Loving with our Whole Life and Livelihood, 34th Monday (II), November 24, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Andrew Dung Lac and Companions, Martyrs
November 24, 2014
Rev 14:1-5, Ps 24, Lk 21:1-4

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, pondering not only all that the King has done for us as our Shepherd and Savior but how we’re supposed to respond, how we’re supposed to enter his kingdom, how we’re supposed to spread that kingdom. He described that his kingdom is one of Good Samaritans, in which we follow him in giving of ourselves to those in need, to those who, like he was on the Cross, are hungry, thirsty, naked, estranged, ill or incarcerated. His kingdom is one in which people become poor in spirit in order to inherit the kingdom, because they kingdom cannot be inherited unless one empties oneself of worldliness in order to be filled with the true wealth. Today’s readings and feast help us to understand these realities much more profoundly.
  • In the Gospel, we meet a widow who purchased the kingdom of heaven for two-thirds of a penny, the equivalent of the two lepta she put into the temple treasury. After Jesus had finished his “formal” teaching in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, he began to “people watch,” in order to continue to instruct his apostles about how to put what he taught into action. They saw the stream of people putting money in the temple treasury, which was a large trumpet shaped receptacle leading to a secure money box. People would put their coins in the horn at the top, which was like a funnel, and then the sound of the coin would resonate as it rolled down the metal tubing into the box. Many rich people, St. Luke tells us, were putting in large sums and “making a lot of noise” on the treasury trumpet. But then a poor widow came and put in two lepta, two small coins which together were worth less than a penny and likely barely made a sound. Then Jesus gave a surprising lesson that obviously the disciples never forgot. Jesus praised the poor widow rather than all the rest, saying that she had contributed more than all them, for they “gave out of their surplus, but she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.” This widow, because of her poverty, could easily have been excused for giving nothing. She could have easily chosen to drop into the trumpet only one of the coins and kept the other for herself. But she didn’t. She gave it all. And her generosity was praised by Jesus and will remain until the end of time. What could have moved her to give to the temple even what she needed to survive? There’s only one reason: her deep faith. She believed not simply that God exists, or that he worked various miracles in the past to help her people. She believed so much in him and was so convinced of the importance of what was going on in God’s house that she wanted to dedicate her life and all her goods to continuing and expanding that work of salvation. She accounted the continuance and expansion of that work even more than her own life.  The point is not how much we contribute, but how much of a sacrifice it is; not how much we give but how much we have left over. This woman sacrificed her entire livelihood, spending herself and what she had in the service of the Lord. We should always seek to give in such a way that Jesus would be tempted to pull the saints aside in heaven and point out the way we are spending ourselves in his service, seeking to build up his Kingdom, the Kingdom we celebrated yesterday on the Solemnity of Christ the King.
  • This is an important lesson that we can’t miss. Pope Francis preached earlier this month that our conversion will always remain superficial unless it reaches our pockets. Jesus stressed that we cannot serve both God and mammon, but many of us try. We give “something” to God, we may even give “a lot” to God, but we try to hold on to not just what we need but more than we need as an insurance policy, because, at a practical level, we put more of our faith, hope and love in the security that money provides than we do in God’s providence. We keep ourselves on the other side of the eye of the needle from the kingdom of heaven because we just don’t want to let go of our stuff. We worship God but then we return to the practical adoration of the golden calf. That’s why the widow’s example is so important for all of us. Her putting in all she had to live on was just a sign that she had already given all she had, that she had entrusted her entire life to God. As the great Lenten hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” stresses in its final verse, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, t’were an offering far too small, for love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” We’re called to give everything to obtain the pearl of great price, to consider everything else a loss compared to knowing Christ the King and entering into his kingdom.
  • Today in the first reading from the Book of Revelation we see a glimpse of the eternal destiny of those who, like the widow in today’s Gospel, give all to the God who has given all to us. The 144,000 dressed in white, whose garments were washed in the blood of the Lamb, are a snapshot of the redeemed. The number 144,000 is a symbolic, not a literal one (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some fundamentalist Protestants claim). 12 is one of the magic numbers in Hebrew, flowing from the 12 tribes. 144 is a sign of the multiplication of the descendants of the 12 tribes and the spiritual progeny of the 12 apostles times 1,000, meaning to describe a vast multitude. We see about them that first they had the Lamb’s and the Father’s name written on their foreheads. They were thinking as God the Father and God the Son think; they were filled with God’s wisdom. But they also weren’t ashamed to live by that wisdom publicly. They were singing before the rhone what seemed to St. John to be a “new hymn,” a hymn only they could sing, because doubtless that knowledge came from the experience of their life of love for the God, from their suffering for him, from their being “ransomed from the earth.” Revelation says that these are the ones who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” which is a beautiful description for how every Christian is meant to behave. Jesus calls each of us to follow him through life all the way to heaven, that he is the Good Shepherd who calls each of us sheep by name to follow in his footsteps, and those who make the eternal sheepfold are precisely those who have followed the Lord wherever he has led in this world and forever. St. John adds that “no deceit was found on their lips” and that they were “unblemished.” They were living and speaking the truth. And they show us the way to be numbered among them in God’s eternal kingdom. In the Responsorial Psalm, we asked, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who may stand in his holy place?” And the answer to that question was, “He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.” Those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes are those who seek God, who desire to see him face-to-face. That desire leads them to keep their hands sinless of all bribes but to use their hands to pray, for generosity toward God and charity toward other, for honest work, for embracing and helping others; it leads them to keep their heart clean of all that can lead it to become hardened toward God and toward others; and it keeps them from desiring what is vain, and mammon is certainly among a vanity of vanities. For us to enter into the Lord’s holy place here on earth and in the celestial Jerusalem we must align our desires, hearts and hands to the Kingdom, we must set our eyes on the Lord’s face and seek to follow him wherever he leaves, free of deceit, free of moral blemish.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of fellow Christians who precisely did this, whose garments were bleached in the Lamb’s blood, who desired not worthless things but desired God above all desires, who placed not just their livelihoods in the treasury of the temple but their entire lives. We mark the common feast of the Vietnamese martyrs, St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his 116 companions, just 117 of the estimated 130,000 Vietnamese Catholics who gave their lives for Christ between the 17th and 19th centuries. St. Andrew gave his supreme testimony to Christ 175 years ago, in 1839. He was a teenage catechist who was eventually ordained and was tireless in his preaching and ministry of baptism, exhorting others to fidelity always. He himself, like so many of those to whom he ministered, was captured and sentenced to death. The tortures suffered by the Vietnamese Catholics are among the worst recorded. Their limbs were hacked off joint by joint, their flesh was torn off with red hot tongs, they were drugged, caged, and exposed to many indignities. They were commonly branded on the face with the words “ta dao,” which means “sinister religion,” but even those that’s what the Vietnamese leaders and soldiers thought, that branding was actually the name of the Lamb and of his Father on their forehead. And the generosity of their giving everything in fidelity to Christ likewise led him to pull the apostles aside in heaven and praise them just like he praised the widow in today’s Gospel. They followed the Lamb wherever he led, even to torture, crucifixion and death, and through that Passover into the eternal Promised Land.
  • Today we turn to the Vietnamese martyrs and beg them to pray for us that we may imitate their generosity and give not only our livelihoods but our lives to God. We ask them to teach us how to sing that new song here on earth with honest lips, raised hands, and lifted hearts, so that we might join them in the chorus of the 144,000 singing forever more in Christ’s eternal kingdom.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 rv 14:1-3, 4b-5

I, John, looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

Responsorial Psalm ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Gospel lk 21:1-4

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”