Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Jane de Chantal
August 12, 2016
Ezek 16:1-15.60.63, Is 12:1-6 Mt 19:3-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today, the Prophet Ezekiel speaks to the exiled Jews in Jerusalem seeking to bring them to profound conversion, because the exile initially had been received in a spiritually superficial way. God reviews all he’s done for his people in life and spousal terms, how he took his people when they were basically abandoned and vulnerable and cared for her, cleansed her, married her, adorned her, made her a queen and loved her. Over the course of time, rather than reciprocate God’s loving commitment, God’s people allowed herself to become proud and to use her beauty and blessings to cavort with other gods, to be unfaithful and adulterous. “You were captivated by your own beauty, you used your renown to make yourself a harlot, and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by, whose own you became.” But Ezekiel shows that God will take her back nonetheless because he will faithful. And out of her infidelity he will form an even greater, eternal Covenant: “I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl, and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you.” And God gives the reason: so that “you may remember and be covered with confusion, and that you may be utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done.” To be silenced for shame doesn’t mean humiliated, because shame has a negative and a positive side to it. Shame is a terrible embarrassment on the negative side, but on the positive side, shame reminds us of our dignity, of who we really are, and protects that image. The shame of Adam and Eve in the beginning when they realized after sinning they were naked not only led to their embarrassment before the other in their vulnerability but also was a reminder of a dignity, a purity, a trust they had lost. The shame for the exiles would remind them of the love of God and help them to appreciate far more his mercy.
- The fidelity of God in the first reading is meant to be the pattern of our life. He wants to strengthen us to be loyal to the Covenant he has made with us. And to help us learn how to do that, to grow in his faithful image, he created us male and female so that, similar to God, we may live faithfully in a communion of persons in love and learn through the analogy of human love, how to live in communion with God through our nuptial self-gift in response to God’s. And so in today’s Gospel, Jesus, queried by the Pharisees about divorce, reminds us of marriage in God’s plan. Just as God’s covenant with us is faithful, indissoluble and life-giving, so human marriage — both the primordial sacrament, the good and natural marriage of Adam and Eve as well as the sacramental marriage that Christ made possible at his coming — so human marriage is meant to have those properties if God has joined them. That’s why Christ spoke out against divorce, saying that Moses hadn’t commanded it but had permitted it because of the “hardness of your hearts.” In Psalm 95, we pray, “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.” Their hearts were hardened, not open, to God’s plan. Their hearts were sclerotic because of sin. And Christ came as the Divine Physician to give us a pure and faithful heart modeled on his own, strengthened by his own. He didn’t want spouses to be unfaithful to each other like the Jews and the Israelites were unfaithful to God. He wanted them to model their lives and marriages on God’s own faithful love. And he said there was a special gift given to those with with marriage vocation, to whom this calling has been “granted.” God helps couples to remain faithful by filling them with his mercy so that they can forgive each other’s infidelities big and small. Jesus also points to another gift at the end of the Gospel, the gift given to those who “renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” those who do not marry in this world in order to anticipate embryonically in this world the world to come where Jesus says elsewhere there is no marriage or giving in marriage because all those who are saved will be in the Bride in the wedding feast with the Bridegroom and Lamb. That is a second way to live out the nuptial meaning of one’s existence in correspondence to God’s covenant. And the two paths are complementary. The love of those in chaste celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven gives a model to the world of faithfulness to God that can strengthen them in their marital fidelity; and the love of husband and wife helps those living chastely for the sake of the kingdom of heaven to learn how to be loving and faithful in the little things of every day.
- Someone who experienced God calling her to both of these vocations, successively, was St. Jane de Chantal, the 675th anniversary of whose death we mark this year. She was the daughter of the President of her region of France and was married at the age of 20 to a baron in the late 1592. She had 7 kids in 8 years, though she needed to mourn the death of three of them soon after childbirth. When he was 28, her husband was killed in a freak hunting accident by a friend and that devastated her. But in her grief she turned like a child toward God. She begged him to send her someone to guide her and God allowed her in a vision to see the person who he would send to be her spiritual director. She had never seen the person before but a couple of years later, at the invitation of her father, she returned to her hometown to hear the celebrated preacher and bishop of Geneva, the future St. Francis de Sales. She recognized him as the one in her dream, dressed exactly as God had shown her. He took her on as a directee, helping her grow in faith and piety, dealing with the situation of living with her difficult father-in-law, advising her about raising her kids and more. Six years later, St. Francis and St. Jane founded the Order of the Visitation where St. Jane would, as a childlike daughter of God, spiritually mother many others on the road to the Kingdom.
- One of the things that I’ve always loved about the Visitation Nuns, for whom I’ve had a chance to preach some retreat days and Triduums in the past, is that they really are open and docile to the ones God sends them. St. Francis had founded them with one of his aims to receive women into religious life who wouldn’t be able to get into other Congregations because of age or poor health. Today many great religious communities — just like many Dioceses, including my own, used to — have as part of their rules something I do not believe comes from God, that if a woman is older than 30, or 35, or is sick, or wasn’t born of married parents, etc., they’re not able even to apply to that Institute, as if God could never call anyone to their community who was a month, or a year, or a decade older, or who was ill, or whose parents had sinned. There’s no question that age can, or illness, or some family of origin issues make it harder is to adapt to religious life. There’s no doubt that communities can’t have a special postulancy or novitiate in the infirmary with sick sisters. But there’s no doubt that God does call older women (like St. Jane!), or sickly women (like St. Bernadette!) to serve him in religious life and the Visitation Nuns have always been open to receive the spiritually childlike applicants in Christ’s name as if they were receiving Him. In today’s first reading, we see what God did to his people when they were basically “rejects.” He loved them and they became resplendent with his glory. Part of building a culture of life is that we accept persons as infinitely loved by God, we see in them great potential, and we help them fulfill their vocations, and it’s contrary to a culture of life when those directing religious life or running Dioceses reject out of hand those who don’t meet their human criteria, as if God would never call somebody outside of their criteria.
- Today as we come forward to the consummation of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his Bride the Church, we ask him through the intercession of St. Jane de Chantal to strengthen all married couples in fidelity, to help restore faith in the sacrament of marriage as God has created it among all in our culture, especially the young, and to buttress the beautiful eschatological witness of those who have been given and have responded to the gift of chaste celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, that we might all remain faithful to the God who out of mercy never ceases to forgive us, love us, and to try to make us more and more like him.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 EZ 16:1-15, 60, 63
Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.
Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem:
By origin and birth you are of the land of Canaan;
your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
As for your birth, the day you were born your navel cord was not cut;
you were neither washed with water nor anointed,
nor were you rubbed with salt, nor swathed in swaddling clothes.
No one looked on you with pity or compassion
to do any of these things for you.
Rather, you were thrown out on the ground as something loathsome,
the day you were born.Then I passed by and saw you weltering in your blood.
I said to you: Live in your blood and grow like a plant in the field.
You grew and developed, you came to the age of puberty;
your breasts were formed, your hair had grown,
but you were still stark naked.
Again I passed by you and saw that you were now old enough for love.
So I spread the corner of my cloak over you to cover your nakedness;
I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you;
you became mine, says the Lord GOD.
Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood,
and anointed you with oil.
I clothed you with an embroidered gown,
put sandals of fine leather on your feet;
I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear.
I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms,
a necklace about your neck, a ring in your nose,
pendants in your ears, and a glorious diadem upon your head.
Thus you were adorned with gold and silver;
your garments were of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth.
Fine flour, honey, and oil were your food.
You were exceedingly beautiful, with the dignity of a queen.
You were renowned among the nations for your beauty, perfect as it was,
because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you,
says the Lord GOD.
But you were captivated by your own beauty,
you used your renown to make yourself a harlot,
and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by,
whose own you became.
Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl,
and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
Responsorial Psalm Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. You have turned from your anger.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. You have turned from your anger.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. You have turned from your anger.
Alleluia SEE 1 THES 2:13
Receive the word of God, not as the word of men,
but, as it truly is, the word of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 19:3-12
Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”