Total Self-Giving to God, 34th Monday (I), November 23, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattah
Monday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Columban, Abbot, on the 1400th Anniversary of his death
November 23, 2015
Dan 1:1-6.8-20, Dn 3, Lk 21:1-4

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we have five different images about what the total response of faith to God looks like.
  • In the Gospel, we meet a widow who purchased the kingdom of heaven for two-thirds of a penny, the equivalent of the two lepta she put into the temple treasury. After Jesus had finished his “formal” teaching in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, he began to “people watch,” in order to continue to instruct his apostles about how to put what he taught into action. They saw the stream of people putting money in the temple treasury, which was a large trumpet shaped receptacle leading to a secure money box. People would put their coins in the horn at the top, which was like a funnel, and then the sound of the coin would resonate as it rolled down the metal tubing into the box. Many rich people, St. Luke tells us, were putting in large sums and “making a lot of noise” on the treasury trumpet. But then a poor widow came and put in two lepta, two small coins which together were worth less than a penny and likely barely made a sound. Then Jesus gave a surprising lesson that obviously the disciples never forgot. Jesus praised the poor widow rather than all the rest, saying that she had contributed more than all them, for they “gave out of their surplus, but she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.” This widow, because of her poverty, could easily have been excused for giving nothing. She could have easily chosen to drop into the trumpet only one of the coins and kept the other for herself. But she didn’t. She gave it all. And her generosity was praised by Jesus and will remain until the end of time. What could have moved her to give to the temple even what she needed to survive? There’s only one reason: her deep faith. She believed not simply that God exists, or that he worked various miracles in the past to help her people. She believed so much in him and was so convinced of the importance of what was going on in God’s house that she wanted to dedicate her life and all her goods to continuing and expanding that work of salvation. She accounted the continuance and expansion of that work even more than her own life.  The point is not how much we contribute, but how much of a sacrifice it is; not how much we give but how much we have left over. This woman sacrificed her entire livelihood, spending herself and what she had in the service of the Lord. We should always seek to give in such a way that Jesus would be tempted to pull the saints aside in heaven and point out the way we are spending ourselves in his service, seeking to build up his Kingdom, the Kingdom we celebrated yesterday on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Many of us  give “something” to God, we may even give “a lot” to God, but we try to hold on to not just what we need but more than we need as an insurance policy, because, at a practical level, we often can put more of our faith, hope and love in the security that money provides than we do in God’s providence. We keep ourselves on the other side of the eye of the needle from the kingdom of heaven because we just don’t want to let go of our stuff. That’s why the widow’s example is so important for all of us. Her putting in all she had to live on was just a sign that she had already given all she had, that she had entrusted her entire life to God. As the great Lenten hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” stresses in its final verse, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, t’were an offering far too small, for love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” It’s worth it to give all to God. And during this Year of Consecrated Life, we thank you, sisters, like the widow, for giving the Lord your entire livelihood according to the vow of poverty.
  • The second example is that of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael in today’s first reading. Even though they were placed in exalted positions in King Nebuchadnezzar’s service, they always served God first. They made the courageous choice to risk their lives not to eat the food of the Babylonian king. They didn’t want to eat his food because often it was from the sacrifices to idols. Even though the food and wine would have doubtless been the best in the entire kingdom, they refused it because, even as they were in the king’s service, they were intent to spend themselves faithfully in the Lord’s service even to the point of martyrdom. Later on, Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael refused to worship a 30-foot high golden statue Nebuchadnezzar made, and they were thrown into a burning hot furnace by the king in a rage. They went with faith and the Lord miraculously saved their lives. They teach us what total dedication to God with faith and constancy is all about.
  • The third is St. Columban, the 1400th anniversary of whose death the Church celebrates today. He was a Celtic monk and abbot who called people, by his example and his words, to total commitment to God. Even though he had a beautiful life as a monk, through many sacrifices and sometimes great risk he went out to try to reevangelize Europe. As Cardinal Parolin wrote on behalf of Pope Francis for this 1400th anniversary, “After thirty years in the Monastery, Colombanus carried out the ascetic ideal typical of the Irish communities, that of the perenigratio pro Christo, and became a pilgrim in Continental Europe, with the intention to have the light of the Gospel rediscovered in some European regions then de-Christianized after the immigration of peoples of the North East. Therefore, he landed on the Breton coast with a group of monks and, with the benevolent welcome of the King of the Franks, he began the great work of evangelization of Europe, not through the imposition of the Creed, but through the attraction exercised by the monks style of life: the testimony of men that prayed, tilled the land, studied and led a sober life, based on the essential spiritual and material things, and rigorous on the moral plane. Saint Columbanus was a privileged channel of God’s grace, attracting crowds of pilgrims and penitents, and receiving in the many new Monasteries very many youths, who embraced his Regula monachorum. Convinced, as he was, that grace is the specific help that Providence gives to every human creature that receives the love of God in his existence, he was the intrepid diffuser of Confession, Sacrament of a personal nature, to be repeated in everyone’s life, as irreplaceable means for a serious path of conversion.” Pope Benedict focused on St. Columban’s love for courage and courage in helping people overcome spiritual compromises in a Catechesis about him back in 2008. He said, “Columban introduced Confession and private and frequent penance on the Continent. It was known as “tariffed” penance because of the proportion established between the gravity of the sin and the type of penance imposed by the confessor. These innovations roused the suspicion of local Bishops, a suspicion that became hostile when Columban had the courage to rebuke them openly for the practices of some of them. … Intransigent as he was in every moral matter, Columban then came into conflict with the royal house for having harshly reprimanded King Theuderic for his adulterous relations. This created a whole network of personal, religious and political intrigues and manoeuvres which, in 610, culminated in a Decree of expulsion banishing Columban and all the monks of Irish origin from Luxeuil and condemning them to definitive exile. … St Columban’s message is concentrated in a firm appeal to conversion and detachment from earthly goods, with a view to the eternal inheritance. With his ascetic life and conduct free from compromises when he faced the corruption of the powerful, he is reminiscent of the severe figure of St John the Baptist. His austerity, however, was never an end in itself but merely the means with which to open himself freely to God’s love and to correspond with his whole being to the gifts received from him, thereby restoring in himself the image of God, while at the same time cultivating the earth and renewing human society. I quote from his Instructiones: “If man makes a correct use of those faculties that God has conceded to his soul, he will be likened to God. Let us remember that we must restore to him all those gifts which he deposited in us when we were in our original condition. “He has taught us the way with his Commandments. The first of them tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, because he loved us first, from the beginning of time, even before we came into the light of this world” (cf. Instructiones XI). The Irish Saint truly incarnated these words in his own life.”
  • The fourth is St. Clement, the fourth Pope, whom the Church likewise celebrates today. He seems to have been a slave early in life who heard the Gospel from Peter and Paul and eventually became their successor. He led the Church to remain true to God during the ferocious persecution not only of Nero but later, during his papacy, of Domitian. After it was done, he wrote a letter to the Church of Corinth, which had deposed priests challenging them to greater fidelity to God. In the first exercise of papal primacy by the bishop of Rome outside of Rome, he wrote a letter to the Corinthians telling them they needed to take back their priests. Eventually, it seems, St. Clement was sent into exile and died a martyr, a genuine witness to his imitating the Widow in today’s Gospel in giving his whole life for God.
  • The last example we’ll ponder today is Blessed Miguel Pro, whose feast day also falls on November 23. His story is one of the most powerful for me in hagiography. In 1910, there was a revolution in Mexico against the “old order” and one of the first results was anti-clerical persecution based on a militant atheism. Religious orders were banned. Many priests, brothers and nuns needed to flee across the border into the United States. Churches, monasteries, convents and other religious buildings were confiscated by the State. To survive, the Church needed to go underground. Many Catholic priests, at the risk of their lives, donned various disguises to try to bring the sacraments to those who were dying, to celebrate Mass and confessions in people’s homes, to teach the catechism to young children, to attend to the needs of the poor and destitute, and to care for the many orphans the government was making by the summary executions of parents. One thirty-six year-old Jesuit priest named Fr. Miguel Pro used his younger brother’s bicycle to crisscross the city, doing all of these things and more. He was eventually identified as a cleric and a warrant was issued for his arrest. For almost a year he evaded the authorities so that he could continue his priestly ministrations, but he knew that eventually he would be caught and killed. He was. 88 years ago today, November 23, 1927, Fr. Miguel Pro was arrested and sentenced to death by the Mexican dictator, Plutarco Calles, without a trial. Calles wanted to use Fr. Pro as an example, to teach other clandestine Catholic priests and the Catholic faithful who sought their pastoral care what would happen to those who continued to try to practice the Catholic faith in defiance of the government’s dictates. So Calles sent out his henchmen to assemble a crowd and photograph the event. They crowd gathered and Fr. Miguel Pro was brought before the firing squad. He was asked if he had any dying wishes. He requested two minutes to pray. After he was done, he stood up and said to those who were about to end his life, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you.” Then he turned to the one who would give him his life back and said, “You know, O Lord, that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.” As the firing squad raised their rifles and took aim, in a firm, clear voice, Fr. Miguel Pro said his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long live Christ the King!” “Viva Cristo Rey!” Those words began to echo throughout Mexico. The photographs of the execution, taken at Calles’ instigation to terrify Christians, emboldened them. The photographs spread so fast as a witness to Pro’s faith and Calles’ brutality that the dictator soon banned their publication and use. But it was too late. The following day about ten thousand Mexicans, at the risk of their lives, accompanied Fr. Pro’s body to Dolores Cemetery. The cortège diverted itself by the Dictator’s home so that they could be sure he saw it, and as they processed, the Mexicans echoed the message Pro preached so effectively in life and in death: “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Cristo Rey!” These ordinary Christians, and the valiant priest they had come to honor, were all giving witness to a truth that no amount of firing squads could kill: the truth that there is a God, that that God sent his Son into the World, and that he, their Creator and Redeemer, is Lord and King of all and worth their very lives.
  • And so today, inspired by the example of the widow, of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, of Columban, Clement and Miguel we come to the altar. It’s here in the Eucharist that Jesus gives himself to us totally, converting himself into our spiritual food. And it’s here in response that at the offertory we seek to put our whole livelihood, presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, our logike latreia, the only worship that makes sense.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
DN 1:1-6, 8-20

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came
and laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Lord handed over to him Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
and some of the vessels of the temple of God;
he carried them off to the land of Shinar,
and placed the vessels in the temple treasury of his god.
The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain,
to bring in some of the children of Israel of royal blood
and of the nobility, young men without any defect,
handsome, intelligent and wise,
quick to learn, and prudent in judgment,
such as could take their place in the king’s palace;
they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans;
after three years’ training they were to enter the king’s service.
The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine
from the royal table.
Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah.But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself
with the king’s food or wine;
so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement.
Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy
of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel,
“I am afraid of my lord the king;
it is he who allotted your food and drink.
If he sees that you look wretched
by comparison with the other young men of your age,
you will endanger my life with the king.”
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain
had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah,
“Please test your servants for ten days.
Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men
who eat from the royal table,
and treat your servants according to what you see.”
He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed
than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.
So the steward continued to take away
the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency
in all literature and science,
and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams.
At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation,
the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar.
When the king had spoken with all of them,
none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah;
and so they entered the king’s service.
In any question of wisdom or prudence which the king put to them,
he found them ten times better
than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm
DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your Kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!

Gospel
LK 21:1-4

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
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