The Incredible Blessing of God’s Nearness, Third Wednesday of Lent, March 11, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
March 11, 2015
Deut 4:1.5-9, Ps 147, Mt 5:17-19

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • The whole purpose of Lent is not to make the heretic Pelagius smile in his grave through multiplying our acts of piety, self-denial and altruism but to become like God fundamentally by our response to God’s own help. Through prayer we seek to come to think as God thinks, to will as he wills, to love as he loves. Through fasting, we strive to hunger for what he starves, which is the loving care of all his sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. Through almsgiving we share what he in his providence has given us and grow in the image of God the Giver who always loves in deeds. The whole purpose of Jesus’ call to repentance and faith is so that we can return to who we are, made in God’s image and likeness, to become holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect, merciful as he is merciful. This work is impossible on our own, but God, who loves us, draws near with all the help we’ll need in order that he might bring this about. Today’s readings help us to ponder more deeply the way the Lord has grown close to us and we’re called to grow closer to him so that we may in fact enter through, with and in Christ into a holy union of life and love.
  • In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses talks about how God seeks communion with us through his holy word. Moses exclaims about the gift God has given us in his teaching: “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law that I am setting before you today?” God has drawn close to us precisely in his statutes and decrees, which train us how to love God and others and provide the means for us to remain in a communion of life and love with him and others. The Responsorial Psalm continues the joy at the privilege of God’s law: “He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them.” Many times we’re tempted to look at the law of the Lord as an unbearable burden, but God wants us to look at it as an unspeakable blessing. It’s a sign of God’s love, God’s nearness, God’s predilection that he has opened for us the owner’s manual for ourselves, the world he created and the way we’re supposed to connect with Him. It’s a great blessing we’ve received to receive this gift.
  • That’s why it’s essential for us to live in that gift and pass it on to others. Moses commands, “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” If we live and pass on the teaching to our children and grandchildren, then we are giving them the privilege, with us, to draw close to God. If we fail to do so, we’re distancing ourselves from that communion and dragging others with us.
  • Jesus picked up on this in the Gospel when he said, “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” He had come, as he said earlier in today’s Gospel passage, to bring the law to fulfillment by enfleshing it. He wanted to help us to become truly great in the kingdom by living according to those commandments and helping others to enter into the life of the King by doing the same. The greatest of all will be those who share in the Lord’s commandment to love others as he has loved us first. The least will be those who distance themselves from the Lord’s words and scandalously teach others to distance themselves from the Lord in the same way.
  • But as great as the gift of the Lord’s word is, something that we share in common with our Jewish elder siblings, there’s an even greater blessing we have: God himself entered into the world, precisely so that he could teach us by example how to fulfill the law by following him in fulfilling it. And this gift continues in the Eucharist. This is a truth that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about in a beautiful book of Eucharistic essays called God Is Near Us, a title taken from today’s first reading.
  • “‘What great nation,'” he wrote, “‘is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?’ This passage from the Old Testament has found its ultimate depth of meaning in the Eucharistic presence of the Lord. But its earlier meaning is not thereby abolished, but merely purified and exalted. … In the chapter of the book of Deuteronomy from which this passage is taken, the marvelous closeness of God is seen above all in the law he has given to Israel through Moses. Through the law he makes himself permanently available, as it were, for the questions of his people. Through the law he can always be spoken with by Israel; she can call on him, and he answers. Through the law he offers Israel the opportunity to build a social and political order that breaks new ground. Through the law he makes Israel wise and shows her the way a man should live, so as to live aright. In the law Israel experiences the close presence of God; he has, as it were, drawn back the veil from the riddles of human life and replied to the obscure questionings of men of all ages: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What must we do? … For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of his own being. Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes-it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. God’s presence in the word and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The Eucharistic Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of God’s Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of the Eucharist.”
  • We Christians should be able to say, “What people has a God so near it as the Lord is to us in the holy Eucharist?” That we would be able to say with wonder and gratitude to be able to have the Lord with us, for example, in Eucharistic adoration, that we could come to spend time with him and have him, as Cardinal Ratzinger says, reveal the meaning of our existence to us, that we’re that loved. But our wonder and gratitude should go even further. We’re not only able to draw near to God who through the incarnation has come close to us. We can actually receive him on the inside. We can enter into Holy Communion with him. St. John Vianney used to say that if we had been given a thousand wishes by God we should never had asked him to take on our nature, share our life totally, die on the Cross for us, rise from the dead, and give us his own body and blood to consume, but what we would never have dreamed request, he in his loving mercy has in fact done. Not only should we never forget that gift, but we should seek to live always in conformity with it and teach others to do the same!
  • Today at Mass we cannot help but be overwhelmed by God’s nearness, the nearness he has shown in the Liturgy of the Word and the even greater nearness he has shown us in the Liturgy of the Word-made-Flesh, a liturgy that begins here in this chapel but God intends to have continue throughout the day as the Lord is so near as to save us today from the inside out and help us to go out to a world and bring the blessing of his nearness.

These were the readings for today’s Mass: 

Reading 1
DT 4:1, 5-9

Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?
“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20

R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Gospel
MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
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