Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Feast of St. Benedict
July 11, 2016
Is 1:10-17, Ps 50, Mt 10:34-11:1
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today Jesus concludes his instructions to the Twelve about the mission he was entrusting to them and to us. We’ve already covered what they were to say, how they were supposed to accompany those word with deeds of healing, exorcism, and resurrection that would manifest God’s kingdom, and how they were to package that message in word and witness by the way they themselves gave evidence to God’s providence by their traveling without money sack or extra tunics, of his peace, love and joy by the way they would respond to each other, of his mercy by not holding grudges and taking them with them to the next town. Today, among several final points he makes, he focuses on one that has pervaded all of these instructions and on which we really should stop to ponder. It’s the theme of rejection and welcome.
- The theme of rejection has been prevalent already in Jesus’ instructions. He had mentioned that there would be peaceful people who would receive the greeting of peace and others who wouldn’t. He had mentioned the need to wipe the dust off of our feet. He had mentioned being dragged before religious and civil rulers and being hated by all because of his name. But today he talks about one of the hardest forms of rejection of all: by our own family members. Even though he is the long-awaited Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, even though in the Beatitudes he would bless the peacemakers as children of God and he as the Son of God would be the foremost example, even though during the Last Supper he would say, “My peace I leave you; my peace I give you,” he would today say, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” And then he explicates how that division would hit our families: “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.” This is not because Jesus wants to cause that division, but because that division will ensue once we prioritize him over family members. Many will get jealous. It’s not Jesus himself who divides, but sinful preferences that divide. But this division is itself can be salvific. First it will help us to solidify our choice of Jesus through choosing him and accepting this Cross. He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This is a means by which we can become more united with Christ, the pearl of great price, because we might not appreciate him unless we have to choose him over all of the other good and beautiful pearls in our collection combined. And that will also be perhaps the greatest preaching of the Gospel, that Jesus is someone worth that choice, and when we make it, he gives us a far greater joy than all of the beautiful human joys that we might have to relativize. That’s the mystery of rejection he talks about and how our faith in the midst of rejection might in and of itself be a form of the proclamation of the Gospel.
- We also encounter the mystery of welcome. Jesus describes what happens when people will welcome us in his name and when we welcome others. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple– amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” A year ago tomorrow, Pope Francis gave a homily in Paraguay, at the end of his very powerful trip to Latin America, in which he focused on this theme of welcoming. He was preaching on St. Mark’s depiction of these very same instructions of the Twelve. Pope Francis said, “We could concentrate on the words, ‘bread,’ ‘money,’ ‘bag,’ ‘staff,’ ‘sandals’ and ‘tunic.’ … But it strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed. It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: ‘welcome.’ Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality. He says to them: ‘Where you enter a house, stay there.’ He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers. We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.” He stressed that the whole nature of the conversion that Jesus sends them out to try to solicit is to change from a mentality that seeks to lord, or to control, to stifle or manipulate to one that “welcomes, accepts and cares.” The Lord, he adds, states to us quite clearly: “in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them. The Church is a mother with an open heart. She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty. The Church is the home of hospitality. How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home! Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic. Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.” He says that there is an “evil underlying our sins,” one that ‘finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life” and it is precisely one that leads us to try to isolate ourselves from God and others. “That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others. A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father, for ‘by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (Jn 13:35). In this way, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking.”
- As Jesus is preparing to send out the twelve, he prepares them to identify those who are open to the Gospel by those who welcome them. He tells them to stay in the houses where they are welcomed not just as a courtesy, not just so that it wouldn’t be bad form to be looking for a better deal, but precisely to learn from those who welcome them one of the crucial aspects of the Gospel. He goes on to say that there is a far deeper dynamic happening in their being welcomed: in welcoming them, they’re welcoming God himself. That’s why one of the most important habits we need to cultivate in ourselves, and form in others, is this habit of welcoming, because in welcoming others, including strangers, not to mention in welcoming those sent out by the Church in Jesus’ name, we’re welcoming the Lord who has sent them as his emissaries.
- These lessons are very much in the background of today’s first reading. When Isaiah begins his prophecy calling his contemporaries to conversion in today’s first reading, he refers to them as “Princes of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah,” clear references to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah we see in Genesis 19 when, rather than giving hospitality to the emissaries of God to Lot, they conspire to try to sodomize them. Isaiah was accusing the people of his age of doing that to God and others by their sins. No matter how many sacrifices they make of rams, failings, calves, lambs and goats, they were not welcoming God’s word and God’s ways. God rejected their sacrifices because they were rejecting him and his law. He calls them to wash their hands clean of blood, to “put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good,” and that would be shown in a particular way by the way they would make their own the needs and concerns of those who have suffered injustices and who were vulnerable. “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” Their fidelity to God would be shown in these ways. So will ours.
- Someone who lived these mysteries of choosing Christ above every other good and of welcome and who has trained millions of Christians how to live them over the last 1500 years is the great saint we celebrate today. Two of the most celebrated phrases in the famous Rule of St. Benedict that formed countless monks and nuns and lay oblates in the “school of divine service” were about the preference that needs to be given to God. Ergo nihil operi Dei praeponant St. Benedict says in Chapter 43: “Prefer nothing to the Work of God,” by which he means their common prayer; and Christo omnimo nihil præponant, which he says at the very end (Chapter 72): “Prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.” The whole point of the Christian life is to put God first, above family members, friends, even their own life, which is something St. Benedict did and trained his monks to do.
- He is also, after Martha and Mary of Bethany, the saint most known for training his monks in welcoming. In a chapter on Receiving Guests (Chapter 53), he wrote: “Let all guests arriving at the monastery be received as Christ Himself, for He will one day say, ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in.'” That’s quite a starting point, to look at every guest as if he is Christ and to treat him accordingly. But then St. Benedict gets very concrete, and he makes sure that the monastery treat every guest as if he were Christ, getting everyone involved especially the Abbot. He says, “When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the superior or by the brethren with all the marks of charity. Let them first pray together and then give the kiss of peace; … Both on their arrival and on their departure, Christ, Who is indeed received, shall be worshipped in all the guests by an inclination of the head or a full prostration of the body. After the guests have been received, let them be led to prayer, and then let the superior, or one authorized by him, sit with them; let the Divine Law be read before the guest that he may be edified; and then let all kindness be shown him. The superior may break the fast on account of a guest, unless it happens to be a principal fast day which cannot be broken. … Let the Abbot pour water on the hands of the guests; and both he and the whole community shall wash the feet of all the guests. … Let great care and solicitude be shown particularly in the reception of the poor and of travelers, because it is in them that Christ is more especially received; for, as regards the rich, the very fear one has for them procures them honor Let the kitchen for the Abbot and the guests be apart by itself.” If all of this were were done once a month or so, it would be very edifying. But this could be done several times a day. That’s what makes the actions of Abbot and all the monks toward every guest so moving. But it’s obvious that if Christ were the, say, eighth guest in the day, that all of these marks of reverence would be given. And in receiving guests they were in fact receiving Christ and receiving the Father as Jesus tells us today.
- How much this type of welcoming needs to characterize the Church today, as Pope Francis said last year in Paraguay. The way the Sisters of Life live this command of welcome is particularly important both in announcing this kingdom to have experienced so much rejection — like pregnant women abandoned by husbands, boyfriends, parents, grandparents, friends — as well as pregnant women tempted to reject and abandon rather than welcome with love a child growing within; and in helping the whole Church to learn this art of loving reception from you.
- And the way we get ready for this work is by the way we welcome Christ here. In receiving his word, and welcoming him, the Word made Flesh within us, we are trained every day to welcome him in all the guests that the Lord sends us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 IS 1:10-17
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
What care I for the number of your sacrifices?
says the LORD.
I have had enough of whole-burnt rams
and fat of fatlings;
In the blood of calves, lambs and goats
I find no pleasure.When you come in to visit me,
who asks these things of you?
Trample my courts no more!
Bring no more worthless offerings;
your incense is loathsome to me.
New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies,
octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear.
Your new moons and festivals I detest;
they weigh me down, I tire of the load.
When you spread out your hands,
I close my eyes to you;
Though you pray the more,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
Responsorial Psalm PS 50:8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think you that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
Alleluia MT 5:10
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 10:34-11:1
Jesus said to his Apostles:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s enemies will be those of his household.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is righteous
will receive a righteous man’s reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple–
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples,
he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.