The Supreme Good of Knowing Christ as Mercy Incarnate, 31st Thursday (II), November 8, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
November 8, 2018
Phil 3:3-8, Ps 105, Lk 15:1-10

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus communicates something that we can never truly grasp deeply enough, which is just how much he passionately cares for those who are lost. He gives us two Parables, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, both of which — together with the Parable of the Prodigal Son that immediately follows (and that the Church strangely excises from the lectionary) — communicate to us two of the most important spiritual lessons as we relate to God.
  • The first lesson is how precious we are to him. We’re not just a number. If we’re lost, he cares about us so much that he’ll leave everything else behind to come for us. He doesn’t say, “I still have 99 sheep. Let the lost one learn his or her lesson the hard way.” No, he leaves the others and, just like Mary and Joseph scampered ancient Jerusalem in search of the adolescent Jesus, the Good Shepherd goes in search of us. The Parable of the Lost Coin gives us a sense of why. This is not a story about losing one of ten silver dollars. The coins Jesus was referring to comprised the typical Jewish ten-coined headdress that a woman would wear for her wedding. To lose one of those coins would be like losing a wedding ring, something that would cause a wife or even a husband to overturn every rug and retrace every step. For Jesus, he would search for us with even greater passion because we’re not just a symbol of love and commitment like a ring or a coin from a spousal headdress, but we are his Bride, for whom he would always lay down his life. That’s the first point, how precious we are.
  • The second point is about the extraordinary joy of God when we’re found. The joy in these parables is off the charts. Both the shepherd and the woman call all their friends and neighbors to celebrate with them. And Jesus says, in the moral of the Parables, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance!” This is an extraordinary truth. We know how much joy Mary, for example, gave God by her constant yes. She was the supremely righteous person who because of her sinlessness did not need to repent of anything. And yet her Son, Truth incarnate, tells us, that heaven rejoices more whenever any of us repents than the yeses and faithfulness of even 99 Blessed Virgin Marys. That is not meant to downgrade in the least God’s joy at Mary’s or our fidelity. But it’s meant to highlight, with Jesus’ own words, his desire for mercy. Based on these Parables, Pope Francis has underlined, “God’s greatest joy is forgiving!” It’s so important for us to recognize how much God loves each one of us, especially when we’re lost, and in response, to give God this joy by allowing him to bring us back to the fold and renew us in our spousal covenant, and to help us bring others back to him so that he may forgive them, too. When we think of all of the blessings God has given us over the course of life and the thought wells up in us to thank him, the thanks he most desires, what will give him the most joy, is when we come to receive his forgiveness and help lead others to that same font of love.
  • Paul was someone who gave God this joy by his conversion. He tasted the joy of God as he converted. And then he spent the whole rest of his life crisscrossing the ancient world appealing to others as an ambassador of Christ to “be reconciled to God.” In today’s first reading, he talks very profoundly about what his conversion was. It wasn’t principally like most conversions, from a sinful life to a good one. We can be tempted to think that his conversion was from murdering Christians to making them. But as Pope Benedict used to stress, the essence of the conversion of St. Paul was from a false notion of a holy life to a true one. The false notion was reliance on a rigorous interpretation and living out of the Mosaic law. “In righteousness based on the law,” he tells us today, “I was blameless.” But after Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus, he recognized that he was not saved by his fidelity to the works of the law — saved, in other words, by his own actions — but saved rather by God, by receiving his grace, his mercy, through faith. And once he realized this, his whole life changed. He tells us today, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. Even more, I consider everything as a loss — the real word is refuse — because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
  • Jesus became for him the “pearl of great price,” the “treasure buried in the field,” worth selling everything else to obtain. Everything else in his life combined was like worthless garbage compared to the joy of knowing Christ Jesus — not knowing about him, but knowing him personally. Real conversion happens when we come to know Jesus Christ in the same personal way. And to know Christ, as we see today, is to know him in all his mercy, to know him as one who will leave all other 7.53 billion people in the world behind to come for us, the one who will never stop searching, and the one who, when we finally enter into relationship with him again. When St. Paul went to Corinth, he vowed to know nothing but “Christ and him crucified,” which basically means to know Christ in the mercy that led him to consider his crucifixion as refuse compared to the good of saving and knowing forever each of us! And so today we reflect on the joy Jesus has when he is able to share with us his merciful love, a joy he wishes to share with us just as much as he did with Paul. Jesus came, he said once, so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete, and he seeks to perfect our happiness through the experience of his joy-filled mercy.
  • The great Carmelite Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) whom the Church celebrates today is someone who experienced this joy and mercy early in life and who sang of it for the rest of her life. She is someone who accounted everything else as loss compared to knowing God. She wasn’t born a saint. She needed God’s help and strength to overcome a ferocious temper. Her mother told her that, because of her strong personality, she would either become a terror or a saint. A big change took place with her first Confession at the age of seven. It brought her what she called her “conversion” and from that point forward she vowed to become a “sweet, patient and obedient daughter.” God was strengthening her to make a conversion from being served and placated to serving and pleasing God and others. After she received Jesus in Holy Communion at the age of 11, a further change happened in her, as she began to treasure the incredible gift of Jesus within her. She started to prioritize the kingdom, consider everything else as refuse, and use all that she had been given for God. A great pianist and award winner at the Dijon Conservatory, she started to use her musical abilities for God’s glory rather than her own, by singing in two Church choirs. She would eventually say that she wanted to do all things for the praise of God’s glory. She began teaching Catechism so that others would share the same holy desire. She lived just 250 yards from a Discalced Carmelite Monastery and she wanted to enter there in order to serve God with everything she had, a response to a calling she discerned God had given her. Her mother resisted for several years, but finally relented. Elizabeth entered at 21, where she would come to know God and serve him in others for five years, until she would die of Addison’s disease at the age of 26. She recognized she could find him in the little things of each day, saying, “I find Him everywhere while doing the wash as well as while praying.” She became known as the “prophet of the presence of God.” She sought to unite everything to God, knowing that in grace God was dwelling within her. Saint Elizabeth’s beautiful prayer about God’s dwelling within us in grace is contained for us in paragraph 260 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describing how not only is God’s plan for us to enter into the perfect unity of the Trinity in heaven, but to become a dwelling place of God now, following through on Jesus’ promise that if we love him and keep his word, the Father will love us and the Trinity will come to us and make a dwelling place within us. “O my God,” she wrote, “Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.” That’s a practical reality of the surpassing good of knowing God! She accepted her own immense sufferings as a gift from God to bring about a union with Christ on the Cross and to allow her to join Christ in the salvation of souls, making up what was lacking in his sufferings for the sake of his body the Church. She wasn’t afraid to die, saying, “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life,” because in this world, within her, she was regularly communing with that same Light, Love and Life. Before Saint Elizabeth died, she said, “I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself.” Her work is to pray that we will be kept by God in the silence of prayerful union — prayerful mutual knowing — that will transform us progressively into communion with God, so that we will by the power of the Holy Spirit and following the command of Jesus go out of ourselves to bring others into that same communion with God and with us. She’s praying for us and the whole Church now.
  • St. Paul and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity counted everything else in life a loss compared to the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus. Today we have a chance to know him in the deepest possible way, by entering into a life-changing holy communion with him here at Mass in a way anticipated only by the nine months Mary with joy carried him within. May we be so filled with God’s merciful love and joy that we may draw others to this same encounter — and all hearts searching for the Lord, as we prayed in the Psalm, may rejoice now and forever.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 PHIL 3:3-8A

Brothers and sisters:
We are the circumcision,
we who worship through the Spirit of God,
who boast in Christ Jesus and do not put our confidence in flesh,
although I myself have grounds for confidence even in the flesh.
If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I.
Circumcised on the eighth day,
of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage,
in observance of the law a Pharisee,
in zeal I persecuted the Church,
in righteousness based on the law I was blameless.But whatever gains I had,
these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.
More than that, I even consider everything as a loss
because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (3b) Let hearts rejoice who search for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
R. Let hearts rejoice who search for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
R. Let hearts rejoice who search for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. Let hearts rejoice who search for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 15:1-10

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus addressed this parable to them.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”