in Ordinary Time
I was away on vacation from last Thursday afternoon (June 28) till early this afternoon (July 4). On Sunday I concelebrated at the Oakland Mills site of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Columbia, Md., my sister's parish. We heard a very good homily there. Following my custom, I offer here an "oldie" of my own.
July 2, 2000
Wis 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24
Mark 5: 21-24, 35-43
Our Lady of Pompei, Paterson, N.J.
St. Joseph, Passaic, N.J.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, representing 13 of the British colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America, voted their independence from Great Britain. The protest being fought to assert their equal rights as Englishmen became a war to assert their complete freedom among the nations of the earth. Happy Independence Day!
The next evening, July 3, delegate John Adams of Massachusetts wrote home to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be a memorable epocha [sic] in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews [sic], games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
We have certainly done justice to Adams’s confidence in the outcome of the struggle and to his hopes for the celebration of our freedom—except perhaps for the “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” As you know, religion doesn’t get much play in our Independence Day festivities. And except, certainly, for the day of our celebration. Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent Declaration setting forth the reasons for independence so captured our hearts and minds that the day of its adoption by Congress, July 4, also captured the celebrations so fondly expected by his colleague Adams.
|Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull--Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol (Office of the Architect of the Capitol)|
We here do solemnly thank God for the blessings of liberty and pray him to continue them, as well as to pardon and correct our individual and our national, collective abuse of our liberty.
The War of American Independence was about political liberty. Our 1st and 3d readings this morning address a different kind of liberty, one more fundamental, one more durable. “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (Wis 2:23-24). God made us to live; he “did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1:13).
Yet death is a fact: indisputable, unavoidable. Even the little daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43) eventually died a permanent bodily death, as also did those others whom Jesus revived, the widow’s son and Lazarus. With St. Paul, writing to the Romans, we can all cry out in exasperation, “Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (7:24). Who will liberate us from the tyranny of death?
“By the envy of the devil, death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). This is the Book of Wisdom’s take on the fall of the human race in the garden of Eden. Out of jealousy for the happiness of the human friends of God, the devil tempted them to spurn God’s friendship, as he himself had done. And tempted, the 1st man and woman fell. They chose a lie; they chose disobedience; they chose death. “They who belong to [the devil’s] company experience [death],” Wisdom tells us (2:24). Or, as St. Paul put it, to the Romans once again, “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). Death is not God’s plan but the consequence of our own love for evil.
Paul’s earlier question, “Who will deliver me from this mortal body?”, he answered himself in the next line: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25). Jesus Christ came to set us free: to forgive our sins and erase their mortal consequences.
Jesus’ power over death during his earthly ministry, demonstrated in this morning’s gospel, foreshadows his own permanent victory over the grave. Tho utterly sinless in his own person, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter (cf. Is 53:7). He died, as every human being must. But his death was an injustice, because he was sinless. Therefore, the devil and the netherworld had no claim on him, and undying justice (Wis 1:15) compelled them to give him up. God the Father justified his own Son by raising him to a new kind of bodily life, no longer mortal. This we celebrated during the 7 weeks of Easter. This we celebrate every Sunday, the day of the resurrection. This we look forward to ourselves—not because we’re innocent and without sin (cf. Job 33:9), but thanks to the grace of God bestowed on us in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized into his death and resurrection. We eat his body and drink his blood in order that we might be incorporated into his righteousness before God and into his immortality.
So, before all our suffering and death, and even before the memory of our worst sins—provided we have repented and confessed them—we listen to the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36). Have faith that he has truly conquered both sin and death. He has liberated us all from the worst the devil can do to us.