Longing for the Desideratus more than Hannah for a Child, December 22, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Mass for December 22
December 22, 2016
1 Sam 1:24-28, 1 Sam 2:1.4-8, Lk 1:46-56

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today’s O Antiphon again helps us to ponder how the Church hopes that we’re preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord and provides a very rich prism by which to understand today’s readings: O Rex gentium et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. “O King and Desired One of the Nations, O Cornerstone who makes one from both [who unites the house of Israel with all the nations]: come and save the human person whom you formed from the clay.” In this O Antiphon we make explicit what is implicit in the O Adonai of December 18 when we refer to Christ not only as the “leader of the house of Israel” who gave the Israelites the law, but also the “Adonai” or Lord who spoke as Yahweh (I am who am, the God of every being) to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus is king of all nations, not just Israel, and he’s not only king, but the one who all nations long for, even if unconsciously. He is the one who comes to unite Israel with all of the nations in the worship of the one true God as one family. He is the creator of us all, breathing into our common ancestors at the beginning of time the breath of life, our soul, and he wants to remake us and reunite all of us he formed from the clay as one family.
  • Today we see what’s supposed to happen with the soul he has breathed into us. Mary shows us in her famous Magnificat, when she says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Our souls are meant to magnify God. Mary gives us lots of reasons to praise God and to rejoice. It’s because God looks on us in our lowliness and has done great things for us. He has mercy in every generation on those who treat him with awe. He defends the innocent, the weak and the small with the strength of his arm, scattering the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty ones of the earth from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things while those who are satiated are dismissed empty, routinely and mercifully coming to the rescue of Israel. The Lord’s name is holy and all generations will call us blessed because of the way he never ceases to bless us. Mary’s Magnificat, as Biblical scholars always point out, was a synthesis of various testimonies from famous women in the Old Testament. Today we’re able to see the overlap between the Magnificat and the hymn of praise uttered by Hannah after God removed the shame of her sterility and allowed her to conceive and give birth to the one who would become the great prophet Samuel. Much of her praise was taken up in paraphrases by Mary. Hannah’s heart exults in the Lord, who breaks the bows of the might, who spoils the hungry, who helps barren women not just get pregnant but pregnant seven times, who makes poor and make rich, who humbles and exults. One line in her praise is particularly fitting within the context of today’s O Antiphon. She said that God “raises the needy from the dust, from the dung heap he lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.” The Lord who formed us from the dust lifts us up from the dust, lifts us up from excrement and makes us noble and our throne glorious. That’s what God does for us when Jesus comes. That’s what Christmas is about.
  • The Mass for Christmas Day has a beautiful prayer that priests in the Latin Rite pray every day either in full (Extraordinary Form) or in an abbreviated (Ordinary Form) way when they pour the drop of water (symbolizing our humanity) into the chalice filled with wine (symbolizing Christ’s divinity). “Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti, da, quaesumus, nobis eius divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.” This prayer that will be the Opening Prayer for the Mass on Christmas morning expresses what we’re asking Jesus to do, and what he has in fact done, by his incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection: “O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” God created us wonderfully from the dust at the beginning but the way he has “reformed” us is even more remarkable, taking on our humanity so that we may become sharers in his divinity. He blew into us at the beginning of time the spirit that brought us to life; now he breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22), so that we may experience his own divine life inside of us. If we were to grasp this reality, we’d never be able to stop singing a Magnificat! He gives us himself so that we can proclaim his greatness and rejoice in him. He has looked on us in our humility and exalted us to his own glory — indeed all generations in heaven will never be able to cease describing how blessed we are!
  • One of the reasons why perhaps we don’t adequately appreciate this is because we don’t have enough holy longing for this reality. This is one of the reasons why throughout salvation history, and particularly throughout Advent, the Church has us focus on our desire and it does so by allowing us to enter into the longing of aging sterile women like the wife of Manoah and St. Elizabeth on December 19 and like Hannah today. How much they wept, how much they prayed, how much they desired a child, not just with the holy desire of any woman for a son or daughter but particularly because in Jewish culture children were considered the greatest blessing of all and those who were sterile were considered cursed. During Advent, we’re supposed to long for Christ even more than the way they longed for a child. Christ is the “desideratus,” the long desired of the nations. The Blessed Virgin is in this sense the “Daughter Zion” (Is 62:11; Jer 4:31). We pray in the Preface for this second phase of Advent, “The Virgin Mother longed for Him with love beyond all telling,” and how true that is. Each of us is called to relive Mary’s maternity by becoming a “mother of Christ” according to faith through conceiving (hearing) and bearing (putting it into practice) Jesus, the Word of God. But for us to conceive and bear Christ, we first need to relive the mystery of Mary’s longing for Christ beyond all telling, longing for a fulfillment of God’s promises, longing for the Messiah, longing essentially for God. That’s what Advent is meant to foment in us so that we can thoroughly burst with joy as the Desideratus is born.
  • The best way to stoke that longing is by responding to God’s grace to long for him here at Mass. Even though we were once just dust, just matter, God has exalted us, and there’s no greater sign of that exaltation than here at Mass, when the King of the Nations sets up his throne within us so that we can build our whole life on him the Cornerstone. It’s through entering into communion with him that he seeks to make us one. Let us beg him, the Desired of the Nations, to increase our longing so that as we prepare to receive him who took on our humanity, we may more and more share in his divinity and so that our whole lives may become a Magnificat that one day we hope to sing in unison with Mary and all the saints.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 sm 1:24-28

In those days,
Hannah brought Samuel with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
She left Samuel there.

Responsorial Psalm 1 sm 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd

R. (see 1a) My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
he humbles, he also exalts.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church;
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel lk 1:46-56

Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”
Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months
and then returned to her home.