Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Grace Chapel, Alma, MI
Retreat for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma
Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Peter Julian Eymard
August 2, 2014
Jer 26:11-16.24, Ps 69, Mt 14:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we continue to ponder on this retreat the Missionary Transformation of the Church and our own missionary metamorphosis, today’s readings and liturgical memorial remind and encourage us toward several of the virtues that all of us in the Church need as we carry out our role as prophets.
- St. John the Baptist and Jeremiah both told the truth their listeners needed to hear, whether their listeners wanted to hear it or not. They called their listeners to conversion.
- John reminded Herod Antipas that it was not lawful for him to marry his brother Philip’s wife. The book of Leviticus had said clearly, “You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother” (Lev 18:16). Herod had gone to Rome to visit his brother and while there seduced his sister-in-law, persuaded her to leave his brother, divorced his own wife and married her. To make the incestuous matters worse, Herodias was Philip’s and Herod’s niece as well. For all these reasons it was not right for Herod to have Herodias as his wife.
- Jeremiah likewise told the truth and called his listeners to conversion. After telling the priests, prophets, princes and all the people to repent lest what happened to Shiloh happen to Jerusalem, the religious class said, “This man deserves death.” Jeremiah, however, spoke up saying, “It was the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and city all that you have heard. Now, therefore, reform your ways and your deeds; listen to the voice of the Lord your God, so that the Lord will repent of the evil with which he threatens you. … In truth it was the Lord who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.”
- To be able to be a prophet in our own age, we likewise need to see that the truth is a gift, not a curse or a weapon, that to call someone to conversion is an act of love. John’s whole ministry was to prepare people by conversion to lower the mountains of their pride, to fill up the valleys of their shallow spiritual life, to remove the debris that clutters their soul, so that the King of Glory could come. Jeremiah’s mission was to call the people to conversion lest their commit spiritual and communal suicide by their destructive behavior. Neither was content to sit on the sidelines when they knew that their contemporaries were going over the cliff. God loves us enough to summon us to metanoia, to call us to experience his mercy, and they shared that love, in the hope that others might receive the message humbly and convert.
- The reason why they were able to speak to truth even when they might have been signing their own death warrants was because they were courageous and trusting in the Lord enough not to fear death. Just like Abraham had the faith, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, that even should Isaac die God had the power to raise him from the dead, so John and Jeremiah likewise were able to be bold because if you’re not afraid even if people are threatening to kill you, there’s little that could intimidate you. Jeremiah spoke up and said, “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me what you think good and right. But mark well: if you put me to death, it is innocent blood you bring on yourself, on this city and its citizens.” Jeremiah’s message was partially heard. The “princes and the people” — the less religious — spoke to the “priests and the prophets” — the more religious — not that they should heed Jeremiah’s call to conversion, but minimally “This man does not deserve death.” Even though they recognized, “It is in the name of the Lord, our God, that he speaks to us,” they didn’t act on those words. John the Baptist at first received similar treatment. With a string of violent verbs, Herod had him arrested, bound, and imprisoned. He wanted to kill him, St. Matthew tells us, but he feared the people. But eventually would kill him when his vindictive bride pimped her princess daughter to do a striptease before her step-father and uncle and all his drunken courtiers to seduce him into vowing to give her anything she wanted. And when she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod gave the command. And to the Aramaic tune of Happy Birthday to You, the soldiers brought in, instead of birthday cake, the Baptist’s severed head and presented it to this lustful, power-hungry, self-important little assassin. But while that day was a tragedy for Herod and all those participating in his Satanic liturgy where lust ruled instead of sacrificial love, where immoral oaths dominated over the truth, it was a triumph for John the Baptist, in essence, his spiritual birthday in which he was born into eternity and we believe leaped for joy again.
- To preach the Gospel effectively, we, too, cannot be afraid to die. In essence, we need already to be dead, to have been crucified with Christ and with him to the world so that it is no longer we who live but he who is living within us. If we are yoked to Christ risen from the dead, then death only means a change of address. That gives us the confidence to suffer for Christ and even to die for him because we know that after moments of pain and agony we will experience an eternity of joy and happiness. For us to do that, we need to anticipate our death each day in our prayer and in the little things in which we die to ourselves so that Christ may live. Three years ago, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia gave us a beautiful reflection on how to do that by pondering each day Jesus’ two phrases, “No one takes my life from me; I freely lay it down” (Jn 10:18) and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He encourages us at a morning offering, at the offertory of the Mass, and at our general exam each night freely, lovingly and whole-heartedly to entrust ourselves to the Father and give ourselves over to the continuation of Christ’s mission. If we do that each day, then when we come to the last day of our life — whether by martyrdom, by accident, or by a slow and peaceful death — we will be ready, having freely commended ourselves to God the Father hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of times.
- We also know, humbly, that sometimes our witness that Christ is worth living for and dying for is the most powerful prophecy we can ever give. This is why the seed of Christians is not the eloquent words of a group of golden-tongued orators, but the blood of the martyrs. John the Baptist’s death, in a sense, even turned Herod into a prophet. When he heard about Jesus’ reputation, his guilty conscience led him to exclaim, “This man is John the Baptist.” Origen tells us of an ancient tradition that John and Jesus looked very much alike on account of their kinship. Their initial messages were identical —“Repent for the kingdom is at hand!” —and their deeds similarly powerful. That led Herod, as he was murdering the Lord’s forerunner, to become a precursor of the angels outside the tomb on Easter morning, exclaiming, “He has been raised from the dead!,” the very phrase the angels would employ.
- Today as we come forward to celebrate this Mass, we ask the Lord for a double-portion of Jeremiah’s and John the Baptist’s prophetic gifts, so that we might preach the truth courageously in season and out of season, so that we may grow in our death to self and life in Christ that no mob, no little earthly potentate may intimidate us from doing the work of the Lord and God of all. Today we approach the altar on the memorial of St. Peter Julian Eymard, the 19th century founder of the Priests of the Blessed Sacrament, the first institute dedicated to glorify the great Sacramentum Caritatis, as well as the founder of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, a women’s religious order dedicated to perpetual Eucharistic adoration, the Work for Poor Adults, preparing adults to receive Holy Communion worthily, and the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, that the 1917 Code of Canon Law encouraged every parish to institute. Just like Jesus suffered the loss of the majority of his disciples when he first announced the gift of his body and blood in the Capernaum Synagogue, so St. Peter also suffered a lot in trying to promote our centering our whole life on Jesus in this greatest act of humility. He excused his persecutors by uniting himself to his Eucharistic Lord, saying, “They do not understand, and each one who thinks to oppose it does it a service. For I know well it must be persecuted. Was not the Lord persecuted throughout his life?” To unite ourselves in Communion to our Eucharistic Lord is to unite ourselves to Him on the Cross as he gave his Body and Blood for our Salvation; it’s to join him on the Way of the Cross, of sanctified suffering. As we prepare to receive the same Lord St. Peter adored throughout life, gave to countless people, and helped them to learn to worship Him, we ask his intercession that we, too, may be willing to suffer to proclaim this greatest gift of all, the root and center, source and summit of life, and the greatest witness of all of God’s undying love.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
JER 26:11-16, 24
“This man deserves death;
he has prophesied against this city,
as you have heard with your own ears.”
Jeremiah gave this answer to the princes and all the people:
“It was the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and city
all that you have heard.
Now, therefore, reform your ways and your deeds;
listen to the voice of the LORD your God,
so that the LORD will repent of the evil with which he threatens you.
As for me, I am in your hands;
do with me what you think good and right.
But mark well: if you put me to death,
it is innocent blood you bring on yourselves,
on this city and its citizens.
For in truth it was the LORD who sent me to you,
to speak all these things for you to hear.”Thereupon the princes and all the people
said to the priests and the prophets,
“This man does not deserve death;
it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.”So Ahikam, son of Shaphan, protected Jeremiah,
so that he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.
PS 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34
Rescue me out of the mire; may I not sink!
may I be rescued from my foes,
and from the watery depths.
Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me,
nor the abyss swallow me up,
nor the pit close its mouth over me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist.
He has been raised from the dead;
that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison
on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip,
for John had said to him,
“It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people,
for they regarded him as a prophet.
But at a birthday celebration for Herod,
the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests
and delighted Herod so much
that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for.
Prompted by her mother, she said,
“Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests who were present,
he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.
His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl,
who took it to her mother.
His disciples came and took away the corpse
and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.