Preaching the Gospel in Life and in Death, Fourth Thursday (II), February 4, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Mercy of God
February 4, 2016
1 Kings 2:1-4.10-12, 1 Chr 29:10-12, Mk 6:7-13

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve as he was preparing to send them out to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Normally, when we go on a trip, especially if we’re not accustomed to traveling, we prepare a list of the things we need to pack in our suitcase so that we don’t forget anything. Jesus likewise prepares a list for the apostles, but it’s precisely a list of things not to take. He tells them to take nothing except a walking stick (something that would give them greater stamina for the mission), no food, no sack of clothes and toiletries, no money. Why? He knew they needed to preach the Gospel not principally by their words but by their witness, by who they were. If they were going to be preaching that God cares for us more than he cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, then they needed to manifest that trust in his divine Providence. He knew that if they were going to be indicating to others the path to happiness, they needed to be living the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They needed to be poor in material things and rich in what matters to God if their teaching would be at all credible.
  • This is something that not only religious living according to the vow of poverty but all people in a materialist world addicted to what Pope Francis calls the “ferocious idolatry of money” need to grasp. In his encyclical on preaching the “Joy of the Gospel” in our own age, Pope Francis emphasized the point of Jesus’ poverty as a component of his evangelization. Jesus had come to preach the Gospel to the poor and he did with his life even before he did so with his lips. “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself ‘became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9),” Pope Francis wrote. “The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor.  Salvation came to us from the ‘yes’ uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire.  The Savior was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (cf. Lk 2:24; Lev 5:7); he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread.  When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Lk 4:18).  He assured those burdened by sorrow and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: ‘Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God’ (Lk 6:20); he made himself one of them: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food to eat’  (cf. Mt 25:5ff.).” If the Twelve were going to be preaching Jesus when they went out to announce his kingdom, and if we’re going to be proclaiming Jesus as the Gospel incarnate as we go out today faithfully to do the work he has given us, we need to preach him by our communion of life with him — our union with him in his poverty, chastity, obedience and charity — if the words we’re saying are going to be credible.
  • We’re supposed to announce the poor, chaste, obedient and loving Christ not only in the way we live but in the way we die. One of the most important ways we preach is through our valedictory, through our last words, our last will and testament. This is an opportunity to show others, when we’re about to die or soon after, what we truly value and what they wisely should value. Many times when we hear that expression “last will and testament,” we think fundamentally about the disposition of our money and goods, but that just shows the materialism of our age. Our last will should manifest our will to do the Lord’s will and that others do the Lord’s will. Our last testament should be about the testament or covenant God made with us and we’ve sought to keep with him. Our last will and testament should be an exclamation point on the way we’ve truly tried to live with the Lord, suffer with the Lord, die with the Lord, and even give witness to the Lord after he has called us to Himself.
  • That’s what David shows us how to do in today’s first reading. As the time of his death was approaching, he called his 18 year-old son Solomon to him and gave him these instructions, not only as father to son but also as king to successor. “I am going the way of all flesh,” he said. Everyone — whether a prince or a pauper — dies, and everyone needs to prepare well for death so that he or she may die well. The first instruction he gave was “Take courage and be a man.” This means two things. Be responsible and mature, and be brave. It takes courage to be an adult, to assume our responsibilities rather than make excuses, to confront difficulties rather than run away from them. He was calling him to act like a grown-up, to act with wisdom, something Solomon clearly did when he was young in life but then didn’t do later in life, as we’ll see in upcoming days. Then he described for him clearly the path of spiritual maturity: “Keep the mandate of the Lord, your God, following his ways and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees as they are written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do, wherever you turn.” In his last will and testament, he was asking him son to observe the Lord’s will and his covenant, which is the same word as testament.
  • We see similar sentiments throughout history from saints who in their last words sought to preach the faith. St. Louis IX, King of France, touchingly wrote to his son and successor in 1270, “My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin. If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts. … Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can.… Always side with the poor rather than with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. … Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies. … In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly.” What an incredible witness, that the blessing he really wanted for his son, the greatest inheritance he was giving to him as his heir, was the blessing of the Trinity and the prayer to do God’s will.
  • You don’t have to be old to compose such a last will and testament to be read by those who will survive us here on earth. I’m always moved on June 21 to read the letter of St. Aloysius Gonzaga to his mother as he was preparing to meet the Lord at the age of 23. He gave witness to his faith. “May the comfort and grace of the Holy Spirit be yours for ever, most honoured lady. Your letter found me lingering still in this region of the dead, but now I must rouse myself to make my way on to heaven at last and to praise God for ever in the land of the living; indeed I had hoped that before this time my journey there would have been over. If charity, as Saint Paul says, means to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who are glad, then, dearest mother, you shall rejoice exceedingly that God in his grace and his love for you is showing me the path to true happiness, and assuring me that I shall never lose him. … Take care above all things, most honoured lady, not to insult God’s boundless loving kindness; you would certainly do this if you mourned as dead one living face to face with God, one whose prayers can bring you in your troubles more powerful aid than they ever could on earth. And our parting will not be for long; we shall see each other again in heaven; we shall be united with our Saviour; there we shall praise him with heart and soul, sing of his mercies for ever, and enjoy eternal happiness. When he takes away what he once lent us, his purpose is to store our treasure elsewhere more safely and bestow on us those very blessings that we ourselves would most choose to have. I write all this with the one desire that you and all my family may consider my departure a joy and favour and that you especially may speed with a mother’s blessing my passage across the waters till I reach the shore to which all hopes belong. I write the more willingly because I have no clearer way of expressing the love and respect I owe you as your son.”
  • Perhaps the most moving of all for me were the thoughts expressed by the 48 Seminarian Martyrs of Barbastro, Spain, in 1936, which I’ve had the privilege to visit twice in the last year and a half.  While these Claretian seminarians were awaiting their deaths, they wrote to their families, fellow Claretians, murderers and the whole Church on any writing materials they could find — on the bottoms of piano benches, on wrapping paper for chocolates, on the insides of walls — hoping that these last testaments would be discovered after their death.One of the seminarians wrote in Latin a phrase that indicated their bravery, that they saw themselves as the successors of the valiant gladiators of old: “Christe, Morituri te salutant,” “O Christ, those who are about to die, salute You!” But their overall message was one of comfort to their families of origin and in religious life, telling them not to be sad, but to rejoice, because they were about to be martyred and would pray for them from Heaven. They wrote that even though they would not have the chance to preach the Gospel from pulpits, they would preach it even more powerfully by their witness and, like St. Therese, spend their eternity doing good upon the earth. Finally they wrote that they forgave their assassins, begging God to accept the shedding of their blood as a prayer that He not hold their sins against them.
  • All of these thoughts are meant to be a preparation for our own last will and testament. I always encourage all Catholics, including priests and religious, to write one. It was really quite moving for all of us to read St. John Paul II’s 11 years ago, because it gave witness to his holiness, to his interiority, to what mattered most to him. Insofar as we never know the day or the hour, as Jesus warns us, we should write one sooner rather than later, giving witness to what we value the most. I always encourage lay people to make sure that the most important and lengthy part of their will should be a description of their faith, which is by far the most important inheritance they have sought to leave their children. They should help their children to see that far more important than a house, or money, or wedding rings and the like is the fact that they tried to help them to seek to dwell in the house of the Lord, to be rich in his kingdom, and to enter with joy into the eternal wedding banquet. All the more a last will and testament for a religious should give witness to faith. In today’s Jubilee of Mercy, our last will and testament should be like a Psalm 136 that shows how the Lord’s mercy endures forever and has been the great subtext of our life and vocation. It should be a Magnificat in which our soul can magnify the Lord and our spirit can rejoice in God our savior through our words even after the Lord comes for us. Likewise, I encourage people — all Catholics — to write a letter to the priest who will celebrate their funeral, whoever it may be, that can be given to him as he prepares, so that he will be able to know what was really in the heart of the person and be able to incorporate into his homily the person’s faithful love for God, so that the priest can in a sense echo the person’s holy valedictory. The more we prepare to pass on this inheritance to others when we die, the more we will lavishly share it in life.
  • Today we come here to hear and receive Jesus’ last will and testament, when on the night before he died, he went so far beyond what his 28th generation grandfather David said and did in his son Solomon’s presence. Jesus told us that just as the Father loved him, so he loves us. He told us to remain in him as branches on the vine. He told us about the Holy Spirit that he and the Father would send as their supreme gift. He prayed for us that we might be one as he and the Father are one. He consecrated himself for us that we might be consecrated in the truth. And after saying all of this, he then gave us himself as his last will and testament, saying, “This is my Body,” and “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal Covenant,” the blood of the new and everlasting Testament. This is the food that will make us take courage and be a mature man and woman to the full stature of Christ. This is the nourishment that will make us the richest people on the planet. This is the means by which we will be strengthened to go out to the world united with Christ so that we can preach him credibly and help everyone else to grasp that they are heirs of this same Covenant of God’s everlasting love. These are truths to which we seek to give witness in life, in death and even after!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 2:1-4, 10-12

When the time of David’s death drew near,
he gave these instructions to his son Solomon:
“I am going the way of all flesh.
Take courage and be a man.
Keep the mandate of the LORD, your God, following his ways
and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees
as they are written in the law of Moses,
that you may succeed in whatever you do,
wherever you turn, and the LORD may fulfill
the promise he made on my behalf when he said,
‘If your sons so conduct themselves
that they remain faithful to me with their whole heart
and with their whole soul,
you shall always have someone of your line
on the throne of Israel.’”
David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.
The length of David’s reign over Israel was forty years:
he reigned seven years in Hebron
and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
Solomon was seated on the throne of his father David,
with his sovereignty firmly established.

Responsorial Psalm
1 CHR 29:10, 11AB, 11D-12A, 12BCD

R. (12b) Lord, you are exalted over all.
“Blessed may you be, O LORD,
God of Israel our father,
from eternity to eternity.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“Yours, O LORD, are grandeur and power,
majesty, splendor, and glory.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“LORD, you are exalted over all.
Yours, O LORD, is the sovereignty;
you are exalted as head over all.
Riches and honor are from you.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.
“In your hand are power and might;
it is yours to give grandeur and strength to all.”
R. Lord, you are exalted over all.

Gospel
MK 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
–no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
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