Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gate of Heaven
November 29, 2014
Rev 22:1-7, Ps 95, Lk 21:34-36
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in today’s homily:
- We come to the last day of the liturgical year and the Church has us focus anew on the Last Things. We get a clear image of heaven and then we are presented with the path to have that image of heaven become realized. This is a great gift we’re give as we end this liturgical year and prepare to enter into a new one with the Season of Advent that begins with the Mass of anticipation this afternoon.
- Let’s focus first on the image of heaven we see from the beginning of the last chapter of the Bible. This is what the Church wants us to long for so that we can experience the fulfillment of all of these images. The first thing we see is the throne of God and of the Lamb. God the Father and God the Son are sharing the same throne. It’s a great sign of the Trinitarian union. And from that throne we see a river of living water flowing down the middle of the street. This points to the salvation flowing from God. Christ identified himself in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well as the “spring of living water flowing up to eternal life” and we see how that water flows throughout heaven. It’s the water, in a sense, that flowed from his pierced side upon the Cross, the source of sacramental life for the Church. It’s the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ez 47) of the water flowing from the eastern side of the Temple, since Jesus is the true temple. For us today, with potable water, cold and hot, flowing throughout our houses in various faucets and bathrooms, it’s hard for us, perhaps impossible, for us truly to relate to the power of this image of flowing water, but in the ancient world, water was simply the most precious resource of all. In many places, there was not adequate water supplies. In other places, there was water, but it carried disease and pollution and couldn’t be drunk. To talk about water flowing from the throne was to describe life flowing from the throne and not just survival but an enlivening, refreshing joy, the joy that comes when we drink a cold glass of water on a very hot day. We also notice that the water was flowing down the center of the street. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the water flowed into the Arabah desert, into the wilderness, where it brought life on both sides of the stream and even resurrected the Dead Sea. In the Book of Revelation, it was no longer flowing where everything was dead, where there was no habitation, but rather was flowing down the center of the street, in the center of all the action. We see on both sides of the river the Tree of Life was growing, in essence extending over the river and the street, and that Tree of Life both nourished and healed, nourished because it gave constant fruit twelve times a year, once each month, and healed because it’s leaves served as medicine for all the nations. We know that the Tree of Life is actually the Cross of Jesus and that we’re both nourished from that Tree by the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for us on that Tree and we’re healed, because Jesus’ sacrifice brought the medicine of immorality to all of us dead in sin. This is a very powerful image of the importance of the two Sacraments Jesus established that we can receive over and over again because precisely he wants us to do so, the Sacrament of Nourishment (the Eucharist) and the Sacrament of Healing (Penance). These images of the throne, the living water, and the tree of life all point to what we will see in heaven, but they also provide a clear indication of how we’re supposed to live on earth.
- We turn next to the response of those in heaven, which likewise serves as an indication of the way we’re supposed to be preparing for heaven. Revelation tells us, “His servants will worship him” and then describes a two-fold worship: “They will look upon his face and his name will be on their foreheads.” The first adoration is looking on the Lord’s face, it’s prayer, it’s adoration. The great longing of faithful Jews and Christians is to see the face of God. We’ve prayed throughout the Psalms, “Show us the light of your face!” (Ps 4:7), “Let me see your face” (Ps 17:15), “Your face, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me” (Ps 27:8), “Let your face shine on your servant” (Ps 31:17), and “Let your face shine on us that we may be saved” (Ps 80:4). At the time of Moses, it was believed that one couldn’t see the face of God and live, but eventually this became the great desire, that rather than death, we would have life and joy in looking at God face-to-face. Heaven will be this “beatific vision.” St. John told us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed, but we know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This vision of God will make us more and more his image and likeness, more and more his beloved children, more and more Christ’s beloved Bride. So the first way we prepare is by prayer, by contemplation, by adoration. St. John Vianney used to teach that prayer is looking at God and being looked at by God in love, a thought that Pope Francis has often repeated. In order to prepare for heaven in which we hope to see God face-to-face forever is to seek his face here on earth, to seek him in prayer, in adoration, in the Eucharist and other sacraments, in others through charity. The second means of worship, Revelation tells us, is that God’s “name will be on their foreheads.” This is a beautiful image. We know from Biblical theology that God doesn’t “have” a name, but “is” his name, because God is simply. To pray in the “name” of Jesus, for example, means to pray through the “person” of Jesus. To bear the name of God is to bear God. And we see in heaven that we will bear God’s name on our forehead, almost like a radiant tattoo. I think this image means at least two things. First, God will be foremost in our minds, that his thoughts will have become our thoughts, that his ways, our ways, his will, our will. We will be inundated by his holy wisdom and see all things as they really are. Second, it means that our being effused by God in our minds will be conspicuous. Everyone will know that we are God’s and that we think like God thinks. It’s very important for us on earth to grasp this image. We’re not supposed to be “stealth Christians,” hiding our faith inside our clothing like a scapular that no one ever sees. We’re supposed to be living in such a day that people can read God even by looking at us, as if we had a radiant tattoo on our forehead saying, “God’s!” Returning to St. John Vianney, people were coming to confession to him from all over France, even though they could have gone much more conveniently to priests closer to them, because in him, the said, they saw “God in a man!” All of us as Christians are supposed to be conspicuous in our faith. While still totally being natural and human in the best sense, while not being eccentric crackpots, we’re supposed to be different from all the rest, living in such a way that people recognize that the most conspicuous thing about us is our faith, as if we really were tattooed with “God’s” on our forehead such that everyone would look at us, and at themselves, through that prism. In short, we’re supposed to live in such a way that God’s light radiates through us. In today’s passage from Revelation, it tells us, “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun for the Lord God shall give them light.” God who said, “Let there be light” at the beginning of time will no longer need a sun or any artificial light, because he will be our light, a sign that he will fulfill all our needs. And here on earth we’re called to reflect God’s uncreated light, to be the moon to his Sun, to be so irradiated by him who is the Light of the World and the Light of the Heavenly Jerusalem that we serve as the Light of the World and a foretaste of the light, of the clarity and warmth, of heaven. When on earth we pray, we receive that Light and then we’re made capable of living and walking in that light in such a way that others cannot help but notice it radiating from our foreheads, from our hearts, from our hands in service and our feet in evangelization.
- Do we live that way, however? Do we adore God on his throne, do we thirst for his living water, do we get nourished by his constant Fruit (the Eucharist) and healed by his Medicinal Leaves (Penance), do we seek his face and allow him to transform us into his face on earth? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tries to help us to live this way, but he says that we have a choice. The first option is to allow our hearts to become “drowsy” and says that there are two ways that happens, by “carousing and drunkeness” on the one hand and by giving in to “the anxieties of daily life” on the other. These are ways in which we do not live in the Lord’s light, first because we don’t think we need it since we’re not seeking his face but we’re seeking this worldly pleasures; the second, because even though his light is around us we obsess about our anxieties and fears such that our eyes, hearts and minds no longer notice the light. There are many people today who are living in darkness and we know that darkness abhors the light (Jn 3:19). The alternative, the means Jesus counsels for us to live in anticipation of heaven, is rather to “be vigilant at all times and pray,” to stay awake in the light even when physically we need to sleep, and to live each moment as a prayer in communion with God. That’s the way, he tells us, we will have the “strength to escape the imminent tribulations and to stand before the Son of Man.” It’s by prayer and vigilant expectation for the Bridegroom’s return, it’s by seeking His face, it’s by wearing his image and likeness on our own faces, that we will escape the upcoming tribulations through our union with Him and have the strength to stand before him when he comes. This verb “stand” doesn’t mean simply to be present, but it means to stand up straight and strong, like the Blessed Virgin Mary was on Calvary, not fainting our of fear but remain firm out of faith. God strengthens us to pray and to keep vigil through the living water flowing from the throne, from allowing God’s own life to flow within us.
- Our best teacher in this school of holiness, in this prayer and vigilance, in this allowing God’s own living water to flow within us, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate, on this last day of the liturgical year, the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gate of Heaven. The prayers of this votive Mass teach us quite clearly how she lived the words of today’s readings and how she seeks to help us to do the same. The Church addresses her in the Preface as the “Virgin Mother, prefigured in the eastern gate of the temple through which the Lord would enter,” and the “Virgin at Prayer always interceding for sinners that they may turn to her Son, who unseals the fountain of ever-flowing grace and opens the door of forgiveness.” We ask God that, following her example and profiting from her intercession, “we may remain faithful in the love of Christ and so pass safely through the gate of your city in heaven.” She is the one who was ready for God when at last he came, the one who promptly said “fiat” to what God wanted to do in her for the salvation of the world. She was the one who sought to enflesh the Word of God by her actions, to let her whole life develop in accordance with God’s word, and hence it was fitting that the Word would take on her flesh and dwell among us. She is one who can echo what her Son says to us at the end of today’s passage. “Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book!” Blessed is the one who lives in accordance with God’s word. Blessed is the one who beholds in the word of God not only God’s face but the mirror of how we’re supposed to be (James 1:23) so that we can wear that Word on our foreheads always!
- Jesus says at the end of today’s passage, “Behold I am coming soon!” He’s coming sooner than we think. He’s coming today, for us, on this very altar. He comes for us every day, to nourish us from the Tree of Life. Hence there’s no reason for our hearts ever to become drowsy through pleasure or anxiety because the Son of Man stands before us to strengthen us to stand before Him. Our response today is to say, “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” We say in the words of today’s Psalm, “Come, Let us sing joyfully to the Lord. … Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving. … Let us bow down in worship!” We’re about to receive the One who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” He is the one who from this altar turns on the faucet of living water flowing to eternal life.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 22:1-7
An angel showed me the river of life-giving water,
sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God
and of the Lamb down the middle of the street,
On either side of the river grew the tree of life
that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month;
the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found anymore.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,
and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun,
for the Lord God shall give them light,
and they shall reign forever and ever.And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true,
and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits,
sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.”
“Behold, I am coming soon.”
Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book.
Responsorial Psalm ps 95:1-2, 3-5, 6-7ab
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great king above all gods;
In his hands are the depths of the earth,
and the tops of the mountains are his.
His is the sea, for he has made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
R. Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Gospel lk 21:34-36
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”