Images of the Father’s Life-Giving Work of Mercy, Fourth Wednesday of Lent, March 9, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Memorial of St. Frances of Rome
March 9, 2016
Is 49:8-15, Ps 145, Jn 5:17-30


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • From Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent through Wednesday of Holy Week, we will ponder the Gospel of St. John at morning Mass. These passages focus on Jesus’ conversations with the “Jews,” mainly his critics among the Scribes and Pharisees, and contain some of Jesus’ most complex and deepest monologues. We’ll have a chance to enter into them during these days. But it’s important as we consider them that we keep in mind two of the central coordinates that guide our Lenten preparation for Easter.
    • First, the whole point of Lent is to help us enter into Communion with God the Father. Jesus called us to pray, fast and give alms differently than all the rest: he taught us to pray not for others to see but in intimacy with the Father in our inner room, whether we’re all alone inside a house or in the midst of a crowd; he told us to fast not so that others may notice but so that we can come to share God’s hunger to care for all his sons and daughters; he instructed us to give alms not to win others’ praise but as an extension of the Father’s providential care for us. The entire point of Lent is for us to realize what both the younger and the older sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son failed to grasp: the enormous treasure of the love of the Father who gives us everything he has and to live in communion with that love.
    • Second, during this second phase of Lent, from the third Monday through the fifth Friday, we have readings that are meant specifically to help the Elect to prepare for Baptism and for the Baptized to renew their baptismal promises, not just in words, but in the way they go about every aspect of life, so that they might live it with the “newness of life” to which Baptism introduces and calls us.
  • We could also add that insofar as we’re living now the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, that we are called to examine everything through the prism of God’s merciful love.
  • With these three things in mind, we can better understand what Jesus is teaching us in today’s Gospel. He is teaching us about the Father, about himself as the Image of the Father, and about how we’re supposed to live made in God’s image and likeness, as sons in the Son. Jesus is the icon of the Father who came to reveal to us the Father’s love. But that love was shocking to the various older brothers among the religious class of scribes and Pharisees who wanted to make God in the image of their own rigid ideas. When Jesus healed the man crippled for 38 years in the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, they thought it was a huge sin rather than a manifestation of God’s goodness. They believed that God who rested from creation on the sabbath would take a day off from loving his sons and daughters on the Sabbath just like the Scribes and the Pharisees, who had made the sabbath an idol, were doing. That was the launching pad for Jesus to begin to describe, to their great and easily-scandalized shock and homicidal horror, how he reveals the Father. In today’s passage he gives us three ways he images the Father, which show us three ways God wants to transform us and to help us to imitate him.
  • The first is that he is the icon of the Father’s work. Jesus says, “My Father is at work until now and so I am at work.” Just as the Father never ceases to do good, so Jesus doesn’t take a day off from charity. At the end of today’s first reading, God tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” A mother wasn’t going to allow her breastfeeding child to go without nourishment at any time, but even if a mom were capable of that, God the Father wouldn’t be. That’s why Jesus healed so much on the Sabbath, to overcome the conviction of those who had perverted the Jewish religion to pretend as if God didn’t even want us doing works of charity, works of mercy, on the Sabbath.
  • The second and third things Jesus revealed concern the type of work he does with the Father: he gives life and he exercises judgment.  Jesus indicates that just as the Father gives life, so the Son likewise gives life even to those who are dead. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” He goes on to describe that this life is a relationship with God the source of all life through hearing his words with faith. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.” We come to life by hearing and obeying what we hear Jesus say. When he raises Lazarus from the dead later, Jesus indicates, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even if he died, will live and no one who lives and believes in me will ever die.” Real life comes through a relationship with him who is the source of all life. Sharing in the life of the Son allows us to enter into the life of the Father. Jesus’ work on earth was so that we “might have life and have it to the full,” and on earth and still in heaven, Jesus never ceases to work so that we might experience that life now and forever.
  • Closely associated with that work of giving life, Jesus says, is the work of judgment. Often when we hear the word judgment, most of us can begin to dread it as the time when all our misdeeds will catch up with us. But judgment also have a very positive meaning, too. It will be the time when the Father will say to those who have responded to his offer of life and lived and worked together with him, heard his Son’s words and believed in the Father who sent the Son, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Jesus in today’s passage tells us, “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” Jesus’ judgment, however, is not arbitrary or fundamentally his own, but as he says later, “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” He judges in union with the Father, according to the Father’s criteria, which makes his judgments just. And because Jesus came into the world “not to condemn  the world but so that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17), Jesus, in union with the Father, wants to do everything he can — and has done everything necessary — to help us to follow him along the path of life, the path to his eternal right side, where the judgment will be a canonization instead of a condemnation. He tells us that if we hear (obey) his word and believe in the Father who sent him, we will have “eternal life and not come to condemnation.” That faithful obedience is the path to the “good deeds” of love that will lead us to the “resurrection of life” he describes rather than the “resurrection of condemnation” for those who have refused that love.
  • Ultimately the unceasing work of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit is mercy. Jesus is the incarnation of the Father’s mercy, as we’ve been pondering throughout this Jubilee.  He is the human face of the God who is “gracious and merciful” as we prayed in the Psalm, the one who “comforts his people and shows mercy to the afflicted.” He is the enfleshment of the Father of the Prodigal Son who not only gave us the lavish inheritance of his grace and love but gave his life to redeem us from the pigsty and from domesticated spiritual slavery.
  • Today the Church celebrates the feast of a 15th century saint who allowed God to do his work of mercy in her and then whose whole live became a beautiful commentary on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. St. Frances of Rome wanted to become a religious sister but her noble parents wanted her to marry, and she eventually consented. She was betrothed to a good man and soon after marriage, discovering that her sister-in-law was in the same situation, resolved together to use their position and their means to care for the poor like a loving mom for needy children. They cared for the sick. They opened up their home to feed the poor. They ministered to victims of the plague. They even sold their jewels in order to provide what was necessary. She eventually founded an association of lay women to do this work. They attached themselves to the Benedictines as Oblates. After her husband died, she moved in with them and became their superior. Throughout her life she allowed God to fill her with mercy to overflowing. She worked with the loved with which he never ceased to work. She received the gift of his life and sought to help others experience the depth of the life God came into the world to give. And as she prepared herself with faith for her judgment, she prepared those for whom she was caring. One of the most beautiful things about her life was the unity of life she radiated. When she was praying in the chapel, if she received word that her husband, her children, or the poor needed her, she would immediately leave Christ in the tabernacle to care for Christ in the needy. One holy hour she was interrupted five times. Returning after the last interruption, she noticed that the words of the Bible on which she was meditating had turned to God. She had been living the words she had been reading. She’s a great example for us on how not simply to do the works prayer and charity, but to unite prayer and charity, praying full of love, and doing charity as contemplatives.
  • The great way Jesus brings the Father’s work to fulfillment is here at Mass. It’s here that he gives us his own imperishable life inside. It’s here that he prepares us for the communion that after the judgment will last forever. It’s here that he nourishes us like a mother her infant. It’s here that his grace and mercy reach their zenith. It’s here that he seeks to transform us so that today, tomorrow and everyday we may say with him at the end of today’s Gospel, “I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me,” and that will is for us, like Jesus, to become icons of the Father’s work, paternity, and just and merciful judgment.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 49:8-15

Thus says the LORD:
In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
To restore the land
and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
and guides them beside springs of water.
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 145:8-9, 13CD-14, 17-18

R. (8a) The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.

JN 5:17-30

Jesus answered the Jews:
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath
but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that he himself does,
and he will show him greater works than these,
so that you may be amazed.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life,
so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.
Nor does the Father judge anyone,
but he has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent him.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live.
For just as the Father has life in himself,
so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.
And he gave him power to exercise judgment,
because he is the Son of Man.
Do not be amazed at this,
because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation.
“I cannot do anything on my own;
I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just,
because I do not seek my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.”
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