Entering into Christ’s Saving Obedience, 3rd Tuesday (I), January 24, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Francis de Sales
January 24, 2017
Heb 10:1-10, Ps 40, Mk 3:31-35


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • God the Son came into the world for a two-fold mission and we see both aspects of that mission in today’s readings. His mission was one of obedience. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that all Old Covenant sacrifices were not sufficient to “take away sins” or to “make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices.” The sacrifices of “bulls and goats” and other animals are a sign of the need for forgiveness, “only a yearly remembrance of sins,” but they are not capable of taking them away and sanctifying the worshippers. That’s in total contrast to the sacrifice Jesus himself would make in the New and Eternal Covenant. Putting into Jesus’ mouth the words of Psalm 40 that constitute today’s Responsorial Psalm, the Letter to the Hebrews says, “For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” There’s a Hebrew couplet here, in which the same thing is said twice with different words: the first point is that the sacrifices, burnt offerings, sin offerings of the Old Covenant neither were sought by God nor delighted him; the second is that God the Father prepared a body for Jesus, a body that would do God’s will.” That’s the sacrifice that God both desired and that delighted him. God wanted a sacrifice of obedience in the flesh to counteract the sins that needed to be expiated, because every sin, from Adam’s and Eve’s down to yours and mine, flows from disobedience, from a refusal to hear what God is saying and act on it. Pope Benedict wrote about this in his 2008 apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, Verbum Domini in a paragraph subtitled “Sin as a refusal to hear the word of God”: “The word of God also inevitably reveals the tragic possibility that human freedom can withdraw from this covenant dialogue with God for which we were created. The divine word also discloses the sin that lurks in the human heart. Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with himself. Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear. The radical obedience of Jesus even to his death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:8) completely unmasks this sin. His obedience brings about the New Covenant between God and man, and grants us the possibility of reconciliation. Jesus was sent by the Father as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10; Heb7:27). We are thus offered the merciful possibility of redemption and the start of a new life in Christ. For this reason it is important that the faithful be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation.”
  • Jesus’ whole existence is a commentary on obedience. We see a glimpse of this in the Psalm today. If we pay close attention we realize that the way the Psalm is quoted in the Letter to the Hebrews is not exactly the way it appears in the Psalm. The reason for that is because the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was using the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, written about 270 years before Christ by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Hebrew version found in the Psalms. The Psalm says, “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, ‘Behold I come.’” Instead of a “body you have prepared for me,” the Hebrew says, “ears open to obedience you gave me.” As I’ve stressed many times, in Hebrew the same word is used for “listen” and for “obey,” because conceptually the Jews believed if we’re really listening to God we’re going to obey him. In Latin, this same idea is kept in the word for obedience, ob-audire, which means to listen intensively. Jesus came into the world to obey. The entire body God prepared for him was meant to be an “ear” listening to God and acting on what was heard. This was the sacrifice God desired and delighted in. This is the sacrifice that can do far more than symbolize our need for forgiveness but actually expiate our sins of disobedience. Jesus’ whole life was a commentary on the words of the Psalm refrain we recited today, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”
  • But that’s only the first half of the mission for which Jesus took on a body in order to give that body for us in atonement for our sins. He also came into the world to teach us how to obey in the same way, to listen not just with our ears but our whole body and soul and act on what God has asked. We see that in today’s Gospel. When people informed him that his mother and his relatives were outside wanting to see him but couldn’t get into the crowded house, Jesus used it as a teaching opportunity to describe the type of family he had come from heaven to earth to found: “Who are my mother and my brothers?,” he asked. Then turning to those seated around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The family of faith Jesus was forming for his heavenly Father would be compromised of those who do the Father’s will, those who hear God’s word and act on it. This is obviously what constitutes the greatness of Mary, Jesus’ mother, someone who upon hearing from the Archangel Gabriel that God’s will was for her to conceive the Son of God in her womb, replied, “Let it be done to me according to your will.” Jesus wants us all to become his brothers and sisters morally by imitating him in obeying the Father. He taught us to pray to God as a family asking for the grace to become his true sons and daughters through obedience, by meaning the words Jesus put on our lips: “Our Father… thy will be done.” St. Paul’s words to the Romans here that are a fitting commentary on how God has likewise prepared a body for us so that we may do the Father’s will by obediently offering that body as a sacrifice in union with Jesus for our salvation and the salvation of others. St. Paul wrote, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). To form us to do that is the second reason why Jesus came. And he assists us to do that by uniting us to his body through Holy Communion so that all of us together make one pleasing and acceptable sacrifice to God.
  • The saints are those who are distinguished by their obedience to God, by their behaving truly as Jesus’ spiritual siblings. Today we celebrate a saint whose whole life was a lesson in loving, trusting obedience. St. Francis de Sales came from a noble family in southeastern France. His father had given him a tremendous education and he graduated with his doctorate in law at the age of 20. By the time he returned home his father had already arranged for him to marry an heiress and become a senator. When Francis told him he had made a promise of chastity and wanted to become a priest, the Father was outraged thinking his son had lost his mind. A difficult struggle ensued, with Francis trusting in God to find a solution. Eventually the Bishop of Geneva, at the intercession of one of Francis’ maternal uncles who was a priest, obtained for Francis the appointment as second in charge of the Diocese of Geneva, which placated Francis’ father’s sense of pride. Francis was ordained a priest and took up his duties. In addition to the administrative tasks for which he was responsible, he quickly became a much sought confessor and friend of the poor. The diocese of Geneva, however, was in shambles. Decades of scandals among the clergy had made it very easy for Calvinism to spread throughout the region of the Chablais. The people were so poorly catechized that they were not able to respond to Calvinist arguments. They were, moreover, so angry at the hypocrisy 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. Some reports said that there were only about 20 Catholics left in the vast region. Nine months after Francis’ ordination, the bishop held a meeting with all his priests, seeking volunteers to send to the region to try to win the people back. He didn’t hide the dangers or the difficulties. The people were not only ill-disposed but hostile: the first priest who had been sent had been attacked and driven from the region. None of the clergy at the meeting stepped forward for what minimally was a tough assignment, but could be a fatal one. Finally, Francis stood up and said, “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.” The bishop accepted the proposal, over the fierce objections of Francis’ father, who thought his son was signing up for a suicide assignment — and according to worldly logic, his father was absolutely right. At 27 years old, Francis, traveling by foot, set out to try to win back the vast geographic area. The work was rough and dangerous. For his protection, he was ordered to sleep at night in a military garrison. On two occasions, assassins ambushed him along the way, but both times, seemingly miraculously, he survived. On another occasion, he was attacked by wolves and had to spend a glacial night in a tree. But he labored on, despite having little to show for all his effort. He wrote in a letter to a friend, “We are but making a beginning. I shall go on in good courage, and I hope in God against all human hope.” Through meekness, forgiveness and the publication of many tracts, he patiently set forth Catholic teaching, charitably explaining the errors of Calvinism, and tackling head on controversial issues. To those who still harbored anger toward the clerics who committed “spiritual murder” through scandalous behavior, Francis plainly acknowledged the evil and harm done, but warned his readers not to commit “spiritual suicide,” by using those scandals as a means to cut themselves off from the sacraments and the Church. Within the span of five years, the holy “Apostle of the Chablais” had reconciled and evangelized almost the entire region. He helped them all to return to the loving obedience of faith in which he excelled.
  • Jesus came in order to obey the Father and make it possible for us to enter into his fiat voluntas tua to the Father. Let us ask him for that grace as we obediently “do this in memory of” him and unite ourselves to his holy holocaust of “ears open to obedience” lived in a body totally given to obedience. Today we say with him, as St. Francis de Sales did through life, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Heb 10:1-10

Brothers and sisters:
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come,
and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect
those who come to worship by the same sacrifices
that they offer continually each year.
Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered,
since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer
have had any consciousness of sins?
But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins,
for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats
take away sins.
For this reason, when he came into the world, he said:
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, As is written of me in the scroll,
Behold, I come to do your will, O God.
First he says, Sacrifices and offerings,
burnt offerings and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.

These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, Behold, I come to do your will.
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 40:2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.

Alleluia See Mt 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 3:31-35

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.
Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”