Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor
September 17, 2015
1 Tim 4:12-16, Ps 111, Lk 7:36-50
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel we encounter one of most beautiful scenes in the life of Jesus, but it is also one of the most important for us to grasp if we wish to love Jesus and to spread love of him. Jesus is welcomed into the home of a leading Pharisee, Simon, who doesn’t welcome Jesus with the three typical gestures with which guests were always greeted, with an embrace on the shoulder, the washing of feet with cold water, and a pinch of incense or smell of roses on the head. Simon, it seems, not only took typical hospitality for granted but took Jesus for granted.
- The sinful woman in the Gospel, however, did not take him for granted. As Jesus lay reclining with the others at the table, she anointed his feet with oil, then washed them with her tears — think about how copious she must have been weeping! — and then dried them with her long hair. Simon’s reaction was that Jesus couldn’t have been a prophet if he didn’t realize this woman was a sinner, but Jesus in fact recognized they both were and drew an important and obvious lesson we shouldn’t miss as he prepared to forgive her sins and send her away in peace: The one who has been forgiven more, loves more. “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” For us to love Jesus much, we need to be forgiven much.
- Pope Francis stresses this point in a book length interview before he became Pope. “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope Francis said in El Jesuita. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio said, “he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.” Many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved, … who therefore lack the experience of who they are,” he lamented. “I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.”
- That’s why it’s essential for us to have this experience of our desperate need for Christ’s mercy and for us to come, like the woman in the Gospel, to weep at Jesus’ feet, conscious that, as we prayed in the Psalm, “his mercy endures forever” and that he has done everything he did to forgive us our sins. If we remain aloof, like Simon the Pharisee, we’ll never really understand who Jesus is or who we are.
- To say that those love the Lord much are those who have been forgiven much doesn’t mean that those who have had the “biggest sins” forgiven but those who have the greatest gratitude for the Lord’s mercy. Some of the great saints, like for example St. Philip Neri, have always said, “But for the grace of God go I.” They realized that they were capable of every type of sin but the grace, the mercy, of God prevented them. None of us will love the Lord as much as the Blessed Mother who didn’t need to be forgiven, but she had a great sense of how the Lord’s mercy extends from generation to generation, to Abraham and his children forever. Her sinlessness was preveniently a gift of God’s mercy from the moment she was conceived. She was able to love the Lord much because she experienced that mercy in filling her with grace, because she recognized that but by being filled and helped by grace she could succumb to the temptations she experienced in faith. She loved much because she had this great gratitude for God’s mercy.
- This truth brings us to appreciate better today’s first reading. St. Paul was one who had experienced the abundance of God’s mercy. As we’ve heard earlier in his first letter to St. Timothy, he knew he was a blasphemer, persecutor and violently angry man. He was the foremost of sinners yet he recognized that by his having been forgiven he could become a fitting ambassador to appeal to everyone else to be reconciled to God because if he could be forgiven, so could they. But St. Timothy was not exactly in the same category. He had been raised in a holy way by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Tim 1:5) and lived with their “sincere faith.” He had been made aware from his earliest days of the mercy of the Lord and because of that gratitude never took it for granted and sought to live a holy life. But his youthfulness was a little bit of a handicap. It was, in some ways, harder for him to appeal to others for conversion because some thought he hadn’t yet lived, that he might not understand their temptations. So today St. Paul gives a lot of advice for him to show the power of the Lord’s mercy through other means.
- St. Paul begins by saying, “Let no one have contempt for your youth” — youth meant anyone under 40 in the Greek — but “set an example for those who believe in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.” The way you contradict the critics is by virtue, the way we speak and act, our agape, our loyalty, our unsullied life. When we give evidence that our behavior is the fruit of a genuine choice for God rather than just a sense of naive innocence, then it can be even more powerful than a great conversation story. St. Paul continues, “Attend to the reading, exhortation and teaching.” He means here to the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, proclaiming God’s word, encouraging others on account of it and explaining what it means and its power. “Do not neglect the gift you have,” Paul tells Timothy, which is incredible advice in every season, because one of the ways we most often neglect God’s gift is by failing to focus on it, instead focusing on the gifts we don’t have and desire. He tells Timothy to be “diligent in these matters [and] absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone.” We have a duty not to hide the gift of God under a bushel basket; when people criticize us for being too young, we can at least point to the growth God has given us, not to draw attention to ourselves but to God. It’s a sign of the type of growth God wants to do in them. And St. Paul finishes by speaking about his discipleship and apostolate, both of which are meant to be a proclamation of God’s merciful love: “Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”
- Someone who lived by that advice and who sought to help others to do so is the great doctor of the Church we celebrate today, St. Robert Bellarmine, one of the pivotal figures of the Counter-Reformation in the late 1500s and early 1600s who attended to himself and teaching, saving himself and so many others. He was one whose example — speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, his reading exhortation and teaching — helped so many who had been cutting themselves off from the Church, the Sacrament of God’s mercy, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. His teaching sought to bring them back, so that they might learn how to love the Lord much. He also, like St. Paul toward St. Timothy, had a great love for holiness in young people. St. Robert really promoted the vocation of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who died at the tender age of 21. He is an example for us of someone who sought to live by the truths of the readings today and to help others to do the same.
- Today on his feast day we come here to meet the same Jesus who entered Simon the Pharisee’s house. We come to hear the reading, exhortation and teaching, We ask for Jesus’ help so that we may never neglect the gift we have, and the greatest gift of all is the gift of Jesus himself in the sacraments. And we ask him to help us persevere in holiness and in teaching so that we might be saved and bring anyone who will listen to us likewise to salvation. Yes, indeed, the works of the Lord are great, and, having received his mercy, we have become one of those works!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 TM 4:12-16
Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.
Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.
Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you through the prophetic word
with the imposition of hands by the presbyterate.
Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them,
so that your progress may be evident to everyone.
Attend to yourself and to your teaching;
persevere in both tasks,
for by doing so you will save
both yourself and those who listen to you.
Responsorial Psalm PS 111:7-8, 9, 10
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
sure are all his precepts,
Reliable forever and ever,
wrought in truth and equity.
R. How great are the works of the Lord!
He has sent deliverance to his people;
he has ratified his covenant forever;
holy and awesome is his name.
R. How great are the works of the Lord!
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
prudent are all who live by it.
His praise endures forever.
R. How great are the works of the Lord!
Alleluia MT 11:28
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 7:36-50
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”