The Spirituality of the Second Lepton, 34th Monday (I), November 27, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattah
Monday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
November 27, 2017
Dan 1:1-6.8-20, Dn 3, Lk 21:1-4

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, pondering not only all that the King has done for us as our Shepherd and Savior but how we’re supposed to respond, how we’re supposed to enter his kingdom, how we’re supposed to help others enter that kingdom. He described that his kingdom is one of Good Samaritans, in which we follow him in giving of ourselves to those in need, to those who, like he was on the Cross, are hungry, thirsty, naked, estranged, ill or incarcerated. His kingdom is one in which people become poor in spirit in order to inherit the kingdom, because they kingdom cannot be inherited unless one empties oneself of worldliness in order to be filled with the true wealth. Today’s readings and feast help us to understand these realities much more profoundly.
  • Today we have three different images about what the total response of faith to God looks like. In the Gospel, we meet a widow who purchased the kingdom of heaven for two-thirds of a penny, the equivalent of the two lepta she put into the temple treasury. After Jesus had finished his “formal” teaching in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, he began to “people watch,” in order to continue to instruct his apostles about how to put what he taught into action. They saw the stream of people putting money in the temple treasury, which was a large trumpet shaped receptacle leading to a secure money box. People would put their coins in the horn at the top, which was like a funnel, and then the sound of the coin would resonate as it rolled down the metal tubing into the box. Many rich people, St. Luke tells us, were putting in large sums and “making a lot of noise” on the treasury trumpet. But then a poor widow came and put in two lepta, two small coins which together were worth less than a penny and likely barely made a sound. Then Jesus gave a surprising lesson that obviously the disciples never forgot. Jesus praised the poor widow rather than all the rest, saying that she had contributed more than all them, for they “gave out of their surplus, but she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.” This widow, because of her poverty, could easily have been excused for giving nothing. She could have easily chosen to drop into the trumpet only one of the coins and kept the other for herself. But she didn’t. She gave it all. And her generosity was praised by Jesus and will remain until the end of time. What could have moved her to give to the temple even what she needed to survive? There’s only one reason: her deep faith. She believed not simply that God exists, or that he worked various miracles in the past to help her people. She believed so much in him and was so convinced of the importance of what was going on in God’s house that she wanted to dedicate her life and all her goods to continuing and expanding that work of salvation. She accounted the continuance and expansion of that work even more than her own life.  The point is not how much we contribute, but how much of a sacrifice it is; not how much we give but how much we have left over. This woman sacrificed her entire livelihood, spending herself and what she had in the service of the Lord. We should always seek to give in such a way that Jesus would be tempted to pull the saints aside in heaven and point out the way we are spending ourselves in his service, seeking to build up his Kingdom, the Kingdom we celebrated yesterday on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Many of us  give “something” to God, we may even give “a lot” to God, but we try to hold on to not just what we need but more than we need as an insurance policy, because, at a practical level, we often can put more of our faith, hope and love in the security that money provides than we do in God’s providence. We keep ourselves on the other side of the eye of the needle from the kingdom of heaven because we just don’t want to let go of our stuff. That’s why the widow’s example is so important for all of us. Her putting in all she had to live on was just a sign that she had already given all she had, that she had entrusted her entire life to God. As the great Lenten hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” stresses in its final verse, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, t’were an offering far too small, for love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” It’s worth it to give all to God. Within this context, it’s similarly important for us to recall that God always notices the “little things.” He sees the cost of our sacrifices. And he’d grateful when we give like this widow. Whereas in the eyes of the world, a particular sacrifice we’ve made made get a lot of attention — like our leaving behind worldly possibilities to become a religious or a priest — but Jesus may be even more grateful for the little sacrifice we give in listening to someone no one else wants to listen to, or a hidden sacrifice we make covering for another’s mistake, or paying extra special attention to him in the person of another when we’re exhausted. We should seek to live with what I call the “spirituality of the second lepton,” giving beyond what we ordinarily would, giving to the end, because we know that that’s precisely how the Lord, who calls us to follow him, has given to us.
  • The second example is that of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael in today’s first reading. Even though they were placed in exalted positions in King Nebuchadnezzar’s service, they always served God first. They made the courageous choice to risk their lives not to eat the food of the Babylonian king. They didn’t want to eat his food because often it was from the sacrifices to idols. Even though the food and wine would have doubtless been the best in the entire kingdom, they refused it because, even as they were in the king’s service, they were intent to spend themselves faithfully in the Lord’s service even to the point of martyrdom. Later on, Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael refused to worship a 30-foot high golden statue Nebuchadnezzar made, and they were thrown into a burning hot furnace by the king in a rage. They went with faith and the Lord miraculously saved their lives. They teach us what total dedication to God with faith and constancy is all about. The reason why food is so important is because we’re often tempted to give into our appetites, to our pleasures, to our own desires and needs. Throughout the Old Covenant, God was disciplining the appetites of the Israelites so that he could, through disciplining their stomach, order their souls. We saw it last week with Eleazar and the seven sons of the widow who refused to eat pork. While today we don’t have to avoid certain types of food in order to please God, the Lord wants us to be in his service no matter what, and always eating as a Christian rather than a pagan. At the same time, there are plenty of analogous things from which we need to fast in order to be fed by a different type of food. One is worldly information. So many today gorge on celebrity news and gossip, others on the headlines, others on sports. The Lord, however, calls us to have a different appetite, to hunger for his word, for his wisdom. The world may tell us, like Ashpenaz feared, that we will be “infamished” and suffer as a result of different fare, but like Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, we need courageously to seek different nourishment out of faith, and give of ourselves to the Lord who seeks to feed us with a different type of food, to make us far healthier.
  • Today the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, who on November 27, 1830, appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at the Daughters of Charity Convent on Rue du Bac in Paris. Our Lady is the third example of someone who gives all out of love — for God and for us. Her fiat in the Annunciation was giving every lepton she had. Her silent fiat at Calvary was similarly sharing in Jesus’ outpouring to the last drop of his saving blood. And throughout the centuries she continues to give. We see this in the revelations to St. Catherine Labouré. When Mary appeared to St. Catherine, she asked her to have a medal struck with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Recourse means to “run-back,” and those who run back to Mary in distress will find her always compassionate, no matter the circumstance. She never stops giving. In the image that St. Catherine saw and had struck that Mary revealed to her, Mary had rings on her various fingers that were as radiant as the sun, but a few of the rings were dull without light. St. Catherine asked why some were resplendent and others not. Mary replied that the luminous rings symbolized the graces that God had flow through her hands for those who had recourse to her; the dull rings were graces that God would have given through her but people never asked. She wants to give more, to each of us, than we actually ask for. In our life, we’ve made some of her rings shine and others remain dull. Today’s feast is an opportunity for us to remember this truth and to run back to her help often, not only so that all her fingers shine but so that she can strengthen our faith so that, with her, we might shine forever in the Lord’s kingdom. We run to her to ask her for her help in being truly generous, in giving that last lepton.
  • And so today, inspired by the example of the widow, of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, of the Blessed Mother and St. Catherine Labouré, we come to the altar. It’s here in the Eucharist that Jesus gives himself to us totally, converting himself into our spiritual food. And it’s here in response that at the offertory we seek to put our whole livelihood, presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, our logike latreia, the only worship that makes sense.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
DN 1:1-6, 8-20

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came
and laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Lord handed over to him Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
and some of the vessels of the temple of God;
he carried them off to the land of Shinar,
and placed the vessels in the temple treasury of his god.
The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain,
to bring in some of the children of Israel of royal blood
and of the nobility, young men without any defect,
handsome, intelligent and wise,
quick to learn, and prudent in judgment,
such as could take their place in the king’s palace;
they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans;
after three years’ training they were to enter the king’s service.
The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine
from the royal table.
Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah.But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself
with the king’s food or wine;
so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement.
Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy
of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel,
“I am afraid of my lord the king;
it is he who allotted your food and drink.
If he sees that you look wretched
by comparison with the other young men of your age,
you will endanger my life with the king.”
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain
had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah,
“Please test your servants for ten days.
Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men
who eat from the royal table,
and treat your servants according to what you see.”
He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed
than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.
So the steward continued to take away
the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency
in all literature and science,
and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams.
At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation,
the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar.
When the king had spoken with all of them,
none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah;
and so they entered the king’s service.
In any question of wisdom or prudence which the king put to them,
he found them ten times better
than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm
DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your Kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!

Gospel
LK 21:1-4

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”