Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Memorial of St. John of God
March 8, 2016
Ezek 47:1-9.12, Ps 46, Jn 5:1-16
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As I been mentioning for the last nine days, the second phase of Lent — from the third Sunday through the fifth Friday — is an intense preparation of the Elect for baptism and mystagogical course for the baptized to renew and live out better their baptismal promises and identity that are at the core of the Christian life. In today’s readings, we have a chance to ponder far more deeply what that baptismal journey is about, how we’re supposed to desire it, and how it is supposed to be life-long. And insofar as in this Year of Mercy, we’re called to grow in our bathing ourselves in the ocean of God’s mercy — as Jesus described it to St. Faustina — it’s a crucial time for us to see how can immerse ourselves ever more in that saving stream.
- Let’s begin with the desire we are supposed to have for God’s mercy and its transformative power. Today in the Gospel Jesus says to the man crippled for 38 years, “Do you want to be well?” At first glance, it’s a strange question. It’s like asking a starving man if he’d like a sandwich, a man in prison if he’d like a pardon, a post-partum woman if she’d like to hold her newborn. The answer is totally obvious: of course the man would want to be made well. He was, after all, at the Pool of Bethesda to participate in a superstitious race with the blind, lame, crippled to be the first one into the pool when the waters were stirred, believing that that was the path to be restored to wellness. But Jesus asked the question at a deeper level, trying to solicit the man’s deep desires, so that the man’s will would be involved in the cure. The man didn’t respond the way we would have thought he would, with an emphatic “Yes, I obviously would like to be made well!” Instead, he acknowledged that he needed help to be cured — he needed someone, he thought, to place him into the pool when the water became “alive.” Jesus had come to help and cure him with another type of living water, the living water enlivened by the Holy Spirit he had announced to the Samaritan woman in the encounter immediately preceding the scene in the Gospel. Jesus, in curing him and us, always wants to engage our will and our freedom. That’s why he asks whether we want to be made well. The problem with this man was that he was embittered, complaining, defeated. His will had been crushed. In response to Jesus’ simple, straightforward question, he blurted out how crippled his spirit was. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” What should have been an immediate response, “Of course I want to be made well!” had morphed into a “woe am I” self-pitying violin solo. This Lent, this Jubilee of Mercy, Jesus asks us, “Do you want to be well?” He doesn’t want us to reply with apathy, with a broken down “I’ve tried to live a great Lent before with prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but I’m never able to keep my resolutions to unite myself to you in your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and so while of course I want to be made fully well and holy, I really have lowered my expectations because I just don’t want to disappoint myself, you or others.” He doesn’t was to say, “No matter how often I try, I just can’t avoid falling into sin.” He wants us to respond, rather, with hunger, thirst, enthusiasm, “Yes, Jesus! I do want to be totally spiritually healed! Please help me!” He wants us to say, “Yes, Jesus, I trust in you!”
- Jesus’ words to this man are almost identical to what he said to the paralytic he healed in Capernaum, “Rise, take up your mat and walk,” because there is a great similarity between the miracles. In Capernaum, Jesus first forgave the paralyzed man’s sins. In Jerusalem, Jesus told the man, “Lord, you are well. Do not sin any more.” In each miracle, Jesus did not cure merely a physical paralysis but a spiritual one due to sin, and he does it in such a way that he wants us, in faith, to trust in his healing power and cooperate, however little, in the miracle. He wants us to participate in our own healing and set out more fully on the adventure of the Christian life and the journey of faith.
- This is pointed to by the very powerful imagery of the first reading. Ezekiel sees a vision of water trickling from the eastern side of the Temple down toward the Arabah, the sandy 20 mile desert that separates Jerusalem from the Dead Sea. The Angel takes Ezekiel another 1000 cubits (about 500 yards since a cubit is the distance between the elbow and the top of the middle finger, about 18 inches for those of us who aren’t in the NBA) and the water is now ankle deep; another 500 yards and it’s knee deep; yet another 500 and it’s up to his waist; a final 500 and it had become a river over his head so that he could only swim across it. And along it’s path, it brought all types of life to the desert as it flowed into the Dead Sea — where no marine life can survive because it’s 20 times the salinity of the ocean — and raised it literally from the Dead, making it fresh and allowing all types of fish to live in it again. This is an image of the Christian life of the baptized. On the day of our baptism we receive a trickle of the Living Water flowing from the true Temple’s — Jesus’ — pierced Eastern side, the font of sacramental life for the Church. But we’re to journey more deeply with that living water. By the time we’re able to communicate with others and with God and pray, this living water should be up to our ankles. By the time of we’re ready to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, it should be up to our knees so that we can kneel in adoration. At the age of Confirmation, it should be up to our waist so that we, by the help of the Holy Spirit, can live by the Spirit and not by the concupiscence of the flesh. By the time we’re adults, we should be submerging ourselves in it and allowing that river of Living Water to direct us to wherever he wants us to bring vitality even in the midst of the deserts of life. The Living Water who is Jesus wants to raise from the dead whatever Dead Seas we bear inside, converting what is salty and bitter into something fresh and alive. It behooves us, therefore, this Lent and every Lent to ask ourselves whether we are advancing in this Living Water, whether we’re allowing Jesus to raise within us whatever is dead. Jesus wants to cure us of our spiritual stagnation! But he wants us to want to be cured!
- The question for us is: Is this the story of our life? Has our life been one of continual growth in faith, in our friendship with Christ, in loving worship of God and service of others? Has our life been a gradually deeper immersion in the living water who is Christ? Has our priesthood or religious life led to this type of growth? During this Year of Mercy, have we been bathing more in the ocean of God’s saving compassion? In this Year of Mercy, regardless of whether we’ve always lived in our baptismal graces and nourished them or whether we’ve wandered and squandered them, all of us have a chance, the great blessing, to get back fully into the stream of living water and begin to head once more, cubit by cubit, in the path that will lead us to the fullness of life here and eternal life with God. Jesus asks us, “Do you want to be made well?” But this cure through growth in faith doesn’t happen to us by osmosis. It doesn’t occur but just “wishing” to grow in faith, hope, love and mercy. We have to make resolutions and then act to correspond to God’s grace. Jesus offers us the living water but we need to walk in it, to live in it, to swim in it. That means, first of all, that we regularly partake — and partake ever more fruitfully — of what the early saints called the Sacrament of “second baptism,” which is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, in which Christ bathes us anew in living blood and water flowing from our side and restores our soul to its baptismal beauty and dignity.
- Today the Church celebrates the feast of a great saint who wanted to be made well by Christ and who after the grace of a deep conversion continued to progress cubit by cubit in a deepening conformity to Christ’s mercy. St. John of God was born in Portugal in 1495 but at 27 became a soldier in Castile. Like many in the military, he gave himself over to vice and became thoroughly licentious and gave up the practice of the faith. Eventually the army was disbanded and he worked as a shepherd, but at the age of about 40, stung with remorse for his past sins, he resolved that he wanted to be healed and to give himself over to God’s service. He tried first as a martyr among the Christian slaves in Morocco, but that plan didn’t work. Then he began to care for the poor. Then he gave himself to the poor and sick. Eventually hearing a sermon by St. John of Avila, he was so affected that he filled the Church with his cries, beating his breast and imploring God’s mercy. St. John of Avila gave him God’s mercy and set him straight. From that point forward, until he would die at 55, he immersed himself in God’s mercy, founding a hospital and allowing himself to be surrounded by those who would eventually be called the “Brothers Hospitallers.” In a letter he wrote that the Church presents to us in the Office of Readings this morning, he describes this connection between having received God’s mercy and sharing it, and how in sharing it, we open ourselves to receive it more, for a heart open in love is open to receive God’s mercy: “If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward! Who would not entrust his possessions to this best of merchants, who handles our affairs so well? With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, for for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.” His life shows us how, cubit-by-cubit, he advanced in the Lord’s own mercy until it overflowed in such a way that his contemporaries simply called him “John of God.”
- Today the same Jesus who spoke to the crippled and to St. John of God says to us, “Do you want to be made well?,” awaiting our response. He wants to help us to respond with enthusiasm, “Yes, I do!,” and open ourselves up to the way by which he wants to raise from the dead whatever in us is lifeless, and guide us to grow in our receptivity to his mercy and our passing it on. Today we ask him for the grace today to advance 1000 cubits in faith in his mercy and allow him who is the Living Water to pour out from this altar a great river flowing into Manhattan leading us in the current to where he wants us to bring life and resurrection.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
EZ 47:1-9, 12
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
PS 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.