Reading the Writing on the Wall, 34th Wednesday (I), November 29, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for the Faithful Departed
November 29, 2017
Dan 5:5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28, Dan 3, Lk 21:12-19


To listen to a recording of today’s homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • November is a month in which we not only prayer for our faithful departed and focus on the last things and especially about our call to holiness and heaven. It’s also a month in which the Church forms us concretely for what is to come. In the early Church, catechumens could not be baptized until they were ready to be martyrs, because many of them would be threatened with martyrdom as soon as they were Christians. In this month of November, as we ponder Jesus’ words at the end of his journey to Jerusalem, we can see that he was doing the same. He was telling us what was to come so that we wouldn’t be surprised, shocked, scandalized, or paralyzed when they occurred, and just like a soldier well-trained in boot camp for war, or a Patriots player in training camp for what might come on the field, so we might be prepared to know what to do if these eventualities transpired.
  • In the Gospel Jesus describes what was coming for his disciples. Just like would happen to him, so they, too, would be seized and persecuted, handed over to religious and civil leaders, thrown in prison, betrayed my family members and friends, hated by all, and some martyred. But he told them why it would occur: so that they would be able to give witness. Sometimes persecution is the Christian’s greatest pulpit. Jesus told them not to worry about what to say, that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say, and despite their martyrdom, not a single follicle would be destroyed but that all would be restored — even to the baldest of them! — in the resurrection. “By your perseverance,” he stressed, “you would secure your lives.” He was stressing — in words that are highly relevant to our age of rampant personal insecurity — that real security comes from building our whole life on God. Once we do, nothing in all of creation — not persecution, peril or the sword (Rom 8:31-39) — will be able to separate them from God. By persevering in faith, we will be secure now and secure later, even if all fleeting forms of worldly security disappear. This is a lesson we always need to learn. The first Christians suffered so much, including the plundering of their property and even their lives, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, because they had a greater security in God. True security in God can’t be given by the world or stolen by those in the world. That’s why the martyrs in every age weren’t afraid even during while suffering torture or death.
  • There’s a great contrast between this type of security in faith, security in relation with God, that Jesus wants us to have even in the humanly worst of circumstances and the type of insecurity we see in King Belshazzar in today’s first reading. He was living outwardly very secure. He was throwing a banquet for 1000 courtiers and their wives in a time of great prosperity. He decided to have some of the 5400 gold and silver chalices that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem brought out, using what was sacred for the Jews for their drunken party. But when, straight out of the Addams’ Family, a hand started writing on the wall, we see that his security was just an outward show: “When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote,” the Prophet Daniel tells us, “his face blanched; his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked.” None of his pagan experts could mollify his anxiety, because no matter how smart they were, they didn’t have divine wisdom. Daniel was brought in and he was able to interpret the three words that were being written on the wall: mene, tekel, peres, which were three terms for coins. Mene was a full payment, and Daniel used it to express that Belshazzar’s kingdom was “fulfilled” or all over; a tekel was 1/60 of a mene, indicating that Belshazzar doesn’t weigh very much; and peres, which was half of mene, indicating that his kingdom would be divided in half. Belshazzar’s kingdom would come to an end that very night when his kingdom and the palace would be invaded by Darius and Belshazzar killed. Like the man in the parable whom Jesus called foolish for building bigger grain bins to store his harvest only to have his life taken that very night, so Belshazzar was an even bigger fool, sacrilegiously debauching the things of God not realized that he would be weighed in the balance and found less secure than a feather. Today there are still many who, even though they’re in prominent positions or incredible houses with security details and systems, aren’t really secure at all. There are also many who, as they approach their own mene or the fulfillment of their life, might indeed be as weighty as a tekel because their life is peres, or divided, among many things. The writing on the wall of King Belshazzar’s palace is also written for us.
  • Today God the Father sends not a hand to start moving on the walls of this chapel, but his Son, who in the Eucharistic Prayer we’ll use, is described as the “hand You stretch out to sinners.” We will not take up sacred vessels to use for alcohol, but Jesus himself will take up a chalice and change wine into his blood. He will seek to make us, indeed, vessels used not for debauchery but to give him “glory and eternal praise.” This is the greatest means by which we will become not tekel but qadosh, weighty or holy, and have our names written by God’s hand in the eternal book of life.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
DN 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his lords,
with whom he drank.
Under the influence of the wine,
he ordered the gold and silver vessels
which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,
had taken from the temple in Jerusalem,
to be brought in so that the king, his lords,
his wives and his entertainers might drink from them.
When the gold and silver vessels
taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in,
and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers
were drinking wine from them,
they praised their gods of gold and silver,
bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.
Then Daniel was brought into the presence of the king.
The king asked him,
“Are you the Daniel, the Jewish exile,
whom my father, the king, brought from Judah?
I have heard that the Spirit of God is in you,
that you possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom.
I have heard that you can interpret dreams and solve difficulties;
if you are able to read the writing and tell me what it means,
you shall be clothed in purple,
wear a gold collar about your neck,
and be third in the government of the kingdom.”
Daniel answered the king:
“You may keep your gifts, or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.
You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven.
You had the vessels of his temple brought before you,
so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers,
might drink wine from them;
and you praised the gods of silver and gold,
bronze and iron, wood and stone,
that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence.
But the God in whose hand is your life breath
and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.
By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.
“This is the writing that was inscribed:
These words mean:
MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it;
TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Responsorial Psalm
DN 3:62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67

R. (59b) Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“All you winds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
“Cold and chill, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.”
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.

LK 21:12-19

Jesus said to the crowd:
“They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents,
brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”