Taking Us By The Hand and Raising Us, Seventh Monday (II), February 24, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
February 24, 2014
James 3:13-18, Ps 19, Mk 9:14-29

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the readings we learn two things that were necessary for Jesus’ miraculous healing of the boy afflicted with a demon who made him deaf, mute and it seems epileptic.
  • The first requirement for the miracle was true faith. When Jesus descended the Mount of the Transfiguration with Peter, James and John and asked what the commotion was at the bottom of the hill, the father of the afflicted boy said, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” Jesus’ response to that information was, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” Jesus was pointing out the lack of faith seemingly both in the father as well as in his disciples. When Jesus asked for the boy to be brought to him and talked with the father about how since childbirth the demon would cause him nearly to kill himself in fire or in water, the father said to him, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus, who came to the earth to help us to believe in God, called the man out on his frail faith: “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” And the father replied, “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief!” It was his faith that brought him to come to Jesus in the first place, but he clearly needed more faith, and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. And Jesus worked the great miracle.
  • After the crowd had disappeared, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive it out, and Jesus gave us the second necessary ingredient for this miracle. “This kind can only come out through prayer.” Jesus implied that it was not just his divine power that was necessary, a power he had already given when he sent them out to proclaim the Gospel, to heal the sick, cast out demons and even raise the dead. Persevering prayer was also needed. In some of the ancient manuscripts of St. Mark’s Gospel it said, we read “This kind can only be expunged by prayer and fasting.” Regardless there was a need for this type of persevering prayer of the lips, the heart and the body. That’s something Jesus was regularly doing. And it’s something that he was calling the disciples to do if they were going to be capable of casting out the most entrenched demons. Persevering prayer  in the disciples would be a sign of their faith and that faith seems also to be a prerequisite for such a miracle. In the work of exorcizing possessed persons today, there’s a need for persevering prayer and fasting. Exorcisms aren’t like magic formulas said once and easily, but often the work of repeated prayers and a lot of fasting on the part of the priest exorcist. That’s why you’ll almost never find an obese exorcist or one who doesn’t have a deep and constant prayer life.
  • But what does this miracle have to do with us? None of us today seems afflicted with a mute and deaf spirit. None of us is regularly being led to throw ourselves into lit fireplaces or into bodies of water. Is there an immediate application calling on our faith and persevering prayer and fasting? St. James points to it in today’s first reading. In contrast to the wisdom that comes from God, which is humble, pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, constant and sincere, he describes the false wisdom of the world, which features “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition,” telling us that this wisdom doesn’t come from God but is “earthly, unspiritual and demonic” and leads to “disorder and every foul practice.” There are many today caught up in this demonic “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition,” who put themselves in the center, who rather than rejoicing when another is blessed, throw themselves into a fiery rage about it; who rather than seeking God’s kingdom and the good of others, selfishly seek to do whatever it takes to get ahead and throw others into the cold water. This is a cancer that affects politics, many businesses, many schools, sports, families and other. We grow bitter when others do well. And we’re not ambitious for serving others and washing their feet— the type of holy ambition God wants us to have! — but ambitious to have others serve as stepping stones. All of this comes from the evil one. And Jesus today wants to exorcize these demonic attitudes from us.
  • How does he do that? There’s something very significant in how he worked the miracle in the Gospel. After he did the prayer of exorcism and said, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!,” St. Mark tells us that after the boy was thrown into convulsions he collapsed motionless on the ground, leading many to say, “He is dead!” Then Jesus went over, took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.” Many of the early saints of the Church said that Jesus was symbolizing how he seeks to raise all of us from the dead. He takes us individually by the hand, he raises us up, and wants us to stand with him. He carries out that resurrection first in baptism, but reiterates it every time we go to the Sacrament of Confession. It’s in those sacraments that he helps us to give up bitter jealousy and selfish ambition not to mention every other “disorder” and “foul practice” that comes from below. Jesus also takes us by the hand and seeks to raise us up in prayer and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist in which he lifts up our hearts in the Liturgy of the Word and allows us to share in his Risen life in Holy Communion. But this type of resurrection isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a perpetual action on the part of the Lord to which he wants us to respond to persevering faith, persevering prayer, and persevering docility.
  • Today we’re celebrating a votive Mass of a great saint who shows us how to do this, one of the greatest saints of the first couple of centuries in the Church. St. Polycarp’s feast day was yesterday, February 23, but since today is just a ferial day (a Green day in Ordinary Time), we can celebrate a votive Mass to St. Polycarp so that we don’t miss what he can teach us about perseverance in faith-filled prayer. When in 155, a ferocious anti-Christian persecution broke out in Smyrna where he was bishop (modern day southwestern Turkey, one of the seven Churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation), several Christians were martyred. The frenzied and bloodthirsty mobs, however, demanded more. They clamored for the death of the Bishop Polycarp, who at 86 years old was universally acknowledged to be the “father of the Christians” in the region. When the police arrived to arrest him, he said “God’s will be done,” met them at the door and had a nice dinner prepared for them, so that he could have two hours to pray for his flock. When Polycarp was finally brought into the feverish amphitheater, the proconsul — with threats of death by wild beasts and incineration —  exhorted him to remember his age, swear allegiance to Caesar and revile Christ. Polycarp unflinchingly replied, “For 86 years I have served Christ and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? If you require of me to swear by the genius of Caesar, as you call it, hear my free confession: I am a Christian.” The proconsul condemned him to be burned alive. After the wood had been prepared and set ablaze, and Polycarp had been bound, he courageously and faithfully gave his Eucharistic valedictory: “I bless you, Lord, for having been pleased to bring me to this hour, that I may receive a portion among your martyrs and partake of the cup of Christ…  Grant me to be received today as a pleasing sacrifice, such as you yourself have prepared, O true and faithful God.”
  • For 86 years, Polycarp had been faithful. He had learned the faith as a boy from the great martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107), who in turn had learned it from St. John the Apostle. And he remained faithful until the end, grasping on to the Lord’s hand and allowing to raise him from the dead to true life, both before his martyrdom and now eternally. He knew that everything was possible for one with faith, even staring down an amphitheater full of those tempting him to capitulate. His persevering faith and prayer is a model for us all, whether we’ve lived 26, 46, 86 or 106 years. Everything is possible for us, too, if we live by faith, prayer and fasting, even in the midst of an increasingly faithless generation marked by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. May St. Polycarp intercede for us that what the Lord began in our baptism, has renewed in our confessions, and augments in prayer and the Sacraments, may lead us one day to share St. Polycarp’s eternal prize.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JAS 3:13-18

Beloved:
Who among you is wise and understanding?
Let him show his works by a good life
in the humility that comes from wisdom.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts,
do not boast and be false to the truth.
Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above
but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 19:8, 9, 10, 15

R. (9a) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

Gospel
MK 9:14-29

As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John
and approached the other disciples,
they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.
Immediately on seeing him,
the whole crowd was utterly amazed.
They ran up to him and greeted him.
He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”
Someone from the crowd answered him,
“Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit.
Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.
I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.”
He said to them in reply,
“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.”
They brought the boy to him.
And when he saw him,
the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions.
As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around
and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father,
“How long has this been happening to him?”
He replied, “Since childhood.
It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him,
“‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering,
rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it,
“Mute and deaf spirit, I command you:
come out of him and never enter him again!”
Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out.
He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!”
But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private,
“Why could we not drive the spirit out?”
He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”