Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Beginning of the Octave of Christian Unity
Start of the Nine Days for Life Novena of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
January 18, 2014
1 Sam 9:1-4.17-19.10:1, Ps 21, Mk 2:13-17
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel we see in a powerful way Jesus’ mission and the constant mission of the Church. Jesus taught the crowds and then he put his teaching into action. Seeing Levi (Matthew) at his tax collectors post — where, like other tax collectors, he would rip off his own people for profit, giving the Romans what they assessed and using the military to force out of his fellow Jews whatever more he could get so that he could keep it for himself — Jesus called this notorious public sinner to follow him, to leave his money behind, to leave his sins behind, and follow him down a path not of grasping but of giving. Matthew was so moved by being given this second chance, this salvation, that he called together all of us his friends, who likewise had a reputation, probably well-earned, of being notorious sinners, so that they, likewise, could meet Jesus and encounter the Lamb of God who had come to liberate them from their sins. It was too much for some of the scribes and Pharisees, however. They complained to Jesus’ new disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their attitude was to separate themselves as far as possible from sinners, to let the sinners sleep in their iniquitous beds and die in their sins, failing to recognize, of course, that they, too, were sinners, and if Jesus abided by that principle they would themselves be cut off from salvation. Jesus, however, hearing what they were saying, said one of the most important lines in the entire Gospel: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
- Yesterday, we heard the powerful Gospel of the healing of the paralyzed man, first his sins, then to show that Jesus had the power to heal sins, his paralysis. All of us, likewise, have been paralyzed in our lives by temptations, by sinful choices or even habits. We are all in need of Jesus’ healing. To the extent that we have received a Christian calling, a Christian vocation — and we all have — we must remember that we have received it insofar as we are sinners. Jesus came to call sinners. The entire mission of the Church is, like Matthew, to host a banquet for sinners so that other sinners, just like us, can encounter Jesus and the liberating power of his merciful love.
- Back in September, in a famous interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, Pope Francis said that the Church is a field hospital on a battlefield, where all people, wounded by sin, are invited to come to experience the compassion and healing of the Divine Physician. The first action of the Church, he said, has to be to heal wounds, to offer Jesus’ mercy, to those who have been maimed in the various battles of life. To the extent that we have been healed in that same hospital free of charge, we’re called to collaborate in that mission of bringing others to receive that same gift. Just as it would be absurd for a hospital only to treat the healthy, so it’s absurd for the Church to look at herself as a place only for saints, rather than sinners, for people who please us rather than sin against us, God and others.
- This truly Christian mentality of the Church as a hospital offering mercy for others together with Jesus the Divine Physician, as a banquet for sinners who seek to be healed, can help us to appreciate a little better two invitations to prayer that begin today.
- The first is the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, which starts today and continues through next Saturday, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, who labored so much for the unity of believers in the early Church. Since the Protestant Reformation, there have been many periods in which Catholics and Protestants have looked at each other as enemies rather than as separated brothers and sisters, focusing more on what we don’t have in common theologically than the much more that we retain, especially our love for Jesus, for his Word, for others. We certainly have in common our baptism, which means that we are both beloved sons and daughters of God and therefore spiritual siblings. We need to respect that reality. In today’s first reading, Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. Much later, after Saul displeased the Lord and had Samuel anointed David as king and successor of Saul while Saul was still living and Saul began to attack David seeking to kill him, David had plenty of opportunities to slay Saul, but he never did, because Saul was anointed by God. David refused to attack the one God had anointed. The reality is that by valid baptism, every Christian has been anointed by God and we should look at each other as beloved siblings, rather than spiritual enemies. The Church Christ founded is a hospital for the reconciliation of sinners and we need to model that by our attempts at reconciliation with each other. We pray for that grace during this Octave for Christian Unity, making our own Jesus’ prayers from the first Mass that we might all be one with the unity that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- The second period of prayer that begins today is the Nine Days for Life, a new initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Apostolate, led by Cardinal O’Malley, which envelopes in prayer the witness of Christians in our country to life as we mark the horrible 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22. This prayer seeks to offer mercy to a world that is so wounded that it slaughters its future, assassinating another child in the womb every 23 seconds in our country alone. Sometimes in the history of the pro-life movement, Christians have taken on the mentality of soldiers in a war zone attacking the enemies that support the destruction of innocent human life. It’s been us versus them, the good guys against the bad guys. Today’s readings and Pope Francis’ words remind us that fundamentally we’re not supposed to be warriors on the battlefield but nurses working alongside the Divine Physician to heal the wounds of this world, seeking to offer mercy and help others experience it and share it, mercy for women who have made tragic choices, mercy in saving the life of the children whose silent screams can’t be heard, mercy for personnel who have carried out this diabolical slaughter, mercy for politicians and citizens who have supported this grisly practice. As we pray throughout this novena for life, we’re asking God for mercy for ourselves, for them, for our culture. The Lord has come to call sinners and therefore he calls us all of us from the culture of death into his life saving hospital.
- After he himself experienced Jesus’ mercy, Matthew called his friends, fellow sinners, to experience the same healing love in a banquet with Jesus. Today Matthew joins us at this daily banquet for sinners in the refectory of the hospital that is the Church. We begin this Mass remembering who we are, confessing ourselves to be people who have “greatly sinned” through our own “most grievous fault,” crying out “Lord, have mercy,” proclaiming that we’re not worthy to receive him under our roof, but begging him to say the word, to forgive us, and make us capable. And we make that prayer not for ourselves individually but for all of us, turning to the Lamb of God and asking him to have mercy on “us” together. Today at this great banquet of Christian unity, this great feast of life, we ask him to help each of us become the Matthews of our day, inviting all those we know— the fellow sinners in our families, among our friends, in our neighborhoods, our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, even those caught up in the practice of abortion — to come to experience the same healing in this great hospital we ourselves have received. Jesus came to call sinners. And our mission is as reconciled sinners to go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord, the Good News that salvation from sins is possible, so that one day we may all be reunited in that banquet of eternal life among saved sinners in the heavenly Jerusalem.
These were the readings for today’s Mass:
1 SM 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
who was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror,
son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite.
He had a son named Saul, who was a handsome young man.
There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul;
he stood head and shoulders above the people.Now the asses of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off.
Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you
and go out and hunt for the asses.”
Accordingly they went through the hill country of Ephraim,
and through the land of Shalishah.
Not finding them there,
they continued through the land of Shaalim without success.
They also went through the land of Benjamin,
but they failed to find the animals.When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD assured him,
“This is the man of whom I told you; he is to govern my people.”
Saul met Samuel in the gateway and said,
“Please tell me where the seer lives.”
Samuel answered Saul: “I am the seer.
Go up ahead of me to the high place and eat with me today.
In the morning, before dismissing you,
I will tell you whatever you wish.”
Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head;
he also kissed him, saying:
“The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage.
You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel,
and to save them from the grasp of their enemies roundabout.
“This will be the sign for you
that the LORD has anointed you commander over his heritage.”
PS 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
For you made him a blessing forever;
you gladdened him with the joy of your face.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus,
sitting at the customs post.
Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Jesus.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”