Responding to Jesus as the Sign of Jonah, 16th Monday (II), July 18, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Camillus de Lellis
July 18, 2016
Mic 6:1-4.6-8, Ps 50, Mt 12:38-42

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s key for us to grasp that the flip side of God’s mercy is our need for it, that we’re sinners in need of conversion to open ourselves to God’s healing love. Today’s readings are forceful appeals by God to this type of conversion that must be as constant as God’s mercy is everlasting. It’s key for us to recognize that they’re not just historical summons to repentance but very much actual.
  • In the Gospel, the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a “sign.” A sign was a miracle that pointed to something else, namely Jesus’ authority to preach and do what he was saying and doing. But we know that Jesus had been doing nothing but miracles: he had immediately before cured a man with a withered hand and had expelled demons. But the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t want to accept what those miracles signified. So they kept asking for other ones. Perhaps they were waiting until a supposed miracle attempt failed so that they would be able to feel justified in their rejection of Jesus. Jesus cut to the core of why they were asking for such a miracle, saying, an “evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign.” If they were of a good and faithful generation, they would have already taken seriously all of the miracles and words that Jesus had already done and grasped that he himself was the sign for which the Jews should have been looking.
  • But Jesus nevertheless says that the one sign that would be given to the evil and perverse generation that constantly seeks another sign is the Sign of Jonah. On the one hand this certainly points to his death, burial in the belly of the earth, and resurrection on the third day, the greatest of all his miracles. But the fundamental sign of Jonah is a sign of conversion. Jonah was himself a convert — he had run away from the mission the Lord had given him, much as many of the Scribes and Pharisees were running away from the mission the Lord had given all the Jews in preparing for and receiving the long-awaited Messiah — and called the pagan Ninevites to conversion. And we remember how the Ninevites responded: they all repented, from the king down to the pets, who all fasted in sackcloth and ashes. Jesus told them that he was greater than Jonah and a greater sign of conversion. If the pagans of Nineveh had changed their ways at the preaching of Jonah on the first day, then the supposedly religious Jews of his day should have much more readily changed when they heard Jesus preaching “Repent and believe in the Gospel” and working all the signs to back up his message. Jesus added that the Queen of Sheba had traveled a great distance with many caravans in her retinue in order to hear Solomon’s wisdom — she had in fact traveled 1660 miles or, at a pace of 15 miles a day, over 110 days or nearly four months each way — but that his wisdom was greater than Solomon’s and they weren’t willing to travel any intellectual or moral distance. The question for us is how much are we willing to do to “acquire” Jesus’ wisdom? Are we willing to start getting to know the Bible much better through personal study and lectio divina? Are we willing to read good Catholic books? Are we willing voraciously to go to opportunities to increase our faith? For many of us, one of the most urgent aspects of conversion involves our hunger to know and live by God’s holy wisdom and Jesus calls us to change the same way he was calling the Scribes and Pharisees.
  • The chief problem with the Scribes and Pharisees is not that they didn’t want to convert “in general.” It’s not that they didn’t consider themselves sinners in need of mercy. They marked, probably with great fervor, Yom Kippur each year and recognized their need for atonement “in general.” But they wanted to convert on their own terms and in their own way. They didn’t want to convert in the way God wanted and to begin to do what he was asking. We see that problem laid out starkly in the reading from the Prophet Micah and in the Responsorial Psalm. God through Micah puts words on their lips about the type of repentance they were willing to do and were already doing: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Those in Judah around 700 BC were bringing burnt offerings, year old calves, thousands of rams, huge quantities of oil, even contemplating offering their first born children, as if those could atone for the sins of their souls. None of these signified the type of conversion God ultimately wanted. God speaks to this in the Responsorial Psalm. He says, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always,” but rather he rebukes them because they’re not acting on his words and living by his wisdom: “Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”
  • That’s why God tells us through Micah that the conversion he wants is to do what he asks: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” He specifies three things. First, to do justice, to treat everyone fairly, to give God and others their due. The fact is that many of them were treating others unjustly in myriad ways. God is always asking that conversion of us, so that we will love and sacrifice for our neighbor rather than hurt or take advantage of our neighbor. Second, to love mercy. The real word translated as “goodness” is “mercy.” God wants us to love him in his merciful love, to recognize we need it, to come to get it, and then to share it with others as we have received it freely from the Lord. It wants us not merely to receive and reciprocate mercy but to love receiving it and love sharing it. So many of us in every age need a profound conversion on this point, and this Jubilee of Mercy is the right time to do so. Third, “to walk humbly with your God.”  God never tells us to stay where we are. He calls us to get up and follow him. He wants us not merely to know his ways but to walk in his ways. But once we’re moving, we’re called to walk humbly, letting God lead, knowing we need direction, receiving from him all the help that he knows we need. The Vulgate word that we translate as “humbly” is sollicitum, which basically means that we walk solicitously, seeking from God what we need rather than walk with an air of self-sufficiency. This, too, is a perennial point of conversion for us, because many of us prefer to stay put and if we get up to go our own way. God through Micah is calling us to follow him solicitously and humbly. And if the people of Micah’s day acted on his words, how much more do we need to act on the “greater than Micah” among us, who calls us to imitate his justice, love his mercy and follow him?
  • One person who really lived out this vocation to convert and to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God is the saint we celebrate today, St. Camillus de Lellis. When he was young, he picked up many of the bad habits of his Neapolitan father, a mercenary soldier, most notably his terrible temper. With his father, he joined the military as a means of handling his aggression, but it only increased his violence. When he left military service because of a failed campaign and a serious leg infection, his violent streak had only grown, not to mention he was now a gambling addict. He was hired by the Capuchins as a laborer, and, thanks be to God, one of the Capuchins saw some goodness in him and patiently pushed him to conversion and to trust in Christ’s power to make something good of him. At 25 he converted so thoroughly that he wanted to spend the rest of his life serving God through the Capuchins, but because his leg injury was incurable, he was refused. He was cared for in Rome by the Hospitallers of St. John in such a way that he used his organizational skills, talents, and charity to revolutionize the type of care that was given to incurables in their clinic. And under the guidance of his spiritual director, St. Philip Neri, he began to organize around himself a group of men who would care for the sick. This became the Ministers of the Infirm that now are known as the Camillans. They took a fourth vow to care for the sick even at the risk of their life, something they routinely did in caring for those with the bubonic plague and other infectious diseases. St. Camillus taught his brothers in religious life how to care for Christ in the sick and so great was his focus on Christ in the sick that he would literally treat them as if he were handling Christ, something expressing sorrow to him for all his past sins and begging mercy. When St. Camillus couldn’t walk to see the sick, he would crawl on the floor. He was someone who after his conversion sought to treat others as they deserved as images of Christ, to love others with the same mercy with which Christ had embraced him, and to walk or even crawl humbly with God, open to the help he needed in every moment. And his charity because a sign of Christ and a sign of Jonah, calling the people of his age to conversion, and calling us to conversion as well.
  • The best place to the conversion of the whole of our life is the same place where it began for this great saint, here at Mass. Mass is where we come to meet the Sign of Jonah, to hear his wisdom, to enter into the belly of the earth with him and arise with him on the third day. This is where we recognize our need to change and are strengthened by the Lord to go out as leaven for the world showing for all an example of justice, love of mercy, and humble walking in the Lord’s footsteps.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
MI 6:1-4, 6-8

Hear what the LORD says:
Arise, present your plea before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, O mountains, the plea of the LORD,
pay attention, O foundations of the earth!
For the LORD has a plea against his people,
and he enters into trial with Israel.O my people, what have I done to you,
or how have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I released you;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with myriad streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my crime,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
You have been told, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 50:5-6, 8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his justice;
for God himself is the judge.
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Gospel
MT 12:38-42

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
He said to them in reply,
“An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights,
so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth
three days and three nights.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon;
and there is something greater than Solomon here.”
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