Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Bishop, Founder and Doctor of the Church
August 1, 2015
Lev 25:1.8-17, Ps 67, 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:
- Over the course of the last couple of weeks we have pondered, through the use of Jesus’ seven different parables, what the Kingdom of God is and how we enter it. He taught us about good soil and the three types of insufficient soil: stubborn, superficial and dissipated by pleasure or fear. He taught us that the Kingdom comes into contact with both wheat and weeds, that the dragnet of the Church encompasses both “good” and “bad” fish. We saw these parables played out yesterday in Nazareth, where the stubbornness and superficiality of Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes against both seed and Sower in the synagogue is contrasted with the faith of Mary and Joseph. We see it play out again today in the forest of thorns in the flesh of Herod and the receptivity of St. John the Baptist, who had made God his treasure and pearl. It’s important for us to see the huge contrast between the slavery that bound Herod even though he was externally a free king and the freedom of John the Baptist, even though he was arrested, bound, imprisoned and eventually martyred. And it’s important for us to see the contrast of Herod’s actions and those of God as seen in the practice of the Jubilee in today’s first reading and in Jesus’ words in the Nazarene Synagogue.
- King Herod was so enslaved by lust and ego. We see this in his not only cavorting with but stealing and marrying the wife of his half-brother Philip. 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, as John the Baptist said, for Herod to have Herodias as his wife. His lust led to the eclipse of his conscience. With a string of violent verbs, the evangelist tells us that Herod had John arrested, bound, and imprisoned. He wanted to kill him, St. Matthew tells us, but he feared the people. But eventually he 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. John the Baptist was free to say the truth because he was free ultimately of the fear of death. When Herod hears of Jesus, he thought he was John the Baptist, saying, “He has been raised from the dead,” the very words the angels will use at the tomb about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus was certainly not John reincarnated or resurrected, but John would share in Jesus’ resurrection and he in essence was a precursor to Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, just like he was in birth, in preaching, and in martyrdom.
- In contrast to Herod’s slavery to lust, we see in today’s first reading and in Jesus’ messianic mission God’s call to be free in order to love. God announces a Jubilee to be celebrated every fifty years. It would be a time in which people would be reconstituted. Slaves would be freed. People would return home. Debts would be forgiven. It would be a chance for a new beginning. There is a lot of scholarly discussion as to whether or how often this Biblical concept of the Jubilee was practiced during Old Testament times, but there is no doubt that when Jesus appeared in the Nazareth synagogue and began to proclaim the Prophet Isaiah’s messianic job description and give his one sentence homily that Isaiah’s words were fulfilled in him that he was proclaiming this Jubilee, this new beginning. St. Luke tells us that Jesus “unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’ Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and … said to them, ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing'” (Lk 4:16-21). That year acceptable to the Lord is the Jubilee Year with no last day. It was meant to be a time of liberation, of proclaiming liberty to captives and letting the oppressed go free. That’s what Jesus came to give us at a supernatural level and to help us to give others at a supernatural and natural level. Rather than the egocentric lust filled slavery to our flesh, Jesus was making possible for a theocentric love of God and others, sacrificing ourselves for others rather than sacrificing ourselves for pleasure, rather than offering others half our kingdom, seeking to conform everything we do to help others, with us, seize all of God’s kingdom.
- Today we celebrate the Feast of a saint who not only received this gift of liberation from God but who tried likewise to liberate others. St. Alphonsus Maria Ligouri grew up with Jesus in a pious home. He received a superlative education with double law degrees at the age of 16 and was a legal wunderkind. Eventually, however, he began to wander from the faith. And after losing his first case on a technicality, he began to look at the vanity of his life and seek something substantial. Converted and in a sense liberated, he sought the priesthood, against much opposition from his father. He eventually founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which was dedicated to preaching missions, bringing people back to the faith, helping them to learn and live by the truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32). It was a work that brought great consolation in seeing people turn their lives around, receive God’s mercy for the first time in decades, reconcile familial disputes and more. He preached in simple terms so that everyone could understand and response to their evangelical emancipation. Beginning at the age of 49, he began to write books to consolidate this formation, and until he died at 91, he wrote 111 works, on Christ, on the Sacraments, on Mary, and the Christian life as seen in the lives of the martyrs and more. He sought to help people to grasp that Christ’s words in the Nazarene synagogue were still being fulfilled in our hearing and to accept his offer of a liberating Jubilee.
- St. Alphonsus Ligouri experienced that saving truth himself each day at Mass as he heard the Word of God and received the Word-made-flesh and grew in amazement at the Lord’s real presence throughout a life of adoration. and in the adoration of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He wrote in a book of devotions for the Redemptorist novices, “My Saviour in the Sacrament, O divine Lover, how lovable are the tender inventions of your love to make yourself beloved by souls! O eternal Word, you who became man, you were not content with dying for us; you gave us this Sacrament as company, nourishment and a pledge of Paradise. You appeared among us as an infant in a stable, as a poor man in a workshop, as an offender on a cross, as bread upon an altar. Tell me, must anything else be invented to make you loved?”
- St. Alphonsus didn’t need anything else. Today Jesus, surrounded by all his courtiers in heaven — St. Alphonsus, the Blessed Virgin and all the saints and angels — are throwing a feast far greater than any that Herod in his fallen state was ever capable of. And into this feast will be brought not a martyr’s head on a platter, but our whole lives on a paten, in order to be united with Christ’s self-offering to the Father and receive from God in return not just a percentage of his kingdom, but the King himself. We turn to the Lord who would give us all this and ask him for the grace to help us truly welcome to the full this gift of liberation Christ offers and, like St. Alphonsus, to give our lives joyfully to spread Christ’s liberating mission.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 LV 25:1, 8-17
“Seven weeks of years shall you count–seven times seven years–
so that the seven cycles amount to forty-nine years.
Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, let the trumpet resound;
on this, the Day of Atonement, the trumpet blast shall re-echo
throughout your land.
This fiftieth year you shall make sacred
by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you,
when every one of you shall return to his own property,
every one to his own family estate.
In this fiftieth year, your year of jubilee,
you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth
or pick the grapes from the untrimmed vines.
Since this is the jubilee, which shall be sacred for you,
you may not eat of its produce,
except as taken directly from the field.
every one of you shall return to his own property.
Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor
or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly.
On the basis of the number of years since the last jubilee
shall you purchase the land from your neighbor;
and so also, on the basis of the number of years for crops,
shall he sell it to you.
When the years are many, the price shall be so much the more;
when the years are few, the price shall be so much the less.
For it is really the number of crops that he sells you.
Do not deal unfairly, then; but stand in fear of your God.
I, the LORD, am your God.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 67:2-3, 5, 7-8
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
The earth has yielded its fruits;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
Alleluia MT 5:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righeousness
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 14:1-12
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.”
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.