Responding to God’s Signs, 28th Monday (II), October 13, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of Our Lady of the Rosary for the 97th Anniversary of Mary’s Last Apparition in Fatima
October 13, 2014
Gal 4:22-24.26-27.31.5:1, Ps 113, Lk 11:29-32

To listen to the audio homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the first reading, St. Paul continues to write about the sharp contrast between Judaized Christians who think we’re saved by our own efforts to keep all the precepts of the Mosaic Law, and the Christians he worked to form who grasp that we’re saved by God, by our response to the manifold graces he gives us. Using an allegorical style of interpretation he learned in rabbinical school, he described the two spiritualities flowing from Hagar through Ishmael and Sarah through Isaac as a “yoke of slavery” versus a “freedom” for which Christ has set us free. The Christians in Galatia were being persuaded by the Judaizers that they couldn’t be good Christians unless they yoked themselves entirely to the Mosaic law like the Scribes and Pharisees did. The law was lived by them not as an experience of freedom to love God and others maximally, but as a straightjacket in which many focused far more on the law — and all of the binding interpretations of the law made by the Scribes — than on God. St. Paul stressed that Christ, in fulfilling the Mosaic law, freed us from that slavery, and in the new and eternal Covenant, sought to help us live by faith as beloved sons and daughters of God.
  • These two different spiritualities provide a context for us better to grasp what was happening in today’s Gospel. Many of the Jews who had been influenced by the Scribes and the Pharisees were seeking signs from Jesus, despite the fact that Jesus had been working many signs. Immediately before this scene, as we saw in Friday’s Gospel, Jesus had exorcised a demon from a possessed man, but Jesus’ critics refused to accept that sign as pointing to what it obviously did, that he was working for God and trying to free people from the domain of the evil one. Instead, they pretended as if the miracle were a sign of another agency, that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Likewise these same critics weren’t accepting any of Jesus’ other signs, his many miracles of healing and feeding. They were essentially only looking for signs that corresponded to their preconceived notions, that if Jesus were the Messiah, then he would work signs that pointed to his liberating them from the Romans and establishing a political renewal of the Davidic Kingdom. If he were the Messiah, then everything he did, they thought, would be signs corresponding to and indeed confirming what they were laying the foundations to establish. The Messiah couldn’t possibly work signs that would contradict what they were expecting and doing, they thought. So on the one hand, they sought miracles, but only those miracles that confirmed what they wanted confirmed. None of Jesus’ miracles seemed to be doing this, which is why they continued to seek signs.
  • Jesus called this generation out. He said, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign.” We see just how evil the generation was when they conspired to frame Jesus before the Roman authorities they detested to have him murdered for working signs they didn’t want to believe. Jesus replied by saying that no sign would be given to this evil generation except the sign of Jonah. That implies three things.
    • First, it implies Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, that he would spend three days in the belly of the earth just like Jonah spent three days in the belly of the earth. Jesus’ crucifixion would be a sign of how corrupt their hearts had become but also the greatest sign of the love of the Lord who would die because they didn’t really know what they were doing. Jesus’ resurrection itself would be the sign of the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, life over death, and sanctity over sin. Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest sign in the history of the world.
    • Second, it implies Jesus’ wisdom.  Jesus says, “At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here.” The Ninevites accepted Jonah’s wisdom as coming from God. The Queen of Sheba journeyed over 1,660 miles over at least three months to hear Solomon’s wisdom, accounting it worth the sacrifice not just of many months round trip but also so much material wealth. Jesus’ wisdom, the wisdom that would have crowds amass to listen to him for hours, was a sign that he was speaking of a way to live, to die and to live forever that was far greater than anything Solomon ever taught. Jesus’ wisdom was a sign that he was not only continuing in the path of Solomon’s wisdom, but was the one to whom Solomon’s wisdom pointed.
    • Third, it implies Jesus’ call to conversion. Jesus said, “At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Jonah’s message of conversion, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed,” got the pagans of that enormously large city — sadly, just ransacked by ISIS — to convert, from King to pets, immediately. They were all in sackcloth and ashes. But Jesus was saying that his message of conversion is a sign to an even deeper conversion that God wanted.
  • Today it’s important for us to become a “good and holy generation” in contrast to the receptivity of those whom Jesus was calling out in today’s Gospel. We’re called not only to accept the signs of Jesus’ death and resurrection, his wisdom, and his call to conversion, but to become so united to him that we become signs of Jesus’ death and resurrection, signs of his wisdom, signs of his summons to conversion in the midst of the world. Jesus does that through the great signs he’s left us, signs that not only point to him doing certain spiritual work, but actually bringing that work about. We call those signs the sacraments, signs that effect what they signify. By Baptism, Jesus seeks to unite us to him so that we may become an efficacious sign of God’s presence in the world as his temple. By Confirmation, he fills us with the fire of the Holy Spirit so that we may continue his mission of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to the whole world. By Reconciliation, he heals us of our sins and sends us out as walking advertisements that Jesus is the Lamb who wishes to take away the sins of others, too. By the Eucharist, Jesus unites us as members of his body, so that we can become one body, one spirit in Him, so that we can become his hands, his feet, his heart bringing his love to the world. By Matrimony, husbands and wives become signs of Jesus’ union with his Bride the Church, so that by their love for each other, Christian couples will remind everyone by the particularity of their mutual love of what Christ loves the Church and the Church loves Christ. By Holy Orders, priests are meant to remind everyone of Christ’s teaching, sanctifying and shepherding his people and are changed so that they might act in Christ’s very person communicating his life, especially through the Sacraments. And by the Anointing, we ponder the sign of Jesus’ healing that actually communicates a healing of the soul and often of the body, helping people to unite themselves to Christ’s own suffering, which is a sign not so much of pain but of the love that bears that pain. To our age and every age, Jesus continues to give us these signs through which he himself brings the reality to which these signs point.
  • Today we can also ponder a tremendous sign God worked 97 years ago today through the intercession of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal. October 13, 1917 was the last of the six apparitions Mary gave to the three young shepherd children, Lucia Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto. She had indicated that there would be a sign to confirm what she had been communicating to the children and on this day, 70,000 people showed up to the Cova d’Iria, including many who were present not out of faith but to try to prove everything was a hoax. It had been pouring for a day and a half, the ground was soaked, and the people were thoroughly drenched. When the children arrived, they were already being attacked verbally by the critics because they had said Our Lady had promised to arrive at noon, and it was past noon. Our Lady appeared promptly at the solar noon (when the sun reached its zenith), an hour later. She identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked that a chapel be built there and that the children continue saying the Rosary every day. She also called the world to conversion, a message she had been communicating all along in the other apparitions: “People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord any more, for He is already too much offended!” After that, she rose toward the East and turned the palms of her hands to the dark sky. The children pointed upward as the Sun suddenly broke through the dark clouds. That began ten minutes of what’s been called the “Miracle of the Sun.” Accounts differ as to whether the color of the sun was silver or pearl, but everyone attests that they could look at the sun without difficulty. After spinning on its axis for a while, it began to oscillate in the heavens, seeming to come down toward earth and pull back, something that frightened many of those present to cry out that the world was coming to an end. At the end of the ten minutes, the sun returned to its normal place in the sky and its normal color. Even though their clothes had been soaking wet ten minutes earlier and the ground was full of mud, after the miracle, everything was dry.
  • It’s always been powerful for me to read the accounts of the miracle in the radically-secularist, anticlerical daily newspapers from Lisbon. I give them credit for describing what occurred, because they couldn’t deny what 70,000 others had seen. O Século described, “From the road, where the vehicles were parked and where hundreds of people who had not dared to brave the mud were congregated, one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up, and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: “A miracle! A miracle! Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws—the sun “danced” according to the typical expression of the people. … People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and the dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it in its rays. Some said they saw it change colors successively.” Another Lisbon newspaper, O Dia, described, “At one o’clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in colour, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground. … The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly, and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of the women. They were repeated on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.”
  • The incontestable sign had a purpose, to confirm all that Mary had been communicating to the shepherd children since she first appeared six months earlier. Her appeal was for prayer for the conversion of sinners, for personal penance, for the consecration of the world, including Russia to her Immaculate Heart, and for the reparative communions of first Saturdays. She asked for a chapel to be built, for all of us to pray the Rosary, and for us to amend our lives and ask forgiveness for our sins. These practices are all in harmony with what Jesus himself asked for. Mary, like her Son Jesus, was a Sign of Jonah calling to others to conversion, calling others to look at what our sins have done on the Cross, beg for mercy and amend our lives, to begin to live truly the Risen life by meditating on the sign value contained in all of the mysteries of Jesus in the Rosary, especially signified in Jesus’ Eucharistic presence in the Masses that continue to be offered in the chapel that was built at her request. The Sign of the Miracle of the Sun was not sought, but it was provided, and, like the signs Jesus worked in the Gospel, needs to be taken seriously (even though, obviously, private revelations are not binding on the Christian faithful, common sense helps us to grasp that something happened in Fatima that we can’t ignore without sacrificing our reason!).
  • So today we come to the Mass, which is our participation in Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sign of Jonah. We become here one with his call to conversion, one with his wisdom, one with suffering and death, and one with his risen life. We ask Our Lady of Fatima to pray for us that we may recognize that here on the altar in her beloved Son we have something far greater than Jonah and Solomon, that we are so blessed to be called to this supper of the Lamb, and that Jesus wants through this efficacious sign to transform us more and more into him, so that we may become through, with and in him, signs in the world calling others, as we prayed in the psalm, to bless the name of the Lord forever.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
gal 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1

Brothers and sisters:
It is written that Abraham had two sons,
one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.
The son of the slave woman was born naturally,
the son of the freeborn through a promise.
Now this is an allegory.
These women represent two covenants.
One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery;
this is Hagar.
But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother.
For it is written:
Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children;
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband
.
Therefore, brothers and sisters,
we are children not of the slave woman
but of the freeborn woman.For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm
and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 113:1b-2, 3-4, 5a and 6-7

R. (see 2) Blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Praise, you servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
both now and forever.
R. Blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
From the rising to the setting of the sun
is the name of the LORD to be praised.
High above all nations is the LORD;
above the heavens is his glory.
R. Blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Who is like the LORD, our God,
who looks upon the heavens and the earth below?
He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.
R. Blessed be the name of the Lord forever.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel
lk 11:29-32

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”