A Call to Poverty, Freedom, Humility, Love and Joy
(The following homily was given by Sean Cardinal O'Malley on Saturday, May 20, 2006, at the profession of four Franciscan Friars of the Primitive Observance. Cardinal O'Malley has given his permission to the Confraternity of Penitents to reproduce the text of this homily in the CFP Penance Library).
What a wonderful occasion to come together to celebrate the witness of this profession ceremony! Each time we witness a profession ceremony, it's a time for all of us to renew our own promises to God--promises of our baptism, our confirmation, our wedding, our religious profession. It is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to be renewed as we witness this
very great act of faith and of generosity. I want to congratulate the family, friends, all of those who have been so supportive with their prayers, example, and good works, of these young men. Thank you for encouraging and supporting their vocations.
When I was bishop in Florida for a short time, I asked one of the pastors how large his church was. He said, "Bishop, my church sleeps six hundred." The first reading of today (1 Samuel 3: 1-10) I always found very consoling as we realize that God has His finger on us while we are sleeping. God spoke to Samuel while he was still sleeping. The first reading says, "During the time young Samuel was minister to the Lord under Eli, a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent." Today I believe that we can say the same thing. But we can also say what is also in this reading-- "The lamp of God was not yet extinguished." God keeps calling. And, as in Samuel's case, He calls over and over again. But some of us, like Samuel, don't listen the first time. But we also see how other people can help us distinguish and discern that call just as Samuel was aided by Eli. Samuel's great response when he finally realizes Who is being called by is "Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening."
In the second reading of today, St. Paul reminds us that God doesn't call the rich and famous. "Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). God calls the ordinary. He calls the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong. He calls the apostles from the world of work. They were fishermen. I would say they were lousy fishermen. They never seemed to catch anything unless Jesus told them when and where to catch the fish. Jesus called Eli, the tax collector. He called Saul, the persecutor of the Church. Yes, God sometimes calls the most unlikely subjects.
Today's gospel (Matthew 19: 18-30) shows us the story of a vocation that was refused. This rich young man goes to Jesus. He is asking the right questions. He's asking the right person. But when he gets the right answer, he doesn't know what to do. Jesus says, "Keep the commandments." The young man says, "All these I have observed from my youth." What wonderful faith! I daresay that many young people today wouldn't be able to ask the right question, wouldn't be concerned about "What do I have to do to gain eternal life?" If Jesus said, "Obey the commandments," many young people today wouldn't know what those commandments were let alone could they say, "I have observed these from my youth." But that's the kind of man that we see in the Gospel. Other Gospels say that Jesus looked on the young man with affection because he was a good person. He was searching, and he wanted to do the right thing But then Jesus tells him. "One thing is lacking. Go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor. And then come and follow Me."
One thing is lacking. Go and sell what you have. Give it to the poor. Saint Francis of Assisi knew very well that what we give to the poor, we are giving to Christ. The poor, the suffering, the sick, the outcast, are especially references to Christ Who said, "Whatever you do for one of these, you are doing for Me." One thing that was lacking to the rich young man was love. Poverty, for Francis, wasn't just an economic condition. Poverty for Francis was freedom. It was the freedom to be able to leave behind whatever stood in the way of following Jesus up close. The reason that freedom is so important for us is because it's our capacity to love that is at stake. The fruit of that freedom is love. For Francis, Lady Poverty was that kind of freedom. The rich young man in the Gospel was not free. His possessions were owner. His heart was where his treasure was, and that was what was the matter.
For Francis, poverty was also humility. Jesus was born in poverty and humility in Bethlehem. Jesus said, "Learn of me for I am humble and meek of heart." Jesus Who lived in Nazareth, in obscurity. Jesus Who teaches us to seek the last place at table, to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters.
For Francis, poverty, besides being freedom, besides being humility, is also love, becoming whole for the sake of the beloved. Jesus, Who emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave, becoming obedient unto death, even to death on a cross, did all for love of us. Jesus reduces the whole Decalogue to love in today's Gospel after Jesus enumerates the commandments "You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother", He adds, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 19: 18-19) It's all summed up in love.
And certainly for Francis, this means suffering love. The call to live the Gospel life is to live intensely the new commandment. The new commandment that Jesus gives us is "love one another as I have loved you." Now Jesus is the measuring stick. The great commandment is "Love your neighbor as yourself." But Jesus says to His disciples at the Last Supper, "Love one another as I have loved you." Jesus is the measuring stick.
How does Jesus love us?
He loves us to the end. He loves us while we are still in sin. His love is unconditional. His love is total. "Greater love has no one than that he lay down his life for his friend." That's the kind of love that Jesus has for us. And in a very special way, it's the kind of love that Francis says we brothers must have for each other so that we can be the sign to the world. We are brothers. God has not given us twins. He has given us brothers. That very special fraternal love that we have for each other is a sign of hope in the world that is so hungry for peace. You are embarking on a difficult journey of faith in your religious consecration. You must live this Gospel ideally in the footsteps of Christ, being men of prayer, men who blend their faith with love. Yours must be a life of love and devotion to God and others, a life of humility of disciples but also a life of love and of joy. The rich young man went away sad. St. Francis stayed and was filled with joy.