Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Our Lady, Health of the Sick
March 1, 2014
James 5:13-20, Ps 141, Mark 10:13-16
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In today’s readings, God teaches us five things that are meant to characterize our living out of the faith, both individually and communally. The Word of God is like a mirror lifted to remind us of who we are supposed to be. Let’s ponder each of those five elements that we encounter in the last words of St. James’ epistle to the first Christians and in today’s Gospel account of Jesus with the children.
- The first thing that is supposed to characterize a Christian and a Christian community is prayer. St. James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray.” Much later he says, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful,” and describes how Elijah’s prayer brought about a 42 month drought and again brought about rain at the end. A Christian should be distinguished above all by his prayer. Likewise every parish must be be a house of prayer. In the Responsorial Psalm today, we prayed, “Let my prayer come like incense before you, O Lord!” Our whole life and the daily life of our parishes should be this sweet-smelling incense.
- The second characteristic of individual believers and faith communities should be singing to the Lord. St. James asks, “Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise.” Singing should always characterize us and our faith. We see that Jesus led the apostles in singing on Holy Thursday. St. Paul said that he was always “singing praise with my spirit… and with my mind” and that hymns “build up the community” (1 Cor 14:15, 26). He wrote to the Ephesians that they should interact with each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord in their hearts with thanksgiving to God for everything (Eph 5:19). Singing is an essential part of our prayer, our worship and our joy. There’s something hugely important missing in our faith when we do not respond to the Holy Spirit who wants to help us to burst out in song to God. When you see certain Catholics at Church who prefer not to have any music at Mass, who refuse to sing anything even though they can sing, it’s sad, because it points to something missing in terms of the exuberant joy that should characterize our faith. Likewise with parishes. The strongest parishes are always characterized by vibrant singing, which in some ways is the most sweet incense of prayer that we can raise to God.
- The third characteristic is care for the sick, especially with the care given to us by Christ. St. James gives us the best description of the power of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in the early Church when he asks, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” We should all be Good Samaritans to the sick and suffering, but the best help we can bring to them is the help of Christ. Christ formed the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick so that through his ministers he might continue to share his healing touch with a suffering world. Especially for those who begin to be in danger of death due to illness and old age, the priest should always be called to come to lay hands on him and anoint him with the sacred oils. If someone has a vibrant personal faith, the person will readily recognize the value of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and call priests, both for one’s own needs and for the needs of sick loved ones and friends. On Wednesday, Pope Francis gave a catechesis in St. Peter’s Square on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, describing it as the means by which Jesus the Good Samaritan continues to heal those in need and entrust them to the Church as inn-keepers. But he said that many people are too superstitious about the Sacrament or too foolish and so don’t call. People think that to call the priest will bring “bad luck” because “the idea is floating about that the undertakers arrive after the priest. And this is not true!” He goes on to say we need to get over the taboo of being too afraid to call the priest, as if this will hurt the sick person to know that the sick person’s condition is serious. Pope Francis said, ” The priest comes to help the sick or elderly person; that is why the priest’s visit to the sick is so important; we ought to call the priest to the sick person’s side and say: ‘Come, give him the anointing, bless him.’ It is Jesus himself who comes to relieve the sick person, to give him strength, to give him hope, to help him, and also to forgive his sins. And this is very beautiful! And one must not think that this is taboo, because in times of pain and illness it is always good to know that we are not alone: the priest and those who are present during the Anointing of the Sick, in fact, represent the entire Christian community that as one body huddles around the one who suffers and his family, nurturing their faith and hope, and supporting them through their prayers and fraternal warmth. But the greatest comfort comes from the fact that it is the Lord Jesus himself who makes himself present in the Sacrament, who takes us by the hand, who caresses us as he did with the sick, and who reminds us that we already belong to him and that nothing — not even evil and death — can ever separate us from him. Are we in the habit of calling for the priest so that he might come to our sick … and our elderly, and give them this Sacrament, this comfort, this strength of Jesus to continue on?” Catholics and Catholic parishes who are alive with faith are ones that feature this type of loving compassion for the sick, suffering and dying.
- The fourth trait of vibrant Catholics and parishes is shown in the other sacrament of healing, the Sacrament of Penance. If our faith is strong, we will be receiving Jesus’ forgiveness often. If a parish’s faith is strong, the lines will be long to receive God’s mercy. A weak faith and a weak parish marginalize this Sacrament. Today St. James describes the practice of confession in the early Church. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In the early Church the forgiveness of sins wasn’t as easy or as private as it is today, where we go off one-on-one with a priest under the sacramental seal. In the early Church, you’d confess your sins publicly before the bishop. There was a class of believers who were called penitents, who had confessed their sins publicly and were given a penance — very often a long and hard one — that would keep them in the atrium of the Church until they had fulfilled their prayer and penance and could be readmitted to the community. St. James is calling us to pray for this class of penitents and to remember that we’re all among them. Today, we keep this rite of public confession when all of us, at the beginning of Mass, confessed that we have “greatly sinned” in words, thoughts, actions and omissions through our “own fault.” The prayer that the priest says doesn’t absolve us of mortal sins like the bishop would do individually in the ancient Church — we need to receive the Sacrament of Penance for this to occur — but it does remind us of the need for us to acknowledge how much and why we need God’s mercy to each other. Catholics who are really living their faith don’t go through the motions when they pray the Confiteor; they mean it. Likewise parishes that are thriving go from the Confiteor to the Sacrament of Confession. Couple to this aspect of confession and forgiveness, St. James gives us another indication of health Christians and parishes: they bring others to receive Jesus’ forgiveness through his Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He says that this is one of the greatest ways for us to be saved, by showing our love for the gift of salvation by bringing others to receive it. “Brothers and sisters,” St. James writes, “if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” One of the tests of the vitality of our faith and of our parish is how many I and we have been bringing back to the Sacrament of Mercy.
- The final aspect of Christian and Church life that the readings present to us today comes in the Gospel. Vibrant faith and parishes receive children lovingly as a gift from God and bring them to Jesus. In the Gospel, Jesus became indignant with the disciples because they were trying to keep children away from Jesus. Jesus said in response, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Jesus wants us both to bring children to him and to learn from children how to act before God with trust, humility, and a dependency on his providential care.
- At a personal level, one way this is lived is by married couples’ letting little children come to them by being generous in response to cooperating with God to bring children into the world and into the new life of baptism. In many Catholic homes, children are being prevented from coming to Jesus because couples are contracepting and preventing them from even being conceived. In places like France, there’s a real fear that the country will become Muslim, not because of sword and scimitar, but because in France Catholics are not replacing themselves — they’re having less than 2 children per couple — whereas Muslim couples are having 6 babies on average. The Catholic decision about having kids needs to be done in good conscience, prayerfully listening to God as to whether he would like a couple to try to conceive another child now or whether because of various pressures he thinks it would be more prudent through Natural Family Planning to delay the conceiving of another child. But there’s a bias in favor of life and letting children come to God. For children already conceived and born, there’s another dimension as well, which is taking them to Jesus in prayer, in the Sacraments at Church, to religious education, in charity to the poor and many other areas and no disciples, including parents, should prevent the little ones from entering into relationship with Jesus.
- At a parochial level, if a parish is vibrant it will be teeming with children and everyone will treat the children with love, seeking to help them enter more and more into the embrace and blessing of Jesus that we see at the end of today’s Gospel. In many parishes, children and their parents are not really welcomed with the love of Jesus. If an infant is having a bad day, often in Church parents will receive “evil eyes” from all directions. If a family walks on in with ten kids, often they’ll get reactions from people as if the parents have no discipline. Jesus was angry in the Gospel when kids were hindered from coming to him and I’m convinced he’s angry still whenever children and their families aren’t welcomed with love and helped to grow in Christian discipline. I’ve always said I would much rather have a parish in which people can’t hear because there are so many kids at Mass than a parish in which everyone can hear because there are no kids, because the first parish has a future, the second doesn’t.
- Today Jesus welcomes us all here to Mass, those who have received sonship through his passion, death and resurrection. We ask him for the grace of childlike simplicity to enter into his kingdom. We ask him to embrace us and bless us, as he did the children in the Gospel, and to help us, individually and communally, pray with him, sing joyfully to him, care for the sick with him, receive his mercy, and bring other children of God to him here at this altar!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Is anyone among you suffering?
He should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?
He should sing a song of praise.
Is anyone among you sick?
He should summon the presbyters of the Church,
and they should pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
The prayer of faith will save the sick person,
and the Lord will raise him up.
If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
Elijah was a man like us;
yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain,
and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land.
Then Elijah prayed again, and the sky gave rain
and the earth produced its fruit.My brothers and sisters,
if anyone among you should stray from the truth
and someone bring him back,
he should know that whoever brings back a sinner
from the error of his way will save his soul from death
and will cover a multitude of sins.
PS 141:1-2, 3 AND 8
O LORD, to you I call; hasten to me;
hearken to my voice when I call upon you.
Let my prayer come like incense before you;
the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice.
R. Let my prayer come like incense before you.
O LORD, set a watch before my mouth,
a guard at the door of my lips.
For toward you, O God, my LORD, my eyes are turned;
in you I take refuge; strip me not of life.
R. Let my prayer come like incense before you.
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,
for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”
Then he embraced the children and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.