The Incarnate Theophany of the Mass and Our Response, Fifth Monday (II), February 10, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Saint Scholastica, Virgin
February 10, 2014
1 Kings 8:1-7.9-13, Ps 132, Mk 6:53-56

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We encounter in the first reading today one of the most important scenes in the Old Testament, one that has an enormous significance for us as Christians to help us to grasp one of the most essential lessons in Christian life. We see the inauguration of the Temple of Jerusalem by King Solomon. His father David who wanted to build a house for the Lord was stopped by the Lord who rather wanted to build a house for David (which he fulfilled in the incarnation of David’s 28th generation grandson according to the flesh and God’s only begotten Son generated before the foundation of the world). But David prepared most of what was needed for his son Solomon to build the Temple after David’s death. Four years into his reign as king, Solomon began the building of the Temple. It took seven years to complete and edifice and another few years to do the decorations and get everything else ready to use it. But, finally, after all of that preparation and hard work, they were ready to dedicate it. They sacrificed “too many sheep and oxen to count.” The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant containing within the tablets of the Ten Commandments into the Holy of Holies and placed them beneath the sculpted wings of the cherubim. But then the most important thing happened: God came. He came in the form of a cloud, the Jewish shekinah, just like he used to appear to the Israelites in the desert during the exodus. “The cloud filled the temple of the Lord … since the Lord’s glory had filled the temple of the Lord.” It’s often said that religion is God’s search for man, which is true to a point, but what’s distinctive about the history of salvation is that it details God’s search for man. Pope Francis talks about the mystery of primerear, that God always precedes us; we’re searching for him but when we find him, we discover that he was there waiting for us first. In the cloud signifying God’s holy presence, God came to encounter his people. He wanted to have a stable place by which he could meet them, guide them, help them and change them. The most important thing about the temple was God’s theophany, God’s self-manifestation. It wasn’t how many sacrifices were made there on the part of man to God. The essential is that God was there to meet man.
  • This morning in the Vatican Pope Francis gave one of his greatest daily Mass homilies yet as Pope applying this understanding of God’s theophany to what we are privileged to experience in the incarnate theophany of Jesus in the Eucharist and how we should respond to it. He first stressed that in the celebration of the Mass something happens that is far more significant that all of our other prayers, from our personal prayers, our meditation on the Rosary, our reenactments of Biblical events that take place in Christmas Pageants, Passion Plays, Stations of the Cross and the like. The main point is not what we do — just as the main point about the Temple in Jerusalem was not the innumerable body count of animals sacrificed — but the fact that God has come to meet us, and in the Mass he meets us in something far more significant than he met the Jews in the cloud. Pope Francis preached this morning, “The Lord speaks to His people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Sacred Scriptures. But with  theophanies, He speaks in another way. … He speaks with his presence. This is what happens in the liturgical celebration. The Mass is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present. In the Mass, in fact, the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”
  • He went on to say, “When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t reenact a representation of the Last Supper. … No, it is something else: it is the Last Supper itself! It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We sometimes hear or  say, ‘But I can’t go to Mass now,’ or ‘I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in. It is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us. … The Mass is a theophany. God draws near and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.”
  • Our approach to the Mass must reflect this understanding. Pope Francis brought up a point that I’ve stressed throughout my priesthood, that we can’t or shouldn’t come to Mass looking at our watches and “counting the minutes.” Mass is not meant to be a McDonald’s drive through fast-food experience, as if we’re just trying to fulfill our duty as quickly as possible so that we can then go on to things that are more important to us. Pope Francis said that counting the minutes is “not the attitude that the liturgy requires of us: the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there, in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.” If we’re too concerned about time, then basically what we’re saying to God is, “Hey, Lord, can you wrap this meeting up? I’ve got other things I want to be doing than being in your presence.” This is the reason why many priests remove their watches before they approach the altar, so that they remember they’re meeting the eternal God and that they concern themselves more with entering into the mystery of his presence and pleasing him rather than seeking to please those who are in an unholy rush. The Liturgy, Pope Francis said, “is God’s time. It’s God’s space. It is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us.” And he said, “We would do well today to ask the Lord to give each of us this ‘sense of the sacred,’ that … in this celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into something we cannot control. … Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”
  • And once we grasp the theophany of God in the Mass it changes the way we interact with others. In the Gospel today, we see what happened when Jesus and the apostles disembarked in Gennesaret. Even though the people of that time don’t realize what we realize today — that Jesus, the human nature he assumed from us in the person of the Blessed Virgin is the definitive temple where God’s glory dwells among us — they did grasp that in Jesus God had visited his people. And so, St. Mark tells us, “They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats
    to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Is that our reaction to Jesus? We recognize that the same Jesus who came to Gennesaret comes here to Fall River every morning. In fact, he lives here in this Church, in this Tabernacle. Do we scurry about Fall River and the whole surrounding region seeking to bring to Jesus those who are sick physically, or emotionally, or morally, or spiritually? Do we carry them in on mats, push them in in wheel chairs, drive them in with cards, carry them in on our shoulders? The same Jesus who healed so many there who merely touched the tassel on his cloak allows people to do far more here: he allows them, if they’re ready, to receive Him within them. And he can work great miracles. But we need to care about those who surround us, about those who need prayers, about those who need God, just like the people in ancient Galilee.
  • Last week I received a beautiful email from a parishioner about what happened when she brought people and their prayer intentions with her on the first night of Eucharistic adoration here. I’ll let her email take it from here: “I took Allison Gingras’ advice that she presented in the social media training at the parish and asked folks on Facebook to send me their prayer intentions before I headed out for my hour of Eucharistic adoration. I wasn’t expecting much….. Surprise!!! I received at least 20  intentions, plus I had my own. This disturbed me a little, actually knowing the pain, worry and suffering that my friends and some complete strangers were going through. I felt weighed down in the days before going to meet the Lord in adoration. The most painful request came from a friend that I haven’t seen or spoken to in a few years. She told me that her daughter had been missing for a while and that she was very, very worried about her. I took that intention into prayer last Thursday night. After I was finished praying for this intention and the others during Adoration, this friend texted me and told me that her daughter had called her and that she was alive and safe! Wow!  She then told me that she had been hesitant in asking for a prayer request, but she felt that I was so sincere in my post, that she trusted me enough to pray! And her daughter is home!  I’d like to think that my prayer was just that little bit that needed to get this girl home to her family. Not bad for a beginner! I’m psyched and can’t wait until the next time of adoration so that I can continue praising God and asking for his mercy!” She brought her friends and her friends’ intentions to prayer and the Lord heard her prayers. We should always be enormously grateful to the Lord whenever he answers prayers like this, but as Catholics, we should never be surprised. The same Lord is here who out of compassion healed so many in Galilee. He loves us enough to come here to meet us, to be with us, to allow us to enter into his, his presence, his glory. And our reaction ought to be to try to bring everyone we know here to experience the same joy of healing and loving  with God.
  • Awareness of God’s presence here in his continuous Eucharistic theophany changes the way we go about life. I’d like to finish with a story from St. Scholastica, whom the Church celebrates today. She was the fraternal twin of St. Benedict. She had with his help founded a monastery of Benedictine nuns about five miles from the Abbey of Monte Cassino where St. Benedict lived with his monks. They would see each other once a year in a stable on the property of the Abbey, because women were not allowed in the monastery. There they would converse about God. During their last visit, which took place three days before St. Scholastica died on this day in the year 542, when St. Scholastica recognized that dusk was beginning to descend and that her brother and his monks would need to return to the monastery, she begged him to stay a little longer. He said that he couldn’t, that the rule he had prevented it. So she bowed her head, folded her hands, closed her eyes, and prayed. Almost immediately a ferocious thunderstorm developed in the sky that previously didn’t have a cloud in it and the monks turned to St. Benedict and said that there was no way they could ascend the mountain until the storm abated. The storm would last all night. Benedict, knowing what had happened, turned to his sister and said, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” With no shame, St. Scholastica said, “I ask a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it!” She was so aware of God’s presence that she had no hesitation to ask him for a favor, confident that he would hear her. Three days later she would depart this world into his eternal presence. As we come forward to encounter the same Lord who granted her prayer, we ask her intercession to help us learn how to pray with similar confidence.
  • The Mass, as Pope Francis reminds us today, is God’s continuous theophany. As we come into communion with Him who is the definitive temple, he wants to make us likewise into the temple of his presence in the middle of the world. He wants to dwell within us like he dwells in the monstrance and in the tabernacle. The glory of the Lord is not only about to come down upon this chapel, but upon each of us. Let us ask the Lord for the graces we need to grasp this reality, to let it transform our life, and to inspire us to scurry about seeking to bring all we know to participate in this most important reality in human life.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 8:1-7, 9-13

The elders of Israel and all the leaders of the tribes,
the princes in the ancestral houses of the children of Israel,
came to King Solomon in Jerusalem,
to bring up the ark of the LORD’s covenant
from the City of David, which is Zion.
All the people of Israel assembled before King Solomon
during the festival in the month of Ethanim (the seventh month).
When all the elders of Israel had arrived,
the priests took up the ark;
they carried the ark of the LORD
and the meeting tent with all the sacred vessels
that were in the tent.
(The priests and Levites carried them.)King Solomon and the entire community of Israel
present for the occasion
sacrificed before the ark sheep and oxen
too many to number or count.
The priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD
to its place beneath the wings of the cherubim in the sanctuary,
the holy of holies of the temple.
The cherubim had their wings spread out over the place of the ark,
sheltering the ark and its poles from above.
There was nothing in the ark but the two stone tablets
which Moses had put there at Horeb,
when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel
at their departure from the land of Egypt.When the priests left the holy place,
the cloud filled the temple of the LORD
so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud,
since the LORD’s glory had filled the temple of the LORD.
Then Solomon said, “The LORD intends to dwell in the dark cloud;
I have truly built you a princely house,
a dwelling where you may abide forever.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 132:6-7, 8-10

R. (8a) Lord, go up to the place of your rest!
Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us enter into his dwelling,
let us worship at his footstool.
R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest!
Advance, O LORD, to your resting place,
you and the ark of your majesty.
May your priests be clothed with justice;
let your faithful ones shout merrily for joy.
For the sake of David your servant,
reject not the plea of your anointed.
R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest!

Gospel
MK 6:53-56

After making the crossing to the other side of the sea,
Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret
and tied up there.
As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him.
They scurried about the surrounding country
and began to bring in the sick on mats
to wherever they heard he was.
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.