HOMILY WEEK 26 01 – Year II
Qualities of a Strong Faith:
Feast of St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Isaac Jogues and Companions
(Job 1:6-22; Ps 17; Lk 9:46-50)
“In all of this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.”
That conclusion to the first reading today sets the stage for the readings and the message they convey – that strong faith in God’s loving presence and providence entails childlike trust, loving inclusivity and the ability to accept redemptive suffering.
Jesus had called the twelve apostles together and given them power to heal and set people free. They had fed five thousand people. Some of them had witnessed the Transfiguration. It was a pretty heady time for them, so it’s understandable the disciples were thinking about greatness and how special they were. They had been specially chosen by Jesus himself, after all.
The response by Jesus was to place a little child beside him, and teach them that the least among them is the greatest. One of the most striking characteristics of a little child is a total and fearless trust in their parents. Can we be that secure in God’s love for us and so totally trusting in God’s presence and providence in our lives that we can let go of any need for attention, acclaim or power?
The disciples then try to stop someone, also doing deeds of power, who was not specially chosen like them, and expect Jesus to respond in a like manner. To their surprise, Jesus retorts that whoever is not against them is for them. Again, can we be so secure in God’s love and providence, that we can be open and inclusive and see how God is working in the world, outside of the box and in surprising and least expected ways?
Turning to the first reading, we hear the well-known story of the suffering of Job – how he lost everything to tragedy and calamity, but did not lose his faith in God’s loving presence in his life. As such he pre-figures Jesus as the suffering servant. Just as Job was able to accept his suffering without bitterness or resentment, Jesus went through his passion to his crucifixion like a lamb led to slaughter, with only forgiveness on his lips and in his heart.
This episode from the Old Testament is a teaching about the cross, before the cross is even thought of. And it presents us with perhaps the most striking quality of a strong faith in God and God’s presence and providence in our lives – to be able to accept suffering and inconvenience in our lives without bitterness or resentment, like Jesus on the cross. Then our suffering in a mystical yet very real way is connected to the suffering of Jesus and takes on deep meaning and purpose. It becomes redemptive suffering and helps build up the kingdom of God.
That is a lesson our world desperately needs to hear today, given how so many seem to have lost their faith in God, and have no understanding of the powerful role suffering can play in our lives. Indeed, there are lessons in life that we will learn only through suffering. Awards to children bring honor to a family, but they do not develop depth and character – it is the presence of a Down’s Syndrome child or other such obstacle and how it is graciously accepted with faith, that truly develops the character of a family.
The small book by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, entitled Practicing the Presence of God, is an illustration of this truth. His secret to holiness was to find and experience the presence of God in the smallest and humblest of tasks, and in everyone and everything.
This day honors the eight martyrs of North America – six Jesuit priests and two assistants – who died between 1642 and 1649. All originally from Europe in response to the call for “missionaries to the Indians.” They were on fire to spread the love of God and faith in Jesus Christ to the First Nations and showed great courage in facing death. The first group, who died in the United States, included Isaac Jogues and two laymen René Goupil and Jean de la Lande. The second group, who died in Canada, included Jean de Brébeuf, Antoine Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier and Noël Chabanel, all Jesuits. They were aware of the dangers involved and of the fate of captives. Some had been captured and escaped, but then returned to face possible martyrdom, persisting in their efforts to preach the Gospel to the Indigenous peoples. Accounts of the martyrdom of Brébeuf and Lalemant survive today in the Jesuit Relations. Shrines have been built in their honor at Auriesville, NY and Midland, ON, attracting thousands of pilgrims annually. The latter shrine was visited by Pope JP II during his first trip to Canada.
The Eucharist is an act of deep faith. We believe we are hearing the Word of God, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit, humble gifts of bread and wine will be transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. May our celebration deepen our faith in God’s loving presence and providence, and empower us to have childlike trust, loving inclusivity and the ability to accept some redemptive suffering in our lives.