Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. John Paul II
October 22, 2016
Eph 4:7-16, Ps 122, Lk 13:1-9
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Every saint’s life is meant to be a commentary on the word of God for the saint seeks, as St. Paul writes today, to “live the truth in love” and “grow to full stature in Christ,” who is the Word made flesh. So the Word of God shines light on the lives of the saints and the lives of the saints help us to understand better the Word of God. This is very much the case today with the readings the Church gives us and the celebration of the feast of St. John Paul II. Let’s begin with the Word of God and then apply it to the life of St. Karol Wojtyla.
- St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians seeks to help us to focus on how God desires to help us to cooperate with Christ’s mission to reconcile all things in him and help us to become holy and immaculate in God’s sight and sanctify others. Today he stresses that grace is given to each of us “according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” who is total self-giving. Christ ascended to heaven to give us even more. He’s given us charisms — St. Paul describes some: apostles (traveling witnesses of the Lord who knew him and witnessed his resurrection and whom he made pillars), prophets (who travel to actualize the word of God and call to conversion), evangelists (who repeat what Jesus said in the Gospel so that people, in an age before many could read or had books or scroll to read, could learn the word of God), shepherds (who guide, nourish and protect the flock from wolves), and teachers (catechists, who help apply the word of God to particular circumstances) — with a clear purpose: “to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ.” Every gift is to help and form others for their Christian mission, which is service and loving others and building up Christ’s body the Church “until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God.” The goal of the Church is unity, to know Christ Jesus that we act on his will that we be one. This is what St. Paul describes as “mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ” and “grow[ing] in every way into him who is the head, Christ, … who brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love.” This process of maturation happens through “living the truth in love.” That’s quite a rich paragraph, but summarized it’s Christ blesses us with his gifts so that we can use those gifts for fulfilling his mission and not only grow to maturity ourselves but help the Church mature. And the gifts he gives are the truth and charity, which we’re called to live in harmony.
- Christ wants us all to grow to full stature this way, to mature manhood, and this is the type of maturity that always characterized the life and mission of St. John Paul II. He was endowed with so many gifts and he used them to equip us for ministry and to try to build up the Church in a world that was being “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching.” As we look at his maturity, we should reflect upon our growth, and we can ponder several elements that are essential to living the truth in love.
- The first is divine mercy. He once said to young people that the greatest means for growth is the Sacrament of Confession, whereby we see ourselves humbly as we are in need of help, take ownership of our choices, and come to receive not just God’s forgiveness but his strength to learn from our mistakes as he seeks to draw good out of the evil we’ve committed. To grow to full stature, we need the Sacrament of his Mercy.
- The second is stewardship. His classic pre-papal work on human relationships was entitled Love and Responsibility, because he saw that there could be no love without responsibility. We have to be responsible for ourselves, for others, and for the love that exists, and “love” severed from responsibility can never be love, since love leads us to sacrifice ourselves for others’ good. To grow to become more like Christ, we must allow our love to mature toward responsibility, so that we grasp we are our brother’s keeper, we are called to be Good Samaritan’s and cross the road, that in the Master’s “absence,” we’re called to fulfill our mission without necessarily anyone’s giving us minute-by-minute supervision. John Paul II was eminently and precociously responsible and sought to help us all grow up in a similar way. To young penitents, he would always say, “You must choose,” because he knew that many preferred to duck personal responsibility.
- The third is suffering. We learn so much through our suffering, just like he did. His mother died before he was 9; his brother and his dad both died before he was 22 and left alone. He suffered through the Nazi invasion and the Soviet occupation. He suffered physically and spiritually. But, as he would write in Salvifici Doloris, suffering, when united to Christ on the Cross, has a wisdom and a power within, that helps us to mature past our pleasures and beyond our fears; it teaches us how to value things properly.
- The fourth is obedience. Jesus himself grew in wisdom and understanding before God and man by obeying his parents who were likewise his teachers. St. John Paul II was likewise obedient to the will of God throughout his life, including in the assumption of the papacy and so many of the challenges that presented. He loving and truthfully embraced reality and said yes to God when God asked. Immature teenagers just want to do their own thing. Spiritually mature adults seek to give their live doing the will of God.
- The fifth is the proper use of time as a gift. St. John Paul II never wasted time. He treated it as such a precious gift that he would multitask, writing Person and Act during the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the first part of the Theology of the Body during the conclave that elected John Paul II, often writing manuscripts during his many meetings as Archbishop of Cracow. His days were long, his lunches were filled with others, because he knew time was precious and he didn’t want to waste it. That’s great maturity. Today’s Gospel is all about the mature use of time. Yesterday in the Gospel Jesus instructed us, like meteorologists, to read the signs of the times and prudently to make peace with God and others along the journey of life. Today he begins with what happens if we ignore that warning. He describes two seemingly random disasters — being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the temple when Pilate’s soldiers murdered protestors against a water system he was trying to establish with Temple money, and being within or around a tower in Siloam when it collapsed — to make the point that unless we are actively reading the signs of the times that Christ’s kingdom has come among us and we need to convert to enter it, unless we are making peace with God and others through asking for mercy and sharing it, we, like the victims of these two events, will tragically perish without preparation. Jesus builds on the theme with the parable of the fruitless fig tree. Fig trees normally take three years to mature and if they’re not bearing fruit by the third year, they’re likely never going to do so. Likewise if we’re not bearing fruit in our Christian lives after quite some time in our life — fruit in acts of loving adoration of God, thanksgiving, prayer, fruit, loving service of others, zeal for holiness — then we’re like a barren fig tree and are wasting all God’s graces just like the fig tree was wasting the soil. The parable, however, has often been called the Parable of the Second Chance. The figure who represents Christ asks for the time to cultivate and fertilize the ground so that it may have another shot. That’s what Christ does for us. But the parable tells us, too, that there will be a time when there will be no time left. There’s a time when after that fertilization, if no fruit is being borne, the tree will be cut down. So there is an urgency. We have no foundation for us to think we have ten, twenty or fifty years to bear fruit. Reading the signs of the times of those who die at our age in life or even younger, now’s the time for us to be focused on bearing fruit in Christ. Now’s the time for us to make the most out of this gift.
- The sixth is through the self-giving. St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical on “living the truth in love” that’s called Veritatis Splendor. He focused on the Rich Young Man, the boy who sought fulfillment, sought to be perfect, but who went away sad because he didn’t have the self-mastery to sacrifice things to become more, to let go of stuff to obtain the pearl of great price. In this 1993 encyclical, St. John Paul II wrote, “Jesus’ conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection: the young man, having observed all the commandments, shows that he is incapable of taking the next step by himself alone. To do so requires mature human freedom (“If you wish to be perfect”) and God’s gift of grace (“Come, follow me”). Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called. Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life; on the other hand, for the young man to give up all he possesses and to follow the Lord is presented as an invitation: “If you wish…”. These words of Jesus reveal the particular dynamic of freedom’s growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law. Human freedom and God’s law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom” (VS 17). When we’re mature, we will use our freedom to live the truth in love.
- The last point I’ll mention that John Paul II teaches us about the way to become full stature in Christ is through imitation of, consecration to, and intercession by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was the mature teen whose yes changed human history, the one who was responsible for her child in the womb, the one who took on suffering in union with him all the way to Calvary, the one who perfectly imitated his mature self-giving, recognizing that the human person could only find himself through the unselfish gift of himself to others. John Paul II consecrated himself to her — Totus tuus was his motto, from St. Louis de Montfort’s formula of consecration — and she helped to raise him to full stature in her Son. She’d likewise want to help us.
- And the daily means of all of this is the Mass, the highlight of John Paul II’s life, where we receive Christ’s gift and through uniting ourselves to Christ are built up into one Body in Him. It’s here we learn how to live the truth in love, receiving the gift of the Real Presence of Christ and united with him, doing this in memory of him. John Paul II wrote that we need to grow in Eucharistic amazement, that whenever we celebrate Mass, we do so on the “altar of the cosmos,” that this is an eternal action that has the ability totally to transform us and the world. Let us ask St. John Paul II to help us to pray this Mass the way he did, and to live the Mass the way he did, so that we can use the “grace given to us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” with the same responsibility he did so that we may be fully equipped for our ministry and build up the Body of Christ in unity and knowledge of the Son of God at whose right hand St. John Paul now eternally rejoices!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 EPH 4:7-16
Grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Therefore, it says:He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.
What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.
And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood
to the extent of the full stature of Christ,
so that we may no longer be infants,
tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching
arising from human trickery,
from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.
Rather, living the truth in love,
we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole Body,
joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
with the proper functioning of each part,
brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love.
Responsorial Psalm PS 122:1-2, 3-4AB, 4CD-5
I rejoiced because they said to me,
“We will go up to the house of the LORD.”
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Jerusalem, built as a city
with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
According to the decree for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats,
seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Alleluia EZ 33:11
I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord,
but rather in his conversion that he may live.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
He said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them–
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”