Jesus’ Compassionate Desire to Teach Us and Our Desire For That Wisdom, Fourth Saturday (II), February 8, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin
February 8, 2014
1 Kings 3:4-13, Ps 119, Mk 6:30-34

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel we see what Jesus’ compassion — God’s love — causes him to do for the crowds.
  • His merciful love had first led him to take the apostles with him in a boat to a deserted place far away from the crowds so that they could rest with him, because they had been so busy preaching the Gospel and helping Jesus heal that they didn’t even have time to eat not to mention rest. The same Jesus likewise out of love regularly calls us apart to be with him so that he can give us rest by yoking himself anew to us. That’s what he’s been doing over the course of the last 48 hours in Eucharistic Adoration here in this chapel. It’s what he seeks to do in Days of Recollection and Retreats. But he won’t force us to accept that invitation. We, like the apostles, need to get into the boat with him and go away from our ordinary places in order to be with him.
  • What I want to spend most of our time on, however, is what Jesus did with regard to the crowds. Even though St. Mark today doesn’t tell us anything about geography, elsewhere he does, and the route that the apostles would have taken across the top of the Sea of Galilee would have been about 4 miles. To walk along the upper lip of the Sea of Galilee from where they embarked to where they disembarked would have taken about 10 miles. But that’s precisely what a vast crowd did, so hungry were they for what Jesus was giving. Even though Jesus and the apostles would have likely still been tired when they were approaching the shore, even though they were trying to escape from the multitudes for a shirt time, St. Mark tells us that Jesus’ bowels exploded (the literal Greek phrase) with compassion for the crowds. He was sick to his stomach with compassion for them. And what did Jesus do out of compassion? St. Mark tells us, “And he began to teach them many things.” Along with feeding, healing and forgiving, teaching is one of the four ways Jesus shows his compassion on the multitudes. It’s one of the four principal ways God loves us.
  • What should be our response to this love of the Lord? To receive it. To desire his teaching. To recognize we need it. That’s the response we see in the first reading today and in the Psalm that responds to it. King Solomon was just 18 years old when he assumed the throne of his father David and he recognized that he was way too young to govern God’s people. Imagine going to Durfee High School and taking the President of the Senior Class or even the Valedictorian and making him or her President of the United States. Would you feel confident that that person would be up to the task? Would you feel more or less confident of the person thought he or she was up to the task? Solomon had no such illusions. It would have been customary to make a sacrifice at the beginning of a reign, to ask for God’s help and to show everyone that you knew you needed God’s help. Solomon went to Gibeon to make such a sacrifice, but he didn’t just sacrifice one animal; he sacrificed 1,000, to indicate quite clearly to God and to everyone how much he needed God’s assistance. And God was very pleased by his faith and humility. He appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” He could have asked for anything at all. If we were given that command by the Lord, what would we ask for? Solomon, as God tells us later, didn’t ask for money, health, women, even peace from the enemies of Israel. He asked for what he knew he needed in order to be able to serve God and others. He asked for the Lord’s teaching. “O Lord, my God,” he said, “you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David;
    but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.…  Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” He asked not only for prudence and an attentive conscience (knowing with the Lord) but for the grace to love what the Lord teaches and asks. That’s why he didn’t ask for an attentive mind, but for an understanding heart, so that he might judge God’s people with love for God and love for them and that he might not only distinguish right from wrong in conscience but help lead his people to do the right and avoid the wrong. We see how pleased God was by this request. He not only granted it but much else besides.
  • God desires that each of us seek that same wisdom, prudence, and well-functioning conscience and that we love his teaching and guidance. That’s what we prayed in the responsorial psalm today. We begged God, “How can a young man — like Solomon — remain faultless? … By keeping your words. With all my heart I seek you. Let me not stray for your commands. Within my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you. Teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. In the way of your decrees I rejoice as much as in all riches.” We’re called to pray those words not just with our lips but with our hearts. God wants us to value his wisdom more than all riches, because it is a far more valuable wealth, something Solomon grasped and God wants us to grasp. With compassion he teaches us, but we must desire that divine gift!
  • We’ll see over the course of the upcoming week how King Solomon responded to that gift and applied that wisdom. But we’ll also get a glimpse of how he fell from the gift. The Lord taught him and he knew what he needed to do, but over the course of time, he ceased to live by what the Lord taught. He eventually acquired 700 wives and 300 concubines — think about the lust involved that had captured his heart — and he began to think more about pleasing his enormous harem than pleasing the Lord, even going so far as to build some of his pagan wives altars so that they could worship false gods. It’s not enough for us either just to know what God wants. We must love it and love it not only with our heart but with our hands, our eyes, our ears, our feet, and our knees. We must seek his teaching to govern ourselves, our families, our parishes and others, but then we must respond to his help to implement that teaching. In response to our pleas for wisdom, God gives us something far greater than what he gave Solomon. God gives us himself, the Holy Spirit, with his gifts of wisdom and prudence, but we must live by the Holy Spirit and put to death life according to the flesh. That’s what Solomon didn’t do and eventually, despite all the gifts God had given him, he lived in such a way that right after his death, the Kingdom was divided and so much evil began to happen as a result. Our request for God’s wisdom is not for an intellectual gift or even for a one-time infusion of wisdom. It’s to help us to see things as God sees, to judge by God’s categories, to guide as God wants people to be guided. It’s a continual relationship because God never ceases to look upon us with compassion and to teach us because of that compassion. We, likewise, need to recognize that we’re always going to be in need of crying out, “Lord, teach me!”
  • Today we’re celebrating the feast of one of the most compelling saints of modern times who was a recipient of God’s compassion and sought to spend her life living in accordance with that compassion: St. Josephine Bakhita. She was born in the Darfur region of Sudan in 1869. When he was only 7, she was kidnapped by Arab Muslim bandits, forced to convert to Islam, and then sold into slavery on five different occasions. As was the custom with Sudanese slaveowners at the time, she was repeated beaten as a little girl even if she was prompt in doing what was asked. On one occasion, one or her masters showed up with flour, salt and razor blades to brand her. With the flour, the owner sketched on the black skin of her breasts, belly and arms 114 intricate designs and then with the razor blades cut into her skin according to those patterns. While she was bleeding and in enormous pain, the master then poured salt into the wounds so that they would never heal and she would always be branded. Eventually she was sold to the Italian consul in Khartoum. This was the first time she wasn’t beaten when she was told to do things. When the political situation destabilized, the consul needed to leave the country and he took Bakhita — a name that means “fortunate,” given to her by one of her owners, because she couldn’t remember the name her parents had given her, so great was the trauma of her capture and her beatings — with him. He gave her to the service of friends having arrived back in Italy, where she helped to raise a baby as a nanny. When this family was preparing to return to the Sudan after the political situation had improved, they entrusted Bakhita and the little girl to the care of the Canossian Sisters in town.
  • It was there that Bakhita was really exposed to Christianity for the first time. Her reaction to seeing a bloody Italian crucifix was unforgettable. She recognized that the one whom Christians adored as Lord and Master understood her pain, because he had been lacerated in his scourging just as severely as she had been repeatedly whipped and then sliced up with razor blades. When the family returned from the Sudan to take Bakhita and their daughter with them to Africa, Bakhita refused. A lawsuit followed that both under Italian law and a Sudanese liberation of slaves found her to be free and insofar as she was now over 18, she could stay. She was baptized with the name Josephine Margaret and Confirmed, made her first Communion from the hands of the future St. Pius X, and was eventually accepted as a Canossian Sister, where she served for the next 44 years as a cook, sacristan and portress. She was always so grateful for the teaching of her new true Parón or Master and always sought not only to live according to that wisdom by to pass it on to others. Even though she had never received much education, the school girls used to line up at the door of the school just for her to pat them on the head. When people would ask her how she was doing, particularly in times of severe illness and pain, she’d simply respond with a smile, “As the Master desires.”
  • Pope Benedict wrote about her as how the encounter with Christ and his compassion should transform us in his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869… in Darfur in Sudan. …She was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying ‘masters’ who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of ‘master’—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name ‘paron’ for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a ‘paron’ above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme ‘Paron,’ before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her ‘at the Father’s right hand.’ Now she had ‘hope’ —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: ‘I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.’ Through the knowledge of this hope she was ‘redeemed,’ no longer a slave, but a free child of God. … Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her ‘Paron.’ On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had ‘redeemed’ her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.” She had been transformed by the Lord’s compassion on the crowds and she wanted to spread that compassion. She wanted to help people to learn how to live by the wisdom he mercifully gives us.
  •  Today the Lord looks upon us with compassion like he did the crowds at the Sea of Galilee, like he did upon St. Josephine, like he did upon young King Solomon, and he has lavishly given us his words of wisdom, hoping that we will hunger and thirst for his wisdom, for his voice whispering to us through the organ of sensitivity we call conscience, for his holy word by which he teaches us in Sacred Scripture. And he’s going to give us himself so that we can enter into communion on the inside with God’s Word and Wisdom incarnate. Through the intercession of St. Josephine, may we respond to this heavenly Parón with true faith so that one day he will to us, as he did to Josephine Bakhita 77 years ago today, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!”

These were the readings for today’s Mass: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 3:4-13

Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there,
because that was the most renowned high place.
Upon its altar Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings.
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered:
“You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David,
because he behaved faithfully toward you,
with justice and an upright heart;
and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today,
seating a son of his on his throne.
O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant,
king to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this–
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right–
I do as you requested.
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now,
and after you there will come no one to equal you.
In addition, I give you what you have not asked for,
such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 119:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

R. (12b) Lord, teach me your statutes.
How shall a young man be faultless in his way?
By keeping to your words.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
With all my heart I seek you;
let me not stray from your commands.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Within my heart I treasure your promise,
that I may not sin against you.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.

Gospel
MK 6:30-34

The Apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.