Entering the Crucible with Trust, 7th Tuesday (I), February 21, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church
February 21, 2017
Sir 2:1-11, Ps 37, Mk 9:30-37

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus continues to stress with his disciples the same lesson they rejected in Caesarea Philippi, that God the Father told three of them to listen to on Mt. Tabor, and that Jesus reemphasized as they were descending the mountain. He says for the second time, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” In response to this, they do not console him or even ask him questions to try to understand. Instead, they begin to debate who’s better than whom. It’s sad and ridiculous. It would be like if a mom said she had two weeks to live and the kids, rather than focusing on her, began immediately in her presence to talk about who gets the car. But Jesus never tried to eliminate his followers’ ambition, but to purify it and direct it toward true greatness. He told them the path, which would be his path, the path of cruciform love: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” To be great we must become great in loving service. And to illustrate exactly what he was describing, lest we interpret it according to our comforts, he took a child and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” An infant is someone who cannot will to reward us, with whom we cannot engage in a quid pro quo. A child is not even able to thank us. While it’s true that whenever we love we receive more than we give and that those who love children receive so many blessings in return, Jesus’ point is that we need to love those who cannot explicitly reward us. That’s the type of service we’re called to give to which we’re supposed to aspire. This is on of the reasons why the Sisters of Life are so important, because you, Sisters, help us all and not just pregnant mothers in distress to receive children, including children the world doesn’t want, as we would receive Jesus and God the Father. You help remind us of the type of service to which we’re called. You show us the path to real greatness!
  • In the first reading from the Book of Sirach, we ponder the wisdom of the Cross, of this life of cruciform love. Today’s passage begins, “When you come to serve the Lord, … prepare yourself” not for a stream of consolation, but “for trials.” It then describes them: “time of adversity,” “crushing misfortune,” even “a crucible of humiliation.” These trials are all tests, meant to help purify us just as “in fire gold and silver are tested.” For that reason, while we’re in them, we should not think that God has abandoned us, but is helping us to learn how to be great, to learn how to love him and trust in him so that we might truly serve him and become the servant of all. So he tell us “Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and received the word of understanding undisturbed in time of adversity, wait on God with patience, cling to him, forsake him not, … accept whatever befalls you, be steadfast when sorrowful, be patient in crushing misfortune, trust God and God will help you … and direct your way. Wait for his mercy, trust him and your reward will not be lost, hope for good things, love him and your hearts will be enlightened.” Sirach reminds us “Study the generations long past” including the martyrs “and understand: has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed? … Persevered and been forsaken? … Called upon God and been rebuffed?” God “save in time of trouble and is a protector to all who seek him in truth.” This is the type of trust in trial we witness in Jesus when he was fulfilling today’s Gospel words on the Cross. In Psalm 22 and 69 which he cited in his words “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “I thirst,” they both finish with hymns of trust and praise. The crucible of humiliation is God’s means to help make us great like Christ.
  • The saint the Church celebrates today, St. Peter Damian, lived this truth. He was neglected as a baby because his older brothers told his mother the family couldn’t have another mouth to feed, but another woman in the neighborhood suckled him. Orphaned, he was placed in the care of an older brother who neglected him badly, but eventually he was rescued from another brother who was a priest, who provided for his education and set him on the trajectory one day to be a doctor of the Church. His life was a crucible but at the same time he learned the power and wisdom of the Cross. When Pope Benedict gave a catechesis on him in 2009, he spoke about the Cross in his life, beginning with the Hermitage in which he worshipped God: “One detail should be immediately emphasized,” Pope Benedict said: “the Hermitage at Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross and the Cross was the Christian mystery that was to fascinate Peter Damian more than all the others. ‘Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ,’ he said; and he described himself as ‘Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ’ (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed the most beautiful prayers to the Cross in which he reveals a vision of this mystery which has cosmic dimensions for it embraces the entire history of salvation: ‘O Blessed Cross,’ he exclaimed, ‘You are venerated, preached and honoured by the faith of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the Prophets, the senate that judges the Apostles, the victorious army of Martyrs and the throngs of all the Saints’ (Sermo XLVII, 14, p. 304).” Pope Benedict drew a lesson for all of us: “Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the example of St Peter Damian spur us too always to look to the Cross as to the supreme act God’s love for humankind of God, who has given us salvation.”
  • That Cross, too, becomes a way of life. It certainly did for St. Peter Damian. Early in life, he would offer hospitality to the poor as a way of serving Christ and voluntarily embraced poverty to be close to them. This was a way of life he brought to the monastery with him and in which he formed so many others. He used to call himself Petrus ultimus monachorum servus, “Peter, the least servant of the monks,” which points to how he became great by becoming the servant of all, just as he early called himself not servus servorum Dei like St. Gregory the Great, “servant of the servants of God” but ‘Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus, “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.” All servants of God are servants of the Cross and he sought to become the least of all and the servant of all. As a doctor of the Church, by his words and example, he is meant to teach us all.
  • So today as we come to this altar and receive the foremost outpouring of God’s love and service in giving us himself in the Eucharist, we prepare ourselves for the trials that come today with justice and awe, sincerity and steadfastness of heart, patience, love, and hope, ambitious for the chance with Christ to become least and a servant of the rest and to welcome, by the power of the Holy Spirit, every child of God no matter how small as we would welcome God the Son and God the Father!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 SIR 2:1-11

My son, when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.
Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.
Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and God will help you;
trust in him, and he will direct your way;
keep his fear and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy,
turn not away lest you fall.
You who fear the LORD, trust him,
and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the LORD, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
You who fear the LORD, love him,
and your hearts will be enlightened.
Study the generations long past and understand;
has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his commandments and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed?
Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth.

Responsorial Psalm PS 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40

R. (see 5) Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
R. Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.
The LORD watches over the lives of the wholehearted;
their inheritance lasts forever.
They are not put to shame in an evil time;
in days of famine they have plenty.
R. Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.
Turn from evil and do good,
that you may abide forever;
For the LORD loves what is right,
and forsakes not his faithful ones.
R. Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
R. Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.

Alleluia GAL 6:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”