Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Ireneus, Doctor and Martyr
June 28, 2016
Amos 3:1-8.4:11-12, Ps 5, Mt 8:23-27
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today’s Gospel about Jesus’ calming of the winds and the seas is much more than a demonstration of the Lord’s power over the forces of nature. He who with a word created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all they contain, with a word could calm them. And, as we see in the Gospel, he did. Neither is today’s Gospel a manifestation of the failure of the apostles to believe in this power of Jesus. They knew that he had the power, which is why they woke him up in the first place. They had already seen him cast out demons, cure Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others who were ill, heal lepers, forgive the sins and paralysis of a crippled man, and straighten a man’s withered hand. There were no doubts about Jesus’ omnipotence. The point of today’s Gospel is that, even though they knew Jesus had the power to calm the seas and the wind, they began to doubt whether he would do so. It is a display of their failure to believe in Jesus’ love for them. In St. Mark’s version of the same scene, as they startled Jesus from what must have been a very deep and long-overdue sleep on an uncomfortable and rocky boat, they asked, “Master, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you not care?! They had begun to doubt whether Jesus gave a hoot whether they drowned in the lake. They had begun to question whether he was indifferent to their plight, as if he didn’t care whether they died.
- Jesus’ whole life, of course, is an answer to that question. He did care that we were about to die and that was the reason why the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, took our human nature and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He cared enough that he spent himself to the point of exhaustion teaching, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. He cared enough ultimately to take our place on death row, giving his life so that we might survive. Like Jonah, who was tossed into the sea in order to calm the ferocious storm of the sea, so Jesus tossed himself overboard to quell the tempests that were causing us to die. As he hurled himself into the abyss from the Cross, he calmed the storm of sin so that we might reach the eternal shore. He did care!
- The problem was that the apostles doubted in his loving concern. In this the twelve were like the twelve tribes of Israel 1300 years before. After they had witnessed God’s hand in the ten plagues of Egypt, after they had seen him part the Red Sea, after they had seen pharoah’s horsemen and chariots perish in the sea, after they had witnessed Moses’ strike the rock to provide them water, after they had been fed miraculously with manna and then quails from heaven, after they had seen the thunder and lightening of Moses’ conversations with God on the top of Mt. Sinai, the Jews continued to doubt in God’s love for them. They obviously knew that God had the power — he had already shown them this power on all these occasions — but they doubted whether he would continue to use that power to help them. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt,” they complained to Moses, “that you have taken us away to die in the desert?” (Ex 14:11). Whenever anything got difficult, they grumbled. They doubted. They began to whether God’s solicitude had an expiration date. His past actions didn’t factor into their equation.
- The same thing was happening with their descendants in the boat. They had witnessed Jesus’ power and his goodness on so many occasions, but they began to wonder whether his love — not his power — had a limit. They began to question whether he was indifferent to their plight. It was, simply put, a lack of faith in who he was, based on a failure to grasp the meaning of all he had done up until then. That’s why Jesus, as soon as he had awakened turned to his followers and said, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
- The same lack of faith that happened to the Jews in the desert and to the apostles on the Sea of Galilee can happen to all of us. Generally, few of us question whether God has the power to work a miracle, but very often we begin to wonder whether he has the will. We, too, can begin to think that he is indifferent to our plight. When we’re assailed by the storms of sorrow, the downpours of doubt, the twisters of uncertainty, the hail of anxiety, and the blizzards of loneliness, we can start to imagine that he is having sweet dreams while we’re experiencing nightmares. We can start to reckon that he’s snoring while we’re screaming for help. This happens when we, like the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, begin to forget all that the Lord has done for us up until now and what that shows about who he is and how loved we are by him. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “If God didn’t even spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, would he not give us everything else along with him? (Rom 8:32). If God the Father was willing to allow his Son to be brutally killed so that we might live, he is going to respond with love in every circumstance, by giving us what he knows we need. But we need to have faith in him and in the power of his love. The apostles were anxious in the boat because they were paying more attention to the waves and to the winds around them than to the presence of Jesus with in the boat. The same thing happens with us. We need to focus more on Christ than on our problems. This is the mark of a life of faith. Jesus turns to us in the midst of whatever hardship we are experiencing and says, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” To believe in him means not just to trust in his power, but to have faith in his goodness and love and that that goodness and love perdures.
- In today’s first reading we see an instance of God’s continued goodness and love when his people lose their faith. He intervenes to help them rediscover it. Through the Prophet Amos, God reminds the children of Israel that he brought them out of the land of Egypt, that he favored them “more than all the families of the earth,” but they forgot that that privilege had a purpose, namely so that through their fidelity they might become a light to the world. That’s why God then says, “Therefore I will punish you for all your crimes.” When we hear a phrase like that, we can think that God is like us, taking vengeance on people who didn’t obey his rules; but what God was saying, rather, would be that he would bring them repentance by allowing them to suffer things that will remind them of how much they need him and his mercy and how when they live by sin rather than by faith they eventually weaken such that opposing powers like the Assyrians will triumph over them. The Prophet Amos goes through a list of things describing the principle of cause and effect: two people walk together because they agreed to do so; lions roar because they’ve caught pray; birds fall to the ground when they’re caught by a snare; trumpets sound to announce a battle cry. All of these point to the fact that “the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants, the prophets,” and just as people take fright when they hear a lion roar so when someone like Amos hears the Lord God speak, he must prophesy! That’s what he was doing. God caused him to come to proclaim his merciful castigation. They hadn’t learned the lessons of Sodom and Gomorrah, they had “not retuned to me,” the Lord said, and so now, he said, “I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel! … Prepare to meet your God.” They would suffer. They would long for a redeemer. And eventually one would come in his Son. God cared for them enough not to write them off but to redeem them. But everything, like storms, like the fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, are meant to help us grow in faith, and God wants us to act on this care and trust in it rather than take it for granted and forget it.
- St. Ireneus understood these lessons and sought to live them as he ministered in Turkey and France in the 2nd century as a priest and then a bishop. The first great systematic theologian in Church history — after, we could say, St. Paul — he’s most famous for a great sound byte on which the Church meditates every year in the passage from his treatise against heresies that makes up the second lesson of the Office of Readings for his feast. He says in Latin, gloria Dei vivens homo et vita hominis visio Dei: “The glory of God is man fully alive and the life of man is the vision of God.” The purpose of our existence is to glorify God, that happens when we become fully alive, and that happens through seeing God. Jesus Christ is the one in whom we see God, who helps us to understand what God sees, and then calibrates our vision so that, with purity of heart, we can see God in Christ, in prayer, in others, in daily events, and others can eventually see him in us. The way we see God is not by human eyes, but by faith, the same type of faith to which Jesus was calling the Church in Peter’s boat in today’s Gospel. Once we begin to share Jesus’ vision, to look at things the way they really are, to see how everything is meant to be related to God — or his absence in sin and evil — then the more we will come fully alive, because seeing the Lord allows us to unite ourselves to him who is the life. Eternal life, as Jesus would say in St. John’s Gospel, is knowing God the Father intimately by the power of the Holy Spirit and knowing intimately in the same action Jesus Christ whom he sent. Jesus wants us all to come fully alive by faith in this way, and he cares enough about us to try to work out everything toward this good end (cf. Rom 8:28).
- The way he adjusts our vision is each morning at daily Mass, when he speaks to us and then unites himself to us in the Word-made-flesh. This is the way that, no matter what storms we face, we recognize that he not only cares, but acts. As we prepare to behold the Lamb of God, we pray that God will give us the faith never to take our spiritual eyes off of him, and, becoming fully alive, may become his instruments so that others may see him more easily in us and come to find in him the same loving, eternally caring, Redeemer, St. Ireneus did and preached and we have and are called to proclaim!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 AM 3:1-8; 4:11-12
over the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt:
You alone have I favored,
more than all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you
for all your crimes.Do two walk together
unless they have agreed?
Does a lion roar in the forest
when it has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from its den
unless it has seized something?
Is a bird brought to earth by a snare
when there is no lure for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground
without catching anything?
If the trumpet sounds in a city,
will the people not be frightened?
If evil befalls a city,
has not the LORD caused it?
Indeed, the Lord GOD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants, the prophets.
The lion roars—
who will not be afraid!
The Lord GOD speaks—
who will not prophesy!
I brought upon you such upheaval
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah:
you were like a brand plucked from the fire;
Yet you returned not to me,
says the LORD.
So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel!
and since I will deal thus with you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel.
Responsorial Psalm PS 5:4B-6A, 6B-7, 8
At dawn I bring my plea expectantly before you.
For you, O God, delight not in wickedness;
no evil man remains with you;
the arrogant may not stand in your sight.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
You hate all evildoers;
you destroy all who speak falsehood;
The bloodthirsty and the deceitful
the LORD abhors.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
But I, because of your abundant mercy,
will enter your house;
I will worship at your holy temple
in fear of you, O LORD.
R. Lead me in your justice, Lord.
Alleluia PS 130:5
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 8:23-27
As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them,
“Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said,
“What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”