Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Sixtus II, Pope, Martyr, and Companions
August 7, 2015
Deut 4:32-40, Ps 77, Mt 16:13-28
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In order to understand the full meaning of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel for Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, we need to understand it in the context of what happened immediately before it and after it. After it was the scene of the Transfiguration, which we considered yesterday by a coincidence in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Before it was the previous part of the scene in Caesarea Philippi, in which Peter, helped by God the Father, confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God, and Christ confessed Simon bar-Jonah to be the rock (Peter) on whom he was building his Church. Because of yesterday’s feast, we combine what would have been the Gospel for Thursday of the 18th Week with today as the Church encourages so that we can appreciate far more the full context.
- There is a profound connection between the dialogue in Caesarea between Jesus and the disciples and on the Mount of Transfiguration between God the Father and three of those disciples. Jesus asks who the crowds say he is, and then who his disciples say he is, but God the Father gives the definitive answer during the Transfiguration: “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” And because God the Father knew that the apostles were not listening to Jesus well in his mentioning that he would be a suffering Messiah and the icon of the God whom creatures seek to kill through sin, God the Father spoke from the cloud and said, “Listen to him!”
- St. Peter refused to listen to Jesus’ words that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” He hold him, “No such thing shall ever happen to you!” And Jesus rebuked him in return, changing his name a second time and calling the new rock “Satan,” for trying to divert him from doing God’s will. Jesus’ command in response, “Get behind me!,” is very relevant to what comes later, because Peter was trying to lead the Son of God rather than listen to him as his disciple. Jesus told him that he was thinking not as God does but as human beings do.
- But as shocking as hearing about Jesus’ suffering was, something would be even more challenging. Jesus said that if we wished to reign with him, if we wished to be part of his messianic reign, we needed to be united to him in giving their life to save it and to save others. The disciples needed to listen to this as well: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” These were not arbitrary criteria to be a follower of Jesus. They were essential. In order to be his disciple, in order to become like him, we need to deny ourselves in order to prioritize and affirm God and others. In order to be his disciple, we essentially need to die to ourselves each day — that’s what the Cross makes possible — so that we might come alive with Christ and help him enliven others. If we seek to maintain our life in this world, to avoid the suffering associated with love, then we will never be like Christ. We would be thinking not as God does but as man does.
- Most of us may not need actually to be crucified with Christ, but we need to be willing should it come to it. And the practice for that supreme moment happens in day to day life. That’s what we ponder in today’s first reading. For God, Moses says to the Israelites, “You must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God. … You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper.” It’s through keeping the commandments that we learn to deny ourselves as God and acknowledge God as God, honor his name, keep holy the Sabbath. It’s through keeping the commandments that we die to our desire for control over others, to take advantage of them, to profit from them, to use them as stepping stones for our advancement. We cannot possibly love others if we don’t reverence our parents, if we’re hating or hurting others, if we’re taking advantage of them for our own gratification, if we’re stealing from them, deceiving them, or envious at their blessings. Dying to the Old Adam in us is essential to allowing the New Adam to live and reign and the commandments allow us to put God first and others second. This fidelity to God and love for others in the daily life of the commandments is the way we train to be faithful in the supreme hour.
- But sometimes the Lord does require us to give all as he gave for us. Today we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Sixtus II and his four deacon companions, who were captured and killed during Mass in the Catacombs of St. Praetextatus on August 6, 258. Two other deacons were killed that day elsewhere. And the last of the seven deacons of Rome, St. Lawrence, was killed on August 10, as we’ll be celebrating on Monday. Even though they knew of the decree of the emperor Valerian preventing their assemblies, they still got together to celebrate, choosing to risk their physical lives to receive their spiritual nourishment rather than save their physical lives and go without the nourishment for their souls. Weeks after their martyrdom, once he got the details of what happened, St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote a beautiful tribute to them and he focused on something very important. He said they thought far more of eternal life than their death, far less about being killed than being crowned. We need to fill our minds with these same thoughts in order to think like God does, rather than man does. When we think of God, of eternal life, of God’s blessings rather than about self-denial and the Cross, when we consider how much we will receive from God than what we’ll give up, when we think about our life more than about our death, then we can more easily be courageous every day and on the Supreme Day.
- St. Sixtus and his companions were willing to risk their lives to attend Mass, because it’s here where Jesus makes us strong, by uniting ourselves to his own self-denial, his own way of the Cross, his own crucifixion and his own risen life, to strengthen us to do the same. As we prayed at the beginning of Mass today, “Almighty God, make us docile in believing the faith and courageous in confessing it, just as you granted St. Sixtus and his companions that they might lay down their lives for the sake of your word and in witness to Jesus.” That’s a prayer God wants to answer today and every day!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 DT 4:32-40
“Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?
Was it ever heard of?
Did a people ever hear the voice of God
speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?
Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself
from the midst of another nation,
by testings, by signs and wonders, by war,
with his strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors,
all of which the LORD, your God,
did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
All this you were allowed to see
that you might know the LORD is God and there is no other.
Out of the heavens he let you hear his voice to discipline you;
on earth he let you see his great fire,
and you heard him speaking out of the fire.
For love of your fathers he chose their descendants
and personally led you out of Egypt by his great power,
driving out of your way nations greater and mightier than you,
so as to bring you in
and to make their land your heritage, as it is today.
This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below,
and that there is no other.
You must keep his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you today,
that you and your children after you may prosper,
and that you may have long life on the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 AND 21
I remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I remember your wonders of old.
And I meditate on your works;
your exploits I ponder.
R. I remember the deeds of the Lord.
O God, your way is holy;
what great god is there like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
among the peoples you have made known your power.
R. I remember the deeds of the Lord.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the sons of Jacob and Joseph.
You led your people like a flock
under the care of Moses and Aaron.
R. I remember the deeds of the Lord.
Alleluia MT 5:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 16:24-28
and he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”