Faithful Witnesses of the Heart of Jesus and of the Father, 4th Wednesday of Easter, May 10, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai
May 10, 2017
Acts 12:24-13:5, Ps 67, Jn 12:44-50

 

To listen to today’s homily, please click below:

 

The following points were considered in the homily: 

  • Today we reach the midpoint of the Easter season and there’s a shift in our Easter Mystagogical Catechesis as we make a transition from Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd to our response to those words and to all that the Church has been giving us over the course of these last three and a half weeks: our response to the reality of his resurrection and appearances, of Baptism, of his Real Presence, of his Shepherdly care. Today’s passage is Jesus’ last public teaching prior to Holy Thursday. Jesus gives these words right after the crowds were challenging Jesus’ Messianic credentials. John says, “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him… Nevertheless, many, even among the authorities, believed in him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not acknowledge it openly in order not to be expelled from the synagogue, for they preferred human praise to the glory of God” (Jn 12:37, 42-43). Some refused to believe; others believed but cared too much about human respect. Neither group received and walked in the light Jesus had brought into the world. The Church wants us willingly to believe and to care fundamentally about pleasing God by walking fully in is light.
  • In the Gospel today, Jesus reveals that he has come as the image of the Father. The one who sees Him, sees the Father. The One who hears him, hears what the Father commanded him to say and speak. The one who believed in Him, believes in the Father who sent him. God the Father, Jesus tells us, sent Jesus into the world to save the world, not to condemn it, but in order to receive that gift, people needed to respond and leave death row. They need to leave the darkness and come into the light. Jesus has given us the Father’s commandment, which is “eternal life,” but we need to live by that commandment, otherwise God’s word, that commandment, will condemn us. Jesus’ words are words to do, not just to hear. His call is something upon which to act with commitment, not something just to consider and remain where we are. The ultimate meaning of a human life depends on how we respond to Jesus’ light, his words, his person, his salvation, placing that gift above human respect and every other consideration.
  • Today in the first reading, we encounter those who show us the way to do this. Paul and Barnabas and the other members of the Church of Antioch were seeking to live by the light of the Lord, to act on his word, to become the living echoes of his voice, and images of the image of the invisible God, radiating his light to those who were still in darkness. The Church was growing by all those drawn to the light they saw in Christians, for in hearing them, they were hearing Christ who had sent them and hearing God the Father; in seeing them, they were seeing a little bit of Christ and the Father he reflected; in believing in them, they were believing in Christ and in the Father who loved the world so much to send his Son to rescue it. So docile were they to the Lord’s command that when the Holy Spirit revealed to them his will while they were praying and fasting, to set Saul and Barnabas apart for the work he had in mind for them, they immediately acted. Paul and Barnabas gave God a blank check. The whole community allowed them to go rather than selfishly kept them to themselves. They knew they were being sent out as a light to the nations and they rejoiced and supported this Mission. And we see what happened. After they were set apart, “They, sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.” They were passing on to others Christ’s words, his commandment, his life, his very life risen from the dead in them. And from there they would begin to light the whole world ablaze.
  • The same Holy Spirit who set Saints Paul and Barnabas apart for the work he had in mind set apart the saint whom we celebrate today for what seemed to be a forgotten work in a forgotten place, but one that not only put a leper colony on the map but also began to help so many recover from spiritual leprosy of the eyes, ears and especially heart. Saint Damien de Veuster, famously called of Molokai, was born in Belgium. When he was 24, his brother August, whom he had followed into the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, was too ill to go as a missionary to Hawaii, and Damien took his place. The Holy Spirit was doubtless at work. He was ordained a priest there and worked for nine years mostly on the island of Hawaii. He showed early signs of his pastoral zeal in a letter he to his parents, imploring them, “Do not forget this poor priest running night and day over the volcanoes night and day in search of strayed sheep. Pray night and day for me, I beg you.” In 1873, Bishop Louis Maigret briefed the Sacred Hearts Fathers on the need for priestly ministrations in Kalaupapa on the Island of Molokai, which King Kamehameha V had set up seven years earlier to quarantine lepers. Of the 816 with Hansen’s Disease in the enclave, 200 were Catholic, and he had received letters from several of them begging him to send a priest so that they might suffer and die with the consolation of the sacraments. The bishop knew what he was proposing: a slow martyrdom, as chaplain to a walking graveyard. Fully conscious of the consequences, Fr. Damien stepped forward to take the assignment. When he arrived on May 10, Bishop Maigret prophetically introduced him to the colony of lepers as “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you.”
  • The 33-year old priest got right down to work — every type of work. He built churches, homes and beds. He created farms and schools and worked to enforce basic laws. He fought to have medicine sent and to get his people whatever medical care was possible. At first, it was hard for him to approach the lepers because he had a natural revulsion to the fetid odor given off by their leprous sores. To overcome this olfactory repugnance, he began to smoke a pipe so that the smell of tobacco would make it possible for him to approach the lepers with dignity as he began to dress their ulcers. While what he could do for their deteriorating bodies was limited, he knew that he could help prepare their souls to meet the Lord, to help them live with an eternal purpose. The first thing he did was to give increased attention to the funeral rites. He knew that if the lepers saw how much care he showed them at their death, they might begin to sense the value of their lives. He brought them the sacraments at their bedsides and tidied their rooms and beds to await the imminent visit of the Lord Jesus. He formed choirs, taught them how to sing beautiful hymns at Requiem Masses, and taught others to play accompanying musical instruments. He cleaned the cemetery and adorned it with flowers. He even made coffins. At the same time, he instituted perpetual adoration, so that the lepers would know that the Lord Jesus was with them always and so that they would have the opportunity to pour out their hearts to Him in their need. Father Damien knew, too, that this was what sustained him. “I find my consolation,” he wrote in a letter, “in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Savior in the Holy Eucharist.… Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content.” It is unsurprising that his witness began to win over the members of his community. Six months after his arrival, he had 400 people preparing for baptism. A cheerful spirit began to radiate in the community in place of the former dejection.
  • His greatest cross, he said, was not having another priest to whom to go to confession. Despite the accolades he was gaining from the stories about him across the globe, he humbly knew how much he needed the Lord’s forgiveness, how often he shrunk from living and proclaiming the Gospel, how often he failed to live for God’s glory, to live by his word, to live in communion. He would often have to row out to ships in the harbor, ask if there were a chaplain on board and then, since he was prevented from coming on board, without shame shout up his sins to the confessor. It was a great witness to sailors, priests and lepers alike, and something that helped them recalibrate the direction of their life and whether they were courageous enough to embrace the mercy God was extending if only we would receive it in humility.
  • In December of 1884, Fr. Damien discovered that he had contracted leprosy. He wrote, “My eyebrows are beginning to fall out. Soon I will be disfigured entirely. Having no doubts about the true nature of my disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people.” To those who asked him how he was holding up, he said, “Our Lord will give me the graces I need to carry my cross and follow him, even to our special Calvary at Kalawao.” He died during on Tuesday of Holy Week in 1889. Just as the Lord Jesus loved us enough that he came into our world, took on our human flesh, and redeemed it, so Fr. Damien entered into the lepers’ world, courageously took on their dreaded disease, and united it and them to the Lord. In the Opening Prayer of the Mass, we asked God the Father to grant us, through St. Damien’s intercession, that we may be like him “faithful witnesses of the heart of your Son Jesus” through being “servants of the most needy and rejected.” He was a faithful witness of the heart of Jesus, because with faith, he heard Jesus’ words about loving his neighbor and acted on them, and with eyes looking with Jesus’ light, he was able to see the face of Christ even in the rotting faces of those with Hansen’s disease. He became for them and for us an icon of Christ’s tenderness and mercy for every person, revealing the beauty of his soul that no illness, however repulsive, can disfigure. He will forever be the face of the Good Samaritan because by God’s grace he had willed to do everything that he could to love others as he had been loved by him first. He gave God great glory here on earth and now God has glorified him forever.
  • The same Lord whom Saints Paul, Barnabas and Damien knew and met and in whom they believed, the same Holy Spirit who set them apart for a special work, speaks to us at Mass, meets us in the Holy Eucharist, consecrates us for a special Mission and then sends us forth together with the Holy Spirit to bring his light, his word, his presence and his salvation. For us we’re not being sent to Cyprus or Hawaii but to the “capital of the world,” New York, empowered by the same gifts that strengthened them. The Church continues to pray for us. The Church continues to fast for us. And we, spurning human respect, seek to do it all for God’s glory. This requires great humility. In the Gospel Jesus spoke not of himself but of the Father. And we speak not of ourselves but of Christ, seeking the hallowing of God’s name not ours, the coming of his kingdom not ours, the doing of his will not ours. The more we do so the more we begin to share his attributes. We become united with him to such a degree that we decrease and he increases, that others in accepting us, or rejecting us, are accepting or rejecting him. We’ll see this reality played out in a special way in St. Paul’s life. He would eventually say, “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:18-20).
  • Today as we prepare to the Lord Jesus, the light and life of the world, he renews us in our calling to be set apart from ordinary things for the work to which he has called us, so that he might send us out to serve others in communion with the love flowing out from his heart. May we respond to this grace of our consecration, renewed each consecration of the Mass,  like Saints Paul, Barnabas and Damien did, so that we might spread God’s glory, receive the gift of eternal life that comes from acting on Jesus’ word, and help many others to come to experience with us the eternal kingdom of light!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Acts 12:24—13:5a

The word of God continued to spread and grow.
After Barnabas and Saul completed their relief mission,
they returned to Jerusalem,
taking with them John, who is called Mark.
Now there were in the Church at Antioch prophets and teachers:
Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene,
Manaen who was a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them.”
Then, completing their fasting and prayer,
they laid hands on them and sent them off.
So they, sent forth by the Holy Spirit,
went down to Seleucia
and from there sailed to Cyprus.
When they arrived in Salamis,
they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8

R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
or:
R. Alleluia.
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
or:
R. Alleluia.
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
or:
R. Alleluia.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel Jn 8:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 12:44-50

Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me believes not only in me
but also in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
I came into the world as light,
so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.
And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them,
I do not condemn him,
for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words
has something to judge him: the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day,
because I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”