Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Teacher of the Spirit
Readings from Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
June 14, 2014
1 Kings 19:19-21, Ps 16, Mt 5:33-37
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- We continue during these days after Pentecost to ponder the practical difference the Holy Spirit is supposed to make in every life that is authentically Christian. During the Last Supper, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. His gift of Wisdom helps us to see things the way they really are, from God’s perspective. The gift of Knowledge helps us to remember the truth and acknowledge it. The gift of Understanding helps us to grasp the paradoxical aspects of the truth. The gift of Counsel attunes our conscience to perceive the truth and align our choices in accordance with it. The gift of Reverence helps us to love and honor God in the truth he reveals. The gift of Fear of the Lord helps us never to shame God by living or telling a lie. And the gift of Courage helps us to live by the truth and speak the truth, even when it’s hard, even when we will suffer for it, even when we will be martyred for it.
- In today’s Gospel, Jesus indicates to us the importance not just of telling the truth but becoming men and women whose whole existence screams the truth. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount that describes the way Jesus lives and Christians are supposed to live together with him, he speaks about oath telling. He first exposes the hypocrisy of many of the people of his age, including some of their religious authorities. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow,” Jesus began, “but I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.” The Jews of his day would swear oaths because they needed to call upon the witness of God to the truth of what they were saying, because they were habitually dishonest. But even when they swore oaths they were dishonest. Many of the rabbis taught them that if they explicitly called on the person of God in their oaths, then they were bound to tell the truth, but if they swore by something other than God, then they could fake it. That’s why Jesus gave a litany of things by which they would swear in order to tell not the truth but a lie: heaven, earth, Jerusalem. Elsewhere he’d add the Temple and the altar. Jesus clarified for them that to swear an oath by any of these things was to swear by the person of God, because God is intrinsically related to each of these realities: heaven is God’s throne, earth is his creation and footstool, Jerusalem is his holy city, our head is his masterpiece, the temple and the altar the place of sacrifice he himself called to be erected. Jesus gave his own principle. “Do not swear at all,” but “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.” Jesus wants us to become people whose whole lives scream the truth, who are trusted simply because of who we are, because we behave in a way in which we would rather die a torturous death than engage in intentional mendacity.
- We shouldn’t look back at the time of the Jews with any superiority because in our own day many of us do similar things to what they did. Kids will say, “I swear to God” and then proceed to tell half-truths or outright lies. People think that if they superstitiously cross their fingers behind their back it is a green light for deception. Even when people take oaths in a courtroom, they’re more concerned about the earthly consequences of getting busted for perjury if any false statements would be exposed than for the eternal consequences of telling a lie with God as the witness. We live in a culture of spin in which we’re constantly trying to manipulate and twist the truth to our own advantage. We also live in an era in which many, including Catholics, justify “white lies” as if they are not only moral trifles but required under charity, as if the truth, rather than setting us free, is somehow uncharitable and injurious. So if we think our sister’s dress is the ugliest thing we’ve ever seen and she asks us how she looks, we’re programmed to tell a “white” lie to her rather than the truth, so that she can go out and be made fun of by others, something that could have been prevented had we charitably broken the news that another dress might bring out her beauty better. When our great Aunt makes the most disgusting meatloaf yet asks us whether we like it, we tell her we do so that she can terrorize everyone’s else’s stomach, too, and continue to believe that her talents lie in meatloaf production rather than elsewhere. The culture of the white lie comes from a misplaced compassion, that it’s better to have people living in a fantasy world but with their feelings temporarily uplifted — even though eventually they’re going to discover the truth, much to their shame and emotional pain — than to live in the real world with their feelings perhaps temporarily hurt. And once they discover that we won’t tell the truth to them about their dress, or their meatloaf, or anything else, they begin to wonder if they can trust us about anything.
- One of the things I always say to young children as I speak to them about lying is that when we recognize we’ve told a lie, then we face one of the most important decisions we can make. We can choose to live by that lie or to correct it, to imprison ourselves by a web of other lies to protect the first one and become a liar or to tell the truth and be set free by it. I show them how it works. The whole process happens like this. “Did you do your homework?,” our mom asks, and we respond “yes” even though we haven’t. Then she asks, “When did you have the time to do it?” And we tell our second lie, “I did it in school before I came home.” Then she asks, “When did you have time to do it in school?” And we tell our third: Mrs. So-and-So was sick and so we had a study hall. Then our Mother says, “I saw Mrs. So-and-So yesterday at the supermarket and she looked very health.” Then we tell our fourth, “We’ll she got sick all of a sudden and had to return home.” The way out of the web of lies is simply to tell the truth after the first lie. “Mom, I’m sorry that I just lied to you. I haven’t done my homework. I just wanted to go outside and play with my friends and I knew if I told you the truth, I’d have to stay in now and do my homework. I’m sorry. I’ll do my homework now.” I try to communicate to the children that rather than getting severely punished for correcting oneself, their parents will grow really to admire them because their consciences won’t allow them to abide in a lie. What goes for young people goes for Catholics of every age. Catholics are being called by Jesus to be people who others know can’t abide in a lie, won’t tell one, will correct themselves if they do tell one out of weakness, and will help others to learn to live in the truth.
- The truth that we say is meant to lead to a consistency in the way we live. Jesus calls us to make sure our yes means yes and our no means no, reminding us that anything more is from the evil one. So our yes in faith to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit must be reiterated in our life. Our yes in faith to the Holy Catholic Church, to the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting must align with our actions. Our no to the devil, to his empty promises and his evil works must be a no to him in the day-to-day choices, big and small, of life.
- We see this alignment — or as St. Thomas Aquinas will say, our “adequation” — between what we say and how we live in today’s first reading in the story of the calling of Elisha the Prophet. He was out working when Elijah threw his cloak over him as a prophetic gesture of ordaining him as his successor. Elisha was honored and immediately started to align his life with his new identity. He first went to say good bye to his parents, because he was about to be living with and serving another father, Elijah. He slaughtered all 12 of his oxen, used their yokes as wood for the sacrifice and gave the great quantity of meat to his people as a clear sign that he wasn’t coming back to his old lifestyle. He was now going to be living a totally new life, a life consistent with his yes to his calling to God through the prophet Elijah. We’re all called to that consistency.
- Last week, I was leading a pilgrimage of seminarians in Rome and during our visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, I stopped at the altar directly opposite the entrance to the sacristy where theres a mosaic of Sapphira’s being struck dead in front of Peter. You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira: they sold their property and pretended to lay all of the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, but they kept something back for themselves. Peter accused them of lying to the Holy Spirit and then they were both struck dead. Of all places in St. Peter’s Basilica, why was this placed opposite the sacristy? Because the Church wanted every priest processing out to celebrate Mass to look up and see Sapphira — dead — and remember that on the day of his ordination he promised publicly that he had left Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Wife, Home, Career, everything, and supposedly laid down all of his gifts and being at the feet or disposition of the successors of the Apostles, in order to follow the Lord completely. By this visual interrogation, the Church is asking him whether he’s been good to his word. The Church is calling him to consistency in life. To have his entire being say “yes” to God and “no” to evil. As we come here to Mass to receive Jesus’ body and blood, he calls us to “do this” in memory of him, to give our life, our body, our blood, our sweat, our tears, our elbow grease, all we have for him and others, to have our “amen!” mean “amen!” and to stake our life on this reality.
- Today we celebrate a Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Teacher in the Spirit, and we ponder that she was a woman who’s “fiat” really meant “fiat,” who gave her yes to God and continued to reiterate that yes her entire life. She was a woman whose no to evil was a firm no and one who continued to have that enmity with the devil, his lies and his evil works. She wants to Mother and Teach us in this life according to the Spirit, how to be docile as he leads us into the truth, the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, the truth about the world and about all that is. Jesus is the Truth and in order to enter into Holy Communion with him we need to be men and women of the truth who, like Jesus, speak the truth, live the truth and spread the truth. As we prepare to receive the Truth in Incarnate here, we ask him to fulfill the promise he made during the first Mass and send his Holy Spirit to lead us into the whole truth so that our own life might be a dramatic proclamation of Him who not only speaks the truth but is the living enfleshment of that Saving Truth come to set us free forever!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 KGS 19:19-21
as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen;
he was following the twelfth.
Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said,
“Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,
and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back!
Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them;
he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh,
and gave it to his people to eat.
Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant.
PS 16:1B-2A AND 5, 7-8, 9-10
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.”
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the Evil One.”