Living in God’s Image, Fifth Tuesday (I), February 10, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Scholastica
February 10, 2015
Gen 1:20-2:4, Ps 8, Mt 7:1-13

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s reading from the first chapter of the Bible, we come to one of the most important things ever said: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” We are made in God’s image. It’s key for us to grasp what that means. Over the course of centuries, for many it meant what distinguished us from the rest of creation: we were rational. We could think like God. We could choose like God. We were capable of exceeding instinctual desires unlike the other living creatures God had made. Others focused on the fact that God gave us a share in his dominion over the fish, birds, cattle, wild animals, and crawling creatures and endowed us with the capacity to subdue the earth and harness the great potential God had placed within it. Others concentrated that like God the Creator, we, too, could share in creation through procreation, fulfilling his command to “be fertile and multiply” as we bore children not only in his image but also our image. But the foremost way we are made in God’s image — something that St. John Paul II pondered at great length and helped the whole Church to see — is that we are made in the image of a loving communion of persons. God is Trinitarian. He lives in eternal communion.  There are two important indications of this truth in the passage when it says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Jews reading this for centuries tried to come up with explanations as to why God spoke in the first person plural when in almost the entirety of the rest of the Hebrew Bible he spoke in first-person singular. When Jesus eventually came and revealed that He and the Father were one that they would send us the Holy Spirit and then send us out to baptize in the name (not names) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we began to understand better the meaning of the first person plural (even though there are three persons in one God). The second indication is what happened when God actually created man in his image: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” The eternal God is neither male nor female. Until the Incarnation, there was never a body. To create man in his own image male and female is an indication he was creating man to live a Trinitarian existence, to live in a loving communion of persons. Male and female, man and woman, are meant to live in a nuptial communion that similar to the way the love of the Father and the Son spirited the Holy Spirit so the love of man and woman could generate a third person who is both a fruit of their love and a means by which that love can grow. To live as a communion of persons in love is to live according to the divine image and likeness. It’s the way we’re called to live with God and others. How could God, seeing our nature according to the pattern of his own, not pronounce it “very good”? How could today’s Psalm not express this wonder, saying, “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet”? The real purpose of our life, having been created by God who is love in love and for love is to live in a loving communion with God and with others.
  • Jesus came down from heaven to earth to restore us to that loving vertical and horizontal communion after we had ceased to live in that way. We’ll see later this week what happened to the communion of persons when Adam and Eve sinned. A division entered into their communion with God, into their communion with each other, into their own interior communion of body and soul. But what I’d like to focus on today is what we see in the Gospel, how Jesus had come to restore to the meaning of true worship of God after the Scribes had distorted it far away from the loving worship of God and the reverential living in loving communion with each other.
  • St. Mark describes the complicated and rigorous practice of Jewish ceremonial washings, something that God had not revealed that he wanted done but something that the Scribes in the fourth and fifth centuries BC had developed in definition of ritual purity. They needed to wash their hands in two directions with one-and-a-half egg shells of clean water, first from the fingertips down and then with the fingertips at the bottom. This was the worship they obsessed about, as if these things were what helped them to grow in God’s image and live in love with each other. They did similar washings of cups, jugs, kettles and beds and questioned why Jesus and his disciples did “not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands.” Jesus responded with force, calling them hypocrites and applying to them Isaiah’s words, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” They were neglecting the two fold commandment of loving God and neighbor and obsessing about the human precepts regarding ceremonial washing. Beyond it they were setting aside God’s commandments to uphold their human traditions and pretending that that was the worship Christ wanted. He said that they were neglecting the fourth commandment of honoring father and mother by the tradition of qorban, which meant dedicating debts or loans or savings to God, so that none of their resources would be owed to needy parents. They were nullifying the word of God, Jesus said, and in essence nullifying their identity in God’s image and likeness. Christ came to restore that identity.
  • It’s important for us to grasp that we are called to be people of communion, to live in a holy communion of grace and love with God and a holy communion with each other. During this Year for Consecrated Life, Pope Francis is calling consecrated men and women to be “experts in communion,” but that’s a call that should extend to every Christian. The early Church was distinguished by its communion, holding all things in common, praying together, eating together, going on pilgrimage together. Every couple, every family, every parish family must exhibit similar traits of communion, a communion that is focused first on the “heart,” lest our hearts be far from God, and then overflowing in deeds. At a practical level, if we’re living in true loving communion, we’ll behave toward each other they way loving family members do. We’ll give, rather than wave, the sign of peace toward each other. We will sit together. We’ll behave as people in true communion, a communion that’s based on the way the Persons of the Blessed Trinity live together.
  • Today we have an example of this type of communion in the life of St. Scholastica. Her brother St. Benedict would come to visit her only once a year because he thought certain other things were more important than keeping up a real communion. Men can through their work (their labora) sometimes be blind to the relational aspects of human existence that women perceive and value much more readily. Benedict was. He would visit his sister once a year. It was never enough for St. Scholastica’s desire for communion. Once when Benedict wanted to cut it short, Scholastica turned to God for the communion to be continued. It’s one of the beautiful stories in hagiography. I quote from Saint Gregory the Great’s account: “Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: ‘Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.’ ‘Sister,’ he replied, ‘what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.’ When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: ‘May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?’ ‘Well,’ she answered, ‘I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.’ Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.” God helped her extend a loving communion here on earth and now both Scholastica and Benedict share in the eternal communion of persons in love, which is the communion of saints within the Communion of the Blessed Trinity.
  • We’re all called to live in that communion here on earth and forever in heaven. And to help us to be restored in that image of Communion, that image of God, we have the privilege to receive every day God himself in Holy Communion, a gift that brings us into Communion with Him and forms a deep Communion with each other.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 GN 1:20—2:4A

God said,
“Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures,
and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky.”
And so it happened:
God created the great sea monsters
and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems,
and all kinds of winged birds.
God saw how good it was, and God blessed them, saying,
“Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas;
and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
Evening came, and morning followed–the fifth day.Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures:
cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds.”
And so it happened:
God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle,
and all kinds of creeping things of the earth.
God saw how good it was.
Then God said:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”God created man in his image;
in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God also said:
“See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth
and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;
and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air,
and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground,
I give all the green plants for food.”
And so it happened.
God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
Evening came, and morning followed–the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing,
he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,
because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.

Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation.

Responsorial Psalm PS 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (2ab) O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place—
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet.
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!

Alleluia PS 119:36, 29B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Incline my heart, O God, to your decrees;
and favored me with your law.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 7:1-13

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
(For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He went on to say,
“How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother,
and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
‘If someone says to father or mother,
“Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’
(meaning, dedicated to God),
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things.”