Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr
July 6, 2015
Gen 28:10-22, Ps 91, Mt 9:18-26
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we see various stages of God’s progressive plan for the sanctification of the world. The world, as we know, was created good and very good by the Lord, but after the Fall, that goodness was often obscured. Even though “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness” (Ps 24:1), man in various ways had lost sight of that connection. In order to restore a sense of the sacred to the entire world, in order to redeem his creation in other words, God took various steps.
- The first step was to consecrate specific places on earth for the worship of God. The whole world couldn’t be seen as holy unless certain places were. And hence in today’s first reading, we encounter Jacob’s dream and his response to it. He had lain down resting his head on what seemed to be an “ordinary rock,” but the whole earth, including rocks, are charged with God’s grandeur as Jacob would soon discover in the dream as he rested upon that rock. He say a stairway reaching from the ground to the heavens on which God’s angels were ascending and descending and he heard God say to him that he was the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, that he and his descendants would dwell in that land and become a blessing to all nations, that he would be with him to protect him and never leave him. When Jacob awoke he said, ““Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it! … How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!” He hadn’t known that the Lord was there; often we, too, don’t recognize God’s presence all around us. But he saw that place as God’s abode and because it was the place of the encounter with God the door, the gateway, the ladder, the staircase to heaven: it wasn’t heaven, but it was where one would begin the ascent to heaven. This first step of setting aside certain places as God’s abode — like the Meeting Tent, the Temple of Jerusalem, the Synagogues, the house Churches, the great Basilicas and Cathedrals, this Chapel — would continue through history. There are some great Churches I’ve visited in Europe that have written in Latin these words from today’s first reading, “How awesome is this shrine. This is nothing other than an abode of God and the gateway to heaven.” We come to these places to seek God, to find God, to listen to God, to be loved by God, to love God back, and to be transformed by him. We need to grasp that this place is holy, awesome — something that should make us tremble! — the dwelling place of God and the gateway to heaven.
- In the Gospel, we would see the next stage in God’s plan. Jesus would become that temple, that awesome shrine, that dwelling place, that stairway to heaven. The fullness of God dwelled in him. God was tabernacled among us in him, growing within Mary’s womb. When Jesus would be asked for a sign for driving out the money changers from the Temple of Jerusalem, he said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days rebuild it,” speaking about the Temple of his Body.
- A few years back, I led a pilgrimage of journalists to Rome and when we attended Pope Benedict’s general audience, he spoke specifically about Jesus as this Temple. As I was translating from Italian to English for them, I knew I was listening to something extraordinary. Talking about St. Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin before he would be stoned to death, Pope Benedict said, “He reinterprets the whole of the biblical narrative, the itinerary contained in Sacred Scripture, in order to show that it leads to the ‘place’ of the definitive presence of God that is Jesus Christ, and in particular his Passion, death and Resurrection. … He affirms that Jesus is the Righteous One foretold by the prophets; God himself has made himself uniquely and definitively present in him: Jesus is the ‘place’ of true worship. Stephen does not deny the importance of the Temple for a certain period, but stresses that ‘the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands’ (Acts 7:48). The new, true temple in which God dwells is his Son, who has taken human flesh; it is the humanity of Christ, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples together and unites them in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. … The Body of Jesus which he assumed in order to offer himself as a sacrificial victim for the expiation of sins, is the new temple of God, the place of the presence of the living God; in him, God and man, God and the world are truly in touch: Jesus takes upon himself all the sins of humanity in order to bring it into the love of God and to ‘consummate’ it in this love. Drawing close to the Cross, entering into communion with Christ, means entering this transformation. And this means coming into contact with God, entering the true temple.” (May 2, 2012).
- We see the awesome things that happen in this abode of God in Jesus in today’s Gospel: a woman with a hemorrhage, merely touching the outer garment of that Temple’s clothing, is totally cured, because she touched that Temple with faith and didn’t just bump into him as many others in the crowd doubtless did (see the homily of June 28, 2015 for more). And when Jesus reached out to touch daughter of Jairus who had died, we see that in Jesus’ touch we have the power of life, of resurrection. Jesus’ touch of the little girl was like God’s touching matter and creating Adam. Jesus does take upon himself our illnesses, our sins and even our death and consummates them in his love, as Pope Benedict says. He brings them and us into his own temple and transforms them and restores us. This is the second stage in God’s plan.
- The third stage is that entering into communion with God, becoming one Temple with him through this type of “contemplation,” we in turn become temples of God, awesome shrines, God’s abode and gateways to heaven. St. Paul would write, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). God has come to make us, individually and in communion, his holy dwelling place. He has chosen to take us his dwelling within us, to make us his awesome shrine. And once we begin to grasp that we are God’s dwelling place, it begins to change the way we look at others, look at Churches, look at the whole world. We begin to see God in others, in Church, in nature, in short throughout the world he created. And with God within, we begin to behave differently.
- This truth about the human person made to be the awesome abode of God, to be the sanctuary where God is glorified in being and in action, is something that the 11 year old saint we celebrate today, Maria Goretti, glimpsed. When her next-door-neighbor Alessandro Serenelli tried to seduce her and then rape her, she said simply, “It would be a sin,” and she repeatedly refused. Her chastity flowed from her recognition that she was a temple of God and that Alessandro likewise was called to glorify God in his body, not sin. Alessandro didn’t want to hear it, however, and when she screamed as he was trying to rip her clothes off, he began to stab her 14 times with a long awl, piercing her lungs, her diaphragm, her throat and her heart. He ran away. Maria’s infant sister Teresa whom she was babysitting began to cry and her cries weren’t addressed, so eventually Alessandro’s father and Maria’s mother came to see if everything was okay with Teresa. That’s when the found Maria. She was rushed to the hospital where they did surgery without anesthesia to try to stop the bleeding and repair the damage but it was too late. Maria described Alessandro’s advances and what he had done that day, said that she forgave him, and died on the following day. She had glorified God by her love of him above even her very life and she glorified him even more by making the awesome shrine of God she was an abode of God’s mercy for Alessandro.
- Alessandro was a very bitter man after he was sent to jail for 30 years. For the first three, he refused all advances to help him. But then Maria appeared to him in a dream, gave him lilies — signs of her purity as well as of her resurrection — and told him anew that she forgave him. He became a changed man. He was released after 27 years for good behavior. His first visit was to Maria’s mother Assunta to ask for her forgiveness. She said that if her daughter could forgive him, so could she, and then she brought him to Church the next day, which was Christmas Eve, and asked the whole community to forgive him — something that made it possible for him to live there. Eventually he became a Capuchin brother and lived the rest of his days in holiness. He was present at the canonization of the little girl he had tried to rape and then murdered when she was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950, the first canonization ever to be held outside in St. Peter’s Square because of the immensity of the crowds that wanted to be present for the ceremony.
- We can finish by pondering St. Maria Goretti’s love for Jesus in Holy Communion. Exactly 13 months before she was martyred, she had received Holy Communion with intense longing. “I long for Jesus,” she was accustomed to say. Even though she was illiterate, she learned all her prayers and catechism with the help of her parish priest and a lady of the village so that she would be ready to receive him. She would receive Holy Communion every Sunday with great zeal and would receive Jesus for the last time as Viaticum, “like an angel,” as those present attested. It was after she had received Jesus that last time that she said that she had forgiven Alessandro out of love for Jesus and prayed that God would forgive him too. That’s the power of what Jesus was doing in her. Coming into contact with God’s-Temple-in-the-flesh, Maria was becoming the awesome holy dwelling place of God. May we receive today with the faith of St. Maria Goretti, with the faith of the woman in the Gospel, and may we see that in this Mass we have the fulfillment of what happened to Jacob, what Jesus himself described to Nathaniel in the Gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Welcome to this holy dwelling place of God, a dwelling place that God wants to extend into each of us, and through us to the world he has created and redeemed!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Gn 28:10-22a
When he came upon a certain shrine, as the sun had already set,
he stopped there for the night.
Taking one of the stones at the shrine, he put it under his head
and lay down to sleep at that spot.
Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground,
with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.
And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying:
“I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham
and the God of Isaac;
the land on which you are lying
I will give to you and your descendants.
These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth,
and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south.
In you and your descendants
all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.
Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to this land.
I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.”When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed,
“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!”
In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine!
This is nothing else but an abode of God,
and that is the gateway to heaven!”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone
that he had put under his head,
set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on top of it.
He called the site Bethel,
whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.Jacob then made this vow: “If God remains with me,
to protect me on this journey I am making
and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear,
and I come back safe to my father’s house, the LORD shall be my God.
This stone that I have set up as a memorial stone shall be God’s abode.”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 91:1-2, 3-4, 14-15ab
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
For he will rescue you from the snare of the fowler,
from the destroying pestilence.
With his pinions he will cover you,
and under his wings you shall take refuge.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
Alleluia See 2 Tm 1:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mt 9:18-26
knelt down before him, and said,
“My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
“Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”
And from that hour the woman was cured.When Jesus arrived at the official’s house
and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion,
he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.”
And they ridiculed him.
When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand,
and the little girl arose.
And news of this spread throughout all that land.