Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of Thanksgiving for the Gift of Human Life
February 16, 2017
Gen 9:1-13, Ps 102, Mk 8:27-33
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in today’s homily:
- “Whom do you say that I am?” After taking a poll of what others were saying about him — numbering him among the greatest figures of all time for his Jewish contemporaries — Jesus asks his closest followers to pronounce on his identity. At some point, we cannot rely on what others say or think. Our most important choices are to state reality and respond as we should. Jesus didn’t want those with him merely to remain “fans” of him because that would not set them on the path on which he had come into the world to lead them. He wanted to see if they had seen what they should have seen, whether they have the courage to admit it and then then the commitment to act.
- Peter should up and said, “You are the Christ.” He admitted that he was the Messiah, the long-awaited one. In St. Matthew’s recollection of the account, he also said, “The Son of the Living God,” which is an even greater claim, an illumination that came from God the Father because he couldn’t have arrived at that knowledge by human means (“flesh and blood.”). The other apostles didn’t say anything at the time, perhaps because they didn’t know, but more likely because they knew that stating as a fact what they had long been speculating about would be a consequential acknowledgment, and they were afraid. Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone because the people at the time had clearly political notions about the Messiah and Jesus didn’t want to be boxed into those false categories. But even though Peter had admitted Jesus’ identity, he, too, had false notions. When Jesus openly said that he “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days,” Peter, thinking according to his human categories rather than “as God thinks,” rebuked him. He couldn’t fathom that a Messiah would be rejected and killed rather than conquer. But Jesus wanted to help him and all of the apostles recognize that, yes, he was the Messiah, but his kingdom and the liberation he was bringing were different than what they were expecting. His words, “Get behind me, Satan!,” are significant because Peter had become a stumbling block, a tempter, and was trying to lead the Lord rather than follow. He sought to be out in front, rather than behind, and was recapitulating what the Devil tried to do in the desert, to impede Christ’s fulfillment of his mission. He wasn’t seeing things from God’s perspective but from his own. Having seen who Christ is, and confessed him, Peter was now being summoned to see and confess him in far greater depth.
- This question, “Whom do you say that I am?,” Jesus makes to us constantly and individually. It’s not enough for us to rest on what others say, on what the Catechism teaches, about what the Doctors of the Church, or the Pope, or the Bishops, or parents, godparents and religious superiors. All of that is helpful, but it’s not sufficient: we all must make a consequential admission, to state clearly who Jesus is and to conform our life to that truth, getting behind him, thinking as God does, and with his help living with him on the rock of his Word.
- Getting used to confessing Christ and aligning our life to that confession helps us to learn how to live in a similar reality confessing who others are and who we are in our depth. In today’s first reading, we have a very important passage from the book of Genesis, when God through Noah tells us about what we’re supposed to confess about others. “In the image of God has man been made,” the text says. That’s the ground on the basis of which God says, “From one man in regard to his fellow man, I will demand an accounting for human life. If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” When we recognize that another is God’s image, when we respond to the question “Whom do you say that I am?” with the words, “You are God’s image, God’s son, God’s special creature,” then we recognize that whatever we do to that person we do, in some way, to the image of God in the other and the image of God in us. God’s words about the accounting are not so much a threat as they are a consequence. Even though Cain had slain Abel, God didn’t shed Cain’s blood but protected him, but Cain himself was fearful for his life because he grasped that once he had shed another’s blood, even his own brother’s out of envy, there was nothing to stop someone else from taking his own by the same principle. The culture of death begins by this failure to confess the dignity of the other human being; the process of dehumanization — whether by the Nazis, or by the eugenicists, or by the abortionists or by the quality-of-life euthanasia pushers — is at the same time a rejection of the divine image in the human.
- St. John Paul II mentioned this in his beautiful encyclical on the Gospel of Life. He took the subtitle for a whole section from today’s words in Genesis, “From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting” (Gen 9:5) and said that that is the ground for “reverence and love for every human life.” He commented, “Man’s life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God himself makes this clear to Noah after the Flood: ‘For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting … and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life’ (Gen 9:5). The biblical text is concerned to emphasize how the sacredness of life has its foundation in God and in his creative activity: ‘For God made man in his own image’ (Gen 9:6). Human life and death are thus in the hands of God, in his power. … But God does not exercise this power in an arbitrary and threatening way, but rather as part of his care and loving concern for his creatures. If it is true that human life is in the hands of God, it is no less true that these are loving hands, like those of a mother who accepts, nurtures and takes care of her child. … The sacredness of life gives rise to its inviolability, written from the beginning in man’s heart, in his conscience. The question: ‘What have you done?’ (Gen 4:10), which God addresses to Cain after he has killed his brother Abel, interprets the experience of every person: in the depths of his conscience, man is always reminded of the inviolability of life-his own life and that of others-as something which does not belong to him, because it is the property and gift of God the Creator and Father. … Of course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount, … in the positive commandment which obliges us to be responsible for our neighbour as for ourselves: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18). … By his words and actions Jesus further unveils the positive requirements of the commandment regarding the inviolability of life. These requirements were already present in the Old Testament, where legislation dealt with protecting and defending life when it was weak and threatened: in the case of foreigners, widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in general, including children in the womb (cf. Ex 21:22; 22:20-26). With Jesus these positive requirements assume new force and urgency, and are revealed in all their breadth and depth: they range from caring for the life of one’s brother (whether a blood brother, someone belonging to the same people, or a foreigner living in the land of Israel) to showing concern for the stranger, even to the point of loving one’s enemy. … A stranger is no longer a stranger for the person who mustbecome a neighbour to someone in need, to the point of accepting responsibility for his life, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows so clearly (cf. Lk 10:25-37). Even an enemy ceases to be an enemy for the person who is obliged to love him (cf. Mt 5:38-48; Lk 6:27-35), to “do good” to him (cf. Lk 6:27, 33, 35) and to respond to his immediate needs promptly and with no expectation of repayment (cf. Lk 6:34-35). … Thus the deepest element of God’s commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person. This is the teaching which the Apostle Paul, echoing the words of Jesus, address- es to the Christians in Rome: “The commandments, ?You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet’, and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:9-10).”
- As we come today to celebrate Mass and the asks us to confess him, and recognize and revere him in others, he likewise wants to respond to the question we would ask him when we turn to him in the elevated Host and query, “Whom do you say that I am?” And Jesus, in the Eucharist, not only says but shows that we are his beloved friends, we are his adopted siblings, we are the much loved Sons and Daughters of the Father, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the one for whom he wound mount Golgotha a thousand times to die a death infinitely more cruel. As he gives his his body and blood, he acknowledges that we are so lovable in his eyes that he would provide no other nourishment for our souls than himself.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 GN 9:1-13
God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them:
“Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.
Dread fear of you shall come upon all the animals of the earth
and all the birds of the air,
upon all the creatures that move about on the ground
and all the fishes of the sea;
into your power they are delivered.
Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat;
I give them all to you as I did the green plants.
Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.
For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting:
from every animal I will demand it,
and from one man in regard to his fellow man
I will demand an accounting for human life.
If anyone sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
For in the image of God
has man been made.
Be fertile, then, and multiply;
abound on earth and subdue it.”
God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 AND 22-23
R. (20b) From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
The children of your servants shall abide,
and their posterity shall continue in your presence,
That the name of the LORD may be declared in Zion,
and his praise, in Jerusalem,
When the peoples gather together,
and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
Alleluia JN 6:63C, 68C
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 8:27-33
Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”