Leading People to God or Away from Him, Fifth Saturday (II), February 15, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Claude la Colombière, Priest and Religious
February 15, 2014
1 Kings 12:26-32.13:33-34, Ps 106, Mk 8:1-10

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • There’s a huge contrast in today’s Mass between those who lead people to God and those who lead people away from God. St. Claude la Colombière, whose feast day the Church marks today, was one who had the “great gift of bringing souls to God along the Gospel way of love and mercy,” as his most famous spiritual directee, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, once said about him. The King of Israel, Jeroboam, had on the other hand an infernal genius in drawing souls from God. We have much to learn from both as to how God wants us to live our life.
  • We begin with Jeroboam. Yesterday the Church had us ponder how Jeroboam, whom Solomon had in charge of his labor force, was met by the prophet Ajihah, who tore his new cloak into 12 pieces and told Jeroboam that ten of those pieces, representing the ten tribes of Israel, would be given to him when Solomon’s kingdom would be divided as a result of his fostering of idolatry. He had been chosen by the Lord to rule the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel precisely because of Solomon’s idolatry. And yet what do we see him do today? Despite the Lord’s promise, Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will return to David’s house,” to Rehoboam, David’s grandson. And because of his ego and his paranoid sense of self-preservation, he led his people into idolatry just like God had condemned Solomon for doing. He said, “If now this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, the hearts of this people will return to their master, Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they will kill me.” So he decided to change their deity, their temple, their rites, and their priests. Instead of the one true God who had chosen him, he made golden calves. Instead of the Temple where God’s presence dwelt, he built to shrines, one in Dan at the northernmost part of the kingdom along the Jordan River above the Sea of Galilee, and one in Bethel, at the southernmost part of the kingdom a short distance north of Jerusalem. Instead of the feasts God set up, he established his own. And instead of the levites, the priests God had chosen, he allowed anyone who wanted to be a priest to be commissioned. And the people were led away by him from the true God and the temple, the feasts and the priests God himself had established.
  • We might think that this is a terrible thing that happened 920-930 years before Christ, but what Jeroboam did in drawing people away from God happens in every age. There are many rulers who have sought to suppress worship of the true God in order to advance their political objectives. We don’t have to think immediately about present attempts to stifle religious freedom in our own country, which are small compared to what’s happened throughout history. Think of what happened to the Jews during the time of Antioches Epiphanes IV or the Christians during the 13 ferocious anti-Christian persecutions between 64-313 AD. Think about what happened to the Japanese Christians at the beginning of the 1600s or the Christians in communist countries last century. There have been many Jeroboams over the course of history!
  • But we also need to be aware of the more subtle ways that the same idolatry is promoted among us today. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that we are living now in a new age of the worship of the Golden Calf. “The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35),” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,  has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” So many in our culture have made money a god. The easiest way to prove that, as I often say, is that if I were giving away a million dollars this morning to everyone who came here to Mass this morning — even just having a free raffle for one million dollars to one winner — we all know that this chapel, this Church, this entire part of the city would be filled to overflowing. And yet we’re giving away God and far fewer come. There are more people in malls on Sundays in Massachusetts than there are in houses of worship. Many Catholics choose to put in overtime on Sunday for time-and-a-half even if it means missing the worship of God. We’ll work like crazy for money but not for the kingdom. We’ve continued with the worship of the golden calf!
  • Likewise many have substituted worship at the true temple for false worship. So many say that they don’t need to come to worship God in the Holy Eucharist with the other members of his family, but instead they can worship him just as well lying in their hammock in the backyard or in their favorite recliner. One of the newest temples built by our culture’s false worship of mammon and celebrity are sports stadiums, where 75,000 can go on Sunday to worship athletes. I love sports and there’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but we have to admit candidly that many people have turned sports into a new religion.
  • Similarly, there has been a substitution of the true religious rites with different feasts, again for the most part driven by the worship of the golden calf. At Christmas time, many are led to prioritize trees, tinsel, mistletoes, fat white-bearded men and wrapping paper more over the One wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. At Easter, many kids are thinking far more about bunnies, chocolate, plastic eggs and jelly beans than they do the Risen Lord Jesus. It’s not that Christmas Trees and Easter Bunnies are necessarily idolatrous — they’re not — but when they substitute for true worship, they’re harmful, and many people have been led astray.
  • And we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s also an attempt to change the priesthood God has established. Jeroboam allowed anyone who wanted to become a priest to become one, as if the vocations came from within and not from God. Today there are many who are trying to change the priesthood, whether we’re talking about married men who want to be ordained, or women who want to be ordained, or even non-Catholics who want to be ordained. At the same time, though, many in our culture have made a different type of priesthood altogether, turning instead to psychiatrists, or to celebrities, or to self-help gurus as the ones with the capacity to lead us to God rather than those sent to us by God.
  • Today as we think about true or implicit Jeroboams, we should think about the larger point about drawing others away from the Lord. There are many who outwardly are ordinary, good people, but who when a family member begins to prioritize God, to put God first, by praying more, or coming to Bible studies, or getting more involved in charitable work, resist, because they get jealous. Jesus talked about the “sword” that divides families, when husbands or wives or kids or parents resist a loved one’s dedicating his or her life to God. There are also those who give ordinary scandal leading others away, those who put work ahead of God and show their kids that money is more important to worship, or those who have time for television but not for prayer, or those who teach that we can pick and choose what commandments we want to follow. These are all those who follow in the line of Jeroboam. Tomorrow, Jesus will say in the Gospel that the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is someone who “breaks one of the least of [his] commandments and teaches others to do the same.” We need to ask God’s forgiveness for the times we and others have led people away from him by our actions!
  • But there’s another path. Jesus will say tomorrow that the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven” is “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments,” is the one who seeks to lead by word and witness others to God. That’s what we celebrate today with St. Claude la Colombière (1641-1682), who was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in 1992. He was a very gifted preacher and retreat master as a young priest, but his superiors assigned him to be the rector of a high school in a place called Paray-le-Monial, presumably so that he could help out a young Visitation Nun who at least claimed to be having special visions of Christ. When this nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, heard St. Claude preach for the first time, she heard the Lord whisper to her that this was the one he had promised to send to guide her, after so many priests wounded her through not knowing how to handle the mystical phenomena she was receiving. He was able to resolve many questions she had and gave her confidence to respond to the Lord and carry the Cross he was asking of her. He would have many others, from ordinary folks to nobles, priests and religious, come to him for guidance, and he would help guide them to find and love the Lord in prayer and charity, in the Sacrament of Mercy and the Eucharist. I want to focus exclusively on the last because that’s what today’s Gospel points to.
  • In the multiplication of the 7 loaves and few fish to feed the crowd of 4,000 — just as in the multiplication of the 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed the crowd of 5,000 — Jesus was teaching us very valuable lessons. First he was teaching us that he wants to incorporate what we have into his work of compassion on the multitudes. He asks, “How many loaves do you have?” He starts with what we give. We’re called to give him what we have, whether big or small, because he can do so much more with it. Second, we see then how he has his disciples pass the food out. He incorporates us in that second aspect of the mission, distributing his blessings to others. That’s what he wants to do in every Mass. He asks us what we have, takes it, changes it, multiplies it, and then wants us to share those gifts with others. The Mass is what the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish points to. In it we have the great multiplication of the “living bread come down from heaven,” that Jesus celebrated not close to the sea but in the Upper Room. The breaking of the unleavened bread in the Last Supper, and how Jesus miraculously transformed it into himself, is what the Church has been distributing ever since, a distribution that continues still today here at Mass. Likewise there’s meant to be a multiplication of fish. We’re that fish — caught by “fishers of men” before us with the same bait (Jesus) with whom they were caught by other fishers of men, tracing themselves back all the way to the time of the apostles — and Jesus wants to multiply us. He wants us to “increase and multiply” first by our uniting to him all that he’s previously given us, receiving from him these changed blessings, and then sending us out to distribute or share those blessings with others. That’s what the Mass does.
  • St. Claude always sought to bring people to Christ in the Mass so that he would be able to work this miraculous transformation in the world. I want to finish by sharing some of his words on how we’re called to pray and live the Mass. “God is more honored,” he once preached, “by a single Mass that he could be by all actions of angels and men together, however fervent and heroic they might be.” Think of all the martyrs combined, all the holy nuns and monks combined, all of the saintly families combined — the Mass honors God even more, because all of the other actions are actions of men whereas the prayer of the Mass is what the God-man offers to God the Father. But St. Claude says so many of us don’t live our life with this in mind. “How few hear Mass with the intention of giving God this sublime honor! How few think with joy on the glory a Mass gives to God. How few rejoice to possess the means of honoring him as he deserves! How seldom do we thank Jesus Christ that, in doing away with all other sacrifices, he has left us a sacrifice that cannot fail to be pleasing to God, a thank-offering proportionate to the benefits we have received from him, a victim capable of effacing the sins of the world.” This is the gift we have, which is supposed to be the highpoint of our life. He finishes, “If we only knew the treasure we hold in our hands! Happy a thousand times those who know how to profit by the Mass! In this adorable Sacrifice, they can find all things: graces, riches spiritual and temporal, favors for body and mind for life and eternity.”
  • Today through his intercession, we ask God to give us the grace to be distinguished, like he was, for leading other souls to God, especially to leading them to Him here, where Christ continues to look on us with compassion, to feed us, to incorporate us and our gifts into his self-giving, and to send us out to share his blessings with the Lord and through those blessings draw us both closer to him in this “adorable Sacrifice.”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 12:26-32; 13:33-34

Jeroboam thought to himself:
“The kingdom will return to David’s house.
If now this people go up to offer sacrifices
in the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem,
the hearts of this people will return to their master,
Rehoboam, king of Judah,
and they will kill me.”
After taking counsel, the king made two calves of gold
and said to the people:
“You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.
Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
And he put one in Bethel, the other in Dan.
This led to sin, because the people frequented those calves
in Bethel and in Dan.
He also built temples on the high places
and made priests from among the people who were not Levites.
Jeroboam established a feast in the eighth month
on the fifteenth day of the month
to duplicate in Bethel the pilgrimage feast of Judah,
with sacrifices to the calves he had made;
and he stationed in Bethel priests of the high places he had built.Jeroboam did not give up his evil ways after this,
but again made priests for the high places
from among the common people.
Whoever desired it was consecrated
and became a priest of the high places.
This was a sin on the part of the house of Jeroboam
for which it was to be cut off and destroyed from the earth.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 106:6-7AB, 19-20, 21-22

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
We have sinned, we and our fathers;
we have committed crimes; we have done wrong.
Our fathers in Egypt
considered not your wonders.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Gospel
MK 8:1-10

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat,
Jesus summoned the disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
because they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
If I send them away hungry to their homes,
they will collapse on the way,
and some of them have come a great distance.”
His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread
to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”
Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They replied, “Seven.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them,
and gave them to his disciples to distribute,
and they distributed them to the crowd.
They also had a few fish.
He said the blessing over them
and ordered them distributed also.
They ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.
There were about four thousand people.He dismissed the crowd and got into the boat with his disciples
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.