The Violence and Divine Accompaniment Necessary to Become Gracious, Merciful, Patient and Kind, Second Thursday of Advent, December 10, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
Memorial of Our Lady of Loreto
December 10, 2015
Is 41:13-20, Ps 145, Mt 11:11-15

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today on this third day of the Year of Mercy, dedicated to becoming Merciful like our Father, we have a beautiful description of God in today’s Psalm that God in his mercy wants to give us the grace to have likewise predicated of us. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.” He is gracious, acting first without our meriting it; merciful, constantly opening his heart to forgive and care for us, slow to anger and therefore patient, giving us multiple chances, helping us to do better, and of great kindness, so much kindness that he will do what it takes for us to become like him, even if to our human categories it might not seem “nice.” He wants to help us likewise to become gracious with others, going out of our way to help them without their necessarily deserving it; merciful, giving them 70×7 chances, praying to the Father for them for they know not what they do; slow to anger and patient, especially with those who try our patience; and kind and good to the point that we will be willing to do even fraternal correction with them. In order to help us to become more and more like God, Jesus talks about two realities in the Gospel we must confront: the greatness of our divine filiation and the “violence” that it will take to live up to it within the gracious, kind, patient, mercy of God.
  • To understand both points we need to delve into the Gospel.
  • The Jews were waiting in the long Advent for two figures. The first was the Messiah. The second was Elijah, whom God had said through the Prophet Malachi, “Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5; Mal 3:1). Jesus in today’s Gospel identified the work of Elijah with St. John the Baptist, telling us, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, after Elijah appeared with Moses speaking to Jesus during the Transfiguration, Jesus was even more explicit: “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things, but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands” (Mt 17:12), pointing out how they had manhandled his precursor. “Elijah” pointed out the “Messiah” and the “Messiah” was pointing out “Elijah. The fulfillment of the Advent for the one who would come in the person of Elijah was an indication of the even greater fulfillment.
  • But because of John the Baptist’s role in pointing out the Messiah, not to mention because of his personal holiness and witness to the point of martyrdom, Jesus said something astonishing in today’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” First, Jesus was saying that up until then John was the greatest human being who had ever lived. We need to ponder that. There were lots of heroic martyrs and faithful Israelites, but he had the role to make straight the paths of the Lord. He was one born of a woman having already been blessed by God in the womb. No one had been born so exalted as to have pointed out by his leaping the Messiah. And he was still pointing him out. But Jesus goes on to say that the littlest in the kingdom of God was even greater than John, that the one sanctified in the womb of the Kingdom is greater than all those born just of women. This is not so much a testimony about moral greatness, but about objective greatness, and a reminder to us of just how lucky we are to have been reborn in that womb of the Church soon after birth or whenever we entered into the sacred waters. We’re also greater because we’ve seen and received the full revelation of Christ to which John was still in some sense prophesying, because John hadn’t seen what would come later, Jesus’s incredible love revealed for us on the Cross that gave us the power to become children of God.
  • But just as there was a cost for John’s becoming the greatest born of woman — his suffering on account of pointing out not only the Lamb but the Bridegroom and therefore the truth about marriage before Herod — so there’s a cost for our Christian greatness in fully entering the kingdom. Jesus describes both sufferings in the Gospel: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” There are two types of violence Jesus describes: violence against the Kingdom and violence for the Kingdom.
  • We see the violence against the Kingdom from the beginning. The slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth trying to murder him by throwing him off the Nazarene cliff. The collusion of the arch-inimical Sadducees, Pharisees and Romans to have Jesus executed. We’ve seen it in the Blessed Mother whose feast under the title of Our Lady of Loreto we celebrate today, whose heart was pierced with a sword of suffering. We’ve seen it in the sufferings of the apostles, the slaughter of so many martyrs, the persecution of the Church throughout time right down to what our brothers and sisters are suffering today in Iraq and Syria, from the Boko Haram in Nigeria and Kenya, from the communist governments in China and North Korea and in so many other contexts. Jesus told us that we would be hated by all because of his name and that what they did to him they would try to do to us. The Kingdom will suffer violence against it until the end of time and we need to be prepared.
  • But there’s also a violence Jesus describes for the Kingdom. St. Luke says in a similar passage, “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and men of violence take it by force” (Lk 16:16). We need to seize the Kingdom. We need to be able to do violence to ourselves, to our earthly values, in order to enter into it. We need to agonize to enter through the narrow gate. We need to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow Jesus. We need to sell what we have, give the money to the door, and follow Jesus up close. We need to lose our life to save it. We need to love him more than our parents, families and even ourselves to be worthy of it. None of this is easy, but when we recognize the value of the kingdom, we’re able to give up everything else to seize this pearl of great price.
  • Many of us, however, when we hear about this violence against and for the Kingdom shudder. Many of us don’t like to get shots at the doctors office because we’re afraid of needles and Jesus calls to us with nails through his limbs on the Cross to come follow him. It can be hard to take. It can seem as if it’s not really part of the “good news.” The suffering itself is not part of the good news any more than suffering and death are ontological goods. They’re not. What is part of the good news is what God says to us today through the Prophet Isaiah. We don’t suffer alone. With words that would deeply console the Jews in Babylon during the exile, God tells them, “Fear not, I will help you. … I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand.” He promises that he will answer the prayers of those who are parched in search of water, and not just give them a few drops, but open up rivers on mountain tops, fountains in valleys, turn deserts into marshlands, dry ground into springs, “so that all may see and know, observe and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this.” These words of God — “Fear not, I will help you,” “Do not be afraid I am with you” — are often repeated throughout salvation history. God said them to Moses at the burning bush when he asked how he, a simple shepherd, could go before Pharaoh. He said them to Joshua when he feared how a group of nomads could defeat the fortified city of Jericho. He said them to Paul when he was in jail in Corinth. He said them to the apostles who were frightened on the sea. “Do not be afraid I am with you.” Every Advent we pray for the triple coming of God-with-us, and Jesus comes not in a static way, but comes to save us, to rescue us, to redeem us, to strengthen us, to take away our fears, to make us great, to quench our thirst, and to help us to take the Kingdom of God by force by being willing to suffer violence for it.
  • The way we experience all the lessons in today’s readings is in the Mass. This is where our real greatness shines. We come here where God feeds us, but he feeds us in such a way that we can enter into his suffering for the salvation of the world. Some of us need to suffer violence to come here, in dragging ourselves out of bed! Some of us need to suffer violence in responding to our vocations. Some of us need to suffer violence to pay attention. But in some sense all of us need to do more violence if we’re going to receive more from the kingdom. Yesterday we marked the 36th anniversary of the death of the Venerable Archbishop Sheen who in the 1970s said in a retreat to families that many people then were saying, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass,” and he thundered that the reason for this is because many don’t put much or anything into the Mass. Archbishop Sheen said that many Christians have been led to believe that the Mass is just a banquet, just a meal, but he said it is even more importantly a sacrifice, and if we’re not coming to Mass to join our sacrifice to Christ’s, however small ours may be in comparison to his, then all we really are parasites on Christ’s body, blood suckers, rather than members. The Mass is the supreme sacrifice of Christ and his Body to the Father and for us to pray the Mass and to get what God wants to give us out of it we need to go all in, “violently,” seizing this incredible gift and ordering our whole life to this source and summit of our faith and our Christian life. But the Mass is also a means that encourages us to be able to make this sacrifice of our life. The more and the better we receive Jesus worthily in Holy Communion, the more we’re able to make our whole life a commentary on the words of consecration, offering our body, our blood, our sweat, our tears, our breath together with Christ for others and their salvation. Today as we come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, violently shed for us on the Cross, he tells us, “Fear not. I will help you!,” as he seeks to strengthen us to go out to seize and proclaim his kingdom and live in accordance with the greatness we have received from our gracious, merciful, patient and greatly kind God who through communion with his Son seeks to make us gracious, merciful, patient and kind like him!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 is 41:13-20

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Responsorial Psalm ps 145:1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab

R. (8) The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
I will extol you, O my God and King,
and I will bless your name forever and ever.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
Let them make known to men your might
and the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.
Your Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.

Alleluia See Is 45:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let the clouds rain down the Just One,
and the earth bring forth a Savior.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel mt 11:11-15

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
ladyofloreto