Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of Blessed Junipero Serra
July 1, 2015
Gen 21:5.8-10, Ps 34, Mt 8:28-34
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel, we have a dramatic confrontation that takes between Jesus and the demons that were possessing two men in caves and, it seems, the whole town on whose outskirts they lived. The demoniacs came out calling Jesus “the Son of God” and asking “What have you to do with us?” His very presence was tormenting them and they wanted him gone. They begged him at least to allow them to inhabit the swine rather than, it seems, wander with no subject in which to reside or be obliterated. As soon as they inhabited the swine however all of them were rushed into the Sea and drowned, a sign of two things: first how many and how powerful the demons were that were dwelling within the men; and second how they were seeking, as they always do, to destroy the men.
- Jesus had worked this miracle in the territory of the Gadarenes, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee from Galilee. It was a pagan territory and Jesus had crossed the stormy sea with the disciples in order to proclaim the Gospel there. But that territory seemed to be under the sway of the prince of darkness. After the men were liberated, the whole town came out to meet Jesus, not rejoicing but upset at the loss of their pigs. Rather that ask the Holy One of God to free them from the infernal power, rather than thank him for restoring two of their members, rather than inviting him in to get to know him and how he was able to do such a deed, they “begged him to leave their district.” They didn’t want the holiness of God around. They preferred their pigs. They were indeed under the sway of the evil one, though in less savage form than the two demoniacs.
- We see this lesson play out in the soon-to-be-saint that the Church celebrates today, Blessed Junipero Serra, the great apostle of California, who walked 5,000 miles in his 18th century missionary journeys spreading the faith and establishing nine different missions (of the 21 that were established in California). Today there are people clamoring against his September 23 canonization in Washington DC by Pope Francis. They say that rather than a saint he was a bad man because in coming to California he supplanted indigenous native American culture with Christian culture and against a general lack of discipline he imposed the discipline that makes disciples. And so the response to many today is to ask him to leave. Even though he was clearly one of the great founders of many of the California cities, they don’t want his statue in Sacramento or in Washington, DC. They no longer want to embrace the Gospel he brought and so they prefer to pretend he was a bad man because he helped native Americans overcome — let’s call it what it is — their paganism.
- Such criticism didn’t stop Friar Junipero during his lifetime and it shouldn’t stop us now. Two months ago, on May 2, Pope Francis went to the North American College and celebrated Mass with many of the future priests of the United States, pondering together with them the meaning of the priestly life of our saint-to-be. He focused on three aspects that we can all imitate.
- The first was his missionary zeal, leaving his native Mallorca in his 30s to come to spread the Gospel in the new world, constantly confronted by various sorts of peril. Pope Francis asked, “What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, that heartfelt impulse that seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty.” Pope Francis added: “But I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy. Friar Junípero’s witness calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission.” Like Jesus traversed stormy seas to bring us the Gospel, we’re called to traverse tempests to bring the same Gospel to others, even when they might reject us for our mission on behalf of the Son of God like many today are resisting the heroic, holy work of Blessed Junipero.
- The second trait of Blessed Junipero was his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom he had entrusted his missionary activity. This is the one who through her fidelity to God stomped on the ancient serpent’s head, the one through whom God’s Son was born, the one who most closely resembles in a creature God’s holiness. Pope Francis said, “Before leaving for California, he wanted to consecrate his life to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to ask her for the grace to open the hearts of the colonizers and indigenous peoples, for the mission he was about to begin. In this prayer we can still see this humble brother kneeling in front of the ‘Mother of the true God,’ the Morenita [Our Lady of Guadalupe], who brought her Son to the New World. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was and has been present in the twenty-one missions that Friar Junípero founded along the coast of California. … Today’s mission to the continent is [still] entrusted to her, the first, holy missionary disciple, a constant presence and companion, our source of comfort and hope. For she always hears and protects her American children.” She cares for people far more than swine and shows us — and through us, others — how to unite ourselves to God and flee the devil.
- The third characteristic Pope Francis described was St. Junipero’s witness of holiness. The letters of the time period attest to his personal discipline, asceticism, prayer life, charity, zeal, mercy. He shows us that true evangelization is to bring the Holy One to others so that they might enter into the holiness of God. Evangelized evangelizers are sanctified means of sanctification for others.
- In the mission, not everything will go the way we expect, but God seeks to bring good out of all of it. In today’s first reading, we see the ugliness of Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar even after Isaac was born. But when Hagar was sent packing by Abraham, much like Jesus was being kicked out of the Gadarene district he himself had created, two things were occurring out of that evil. First, she was being set free: she would never again be a slave woman. Second, God promised to make Ishmael great, the father of a great nation. In terms of our setbacks, God may likewise be using those in multiple ways to advance his kingdom. Blessed Junipero had many setbacks with the native Americans, with his fellow Franciscans, and certainly with the Spanish authorities, but he never let them deter him from seeking to fulfill his mission. He’s a great teacher for us all in this resilience, based on the Lord’s!
- Blessed Junipero constructed the mission set up around the mission Church. He sought to form a community centered geographically and spirituality around what happened in the Church, namely the celebration of the Eucharist, as the same Jesus who visited the ten cities of the Decapolis visited the nine missions of California. That same Jesus visits us here. Rather than seek to drive him out as he drove out the demons, we seek to embrace him, to become one with him, so that he can then drive us out to the ends of the earth bringing us the same salvation he sought to bring to the Gadarenes, to the native Americans of California and to us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Gn 21:5, 8-20a
Isaac grew, and on the day of the child’s weaning
Abraham held a great feast.Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian
had borne to Abraham
playing with her son Isaac;
so she demanded of Abraham:
“Drive out that slave and her son!
No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance
with my son Isaac!”
Abraham was greatly distressed,
especially on account of his son Ishmael.
But God said to Abraham: “Do not be distressed about the boy
or about your slave woman.
Heed the demands of Sarah, no matter what she is asking of you;
for it is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name.
As for the son of the slave woman,
I will make a great nation of him also,
since he too is your offspring.”Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water
and gave them to Hagar.
Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away.
As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer-sheba,
the water in the skin was used up.
So she put the child down under a shrub,
and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away;
for she said to herself, “Let me not watch to see the child die.”
As she sat opposite Ishmael, he began to cry.
God heard the boy’s cry,
and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven:
“What is the matter, Hagar?
Don’t be afraid; God has heard the boy’s cry in this plight of his.
Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand;
for I will make of him a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.
She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Fear the LORD, you his holy ones,
for nought is lacking to those who fear him.
The great grow poor and hungry;
but those who seek the LORD want for no good thing.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Come, children, hear me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Which of you desires life,
and takes delight in prosperous days?
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Alleluia Jas 1:18
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mt 8:28-34
two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him.
They were so savage that no one could travel by that road.
They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God?
Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”
Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding.
The demons pleaded with him,
“If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.”
And he said to them, “Go then!”
They came out and entered the swine,
and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea
where they drowned.
The swineherds ran away,
and when they came to the town they reported everything,
including what had happened to the demoniacs.
Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus,
and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.