Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
February 13, 2014
1 Kings 11:4-13, Ps 106, Mk 7:24-30
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today there is a huge contrast in the readings between perseverance and growth in faith on the one hand and the lack of perseverance, corruption and the idolatry to which it leads on the other. Insofar as there are no plateaus in the spiritual life, that we’re either going up hill with Jesus following the Way of the Cross or sliding downhill, it’s key for us to understand both paths. St. Paul once told St. Timothy that the real choice in life is between perseverance and denial, between faith each day and infidelity (2 Tim 2:12-13). Today let’s enter into what God reveals to us in Sacred Scripture so that we may more resolutely walk the path of faith.
- The scene in the Gospel is one of the most touching in all of Sacred Scripture. Jesus went into the heart of pagan territory to escape from the crowds. But a pagan mother got word that he was there and came to beg him with desperation to exorcise the demons from her daughter. St. Matthew’s version of the scene gives us the most details. She first fell at his feet and begged, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus at first gave her no answer at all. But she didn’t quit. Second, as she turned to the apostles and begged for their intervention, they came came and told him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” So he said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she still didn’t quit. She came to him now that he was speaking to her, fell down before him in homage, and said, “Lord, help me!” And Jesus, to help her to continue to grow in faith, told her with the typical vocabulary with which Jews and Gentiles would refer to each other, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But she still didn’t give up. She reminded him that he was the Good Shepherd even of puppies. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus was amazed at her persevering faith and gave her the greatest compliment in Sacred Scripture: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish!” And at that moment her daughter was healed.
- That perseverance in faith is contrasted with what we see in the first reading with King Solomon. Solomon, as we saw last Saturday, had been blessed by God with the gift of wisdom, of an understanding heart so that he could properly discern, judge and guide his people. He became famous across the ancient world for the wisdom with which he had been blessed. But eventually his understanding heart became a lustful heart, then a corrupt heart and finally an idolatrous one. It began with his entering into political alliances, which in the ancient world was normally sealed by intermarriage. The Lord had precisely forbidden the Israelites to intermarry because, he said, they would “turn your hearts to their gods.” But Solomon not only intermarried, but fell in love with them, as we see in the verse immediately before today’s first reading begins, “he had seven hundred wives of princely rank and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart.” He basically had 1,000 wives (in the ancient world concubines were not mistresses as they were wives of a lower social class) who served his vanity and turned his heart from one that sought to please God to one that sought to please them. And then the great builder of the Temple of Jerusalem — the one who had so praised God for his presence in the Temple — then began to build temples to pagan gods, including as we see the god of Moloch, before whose image innocent babies would be sacrificed.
- What happened? Pope Francis described it very well in his homily this morning in the Vatican. Solomon lost his faith due to his vanity and lust. When he began to sin, he didn’t repent of it like his father David did; rather he pressed on the gas pedal and became “corrupt,” an unrepentant sinner. And that led to his idolatry. Listen to Pope Francis: “He began to take so much pleasure in his pagan wives and concubines that they diverted his heart to others gods. … These women weakened Solomon’s heart slowly, slowly. His heart no longer remained wholly with the Lord, like David’s, his father’s. His heart weakened so much that he lost the faith. He lost the faith! The wisest man in the world let himself be led away by indiscreet, indiscriminate love; he let himself be led astray by his passions. ‘But Father,’ someone might say, ‘Solomon didn’t lose the faith. He believed in him and was capable of reciting the Bible!’ True [he could recite Sacred Scripture,] but to have faith doesn’t mean that one is able to recite the Creed.” To be faithful is not a thing merely of the mind, but of one’s whole life. To be faithful means to seek to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength. Solomon had lost faith while retaining knowledge because his heart had been weakened by sin. But it didn’t stop there. Pope Francis continued, “He was a sinner, like his father David,” but then he went astray even further and was converted from a sinner into someone who was corrupt [an unrepentant sinner]. His heart was corrupted through this idolatry. … His vanity and passions let him to corruption. It’s in the heart where one loses faith. The evil seed of his passions grew in Solomon’s heart and led him to idolatry.”
- What happened to the Syro-Phoenician woman and to Solomon can happen to each of us. I’ve had the joy many times in my priesthood to see people come to Christ late in life, those who came the Lord in prison, those who were once drug addicts and philanderers, deadbeats and even involved in the modern Moloch worship of the abortion industry. Something makes them come to recognize they need the Lord. In some ways the most important thing that happened in the life of the Syro-Phoenician woman was that her daughter got possessed by a demon, probably because of the context in which she was being raised. But that terrible event in the life of her family led her to seek out Jesus, to place persevering faith in him, and to have her life changed forever.
- On the other hand, I have seen seen many people go the way of Solomon. How many Catholic politicians, to take just one class of people, say that they were once altar boys, that they went to Catholic school for 12 or 16 years and then they begin to use their office to advance the destruction of human life, attacks on religious freedom, false ideas of marriage, policies truly injurious to the poor and needy in favor of special treatment for friends. They can go from people who once sought to please God to those who have been thoroughly corrupted. We’ve seen the same thing with some priests, including those who were blessed by God with enormous abilities to teach the faith and bring people to God. Even though they knew the truth, they gave themselves over to vanity and to lust, lost their faith, betrayed their vocations, God and their people, and now live a life of sin. We have seen the same thing happen with faithful Catholic husbands and wives. They’ve been great Catholics for decades, but slowly give in to tepidity, give in to temptation, and before you know it, they’ve gone from happily married faithful spouses to adulterers, destroying their marriages, their families, their careers and their souls in the process.
- And so we come to ourselves. Faith isn’t a once-and-for-all gift that just grows on its own. It’s a gift of God that grows also in response to acts of faith in response to tests, like we see with the pagan mother today. We need to persevere in faith, to continue to live by God’s wisdom, to continue to inform and follow a conscience well-tuned to God’s voice. We need to recognize that but for the grace of God, we can go the path of Solomon. And Mass provides the greatest means for us to grow in faith and persevere.
- This morning Pope Francis talked about the first way the Mass helps us, which is the gift of the Word of God that he calls us to receive with faith. He said, “In the Alleluia verse, we heard this beautiful counsel: ‘Welcome the word with docility, the word that has been planted in you and that can lead you to salvation.’ Let us take the path of the Canaanite woman, welcoming the Word of God that has been planted in us and can save us.” The Word of God is a constant mirror for our actions and a two-edged sword capable of severing our connection to vanity and lust. Let us listen to the word of the Lord with good soil that will bear fruit.
- The second way Mass helps us is because it leads us to adoration, not just like we’ll be doing after Mass for 48 hours, but are called to do during Mass. Adoration of the Lord is the greatest means to prevent any and all forms of idolatry, and if we’re not adoring the Lord, we will be adoring something or someone else. I’ll never forget translating live Pope Francis’ first homily from the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected. He said, quoting Leon Bloy, “Chi non prega il Signore, prega il diavolo,” “Whoever isn’t praying to God is praying to the devil.” We’re either worshipping the one true God or we’re building altars or temples to false gods. When we come to worship God, not just showing up before at Mass or before the monstrance but truly adoring God in spirit and in truth, then we are crushing our idols and journeying along the path of persevering faith. And that’s a path we choose to walk not just once, but every day. Even though Solomon had been given the gift of wisdom by the Lord and was considered the wisest man on the face of the earth, we’ve been given a greater gift, the gifts of wisdom and counsel from the Holy Spirit, and his abiding presence to help us live according to the Spirit and put to death life according to the flesh. He helps us from within to adore the one true God and row in faith day by day.
- We finish by focusing on the altar. The Canaanite woman begged Jesus just to let her and her daughter eat the crumbs that fell from the Master’s table. Today Jesus is going to let us have far more than crumbs, he’s about to give his whole body, blood, soul and divinity, in order to build us into a temple where the one, true God is worshipped rather than any idols. This is the means by which we will be able to grow into the types of persons who today, tomorrow and increasingly each day, he will be able to say to us, O Woman, O Man, “great is your faith!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 KGS 11:4-13
and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God,
as the heart of his father David had been.
By adoring Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians,
and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites,
Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD;
he did not follow him unreservedly as his father David had done.
Solomon then built a high place to Chemosh, the idol of Moab,
and to Molech, the idol of the Ammonites,
on the hill opposite Jerusalem.
He did the same for all his foreign wives
who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon,
because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel,
who had appeared to him twice
(for though the LORD had forbidden him
this very act of following strange gods,
Solomon had not obeyed him).So the LORD said to Solomon: “Since this is what you want,
and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes
which I enjoined on you,
I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant.
I will not do this during your lifetime, however,
for the sake of your father David;
it is your son whom I will deprive.
Nor will I take away the whole kingdom.
I will leave your son one tribe for the sake of my servant David
and of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
PS 106:3-4, 35-36, 37 AND 40
Blessed are they who observe what is right,
who do always what is just.
Remember us, O LORD, as you favor your people;
visit us with your saving help.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
But they mingled with the nations
and learned their works.
They served their idols,
which became a snare for them.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
And the LORD grew angry with his people,
and abhorred his inheritance.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.