United for Life against Beelzebul’s Lies and Division, 3rd Monday (I), January 23, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Gift of Human Life (for the 44th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade)
Memorial of St. Marianne Cope
January 23, 2017
Heb 9:15.24-28, Ps 98, Mk 3:22-30

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, the day after the 44th anniversary of the catastrophic Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court Decisions that legalized abortion in the US, we mark a Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Cause of Human Life by celebrating a Votive Mass of Thanksgiving to God for the Gift of Human Life. As we approach today’s reality and what God is asking of us in response to it, the Lord in today’s readings gives us both the means to understand deeply what is at the root of the culture of death as well as what the prescription is in order to become a culture of life.
  • In the Gospel, we see the type of division that’s at root in a culture inspired by the one who seeks to lead us to eternal death. The devil seeks to destroy unity and seeks to get others, consciously or unconsciously, to cooperate with him in that fragmentation and destruction. The scribes who had come from Jerusalem on foot to Galilee, witnessing Jesus’ exorcisms, couldn’t deny that the exorcisms were occurring, that possessed people were being liberated, that the demons themselves were hailing Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” They couldn’t deny the facts. But they could try to change the interpretation. And because they had already prejudged Jesus not to be the type of Messiah they were looking for — because he didn’t follow their own man-made prescriptions with regard to the Sabbath, to fasting and to other parts of the fence they drew around the Mosaic law — they concluded that since he couldn’t be of God, then he had to be of the devil. That’s why they said that Jesus himself was “possessed by Beelzebul” and exorcised not by God’s power but by the power of the “prince of demons.” That was an absurd claim, which Jesus pointed out in some brief parables that not only answer the objections but communicate something really important about the unity that’s meant to reign in his kingdom.
  • “How can Satan drive out Satan?,” he said. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself,  that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property  unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.” In other words, the only way he could plunder Satan’s house (a possessed man) and drive him out of that house is if he had bound up Satan first. If a possessed man — as they were claiming Jesus to be — were battling against the prince of demons and casting demons out from those whom the demons had occupied, then Satan’s kingdom would be defeated. Underneath Jesus’ reply is a crucially important principle of unity, something that President Abraham Lincoln himself would famously cite to try to keep the United States united. Kingdoms and houses must stay united to remain in vigor. Therefore the devil will seek, with diabolical unity of purpose, to disintegrate everything he seeks to destroy. He wants to divide nations, he wants to divide families, he wants to divide spouses, he wants to divide the Church. Jesus, rather, prays for unity during the Last Supper, wanting us to be as united with each other as he is with the Father. But we need to cooperate with Jesus’ prayer and become signs and agents of that unity.
  • The second thing Jesus mentions is about how the devil seeks to sow disunity. “Amen, I say to you,” he articulated, beginning with the words of a solemn oath: “all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and why can’t it be forgiven? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in general, is calling something evil good or good evil. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and one blasphemes against him whenever one deliberately or with vincible ignorance calls a lie the truth or a truth the lie. Jesus reminded them of this sin because they were saying “He has an unclean spirit,” that he was possessed, as he was doing God’s work. The same type of sin happens today, for example, with those who want to treat same-sex sexual activity as if it’s the eighth sacrament rather than sinful, who want to call those who defend the institution of marriage as God made it “hateful” and “bigoted,” those who want to defend unborn girls in the womb from execution “anti-woman” and “anti-freedom,” those who want to call chaste priests and nuns “perverts” and “sexually repressed,” those who, like the late Christopher Hitchens, wanted to call Blessed Mother Teresa’s charity just an exercise in “vanity,” and so on. Why is such a sin against the Holy Spirit, against the truth, unforgivable? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864). The reason why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable is not because God doesn’t want to forgive but because the sinner won’t open up to receive mercy, either because he doesn’t believe he needs it, or because she doesn’t believe God will forgive, or because he doesn’t want to come to receive it in the way God has intended. When someone is convinced that evil is good and a lie is true, the person will not think he or she is in need of forgiveness. When someone is calling Jesus evil and possessed, that person is generally not going to come to ask Jesus for mercy. When someone has convinced himself that abortion is a beautiful act of freedom that should be celebrated, that gossiping is a charitable information service for inquiring minds that want to know, that producing smut is a public service in line with the right of free speech, they’re generally not going to repent. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not a curse against the third Person of the Trinity but a hard-hearted refusal to be opened by him to the truth of things and to come to receive the forgiveness that “God the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has sent the Holy Spirit among us” to accomplish. A culture of life and a civilization of love begins with opening ourselves up to God’s mercy and sharing it with others, based on the truth about who we are, others are, and whether our actions correspond to the truth about the good.
  • Someone who lived the truth, who cooperated with the Holy Spirit, who fought the devil by loving and uniting rather than dividing, is St. Marianne Cope whom the Church in the US today remembers. A German immigrant, she entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, NY in 1862 at the age of 24. Eventually she became a hospital administrator — where she was criticized for caring too much for alcoholics and other outcasts — and Provincial. In 1883, when she was 45, she received a letter from St. Damien de Veuster from Molokai, begging for help in working with his leprosy patients in Hawaii and running schools and managing hospitals. She and six other Sisters arrived later that year, prepared to work for the rest of their lives in the leprosaria. She showed that every person, including the greatest outcasts, had immeasurable dignity. With St. Damien, she prepared for the most extravagant funerals, to teach through the way people were buried how great the gift of life is and how much greater the gift of eternal life is. Her witness of loving charity and service to everyone, including those whose dignity was often forgotten or despised, is a witness of the work of the “stronger man” inspiring her within. And it’s a model for all work in fostering a culture of life.
  • To be strengthened to carry out this work, to defeat the lies and the division of the devil, God has provided the means. Later in this Mass, at the Prayer over the Gifts, we will pray, “Accept our humble offerings, O Lord of the living, and unite us to the perfect sacrifice of your Son, through whom you have made all creation new.” That perfect sacrifice of the Son of God is what today’s first reading describes, how Jesus has entered into the sanctuary of heaven once and for all “to take away the sins of many” so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” He’s gone there so that he may share his spoils from binding Satan with us. But to receive that salvation, Hebrews continue, we must “eagerly await him.” That is the way we pray the Mass, with eager expectation for Christ who eagerly desired to eat this Passover with us. This is the “new song” we “sing to the Lord” in every age, not just in solos, but in a harmonious choir brought together by the Lord himself, who has given us life and now strengthens us to send us out to proclaim that evangelium vitae. 

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 HEB 9:15, 24-28

Christ is mediator of a new covenant:
since a death has taken place
for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant,
those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.

For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4, 5-6

R. (1a) Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
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. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
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. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
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. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.

Alleluia 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 MK 3:22-30

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and
“By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables,
“How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided,
he cannot stand;
that is the end of him.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder his house.
Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies
that people utter will be forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”