Woe or Welcome, Fifteenth Tuesday (I), July 14, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
July 14, 2015
Ex 2:1-15, Ps 95, Mt 11:20-24

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we finished a week-long examination of the instructions Jesus gave to the Twelve before he sent them out and we mentioned as an aside that after he had “finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.” Jesus himself went out to preach. He went out to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand and therefore it was essential to repent and believe. He went out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons. He went out without  gold or silver or copper for his belt, with no sack for the journey, no second tunic, sandals, walking stick. He went out as a Lamb among wolves, as wise as a serpent and as pure as a dove, wishing peace upon all those who met him. And as we pondered yesterday, what he looking for above all was welcome. He was seeking those who could welcome him and in welcoming him welcome God the Father and the whole salvific mission. But he also had warned the twelve that they, like him, would encounter those who were hardened and unwelcoming.
  • Today Jesus preaches about three different places — Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum — that ultimately were unwelcoming to Jesus. On the surface, these were places that very much seemed to embrace Jesus. Capernaum during his public ministry was actually called his “home town,” his home base after departing from Nazareth. They were the cities where Jesus had worked so many of his miracles. Jesus had called his apostles from these towns, he had preached in these squares and synagogues, he had cast out demons, healed countless sick people, fed two multitudes with a few buns and sardines and yet, even though many were bringing him friends on stretchers and the whole town would be gathered at the door of the house where he was, they still hadn’t really welcomed him. The reason is because they had given welcome only to those parts of what Jesus was doing that had fit into their own categories. They weren’t really welcoming his message and mission. They weren’t really open to change. They had heard his words calling them to conversion, to a new way of life, to follow Jesus in big things and in small, and they responded not with open hearts but hardened ones.
  • That’s why Jesus today reproaches the towns for their lack of faith, comparing them negatively to Tyre and Sidon, the debauched metropoles of Phoenicia north of the Holy Land, and to Sodom, one the most notoriously sinful cities in history. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!,” Jesus said. “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” The word “woe” is not so much a word of anger but of crushed disappointment. It’s if he was saying, “What a tragedy, Chorazin and Bethsaida! What an absolute pity, Capernaum!”  Jesus had come to save them, and his deeds were physical manifestations of greater miracles he wanted to work in their souls, but they didn’t want to cooperate, they didn’t want want to change, they didn’t want to repent and believe.  He likewise said about Capernaum, “Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the nether world. For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Jesus had done so much there and yet the people were fundamentally unchanged. They just went on with their unredeemed life as normal.
  • It’s somewhat tempting for us to lament what happened in these towns along the Sea of Galilee, but we need to recognize that Jesus has done far greater deeds in New York than he ever did in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. What he did there was a just a taste of what he has done here. He teaches every day. He gives us in the Eucharist a far greater miracle than the multiple of the loaves and fish. He gives us in the Sacrament of Confession a much greater healing that the physical cures he worked there, as he not only exorcises the devil’s clutches from our souls but fills us with himself. But at the end of time will he praise us as a city of faith or will he say we haven’t repented and believed? We will say to each of us, “Woe” or will he say, “You welcomed me”? Today Jesus wants us to learn from what happened in these towns of Galilee and get right again what they got wrong. He wants us to embrace him and his message, to repent and believe in the Gospel, to begin to follow him from darkness into the light, to commence living in his kingdom, living a new life.
  • We have today two illustrations of the truths of this Gospel and what God can do when someone gives even the beginnings of a true welcome of him, his truth, his person. In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, we see the faith of an anonymous Levite woman, who out of love for God and love for her three-month old son, refused to expose him to death, but wanted to do all she could to save his life. She knew that Pharaoh’s command was evil. So entrusting herself to God, she made her baby boy a primitive boat of papyrus, bitumen and pitch and set him on the Nile, praying to God, as we invoked in the Psalm, that those who turned to him in need would live. Little did she know what God’s plans were for her son, that he would be the one who would set his people, subject now to slavery and genocide, free, that he would be the one to lead them back to the promised land, that he would become the greatest type ever of Jesus, the new Moses, who would lead all of us on the exodus from death to life. All she was doing was giving back to God the gift he had given her and that she had welcomed with her whole heart. In receiving Moses, she had received the one who had given Moses to her. Later we see how Moses was rescued. I would like to pause here, Sisters, just to mention the importance of this scene to your work, encouraging women not to obey those who tell them to allow their children to die, but strengthening them to give them to God. Often you play the role of the papyrus basket, of Moses’ sister, of the daughter of Pharaoh, and little do you know who these people saved from the river of blood will grow up to be. But you know that each of them was willed directly by God, that each of them has a role in God’s plans. In Moses’ case, the Lord would choose someone born under a death sentence, someone rescued from the river, someone who would become a murderer, someone who was not a very capable speaker, to rescue his people, because Moses himself had been rescued by God. He became a tangible witness to what God could do. And God would eventually pull all of his people from the waters of the Red Sea! Everything began, however, when one woman — in a context in which the Egyptians and many of her fellow Hebrews were not welcoming God in the person of the male children — actually did welcome and the miracles God was able to do through that one yes.
  • The second illustration we see in the saint whom the Church celebrates today, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a fellow New Yorker, a native American born in Auriesville, New York who was canonized by Pope Benedict three years ago. She was a Mohawk orphaned at a young age when smallpox decimated her village claiming the life of her parents and brother. She was raised by her uncle, the chief of the Turtle tribe, and two aunts, all of whom were fiercely resistant to Christianity. They sought to prevent her contact with the “black robes” (the Jesuit missionaries) — St. Isaac Jogues had died in their village just a decade before Kateri’s birth — and marry her off at a young age, but she had already been moved by a desire to give herself totally to God as a Christian. She sought instruction and baptism against the will of her uncle. In the midst of hardness all around her, she welcomed the Lord. Even though familial and tribal loyalties are incredibly strong among the native Americans, after her baptism at the age of 19, she needed to flee to Kahnawake, just south of Montreal, in order to love the Lord with all her mind, heart, soul and strength. There she dedicated herself to a life of prayer and mortification, adoring Jesus kneeling in the snow outside the Church before it would be opened early each morning and staying there until the last Mass was celebrated at night, sleeping on a bed of thorns in reparation for the sins of her tribe and for their conversion, caring for the sick and elderly. In worldly eyes, she was an insignificant, simple Indian with the residue of small pox on her face. But in her, because of her welcome, the Lord was working greater miracles than he did around the Sea of Galilee.
  • Today as we come forward the Lord wants to say about us, not “Woe” for our hardness of heart, for our lack of conversion, for our failure to repent, believe, and follow him. He wants to say, rather, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” He wants to say, “Not in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, not in Auriesville, Manhattan, or Fall River, have I found faith like yours!” Through the intercession of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, let us ask the Lord to give us the grace of total receptivity to his saving words and work, so that he may do in us and through us, no matter what our past, all the marvels he wishes!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Ex 2:1-15a

A certain man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman,
who conceived and bore a son.
Seeing that he was a goodly child, she hid him for three months.
When she could hide him no longer, she took a papyrus basket,
daubed it with bitumen and pitch,
and putting the child in it,
placed it among the reeds on the river bank.
His sister stationed herself at a distance
to find out what would happen to him.Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe,
while her maids walked along the river bank.
Noticing the basket among the reeds, she sent her handmaid to fetch it.
On opening it, she looked, and lo, there was a baby boy, crying!
She was moved with pity for him and said,
“It is one of the Hebrews’ children.”
Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter,
“Shall I go and call one of the Hebrew women
to nurse the child for you?”
“Yes, do so,” she answered.
So the maiden went and called the child’s own mother.
Pharaoh’s daughter said to her,
“Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will repay you.”
The woman therefore took the child and nursed it.
When the child grew, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter,
who adopted him as her son and called him Moses;
for she said, “I drew him out of the water.”On one occasion, after Moses had grown up,
when he visited his kinsmen and witnessed their forced labor,
he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own kinsmen.
Looking about and seeing no one,
he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
The next day he went out again, and now two Hebrews were fighting!
So he asked the culprit,
“Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?”
But the culprit replied,
“Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us?
Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Then Moses became afraid and thought,
“The affair must certainly be known.”Pharaoh, too, heard of the affair and sought to put Moses to death.
But Moses fled from him and stayed in the land of Midian.

Responsorial Psalm PS 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34

R. (see 33) Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
I am sunk in the abysmal swamp
where there is no foothold;
I have reached the watery depths;
the flood overwhelms me.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
But I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me;
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

Alleluia Ps 95:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
If today you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds had been done,
since they had not repented.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
And as for you, Capernaum:Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

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