Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Votive Mass of Our Lady, Queen and Mother of Mercy
February 1, 2014
2 Sam 12:1-7.10-17, Ps 51, Mk 4:35-41
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we conclude Catholic Schools Week with a focus on one of the most important lessons Jesus wants to teach us. In today’s Gospel, we see that the apostles are in a boat with Jesus — the Church is that boat and we’re in the same boat as Jesus — as a storm hits the sea of Galilee. The word that’s used to describe the violent storm is the word for “quake,” something far bigger than pounding rain and driving wind. Even the professional fishermen on that sea were afraid that they were about to die, and yet Jesus was asleep in the stern (a real sign of how tiring his work of preaching and one-on-one healing must be that he couldn’t help but sleep in the midst of the violent undulations in the small boat). They woke Jesus and asked him whether he cared that they were about to die. It was clearly a remark flowing from their fear and frustration, but it was also one of a lack of faith in his love, that he would send them out on the sea with him to die. In fact, what Jesus was going to do was precisely to give them a lesson of how faith should overcome even our most primal fear of death. “Why are you terrified?,” he asked them. “Do you not have faith?” In St. Matthew’s version of this same scene, Jesus asks this question before he does anything about the storm, which was an unbelievable way to teach the lesson. It would be like your house was ablaze and as soon as all the fire trucks arrived, the firemen started to ask you questions about your beautiful flower garden before they started to take off the houses to try to save your house. Yet, Jesus wanted to stress the point. Then he rebuked the wind and said “Quiet! Be still!” and the wind ceased and there was great calm. The disciples were filled with great awe and said to each other, “Who is this whom even the wind and sea obey?” It was one thing to hear him teach or to work miracles of healing withered hands, blind eyes, deaf ears, mute mouths. It was one thing to see him cast out demons. It was one thing even to see him raise someone from the dead. It was quite another for him to dominate nature with a word, something that hearkened back to the beginning when he created nature with a word. It taught them that he was stronger than even the greatest violence and fearsome aspects of nature, and to have confidence in his presence with them in the boat, even if she should be asleep.
- That’s a great lesson for us, too, with regard to our fears, not just the fear of earthly death but the fear of eternal death. The apostles’ question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” was definitively answered when “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” The Lord hears our pleas to save us. He’s with us in the boat. We don’t need to be afraid. And the more faith we have in him, and the more we live by that faith, the less we will fear.
- We see a very important application of these truths in the first reading in the story of David’s conversion. Yesterday we saw David’s four great sins, first breaking the ninth commandment and lustfully coveting his neighbor’s wife, second breaking the sixth commandment and committing adultery with his neighbor’s wife, third breaking the eighth commandment and duplicitously trying to cover it up after Bathsheba told him she was pregnant, and finally breaking the fifth commandment by having this innocent man, loyal soldier and faithful husband struck down on the battlefield through an ultimate betrayal.
- All of these sins, however, flowed from his breaking the first commandment, by his forgetting God. Pope Francis talked about this yesterday in his homily at the Domus Sanctae Marthae. “David finds himself before a great sin, but he doesn’t sense the sin.” The only thing he worries about is covering it up. The Pope said that’s a danger for all of us. “When the Kingdom of God decreases, one of the signs is that one loses the sense of sin.” Pope Francis recalled Pope Pius XII’s words that “the greatest sin today is that men have lost the sense of sin.” And he says that many of us have lost a sense of our own culpability: “I confess to you that when I see injustices, when I see human pride, even when I acknowledge the danger that the same thing can happen to me of losing the sense of sin, it does me good to think of so many Uriahs in history who even today are suffering on account of our Christian mediocrity, when we lose the sense of sin, when we allow the Kingdom of God to to decrease. … This are the martyrs of our own unrecognized sins!”
- But God doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t want us to perish in our sins. He doesn’t want us to continue to harm others through sin. He doesn’t want the Kingdom to decrease but to increase. So he sends us the grace of conversion. In David’s case it happens through the prophet Nathan and his famous parable of the rich man who steals and slaughter’s his poor neighbor’s sole ewe lamb for a feast with a visitor rather than kill one of the many in his own flocks and herds. David’s conscience, which was blind to his own sin, wasn’t so corrupted as to be blind to the injustice and evil in that story. “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this merits death … because … he had no pity!” Then Nathan lowers the boom: “You are that man!” That’s when the eyes of David’s heart were opened to the evil he had done, just how despicable had been his actions. A similar blindness can happen today when someone destroys another person’s family, robbing a wife from a loving husband or a husband from a loving wife, forever altering the life of their kids, and pretending that he or she was doing all of this evil all because of “love.” The consciences has been eclipsed by lust, but not destroyed altogether. Even thieves end up recognizing that stealing is wrong when someone steals from them what they stole from others.
- David’s response to the revelation of his sins is a model for everyone, no matter how much they’ve fallen. “I have sinned against the Lord!” He fasted. He lay on the ground in sackcloth. He did penance. He eventually wrote the beautiful Psalm we prayed today, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn. … Cleanse me … that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow. … Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt. A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit. … I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you. Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power. Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.” David turned to the Lord for salvation, to be rescued from the death to which his sins naturally led. He related to him as a Savior and, having been forgiven, spent his life proclaiming the praise of his mercy.
- God likewise sends us Nathans. It may be a family member who asks why we would do such a thing. It might be a friend who tells us that we’re heading down the wrong path. It may be a priest, or a teacher, or even an adversary. The point is that God does not want us to perish. He wants us, like David, to say “I have sinned against the Lord!” He wants us to turn to him as our saving God. And he wants us to sing the praise of his mercy and become his Nathans to help others come to receive his mercy, too, so that they will not perish either.
- Nathan told David that the “sword shall never depart from your house” and that’s the sword we’ll hear about tomorrow on the Feast of the Presentation when Simeon will tell Our Lady of Mercy that Jesus will be a sign that will be contradicted, that his life will be for the resurrection and the ruin of many, and that her own heart a sword will pierce. But through Jesus’ being multiply pierced on Calvary, he as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the world and made resurrection possible. And when he rose from the dead, he established on the apostles the gift of the Sacrament of Penance so that just as the Father sent him to take away the sins of the world, they by the breathing of the Holy Spirit would be able to do the same, retaining and forgiving sins in the name of the Lord. That’s a beautiful sacrament Jesus established so that we wouldn’t perish. But do we have faith in him and what he has done?
- Let’s turn to our Lady of Mercy to intercede for us that our faith in her Son and what he established to create a clean heart in us and renew in us a steadfast spirit may grow, so that no matter how stormy the seas, no matter how violent the winds, no matter how fearsome the quakes, we may have confidence that through regularly receiving Jesus’ mercy we many not perish, but live in his Kingdom, remember God, hear his voice in conscience, and proclaim his praise, in this world and forever, as together with Him the boat of the Church reaches the eternal shore.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
2 SM 12:1-7A, 10-17
Nathan said: “Judge this case for me!
In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers.
But the poor man had nothing at all
except one little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children.
She shared the little food he had
and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom.
She was like a daughter to him.
Now, the rich man received a visitor,
but he would not take from his own flocks and herds
to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb
and made a meal of it for his visitor.”
David grew very angry with that man and said to him:
“As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death!
He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold
because he has done this and has had no pity.”Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!
Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘The sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Thus says the LORD:
‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.
I will take your wives while you live to see it,
and will give them to your neighbor.
He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.
You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel,
and with the sun looking down.’”Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.
But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed,
the child born to you must surely die.”
Then Nathan returned to his house.The LORD struck the child that the wife of Uriah had borne to David,
and it became desperately ill.
David besought God for the child.
He kept a fast, retiring for the night
to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth.
The elders of his house stood beside him
urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not,
nor would he take food with them.
PS 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”