Turning Fully Toward the Lord, 3rd Thursday of Lent, March 23, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
March 23, 2017
Jer 7:23-28, Ps 95, Lk 11:14-23


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


he following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we pondered how great a gift of God’s mercy it is that God has spoken to us in his word and his commandments. Moses exclaimed, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law that I am setting before you today?” He added that the Israelites should rejoice in that gift of mercy and pass it on to their children and grandchildren as a means by which to grow closer to the God who through his word and commandments has drawn near to us. Jesus himself in the Gospel said he came to fulfill that law and said that the greatest in his Kingdom would be those who put that word into practice and taught others to do the same.
  • How did the Israelites do with response to the gift of mercy God had given them? The Lord himself summarizes it through the Prophet Jeremiah at the beginning of today’s first reading: “This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper. But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.” Then he uses four body parts to describe their response. “They turned their backs, not their faces, to me.” This was a sign of betrayal and abandonment. “They have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.” They wouldn’t heed the Lord when he sent the prophets toward them. They would simply and resolutely keep doing what they wanted to do. “They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts.” Their hearts, which were meant to be sponges for God’s words, had become sclerotic, impenetrable even to God.
  • We see an illustration of this type of resistance in the Gospel reading. Jesus had just exorcised a boy, one in a long line of deliverances from the devil, but those Scribes and Pharisees who had already hardened their hearts, stiffened their necks and turned their backs toward Jesus refused to accept that any of the incontestable exorcisms happened by the finger of God. They accused him of working exorcisms by the power of the prince of devils. Their hardened hearts had led them to a hardening of the brain. Jesus exposes their foolishness in two ways. First, since they admitted that some of their own number were exorcising, if he cast out by the devil, then they were saying that their own number were exorcising by Beelzebul, too, something of course they would never say. Second, since the devil is trying to win not forfeit the possession our hearts, necks and faces, it would make no sense for him to defeating himself through exorcism. But their response to Jesus’ liberation of the boy from the devil shows what God was describing about the Israelites and their treatment of the prophets sent in God’s name. They didn’t want to turn back to God. No matter how often they had prayed today’s Responsorial Psalm, “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts,” that’s precisely what they did when they heard the voice of God through Jeremiah, and it’s precisely what the Scribes and Pharisees did when they heard Jesus’ voice.
  • Now we turn to us. If we want to prevent what happened to them from happening to us, we need to hearken to the voice of the Lord. Rather than turning our backs toward Him, we need to turn our faces in prayer and in adoration. Rather than hardening our hearts, we need to soften them, by responding to his merciful help to love ever more all that he teaches us, listening to his words as words to be done, and then helping others to receive and live by this same gift of mercy. Rather than stiffening our necks, he wants us to turn with him when he turns to the Father, when he turns to the poor that he wants us to help, when he turns to the others here, when he turns toward our family members that we need to forgive, when he turns toward Sacred Scripture in order to instruct us in his ways. The word “convert” comes from the Latin con-vertere, which means to turn with the Lord, and that’s precisely what God wants to help us to do.
  • The devil will use anything he can to try to get a foothold in us so that he can begin to divide us from the Lord and others. If he can get us to have a hardened heart to the voice of the Lord in Sacred Scripture each day early in the morning, giving us that hardened soil that convinces us we’ve heard it before and it really doesn’t have the power to change our life forever, that’s where he’ll start, because he knows that partially hardened hearts leads to hardening of the spiritual arteries, to stiff necks, to backs turned toward the Lord. If he can harden our hearts by tempting us not to forgive someone else, that’s where he’ll start. If he can harden our hearts through resentment of a superior’s request or command, he will. Any way that he can seek to divide us, within ourselves, among ourselves, or in our relationship with God through sin or tepidity, he will, seeking to metastasize that spiritual cancer later.
  • But at the same time, Jesus today stresses that he is the stronger man who will come to bind the devil and divide his spoils. Jesus’ power to unite is infinitely greater than the devil’s ability to divide. But we need to take advent of all of the means he gives to turn our faces, our hearts, our necks, our bodies and souls to him. I mentioned earlier this week that the Third through Fifth Weeks of Lent are all centered on the annual catechumenate, preparing not only unbaptized elect for the saving waters of baptism, but renewing in each of us our baptismal promises and identity. Today’s readings are a powerful reminder to us of what happens in baptism and how we’re supposed to correspond.
  •  Early in the baptismal rite, the priest exorcised our hearts, taking the oil of catechumens and anointing our heart, casting out the devil and preparing us for the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did for us what he did for those possessed by demons, to soften and prepare our hearts for his presence and prepare us for communion with God and others. The priest prays in the baptismal rite, “Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son in to the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him free from original sin, make him a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” Later our parents and godparents for us, or in our own words if we were baptized after we had reached the age of reason, there was a ratification of that exorcism, proclaiming that we reject Satan, all his evil works and all his empty promises. Then we professed our faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and eternal life. We announced that the devil is real but that Jesus is the stronger man who liberates us. We renew that prayer for deliverance every time we pray the Our Father, begging the Lord to “deliver us from the Evil One.”  We also proclaimed that we had turned our faces, hearts, and necks toward God.
  • Jesus finishes today’s Gospel by saying, “He who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters.” This points to the truth that we cannot be neutral in our life with respect to Jesus and what he’s asking. We’re either actively turning ourselves toward him, or we’re turning our back on him and helping others to turn their back on him. Pope Francis said just over four years ago in his first homily as Pope, that we’re either praying to the Lord or praying to the devil. It’s not enough not to do evil. It’s not enough not formally to turn our back on God or give him a gesture of defiance. If we’re not actively turning toward him, if we’re not receiving his word with good soil, then objectively we’re against him and scattering. Jesus in another passage in the Gospel said something that on the surface seems contradictory, but isn’t. He said to his apostles, “Those who are not against us are with us.” How do the two passages go together? How are they both simultaneously true? The saints have interpreted it to mean that part of us is with the Lord and part of us is not; part of us is gathering, part of us is scattering. And the whole purpose of Lent is to bring us into total conformity so that we may not be a house divided, but a house totally in communion with God. God wants to help us turn the entirety of our hearts, minds, souls, strength, faces and necks to him and then go out with him gathering others to do the same.
  • Today, Jesus wants to help cast out from us whatever is in the grip of the evil one. He wants to cure our hearts, faces, and necks so that they, and our entire body and soul may turn toward the Lord, rejoice in his word and his gifts, and through, with and in Him, gather all people to share the Communion Jesus came into the world to give us. He is the Stronger Man who wants to fill us with his strength in our weakness. As we prepare now to receive him, let us ask him for the grace to love him with all our hearts, faces, necks, minds, soul and strength! Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JER 7:23-28

Thus says the LORD:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

LK 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”