Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome
June 30, 2015
Gen 19:15-29, Ps 26, Mt 8:23-27
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we see in the readings just how far God will go to save us and how we need to be open to how he saves us even when it seems that we’re perishing.
- In the first reading, in the encounter between the Angels of God and Lot, we see God’s will to save us from destruction. It’s a scene that is one example of the entire plan of God. The Angels tell Lot to get up and get on his way, together with his wife and daughters, prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sins. When Lot hesitates, the Angels “by the Lord’s mercy,” took him, his wives and daughters by the hands and led them out of the city, telling them to flee for their lives and not to look back with affection toward what they were leaving. We know what was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s saving Lot and his family from the destruction is an indication of how he tells us to flee from sin, to get out of near occasions, to get out of the conflagration of lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride that lead to self-destruction, and not to look back. When Lots’ wife disregarded the angels’ instructions and looked back, with curiosity or affection, to what was being left behind, she was turned, Genesis tells us, into a “pillar of salt,” a Hebrew idiom that basically means she died, being reduced to the salts carried in the human body. Yesterday, if we had had the readings of the day instead of those for the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul, we would have heard Abraham’s pleading with God not to destroy the cities if he could five 50, or 40, or 30, or 20, or 10 just people there. The fact that he couldn’t find even ten says how bad things were. And we’re not really even sure that Lot and his family would be numbered among the good, because they were being saved on account of Abraham. Ultimately, however, God acts in the world because he was able to find one just man, his Son, who had taken on our humanity, and for that reason saves the whole world from a destruction symbolized by the fiery furnace that became Sodom and Gomorrah.
- In the Gospel, this salvific will of the Lord seems to be in question. While the apostles — the early Church — was being attacked by waves such that experienced fishermen thought they were about to die, Jesus was asleep in the boat. It’s a sign of just how tired physically he must have been: can you imagine sleeping in a situation like that? In St. Mark’s account, when the disciples awaken him, they ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Their essential lack of faith was that they didn’t believe God cared for them, that God was listening, when they were perishing. But Jesus’ whole incarnation is a response to that doubt. The Father sent his Son into the world not to condemn it but so that it might not perish but have eternal life. But he waits on his response, he appears to be asleep, precisely to help us grow in faith and come to the fulfillment of faith in eternal life with him.
- These are important lessons for us to ponder four days after the Supreme Court in Obergefell pretended that marriage could be a wife-less or husband-less institution, after the Supreme Court basically pronounced good the very homosexual conduct that God showed us in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was sinful. Some will try to argue that the essential sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, but we know what form that inhospitality took: same-sex sexual molestation, pressuring guests to enter into same-sex relations. Now our whole culture is being besieged with an ideology to reorder society based on pretending that same-sex relations are fine and ought to be codified in law and treated the same way we treat what God created in the beginning to be the loving, life-giving union of a man and a woman that leads to a family that is meant to resemble God’s own Trinitarian communion of persons. And this decision came down during the Fortnight for Freedom, precisely when we were praying that such eventualities not occur. Is God asleep? Is he deaf? Does he not care? Can he not find 10 just people? These cultural storms will provide a huge test of faith for us, just like the tempest on the Sea of Galilee did for the disciples of the early Church. And God will help our faith grow. And it’s through doing so that he may help us to be the signs of the conversion our culture most needs, because it will be through our faith under duress that our message will be heard far more than in tranquility, because we will give witness to the world that these are truths worth suffering and even dying for.
- This truth is also illustrated in the feast we celebrate today, that of the first martyrs of the Church of Rome. After Nero had set fire to the city of Rome in order to rebuild it to his own glory, destroying 10 of the 14 sections of Rome and killing many of the inhabitants, the Romans blamed him and he needed a scapegoat. He found one in the first Christians who had a reputation of being an atheist, cannibalistic, promiscuous sect: atheist because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods and would get the gods angry at everyone; cannibalistic because when they got together to worship God they were said to eat someone’s body and drank his blood; and promiscuous because after that worship they would have a big “agape” meal, a love banquet, which was interpreted as an orgy. They wouldn’t have many defenders. And things got stormy for the Christians right away, the equivalent of a hurricane, a tornado and an earthquake all at the same time. On October 13, 64, a few months after the July 19 fire that destroyed Rome, Peter and the first Christians were rounded up in the Circus of Caligula and Nero for a game in which they would be killed as arsonists supposedly for destroying the city of Rome. They had prayed and it might have seemed God was asleep, but through their testimony, and that of martyrs after them, God was going to help convert the Roman empire. We have an eyewitness account of what they suffered from the Roman pagan historian Tacitus, who was a 7 year old boy there in the circus when the Christians perished. A few decades later, he wrote down what happened: “To get rid of this rumor, Nero set up [i.e., falsely accused] as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christ, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for a moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome…. Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed [to being Christians]; then, on their evidence, an immense multitude [elsewhere in his writings he used this expression to refer to 3,000 to 5,000 men] was convicted…. Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.” With Peter, they followed the Lord Jesus as others stretched out their hands and dragged them to places where according to the flesh they would never want to go. But immediately after their torture Christ’s plans for their salvation were brought to fulfillment. Rather than conquering the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven, God overcame the evil with good, irrigating the soil of Rome with what it would need for the Church to grow. And their example led to the salvation of many others.
- It’s important that we approach the subject of their martyrdom, and our own, from the perspective of a “both … and” rather than an “either … or.” I’m always a little upset when people talk about the martyrdom of Christians either exclusively as a terrible tragedy or exclusively as something glorious, as if we should be congratulating Mary for the brutal crucifixion of her Son and her other sons and daughters. From a human perspective, it’s terrible and disgusting. From a supernatural perspective, we know that once dead, the martyrs live forever with joy and glory in God. But we need to merge both perspectives in a both… and. We pray that no Christian needs to be martyred, that no one has to suffer on account of our faith, but we recognize at the same time that martyrdom and suffering are among the greatest proclamations of faith, among the greatest means by which we give witness to Christ and show our truest character. So today is a sad day in which a vast multitude of Christian men and women, boys and girls, were killed in horrible ways; but it’s also day in which we celebrate the faith of those who were able to look to Jesus even in the midst of these horrors and give their lives out of love for him who gave his life out of love for them first. Similarly with what we in the United States will have to endure as a result of the persecution that is about to come, there is an aspect of it that should sadden and anger us deeply as citizens and as believers, but there’s also a side in which this will be the occasion for us to give our greatest testimony to Christ the Bridegroom. It’s a both … and. And we know that Jesus is not asleep, but he is with us in the boat in the midst of the oncoming storms, so we really have nothing of which to be ultimately afraid.
- The way God gives us each day to get ready to be faithful in big things is the Mass. As we die to ourselves so that he can live, he trains us to be able to die to ourselves and live in him when we have to do so supremely. He comes to be with us not just on the outside but on the inside. This is what strengthened the first members of the Church to remain faithful and this is what will strengthen us, to heed God’s word to flee from the corruption and not look back, to become the salt of the earth rather than dead pillars of salt, and to become angels going out to the world to lead them to the same salvation Christ came into this world to give us. The Lord’s mercy is indeed before our eyes and we are not only about to see our salvation, but ingest it!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 GN 19:15-29
Take with you your wife and your two daughters who are here,
or you will be swept away in the punishment of Sodom.”
When he hesitated, the men, by the LORD’s mercy,
seized his hand and the hands of his wife and his two daughters
and led them to safety outside the city.
As soon as they had been brought outside, he was told:
“Flee for your life!
Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain.
Get off to the hills at once, or you will be swept away.”
“Oh, no, my lord!” Lot replied,
“You have already thought enough of your servant
to do me the great kindness of intervening to save my life.
But I cannot flee to the hills to keep the disaster from overtaking me,
and so I shall die.
Look, this town ahead is near enough to escape to.
It’s only a small place.
Let me flee there–it’s a small place, is it not?–
that my life may be saved.”
“Well, then,” he replied,
“I will also grant you the favor you now ask.
I will not overthrow the town you speak of.
Hurry, escape there!
I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”
That is why the town is called Zoar.The sun was just rising over the earth as Lot arrived in Zoar;
at the same time the LORD rained down sulphurous fire
upon Sodom and Gomorrah
from the LORD out of heaven.
He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain,
together with the inhabitants of the cities
and the produce of the soil.
But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.Early the next morning Abraham went to the place
where he had stood in the LORD’s presence.
As he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah
and the whole region of the Plain,
he saw dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace.Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain,
he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval
by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.
Responsorial Psalm PS 26:2-3, 9-10, 11-12
Search me, O LORD, and try me;
test my soul and my heart.
For your mercy is before my eyes,
and I walk in your truth.
R. O Lord, your mercy is before my eyes.
Gather not my soul with those of sinners,
nor with men of blood my life.
On their hands are crimes,
and their right hands are full of bribes.
R. O Lord, your mercy is before my eyes.
But I walk in integrity;
redeem me, and have mercy on me.
My foot stands on level ground;
in the assemblies I will bless the LORD.
R. O Lord, your mercy is before my eyes.
Alleluia PS 130:5
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 8:23-27
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”