Responding to God’s Word with Light, Care, and Generous Measure, 3rd Thursday (II), January 28, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church
January 28, 2016
2 Sam 7:18-19.24-29, Ps 132, Mk 4:21-25

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday Jesus gave us the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, which allowed us to take a soil sample of our receptivity to his action in our life and to point us toward bearing abundant fruit through eliminating the packed down soil, or subterranean rock layers or thorns that can choke the growth of the seed. He also explained to us why he uses Parables, so that we’ll be provoked to put in the work to understand the imagery he is using and apply it to our life; if we don’t find ourselves doing the work but blowing off what he says, it’s a clear sign that our hearts are hardened.
  • Today Jesus continues that lesson by focusing on three things that should happen when we are receiving his word on good soil.
  • The first is that it will shine through us. Jesus has lit the lamp of our minds and hearts with his holy word and he doesn’t want us to place it under a bushel basket or a bed but on a lamp stand. He doesn’t want us to keep what he teaches us secret but to make it visible, to bring it to the light of day so that others might similarly be illuminated.
  • Second, we will take care of it. Jesus tells us to “take care what you hear.” We can understand this in two senses. First, it means to pay attention, that we listen well to what he’s saying. We ought to be at the edge of our seats when Jesus speaks, attentive to every word, remembering it, pondering it in our hearts, placing it together with what he’s taught us before and letting it become a foundation for what he wishes to teach us later in our prayer, in our listening to Sacred Scripture, in what he reveals to us in day-to-day events. The second way he wants us to take care of what we hear is to treasure what he reveals, to care for it, to nourish it, to water the seeds of his word. In today’s first reading, we see David’s prayer before the Lord, his utter astonishment at the Lord’s goodness to him, he “amen” and “fiat” to the doubly-shocking news that Nathan gave him yesterday, that he wouldn’t be allowed to build a house for the Lord and that the Lord would build one in turn for him. Filled with awe and gratitude, caring for God’s word, David said in prayer, “Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house, that you have brought me to this point? Yet even this you see as too little, Lord GOD;  you have also spoken of the house of your servant  for a long time to come:  this too you have shown to man, Lord GOD! … It is you, LORD of hosts, God of Israel, who said in a revelation to your servant, ‘I will build a house for you.’” The Lord God had blessed David with the promise of establishing in him an eternal kingdom, one that would be fulfilled by Jesus his descendent according to the flesh and it was a blessing almost too much to comprehend. David asks for God to fulfill that promise, uniting his will to the will of the Lord. Likewise, when Jesus give us his teaching, it’s a similar blessing and we should respond to it with wonder and amazement, just like Moses in receiving and proclaiming the law of the Lord cried out to the Lord, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?  Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?  … However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” We need similarly to take care and be on our guard not to forget what God is teaching us, not to let them slip from our memory as long as we live, but to pass it on.
  • This leads to the third point: to share the word of God generously. Jesus tells us that the “measure with which you measure will be measured out to you and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” This is basically the law of “use or it or lose it,” which every student, every athlete, every musician knows. The more we learn, the more we can learn. The more we work out, the more we can work out and the tougher the exercises we can do. The more we practice the piano, the more our talent develops; the less we practice, the more we lose our ability. Unless we use a gift, the gift atrophies. It’s similar with the light of the teaching he gives us: the more we give it, the more we’ll receive it, and if we don’t pass it on to others, we’re at risk for losing it. Any teacher will tell you that if you really want to learn something, try to teach it to others. The measure with which we measure is measured back to us. The way we let the light shine, the way we take care of the word, is to measure it out, so that we may not only grow in our possession of the light of his word but also grow in our giving it away as the great blessing David and Moses both recognized.
  • Today we have a great illustration of what Jesus is teaching us today in the life of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. He refused to keep what God had shown him to himself, but faithful to the Dominican motto of contemplata aliis tradere, to pass on to others what one has contemplated, Thomas put it on a lamp stand, gave the Lord his full attention, treasured what the Lord taught, and shared it in full measure. His life is a living commentary on the way we in our own circumstances out to respond to the Word of God.
  • As a young man, it was very costly for him to act on the words God was speaking to him, because his family opposed the light God was giving him. After meeting some of the newly founded members of the Order of Preachers, popularly called the Dominicans after their founder St. Dominic, he discovered God was calling him to be one of them. But that was very much opposed by Thomas’ family, particularly his mother, who had plans for Thomas to follow her own brother as Abbot of the nearby prestigious Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict and St. Scholastica are buried. She would allow him to become a priest, but only a type of priest consistent with his noble birth. She absolutely didn’t want him to become a priest of a mendicant order that begged for food. She was inflexible. Thomas, therefore, when he reached majority ran away from home, heading to Paris to join the Dominicans. His mother sent his brothers, however, on horseback to capture him and bring him home, where she had him thrown into the dungeon of their castle imprisoned so that he wouldn’t escape. It’s there that they tried to break him from his desire to become a Dominican, his brothers going so far as to send a prostitute into the dungeon to try to have him fall in chastity, a temptation he thoroughly resisted. Eventually he would escape — it seems with the help of his mother, who thought it would be less embarrassing for him to escape and follow his vocation than for the family to give him permission — and head to become a Dominican.
  • But his imprisonment of more than a year was one of the most important things that happened in the history of theology, because it was during that time that Thomas, to spend his imprisonment profitably, got a copy of the Latin New Testament and memorized it inside out, so much so that for the rest of his life, the words of Christ, the insights of the apostles, were on the tip of his tongue, something that strengthened all that he every wrote, a contemplata that was shared with all, and what he shared remains at the top of the Church’s theological lamp stand. Even though he was humble and would have chosen to remain under a bushel basket, he couldn’t help it. Because he never answered questions in class, many of his classmates at the University of Paris called him the “Dumb Ox,” because of his size. But his professor, St. Albert the Great, who knew of his written work, said that his “mooing” would one day echo around the world. Thomas sought to united revelation to reason, with the help of the recently discovered texts of Aristotle, so that reason would help to deepen our understanding of the faith and faith would purify reason. Since the truths of faith and reason both come from God he knew that they could never truly be in conflict, just apparent conflict, and he began an incredibly prodigious output of writing that has influenced Christian theology and philosophy ever since.
  • But as influential as his theological and philosophical corpus has been in the history of Christian thought, I believe his greatest legacy flowed out of his prayerful heart. After the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena, Pope Urban IV asked him and St. Bonaventure to compose the Office to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi — the hymns, the lessons, the prayers. St. Thomas won the competition against his holy Franciscan friend. And we are still very much profiting from the fruits of his contemplation. He wrote the Tantum Ergo and the O Salutaris we still sing at Eucharistic Adoration. He wrote the Panis Angelicus. He wrote the Adoro Te Devote. They all flow from his Eucharistic piety. He let his faith shine as a light that has illumined all of us.
  • I’ve always been very impacted by one of his lines from the Sacris Solemnis, the last two verses of which form the Panis Angelicus. If in the first reading David was awed at what God was going to do for him, we should have a similar, even a greater awe. We sing: “O Res mirabilis, manducat Dominum, pauper servus et humilis.” “O what an unbelievable reality: a poor and humble servant eats his Lord.” St. Thomas measured out all of his love for the Lord in these Eucharistic hymns and he’s been training all of us ever since in that same love for the Lord and same wonder for the miraculous reality that the Lord we devoutly worship before this “so great a Sacrament” we actually are given the privilege to consume.
  • That leads to the last point I’d like to say about St. Thomas, which sums up his entire life. He was a man who took care of the Word of God and the God of that word. Toward the end of his life he had two great mystical experiences (that we know of). In the first, he was so moved by the presence of the Lord that he stopped writing all together, recognizing everything he had written — some of the most important and penetrating theology anyone has ever written — were “like straw” compared to the experience he had of God in prayer. The second experience was when Jesus spoke to him from the Crucifix about three months before he died at the age of 49. Jesus said, “Bene scripsisti de me Thoma; quam ergo mercedem accipias?” “You have written well of me Thomas? What reward would you receive? What do you wish that I give you?” Thomas could have asked for anything, but he knew well who is treasure was. “Non aliam, Domini, nisi te ipsum,” he replied. “Nothing but you, Lord!” His whole life, his whole treasure, was the Lord. The Lord was the One he sought in his vocation even against the objections and obstacles of his family. The Lord was the One he sought in his study of Sacred Scripture and all his Sacred Theology. The Lord was the One he loved in all of his Eucharistic hymns. He only and always wanted the Lord as his reward, and now, on this feast day, we rejoice with him that with all the saints he has that “mercedem” — and from heaven, the light of the Lord that shone through him shines still.
  • At the beginning of this Mass we prayed to God that he would grant us to “understand what [St. Thomas] taught and imitate what we accomplished.” Few of us will ever be able to read and understand all St. Thomas’ theology, but we can understand the most important thing he taught — about the primacy of the love and worship of God and the need to believe what word of truth has said — as we pray that we may imitate what he accomplished, doing God’s holy will with abandon, so that we might be able to enjoy forever with him the “res mirabilis” of eternal life!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 SM 7:18-19, 24-29

After Nathan had spoken to King David,
the king went in and sat before the LORD and said,
“Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house,
that you have brought me to this point?
Yet even this you see as too little, Lord GOD;
you have also spoken of the house of your servant
for a long time to come:
this too you have shown to man, Lord GOD!“
You have established for yourself your people Israel as yours forever,
and you, LORD, have become their God.
And now, LORD God, confirm for all time the prophecy you have made
concerning your servant and his house,
and do as you have promised.
Your name will be forever great, when men say,
‘The LORD of hosts is God of Israel,’
and the house of your servant David stands firm before you.
It is you, LORD of hosts, God of Israel,
who said in a revelation to your servant,
‘I will build a house for you.’
Therefore your servant now finds the courage to make this prayer to you.
And now, Lord GOD, you are God and your words are truth;
you have made this generous promise to your servant.
Do, then, bless the house of your servant
that it may be before you forever;
for you, Lord GOD, have promised,
and by your blessing the house of your servant
shall be blessed forever.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 132:1-2, 3-5, 11, 12, 13-14

R. (Lk 1:32b) The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
LORD, remember David
and all his anxious care;
How he swore an oath to the LORD,
vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob.
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
“I will not enter the house where I live,
nor lie on the couch where I sleep;
I will give my eyes no sleep,
my eyelids no rest,
Till I find a home for the LORD,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
The LORD swore an oath to David
a firm promise from which he will not withdraw:
“Your own offspring
I will set upon your throne.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
“If your sons keep my covenant,
and the decrees which I shall teach them,
Their sons, too, forever
shall sit upon your throne.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he prefers her for his dwelling:
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her I will dwell, for I prefer her.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

Gospel
MK 4:21-25

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed,
and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light.
Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”
He also told them, “Take care what you hear.
The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you,
and still more will be given to you.
To the one who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
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