Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
December 3, 2016
Is 30:19-21.23-26, Ps 147, Mt 9:35-1:1.5-8
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- We’ve been focusing all week on the “double-dynamism” of Advent: Christ’s coming to us in history, mystery and majesty and our going out to meet him. We’ve pondered his reasons and sentiments for coming into our world and the dispositions we need to meet him where he’s at and allow him to bring us the salvation he came into the world to give. But there’s really a “triple dynamism” in Advent, a third movement that is supposed to happen after we run out to meet the One who has come into the world. It’s our moving to continue his holy work, our going forth united with him to continue the mission of salvation. Today’s readings help us to focus on all three of these Advent movements.
- The first movement concerns Christ’s reasons and sentiments coming into the world. They’re aptly summarized in today’s Gospel: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” These words not only describe why Jesus “went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and curing every disease and illness,” but also why he came into our world in the first place. He looked at us and saw that we were mangled and abandoned, lost, in need of God’s guidance and God’s healing, and he entered the world as our Shepherd to protect us from the wolves and to call us by name to follow him through dark valleys into the verdant pastures of his sheepfold. He was the fulfillment of what Isaiah had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to prophesy in today’s first reading: “He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.” Jesus would be the Answer to, and the Answerer of, our prayers. He would give us not only our material bread but become our spiritual Bread to feed us. He would not only quench our physical thirsts but becoming our Living Water so that we would never thirst again (Jn 4:13-14). He would assume our human nature so that we could see our Teacher and be able to learn not only from his words but most especially from following his example. And his words and example would attune our consciences to hear his voice speaking to us from within, “This is the way; walk in it,” because we would have observed his path and be moved inwardly to follow in his footsteps. That’s the dynamism of the Lord’s coming to us in history, mystery and majesty.
- The second movement is for us to go out to meet him who is coming to us in this way, with these sentiments. It’s go out with eagerness, with our prayers to be heard, with our hunger and thirst for more of what God alone can give, with our need for a Shepherd to guide us, with a passion for his proclamation of the Good News, his teaching about how to live it and his healing, especially the much needed healing of our souls. Just like the crowds in the Gospels went to meet Jesus on mountains, on seashores, in valleys, in cities and villages, so we go out to meet him who looks on us with bowel-bursting mercy (which is what the phrase “had compassion on the crowds” literally means in Greek).
- But there’s also a third movement. It’s what happens after the encounter with God that occurs when these first two dynamisms meet. Jesus wants that encounter with him to be transformative, nourishing, and healing to such a great extent that we seek to extend it. He wants to change us through our meeting him in such a way that we can share his presence, so that others, in seeing us, may see a reflection of the Master and of his teaching, his proclamation, his healing, his compassion. Today’s Gospel shows us this. His heart bursting with compassion, Jesus told the disciples that “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” He therefore asked them, “Pray to the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Little did they know that when they were praying for laborers, they were praying for themselves! Immediately after those prayers, St. Matthew tells us today, Jesus “summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” He gave them his own authority to continue his work. He instructed them to do exactly what he himself had been doing: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.” He told them that just as “without cost you have received,” so “without cost you are to give.” Jesus wanted their own innards sick with compassion on the mangled and abandoned crowds. He wanted to empower them with his own compassion and authority in order to be able to shepherd them aright. And part of the disciples’ own healing, part of their own absorption of the Lord’s proclaiming and teaching, was to become nurses of the Divine Physician, teaching assistants of the Master, echoes of his Proclaiming in the world. They were able to do all of this because once they really encountered the Lord as he wants to be met, he would transform them more and more into members of his body and then accompany them in all of this work. Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading, “He will give rain for the seed that you sow in the ground.” He would bless their labor in the Vineyard — the Lord wants laborers, not just bodies, in his Vineyard! — but in a special way water the seed they sow, not letting their efforts ever go to waste. But I think there’s also a more significant meaning here. Jesus himself would say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Just as Jesus fell to the ground and died as a grain of wheat and bore great fruit, so he calls us to sow ourselves, promising that he would water that sacrifice. The encounter with Jesus on which Advent helps us to focus is geared toward this type of transformation, so that we, meeting with Christ, will take on his compassion and seek to sow ourselves for the salvation of others and in the process preserve our own life into eternity.
- We see this truth portrayed for us in the life of the great saint we celebrate today. St. Francis Xavier’s incredible missionary work can only be explained by his having been so transformed by his encounter with the Lord that he shared his compassion for the great multitudes who were sheep without a shepherd. Today the Church has us pray that we might have the same passion, raising up to God the petition in the Opening Prayer of the Mass that we might “burn with the same zeal” and in the Prayer after Communion that God will “enkindle in us that fire of charity with which St. Francis Xavier burned for the salvation of souls.” St. Francis Xavier was the great 16th century Jesuit apostle of India and Japan who died trying on the shores of China trying to bring the Gospel there. His letters to St. Ignatius about his missionary adventures have not only moved tens of thousands to become missionaries, but give full evidence to the zeal Christ had for our salvation that he wants us to have for the salvation of others. Every year priests, religious and all those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours ponder this letter he sent in 1544 to his friend, former college roommate and religious superior, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. … The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law. I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: ‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians. Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’ I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them. This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.” Reading those words soon after they were published for the first time, the future St. Philip Neri went to his spiritual director and said that he thought the Lord was asking him to follow Francis to India. His wise spiritual director told him, “No. Rome will be your Indies!,” and St. Philip worked as hard bringing people back to the faith in Rome after the sack and so much debauchery as St. Francis Xavier had been doing in far away lands. Likewise, for us, Manhattan must be our Indies. There’s no reason why we can’t do here what St. Francis did in Goa, Malaysia and Japan. He had 46 chromosomes just like us. He needed to eat, sleep and go to the restroom just like us. But he burned in his gut with a compassion for mangled and abandoned sheep. He burned with a desire to show them how to walk in the way who is Christ, to receive his “bread” and “living water.” And when we burn with a similar fire, we will say, “Send me anywhere you like,” as the Lord said to me two years ago today through Bishop Da Cunha in Fall River when he told me that he was sending me here to New York to work at the United Nations and among the Sisters of Life.
- All three parts of the triple dynamism of Advent happen here at Mass. The Lord Jesus comes here to teach us, to proclaim his Good News, to heal us, to feed us, to quench our thirst. We come out to meet him, not because we have to, but because we want to, because we love him, because we know we need him. And it’s here that the Lord transforms us by his teaching in the Liturgy of the Word and by our communion with God-with-us in the Eucharist so that, at the end of Mass, he may send us forth to glorify the Lord by our life, to roll up our sleeves as laborers in his vineyard. Little did the twelve disciples know that when they were praying for laborers for the Lord’s harvest that Jesus would immediately respond by calling them by name. The Lord wants us to grasp that every time we’ve heeded his command to pray to the Harvest Master for workers, we haven’t just been praying for others, but we’ve been praying for ourselves. He’s called us here today in order to teach, heal and transform us so that, with his heart-filled compassion, we may go out and sow ourselves together with the One whose words and very Body and Blood will be sown in us today.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 is 30:19-21, 23-26
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
On the day of the great slaughter,
when the towers fall,
The light of the moon will be like that of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater
like the light of seven days.
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.
Responsorial Psalm ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power:
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Alleluia Is 33:22
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The LORD is our Judge, our Lawgiver, our King;
he it is who will save us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel mt 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation:
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”