of thanksgiving, eucharistia, for everything God is and does, where we renew our passion through entering into Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, where we receive hope for the future as we encounter God-with-us and prepare with him for the “blessed hope” of his second coming, which is what consecrated men and women proclaim by their total eschatological orientation toward Christ’s kingdom both now and not yet.

The Year of Consecrated Life and the Jubilee of Mercy

It’s also very fitting that we conclude the Year of Consecrated Life in a sacred overlap with the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy, because the consecrated life is a manifestation of God’s merciful love for the world. Every consecrated vocation is born in the mystery of God’s mercy not only for the one called but also for all those who will receive God’s mercy through their prayer and works of charity. God in his mercy continues to call people in every age to pray, like Saints Scholastica, Clare, Bruno, and Thérèse, for the needs of the Church and the world. In his mercy he continues to summon men and women to care as Good Samaritans for the poor, for the sick, for the dying, like Saints John of God, Camillus, Jeanne Jugan, Vincent de Paul, and soon-to-be Teresa of Calcutta. In his mercy he never ceases to draw Christians like Saints John Bosco, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Jean Baptiste de la Salle, Margaret Bourgeoys and Angela Merici to educate young children not just in the three R’s of writing, reading and arithmetic but also the most important R of all, religion. He never stops showing people like Saints Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Bonaventure, Ignatius, and Peter Julian Eymard how prayerfully to relate to him and his gifts and how to pass on to others the way into His mind and heart. And he continues to call zealous men and women like Saints Francis Xavier and Frances Xavier Cabrini, Katherine Drexel and the North American Martyrs to leave home and family behind and bring the saving mercy of God to those who, without their efforts, might never come to know Christ and live in his merciful love. In the 1930s, Jesus famously told the young Polish consecrated woman, St. Faustina Kowalska, that he was “Mercy Incarnate,” but in a very real way God’s great mercy is enfleshed in every consecrated man and woman. They are personified proof that the Lord’s mercy endures forever and by their own trust in God’s mercy, they show the whole Church and the world how to do the same. We ask the Lord, as this Year of Consecrated Life comes to a close, to bless all consecrated men and women with a double-portion of his mercy and through their prayers to help the whole Church learn how to love, receive and share God’s mercy with the same grateful zeal with which they do.

Jeremiah’s Vocation and Those of Consecrated Men and Women

As today we thank God for the gift of the consecrated life, the readings the Church provides us help us to see several of its essential aspects.

In today’s first reading, in the unfolding of the vocation of the young Jeremiah, we are led to reflect on the prehistory and the purpose of the calling to the consecrated life. God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” God mentions three things: He knew Jeremiah before he had even been conceived in his mother’s womb; second, within the womb, before he had a name, God consecrated him to his service; and third, God appointed him a prophet to the nations.

In the background of every consecrated vocation, we find these elements.

  • First, God knows the person intimately. In his eternal omniscience, he knows everything about us and knows us even better than we know ourselves. He knows the talents he’ll give us as well as the frailties. He sees our fidelities and infidelities. He knows everything, and, we can humbly say that despite it all, he calls us to be his, so that through our foolishness we will shame the worldly wise, through our weaknesses we will shame the strong, and through our nothingness we will bring to humility those who think they’re something.
  • Second, God consecrates us, he literally cuts us off — sacer — from the profane so that we can be with him — con. He sets us apart to belong to him, so that we might not only be the sheep of his flock who hear his voice and follow him but to some degree exercise his shepherdly care for all all those in his fold, especially those who are lost, mangled or abandoned.
  • And third, once we become conscious of our vocation to be with him, once we transfer the ownership of our life into his trustworthy hands, he sends us out, he gives us a mission, he commissions us in one way or another to represent him, his truth, his goodness, his beauty, his mercy to others. He makes us a prophet.

When we first become aware of such a calling, most of us are overwhelmed, just like Jeremiah was. Today’s first reading excises verses 6 to 17 of the first chapter of Jeremiah’s recollections, but in those missing verses, we see how Jeremiah protests his calling. “Ah, Lord God!” he says, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.” The Lord calms him down and says, “Have no fear, because I am with you.” Then God stretches out his hand to touch Jeremiah’s mouth and declares, “See I place my words in your mouth” and says that he is sending him out to build up and plant on the one hand and to root up and tear down on the other, to strengthen what needs to grow and to tear down idols. Similarly, many priests and consecrated men and women initially give God lots of reasons why we are unworthy of his calling, why so many others are better speakers, or teachers, or are more courageous and compassionate, or far more fitting for the priestly or consecrated life and its tasks. But Jesus similarly calms us down, tells us not to be afraid because he will be with us, puts himself and his words within us, and helps us, just like he helped Jeremiah, to fulfill the mission for which he has formed, consecrated and appointed us.

The Challenges and Contradictions of Consecrated Life

But even with God’s faithful assistance, the consecrated life will never be easy. Despite Jeremiah’s tender years, he already foresaw that he would suffer in the service of the Lord. He would experience opposition. He would be thrown in the pit. He would be threatened with death. But God assured him, “Be not crushed” because of the opposition, “as though I would leave you crushed before them.” God promised him, “They will fight against you but not prevail, for I am with you to deliver you!” Jeremiah’s faith in God’s words would be tested on many occasions, but God proved himself faithful to these words.

Similarly in our vocations, we will often experience opposition — sometimes fierce opposition — even from family members and friends, in following the call and in remaining faithful to it. But God will never leave us crushed before others. He will be with us always to deliver us, perhaps not in the way we think or on our timetable, but he will be there. Many of us have already experienced that it has been precisely in our most difficult moments in consecrated or priestly life that we have grown in faith and, after a time, grew to discover what we prayed in the Psalm, that God is our rock of refuge, stronghold, fortress, hope, and trust. As we look back on the whole history of our vocation, we can reiterate what we sang, “On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength,” and exclaim, “My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation O God, you have taught me from my youth and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.”

But it’s nevertheless important for us to ask: why would the God whom we call our rock of refuge allow Jeremiah, the other prophets, the apostles, and the vast white robed army of consecrated martyrs suffer so much? Why would he let persecutors even seem to prevail over God’s chosen ones? The reason is to strengthen one’s consecration, vocation and the completion of one’s mission. It’s precisely through opposition that often we will be able to fulfill our mission most. In the Gospel, Christ promised his followers that some of us would be seized, persecuted and dragged before civil and religious authorities, that some of us would be betrayed by parents, siblings, relatives and friends, that some of us would be hated by all because of his name, but that this would “lead to your giving testimony” (Lk 21:13). He even promised that some of us would be put to death, but this, too, would lead to our supreme testimony, the witness of martyrdom, that God is so real, so loving, that we consider it totally worth it to live and die for Him who lived and died first for us, that the sufferings of this world are nothing compared to the glories to be revealed (Rom 8:18), and that we will stake our lives on this truth.

Through suffering opposition, we will experience an even greater conformity to the supreme Consecrated One, Christ himself, who as we see in today’s Gospel, received homicidal opposition in his hometown, from among his relatives and friends and fellow residents. “No prophet is accepted in his native place,” he tells us. The reason is because envy will set in. Some will think they know us because they know our background and our ever-conspicuous limitations, so just like they thought they knew Jesus because they perhaps had some of the items he and Joseph made in their shop. How could Jesus, one of their own, ever turn out to be the long-awaited Messiah? How and why would we receive a special vocation that others might erroneously think makes us better than they are? We’ll encounter opposition for some of the same reasons Jesus described as the source of his own from his fellow Nazarenes: because others do not have faith like the widow of Zarephath during the time of Elijah to entrust her and son’s future during a famine to God through the words of his prophet; because they don’t have faith like Naaman the Syrian to bathe seven times in the dirty Jordan to be cured of leprosy. And this lack of faith in God will lead to a lack of acceptance of God’s prophets, of the divine calling and mission God has given us. But Jesus nevertheless tells us at the end of this Year of Consecrated Life what God said to Jeremiah: “But you, gird your loins, stand up and tell them all that I command you!” He sends us out because even though in some places we won’t find faith, in many others we will. And unlike in the Gospel when Jesus passed through the midst of those who were trying to murder him, he won’t pass through our midst when we need him, but he will be precisely at our side.

The Contradiction of the Profession of the Poor, Chaste and Obedience Christ

One area in which many of us will experience the sufferings of the lack of acceptance from those who don’t have faith is in the proclamation of the poor, chaste and obedient Christ through the evangelical counsels. The prophetic witness of consecrated poverty, chastity and obedience shows the world what true wealth, true love and true freedom are, but in a world enslaved by materialism, hedonism and radically autonomous individualism, our abiding reenactment of Christ’s own choices for the kingdom, of the primacy of God and eternal life, will never be popular or easy. It will always engender some opposition. Just as the Book of Wisdom prophesied that people would beset the Just One (Wis 2:12-14), so some will continue to seek to beset the Just One in us, because merely to see him in us will be the censure of the thoughts of their spiritually worldly hearts. But it’s precisely by the way in which we become living icons of Christ’s poverty as our pearl of great price, of his chastity as the way to love God and others, of his obedience even to death on the Cross and the way to full and genuine freedom, that we will be able, like Jeremiah, to uproot and tear down the idols of the world that prevent so many from turning to the Lord and learning to love him with all their mind, heart, soul and strength, and from turning to others and sacrificing for them without counting the cost. Some will mock and tease our prophetic witness to Christ and to the values of his Kingdom, but vale la pena, the suffering is worth it, because this “sign of contradiction” in union with the one who is the Sign of Contradiction will be the means by which many will come to know that God is real and that we’re the whole realm of nature ours, it would be an offering far too small, because love is so amazing, so divine, demands our life, our souls, our all.

The Striving of the Consecrated Life

The last thing today’s readings describe is what the greatest gift of the Consecrated Life is and how we’re called to seize it. St. Paul tells us in today’s epistle to “strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.” That’s a beautiful description of what those in consecrated life do: they strive with enthusiasm, with dedication, with fervor for the greatest gift of all, namely God himself. The motto of the consecrated life is “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram,” “I seek your face, O Lord!” (Ps 27). Pope Benedict said that the essence of the consecrated life is Quaerere Deum, seeking God. Consecrated men and women seek God’s face, they seek God, and they rejoice to the extent that they’ve found him and been found by him. Consecrated men and woman seek not the glorification of their own name but the hallowing of God’s. They seek not to build up their own grain bins but that of Christ’s kingdom come. They seek not to do their own will, but to become living commentaries of the words, “Thy will be done.” In all of this striving eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts, they grow in the “theological virtues,” the virtues that lead us to God, what St. Paul specifies are the three things that endure, faith, hope and love. This seeking is what leads them toward the Perfectae Caritatis prosecutionem that the Second Vatican Council describes about the consecrated life, “the pursuit of perfect charity,” the perfection of love.

St. Paul is pretty plain in telling the Christians in Corinth that if one doesn’t grow in charity, if one doesn’t have love, in the final analysis, one “is … [and] gains nothing.” If one speaks in human and angelic tongues, but doesn’t have love, one’s just making noise despite the glossolalia and the citations of the Word of God; if one understands all the truths of the Catechism, if one has faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains into the sea, if unlike the Rich Young Man one gives away everything to the poor, and if one hands his or her body over to the torturers, but does not do so with love for God and others, one’s life will remain fundamentally empty. As the great consecrated mystic and doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross said, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possession and human successes but on how well we have loved.” The measure of our life is the measure of our cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

Consecrated Life as a School of the Perfection of Charity

The Consecrated Life is a school of love. It forms us to grow in all of the virtues St. Paul describes as expressions of love. Just as each of these attributes was able to be predicated of Jesus Christ, so they’re able to be said of anyone who perseveres in allowing the love of God to be the defining reality of one’s existence. Consecrated life is a school forming us in patience because it will try our patience. It’s a college of kindness, urging us to treat others with the love of God even on our bad days. It’s a house of humility, preventing us from becoming inflated. It’s an academy of courtesy instead of rudeness. It’s a seminary of selflessness rather than self-seeking. It provides us the setting to work on our temper, to learn to forgive instead of brood, to rejoice with the truth rather than wrongdoing, to grow in faith, hope, endurance and charity. It’s a place where we are able to be formed to grow into “mature manhood,” to the “full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13) by helping us put off childish things and paradoxically grow in spiritual childhood. It’s a university in which we hear the Word of God and let it resonate so much with the help of others that we begin to show what the Word of God looks like in our own conduct. It’s a place in which the love of God in the heart of the Trinitarian communion begins to reverberate in our institutes, houses and novitiates.

This school of charity, which is a vocational-school with a life long co-op, leads to the ever urgent service of charity that shows the real face of the Church. When Pope Francis first announced that he was going to call a Year of Consecrated Life, back in November 2013 in a meeting with the Superiors General of Institutes of Religious Men, he said that the charity we see in consecrated men and women are like smelling salts for a comatose, indifferent world. He said, “The witness that can really attract is that associated with attitudes that are uncommon: generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness in order to care for others. This is the witness, the ‘martyrdom’ of religious life. It ‘sounds an alarm’ for people. Religious [are] witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! [They show that it] is possible to live differently in this world.” The charity of consecrated men and women, their patience, kindness, truthfulness, endurance, faith, hope, and charity, their lack of jealousy, rudeness, ambition, or brooding, their sacrifices for those forgotten by so many others, “wakes up the world.”

Revealing The Inner Nature of the Christian Vocation

And that’s why this Year of Consecrated life in particular, and the consecrated life in general, has been so important for the Church as a whole, because it wakes us up to what really matters, to the total commitment every one of the baptized is supposed to give to God within the context of one’s own vocation and state of life. St. John Paul II emphasized this 20 years ago when he gave us his beautiful apostolic exhortation on the Consecrated Life, Vita Consecrata. He said that the consecrated life “is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality that affects the whole Church.” Rather, “the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” The consecrated life reveals, he accentuated, both the essence of the Christian vocation in this world and toward the next. It shows us that through baptism we’ve all been consecrated to the Lord and points to how we’re supposed to live out that belonging, by “striving eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts,” “striving … towards union” with Christ in this world and forever at the eternal wedding banquet. The consecrated life is a school and consecrated men and women open up that school for all of Christ’s disciples, so that we may learn from them how to love Christ as he deserves and how to love others with the same willing sacrifice and passion he does.

The Spiritual Fruit of Consecrated Life 

As we come together today on the antepenultimate day of the Year of Consecrated Life to thank God for the grace of this Year and the gift of calling so many men and women to share his way of life so that they may become, “for the people of our time, dispensers of mercy, heralds of [his] return, living signs of the Resurrection and its treasures of virginity, poverty and obedience” (Vita Consecrata 111), we ask him at the same time to bring the good work he has begun in the consecrated men and women of our day to completion, so that they may obtain the “greatest spiritual gifts” that they seek with all their hearts. And we also ask him to fill them with contagious joy. Pope Francis is fond of saying the old adage, “Where there are consecrated men and women, there is joy!” Where there are consecrated men and women, we find the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, who came “so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete!” (Jn 15:11. Joy is the characteristic mark of those who live conscious that Jesus Christ has entered our world, walks by us side by side, risen from the dead, triumphant over evil, and wants to give us the greatest gift ever, himself. Joy is the only fitting response to welcome Jesus here, not as those in the Nazarene Synagogue did, but as a young Virgin not far from that same synagogue welcomed him after the Archangel Gabriel greeted her with the words, “Rejoice!” Joy is the only fitting response to our receiving within the One who consecrated himself so that we might be consecrated in Him the Truth, as we enter into his consecration! May joy be the lasting fruit of this Holy Year and lead so many to come to our Merciful God so that the joy of heaven may be theirs on earth and forevermore!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 JER 1:4-5, 17-19

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm PS 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17

R. (cf. 15ab) I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.

Reading 2 1 COR 12:31—13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Alleluia LK 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say,
‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said, “Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
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