Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Virgin and Religious, Foundress of the Ursulines
January 27, 2014
2 Sam 5:1-7.10, Ps 89, Mk 3:22-30
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- This week the Church celebrates Catholic Schools Week and it’s important for all of us to ponder the importance of Catholic Schools and the formation that they provide. I shudder to think what the Catholic Church in the United States would be today were it not for the Catholic schools that helped to make so many disciples. I shudder to think what the future of the Church in the United States will be without Catholic schools. Religious education programs, which on average have our young people for about 30 hours a year of instruction, cannot compete against a secularizing culture in which young people watch about 40 hours of television a week and against a growing indoctrination program in many public schools seeking to teach the kids ideas contrary to what God has revealed about human love, sexuality, marriage, family, life, and death. That’s why all of us need to ponder much more the importance of Catholic Schools, how they better than any other institution are capable of “making disciples” and how we’re all called to support them.
- Today we celebrate the feast of St. Angela Merici (1470-1540), the foundress of the Company of St. Ursula, which was the first teaching order of women in the history of the Church. She was orphaned at 15 and her younger sister died a few years later without the sacraments, something that deeply affected her, and she began to look around to see how many girls, both orphans and those growing up in poor families, had no education at all. The only education for girls at the time happened in rich families by tutors or happened in convents. The vast majority of young women received no educational formation at all, not to mention no formal instruction in the faith. She opened up her family home into a primitive school to try to teach the girls of her city, others joined her, and it eventually became a model. Over the course of the four and a half centuries since, the Ursulines have formed millions of Catholic kids and spawned many other orders of teaching sisters.
- We prayed in the Collect (opening prayer) of the Mass, that following her example, “we may hold fast to your teaching and express it in what we do.” That thought leads us to what God teaches us today in the readings, which is about kingdoms united and kingdoms divided, and who seeks to united and who seeks to divide.
- In the first reading, we see the leaders of the tribes of Israel come to David in Hebron, where he was King of Judah and asked him to shepherd the children of Israel, too. (Judah is the southern part of the Holy Land, Israel the northern, and they were inhabited by different tribes from among the descendants of Jacob). David, who was a united rather than a divider, agreed and ruled over both kingdoms for the next 33 years. It’s an image of what’s supposed to happen with the “son of David,” Christ, who came so that we might all be one, as he and the Father are one. The Kingdom of God he came to inaugurate is a United Kingdom, where people are in communion with God and each other.
- We see in the Gospel, however, that the devil seeks to destroy that unity and seeks to get others, consciously or unconsciously, to cooperate with him in that fragmentation and destruction. The scribes who had come from Jerusalem on foot to Galilee, witnessing Jesus’ exorcisms, couldn’t deny that the exorcisms were occurring, that possessed people were being liberated, that the demons themselves were hailing Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” They couldn’t deny the facts. But they could try to change the interpretation. And because they had already prejudged Jesus not to be the type of Messiah they were looking for, because he didn’t follow their own man-made prescriptions with regard to the Sabbath, to fasting and to other parts of the fence they drew around the Mosaic law, concluded that since he couldn’t be of God, then he had to be of the devil. That’s why the said that Jesus himself was “possessed by Beelzebul” and exorcised not by God’s power but by the power of the “prince of demons.”
- It was absurd and Jesus pointed out the absurdity in some brief parables that not only answer the objections but communicate something really important about the unity that’s meant to reign in his kingdom.
- “How can Satan drive out Satan?,” he said. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.” In other words, the only way he could plunder Satan’s house (a possessed man) and drive him out of that house is if he had bound up Satan first. If a possessed man — as they were claiming Jesus to be — were battling against the prince of demons and casting demons out from those whom the demons had occupied, then Satan’s kingdom would be defeated. Underneath Jesus’ reply is a crucially important principle of unity, something that President Abraham Lincoln himself would famously cite to try to keep the United States united.
- But then Jesus continues to talk about a very important moral principle that we need to note because it’s far more common than one might think. “Amen, I say to you,” he said, beginning with the words of a solemn oath: “all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and why can’t it be forgiven? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in general, is calling something evil good or good evil. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and one blasphemes against him whenever one deliberately or with vincible ignorance calls a lie the truth or a truth the lie. Jesus reminded them of this sin because they were saying “He has an unclean spirit,” that he was possessed, as he was doing God’s work.
- The same type of sin happens today, for example, with those who want to treat same-sex sexual activity as if it’s the eighth sacrament rather than sinful, who want to call those who defend the institution of marriage as God made it “hateful” and “bigoted,” those who want to defend unborn girls in the womb from execution “anti-woman” and “anti-freedom,” those who want to call chaste priests and nuns “perverts” and “sexually repressed,” those who, like the late Christopher Hitchens, wanted to call Blessed Mother Teresa’s charity just an exercise in “vanity,” and so on. I think one of the most notorious examples today is SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a group funded by Jeffrey Anderson and other trial attorneys who have made millions off the Church and use this organization to foster making adding millions. We absolutely want to support those who have been abused by clerics, we absolutely want to rid the Church of any and all abuse of those entrusted to the Church’s care, but SNAP abuses our love and compassion for victims to try to attack even the good that’s happening in the Church. When huge advances are made in the protection of kids, they never give any credit, but only attack it for not going as far as it should. Whenever a new bishop is appointed, they put out a press release attacking the man, no matter how hard he has worked to care for victims and create safe environments. They call wicked all the good that’s been happening since 2002 and only spread division.
- Why is such a sin against the Holy Spirit, against the truth, unforgivable? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864). The reason why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable is not because God doesn’t want to forgive but because the sinner won’t open up to receive mercy, either because he doesn’t believe he needs it, or because she doesn’t believe God will forgive, or because he doesn’t want to come to receive it in the way God has intended. When someone is convinced that evil is good and a lie is true, the person will not think he or she is in need of forgiveness. When someone is calling Jesus evil and possessed, that person is generally not going to come to ask Jesus for mercy. When someone has convinced himself that abortion is a beautiful act of freedom that should be celebrated, that gossiping is a charitable information service for inquiring minds that want to know, that producing smut is a public service in line with the right of free speech, they’re generally not going to repent. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not a curse against the third Person of the Trinity but a hard-hearted refusal to be opened by him to the truth of things and to come to receive the forgiveness that “God the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has sent the Holy Spirit among us” to accomplish.
- These types of lessons from Jesus can be taught with integrity and clarity in a Catholic School, which is one more reason why Catholic Schools are so crucial for the present and future of the Church.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
2 SM 5:1-7, 10
“Here we are, your bone and your flesh.
In days past, when Saul was our king,
it was you who led the children of Israel out and brought them back.
And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel
and shall be commander of Israel.’”
When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron,
King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD,
and they anointed him king of Israel.
David was thirty years old when he became king,
and he reigned for forty years:
seven years and six months in Hebron over Judah,
and thirty-three years in Jerusalem
over all Israel and Judah.
Then the king and his men set out for Jerusalem
against the Jebusites who inhabited the region.
David was told, “You cannot enter here:
the blind and the lame will drive you away!”
which was their way of saying, “David cannot enter here.”
But David did take the stronghold of Zion, which is the City of David.
David grew steadily more powerful,
for the LORD of hosts was with him.
PS 89:20, 21-22, 25-26
Once you spoke in a vision,
and to your faithful ones you said:
“On a champion I have placed a crown;
over the people I have set a youth.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
“My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him,
and through my name shall his horn be exalted.
I will set his hand upon the sea,
his right hand upon the rivers.”
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and
“By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”
Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables,
“How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided,
he cannot stand;
that is the end of him.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder his house.
Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies
that people utter will be forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”