Receiving and Sharing Jesus’ Bowel-Busting Compassion, First Saturday in Advent, December 7, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor
December 7, 2013
Is 30:19-21.23-26, Ps 147, Mt 9:35-10:1.5-8

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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Advent is about a double-dynamism: the Lord’s coming to us and our going out to meet him. But before we ever get to that dynamic action, we begin with dynamic desires.  Today we see what the desires are — and how our desires are supposed to be transformed more and more into Jesus’.
  • In the Responsorial Psalm, we see what our desires should be: “Blessed are those who wait for the Lord.” We’re called to long for the Lord, like the Jews longed for the Messiah. We’re called to hunger for him in the encounters of prayer and the Sacraments. We’re supposed to be desiring to be with him forever in heaven with a zeal that surpasses all our earthly loves. That’s the desire that leads us to get up from where we are to travel to a new and life-changing encounter with the Lord.
  • We see Jesus’ desires in the Gospel. St. Matthew tells us, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd.” The expression “his heart was moved with pity” is a much softer translation than is present in the Greek of St. Matthew. It really means, “His bowels were exploding with compassion.” We could say that Jesus was totally sick to his stomach when he saw the crowds because they were mangled, neglected and lost. This was an experience that didn’t happen for the first time in today’s Gospel scene. It explains why the Son of God became man, why he was willing to suffer and die out of love for us. It explains Advent, Christmas, his hidden life, his public life, his passion, death, resurrection, ascension, sending the Holy Spirit, giving us the vocation to holiness and so much more. Jesus loves us so much that his insides were bursting with mercy for us. That’s why he came.
  • The prophet Isaiah tells us in the first reading in prophecy what Jesus would fulfill when at last he arrived. “The Lord will give you the bread you need,” and Jesus not only multiplied loaves and fish to feed our physical hungers, but gave us the super-subtantial “Living Bread come down from Heaven,” Himself, to feed our souls. “The Lord will give you … the water for which you thirst,” and Jesus made himself the “Living Water welling up within you to eternal life,” as he said to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4), forming in us a geyser on the day of baptism meant to revivify everything that’s parched and dead within us (Ez 47) and transport us across the eternal shore. “No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher. From being, a voice shall sound in your ears, “This is the way, walk in it.” After teaching us through the prophets, Jesus the Master would himself finally arrive, so that we could see him with our eyes, hear him with our ears, and touch him with our hands (1 Jn 1). And the way he would point out for us the way to walk would be to say, “I am the Way,” and “Follow me.” This was all what he sought to do because he was surging in mercy for us.
  • But the encounter of Advent that’s supposed to happen when we go out to meet the One who is coming to us is not intended to be a simple rendezvous that leaves us as we were. It’s supposed to transform us totally. Meeting Jesus’ bowel-busting compassion, seeing him in action with our eyes, hearing his words, being touched by him on the inside, is meant to renew us totally, to change our hearts, to change our bowels. Not only will Jesus give us himself as our “Bread” and “water” but through our union with us he wants to give us something more: he wants to make us “totally sick to our stomach” with the same sickness that led him to become one of us. He wants us to be filled with compassion for the vast multitudes who are still mangled, neglected and lost, like sheep without a shepherd. In today’s Gospel, Jesus first asks the disciples to pray to the harvest master to send out laborers for his harvest, and then — in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading that God “will be gracious to you when you cry out; as soon as he hears he will answer you” — God hears that prayer and chooses and sends them, the twelve, out to do that work of shepherding and harvesting. He gave them his own authority to preach, to heal, even to raise from the dead. He wanted them to continue his mission, his own divine dynamism, and to perpetuate his Advent and his presence.
  • We learn a crucially important lesson here, one reiterated for us last week by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. To be a disciple, he told us, is to be a missionary disciple. To really have entered into communion with Jesus means that we become more and more like him, first in our desires, and then in our actions. To love Jesus means to share his loves and once we begin to share his love, we begin to share his exploding viscera toward all those in need, especially those who have the greatest hunger and need of all — for God. That’s what inspires us to go out to care for others, to be Good Samaritans, patiently nursing others back to health. That’s what moves us to lay down our lives for others, becoming missionaries leaving our own comforts in order to bring others to Christ.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of someone who made this great transition. St. Ambrose was a young prefect of Gaul — an enormous responsibility — in the 370s. He believed the Christian faith but he hadn’t yet been baptized. After the deal of the Bishop of Milan, he went to where the election was to take place to make sure that there were no fights between the Orthodox Catholics of the time and the heretic Arians (who believed that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived and chosen by God but not God). He gave a little speech reminding everyone of Christ’s teachings on peace and mutual love, at which points someone in the crowd began to shout “Ambrose, Bishop!” It soon started to be echoed by everyone, Catholics and Arians alike. He tried to run away from the responsibilities, but when the emperor Valentinian heard of the election, he consented to it, proud that he had chosen as Prefect someone with the virtues capable of serving as a Bishop. Eventually Ambrose was baptized, then ordained a deacon, a priest, and a bishop. After his ordinations, he set himself to learning the Christian faith in such detail that he could really feed others with this nourishment — becoming eventually a doctor of the Church, one of the greatest teachers in the history of the faith. And his compassion was famous. St. Augustine, who was converted under his guidance, wrote that whenever he tried to speak with Ambrose, Ambrose was surrounded by a crowd of the needy, whom we would treat with great patience, helping to address their problems as if he were still addressing the great problems of the entire Province of Gaul. When a famine broke out, he sold many of the sacred vessels in order to care for the poor. When people suffered injustice, he risked his own life to challenge the wrong-doers, including the emperor.
  • At the beginning of Mass, we prayed, “O God, who made the Bishop St. Ambrose a teacher of the Catholic faith and a model of apostolic courage, raise up in your Church men after your own heart to govern her with courage and wisdom.” This is a prayer to the Harvest Master for laborers after Jesus’ heart — his exploding heart! — to bring in his harvest, those who can teach and shepherd as Christ teaches and shepherds us all. And just like with the 12 in the Gospel, when we pray this, we know that the Lord wants to hear that prayer immediately and choose us to go out with that compassion, courage, and wisdom. May we be as faithful to our call to be missionary disciples and compassionate Good Samaritans as  St. Ambrose was, as the 12 in the Gospel were, because Christ is still looking with bursting bowels at vast multitudes who are wounded, abandoned, lost and in need of His love!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 30:19-21, 23-26

Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.He will give rain for the seed
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
On the day of the great slaughter,
when the towers fall,
The light of the moon will be like that of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater
like the light of seven days.
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (see Isaiah 30:18d) Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power:
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.

MT 9:35–10:1, 5A, 6-8

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”