Hearing, Trusting and Living According to the Manner of the Holy Gospel, Fifth Friday (I), February 13, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Basilica of St. Francis, St. Catherine’s Chapel, Assisi
Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of St. Francis
February 13, 2015
Gen 3:1-8, Ps 32, Mk 7:31-37

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • The readings from today’s Mass really help us to appreciate from different angles what the Lord teaches us in the life of St. Francis of Assisi who is buried in this historic basilica. St. Francis is far more than a spiritual Dr. Doolittle, a lover of nature and the animals. He’s more than one of the most famous peacemakers in the history of the Church and the world. He’s greater than the founder of one of the largest spiritual families in the Church. As Pope Benedict stressed when he came here in 1207, to mark the eighth centenary of one of the most important events in the history of the Church, St. Francis is above all a great witness to the power of conversion. St. Francis, in his own Testament at the end of his life, regarded the first 25 years of his life as a time when he was “in sin.” He lived a care-free life in which he was head of the fraternity, or as his friends called him, the “king of feasts.”
  • His conversion happened in three main stages.
  • The first took place when he was riding his horse outside the city and met a leper who came out from a leper colony to ask him for an alm. Francis dropped him something and sped away, not being able to stand the sight and smell of the leper and also phobic about catching the disease. But a short distance away he was pierced to the heart by his lack of genuine love. He turned around, sped to the leper, dismounted, and then embrace him and kiss the lands he wouldn’t touch earlier when dropping coins. It was a conversion to charity.
  • The second stage happened in the Church of St. Damian on the slope of Assisi that we’ll be visiting later today. As Francis was praying in front of the Crucifix in the run down Church, Jesus spoke to him from the Cross and summoned him, “Francis, rebuild my Church which you can see is falling into ruin.” Francis, at first, took the Lord literally and, selling some of his father’s precious fabrics, with the proceeds began to reconstruct the dilapidated house of God. But the Lord had a far bigger building project in mind. Later Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis, whom he would meet for the first time the following day, holding up the Cathedral of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s principal Church, a sign that the renovation project God had in mind was the Church as a whole, which is not built of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but men, women, boys and girls, living stones built on Christ the cornerstone. That’s the building project Francis would undertake for God, one living stone at a time, beginning with his Franciscan brothers, and then the Poor Clares, and then the lay Franciscans, and through them in the Church as a whole. St. Clare would run away from home at 18 to “live according to the manner of the holy Gospel,” and that type of evangelical living is precisely what the Lord was asking for, what Francis would eventually inspire. That was the second stage of his conversion.
  • The third happened in the courtyard of the bishop’s residence after Francis’ Father had denounced him to the bishop for stealing his fabrics to sell them to rebuilt the Church. What Pietro Bernardone was really hoping for was far more than the restitution of his sold property, but the restitution of his son whom he thought was losing his mind seeking to unite himself to Christ in radical poverty, chastity and obedience. When Pietro told Bishop Guido what his son had done, Francis readily confessed, promised to return the money, but then grasped that the clothes he was wearing were also the fruit of his father’s generosity. So he stripped naked in the bishop’s courtyard, gave the clothes back to his Father, and then said he was finally able to live fully dependent on the generosity of his Father in heaven to whom he prayed, “Padre nostro, che sei nei coeli,” “Our Father, who art in heaven.” That was the third stage, to take Jesus’ words seriously that just as the Father takes care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky, so he will always care for our food, drink, clothing and housing. He was to live totally by God’s providence and mercy.
  • Pope Benedict said outside this very Basilica in 2007, “Today, everything here speaks of conversion. … Speaking of conversion means going to the heart of the Christian message, and at the same time to the roots of human existence. … Since the time when the faces of lepers, loved through love of God, made him understand in a certain way the mystery of kenosis (cf. Phil 2: 7) – the humbling of God in the flesh of the Son of Man -, from the time when the voice of the Crucifix in San Damiano put in his heart the program for his life, “Go, Francis, repair my house” (2 Cel I, 6, 10), his journey was none other than the daily effort to put on Christ. … My dear brothers and sisters, what was the life of the converted Francis if not a great act of love? This is revealed by his passionate prayers, rich in contemplation and praise, his tender embrace of the Divine Child at Greccio, his contemplation of the Passion at La Verna, his living “according to the form of the Holy Gospel” (2 Test. 14), his choice of poverty and his quest for Christ in the faces of the poor. This was his conversion to Christ, to the point that he sought to be “transformed” into him, becoming his total image; and this explains his typical way of life by virtue of which he appears to us to be so modern. … May Francis of Assisi obtain the grace of an authentic and full conversion to the love of Christ!”
  • That brings us to our own conversion. We see the importance of conversion in the first reading, which details the first sin and history and outlines the physiognomy of every sin. The devil first gets Eve and Adam to listen poorly. God had told Adam that he wasn’t to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the devil told them that neither were they to look at it, and they already had been viewing it with desire. He was roping them in and they hadn’t paid adequate attention to what God had said even though their life depended on it. The second aspect of the devil’s temptation was to get them to distrust God and trust him more than God. He said that they wouldn’t die if they totally did the opposite of what God had commanded and declared that God gave the command simply because he was jealous of his own divine status and didn’t want anyone else to become like him, even though his will from the beginning was to create us in his image and likeness and help us to live according to that image and likeness. But Eve and Adam bought the bait, ate the fruit, and then all God had promised came about. There was a three fold rupture: in their relationship with God, with each other, and within each of them, body and soul. This is what happens in every sin. First, the devil tries to get us not to pay attention to what God has said — every sin begins with a sin of listening, of not hearing what the Lord God wants and obeying it. Then he wants us to distrust God on the basis of that faulty hearing. Today he’ll say things like, “You won’t die if you voluntarily miss a Sunday Mass. You won’t die if you follow your heart and pretend you’re married to someone whom you love but whom you haven’t yet wedded. You won’t die if you fail to forgive a family member who’s wronged you. You won’t die if you stiff someone in need who’s probably a con man anyway.” And he seeks to reel us in by that diabolical two-step just as much as he hurt Adam and Eve.
  • Jesus Christ came into the world to heal us and to help us resist this diabolical temptation. He wanted to change our hearing, our speaking and our heart. We see that in today’s Gospel. He healed the deaf mute’s hearing, so that he could tune into the God man’s voice. Then he healed his tongue so that he might speak to God and speak of God to others. To heal our hearing means to make it possible for us truly to obey God. In Hebrew, the same word is used for “hearing” and “obeying,” because it was inconceivable that one could hear God asking something and refuse to obey. In Latin the same relationship is stressed. The word to listen is audire and to obey is ob-audire, which means to listen intentively, to eavesdrop, to hang on every word. Jesus wanted to heal our hearing so that we could act on what we’ve heard God say. Then he opened up our mouths, like he did the deaf mute, so that we would be able to speak of the love of God and help others to obey God not out of servile fear or duty but out of love. This is the grace of conversion and God gave us all that grace on the day of our baptism, when the minister of baptism didn’t put his saliva in our ears or spit on our tongue but did the ephathatha gesture, blessing our ears and mouth as he said, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May he touch your ears to receive his word and your lips to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father.” In response to the faulty hearing and distrust that leads to sin, God wants to change our senses and our heart so that we might hear, trust and obey. He wants to give us the grace of conversion through genuine forgiveness, so that we might, like Francis, literally “turn with” the Lord. Blessed indeed are those whose sins are forgiven, who are graced with conversion, as we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm.
  • Francis turned so intimately with the Lord that two years before he died, the Lord appeared to him once more from a Crucifix, a Crucifix in LaVerna, and from his wounds pierced Francis’ hands, feet and side with his Sacred stigmata, so that he could bear in his own flesh Christ’s wounds. Jesus is going to do something even greater for us. We’re not just going to receive in our flesh his sacred stigmata, but we’re going to receive within his whole body, blood, soul and divinity, something that will help us from the inside to live a converted life, to live according to the manner of the Holy Gospel. And the end of the Gospel, the people, marveling at what Jesus had done, said, “He has done all things well.” The Eucharist, and the holiness to which the Eucharist leads, is what he has done best of all. May we respond to the graces God gives us today with the same receptivity with which St. Francis and Clare did, so that through us in our own day and beyond, God may do something well and great, to bring many people to the source of forgiveness, happiness and holiness we ourselves meet at the altar every day.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 GN 3:1-8

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden
at the breezy time of the day,
the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.

Responsorial Psalm PS 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7

R. (1a) Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you
in time of stress.
Though deep waters overflow,
they shall not reach him.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.

Alleluia ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 7:31-37

Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”