Nineteenth Sunday of the Year C
Psalm 32: 1 & 12, 18-19, 20 & 22 (R. 12b)
Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19
Luke 12: 32-28 or 35-40
The Liturgy Begins With What is Given
For every Sunday Throughout the Year of Years A, B, and C, the Liturgy of the Hours gives us three antiphons taken from the Gospel: one for the Magnificat at First Vespers, one for the Benedictus, and one for the Magnificat at Second Vespers. Some see in the variety of antiphons given an embarrassment of riches: more than any one choir can master, more than one heart can take in. These subjective appreciations are beside the point; the liturgy begins with what is given. Wisdom begins with our acceptance of the objective givenness of the liturgy; with that acceptance comes the taste of the things of the God, foretaste of the Kingdom.
Note: Nine Gospel antiphons are given for each Sunday of the Time Throughout the Year: three each, destined to be sung at the Magnificat I, the Benedictus, and the Magnificat II for Years A, B, and C. The editors of the American version of the Liturgy of the Hours reduced the nine antiphons to three, thereby deconstructing the magnificent biblical and liturgical harmonics intended by the Church.
The Manifold Mystery of Christ
The Gospel Antiphons of the Divine Office are carefully selected and crafted. Their Gregorian musical expression unlocks for us the hidden meaning of the texts. Like all sacramentals — for that is what the antiphons are — they are a way into the manifold mystery of Christ, mystical portals opening onto the light. Let us then enter today’s Gospel by passing, in succession, through each of this Sunday’s three Gospel Antiphons.
Treasure and Heart
At First Vespers, the Magnificat antiphon was: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, says the Lord” (Lk 12:34). Immediately, we are obliged to ask ourselves hard questions, incisive questions. Where is my treasure? There is my heart. What do I want above all else? There is my heart. What do I cherish? There is my heart. What things do I protect? There is my heart. For what thing or things am I willing to suffer? There is my heart. In what thing or things have I invested myself, my energy, my talents, and my time . . . especially my time? There is my heart.
At some level, sin, all sin, has to do with investing our heart in things not worthy of it. This can only bring unhappiness. Sin makes us miserable; virtue makes us happy. God created the human heart to be satisfied by nothing less than Himself. If we cannot say to God, “Thou art my treasure., my happiness lies in Thee alone” (cf. Ps 15;2), we can at least begin by saying, “Be Thou alone, Lord Jesus, the treasure of my heart. Be Thou alone my happiness.” Such a prayer is pleasing to God and, if we risk praying it and persevere in doing so, God will lead us by a path of stripping and poverty of spirit to the fullness of joy, to that perfect joy celebrated by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Watching and Waiting
At the Benedictus, the antiphon was, “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes and knocks at the door, shall find watching” (cf. Lk 12:36-37). I said last Tuesday that, with the feast of the Transfiguration, the Church has entered into her harvest season, into a focus on the final things and the gathering-in of the Kingdom. This antiphon, with its eschatological accent, might well serve for the last Sundays of the year or even for Advent. It evokes an image from the Apocalypse: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Ap 3:20). We are called to vigilance. For what or for whom does your heart keep vigil? For whom are you willing to wait? For whom are you willing to unlock the door of your heart?
Girded Loins and Burning Lamps
Finally, at Second Vespers, the Magnificat antiphon will be: “Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands” (Lk 12:35). The Sunday liturgy will close at Second Vespers, but not before having given us this watchword. We gird our loins, tighten our cinctures, and lift up our garments in order to be able to move more freely, in order to be able to run. This is a very Benedictine way of understanding the Christian life. Holy Father Benedict says, “Let us therefore make for ourselves a girdle out of faith and perseverance in good works, and under the guidance of the Gospel let us pursue our way in his paths, so that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his Kingdom. For if we wish to make our home in the dwelling-place of his Kingdom, there will be no getting there unless we run towards it by good deeds” (RB Pro: 21-22). Saint Clare of Assisi, whom we celebrated yesterday, reveals a similar vision of the Christian life when, writing to Saint Agnes of Prague, she says: “With swift pace, light step, unswerving feet, so that even your steps stir up no dust, may you go forward securely, joyfully, and swiftly.”
The burning lamps of the antiphon evoke the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) and oblige us to ask more questions. Is there oil in my lamp, and have I oil in reserve? Am I waiting for the Bridegroom? Am I ready to run to meet him when he comes? Will the things with which I have surrounded myself prevent me from running quickly? Will I have at the ready a lamp to guide my feet, or will I stumble in the darkness?
Fulfilled in the Eucharist
These three gospel antiphons, the first sung at the Magnificat of First Vespers, the second at the Benedictus of Sunday Lauds, and the third at the Magnificat of Second Vespers of Sunday, form the context for today’s Holy Mass. Each one points to the Eucharist and reflects it. Saturday evening’s antiphon sings that in the Eucharist is the abiding, imperishable treasure of our hearts. Sunday morning’s antiphon reveals the Eucharist as the mystery of Christ knocking at the door, entering, and serving at table those whom he finds watching. Sunday evening’s antiphon recalls that the Eucharist is the Passover banquet of those who eat “standing, with girded loins and shoes on their feet” (cf. Ex 12:11).
Come, Lord Jesus!
Christ calls us to set our hearts upon Him. He waits for us to claim His pierced Heart as the treasure of our hearts. Coming in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist, He waits for us to open to Him. It is time to hasten forward with girded loins and lighted lamps, for “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” (Rev 22:17). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.