God’s Surprising Means for our Salvation and Apostolic Fruitfulness, 34th Wednesday (II), November 26, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Blessed James Alberione
November 26, 2014
Rev 15:1-4, Ps 98, Lk 21:12-19

 

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

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus continues to describe in the Gospel what will happen at his second coming. Yesterday he described many of the physical, international, meteorological and geological events,  from the destruction of the temple, to wars and insurrections, to earthquakes, famines, plagues and mighty signs from the sky. Today he turns to what will happen to his followers. It may make the events he described yesterday seem beautiful by comparison: he describes how we will be seized and persecuted, handed over to religious and civil authorities, put into prisons, betrayed by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, hated by all because of his name, and some of us will be killed. And insofar as the “eschaton” is always “imminent,” that we’re always to some degree living in the final time, called by the Lord to be ever alert and awake as we’ll be hearing this Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus’ descriptions are not just about the future but the present.
  • Yet Jesus doesn’t preach this as bad news. He says that there is a two-fold purpose for all of this. First, it’s meant to help us to secure our salvation: Jesus says “by your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Second, he says it will lead to our effectively carrying out our apostolate: He says that all of this “will lead to your giving testimony.” With regard to the latter point, he assures us that “I myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” He also assures us that even those we will be hated, suffer and some of us will be put together, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” since we’ll get back every follicle at the resurrection of the body. In order to grasp this passage, it’s key for us candidly to admit a few things that may make some half-hearted or naive Christians uncomfortable.
  • First, Jesus never promised that being a Christian would be easy. He said, in fact, the opposite. He told us that to be his disciple we’d need to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross each day and follow him whose footsteps eventually became bloody and whose feet were once nailed to a Cross. There’s a saying of a British military commander who wrote home to some friends saying, “Heads are rolling. Come and add yours!” We need to face squarely what Jesus says about the Christian life, because unless we grasp it we will not persevere and save our souls. If we don’t grasp, for example, that we will be hated by many people, that we will be betrayed by family members and friends, that we may have to suffer from civil and religious believers on account of our fidelity to Jesus then when those things happen, we might lose heart and abandon Jesus. I don’t know how some priests would survive suffering the barrage of criticism we normally get for faithfully preaching Jesus’ teaching with regard, for example to the issues of marriage, family, love and sexuality unless we knew that, like Jesus, we would be hated, even by some good people, for doing so, even sometimes from our own families and parishes. If the martyrs never grasped that Jesus was saying that as Christians they might be martyred, they might never have remained faithful when they were being arrested and tortured for Christ. If a wife didn’t realize she might suffer from her husband if she seeks to love Jesus with all her mind, heart, soul and strength, she might not persevere in fidelity. Jesus is telling us clearly about the “cost” of being his disciple, so that we don’t have “buyer’s remorse,” but rather give all we have to obtain the “pearl of great price” knowing that the purchase price may require even our own blood.
  • Second, Jesus clearly has a one-track mind when it comes to our life on this earth. He doesn’t consider it an absolute value, just like he didn’t consider his own life an absolute value. Rather, he tells us that in order to save our life we have to lose it, that in order to bear fruit we need to fall to the ground like a grain of wheat and die. That’s the only way to make sense of what he says today. He’ll allow us to be persecuted, imprisoned, interrogated, betrayed, hated and even killed in order to bring about our eternal salvation and give us a chance to share the Gospel with others. Our physical life isn’t as valuable to him as our salvation or our preaching the Gospel in suffering. God permits our suffering and even our physical death in order to bring about these more important goods. We know from Church history how many conversions happened due to the preaching with words and witness of the martyrs. St. Stephen’s death was the occasion of the conversion of St. Paul. So many guards converted seeing and hearing the joy of the martyrs as they approached death. Jesus’ own death, we know, led to the conversion of the centurion and countless others. Jesus will easily permit our death if through our death we may bring others to the path of life. This is an important lesson for us. Jesus may likewise, for example, allow us to get cancer if through our suffering we may not only grow in faith to secure our eternal life but convert some of the other patients or the medical personnel in the oncology ward. God has a one-track mind when it comes to what’s most important, our salvation and others’. And unless we’re willing to sacrifice our life for our and others’ salvation, we may not persevere and we may not bear apostolic fruit.
  • Third, we see that Jesus doesn’t leave us on our own with regard to these challenges. He promises us that he will give us himself to sustain us. “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” He himself will ensure that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” eternally. So we should never fear when this occurs because we know Jesus will be with us. I’ve always been moved by something Pope Benedict wrote in his encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi, seven years ago this week about the presence of Christ in suffering. He shared a letter from the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh (d. 1857) that illustrates how faith in Christ transforms persecution into union and witness. This great martyr wrote, “I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever. The prison here is a true image of everlasting Hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for everIn the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone —Christ is with me … How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the Cherubim and Seraphim? Behold, the pagans have trodden your Cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love. O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations … Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever … I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor towards the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart” Pope Benedict said, “This is a letter from ‘Hell,’ … but it also reveals the truth of the Psalm text: ‘If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there … If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ —for you darkness itself is not dark, and night shines as the day; darkness and light are the same’ (Ps 139 [138]:8-12; cf. also Ps 23 [22]:4). Christ descended into ‘Hell’ and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well-nigh unbearable. Yet the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.”
  • All of these lessons about perseverance toward salvation and witness are depicted in the Church in triumph in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation. There St. John says he saw a “great and awe-inspiring sign,” and we would expect to see something beautiful and uplifting, but what he says, at first glimpse, seems frightening: “seven angels with the seven last plagues through which God’s fury is accomplished.” He goes on to day he was a “sea of glass mingled with fire” —  fire is a sign of judgment— and people standing on today of the sea of glass and fire. Now we get to what was great and awe-inspiring: they were “holding God’s harps” and they sang two songs: the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb.”
  • The reference to Moses helps to bring it all together. After the ten plagues, Moses had led the Israelites through the desert and through the Red Sea to the promised land. Even though the Jews had been enslaved by the Egyptians, even though they were being persecuted and chased and hunted down for destruction, God saved them, helping them to do the impossible, pass through the Red Sea on dry ground, to salvation. And we know what they did immediately after the arrived on the other shore and saw those who were following them as if they were prey perish in the Red Sea behind them. We hear it every Easter vigil: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior. He is my God, I praise him; the God of my father, I extol him. The Lord is a warrior, Lord is his name! Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea; the elite of his officers were submerged in the Red Sea. The flood waters covered them, they sank into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, magnificent in power, your right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemy. In your great majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you loosed your wrath to consume them like stubble. … Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness? … In your mercy you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling. … The Lord shall reign forever and ever” (Ex 15:1-18).
  • That’s the song that those who had “won the victory over the beast [the devil] and its image” were singing as they were standing on the sea of glass and fire. They had in the Lamb won an even greater victory and experienced an even more important Passover, from death into life, through the fire of suffering and judgment. They sang the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb,” and the latter was one, as we heard on Monday, that “seemed to be a new hymn” and could only be learned by the “hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth” and who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” It could only be sung by those who had experienced suffering together with the Lamb and had triumphed over the beast. What was their hymn? The Book of Revelation tells us. It’s a hymn that ties together so many parts of the Psalms that the saints and martyrs lived on earth. Notice that it’s all about God, not about them: “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty (Ps 92:5; 139:14). Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations (Ps 145:7). Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? (Ps 86:9) For you alone are holy (Ps 99:3). All the nations will come and worship before you (Ps 86:9), for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Ps 98:2). That’s a hymn that God wants us all singing! But in order for us to sing it, we, too, have to pass through fire, we have to be willing, like the saints and martyrs, to persevere in faith, to be persecuted, hated, even struck down by family members, by civil leaders and religious leaders, as a pretext for our giving witness that will proclaim that God and all his works are truly wonderful, true, just and holy.
  • Today as we come to enter into the new and eternal Passover in the Holy Eucharist, as ask God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to enter into Jesus’ suffering and death so that we might enter into his life and eternal glory on the other side of the sea of glass and fire. We ask him to fill us with Jesus words, with a wisdom in speaking that everyone will be powerless to resist and refute, so that we bring others to him and persevere with them until the eschaton.

The readings for today’s Mass: 

Reading 1 rv 15:1-4

I, John, saw in heaven another sign, great and awe-inspiring:
seven angels with the seven last plagues,
for through them God’s fury is accomplished.Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire.
On the sea of glass were standing those
who had won the victory over the beast
and its image and the number that signified its name.
They were holding God’s harps,
and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the song of the Lamb:“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Responsorial Psalm ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9

R. (Rev. 15: 3b) Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
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. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
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. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth;
He will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!

Gospel lk 21:12-19

Jesus said to the crowd:
“They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents,
brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”