Homily by D. Mark Daniel Kirby, O.Cist.
for the Feast of St. Gabriel
Eighth Monday of the Year II
Commemoration of Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, Religious
1 Peter 1: 3-9
Psalm 110: 1-2, 5-6, 9 and 10c
Mark 10: 17-27
February 27, 2006
Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
The martyrology for February 27th presents us with a compelling illustration of the Gospel we just heard. Today the Church remembers another rich young man: Francesco Possenti, Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. Canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920, Saint Gabriel was declared the special patron of young people by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
Saint Mark describes in vivid detail Jesus’ encounter with a youthful seeker.
The Gospel does not say that the man is young, but his gesture and his discourse suggest the kind of spiritual idealism that rarely survives middle age. He is eager, spontaneous, and perhaps a little hasty. Our Lord seems to find these traits endearing. The Gospel does tell us that he is rich. He runs up to Jesus. Why does he run to him at the last minute? Was something holding him back? Fear perhaps? Does he realize that this may be his one opportunity to have a word with Jesus? He kneels before him: a gesture of reverence and humility. Only then does he blurt out his question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Our Lord tests him. He answers the question with another question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk 10:18). Jesus does not deny that he is good. He identifies goodness with God alone. He treats the young man as he treated the Samaritan woman at the well. “If you but knew the gift of God, and who it is that is speaking to you” (cf. Jn 4:10). Jesus is no mere teacher of goodness; he is goodness itself. Saint Bruno, tasting the sweetness of God, used to exclaim, O Bonitas! O Goodness! If only the rich young man knew whom he was calling good! Jesus reviews the commandments for him. One comes to the knowledge of the goodness of God by imitating it. The commandments lead to purity of heart, and purity of heart leads to the vision of God. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” says Jesus, “for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The young man’s answer is candid: “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth” (Mk 10:20). Looking into his heart, Jesus sees that he is ready for more. One of the most striking lines in Saint Mark’s Gospel follows: “And Jesus looking upon him loved him” (Mk 10:21). This is the radiant centre of today’s Gospel. The eyes of Jesus shine divine light upon him. And the light of his eyes is love. The Latin version of this Gospel says that Jesus looked into him and loved him. “Iesus autem intuitus eum dilexit eum” (Mk 10:21).
Then Jesus reveals the way forward. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). This is not what the young man expected to hear. “At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” (Mk 10:22). Note that the young man says nothing more. There is no discussion, no attempt to negotiate. He understands that it is all or nothing. He cannot give all and he is not yet ready to accept that having nothing will gain him everything. He goes away sorrowful, with the Face of Jesus engraved in his memory. “Jesus looking upon him loved him” (Mk 10:21). We are not told the rest of the story, but we can be certain of one thing: the memory of that look of love followed him for the rest of his days.
Even in the face of our refusals, even when we remain possessed by our possessions, Christ “stands at the gate, and knocks” (Rev 3:20). His Face reveals the unchanging, unconditional love of his Heart. He is ready, at every moment, to change our sorrow into joy. “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out” (Jn 6:37). It is never too late to retrace our steps, to go in search of the Face that looked upon us and loved us, and to offer a humble and contrite “Yes” of reparation.
Francesco Possenti said “Yes” without hesitating. A native of Assisi, he was, like the other Francis, the Poverello, in every way the rich young man. Handsome and clever, he loved dancing, hunting, stylish clothes, and the theatre. For Francesco Possenti the love of Christ was mediated through the gaze of the Virgin Mother. During a procession in honour of the Addolorata, Our Lady of Sorrows, the icon of the Virgin spoke to his heart, echoing the words of her Son to the rich young man.
Francesco responded. On September 21, 1856 he received the habit of the Congregation of the Passion and the name Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. Gabriel’s love for the Virgin Mary was tender and ardent. Practicing a ceaseless prayer of the heart based on the repetition of the Hail Mary, he lived in communion with the Mother of Jesus, meditating her sorrows and her compassion at the foot of the Cross. Ravaged by tuberculosis, he died before he could be ordained a priest. He was twenty-four years old and had worn the Passionist habit for six years.
Two days before the beginning of Lent, Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother encourages us to say the “Yes” we have been putting off, the “Yes” we have been afraid to say, the “Yes” that we judge too costly. He invites us to meet the gaze of Jesus who, looking into each of us, sees us as we are, and loves us. And he shows us that for one who keeps company with the Mother of Jesus, meditating her sorrows and sharing in her compassion, there will be, in the end, a joy that no one can take away. “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice” (Jn 16:22).