Fr. Roger J. Landry
Annunciation Motherhouse of the Sisters of Life, Suffern, NY
Monday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Beginning of the Sisters’ New Apostolic Year
September 7, 2015
Col 1:24-2:3, Ps 62, Lk 6:6-11
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
Since 1880s, Americans have marked Labor Day on the first Monday in September, in order to celebrate the hard work of Americans in making this country prosperous and strong and, according to the original Presidential proclamation, to have the time to attend speeches and events on the spiritual and education aspects of human work not only for the building up of our country, but also for building us and others up in God’s plan. While many treat it just as the last day of a summer vacation, we can use it to ponder the spiritual aspect of work especially as you begin this new apostolic year.
We see that the vocation to work was given to us by God at the beginning, prior to the Fall, in order to cooperate with him in bring the gift of his creative work to perfection. In Genesis God specified three types of work: filling the earth and subduing it, bringing out all the potential he had put into creation; sharing in his dominion over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and all the creatures who walk on earth; and increasing and multiplying, collaborating with him in bringing new creatures made in his image and likeness, and in their parents image and likeness, to life. In this three-fold work, not only would we be doing something, but would be forming someone, namely ourselves, more and more in the image of God whom Jesus revealed as “working still” (Jn 5:17). Work has, as St. John Paul II used to say, a transitive and intransitive fruit, a facere and an agere, to use the two complementary Latin words for work, to show that when we work we not only make something but build ourselves up. God created us with this vocation to work in his image and then gave us the command to rest in his image on the Sabbath, in order to give us the chance with him to rejoice in the work done and to make sure that all of it remains connected to our relationship with Him. Labor Day is like an annual secular Sabbath in which we’re called to do this reflection and revivify this connection. When God gave us the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath Day he said he was doing “because you were once slaves in Egypt.” The Sabbath is meant to help us to do our work not as slaves but as sons, as collaborators in the family business, and Labor Day is an opportunity for all of us to ponder more deeply what is our family business.
Our vocation to work wasn’t eliminated by the Fall, but it was changed by it. After original sin, our three-fold work would become arduous, tilling and subduing the earth would become toilsome and sweaty, childbirth would become painful, dominion over other animals would be contested and dangerous. Our vocation would remain, but it would become transformed as part of the redemption, the means by which we would cooperate with the Lord in repairing the damage due to sin through perfecting us in love. The love of mother for a child such that she would endure so much not only in childbirth but in child-rearing would become part of her restoration in love. The love of a dad in toiling in the fields would become a means by which he expresses his capacity to lay down his life to provide for his children.
Work well done, in short, would become a means of our cooperation with Jesus in his redeeming work.
It’s not by coincidence that Jesus spent over 90 percent of his salvific life on earth sharing in ordinary human work. His fellow Nazarenes knew him as a “tekton” which is normally translated as “carpenter” but is better translated as a “construction worker” or even as “architect” who designs and executes a building project. Following his foster-father, Jesus entered into the world of human work. He built houses, made tables and wheels and produced scores of other items people needed for life and their own work. He did this not as a “cover” until his “real work” would begin, but precisely to redeem noble human labor in his process of redeeming the human person. The early saints taught that whatever Jesus didn’t assume he didn’t redeem, and he assumed our human work in order that we might be able through our work to participate in the work of redemption.
So great is the importance of human work in God’s plan of redemption that Jesus the tekton could not stop using it as an analogy for the kingdom he had come from heaven to earth to build. Jesus praises the work of shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, householders, servants, stewards, merchants, laborers, soldiers, cooks, tax collectors, scholars and moms. He tells to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send not “bodies” for his fields, but “laborers,” those who know how to roll up their sleeves and work hard, to work with an urgency, knowing that the fields are so ripe they’re white for the harvest. And we see that just after he got the disciples to pray in such a way to the Harvest Master he called twelve of them to become those very laborers. And he has never ceased to communicate to us that he is likewise calling us not just to pray to the Harvest Master for laborers but to grasp that he’s calling us all to say yes to the Father’s response to that prayer: his calling us, in one way or the other, to share in that work. The Harvest Master indeed, Jesus reminds us elsewhere in a parable, never ceases to summon us to help him in his fields, going out at dawn, at 9 am, a noon, at 3 pm and again at 5 pm, desirous of giving us all a full life’s wage for those efforts. It’s noteworthy that for his first apostles, he didn’t choose rabbinical scholars, members of the Sanhedrin, Levites, or the all-stars or even benchwarmers among the scribes and Pharisees. Instead he chose four fishermen, those who knew what it was like to work all night to try to catch fish, those who were capable of rising above the discouragement of having toiled all night and caught nothing only to go out anew, those who were courageous and capable of being out on the deep, even when there was a chance for a storm. Jesus calls us all to be courageous, resilient, hard workers in this way.
The readings the Church gives us today help us to ponder in a deeper way Christ’s own saving work and the way we’re called to share in it.
In the Gospel, Jesus went into a synagogue on the Sabbath to preach and teach. The Scribes and the Pharisees were in attendance not with open ears to listen to his word, not with hearts seeking to adore the Lord, but intent on “watching him closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” They were already scandalized by Jesus’ whole approach to the Sabbath, which was in opposition to the distortion, to the idol, they had made of it, because they had lost sight not only of the principal work of God but also the way the Sabbath was to restore us in the work of the true love of God and love of neighbor in God, to liberate us from slavery and lead us on an exodus to God and in him rediscover the freedom to work in service to God and for the salvation of others.
Jesus saw the man present with a withered hand and called him up to stand in the presence of everyone. And he asked those with a distorted notion of the work God was asking of them, whether is was lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than evil, to save life rather to destroy it? Jesus was asking this question seeing their hearts, because it was on the Sabbath, in God’s own house, that they were plotting evil precisely against him, that they would leave the synagogue, supposedly out of the scandal of what Jesus was about to do, precisely in order to violate their own standards and work to plot Jesus’ own death! They didn’t grasp that the Sabbath was the day par excellence to restore people to health, that it was a day to become the Good Samaritan, that it was a time to do good, to save life, to love. Even though Jesus in the version of this episode in the other Synoptic Gospels got them to admit that if their sheep had fallen into a trap on the Sabbath, they could do the work to get the sheep out, but in this case they couldn’t care less if the man with the withered man needed to wait any longer for liberation. The apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews said that this man’s hand had become injured precisely through working as a mason and that this man could no longer work and provide for his family. He had come to the synagogue that day precisely praying for God’s help. And he would get it through faith. Jesus said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” Notice that Jesus was asking for the man’s cooperation. He didn’t merely say, “I’ve healed your hand, now shake mine!” He asked the man with a dead hand to cooperate in the miracle by faith, to try to do what for him at that moment seemed impossible. The man went through the gesture of trying to stretch out his hand and it was in that very gesture that the hand was restored.
Jesus is constantly asking all of us to stretch out, to expand our categories of understanding, and to reach out our hands, our hearts, our minds, our whole lives to him so that he might give us, like he gave this mason, the ability to work in his kingdom. This is what he did with St. Paul. St. Paul had been a Pharisee who used to terrorize the first Christians precisely because he thought they were destroying the notion of the Sabbath and the way we were to relate to God. But he met Jesus Christ at the end of his 117-mile walk to Damascus to round up the Christians there. He transformed Paul’s hands from those that would bind his Mystical Body in chains to those who would build it up. Today in the first reading we see something that brings us very deeply into the whole mystery of our collaboration in the Lord’s work.
He was in a Roman prison cell dictating a letter to the Christians in Colossae. As we’ve been hearing over the last few days, he was battling against the Gnostic heresy that was spreading among them. But in all of what he was doing to try to help them as best he could from afar, he said that he was making up what was lacking in his own flesh of the sufferings of Christ for the sake of Christ’s Body the Church. He was pointing to an important theological truth that is often hidden by bad translations of this very important massage. He was saying that Christ’s sufferings, Christ’s saving work, needed to be perfected in each of us. There’s nothing lacking objectively in what Christ suffered for us, but subjectively, there is a need for us to allow those sufferings, that work, to be brought to perfection. That happens through our own work of allowing Christ to work in us. St. Paul said that he was “laboring and struggling” — literally agonizing — in accordance with the “exercise of [Christ’s] power working within him” so that all of them might come to know the “mystery hidden from ages and generations past but … manifested to his holy ones … among the Gentiles.” The he described exactly what that great mystery was: “Christ in you.” The pinnacle of the great mystery of God’s saving love is to experience what St. Paul was experiencing in his sufferings, “Christ in you,” Christ the Worker’s working in us, Christ’s incorporating us through our own sufferings, the contractions of spiritual motherhood, the toil and sweat of spiritual fatherhood, into his own redemptive work as members of his body. This is the fundamental work of our redemption. No matter what type of work we’re doing, it’s meant to be an experience of “Christ in us,” of Christ working through us, together with us, helping us to do the leitourgos — the fundamental praise of the Father, who will be glorified through our good work — and Christ working in us and we serve others with love.
As we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, we remember that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, to incorporate us into Christ’s body so that together with Christ, with “Christ in us,” we might glorify the Father and love our neighbor to the extreme. In the Veni Sancte Spiritus we sing on Pentecost, we call the Holy Spirit “in labore requies,” “rest in the midst of our work,” and he gives us this rest not by sounding the whistle getting us to leave work and take up a lounge chair, but precisely in the way Jesus alluded to in the Gospel: by coming to him with all our labors and burdens and receiving refreshment, getting rest, by yoking ourselves to him, in his meekness, humility, chastity, poverty, obedience and the commitment of his entire existence to protect and defend our human life and those of others and lead us to life in the full. This is the way we will discover that our work is both sweet and light because it is precisely done together with Christ in us, yoked to him.
During this Year of Consecrated Life, it’s key to grasp that our consecration, first in baptism, and then in the more intimate consecration to the Lord through religious profession or analogously through the priesthood, is a gift of the Holy Spirit to help us to enter more intimately into Christ’s saving work of us and through us of others. It’s meant to help us to consecrate our entire life, including our work, to God. Sure there will be toil, there will be suffering, there will be pains and let downs and so many other contradictions, but through them all, the Lord is allowing us to make up in our own flesh what is lacking in our flesh of Christ’s sufferings in us for the sake of his Body the Church, for the sake of the building up of that body. As many of you take on new missions and return to old ones, the Lord wants to yoke us to himself so that those burdens, that labor, will be sweetened and lightened in union with meek, humble, poor, chaste, obedient and life-giving and -defending Savior who has called you to be totally his. This Year of Consecrated Life is an opportunity of special grace for all of us to live out the power of our consecration to the full, especially in and through the work we do, to help us do our work as the sacrifice of Abel offered to God, which will not only form us and help so many others, beginning with those with whom we share the Lord’s work, but also practically and mystically build up the whole Church. Today on this Community Day focused on the new Apostolic Year, the Lord Jesus seeks to renew us as he stretches out his calloused, pierced, loving hands toward each of us, inviting us anew to stretch out everything we have toward him in faith and allow him to perfect in us all his work of redemption.
The greatest way the Lord accomplishes this work is here at Mass. This is not just his work but ours. He comes to this house of worship to do the work of preaching and teaching, but he also wants us to respond with the work of faith, of active hearing with the ears of the heart, of seeking to assimilate every word as a word to be done. And then, so that we might experience the full revelation of God’s great hidden mystery — and the Latin word for the Greek mysterion is sacramentum — he literally unites himself to us in Holy Communion. For this great sacrifice, Jesus didn’t begin with grains and grapes, but with bread and wine, which is the fruit of his gift but also “the work of human hands.” The bread and wine, prepared by crushing of the grains and grapes, is a sign of all of the work we do — the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, our logike latreia, the only worship that makes sense — that we seek to unite to the work of the Lord on the altar.
Hence the greatest way that we celebrate Labor Day is to unite ourselves to Christ’s continued Eucharistic labor so that we might indeed become strengthened to be real laborers in his harvest. The greatest way we live out this Year of Consecrated Life is by entering the Lord’s consecration here and thereby keeping our awareness of this consecration alive as he consecrates himself for us that we might be consecrated, sanctified, in the truth. The greatest way we celebrate this community day at the beginning of the apostolic year is by coming one mind and one heart as we come here to be strengthened as a community to be sent out to do this in his memory and glorify the Lord with our lives and work. We thank the Lord for this great grace as now we lift up our hearts and stretch out our hands and lives in faith to him who comes to stretch himself out totally in his body, blood, soul and divinity to empower us to do his work in the world and fulfill the hidden, mysterious plan for which he came into the world, to give his his life and help us to have it to the full. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of our consecration. How proud we are to profess it and live is, this work of Christ in us! Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
PS 62:6-7, 9
Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.
R. In God is my safety and my glory.
Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him;
God is our refuge!
R. In God is my safety and my glory.
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up and stand before us.”
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
“Stretch out your hand.”
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.