The Boldness that Comes from Rebirth, Second Monday of Easter, April 28, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Second Week of Easter
Commemorations of Saints Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and Gianna Beretta Molla
April 28, 2014
Acts 4:23-31, Ps 2, Jn 3:1-8

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel Nicodemus, a powerful member of the Sanhedrin, comes to Jesus at night. He’s too afraid to come to Jesus by day because Jesus was a controversial figure and he didn’t want publicly to be associated with him. We’ll see the same thing when Jesus is being tried. He’ll ask a question to try to slow down the proceedings, but he doesn’t defend Jesus whom he knows is innocent of the charges being made against him. He’s obviously struggling with understanding the full import of Jesus’ miracles. “No one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him,” but he doesn’t have the courage to become a disciple in the light. Jesus points to the reason why: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus seeks to ask a question about entering anew into a mother’s womb, but Jesus was describing the rebirth God needs to give us, so that one may live by the Spirit rather than by the flesh. This is what happens to us when we are reborn by water and the Holy Spirit in baptism, which is meant to be the reality of Christians. As St. Paul told us during the Easter Vigil, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,  so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead  by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” That’s our rebirth. And it’s carried out by the work of the Holy Spirit, the “pneuma” (Greek) or “ruah” (Hebrew) — words meaning both “spirit” and “wind” — who “blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” To be a disciple of Christ is to put up our sails to allow the Holy Spirit to blow us where he wishes us to go. It’s a docility, confidence and boldness that comes from life according to the Spirit.
  • We see that type of Spirit-led life in the members of the early Church as well as in four saints that the Church celebrates today. We see in today’s first reading how the first Christians relied on and responded to the Holy Spirit at a time of persecution. Peter and John had just been released from prison after having been sternly warned not to speak in Jesus’ name. They had previously been filled by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which had changed them from being cowardly to courageous men, from apostates to apostles, from men too much like Nicodemus when the going got tough to men much more like Jesus. It really wasn’t even a option for them to obey the Sanhedrin’s warning rather than God. They got together and didn’t strategize about how to avoid punishment, but rather prayed, and prayed “all together,” in unison, Christ’s body praying as one. They didn’t pray that God would remove all persecution from their midst but that they might preach the Gospel all the more boldly in words and in deeds. Their prayer is the Church’s longest in the New Testament. After recalling what Christ himself underwent and how God brought the greatest good from his persecution, they asked, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And just as Jesus promised that whenever we ask the Father for bread, he won’t give us stones, but rather give “the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13), so God the Father powerfully sent the Holy Spirit upon them in what has been called the Church’s “little Pentecost”: “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” 
  • That word for “boldness” in the original Greek is parrhesia, which is a word we should know, not only because there is no easy translation for it in English — it’s a Spirit-led boldness, the expression of the Gift of Courage of the Holy Spirit — but because Pope Francis uses it all the time in the original. He used it yesterday in his canonization homily for Saints John Paul II and John XXIII. He said of them, “Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II  were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.” Saint John was full of parrhesia when he called the Second Vatican Council, trusting in the way the Holy Spirit wanted to guide the Church as a whole to continual rebirth. Saint John Paul was filled with parrhesia in helping the entire Church to “Be Not Afraid!,” to “put out into the deep” in the New Evangelization, to “trust in God’s mercy,” and even to suffer publicly entrusting himself and the timing of his death to God. They were both men born from above who allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them, to blow them wherever he wills, even if it meant to things that as human beings they might be tempted to avoid.
  • Today the Church marks two saints who were both born from above and courageous. April 28 is always a tough day for me as a priest because I want to celebrate both of their feast days! The first saint is St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), who was a great missionary preacher in France at the beginning of the 1700s. He was preaching against the Pharisees of his own day, the Jansenists, who often persecuted him and were joined by some Jansenist leaning bishops. But he boldly went to the Pope to discuss the situation and Pope Clement XI, seeing his vocation, sent him back with the title of Apostolic Missionary, allowing him to preach anywhere. He was the great proponent of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the way to live effectively our baptismal consecration, our having been reborn from above. It was from his consecration formula to the Blessed Virgin that St. John Paul took his papal motto: Totus Tuus, from his prayer, “I am all yours, Mary, and all I have is yours. I accept you into the totality of my life. Give me your heart!,” a bold prayer that was obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit. Today we can learn through St. Louis’ intercession how to be bold in our Marian devotion and consecration so that she can help us to experience the full fruits of being reborn and make us ever more docile to the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit that constantly overshadowed her.
  • The second saint is Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962), an Italian pediatrician and patron of the pro-life movement, who with holy parrhesia refused to have an abortion or a hysterectomy when she was told by her doctors that if she continued with her pregnancy she could die. She told the doctors caring for her that if there were any decision to be made whether to save her life or the life of her baby, to choose save the baby. Little Giannina was born on Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962 but Gianna contracted septic peritonitis and died a week later, 52 years ago today. When Saint John Paul II beatified her in 1994, he called her a woman of “heroic love” who as a doctor “well knew what was coming but didn’t turn back before the sacrifice, confirming in this way her heroic virtues.” When he canonized her a decade later, he said, “Following the example of Christ who ‘having loved his own, loved them to the end,’ this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfil themselves.” She gave a witness to all of the boldness of the true Christian, ready to lay down one’s life out of love for others.
  • Today as we come forward to pray the Mass, we seek to do so like the first Christians prayed in the upper room in such a way that we might experience a similar “little Pentecost” to what they received when the Holy Spirit shook the place where they were praying. And we ask through the intercession of Saints Gianna, Louis, John Paul and John that we may be as docile to the work of the Holy Spirit as they were and correspond to the holy parrhesia with which he wishes to endow us.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 4:23-31

After their release Peter and John went back to their own people
and reported what the chief priests and elders had told them.
And when they heard it,
they raised their voices to God with one accord
and said, “Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth
and the sea and all that is in them,
you said by the Holy Spirit
through the mouth of our father David, your servant:Why did the Gentiles rage
and the peoples entertain folly?
The kings of the earth took their stand
and the princes gathered together
against the Lord and against his anointed.
Indeed they gathered in this city
against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed,
Herod and Pontius Pilate,
together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
to do what your hand and your will
had long ago planned to take place.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats,
and enable your servants to speak your word
with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal,
and signs and wonders are done
through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook,
and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 2:1-3, 4-7A, 7B-9

R. (see 11d) Blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples utter folly?
The kings of the earth rise up,
and the princes conspire together
against the LORD and against his anointed:
“Let us break their fetters
and cast their bonds from us!”
R. Blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He who is throned in heaven laughs;
the LORD derides them.
Then in anger he speaks to them;
he terrifies them in his wrath:
“I myself have set up my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD.
R. Blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
this day I have begotten you.
Ask of me and I will give you
the nations for an inheritance
and the ends of the earth for your possession.
You shall rule them with an iron rod;
you shall shatter them like an earthen dish.”
R. Blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
JN 3:1-8

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”