The Supreme Worth of Knowing Christ in his Mercy, 31st Thursday (II), November 3, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Martin de Porres
November 3, 2016
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 communicate to us crucial lessons as the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy draws to a close and as we prepare to bear fruit from the seeds God has tried to plant throughout this holy year.
  • 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 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!”
  • In this Jubilee of Mercy, it’s so important for us to recognize how much God loves everyone 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. Pope Francis wants us to ponder more deeply during this Holy Year just how happy we make God when we go to Confession and bring others to receive God’s mercy. 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 when we 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 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, will rejoice far more than even Cubs fans did last night when their team after 108 years finally won the World Series!
  • And so today we come here and 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. He 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.
  • St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) was someone who got and lived this lesson. He was a Dominican lay brother in Peru, who because he was the mulatto son of a Spanish knight and a black freed-woman, experienced various sufferings out of racism growing up. But knowing Christ was worth his life, he eventually entered the Order of Preachers and served as their barber, surgeon, wardrobe-keeper and infirmarian. But his having received God’s mercy changed him so that he wanted to bring that mercy outside the monastery, extending the care he would give to all his Dominican brothers to everyone else, as if Lima were his monastery. He cared for the sick. He helped establish an orphanage and foundling-hospital. He distributed the convent’s alms each day of food to the poor and sometimes, with God’s help, multiplied it. He cared for all the slaves brought to Peru from Africa. He went out after the lost sheep and trained people in the same care of the poor so that together with them they could dramatically help the poor in their circumstances. He’s the patron saint of social justice because he was giving not just out of charity, but out of a sense that the poor are owed better than what they normally receive. Because Christ valued them so much, he wanted to value them at that same level and help them recognize their own dignity. And all of his deeds of love are like sparkling coins on his imperishable wreath and the Church’s coined headdress!
  • St. Paul 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.”

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