Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi
May 25, 2016
1 Pet 1:18-25, Ps 147, Mk 10:32-45
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we prepare tomorrow in the universal Church and Sunday in the United States for the celebration of Corpus Christi, today’s readings can help us to understand what we’re being asked to “do in memory” of Jesus. Today’s readings focus us on the purpose of his life and anyone who authentically seeks to follow him. Today’s readings show the fruit that our lives are supposed to bear when he implants the “imperishable seed” of his Word and from our union with him as branches on the Vine. They also show us the strength he seeks to give us through that union to do just that.
- Let’s enter into the Gospel scene, which is one of the most disappointing and humanly revolting scenes in the Gospel. Jesus describes for the third time what is going to happen to him in Jerusalem. He had been walking alone, ahead of the others, and the others were amazed and afraid of this fact, almost certainly because Jesus was in a pensive mood separating himself from small talk that they hadn’t seen very often. He took the Twelve aside and said to them what was obviously on his mind as he was walking on the path up to Jerusalem: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death but after three days he will rise.” And what was the response of the disciples? Was it to commiserate with him? Was it to console him? Quite far from it. Instead, James and John came to Jesus and said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you!.” After Jesus asked, “What do you wish me to do for you?,” they replied, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus had told them that he was going to die and they were asking for favors.
- And it wasn’t the first or only time that they treated Jesus’ informing the path he was journeying was fatal. On the two previous occasions when Jesus announced in detail the betrayal, torture and ignominious public execution he was about to endure, the apostles never responded appropriately. The first time Jesus foretold his crucifixion was in Caesarea Philippi, right after Peter proclaimed him the Messiah and Son of God and Jesus proclaimed Simon bar-Jonah to be the rock on whom he would build his Church. But when Jesus announced what type of Messiah he would be and how he wasn’t going to inaugurate his kingdom dressed in purple, seated on a marble throne, with a crown made out of gold and diadems but naked, nailed to his wooden throne and crowned with thorns, Peter, rather than consoling him, rebuked him and swore that no such thing would ever happen to him. The second time Jesus announced what would happen was after Jesus, Peter, James and John had come from the Mount of Transfiguration and Jesus had exorcised a demon-possessed boy that the other disciples couldn’t help. Jesus told them a second time, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise,” but instead of responding to what their friend had said, they allowed him to walk on ahead of them while they, in the back, quarreled about who was worthiest to head up the top cabinet secretariats in the Messianic administration they believed Jesus was about to inaugurate. When Jesus asked, “What were you arguing about on the way?,” they, embarrassed, remained mute. Today, after James and John asked asked Jesus to give them a blank check and do whatever they asked, the other disciples got indignant, not fundamentally because of the Boanerges brothers’ importunity, not because they found such behavior contrary to genuine love rather than using of Jesus, but because they likewise coveted the two seats the Sons of Zebedee were requesting and were upset because they were gutsy enough to ask for what the others didn’t have the chutzpah to request but all secretly desired. And there was one other time when something of this genre occurred, during the Last Supper. After Jesus indicated to them, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me,” the apostles again got into a dispute over which of them was the greatest. Rather than thinking about who would be the despicable betrayer, they were thinking about who would be the greatest, not recognizing at the time that all of them would end up betraying him. These were all examples of what St. James describes in his letter as “selfish ambition.” They were seeking their own interests, not those of the Lord. They were using him, not truly loving him.
- What happened with them is a perennial warning to the Church, to the disciples of the Lord. We might believe that we would never treat a friend like that, but the reality is that no matter how often we hear about Jesus’ sufferings, crucifixion and death, no matter how frequently we stare at the Crucifix, rather than seek to console the Lord out of love, we, like the apostles, are likewise prone just to divert our attention to what we really love, our own plans, careers, worldly hopes and hungers. When he’s died for others’ salvation, and some of us continue to fight for seats at tables or greetings in marketplaces rather than for towels to wash others’ feet, it must be particularly painful. Priests begin to obsess about becoming pastors of particularly prestigious or cushy assignments, or the title Monsignor, or even to become a bishop. Religious covet being chosen for further study, or positions, or particular apostolates. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could concern ourselves with such trivialities. He didn’t pour out his love so that we could be selfish. “It shall not be this way among you,” he tells us today, before describing for us that to be great in his kingdom, we need to drink his chalice of suffering, to be baptized, immersed, in his self-giving love, to serve rather than be served, and to give our own life with him as a ransom to liberate others. Jesus doesn’t seek to take away our desire for greatness but to have us choose the path that will lead to eternal greatness, which is precise the humble way of self-giving love that will lead to eternal exaltation. Jesus wanted his apostles, and he wants us, to be ambitious for the right things. He wanted them to strive to advance not in a hierarchy of “power,” but in a hierarchy of true Christian loving service, not on the worldly or ecclesiastical ladder of status, but on the ladder of holiness. To be number one would not be decided by sharing Christ’s power, but by sharing Christ’s love. Christ’s cabinet would be filled not by those who would kiss his butt, but by those who would put their own butts on the line for Him and for others, by being baptized into Christ’s death through their own suffering and death. He who is the Way has shown them us the path to greatness and the means to become truly number one. Jesus wants us all to be great, not mediocre. Over and over again he stressed that he wants us to “strive,” to “seek,” to “burn,” to “hunger and thirst” for greatness (Mt 5:6; Mt 6:32-33; Lk 12:30; Lk 12:49; Lk 13:24) But the greatness to which he wants us to aspire has nothing to do with some type of terrestrial pecking-order. Real greatness, he describes, is to become most like him, to share in his greatness, in his divine holiness, in his total self-giving love.
- St. Peter was present when this conversation took place, and he took it to heart. Even though he would fail through a weak flesh in the future, in his spirit he sought to drink Christ’s chalice and submerge himself in Christ’s baptism of outpoured salvific blood. He shared that path to greatness with the first Christians in the diaspora of Churches in the Province of Asia, now part of Turkey. The age of persecution was beginning and he wanted them to know how to respond. He began the section we have today by saying, “Realize that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious Blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished Lamb.” They were “ransomed” by the one who had come to “give his life as a ransom for many.” And the price of their ransom was his “precious Blood,” the Blood filling the chalice Christ was wanting us to drink and share. And that realization is meant to free us from “futile conduct” focused on “perishable things like silver and gold” and worldly pursuits in order to help us to take like seriously. Implicitly echoing Christ, St. Peter was saying, “It shall not be like this,” this futile conduct, “with you.” St. Peter explained the type of behavior, the form of life, Christ was asking of us. “Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love, love one another intensely from a pure heart.” We have been purified by the bath of Christ’s bloody Baptism that made our Baptism regenerative. That ought to make us obedient, and obedient above all to Christ’s “first” and “new commandment,” that we are to love others as Christ has loved us first. This is what he calls “sincere brotherly love,” fraternal agape in the truth, not merely going through the motions, but loving “intensely” and from a “pure heart” that “sees God” in others and sees God who calls us to serve others with intense love. God has given us the power to do this by helping us to be “born anew … from an imperishable seed,” which is “the living and abiding word of God,” not just the seeds of the Gospel implanted within but also Christ himself, the living and abiding Lord within us. We’re able to do what we’re called to do precisely because from the inside he makes it possible. Drinking his chalice and being submerged in his Baptism means becoming one with him and allowing him to continue his salving work within.
- Someone who did this is the holy Carmelite we celebrate today, St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi (1566-1607). At the age of 16, in 1582, she entered the convent and when she took the habit a year later, when the priest placed the crucifix in her hands, he said to her, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). She was filled with joy and an ardent desire to suffer together with Christ for the salvation of the world, to drink his chalice, to be baptized in his blood, to offer her life as a ransom for many. She ate only bread and water, except Sundays and solemnities. Her sufferings in life were severe, from migraines, to the dark night, to intense pains at even a light touch, eventually to paralysis. When another sister asked how she could bear so much pain without complaining, she pointed to the crucifix and said, “See what the infinite love of God has suffered for my salvation. That same love sees my weakness and gives me courage. Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ and who offer up their own to God through His passion find their pains sweet and pleasant.” The greater her suffering, the greater her desire for it. “O Lord,” she once prayed, “let me suffer or let me die, or rather let me live on so that I may suffer more.” She heroically wanted to drink the chalice of suffering to the dregs. At the end of her life, as she was preparing to die at 41, she said to her superior and the sisters who were at her bedside, “Reverend mother and dear sisters, I am about to leave you, and the last thing I ask of you — and I ask it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — is that you love Him alone, that you trust implicitly in Him and that you encourage one another continually to suffer out of love for Him!” To love and trust in Jesus enough to suffer out of love for Him who suffered out of love for us. This was the means by which she loved her sisters sincerely, intensely and with a pure heart. This was the means by which she became great. And she’s praying for us today to become great with her and as she did, following the Lord’s indications.
- Christ wants us to be great and today he shows us how. The greatest illustration he gives us of the path to greatness is here in the Mass, our participation in time in the eternal offering of Christ in the Last Supper and on Calvary. When Jesus humbly bent down at the beginning of the Mass to wash his followers’ feet, he was just getting started. Later he would abase himself even further, changing bread and wine into his body and blood so that we, his servants, could consume him and live off of him. This is the chalice he places before us to drink, to which offer he hopes we will respond with as much trust and zeal as John and James. I have always loved those altar cloths in many Churches and Chapels across the globe that have had written on the sides of them St. John’s and James’ response to Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the chalice I am about to drink?” “Possumus!,” they said, Latin for “We Can!” Those words on the altar cloth are a reminder for all of us, as we lift the chalice of salvation, that the Lord calls us to greatness not just by celebrating the Mass but by doing this in memory of Christ and learning from him how to be the servant and slave of all and give our life as a ransom for many. He not only wants us to receive his self-gift of loving service in the Eucharist, but he wants us to make it the path of our life. He simplifies everything he’s taught us today about the path to true greatness in the words he will say again to us in a few minutes: “Do this in memory of me!” May Saints James, John and Peter, may St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi and all the saints intercede for us that we might take life seriously, heed the imperishable word of God announced to us today, drink of the chalice and be immersed in Christ, so that we may become the true, sincere, pure and intense servants of each other, giving our life to rescue people from slavery and loving them into eternity.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 PT 1:18-25
Realize that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious Blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished Lamb.
He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.
by obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love,
love one another intensely from a pure heart.
You have been born anew,
not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God, for:
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers,
and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.
Responsorial Psalm PS 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Alleluia MK 10:45
The Son of Man came to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 10:32-45
The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus went ahead of them.
They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them
what was going to happen to him.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
They answered him,
“Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.”
Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”