Drawing Close with Jesus’ Compassion to Raise People from the Dead, 24th Tuesday (II), September 16, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of SS. Cyprian and Cornelius, Martyrs
Mass for the Dead in prayer for Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, on the 12th anniversary of his death
September 16, 2014
1 Cor 12:12-14.27-31, Ps 10, Lk 7:11-17

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we encounter one of Jesus’ great miracles in the Gospel, but one that communicates far more than a great deed done for a particular family, but a whole way of life for us as Christians. There was a collision of two processions, the great crowd following Jesus and the large funeral cortege accompanying the widow who had just lost her only son. Because of Jewish culture at the time, which dictated that a woman needed to be cared and provided by for a man — first her father, then her husband and after her husband’s death, by a son — this woman was now in a particularly pitiful position. When Jesus saw her, he was “moved with pity” — literally his guts exploded with pity — and he said something to her that must have at first seemed the cruelest thing anyone could: “Do not weep,” words I would encourage you never to say to a grieving family at a wake. But I like to think that Jesus said them in a way that inspired hope in her. He then stepped forward and touched the bier, an act that would have made him ritually impure according to the Jewish mentality, and said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!,” and the boy sat up and began to speak. I wish St. Luke would have recorded his words, because they would have been something! The response of the people is very significant. The first said, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” Jesus had just done what they remembered the prophet Elijah had done in raising from the dead the only son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the prophet Elisha had done for the only son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:31-17). But they added, “God has visited his people.” The recognized that it was God who had worked that great miracle, that he wasn’t far off, but that he cared, and because he cared he drew near. Little did they know how true their words were!
  • Pope Francis gave a beautiful reflection this morning on what it means for God to visit his people. God doesn’t remain afar. He comes right in the midst of us with his loving compassion. This is what the whole mystery of the Incarnation is about, that God came so near that he became one of us, sharing all of our experiences except sin. Then Jesus began to visit his people in a way that no one before had ever experience. Pope Francis said that Jesus “was close to the people” and was “able to understand the hearts” of the people. “Proximity. This is how God works.” He was moved with great compassion for them, like he was when they were like sheep without a shepherd. “Closeness and compassion: this is how the Lord visits His people. And when we want to proclaim the Gospel, to bring forth the word of Jesus, this is the path.”
  • Pope Francis contrasts this path of Jesus and the path of his Church with the one of the scribes and Pharisees, who distanced themselves from the people, who stayed aloof, who didn’t have compassion but just laid up other burdens on their shoulders without lifting a finger to help them carry them. Even though they had the words of God, they didn’t have the heart of God. Theirs was never a “visit of the Lord,” because it lacked both nearness and compassion, since they didn’t want to suffer with the people.
  • As individual Christians and members of the Church, we are called to grasp that this nearness and compassion is meant to mark the whole way we approach life. Once we have experienced the compassionate visit of the Lord, a visit that is meant to continue within through remaining in the state of grace, we are capable of going out to visit others with God’s loving mercy. The Lord calls us to become Good Samaritans, not walking by others in need on the other side of the road, but drawing near, visiting them, helping them with compassion. Pope Francis has said that God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which we all draw near to others, when we compassionately weep for other’s sufferings, when we try to heal their wounds with the balm of the love that flows from Jesus’ heart and our own human hearts. God wants to visit others and draw near to them through us.
  • This truth helps us to understand what St. Paul teaches us about the Church in today’s first reading from an important angle. He describes the Church as Christ’s mystical body and mentions that even though in that body there are many different functions and services, we’re all needed to live according to our respective charisms, vocations and missions if the Church is going to thrive. He describes individual members as if we’re organs of a body. Some of us are eyes, others hands, others feet, but we can’t pretend as if any of those organs is superfluous to the health of the body as a whole. In the same way, we can’t behave as if Jesus doesn’t want and need each of us to draw near to others with compassion in accordance with the gifts and talents he has given us and the situations in which he has placed us. To continue St. Paul’s image, if we’re an eye, we need to look on others with love; if we’re a hand, we need to extend Christ’s compassionate touch; if we’re a foot, we need to walk or run to the other side, bringing people Christ and his saving Gospel. Jesus doesn’t call any of us to be the hardened heart of his mystical body. He doesn’t ask any of us to be the blind eye or the closed ear when we see others in distress or hear the cries of the poor. He wants us to recognize that we are called to be his eyes, his hands, his feet, his ears, his mouth, his heart in the midst of a world that is still in so much need of his mercy. He wants us to grasp that he wants to visit them through us.
  • Many times we can make excuses that we can’t possibly be asked to do us because of the situations in which we find ourselves. That’s why the future saint, I pray, whom we remember today is such a source of hope and inspiration. Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan died in Rome 12 years ago today and I was honored that he called me a friend and that I had a chance to spend time with him as he shared with me so many of the truly moving moments of his life. Soon after he was appointed Archbishop of Saigon in 1975, he was arrested and whisked away by the communists to prison, where he remained for 13 years, 9 in solitary confinement. It was an excruciating time for him, especially at the beginning, when he was kept all alone in filthy cells with no light and almost no human contact. He wondered why the Lord would have permitted him to be a bishop and then kept in prison far away from his people. He wondered what good his life was as he was useless in his incarceration. But the Lord then helped him to ponder the Gospel scene of the young boy with five buns and two sardines and how, placed into Jesus’ hands, it became a vast feast that fed a great multitude. He saw then that he might not be able to do much in prison, but he would offer whatever bread, whatever fish, he would be able to muster on a given day. So he began to pray with much greater hope for his people; if he couldn’t draw near in prison, he would draw near in the Lord. He celebrated Mass for them in the cell, putting a couple of drops of wine — from a bottle marked “stomach medicine” that his family sent for him to care for his greatest hunger — and a few crumbs of bread on his hand and celebrating Mass from memory. With the help of a young Catholic boy named Quang who would pass by his prison cell, he would scribble a spiritual thought or two a day on old calendars and have Quang bring them to his parents, who would copy them into a notebook and then eventually publish them all as “The Road to Hope,” a series of aphorisms that buoyed the entire Vietnamese Church under brutal persecution. And he would draw near to his guards, seeking to befriend them, to teach them foreign languages, to share with them something of the joy and hope that would come from the fact that he now knew that Jesus in the Eucharist and on the Cross was constantly visiting him in the prison cell. Over the course of time, his human warmth and love was converting so many of his communist guards that the communists stopped giving him new ones lest he convert them too. Even though he was in the worst of circumstances, he recognized that the Lord who had come to set the captives free had made him interiorly free in his imprisonment. Even though he was in solitary confinement, he knew that he was never alone. And he brought the sense of resurrection from the dead the Lord had given him through his presence to his conversation with the guards, so that they, too, would experience that new life. Today, as we remember him in a Mass for the dead, we pray for the day in which we can celebrate his beatification and canonization so that many others may be able to join us with him on the Road to Hope that leads to eternal joy.
  • At this Mass, let’s call to mind those to whom we can draw near with compassion. At the same time let us be aware that, as we journey through the procession of tasks given to us to do today, the Lord may send us to collide with processions of sorrow. He wants to fill us with himself so that we, as his Body, can bring Him to those we will encounter. And we’re called to do this with the attitude about which we prayed about in today’s Psalm: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” To a world grieving, we bring God’s nearness which is at the same time to bring hope, joy and gladness. As we prepare to be reconstituted by Jesus as his Mystical Body in this Mass as he receive his Body and Blood and become one body, one spirit, in him, we thank him for doing something in us far greater than resuscitating a dead boy on a bier. He’s about to raise us from the dead and send us out into the world as witnesses that God has indeed visited his people. Let’s spread the good news and joy of this visit to whatever people and processions we meet today!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 cor 12:12-14, 27-31a

Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
Now you are Christ’s Body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the Church
to be, first, Apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 10:1b-2, 3, 4, 5

R. (3) We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
For he is good, the LORD, whose kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Gospel
lk 7:11-17

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,
“A great prophet has arisen in our midst,”
and “God has visited his people.”
This report about him spread through the whole of Judea
and in all the surrounding region.