Ordinary of the Mass
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Saint John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407) was the Bishop of Constantinople, that city
in in modern day Turkey that is known now as Istanbul. He is renowned as a
Doctor of the Church—one of the great teachers who produced explanations of
doctrine and holy Scripture. I was fortunate enough to come across his
commentary on today's Gospel, at least the part about the leaven, so I have to
give him credit for any good things I might say today. (He and one other
Saint John observed that the leaven is
very powerful, able to bring fermentation to a mass of dough three times its own
size. The leaven must be “hidden” in the dough, which is to say that the baker
kneads the leven and the dough, squeezing the two together with his hands in
order to mix them thoroughly. Then the dough is put into a dark and moist place
and allowed to sit for a time. During this time the yeast organism permeates
the dough so that the entire mass becomes leavened. If you take a portion of
the leavened dough, it is capable of leavening another three measures of
flour—the leaven is a living organism that grows as it does its job.
For Saint John, the first leaven of the
Church was, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ (although he does refer to some Old
Testament characters as the leaven of the Old Covenant). Our Lord, through the
good example of His holy life, was the leaven of the Apostles—and the Apostles,
in turn, spread the leaven of the Church throughout the known world.
Saint John asks the pointed question:
“If twelve men could leaven the whole world, why then cannot we leaven the
remainder? Since we are so many more, shouldn’t we be able to spread the Faith
to a thousand worlds?” He anticipates the likely answer—modern people will no
doubt protest that Jesus and the Apostles could work miracles; a great advantage
over those who cannot. He insists that the miracles had little or nothing to do
with the spreading of holiness.
John the Baptist “did no sign” yet many
were converted by him due to the truth of his preaching.
The Old Testament Elias did work some miracles toward the end of his life, but
his renown was in standing up to evil authorities, challenging the priests of
false religion, and in living a life of voluntary poverty filled with good
works. Job of the Old Testament did no miracles at all, but he astonished the
Devil himself with his upright life and ever-enduring patience. King David, and
the Fathers of the Jewish nation, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worked no miracles,
yet they were to prepared the way for Jesus Christ through their obedience.
God would even say of David: “I have
found David, the son of Jesse, a man according to my own heart, who shall do all
my wills. Of this man' s seed God … raised up to Israel a Savior, Jesus:”
John Chrysostom even goes so far as to
point out the divisiveness of some miracle working: He mentions Sint Paul’s
Corinthians who were filled with pride over the miraculous gifts they possessed
from the Holy Ghost.
Likewise the spiritual pride of his Romans.
And look at Simon the Magician of the Acts of the Apostles, who was so impressed
with the workings of the Holy Ghost that he tried to pay Peter for the power to
confer the Holy Ghost “But Peter said to him: Keep thy money to thyself,
to perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be
purchased with money.”
Simon has the awful distinction of having a sin named after him—simony!
Our Lord was far more concerned with
Peter’s good example to the Apostles and the converts who were to be made. He
did not say, “If you love Me, Simon Peter, work miracles.”
What He did say was “feed my sheep”—make sure that they
have My doctrine, My truth, and My Sacraments.
Saint John Chrysostom is saying to us
that we too can be the leaven of the Gospel, spreading God’s Church much like
the Patriarchs, much like the Apostles, and even much like our Lord Jesus Christ
Himself. We must not be afraid to mix ourselves with those who do not know
Jesus, leavening them with the yeast of good example. Doing good works among
them, praying for them, and keeping ourselves unspotted by the temptations of
I will close with a favorite saying of
mine—that of another bishop, although one who was much more recently among us:
Emmanuel Célestin Suhard, the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris throughout the
1940s. Suhard wrote a brief letter to the Parisian clergy, entitled “Priests
Among Men.” In that paper Suhard wrote a phrase
which, I believe, explains the need for good example, rather than
miracle—particularly for the unbeliever. I will never forget that he wrote:“to
be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring
people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that
one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
It means to live in such a way
that one's life would not make sense
if God did not exist!