The Connection between Listening Well, Sanctity and Sin, 5th Friday (I), February 10, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Scholastica
February 10, 2017
Gen 3:1-8, Ps 32, Mk 7:31-37

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s first reading, we see the blow-by-blow details of what we call the “original sin,” but in it we see the essential physiognomy of any sin.
    • It begins with listening to God poorly, rather than attentively, hanging on his every word. God had told Adam that he wasn’t to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but as he passed that on to Eve, the details changed, as Eve said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'” Even though Adam’s and Eve’s eternal life depended on it, they hadn’t listened to God accurately. Every sin begins with a sin of listening. Pope Benedict mentions this in Verbum Domini, “Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with himself. Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear. … For this reason it is important that the faithful be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation” (26). In Hebrew, the same word is used for “hearing” and “obeying,” because it was inconceivable that one could hear God asking something and refuse to obey. In Latin the same relationship is stressed. The word to listen in Latin is audire and to obey is ob-audire, which means to listen intentively, to eavesdrop, to hang on every word. The first step in sin is to fail to listen to “every word that comes from God’s mouth,” not to treat what he says as the “words of everlasting life.”
    • The second aspect of the devil’s temptation was to get them to distrust God and trust him more than God. He said that they wouldn’t die if they totally did the opposite of what God had commanded and declared that God gave the command simply because he was jealous of his own divine status and didn’t want anyone else to become like him — even though his will from the beginning was to create us in his image and likeness and help us to live according to that image and likeness. The act of faith involves first trusting God and then trusting in what he says. The devil works back from distrusting what was said to getting them to distrust the one who said it. Today he’ll say things like, “You won’t die if you voluntarily miss a Sunday Mass. You won’t die if you follow your heart and pretend you’re married to someone whom you love but whom you haven’t yet wedded. You won’t die if you fail to forgive a family member who’s wronged you. You won’t die if you stiff someone in need who’s probably a con man anyway.” And he seeks to reel us in by that diabolical two-step of faulty hearing and distrust just as much as he hurt Adam and Eve.
    • The third step is concupiscence, getting us to seek smaller goods instead of more important goods or even the greatest good of all. The devil knows that he can’t tempt us by evil, because evil is unattractive. He must use some form of good. Today we see that “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” She began to desire those goods, real or imaginary, above the good of obedience, above the good of trust, above the good of even her life.
    • The fourth step is the physical committing of the sin to which the heart had already consented: “She took some of its fruit and ate it.”
    • The fifth step is to try to create a communion of sin. We think there’s safety in numbers. If we don’t feel good about where we are, we want others to join us. There are some solitary sins that we try to keep secret from everyone else, but then there are others — we can think about getting drunk or high, we can think about sadism, racism, sexual sins like going to strip clubs, etc. — in which people like to draw others into their sin. We see it here when Eve “also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
    • Lastly, there’s shame — coming from the fact that they know “knew … evil” they felt the need to protect oneself from others. Whereas previously “they were naked without shame,” now they “realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” Prior they trusted; after sin, they recognized their vulnerabilities before each other and protected their most vulnerable parts from each other. They would also try to hide themselves and their vulnerability from God, as we’ll see tomorrow. There was a three fold rupture: in their relationship with God, with each other, and within each of them, body and soul.
  • Jesus Christ came into the world to heal us and to help us resist this diabolical temptation. He wanted to change our hearing, our speaking and our heart. We see that in today’s Gospel. He healed the deaf mute’s hearing, so that he could tune into the God man’s voice. Then he healed his tongue so that he might speak to God and speak of God to others. To heal our hearing means to make it possible for us truly to hear and obey God.  Then he opened up our mouths, like he did the deaf mute, so that we would be able to speak of the love of God and help others to obey God not out of servile fear or duty but out of love. This is the grace of conversion and God gave us all that grace on the day of our baptism, when the minister of baptism didn’t put his saliva in our ears or spit on our tongue but did the ephathatha gesture, blessing our ears and mouth as he said, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May he touch your ears to receive his word and your lips to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father.” In response to the faulty hearing and distrust that leads to sin, God wants to change our senses and our heart so that we might hear, trust and obey. And once we’re able to hear God in that way, we can begin to tune in to the cries and needs of others. The Christian life involves this double listening.
  • Today we have an example of sacred listening to God in the life of St. Scholastica. Her brother St. Benedict would come to visit her only once a year because he thought certain other things were more important than keeping up a real communion. Men can through their work (their labora) sometimes be blind to the relational aspects of human existence that women perceive and value much more readily. Benedict was. He would visit his sister once a year. It was never enough for St. Scholastica’s desire for communion. Once when Benedict wanted to cut it short, Scholastica turned to God for the communion to be continued. It’s one of the most beautiful stories in hagiography. I quote from Saint Gregory the Great’s account: “Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: ‘Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.’ ‘Sister,’ he replied, ‘what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.’ When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: ‘May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?’ ‘Well,’ she answered, ‘I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.’ Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.” We see in this lesson that Benedict just presumed what God would want. He wasn’t listening. But he found in the way God listened to his sister to be opened up in a far more profound way.
  • Today as we celebrate this Mass, we ask the Lord to help us to hear and obey the saving word he proclaims to us in the Gospel, to hear it accurately, to treasure it, and to pass it on. We thank him for giving us the faith each day to act on his word to “do this” in his memory, as we now celebrate the greatest act of love of the one about whom they said in the Gospel, “He has done all things well!”

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 GN 3:1-8

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden
at the breezy time of the day,
the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.

Responsorial Psalm PS 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7

R. (1a) Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you
in time of stress.
Though deep waters overflow,
they shall not reach him.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.

Alleluia ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 7:31-37

Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”