Seeing in Mary God’s Repairing the Effects of the Fall, Fifth Saturday (I), February 14, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Chapel of the Crucifix, Basilica of the Holy House of Loreto
Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of Our Lady of Loreto
February 14, 2015
Gen 3:9-24, Ps 90, Mk 8:1-10

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Here in this Basilica enshrining the Holy House of Nazareth where Mary grew up and eventually lived with Joseph and Jesus, where the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary launching in vigor the plan of redemption, where the majority of Jesus’ saving life was lived, it’s key for us to grasp what Jesus was seeking to redeem us from. He obviously took flesh in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb in Nazareth in order to save us from sin and what sin led to, death, but he was also coming to heal us from many of the other effects in this world caused by sin. Today in the first reading, we see many of the results of the Fall, a text that allows us to articulate and appreciate all the more what Jesus seeks to do in all of us, something we see in all its beauty and clarity in the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a fitting way for us to mark our visit here to this most popular Marian shrine in the history of the Church, the place where, prior to the Marian apparitions in Guadalupe (1531), Lourdes (1858) and Fatima (1917), more people came to express their love and devotion to Mary and to ask her intercession than any other Marian shrine in the world. Today we come here to praise her for her triumph over sin by the power of her Son as well as to ask her intercession that we might enter into that same triumph through what we’ll grasp in today’s readings.
  • We see several consequences of sin in the account of the Fall.
  • The first consequence was fear. Adam and Eve began to fear God, to fear each other, and to fear themselves. Prior to the Fall, they were naked and unashamed, not afraid in the least to be exposed before God and the other who loved them, not afraid to be totally transparent toward God or the other because they only responded to the other with love. But after the Fall, they were filled with fear. When God asked Adam where he was — God well knew, but he wanted Adam to grasp that he was lost — Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Rather than love, receiving it and reciprocating it, their fundamental response to others was now fear. They were afraid of their vulnerability before the other because they didn’t know whether the other would hurt them. What Christ wanted to do after the Fall was help us not to be afraid, to translate fear of punishment into a reverential awe. In most languages, there are two words for fear: one is a fear of pain, suffering, and punishment, what the Italians call paura, the Portuguese medo, and the Spanish miedo; the other word means an awe that flows from not thinking oneself worthy in front of someone so holy and awe-inspiring, what normally can cause us either to clam up or to speak without thinking in front of someone really famous and important, what the Italians call timore, the Portuguese temor and the Spanish We see the transition from the fear of punishment to a reverential awe in the Blessed Virgin, who when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her in the house enshrined in this Basilica, greeting her, “Rejoice, you who have been filled with grace, the Lord is with you,” was met by this awe caused by the Angel’s brilliance and greeting. But Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” — don’t be intimidated by holy awe — “because you have found favor with God and you will conceive in your womb and bear and Son…” Part of the redemption is the replacement of a fear of God and fear of others with a holy reverence for God himself and for God in others.
  • The second consequence of the Fall was a total lack of personal responsibility. When God asked Adam who told him who was naked and helped him to see it was evidence that he had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, rather than admitting his sin, rather than banging his breasts and confessing that he had greatly sinned through his own grievous fault, he said, “The woman whom you put here with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate it.” It wasn’t his fault, he was claiming, but hers, and ultimately God’s, because God had put the woman there! And when the Lord asked Eve why she had done such a thing, she refused to take responsibility either: “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” It was the devil’s fault — and, again, ultimately God’s because he allowed the serpent to squirm through the garden. Jesus came to redeem us first by taking responsibility for us and then helping us to take responsibility for ourselves and for others. We see at the beginning of the Gospel today. He says, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way.” That expression about his heart being moved with pity in the original Greek means his guts were exploding, he was sick to his stomach, over their situation and would take responsibility for feeding them. That’s the attitude that influences all his redeeming work. Jesus’ heart is moved with pity for us and so he took on our own nature, he came to teach, to guide, to nourish, to save. He didn’t pass the buck to someone else. He didn’t say, “You soiled your bed; now sleep in it forever.” He came to clean the sheets and make our bed anew. But he wants us to share in that responsibility. When his followers tried to excuse themselves from helping the multitude for lack of resources, asking, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?,” Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?” He started with what they had and could do, rather than what they lacked and thought they couldn’t. Jesus took the seven Panini and few sardines they had, blessed them and gave them to the disciples to distribute and everyone was filled to satiation and they had seven big baskets full of leftovers. Jesus is constantly asking us to share his compassion on the crowds, to assess what he’s given us — our talents, our time, our resources — and get us freely to unite them to his own divine power. He doesn’t want us to pass the buck but to pass the bread, not to flee responsibility but to run toward it. That’s of course what we see in the life of the Blessed Mother. As soon as she became aware through the Archangel’s word in the holy house that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age, she didn’t say, “I’m pregnant, too. I hope someone cares for her.” Rather, she went with haste to care. Mary wants to help us to enter into that same responsibility, compassionate logic!
  • The third effect of original would be the perpetual attack of the devil. He would strike at our heel. He would constantly try to trip us up at the feet to make us stumble on the journey of life. But he wouldn’t do it only through harassment; he wouldn’t try to do it by putting enticements on that road to get us freely to deviate from following the paths of God, something he had done with Adam and Eve. He would most often tempt us away, not terrorize us. We see in this passage the response of redemption. It was enmity. God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” God is going to help us to have enmity, hatred, scorn, for evil and the one who tempts us toward evil. He wants to help us not only not follow the slithering serpent but to stomp on his head. That’s the response we see in the “woman,” Mary, who is always depicted in statues with the serpent under her feet and in her “offspring,” Jesus who stepped on the devil after 40 days of fasting in the desert, who stepped on him in the Garden, who as the stronger man bound the devil and divided his spoils. Do you have this enmity toward evil? Do you passionately “reject Satan, all his evil works and all his empty promises?” Do you want to have nothing to do with sin, never to negotiate with it, never to give in, even if the devil promises us all the cities of the world? God wants to give us both that desire and that gift, something that Mary herself sought and responded to, and is praying now that we will receive and live.
  • The fourth effect was a change in the meaning of the holy work God had given as commands to Adam and Eve. As we saw earlier in the account of Genesis, before the Fall, God had given us the command to work, ultimately to share in his work of continuing and developing Creation and developing ourselves in the process of that holy cooperation. He had given us the command to increase and multiply, sharing in his divine work of the Creation of human beings not only in his image and likeness but our own. He had given us the command to fill the earth and subdue it and to have dominion over all the creatures. Work was a gift, a privileged form of union with God. What happened after the Fall? The work would continue, but it would now often not bring the joy it should have from the beginning. About procreation, God said to the woman, “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.” Child-bearing would now be painful. The raising of children in an age of sin would now be painful. Her desire would be for her husband but he would often treat her not as a lover but as a slave master. And in terms of the work of subduing and dominion, God said to the man, “In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat.” Work would now be toilsome, sweaty, and hard. When we look at these consequences, it’s tempting to regard contractions, perspiration, muscle fatigue and callouses, as punishments as a result of the Fall, but God’s response is not fundamentally punitive but medicinal. In order to cure the selfishness that leads to sin, that led to the Fall, God needed to make our work harder so that through the added degree of difficulty we would be able to shed selfishness and replace it with love. That’s what happens for loving moms. No woman ever looks forward to the pains of childbirth, but she endures them, sometimes for more than a whole day in agony, because she loves the little girl or little boy about to be born. The difficulty is a means not only to express her love but to grow in love. Likewise through hard, toilsome work a man is able to say to his family and to all those helped by his labor, “I love you” in the deeds of his body language. There are many men who endure difficult work situations, bosses and foremen who ride them, brutal commutes, early wake-up calls, long hours and set-backs precisely because they love their wife and their children, often their parents and their parishes, enough to do that hard work. And it’s through that work that they begin to reorient their whole nature to express their love through their deeds. This ethos of the Redemption was certainly seen in the Holy House of Nazareth. Mary’s giving birth to Jesus was itself painless. She was a virgin, as the early saints taught us, not only before Jesus’ birth and after Jesus’ birth but during Jesus’ birth. Virginity in the ancient world was fundamentally a physical thing, not a thing of love, and to be a Virgin during birth means that bodily everything was intact during childbirth, that Jesus would have passed through her hymen miraculously just like later he would pass through the closed doors of the Upper Room. But that doesn’t mean that Mary wouldn’t know the redemption pains of childbirth. Later, at the Foot of the Cross, when Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple — and through him all of us — to Mary saying, “Behold your Son!,” she would give birth to us in faith with much pain, not only the salvific pain of her Son on Calvary but the redemptive pain of weeping like Monica over so many of us wayward Augustines. But it’s a pain she endures out of love just like so many moms. Likewise, it was in this house that we see the sanctification of work as an expression of redemptive love. It was here that St. Joseph worked to provide for Jesus and Mary. It was here that Jesus apprenticed himself to his foster-father and learned a trade. It was here that Jesus spent the vast majority of his saving mission saving us through ordinary work. And we also see in today’s Gospel how God seeks to give us a taste of the redemption. Jesus didn’t make the men present toil and sweat for the food to satisfy themselves and their families. He provided for them. That miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish is a sign how God gives us each day our daily bread, which, often, yes he wishes us to collaborate with him to prepare, but always begins with his providence; it’s a sign of a more important meal of his holy teaching, on every word of which we live, as sang in the Alleluia verse; it’s a sign of the Eucharist where Jesus feeds us freely with himself; and it’s a sign of the eternal banquet, where he is throwing a feast that will know of no final course.
  • The last effect of the Fall was death. God says that man and woman would work arduously and medicinally “Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” words that we will all hear on Ash Wednesday. We would return to dust. But Jesus didn’t leave us there. God had originally breathed into the dust the breath of life and that breath was eternal. Our souls would live on. And because of Jesus’ redeeming work, our bodies, too, would rise again on the last day. God kicked Adam and Eve from the Garden lest they “put out [their] hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.” If they had eaten the fruit in their present, unredeemed state, they would just perpetuate their situation of sin. God wanted us to die to that situation so that, having entered into Jesus’ own passion, death and resurrection, we might pass over with him into a new situation, so that when we would eat the fruit of the new Tree of Life — the fruit of his body from the wood of the Cross — we might, in him, live forever. How fitting it is that God has allowed us to celebrate this Mass in this beautiful Basilica here in the Chapel of the Crucifix to help us never to forget this lesson. Out of our death, out of Jesus’ death, God would bring life, and not just restore us to what we had and lost in Eden, but to give us something even greater.
  • Today, we come here to this Holy House asking Mary’s prayers so that we may enter, like she did, fully into this mystery of redemption and go from this Holy House to the one not made by human hands, the house Jesus has gone to prepare for us, the House of the Eternal Father, where we hope to meet Mary, Joseph, and all the great saints who have come on pilgrimage here. In every age, as we prayed in the Psalm, God has been our refuge. Mary took refuge in Him and we take refuge in her faith and prayers, so that, after having given birth to us in pain in the maternity ward of Calvary, we might give her the eternal joy of a life of holiness here on earth and share eternal happiness with her, St. Joseph and all the saints in the heavenly holy house that will never be moved!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Gn 3:9-24

The LORD God called to Adam and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”Then the LORD God said to the serpent:“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
On your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
He will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”

To the woman he said:

“I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing;
in pain shall you bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
and he shall be your master.”

To the man he said: “Because you listened to your wife
and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat,

“Cursed be the ground because of you!
In toil shall you eat its yield
all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you,
as you eat of the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
shall you get bread to eat,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dirt,
and to dirt you shall return.”

The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.

For the man and his wife the LORD God made leather garments,
with which he clothed them.
Then the LORD God said: “See! The man has become like one of us,
knowing what is good and what is evil!
Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand
to take fruit from the tree of life also,
and thus eat of it and live forever.”
The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden,
to till the ground from which he had been taken.
When he expelled the man,
he settled him east of the garden of Eden;
and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword,
to guard the way to the tree of life.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13

R. (1) In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Before the mountains were begotten
and the earth and the world were brought forth,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

Alleluia Mt 4:4b

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 8:1-10

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat,
Jesus summoned the disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
because they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
If I send them away hungry to their homes,
they will collapse on the way,
and some of them have come a great distance.”
His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread
to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”
Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They replied, “Seven.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them,
and gave them to his disciples to distribute,
and they distributed them to the crowd.
They also had a few fish.
He said the blessing over them
and ordered them distributed also.
They ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.
There were about four thousand people.He dismissed the crowd and got into the boat with his disciples
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.