Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Casimir
March 4, 2014
1 Pet 1:10-16, Ps 98, Mk 10:28-31
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today on the last day of Ordinary Time before we enter into the Season of Lent, the Church has given us readings that help us not only to grasp how we’re supposed to be living ordinarily as Christians but also how we’re supposed to prepare for Lent so that we might rediscover the fullness of ordinary Christian life.
- We begin in the Gospel when St. Peter, still somewhat shocked at the episode of the Rich Young Man and the Lord’s statement that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a person with possessions to enter the kingdom of God, said to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Unlike the Rich Young Man who when given the choice between following Jesus and leaving his material goods behind or holding on to his riches and leaving Jesus behind chose his stuff, the apostles were those who when Jesus said “follow me” left their boats behind, their miraculous hauls of fish behind, their families behind, their tax collecting tables behind, their houses behind, their cities behind — in short, as Peter says, who gave up “everything” to follow Jesus. In St. Matthew’s version Peter adds, “What will there be for us?” He was well aware of what they were giving up to follow Jesus and he thought he had a sense of that what they would gain would be far greater than the huge cost they had paid, but after Jesus’ words about the eye of needle he wanted some reassurance. And Jesus gave more than reassurance. Swearing an oath, he said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”
- Jesus said first that when we give good things up for him — our loved ones, our material blessings and property — for him we’ll gain back much more in this life in terms of those same things. Many times when Jesus asks us to give up something, he doesn’t intend to strip us from it but to detach us from it so that we may relate to it in a way far more united to him. When, for example, a wife begins to love Jesus more and serve him above all other goods, it doesn’t mean that she will love her husband less, but more and better. When a young man decides to leave a career, his family of origin, and many of his friends to enter the seminary to become a priest, it’s not that he’ll have less love in his life, fewer friendships, fewer family members, but he gains a much greater family and in general many more friends that he would have had otherwise. That’s the first thing Jesus says. There’s a cost but there’s also a reward in this world, an intensification of the very goods we thought we were leaving behind.
- Second, he says that with that multiplication of the blessings we were prepared to leave behind for Jesus, he also foretells the blessing of the Cross. He says we’ll receive the blessings “with persecutions.” Persecution is always part of the Christian life. Just as they persecuted Jesus, they’ll persecute us. But he said that these persecutions are in fact blessings: “Blessed are you,” he said in the culmination of the Beatitudes, “when they persecute you, revile you and utter all kinds of false things about you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for so they treated the prophets before you, and your reward in heaven will be great.” Among the blessings Jesus gives us for our willingness to put him above all other loved ones and things is the blessing of persecution that will lead to an even greater reward in heaven. Pope Francis focused on this aspect of the persecution of Christians in his homily this morning in the Vatican. “It’s as if Jesus said, ‘Yes, you have left everything and you will receive here on earth many things: but with persecutions!’ Like a salad with the oil of persecution: always! This is what the Christian gains and this is the road for the person who wants to follow Jesus, because it’s the road that He himself trod: He was persecuted! It’s the road of humbling oneself. That’s what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians. ‘Jesus emptied himself and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross’. This is the reality of Christian life. This is because the world does not tolerate the divinity of Christ. It doesn’t tolerate the proclamation of the Gospel. It does not tolerate the Beatitudes. And so we have persecutions. … But it is a joyful road because our Lord never tests us beyond what we can bear. Christian life is not a commercial advantage, it’s not making a career: It’s simply following Jesus! But when we follow Jesus this happens.”
- Third, Jesus says finally that we will receive eternal life in the age to come. When we detach ourselves from possessions and persons, he makes it possible for us to do the impossible with God’s help, to have God thread us through the eye of the needle into eternity. That’s the great desire of us all, to live forever in happiness with God, and Jesus today promises that that will occur when we are willing to pay the price of the kingdom, to sell all that we have to obtain that pearl of great price. He assures us that our sacrifices are worth it. St. Peter will grasp this lesson so well that he’ll articulate it in the first reading to the early Christians in Asia Minor who were under persecution. He talked about the prophets who “testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and to the glories to follow them.” The glories followed the sufferings, the riches followed the deprivations, the beatitude followed the persecutions. And he said that just as the prophecies announced this about Jesus’ sufferings and subsequent glory, so Jesus himself prophesied it about us, that after our Cross would come our sharing in his glory, his life, his joy.
- These are important thoughts for us on the cusp of Lent, which is a season of reform so that we may return to living the full ordinary Christian life in which we are supposed to “sell” and give away all our talents and God-given gifts for the good of others in order to follow him. We can’t be Jesus’ follower unless we’re prepared to go through the eye of the needle, unless we make the choice the apostles made and the Rich Young Man didn’t. The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us to reorder our relationship, respectively, with God, ourselves and others precisely so that we can live that fully Christian life. By prayer we let go of our attachment to our own time and make time for God, opening ourselves to him so that he may both reveal to us his will and strengthen us to do it, rather than our own will. By fasting, we are assisted to control our appetites and passions lest they control us, so that with self-possession we are able to give ourselves to God and others in love. By almsgiving, we give not just something to others, but give ourselves to others, which prepares us more and more to give all we have to God and others so that we may follow Christ fully. Lent is meant to help us make the same wise choice as the apostles so that we may experience an eternal Easter.
- Many times when we prepare for Lent we think about all that we’re giving up, but today’s readings help us to remember what we will gain from this type of Christian life. Our Lenten penances need to be adequate to help us to overcome the tendency to behave like the Rich Young Man in our life. He was a good man who kept the commandments, but he was sad because he was too attached to his stuff, to his own way, even to following God “within acceptable limits.” He wasn’t willing to be bold, to give all for Christ, trusting that it was worth it. In our Lenten penances we have to be bold, we have to sacrifice something dear, in order to allow God to do his work. The point of Lent is summarized by St. Peter at the end of today’s first reading when he tells us, “Be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.'” Lent is supposed to help us become holy “in every aspect” of our conduct, in all the little things. Giving up potato chips for Lent won’t help us to become holy in all aspects of our life. In prayerfully selecting Lenten penances with regard to our prayer, fasting and self-giving, we need to look for those things that can help influence our entire life and help us to unite our entire life to God.
- St. Peter describes the attitude we need to have to make those types of resolutions. He says, “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It begins with girding up our minds. When Jews would need to put themselves to hard work, they would “gird their loins,” which meant pulling up their tunics through their belts and rolling up their sleeves so that they wouldn’t be tripping or hindered in their faster movement. St. Peter is saying we have to do that with our minds. We have to be ready for hard work! We have to be ready to change our conceptions of the good and happy life according to the world and live within the context of the Gospel paradoxes, that in order to save our life we need to lose it. Second we need to live soberly, to have our game-face on, rather than drowning ourselves in booze or other addictions because of a lack of purpose. And most importantly we need to set our hopes “completely” on the grace to be brought to us at Jesus’ appearing. On many occasions, we set our hopes “partially” on Christ but then partially on mammon and the things of this world. Lent is meant to help us through our detaching ourselves from good things in this world to seek God and his kingdom completely, to live life as a Lent awaiting the eternal Easter.
- Today we celebrate a saint who did just that, St. Casimir. He was the crown prince, the heir to the throne of Poland and Lithuania, but he was never caught up in the mammon of the royal palace and way of life, because he saw himself to be a son of a much higher King. His tutor, Fr. John Dlugosz, really encouraged him toward holiness from an early age and Casimir rejected many ordinary earthly comforts in order to attune himself much more to the kingdom of heaven than the kingdom of Poland. He slept little, spending nights in prayer. He slept on the floor rather than on a royal bed. He wore plain clothes rather than royal garment. He gave away a lot of what he owned to the poor. When his dad wanted him to lead armies into unjust wars he resisted. For his faith, he suffered pressure, humiliation, rejection and mockery and even was imprisoned by his furious father. He died at the age of 25 from lung disease, 530 years ago today. It was today that, after he had received so many blessings in this world and persecutions, he inherited eternal life because he had set his heart completely on the grace to be given when Christ appeared. Today we ask him to intercede for us so that we might live with the same girt minds, sobriety, and oriented hearts, and to keep that focus throughout the forty days of Lent so that we might always maintain it in the ordinary time of Christian life.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 PT 1:10-16
Concerning the salvation of your souls
the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when it testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly,
and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Like obedient children,
do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance
but, as he who called you is holy,
be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct,
for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.
PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”