The Challenging Means God Provides to Help Us Grow in Faith, 3rd Saturday (II), January 27, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Angela Merici
January 27, 2018
2 Sam 12:1-7.10-17, Ps 51, Mk 4:35-41


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


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Throughout this week, Jesus has been teaching us and helping us to grow in faith. Over the last few days he’s been talking about what faith is and does — that faith is like rich soil that hears the seed of God’s word, accepts it wholeheartedly and bears abundant fruit; if we didn’t have the proper readings for the conversion of St. Paul (whose life shows us the conversion we need is to faith as a gift of grace working through love) that faith is meant to illumine others like a light set on a lamp stand; that faith is meant to grow through exercise it in acts of faith; that faith is like a mustard seed that God wants to help grow to become the biggest of shrubs — but today Jesus puts the disciples in a bootcamp experience to test their faith and help it to grow. The training happens on the Sea of Galilee. In it we learn two means to grow in faith and in the first reading we learn about a third.
  • Jesus tells them, as night was coming, to get into the boat with him and cross to the other side. Jesus was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the stern of the boat and remained asleep even when the boat was beginning to rock, even when the waves that were “breaking over the boat” were doubtless splashing him in the face. Those storms — the Greek word translated storm is actually the same word for a “quake,” something far bigger than pounding rain and driving win — were common to the Sea of Galilee because of the latitudinal mountain ranges stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee that were serve as a wind tunnel and cause serious storms to begin almost out of nowhere, so powerful the wind could whip up. In the middle of the storm, the disciples didn’t respond with faith. They didn’t cry out to the Lord in prayer. They didn’t have confidence in the love of the Lord remaining with them. They feared for their life. Even the professional fishermen on that sea were afraid that they were about to die. They woke Jesus and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you not care? It was clearly a remark flowing from their fear and frustration, but it was also one of a lack of faith in his love, that he would send them out on the sea with him to die. In fact, what Jesus was going to do was precisely to give them a lesson of how faith should overcome even our most primal fear of death. “Why are you terrified?,” he asked them. “Do you not have faith?” In St. Matthew’s version of this same scene, Jesus asks this question before he does anything about the storm, which was an unbelievable way to teach the lesson. It would be like your house was ablaze and as soon as all the fire trucks arrived, the firemen started to ask you questions about your beautiful flower garden before they started to take off the houses to try to save your house. Yet, Jesus wanted to stress the point. Then he rebuked the wind and said “Quiet! Be still!” and the wind ceased and there was great calm. The disciples were filled with great awe and said to each other, “Who is this whom even the wind and sea obey?” It was one thing to hear him teach or to work miracles of healing withered hands, blind eyes, deaf ears, mute mouths. It was one thing to see him cast out demons. It was one thing even to see him raise someone from the dead. It was quite another for him to dominate nature with a word, something that hearkened back to the beginning when he created nature with a word. It taught them that he was stronger than even the greatest violence and fearsome aspects of nature, and to have confidence in his presence with them in the boat, even if she should be asleep.
  • We learn two lessons from this scene, something that goes way beyond our own fears, not just the fear of earthly death but the fear of eternal death.  The first lesson Jesus allows us to pass through tests, through analogous storms in the boat that is the Church. The storms of pain and suffering, the storms of the suffering and death of loved ones, the storms of anxiety, of failure, of various problems, the storms of temptations sometimes quite fierce so that in the midst of all of these tests, we might grow in faith. Every test of faith we can pass, and when we do, our faith grows. But it’s important that when we’re being tested, we respond not just with a vague perseverance, but by growing in trust of God and in trust of all that he has promised, because he is faithful to his promises. The apostles’ question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” was definitively answered when “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” (How strange that in today’s Gospel verse, they use this beautiful phrase but Saint John but excise specifically the part saying “not perish but”!). The Lord hears our pleas to save us. He’s with us in the boat. We don’t need to be afraid. And the more faith we have in him, and the more we live by that faith, the less we will fear. The second lesson we learn is about Jesus’ fraternal correction of the apostles. He gently upbraids them: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus often wants to raise us up explicitly by summoning us to live by the faith we profess in all its consequences.
  • The importance of fraternal correction to help us grow in and live our faith is scene very powerfully in today’s first reading, which may be the most famous fraternal correction of all time. Yesterday if we hadn’t had the proper reading for the Memorial of SS. Timothy and Titus, we would have seen David’s four great sins, his breaking the ninth commandment and lustfully coveting his neighbor’s wife, his breaking the sixth commandment and committing adultery with his neighbor’s wife, his breaking the eighth commandment and duplicitously trying to cover it up after Bathsheba told him she was pregnant, and finally his breaking the fifth commandment by having this innocent man, loyal soldier and faithful husband struck down on the battlefield through an ultimate betrayal. All of these sins, however, flowed from his breaking the first commandment, by his forgetting God. He had lost a sense of sin, of his relationship with God. When he had committed the litany of atrocities, all he could think about was covering up, no matter what the cost. But God doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t want us to perish in our sins. He doesn’t want us to continue to harm others through sin. So he sends us the grace of conversion. In David’s case it happens through the fraternal correction by the prophet Nathan and his famous parable of the rich man who steals and slaughter’s his poor neighbor’s sole ewe lamb for a feast with a visitor rather than kill one of the many in his own flocks and herds. David’s conscience, which was blind to his own sin, wasn’t so corrupted as to be blind to the injustice and evil in that story. “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this merits death … because … he had no pity!” Then Nathan lowers the boom: “You are that man!” That’s when the eyes of David’s heart were opened to the evil he had done, just how despicable had been his actions. A similar blindness can happen today when someone destroys another person’s family, robbing a wife from a loving husband or a husband from a loving wife, forever altering the life of their kids, and pretending that he or she was doing all of this evil all because of “love.” The conscience has been eclipsed by lust, but not destroyed altogether. Even thieves end up recognizing that stealing is wrong when someone steals from them what they stole from others.  God likewise sends us Nathans. It may be a fellow sister who gives us a fraternal correction, whether or not it comes out the right way. It may be a family member who asks why we would do such a thing. It might be a friend who tells us that we’re heading down the wrong path. It may be a priest, or a teacher, or even an adversary. But God sends these instruments of his mercy — even when they don’t behave that way — to help us grow in faith precisely through crying out for and receiving his mercy, which brings us to the third point, which is precisely confession and throwing ourselves before God’s mercy.
  • David’s response to the revelation of his sins, to the fraternal correction received, is a model for everyone, no matter how much we’ve fallen. “I have sinned against the Lord!,” David said. He fasted. He lay on the ground in sackcloth. He did penance. He eventually wrote the beautiful Psalm we prayed today, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.  Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.  For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.  Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn.  … Cleanse me … that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.  … Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.  A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.  … I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.  Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.  Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.” David turned to the Lord for salvation, to be rescued from the death to which his sins naturally led. He related to him as a Savior and, having been forgiven, would spend the rest of his life proclaiming the praise of his mercy. Saint John Paul used to tell young people that the greatest path to maturity, both spiritual and existential, is through the Sacrament of Confession. By examining their consciences well, they see the many areas they need God in their life; by coming to confess what they’ve examined, they receive God’s help to plug up those holes where God’s help should have been asked for and implemented earlier. The Sacrament of Penance is an extraordinary means given by God to help us grow in faith and to calm whatever interior storms we’re facing. Nathan told David that the “sword shall never depart from your house” and that’s the sword we’ll hear about next Friday on the Feast of the Presentation when Simeon will tell Our Lady that Jesus will be a sign that will be contradicted, that his life will be for the resurrection and the ruin of many, and that her own heart a sword will pierce. But through Jesus’ being multiply pierced on Calvary, he as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the world and made resurrection possible. And when he rose from the dead, he established on the apostles the gift of the Sacrament of Penance so that just as the Father sent him to take away the sins of the world, they by the breathing of the Holy Spirit would be able to do the same, retaining and forgiving sins in the name of the Lord. That’s a beautiful sacrament Jesus established so that we wouldn’t perish. But do we have faith in him and what he has done?
  • Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Angela Merici (1474-1540), the foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, the first and the oldest teaching order of religious sisters in the history of the Church. She was one great in faith who from an early age recognized that God was calling her to help form the poor girls of her hometown in the faith so that they might know what God is asking of them and lovingly put it into practice. So she surrounded herself by other young women, eventually forming the Congregation of St. Ursula. Her whole life can be summarized by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19). She was one who obeyed God and spent her life forming sisters and with them countless children how to obey God, too. And she formed generations to trust in God’s mercy and be great in faith.
  • Through her intercession, let us ask God to create a clean heart in us and renew in us a steadfast spirit may grow, so that no matter how stormy the seas, no matter how violent the winds, no matter how fearsome the quakes, we may have confidence that through regularly receiving Jesus’ mercy we many not perish, but live in his Kingdom, remember God, hear his voice in conscience, and proclaim his praise, in this world and forever, as together with Him the boat of the Church reaches the eternal shore.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 SM 12:1-7A, 10-17

The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him,
Nathan said: “Judge this case for me!
In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers.
But the poor man had nothing at all
except one little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children.
She shared the little food he had
and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom.
She was like a daughter to him.
Now, the rich man received a visitor,
but he would not take from his own flocks and herds
to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb
and made a meal of it for his visitor.”
David grew very angry with that man and said to him:
“As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death!
He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold
because he has done this and has had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!
Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘The sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Thus says the LORD:
‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.
I will take your wives while you live to see it,
and will give them to your neighbor.
He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.
You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel,
and with the sun looking down.’”
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.
But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed,
the child born to you must surely die.”
Then Nathan returned to his house.
The LORD struck the child that the wife of Uriah had borne to David,
and it became desperately ill.
David besought God for the child.
He kept a fast, retiring for the night
to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth.
The elders of his house stood beside him
urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not,
nor would he take food with them.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

R. (12a) Create a clean heart in me, O God.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

MK 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”