Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Pro Orantibus Day
November 21, 2015
1 Mc 6:1-13, Ps 9, Lk 20:27-40
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today on the vigil of the Solemnity of Christ the King in this Year of Consecrated Life, the Church gives us four different angles on which we can celebrate more fruitfully both this climactic feast of the Church’s liturgical calendar as well as this ecclesiastical holy year.
- The first element is the meaning of God’s kingdom now and forever. In the first reading, we see the dread of King Antiochus as he was preparing for death. He had sought not to follow God but to pretend as if he were a god, giving the command to murder the inhabitants of Judah, to desecrate the Temple, to carry away the sacred vessels and to lead the people into idolatry. He didn’t acknowledge a kingdom, a King, an order above him, and now he was going the way of all flesh and he was “struck with fear and very much shaken, sick with grief, … [and] overwhelmed with sorrow.” He didn’t grasp that the true God was merciful, unlike him, in life, and so he was full of remorse but not repentance, anticipating that God was merely punishing him for his maleficence. There’s a different way to live. It’s to live in God’s kingdom now. That’s what those in consecrated life publicly profess to do, professing their desire to place their heart in the treasure of God rather than in material wealth, in the love that will know no end rather than earthly eros, in obeying the King in everything, even through earthly instruments, rather than seeking to be an autonomous king in a fiefdom of one’s own making, seeking to save one’s life through saving others’ lives, rather than seeking to preserve it. No one wants to end up like Antiochus at the end of life. Christ offers us a different way. And the consecrated point to that different way.
- The second element is about love for and marrying Christ the King, which is alluded to in today’s Gospel. There’s a romantic notion about marital love as if that’s the most powerful force of all. But there’s a greater love and a greater marriage. Christ the King comes to marry us and all of life is meant to prepare us for those nuptials and for the eternal wedding reception of heaven. The chaste loving continence for the sake of the kingdom lived by consecrated men and women and priests of the Latin rite — in imitation of Jesus and Mary — points to this eternal marriage and love.
- In the Gospel, the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question designed to test him and prove their point that there is no resurrection of the dead, no eternal kingdom, no relationship with God that surpasses this world. The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy and they only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, which they claimed gave no evidence whatsoever of the resurrection. They were often in dispute with the Scribes and the Pharisees, who accepted the entire Hebrew Bible, which gives ample prophecy of the resurrection. We see evidence of this dispute in the detail that after Jesus’ response it was the Scribes who said, “Teacher, you have answered well,” since the Scribes were regularly arguing with the Sadducees about this very point. The Sadducees pose to Jesus a question based on the truth of marriage and one aspect of the Mosaic law. We know that in the beginning, God said that when a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife, they become one flesh, and no man can render their bond asunder (Gen 2:24). The Jews also practiced what is called the levirate law of marriage. Moses taught, “When brothers live together and one of them dies without a son, the widow of the deceased shall not marry anyone outside the family; but her husband’s brother shall go to her and perform the duty of a brother-in-law by marrying her. The first-born son she bears shall continue the line of the deceased brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel” (Deut 25:5-6). The first son born from the woman would technically become the heir of the deceased brother in order to carry on his name through successive generations of progeny. The Sadducees’ question about the seven brothers who married the same seemingly sterile woman was essentially this: if this woman became one flesh with seven different men, to whom will she be united in one flesh forever? The implication was that since she couldn’t be one flesh with all seven, there could be no eternal life, because it would make the one flesh bond of marriage absurd. People must really be dead — and dead for real — for a new bond to be formed.
- How does Jesus respond? He responds first about the connection between marriage and the afterlife, describing how marriage is an institution God founded for this world meant to help people enter into a far greater marriage bond, the marriage of the Lamb with his Bride the Church that will be consummated forever in the wedding feast of heaven. He said, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” There are no more marriages taking place in heaven. The reason for this is because marriage, as God intended, is sacramental. It’s meant to be a bridge to eternity. There’s a two-fold purpose to the Sacrament of Marriage, what has traditionally been called “the mutual sanctification of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring,” and both aspects of that purpose will have been fulfilled in heaven. There’s no need for the sanctification of spouses because, hopefully, both spouses will be saints around God’s throne, and there will be no new offspring in heaven, there will be no need for maternity wards and schools because everyone will be full stature in Christ. Marriage is meant to be a bridge to eternity, an entrance in this world and in the text into Christ’s marriage with us. To say that there is no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven doesn’t mean that there will not be love in heaven — there certainly will! — and it doesn’t mean that those who were spouses here on earth won’t have an even deeper spiritual bond in Christ than they even anticipated here on earth, but that the essential properties of marital love between one man and one woman will no longer be in vigor. Those who are married are called to reflect again on the fundamental purpose of the Sacrament of Marriage, which is to help each other form a school of sanctification leading spouses and children, God-willing, to the unending nuptial of the Lamb and the Bride. After Jesus clarifies the misunderstanding of the Sadducees about marriage and its connection to eternity, he gets to the heart of their problem, which is about eternal life. In St. Matthew’s version of the account, he tells them, “You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22:29). They don’t even understand the five books of Sacred Scripture they do accept, he says, nor what God’s power is to raise the dead. He cites an example from the Pentateuch that up until this time had never been used to refute the Sadducees’ objection. “That the dead will rise,” Jesus says, “even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” This is a reference to the famous scene in the second book of the Hebrew Bible, Exodus, wherein God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush and revealed himself as YHWH (“I am who am”) and as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 3:1-15). The fact that God said, “I am,” rather than “I was,” the God of their forefathers is a strong indication that they are in fact alive. Not only did Jesus’ response win the acclaim of the Scribes but was so powerful that St. Luke tells us that the Sadducees “no longer dared to ask him anything.”
- The third element of today’s Mass that prepares us for tomorrow’s feast within the Year of Consecrated Life is the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most of the liturgical elements for today’s feast come from the Pseudogospel of St. James (and even later pseudogospels like the Pseudoevangelium of Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) that attest that Mary was presented as a young girl of three into the Temple in Jerusalem where she was raised until the time she was betrothed to Joseph. We read in the Pseudogospel of St. James, written about 200 years after the events and so historically useless according to the details but useful in terms of the traditions based upon it later, “And the child became three years old, and Joachim said: ‘Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord.’ And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: ‘The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel.’ And he made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all tile house of Israel loved her. And her parents gat them down marveling, and praising the Lord God because tile child was not turned away backward. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: ‘Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her?’ … And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto [the high priest]:’ Zacharias, Zacharias~ go forth and assemble them that are widowers of the people, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be.’ …
- Mary was presented in the temple and it was there that she, who had been immaculately conceived, was transformed and prepared by God the Father to become the temple, the tabernacle, of his incarnate Son, the King of the Universe. That points us to the significance of this feast for us on this vigil of Christ the King within the Year of Consecrated Life. When we are presented in the Temple at baptism, God brings about a transformation so that Christ the King may reign within us by uniting us to his own consecration. And whenever we present ourselves to the Lord — as we do every time we come into this chapel, every time we come to Mass — the Lord wants to transform us to make ourselves his holy sanctuary, the place where he reigns, is welcomed, adored, and from which he continues his mission of the salvation of the human race and the bringing of others into his kingdom. For this to occur, we need to go beyond the physical act of presentation but seek to have similar sentiments to those of Mary.
- The fourth and final element I want to ponder is that today is Pro Orantibus Day, the annual observance begun by Pope Pius XII in 1953 and expanded by St. John Paul II in 1997, on which the whole Church prays in a special way “For Those Praying,” for all of those in convents, cloisters, monasteries and hermitages who intercede for us without ceasing before God. It’s held on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the model of total dedication to a life of prayer and intercession in God’s service. It’s a day on which we thank God for the contemplatives’ silent, hidden, generous and beautiful vocation. It’s an occasion on which we recognize them, thank them, encourage them and commit to give the material support they need. It’s a day on which we ponder their example of consecration and of following Christ the King and reigning with him through prayer. Contemplative life is a great and indispensable gift of God. All of us benefit spiritually from the orantes‘ prayers and sacrifices, even if many of us are unaware of their intercession or naively think that their hidden life is being wasted. They remind us — ensnared by the frenetic, noisy and provisional — that God is truly the “pearl of great price” and the “one thing necessary.” In a world that seeks to structure itself without God, their very existence helps us to recall that God is real, provident, and worth our all. They teach us how to adore Christ the King with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. Today, as every day, communities of contemplatives are before God constantly praying for us, that we might live out our consecration and allow Christ to reign in us by helping us to reign with him. Today we pray for them, thank them and thank God for them. We’ll never know until heaven how many of the graces we’ve received — and disasters we’ve averted — have taken place on account of their incessant prayers.
- And so today, on the feast of Mary’s Presentation, on Pro Orantibus Day, on the vigil of the Solemnity of Christ the King, we present ourselves before our King who humbly hides himself under the appearance of bread and wine, asking him who is the Bridegroom to transform us and unite ourselves in love to him, in response to the prayers of the Blessed Mother, all the saints and all of the contemplatives here on earth, so that with them we might approach death living in Christ’s kingdom rather than seeking to make a kingdom like Antioches Epiphanes, and through the kingdom here come to the wedding banquet of the eternal kingdom where, together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints, we might experience the joy of the heavenly monastery where our prayer, worship and celebration will know no end.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 MC 6:1-13
he heard that in Persia there was a city called Elymais,
famous for its wealth in silver and gold,
and that its temple was very rich,
containing gold helmets, breastplates, and weapons
left there by Alexander, son of Philip,
king of Macedon, the first king of the Greeks.
He went therefore and tried to capture and pillage the city.
But he could not do so,
because his plan became known to the people of the city
who rose up in battle against him.
So he retreated and in great dismay withdrew from there
to return to Babylon.While he was in Persia, a messenger brought him news
that the armies sent into the land of Judah had been put to flight;
that Lysias had gone at first with a strong army
and been driven back by the children of Israel;
that they had grown strong
by reason of the arms, men, and abundant possessions
taken from the armies they had destroyed;
that they had pulled down the Abomination
which he had built upon the altar in Jerusalem;
and that they had surrounded with high walls
both the sanctuary, as it had been before,
and his city of Beth-zur.When the king heard this news,
he was struck with fear and very much shaken.
Sick with grief because his designs had failed, he took to his bed.
There he remained many days, overwhelmed with sorrow,
for he knew he was going to die.
So he called in all his Friends and said to them:
“Sleep has departed from my eyes,
for my heart is sinking with anxiety.
I said to myself: ‘Into what tribulation have I come,
and in what floods of sorrow am I now!
Yet I was kindly and beloved in my rule.’
But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem,
when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver
that were in it, and for no cause
gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed.
I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me;
and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 9:2-3, 4 AND 6, 16 AND 19
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart;
I will declare all your wondrous deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, Most High.
R. I will rejoice in your salvation, O Lord.
Because my enemies are turned back,
overthrown and destroyed before you.
You rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
their name you blotted out forever and ever.
R. I will rejoice in your salvation, O Lord.
The nations are sunk in the pit they have made;
in the snare they set, their foot is caught.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor shall the hope of the afflicted forever perish.
R. I will rejoice in your salvation, O Lord.
Alleluia SEE 2 TM 1:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 20:27-40
came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying,
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us,
If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child,
his brother must take the wife
and raise up descendants for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers;
the first married a woman but died childless.
Then the second and the third married her,
and likewise all the seven died childless.
Finally the woman also died.
Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?
For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them,
“The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called ‘Lord’
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive.”
Some of the scribes said in reply,
“Teacher, you have answered well.”
And they no longer dared to ask him anything.