Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. John Bosco
January 31, 2017
Heb 12:1-4, Ps 22, Mk 5:21-43
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we reach what I believe is the climax of the Letter to the Hebrews and one of the most encouraging passages in Sacred Scripture, something that sums up not just the point of the letter but the essence of the Christian life. After having focused on Jesus being God the Father’s definitive Message and Messenger, after describing him as the one who through obedience and suffering as our eternal high priest will lead us to perfection through our own faithful union with him in the midst of our Crosses, after saying that he understands our temptations and can relate to us in our weakness, after having described all of the great Old Testament figures of hypomone or holy endurance, gives us the image almost of a stadium full of these heroes and says: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” These witnesses have not only shown us the way but they’re cheering us on like marathoners needing inspiration from the crowd to make the finish line. The author tells us to let go of the strings and chains of sin that bind us and to persevere in running the race. And we will do this, he says, if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader of faith and the perfecter of faith. The Christian life is about keeping our eyes on Jesus in faith as we follow him by running together with him: the more we run with him, the more we’ll break the bonds of sin. The letter then specifies the Jesus on whom we’re supposed to fix our eyes permanently: not a soft, cuddly bear or an unchallenging baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but one who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him … endured the cross, despising its shame,” who “endured such opposition from sinners.” Keeping our focus on Jesus’ triumph through suffering will help us “not grow weary and lose heart” and in our “struggle against sin” help us to resist to “the point of shedding blood.” That is the fight we found in the martyrs, who would rather die than sin. Once we have received that strength from Jesus, then, whether with blood or not, we will truly resist sin.
- In the Gospel, we see two who kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. Jairus kept his eyes on him. By this point, Jesus had already been kicked out of the synagogues by those seeking to kill him on account of his supposed violation of the Sabbath. Jairus’ approaching Jesus at all was a bold act that could have gotten him in trouble with the other leaders of the synagogue. The fact that he would fall down before Jesus, as if he were minimally a prophet but possibly even more, would have solicited anger and worse from many of his colleagues. But he despised the shame and with faith in Jesus and love for his daughter he approached with his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. He kept his eyes on him in faith when Jesus stopped along the way to find out who touched him. It would be like an ambulance’s stopping to pick up coffee at a convenience store while rushing a heart attack victim to the hospital. But he didn’t lose faith or complain. After his friends told him his daughter had died, he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus as Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He kept his eyes fixed on him when Jesus told the mourners that Jairus’ dead daughter was just sleeping. He kept his eyes fixed on Jesus when Jesus grabbed his little girl’s hand and raised her up. And I like to think he kept his eyes fixed in gratitude on Jesus even after the stupendous miracle. No matter what was going on inside and outside of him, he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus as, despising the shame and ridding himself of everything that held him back, Jesus led him to the resurrection of his daughter.
- The woman with the 12 year hemorrhage likewise kept her eyes in faith on Jesus. She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” And so braving being trampled by the crowd that was bumping up continuously against Jesus as they rushed to Jairus’ house, she crawled and got to his hem and that’s when the miracle happened. Jesus stopped and asked, “Who touched me?,” because he knew power had gone out of him and he wanted to give this woman more than just a physical miracle, but salvation through faith. He wanted her to look at the perfecter and leader of faith in the eyes. She came up to him with fear and trembling since she, with her hemorrhage was ritually impure and had made Jesus by touching him similarly ritually impure, but Jesus didn’t castigate her. After she had fallen down before him, Jesus looked at her with love and said, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
- And finally St. John Bosco looked at Jesus with faith. His father died when he was two, but his mother, “Mamma Margherita,” helped him to train his eyes on God, despite poverty, drought and social unrest, and persevere in the race running toward him all his days. At a young age he needed to be apprenticed to an uncle. And he was one of the lucky ones that he had an uncle to whom he could be sent when his mother no longer could feed him. Many boys didn’t have that fortune. Young John Bosco would see them hanging out together on the streets, causing trouble, stealing things in order to survive, and he knew they needed God. He knew they needed someone to help them keep their eyes on Him who never took his loving eyes off of them. Having keenly observed some people in the circus juggling and doing magic tricks, he soon learned how to use them to impress the street boys. He promised to show them how to do the same tricks if they just went with him to Church. Even as a young boy he was an apostle for those who were left by a harsh society on the sides of the road. Eventually a priest recognized in him signs of a priestly vocation. He was taught how to read so that he would be able to go to school and seminary. His upkeep and his clothes were provided by charity, the mayor paid for his hat, the pastor his coat, one parishioner his cassock another a pair of shoes. During Seminary he would continue to go out on Sundays to draw the boys to Mass and make sure these waifs would be taken care of. It was during Seminary that St. Joseph Cafasso, the seminary rector just a few years his senior, recognized his vocation to give his entire life to the care of these abandoned, lost sheep, seeking to love them with the love of Christ and bring them to live truly Christian lives. St. John Bosco organized activities on Sundays but very few people wanted hundreds of street kids around them, and so he struggled to find a permanent place. Very few were keeping their eyes fixed on where the Lord was looking. Eventually he got a big barn and began to build it up. He founded schools to train them as shoemakers, tailors and printers. He began to give them accommodations so they weren’t sleeping on the streets and entrusted their care to his mother Margherita who came to live with them. His orphanage would grow to house more than 800 boys for whom he would beg for food. Some of the bright boys he would eventually begin training to be priests to serve young people like these in the Salesian order God would lead him to found. And the work of Salesians continues to this day. It’s a work geared toward helping people learn how to persevere in running the race of the Christian life, how to reach out to teach Jesus, how to trust in him to say to each of us and our loved ones one day, “I say to you, arise!”
- With his boys, St. John Bosco always tried to help them relate to Jesus in the Eucharist with faith. He would encourage the orphans he had brought from the streets, taught trades and sought to inspire toward holiness, that “there is no greater happiness in this world than that which comes from a communion well received.” He would add, ““My dear boys, love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and you shall be truly happy.” And he would help them to overcome spiritual blindness and keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and the treasure of himself he gives us. “If a well-known and trustworthy person,” he said to them, “were to go to a public square and tell all the idlers loitering there that on a certain hill they would find a gold mine and could take all they wanted, do you think anyone would shrug his shoulders and say he did not care? They’d be dashing there as fast as they could! Well, now, doesn’t the tabernacle hold the most precious treasure ever to be found on earth or in heaven? Unfortunately, there are many who cannot see it because they are [spiritually] blind. Yet our faith unerringly tells us that endless riches are to be found there. People sweat and toil to make money, and yet, in the tabernacle dwells the Lord of the universe. He will grant you what you ask, if you really need it!”
- Today as we come to this Mass, St. John Bosco is among the cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we continue the journey of Christian life. He’s interceding for us to leave sin behind and cling to Jesus with our eyes, with our heart, with our soul, mind and strength. He wants us to recognize that at Mass we do more than touch Jesus’ garment, but he touches us in every part of our body and soul in holy communion. And he wants us, as we prepare to behold the Lamb of God, to keep our eyes fixed on him, as he leads us to perfection of faith and brings us to join at last the great cloud of witnesses and share their eternal company.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Heb 12:1-4
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,
in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 22:26b-27, 28 and 30, 31-32
I will fulfill my vows before those who fear him.
The lowly shall eat their fill;
they who seek the LORD shall praise him:
“May your hearts be ever merry!”
R. They will praise you, Lord, who long for you.
All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of the nations
shall bow down before him.
To him alone shall bow down
all who sleep in the earth;
Before him shall bend
all who go down into the dust.
R. They will praise you, Lord, who long for you.
And to him my soul shall live;
my descendants shall serve him.
Let the coming generation be told of the LORD
that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
the justice he has shown.
R. They will praise you, Lord, who long for you.
Alleluia Mt 8:17
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mk 5:21-43
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him
and a large crowd followed him.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked,
But his disciples said to him,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, Who touched me?”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.