Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Sebastian and St. Fabian, Martyrs
January 20, 2016
1 Sam 17:32-33.37.40-51, Ps 144, Mk 3:1-6
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted:
- Today’s readings and memorials all speak to us about courage.
- In the first reading, we see one of the classic examples of courage. For 40 days Goliath had been calling on someone from the Israelite Camp to come out and fight him, one on one, to determine the outcome of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. But none of those on the Israelite side, including Saul, were willing to take him up on the challenge. Everyone was too cowardly. The text tells us that they were all “dismayed and terror-stricken.” David, however, was not. He was a young boy, a harpist — not exactly a form of music associated with warriors! — who had with him a simple slingshot that he would use to get the attention of the sheep he would watch. He heard Goliath’s challenge on the 40th day as he was bringing food to his older brothers in Saul’s army. He volunteered. He was not afraid of going head to head — more like head to waist! – against the 6’9”warrior with all the latest gear, a heavy, long sword, a javelin with an iron head weighing 15 pounds and bronze scimitar, a bronze helmet on his head, a bronze corselet of scale armor weighing 125 pounds. David didn’t even bother with using Saul’s armor. He was satisfied with his sling and five stones he got from a Wadi because he knew he would be acting “in the name of the Lord.” He said, “Not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s!” And we know how the story ends.
- In today’s Gospel, we see an example of Jesus’ courage. We’re not normally accustomed to look at Jesus’ courage perhaps except outside of Good Friday, but today we see it. He was risking his life contradicting the Scribes and the Pharisees with regard to their misunderstanding of the Sabbath. It was because of Jesus’ words about and works of charity on the Sabbath that they would plot to kill him. Jesus met in the synagogue a man with a withered hand and immediately responded with compassion. The Greek word used to describe his hand strongly suggests it was withered through an injury, not because of something from birth. And Jesus wanted to cure his hand and allow him to use it to work and build up a life for himself. But the Pharisees present didn’t look at the injured man in the same way. They were indifferent to his plight. Far more important to them was keeping their notion of the Sabbath. Hence Jesus asked if it were against God’s law and will to do good and save life. They didn’t reply. And St. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at them with anger at their malice and malevolence and was grieved at their hardness of heart, which prevented them not only from seeing the place of charity in the law of God but also from looking on this man with love. Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to do good … rather than evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?,” is still very relevant today. Jesus had the courage to do good, even when it would cost him. Jesus was essentially asking if it was possible to love someone in deeds on the Lord’s day. He was querying whether it was possible to save or redeem. Jesus’ opponents didn’t respond because they knew how ridiculous their response would seem, but after Jesus was gone, the Pharisees went out on the Sabbath, on the Lord’s day, and began to conspire with the Herodians (with whom they would ordinarily not interact at all because of the Herodians’ licentiousness and relations with the Romans) about how to put Jesus to death. They apparently thought nothing was wrong in using the sabbath to “do evil” and to “destroy” life, but they homicidally objected to Jesus’ trying to do good and save life. Jesus had come to do good, but they were plotting evil; he was seeking to enhance the injured man’s life, and they were seeking grounds to end Jesus’.
- Likewise when we ponder the independent feasts of today’s two martyrs, we can see other examples of courage. St. Fabian was a layman when he was elected Pope in 236. To be Pope was to have a contract out on one’s head as the leader of an illegal sect with a punishment of the death penalty. But he assumed the office with courage and until 250 led the Church with great integrity and fortitude. He died courageously under the ferocious persecution of the Emperor Decius in 250. St. Sebastian came fifty years later, as a soldier in the Roman army during the even more ferocious persecution of Diocletian. He strengthened the martyrs as they were waiting for death. Eventually he was outed as a Christian and joined the ranks of those who gave supreme witness to the Lord who first had died for us. They show us what is possible for us as Christians against the Goliaths of our own day.
- What are the motivations of courage? We can see three of them in today’s readings.
- The first is faith, like we see in David, who believed in the power of God. A slingshot and five stones were nothing compared to Goliath; but a slingshot, five stones and God was plenty.
- The second is charity. Jesus had compassion on the man and it led him courageously to act in his favor. Love can make even a petite woman a mamma bear to defend her children.
- The third is righteous indignation. Jesus was angry at the hardness of heart of those who didn’t care about the man in the synagogue. Likewise our holy anger can get us to stand up against the victims of injustice and act.
- What are the weapons of our courage. We can think about our “five stones.”
- The first is prayer. Pope Francis is constantly calling us to take on the weapon of prayer, which is the first and most powerful arm in a Christian’s armory.
- The second is the Holy Eucharist, which strengthens us with Christ and his fortitude.
- The third is the Word of God, which is sharper than a two-edge sword.
- The fourth is God’s mercy, which can return us to our baptismal graces so that we won’t fear death because we know we’re in communion with God, a communion that will last past death, which is what gave strength to the martyrs. In this Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, we ponder the importance of this communion ever more and give thanks to God for what Pope Francis calls the “ecumenism of blood” of recent days.
- The fifth is the communion of the Church, a communion with all the saints and martyrs, all of the angels, all of the others praying for us throughout the world and joining us in our collective witness.
- In today’s Psalm, we prayed, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” We called him our refuge, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield. Every Mass we begin in this boot camp where he trains our hands for battle by joining them in prayer and in communion. Let us ask him today as we receive him to fill us with the faith, charity and holy anger to lead us through prayer, the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, the Word of God and the communion of the Church, to fight the good fight of faith like David did, like the Martyrs Sebastian and Fabian did, like Jesus himself did!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 SM 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
“Let your majesty not lose courage.
I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine.”
But Saul answered David,
“You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him,
for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.”
“The LORD, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear,
will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”
Saul answered David, “Go! the LORD will be with you.”
and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag.
With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.
the Philistine also advanced closer and closer to David.
When he had sized David up,
and seen that he was youthful, and ruddy, and handsome in appearance,
the Philistine held David in contempt.
The Philistine said to David,
“Am I a dog that you come against me with a staff?”
Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods
and said to him, “Come here to me,
and I will leave your flesh for the birds of the air
and the beasts of the field.”
David answered him:
“You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar,
but I come against you in the name of the LORD of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted.
Today the LORD shall deliver you into my hand;
I will strike you down and cut off your head.
This very day I will leave your corpse
and the corpses of the Philistine army for the birds of the air
and the beasts of the field;
thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God.
All this multitude, too,
shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.
For the battle is the LORD’s and he shall deliver you into our hands.”
while David ran quickly toward the battle line
in the direction of the Philistine.
David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone,
hurled it with the sling,
and struck the Philistine on the forehead.
The stone embedded itself in his brow,
and he fell prostrate on the ground.
Thus David overcame the Philistine with sling and stone;
he struck the Philistine mortally, and did it without a sword.
Then David ran and stood over him;
with the Philistine’s own sword which he drew from its sheath
he dispatched him and cut off his head.
PS 144:1B, 2, 9-10
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
My refuge and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
My shield, in whom I trust,
who subdues my people under me.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
O God, I will sing a new song to you;
with a ten-stringed lyre I will chant your praise,
You who give victory to kings,
and deliver David, your servant from the evil sword.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up here before us.”
Then he said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.