Thursday, July 21, 2016

Homily for Wednesday, Week 15

Homily for
Wednesday, Week 15
July 13, 2016
Is 10: 5-7, 13-16
Marian Mass
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Thus says the Lord:  Woe to Assyria!  My rod in anger, my staff in wrath” (Is 10: 5).

Prophet Isaiah
St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va.
Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah for some 40 years in the 2d half of the 8th century B.C.  During that time, the northern kingdom, Israel, with its capital in Samaria, was collapsing under the weight of its sins, especially idolatry and social injustice, and from the might of the expanding empire of Assyria, in what is now northern Iraq, with its capital at Nineveh.  (In the news you’ve heard about ISIS capturing the Nineveh plain and driving out the Christians living there.)

The Assyrians were strong, proud, and brutal.  When they overran Israel in 722-721 B.C., they destroyed the nation and took the 10 northern tribes (Asher, Napthali, Manasseh, Zebulon, Issachar, Gad, Ephraim, Dan, Rueben, and Simeon) into exile, and those tribes disappeared from history.  Later, the Assyrians also threatened Judah, but Jerusalem was miraculously delivered, as you can read in both 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37.

Our reading from Isaiah this evening concerns what the Assyrians did to Israel, the northern kingdom.  The prophet asserts that God sent them to punish Israel for their sins:  “against an impious nation I send him” (10:6).  But the Assyrians went further than the Lord intended by utterly destroying the kingdom and its people.  Isaiah chastises Assyria for its boasting of its might, its claim, “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom,” and so on (10:13-14).  Isaiah reminds his audience that God is the one calling the shots, not the mighty Assyrian empire:  “Will the ax boast against him who hews with it?” (10:15).  And the Lord promises to humble Assyria:  “Instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire” (10:16)—which happened when the Babylonian empire crushed the Assyrians in the next century.
Assyrian Empire
By Ningyou - Own work data from Based on a map in 'Atlas of the Bible Lands', C S Hammond & Co (1959), ISBN 9780843709414., Public Domain,

Contrast the Assyrians with the one whom we honor in our Mass this evening, the one who describes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), the one who readily acknowledges, “He who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:49).  She was one of those childlike people to whom the Lord is able to reveal his deepest mysteries, as Jesus says (Matt 11:25; cf. Gospel verse).  God did great things in the Virgin Mary, using her as his instrument, because she humbly allowed him to do so.  We believe that the Lord continues to do great things thru her, e.g., the wondrous delivery of Christian Europe from Turkish invaders in 1571—it was after the great, unexpected victory at Lepanto that St. Pius V added the invocation “Help of Christians” to the Litany of Loreto—and 1683, and the liberation of Pope Pius VII from his imprisonment by Napoleon in 1814 (noted on your prayer cards).  I dare say that Mary, to whom St. John Paul the Great was so devoted, assisted him in the role he played in bringing down the Evil Empire that ravaged Eastern Europe for 45 years in our own lifetimes.

Mary’s example and the Word of God delivered to us this evening challenge us to let ourselves be instruments of the Lord—axes or saws for him to wield, clay for him to shape, his servants listening for his voice suggesting to us what choices we should make, how we should be brother and sister to each other, what faults we need to turn away from.  He created each of us, as he did Mary, to be his instrument in some particular fashion.  It may be a very humble fashion, even a childlike fashion; but all that matters is that we trust him and let him direct our steps, direct our hearts.

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