Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Ave Maria!
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost—13 November AD 2016
(Readings of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany)



Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English


    Many of us take for granted the bread which sits upon our tables.  But at the time our Lord was speaking, just about everyone knew how bread was made, because they had baked it themselves; it was not just something that came off the shelf in a plastic wrapper.  And our Lord told them that the Kingdom of Heaven is similar to this process called “leavening,” that they had all seen many times.

    If you bake flour and water without any leaven you get a flat, hard cracker.  But if you take a just bit of leaven, or yeast as we usually call it, and mix it thoroughly with the flour, the leaven becomes part of the dough— “hidden” to use our Lord's expression.  And if you cover it and leave it alone for a while, when you come back you will find that the dough is permeated with the little bubbles that give bread its spongy consistency when baked.  And, if you are working with a hardy strain of leaven, you can leaven the next batch of dough just by saving a little from the current batch before baking it.

    Now, among the Jews, this process of leavening might have two meanings:  It might be taken either as a symbol of life, as the rising bread seems to be coming to life out of lifeless flour; or it might be taken as a symbol of corruption, with something bad spreading its evil throughout its surroundings.  The Jewish people were sometimes directed to offer sacrifices with leaven; these seem to be on the more happy and festive days.  Sometimes they were directed to offer sacrifice without leaven; on the more penitential days and on these days there was something of a fear that some small particle of leaven would get into the baking and “corrupt” their unleavened bread.

    This same sort of symbolism is useful to us in modern times, so that we too can understand the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    To begin with, we might think of our redemption as the most important “leavening”—the “leavening” of the entire human race—which took place when Almighty God “hid” Himself in the mass of human kind by taking human flesh of the Virgin Mary and becoming one of us.  This great mystery, which we call the “Incarnation” renewed the spiritual dignity of fallen mankind; allowing us “to become partakers of His divinity, who humbled Himself to partake of our humanity.”[1]  In this great leavening, Christ permeates the human race, giving life to what had been spiritually dead through the sin of Adam.  But just like the baker who must properly knead the dough and cover it and let it rise and bake it at the right temperature, it still remains up to us to absorb that leaven and make proper use of it; to live a life filled with faith, hope, and charity.

    In today's Gospel, our Lord seems to be talking about a second generation of “leavening”—for just as He communicates the life of God to us, we must communicate it to those around us who do not know him.  In that sense, we are talking about the good influence that we can have on all of those with whom we come into contact, just by living good and holy lives.  Even if we as individuals seem small and insignificant, if we persevere in the practice of our faith we can have a very great and good “leavening” effect on the masses. This is why Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in such glowing words, for they “had become a pattern to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”[2]

    But, there is also a caution given to us by our Lord.  He tells us to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.”  For just as we can have a powerful good effect on others, there is also the danger of corruption; that we might be leavened in reverse by the powers of the world.  “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy—beware, that is, of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.[3]   So our Lord is telling us that we must be continually on guard against those who are in positions of authority (as the Pharisees were), yet who would lead us astray with the leaven of false doctrine.  Just as our spiritual life begins with Faith, belief in the things of Christ; so too that Faith can be destroyed by the allurements of error.

    And he is telling us as well to avoid the very dangerous trap of hypocrisy: of trying to appear to be something that we are not; —of trying to seem holy, yet not bothering to be holy.  For that sort of superficial “holiness” does no one any good, and may indeed lead to the downfall of many.  For both hypocrisy and false doctrine are very powerful corruptors, against which we must always be vigilant.

    Saint Paul adopted this same metaphor of “corruption” when he wrote to the Corinthians.  He told them to purge out the “old … leaven of malice and wickedness,” replacing it with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[4]

    So “the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until the whole was leavened.” [5]  We must always be wary not to receive that foreign strain of leaven that comes from the devil; the corruption of false doctrine and hypocrisy.  We have been given the leaven of redemption and the sanctifying grace of Jesus; we can, indeed, be the leaven of the society around us, making it good by being good ourselves. 

    “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven.”  The only way to keep out the leaven of malice is to fill our souls with the leaven of Jesus Christ.




[1]   Blessing of the water at the Offertory of the Mass.

[2]   1 Thessalonians i: 2-10

[5]     Gospel:  Matthew xiii: 31-35

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