Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Tenth Sunday of OT, Year A
Renew Prayer Card Sunday
June 9, 2002
Hos 6:3-6; Rom 4:18-25; Mt 9:9-13
1) One of the great joys of my years in seminary in Rome preparing to be a priest was the fact that there were so many beautiful churches, full of tremendous works of art, that depict the momentous episodes in the life of Jesus and the saints in such a moving and unforgettable way. And every time I read this Gospel of the Call of St. Matthew, I think of what is without a doubt the most famous artistic depiction ever made of this scene, done by an Italian painter named Caravaggio, which is in one of the Roman Churches at which I used to pray. In it, the focus is on Jesus’s outstretched finger zeroing in on Matthew from across the room, calling him from his customs post, calling him from his life of sin, to follow him.
2) Today, Jesus has each one of us in his divine cross-hairs, and just as poignantly and personally as with St. Matthew, is stretching out his finger to call each one of us in particular from our customary posts, from our sins, from our own comfort zones, to get up and follow him much more closely. This is what the Christian life is all about, to follow St. Matthew’s example by responding to Jesus’ direct invitation, and leave everything behind that keeps us from him, so that the Divine doctor who came to heal sinners, might indeed heal us and give us the full health and holiness and divine life he came from heaven to earth to bring us.
3) But we have to get up. The Lord is pointing at us today, calling us to follow him much more closely, just as he did St. Matthew, but we have get up off of our duffs and follow him, and many of us really don’t want to do that. Even though he was in a life of sin, St. Matthew recognized his hunger for the Lord, and as soon as the Lord called him, Matthew got up from the table, leaving all his money behind him on the table, and leaving everything else behind as well, to follow the Lord wherever he would lead. The question today is, “Will you get up now to follow him?” How do we respond to the Lord’s direct invitation, “Follow me!”?
4) I’m going to ask you to do something different today than I’ve ever done in a homily in my three years as a priest. Oftentimes people can come to Mass, listen to the homily, but pay very little attention. Every homily is meant to bring everybody, from the homilist himself to every one of his listeners, to a conversion of life. That’s the point of every homily. But oftentimes it just goes through the other ear. Like what Jesus says whose souls are like rocky soil, they can initially receive the word of God with joy, but because the soil is thin, the Word can’t take root and it withers when the Sun comes and scorches it, I want to prevent that happening today. I’m going to ask everyone to make a choice today, a very public, visible choice. The Lord really is pointing to each of us. He’s waiting for us right now to allow him to change us completely and get us to receive the tremendous gifts he wants to pour into our laps. But in order to receive them, we need to make a choice. We need to get up off of our seats, leave our sins, leave everything that might keep us from the Lord behind, to follow him. It won’t be easy. But it will be the beginning of an adventure that will lead us to joys that the world cannot give nor take away. The Protestants have a tradition of an altar call, where they make a public manifestation of their desire to follow the Lord completely. In a similar way, I’m going to call everyone here today to make a stand. Jesus is pointing at you. If you’re willing to leave behind whatever keeps you from him, just like St. Matthew was willing, so that the Lord may become ever more your teacher, your guide, your life, your life, stand up now. Get on up! Stay down if you want to call the shots in your life. Stand up if you’re willing to trust God enough to call the shots. Remain seated if you think you’re already a canonizable saint. Stand up if you think you’re a sinner in need of God’s to become the saint he’s calling you to be. Stay down if you want to pray, “my will be done!” Stand up if you want to pray, “Lord, thy will be done!”
5) Good. Now please remain standing. I promise not to keep you standing for long! The Lord is calling you today to follow him ever more closely, to be renewed by him in faith, to let go of whatever habits and routines that either keep you from him or make you lose the wonder for the awesome gifts he gives you every week. The Lord is calling you to a particular concrete path of spiritual rebirth. He’s calling each one of us here explicitly through Bishop O’Malley, chosen by him to be our bishop, s successor of the apostles. Jesus once said to his apostles, “He who hears you hears me.” In hearing Bishop O’Malley, we are hearing the voice of the Lord speaking to us today, in the midst of all of our problems and difficulties. The Lord is calling us, is pointing to us through Bishop O’Malley. Are you still willing to say yes to the Lord? Those who are may sit down.
6) Bishop O’Malley, for Jesus, is calling the whole diocese to a concrete process of spiritual renewal in preparation for the Diocese’s 100th anniversary in 2004. It couldn’t come at a better time for us at Espirito Santo, as we get ready to celebrate this parish’s 100th anniversary in the same year. A deep spiritual renewal is not easy. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. The process he’s calling for is going to take three years. It’s going to involve tough choices, to leave behind whatever habits we have that make it more difficult for God to act in our lives. It’s going to mean making firm choices to put God first. It’s going to require a fundamental attitude change for some of us, to try to stop fitting God into our day, but rather to plan our day, to plan our week, around God. Matthew left everything to follow the Lord, but he received so much more, because the Lord can never be out-given. If we give ourselves to Him, he will give Himself to us so much more and we’ll never regret it for a moment. But in order to receive those gifts, like St. Matthew did, we have to get up to follow him, taking the risk, accepting the adventure. Is each of us ready to do that? How much are we willing to leave to grow in our relationship with Jesus?
7) Beginning this weekend, we are launching here at Espirito Santo our comprehensive, three-year process of spiritual renewal. Today we are taking the first major two steps. The first was your standing up earlier, a public recognition before God and the Church that you want to follow the Lord and that you’re willing to leave behind whatever might keep you from him, whether it be something bad (like sin), or whether it be something in itself good (like sports, or work, or television, or friends or family) that becomes bad when we treat it as more important than God. The second step that we take today is to commit ourselves to pray, every day, for the next three years, for our own personal spiritual renewal and for the spiritual renewal of our whole parish. You received a prayer card on your way into Mass today. Or if you came in late, you’ll have a chance to pick one up when you leave. We’re asking you to pray that prayer every day starting today until the Renew Process is over 30 months from now. We’ll pray the prayer together a little bit later, but what it’s asking God is to renew each of us and to renew our whole parish. To pray it will require no more than a good, solid minute of your day. This prayer is meant to help us to allow the Lord to till the soil of our hearts like a farmer tills his field would before planting the seeds. To get us ready to receive the deep life-changing rebirth in faith that he wants to give us through this Renew process. If we pray this well, the Lord will hear our prayer, and if we respond to the graces he gives in response, he will change our lives forever. We’ll pray the prayer together at the end of the homily.
8 ) This program of spiritual renewal we’re going to be doing is called Renew 2000. It’s been done in over 100 dioceses and thousands of parishes across America. It’s led to many conversions and to thriving parishes, parishes that are really alive with faith and love. The Lord is pointing at our whole parish, calling us to come alive with the life he wants to give us. The process will take three years. Over the course of the three years, there will be two intensive six-week “Seasons” of prayer per year, one beginning in October and the other during Lent. Each of the five Seasons will have a particular theme. The theme beginning this October is “God, a Community of Love,” in which we start by focusing directly on the Lord Himself. The theme for next Lent is “Conversion.” During the six weeks of each season, there will be three things going on.
a) Each of the members of the clergy of the parish will be preaching on a given topic related to the overall theme. So for example, this October and November, each of the weeks we will be preaching on one of the crucial aspects of understanding God as a Community of Love.
b) Each of the members of the parish will sign up in September to participate in what are called Small Christian Communities. These will be comprised of about 8-12 people and will meet once sometime during the week, for 90 minutes, generally at a parishioner’s home. These groups will pray, share and grow together as they meditate on Sacred Scripture and the teachings of Christ, according to a format that is tied into what is happening on Sunday at Mass.
c) Each of the parishioners will have the opportunity to pick up small little daily meditation booklets, which will take about 5 minutes of their time each day, to help each one grow more deeply in the understanding of each of the various aspects of God, as a Community of Love. These short, daily meditations will be tied into the Small Group discussions, which themselves will be tied into the overall theme of each week within the six-week season.
Over the course of the 30 weeks, spread out over three years, we will have a chance to renew our knowledge of the faith and our response to God in faith in basically every important area. On the front side of the prayer card I gave you, there is a brief summary of Renew 2000. If you can read that, you won’t need to go to the eye-doctor this year! If you’re wondering what Renew involves and what the important dates are, the essentials are there. We’ll have plenty of time over the upcoming months to explain in much more depth each of the aspects. But today, I’m asking you on behalf of the Lord Jesus who is pointing at you now, for two things. First, a sincere commitment to saying yes to the Lord’s wish to have you follow him much more closely, to recognize your need for spiritual renewal, and to make a commitment to allowing him to do it through the Church via this Renew program. The second thing is a commitment to spend a solid minute each day praying this prayer, You can pray it at home. You can pray it at work. You can pray it together as a family when you pray grace before meals. Just pray it, and allow the Lord, the Divine Physician who comes to heal us, to begin his extraordinary work of giving us a thorough spiritual physical.
9) After the Lord called St. Matthew from his customs post, from his money, from his sins, the Lord led Matthew on an adventure that ultimately brought them to the Upper Room, where Jesus first gave his flesh and blood to him for the first time. The Lord who is calling us today brings us here to the same upper room, where he is about to feed us again. The Eucharist is the source of all renewal, for we receiving inside the Divine Physician who heals and helps us from the inside become who he created and redeemed us to be. Within the context of this font of all spiritual rebirth, let us stand together as we pray this renew prayer together for the first time, as a spiritual family: Loving God and Father, Jesus your Son promised that, just as we want to give good gifts to our children, so much more do you want to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We now ask you to send forth upon us this divine Gift, to renew us in the image of Christ, your Son. Grant us the gift of wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence. Fill us with a spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. Help us to come to know and love you more each day, and to recognize your love in our daily life. Free us from whatever keeps us from you. Forgive us our sins and help us to forgive those who have hurt us. Beginning with me, renew your gift of faith within the heart of every disciple of Espirito Santo Parish. Help us all to rejoice in the awesome privilege it is to be a child of God and to cherish the means of grace that come to us in the sacraments of your Son. Make us a community of love, filled with joy, bursting with hope, so that we can come to the fullness of life that your Son Jesus came to bring us. And give us the bold love to share this treasure with others. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.