Hearing and Heeding God’s Merciful Summons to Prayer, 1st Wednesday (II), January 13, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor
January 13, 2016
1 Sam 3:1-10.19-20, Ps 40, Mk 1:29-39


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


The following points were attempted in today’s homily: 

  • Pope Francis wrote in his Bull of Indication for the Jubilee Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus) and has preached often that everything Jesus did was to communicate his merciful love toward us. Today in the Gospel we have a snap-shot of a “day in the life” of Mercy incarnate. He began by preaching and synagogue, which as any priest will tell you after a Sunday morning, must have been somewhat exhausting all-day work since people would return home normally only at sunset. Then he went to Simon’s house where he healed his mother-in-law. Soon after that, the whole town was at the door asking for miracles, and Jesus, as was his custom, would work with every sick person one-on-one. And after that, well before dawn in the next day, he went out to pray. In all of this he was expressing mercy. In his preaching and teaching in the Synagogue, he was relieving us of the suffering of ignorance. In his one-on-one healings, he was doing something far more than relieving physical suffering, but, as we see in his miracles of healing, bringing people into a relationship with him so that he could give them an even greater gift, salvation through faith. In his praying, he was continuing that work of mercy, doubtless praying to the Father for those who had come the previous day and those who would come in the day that was beginning. And there was an urgency in this work of mercy. When the apostles found him and said that everyone was looking for him, rather than rejoice in his “success,” he mentioned that they needed to be on their way, because he wanted to preach the Gospel in surrounding towns as well. “For this reason I was sent,” he said. As we see Jesus preaching, healing and praying, we need to ask ourselves how we’ll we are receiving these gestures of merciful love and then examine how we’ll we, filled with his mercy in these ways, seek to extend that mercy to others through our fulfilling the works of mercy of instructing the ignorant, caring for the sick and praying for the living and the dead.
  • What I’d like to focus a little bit more on today, however, was Jesus’ prayer in the middle of the night. Even though he was exhausted, he still went out to pray. That was how much he desired that communion with the Father. There’s something particularly special about prayer at night, prayer, we can say, that triumphs over the body’s desire for sleep, because it really tests and strengthens the will to choose God over one’s appetites. Jesus was regularly praying at night not only because he was mobbed during the day but because that’s a time in which the distractions of each day are less and we can sense the light of God shining in the midst of the nocturnal darkness. This is likewise one of the reasons why many adorers who take the “graveyard shift” speak about how special it is. That’s one of the reasons why you get up so early in the morning to pray in this convent. It’s one of the reasons why monks and nuns for centuries in cloisters have arisen to pray matins at about 3 am. There’s something special about prioritizing God in the middle of night, about getting up before dawn to express our desire for God before the sun that symbolizes God rises.
  • And we see in today’s first reading that God called young Samuel to prayer not in the middle of the day but while he was sleeping. There’s much we can learn about our prayer, at night and always, from today’s first reading. After Samuel’s birth, Hannah presented him in the temple and left him there to learn how to serve the Lord. And he would sleep in the temple close to the Ark of the Covenant. The text tells us that at the time “a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent,” something that implies that at the time of writing revelations were common and visions of God frequent, a change that is meant to continue into our present as God reveals himself to us and allows us to see his will in prayer each day. God calls out to Samuel in the middle of the night by name, but Eli, who had been corrupted over time and allowed his family to become corrupt, was slow to pick up on what was happening, and didn’t want to be interrupted in the middle of his sleep. Eventually he caught on and gave Samuel good advice, to see to the one calling, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And that’s precisely what Samuel did. In that prayer, we learn a lot. Often we can think about prayer as our work — the vocal prayers we say, the meditations we choose and do — but prayer is first and fundamentally about opening ourselves up to what the Lord wants to give us in his mercy. It’s more about God’s word than our words, his action than our action. I say to kids, “God has given us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” so that we’ll listen to him far more than try to hog the conversation. The ultimate purpose of prayer is not an exchange of words or ideas but an exchange of persons, and God in grace makes the first move. That’s why we must begin with an attentiveness to his voice, to his presence, to his self-giving. This type of receptive prayer is essential. The text tells us, “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord.” Even though Samuel was raised from his earliest days in the Temple, even though he doubtless had learned to recite the Psalms and the Torah, even though he was a “minister to the Lord” already, he was “not familiar with the Lord,” he didn’t know God as a Father, he didn’t see himself as a member of God’s family, he didn’t have a personal relationship with him. That type of personal relationship happens through prayer, the one-on-one dialogue we have with God. God wants us all to be familiar with him in this way through the existential dialogue of prayer. And God mercifully will give himself to us in that way, in the middle of the night when we can perceive him more clearly, so that we can also see more clearly how he’s giving himself to us in the middle of the day. God wants to give us the same gift he gave Samuel, to “wake us up” in the middle of our sleepiness to his presence, so that just as “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect” and he was known “from Dan to Beersheba … [as] an accredited prophet of the Lord,” so we will continue to grow conscious that the Lord is with us and allow the word he implants with us to bear 30-, 60- or 100-fold fruit, making it possible for us to announce the Lord to others by who we are even before we open our mouths.
  • Someone who lived this mystery of God’s merciful interaction in life and who becomes a very efficacious prophet of the Lord is the saint we celebrate today. St. Hilary of Poitiers was born into a very well-off pagan family. Eventually through study and following an ethical conscience, he saw that polytheism was untenable, that there could only be one God. He began to study the alternatives. Eventually he found the Bible and was fascinated by God’s self-description to Moses at the burning bush (“I am who am”) as well as the sage advice God gave throughout his interaction with his people. When he got to the New Testament, he was won over by Jesus and asked for baptism as a married adult and father of a daughter. After his baptism, he continued his study and prayer to get to know God better. Four years after his baptism, incredibly, he was asked by the people of Poitiers to become their bishop, even though he would need to be continent with his wife, even though he would need to leave what he was doing, even though he would need to receive the sacramental triple crown of the three grades of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He tried to refuse the office not considering himself up to the task, but those who had chosen him only grew in admiration of his humility. So he assumed the office. It was a time when the Church was in chaos because of the Arian heresy, which was very popular in France. He took to study, writing, preaching and prayer to combat the heresy, and he did it so effectively that he was banished by the emperor Constantius from France for three years to Phrygia. In Phrygia, however, he didn’t wallow. Instead he prayed and wrote, and those treatises in defense of God’s divinity are still essential for us today. In just 18 years as a bishop, in just 22 years as a Christian, he incredibly became a doctor of the Church. And one can only become a doctor when one is “doctus.” One can only because a teacher when he is first taught. And because in prayer and through the continuation of prayer in study of Sacred Scripture, St. Hilary had repeatedly said, “Speak, Lord! Teach, Lord! for your servant is speaking,” he became truly learned with the Word of God that he fearlessly and persuasively announced to others. He said that he wanted to use all his faculties to pass on to others the truth of God so that they come, like he had, to true love of Him. His life was a commentary on how one, having received the Lord’s mercy, is moved from within with a desire to share it, and he shared not only in Christ’s great care and love for the poor, sick and needy, but also for those in ignorance and error. He taught — and through his hallowed writings, teaches still.
  • Today as we come here to Mass, we recognize that it is the same Lord who spoke to Samuel, the same Lord who called and emboldened St. Hilary, the same Jesus who teaches, heals and prays, who has called us to this encounter. He teaches us in Sacred Scripture. He heals us from the inside by what St. Ignatius of Antioch called “the medicine of immortality” (the Eucharist) and he prays for us, so that, so healed and strengthened by him, we may use our health, like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, to serve God and others, seeking to use all our faculties as St. Hilary did to pass on to others the truth of God’s mercy and help them to learn how to receive God’s merciful love and love him in response.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 SM 3:1-10, 19-20

During the time young Samuel was minister to the LORD under Eli,
a revelation of the LORD was uncommon and vision infrequent.
One day Eli was asleep in his usual place.
His eyes had lately grown so weak that he could not see.
The lamp of God was not yet extinguished,
and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am,” he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.
You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2 AND 5, 7-8A, 8B-9, 10

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
Blessed the man who makes the LORD his trust;
who turns not to idolatry
or to those who stray after falsehood.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me.
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord.
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.Rising very early before dawn,
he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons
throughout the whole of Galilee.

2-R41-M1-1780 Joshua Reynolds, Samuel als Kind Reynolds, Sir Joshua 1723-1792. 'Der kleine Prophet Samuel im Gebet'. Gemaelde. Montpellier, Musee Fabre. E: Joshua Reynolds /Samuel as Child/ C18th Reynolds, Sir Joshua 1723-1792. 'The little Prophet Samuel praying'. Painting. Montpellier, Musee Fabre. F: Joshua Reynolds / Samuel Enfant Reynolds, Sir Joshua , 1723-1792. - 'Le Petit Samuel'. - Peinture. Montpellier, Musee Fabre.