Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Our Lady Help of Christians at the Shrine in Sheshan
Worldwide Day of Prayer for the Church in China
May 24, 2016
1 Pet 1:10-16, Ps 98, Mk 10:28-31
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today for the tenth year, the Catholic Church unites in prayer on May 24 for our brothers and sisters in China. In his 2007 Letter to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China, Pope Benedict wrote, “The date of May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible. … On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.” And so today we celebrate a Votive Mass of Our Lady, Help of Christians, in union with the faithful of China and throughout the world praying for full freedom and flourishing of the Christian faith there.
- In today’s readings, we can grow to appreciate the reward that awaits the faithful in China, in New York, and anywhere, for fidelity to Christ.
- We begin in the Gospel when St. Peter, still somewhat shocked at the episode of the Rich Young Man and the Lord’s statement that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a person with possessions to enter the kingdom of God, said to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Unlike the Rich Young Man who when given the choice between following Jesus and leaving his material goods behind or holding on to his riches and leaving Jesus behind chose his stuff, the apostles were those who when Jesus said “follow me” left their boats behind, their miraculous hauls of fish behind, their families behind, their tax collecting tables behind, their houses behind, their cities behind — in short, as Peter says, who gave up “everything” to follow Jesus. In St. Matthew’s version Peter adds, “What will there be for us?” He was well aware of what they were giving up to follow Jesus and he thought he had a sense of that what they would gain would be far greater than the huge cost they had paid, but after Jesus’ words about the eye of needle he wanted some reassurance. And Jesus gave more than reassurance. Swearing an oath, he said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” There are three parts to the reward that Jesus promises:
- Jesus said first that when we give good things up for him — our loved ones, our material blessings and property — for him we’ll gain back much more in this life in terms of those same things. Many times when Jesus asks us to give up something, he doesn’t intend to strip us from it but to detach us from it so that we may relate to it in a way far more united to him. When, for example, a wife begins to love Jesus more and serve him above all other goods, it doesn’t mean that she will love her husband less, but more and better. When a young man or woman decides to leave a career, his family of origin, and many of his friends to enter the seminary to become a priest or enter a novitiate or formation house to become a religious or consecrated woman, respectively, it’s not that they’ll have less love in their life, fewer friendships, fewer family members, but they will gain a much greater family through spiritual paternity or maternity and in general many more friends that he would have had otherwise. That’s the first thing Jesus says. There’s a cost but there’s also a reward in this world, an intensification of the very goods we thought we were leaving behind.
- Second, he says that with that multiplication of the blessings we were prepared to leave behind for Jesus, he also foretells the blessing of the Cross. He says we’ll receive the blessings “with persecutions.” Persecution is always part of the Christian life. Just as they persecuted Jesus, they’ll persecute us. But he said that these persecutions are in fact blessings: “Blessed are you,” he said in the culmination of the Beatitudes, “when they persecute you, revile you and utter all kinds of false things about you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for so they treated the prophets before you, and your reward in heaven will be great.” Among the blessings Jesus gives us for our willingness to put him above all other loved ones and things is the blessing of persecution that will lead to an even greater reward in heaven. This is something that the great litany of Chinese martyrs, St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his companions, all demonstrate for us.
- Third, Jesus says finally that we will receive eternal life in the age to come. When we detach ourselves from possessions and persons, he makes it possible for us to do the impossible with God’s help, to have God thread us through the eye of the needle into eternity. That’s the great desire of us all, to live forever in happiness with God, and Jesus today promises that that will occur when we are willing to pay the price of the kingdom, to sell all that we have to obtain that pearl of great price. He assures us that our sacrifices are worth it. St. Peter will grasp this lesson so well that he’ll articulate it in the first reading to the early Christians in Asia Minor who were under persecution. He talked about the prophets who “testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and to the glories to follow them.” The glories followed the sufferings, the riches followed the deprivations, the beatitude followed the persecutions. And he said that just as the prophecies announced this about Jesus’ sufferings and subsequent glory, so Jesus himself prophesied it about us, that after our Cross would come our sharing in his glory, his life, his joy.
- In response to this promise, which Peter himself received, Peter in the first reading tells the Christians at the dawn of the age of persecution how they should behave. He says, “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It begins with girding up our minds. When Jews would need to put themselves to hard work, they would “gird their loins,” which meant pulling up their tunics through their belts and rolling up their sleeves so that they wouldn’t be tripping or hindered in their faster movement. St. Peter is saying we have to do that with our minds. We have to be ready for hard work! We have to be ready to change our conceptions of the good and happy life according to the world and live within the context of the Gospel paradoxes, that in order to save our life we need to lose it. Second, we need to “live soberly,” which means not just not to get smashed, but to live modestly, rather than be attached like the Rich Young Man to the things of this world. And most importantly we need to set our hopes “completely” on the grace to be brought to us at Jesus’ appearing. On many occasions, we set our hopes “partially” on Christ but then partially on mammon and the things of this world. St. Peter is urging us to set one-hundred percent of our mind, heart, soul and strength on the grace to be given to us when Christ is fully revealed. He calls us to let go of our attachments and “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct,” to orient every aspect of our life to God. That’s what we pray for the Christians in China. And that’s what they’re praying for us. And it’s more than just a coincidence that Pope Benedict concluded his letter to the Christians of China by quoting from the first letter of St. Peter, the passage we received yesterday: “At the conclusion of this Letter I pray that you, dear Pastors of the Catholic Church which is in China, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, may ‘rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ'” (1 Pet 1:6-7).
- The way we gird the loins of our mind is each day binding them with the Word of God we hear at Mass. The way we learn to live soberly is fasting in order to be ready to receive the Desire of our deepest spiritual hunger. The way we set our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ is by setting our hope on Christ here in the present, as he reveals himself under the humblest appearances of bread and wine. This is the path to holiness. We can become holy because he who is holy, holy, holy, comes to make his abode in us. This is worth leaving everything else in the world behind. This is the way the Lord makes known his salvation every day.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 PT 1:10-16
Concerning the salvation of your souls
the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when it testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.
and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Like obedient children,
do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance
but, as he who called you is holy,
be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct,
for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.
PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”