Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica
August 5, 2016
Nahum 2:1;3:1-3.6-7, Deut 32:35-36.39.41, Mt 16:24-28
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Dedication of the most prominent Church dedicated to the Mother of God in Roman Catholicism, the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. It’s a place where Catholics from around the world go to give special veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to pray to her, to learn from her, to seek to imitate her how to follow her Son. In her famous Magnificat, she praised God for “tearing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly,” for turning worldly ways upside down so that he could turn the way to heaven right side up. Understanding that is key to grasping today’s readings.
- In the first reading, we hear from the Prophet Nahum for the only time in the Church’s two-year cycle of daily lectionary readings. Scriptural scholars are divided as to whether it was written as a prophecy immediately before the overthrow of Assyria in 615-614 or immediately after as a liturgical celebration, but regardless, it communicates to us that Judah, which had suffered so much at the hands of the Assyrians, which had been so humiliated would hear a “bearer of good news, announcing peace!” and would be able to “celebrate [their] feasts” and “fulfill [their] vows”; at the same time, the proud Assyria, with its capital of Nineveh, would suffer “woe” as a “bloody city,” from horses, chariots, calvary, the “flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain,” with “filth” and “disgrace” and “shame,” as everyone would be crying out “Nineveh is destroyed” and there is no one left to pity her.
- In the Gospel we are brought face-to-face with the greatest reversal in the history of the world, from the worst defeat on Golgotha to the most extraordinary victory. Yesterday Jesus had announced his own crucifixion and death, despite his being the “Messiah and Son of the Living God.” When Simon bar Jonah sought to impede the fulfillment of Jesus’ true Messianic mission, Jesus changed his name a second time, this time not Peter but “Satan” and told him to get behind him, because he was trying to lead Christ rather than follow. Then in today’s Gospel Jesus continued the shocking lesson: that if we’re going to be behind him, if we’re going to follow him, we need to “deny [ourselves], take up [our] Cross and follow [Jesus].” To be a disciple, we need to deny ourselves — like Peter denied Christ on Holy Thursday, “I do not know the man!” — pick up the instrument of our self-death, and then begin to walk with Jesus along the way to Calvary. That seems like heading toward annihilation but it’s exactly the opposite. Jesus points to the paradox when he says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In order to save our life, we need to give it away. This is because the Cross is not fundamentally a symbol of capital punishment, of suffering and death, but of the love that makes all of that pain and torture worth it. The way we find our life is by sacrificing it out of love for Christ and others. If we try to hold onto our life such that we don’t take the risk of sacrifice, we’ll lose everything Jesus says, and it wouldn’t be worth it even if we were to gain the whole world.
- This is a lesson Mary learned and lived. From the Angel’s visit, she denied herself in order to order her entire life to God. She gave her whole life to his Mission. This continued throughout her life — the massacre of the Holy Innocents, the flight to Egypt, the attempted murder of Jesus by his fellow Nazarenes — and especially at the moment of Calvary, where her own heart was multiply pierced as she was morally crucified with the physically crucified fruit of her womb. But she embraced it all. She also embraced there on Calvary in embracing St. John as her Son and us vicariously through him, all our sufferings and pains — doing so out of love. And she tells us today what she said to the servants in Cana, to do what her Son tells us and follow her in following her Son along this path of loving, life-giving, cruciform self-denial.
- In the Basilica of St. Mary Major, we see these reversals portrayed. We celebrate the victories of salvation history in Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David and Solomon. We celebrate the shocking birth of the King of Kings in a stable in Bethlehem. We celebrate the shocking erection of the precursor to St. Mary Major Basilica in snow falling on the Esquiline Hill on August 5, 354. And we celebrate the work of our Lady “Salus Populi Romani” in saving the Romans from plagues, from fires, and even from a German bombing spree. It’s there that we mark all of these lessons of Mary’s experiencing in her own life how Jesus tears down the mighty and lifts up the lowly. And as we celebrate the feast of the dedication of that basilica, we dedicate ourselves to this Christian mystery that she shows in an exemplary way.
- And one of the most powerful and effective ways that we appropriate the truth Jesus announces is here at Mass. This is where we deny ourselves and affirm Him, where we receive the Body given and the Blood poured out upon the Cross for us and learn how to enter into a Holy Communion with the love that made that oblation light and sweet, a love that helps us to yoke ourselves to Jesus in life and, like Simon of Cyrene, help Jesus and his Mystical Body carry the salvific Cross throughout time. This is where we learn how to follow Jesus as Mary did, so that humbled in this way, we may be exalted like Mary forever.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 NA 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7
the bearer of good news,
Celebrate your feasts, O Judah,
fulfill your vows!
For nevermore shall you be invaded
by the scoundrel; he is completely destroyed.
The LORD will restore the vine of Jacob,
the pride of Israel,
Though ravagers have ravaged them
and ruined the tendrils.Woe to the bloody city, all lies,
full of plunder, whose looting never stops!
The crack of the whip, the rumbling sounds of wheels;
horses a-gallop, chariots bounding,
Cavalry charging, the flame of the sword, the flash of the spear,
the many slain, the heaping corpses,
the endless bodies to stumble upon!
I will cast filth upon you,
disgrace you and put you to shame;
Till everyone who sees you runs from you, saying,
“Nineveh is destroyed; who can pity her?
Where can one find any to console her?”
Responsorial Psalm DT 32:35CD-36AB, 39ABCD, 41
Close at hand is the day of their disaster,
and their doom is rushing upon them!
Surely, the LORD shall do justice for his people;
on his servants he shall have pity.
R. It is I who deal death and give life.
“Learn then that I, I alone, am God,
and there is no god besides me.
It is I who bring both death and life,
I who inflict wounds and heal them.”
R. It is I who deal death and give life.
I will sharpen my flashing sword,
and my hand shall lay hold of my quiver,
“With vengeance I will repay my foes
and requite those who hate me.”
R. It is I who deal death and give life.
Alleluia MT 5:10
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 16:24-28
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”