The Mercy of God’s Amazing, Astonishing, Authoritative Word, First Tuesday (II), January 12, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
January 12, 2016
1 Sam 1:9-20, 1 Sam 2:1-8, Mk 1:21-28

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  •  During the Year of Mercy, it’s key for us to ponder how the Lord mercifully loves us and how we respond to that love. The evangelists Mark and Matthew both tell us that once when Jesus looked over the vast crowds his heart was moved with pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things. His mercy led him to teach. The ancient Jews would pray in the Psalms, like Psalm 86, “Teach us your ways, O Lord, that we may walk in your truth.” To instruct the ignorant is such a crucial spiritual work of mercy because ignorance is a real handicap: one who doesn’t walk in the light of the truth really suffers and causes suffering. And so it’s key for us, at the beginning of Ordinary Time in this Year of Mercy, to ponder Jesus’ mercy in teaching and to reflect on our response to it. Today’s Gospel gives us a great chance to do it.
  • Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. All those who listened to him, St. Mark tells us, were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not like the scribes.” He then showed the tremendous power of his authoritative words by silencing and casting a demon out of a man. That amazed the crowd even further. They asked, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
  • The same Jesus who entered the Capernaum synagogue enters this chapel today. After he speaks “live” in the Gospel as it is proclaimed, he who created the heavens and the earth with his word, who called fishermen and tax collectors to follow him so powerfully that they immediately got up and did so, will do something far more amazing than cast out a devil or silence a storm at sea. He will change bread and wine into his body and blood and cast himself into believers. If we recognize what is really going on, if we awaken to the power of his words, we will be far more amazed than Jesus’ contemporaries two millennia ago.
  • Jesus teaches unlike any other teacher. His contemporaries said he “taught with authority, unlike the scribes.” The scribes always used to cite the Torah or the Prophets or Jewish tradition, to base their teachings on the authority of the word of God.  “There’s a verse that says…” “Moses taught…” and so on. They did this, of course, because, as we will see in the Gospel, there was a gap between what God taught and commanded and what they themselves practiced. Jesus, on the other hand, taught as one with authority. As we’ll see throughout his public ministry, he’ll say things like, “You heard that it was said… but I say to you.” He would say that he himself is the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Light. Rather than saying, “Moses taught and therefore…,” he would say multiple times in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you….” On other occasions, he would just give us the truth, whether through direct speech, his famous beautiful parables, or his questions, or other means. Jesus didn’t need to cite the word of God, because he was the Word of God. Jesus communicated with a directness and power that came from the fact that he was the origin of what he was speaking about. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, he contrasted himself to what Moses, their greatest teacher up until then, said to them in the desert: “You have heard that it was said — in other words, Moses said to you — ‘you shall not kill…’ ‘you shall not commit adultery… ,’ ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…,’ but I say to you,  you shall not even be angry with a brother, or look on a woman with lust in your heart, or if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other as well” (Mt 5:20-45). Authority comes from the Latin word for “author,” and Jesus spoke with authority because he was the author, the creator, of man and the world. To capture just a little of what it must have been like to listen to Jesus talk about God, about the world, about man, and about faith and morality, we can imagine listening to Vince Lombardi discuss football, the Wright Brothers talk about airplanes, Henry Ford talk about cars, Thomas Edison describe electricity, Steve Jobs talk about computers, iPads, iPods and iPhones.  They could speak with greater authority than almost everyone else because they were the “authors,” the inventors, of what we now take for granted. Well, that’s just a glimpse of what it it ought to be like for us to listen to Jesus, who is the author of the world, the one through whom all things were made. He could command even the seas and the wind (Mk 4:41) and the demons and they would obey him, because he is the Lord of all. Today we see him exorcise a possessed man of the demon that recognized Jesus. We see in these miracles and exorcisms something very important about Jesus’ word. His word was not just informative but performative; it didn’t just tell us a truth, but it actually changed reality. Jesus’ word is always performative. He is the Word through whom all things were made. In the beginning when God said, “Let there be light,” light came into existence. When he said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness,” we came into being. When Jesus forgave sinners, their sins were wiped away. When he told storms to die down, they disappeared. That’s the power of Jesus’ word and it should never cease to astonish us.
  • Jesus continues to teach with that amazing authority. He does so clearly at Mass. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us that “when the holy scriptures are read in Church, it is Christ himself who speaks” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). That’s why we stand when the Gospel is proclaimed, because we stand for Christ who himself is proclaiming it through his minister. And also speaks to us with his authority through the teaching of the Church, to whom he gave his own amazing authority to continue his saving work. Before ascending into heaven, he said to his apostles: “Full authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20).
  • The question for us today and throughout the Year of Mercy is how do we respond to the love of the Lord in his teaching us? Are we amazed by it? Grateful for it? Astonished at the authority? Do we follow it, ignore, or resist the Lord as he teaches us in Sacred Scripture, or through his Vicars on earth, or through the successors of the apostles? Do we trust in our own opinions more than we trust what he has said, done and established? Everyday in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours that we pray, we begin with Psalm 95, in which the Lord through the inspired text tells us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Lack of astonishment at the teaching of the Lord is not a function of a hardened brain, but a stony heart. It’s not a thing of inadequate intelligence, but of insufficient love. Those who love God are astonished and amazed by him and what he says and does. If we are amazed and astonished at Jesus’ teaching, if we recognize he speaks with an authority unlike any other, than we will do what people do when they’re amazed: we’ll behave as if we can’t possibly get enough of his teaching. We’ll devour the Gospels. We’ll seek to enter much more deeply into his words through Bible Study and prayerful lectio divina. We’ll long to meet those who can open up the Word of God to us and help us to experience anew Jesus’ amazing and astonishing authority. That’s where we need to begin. Psalm 95 says that many of the Israelites had hardened hearts “even though they had seen my works.” God has done far greater works for us than he did for the Jews in Egypt, but sometimes, just like our spiritual ancestors, our hearts harden through sin, self-centeredness, and lack of love such that we have no  amazement toward God and the gifts he gives us. The Alleluia verse today stressed the positive way to receive this gift of mercy: “Receive the word of God, not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God.”
  • Today we have two examples of those who have responded to the merciful gift of Jesus’ teaching with the open hearts with which it deserves to be received, who have received it with astonishment and amazement, who have received it as the Word of God.
  • The first example is Hannah. Today’s “Responsorial Psalm” is not a Psalm but a canticle, the very canticle she herself pronounced after today’s first reading when God heard her prayer, she conceived and bore a son. We can see in that canticle — which Mary herself pondered and which became the basis for her own Magnificant — how much she had penetrated the truth of God’s revelation up until her time. She was able to see that God has a special predilection for those in need of his mercy, that he strengthens the tottering, fills the hungry, allows barren wives to conceive many times over, gives life, raises up, and enriches the poor . That’s why she had confidence her prayer could be heard, because God is merciful in all of those ways. And it was likely because of her faith in God’s goodness and mercy that the Son she conceived became such a great prophet. We see in her that she was praying with a certain generosity, a certain lack of selfishness. She was asking God in his mercy to hear her prayer while at the same promising that if He did, she would consecrate her child to God’s service. She doubtless breastfed him with faith because after she had left Samuel in the Temple of Shiloh, he should have been corrupted by Eli’s two sons, whom we’ll meet on Thursday. It was clear that Eli himself had problems, raising two scoundrels and even judging a praying woman to be drunk. But Samuel was preserved, and I think one of the reasons was because of Hannah’s great faith, which was only confirmed by God’s miracle of mercy toward her because she believed that God could say an authoritative word and change her life and human history.
  • The second example is the holy one we celebrate today, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700), who is basically one of the founders of the city of Montreal. She lost both her parents when she was young, but they had passed onto her the gift of their faith in God and in his word. When she was 21, she attended a procession of Our Lady of the Rosary and the statue of Mary looked at her in such a way that it changed the trajectory of her life. She had a great desire to bring Jesus to others just as Mary did. She entered the confraternity of the Sisters of Notre Dame in her town of Troyes. They were cloistered sisters who had a school inside the convent, but they knew that they needed uncloistered women to go to teach those who would never approach the convent school, and that’s what the Confraternity did. Eventually the brother of one of the sisters came back from Ville Marie in Quebec, what would expand to become Montreal, and he, the civil leader of Ville Marie, described the need for women to come and teach especially the girls and women who were sent there as orphans to have families in the new world, a practice that 350 years later is hard to understand. She took up the charge to go far away from home to do just that, because she had been impassioned by God’s word to such a degree that she wanted others to share her astonishment. Eventually the Bishop of Quebec, St. François de Laval, allowed her to found an order called in time the Soeurs de Notre Dame de Montreal, but he wanted them to become cloistered, too, since he didn’t think it was fitting for women to go out to teach where so many men would be able to hurt them. But she insisted that Mary hadn’t been cloistered but constantly brought Jesus out and she wanted to go wherever there were people who needed to be taught about God’s word, about his mercy.
  • Today at this Mass we come into the presence of the same Jesus who taught and healed in the Capernaum Synagogue, to the same Lord who answered Hannah’s prayer, to the same Jesus in whom St. Margaret believed and whom she brought with amazement to the New World. His word is so powerful that, in a miracle far greater than a triumph of fertility over sterility or an exorcism, can take mere bread and wine and transform it into the Creator of the Heavens and the earth and the Redeemer of the world.  That’s the greatest ordinary example of the performative power of Jesus’ word that happens any day in the world when he takes a priest’s accent and says “This is my body… given for you,” and “This the chalice of my blood… poured out for you and for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” May God give us the grace always to be astonished and amazed when Jesus speaks, so astonished that we prayerfully meditate on his words as the one of the most exciting of all activities, and so amazed that we overcome all obstacles to hear him change simple foodstuffs into himself so that we can enter into a holy communion with him meant to last forever. May we with St. Margaret say with joy to Jesus whom we meet in the Eucharist what the demons in today’s Gospel proclaimed about him with dread in the Synagogue: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God!” and help to bring others to share our amazement at his unending mercy!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 SM 1:9-20

Hannah rose after a meal at Shiloh,
and presented herself before the LORD;
at the time, Eli the priest was sitting on a chair
near the doorpost of the LORD’s temple.
In her bitterness she prayed to the LORD, weeping copiously,
and she made a vow, promising: “O LORD of hosts,
if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid,
if you remember me and do not forget me,
if you give your handmaid a male child,
I will give him to the LORD for as long as he lives;
neither wine nor liquor shall he drink,
and no razor shall ever touch his head.”
As she remained long at prayer before the LORD,
Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently;
though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard.
Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her,
“How long will you make a drunken show of yourself?
Sober up from your wine!”
“It isn’t that, my lord,” Hannah answered.
“I am an unhappy woman.
I have had neither wine nor liquor;
I was only pouring out my troubles to the LORD.
Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well;
my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.”
Eli said, “Go in peace,
and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
She replied, “Think kindly of your maidservant,” and left.
She went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband,
and no longer appeared downcast.
Early the next morning they worshiped before the LORD,
and then returned to their home in Ramah.
When Elkanah had relations with his wife Hannah,
the LORD remembered her.
She conceived, and at the end of her term bore a son
whom she called Samuel, since she had asked the LORD for him.

Responsorial Psalm
1 SM 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8ABCD

R. (see 1) My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he humbles, he also exalts.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.

Gospel
MK 1:21-28

Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers,
and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
 RH-DemoniacInSynagogue