Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII
October 11, 2014
Gal 3:22-29, Ps 105, Lk 11:27-28
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In today’s Gospel, an anonymous woman from the crowd sought to praise Jesus’ mother Mary. “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed!,” she called out. If any womb was blessed, it was the immaculate womb of Mary of Nazareth that housed for nine months the Creator and Savior of the world. If any breasts were blessed, it would have been those who nursed and fed the one who gives us each day our daily bread. But Jesus wasn’t going to limit the praise of the mother whom he daily honored to her inimitable physical bonds to the Son of God made man. He replied to the woman by highlighting a far greater source of blessing, something that each and every one of us not only can emulate but is called to emulate: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” The profoundest source of Mary’s beatitude was her faithful listening and response to God in her life. St. Athanasius described that before Mary had ever conceived the Word of God in her womb, she had already conceived Him in her heart through faith. So many medieval depictions of the Annunciation and the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus in the Incarnation show the Holy Spirit entering through Mary’s ears, to highlight just this faith. In a parallel scene, when Mary had come to see him together with many of his cousins from Nazareth, they told Jesus inside a crowded house where he was teaching and healing that his mother and relatives were outside waiting for him. Taking advantage of the teaching moment, he replied, ““Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:46-50). Mary is the paradigm of all those who do the will of God the Father, who hear what he asks and who act on it. To be a true brother or sister of Jesus in the family he came from heaven to earth to found, it’s not really enough just to be baptized, although that’s an essential start. We also have to listen to him as he describes for us the will of God and then, just as he did, say, mean and lovingly do the words “Thy will be done!”
- When we look at the first reading today, we see one way in which so many Catholics in our part of the United States have historically failed to hear and do the word of God as it was announced through the doctor of the nations. St. Paul tells the Galatians and through them us, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The reality of baptism is meant to become the strongest bond in our life, to see that we are all equally beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, and that this reality is meant to be stronger than our ethnicity, stronger than our cultural upbringing, stronger than sex, stronger than any and all other social distinctions. But that’s not what happened in the building of the Church in places like Fall River and so many other major cities that were populated by Catholics 100-150 years ago. We didn’t hear the Word of God as announced by St. Paul and we didn’t observe it. Even though in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, we thought that there was Irish, French-Canadian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Lithuanian and more. Even though Mass was celebrated in Latin, we wouldn’t worship together. So many thought that their ethnic differences were more important than their baptismal identity and similarities. That’s one of the reasons why we’re having to close so many Churches today, because we have had a surplus of Churches tailoring to individual ethnic groups rather than tailoring to all the Catholics in a particular geographical area. This system of “national,” “personal” or “ethnic” parishes didn’t happen because poor immigrants came and just wanted to do something themselves. It happened because they didn’t find the welcome from the Catholic groups that were already here, such that they needed to fend for themselves. The Church didn’t work together, but rather in many cases competed against each other. I’ve told the story many times because I’m still scandalized by it, but predecessors of mine both here and in New Bedford at one time refused to celebrate marriages in the Church when a French girl was marrying not only a Protestant or a non-Christian, but also when they were marrying a daily communicant from another ethnic group, as if marrying someone who was not French was a scandal that would lead to having to have the wedding in the rectory chapel in the presence of two witnesses alone. Thanks be to God we’re no longer prioritizing ethnicity over Catholicity the way many did a century ago, but instead welcoming Latino or Brazilian immigrants to our Cathedral and to other parishes. But there remains a vestige of this same error in parochialism, when Catholics can often place more of an emphasis on whether a Catholic is from one parish or another than the fact that we’re truly spiritual siblings. If we hear the Lord’s word about the meaning of our baptism and act in accordance with it, so much will change — and change for the better, bringing about a communion that will help others to glimpse the union Jesus sought to bring into the world and for which he prayed insistently during the Last Supper.
- Today we celebrate for the first time the Feast of Pope St. John XXIII and this path to blessedness through hearing and doing the word of God is something he grasped. His episcopal and papal motto was Oboedientia et Pax, “Obedience and Peace.” Obedience comes from the Latin expression “ob-audire,” signifying intense listening. To obey means to listen to the Lord so intensely that we do what we hear. And John XXIII recognizes that that is the way to peace. From the time he was a 14-year-old in a high school seminary, he grasped that in order to bear fruit in his life, he needed to put the word of God into practice, so he made a “Rule of life,” a set of spiritual practices that would help him grow in conformity to Christ. This rule of life began with the “first and main principle” of choosing an “exemplary, prudent and learned” spiritual director. Then he listed a series of daily, weekly, yearly and “always” norms by which he would live. This wasn’t a wish list but, as he wrote in 1912, a catalogue of concrete resolutions about prayer and acts of virtue he committed whole-heartedly to keeping with “absolute fidelity” as his “lifeline.” Among the daily practices were 15 minutes of mental prayer getting out of bed, attending daily Mass, 15 minutes of spiritual reading, examining his conscience each night before going to bed, visiting the Blessed Sacrament or a place of devotion to Our Lady each day, reciting 5 Our Fathers and 5 Hail Maries in honor of Jesus’ wounds between 6-9 pm and making three acts of mortification in honor of the Blessed Virgin, reading a chapter of the Imitaton of Christ each day, using frequent invocations to raise one’s mind to God. Among the weekly practices were confession and weekly communion, fasting and doing penance on Fridays and Saturdays, focusing on Mary on Saturdays, and meeting with a spiritual director. Yearly he would make a retreat and a general confession. And he would always try to avoid bad company, be careful around women, avoiding playing too many games, speak to others with respect, make special professions of humility, exercise charity and patience, pray for the conversion of sinners, and pray for the dead and anyone in need. And he really focused on keeping this plan. After his death, his former secretary said that John’s “Rules of Life” were truly rules for life. “He copied them out by hand, in minute writing, kept them always by him and constantly observed them, even when he was pope,” now 98-year-old Cardinal Loris Capovilla said. They were the blueprint for John’s patient, obstinate growth in sanctity in correspondence to God’s grace.
- And so today it’s important for us if we wish not to be idle listeners but imitate the Blessed Virgin, St. Paul and St. John XXIII in acting on the Lord’s word, that we, too, need to have a plan. It can’t just remain a wish. It begins with listening so as to do, to attend to the readings, for example, at Mass intending that they’re going to change our life. I would encourage you each day at noon to reflect back on the three readings at daily Mass. See, first, if you remember them. Then come up with a plan by which you can act on what you heard. Today, how can you act on living in accordance with the baptismal reality of all other Catholics? If the Lord remembers his Covenant forever, as we prayed in the Psalm, how can you remember that Covenant and unite everything you do as a response to God? How can you keep the reality in mind that if you hear and obey the Word of God you are engaged in a far greater form of blessedness than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself experienced through her physical relationship to Jesus?
- Today as we come to this Mass today, we seek to say with Mary, “Let it be done to me according to your word!” We seek, with St. John XXIII, to act on the Word that has been announced to us, by lovingly obeying it and allowing it to lead us to the peace Christ came into the world to give us. And our model always is Jesus, the Word made flesh, whom we ask to give us the grace to allow his word to take flesh in us just as it did in Mary’s womb and John XXIII’s life.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Scripture confined all things under the power of sin,
that through faith in Jesus Christ
the promise might be given to those who believe.Before faith came, we were held in custody under law,
confined for the faith that was to be revealed.
Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ,
that we might be justified by faith.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.
For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants,
heirs according to the promise.
ps 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
He replied, “Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”