31 August 2013

Homily - 1 September 2013

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

N.B.: A few minor changes have been made to the original text to emphasize a few points and to correct a few typographical errors.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today King David reminds us that God has made a home for the poor (cf. Psalm 68:11).  Looking around the world today - and since the time David composed these lines - the cynic, seeing so many poor and homeless among us, might well ask where this home is.  But this very question fails to understand the ways of the Lord, which are very much unlike our own (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

We should first consider who it is who is poor, that is, of whom did David speak when he spoke of the poor?  They are the widows and the orphans, the forsaken and the imprisoned, those who are dependent on others (cf. Psalm 68:6-7).  Yet we know the Lord’s mercy is not reserved only for these four particular groups because in the Book of Sirach we are instructed to “humble [ourselves] the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God” (Sirach 3:17-18).  The humble, then, can also be counted among the poor, among the poor in spirit because “the kingdom of heaven is [theirs]” (Matthew 5:3).

To be poor isn't, in and of itself, sufficient to enter into the home made by the Lord.  It is the humble who find favor with God and it is quite possible to be poor and yet arrogant, just as it is possible to be rich and humble.  Certainly each of us can be humble, each of us can acknowledge our dependence on the Lord, each of us can find favor with God; if this is so, each of us can also receive a home from the Lord.  How, then, do we become humble?  How do we receive this home?

Saint Francis of Assisi can serve as our guide and a ready model to follow because he spent so much time in prayer before the Crucifix of San Damiano seeking the Lord's direction for his life.  Il Poverello composed this simple prayer:

Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me, Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out Your holy and true command.[1]

In these simple and yet profound words, Saint Francis reveals the humility of his heart.  He recognizes that he is a sinner who does not have all of the answers and who is in need of conversion; in short, he acknowledges that he is dependent on the Lord.

It was his experience before the Cross that allowed Saint Francis to recognize that, as he said, "Blessed is the servant who esteems himself no better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and despicable; for what a man is before God, that he is and nothing more," a maxim he never tired of repeating to all who would listen.[2]  Are we willing to hear his words?  Are we willing to acknowledge that we, too, are only what we are before God and nothing more?  Are we willing to acknowledge that we are dependent entirely on God?

We spend so much of our lives telling ourselves that we are more important, more talented, more gifted than we really are.  In the end, we run the risk of believing our delusions of grandeur and of thinking the world simply cannot go on without us.  In stark contrast to this, Saint Francis shows us the way of authentic humility, the way of looking at ourselves without deceit.  In one of his admonitions, he boldly proclaimed:

Be conscious, O man, of the wondrous state in which the Lord God has placed you and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body, and to His likeness according to the spirit.  And [yet] all the creatures under heaven, each according to its nature, serve, know, and obey their Creator better than you.  And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you together with them have crucified Him and crucify Him even now by delighting in vices and sins.[3]

We cringe at these words because we do not want to acknowledge "that nothing belongs to us except our vices and sins.”[4]  Standing before God, beholding his glory, gazing upon his holiness, and seeing the loveliness of his face, how can we not see our own sinfulness and the fact that we are not always very lovely? 

All of this Saint Francis saw in the image of Crucified Love, but he also saw something more: he saw the depths of the Lord's mercy for all who embrace a life of penance and embark on the journey of conversion.  Of these disciples, Saint Francis said, "we have nothing else to do except to follow the will of the Lord and to please him."[5]  The way of humility is found in the following of this path that Saint Francis trod so very well, "to follow the teaching and the footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ."[6]

Now that we have seen the way to become humble, to become poor, we can ask what home the Lord has made for the poor.  Some light can be shed on this question by looking to the example of the Lord, who said of himself: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matthew 8:20).  Given his lack of concern for a home of his own, it would seem odd for him "who was a poor man and a transient and lived on alms" to be overly concerned about homes for others.[7]  What, then, does the Psalmist mean?  Where – or, better, what – is this home for the poor?

King David hints at our answer when he sings, “The father of orphans and the defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:6).  In the mind of David, God’s dwelling is his Temple in Jerusalem, for in another Psalm, he sang, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:1-2).  Yet the Temple in Jerusalem can only be an image, a foreshadowing, of the true dwelling place of God because the Son of Man declared with great solemnity, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John2:19).  Saint John explains these words of the Lord when he says, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21).  So, then, the home for the poor made by the Lord is not the Temple, but is Christ himself.  How can this be?  How do the poor enter this home, and what do they find therein?

The son of David, King Solomon, hints at the entry into this hidden home when he sings of a dove who makes its home in the clefts of a rock: “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cave, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Songof Songs, 2:14).  As the dove makes its home in the openings of the cliffs, so we are called to make our home in the openings in the Lord’s body.  What do I mean? 

When the Risen Lord showed himself to the Apostle Thomas, he said to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe” (John 20:27).  The Savior was not simply inviting Thomas to curiously examine the holes of the nails, to verify their existence in some scientific, disinterested way, but to enter into them, to make his home in them and to find in them the peace that only the Lord can give (cf. John 14:27). 

Reflecting on this encounter between the Master and his Apostle, Saint Anthony of Padua offered four reasons why the Lord revealed his wounds to the Apostles:

First, to show that he had truly risen, and to take away from us all doubtfulness. Second, so that the dove (the Church or the faithful soul) might build her nest in his wounds, as in the clefts of the rock, and hide from the eyes of the hawk that schemes to catch her. Third, to print the signs of his Passion as seals upon our hearts. Fourth, to ask us to share in sufferings, and never again to crucify him with the nails of sin.[8]

Like that dove, Saint Francis so greatly desired to make his home in the Lord's wounds, in the poignant and constant reminders of the depths of his love for us, that two years before he died he asked two favors from the Lord:
…the first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, that pain which You, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of Your most bitter passion.  The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, that excessive love with which You, O Son of God, were inflamed in willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners.[9]
So it was that he received the grace of the Stigmata, so beautifully depicted for us in this basilica by Giotto; so fully had he entered into the wounds of his Lord and made in them his home that he became the image of Christ, both in his body and in his spirit.

Each of us is called by the Lord to imitate Saint Francis in this way; we, too, are invited not simply to inspect the wounds of the Savior, but to plunge ourselves into them.  Jesus says to us, “Come, feel my wounds, for my mercy is tangible. Come, see the wound in my side from where my love flowed out for you, for my mercy is visible. Come, take shelter within my wounds and let my love and mercy wash over you and surround you and give you peace.”  We can have confidence that the home made by the Lord for the poor is found in His wounds because King David also sang to God, “Blessed the man who finds refuge in you, in their hearts are pilgrim roads” (Psalm 84:6).

Dear friends, as we seek to enter into the mystery of the Lord’s love for us with great humility, following after Saint Francis, let us strive to heed these words of The Poverello: “Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.”[10]  In this way, may we live in humility and so find favor with God in the home he has prepared for us.  Amen.

[1] Saint Francis of Assisi, The Prayer Before the Crucifix.  In Francis and Clare: The Complete Writings.  Regis J. Armstrong, et al, eds.  (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1982), 103-104.
[2] Saint Francis of Assisi, Admonitions, XIX.1-2.  In ibid., 33.
[3] Ibid., V.1-3.  In ibid., 29.
[4] Saint Francis of Assisi, The Earlier Rule, XVII.7.  In ibid., 123.
[5] Ibid., XXII,9.  In ibid., 127.
[6] Ibid., I.1  In ibid., 109.
[7] Ibid., IX.5  In ibid., 117.
[8] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the First Sunday After Easter, 8.
[9] Saint Francis of Assisi, in The Little Flowers of St. Francis, 190-191.
[10] Saint Francis of Assisi, A Letter to the Entire Order, 29.  In Francis and Clare, 58.


  1. Excellent homily! It truly feeds my Franciscan heart. The prayer before the cross is a favorite of mine.
    Did you ever think of becoming a secular Franciscan? Diocesan priests can do that...

    1. Yes, I have, often. In the past, though, timing wouldn't allow it to happen. While I am in Rome I hope it will be possible.