Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A, I)
March 6, 2011
Dt 11:18 26-28 32, Ps 31:2-4 17 25, Rom 3:21-25 28, Mt 7:21-27
The following is the text that guided the homily:
Building Our Life on the Rock
Today we conclude our six week focus on Jesus’ longest homily, the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus has charted out for us how we as his disciples are supposed to be different from all the rest, how we’re called to be perfected as our heavenly Father is perfect, how we’re called to be and live like Jesus, who not only proclaimed but lived the beatitudes and put into practice himself all the moral exhortations and commands he gave us.
Today, we he concludes the Sermon on the Mount, he describes for us how his words are the only stable foundation for a life that’s going to be and remain truly blessed in this world and in the next. He did it by means of a construction metaphor contrasting two types of response to what he has said to us over the course of the Sermon:
- Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.
- And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!”
He says that it’s not enough for us to hear his words, as all of us have done over the course of this six-week mini-series. If only it were that easy! We need to build our lives on them.
- It’s not enough for us to pass a quiz on the beatitudes. We must, with God’s help, become poor in spirit, meek, peacemaking, and pure of heart; we, like Jesus, must love others enough to more when they are physically or spiritually in pain, we must hunger and thirst for holiness, we must be willing to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus.
- We must really become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
- We must live the seven antitheses Jesus announced, not hating others, not lusting, not divorcing and remarrying, being truthful always, being reconciled with brothers and sisters, not seeking vengeance, loving our enemies and being good and praying to those who persecute us.
- We must refuse to serve mammon and seek after material goods but seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness.
If we’re living our lives on his words, then everything Jesus has said in the Sermon on the Mount should be able to be written honestly about us in our obituary.
- In the first reading, God told the Israelites through Moses, “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.” Many of the strictest Jews have done that, putting phylacteries in their hair, putting God’s words on their doorposts, wearing them. Jesus is calling us to do that not by writing the word of God and wearing it, but by giving it our flesh and becoming living commentaries of it.
- God in the first reading said that with this commandment, he was setting before them a blessing and a curse, a blessing if they do it, and a curse if the don’t. That curse wasn’t a punishment as much as a promise: if they failed to keep the commandments, they will suffer for it, because the commandments are meant to show us how to love and if they’re not followed, the sins will eat us alive, injure and kill us. Likewise, all of Jesus’ words are a blessing and a curse: a blessing if we build our lives on them, a curse if we try to build our lives on any other foundation.
So as we wrap up this mini-series and begin to prepare for Lent, we need to respond to God’s invitation today to examine whether our lives are really built on the words he has taught us, whether we’re really living in the way God intends.
- Many of us “sort of” live by Jesus’ words. We’ll put “some” of them into practice. But it would honestly be an exaggeration to say our entire life is built on them. To those in this category, Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel reminds us that it’s not enough for us to call on him in prayer, or even do some good deeds in his name: he wants us to act on his words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
- It’s not enough to call to him in prayer — “Lord, Lord”
- It’s not enough for us to spread his word — “prophesy in his name”
- It’s not enough for us to some obviously good deeds — to cast out demons or do many deeds of power in his name.
- He wants us to put these words into practice, to be his full-time disciple, his full-time follower, his full-time friend, to know him much more intimately than a loving husband and wife know each other. Otherwise he’ll say, “I never knew you!”
Yesterday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, one of the greatest bishops not only alive in the United States today but one of the greatest in the history of our country, gave an address in Paris on the thought of the former Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish convert whose parents died in the concentration camp. He mentioned one of Lustiger’s statements on lukewarm Christians and the superficial Christianity they live, calling it a “congenial form of paganism.” Lustiger said: “Many Christians have, in their understanding, reduced the God of the Covenant to a mere idol, an idea forged by man himself . . . [But even] the simplest, purest, most ignorant soul in Christendom knows very well the [high] cost of praying to God: what renouncement and often what dispossession of self – what struggle against illusions, against fear or false images; what a conversion of our hearts — is required for access to the living God . . . [If] we imagine we have grasped God, then in fact we have nothing more than an idol between our hands. And then it becomes easy to reduce that idol to an idea, and declare it dead. And it is true that it is dead, because it was never alive.”
That led Archbishop Chaput to say: “The main crisis of modern Christianity is not one of resources, or personnel, or marketing. It is a crisis of faith. Millions of people claim to be Christian, but they don’t really believe. They don’t study Scripture. They don’t love the Church as a mother and teacher. And they settle for an inoffensive, vanilla Christianity that amounts to a system of decent social ethics. This is self-delusion – the worst kind of phony Christianity that has no power to create hope out of suffering, to resist persecution, or to lead anyone else to God.”
These are strong words, but we need to hear them. Is our Christianity just vanilla? Is it a congenial form of paganism, where, basically, we seek only to be generically good like the pagans, creating an idol of God that we worship rather than worshipping the one true God? Do we have real Christian faith, the type of faith that when we say we believe in Jesus, it means we believe and act on his words? Do we study Sacred Scripture as the words of eternal life? These are all very important present day questions.
Hence these words are challenging. As we get ready for Lent, which begins on Wednesday, we recall that the whole purpose of Lent is to bring us back to the fundamentals, to the foundations, to how we’ve been building our life. If we haven’t been constructing our lives on Christ, now’s the chance to do so.
I’ll discuss briefly the Lenten practices
- Prayer. God’s word. Application of them to our life. Resolution. If we really are seeking to ground our life on his word, we will pray the word of God as in Lectio Divina.
- Fasting. Fasting from other foundations, our dependence on material things, letting go even of some blessings to make sure that we don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.
- Almsgiving. Giving of ourselves and what we have to others. Salt. Light. Loving one another as Christ has loved us to the end.
To build our life on Christ in this world can’t just be “generic.” He himself is still with us. The Church says that the truly Christian life has Christ in the Eucharist as its source and summit, that we literally live off the Eucharist. Christ in the Eucharist is the Word made fles,h and to build our house on the rock is to build on him.
- I’ve asked you to make a resolution, that was once quite common, to come to daily Mass during Lent and to come to Eucharistic adoration, here or elsewhere, as often as you can.
- Bulletin insert about St. Francis Xavier. Gotten all around the world. I received it from Italy. Beautiful thing. Parishioners got together asking for Eucharistic adoration and now it’s expanded such that they’re adoring the Lord 54 hours a week. The parish is on fire. The same thing can happen here when we start to build our life on Christ in the Eucharist, by daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration.
- It’s in this daily contact with Christ that he helps us to build our lives on him.
As we get ready for the celebration of the Eucharist, we ask Jesus to help us over the course of the next few days, to examine whether our whole lives, not just part of our lives, are built on him, and we ask him, the great master builder, to shore up the foundation of our lives so that when the rains fall, the floods come, and the winds blow against us and buffet us, that we will remain firm in him, because we are built solidly on him who is the rock and on the words of eternal life he has given us.