Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
July 23, 2013
The Year of Faith is meant to be not just a tiny course correction or slight upgrade in our Christian lives, but is meant to help us transition boldly to living by faith not partially but totally.
Today’s readings point to that intended metamorphosis.
We see the greatest Old Testament miracle of all in the first reading when Moses leads the people of Israel across the Red Sea.
There have been many attempts scientifically to examine what Sea it was and explain how this could have happened as a result of strong winds and other factors, but the reality is that the children of Israel entered a huge sea with walls of water on each side and safely traversed to the other side. Once they were there, the walls collapsed and the Egyptians and their chariots were submerged.
It’s reality that the children of Israel preserved in songs and liturgies so powerful from the beginning that it’s not fathomable that it could have been a collective hallucination or lie.
To make that journey, with homicidal Egyptian cavalry and troops fast on their trail, required great trust. It’s for that reason that the image of passing through the Red Sea has been one of the most powerful images to symbolize the major transition of the Christian faith through the waters of baptism.
In the immersion baptisms of the early Church, Christians literally stepped down three steps into a pool to be baptized and stepped up on the other side a new creation.
It’s a journey of faith that is led by the same Lord who commanded Moses to stretch out his hands.
But that journey of faith is meant not to be a one-time passage, but a continual pilgrimage. Pope Benedict mentioned this in his letter inaugurating the Year of Faith:
“To enter through the door [of faith] is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life. Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. … The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance”
Jesus indicates a key aspect of that continuous journey in the Gospel today.
As he was speaking to the crowds, his mother Mary and his “brothers” appeared outside, wishing to speak to him.
[We should mention that the idiom of the day was to refer to all relatives, including cousins, as brothers and sisters. The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes, “The objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus’, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary.’ They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”]
The temptation the people of the time was to treat biological bonds as the most important reality of all, rather than faith. The Jews in general were a religion based on a specific genetic connection to Abraham and so they were particularly prone to this perspective.
Christ wanted to lead them on a journey to a much more important understanding, one that treated faith as far more important than physical bonds.
In a gesture evocative of the two times Moses stretched out his hands over the sea, Jesus stretched out his hands toward his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister and mother.”
Such a gesture was not intended to exclude, of course, his mother, but to describe the type of family of faith Jesus had come from heaven to earth to found.
A similar scene happened elsewhere in the Gospel when an anonymous woman from the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus replied, “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
Jesus was certainly not denigrating his mother in any way. After all, if any womb was blessed, it would have been the immaculate womb that for nine months carried the Savior of the world. If any breasts were worthy of praise, it would have been those that suckled the infant King of Kings.
Jesus, however, was pointing out that the real reason of Mary’s greatness was not because of her physical relationship to him, but because of her faith.
She, more than anyone, was one who heard the word of God and put it into practice. As several Fathers of the Church used to repeat, before she had conceived Jesus in her womb, she had conceived him in her heart by faithful love.
In both scenes, Jesus wants to lead us from an Egypt on old ways of looking at things to a new promised land. In the new family he has come to found by leading us through the sea of baptism, Jesus says that the constitutive element is faith. The bonds of faith flowing from the water of baptism is supposed to be thicker than any human blood.
The danger for the Jews in the desert was hankering for the flesh pots of Egypt, spiritually seeking to retrace their steps backward to the place from which God had led them. For Christians, the risk is seeking to go back on the promises and reality of baptism through sin to the reality we had before being reborn with Christ.
That’s why Christ talks in both places about obedience, about being someone who “does the will of my heavenly father,” about “hear[ing] the word of God and observ[ing] it.” Faith shows itself it loving, trusting, obedience. That’s the virtue that is meant to distinguish Christ’s family.
The temptation today is for a nominal Christianity. From politicians campaigning for Catholic votes or ordinary folks trying to come for sponsor certificates to serve as godparents, people say they were an altar boy as they were growing up, as if that would ever be a substitute for being a practicing Catholic today. Or they say they’re members of a such and such a parish, even if they’ve never seen the renovations completed years ago. Others cite that their second cousin is a priest or great aunt is a woman religious.
They cite these types of relationships as a certain proof of their Christian credibility, but the relationship Christ is looking for is hearing and obeying his word and doing his Father’s will.
For many people that may be a moral exodus greater than the geography traversed by the ancient Israelites. But it is the journey on which Christ wants to lead us all as his family during this Year of Faith.