The Lenten Ambition Christ Wants Us To Have, Second Tuesday of Lent, March 3, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Holy Family Church, New York, NY
Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Memorial of St. Katherine Drexel
March 3, 2015
Is 1:10.16-20, Ps 50, Mt 23:1-12


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Jesus gave us the program for Lent on Ash Wednesday when he announced “Repent and Believe,” to “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” Lent is a time for conversion and holiness. Very often we think that the conversion that’s needed is merely turning away from a bad life, from sin, from evil. But that’s just the first stage of conversion. Conversion is a continual process of “turning with” (con-vertere) the Lord. One of the clearest distinctions I’ve ever heard of the stages of this process happened in the life of St. Augustine. Back in 2007, Pope Benedict describes three different stages in St. Augustine’s conversion. The first was the most famous, leaving a sinful life shacking up with a concubine, praying “give me chastity but not yet,” having a child out of wedlock, using his extraordinary intellectual gifts to make fun of his mother and believers, etc. But St. Augustine’s conversion continued. After he had founded a monastery and was cranking out books, God called him deeper. He was summoned to become the preacher — basically coadjutor — of the Bishop of Hippo, and realized that he needed to convert from a sense of serving God as he pleased rather than serving God as God pleased. “Christ died for all,” St. Paul wrote in his 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). He had already ceased a life of serious commissions of sin, but he still needed to learn how to love. The third and final stage of his conversion was humbly to grasp that he needed to live by God’s mercy who forgives every day, that he couldn’t work by his own power but only by God’s. Similarly for us we, too, need to progress in this continual conversion during Lent.
  • In today’s readings we see that progression. At the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God through his emissary calls the Jews “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” to highlight the severity of their sins, because those were the most notoriously iniquitous cities of all time. Throughout Isaiah we see what those sins were. God speaks of their “misdeeds,” their “doing evil,” their “scarlet” and “crimson red” sins. “Wash yourselves clean!,” Isaiah cries out. In the Gospel, Jesus begins a searing 35 verse call to repentance not only for the Scribes and Pharisees but for all of us who, like them — and in contrast to the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah who previously gloried in their debaucheries — can be tempted to appear white on the outside while our souls remain scarlet on the inside. That hypocrisy, that acting, was the principal vice of the Scribes and the Pharisees and often can remain the downfall for those who behave in a religious way but whose hearts are far from the Lord. Jesus says of them that they do not practice what they preach. They — and we can see a personal resemblance in all of these upcoming characteristics — tie up heavy religious burdens on others without lifting a finger to help them, whereas the truth, although at time challenging, is meant always to set us free. The reason why they don’t lift a finger in charity and seek to help people who are struggling to align their lives to the Gospel is because they do everything to be seen by others. As religious prima donnas, they widen the phylacteries that would contain verses of sacred scripture in their locks of hear, lengthen the tassels that were to remind them of revelation, and prefer to be acknowledged by everyone for their religious devotion in banquets, synagogues and marketplaces. They are the types who, Jesus told us on Ash Wednesday, who pray, fast and give alms not out of love for God and others but to be rewarded by others’ praise and esteem, the exact opposite of the type of motivation God wants: their motivation is not true love of God but rather self-love under the mask of devotion. They sit on Moses’ seat but don’t share Moses’ own humility before God (Ex 4:10,13). Their knowledge of the law, rather than moving them to conform their lives ever more to God’s revelation, became in essence an obstacle, because it made them proud not humble. They manipulated their knowledge of the law to seek to grow in others’ eyes. They sought the titles of “rabbi” — which literally means “great one,” but is normally translated “teacher” — and “father” and “master,” but in seeking these titles they were seeking to take the place not only of Moses but of God. God is our Father. Jesus is our one Master. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide. The ultimate conversion Jesus is seeking in us this Lent is for us first to acknowledge this and to seek to become more and more like God through acting in accordance with the truth he gives us that will set us free and bring us joy.
  • That leads us to the second stage of conversion. It’s not merely fighting against and eliminating sin. It’s positively and passionately doing good. Isaiah says we should be ambitious to “make justice your aim!,” and “learn to do good.” He gives us hope that even if our sins be crimson and scarlet they can become white as snow; in other words they can be transformed from evil into good, by giving us the added motivation to make up for lost time, to recognize what a great and merciful God we have and imitate his generosity to those who need our help as much as we need God’s mercy. In the Gospel, Jesus summarizes this holy ambition by saying, “The greatest among you must be your servant/” Jesus, the greatest ever, humbled himself to take on our nature, to become our slave, to wash our feet and our hands, head and souls as well, and calls us to follow him along that path of humility and service. For him, and for those who truly follow him, to reign is to serve, not to be served. He wants us to share his ambition that we be truly great not necessarily in the eyes of others but in the eyes of his Father and in the Father’s kingdom. He teaches us by his words and by his own life that the way up in greatness is the way down in humility. That’s the second stage of conversion, for us, like St. Paul, like St. Augustine, to grasp that because “Christ died for all,” we should “not live for [ourselves], but for him who died for them” (2 Cor 5:15).
  • One great American saint who did this we celebrate today, St. Katherine Drexel. It would have been very easy for her to live for herself in luxury, but she sought to use all she had and was for the service of Chrsit and others, in order precisely to learn to do good, make justice her aim, to redress and hep the wronged, hear the pleas of orphans for care and an education. St. Katherine Drexel was born into a very wealthy Philadelphia family in 1858. Her father was a rich investment banker. Even when she was young, she sought to give to the poor, setting up with her two sisters and her step-mother a charity center from their own home, where twice a week they would distribute food, clothing and rent money to the poor mothers and single women of the area. But her young heart was touched hearing stories of the black and native American Indians who were growing up not only in material poverty but spiritual poverty. She began to contribute to their causes even taking long train rides to visit their reservations. When her father died when she was 27, she and her two sisters inherited his $15.5 million fortune, the equivalent of about $250 million in today’s dollars. She thought about becoming a cloistered nun, but a priest friend of the family suggested that she wait a little while to see what God was asking. She took a pilgrimage to Rome where she had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. She mentioned the plight of the African American and Native American immigrants to the United States and how they need spiritual, educational and material care. The Pope surprised her by saying that she should found an order to care for them. After much prayer, that’s precisely she did, dedicating herself and her entire fortune to the care of the poor and neglected, building many schools and even Xavier University in New Orleans in order to redress the wrongs African Americans had suffered and to give them a chance to make a better life for them and their families within the context of raising them to be adults in the faith. She became great because she became the servant of so many others, including those who many in society considered the least. She humbled herself and God exalted her. She shows us what true Lenten and Christian conversion looks like and what our ambition likewise ought to be.
  • As we prepare to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, who at the Last Supper proved himself to be our slave by washing our feet, let us ask him for the grace to imitate St. Katherine Drexel in becoming great through serving others through uniting ourselves to the God-man who, though Master, became the servant of us all.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 1:10, 16-20

Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!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.Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

Responsorial Psalm PS 50:8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“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 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.

Verse Before The Gospel EZ 18:31

Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.

Gospel MT 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
RJL St. Peter's