God’s Balm of Mercy, 27th Wednesday (I), October 11, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII
October 11, 2017
Jon 4:1-11, Ps 86, Lk 11:1-14


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today is the feast of Pope St. John XXIII, which takes place not on the day he died (June 3 in 1963, which is taken by St. Charles Lwanga and companions, the martyrs of Uganda) but on October 11, the day 55 years ago he convened the Second Vatican Council. The purpose for convening the Council, he said on this day in 1962, was “that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more
 efficaciously,” noting that “the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another,” and he thought our age needed a special presentation of the faith with regard to the errors of the day.  He said that most Councils were called to oppose errors, saying, “Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. … The Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness.” 
  • In today’s readings we see how God likewise seeks not only to use the balm of mercy but to help us learn how to imitate him in this. We praise God in the Psalm for being “merciful and gracious,” “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon” him, which is why together with the Psalmist we have confidence to ask, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day.” But this healing balm was something Jonah didn’t appreciate. God’s mercy, in fact, angered him. “Jonah was greatly displeased,” we read, “and became angry that God did not carry out the evil he threatened against Nineveh.” Whether it was pride that God didn’t carry out the destruction Jonah had announced to the Ninevites, whether it was indignation that he had been inconvenienced to leave his home and come to Nineveh to preach, we don’t know. But he claims that God’s mercy was the reason “why I fled at first to Tarshish,” as if he was running away from God’s goodness, which is totally revisionist history! (He fled because he was afraid of announcing harsh words, that they would attack the messenger, rather than embrace the message as they did. Jonah continues, “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish. And now, Lord, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” It’s funny: the only reason why he was alive in the first place is because God is merciful and gracious, forgave him his desertion and saved his life. Jonah thought that his complaining to the Lord might have an impact, however, and so went outside the city to wait to see if God would in fact destroy the city. The Lord used a gourd plant to teach him an important lesson: that just Jonah didn’t want to lose the gourd plant, which had grown up just for a day, so God didn’t want to lose the Ninevites, 120,000 of whom he was still raising even though spiritually they could not “distinguish their right hand from their left.”
  • Jesus wanted us to have a different relationship with the mercy of God than Jonah. When his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he taught them how to relate to God as Abba, as Dad, as Father in a relationship of spiritual filiation. As part of the Our Father he taught them to pray, “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,” and would follow similar words in St. Matthew’s version of the prayer saying that unless we forgive others, God won’t forgive us, not because he would want to punish us like the ungrateful debtor in the parable, but because in a sense he “can’t,” because unless we’re merciful to others, our heart is hardened to receive God’s mercy. The other petitions in the Our Father can all be framed in terms of mercy. We know that God rejoices most for one repentant sinner and the greatest way to hallow his name is to help his prodigal sons and daughters return to his house. To pray for his kingdom to come is to enter it through following Jesus’ words about repentance and faith: “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel.” To do his will is to remember that he desires mercy, not sacrifice. The temptation from which we ask him to protect us is not to trust in his mercy or not to share it, because the great work of the evil one from whom we ask him to deliver us is to separate us in this world and eternally from the mercy and grace of God. In teaching us how to have an intimate relationship with the Father, he wants us to relate to him as we do in the Psalm. St. John XXIII, in 1954, wrote in his diary about the treasure of the Gospel: “What matters most in this life is: our blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, and in the Gospel above all else the Our Father according to the mind and heart of Jesus.” It’s in this prayer that he learned so much, and it was the mercy found in this prayer that people most remember him. Similarly he wanted us to prepare for the Council through this mercy, writing in an encyclical four months before it began, that penance and receiving God’s mercy was the best way to prepare for the Council was  so that the “good seed that the Council will scatter far and wide over the Church in those days [will] not be allowed to go to waste,” but rather find “hearts that are ready and prepared, loyal and true.”
  • Today we don’t seek solace under a gourd plant, but here before the altar, where God the Father’s merciful design reaches its culmination, as we prepare to receive his Son’s body and blood shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of sins. Whether we know our “right hand from our left,” God in his gracious mercy gives us the greatest spiritual treasure of all. As we make this prayer to the same Father with the attitudes Jesus taught us in what we’ve called the Lord’s prayer, we beg him to give us today our “super-substantial” living Bread come down from heaven, so that, one with Mercy incarnate, we might bring that gift of mercy to the Ninevites of today in every country on earth!


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 JON 4:1-11

Jonah was greatly displeased
and became angry that God did not carry out the evil
he threatened against Nineveh.
He prayed, “I beseech you, LORD,
is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?
This is why I fled at first to Tarshish.
I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God,
slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish.
And now, LORD, please take my life from me;
for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the LORD asked, “Have you reason to be angry?”

Jonah then left the city for a place to the east of it,
where he built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade,
to see what would happen to the city.
And when the LORD God provided a gourd plant
that grew up over Jonah’s head,
giving shade that relieved him of any discomfort,
Jonah was very happy over the plant.
But the next morning at dawn
God sent a worm that attacked the plant,
so that it withered.
And when the sun arose, God sent a burning east wind;
and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head till he became faint.
Then Jonah asked for death, saying,
“I would be better off dead than alive.”

But God said to Jonah,
“Have you reason to be angry over the plant?”
“I have reason to be angry,” Jonah answered, “angry enough to die.”
Then the LORD said,
“You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor
and which you did not raise;
it came up in one night and in one night it perished.
And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city,
in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons
who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left,
not to mention the many cattle?”

Responsorial Psalm PS 86:3-4, 5-6, 9-10

R. (15) Lord, you are merciful and gracious.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
R. Lord, you are merciful and gracious.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.
R. Lord, you are merciful and gracious.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship you, O Lord,
and glorify your name.
For you are great, and you do wondrous deeds;
you alone are God.
R. Lord, you are merciful and gracious.

AlleluiaROM 8:15BC

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You have received a spirit of adoption as sons
through which we cry: Abba! Father!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 11:1-4

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”