Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
March 11, 2016
Wis 2:1.12-22, Ps 34, Jn 7:1-2.10.25-30
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we have been pondering since the beginning of the third week of Lent, this holy season is an annual catechumenate preparing unbaptized adults for the commitment they will make at the saving font and helping all baptized Catholics to get ready for the renewal of their baptismal promises, not just in words but in their entire way of life, at Easter. And part of that preparation is to get us ready to suffer for the faith. For the first 250 years of Christianity, to participate in the catechumenate was to enter a school for martyrs. To be a Christian you needed to be ready to die for the faith, as so many Christians did in the first few centuries when to be a Christian was illegal and punishable by death. The catechumenate would sometimes take years until the person baptized was ready to make that commitment to be faithful to Christ until death, just as Christ was faithful to us until death. But sometimes the catechumenate was very short, when soldiers, for example, asked to be baptized upon seeing the joyful heroism of the martyrs, only to baptized in blood themselves soon after they were baptized in water and the Holy Spirit.
- These considerations are important because today the Church begins a new series in the first reading of the prophecies about Jesus’ suffering. We’re called during this phase of our Lenten journey, therefore, not only to ponder Jesus’ sufferings and how they fulfilled so many Old Testament prophecies, but also how we, too, like the early Christians, will suffer on account of his name. That our baptism, as we’ll hear in the epistle during the Easter Vigil, is an entrance into Christ’s death and resurrection. The Lenten journey of prayer, self-denial and self-giving are precisely meant to strengthen us through being faithful in these little things to be faithful in the supreme tests.
- Today in the Gospel, St. John tells us straight out that “the Jews were seeking to kill” Jesus and that many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, when they saw him teaching in the temple precincts during the Feast of Tabernacles, said aloud, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill?” They were seeking to kill him because they were convinced that he was an agent of the devil, working miracles not by the power of God but by the power of Beelzebul to destroy the Jewish religion by violating the Sabbath through works of charity, driving money changers out of the temple and speaking about the Temple’s destruction and rebuilding, befriending notorious sinners, pretending to forgive sins, and various other practices that conveyed that Jesus was not only acting with divine authority but was the actual Son of God. They had made an idol out of their own interpretations of the law, missing the spirit and literal meaning for the literalistic letter, focusing on human practices rather than the “weightier things” of what God was asking. They refused to accept anyone who challenged them beyond their convictions, no matter how many miracles he worked, how beautiful his teaching, or who attested to his divine authority. Rather than filling them with joy when Jesus reconciled sinners, or made the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, or the possessed be freed of their demons, they responded with envy, anger and unholy homicidal thoughts.
- We get a window into that destructive envy in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, that prophesied both what they would do to Jesus and why. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us,” the wicked say to themselves. We’ll notice that the “wicked” being referred to are not those we might ordinarily think are wicked — people who are irreligious sinners, outwardly far from God, engaged in a life of corruption — but those who have been “trained,” as we’ll hear later, those who in their pride resist anyone who challenges them to a higher standard then their own standard of smug pseudo-sanctity. They find those who are truly holy, like Jesus, the supreme Just One, obnoxious because “he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.” Because of their pride in being so-called experts of the law, they couldn’t fathom anyone’s accusing them of not keeping the law. “He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord,” a charge they never investigated but just rejected because he was obnoxious to their comfortable spiritual status quo. But it wasn’t merely Jesus’ deeds or words that pierced them. It was his very presence. “To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.” Then they get to the most offensive part of all. “He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.” They were like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son who related to his Father not as a dad but as a slave master whom he was called to obey and serve rather than love. They didn’t want anyone to talk about the love of the Father or especially anyone who called himself a Son of God.
- So then, after that envy, they concocted a plan supposed to test him but really to eliminate him. “Let us see whether his words be true,” they said to themselves. “Let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” These thoughts, we can note, were the same thoughts that the devil expressed to Jesus in the desert, encouraging him to throw himself down because the angels would take charge of him lest he dash his foot against a stone. They would make the end justify the means of torture and killing the just man, to have God prove that he was truly just by intervening, much like God stopped Abraham from killing his son Isaac.
- But the Book of Wisdom tells us, “These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.” Sin, especially envy, blinds us to God’s ways and often leads us to do evil thinking that we’re doing good. The scribes and the Pharisees thought that they were pleasing God by framing Jesus, conspiring with the Romans, lying and doing all types of other sins in order to have him executed, because sin can make us think black is white.
- This prophecy about how Jesus the just one was beset by evildoers because he himself was a censure to their thoughts and they wanted to test his goodness by treating him in the most vile way to see if they could reduce him to their own level is something that happens to all of us, at some point, if we really seek to identify ourselves totally with Jesus. Jesus told us quite emphatically that if they hated him, they’d hate us, too; that if they persecuted the prophets, they would persecute us, too; that if they thought they were glorifying God by killing God’s emissaries in times past, they likewise would feel justified in persecuting and maltreating us, dragging us between religious and civil jurisdictions and more; that in order to be his disciple, we needed to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow him toward Crucifixion in him. This prophecy is fulfilled in every age. We still experience this type of hatred when we live our faith in a prophetic way. Many Christians are still being martyred, like the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen last Saturday and so many of the elderly infirm for whom they were caring. Pope Francis never ceases to say we’re living in an age of martyrs. Even here in our country, our defense of the unborn makes us “obnoxious” to those who want to discard other human beings to preserve their own enslaved autonomy, which is one of the reasons why the present administration wants to force us not mere to tolerate abortion but to participate in abortion referrals and ultimately to fund it.
- In this Jubilee of Mercy, it’s key for us to see, if we are to receive God’s mercy and pass it on, that many find Jesus’ mercy obnoxious. He was persecuted because of his deeds of mercy done for the crippled, the possessed, the needy on the Sabbath, as if God would take a vacation on the Sabbath day from loving his sons and daughters with crippled hands or who hadn’t walked for 38 years. He was persecuted because he welcomed sinners and ate with them. He was persecuted as a blasphemer because he dared forgive sins. Likewise that mercy lived by the Church, shared in by us, is still obnoxious to some in the world, including many who are religious. How many Catholics mock the Sacrament of Penance because they don’t want to admit that they’re sinners who need a Sacrament, or who want to make it as easy as possible to pretend as if they’re not that bad by “confessing their sins to God directly,” to God who, in their own subjective framework, won’t really call them to conversion, rather than to a priest before whom, even if he’s extraordinarily tender and encouraging, will be a means of conversion by the very fact that we need to name our sins. Jesus, Mercy Incarnate, will always be a Sign of Contradiction, and through our Baptism we are summoned and strengthened to unite ourselves to that Sign.
- But why does God allow all of this suffering and persecution by the envious of the “obnoxious” holiness of Jesus and those united to him? Why does he allow the Just One and those made just in him to be beset in this way? We received our answer two weeks ago today, on the Second Friday of Lent, when we pondered the betrayal of Joseph the Patriarch by his brothers as a typological prophecy of the betrayal of Jesus. In both cases, God brought great good out of the great evil they suffered. God’s goodness triumphed over the worst of human wickedness. Joseph’s being sold for 20 pieces of silver, becoming a slave in Egypt and his ability to interpret dreams eventually brought him to the attention of Pharaoh and to the second position in the Kingdom, an office he was able to use not only to save millions of Egyptians lives during a time of famine but also father and his family. Likewise, Jesus’ being sold for 30 pieces of silver, taking on the appearance of a slave in order to serve us all and enduring the worst of nightmares led him to save not only millions of Egyptian lives and so many fellow Israelites but the entire human race, including those who had conspired to have him crucified. The Lord will use our sufferings and unjust persecutions in the same way, just like he used the martyrdom of so many of the first generations of Christians not only to help them share in Christ’s triumph but bring many others to the faith. Lent is to meant to help us to prepare to remain faithful under duress because we know that the Lord is with us and will bring good out of our suffering and life out of our death. He told us in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” The Christian life is a way of the Cross, yes, but we know that that way of the Cross leads us through Calvary to the eternal Jerusalem. “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,” we pray in the Responsorial Psalm today, “and from all their distress he rescues them.” He doesn’t rescue us necessarily in this world because our witness of faith under trial may be the supreme way we proclaim the Gospel and build his kingdom, but he does rescue us eternally.
- As we prepare to receive Jesus here in Holy Communion, let us ask him to unite ourselves fully to him so that we will receive from him the strength not to fear those who can only harm the body or the reputation or the bank account but who cannot harm the soul. And let us ask him for the grace to pray with greater insistence for our persecutors who are persecuting Him in his Body and to love all those who out of envy have made themselves or will make themselves our enemies and enemies of Christ and his “obnoxious” mercy and holiness.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
WIS 2:1A, 12-22
thinking not aright:
“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God
and styles himself a child of the LORD.
To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.
He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the just
and boasts that God is his Father.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”
These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.
PS 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 AND 23
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
He watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
JN 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
he did not wish to travel in Judea,
because the Jews were trying to kill him.
But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.
he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.
“Is he not the one they are trying to kill?
And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him.
Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?
But we know where he is from.
When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said,
“You know me and also know where I am from.
Yet I did not come on my own,
but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.
I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”
So they tried to arrest him,
but no one laid a hand upon him,
because his hour had not yet come.