Persevering in Grateful and Faithful Service, 32nd Tuesday (II), November 8, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Mass for the Nation or State
November 8, 2016
Ti 2:1-8.11-14, Ps 37, Lk 17:7-10


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, as we pray for our nation on an election day in which neither candidate has anywhere near the virtues that we would hope for in someone who will be our leader and one of the leaders of the world for the next four years, we need already to prepare to get beyond the typical discouragement that will happen tomorrow once we realize one or the other will be our leader. We’ll be tempted to think that our efforts in support of a culture of life and love have been in vain. We main wonder what if anything we can do not only to prevent a cultural descent but help be part of a genuine revival in virtue. Today’s readings providentially help us to do just that.
  • Let’s turn first to the Gospel, which at first seems like a disconcerting lesson but in it Jesus is teaching us about a fundamental Christian attitude. Yesterday we pondered his words about setting good example rather than scandal and of forgiving continuously when someone repents, which led his apostles to say, “Lord, increase our faith!” After Jesus described the power of faith the size of a mustard seed, he talks about the perseverance, humility and gratitude of faith, describing the situation of a servant who has just come in from the fields. He would never expect his boss to have him sit down at table and serve him as some type of reward for doing what he was supposed to do, but rather to continue serving. “So should it be with you,” Jesus draws the lesson. “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” Jesus wants us to go on continuing to work in his vineyard, to set good Christian example, to be merciful like he is merciful, to live by faith. There’s no point at which we should say, “I’ve forgiven enough, now I can stop.” There’s no time when we should say, “I set a good example earlier. Now I can do my own thing.” Jesus wants us to persevere with gratitude for the gift of faith and like him continue serving others with love as he loved and served us to the end.
  • We live in an affirmation culture, in which we are constantly trying to give everyone ribbons and awards and recognition not principally for merit but just for showing up. This cultural shift is not altogether bad and in some ways it’s a helpful corrective to a highly competitive culture of yesteryear when there was one winner and everyone else was considered losers. But to the members of this culture of affirmation, Jesus’ words in the Gospel might almost seem cruel. They seem to be the exact opposite of a culture of affirmation, and we believe that if anyone is going to affirm us, it’s going to be God. “Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?,” Jesus asks, implying that the answer is a definitive “no.” And he adds, “So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what we were obliged to do.’” Unprofitable servants. The same phrase can be translated as “useless.” To our modern ears it seems that Jesus is basically engaging in verbal abuse, saying that no matter how hard we work for him, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we succeed, at the end of the day we’re just useless. He implies that he isn’t “grateful” for anything we’ve done, but that all we’ve done is what we were obliged to do and should expect no thanks.
  • The point Jesus was making in the Gospel is not that God isn’t grateful for efforts and that we likewise should not be grateful for others’ efforts. He was trying to change our motivations in doing our work for the Gospel, so that we’re not doing it for recognition but doing it out of love for God and others. During the Sermon on the Mount, with words we hear every Ash Wednesday, Jesus told us not to pray, fast or give alms “so that others may see them,” because if that were our motivation, we would already have received our reward. He told us, rather, to do them with purity of intention, to do them for God, to do them out of love, promising us that “The Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward” us. Jesus is not encouraging us to do good things just to receive this reward from the Father; rather, he’s encouraging us to do good things out of love for God and others, merely reminding us that the Father is never blind to our actions and motivations and will in fact remember and reward us for all that we do with the proper motivations. He’s also encouraging us toward humility and gratitude. The Christian life is about serving, rather than being served, and Jesus is calling us to seek to continue to serve, even after a long day’s work, something exemplified by many hard working mothers who continue to care for their families after long days of work. And the Christian serves with the life, the talents, and the energy God has given, and so the first response of the Christian ought to be to thank God for these gifts and the trust he has placed in us by giving us a share in his salvific work. Yes, in one sense, we’re “useless servants.” But he has given us all the help he knows we need so that we can prove to be “good and faithful servants,” who are “no longer called servants but friends” and who will inherit as a reward the kingdom prepared since the foundation of the world. So this is a summons to continue working, to continue serving, to continue building God’s kingdom, even though we may be tired and exhausted like the servant in the Gospel, knowing that God really is grateful, but doing what we’re doing simply because it’s the right thing to do in response to God’s gift and call.
  • In today’s first reading, St. Paul describes the various traits in which we need to persevere. These are virtues we need to be good servants of God and of our country. These virtues will be a corrective to much that plagues the culture that led to two candidates with such obvious flaws and disapproval ratings. St. Paul talks about the virtues he wants to encourage in various classes of people — senior men, senior women, young people, even Titus himself — but while, at certain times of life some of these virtues may be more important, no matter how young we are, all of these virtues are Christian virtues to which we should aspire “so that the word of God may not be discredited” and so that critics “will be put to shame without anything bad to say about us.”
    • Say what is consistent with sound doctrine — We all have a duty to speak in a way that’s consistent with the truth that God has revealed. If we teach contrary to the truth — whether we consciously or unconsciously know that it contradicts what God has taught through revelation and through the Church — we can draw people to follow us down a wrong path. We need to know sound doctrine and have the love for God and for others to pass it on. Much of our present predicament is because sound teaching wasn’t passed on and lived.
    • Temperate — This means “sober” in terms of food and drink. With the passing of time, we should learn what our limits are, what are true pleasures, and how not to over-indulge. Drunk or gluttonous seniors are a sad scandal to all. Candidates and citizens need to know how to control their tongue.
    • Dignified — This means that one is “serious” and aware of living in the light of eternity, one who, as St. Leo the Great will remind us on Thursday, remembers one’s Christian dignity and lives in according with that intrinsic worth. We need to set an example of dignified behavior especially when our candidates act in an undignified way.
    • Self-controlled — The word means “prudent,” someone that has things under control, who doesn’t give in to flights of anger or passion. This is the one thing St. Paul says young people need to have, to know their limits and follow them. A lack of such disciple has been apparent during this election season.
    • Sound in faith, love and endurance — We must be healthy in our total self-entrustment to God and what he teaches, in sacrificing ourselves for God and others, and for perseverance until the end.
    • Reverent — We must learn how to revere God and the things of God, especially others. To be reverent means to be conscious that one is dealing with sacred things. That reverence must pass to the way we treat others.
    • Not slanderers — Gossip is a truly ugly scandal. Pope Francis says that it is slaying our brother Abel with our tongue. So much of our culture features gossip, negative information about other candidates, so much of which is not relevant to a person’s qualifications.
    • Not addicted to drink — How sad it is to see someone who is addicted to anyone or anything other than God! An elderly lady addicted to drink is a sign that not even with the passage of years has one learned basic human lessons.
    • Teaching what is good — We can’t keep goodness to ourselves. Bonum diffusivum sui, the good spreads itself. We need to teach what is good.
    • Chaste — We must be capable of unselfish love.
    • Good homemakers — Women in particular must know the art of filling a house with the warmth and love so as to make a home, a skill that parishes likewise need.
    • Control themselves — If one has no self-discipline, then one can’t discipline — or make disciples of — others.
    • Model of good deeds — To know what they should do, others should be able to copy our actions, which is the most powerful teaching of all.
    • Integrity in teaching, dignity and sound speech — We need to have an integrity to follow what we teach on behalf of Christ, to carry ourselves as a Christian and to speak as a Christian ought.
    • Reject godless ways and earthly desires — We have to make a choice for Christ which means that we likewise have to make a firm choice to separate ourselves from the things that are not of God and from spiritual worldliness. To believe in God we have to reject Satan, all his evil works and all his empty promises.
    • Justly — We need to give God and others what they deserve, which is whole-hearted loving service until the end.
    • Devoutly — Devout means “de voto,” or from an vow or commitment that we’ve made to God and to others. It points to something that comes from the heart with love.
  • These are the standard Christian virtues that set a good, rather than a scandalous, example for others. It might sound like a long list, as if St. Paul is proposing to us an unmeetable standard. But after summoning us to that style of life, he reminds us of God’s help to meet it, saying, “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age.” God gives us what we need. St. Paul also describes our motivation, something that’s important for us to grasp during this month of November as we continue to ponder the last things. Jesus had said that the prudent and faithful steward is the one who acts in the supposed absence of the Master as he would in the Master’s presence rather than thinking that the Master is long delayed in returning and beginning to get drunk, abuse and take advantage of others. St. Paul says that God gives us the grace to “await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.” We use those words in every Mass after the Our Father as we prepare to receive that Blessed Hope, Jesus, on the altar, who gives himself to us to free us from living contrary to his law, cleanses us to live purely as his dwelling place, and makes us eager to do good together with him. Even though we’re useless servants and even though we should have no expectation whatsoever to be served, that’s in fact what Jesus does at every Mass, cleansing and feeding us with himself as he did the apostles in the Upper Room, and preparing us for the eternal banquet where he seeks to serve and feed us out of love forever. Let’s receive that help as we pray for our nation, for all the leaders today and tomorrow, for all the citizens and immigrants, so that we may continue working out of love for God and others and for God’s glory and kingdom.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ti 2:1-8, 11-14

You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine,
namely, that older men should be temperate, dignified,
self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance.
Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior,
not slanderers, not addicted to drink,
teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women
to love their husbands and children,
to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers,
under the control of their husbands,
so that the word of God may not be discredited.Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves,
showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect,
with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech
that cannot be criticized,
so that the opponent will be put to shame
without anything bad to say about us.For the grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of the great God
and of our savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.

Responsorial Psalm ps 37:3-4, 18 and 23, 27 and 29

R. (39a) The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
The LORD watches over the lives of the wholehearted;
their inheritance lasts forever.
By the LORD are the steps of a man made firm,
and he approves his way.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Turn from evil and do good,
that you may abide forever;
The just shall possess the land
and dwell in it forever.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.

Gospel lk 17:7-10

Jesus said to the Apostles:
“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’”