Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto
February 20, 2017
Sir 1:1-10, Ps 93, Mk 9:14-29
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today, on the heels of a study of creation in the Book of Genesis through the lens of the Letter to the Hebrews, the Church begins the study of the Book of Sirach, the longest of all of the Old Testament works of wisdom literature. Normally the study is two weeks, but we will study it until the beginning of Lent in a week and a half. Today we encounter the introduction to the Book, which highlights the main theme: Awe and wonder at the mystery of God’s wisdom concealed in creation, from sands on the seashore, to drops of rain, to heaven, to earth, to subterranean realities. The inspired Joshua ben Sirach tells us that real wisdom comes from God, “one, wise and truly awe-inspiring, seated upon his throne, … Most High all-powerful creator-king and truly awe-inspiring one, the God of dominion.” His wisdom effuses throughout his creative word, for “the word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom and her ways are everlasting.” But God “has lavished” this gift of wisdom, this capacity to understand, “upon his friends.” Throughout this work, we will see how that font of God’s wisdom lavishly overflows to those who live in friendship with the Lord.
- When we turn to the Gospel, we see one way in which that wisdom is lavishly poured out upon us in the explanation that Jesus gives to his apostles about why he was able to drive out a demon they couldn’t. He was imparting to them the means by which they could share not just in his wisdom but more fully in God’s powerful recreative work.
- The scene is a father’s request on behalf of his son, who since birth has been possessed by a demon in such a way that it causes him to be deaf, mute, thrown into convulsions and even suicidal. When the father and a crowd meets Jesus returning from Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John, he tells Jesus that the apostles were arguing with the Scribes over why they couldn’t heal the boy. Doubtless the Scribes were attacking them for their failure. Jesus seems to express some frustration that, because of a lack of faith among a “faithless generation,” the miracle wasn’t able to be worked by the nine apostles who were at the foot of Mt. Tabor as he was being transfigured. There was two-fold lack of faith.
- First in the father who asked, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us,” to which Jesus replied, “If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith!” And the father replied that he did have faith but ended more of it to overcome his weakness and doubt.
- The second lack of faith was in the disciples. When they asked Wisdom incarnate why they couldn’t drive it out, he responded, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” In many of the early manuscripts it said “prayer and fasting.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “I was able to do this miracle but I have divine power that you don’t.” He said “prayer” and perhaps “fasting,” the type of activities that they were capable of, the practices in which he was engaged. Wisdom incarnate from whom all wisdom flows was sharing with his friends his secrets. It was a summons for them to grow in faith, like the father of the boy, through their own prayer and fasting.
- It was a summons likewise for us. Miracles still happen, and happen all the time. We see stupendous miracles in Lourdes and in the causes of canonization. But there aren’t anywhere near as many miracles — moral and physical — as there could be if we had faith the size of a mustard seed. The disciples clearly had some faith, faith to leave everything to follow him, faith to believe he was the Messiah, but there, too, was still an admixture of doubt. They, too, had some of the problems of their faithless and perverse generation. Likewise we can often have our faith undermined by the rationalism of the age that doesn’t believe in miracles. We may “say our prayers” and fast a couple of days a year, but God is calling us to more. These are useful thoughts not just as we approach Lent but as we take our faith more seriously. The Sisters of Life, as you well know, were founded by Cardinal John O’Connor to pray and fast for the cause of life.
- To act on this invitation from Wisdom-in-the-flesh, we don’t have to be old or highly educated. We just need to be faithful enough to take seriously what heaven is asking and act on it. We see that in the holy ones we celebrate today, Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto. One hundred years ago this May, the Blessed Virgin appeared in Fatima Portugal to three young children, Lucia dos Santos, her cousin Francisco, and Francisco’s sister, Jacinta. When Our Lady appeared to the three pastorinhos, she asked them to assume what most of us would presume to be grown-up responsibilities: to pray the Rosary and to offer themselves as victims of reparation for the conversion of sinners and the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Despite Lucia’s being only 10, Francisco’s being 9 and Jacinta 7, they responded with childlike faith and total dedication to this charge. Mary showed them three images to convince them of the stakes of what she was asking them to do.
- The first vision was of hell, where Mary told them “the souls of poor sinners go.” They saw, as Lúcia recounted, “a great sea of fire” with “demons and souls in human form… amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair,” which made them tremble with horror. Had Mary not promised them that she would help them get to heaven, Lucia said, she thinks they would have died of fear and terror.
- The second image conveyed to them that World War I would soon end, but Mary said that if people did not stop offending God a worse one would erupt in which God would “punish the world for its crimes.” She warned that unless Russia were converted, the communists would spread their errors throughout the world, causing war, annihilating nations, persecuting the Church and martyring millions. To avoid these ills, she asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart and that people receive Holy Communion in reparation on first Saturdays.
- The third was a prophetic vision. An angel with a flaming sword cried out “Penance, Penance Penance!” as the children beheld a steep way of the Cross through a city laden with the corpses of martyred bishops, priests, religious and lay people, at the top of which was a “bishop in white” who likewise was shot and killed.
- By means of the three visions, the children saw the real consequences of sin — hell, a world through in total turmoil, and a Church persecuted to the point of martyrdom. They also saw the remedy for sin and all its effects: consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and penance. They learned that a pure heart which “sees God” in all situations, says “fiat” to Him at all times, treasures His word and acts on it, is a stronger weapon that all the earth’s bullets, bombs and hijacked airplanes put together. The children took up the arms of prayer and sacrifice and heroically put them to use in praying for sinners’ conversions.
- From that point forward, Blessed Francisco began to pray almost constantly to “console Jesus for the sins of the world.” One night, when his father discovered him sobbing in his room, Francisco gave the reason: “I was thinking of Jesus who is so sad because of the sins that are committed against him.” Jacinta was so convinced by the vision of the reality of Hell of the importance of saving sinners from it that she began to pour herself into prayer and practice various corporal mortifications. “Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners,” Mary had told her. “Many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.” Jacinta responded, as did her brother, by prostrating themselves in prayer for hours, kneeling with their heads humbly bowed to the ground. When both caught the terrible 1918 flu that took the lives of tens of thousands, they offered all of their sufferings for sinners. Having been told by Our Lady that she would take him to heaven soon, Francisco declined hospital treatment, bearing enormous pain with a smile and without complaint. Our Lady appeared to Jacinta and asked if she wanted to stay on earth a little longer to convert more sinners. She said yes. So the little girl allowed herself to be dragged from clinic to clinic, to have two of her ribs removed without anaesthesia, valiantly sacrificing herself as a victim for the conversion of sinners and for the Holy Father, whom she knew from the vision would suffer much. Francisco died at 10 on April 4, 1919 and Jacinta at nine 97 years ago today at the age of 9 on February 20, 1920.
- When Pope John Paul II beatified them in Fatima in 2000, on the 83rd anniversary of Mary’s first appearance to them, he lifted them up as an example to the whole world of what faith and love for the salvation of others looks like. He stressed that their lives demonstrate that children can be heroically virtuous and reach “the heights of perfection” at a very young age. Jacinta, in fact, is the youngest non-martyred saint in Church history. Echoing the words of our Lady, the Pope reminded all children, “Our Lady needs you all to console Jesus, who is sad because of the bad things done to him; he needs your prayers and your sacrifices for sinners.” Mary had appeared to them because they were capable of responding in faith, just as she had as a 14 year old girl to God’s angel. God in his wisdom knows that they are capable of such faith, and what goes for them goes for all of us, no matter how young we are.
- Today at Mass, we listen anew to Wisdom speak and then we enter into a Holy Communion with Wisdom incarnate. During the Last Supper Jesus called us his friends because he revealed to us everything the Father had given him and said we would be friends if we did what he commanded. We deepen our friendship as we do this in memory of him at his command. This really is lavishing his wisdom as he lavishes on us himself. May we respond with the faith of the Martos and give an example of wisdom for the world.
To view the liturgical prayers for this feast in Portuguese with an English translation, please click below:
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 SIR 1:1-10
All wisdom comes from the LORD
and with him it remains forever, and is before all time
The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain,
the days of eternity: who can number these?
Heaven’s height, earth’s breadth,
the depths of the abyss: who can explore these?
Before all things else wisdom was created;
and prudent understanding, from eternity.
The word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom
and her ways are everlasting.
To whom has wisdom’s root been revealed?
Who knows her subtleties?
To whom has the discipline of wisdom been revealed?
And who has understood the multiplicity of her ways?
There is but one, wise and truly awe-inspiring,
seated upon his throne:
There is but one, Most High
all-powerful creator-king and truly awe-inspiring one,
seated upon his throne and he is the God of dominion.
It is the LORD; he created her through the Holy Spirit,
has seen her and taken note of her.
He has poured her forth upon all his works,
upon every living thing according to his bounty;
he has lavished her upon his friends.
Responsorial Psalm PS 93:1AB, 1CD-2, 5
R. (1a) The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed:
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.
Alleluia 2 TM 1:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 9:14-29
As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John
and approached the other disciples,
they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.
Immediately on seeing him,
the whole crowd was utterly amazed.
They ran up to him and greeted him.
He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”
Someone from the crowd answered him,
“Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit.
Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.
I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.”
He said to them in reply,
“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.”
They brought the boy to him.
And when he saw him,
the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions.
As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around
and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father,
“How long has this been happening to him?”
He replied, “Since childhood.
It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him,
“‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering,
rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it,
“Mute and deaf spirit, I command you:
come out of him and never enter him again!”
Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out.
He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!”
But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private,
“Why could we not drive the spirit out?”
He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”