Consoling the New Jerusalem — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

This word of the Lord regarding Jerusalem was spoken through the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading:

“Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her! For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.”

When reading Old Testament prophesies, the tone can really widely vary. Depending upon the particular century, the Lord’s message directed towards Jerusalem or the Israelites can be consoling, encouraging, promising good things to come; or denouncing, woeful, declaring punishments to follow. I find it really difficult to place our country and our present time amongst these Old Testament messages. I can imagine the people of our land being pleasing the Lord in many respects and I can see us meriting his correcting chastisement for other reasons. So do the consoling words of Isaiah apply to us? Let me explain how I think that they can.

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem, the holy city, was the place of God’s temple, his dwelling place on earth. But in 70 A.D., the Romans sieged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple leaving not one stone upon another, as Jesus had proselytized and foretold. In New Testament times, Jesus is the Temple. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells a crowd, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” and John notes Jesus “speaking about the temple of his body.” The Body of Christ is the New Temple. The Christian understanding of Jerusalem changes, too. In the Book of Revelation, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John hears a loud voice from the throne say, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.” So the New Temple is the Body of Christ. And the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ. Where is the Body of Christ now and where is his Bride? As New Testament Scriptures tell us, they are present on earth and in Heaven, as his Holy Church.

There are wounds and sufferings in the Body of Christ. This was personally true for Jesus on earth, and it is true for his members. In our second reading, St. Paul writes: “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Paul composed his letter in Greek, and here the Greek word for “marks” is literally “stigmata.” In the ancient world, slaves and devotees of pagan deities were often branded by marks called “stigmata” to indicate to whom they belonged, who they served or who was their god. In a Christian context, “stigmata” has come to mean the miraculous sign or gift of receiving the wounds of Christ, in one’s hands, feet, or side. St. Francis of Assisi experienced the stigmata near the end of his life, and St. Padre Pio bore Christ’s wounds in his hands for fifty years. But what St. Paul is describing in this passage is not necessarily that. In 2nd Corinthians, he enumerates the sufferings he had endured: “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned…” St. Paul greatly suffered in Christ, but many wounds are not physical.

I hate that wolves in sheep’s clothing have hurt and scarred members of the Body of Christ, the Church. I hate that the Bride of Christ I love is denounced as something evil. Perhaps it has never been easy to be a Catholic, but it is hard to be a Catholic today. How are we going to respond? In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Beg the master of the harvest [that is, God his Father] to send laborers into his harvest.” In other words, we should ask God to raise up saints. In the worst and hardest times in Church history, God has supplied holy saints. And he still lifts up saints in our modern times as well.

In the year 2010, a baby boy was born in Illinois with neither breath nor pulse. The parents prayed for the intercession of another native son of Illinois. That man had grown up in El Paso, Illinois, become a priest and eventually an archbishop, was an excellent preacher and author, and even won an Emmy for his highly-rated, prime-time, national TV show called “Life is Worth Living.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died in 1979, but after praying for his help in saving their son’s life, after sixty-one minutes of no signs of life, their boy began to breathe and show a pulse. Today, James Fulton Engstrom is a fully healthy eight-year-old, and yesterday the Vatican officially announced that his inexplicable healing was a miracle, which clears the way for Archbishop’s Sheen’s beatification in the near future.

Fulton Sheen was a twentieth century saint, but God desires to raise up twenty-first century saints as well. And not just among others elsewhere, but among we ourselves. You and I likely never be beatified or canonized, but we are all called to be saints because we are all called to Heaven, and to begin living the life of Heaven here and now.

Notice how in today’s gospel, Jesus does not send out his missionaries one-by-one but in pairs. He told them to stick together, “stay in the same house.” Why? He wanted them to be a help, encouragements to each other, to be faithful and fruitful. Likewise, we have the fellowship of one another to help us become saints. And we have holy friends who know and love us to help us, the saints in Heaven. And we have our greatest friend who provides the means for our sanctification in himself, Jesus Christ. Let us become saints together. Then the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled among us. All who were mourning over Jerusalem will exult and all who love her will rejoice. In holiness the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants. And we will be comforted and flourish, in the New Jerusalem here on earth and in Heaven without end.

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