Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Gertrude the Great
November 16, 2016
Rev 4:1-11, Ps 150, Lk 19:11-28
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we approach the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, it’s key for us to finish strong by looking at the readings from within the prism of God’s mercy toward us and the transformation it’s supposed to cause in us ontologically and morally. Today’s readings and feast focus on an important aspect of that transformation and points to how we’re supposed to respond to divine mercy as well as to the gift of time we have to grow in praise of the Lord for his mercy and to pay it forward. Let’s see how in today’s readings.
- Today in the Gospel we have the Parable of the Coins (on Minas), which is similar to that of the Talents, but the main difference is in this Parable, everyone gets the same investment on the part of the Lord. One multiplies it by 10, another by 5, 7 we don’t know about, and the tenth buries it. Whereas with the Parable of the Talents, often we can focus on how many talents we have relative to others, today’s Parable has us focus on the fact that the greatest gifts we’ve received, to a large degree we have received equally with others: the gift of our life, the gift of time, the gift of redemption, for us as Catholics, the gift of God’s word, the gift of the Sacraments, the gift of so many opportunities for charity. How are we investing those? Are we bearing great dividends from them? How are we planning to invest the gift of this day for loving God and others? How are we investing the fruits of this Jubilee? We all know that there are some people who really profit from these common gifts and others who place them in handkerchiefs. Most of us would give the Lord somewhere between numbers 1 and 10. But the Lord wants to teach us how to bear great dividends.
- Before we move on, let’s first handle a couple of things for the setting of the Parable. The first is about life in general. Jesus told the people the Parable “because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” The Parable of the Coins was given to help people know why the Kingdom of God wasn’t going to appear immediately, or, rather, how the Kingdom among them, as it awaits fulfillment, is a place in which people are growing the kingdom by investing the King’s gifts. How important this point is for us to grasp: that time is a time of investing for the kingdom. The second introductory point involves the setting of the story, which involves history known very well to Jesus’ listeners but not to people today. Jesus was taking advantage of the well-known story of how after King Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided into three parts, but each needed to go to Rome to be confirmed by the emperor in the kingship. The king of Judah, Herod Archelaus, went to Rome but the people sent a delegation saying that they didn’t want him as king. The emperor confirmed him without the title king — he named him tetrarch — and upon the return, Archelaus executed those who didn’t want him to be king. In this month of November, in which we meditate on death and judgment, there’s a spiritual equivalent for those who don’t want to accept God as King. He doesn’t punish or slay them because in a sense he doesn’t have to: they’re already spiritually dead. Hell is not merciless but merciful, for as CS Lewis once said, there are only two types of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” Hell is for those who want self-separation, and choose it continually through their choices, and those are the ones who won’t be in the kingdom.
- Let’s get into the heart of the Parable and what Jesus is teaching. Jesus gives the ten servants a treasure of a gold coin. The coin is actually a mina, which is one-sixtieth of a Talent. Since a talent was 10,000 days wages, a Mina is 167 days wages or half a year’s salary or for someone making $40,000 a year about $18,264, not an enormous sum but substantial enough. Those entrusted by the King with this Mina make different yields: the first one makes ten, the second five, and the last just conceals the coin in a handkerchief. We don’t know what the other seven did. We see the incredible reward given to those who proved themselves trustworthy in these little matters, the one who made ten — about $180,000, or just short of five years’ work — was entrusted with ten cities and the one who made five with five cities. But then in each parable we encounter someone who out of fear refused to invest the coin. In St. Matthew’s Parable of the Talents, the Master called the one who buried the talent a “wicked, lazy servant.” Today the king says, “With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant.” It would have been interesting if Jesus had given us the example of a servant who had tried to make a profit but actually lost money. My hunch is that the King and Master would have treated that servant rather well, since that would have been a result of bad luck or bad training. He may have been an incompetent servant or an unfortunate one, but he wouldn’t been lazy and wicked. The Lord is not necessarily asking us to be successful, but he certainly is asking us to make the effort. But in the case of the wicked servant, the lazy servant, his problem was his fear. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant” and for that reason he kept it in a handkerchief. His fear lead to his laziness and led to his vice. Jesus, on the other hand, is encouraging us not to be afraid to take risks, to invest what he’s given us. He has made us in his image and we see in the Parable that God reaps where he doesn’t sow, taking the risk even of giving us freedom. He wants us to do the same. But fear cripples us and is not of God. We need to have the courage to put all that God has given us at the service of him and others, not comparing ourselves to those who are making more or less, just doing the best we can. The reality is, from God’s perspective, that when we get to the most important talents or gold coin involved in life, it seems that it’s impossible not to “make a profit” if we actually make the effort to “trade” with it in life. The most important talent of all, as we pondered at length on Sunday, is God himself. We have the ability to pray to him and be guided each day, to enter into his life in the Sacraments, to enflesh his word in Sacred Scripture, to be strengthened by his Body the Church (the communion of saints in heaven, the presence of a family of faith here on earth, and the instruction of the magisterium), and to serve him in others. If we make the effort here, we will bear great dividends. Jesus promised us about prayer that the one who seeks finds, the one who asks receives and the one who knocks has the door opened. We could say that the one who invests God spiritually reaps a spiritual windfall. But we have to invest that relationship. The more we invest, the more we receive God’s guidance, the more we really allow him to transform us in sacramental encounters, the more we insert ourselves into the communion of holiness and charity, the more fruit we’ll bear. Particularly in this Jubilee of Mercy, we need to receive the gold coin of God’s mercy and then invest it, seeking to bear dividends through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
- The first reading, the Psalm, and today’s feast of St. Gertrude help us to learn how to invest the gift of our time in the most important “market” of all. They all concern prayer, and especially about the most important form of prayer which is praise, adoration and blessing. Many times when we think of prayer we think first or sometimes exclusively about prayer of petition and intercession, asking God for things for ourselves or for others. But this is just a small part of prayer. We occasionally think about prayers of contrition, such as when we cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” As we approach the Feast of Thanksgiving next week, we can recall the importance of prayers of gratitude. But the most important part of prayer is prayer of praise, because in that type of prayer we’re essentially telling God how much we love him without any direct reference to ourselves, whether in gratitude for what he’s given us, in sorrow for what we’ve done wrong, or in request of what we or others need. Prayer of Praise is the most pure form of prayer because it’s focused essentially on God. In the Book of Revelation, we see what St. John witnessed in his vision when he looked through the open door of heaven and was shown what would happen. He saw God on his throne not appearing like a man but shining in complete radiance, sparkling like jasper, carnelian and an emerald halo. Around his thrown were 24 elders, who could represent the 12 major prophets and 12 apostles, or 12 tribes and 12 gentiles, but who represent basically everyone in heaven. Then there was a vision of the “four living creatures” with eyes in front and back for the beatific vision, seeing God from all angles. The first resembled a lion, the second an ox, the third had the face like a man and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. These have been seen on the one hand as the pinnacle of creation — the lion is the king of beasts, the ox the sum of sacrifices, the eagle the lord of the air, and the human person, the summit of all of creation — or, taking from St. Ireneaeus’ second century reflections, the four Gospel writers, Mark (the lion, because he begins with Jesus’ royal proclamation as the Son of David and son of God), Luke (the ox because of the presence of ox and ass at Jesus’ birth), John (the eagle because of the soaring theology in his Gospel) and Matthew (the man with the face of an angel, because of his focus on Jesus as the Son of Man and all of the angels presence from the Nativity scene to the Garden of Gethsemane in his Gospel). I prefer the latter interpretation. We see that “whenever the four living creatures give glory and honor” to God, exclaiming, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty,” the 24 elders all fall down before him, worship him, throw down their crowns and say, “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they came to be and were made.” St. John saw the Gospel writers praising God and then all the Jews and Gentiles, all the prophets and apostles, joined in that adoration and blessing. It’s key for us to invest the gold coin of this type of praise and adoration of the Lord. The Gospels still proclaim God’s glory and honor and power. We normally respond to them saying, “Thanks be to God,” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” and simply “Alleluia!,” which means, “Praise the Lord.” But sometimes those words come off our lips without the wonder and enthusiasm that doubtless marks the four living creatures and the 24 elders. We sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts,” but without the passion and piety of the angels. Many of us don’t invest ourselves in this the way those on fire with love of God do, which is one of the reasons why our prayer, our assistance at Mass, our reception of Confession, our membership in the Church, our reading of the Word of God, our service to God’s people do not bear as much fruit in us as they do in others. In response to the first reading, the last Psalm in the Psalter not only tells us how to praise God with all the instruments we have, but helps us to do so as we say the words: “Praise the Lord in his sanctuary, praise him in the firmament of his strength, praise him for his mighty deeds, praise him for his sovereign majesty. Praise him with the blast of the trumpet, praise him with lyre and harp, praise him with timbrel and dance, praise him with strings and pipe. Praise him with sounding cymbals, praise him with clanging cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluia.” One of the most important ways for us to invest ourselves more in the praise of God is actually to use the words of this Psalm, to use the words of the four living creatures, to use the phrases from the 24 elders. The Psalm and the words of Revelation teach us how to praise and worship God, how to enter more intimately into the very life of heaven, which is the most lasting investment of all, and prepares us for eternity.
- In terms of learning how to invest the gift of our time in prayer of worship to God we have a great teacher in St. Gertrude the Great whom the Church celebrates today. St. Gertrude was brought to the Monastery led by saints at a very early age, either for her education or because she was orphaned. She would spend the rest of her life there. She was an extraordinary student, who learned everything that she could in the classical formation of the day, throwing herself into profane subjects and to literature, music, song and art. She was surrounded by holy nuns, but wasn’t profiting. After 20 years of study and of sharing in their liturgical prayer, she began to recognize she had been keeping in a handkerchief the greatest gifts and giving herself over much of the time to vanities. In 1280, when she was in her mid-20s, the Lord illumined her to see that she was basically living in a worldly way but that Jesus would take her by the hand to lead her to holiness. And from that point forward, she so invested the gift of the Lord’s grace that she continues to bear fruit seven-plus centuries later. Her conversion involved a different type of study, passing from profane humanistic studies to the study of theology, and a different type of obedience, from negligence to intense mystical prayer coupled to a zeal for the salvation of all. She wrote in her Spiritual Exercises something that pointed to how, post-conversion, she wanted to use the gifts God had given her: “I have so little profited from your graces that I cannot resolve to believe that they were lavished upon me solely for my own use, since no one can thwart your eternal wisdom. Therefore, O Giver of every good thing who has freely lavished upon me gifts so undeserved, in order that, in reading this, the heart of at least one of your friends may be moved at the thought that zeal for souls has induced you to leave such a priceless gem for so long in the abominable mud of my heart.” Pope Benedict, when he gave a Catecheses on her life (October 6, 2010) said, “St Gertrude’s life lives on as a lesson of Christian life, of an upright path, and shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus.” And he described the coins she had invested: “This friendship is learned in love for Sacred Scripture, in love for the Liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life.” We ask her to pray for us that we may invest with the same holy abandon from the point of our conversion today.
- St. Gertude is famous for her prayer for the holy souls in Purgatory, for whom the Church prays with particular insistence in the month of November. Like what Jesus revealed to St. Faustina in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, St. Gertrude’s prayer, inspired by the same Lord, is similarly Eucharistic. “Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.: Today we come to Mass to offer the Eternal Father his divine Son’s precious blood and body, let us listen anew to the four living creatures who have spoken to us of Christ who is worthy of all praise. The liturgy of the Word we fund in Revelation leads to the liturgy of the Eucharist where together with them we will pray, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Let us fall down with all the elders and say to God, “Worthy are you to receive glory and honor and power!” Worthy are you to receive praise in your sanctuary, in the firmament of your strength, for your mighty deeds and sovereign majesty, with the blast of the trumpet, with lyre and harp, timbrel and dance, strings and pipe, and clanging cymbals. Let not only everything that has breath praise the Lord, but let us use all our breath to praise him. Let us invest this Mass in such a way that Jesus will say to us, “Well done, good servant!,” and give us not ten cities but the celestial Jerusalem!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 4:1-11
and I heard the trumpetlike voice
that had spoken to me before, saying,
“Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.”
At once I was caught up in spirit.
A throne was there in heaven, and on the throne sat one
whose appearance sparkled like jasper and carnelian.
Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an emerald.
Surrounding the throne I saw twenty-four other thrones
on which twenty-four elders sat,
dressed in white garments and with gold crowns on their heads.
From the throne came flashes of lightning,
rumblings, and peals of thunder.
Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne,
which are the seven spirits of God.
In front of the throne was something that resembled
a sea of glass like crystal.In the center and around the throne,
there were four living creatures
covered with eyes in front and in back.
The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf,
the third had a face like that of a man,
and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight.
The four living creatures, each of them with six wings,
were covered with eyes inside and out.
Day and night they do not stop exclaiming:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks
to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
the twenty-four elders fall down
before the one who sits on the throne
and worship him, who lives forever and ever.
They throw down their crowns before the throne, exclaiming:
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created.”
Responsorial Psalm ps 150:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6
Praise the LORD in his sanctuary,
praise him in the firmament of his strength.
Praise him for his mighty deeds,
praise him for his sovereign majesty.
R. Holy, holy, holy Lord, mighty God!
Praise him with the blast of the trumpet,
praise him with lyre and harp,
Praise him with timbrel and dance,
praise him with strings and pipe.
R. Holy, holy, holy Lord, mighty God!
Praise him with sounding cymbals,
praise him with clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD! Alleluia.
R. Holy, holy, holy Lord, mighty God!
Gospel lk 19:11-28
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.