Following Jesus on the Procession of Life, 24th Tuesday (I), September 19, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Our Lady of La Salette
September 19, 2017
1 Tim 3:1-13, Ps 101, Lk 7:11-17

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s Gospel, two processions meet. The first is a funeral cortege involving a large crowd of residents of the city, transporting to the cemetery the body of a young man whose life was cut down in the springtime of life. The mourning was intense, as it always is whenever someone with so much life ahead of him suddenly dies. And what could be more poignant than a mother’s weeping over the death of her only child? But in this case the darkness was even worse. The woman was a widow. In Jewish culture and throughout the Middle East, it was a man’s duty to provide for a woman. When a husband died, it was the duty of the eldest son to care for a mother. Without a man to provide for her, and no social welfare system, she was now going to be reduced to a beggar, a scrounger before her fellow residents, a mendicant among her extended family of origin, someone destitute, abandoned and helpless.
  • But as this death march was heading out through the gates of the city to the burial ground that was also located outside of the city walls for reasons of space as well as public health, they met a very different procession. Jesus of Nazareth was heading in, surrounded by his disciples and a large crowd of followers. When Jesus saw the woman, his heart was moved with pity (or as I like to say, based on the Greek, his innards were bursting with mercy). There are two other times in the Gospels when Jesus raised people from the dead: when he resuscitated his friend Lazarus after he had been in the tomb for four days and when he told the deceased daughter of Jairus the synagogue official, “Talitha kum,” “Little girl, rise up!” In both circumstances, prior to their deaths, there had been a request for Jesus’ assistance: Martha and Mary had written Jesus that Lazarus was dying and asked for him to come and Jairus had petitioned Jesus to come urgently to heal his daughter lest she die. Jesus worked both of those miracles in response to faith. In this case, however, the woman didn’t do anything. We don’t know whether she had faith or not. Her son was dead on a bier and most of her had died with him. Jesus, however, moved with life-changing compassion, made the first move, and in the process brought faith to her and to all those in Nain.
  • Jesus began by doing a couple of things that were totally unconventional and, on the surface of it, terribly cruel. He told the grieving mother, “Do not weep.” I wouldn’t suggest anyone try to say that at a wake to mourning family members! But it got worse. Jesus then stepped forward, touched the bier and got all the pall-bearers to stop. This gesture would be like someone’s walking out into the center of the road and halting a hearse on the way to the cemetery. And after those startling words and shocking action, Jesus said and did something that no one had requested, that no one had dreamed possible. “Young man,” he forthrightly commanded, “I tell you, arise!” The boy sat up, began to speak and was restored to his mother. None of the mourners could fathom it. It was the last thing that anyone thought could or would occur as they were accompanying a corpse to a cemetery. But the death march had collided with Jesus’ liturgical procession of life, and life triumphed over death. The mourners accompanying a mother in misery met the Messiah full of mercy. The people of Nain responded, St. Luke tells us, by “glorifying God” and saying that “God has visited his people!” Little did they know how literally true there words were!
  • What do we learn from this dramatic scene? We could certainly focus on Jesus’ — God’s — incredible compassion for those mourning the loss of loved ones, how he desires to do for our loved ones something greater than what he did for the widow of Nain, not just resuscitate us temporarily, but resurrect us eternally, if only we cooperate. We could ponder as well how we need to entrust our loved ones, in life and in death, to the Lord with faith, hope, and love, focusing concertedly on the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead with reverence and prayer and on the spiritual works of mercy of consoling the sorrowful and praying for the salvation of the living and the dead.
  • What I’d like to look at more deeply, however, is how the same two processions we see in the Gospel continue on a moral and spiritual plane. One procession is a death march, a funeral cortege, a journey on the “broad road that leads to perdition” (Mt 7:13), toward definitive self-alienation from God. The second is a procession of on the narrow road that leads to life that involves walking together with Jesus. This procession of life is one in which Jesus seeks to bring us fully alive. The life, the triumph over death he wants to give us, is not so much an event as a relationship. Jesus says “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and for us to experience his risen life, both now and in the future, means to enter into that deep relationship with Jesus. It means not just to hear him, but to follow him, step by step, teaching by teaching, prayer by prayer, beatitude by beatitude, commandment by commandment, act of love by act of love. The path of death is to structure our life apart from Jesus Christ. Many people are walking spiritual cadavers. Some are empty on the inside. Others are spiritually decomposing, full of hatred, envy, lust, and anger against others and often against God. And they surround themselves with a big crowd of people heading with them to the necropolis, not knowing that already they’re in the city of the dead. We can just think of so many celebrities who, while seemingly having so much, are so depressed, who go from one drug to the next seeking to anesthetize their existential pain, who are desperately lonely despite millions of followers and friends on social networks, and often suicidal. At the deepest level of their being, the meaning for which they’re seeking is missing, because they’ll only find that in the one, true God. Then there is the path of the saints, the path of Christ, on which we’re summoned to journey. In the Psalm today, we pray repeatedly, “I will walk with blameless heart,” and commit ourselves to “persevere in the way of integrity.”
  • Today we have two illustrations of these divergent paths. The first comes from our feast, the Memorial of Our Lady of LaSalette, marking the apparitions of Mary to two young children in the French alps in 1846. As they were grazing their sheep, two shepherd children — Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud — found her sobbing. We all need to ponder that image of Mary bawling her eyes out with her face in her hands. It’s tempting to think of the Blessed Mother exclusively in the beautiful images of Murillo, crowned with stars, stomping on the serpent, with the moon under her feet. But it’s key to grasp her tears, because without them, we won’t grasp her love, and we may not be opening ourselves fully to receive that love. Her tears initially frightened the 14 year old girl and 11 year old boy, but she told them not to be afraid, to come close, because she wanted to announce to them great news. That was the great news of conversion. They had built a little shrine called “Paradise” and that’s where Mary first appeared, to show them that not everyone was on the way to Paradise. She lamented four practices that are still very common today, four practices that set us on the path away from God toward being lost in this world and forever: blaspheming the name of God; missing Sunday Mass; failing to pray, and not even taking the conversion of Lent seriously. She was calling them, and through them all of us, to do the opposite: to use our thoughts and speech to praise God; to prioritize the great gift of her Son in the Eucharist; to become people who pray; and to repent and believe in the Gospel and live a repentant life. She wore a radiant crucifix that had two symbols on it, one a hammer and another a pair of pincers, which was a sign of the freedom that everyone has, the freedom to refuse God and hammer Jesus to the Cross by sin, or the freedom to love God and take the pincers to remove the nails. That is the choice that faces every Christian. She weeps when we choose the nail, not just because of what that means for Jesus her Son but what that means for each of us with the hammer in our hand. And she wants to help us to pick up the pincers!
  • The second illustration is in today’s first reading where St. Paul tells St. Timothy and all of us about the virtues needed in a bishop, in a deacon and in a woman. These are, in short, basic virtues that he’s calling us all to have according to our state in life. This is the path of life, the blameless walk of love with Jesus the Resurrection and the life, because these are, to some degree, many of the virtues we see in him par excellence: irreproachable, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able and willing to each, chaste, sober, meek, peacemaking, spiritually poor, dignified, truthful, faithful, and conscientious. They must prove themselves faithful in the little things of self-leadership and governing their houses and lives and have a good reputation inside and outside the Church. That is the path Jesus helps us by the Holy Spirit to take.
  • Today at this Mass, Jesus wants to touch us all. He is about to work a far greater miracle than raising a young man from the dead. He is about to change simple bread and wine into his body and blood so that we might, in receiving his risen body, have life through him. This is the place in which Jesus wants all of us, whether we’ve arrived at Church on a procession of life or one of death, to leave following him on a procession of life all the way to the Father’s eternal embrace. We thank him for this gift. God still visits his people. May we here in New York, like those in ancient Nain, return from this encounter glorifying God and spreading news of him through all the surrounding regions, so that others may join Christ and his Church on pilgrimage to the eternal life of the Father’s house!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 1 TM 3:1-13

Beloved, this saying is trustworthy:
whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.
Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable,
married only once, temperate, self-controlled,
decent, hospitable, able to teach,
not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle,
not contentious, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own household well,
keeping his children under control with perfect dignity;
for if a man does not know how to manage his own household,
how can he take care of the Church of God?
He should not be a recent convert,
so that he may not become conceited
and thus incur the Devil’s punishment.
He must also have a good reputation among outsiders,
so that he may not fall into disgrace, the Devil’s trap.

Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful,
not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain,
holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
Moreover, they should be tested first;
then, if there is nothing against them,
let them serve as deacons.
Women, similarly, should be dignified, not slanderers,
but temperate and faithful in everything.
Deacons may be married only once
and must manage their children and their households well.
Thus those who serve well as deacons gain good standing
and much confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm PS 101:1B-2AB, 2CD-3AB, 5, 6

R. (2) I will walk with blameless heart.
Of mercy and judgment I will sing;
to you, O LORD, I will sing praise.
I will persevere in the way of integrity;
when will you come to me?
R. I will walk with blameless heart.
I will walk with blameless heart,
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
any base thing.
R. I will walk with blameless heart.
Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret,
him will I destroy.
The man of haughty eyes and puffed up heart
I will not endure.
R. I will walk with blameless heart.
My eyes are upon the faithful of the land,
that they may dwell with me.
He who walks in the way of integrity
shall be in my service.
R. I will walk with blameless heart.

Alleluia LK 7:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A great prophet has arisen in our midst
and God has visited his people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 7:11-17

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,
“A great prophet has arisen in our midst,”
and “God has visited his people.”
This report about him spread through the whole of Judea
and in all the surrounding region.