God’s Continuous Incarnate Theophany in the Temple, 5th Monday (II), February 5, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr
February 5, 2018
1 Kings 8:1-7.9-13, Ps 132, Mk 6:53-56


Today’s homily was not recorded. The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We encounter in the first reading today one of the most important scenes in the Old Testament, one that has an enormous significance for us as Christians to help us to grasp one of the most essential lessons in Christian life. We read about the inauguration of the Temple of Jerusalem by King Solomon. His father David had wanted to build a house for the Lord but was stopped by the Lord who himself rather wanted to build a house for David (which he fulfilled in the incarnation of David’s 28th generation grandson according to the flesh and God’s only begotten Son generated before the foundation of the world). David, however, prepared most of what was needed for his son Solomon to build the Temple after David’s death. Four years into his reign as king, Solomon began the building of the Temple. It took seven years to complete and edifice and another few years to do the decorations and get everything else ready to use it. But, finally, after all of that preparation and hard work, they were ready to dedicate it. They sacrificed “too many sheep and oxen to count.” The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant containing within the tablets of the Ten Commandments into the Holy of Holies and placed them beneath the sculpted wings of the cherubim. But then the most important thing happened: God came. He came in the form of a cloud (the shekinah in Hebrew) just like he used to appear to the Israelites in the desert during the exodus. “The cloud filled the temple of the Lord … since the Lord’s glory had filled the temple of the Lord.” It’s often said that religion is God’s search for man, which is true to a point, but what’s distinctive about the history of salvation is that it details God’s search for man. Pope Francis talks about the mystery of primerear, that God always precedes us; we’re searching for him but when we find him, we discover that he was there waiting for us first. In the cloud signifying God’s holy presence, God came to encounter his people. He wanted to have a stable place by which he could meet them, guide them, help them and change them. The most important thing about the temple was the presence of God, God’s self-manifestation. It wasn’t how many sacrifices were made there on the part of man to God. The essential is that God was there to meet man.
  • Four years ago, on Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Pope Francis gave in the Vatican what I think is one of his greatest daily Mass homilies as Pope, applying this understanding of God’s theophany to what we are privileged to experience in the incarnate theophany of Jesus in the Eucharist and how we should respond to it. He first stressed that in the celebration of the Mass something happens that is far more significant that all of our other prayers, from our personal prayers, our meditation on the Rosary, our reenactments of Biblical events that take place in Christmas Pageants, Passion Plays, Stations of the Cross and the like. The main point is not what we do — just as the main point about the Temple in Jerusalem was not the innumerable body count of animals sacrificed — but the fact that God has come to meet us, and in the Mass he meets us in something far more significant than he met the Jews in the cloud. Pope Francis said, “The Lord speaks to His people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Sacred Scriptures. But with  theophanies, He speaks in another way. … He speaks with his presence. This is what happens in the liturgical celebration. The Mass is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present. In the Mass, in fact, the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.” He went on to say, “When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t reenact a representation of the Last Supper. … No, it is something else: it is the Last Supper itself! It is truly to live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We sometimes hear or say, ‘But I can’t go to Mass now,’ or ‘I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in. It is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us. … The Mass is a theophany. God draws near and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.”
  • Our approach to the Mass must reflect this understanding. Pope Francis brought up a point that I’ve stressed throughout my priesthood, particularly in my work in parishes, high schools and on retreats for lay people, that we can’t or shouldn’t come to Mass looking at our watches and “counting the minutes.” Mass is not meant to be a McDonald’s drive through fast-food experience, as if we’re just trying to fulfill our duty as quickly as possible so that we can then go on to things that are more important to us. Pope Francis said that counting the minutes is “not the attitude that the liturgy requires of us: the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there, in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.” If we’re too concerned about time, then basically what we’re saying to God is, “Hey, Lord, can you wrap this meeting up? I’ve got other things I want to be doing than being in your presence.” This is the reason why many priests remove their watches before they approach the altar, so that they remember they’re meeting the eternal God and that they concern themselves more with entering into the mystery of his presence and pleasing him rather than seeking to please those who are in an unholy rush. The Liturgy, Pope Francis said, “is God’s time. It’s God’s space. It is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us.” And he said, “We would do well today to ask the Lord to give each of us this ‘sense of the sacred,’ that … in this celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into something we cannot control. … Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”
  • And once we grasp the theophany of God in the Mass it changes the way we interact with others. In the Gospel today, we see what happened when Jesus and the apostles disembarked in Gennesaret. Even though the people of that time didn’t realize what we realize today — that Jesus, the human nature he assumed from us in the person of the Blessed Virgin is the definitive temple where God’s glory dwells among us — they did grasp that in Jesus God had visited his people. And so, St. Mark tells us, “They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Is that our reaction to Jesus? We recognize that the same Jesus who came to Gennesaret comes here to New York every morning. In fact, he lives here in this Chapel, in this Tabernacle, like he does in Catholic Churches everywhere. Do we scurry about the city and the whole surrounding region seeking to bring to Jesus those who are sick physically, or emotionally, or morally, or spiritually? Do we carry them in on mats, push them in in wheel chairs, drive them in with cards, carry them in on our shoulders? The same Jesus who healed so many there who merely touched the tassel on his cloak allows people to do far more here: he allows them, if they’re ready, to receive Him within them. And he can work great miracles. But we need to care about those who surround us, about those who need prayers, about those who need God, just like the people in ancient Galilee.
  • The theophany also has another application. When Jesus came as the new Temple, he wanted to make us, individually and collectively, his dwelling place. This is what St. Paul describes in his letters when he refers to us as the Temple of God or the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are supposed to be like monstrances or tabernacles in which people, beholding us, see a glimpse of the Lord. People used to say about Saint John Vianney that in him they saw “God in a man.” By this they didn’t mean he was God — far from it! — but that they could see the image of God somewhat transparently in him. That’s what happens to some degree in every saint. Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Agatha, the young virgin martyr who was killed for the faith in Catania, Sicily, in 251. She was pursued by one of the local leaders Quintian and refused his advances, because she had consecrated herself to God, and her purity was a reflection of God’s holiness. Quintian, however, in a way that went far beyond the predations of those like Harvey Weinstein, thought he would use the power of the state to teach her a lesson from refusing his lusts. After all, he was the local leader and he believed he should have the right to have sex with any virgin he wants and would use the power of the state to force her compliance. He threatened her with being sent to a brothel, to prison, to being tortured, to being killed. She replied, in words that are significant, “Jesus Christ, Lord all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: make me worthy to overcome the devil.” She knew she was the Lord’s. He possessed her. She had consecrated herself to him and gave  the “title” of her life over to God with freedom and love. Quintian followed through on all his threats, but it didn’t shake Agatha’s trust in him. He answered her prayers and now all that she is is possessed by him in heaven. And she reveals to us the strength of God’s presence within, that it can make a young woman stronger than a Roman leader, even under the worst of threats.
  • The Mass, as Pope Francis reminded us, is God’s continuous theophany. As we come into communion with Him who is the definitive temple, let us let him make us, like he made Saint Agatha,  into the temple of his presence in the middle of the world, to dwell within us like he dwells in the the tabernacle, to be filled with his presence. The glory of the Lord is not only about to come down upon this chapel, but upon each of us. Let us ask the Lord for the graces we need to grasp this reality, to let it transform our life, and to inspire us to scurry about seeking to bring all we know to participate in this most important reality in human life.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 8:1-7, 9-13

The elders of Israel and all the leaders of the tribes,
the princes in the ancestral houses of the children of Israel,
came to King Solomon in Jerusalem,
to bring up the ark of the LORD’s covenant
from the City of David, which is Zion.
All the people of Israel assembled before King Solomon
during the festival in the month of Ethanim (the seventh month).
When all the elders of Israel had arrived,
the priests took up the ark;
they carried the ark of the LORD
and the meeting tent with all the sacred vessels
that were in the tent.
(The priests and Levites carried them.)
King Solomon and the entire community of Israel
present for the occasion
sacrificed before the ark sheep and oxen
too many to number or count.
The priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD
to its place beneath the wings of the cherubim in the sanctuary,
the holy of holies of the temple.
The cherubim had their wings spread out over the place of the ark,
sheltering the ark and its poles from above.
There was nothing in the ark but the two stone tablets
which Moses had put there at Horeb,
when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel
at their departure from the land of Egypt.
When the priests left the holy place,
the cloud filled the temple of the LORD
so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud,
since the LORD’s glory had filled the temple of the LORD.
Then Solomon said, “The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud;
I have truly built you a princely house,
a dwelling where you may abide forever.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 132:6-7, 8-10

R. (8a) Lord, go up to the place of your rest!
Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us enter into his dwelling,
let us worship at his footstool.
R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest!
Advance, O LORD, to your resting place,
you and the ark of your majesty.
May your priests be clothed with justice;
let your faithful ones shout merrily for joy.
For the sake of David your servant,
reject not the plea of your anointed.
R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest!

MK 6:53-56

After making the crossing to the other side of the sea,
Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret
and tied up there.
As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him.
They scurried about the surrounding country
and began to bring in the sick on mats
to wherever they heard he was.
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.