Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
November 17, 2016
Rev 5:1-10, Ps 149, Lk 19:41-44
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we approach the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, today we are able to ponder the Lord’s passion to show his mercy toward us in his weeping in the Gospel and through that reception of mercy bring us into his kingdom and unite us with him in offering ourselves to the Father for the redemption and sanctification of the world, so that one day, with the Lord’s, our tears may be turned into joy.
- We begin with Jesus’ tears. As he drew near Jerusalem, Jesus saw the city and wept over it. There’s a Church on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city called Dominus Flevit, “The Lord wept,” in which Christians ponder the tears of the Lord. When I was there a couple of years ago with a big pilgrimage group it was pouring outside, a meteorological event that allowed us to ponder the immensity of the Lord’s weeping. St. Luke tells us why Jesus was weeping. Jesus said, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Jesus was weeping because the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Holy City, didn’t know what makes for peace, because the city and its inhabitants would be destroyed, and because all of this was happening because they didn’t recognize the time of their “visitation.” As you and all those in religious communities well know, there’s a difference between a visit and a visitation. Anybody can pay a visit, but a visitation is something much longer. It’s a time of self-study. It’s a time of evaluation. It’s a time when the Visitator helps the whole community to take a good look at itself and where it’s going. God had not just visited but “visitated” his people in the person of Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace who had come to establish the definitive peace treaty between God and man, to help people see where they were in terms of peace with God and with each other and change to how they ought to be, but the inhabitants of Jerusalem, representing the vast majority of Jews, hadn’t embraced Jesus and the path to divine peace he had come, as he said during the Last Supper, to leave us and give us. Had they embraced the life he was announcing, had they grasped the type of kingdom he was inaugurating, the political tensions that had led to Rome’s destroying Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jesus was prophesying by implication, likely wouldn’t have come about. And Jesus was weeping over all of these realities.
- It’s important for us to grasp that Jesus was not weeping over ancient Rome. He wasn’t weeping over modern day Amsterdam, or San Francisco, or Aleppo. He was weeping over Jerusalem, where the vast majority of people believed themselves to be religious, to be God-fearing, to be faithful. Jesus was weeping because they hadn’t recognized the time when God had come to visit them and shortly they would run him out of the holy city carrying a Cross. We need to ask ourselves whether Jesus would be weeping over Manhattan, over the United States, over the world. Do we recognize the time of our visitation? It’s easy for us to point to many who are living lives clearly contrary to the ways of God who don’t recognize the continuation of Jesus’ incarnation in the sacraments and in the Church. But what about those of us who, like the ancient Jews in Jerusalem, think ourselves religious? Do we grasp what makes for peace and how the Lord has come to visit us? We prayed in the Alleluia verse before the Gospel, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” and the reality is that many times the inner ears of our heart are closed to God’s voice calling us to conversion and holiness. Are we receptive to the Lord’s action? Do we welcome and dwell in his peace? Do we allow him to “visitate” our heart and life and stay there? He weeps for when we and others do not allow him and his kingdom of peace in. But on the other hand, the more we receive him and his word, the more we receive those he sends, the more we console him.
- We not only need to grasp that Jesus weeps copiously for us when we don’t really let him into our lives to bring us the fullness of peace he wishes to give us, but we also need to enter into his tears and weep with him for all those who similarly do not open up their hearts to him, who refuse or reject his peace, his presence, his grace, his sacraments, his word, his brother or sister. Jesus said in the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn.” The path to heaven is a path of tears. This world is a journey “mourning and weeping through this valley of tears.” We Christians don’t ponder enough Jesus’ tears and don’t weep enough with him, not just for the hardened sinners far from the Lord, but also for those who believe themselves to be close to him but who out of stubbornness don’t allow Jesus to change them for the better because they don’t want to be disturbed. Today is a day in which we first confront the possibility that Jesus has been weeping for us because we haven’t yet fully responded to his call to become saints, because we have not yet really meant the words we’ve prayed thousands of times, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And we weep because so many others haven’t prayed them at all or like us fully willed God’s kingdom and will to be done over theirs.
- In the first reading, we see St. John’s tears and it’s likewise important for us to understand them and enter into them, because they both show us what our desire needs to be as well reveal how our tears will be turned into joy. St. John “shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and examine it,” the scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals, being held by God the Father who sat on his throne. After the mighty angel had asked “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break open its seals” and reveal, as we heard yesterday, “what must happen afterward,” no one was able to come forward, because no one was really able to receive it. No one was really disposed to live according to what was contained within it. Multitudes were curious about what would be contained in it, but no one was docile enough to let everything develop according to the words of that scroll. And John wept. He wanted to know what was there. Even though he, too, was not worthy, he hungered for God’s will to be done. Do we share his weeping over the fact that no one was found worthy to receive the plans of God and implement them? Do we weep because we haven’t responded to God’s grace to the point that he would purify us so that we could be worthy? Finally, one of the 24 elders said to him, “Do not weep!” He told them that someone would be coming worthy to open the seals of the scroll. He said, “The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.” The lion of the tribe of Judah was the fulfillment of the prophecy Jacob gave to Judah his son calling him a “lion’s whelp,” a baby lion (Gen 49:9). Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah, the grown up lion from Judah the whelp. He was also called the “root of David.” We’ll hear through Advent Isaiah’s prophecy that a “shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse,” David’s father, and Jesus is that shoot. But when finally the One appeared to open the seals, he didn’t look like a Lion or a Shoot. St. John tells us, “I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” Jesus appeared as a simple Lamb, the Lamb whom St. John the Baptist indicated had come to take away the sins of the world. He was a Lamb that seemed to have been slain: he bore all the marks of death but he was in fact very much alive! John continued, “He had seven horns and seven eyes.” The horns are signs of triumph and seven of them mean perfect triumph because seven (from God’s rest on the seventh or sabbath day) meant perfection. They’re a sign of Jesus’ omnipotence. The eyes are an indication that Jesus sees perfectly everything, of his omniscience. “He came,” St. John went on, “and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne.” He was worthy to take in and open it. As he did, the four living Creatures and 24 elders “fell down before the Lamb in adoration,” just like they had adored God the Father seated on the throne. “Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” They were playing music of praise to God and offering up our own prayers in the incense bowls. And they were singing to Christ the King words that we should often take to our adoration, “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and break open its seals, for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.” They were adoring the Lamb because he died in order to redeem not just the Jews but those from every people and nation in order not to make them a kingdom of diplomats or civil servants, not a kingdom of soldiers or troubadours, but a kingdom of priest for our God and these are the ones who will reign with the Lamb on earth.
- As we prepare for the Solemnity of Christ the King this Sunday, it is key for us to understand that for us to enter into Christ’s kingdom and reign with him, we need to grasp that his kingdom is a kingdom of priests. What is means is not that it’s an exclusive club of ministerial priests, but it’s a kingdom of those who are living out their baptismal priesthood, the common priest of all the faithful, who are offering to the Father the Lamb looking as if he has been slain, and offering ourselves together with the Lamb (Rom 12:1-2). In this Jubilee of Mercy, it’s important for us to grasp what the Lord indicated to us through St. Faustina when he asked us to offer him, and ourselves together with him as his Bride and Body, as we pray in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” This is the offering the kingdom of priests for our God offers to the Father here on earth and, as we see in today’s first reading, continues to offer Him in heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1546-7) describes this reality. “Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.’ The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are ‘consecrated to be … a holy priesthood.’” The Catechism goes on to say, “The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, ‘each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.’ While being ‘ordered one to another,’ they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace — a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit — the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.” Jesus has instituted the ministerial priesthood precisely in order to help all of the faithful become a kingdom of priests, offering Christ and themselves with Christ to the Father for the salvation of the world, serving others together with Christ as Good Samaritans, and announcing the Word of God as faithfully as Christ himself, the High Priest, opened up the seals and announced the fullness of God’s plans to all of us. The other point that that is revealed in this passage is that it is the “kingdom of priests” who “reign on the earth.” We might think it’s otherwise, that the ones who are in charge are the Presidents of the US and Russia, the titans of industry, the leaders of armies. But Jesus is saying that the ones who are reigning, not just later in heaven, but already here on earth are the saints, the kingdom of those who are living in Christ’s peace, and offering Christ and themselves with him to the Father. We could preach whole retreats on this, but it’s important for us to stop and ask whether we recognize that in humility, often in hiddenness, from chapels like this and Missions on 71st Street, we are reigning to the extent that we’re living out our baptismal priesthood with Christ. When all in this world passes away just like ancient Jerusalem was destroyed, the people who will be remembered will not be political, financial, or cultural leaders per se, the rich, famous and powerful who make the newspapers; the people who will be remembered will be those who were truly reigning the way Christ was reigning on earth even when worldly powers didn’t even acknowledge him. We should never forget that, like Christ, we reign by serving with him.
- Today we celebrate the feast of someone who reigned on earth in the 13th century, and far more as a Christian than as a queen. St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) was the daughter of the King of Hungary and was four when she was betrothed to Louis, the son of the Landgrave of Thuringia. She was raised with him for the next 10 years until the marriage, when she was 14 and he 21. Her life was distinguished by her piety and charity: In the opening prayer of the Mass, we noted that by God’s grace, Elizabeth was able to “recognize and revere Christ in her neighbor,” and because of that capacity to see and to love Jesus with passion, she is truly one of the most outstanding examples of compassion in history. During a severe famine, she exhausted her treasure and distributed all her own store of corn to the poor. She built a hospital at the foot of the tall, rocky promontory on which the Wartburg Castle was built so that the infirm and weak wouldn’t have to climb it. She fed them with her own hands — as well as 900 others every day — made their beds and cared for them in so many other ways. She provided for orphans and helpless children. When many criticized her material benefactions as being excessive, her husband said that her charities would bring upon the whole realm divine blessings, because living in the kingdom of God always purifies earthly kingdoms. But even Louis reached his limit once when Elizabeth brought a leper to the castle and had him sleep in their protected quarters as a type of quarantine. He rushed into the bedroom to drag away all of the bedclothes and other things that might carry the dreaded disease, but as he was doing so, he recognized that the leper had stigmata. Through his wife, he learned to recognize and revere Christ, to see and love him, in his neighbor, including the most revolting. And he learned how to reign with her within a kingdom of priests.
- We’re never more fully a kingdom of priests as when we come to Mass, as all of us through our common baptismal priesthood participate through the ministerial priesthood in Christ’ the high-priest’s self-offering. This is where we look upon the Lamb looking as if he has been slain and say, “Worthy are you!” and “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb!” This is where we take of our prayers not in golden bowls but in our hearts to the Father. This is where we sing “a new song” to him — as the elders and living creatures did and as we ourselves were called to do in today’s Responsorial Psalm — not with harps but with our lungs. This is where Jesus visits us each day to bring us his peace and make us his holy, indestructible temple. This is where we seek to enter into his purifying tears. And this is where he begins to fulfill his promise that those who mourn like he mourns will be consoled!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 5:1-10
It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals.
Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice,
“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth
was able to open the scroll or to examine it.
I shed many tears because no one was found worthy
to open the scroll or to examine it.
One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep.
The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed,
enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”
and the four living creatures and the elders
a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.
He had seven horns and seven eyes;
these are the seven spirits of God sent out into the whole world.
He came and received the scroll from the right hand
of the one who sat on the throne.
When he took it,
the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb.
Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense,
which are the prayers of the holy ones.
They sang a new hymn:“Worthy are you to receive the scroll
and break open its seals,
for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
Responsorial Psalm ps 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
Gospel lk 19:41-44
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace–
but now it is hidden from your eyes.
For the days are coming upon you
when your enemies will raise a palisade against you;
they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.
They will smash you to the ground and your children within you,
and they will not leave one stone upon another within you
because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”