Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
March 7, 2016
Is 65:17-21, Ps 30, Jn 4:43-54
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- One of the themes of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy must be what Jesus asked us to pray to him through the Image of Divine Mercy: “Jesus, I trust in you!” Jesus wants to help us to grow in that faith in this mercy and today in the readings the Church gives us glimpse how he wishes us to grow.
- In the Gospel, we encounter a royal official, who, as soon as he heard that Jesus had returned to Galilee, made a 20 mile journey on foot between Capernaum and Cana, out of love for his son, to ask Jesus to work a miracle. It was quite a humbling thing that the dad did, not only journeying that distance but desperately placing his trust in a Jewish carpenter, something that for a royal official — probably Jewish, because King Herod Antipas was of Jewish origin — likely could have brought him much derision and possibly have been a terrible career move. He journeyed out of last-ditch hope, but Jesus was going to take advantage of the situation not only to heal his son but to bring him and his family to faith. Jesus was going to test this man in a similar way to how he helped the Syro-Phoenician mother, whose daughter was possessed by a demon, grow in faith in Tyre. The royal official asked him “to come down and heal his son,” to make the long journey with him and touch his son to cure him like he had heard Jesus had done to many others in Capernaum and elsewhere. But Jesus responded, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Seeing would be believing for him. Jesus would say after the resurrection to doubting Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen but believed.” Jesus wanted to bring this man to real faith, faith not only in Jesus as a person but faith in what he said. The royal official impatiently wasn’t interested in the larger points about seeing and believing but in the cure of his son. He pleaded with Jesus, “Sir, come down before my son dies!” That’s when Jesus said to him, “You may go. Your son will live.” It was a supreme test of faith, whether he would believe in Jesus enough to believe in his word. It would have been tempting to think Jesus may have been blowing him off, that he didn’t want to be bothered with the journey, or other distractions. But as St. John tells us, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” And we know that along the lengthy journey back — which should have taken about 7 hours but it was clear he was still walking the next day, even though he began his journey about 1 pm the previous day — he was intercepted by his servants who told him that his son had gotten better. He could have simply rejoiced as if it were a coincidence, but he asked at what time he was cured, to verify what his faith had told him, and he was told at the very hour when Jesus had told him that his son would live. St. John concludes by saying, “He and his whole household came to believe.” He helped his family grow to faith that it was precisely Jesus’ healing word that worked the miracle.
- (I would say as an aside that many people conflate this miracle with the healing of the Centurion’s servant at a distance, but there are too many divergent elements. Both the royal official and the Centurion were from Capernaum, but with the royal official’s son the miracle took place in Cana, with the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum; Jesus challenged the royal official’s faith; he praised the Centurion’s; the royal official begged Jesus to come to his home; the Centurion said he wasn’t worthy to receive Jesus under his roof; the royal official was likely Jewish; the Centurion was definitely pagan. In the case of the royal official, Jesus was testing his faith; in the case of the Centurion, the man’s faith was already greater than all the faith Jesus had found in Israel. Not only were the men different, but the lessons Jesus drew were different).
- The Lord Jesus wants us to help us to grow, like the royal official, to have a similar responsiveness, to walk by his word in faith, to trust in his commands, to journey according to his promises. We need to do that in a particular way with response to his mercy. Throughout this Jubilee, we pray in expiation for our sins and the sins of others, especially those in most need of the Lord’s mercy. Many of us, especially when we’re praying for spiritually sick, even spiritually dead, family members, would like to see them enter a confessional with our own eyes and come out with tears of joy, but today’s miracle helps us to trust in God and to ask at a distance for a miracle that would make the healing of the royal official’s son pale in comparison. And we gain the faith to be able to do that through the way Jesus extended his mercy to us through the prayers of so many others. Our forgiveness, like Pope Francis never ceases to remind us, is a real rescue. We can say with the words of today’s Psalm, which we’ll sing again on the Easter Vigil, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me,” he has “brought me — each of us — up from the netherworld” and “preserved me from among those going down into the pit.” We can praise him for precisely showing us the “new heavens and … new earth” Isaiah prophesies, the kingdom where nothing can separate us from his love. This is a truth that we what we ponder in this second phase of Lent, which is meant to prepare the Elect for baptism and the baptized to renew their baptismal promises. All of the prayers of this Mass talk about the newness Christ has given us through baptism and the renewal of our baptismal graces in our souls through receiving his mercy. We started Mass praying, “O God, who renew the world through mysteries beyond all telling.” When we offer the gifts to God, we’ll ask him to receive them and grant us the grace to “be cleansed from old earthly ways and renewed by growth in heavenly life.” After Communion, we’ll pray that the gift of the Mass will “give us life by making us new, and by sanctifying us, lead us to things eternal.” The whole purpose of the Lenten season from God’s perspective is to make us new — a source of great joy! — and the whole purpose of the Lenten season from our perspective ought to be to cooperate in that renewal. That’s likewise the point of the Jubilee of Mercy. And all of this comes from trusting in Jesus.
- Today we celebrate two great saints who experienced this rescue by faith and who were able to live their whole lives not only seeing to some degree the new heavens and new earth but living in it. They were capable of making that journey of faith to which Jesus was calling the royal official and us. SS. Perpetua’s and Felicity’s stories are particularly relevant for the Sisters of Life, because they were both young mothers, martyred in the northern African city of Carthage. The account of their martyrdom is one of the great hagiological treasures of the early Church, because Perpetua wrote of their sufferings in detail the day before their death, and eyewitness accounts of their martyrdom were immediately spread around the early Church. These accounts were so highly regarded by the early Christians that St. Augustine needed to remind them that they should not be treated during Mass with the same reverence as the readings from Sacred Scriptures.Perpetua was a 22 year-old newlywed and mother of a small child and Felicity was a young married slave pregnant with her first child. They were arrested as catechumens and baptized in prison awaiting execution. They both knew that to profess Christianity was a “crime” punishable by death, but they were undeterred. Perpetua’s father, an old man and a pagan, tried all means imaginable to get his daughter to save her life by saying a prayer and making a small sacrifice to the pagan gods. He first begged her to have mercy on his white hair. As deeply as Perpetua loved her father, Perpetua replied, “I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.” Her father then in desperation tried violently to shake her, but he wasn’t able to shake her of her fidelity. Finally he brought her much-loved baby boy, saying, “Look upon your son who cannot live after you are gone,” and throwing himself at her feet begged her with tears not to bring such dishonor on their whole family. Perpetua wrote of how much she grieved for her father and family, but entrusted herself to God, whom she knew loved her family even more than she did and would take care of them should she die for love of him. When she was led before the procurator of the province, Hilarian, he tried all the same tactics of the threats of torture, of the pain of her father, of the ruin that would come to her son. But none worked. Upon his query, “Are you a Christian,” she answered resolutely, “Yes, I am.” She was sentenced to be killed by wild boars, cows, leopards, bears and gladiators in a spectacle for bloodthirsty soldiers. Alongside her on the altar of the arena was Felicity. Because she was pregnant when captured, she feared that she might not be able to give the supreme witness of her love for Christ, because in general Romans did not execute women who were pregnant lest they execute a child for the “crime” of the mother. She asked some clandestine Christians, however, to pray for an early childbirth and her prayers were answered. She gave birth to a girl whom two of her fellow Christians adopted. As she was being led into the ampitheater, she was singing triumphal psalms and rejoicing that she had so quickly passed “from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after the pangs of childbirth in a second baptism.” She was to be baptized in the same baptism of blood for which Jesus once longed and said, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:50). The procurator set a savage cow upon Felicity and Perpetua. The cow violently threw Perpetua down on her back, tearing her tunic and disheveling her hair. Perpetua got up and quickly pinned her hair, since letting one’s hair down in the ancient world was a universal sign of mourning. In the meantime, the cow had gone after Felicity and had brutally tossed her on the ground. Perpetua ran over to her and helped her up the cow ran away. They stood awaiting another attack, but none came. They turned to the crowd and shouted to the Christians among them, “Stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.” They gave each other the kiss of peace, and since the cow wouldn’t kill them, the gladiators were dispatched to pierce them with a sword and send them to God. They then completed their earthly journey of faith soon after their baptism. Their faith came to perfect, as did their hope and love.
- Today we come forward to Mass, to meet the same Jesus the royal official met in Cana and Jesus wants to do in us an even greater miracle than he did for this man’s son. We come to meet the same Jesus who crowned Perpetua and Felicity with imperishable wreaths and who wants to strengthen us with what made them so bold. We haven’t journeyed for 20 miles on foot, we’re not facing a savage cow, but nevertheless we journeyed to get to this chapel and face various challenges and temptations.. Jesus wants to give himself to us on the inside so that we can begin to journey in communion with him all the way to the Father’s home, to the new heavens and the new earth, and to the joyful fulfillment of all his promises. And Jesus hopes that once Mass is done and we’ve been renewed in faith, we will like the royal official bring our families and friends to believe, and like Perpetua and Felicity, give witness of the beauty of our faith so that many others may join or journey more deeply into Christ’s household and be emboldened to live and die for him who lived and died for us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.
PS 30:2 AND 4, 5-6, 11-12A AND 13B
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
“Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.