Lenten Liberation through Faith, Truth and Divine Filiation, Fifth Wednesday of Lent, March 16, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Convent of the Spiritual Family of Das Werk, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
March 16, 2016
Dan 3:14-20.91-92.95, Dan 3:52-26, Jn 8:31-42

Today’s homily was not recorded. The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Lent is about liberation. In Lent we retrace at a much deeper spiritual level the liberation of the Israelites from slavery as Jesus, the new Moses, seeks to lead us by means of the new and eternal Passover to journey with him through the desert of life, through even death, into the eternal promised land. Lent is about being set free from the domination of the temptations of the evil one by spending 40 days with Jesus in a spiritual desert. It’s about journeying from the self-imposed pigsty back to the Father’s house. The three practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving all point to this liberation: liberation from egocentric self-dependence through putting God in his proper place in prayer, from giving into our lower appetites by the self-mastery that comes via fasting, from obsessing about our needs wants and needs by sacrificing for those whose needs are greater in giving of ourselves, time and possessions. Likewise the Year of Mercy is about that same liberation Lent is meant to effectuate. Today in the Gospel Jesus speaks about liberation and slavery and describes three great means by which he wants to help us in Lent and during this Jubilee experience the freedom he came into the world to give us.
  • The first great means is faith. Jesus spoke to “those Jews who believed in him.” There are many who believe that faith enslaves, that it binds us by commandments, that it leads us to depend on something or someone other than what we can empirically verify, but faith helps us to recognize that what we can perceive through our senses is not all that there is. We see the liberating power of faith in the three young men in the fiery furnace in today’s first reading from the Book of Daniel. Even though they were bound and thrown into the white hot furnace, they were interiorly free through faith, which liberated them from the fear of Nebuchadnezzar, which liberated them from the fear of pain and suffering, which liberated them even from the fear of death. It even freed them from the sin of presumption. With faith, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.” The courage came from their fidelity. And their fidelity coupled to God’s led to a great conversion of the King and many others as they were rescued by what seems to have been an angel of God. Nebuchadnezzar would exclaim at the end, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted [had faith] in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Lent is meant to help us grow in that type of faith so that no matter what furnaces of suffering we need to endure, we may remain true to the Lord, asking him to save us in this world and even more importantly save us forever from the fiery furnace of a life leading to Hell.
  • The second great means is his word of truth. It’s important for us to grasp that weak faith is not enough. Jesus addressed these words to those who “believed in him,” but who nevertheless would seek to have him killed. We need the other two elements Jesus describes lest the same thing happen in our lives, that we believe in Jesus but nevertheless crucify him through a life in which we choose sin rather than God, hedonism rather than holiness, our will rather than God’s will. Jesus tells us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth sets us free from both the ignorance and lies that enslave us. But it’s not enough to be familiar with the truth as “facts.” We need to abide in the truth. Jesus indicates a four-step process: remaining in his word, becoming in truth his disciples, knowing the truth and being liberated through the truth. First we must remain in his word, dwelling in it, resting in it, familiarizing ourselves with it, reading it, meditating upon it. We can’t remain in the word of God unless we’re seeking to immerse ourselves in it. If we do this, Jesus says, we will really be his disciples. We’re only his disciples if we’re putting what he teaches us into practice, and the only way we can do that is to know more and more deeply what he teaches. Following him along the way of his holy wisdom will help us to know the truth, not the way we know Wikipedia articles but the way Adam knew Eve, the way we know a friend. For those who know other languages, it’s connaitre not savoirconhecer not saberconoscere not sapere. We become one with the truth not just at the level of our minds but hearts and actions. And once this happens the truth sets us free, because we’re no longer walking without the light of faith in darkness, we’re no longer in ignorance about the most important things, we’re no longer enslaved to our egos, or appetites, or others’ opinions, or the devil’s machinations. Lent is a time in which we are called to grow in remaining, following, knowing and living the Word of God. The readings throughout Lent at daily Mass are a great help in this liberation but we must go beyond it with the help of the Holy Spirit in personal prayer and study. Jesus pointed out to his interlocutors in today’s passage that even though on one level they said they believed in him, at the same time he added, “You are trying to kill me because my word has no room among you.” We need to live in his word in order that our faith grow and not lead us to turn on God by trying to live our faith by halves.
  • The third means of liberation is through divine filiation, to remember we are the beloved sons and daughters of the Father described in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Those opposing Jesus in the Gospel today proudly announced they were children of Abraham, but they really only descendants according to the flesh not according to faith. In fact by their lack of faith and love they were slaves rather than sons in God’s household. After they said to Jesus, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone,” Jesus replied, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free,” but they didn’t want to be set free by the Son to be sons in the Son. Jesus continued, ” I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me … I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.” They then insist that they’re children of Abraham, but Jesus replies, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.  But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!” They then insist that they are illegitimate children but have “one Father, God,” a curious admission because they were trying to kill Jesus because he insisted he was the Father’s Son. But Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here.” Jesus would go to say immediately after today’s Gospel passage stops who their real father is. “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” They had exchanged their divine filiation for a diabolical one by their failure to believe as Abraham believed in God, by their choice to live a lie rather than “stand in truth,” which would set them free. Lent is an occasion for all of us to become like the Father, to be as merciful as the Father is merciful, as holy as he is holy. In prayer we’re supposed to pray in the intimacy of communion with the Father in our inner treasure room, to fast for what he hungers for, to give generously and sacrificially of what he has providentially deposited into our hands so that we might share in his care for all his sons and daughters. Lent is the time in which we overcome the blindness of the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son who, even though he was in the house, related to the Father as a slave would, obeying the Father’s orders rather than living in and sharing the Father’s love.
  • The great gift God gives us every day to help us in this liberation through faith, truth and divine filiation occurs here at Mass. Mass is a mini-Lent and Easter celebration all in one. It’s the essence of what Christ wants to do in us during the Jubilee. We begin with the rite of conversion in which we publicly confess that we are great sinners who have sinned through our own grievous fault, faithfully begging God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively for mercy. God gives us the ability to remain in his word so that we may be strengthened in our discipleship to become one with that Word of Truth and liberated. And we become one with that truth as we receive the Truth incarnate in Holy Communion, entering into the interior life of the Blessed Trinity through him by the power of the Holy Spirit so that together with the Son and with each other we might cry out, “Abba, Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name!”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
DN 3:14-20, 91-92, 95

King Nebuchadnezzar said:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
that you will not serve my god,
or worship the golden statue that I set up?
Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar,
“There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you
in this matter.
If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may he save us!
But even if he will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue that you set up.”
King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage
against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual
and had some of the strongest men in his army
bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
and cast them into the white-hot furnace.
Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles,
“Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed,
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him;
they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies
rather than serve or worship any god
except their own God.”

Responsorial Psalm
DN 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim;
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
R. Glory and praise for ever!

Gospel
JN 8:31-42

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
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