The Battle Between Hardness and Purity and Liquidity of Heart, 19th Friday (I), August 14, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
August 14, 2015
Joshua 24:1-13, Ps 136, Mt 19:3-12


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In the past two days, we’ve been hearing about mercy and reconciliation, making the first move to go correct and reconcile those who have sinned against us so that we might have union with them, and a willingness to do this 70 x 7 times, to forgive others what they have done to us because God has forgiven us so much more. Reconciliation is necessary for God’s plan for us to be united with him and with each other forever in love.
  • Today’s readings continue and build on that theme. In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we list all that God did for the Jews because his mercy endures forever, a list of things that Joshua himself describes in today’s first reading. In the Gospel Jesus points to God’s plan from the beginning in creating us as male and female in God’s image to be a loving communion of persons, how divorce and remarriage contradicts that plan, and how God calls us, like he called the Pharisees, to a conversion from hardness of heart to doing even hard things for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s enter into that drama, which will also help us to appreciate much more the saint whose feast day the Church celebrates today.
  • When the Pharisees approached Jesus in the area across the Jordan from the Holy Land and asked him a question about marriage, it wasn’t a question of curiosity or even to learn. It was likely meant to be a trap. Jesus was in the area where John the Baptist had been preaching and baptizing and to ask him about the lawfulness of marriage was to ask him a political question for which John the Baptist had been killed by Herod Antipas. John had said to Herod that it was not lawful for him to be married to the wife of his brother Philip, not just because this incest by affinity was contrary to God’s plan but because marrying another person’s wife was. And Herod thought that Jesus was John risen from the dead. To ask him about marriage was potentially to invite him to criticize the same king and suffer the same consequence.
  • Jesus’ reply began in a telling way: “Have you not read…?” The Pharisees, who were scholars of the law and sought to live by every dot in it, obviously had read the Book of Genesis many times, but Jesus was seeking to humble them because they obviously had missed its meaning. Then he described with words that were not just citing Genesis but invoking, in a sense, his own memory of how things were in the beginning “when the Word was, was with God and was God,” that “from the beginning God ‘made them male and female and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” God’s plan from the beginning of time was for marriage to be the greatest image of God, God who is a loving communion of persons, who seeks to unite man and woman in a faithful, indissoluble, fruitful union that would image the way he would engage the human race by become “one flesh” with us.
  • The Pharisees then asked, and we ought to pay attention to the verb they used, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?” They were trying to pit Jesus against Moses and thereby against God. But Moses had never commanded man to divorce a wife, as if this was the 11th part of the Decalogue. Jesus described what Moses did and why: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,” but he said “from the beginning it was not so,” it was not part of God’s plan. Moses permitted it for a time. He didn’t command it. And Jesus then clarified that “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful [unless it is not a marriage in the first place, like marrying someone who was married to someone else, like marrying a child or a parent, etc.]) and marries another commits adultery.” And adultery is the classic sin of the Old Covenant. God clarified that all sins are adultery against the loving union God had sought to establish with the human race, which was described in Hosea and Isaiah, pointed to in the Song of Songs, and would culminate with the advent of the Bridegroom, Jesus.
  • We can pause here to ponder the very important contemporary applications of what Jesus is saying. People are still approaching Jesus with questions about divorce and marriage and Jesus continuously takes us back to the beginning and warns us about sinful choices that flow from hardness of heart. We can take two present cases.
    • The first is same sex marriage. It’s clear what God’s plan is from the beginning. God made us, intentionally, in his image as male and female precisely because he wanted the marriage between a man and a woman open to the generation of other beings in God’s image and their own, to be an icon of divine love. He didn’t make us male and male, or female and female, because of his plan for marriage. For that reason, he continues, man is to leave our father and mother, not our two dads or two moms, or three-dads-and-three-moms, and cling not to whomever he is sexually attracted, cling not to his best friend, but cling to his wife. And Jesus says that the two become one flesh and what God had united cannot be divided. This last line points not to the ephemeral physical union in making love, but to realities far greater: the union of man and woman in a child, someone who should never be rent asunder by abortion or other means; the union of one man and one woman in some mysterious ontological way until death; and the union of man and woman. Such a one-flesh union is impossible for those of the same-sex. Yet we have the push for the redefinition of marriage precisely because of the hardness of our fallen hearts. We’ve made it almost a “command” that if we’re attracted to someone, even if that person is married to someone else, even if that person is of the same sex, we ought to relativize everything else and seek the false union based on violating what God has clearly commanded.
    • The second is divorce-and-remarriage and what it’s significance is in the Church’s sacramental understanding. With the upcoming Synod on the Family in the Vatican, much attention has been given to whether those who are in the objective state of adultery Jesus describes are capable worthily of receiving Holy Communion, of becoming one flesh with Christ while they are obviously rejecting his clear teaching on marriage enunciated in today’s Gospel. Every person has a complicated story to which we must be sensitive and God’s mercy endures forever and is always thankfully available but part of that mercy is not to pretend as if adultery is not longer sinful and soteriologically serious. Even in these difficult life circumstances, if Catholics simply prioritized their union with God over their physical union in the flesh with someone to whom God has not joined them by marriage, they would be able to receive Holy Communion — either through separation from the “second spouse” or through publicly living chastely as brother and sister when separation might prove harmful to kids in the family. But at an objective level what is being fought ought — somewhat unbelievably — is whether someone who obstinately perseveres in committing acts of adultery is worthily in a valid covenantal bond with Jesus and therefore able to become one flesh with him in Holy Communion. For those who say, at an objective level — subjectively they may not even be aware of what their body language is communicating — that they cannot or do not want to give up sexual activity in a relationship Jesus calls adulterous are still able to consummate their mystical marital union with the Bridegroom. The Church has always offered a path of mercy in this case, but it requires first overcoming the hardness of heart that leads one to want to have one’s choice to enter into a second marriage while the first spouse is still alive somewhat approved and validated, as if the fact that they love the second spouse makes it a “command” that trumps even the Sixth Commandment.
  • For people in both circumstances and in general, Jesus shows us a different path. It’s an exodus from a hardened heart that stubbornly persists in sin to what many of the saints call a “liquid heart,” one that sacrifices one’s own fleshly desires, sexual instinct and instinct for self-preservation and pours itself out for others. It’s a passover from hardness of heart to purity of heart, which sees God (Mt 5:8) and seeks to do everything “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ passage about the eunuchs is a passage about the possibility of chaste continence out of love for, and in fidelity to, God. Jesus describes three types of eunuchs: some who are incapable of marriage because of the way they were born, and we could incorporate into this category those who believe and feel that they were “born gay”; others who were “made so by others,” and we can think about those who were made this way through their spouses abandoning them; and others who have “renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven,” and we can think of those, like us, sisters and priests, who have made public promises of chaste celibacy in imitation of Christ’s chaste celibacy. Jesus says “Not all can accept this word,” meaning many will not grasp his teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, that one marries for life, for better or worse, for richer or poor, in sickness and in health, and one only gets one shot at it while the other spouse is alive, something that can be scary; but he says those “to whom [it] is granted” can indeed accepted it, and God always provides the grace to live in a holy way even when we may be asked to live carrying a heavy Cross. “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it,” and Jesus will give us the grace to accept it all.
  • This passage from hardness of heart to purity and liquidity of heart for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is seen very powerfully in the life of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe.  When he was a young boy, after struggling against naughtiness, he began to despair that he would ever be able to turn things around, that his fallen heart would ever be turned right side up. He prayed to our Lady and asked her what would become of him. She appeared to him holding two crowns, one white for purity, the other red for martyrdom, asking if he was willing to accept either of them. He replied that he would accept them both! He had a sense that the Immaculate would always help him to keep his heart pure like God’s merciful heart until he should give his life in testimony to the One who had died for Him. His life would be a union of that pure and liquid heart. He became a Franciscan, got two doctorates in Rome, returned and founded a printing press, a daily newspaper, a monthly magazine, a radio station and a huge monastery to run them, called the City of the Immaculate (Niepokalanow), which became the largest monastery of the world. He sought to bring the faith, like a new St. Francis Xavier, both to Japan and to India. But when he returned to Poland as the Nazi menace was growing, his media outlets started to attack the Nazi lies. He also sheltered 3,000 refugees, including 2,000 Jews, in his monastery. It was only a matter of time until the Nazis would come for him. In February 1941, he was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Pawiak prison where he was routinely beaten and mistreated. At the end of May, he was transferred to Auschwitz, where, because he was a priest, he suffered far more abuse and barbarism than the average degraded and abused prisoner. He was in the place where the hearts of so many Nazis had become hardened to the point of death and so many prisoners’ hearts had become totally forlorn. On July 31, three prisoners from his cell block escaped and in retaliation, Commandant Karl Fritzsch said that ten prisoners at random would be selected to die in a starvation bunker to dissuade anyone else from trying to flee. The tattooed number of Franciszek Gajowniczek was called and he cried out “My wife! My children!” That’s when Fr. Kolbe, prisoner 16670, stepped forward and speaking the German of his father, said, “I am a Catholic Priest. I would like to take the place of that man.” Fritszch, shocked, granted the wish. He went with the other nine prisoners to the starvation bunker. He taught them to look forward to heaven, which would come for them imminently after some suffering. He helped them to pray the Rosary to the Immaculate, asking her to pray for them at that moment and at the hour of their death. He celebrated dry Masses in their presence and taught them some chants. He got them to live their last days for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven and for its eternal wedding banquet. Because he was so accustomed to giving his rations to other prisoners, he was able to go without food for great periods of time, and after two weeks, he was the only one still alive. The Nazis wanted to send others to the starvation bunker and so they injected him with carbolic acid to kill him, 74 years ago today, the day when he received his white and red crowns, his imperishable wreath, which we pray one day we’ll see him wearing next to Our Lady at her Son’s eternal right side.
  • At every Mass, Jesus offers us the white and red crown. He gives us his help to see him in the Host, to see Him in others, to see Him in spouses, and to love Him and others to the point of pouring out our heart and our blood for them. At every Mass the King seeks to crown us himself and to make us become one flesh with him as he gives us here his flesh and blood. It was this nourishment that strengthened St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe in his purity and in his courageous witness until the end. And Jesus will likewise strengthen us. His mercy endures forever and the list of all the good he has done for us far surpasses what Joshua summarized for the Jews, as the new Joshua (Yeshua, Jesus’ name in Hebrew) leads us to the eternal promised land.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Jos 24:1-13

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges and their officers.
When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people:
“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
In times past your fathers, down to Terah,
father of Abraham and Nahor,
dwelt beyond the River and served other gods.
But I brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River
and led him through the entire land of Canaan.
I made his descendants numerous, and gave him Isaac.
To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.
To Esau I assigned the mountain region of Seir in which to settle,
while Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.“Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and smote Egypt with the prodigies
which I wrought in her midst.
Afterward I led you out of Egypt, and when you reached the sea,
the Egyptians pursued your fathers to the Red Sea
with chariots and horsemen.
Because they cried out to the LORD,
he put darkness between your people and the Egyptians,
upon whom he brought the sea so that it engulfed them.
After you witnessed what I did to Egypt,
and dwelt a long time in the desert,
I brought you into the land of the Amorites
who lived east of the Jordan.
They fought against you, but I delivered them into your power.
You took possession of their land, and I destroyed them,
the two kings of the Amorites, before you.
Then Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab,
prepared to war against Israel.
He summoned Balaam, son of Beor, to curse you;
but I would not listen to Balaam.
On the contrary, he had to bless you, and I saved you from him.
Once you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho,
the men of Jericho fought against you,
but I delivered them also into your power.
And I sent the hornets ahead of you that drove them
(the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites,
Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites)
out of your way; it was not your sword or your bow.“I gave you a land that you had not tilled
and cities that you had not built, to dwell in;
you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves
which you did not plant.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24

R. His mercy endures forever.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever;
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his mercy endures forever;
Give thanks to the LORD of lords,
for his mercy endures forever.
R. His mercy endures forever.
Who led his people through the wilderness,
for his mercy endures forever;
Who smote great kings,
for his mercy endures forever;
And slew powerful kings,
for his mercy endures forever.
R. His mercy endures forever.
And made their land a heritage,
for his mercy endures forever;
The heritage of Israel his servant,
for his mercy endures forever;
And freed us from our foes,
for his mercy endures forever.
R. His mercy endures forever.

Alleluia See 1 Thess 2:13

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Receive the word of God, not as the word of men,
but, as it truly is, the word of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 19:3-12

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”