Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Stephen of Hungary
August 16, 2014
Ezek 18:1-10.13.30-32, Ps 51, Mt 19:13-15
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today the readings help us to examine whether we’re entering God’s kingdom and whether we’re bridges or obstacles for others to enter the kingdom. For the second time this week, Jesus mentions that to enter the kingdom of heaven we need to be childlike. On Tuesday, he told us that unless we turn back from the paths we’re on and become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Today Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like children. To be childlike is not to be childish, but rather to be filial, trusting, dependent, docile, simple, full of wonder, rather than “grown-up,” self-sufficient, independent, sophisticated, cynical know-it-alls.
- One tell-tale sign that we’re not sufficiently childlike is that we don’t relate to Jesus’ childlike qualities and think that what Jesus wants is something other than to bless, to heal, to teach, to forgive and to save. Today in the Gospel, the disciples didn’t grasp that Jesus wanted the children to come up to him to receive his blessing, to get to know him personally. Whether they thought he was too tired or simply didn’t want to be bothered, they got in the way of the children coming to God because they were not sufficiently childlike to understand that the children were in some sense more capable of entering the kingdom because they were able to be far more docile to the King, who is the incarnate Kingdom. When we’re spiritual children, we recognize that Jesus loves everyone, especially children, and doesn’t need handlers and bodyguards to prevent people from approaching him but rather wants all of us, like children, to bring our friends to meet Jesus, however young or old they are.
- In today’s first reading, we see this contrast between bringing people to God or becoming an obstacle, a scandal, play out in the history of the Jews. The exiles in Babylon were prone to blame their present plight on the generations that had come before them. God sent Ezekiel to help them grasp that everyone is responsible for his own conduct. The sins of parents do impact children but the guilt is not passed down. Likewise the virtues of parents can impact children and grandchildren but the grace isn’t passed down. Even if parents hadn’t brought their children to God, Ezekiel was calling them to make up for lost time and go to God rather than looking to assess blame. Everyone has personal responsibility. Those who respond to God will live. Those who reject God won’t, “for all lives are mine,” God said, “the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine; only the one who sins shall die.” There are two lessons stressed. First, we can’t blame the previous generations for our sins or take credit for their virtue. Second, we must begin to do good and persevere in doing good. In this chapter, God says if the wicked man repents, he will be saved, but if the good man finishes life by sinning, he will be lost. Life is not so much a quantitative comparison between good and bad deeds, but a journey in which not how we start out but how we finish matters most. So God through Ezekiel calls everyone to conversion: “Turn and be converted from all your crimes, that they may be no cause of guilt for you. Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. … For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord GOD. Return and live!” We all responded to this appeal of God through his prophet by crying out, “Create a clean heart in me, O God!”
- One person who very much got today’s message is St. Stephen whose feast we celebrate today. As a young boy he converted to Christianity and when we ascended to the throne, he sought to share this gift with the people entrusted to him. He brought it monks to build monasteries and begin proposing the Gospel to his people, so that they might come to God and generation after generation have the chance to live by the Gospel. But where we see it most is in his relationship with his son, Emeric, whom he assumed would ascend the throne after him but who died in a hunting accident young in life and was buried by his father. While Emeric never ended up assuming an earthly kingdom, he received the far more important Kingdom with faith, so much so that he was canonized together with his father. In St. Stephen’s Admonitions to his son, basically a guide book about how to rule well as king, he constantly sought to bring Emeric to God and to persuade Emeric to bring the people entrusted to them to God: “My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, in the royal palace, after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers, And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient. However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians less a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.” That’s a fitting summary not only of our role in going to Jesus like trusting, obedient children, in seeking to bring others to Jesus, and in preventing that the treasure of the faith might not be squandered by the bad example of those in authority so that something worse than happened to the people of Judah (an earthly exile) would happen to the people of Hungary (an eternal exile).
- Today as we come forward to the altar, we ask through St. Stephen’s intercession that we may pass on the faith in such a way that it will be contagious to the next generations, so that we may one day experience with St. Stephen the joy of being joined by our loved ones in heaven. Let us ask St. Stephen’s and St. Emeric’s intercession that we may embrace the Kingdom of Heaven little children, turning away from whatever paths God deems wicked, and come with many others to receive here a blessing from Jesus not through a pat on the head but through a living Communion in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
EZ 18:1-10, 13B, 30-32
Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb
that you recite in the land of Israel:“Fathers have eaten green grapes,
thus their children’s teeth are on edge”?As I live, says the Lord GOD:
I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you
who will repeat this proverb in Israel.
For all lives are mine;
the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine;
only the one who sins shall die.
If a man is virtuous—if he does what is right and just,
if he does not eat on the mountains,
nor raise his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel;
if he does not defile his neighbor’s wife,
nor have relations with a woman in her menstrual period;
if he oppresses no one,
gives back the pledge received for a debt,
commits no robbery;
if he gives food to the hungry and clothes the naked;
if he does not lend at interest nor exact usury;
if he holds off from evildoing,
judges fairly between a man and his opponent;
if he lives by my statutes and is careful to observe my ordinances,
that man is virtuous—he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD.
But if he begets a son who is a thief, a murderer,
or lends at interest and exacts usury–
this son certainly shall not live.
Because he practiced all these abominations, he shall surely die;
his death shall be his own fault.
Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel,
each one according to his ways, says the Lord GOD.
Turn and be converted from all your crimes,
that they may be no cause of guilt for you.
Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.
Why should you die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,
says the Lord GOD. Return and live!
PS 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
A clean heart create for me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.