Repentance and Firm Faith, Fifteenth Tuesday (II), July 15, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor
July 15, 2014
Is 7:1-9, Ps 48, Mt 11:20-24

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

 

The following points were attempted in this homily: 

  • We can continue to ponder the receptivity and response in the soil of our head, heart and soul to the seed of God’s word about which Jesus spoke to us on Sunday. In today’s readings as well as in the life and writings of the great saint we celebrate today, we see examples of hardened, rocky, thorny and good soil, and they provide another opportunity for us to take a soil sample of our own spiritual life.
  • In today’s first reading, God sends the Prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah. Jerusalem was attack by Aram and Israel and “the heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled.” Aram and Israel wanted Judah to join them in an alliance against Assyria, but Ahaz instead wanted to seek the protection of Assyria against the two other nations. Isaiah was given by God the mission to go to Ahaz and tell him and all the people of Judah to “remain tranquil and do not fear,” that the plans to overtake Jerusalem “shall not stand, it shall not be!” He urged him to do neither thing. God stressed through his prophet, “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!” But Ahaz’s faith was not firm. The seed that God tried to plant in him hit soil full of worldly preoccupations and it couldn’t go. Ahaz formed an alliance with Assyria, which worked to rout Aram and Israel, but then eventually brought the Kingdom of Judah down, making it vassals of Assyria, Ahaz needed to go to the capital of Assyria to swear allegiance to the King of Assyria and his gods, and eventually the Kingdom of Judah would likewise be destroyed because of its association with Assyria.
  • In the Gospel, we see that the faith in the cities where Jesus had been working so many of his miracles was likewise not firm. Jesus had called his apostles from these towns, he had preached in these towns and in their synagogues, he had cast out demons, healed countless sick people, fed a multitude with a few buns and sardines and yet, instead of responding to what he had done with good soil, the people responded only with rocky soil, joyful for a time, but without allowing the seed to take root in a new converted, faithful life. Jesus, therefore, reproached the towns for their lack of faith, comparing them negatively to Tyre and Sidon, the debauched metropoles of Phoenicia north of the Holy Land, and to Sodom, one the most notoriously sinful cities in history. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!,” Jesus said. “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” The word “woe” is not so much a word of anger as of crushed disappointment. Jesus had come to save them, and his deeds were physical manifestations of greater miracles he wanted to work in their souls, but they didn’t want to cooperate, they didn’t want to bear fruit. And then he turned to Capernaum, which during his public ministry was called his “home town,” after he had departed from Nazareth. He said, “And as for you, Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the nether world. For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Jesus had done so much there and let the people were fundamentally unchanged. They just went on with their unredeemed life as normal. They were wasting all the planting Jesus had been trying to do in and among them.
  • It’s somewhat tempting for us to lament what happened in these towns along the Sea of Galilee, but we need to recognize that Jesus has done far greater deeds in Fall River than he ever did in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. What he did there was a just a taste of what he has done here. He teaches every day. He gives us in the Eucharist a far greater miracle than the multiple of the loaves and fish. He gives us in the Sacrament of Confession a much greater healing that the physical cures he worked there, as he not only exorcises the devil’s clutches from our souls but fills us with himself. But at the end of time will he praise us as a city of faith or will he say we haven’t born the fruit he wants. Once upon a time, of course, Fall River was greatly fruitful. It had over 30 Catholic parishes. It produced abundant vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It was a moral city with thoroughly Christian values. The poor were cared for. Public immorality was shunned. But just like with a farmer’s field that was once very fruitful, it can become infertile due to neglect. Today Jesus wants us to learn from what happened in these towns of Galilee and get right again what they got wrong. He wants us to respond to all his graces with firm faith, because if our faith is firm, we will be firm. And Jesus calls us, like he did the people there, to repent and believe in the Gospel, to convert from our old ways and live together with him the Gospel of the Kingdom.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of someone with great soil, St. Bonaventure, the 13th century Franciscan doctor of the Church. He was one who heard God’s message and responded fully. He repented in long fasts and other mortifications for his own sins, which those of the time sad had to be venial, not mortal. He recognized that the conversion to which Christ calls us all is not a one time thing, from a wicked life to a good one, but from a defective notion or living of the Christian life to a fuller one. It’s a constant process of literally “turning with” the Lord (con-vertere), as we seek to think like Christ thinks, will what he wills, and love as he loves, so that our entire life might be lived by faith through, with and in God. This was the life he sought and this was the life he strove to help others to live as well.
  • His most famous spiritual work is called Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, “The Journey of the Soul into [the very life of] God.” He describes what that continual conversion leading to a life bearing great fruit. He said that for us to follow Christ in the passover from old ways to new, we need to “seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; the Bridegroom not the Teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love.” In the world we often place our trust in what we can do, in what we’ve learned, in what we’ve understood, in our own study, in light rather than the unknowing darkness, but St. Bonaventure lays out for us the path of true faith. He goes on to say that for us truly to live a converted life we have to die spiritually to the old Adam and allow the New Adam (Christ) to live. “Let us die, then,” he continues, “and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage forever.”  In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we asked God that on this celebration of St. Bonaventure’s heavenly birthday, “we may benefit from his great learning and constantly imitate” the way he loved God, the way he lived by faith, the way he bore fruit that continues to nourish the entire Church. One of the greatest ways God wants to answer that prayer is by strengthening us to follow St. Bonaventure on this itinerary into the very life of God.
  • St. Bonaventure regularly made that journey in his prayer but the foremost way that he experiences that itinerary of continuous conversion is at Mass. It was at Mass and adoring Jesus outside of Mass that he begged for the strength he needed for that journey. He wrote a prayer, his famous Transfige, that the Church continues to pray after Mass to the Lord we have received within. I’d like to finish with that prayer, in the hope that you might take it up as something you will pray in thanksgiving after Mass and experience fruits of conversion similar to St. Bonaventure:
  • “Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of your love and with true, calm and most holy apostolic charity,” the Seraphic doctor wrote, “that my soul may ever languish and melt with entire love and longing for you, may yearn for you and for your courts, may long to be dissolved and to be with you.  Grant that my soul may hunger after you, the Bread of Angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delightful taste.  May my heart ever hunger after and feed upon you, Whom the angels desire to look upon, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of your savor; may it ever thirst for you, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the fulness of the house of God; may it ever compass you, seek you, find you, run to you, come up to you, meditate on you, speak of you, and do all for the praise and glory of your name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, with perseverence to the end; and be yours alone ever my hope, my entire confidence, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, my treasure; in Whom may my mind and my heart be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably.  Amen.”
  • The end of that prayer points to the type of conversion God wants to work in all of us. So often we place our hope, confidence, riches, delight, pleasure, joy, rest, tranquility, peace, sweetness, food, refreshment, refuge, help, wisdom, portion, possession, treasure and heart in the things of the world, just like Ahaz and so many of the people of the cities around the Sea of Galilee. St. Bonaventure shows us how to place it in the Lord.
  • Let’s ask him to help us to imitate him in doing so as we prepare now to allow Jesus in the Eucharist to “pierce” us in the same way, so that our faith may be firm and we will be firm!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 7:1-9

In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah,
Rezin, king of Aram,
and Pekah, king of Israel, son of Remaliah,
went up to attack Jerusalem,
but they were not able to conquer it.
When word came to the house of David that Aram
was encamped in Ephraim,
the heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled,
as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind.Then the LORD said to Isaiah: Go out to meet Ahaz,
you and your son Shear-jashub,
at the end of the conduit of the upper pool,
on the highway of the fuller’s field, and say to him:
Take care you remain tranquil and do not fear;
let not your courage fail
before these two stumps of smoldering brands
the blazing anger of Rezin and the Arameans,
and of the son Remaliah,
because of the mischief that
Aram, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah,
plots against you, saying,
“Let us go up and tear Judah asunder, make it our own by force,
and appoint the son of Tabeel king there.”Thus says the LORD:
This shall not stand, it shall not be!
Damascus is the capital of Aram,
and Rezin is the head of Damascus;
Samaria is the capital of Ephraim,
and Remaliah’s son the head of Samaria.

But within sixty years and five,
Ephraim shall be crushed, no longer a nation.
Unless your faith is firm
you shall not be firm!

Responsorial Psalm
PS 48:2-3A, 3B-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. (see 9d) God upholds his city for ever.
Great is the LORD and wholly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.
R. God upholds his city for ever.
Mount Zion, “the recesses of the North,”
is the city of the great King.
God is with her castles;
renowned is he as a stronghold.
R. God upholds his city for ever.
For lo! the kings assemble,
they come on together;
They also see, and at once are stunned,
terrified, routed.
R. God upholds his city for ever.
Quaking seizes them there;
anguish, like a woman’s in labor,
As though a wind from the east
were shattering ships of Tarshish.
R. God upholds his city for ever.

Gospel
MT 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds had been done,
since they had not repented.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
And as for you, Capernaum:Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the nether world.
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”