Growth in Faith through Lenten Observance, 5th Thursday of Lent, April 6, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
April 6, 2017
Gen 17:3-9, Ps 105, Jn 8:51-59

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As Lent began, we were smudged with ashes as a priest said to us, in Jesus’ name and repeating Jesus’ words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The essential Lenten journey is all geared to helping us live by faith, by having us turn away from all of those ways of infidelity in which we have not lived in communion with God and helping us — through prayer, fasting, almsgiving — to unite ourselves to God: our thoughts (prayer), our deepest desires (hungering through fasting for what God most hungers) and interrelation with others (charity through union with God’s love and providence). On this last day of the “second phase” of Lent — a phase geared toward helping the Elect to prepare in faith for Baptism and the Baptized to prepare for the faithful renewal of their Baptismal promises not just verbally but existentially — the Church has us focus again on the whole meaning of faith. Faith, we know, is not fundamentally believing in a series of truths; faith, rather, is a believing in Someone who gives witness to those truths. To grow in faith means first to grow in trust for the One in whom we believe and then, as a result of that trust, to adhere much more to what he says.
  • That’s why today we focus on Abraham, our father in faith. Abraham shows us what a genuine trust in God means: that we believe in what he says, even when he asks us to do something hard, even when he challenges us beyond what we know. Every Second Sunday of Lent, we encounter Abraham and his adventure of faith to help us with the coordinates of Lent and Christian life. Lent is meant to be a journey of faith by imitating the acts of faith we see in Abraham. Jesus calls us to leave our own Ur of the Chaldees, our own comfort zones, to travel to where he wants to lead us. He calls us to believe in all of his promises, even though they might seem impossible to believe, like Abraham’s not only becoming a dad but a father of many nations when he was childless past retirement age. He calls us to have the faith to be willing to sacrifice what we hold dearest, like Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, the “son of the promise,” knowing that God would be able to raise him from the dead and similarly can give life even to those sacrifices.
  • When we don’t have that relationship of trust — a gift God will provide if we’re open — then we distrust what is said. We see that illustrated for us in today’s Gospel. Yesterday, Jesus spoke to those challenging him about their slavery to sin. They replied, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Jesus retorted, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who told you the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.” To be a spiritual descendent of Abraham is to live by faith, to have our faith operative in deeds of love toward God and others. Rather than accepting Christ’s message in faith, however, the interlocutors were, in a way totally contrary to faith, plotting to kill the Messenger to extinguish his message. They thought that if Jesus were veering from their preconceived notions, then all his indisputable works couldn’t be coming from God but had to be coming from Beelzebul, the prince of demons. That’s what explains the beginning of today’s Gospel passage. When Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death,” they responded, “Now we are sure that you are possessed.” In other words, they were 99 percent convinced prior that we was possessed, but now they had no doubt. They listed various holy persons who kept the word of God and nevertheless died, Abraham and the prophets, and said that by this statement Jesus was making himself out to be greater than them, and his words more salvific than theirs. “Who do you make yourself out to be?,” they asked. The fact that he would be greater than Abraham and the prophets, that he would be the Son of God, they’d refused to accept. And because of that refusal, they were suspicious of everything else, as if Jesus were a blasphemous lunatic.
  • When Jesus said, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad,” he was pointing to various aspects of the transformation that happens by faith, which he wanted to happen in them if only they opened up. We can understand this phrase of Jesus at least in three ways: Abraham saw Jesus’ resurrection with the birth of his son Isaac from two people whose reproductive systems were basically dead; Abraham saw Jesus in the multitude of nations of which Abraham would be a father, because he would become the father of all nations of the earth through his offspring, Jesus, who would establish God’s covenant with the entire human race; Abraham glimpsed him in the sacrifice of Isaac, when God the Father did in fact provide the Lamb, but also in foreseeing that God would raise his son from the dead.
  • It’s important for all of us in faith to learn from Abraham how to trust in God, how to let him lead us, how to let God never cease to surprise us and move us beyond our finite categories. The Lord made a Covenant with Abraham and remembers his covenant for ever, as we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm. His fidelity is the ground of our own. And the covenant he made with us in his Son is even greater than the Covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants forever. And so it calls for an ever greater fidelity with God through grace. If God said to Abraham, “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages,” so he says to us, “You and your spiritual family must keep my covenant forever!” And we know what the payoff is. Jesus swears an oath about it: ““Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
  • The way we renew that Covenant and are strengthened by God to keep it is in the Mass, in which we enter into a communion of body and soul with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. He gives us his body and blood as the “new and eternal Covenant” and instructs us to “do this” in his memory, not only celebrating this Covenant but living the Covenant in communion with him, faithfully adhering to his promises and to the commandments of love that constitute our own end of that sacred alliance. Abraham “rejoiced to see my day,” Jesus said. How joyful we ought to be not just to see it but to live it together with Jesus!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
GN 17:3-9

When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him:
“My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.
I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;
kings shall stem from you.
I will maintain my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
throughout the ages as an everlasting pact,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
I will give to you
and to your descendants after you
the land in which you are now staying,
the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession;
and I will be their God.”God also said to Abraham:
“On your part, you and your descendants after you
must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations –
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

Gospel
JN 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
So the Jews said to him,
“Now we are sure that you are possessed.
Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say,
‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?
Or the prophets, who died?
Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered,
“If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”
So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.