Spiritual Growth and Perfection through Subtraction instead of Accumulation, 20th Monday (I), August 17, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for Religious
August 17, 2015
Jdgs 2:11-19, Ps 106, Mt 19:16-22


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s first reading, we see the crucial role of leadership. Whenever the Judges were ruling over the children of Israel, God “would be with the judge
    and save them from the power of their enemies as long as the judge lived,” but as soon as “the judge died, they would relapse and do worse than their ancestors, following other gods in service and worship, relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.” The importance of strong, heroic leaders, who give the example of right conduct with the Lord and help people acquire proper spiritual discipline is valid in every age.
  • In an age in which many abandon the Lord for Ba’al and Ashtaroth, there is likewise a need for “judges” for people who can remind people of the way God judges reality so that they may examine their choices and have the chance of conversion. Especially today when so many people give themselves to hedonism, to materialism, to individualism, the example of evangelical judges, who by chastity, poverty and obedience respectively are able to show them a different way. In this Year of Consecrated Life, it’s especially important for religious to see their value in helping to lead the world to our poor, chaste and obedient Savior by their iconic existence.
  • In the 19th Chapter of St. Matthew, Jesus gives us a ground for the evangelical counsels. On Friday, we heard Jesus, in the dispute about marriage, describe that some are “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” who live life spousal receiving and responding to God’s love. On Saturday, if we didn’t celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption, we would have had the passage in which little children were brought to Jesus to receive a blessing only to be rebuked by the disciples, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Children are a sign of the filial obedience flowing from trust that should characterize every belier. And today we have the story of the Rich Young Man, whose story introduces the importance of evangelical poverty.
  • After this Rich Young Man had approached Jesus to ask him what good he needed to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus had replied that he needed to keep the commandments, he replied that he had kept them all from his youth but recognized something was missing. And Jesus essentially told him, paradoxically, that what he was lacking was that he had too much. “If you wish to be perfect,” Jesus told him, “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” To have it all, he needed to give it all it way. To have treasure in heaven one has to give away one’s earthly treasure. St. Therese Lisieux once said that we grow in the spiritual life by subtraction, not be addition. A novice once sighed in her presence, “When I think of everything I still have to acquire!” The Little Flower replied, “You mean, to lose! Jesus takes it upon himself to fill your soul in the measure that you rid it of its imperfections. I see that you have taken the wrong road; you will never arrive at the end of your journey. You are wanting to climb a great mountain and the good God is trying to make you descend it; he is waiting for you at the bottom in the fertile valley of humility.” The Rich Young Man needed to learn this lesson. Unfortunately he wasn’t ready for the challenge that spiritual perfection requires at that moment because he had so many possessions that owned him. He looked at the path of holiness as something he could add on to what he already had, whereas it was an emptying precisely so that Christ could fill him. To come to spiritual perfection in Christ’s kingdom, to be truly teleios, fit for the purpose for which God has made us, (to glorify him, to become holy, to become his coworker in the redemption of the world as salt, light and leaven), we must see Christ as the pearl of great price worth far more than everything else in our life and make the courageous choice to use everything we have to obtain him — whether giving everything away all at once, or whether giving our whole life in his service day by day including with the goods he has given us.
  • In order for people in the world to be capable of such a choice, it is key for those who live by the evangelical counsel of spiritual poverty for the sake of the kingdom to show that it is a joyful choice, that going without many of the legitimate goods in the world to enrich oneself more with Jesus is a path to happiness, to fulfillment, not to emptiness and abnegation. During this Year of Consecrated Life, God wants to strengthen all consecrated and religious — and indeed all the baptized — to live with the joy of the Gospel, that comes from choosing as Jesus invites us. We all know that there are religious who murmur inwardly or outwardly as they obey, who though they’ve given up material ownership of so much still long for what they once had, who even though they’re supposed to be in a mystically spousal relationship with Love incarnate, still live as if they’re dried up old prunes or even, occasionally, as unattached singles. Christ wants to help everyone live differently, to live as he lives, and to radiate his joy, a joy we can’t have if we’re enslaved by the lust of the eyes (materialism), the lust of the flesh (lust proper) or pride of life (a desire to control others). People in the world are never going to make the choice to which Christ invited the Rich Young Man unless they see that those who have made such a choice are happier as a result, and this is one of the most important ways consecrated men and women preach the Gospel in an age in which the devil seduces so many to worship the golden calf.
  • The great way we are strengthened in this witness is at Mass when we meet the same Master whom the Rich Young Man approached. It’s here when we recognize the great treasure we receive when we empty ourselves to be filled by him as our real prize. It’s here he fills us with joy, enriching our spiritual poverty, so that we can go out to the world to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Jgs 2:11-19

The children of Israel offended the LORD by serving the Baals.
Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers,
who led them out of the land of Egypt,
they followed the other gods of the various nations around them,
and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD.
Because they had thus abandoned him and served Baal and the Ashtaroth,
the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel,
and he delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them.
He allowed them to fall into the power of their enemies round about
whom they were no longer able to withstand.
Whatever they undertook, the LORD turned into disaster for them,
as in his warning he had sworn he would do,
till they were in great distress.
Even when the LORD raised up judges to deliver them
from the power of their despoilers,
they did not listen to their judges,
but abandoned themselves to the worship of other gods.
They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken,
and did not follow their example of obedience
to the commandments of the LORD.
Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, he would be with the judge
and save them from the power of their enemies
as long as the judge lived;
it was thus the LORD took pity on their distressful cries
of affliction under their oppressors.
But when the judge died,
they would relapse and do worse than their ancestors,
following other gods in service and worship,
relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.

Responsorial Psalm PS 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They did not exterminate the peoples,
as the LORD had commanded them,
But mingled with the nations
and learned their works.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They served their idols,
which became a snare for them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They became defiled by their works,
and wanton in their crimes.
And the LORD grew angry with his people,
and abhorred his inheritance.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Many times did he rescue them,
but they embittered him with their counsels.
Yet he had regard for their affliction
when he heard their cry.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Alleluia Mt 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.