The Holy Spirit’s Help in Making Us Faithful, Prayerful and Wise, Seventh Monday (II), May 16, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
May 16, 2016
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: 

  • In the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite of the Mass, used ubiquitously prior to 1970, there is a Pentecost Octave and then everything after Pentecost is liturgically related to it. There are two beautiful aspects of this. First, just like we have periods of preparation for Christmas (Advent) and Easter (Lent) and octaves and seasons celebrating both feasts, so after the decenarium of preparation for Pentecost, there was an octave and then an entire season celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council, there is no longer a Pentecost Octave and the relationship of Ordinary Time to the time of the Holy Spirit is no longer explicit. This is unfortunate. Blessed Pope Paul VI apparently found it unfortunate as well. Biographies of him describe that when he entered the sacristy on the Monday after Pentecost the first time the reforms were in vigor, he was startled to find green vestments and to recognize that he was the one who had signed off on these reforms. It would be great to recover this extended celebration of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, it is possible for us to celebrate Votive Masses of the Holy Spirit and to do out of devotion what everyone did out of liturgical fidelity.
  • So as we continue to ponder the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in us, today we can focus on three ways he helps us: to live a life of faith, to live a life of persevering prayer, which is faith in action, and to make us truly wise. We’re able to see this with the help of the scene today in St. Mark’s Gospel and the incisive pastoral advice given by St. James in the first reading.
  • In the Gospel scene of Jesus’ miraculous healing of the young boy afflicted with a demon who made him deaf, mute and it seems epileptic, we see that two things were necessary.
  • The first requirement for the miracle was true faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. 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. The Holy Spirit helps us to increase in faith, reminding us of all Jesus taught us, helping us to relate to God the Father as beloved sons and daughters, illumining our minds, inflaming our hearts, strengthening our weak flesh, as we pray in the Veni Creator Spiritus. This time of the Holy Spirit we have begun is a time of when the Holy Spirit wants to help us to cry out for greater faith because he precisely wants to give us that gift.
  • 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. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray and pray perseveringly. We don’t know how to pray as we ought, St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with ineffable sighs and helps us to cry out “Abba, Father!,” changing who we are as we pray so that we pray as beloved sons and daughters of God. He helps us to persevere in prayer. This Season of the Holy Spirit is a great time to let him help us to learn how to pray with greater perseverance. The Sisters of Life were founded 25 years ago by Cardinal O’Connor not just to be on the front lines of defending every human life but to be praying for life, so that the demons that lead people to try to put to death innocent fellow human beings rather than love and welcome them might be expunged from our culture and from individual hearts.
  • But we can ask: 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, presbyterates and even religious houses, and there are many who live by this fallen “wisdom.” We can grow bitter when others do well. And we can become ambitious not 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 and fill us with the Holy Spirit and his gift of wisdom. In the opening prayer for this Votive Mass we prayed, “O God who instructed the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that we may always be truly wise.” God wants to grant that gift of true wisdom that makes us humble, pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, constant and sincere.
  • How does he do that? There’s something very significant in how he worked the miracle in the Gospel. After Jesus prayed 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. And this is an action of the Holy Spirit in the Church who has been sent among us, as the prayer of absolution repeatedly reminds us, “for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • The place where the Holy Spirit leads us each day to experience this growth of faith, this persevering prayer of the Church from the rising of the Sun to its setting, and this absorption of true wisdom most takes place every day is here at Mass.  This is where Jesus raises us up. This is where the Holy Spirit seeks to transform us with his gifts and fruit that give joy to the heart!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JAS 3:13-18

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.

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.”
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