Three Ways to Grow in Thinking as God Thinks, 22nd Monday (I), September 4, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for the Sanctification of Human Work
September 4, 2017
1 Thes 4:13-18, Ps 96, Lk 4:16-30

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we pondered Jesus’ correction to Peter to think as God thinks, not as human beings do, and St. Paul’s echo not to conform ourselves to this age, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may discern what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect. Today the readings and the Mass we celebrate on Labor Day help us to deepen our appreciation of that renewal, that revolution, that metanoia in our thought and action that God wants to give us. We can ponder three ways.
  • The first is with regard to grieving the death of our loved ones and other forms of grieving. Today St. Paul tells the truth about the last things to the Thessalonians so that they don’t grieve like all the others do who grieve without hope. We are to think about death from within the context of hope in Jesus’ promises. There are two points here. The first is to grieve. Some Christians today don’t grieve, some even confess it, because they’re basically taught that death is a canonization, funerals are celebrated with white, certain clerics guarantee that no matter how one lived or died the person is in a “better place,” and they’re not given permission to grieve. Others go to the opposite extreme, and grieve as if they’ve lost the most important thing in life, they wear black for the rest of their life and define themselves from that point forward by the death of a loved one. The way God wants us to look at things is to grieve because we love and our life on earth won’t be the same as before, but to mourn in such a way that we believe in God’s mercy and hope that we will be together with our loved one again. What goes for grieving the death of our loved ones similarly goes for other types of grief, like when we lose something else valuable. We can grieve the loss of a job or assignment. We can grieve when we’re transferred someplace else apart from one of our good friends or our family, or one of our friends or family members moves far away from us. We can grieve when someone discerns out of consecrated life. We can grieve when we don’t get the assignment we’re hoping for or don’t get relieved of one we treated as a burden. There are many forms of grief. But in all of them we’re called to grieve with hope. St. Paul basically defines hope as “living with God in the world,” because hopelessness for him is living without God in the world (Eph 4:10). To grieve with hope is to grief with Christ, who blesses those who mourn (with him) because they will be consoled. All of us are called to show the Church and the world how to grieve in this way so that they two can be renewed by the renewal of their mind and think as God thinks.
  • The second revolution Christ wants to give us is with regard to the way we look at him and in a particular way the way we view evangelizing others. Jesus was trying to help his fellow Nazarenes learn how to view him and his Mission vis-a-vis them and others.
  • After Jesus had read the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah about the work of the long-awaited Messiah (Is 61), Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He was the fulfillment of the one anointed by the Spirit who was announcing and delivering the Good News to the poor, freedom to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the oppressed, and a year of Jubilee. But that was too much for many of his listeners. Those in Nazareth recognized that he was speaking with “gracious words” but they couldn’t harmonize that with the fact that he was the supposed son of Joseph the carpenter. And their amazement soon passed to doubt and then to homicidal anger as they sought to kill him. What hardened soil they had! His enfleshment of the word and plans of God was a scandal to them, they didn’t think that one of their own could be the Messiah, they didn’t want to get shaken out of their own habits to examine whether it was true and if so to follow him, and therefore they sought to reject the message by killing the messenger. They were particularly scandalized by his focusing on what Isaiah had announced, that the light was to become a light to all the nations, that Jesus was working miracles, like the prophets in the Old Testament, not just for the club of the Jews, but for all God’s children. And they didn’t want to hear it and sought to kill one of their own. To live by what God thinks rather than by what man thinks will bring us into non-conformity with the world and those in the world who seek conformity with the spirit of the age will resist, persecute and sometimes even kill, and so Jesus got a foretaste of the Passion in his home town. For us Jesus is trying to transform the way we look at him and his Mission. We are much like those in Nazareth. We’re familiar with Jesus. Many of us have grown up with him since our infancy. We can try to domesticate him, to think about our privileges as Catholics, as priests and religious. But he wants us to know that he is interested in working miracles not just for us, not just for those we’d expect, but even for those we wouldn’t expect, and he wants us to go out and continue his message proclaiming the Gospel to the poor, proclaiming liberty, announcing the Jubilee, etc. This is what drives the new evangelization. Pope Francis has been trying to bring about a Missionary Metamorphosis in the Church precisely because the vast majority in the Church don’t share this outward loving hunger of Christ. We need this revolution in the way we look at Jesus and the way that he calls us to fulfill his great commission.
  • The third revolution is with regard to human work, which we ponder in a special way on this Labor Day in the US. Our world is hedonist and looks at work not as a divine blessing but as a necessary evil, something that most are required to do in order to make money to survive and eventually allow for retirement or pleasure, but something from which we’re all trying to escape. God gave us the vocation to work in the beginning before the Fall, with his three-fold command to “increase and multiply,” to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion” over all the animals. After the Fall, this vocation to work remained, but it would now be done with labor pains, both the pain of contractions in child birth as well as the toil on one’s brow in normal human work, but it was precisely through the “cross” of work that we would be redeemed and become cooperators in Jesus’ ceaseless work of the salvation of the world through love.
  • So, in non-conformity with a culture that pretends as if the path to happiness is coextensive with the path of unending vacation, we Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel of Work, a Gospel that indeed involves the “seventh day” in which we rest with God and others, but a Gospel that also involves days one through six when we work together with Jesus. When Jesus came down from heaven to save us, he didn’t spend his hidden and public life at the Mediterranean, or the Dead Sea, or the Sea of Galilee working on his tan and diverting himself with swimming games. He spent his hidden life working as a carpenter and then spent his public ministry working even harder, spending long days preaching, healing one by one, and putting into practice all the words that Isaiah prophesied that Jesus announced in his hometown synagogue. He had so great appreciation for all human work in God’s plan that he could not stop using it as the proper analogy for his preaching. In his teaching, he favorably mentions shepherds, farmers, doctors, sowers, householders, servants, stewards, merchants, laborers, soldiers, cooks, tax collectors and scholars and many more. He compares the work of the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters and fishermen. He praised “good and faithful servants” who worked hard in their Master’s absence. He called a few to leave their fishing boats and tax-charts to proclaim the Gospel as missionaries; the vast majority he called to proclaim the Gospel by living that good news right where they were, through “increasing and multiplying,” through “subduing” and “dominion” in the kitchen or at their workbench, out in the fields or in their boats, at their desk or in the classroom. That’s where the vast majority of people are called to be saints with they do their work with “diligence”  — which means “love” in Latin, love for God and love for those served by work — offering that work to God like the sacrifice of Abel and sanctifying themselves and others in the process.
  • This Gospel of Human Work is something that seems folly to our hedonistic culture in which it seems the vast majority would take early retirement if they’d get full benefits, where more and more are playing the system to try to collect disability when they still could work, where welfare benefits just keep getting extended and where the lines of those who have stopped looking for work grows by the millions each year, not because there are no jobs, but because our culture is enabling them not to have to work. This is contrary to our vocation as human beings and will hurt individuals and our whole society. Retirement is, in one sense, a good thing, that one no longer needs to have the pressure of working in order to survive, so that as one gets older, one can focus more and more on the meaning of life that might get lost by too much work. But retirement is meant to lead to a different type of work, where one is able to use one’s life experience to pass on to others the wisdom of life, whether that means babysitting grandchildren, or tutoring at risk kids, or caring for those who are sick or lonely, or getting more involved in important causes, or helping to build up one’s parish, or, following the example of Simeon and Anna in the Gospel, praying for oneself and others. Last week in a parable Jesus called “wicked” the “lazy servants” who when their Master was away just gave into their pleasures and rather than serving others through their work, started abusing them. He said that he hoped to find his servants “working” upon his return. This doesn’t mean that there’s no time for legitimate rest, but it does mean that he wants us in general working so that we may build up his kingdom in the world and build up ourselves in the process. We should look at our work as a privilege, as something that we are called to sanctify by giving it like the first fruits of Abel to God, as something helps sanctify us through the intransitive effect of work when we work well, and as something that helps serve and sanctify others, through the friendships we form with who with and for whom we work and through the concrete services rendered.
  • As we celebrate this Mass for the Sanctification of Human Labor we remember that the Mass itself is a combination between God’s work and ours, symbolized by the prayers of the offertory when we thank God for the “fruit of the earth” and “fruit of the vine” but also for the “work of human hands” that converts grain into bread and grapes into wine. That’s a symbol of the pleasing sacrifice of Abel that we’re called to bring with us each day to the altar, something that prepares us much better to allow Jesus to continue to do his divine work of salvation in us and through us. Today a diligent construction worker from Nazareth with calloused hands bids us to “Come, follow me!” to this altar, where he wishes to strengthen us so that he may send us out to proclaim his Gospel not just by words but by our work. We pray that at the end of today, as we examine our conscience before him, we might be able to echo his words in Nazareth and say honestly, “Today, this Scripture about the importance of work has been fulfilled in me.”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 THES 4:13-18

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
about those who have fallen asleep,
so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose,
so too will God, through Jesus,
bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,
will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.
Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore, console one another with these words.

Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1 AND 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13

R. (13b) The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.

Alleluia SEE LK 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'”
And he said,
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.