Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist
June 4, 2015
1 Tob 6:10-11.7:1.9-17.8:4-9, Ps 128, Mk 12:28-34
To listen to a recording of this morning’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Over the last three days all of the major groups of Jewish society had come to Jesus to test him, and even trap him, with tough questions. On Tuesday, the strict Pharisees and lax Herodians conspired to try to trip Jesus up on the question of whether it was lawful to pay the census tax. Yesterday, the Sadducees came to get him on the question of the Resurrection of the dead. Today the last of the major groups, the Scribes, came up to him to ask him which was the greatest of all the commandments. After Jesus’ answer today, St. Mark tells us, “No one dared to ask him any more questions.”
- We’ve heard the answer to today’s question so many times that it’s difficulty is not always obvious. There were 613 commandments in the Old Covenant. To ask which of them was the greatest was required not only great familiarity with all of Sacred Scripture — something that the scribes had and very few others had — but also great synthesis to discover what in the Old Covenant had the greatest weigh of all. Jesus answered the question about the most important thing we need to do and then offered a second, which is allied to it, in such a way that the scribe who had asked the question was truly impressed. For us, today, we need to ponder Jesus’ response and what that means in our life.
- The first and the greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” It was to love the Lord not only with part of ourselves, but all of ourselves. So often we can think everything is fine if, basically, we love the Lord with “most” of our heart, with “some of our mind,” with a “little of our strength,” and with the “majority of our soul.” But Jesus wants everything. And deserves everything. But how can Jesus command us to love? Can anyone be compelled to love or forced to love from the outside? Isn’t that inconsistent with what love is? It would be impossible to command to love if love were just a feeling, but we can’t be commanded to feel something. But love is fundamentally a choice, it’s an act of willing, it’s something in which our freedom is engaged. But at the same time, how can someone command us to love God with all we are? It’s because God gives us himself to help us precisely to love to that degree. He commands and he makes fulfilling the command possible. Pope Benedict took up this question in his beautiful encyclical Deus Caritas Est, saying, “love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given.”
- And to keep that commandment to love God with all we are, we need to let that love overflow into two other forms of love, the authentic love of ourselves and the love of our neighbor as we authentically love ourselves. If we love God and God loves us, then we must love ourselves as God loves us, helped of course by God’s own love. And then as we love ourselves mercifully and want obviously the best for ourselves, we begin to love our neighbor and want their good with the heart of God. Love of God, love of ourselves, and love of neighbor are all similar because they’re all basically interconnected. Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est took up this subject as well in pondering how we can be commanded to love ourselves and others. “Against the double commandment of love these questions raise a double objection. No one has ever seen God, so how could we love him? Moreover, love cannot be commanded; it is ultimately a feeling that is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will. Scripture seems to reinforce the first objection when it states: ‘If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen’ (1 Jn 4:20). But this text hardly excludes the love of God as something impossible. On the contrary, the whole context of the passage quoted from the First Letter of John shows that such love is explicitly demanded. The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”
- How do we learn to love God, ourselves and others with all our mind, heart, soul and strength? The great analogy to the agapic love of God is the truly holy erotic love between a husband and a wife. We see a glimpse of that in the first reading today in the love of Tobias and Sarah on the night of their wedding. I used to give this passage to couples during their marriage preparation and ask them to pray it with similar faith as they prepare to become one flesh for the first time on their wedding night and I’ve been pleased at how many of them have told me afterward that they continue to pray it regularly before they go to bed together. After praising and thanking God for the gift of marriage in his plan, Tobias prays, “Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” Tobias was not approaching Sarah out of lust, with a desire of the flesh, with a desire to use her for pleasure, to take from her what would satisfy him, but for a noble purpose, accepting her within the love of God and joining with her to fulfill the noble purpose of their lives, their faith, and their marriage. He asked God to pour down on them his merciful love (hesed) so that they would be capable of this love, this noble purpose, for many years. He was loving her in God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength he could muster, and Sarah was reciprocating that love. As St. John Paul II used to remind us, authentic human love is an analogy of the type of covenant of love God wants to have with us.
- And during this votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist, as we unite ourselves to Pope Francis and all those who are celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus Christi across the world, we can ponder all of these teachings on love within a Eucharistic key. At the beginning of the Last Supper, St. John tells us that Jesus, “having loved those who were his own in the world, loved them to the end.” He loved us, literally, to the “extreme,” to the limits of his human heart, mind, soul and strength. He places his own love within us so that, united with Him, we might love the Father as He loves the Father, so that we might love ourselves as he loves us, so that in tandem with him we might love our neighbors by Jesus’ own standard. He can command us to love God, ourselves and others because He himself loves with us from within us by this Holy Communion. And there’s also a nuptial dimension to this love. The early Christians, once Christianity was legalized and they could build houses of worship, used to cover the altars in the ancient basilicas with baldachins or canopies much like the famous one over the main altar in the Basilica of St. Peter. This canopy symbolized the chuppah, the canopy under which a Jewish husband and wife would exchange their consent and then, a year or two later when they would begin their spousal cohabitation after the husband had earned the money for their eight day celebration and joint living together, they would consummate their marriage under the same chuppah, which was a sign of doing both and everything in their marriage under the shadow of God’s merciful and loving blessing. Such a baldachin was placed over the altars to symbolize that the altar was meant to be the marriage bed of the union between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church. What happens on a marriage bed? The bride takes the body of her husband within her, they become one flesh, and are capacitated by God to “make love” and “bear fruit” that can be named and baptized. What happens on the altar, the marriage bed where the union between Christ and the Church is consummated? We, the Bride of the Church, take within ourselves the Body and Blood of Bridegroom, we become one flesh with him, and are made capable of bearing fruit with him from that loving union. We’re made capable of loving God, ourselves and others, with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. This is the res mirabilis, the mind-blowing reality, that we celebrate today, a pauper servus et humilis, a poor and humble servant, manducat Dominum, not only eats the Lord but becomes one flesh in a spousal covenant with Him. In the Lauda Sion Salvatorem Sequence written likewise by St. Thomas, we pray, “Quantum potes, tantum aude,” “Dare to do all you can” in praising God for this gift, because all of it will fall short. And in the words of St. Thomas’ Adoro Te Devote, in response to Jesus’ loving us to the extreme, we pray, “Fac me tibi semper magis credere, in te spem habere, te diligere,” “Make me more and more believe in you, hope in you and love you!”
- Today we come to receive him not with lust, not for our own needs and desires, but for a noble purpose, the purpose of our fruitful, loving union with him in this world and forever. And like Tobias and Sarah on their wedding night, we praise and thank God, we beg him to shower on us his mercy, and we say, “Amen! Amen!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 TB 6:10-11; 7:1BCDE, 9-17; 8:4-9A
and were getting close to Ecbatana,
Raphael said to the boy,
“Tobiah, my brother!”
He replied: “Here I am!”
He said: “Tonight we must stay with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.
He has a daughter named Sarah.”So he brought him to the house of Raguel,
whom they found seated by his courtyard gate.
They greeted him first.
He said to them, “Greetings to you too, brothers!
Good health to you, and welcome!”
And he brought them into his home.Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock
and gave them a cordial reception.
When they had bathed and reclined to eat, Tobiah said to Raphael,
“Brother Azariah, ask Raguel to let me marry
my kinswoman Sarah.”
Raguel overheard the words; so he said to the boy:
“Eat and drink and be merry tonight,
for no man is more entitled
to marry my daughter Sarah than you, brother.
Besides, not even I have the right to give her to anyone but you,
because you are my closest relative.
But I will explain the situation to you very frankly.
I have given her in marriage to seven men,
all of whom were kinsmen of ours,
and all died on the very night they approached her.
But now, son, eat and drink.
I am sure the Lord will look after you both.”
“I will eat or drink nothing until you set aside what belongs to me.”Raguel said to him: “I will do it.
She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses.
Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!
Take your kinswoman;
from now on you are her love, and she is your beloved.
She is yours today and ever after.
And tonight, son, may the Lord of heaven prosper you both.
May he grant you mercy and peace.”
Then Raguel called his daughter Sarah, and she came to him.
He took her by the hand and gave her to Tobiah with the words:
“Take her according to the law.
According to the decree written in the Book of Moses
she is your wife.
Take her and bring her back safely to your father.
And may the God of heaven grant both of you peace and prosperity.”
Raguel then called Sarah’s mother and told her to bring a scroll,
so that he might draw up a marriage contract
stating that he gave Sarah to Tobiah as his wife
according to the decree of the Mosaic law.
Her mother brought the scroll,
and Raguel drew up the contract, to which they affixed their seals.Afterward they began to eat and drink.
Later Raguel called his wife Edna and said,
“My love, prepare the other bedroom and bring the girl there.”
She went and made the bed in the room, as she was told,
and brought the girl there.
After she had cried over her, she wiped away the tears and said:
“Be brave, my daughter.
May the Lord grant you joy in place of your grief.
Courage, my daughter.”
Then she left.
When the girl’s parents left the bedroom
and closed the door behind them,
Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife,
“My love, get up.
Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us
and to grant us deliverance.”
She got up, and they started to pray
and beg that deliverance might be theirs.
And they began to say:
“Blessed are you, O God of our fathers,
praised be your name forever and ever.
Let the heavens and all your creation
praise you forever.
You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and support;
and from these two the human race descended.
You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone;
let us make him a partner like himself.’
Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine
not because of lust,
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on her,
and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”
They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night.
Responsorial Psalm PS 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
Blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Alleluia SEE 2 TM 1:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light to through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 12:28-34
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.