Purity of Intention in the Christian Life, Eleventh Wednesday (II), June 15, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Mercy of God
June 15, 2016
2 Kings 2:1.6-14, Ps 31, Mt 6:1-6.16-18


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We’re half way through Jesus’ annual three week refresher course on the Christian life geared to helping us live by his standards. Today he takes up three traditional Jewish practices of piety that have likewise become three of the most important Christian practices not only during Lent but throughout life and speaks to us of the purity of intention with which we must do them. He focuses both on the audience for whom we’re doing them and the reward. 
  • The audience in the case of fasting, prayer and almsgiving is not supposed to be others, in order vainly to gain their approval or esteem. The audience needs to be God who sees in secret. We fast for God, in order to hunger for him more and to share his hunger for the care of all his hungry and needy sons and daughters. We pray for him, in our “inner room” where we store our valuables, and seek to conform ourselves with his will, his glory, his kingdom, his name. We give alms for him, as his stewards, knowing that he has placed within our reach all our material goods, our time, our life, even God himself, so that we can be the extension of God’s providence to others. So often we can be tempted to do things for the eyes of our peers, but that’s what so many of the outwardly righteous scribes and Pharisees did, what so many people in the world seek to do. Jesus is trying to help us act for God.
  • And that leads directly to the subject of reward. Jesus promises, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Many Christians are uncomfortable with the whole thought of reward because it seems impure to do it for any benefit other than out of love for God. But Jesus who made us is constantly speaking to us about rewards. He mentions that if we are persecuted for the sake of his name, our reward in heaven will be great; he promises that if we’re faithful in little things, we’ll be given greater responsibilities; that if we leave all things for him and his name, we’ll be given 100-fold in this life and eternal life; that if we’re faithful, we will be with him forever. Jesus has made us to work for a goal, but the goal he wants us to strive for, as he tells us later in the Sermon on the Mount, is the “kingdom of God and his holiness” knowing that “everything else will be given” to us besides. We seek what St. Thomas Aquinas asked for, “Nothing but you, Lord!” So the reward we seek is not vain, the reward we seek is not this worldly, the reward we seek is precisely the Reward God wants to give, himself.
  • We see these two lessons lived out in the first reading that details the end of the Prophet Elijah’s life. He knew that the Lord was calling him across the Jordan in order to take him up, otherwise his dialogue with Elisha would make no sense. He wanted it to be something just for him and God which is why he told Elisha to wait. But Elisha persisted and Elijah allowed him to accompany him into that inner room. And later we see a glimpse of the reward. When Elijah asks Elisha, “Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you,” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.” In the original mindset, one couldn’t ask for the whole of one’s spirit and so one would ask for “two-thirds,” or a “double-portion.” In short, Elisha wanted to be like Elijah, to be filled with his purity of intention, to be filled with his courage, to be filled with his love for God that led him to do so much for God’s glory. Elijah left it up for God to decide, the God who would come for him. “If you see me taken up from you, your wish will be granted; otherwise not.” If God took him, and allowed Elisha to see it, it would be a sign that God was giving him that gift. And after God had done it, the sign that Elisha had received that gift was precisely that he took Elijah’s mantle and struck the Jordan and the Jordan parted just as it had when Elijah had struck it. For us as Christians, when Jesus was being taken up, he told us to pray for the outpouring of his Spirit, and we received not two-thirds, but all of it, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church. This is the gift that allows us to conform ourselves, our desires, our intentions, our goals to Christ’s.
  • Today at Mass we come to put into action Christ’s words today. We come having fasted, not out of routine, not out of vanity, but out of starvation for God’s word and for God himself in the Eucharist. We come praying not for others to notice but with our hearts lifted up to God, seeking what he wants, which is that we live these words we’ve heard and make our lives Eucharistic, doing “this” in memory of him. We come prepared to receive the greatest alms of all and to pay that gift forward. The full portion of the Holy Spirit is about to be sent upon us to help us to have purity of intention and to recognize that God is our reward. Our hearts that hope in the Lord are about to take comfort as God fulfills our heart’s deepest longing!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 KGS 2:1, 6-14

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind,
he and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here;
the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.”
“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live,
I will not leave you,” Elisha replied.
And so the two went on together.
Fifty of the guild prophets followed and
when the two stopped at the Jordan,
they stood facing them at a distance.
Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up
and struck the water, which divided,
and both crossed over on dry ground.
When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha,
“Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”
Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.”
“You have asked something that is not easy,” Elijah replied.
“Still, if you see me taken up from you,
your wish will be granted; otherwise not.”
As they walked on conversing,
a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them,
and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
When Elisha saw it happen he cried out,
“My father! my father! Israel’s chariots and drivers!”
But when he could no longer see him,
Elisha gripped his own garment and tore it in two.
Then he picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him,
and went back and stood at the bank of the Jordan.
Wielding the mantle that had fallen from Elijah,
Elisha struck the water in his turn and said,
“Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?”
When Elisha struck the water it divided and he crossed over.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 31:20, 21, 24

R. (25) Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
How great is the goodness, O LORD,
which you have in store for those who fear you,
And which, toward those who take refuge in you,
you show in the sight of the children of men.
R. Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men;
You screen them within your abode
from the strife of tongues.
R. Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.
R. Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.

MT 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to others to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”