The Journey of Faith Jesus Asks of Us, 4th Monday of Lent, March 27, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
March 27, 2017
Is 65:17-21, Ps 30, Jn 4:43-54


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 encounter the prelude to yesterday’s Laetare Sunday. The Church on the Fourth Sunday of Lent begins the Liturgy with with God’s message, “Laetare, Ierusalem!,” found in the 66th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah. Today we read from what immediately preceded that holy imperative in the 65th chapter, God’s promise to the Jews in Babylonian exile that he was going to make a new heaven and a new earth that will be full of rejoicing. God wants to recreate us, to renew us, to give us a totally new start. The prayers of today’s Mass are all about this renewal. We started Mass praying, “O God, who renew the world through mysteries beyond all telling.” When we offer the gifts to God, we’ll ask him to receive them and grant us the grace to “be cleansed from old earthly ways and renewed by growth in heavenly life.” After Communion, we’ll pray that the gift of the Mass will “give us life by making us new, and by sanctifying us, lead us to things eternal.” The whole purpose of the Lenten season from God’s perspective is to make us new — a source of great joy! — and the whole purpose of the Lenten season from our perspective ought to be to cooperate in that renewal. The renewal God wants to give us is a renewal in faith, to help our faith grow. Yesterday St. John told us in the Gospel that Jesus came into the world as light, but we need to use our freedom to follow him by the light of faith out of darkness. He gave that assistance to grow in faith, to journey with him into the light of faith, to the royal official in today’s Gospel — and through him to all the members of his household.
  • This royal official, as soon as he heard that Jesus had returned to Galilee, went out to meet him. The distance between Capernaum and Cana is 20 miles and the father, out of love for his son, walked it in search of Jesus. It was quite a humbling thing that the dad did, not only journeying that distance but desperately placing his trust in a Jewish carpenter, something that for a royal official likely could have brought him much derision and possibly have been a terrible career move. He journeyed out of last-ditch hope, but Jesus was going to take advantage of the situation not only to heal his son but to bring him and his family to faith. Jesus was going to test this man in a similar way to how he helped the Syro-Phoenician mother, whose daughter was possessed by a demon, grow in faith in Tyre. The royal official asked him “to come down and heal his son,” to make the long journey with him and touch his son to cure him like he had heard Jesus had done to many others in Capernaum and elsewhere. But Jesus responded, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Seeing would be believing for him. Jesus would say after the resurrection to doubting Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen but believed.” Jesus wanted to bring this man to real faith, faith not only in Jesus as a person but faith in what he said. The royal official impatiently wasn’t interested in the larger points about seeing and believing but in the cure of his son. He pleaded with Jesus, “Sir, come down before my son dies!” That’s when Jesus said to him, “You may go. Your son will live.” It was a supreme test of faith, whether he would believe in Jesus enough to believe in his word. It would have been tempting to think Jesus may have been blowing him off, that he didn’t want to be bothered with the journey, or other distractions. But as St. John tells us, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” And we know that along the at least 7 hour journey back, he was intercepted by his servants who told him that his son had gotten better. He could have simply rejoiced as if it were a coincidence, but he asked at what time he was cured, to verify what his faith had told him, and he was told at the very hour when Jesus had told him that his son would live. St. John concludes by saying, “He and his whole household came to believe.” He helped his family grow to faith that it was precisely Jesus’ healing word that worked the miracle.
  • (I would say as an important aside that many people conflate this miracle with the healing of the Centurion’s servant at a distance (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10), but there are too many divergent elements. Both the royal official and the Centurion were from Capernaum, but with the royal official’s son the miracle took place in Cana, with the Centurion’s servant it happened in Capernaum itself; Jesus challenged the royal official’s faith; he praised the Centurion’s for being greater than all the faith he had found in Israel; the royal official begged Jesus to come to his home; the Centurion said he wasn’t worthy to receive Jesus under his roof; the royal official was likely Jewish; the Centurion was definitely pagan. Not only were the men different, but the lessons Jesus drew were different).
  • The Lord Jesus wants us to help us to grow to a similar responsiveness as we see in the royal official, to walk by his word in faith, to trust in his word, to journey according to his promises. Three years ago during his homily for Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent, Pope Francis tried to draw our attention to how Jesus calls us all to follow the royal official on the journey of faith. He said that there are three types of believers who need three different types of conversions in Lent.
  • The first is comprised of those who believe but don’t journey. He said that they’re closed in on themselves with a weak hope. They believe in God and in heaven and that all things work out for the good, but they’re not really seeking the Lord, they’re not living by faith. Faith is just a small part of their life. Pope Francis says that they keep the commandments and precepts, but they’re closed to the way that the Lord wants them to treat him as the true Lord of their life. “The Lord cannot make them leaven among his people because they are not journeying.” These are people, we can say, who believe in baptism but don’t really reject Satan, his evil works and empty promises with resolve and who don’t really entrust themselves to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit wholeheartedly. They believe in power of prayer but just don’t make the time for it. They believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist but don’t make it a priority to come to receive God within as often as they can. They believe in God’s mercy but rarely come to receive it. They believe in the inspiration of Sacred Scripture but never study  it or meditate on it. The 20 mile journey each way of the royal official is an inspiration for them to put the effort into acting on what they believe. They need to convert and grasp that it’s not just repenting for sins that the Lord wants of us but truly to believe and live the Gospel.
  • The second group of people who need to learn from the scene in the Gospel about how to walk by faith, Pope Francis says, is that of those who have mistaken the road to take. They’re moving, but they’re not moving along the narrow road that leads to life. Pope Francis says, “All of us sometimes have made mistakes about the road to take. This we know. The problem is not so much having taken the wrong path. The problem is not returning [to the right path] when we realize that we’ve taken a wrong one.” This happens to people who, for example, stop practicing the faith for a time to go down the path of work especially on the Lord’s day. This is the path of someone who, seeking love, engages in a lifestyle incompatible with the Gospel. This is the route taken by those who define themselves by their hurts and animosities, nourishing their resentments rather than seeking God’s help to forgive and move on. Pope Francis is clear about the response that’s needed for members of this group during Lent. “If I have chosen a wrong path, just go to confession and take up again the narrow road.”
  • The third group of people, Pope Francis says, are in the “most danger.” He says that these people are moving, including moving often down the right path, but they’re doing so as a form of “existential tourism.” “They’re moving,” Pope Francis notes, “but turning as if life were a type of existential tourism, without a goal, without taking God’s promises seriously.” They are deceived because they say to themselves, “I’m walking,” but Pope Francis says, “You’re not journeying. You’re just turning around.” As someone who has led thousands of people to the holy sites in Rome and elsewhere I’ve seen that there’s a huge difference between those who are “tourists” and those who are “pilgrims.” Tourists, for example, come to St. Peter’s and take thousands of photos. They’ll listen to explanations and say that they find the history “interesting” or even “fascinating,” but they’re just going from beautiful experience to beautiful experience. There’s no real direction because they’re seeking to be entertained, to have diversions, perhaps to learn some trivia, but they’re really not taking all of the experiences seriously. Pilgrims on the other hand visit the same shrines but with a totally different spirit. Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, they want to imitate St. Peter’s faithful witness to Christ. Visiting the tomb of St. Therese in Lisieux, they want to follow her along the little way of spiritual childhood. Ascending the Mount of the Beatitudes, they want to become people who enflesh the Beatitudes. Pope Francis says we have many “existential tourists” today, those who go from one experience to the next in the Christian life but who are not really heading in the direction. Even when they’re on the outside doing all the right things — coming to Mass, praying before they go to bed, trying to be charitable — they’re doing all of these in a somewhat episodic way, without genuine intentionality. “They are moving in life but they never make a step forward,” the Pope says. They’re living life going from one experience to the next rather than trying to unite their whole life, their present, their pastor, their future to the Lord. They can be those in most danger because they don’t realize that the Lord doesn’t just want movement but he wants us to follow him. The response, Pope Francis says, is to focus much more on the Lord’s promises and seek them. We heard about those promises in the first reading in God’s telling us through Isaiah about the new Jerusalem, about the civilization of love and life that is his kingdom, something that we’re supposed to enter into not just later, but now. But we need to orient our whole life toward that city.
  • In contrast to all three of these paths, Pope Francis said that we see the father in today’s Gospel, who shows us what the Lord is asking of us. He shows us how to look at the promises of God, how to go forward toward this promises believing in the word of God.
  • Today we come forward to Mass, to meet the same Jesus the royal official met in Cana, and Jesus wants to do in us an even greater miracle than he did for this man’s son. We haven’t journeyed for 20 miles on foot — some of you have come down just a floor! — but nevertheless we journeyed to get to this chapel. Jesus wants to give himself to us on the inside so that we can begin to journey in communion with him all the way to the Father’s home, to the new heavens and the new earth, and to the joyful fulfillment of all his promises. And Jesus hopes that once Mass is done and we’ve been renewed in faith, we will go out to spread the faith so that so many others may join or journey more deeply into his household.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 65:17-21

Thus says the LORD:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 30:2 AND 4, 5-6, 11-12A AND 13B

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
“Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

JN 4:43-54

At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.