Making a Name for Ourselves or for God?, 6th Friday (I), February 17, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Founder of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order
February 17, 2017
Gen 11:1-9, Ps 33, Mk 8:34-9:1


Today’s homily was not recorded because of a malfunction in the recorder. The following points were attempted: 

  • One of the most important things to learn in the life of faith is about the proper interplay between God’s actions and ours. God acts first and our first action is to cooperate with God, to let him do his thing. I like to say that the Christian life is a fiat (“let it be done to me according to your word”), not a faciam (“I will do”). The perennial temptation is for us to act first, to try to be in control, to structure the relationship with God on our terms rather than on his. We see this temptation in all its clarity in today’s first reading, in the scene of the building of the Tower of Babel, a scene that takes on added meaning in this metropolis of skyscrapers!
  • After the regeneration of the human race with Noah, it didn’t take long for the residents of Babel to say, “Let us build ourselves a city … and so make a name for ourselves.” On the surface, it seems like a simple story of human initiative, but there was much more going on: they were coordinating not to allow God to build them up as a people for the glory of his name — something he had been doing since creation and after the second chance with Noah — but to try to establish a relationship with God on their own terms through a tower reaching God’s dwelling in the heavens and let his name (signifying his person) wane in importance to the glory of their own name, ingenuity and engineering. They were seeking to hallow their own name instead of God’s, to build their kingdom rather than the kingdom of God, to do their will instead of the Lord’s. And so God responded by confusing their speech so that they wouldn’t understand each other and be able to conspire in such a way. God’s penances are always medicinal, and we see that once again here: God confuses speech so that they would no longer prioritizing conversing with each other to the exclusion of God but to dialogue with God and learn from that conversation how to order their social relations. The Responsorial Psalm draws a contrast between the way God will often frustrate our plans when they would harm the fulfillment of his own: “The Lord brings to nought the plans of nations. He foils the designs of peoples. But the plan of the Lord stands forever. The design of his heart through all generations.” Because God has “fashioned the heart of each, and knows all their works,” he’s able to do this adroitly. But God was confusing their speech only for a time. He was awaiting the time in which he would redeem us and restore our capacity to use our speech to speak to God and about him, to use our ability to communicate to bring us into communion with God and others. That’s what happened on Pentecost. Each year during the Pentecost Vigil during which today’s first reading is heard as the first of four Old Testament readings, the Church prays in the Opening Prayer that God will grant that “from out of the scattered nations the confusion of many tongues may be gathered by heavenly grace into one great confession of your name” and later, that God’s “Church may always remain that holy people, formed as one by the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and “manifest to the world the Sacrament of your holiness and unity and leads it to the perfection of your charity.”
  • This switch between our building a tower to God and allowing him to ground the terms of our relationship is seen quite clearly when David wanted to build a house to God. We read it in the seventh chapter of the Second Book of Samuel: “When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!’ Nathan answered the king, ‘Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.’ But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: ‘Go, tell my servant David, “Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day on which I led the Israelites out of Egypt to the present, but I have been going about in a tent under cloth. … The LORD of hosts has this to say: It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. … The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. … Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’” The Lord wants to build a house for us, rather than let us build one for him. Rather than have us construct a tower to heaven, God himself comes down to meet us to help us order our life according to his saving construction project.
  • We see a paradoxical aspect of that building project in today’s Gospel. Rather than affirming ourselves, Christ calls us to deny ourselves. Rather than fleeing from suffering, Christ tells us to seize the Cross and die out of love for God and others. Rather than doing our own thing, he tells us to follow him. Rather than seeking to save our life by our own wits, he tells us that the only way to save it is to lose it in loving service of God and others, perhaps even to the point of death. This is a fiat to God rather than a faciam. This is the path of sanctity. This is the path to holiness and glory. One of the most powerful passages of the New Testament is St. Paul’s canticle to the Philippians which talks about the connection between the Cross and the exaltation of one’s name. St. Paul tells us, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, … emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, [and]  humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” To have a name that will be remembered, it’s not primarily our action, but God’s work of sanctification, and that happens through humbly becoming obedient, taking up our Cross and following Christ all the way to where he is forever exalted. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stressed this when they said, “Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear,” and indicated that we are called to follow him on the path of cruciform self-giving: “Man cannot find himself except in the unselfish gift of himself to others” (Gaudium et Spes, 22, 24). We must “lose” ourselves to gain life. We must allow God to raise us from the dead. We must humbly cooperate with what God is doing.
  • The one who shows us best how to do this is Our Lady. Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the seven holy Founders of the Servites, or Servants of Mary, these 7 men — Saints Bonfilius, Bonajuncta, Amideus, Hugh, Manettus, Soseneus and Alexius — who in 1240, after several apparitions of our Lady, joined to dedicate themselves to following her example of holiness and evangelization, seeking to grow and help others to grow in Marian devotion especially emphasized by Mary on Calvary, in the way Mary participated in her Son’s death on the Cross for the salvation of the world. Mary’s humble self-denial to affirm God, her picking up her Cross and allowing her own heart to be pierced, her following her Son all the way to Golgotha and beyond, became their way of life. And just as Mary whom proclaimed in her Magnificat that because of her humility in hallowing God’s holy name, “all generations will call me blessed” and would hallow her own name, so by their following Mary in following her Son, their own names have ben remembered forever.  Mary shows us God’s building plan. In the fulfillment of God’s words to David through Nathan, God made Mary herself a house for God where the God-man came to dwell. The same Lord, the “Builder” who married his Church symbolized by Mary, wants to build a house for himself within us, so that he can come to abide. By our corresponding to this gift of divine action, that’s the way our names will be forever written in the Book of Life!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 GN 11:1-9

The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.
While the people were migrating in the east,
they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
They said to one another,
“Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”
They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city
and a tower with its top in the sky,
and so make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower
that they had built.
Then the LORD said: “If now, while they are one people,
all speaking the same language,
they have started to do this,
nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down and there confuse their language,
so that one will not understand what another says.”
Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth,
and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.

Responsorial Psalm PS 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (12) Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
The LORD brings to nought the plans of nations;
he foils the designs of peoples.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
he sees all mankind.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
From his fixed throne he beholds
all who dwell on the earth,
He who fashioned the heart of each,
he who knows all their works.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Alleluia JN 15:15B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I call you my friends, says the Lord,
for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 8:34—9:1

Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
What could one give in exchange for his life?
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words
in this faithless and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of
when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

He also said to them,
“Amen, I say to you,
there are some standing here who will not taste death
until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.”