Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
September 10, 2014
1 Cor 7:25-31, Ps 45, Lk 6:20-26
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- St. Paul tells the Corinthians today and us, “I tell you brothers, the time is running out. … The world in its present form is passing away.” These words don’t mean that St. Paul was predicting the imminent end of the world, but rather that he was describing the urgency of reordering our priorities for the eternal rather than the ephemeral. The biggest trick in the devil’s arsenal, if he can’t convince us that he doesn’t exist, is to persuade us that there’s plenty of time “later” for us to get our act together, that there’s no urgency for us to make big choices for God now. Today St. Paul is continuing to teach both us and the Christians in Corinth the path to true wisdom, which is also the path by which we’ll be considered foolish by those who are worldly. But he’s not just indicating the path. He’s also urging us to choose to live by that path.
- There’s no greater illustration of the choice we’re called to make for what’s everlasting instead of what’s evanescent than what Jesus mentions in the Gospel today. This is St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. The fact that there are differences between this version and what Jesus says in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount is a clear sign that Jesus returned to his central messages often and developed different nuances. Rather than the 8 beatitudes he proclaimed on the mountain, today he focuses on four and contrasts them clearly to four “woes.” But his essential teaching remains the same: that the real path to happiness, the way to have life to the full forever, is not just different, but in fact opposite, than what those infected by spiritual worldliness often presume.
- Jesus makes four contrasts today.
- The first is “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours,” and “Woe to you are rich, for you have received your consolation.” It is simply revolutionary — not just in Jesus’ age, not just our era, but in every epoch — to believe that we’ll be happier if we’re poor than if we’re rich. Jesus says that the “rich” are to be pitied because they have already received their consolation in their money and possessions, whereas the poor are blessed because they are therefore able to seek with hope God and his kingdom. Material wealth is what those who live for the present age say will bring them happiness, but God’s kingdom is the hope and the treasure of those who are living knowing that time is running out and eternity is about to begin. Today many people, including Christians, spend more time nourishing their hope to win the lottery rather than to win the eternal bonanza, and Jesus says that these people are “woeful” because they think that the monopoly money and plastic houses on Park Street are more valuable that the Father’s House and treasure.
- The second is “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied,” versus, “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.” Like at Paul’s time with the Epicureans, there are many people today who have made pleasure their deity. St. Paul says in his letter to the Christians in Philippi that the “enemies of the Cross” have made their “bellies their god.” There are people who live to satiate their bodily appetites, obsessing about meals at restaurants, storing up precious wines in cellars, all living with their hearts set on earthly banquets and often, like the Rich Man in Jesus’ parable (Lk 16), ignoring those who don’t even have crumbs on which to eat each day. Jesus warns them with a “woe” that even though they are now filled and fattened, one day they will hunger for the things that matter most, just like the Rich Man Jesus describes. Those who are blessed, on the other hand, are those who are hungry for the eternal wedding banquet, hungry for God, hungry for what God hungers for. These are people who are hungry to receive Jesus in the Eucharist more than they do sumptuous breakfasts, filet mignon and lobster. These are people who hunger and thirst for holiness more than they do for water and sweets. This is a hunger that allows them to put off the “junk food” of the present world for the food of eternal life.
- The third is “Blessed are you who are now weeping for you will laugh” and “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.” There are always people who want to make fun their god, who make jokes out of life, who go from party to party, diversion to diversion, who don’t take life seriously because they’re living for the present moment unaware that the present moment is passing away. They try to escape from reality, seeking to insulate themselves from sadness and suffering as much as they can. They even make fun on occasion of those who are saddened by their own or other’s vicissitudes. They don’t realize that there will be a time when the music will stop, when all the lights will be turned on, and they’ll come face to face with their Creator and need to give an account of how they’ve invested the talent of their time, either in caring for others or in carousing (Mt 24). These people are woeful, even though those of the present age think they’re blessed. The blessed, on the other hand, are those who weep now: weep over their and others’ misfortune, weep over their and others’ sins that have brought so much suffering and death into the world, weep over seeing Christ be crucified for the forgiveness of these sins, weep over so many who live as if God doesn’t exist, as if life has no direction or meaning, as if there’s not going to be a final exam of life. These are the people who weep like St. Monica, weep like Our Lady of LaSalette, weep like Martha and Mary of Bethany, weep like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, weep like Jesus over Jerusalem. Jesus says they’re blessed because one day they will laugh, not just the “last laugh” but a laugh that will last. They will laugh at how God has brought good out of evil. They will laugh at how what seemed so foolish in the perspective of eternity now seems so wise. They will laugh with the Good Thief and so many others who seemed so likely to reign forever with God eternally. They will laugh with those who successfully bet Pascal’s wager and won an eternal jackpot.
- The last is “Blessed are you when people hate you, … exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man” and “Woe to you when all speak well of you.” Jesus contrasts their fate in this world and in the next by comparing them to the true and false prophets. Here in this passing world the real prophets were persecuted and many of them even killed, whereas the false prophets, those who told the people what they wanted to hear, those who manipulated their position to ingratiate themselves to their listeners rather than proclaiming to them God’s word even when unpleasant, were those who were praised and rewarded. But in the world that endures, it’s the true prophets are “rejoice and leap for joy” and their “great reward in heaven,” whereas the false prophets are “grieving and weeping” either at having lost their souls in order to gain the esteem of kings and crowds or, if by God’s mercy some repented and made it, “grieving and weeping” at how many were lost because they turned the signs pointing to heaven around and led many into dead ends. Jesus says for us we’re blessed when we’re persecuted, when our lives and our speech are prophetic, and announce to people God’s revelation, both the consolations and the castigations. Such witness is called in Greek “martyrion” for a very good reason, because it is a challenge to worldly ways of living and will bring us, to some degree, to share in Christ’s own suffering to bring us the Good News. Jesus meant it when he said that if they hated him, they’d hate us, too, and we see that when we live conformed to Jesus. We’re called misogynists declaring war on women because we say with Jesus that no one, mothers included, should have the right to murder their children in or out of the womb. We’re called homophobic bigots — despite our love for those with same-sex attractions for whom Jesus died — for defending Jesus’ teaching on marriage as the life-long, fruitful, faithful union of one man and one woman. We’re called socialists or communists because of our defense of the poor together with Jesus. We’re called anti-American for reminding everyone that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are our brothers and sisters — are in fact, Christ in disguise (Mt 25) — and need to be embraced with love like we would embrace Christ or natural siblings. To be a Christian is to be a prophet, and to be a prophet is to suffer for the Gospel when the message of the Gospel is not in conformity with the spirit of the age. There are many false prophets who try to water down or change the Gospel to accommodate “modern times” and many others who by their behavior proclaim something other than the Gospel as the way to happiness and the path to please God. Jesus is essentially saying “Blessed are the true prophets” who live for God and for eternity and “Woe to the false prophets” who live for being praised by the mobs today rather than by God and the saints forever.
- One of the things that we have to confront is that the Beatitudes that Jesus preaches to us today are meant to be lived by everyone of us. I’ve always been moved by the story of Kiko Arguello, the Spanish founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, which is an itinerary of holiness in the midst of the world that many throughout the world are fruitfully walking. He came from a decent Catholic family, but when he was 17 at a prestigious arts school, he basically thought he lost his faith and began to consider himself an atheist. One day at table, during the conversation, he just angrily left, like teenagers can sometimes do. His father went to see him in his room to ask what was wrong. Kiko said that his parents were hypocrites. Even though his mother was a daily Mass goer and his father a Christian businessman, Kiko said they never talk about anything at the table other than money or the things of the world. He took out a copy of the Bible and began to read the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel and then said that neither of them were living according to what Jesus indicated there. Señor Arguello responded that the Beatitudes were for people like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Dominic of Guzman, not for ordinary people. Kiko replied that if that’s the case, that the Bible is not meant for ordinary people, then it’s worthless, as he proceeded to throw the Sacred Scriptures out the window. That whole episode was used by God to bring Kiko back to the faith. Kiko, like many, had become an atheist fundamentally because he didn’t see people living by the Gospel and he began his whole itinerary in sharing the faith in the poorest shanty towns around Madrid. For us the lesson is that the Beatitudes are for us all: woe to us if we don’t live by them and blessed are we if we do.
- Today the Church marks the 68th anniversary of one of the most important events in the life of someone who structured her whole life on the Beatitudes: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the 17th anniversary of whose death we recalled on September 5. It was on September 10, 1946 that the 36 year old Loreto Sister and school principal Mother Teresa Bojaxhiu boarded a train to take her to make a retreat in the Himalayan village of Darjeeling. It was on that train that Jesus began to speak to her in words like our Responsorial Psalm today, “Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.” And Mother Teresa listened as Jesus poured out his heart over his sadness and sorrow at how many people were living in desperate situations of abandonment in Calcutta, at how many didn’t even know of him, at how many were totally unaware of his love. He described to her his infinite thirst for their souls and asked her to become his light take him into their homes, into their hearts. It’s what she described as her “call within a call” and today is dubbed “inspiration day.” Jesus opened up to Mother Teresa an even more radical call to be poor so that she might live more fully in the kingdom of him who was so poor that he didn’t even have a place to lay his head; to be hungry and share his insatiable hunger and thirst for souls, for the salvation of every person; to weep together with him at how many sheep were still mangled and abandoned, living without a shepherd and without his compassionate care; to suffer on account of him, as she did from those in the Church who thought she was crazy and those outside, like Christopher Hitchens, who thought she was selfish, caring for the poor not out of love but out of self-interest. Mother Teresa said yes to this call and now she rejoices and leaps for joy on account of the great reward God has given her in heaven for caring for him in the distressing disguise of the poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned and strangers. She was one who recognized that the time was running out, that the world in its present form was passing away, and so she ran with Jesus’ holy urgency into the gutters of the world to care for those whom so many others have forgotten. She listened, saw and bent her ear. We ask her intercession that we might imitate her loving trust and cheerful, total surrender in following God’s word, so that, by living the beatitudes, we may come to enjoy her friendship and that of all those, as she liked to say, to whom she was passing out tickets for a train not to Darjeeling but to the eternal Jerusalem.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 7:25-31
In regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord,
but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
So this is what I think best because of the present distress:
that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is.
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation.
Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.
If you marry, however, you do not sin,
nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries;
but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life,
and I would like to spare you that.I tell you, brothers, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
ps 45:11-12, 14-15, 16-17
Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear,
forget your people and your father’s house.
So shall the king desire your beauty;
for he is your lord, and you must worship him.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
All glorious is the king’s daughter as she enters;
her raiment is threaded with spun gold.
In embroidered apparel she is borne in to the king;
behind her the virgins of her train are brought to you.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
They are borne in with gladness and joy;
they enter the palace of the king.
The place of your fathers your sons shall have;
you shall make them princes through all the land.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.”