Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of SS. Cyprian and Cornelius, Martyrs
14th Anniversary of the death of Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan
September 16, 2016
1 Cor 12:12-14.27-31, Ps 10, Lk 7:11-17
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In the Opening Prayer of the Mass today, for this remembrance of third century martyrs Saints Cornelius and Cyprian, we asked God that “through their intercession we may be strengthened in faith and constancy [to] spend ourselves without reserve” for him and his kingdom. Today we can enter into this mystery of the persevering faith that leads us to give everything for the God who gave everything for us.
- In today’s the Gospel, we see Jesus’ peripatetic preaching, journeying with the Twelve apostles from one town to another preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. This was a snapshot of his ordinary life, what occupied most of his days. He was announcing the kingdom and inviting people to enter. In the midst of all of their sufferings, hardships and up-until-then unfilled hopes, he was proclaiming the good news. He was helping them to see that Sacred Scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing, inviting them to strive to enter through the narrow gate, encouraging them to buy the treasure buried in a field and selling everything they have for the precious pearl of the kingdom. But St. Luke adds another detail, a very important one. He said that some women were accompanying Jesus and the apostles, women who had received Jesus’ healing power — they “had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” — and wanted to spend their life, with faith and constancy, assisting him to heal others. Three get named — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod Antipas’ epitropos or money man Chuza, and Susanna — but he also says “and many others,” who “provided for them out of their resources.” They were the ones who, to some degree, made possible Jesus’ and the apostles’ preaching, so that Jesus everyday wouldn’t have to multiply buns and sardines, so that they wouldn’t have to appall the hypersensensitive Scribes and the Pharisees by plucking heads of grain while walking through the fields. Like the widow with her two lepta that she placed in the Temple treasury, these women were giving all they had not just to make possible but to assist the preaching of the Gospel. They were the ones who were provided drink to lubricate Jesus’ and the apostles’ vocal chords, they were the ones who made sure that as they would have the necessary bread within to be able to preach man doesn’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth. We heard earlier this week from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians about how the Holy Spirit inspires us all to cooperate for the building up of Christ’s body the Church, how there’s a division of labor — apostles, prophets, teachers, administrators, etc. — like there is in a body between organs. For the body to be healthy, each of the parts must do its function. And these women were making possible everything that Jesus and his disciples were doing. On June 12, when I celebrated Mass at the end of the GIFT Forum in Washington, DC, this was the Gospel, and I commented: “This was not a group of bored do-gooders who figured that these wandering 13 men would be lost without their feminine genius and maternal practicality! No, St. Luke tells us that they were all ‘women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities.’ Each of them had received from Jesus a physical healing, a spiritual healing, or probably both. And having received much, they loved much, and they wanted to give Jesus and his mission all the love, the time and the material goods they could.” They’re a model for all of us.
- What was the purpose of Jesus’ preaching and the apostles’ preaching? It was to lead people to eternal life, to this knowledge of God the Father and his Son Jesus the Resurrection and Life that would know no end. And they spent themselves fully with faith and constancy to preaching this reality, as did St. Paul. In today’s first reading, St. Paul is describing the reality of the resurrection to the Jewish and Greek Christians in Corinth who were doubting or denying it. There were doubtless some Jews who, like the Sadducees, didn’t believe in the resurrection because the allusions in the Hebrew Bible were not strong enough for them and what they had read about Sheol convinced them that it was permanent. There were also many Greeks who, following Plato, believed in the immortality of the soul, but viewed the body as a prison from which a person needed to be liberated in order to experience that immortality. They didn’t deny Jesus’ resurrection, but considered it basically a unique exception. St. Paul sought to explain to them that if the resurrection is impossible for us then it was impossible for Jesus according to his humanity, and if we’re not raised, and Christ is not raised, then our faith is vain, then our preaching is vain, then all of Paul’s labors are vain, then the forgiveness of sins is impossible, then hope is gone, then we’re the most pitiable of people, and then the last one to start his ignition in the Church parking lot and leave is the biggest fool. But — and he finishes with a powerful adversative conjunction — “but now Christ has been raised from the dead,” he says, and states that he is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He’s the first of many.
- Today we have three witnesses of those who spent themselves in faith and constancy preaching this reality, two of whom are certainly now experiencing its fulfillment and one of whom I firmly believe the Church will also, in our lifetime, recognize is sharing it as well. First, we celebrate the feast of SS. Cornelius and Cyprian. St. Cornelius was Pope after the death of St. Fabian. The Church waited a long time to elect a successor because they knew it was a death sentence, but St. Cornelius boldly took on the task, because he believed with firmly and perseveringly in the Resurrection. St. Cyprian during the persecution of Decius was in a cave writing to strengthen his fellow Christians, but later that same decade, when Valerian was emperor, likewise gave supreme testimony in a Roman trial the transcript of which is still with us. Every martyr shows a compelling witness of faith in the Resurrection, announcing that even when someone tortures and maims the body, even when someone ends a life here on earth, that life is not extinguished and the body doesn’t pass into oblivion. They proclaim the Church’s faith and hope in the resurrection of the body even as their body on earth breathes its last.
- We also mark today the 14th anniversary of the death of Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, someone by whom I was honored in life to be called a friend and with whom I had a chance to spend time during his years as the Secretary and then Prefect of the Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican. Soon after he was appointed Archbishop of Saigon in 1975, he was arrested and whisked away by the communists to prison, where he remained for 13 years, 9 in solitary confinement. It was an excruciating time for him, especially at the beginning, when he was kept all alone in filthy cells with no light and almost no human contact. He wondered why the Lord would have permitted him to be a bishop and then kept in prison far away from his people. He wondered what good his life was as he was useless in his incarceration. But the Lord then helped him to ponder the Gospel scene of the young boy with five buns and two sardines and how, placed into Jesus’ hands, it became a vast feast that fed a great multitude. He saw then that he might not be able to do much in prison, but he would offer whatever bread, whatever fish, he would be able to muster on a given day. He spent himself with faith and constancy as much as he could each day. So he began to pray with much greater hope for his people; if he couldn’t draw near in prison, he would draw near in the Lord. He celebrated Mass for them in the cell, putting a couple of drops of wine — from a bottle marked “stomach medicine” that his family sent for him to care for his greatest hunger — and a few crumbs of bread on his hand and celebrating Mass from memory. With the help of a young Catholic boy named Quang who would pass by his prison cell, he would scribble a spiritual thought or two a day on old calendars and have Quang bring them to his parents, who would copy them into a notebook and then eventually publish them all as “The Road to Hope,” a series of aphorisms that buoyed the entire Vietnamese Church under brutal persecution. And he would draw near to his guards, seeking to befriend them, to teach them foreign languages, to share with them something of the joy and hope that would come from the fact that he now knew that Jesus in the Eucharist and on the Cross was constantly visiting him in the prison cell. Over the course of time, his human warmth and love was converting so many of his communist guards that the communists stopped giving him new ones lest he convert them too. Even though he was in the worst of circumstances, he recognized that the Lord who had come to set the captives free had made him interiorly free in his imprisonment. Even though he was in solitary confinement, he knew that he was never alone. And he brought the sense of resurrection from the dead the Lord had given him through his presence to his conversation with the guards, so that they, too, would experience that new life. Today, as we remember him at Mass, we pray for the day in which we can celebrate his beatification and canonization so that many others may be able to join us with him on the Road to Hope that leads to eternal joy.
- Today as we come together we ask Saints Cornelius and Cyprian and if he’s in God’s presence Cardinal Van Thuan to intercede for us, that we might seek the things that above with them, that we might become signs and agents of the resurrection, messengers of the kingdom, in the midst of all today, supporting Jesus in his continued mission to go about healing the entire world of evil spirits, infirmities and death, and announcing that our faith is not in vain, but that to live without faith is the greatest vanity of vanities. And we pray for the grace to spend ourselves totally as they did with faith and constancy in hope of the Resurrection!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 15:12-20
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead,
how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
If there is no resurrection of the dead,
then neither has Christ been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching;
empty, too, your faith.
Then we are also false witnesses to God,
because we testified against God that he raised Christ,
whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain;
you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.But now Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
ps 17:1bcd, 6-7, 8b and 15
Hear, O LORD, a just suit;
attend to my outcry;
hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my word.
Show your wondrous mercies,
O savior of those who flee
from their foes to refuge at your right hand.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
Hide me in the shadow of your wings,
But I in justice shall behold your face;
on waking, I shall be content in your presence.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Accompanying him were the Twelve
and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza,
Susanna, and many others
who provided for them out of their resources.