Listening to the Lord As He Speaks, 1st Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
January 10, 2018
1 Sam 3:1-10.19-20, Ps 40, Mk 1:29-39

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in today’s homily: 

  • We continue our first steps in Ordinary Time with the help of St. Mark’s Gospel, with which we dive into the public ministry of Jesus. The central fruit of the Christmas Season is to recognize that God-with-us is still with us, seeking to save us, speak to us, heal us, help us, unite himself to us, help us become more and more like him, and fulfill his mission. As we prayed on Christmas morning, it is to come to share in the divinity of him who has come to share our humanity, to seize this “wondrous exchange.” Today we take a glimpse at an ordinary day in the life of Jesus in which we see just how busy his activity was, full of preaching, healing, praying and a passion to share himself with yet others. The Jesus who behaved that way in Capernaum still has those priorities as he seeks to interact with us like Peter’s in-laws and contemporaries.
  • Jesus began by preaching for a long time in the synagogue on the Sabbath, which as any priest will tell you after a Sunday morning, must have been somewhat exhausting all-day work since people would return home normally only at sunset. Then he went to Simon’s house where he healed his mother-in-law. Soon after that, the whole town was at the door asking for miracles, and Jesus, as was his custom, would work with every sick person one-on-one, bringing people into a personal relationship with him so that he could give them an even greater gift, salvation through faith. And after that, well before dawn in the next day, he went out to pray. We’ll return to this in a moment. Finally, when the apostles found him and said that everyone was looking for him, rather than rejoice in his “success,” he mentioned that they needed to be on their way, because he wanted to preach the Gospel in surrounding towns as well. “For this reason I was sent,” he said. Such was his passion to spread the faith that he wasn’t just looking for a few to receive him, but for all.
  • What I’d like to focus a little bit more on today, however, was Jesus’ prayer in the middle of the night. Even though he was exhausted, he still went out to pray. That was how much he desired that communion with the Father. There’s something particularly special about prayer at night, prayer, we can say, that triumphs over the body’s desire for sleep, because it really tests and strengthens the will to choose God over one’s appetites. Jesus was regularly praying at night not only because he was mobbed during the day but because that’s a time in which the distractions of each day are less and we can sense the light of God shining in the midst of the nocturnal darkness. This is likewise one of the reasons why many adorers who take the “graveyard shift” speak about how special it is. That’s one of the reasons why you get up so early in the morning to pray in this convent. It’s one of the reasons why monks and nuns for centuries in cloisters have arisen to pray matins at about 3 am. There’s something special about prioritizing God in the middle of night, about getting up before dawn to express our desire for God before the sun that symbolizes God rises. Praying at night is not only praying at a time with fewer distractions but often it’s done when everyone else is sleeping, when no one else can notice. These two lessons — prioritizing the Lord in prayer and praying to him, for for the attention of others — are meant to influence our prayer at all times.
  • And this lesson about the lessons of prayer at night are similarly communicating catechetically we could say in today’s first reading. God called young Samuel to prayer not in the middle of the day but while he was sleeping. We know that after Samuel’s birth, Hannah presented him in the temple and left him there to learn how to serve the Lord. And he would sleep in the temple close to the Ark of the Covenant. The text tells us that at the time “a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent,” something that implies that at the time of writing revelations were common and visions of God frequent, a change that is meant to continue into our present as God reveals himself to us and allows us to see his will in prayer each day. God calls out to Samuel in the middle of the night by name, but Eli, who had been corrupted over time and allowed his family to become corrupt, was slow to pick up on what was happening, and didn’t want to be interrupted in the middle of his sleep. Eventually he caught on and gave Samuel good advice, to see to the one calling, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And that’s precisely what Samuel did. In that prayer, we learn a lot. Often we can think about prayer as our work — the vocal prayers we say, the meditations we choose and do — but prayer is first and fundamentally about opening ourselves up to what the Lord wants to give us in his mercy. It’s more about God’s word than our words, his action than our action. I say to kids, “God has given us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” so that we’ll listen to him far more than try to hog the conversation. The ultimate purpose of prayer is not an exchange of words or ideas but an exchange of persons, and God in grace makes the first move. That’s why we must begin with an attentiveness to his voice, to his presence, to his self-giving. This type of receptive prayer is essential. The text tells us, “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord.” Even though Samuel was raised from his earliest days in the Temple, even though he doubtless had learned to recite the Psalms and the Torah, even though he was a “minister to the Lord” already, he was “not familiar with the Lord,” he didn’t know God as a Father, he didn’t see himself as a member of God’s family, he didn’t have a personal relationship with him. That type of personal relationship happens through prayer, the one-on-one dialogue we have with God. God wants us all to be familiar with him in this way through the existential dialogue of prayer. And God mercifully will give himself to us in that way, in the middle of the night when we can perceive him more clearly, so that we can also see more clearly how he’s giving himself to us in the middle of the day. God wants to give us the same gift he gave Samuel, to “wake us up” in the middle of our sleepiness to his presence, so that just as “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect” and he was known “from Dan to Beersheba … [as] an accredited prophet of the Lord,” so we will continue to grow conscious that the Lord is with us and allow the word he implants with us to bear 30-, 60- or 100-fold fruit, making it possible for us to announce the Lord to others by who we are even before we open our mouths.
  • I would like to pause a little bit longer on that prayer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” because I think it is one of the most beautiful and helpful aspirations a Christian can say. I’d encourage you to make it each night before you go to bed, allowing the Lord, if he wishes, to interrupt your sleep or to speak to you in your dreams. I’d encourage you to say it as part of your morning offering, arising out of bed. I’d encourage you to pray it at the beginning of your mental prayer, when you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, when you begin another hour of work. I’d urge you to say it at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass and, if you need to, before the first reading, the Psalm, the Gospel and the homily. It’s a sign of great docility. And as you listen for the Lord’s gentle whisper, be listening to him to speak with words to be acted upon. That’s what links us to today’s Psalm, which trains us to say — as the Letter to the Hebrews ascribes to Jesus the fundamental attitude of — “Here I am. I have come to do your will.”
  • Today as we come here to Mass, we recognize that it is the same Lord who spoke to Samuel, the same Jesus who teaches, heals and prays, who has called us to this encounter. He teaches us in Sacred Scripture. He heals us from the inside by what St. Ignatius of Antioch called “the medicine of immortality” (the Eucharist) and he prays for us, so that, so healed and strengthened by him, we may use our health, like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, to serve God and others as we go to other towns and people as well, because it’s to spread that faith in action that we, like Christ, have been sent!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 SM 3:1-10, 19-20

During the time young Samuel was minister to the LORD under Eli,
a revelation of the LORD was uncommon and vision infrequent.
One day Eli was asleep in his usual place.
His eyes had lately grown so weak that he could not see.
The lamp of God was not yet extinguished,
and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am,” he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.
You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2 AND 5, 7-8A, 8B-9, 10

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
Blessed the man who makes the LORD his trust;
who turns not to idolatry
or to those who stray after falsehood.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me.
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord.
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn,
he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons
throughout the whole of Galilee.