Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor
January 13, 2017
Heb 4:1-5.11, Ps 78, Mk 2:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Throughout this first week in Ordinary Time, we’ve been setting our spiritual coordinates for the year — and the Christian life as a whole! — from the Letter to the Hebrews. We’ve been reminded up until now that Jesus is the definitive Word of the Father, the Messenger and the Message. The Gospel he came to enflesh and to preach is one, we’ve grasped, of leading us through suffering and death to perfection and glory. In response to this message, the Letter has been reminding us to respond to God’s intervention in the person of Jesus differently than the ancient Israelites responded in Meribah and Massah, telling us, “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts” lest God say to us what he said to the Israelites, “They shall not enter into my rest.” Our hearts, rather, are supposed to be opened to God’s incarnate word and to allow Jesus precisely to lead us through suffering and death to salvation.
- That’s where we pick up today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. Based on all we’ve heard up until now, the sacred author says, “Let us be on our guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains that none of you seem to have failed. For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened. For we who believed enter into that rest.” We’re called to receive the message God is giving us with faith and be vigilant lest we only be pretending or “seeming” to receive it. The Word of God is meant to “profit us” and will if we are united in faith with those who have heard it and acted it, like, for example, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the apostles, so many saints and martyrs, the early Christians, St. Hilary of Poitiers whom the Church celebrates today, faithful consecrated men and women, holy spouses and parents and so many throughout the centuries. The passage finishes by saying, “Therefore let us strive to enter into that rest so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience” of the ancient Israelites. We need to strive, to agonize, to give maximal effort to enter into God’s rest, to accompany Christ on this journey, this Passover, this exodus through life, suffering and death for which he took on our nature to lead us.
- It’s key for us to grasp both what it means to enter into the “rest” of the Lord as well as what it means to strive.
- The rest of the Lord means several things, all interrelated.
- First, it means entering into the inheritance of the saving work of the Lord. It means entering into the peace that the Lord wishes to give us. God spoke to the Israelites while they were still in the desert, saying, “You shall not do as we are now doing; here, everyone does what seems right to himself, since you have not yet reached your resting place, the heritage which the Lord, your God, will give you. But after you have crossed the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you as a heritage, when he has given you rest from all your enemies round about and you live there in security,” things will be different, and they will be able to worship the Lord (Deut 12:8-9). To enter into the rest of the Lord means to enter into that peace, to enter into the heritage of grace God wishes to give us.
- Second, it means entering into the fulfillment of God’s work that he accomplished on the seventh day of Creation, a day on which, unlike the other six “days” when God brought Creation about, there was no mention of an “evening” at the end of the day. God rested and has never stopped “resting,” even though Jesus would attest, “My Father is working still” (Jn 5:17). To enter into the rest of the Lord means to enter into the perfection of creation, to allow God to bring us to fulfillment like he brings a seed to fruition, and that work for us is the sanctification Jesus came to bring into the world as the Letter to the Hebrews stresses so much.
- And this can help us to grasp a little bit the allied, third meaning of rest: entering into the promised land. In saying that the Israelites were not able because of the hardness of their hearts to enter into the Lord’s rest means that they were not able to enter the promised land of milk and honey that God had promised. They were not able to enter into that physical place representing the inheritance and fulfillment of all God’s promises. For us we know that that place is the heaven that we pray awaits us at the end of our journey with Jesus through the valley of life. To enter into God’s rest means all of these realities. It means entering into the inheritance of the fulfillment of all God’s promises, into his peace even in the midst of persecution, into the perfection of his saving work, and ultimately into heaven.
- But there’s also a fourth understanding that Jesus himself speaks about elsewhere. He would equate “rest” with yoking ourselves to him, to his Cross, to his meekness and humility. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” he said in St. Matthew’s Gospel, before continuing: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:28-29). Rest comes as the rest of the effort of various verbs: coming to Jesus through labor, taking his yoke (his Cross that binds us to him) upon our shoulders, and learning from him, especially his meekness (his strength that doesn’t need to show his strength, like the power of a martial arts black belt not needing necessarily to fight back to show that one is stronger, like the strength of the Blessed Virgin standing rather than fainting at the foot of the Cross), and his humility (that recognizes both God’s greatness, our littleness, and our incredible blessing at being enriched by God in our littleness). To enter into God’s rest, we have to bind ourselves to Jesus on the Cross, to bind our sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings, our death to Jesus’ death, with humility and meekness, in the midst of all our ordinary labors and burdens, and when we do, we find divine rest for our souls in this world and forever. That’s the path. And the Letter to the Hebrews says that we need to agonize to enter into that rest and to unite ourselves in faith to those who are listening to the Lord’s word and acting on it by taking on his yoke. This is the way that we will profit from what we have heard!
- With regard to striving, today we have two examples. First in the Gospel we have a beautiful illustration of the type of effort needed to enter into the Lord’s rest to which we’re all being called in the actions of the friends of the paralyzed man. Jesus returned to Capernaum where he had previous worked miracles for several hours and night and had left early the next morning when everyone was looking for him in order to preach the Gospel in other towns. As soon as word got out that he was back, everyone came to hear him, crowding into and around Simon Peter’s house. When the friends of the paralyzed man — who had probably tried to bring their pal to see Jesus when he was there the first time, or regretted not doing so afterward when they heard about all his miracles — arrived and saw that there was no means to bring their friend into Jesus’ presence because of the crowds, they decided not to wait until Jesus was through and the crowds dispersed. They probably had already missed him once, and maybe even a second time when Jesus had taken off earlier after a morning of prayer. So they did something startling. So they lifted their friend up onto the roof, removed the roof and lowered him down into Jesus’ presence. It would be a bold move for anyone to climb up on the roof of a house, take the roof off and jump down into the living room. But it’s infinitely more complicated when you’re lifting up a man on a stretcher, trying to keep everything balanced; when the man on the stretcher is paralyzed, because one mistake, one lack of balance, and he could be sent falling to the ground from a roof top without any way to defend himself or limit the impact. But this is what the friends did. They got him onto the roof. The took of the straw and clay that would normally be placed in between wooden beams three feet apart and someone got their friend through the wooden beams, balanced him, and lowered him right on top of Jesus. St. Mark tells us, “When Jesus saw their faith,” when he saw how they strived, agonized, overcame all obstacles, he healed the paralyzed man’s sins and then, to show that he had the power of God to do so when people were questioning him, he healed his paralysis as well, telling the paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your mat and go home.”
- We’re called to strive to enter into the yoke of rest with the Lord Jesus just as much as the friends of the paralyzed man agonized to get their buddy to Jesus. We’re called to respond to this message today, even if we’ve been paralyzed spiritually for whatever reasons, the same way the forgiven and healed man in the Gospel did, rising and entering into Jesus’ resurrection; picking up our own bed and taking personal responsibility; going “home,” which is not back to the same-old, same-old, but entering into the real home that God has made for us with him; and then, I’d add, going to look for all those we know who are spiritually paralyzed and seeking to love them as much as the friends in the Gospel did, by taking them to the Lord in prayer, by taking them to the Lord in Church, by taking them to the Lord in the Sacraments of Baptism, of Reconciliation, and ultimately of the Eucharist, and by seeking to help them meet the savior so that they can experience his healing and yoke themselves to him in this world and forever.
- The second witness of striving is the saint we celebrate today. St. Hilary of Poitiers was a pagan, married neo-platonist philosopher who upon reading the Old and New Testament writings was so blown away by their wisdom and with his wife and daughter became Christians. He learned the faith so well that after the death of the bishop of Poitiers, the Christians elected him as their bishop. One of the first things he tried to do was to defeat the Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus wasn’t really God but just the greatest creature who had ever lived, a heresy that is diametrically opposed to what we’ve heard the last two days in the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s essentially the fundamental doubt of the Scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel, that Jesus could not possibly be God since only God could forgive sins. But throughout many vicissitudes and much opposition inside and outside the Church, St. Hilary fought and taught. As we prayed in the Opening Prayer, he taught “with such constancy.” That constancy is what it means to strive.
- Today as we come forward at this Mass to meet the Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we are aware that he is about to do something far greater for us than what he did in healing the man’s paralysis in the Gospel. He comes down here to yoke himself to us, to enter into a true holy Communion of life and love. Like those in the Gospel, we can and should be astounded and glorify God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” And we should go out to the world striving to enter into his rest, never forgetting the works of the Lord (Psalm) and proclaiming them near and far, to help everyone else come to God “while the promise of entering into his rest remains.”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Heb 4:1-5, 11
while the promise of entering into his rest remains,
that none of you seem to have failed.
For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did.
But the word that they heard did not profit them,
for they were not united in faith with those who listened.
For we who believed enter into that rest,
just as he has said:
As I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter into my rest,”and yet his works were accomplished
at the foundation of the world.
For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this manner,
And God rested on the seventh day from all his works;
and again, in the previously mentioned place,
They shall not enter into my rest.Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest,
so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 78:3 and 4bc, 6c-7, 8
What we have heard and know,
and what our fathers have declared to us,
we will declare to the generation to come
The glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
That they too may rise and declare to their sons
that they should put their hope in God,
And not forget the deeds of God
but keep his commands.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
And not be like their fathers,
a generation wayward and rebellious,
A generation that kept not its heart steadfast
nor its spirit faithful toward God.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Alleluia Lk 7:16
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A great prophet has arisen in our midst
and God has visited his people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mk 2:1-12
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what
they were thinking to themselves,
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”