HOMILY WEEK 04 05 – Year I
Loved and Loving: Memorial of St. Agatha
(Heb 13:1-8; Ps 27; Mk 6:14-29)
Today’s readings remind us of how loved we are by God, and invite us to live out of that love in a multiplicity of ways.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews lays the foundation for the whole liturgy: “God has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So, we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” The reading goes on to assert “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Psalm 27 picks up that theme of the constancy of God’s love with the refrain, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” and assures us God will shelter us and protect us from all harm.
What flows out of this bed-rock reality of God’s love for us is a variety of consequences for the lives of those who “rest in that love.” One of the first, mentioned by both the author of Hebrews and the psalm, is freedom from fear. What a blessing that can be in a world more and more marked by an underlying fear and insecurity morphing into racism, tribalism, ultra-nationalism and the instinct to exclude those who are different or not easily understood. Bottom line – we need not be afraid.
The letter to the Hebrews goes on to list other qualities accompanying those who rest secure in God’s love. First, we will feel free to welcome and extend hospitality to strangers, to feel and offer compassion to those in prison and to those undergoing persecution and torture. Compassion comes from cum-passio, to feel with another, to feel in one’s own guts what the other person is experiencing. That is a true sign that one is secure in God’s love.
We will also be more sensitive to honouring commitments made in faith and love, especially to marital commitment. A young man told me he was afraid to get married because of the high degree of divorce in our world today. His father was an alcoholic who came from a broken home and found it difficult to love his own family as they needed to be loved. His faith in God’s unconditional and never-ending love for us needs to grow stronger, as it can help us overcome the lack of love we may have experienced, and give us the courage to enter into life-time commitments. Love begets love.
Another sign of security flowing from God’s love for us mentioned in Hebrews, is be an openness to simplicity of lifestyle, and an ability to let go of attachment to material things. I admire one person who when going out with his girlfriend was honest with her and invited her, should they marry, to live a simple style of life. My admiration was even stronger when I realized he had come from a rather dysfunctional family background himself. I am convinced it was his strong faith in God’s love for him which gave him that ability to nevertheless choose simplicity.
In the gospel, we can see insecurity even in a king like Herod. We know how that insecurity caused him to murder hundreds of innocent children when told of the birth of a child-king by the Magi at Jesus’ birth. Now that insecurity reared its ugly head again, but this time as false pride and fear of not living up to his promise to his step-daughter made in the hearing of his guests, even when her request was a terribly unjust and cruel one, the head of John the Baptist, engineered by another very insecure person, her mother Herodias. We can be truly free of that false god of pride and self-consciousness when we are secure in God’s love for us.
The words from Hebrew, “Let marriage be held in honor by all” are music to my ears, especially now that I am involved in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement. That movement is especially dedicated to promoting and living out those words, and what a blessing it is to be working with couples who are both secure in God’s love for them individually, but also secure in their love for each other, and selflessly giving of themselves to promote God’s ideal of marital commitment as a sacrament of God’s love.
Today the church honours St. Agatha, who models radical faith for us. Known mainly through legend, she was martyred during the time of the Decian persecution (249-251). It is alleged she was sent to a brothel to force her to give up her faith. After she was tortured, the apostle Peter is said to have appeared and cured her. The following day she died in prison of new cruelties. Her intervention was credited with stilling the eruption of Mount Edna the year after her burial. In the Middle Ages, especially in southern Germany, bread, candles, fruit and letters were blessed in her name to ward off destruction by fire. She is considered a patron of miners, alpine guides and nurses, and is mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I.
The Eucharist is a powerful experience of God’s unconditional love for us revealed especially through the selfless death of Jesus on the cross.
May our celebration of God’s Word and the reception of the very body and blood of Jesus grant us an even deeper security in God’s love for us, and empower us to live out that love with compassion, hospitality, forgiveness, commitment and freedom from fear, as did St. Agatha.