Walking in the Way God Has Shown, First Saturday of Advent, December 9, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Memorial of St. Juan Diego
December 9, 2017
Is 30:19-21.23-26, Ps 147, Mt 9:35-1:1.5-8

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We’ve been focusing all week on what is easily and helpfully describable as the “double-dynamism” of Advent: Christ’s coming to us in history, mystery and majesty and our going out to meet him. We’ve pondered his reasons and sentiments for coming into our world and the dispositions we need to meet him where he’s at and allow him to bring us the salvation he came into the world to give. And yesterday we had a chance to focus on how this double dynamism was present in our Lady: God the Father’s advent in preserving her by his grace for the coming of his Son; and her going out to meet God in prayerful receptivity. But there’s really a “triple dynamism” in Advent, a third movement that is supposed to happen after we run out to meet the One who has come into the world. It’s our moving to continue his holy work, to go forth united with him to continue the mission of salvation. Today’s readings and saint help us to focus on all three of these Advent movements.
  • The first movement concerns Christ’s reasons and sentiments coming into the world. They’re aptly summarized in today’s Gospel: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” These words not only describe why Jesus “went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and curing every disease and illness,” but also why he came into our world in the first place. He looked at us and saw that we were mangled and abandoned, lost, in need of God’s guidance and God’s healing, and he entered the world as our Shepherd to protect us from the wolves and to call us by name to follow him through dark valleys into the verdant pastures of his sheepfold. He was the fulfillment of what Isaiah had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to prophesy in today’s first reading: “He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.” Jesus would be the Answer to, and the Answerer of, our prayers. He would give us not only our material bread but become our spiritual Bread to feed us. He would not only quench our physical thirsts but becoming our Living Water so that we would never thirst again (Jn 4:13-14). He would assume our human nature so that we could see our Teacher and be able to learn not only from his words but most especially from following his example. And his words and example would attune our consciences to hear his voice speaking to us from within, “This is the way; walk in it,” because we would have observed his path and be moved inwardly to follow in his footsteps. That’s the dynamism of the Lord’s coming to us in history, mystery and majesty.
  • The second movement is for us to go out to meet him who is coming to us in this way, with these sentiments. It’s to go out with eagerness, with our prayers to be heard, with our hunger and thirst for more of what God alone can give, with our need for a Shepherd to guide us, with a passion for his proclamation of the Good News, his teaching about how to live it and his healing, especially the much needed healing of our souls. Just like the crowds in the Gospels went to meet Jesus on mountains, on seashores, in valleys, in cities and villages, so we go out to meet him who looks on us with bowel-bursting mercy (which is what the phrase “had compassion on the crowds” literally means in Greek).
  • But there’s also a third movement. It’s what happens after the encounter with God that occurs when these first two dynamisms meet. Jesus wants that encounter with him to be transformative, nourishing, and healing to such a great extent that we seek to extend it. He wants to change us through our meeting him in such a way that we can share his presence, so that others, in seeing us, may see a reflection of the Master and of his teaching, his proclamation, his healing, his compassion. Today’s Gospel shows us this. His heart bursting with compassion, Jesus told the disciples that “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” He therefore asked them, “Pray to the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Little did they know that when they were praying for laborers, they were praying for themselves! Immediately after those prayers, St. Matthew tells us today, Jesus “summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” He gave them his own authority to continue his work. He instructed them to do exactly what he himself had been doing: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.” He told them that just as “without cost you have received,” so “without cost you are to give.” Jesus wanted their own innards sick with compassion on the mangled and abandoned crowds. He wanted to empower them with his own compassion and authority in order to be able to shepherd them aright. And part of the disciples’ own healing, part of their own absorption of the Lord’s proclaiming and teaching, was to become nurses of the Divine Physician, teaching assistants of the Master, echoes of his Proclaiming in the world. They were able to do all of this because once they really encountered the Lord as he wants to be met, he would transform them more and more into members of his body and then accompany them in all of this work. Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading, “He will give rain for the seed that you sow in the ground.” He would bless their labor in the Vineyard — the Lord wants laborers, not just bodies, in his Vineyard! — but in a special way water the seed they sow, not letting their efforts ever go to waste. But I think there’s also a more significant meaning here. Jesus himself would say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Just as Jesus fell to the ground and died as a grain of wheat and bore great fruit, so he calls us to sow ourselves, promising that he would water that sacrifice. The encounter with Jesus on which Advent helps us to focus is geared toward this type of transformation, so that we, meeting with Christ, will take on his compassion and seek to sow ourselves for the salvation of others and in the process preserve our own life into eternity.
  • We see the truth of this triple dynamism in the life of the great saint we celebrate today, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. This 57-year-old man was chosen by Mary 486 years ago today to participate in a special way, together with her, in facilitating the encounter with God and bringing many others to do so. When the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill on December 9, 1531, he was a simple, humble, 57 year-widower known for walking with his head down and shuffling his feet. He had been baptized only seven years before by the Franciscan missionaries through whom he had first encountered the true God. He soon became a fervent believer. Every Saturday and Sunday he would walk 15 miles each way to Mass. As he was journeying one cold Saturday morning, he heard a voice calling from the top of a hill, “Juanito,” “Dieguito,” “Come here!” He scaled the rocky slope, where at the top he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary arrayed in splendor. Our Lady announced she had come on a mission as our Mother of Mercy and wanted him to be her emissary to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga of Mexico City to have him build a church on Tepeyac Hill where the encounter with God could continue. Obeying simply and immediately, he headed in his simple peasant’s outfit to the episcopal residence, where he was forced to wait for hours in a cold outdoor courtyard. Eventually the bishop received him, treated him with kindness, but basically, despite Juan Diego’s obvious sincerity, as a little deluded. Juan Diego left feeling like a complete failure. Returning at once to Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill, he said that he had struck out. “I beg you, Noble Lady,” he implored, “to entrust this message to someone of importance, someone well-known and respected, so that your wish will be accomplished. For I am only a lowly peasant and you, my Lady, have sent me to a place where I have no standing. Forgive me if I have disappointed you for having failed in my mission.” But Our Lady smiled tenderly on him and said, “Listen to me, my dearest son, and understand that I have many servants and messengers whom I could charge with the delivery of my message. But it is altogether necessary that you should be the one to undertake this mission and that it be through your mediation and assistance that my wish should be accomplished. I urge you to go to the Bishop again tomorrow. Tell him in my name and make him fully understand my disposition, that he should undertake the erection of the teocalli (temple) for which I ask. And repeat to him that it is I in person, the ever Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, who send you.” Mary didn’t strictly speaking need Juan Diego. She could have appeared to the Bishop himself. But she wanted to incorporate him in this saving mission, in this great harvest that would take place in the Americas. Likewise she wants to involve each of us, no matter how unqualified we feel or may in fact be. So after that second meeting with our Lady, Juan Diego went with trepidation to see the bishop a second time. He feared what the bishop’s overprotective servants might do to him. They greeted him with ill-concealed exasperation. He was told the bishop was busy with more important matters. He told them he was willing to wait — and did, for several hours in the frigid outdoor courtyard. When he finally met the bishop again, he repeated, with fervor and tears, the message of Our Lady entrusted to him. The bishop asked some questions. Though moved by Juan Diego’s sincerity, he wasn’t going to build a church in a desolate spot on the basis of one native’s unsubstantiated word. To test the message, the bishop asked him for a special secret sign from Our Lady. Juan Diego left at once to ask for the sign. Arriving back at Tepeyac, the Virgin told him to return the following day to receive the sign to bring the bishop. That sign turned out to be Castillian roses, which had not yet been introduced to Mexico, growing on the top of a stony hill in frigid December temperatures. Juan Diego was instructed to bring them back to the bishop in his tilma, or outer parka. When he returned to the bishop, as he opened up his tilma, the bishop saw the roses from his native Castille, the sign he was seeking. He and everyone else also saw something even more miraculous: some of the roses had melted into the tilma and produced the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: our Lady, dressed like a pregnant Aztec princess, was giving witness that she was ready to give birth to Christ among the Mexican people. St. Juan Diego’s tilma is now the most famous piece of clothing of all time. His outer garment became part of the message Our Lady had given him. His clothing became part of the mission and message he had been chosen as a laborer by the Master of the Harvest and by the mother of the Son of that Master.
  • All three parts of the triple dynamism of Advent, lived by St. Juan Diego, happen here at Mass. The Lord Jesus comes here to teach us, to proclaim his Good News, to heal us, to feed us, to quench our thirst. We come out to meet him, not because we have to, but because we want to, because we love him, because we know we need him, just like St. Juan Diego on his long morning treks. And it’s here that the Lord transforms us by his teaching in the Liturgy of the Word and by our communion with God-with-us in the Eucharist so that, at the end of Mass, he may send us forth to glorify the Lord by our life, to roll up our sleeves as laborers in his vineyard. Little did the twelve disciples know that when they were praying for laborers for the Lord’s harvest that Jesus would immediately respond by calling them by name. The Lord wants us to grasp that every time we’ve heeded his command to pray to the Harvest Master for workers, we haven’t just been praying for others, but we’ve been praying for ourselves. He’s called us here today in order to teach, heal and transform us so that, with his heart-filled compassion, we may go out and sow ourselves together with the One whose words and very Body and Blood will be sown in us today.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 is 30:19-21, 23-26

Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.
He will give rain for the seed
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
On the day of the great slaughter,
when the towers fall,
The light of the moon will be like that of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater
like the light of seven days.
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.

Responsorial Psalm ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (see Isaiah 30:18d) Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power:
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.

Alleluia Is 33:22

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The LORD is our Judge, our Lawgiver, our King;
he it is who will save us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel mt 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation:
‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”