Living the Beatitudes With Fire, Tenth Monday (II), June 9, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor
June 9, 2014
1 Kings 17:1-6, Ps 121, Mt 5:1-12

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

 

 

The following points were attempted in this homily: 

  • Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost and considered the Gift who is the Holy Spirit and the gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts when he comes to abide in the soul. Jesus emphasized how great the Holy Spirit is when he told us during the Last Supper that it was better for him to go because if he didn’t, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t come to us — a remarkable statement in which Jesus implies that if given a choice between Him and the Holy Spirit, we should choose to let Jesus go and the Holy Spirit come. The greatness of the gift of the Christian life is such that we don’t have to choose among the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, but it does give us a glimpse into how important that Holy Spirit is for every Christian life. But just as it’s not enough to know about Jesus but we have to come to know Jesus intimately as friend, Savior, and Lord, so it’s not adequate merely to know about the Holy Spirit, but we need to give him permission to do in us the same moral miracle he worked in the first Christians at Pentecost.
  • In today’s Gospel we see just how much we need the Holy Spirit and the difference the Holy Spirit can make. Jesus gives us the Magna Carta of the Christian life in the Beatitudes. These traits characterize his life and the life of any true Christian who aspires to be like him. But looked at from the perspective of the world, of typical human desires, they seem excruciatingly difficult if not practically impossible just to believe not to mention to live. Jesus tells us that the path to happiness is not to be rich and famous but to be poor in spirit and persecuted; not to be powerful but meek and pacific; not to be  sexy but pure; not to laugh but to weep; not to be satiated but hungry and thirsty. But this is where the Holy Spirit and his gifts come in to help us both to believe and to act on what Jesus says so that through living the Beatitudes the Holy Spirit may sculpt us to be like Jesus.
  • The gift of Wisdom helps us to see things the way God does and how the Beatitudes lead us to place our treasure in his kingdom rather than in the world. The gift of Understanding helps us to grasp how the people who have lived this way have in fact been blessed even in this world. The gift of Counsel helps us to attune our consciences to these words and see the means all around us by which to grow in these virtues. The gift of Courage helps us to overcome our fear in cutting the chains the bind us to categories of worldly security — possessions, power and popularity — and to know that we can do all things, including live the Beatitudes, in the Holy Spirit who strengthens us. The gift of Knowledge strengthens us to find God in each of these ways. The gift of piety helps us to see in each of these means that they are the path to reverence God rather than idolize creatures, their opinions or their comforts. And the gift of Fear of the Lord helps us to recognize that it wouldn’t be worth it to gain all the money, fame, influence in the world if we would in the process lose our soul and displease the Lord who loves us. On our own, the Beatitudes seem impossible for us. But with the help of the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit who descended upon us yesterday, we know that they are in fact possible and constitute the path to real happiness in this life and in the next.
  • Today we ponder two people who were moved by the Holy Spirit, who were persons of the Beatitude. The first is the Prophet Elijah, whom we encounter in the first reading. He was one who, inspired by the Gift of Courage, confronted the corrupt king Ahab and prophesied a drought and famine. He was one who hungered and thirsted for God more than for food, one who was willing to be persecuted for the sake of God, one who was spiritually poor to the things of the world because he treasured the things of God. And as we’ll see today and tomorrow, God filled that greater hunger and providentially cared for the material hungers. Today we see that God arranged for ravens to bring him food and meat out in the desert and gave him water from a stream. He was living a different life because he was living by the inspirations given to him by the Holy Spirit and that led him to value the things of God above the things of the world.
  • Today we also remember the great fourth century Deacon and Doctor of the Church, St. Ephrem, from Syria. He was a prolific teacher in an age of terrible heresies against the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. At the request of his bishop, he opened up a school in Nisibis to teach the faith aright and inoculate people against false teachings. But he also was an incredible poet and songwriter, putting the truths of the faith into more than 3,000 songs so that Christians could learn and pass on the faith through music. He was called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit” because not only did he teach clearly about the Holy Spirit but taught through the Holy Spirit who led him to some of the deepest insights about the truths of our faith in the history of the Church. And he expressed them not just in dry theological treatises but in poetry and in liturgical and sacred music, because as Pope Benedict XVI said several years ago in a Catechesis on what we can all learn from him, he always connected beauty and truth so that the truth could be prayed liturgically. Today we began Mass by asking God the Father, “Pour into our hearts O Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit, at whose prompting the Deacon St. Ephrem exulted in singing of your mysteries and from whom he received the strength to serve you alone.” The Holy Spirit who descended anew upon all of us yesterday on Pentecost wants to help us all not just profess the mysteries of the faith but sing them with joy. He wants to help us not just keep the beatitudes but, we could say, dance them with rejoicing. That is the difference the Holy Spirit makes.
  • Among St. Ephrem’s most treasured and renowned mystical teachings were his writings on the Holy Eucharist. Back in 2007, Pope Benedict focused on one of them in which he tied in the work of the Holy Spirit to the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Ephrem was accustomed to speak of the Eucharist as receiving fire, just like the Prophet Isaiah’s lips were purified by a seraph who placed burning charcoals on his lips (Is 6:6). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the Burning Coal that we not only touch and consume. “In your bread,” St. Ephrem writes, “hides the Spirit who cannot be consumed; in your wine is the fire that cannot be swallowed. The Spirit in your bread, fire in your wine: behold a wonder heard from our lips. The seraph could not bring himself to touch the glowing coal with his fingers, it was Isaiah’s mouth alone that it touched; neither did the fingers grasp it nor the mouth swallow it; but the Lord has granted us to do both these things. The fire came down with anger to destroy sinners, but the fire of grace descends on the bread and settles in it. Instead of the fire that destroyed man, we have consumed the fire in the bread and have been invigorated.” It is the Holy Spirit working through the Eucharist that burns away the dross of our life. Elsewhere he said, “Extending His hand, [Jesus] gave them the Bread that His right hand had made holy: ‘Take, all of you eat of this; which My word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread, and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it. Take, eat, entertaining no doubt of faith, because this is My Body, and whoever eats it in belief eats in it Fire and Spirit.'” To enter into Communion with the Lord is to consume “Fire” and “Spirit.” That’s the fire of the Holy Spirit that the Lord wants to enkindle in us in every “little Pentecost” of the Mass so that, united with Jesus, with not only lips purified but our lives purified, we may go out to set the world ablaze. And we do that not just with our words but we do so with our witness of the truly blessed life, the life of the Beatitudes, that the Holy Spirit makes possible. 
  • So today we will be fed not bread and meat by a raven near a Wadi, like Elijah, but by a Dove who feeds us with Jesus’ body and blood and his only holy fire. Let us ask St. Ephrem to help us to respond to this great gift like he did in life so that we may join the “Harp of the Holy Spirit” in singing these mysteries here and forever!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 17:1-6

Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab:
“As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve,
during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.”
The LORD then said to Elijah:
“Leave here, go east
and hide in the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan.
You shall drink of the stream,
and I have commanded ravens to feed you there.”
So he left and did as the LORD had commanded.
He went and remained by the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan.
Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning,
and bread and meat in the evening,
and he drank from the stream.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 121:1BC-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. (see 2) Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
R. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
May he not suffer your foot to slip;
may he slumber not who guards you:
Indeed he neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the guardian of Israel.
R. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade;
he is beside you at your right hand.
The sun shall not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
R. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.
R. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Gospel
MT 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”