Striving Maturely for the Greatest Spiritual Gifts, 24th Wednesday (II), September 17, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
September 17, 2014
1 Cor 12:31-13:13, Ps 33, Lk 7:31-35

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


The following points were attempted in today’s homily: 

  •  In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the people of the generation to whom he was preaching as “children who sit in the marketplace.” He says they call out to each other, “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge for you, but you did not weep.” Jesus was essentially correcting them about two aspects of childish immaturity that was preventing their becoming disciples. The first is that they were seated. They were not willing to get up and follow him along the way of discipleship. They were not willing to change. The second is that that they wanted to be the ones playing the tune to which others would dance. If they were playing a joyful tune on the flute, they wanted people to dance a jitterbug; if they were playing a dirge or a fado, they wanted people weeping. They were not willing to align themselves to the ever new song ,the lyrics (Word of God) and melody (tone) that Jesus is playing rather than domesticate him by getting him to conform his message to their music.
  • Jesus compared the generation to a group of spoiled, fickle children, because they had hardened their hearts totally to the message of God, trying to control and judge God rather than obey and love him. He said that when John the Baptist came to him, rather than focus on his message of conversion, they criticized him for “neither eating food nor drinking wine.” They criticized him because he fasted, ate wild honey and consumed locusts. They “classified and conquered” him and refused to convert at his message. When Jesus came with a totally different approach “eating and drinking” because he was the Bridegroom and he wanted to teach them how to feast in God’s presence rather than fast — we would fast when the Bridegroom would be taken away — they criticized Jesus for not fasting and for not abstaining, calling him a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Again, they avoided his message by judging the messenger, coming at him from a position of superiority rather than docility. The upshot is that no matter whom God sent to them, they weren’t prepared to accept him, but they’d find something to criticize, something to give them the excuse to remain seated, something that would keep them in control of the jukebox.
  • Jesus is forcefully calling us and the people of our generation to be something far different from “children sitting in the marketplace.” He calls us to be spiritually childlike, a son or daughter who lovingly trusts God, who believes what he says is true, recognizes what he or she doesn’t know, and who seeks to become like chips off the old (divine) block. When Jesus says at the end of today’s episode,  “wisdom is vindicated by all her children,” he is communicating that he wants us to be his vindication by living according to his wisdom as sons in the Son, eating and drinking, fasting and abstaining, dancing and making music, and doing everything in union with him and at his lead.
  • The truth is that there are many in our own generation who behave before God like the spoiled children Jesus mentions in his image. We judge God, we judge his Church, we judge those whom he sends us by our own criteria. We make our preferences the most important thing of all. Instead of heeding the message God gives us in a priest’s homily, for example, we judge it by its length, whether it’s too short, or too long, or to strong, or too milk toast, judging it fundamentally by our own likes and dislikes rather than seeking to align ourselves to what God is doing. Many of the people will choose Churches based on whether they play the music they like, whether chant, or polyphony, or hymnody, or polka, or rock, or contemporary praise and worship, or whether there’s no music at all, rather than singing everything as an opportunity to praise God with others. We’ll notice all the things that don’t matter much if anything at all and fail to heed the things that matter most. Jesus is calling us, rather, to real spiritual childhood, to convert and become like the little children whose example he places for us all, not the capricious kids he mentions in the Gospel.
  • St. Paul was one who after his conversion heeded the Lord’s message and became spiritually mature and paradoxically spiritually childlike at the same time. St. Paul described his path to maturity in today’s first reading. “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” He put away the flute that he was playing and became an instrument in the Lord’s hands. We’re all called to do the same.
  • And what’s the path to spiritual maturity? It’s the path to learning how to love as Jesus loves. Jesus told us during the Last Supper, “Love one another as I have loved you” and then indicated what real love is: “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Real spiritual maturity is when we’re able to get beyond our likes and dislikes, to get beyond our self-preservation, and learn how to give of ourselves wholly and entirely out of love for God and others. True spiritual maturity is the capacity to die for God and others, it comes from unselfish giving instead of selfish getting. It’s achieved not by playing our own tune but learning by aligning our life to St. Paul’s famous “Hymn to Charity” that he gives us today, one of the most famous and moving passages not only in Sacred Scripture but in all of literature.
  • St. Paul begins by telling us to “strive for the greatest spiritual gifts” and then says he will show us whose those gifts are and the “still more excellent way” to obtain them. St. Paul had just finished describing the charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church, the gift of prophecy, or speaking in tongues, or teaching, or guiding as apostles. St. Paul says something is even greater than those, namely selfless charity is God’s supreme gift. He says that if we have the gift of speaking in “human and angelic tongues” or of “prophecy” or of “knowledge” such that we “comprehend all mysteries” or of “faith so as to move mountains” or philanthropy to “give away everything I own” or even martyrdom to “hand over my body” but don’t have real charity, we are nothing and gain nothing. We’re nothing more than the “resounding gong” and “clashing cymbal” used in the pagan worship of Bacchus. We can do all of those good things, St. Paul is saying, without love. We can do them for “boasting,” for vanity, to get others’ attention, even to use and try to obtain something from God. The fact that we’ve received those good gifts doesn’t make us good; it’s only when they help us to love God and others more that we become good. This is a really important point. Even if we become a martyr but don’t do so out of love for God and others, but allow ourselves to be executed in hatred for the faith but with hatred and resentment in our hearts toward our executioners and even toward God for allowing persecution to happen to us, we gain nothing. The most important thing in life is Christ like charity. If we have it but nothing else, we’re the richest people in the world. If we lack it but have everything else, we’re spiritually among the poorest of the poor. And St. Paul tells us to “strive eagerly” for this greatest spiritual gift of charity. He call us to agonize for it with enthusiasm. We’re supposed to exert ourselves to conform our life to God’s charity more than Tom Brady works hard in practice, more than the hardest working student does his or her homework, more than the greediest person works to make money. Are we striving for charity in this way, or are we just sitting in the marketplace saying that we love more than the other skittish kids?
  • If we are loving for real, if we’re becoming more and more images of Christ in his love, then we will be able to predicate of ourselves all of the adjectives St. Paul employs about love in his famous hymn. This list is a great means by which to examine our consciences each night and especially before confession, to see whether we are loving God and others in this way.
    • God wants us, like him, to be patient, to be able to suffer others and situations with makrothumia, the word that used to be used to describe the Roman’s ability to wait during a siege for as long as it takes. God is patient with us out of love, he’s slow to anger, and we’re called to emulate that loving patience.
    • God wants us, like him, to be kind, treating everyone with goodness and loving them enough to correct them gently but firmly if needed. How can we ever love someone if we’re mean to them? How can we really love others if we intentionally hurt them?
    • God wants us, like him, not to be jealous or envious. How can we love others if we’re upset when they are blessed by God?
    • God wants us, like him, not to be pompous or inflated. How can we love God or others when we’re egocentrically infatuated with ourselves and stuck up?
    • God wants us, like him, never to be rude. He wants us, rather, to act with grace and to treat others with dignity and courtesy.
    • God wants us, like him, not to seek our own interests, but his and others’. Love never insists on its own ambitions or rights with regard to those we love, but we forget ourselves in seeking what’s good and pleasing for them.
    • God wants us, like him, not to be quick-tempered. Even if we have a quick-fuse temperamentally, love forces us to battle against ourselves and bite our tongue, lest in our anger we ever hurt one whom we love.
    • God wants us, like him, not to brood over injury. Sometimes we can behave like the most fastidious accountants in remembering all the ways others have hurt our feelings, wounded our sensibilities, or even done physical or spiritual harm. God wants us, rather, to imitate his mercy.
    • God wants us, like him, to rejoice in the truth instead of in wrongdoing. If we really love someone, we will never rejoice when they’re doing something wrong, because we know that they’ll be harming themselves. For example, we’ll never say, “Congratulations on your same-sex marriage or your marriage outside the Church” because we know that they’ve made a choice that’s not in alignment with the truth Jesus out of love has revealed about marriage, love, family and human sexuality. We’ll never say, “I’m happy that you taught that you shamed that person publicly because the person really needed to be humiliated!” If we love, we will rejoice when the truth prevails, even when the truth may be the last thing people want to hear or do. If we love, we’ll weep over others’ wrongdoing, like we pondered on Monday that Mary does for us.
    • God wants us, like him, to bear, believe, hope and endure all things, to be trusting in Him and in others, to have hope not only in his promises but in the good of others, to bear everything with fortitude instead of resignation. We never really love someone if we can’t stand them, or if we are always suspicious of them, or we think the worst of them. God bears, believes in, hopes in and endures us and calls us to love others in the same way.
  • One person who lived by these attributes is the great saint, bishop and doctor of the Church we celebrate today, St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). He was one of the great figures in the response of the Church to the Protestant Reformation, patiently working to improve faith and morals, kindly reconciling those who had lost their way, rejoicing in rather than being jealous of the gifts of his collaborators and opponents, always remaining humble and never treating anyone with a lack of respect, not seeking his own interests but God’s glory and others salvation and sanctification, never responding in quick anger but always thoughtfully, not brooding over the injuries he suffered inside and from outside the Church, but learning how to forgive real wounds, and more than anything rejoicing in the truth. He spent his priesthood rejoicing in that truth, seeking to teach it to others in the Jesuit classrooms of the Roman College, in his books, in his meetings with Galileo and others, and in so many other ways. He sought to help people become grown-ups. We prayed at the beginning of Mass that God who so “adorned the Bishop Saint Robert Bellarmine with wonderful learning and virtue to vindicate the faith of your Church,” would help us to “always find joy” in the “integrity of that same faith.” Christ said that wisdom is always vindicated by the children of wisdom, by God’s children, and Christ’s wisdom was certainly vindicated in him. That’s why he is now a doctor of the Church, someone whose teachings we can follow with confidence so that God’s wisdom may be vindicated in us.
  • Today at this Mass, Jesus comes to us not “eating and drinking” but to have us eat his body and drink his blood. He is proving himself a friend of sinners by inviting us here with him. This is the greatest manifestation of his love. This is the greatest gift of all become flesh. This is what he did when, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the extreme” (John 13:1). As we enter into Holy Communion with him, we ask him to help us keep that communion with his love, so that like him we may become more and more patient, kind, humble, and all the other attributes St. Paul lists, and have our whole life develop as a commentary on the words of consecration, as we seek to imitate his love to the extreme.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 cor 12:31-13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Responsorial Psalm ps 33:2-3, 4-5, 12 and 22

R. (12) Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten stringed lyre chant his praises.
Sing to him a new song;
pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Gospel lk 7:31-35

Jesus said to the crowds:
“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?
What are they like?
They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”