Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor
August 28, 2014
1 Cor 1:1-9, Ps 145, Mt 24:42-51
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today, as we ponder the last few days of daily Mass readings from the Gospel of St. Matthew that are focused on our judgment, Jesus contrasts for us the “faithful and prudent steward” and the “wicked” steward. Insofar as each of us wants to be in the first category, it’s key for us to grasp the indications Jesus gives about a good steward’s discipleship and apostolate.
- The first thing we observe is that the faithful and prudent steward is awake and alert constantly to God’s presence and “prepared” to respond to him. Jesus calls us to be more alert to God’s coming than a householder would to a burglar’s. Many times we go through life asleep. We can even sleep-walk through Mass, through the Rosary, through other prayers, without really grasping that God is present, listening to us and trying to speak. The first thing that is needed to become the type of steward God wants and expects is to have a continual presence of God.
- The second quality of a faithful and prudent steward is that he is awake and alert to distributing the master’s food to the members of the master’s household at the proper time. It’s not enough for him to have presence of God, but, as a result of that presence of God, he enters into the love of the Lord for the members of the Lord’s family, distributing the nourishment he himself has received to them as they need it. Jesus says, “Blessed is that servant who his master on his arrival finds him doing [this distribution],” that he who has been faithful in that activity will be “put in charge of all of his property.” And since that Master will come “at an hour you do not expect,” the faithful and prudent steward is always seeking to give the Lord to others.
- Jesus contrasts this good and faithful servant with the “wicked servant” who is unaware of the Master’s coming, and rather than serve others, gives into a life of pleasure as he “eats and drinks with drunkards” and a life of violence as he “begins to beat his fellow servants.” These are activities he would never do if he were awake to the Master’s presence, but because of that lack of awareness, of being asleep to the Master’s coming, he begins to act in a wicked way, abusing his office and the gift of his life to hurt rather than to feed.
- Becoming a faithful and prudent servant is something that God wants to help us to do. In today’s first reading, from the beginning of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which we will be hearing for the next three weeks at daily Mass (through Sept 20), the apostle tells us that God calls us “to be holy” and “to communion” (fellowship) and because of this has “enriched [us] in every way, with all discourse and knowledge … so that [we] are not lacking in any spiritual gift as [we] wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who, as he himself says in the Gospel, may come at any hour. St. Paul says, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God will give us all the help we need to be alert to his presence so that we may give him to others, but we have to receive and respond to that help, which he seeks to give us by “breaking in” to our home with our permission constantly. The wicked servant refuses that help in a practical way whereas a faithful and prudent servant cooperates and corresponds.
- Today we celebrate a man who highlights, at different times of his life, both the unfaithful and imprudent servant and the faithful and prudent one. His early years were ones in which he lived like a wicked servant unaware of God and engaging in a life of intellectual vanity, verbal beatings even of his mother, and sex and a life of debauchery. He was somnambulating through life thinking that the dream world of his own making was the real world. But eventually, through the example of Christians, like his mother, like St. Ambrose and several friends who lived as if Jesus were very much alive and sought to serve others with joy, he began to long for conversion, “but not yet.” He was in a constant interior thunderstorm he said. One day as he was weeping over his state in the back yard of a friend, he heard what sounded like kids singing from a neighboring yard saying, “Tolle et legge,” “Take and read.” He thought it was a strange game for kids to play, but finding no kids, he thought it was a message perhaps from an angel. So he took up the Sacred Scriptures and began to read what his eyes found first. It was a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans which served as a spiritual alarm clock for him: “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:11-14). That passage seemed like it was written precisely for him — as it indeed it was, for him and for us! — and it gave him the courage from God finally to leave the long night of spiritual sleep and the darkness of the flesh behind and live with the Lord in the day.
- Later he would grasp that that the Lord had been present the entire time, but he had been ignorant of his presence. In one of the most famous passages ever written, he revealed how the Lord who finally broke through all five of his senses to manifest his loving presence: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” Augustine grasped that he had been searching for God all along, searching for the truth, searching for his affection, but was looking for it in the wrong places of false philosophy and counterfeit love. Eventually he discovered it in Christ’s self-revelation of his Truth and Love. He discovered that his heart would be restless until it rested in God, and to rest in God meant to humble himself in faith to accept God’s truth and live by it. Once he was awakened, he sought to remain always in the presence of the Lord and his truth.
- But that was only the first stage of his conversion to become a good, faithful and prudent servant. The second stage was when he was explicitly called to serve others by feeding them with the Gospel. When he had returned to Africa after his mother’s death, he founded a monastery for which he wrote the rule and where he began to write some of his great theological works. It was a perfect situation for him, it seemed, and he was cranking. One day when he had gone to visit a friend in the small city of Hippo, he was attending Mass and the elderly bishop asked the people to pray that the Lord would send him someone who could help him with his preaching duties in Latin, because he had become too infirm to preach. The people looked around and saw in the crowd Augustine, once the greatest rhetoric professor in the empire and now a monk, and proposed him. Augustine didn’t want to have anything to do with that work, which would require giving up a lot of his writing in order to care for ordinary people with ordinary concerns. But he sensed that it was the Lord calling him to be humble and, like the Lord, begin to live for others. “Christ died for all,” he read in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “so that those who live should not live for themselves, but for him who died for them” (2 Cor 5:15). And so he made the great sacrifice, being ordained a deacon and a priest and eventually, after the bishop’s death, bishop and successor. We, too, all need to have this type of conversion in life, to living not for ourselves but for others, to giving others the food that God has given to us, and to being constantly alert to the occasions for doing so. For many Christians, this happens with the birth of children, where they have to put a hold on many of their own ambitions and even sleep patterns to care for someone else. Augustine learned this when he became, almost overnight, the father of a whole diocese, and he fed them with the food of the Gospel.
- But that wasn’t the end of his conversion. As Pope Benedict told us back in 2007 in Pavia, where St. Augustine’s tomb is located, at the end of his life, St. Augustine began to ponder the truths to which St. Paul always gave witness in today’s first reading, that God will ensure that we will never lack any spiritual gift. St. Augustine began to realize that everything he had was a gift of God’s mercy, every talent, every insight, everything he had ever done. He saw that his life, that any Christian life, is a constant response to the presence of God who is constantly blessing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. Even though he was aware of God’s presence after his conversion, he wasn’t yet aware that God was constantly helping him in everything he did. And so he converted profoundly to a much greater docility and humility in life, living by what God was giving in every moment, so that he could become the channel to give that food of mercy, in the Gospel, in the sacraments, in charity, in community life to others. Even when we’re aware of God’s presence and living for others, very often we, too, are unaware that everything that we do that is good is our response to God’s gift. We, like Augustine, whether late or early in life, need to become aware of this Love who is within us in everything we do, even though often we’re oblivious.
- Mass is the opportunity to bring us to the same conversion Christ speaks about in the Gospel and St. Augustine experienced. It’s here that we seek the truth and God seeks to nourish us with it in the readings of Sacred Scripture and in sacred preaching. It’s here that we become aware of Jesus’ real presence, not only under the appearances of bread and wine but in all aspects of our life. It’s here that God seeks to make us capable of feeding others, of doing “this in memory of” him, as we live not for ourselves, but give our body and our blood for others in need. It’s here where we grasp the profound lesson of mercy, that if God the Father didn’t spare his only begotten Son but gives him to us every day on the altar as we participate in what Jesus’ self-giving from the Upper Room and Calvary, then he will give us everything else besides, so that we won’t lack any spiritual gift and will be kept firm to the end as we await the definitive revelation of Jesus Christ where we hope that he won’t need to shout through our deafness but whisper with joy to us what he’s already said to St. Augustine, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter your Master’s joy!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 COR 1:1-9
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the Church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
PS 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
They discourse of the power of your terrible deeds
and declare your greatness.
They publish the fame of your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your justice.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.
But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”