07 February 2018

Homily - 4 February 2018 - The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am a few days late in posting this, but here is the text of the homily I preached this past Sunday:

The Fifth Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The fever of Simon’s mother-in-law must have been truly severe, for she could not even see to the basic requirement of hospitality. She is not the only one among us who lays “sick with a fever” (Mark 1:30). Indeed, there are many fevers under which humanity falls and suffers. Our fevers weigh so heavily upon us that the service of Christ, that growth in virtue and holiness – our true happiness – is difficult and we become lethargic and stagnant. These varied fevers are unavoidable and come to us all, but it is precisely for this reason that Jesus declares, “For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38).

Elsewhere, Christ, the Divine Physician, says, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Mark 2:17). The fevers from which we suffer are truly many. There is the fever of anger or greed; of lust or envy; of sloth, gluttony or pride. There are also the fevers of “ideologies, idolatry, [and the] forgetfulness of God,” each of which is becoming more rampant today.[1] The greatest of these – and the one that gives rise to them all – is the forgetfulness of God, the failure to recognize him and the beauty and wonder of his will for our lives.

When the forgetfulness of God sets upon us, it is easy to ask with Job, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery” (Job 7:1)? It is easy to say with him, “I shall not see happiness again” (Job 7:7). Those who forget God come to think God has forgotten or abandoned them; those who forget God fail to realize he “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). How often do we forget the Lord?

In the classic movie The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts says to the Princess Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Psalmist put it somewhat differently: “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; most of them are sorrow and toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone” (Psalm 90:10). That, Saint Augustine tells us, “is why Christ, that is why the new life, that is why eternal hope, that is why the consolation of immortality has been promised us and in the flesh of the Lord has already been given us.”[2] Yes, life may be short and filled with pain and many fevers, but, as the Lord said to his disciples upon receiving word of the illness of Lazarus, “This illness is not to end in death,” just as we see in the Gospel today (John 11:4).

When he saw the illness of Simon’s mother-in-law, the Lord Jesus “approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up” (Mark 1:31). As sometimes happens because translating a text is more an art than a science, our English translation does not quite capture the richness of Saint Mark’s words. The word he used in Greek when he said Jesus “helped her up” is, literally, the same word the Evangelist used to describe Jesus’ own Resurrection. So it is that “this woman’s recovery from illness is a foreshadowing of the resurrection on the last day.”[3]
With Job, we, too ask the Lord, “When shall I arise” (Job 7:4)? We shall arise, we shall be raised up, when the Lord approaches us and grasps our hand on the Last Day. This is why our heavenly patron says,

He rose again, you see, to give us hope, because what rises again is what first dies. So [Christ’s resurrection] was to save us from despair at dying and from thinking that our whole life ends with death. We were anxious, I mean, about the soul, and he by rising again gave us an assurance even about the flesh… He descended in order to heal you; he ascended in order to lift you up.[4]

We shall soon arise, for he has indeed come among us. On his glorious Cross, he “took away our infirmities and bore our diseases” (cf. Matthew 8:17). He has come to grasp our hand and to lift us up, just as he did with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, if only we will let him (cf. Mark 1:31).

This is the very message the Apostle Paul is obliged to preach; it is the good news of victory over sin and death the Lord has won for us (cf. I Corinthians 9:16). No longer are Job’s words true: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope” (Job 7:6). Because “Christ Jesus our hope” is risen, we, too, should be filled with hope, for “the Lord sustains the lowly” (cf. I Timothy 1:1; Psalm 147:5). Life becomes a drudgery only for the one who has no hope because he has forgotten God; life becomes a drudgery only for the one who does not see the mysterious beauty of the Crucifis.

The one who remembers God has hope; he has Christ; he knows he will be taken by the hand and lifted up. What is more, he knows the Lord desires to take him by the hand even now.

And he does so in all ages; he takes us by the hand with his Word, thereby dispelling the fog of ideologies and forms of idolatry. He takes us by the hand in the sacraments; he heals us from the fever of our passions and sins through absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He gives us the possibility to raise ourselves, to stand before God and before men and women. And precisely within this context of the Sunday liturgy, the Lord comes to meet us; he takes us by the hand, raises us, and heals us ever anew with the gift of his words, the gift of himself.[5]

In just a few moments, the Lord will approach little Piper Mae. He will take her tiny hand, lift her up, and heal her of the fever of original sin.

From this day forward, it will be your duty, parents and godparents, to keep her hand always stretched out towards the Lord’s, to keep her hand always open to his grasp. Teach her to flee from the fevers that will seek to overtake her. By your own witness to the Gospel, may you teach her to love God and neighbor, so that she will always know the joy of being loved by God. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 5 February 2006.
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 359.9. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. VIII: Psalms 51-150, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 167.
[3] Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Mark, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 49.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 261.1.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 5 February 2006.

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