Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor
November 10, 2016
Plhm 7-20, Ps 146, Lk 17:20-25
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today as everyone continues to ponder the meaning of Tuesday’s election, the readings that we have today indicate to us in a special way the vocation of Christians at this time. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. They were doubtless asking this within messianic expectations, that the kingdom of God would erupt by building the type of momentum to fulfill Jewish hopes in evicting the Romans from Israel and reestablishing the Davidic throne. It was fundamentally a political reality, their notion of a theocracy. In the question, they were probably egging Jesus on to see whether he thought he was the Messiah and what his future plans might be. But Jesus, as he is wont to do, transcended the question. He said that the inauguration of the Kingdom wouldn’t be a spectacle to be observed. There wouldn’t be trumpets sounding. There wouldn’t be “Hail to the King!” There wouldn’t be heralds indicating that the kingdom is “here” or “there.” Rather, Jesus says, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
- This means two things. First, that the Kingdom had already come because the King was present. The Kingdom is where the King is and Jesus was already present. Secondly the Kingdom had already come because people had already embraced it, entered it and were living in it because they were living with the King. There’s a couplet in the Our Father in which we pray first “Thy kingdom come!” and then repeat it in other words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is wherever God’s will is done, whenever one begins to live in relationship with God and his kingdom. Jesus reveals to us various other qualities about his kingdom and the conditions for entering it and living in it. He says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are “poor in spirit,” to those who treasure God more than all the treasures of the world. He says that it belongs to those who convert and become like little children, who trust in God and accept it as a gift. He says that the kingdom is like a wedding banquet full of joy and those who live in the kingdom are those who are profoundly and serenely joyful. He says the kingdom grows like a mustard seed or yeast, imperceptible to people on the outside but the growth is real. He says its like a buried treasure or a pearl of great price, a net cast into the sea or a field with wheat and weeds. By each of these realities Jesus was indicating qualities of the Kingdom. Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said very powerfully back in 2000 in a talk to catechists from around the world, “The kingdom of God … is ‘not a thing.’ The Kingdom of God is God. The Kingdom of God means: God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our – in my life. God is not a faraway ‘ultimate cause,’ God is not the ‘great architect’ of deism, who created the machine of the world and is no longer part of it – on the contrary: God is the most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each and every moment of history.” The kingdom has come to a person when God is truly God of each and every act of one’s life. The Kingdom of God is living within the reality of the incarnate King of Kings.
- When we enter into that kingdom, everything changes and all other kingdoms are relativized. We see that in today’s first reading. St. Paul writes to Philemon whom he had evangelized and brought into the Church in Colossae. He had a slave, Onesimus, who had escaped and come to Rome where he encountered St. Paul, whom doubtless he had at least seen in Colossae. He served St. Paul for a time, but Onesimus was a fugitive. St. Paul wanted to restore his standing in a way that would help both Onesimus and Philemon. So he sent him back but with what became the Letter to Philemon. In that letter, St. Paul described how things change when we’re really living in the kingdom. In the Roman empire, Onesimus was simply a slave and because he had escaped Philemon could have him cruelly punished and even executed. But the reality and rules of the kingdom needed to trump Roman law. St. Paul said, “I am sending him, my heart, back to you, … so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. … Welcome him as you would me.” In the kingdom, we grasp that there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer free or slave, but we’re all beloved sons and daughters of God and therefore brothers and sisters of each other. St. Paul was confident that Philemon would live by the values of the kingdom and the fact that we have the letter today is clearly a sign that he did. In a similar way, living in the Kingdom needs to change the way we interact, needs to change all our human interactions. In the kingdom, we recognize that the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the ill, and the imprisoned need to be treated with the love with which we would treat Christ. We recognize that even notorious sinners are beloved by God who died for them and therefore must have the door of conversion opened to them. We recognize that those whom the world considers nobodies are often given special missions to reduce to humility those who think they’re somebodies. We look at everyone — Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, Black or White or Brown, Yellow or Red, Male or Female — with love. Today’s Gospel is an occasion for us to ask whether we’re really living in that kingdom, whether God is the “most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life.”
- Someone who lived in the kingdom, who was in the world but not of it, during very difficult times in the Church and in the political sphere, is the saint we fête today. He’s one of the greatest saints who has ever lived, Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461). He is such a huge figure inside the Church — as a deacon of the Church in Rome, he strengthened the baptismal faith of everyone; his famous baptismal verses teaching the meaning of the Sacrament still adorn the octagonal baldachin over the Lateran baptistery; he strengthened the Marian faith of everyone, being the Archdeacon under Pope Sixtus III charged with building St. Mary Major Basilica to enshrine the Church’s teaching that Mary is Mother of God, which had just been infallibly defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431; he strengthened likewise everyone’s faith in Christ, writing his famous Tome against Eutyches, who claimed that Jesus only had a human body and soul but not a human intellectual spirit, which would not make him fully human. His Tome was decisive at the Council of Ephesus; Leo’s Christmas homilies were also very formative to help people to grasp the meaning of the incarnate, and the meaning of the kingdom — but he was a huge figure outside the Church. His bravery than led him to confront Attila the Hun in 452 and divert Attila from his plans to pillage Rome the same way he and his armies had despoiled so many other cities in northern Italy. He fought against the Goths the following year. He fought against the ecclesiastically and socially dissociative heresies of Arianism, Pelagianism, Manichaeism, Priscillianism, Nestorianism and Eutychism precisely because he was fighting for Church and social unity. And he was able to fight because he knew he wasn’t fighting alone, that the incarnate Lord, the true King, was with him. And he wasn’t afraid of suffering. If Christ’s kingdom was consistent with the Son of Man’s “suffer[ing] greatly and be[ing] rejected by this generation,” then he knew he might have to suffer as well, but the Kingdom would still be at hand.
- The Kingdom of God, as Pope Benedict said, is God and one of the most important ways we seek to live in the Kingdom is to unite ourselves with the King. When we come to receive Holy Communion, we allow Christ the Kingdom to establish his throne within us, so that the Kingdom of God may truly be within us. The Kingdom, as Jesus says, is not something that will be announced by pointing here and there, but for us as Christians is something that we are called to bear within. Through the intercession of St. Leo the Great, we ask the Lord Jesus for the grace that as we receive him within we may not do so routinely, but in such a way that we may make him the “most present and decisive reality in our life,” as we seek to spread his kingdom and do his will just as St. Leo did both on earth as he continues to do in heaven.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 phlm 7-20
I have experienced much joy and encouragement from your love,
because the hearts of the holy ones
have been refreshed by you, brother.
Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ
to order you to do what is proper,
I rather urge you out of love,
being as I am, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.
I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment,
who was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me.
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the Gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
And if he has done you any injustice
or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay.
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.
Responsorial Psalm ps 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
The LORD secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob.
Gospel lk 17:20-25
Jesus said in reply,
“The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”Then he said to his disciples,
“The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”