Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Marianne Cope
January 23, 2016
2 Sam 1:1-4.11-12.19.23-27, Ps 80, Mk 3:20-21
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today Jesus’ relatives — likely his cousins from the Nazareth area — came to seize him in Capernaum because they said, “He is out of his mind.” They thought he was crazy. After all, according to worldly standards, he certainly seemed to be. He had given up a good job as a carpenter in his hometown to adopt a lifestyle in which he, by his own admission, didn’t even have a place to lay his head. Rather than being respected, he was preaching in a way that got even Pharisees and Herodians — two groups of people who were inimical to each other — to conspire together to kill him, homicidal provocations that Jesus would incite even in his hometown when his neighbors for most of his life would as a mob try to throw him off the cliff on which Nazareth had been built. And he had surrounded himself by a curious group of followers — fishermen, a loathsome tax collector, even a zealot who wanted to kick out the Romans at all costs. He had turned his back on worldly security, on personal safety, on the wisdom of most in society. His cousins thought that they needed to come to rescue him from himself.
- Jesus is clearly crazy according to worldly standards. The world proclaims that to be happy you need to be rich; he says you need to be poor in spirit. The world says you need to be strong and finish fights others begin; Jesus says you need to be meek and a peacemaker. The world says you need to be sexy and sexually active lest you shrivel up and die; Jesus says you need to be pure of heart. The world dictates you need to be the life of the party; Jesus says you need to mourn. The world says you can’t have a care in the world; Jesus says you need to be starving for holiness. The world says you need to be popular, liked and admired; Jesus says you need to be reviled and persecuted. Jesus clearly is crazy. He’ll go on to say that we need to turn the other cheek, to pray for our persecutors, to love even our enemies, to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross each day to Crucifixion, and to follow him. We should be clear that by worldly standards, Christ is crazy. What he asks of us is crazy. And those who follow him are called to be “fools for Christ” (1 Cor 4:10). Real Catholics, according to worldly standards, are part of a world-wide insane asylum. We believe, after all, that here at Mass we consume not bread and wine but God himself under the appearance of bread and wine. We believe that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. We believe that we’re more related to each other by baptism than identical twins are by genes.
- What’s the source of Jesus’ insanity? It’s contained in the Greek expression that is translated “out of his mind.” It means “out of himself,” out of “his wits.” It means that Jesus wasn’t concerned fundamentally with self-preservation. He wasn’t concerned with human respect. He was concerned fundamentally with his Father’s glory and our salvation. He lived, he thought, he acted for the Father and for others. He lived outside of himself. And he calls us to be crazy with him in the same way.
- Jesus’ ancestor in the flesh, King David, was crazy. We see it in today’s first reading and have been seeing it throughout the week. David was continuously hunted down by Saul to be slain for nothing other than helping Saul lead and defeat his enemies. Saul was envious. He first thought of killing him but relented at the request of his son Jonathan. Then later he was hunting him down and relented when David showed that he could have killed him when he was relieving himself in a cave but refused. He began to hunt him down once more later and David could have killed him at night, but didn’t. Saul just couldn’t stop. And after David receives word that Saul had died, David didn’t rejoice, but mourned. Mourned. He rent his garments, and wept and fasted until evening, saying, ““Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon your heights; how can the warriors have fallen! … Women of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and in finery, who decked your attire with ornaments of gold.” He remembered Saul’s great triumphs for Israel, rather than Saul’s personal animosity. That’s crazy! David would do the same after his son Absolom turned on him and sought his death so that he could become King. His 28th generation grandson would do the same, praying for his persecutors, loving them to the end, on Calvary. Jesus’ standards are crazy in comparison to the world, but he wants us to love like David, to love like he himself loves us.
- The saints are the ones who have, and they have likewise often been considered crazy. We can think of St. Francis of Assisi, whose father thought he had lost his mind seeking to live wedded to Lady Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, to take the Gospel literally, to sell fabrics in order to rebuild a dilapidated Church, to kiss lepers. When his father accused him before Bishop Guido of selling the father’s rich fabrics for the Church, Francis copped to doing so but then admitted that the very clothes he was wearing came likewise from his father’s generosity, and so he stripped naked, returned the clothes to his father, and said he was now able to depend fully on the providence of “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
- St. Francis de Sales, whose feast day is tomorrow but which won’t be celebrated because it falls on Sunday, was likewise crazy. He was made vicar general upon his ordination and was at the bishop’s side, having quickly become his right hand. But the Diocese of Geneva was in shambles. Decades of scandals among the clergy had made it very easy for Calvinism to spread throughout the region. The people were so poorly catechized that they were not able to respond to Calvinist arguments. They were, moreover, so angry at the hypocrisy and immorality of their local churchmen that they were easily incited to turn on the Catholic faith, run their priests out of town and take up a form of Christianity that at least seemed to be moral. The bishop of Geneva even had to flee the see city and take up residence in Annecy, France. Some reports stated that there were only about 20 Catholics left in the vast region. The bishop sent a priest to try to re-evangelize the area, but he had failed miserably, was regularly attacked and came back scarred. The Bishop couldn’t assign anyone else under obedience to an assignment that could amount to martyrdom. So, in a meeting with all his priests, he asked for a volunteer. Francis, 9 months after his ordination, said, “Monseigneur, if you think I am capable of undertaking the mission, tell me to go. I am ready to obey and should be happy to be chosen.” His father vehemently opposed the assignment, pleading with his son and with his bishop not to allow his life to be thrown away at such a young age. But Francis reminded the bishop that he had set his hand to the plow and shouldn’t look back. Francis was sent. The assignment was so dangerous that he had to sleep in a garrison just so that he wasn’t killed at night. Each day, in the wintry Swiss Alps, he needed to walk seven miles to and from Thonon, the capital of the Chablais region, in order to try to win people back to the faith. Sometimes he would be attacked by animals and would have to spend frigid nights in trees. On other occasions he would be hunted by assassins only to escape somewhat miraculously. It was very tough and slow work. Within the span of five years, however, the holy “Apostle of the Chablais” had re-evangelized and reconciled almost the entire region. He was totally crazy, but that craziness was what brought people to Christ.
- Today we celebrate the life of someone who similarly was crazy, St. Marianne Cope, one of our fellow New Yorkers. She was born in Germany but when she was one emigrated to Utica, NY, with her parents, who would have in the states nine younger children. She felt the strong yearnings of a vocation to religious life, but left school after eighth grade to work in a factory to support the family, which was reeling because her father was suffering dementia. After her father was called home by God and the younger siblings were old enough to be cared for by their mother, she was able to enter religious life, as a late vocation to the Sisters of St. Francis at age 24. She made up for the education she had missed, went to college and eventually became both a teacher and a principal. Her talent as an administrator became known and she helped to build two hospitals in the Syracuse area, serving as both a nurse and as an administrator. She was often criticized for her craziness in caring for “outcast” patients, like alcoholics, that no other hospitals would take. When she was 45 and Provincial Mother/Superior General, she received a letter from a Catholic priest asking for help managing hospitals and schools in Hawaii, and to help out with leprosy patients. The letter touched her heart. And, crazily, she herself wanted to be the first to go. “I am hungry for the work,” she said, “and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones, whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders…. I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.'” She would prove to be a good daughter of St. Francis whose own care for a leper led to his conversion. She and six other sisters went to Honolulu, receiving those diagnosed with leprosy. Four years after her arrival, when Fr. Damien was approaching death on the island of Molokai, she responded to the plea for help, saying she “cheerfully” would accept the responsibility of the continuation of her work, which she did until she died in 1918.
- It’s important for us all to recognize that the path of sanctity is the path of being accounted a fool for Christ, staking our entire life not on earthly securities but on his call and promises. To be a faithful Catholic today, to follow our vocation to holiness or our vocation within a vocation, is something that the world doesn’t understand and many mock. Many think we’re crazy for still coming to Church at all after the scandals. Many think we’re crazy for believing the Church’s teachings on abortion, or extramarital sex, or forgiving 70 times 7 times. So many men who enter the seminary are immediately dubbed “Father What-a-Waste,” because they leave behind what could be lucrative careers and big families in the world to serve God and the Church. So many young women who enter the convent are told, not just by secularists but so-called Catholic family members that they’re “throwing their life away.” Those who make their faith a priority are often called by family members a “fanatic.” But God wants us to be ready for this. Just as Jesus was thought to be out of his mind, so every disciple will be likewise maligned. But we have to realize that the wisdom of this world is not God’s wisdom and we seek to live in the real, real world. Those who do are the truly sane ones. And those who don’t live in God’s world, who don’t see things the way they really are, are going to be the ones who forever will recognize that they were insane.
- The summit of Christian “insanity” is the Cross. St. Paul pointed it out to the early Church when he said, “Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:19-24). The Cross is the greatest contradiction of worldly wisdom and the greatest manifestation of divine wisdom of love. As we prepare now to receive the Fruit of the new Tree of Life which is that Cross of wisdom, we ask the Lord for the grace to enter into a communion with his holy craziness so that, like the saints, we might live out of our minds, out of ourselves, just as he did, for the Father’s glory and for the salvation of the world.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 2 Sm 1:1-4, 11-12, 19, 23-27
and spent two days in Ziklag.
On the third day a man came from Saul’s camp,
with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.
Going to David, he fell to the ground in homage.
David asked him, “Where do you come from?”
He replied, “I have escaped from the camp of the children of Israel.”
“Tell me what happened,” David bade him.
He answered that many of the soldiers had fled the battle
and that many of them had fallen and were dead,
among them Saul and his son Jonathan.David seized his garments and rent them,
and all the men who were with him did likewise.
They mourned and wept and fasted until evening
for Saul and his son Jonathan,
and for the soldiers of the LORD of the clans of Israel,
because they had fallen by the sword.“Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul,
slain upon your heights;
how can the warriors have fallen!
“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished,
separated neither in life nor in death,
swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!
Women of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and in finery,
who decked your attire with ornaments of gold.
“How can the warriors have fallen–
in the thick of the battle,
slain upon your heights!
“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women.
“How can the warriors have fallen,
the weapons of war have perished!”
Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2-3, 5-7
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
O guide of the flock of Joseph!
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R. Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O LORD of hosts, how long will you burn with anger
while your people pray?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in ample measure.
You have left us to be fought over by our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
R. Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
Alleluia See Acts 16:14b
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mk 3:20-21
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”