Our world, and particularly our nation, has seen such upheaval during the last year. Horrific fires ravaged the west, demonstrations for racial justice turned violent, the political climate has kept many on edge. A mob even stormed the Capitol. Say nothing of the pandemic. And these are just the public issues that we all know about – in the midst of these crises are an uncountable number of personal stresses and tragedies. Whew! It’s enough to make the most faithful among us throw up our hands and wonder where God is in all this mess.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us exactly where we can find him – in the beautiful produce his tenants are harvesting. In the firefighters who battled blazes all summer, in the brave souls who will not be silent against injustice, in the many, many people who have helped battle COVID-19, and in you, each time you have offered love and support to the Body of Christ.
The world might reject you as misguided for clinging to your faith, but we all know what happened to that stone the builders rejected. It is an integral part of the entire structure, just as you are integral to the Kingdom here on earth. The Church has a mission and is a mission, and your good produce helps her to fulfill that role.
St. Katharine Drexel is my favorite saint. I am awed by this extremely affluent, young heiress who chose a life of voluntary poverty so that she could donate her wealth and life to share the Gospel with underserved minority populations. She is a paragon of generosity and radical cooperation with God’s vocation for her life. She is the embodiment of the verse from today’s gospel, “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant” (Mt 20:26).
Katharine also teaches us to listen to the holy helpers that God puts into our lives. When Katharine first started supporting African American and Native American missions, she did so monetarily. As a young socialite vacationing in Europe, she had an audience with Pope Leo XIII. She told him about the good work she funded and asked him to send more priests to minister directly to Native Americans.
“Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?”
Undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father asked, “Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?” Exposed and afraid, Katherine ran out of the room crying! Her rash, completely human reaction gives me hope that I can attain holiness despite my similar cowardice and hesitation.
Even after Katharine responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, became a sister, and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she still needed holy friends to rein her in. Katharine traveled so much that she wore herself down completely and suffered a devastating heart attack while in the western U.S. Her beloved brother in-law travelled to accompany her home to the east coast.
Sometimes Serving Means Slowing Down
He convinced her to slow down because once she died, her missions would stop receiving her inheritance money. Despite being relegated to her motherhouse, Katharine counted the next twenty-one years as the most fruitful for her ministry. In her quiet life, she supported her sisters with her prayers and united herself more deeply to the Blessed Sacrament, which imbued her entire ministry. In her frailty, she came to recognize that her ministry did not depend entirely on her, but on God.
We all have a potential for great holiness. Sometimes, our plans, ambitions, and stubbornness can get in the way. Lord, send us companions who will help us to become as holy as you desire us to be.
Think of a friend who has encouraged you to serve God in a way you had not anticipated. Give thanks for that person.
There is something greater than Jonah here. How often do I remember that at Mass, or in Adoration? If we believe that the Eucharist is the body, and blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, we should be in total awe.
The creator of the entire universe has made himself present to us in a tiny piece of unleavened bread. A few months ago at Christmas, we celebrated the way he came to us as a vulnerable, helpless baby. Now, we prepare to celebrate his vulnerable, helpless, willing death.
If anyone died for me today, I’d feel a sense of total unworthiness. I think of the way I am humbled when my husband gets me something I need or want, unasked. The way he provides for our children and me, our comfort and prosperity, without any request on our part sometimes makes me feel extremely guilty – Who am I, and what have I done to deserve this kind of selfless love?
Now, when I behold the sacrifice of the Mass, a participation in a moment out of time that happened once and for all, am I overcome with the same sense of unworthiness? Do I pause in awe, as I recite the words of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should ender under my roof” (Mt 8:8)?
My husband, as much as I love him, is human after all. If I am occasionally in awe of his sacrifices for our family, how much more should I be amazed that Creator entered into our messy world to sacrifice his life for me?
Me – the person who sometimes pretends I can’t hear my kids to avoid doing something for them that seems silly or unimportant. The person who lets careless words escape my lips, who has deafened herself to the cries of the lonely, hungry, and impoverished in my community and my world.
Today’s gospel calls us to repent as the Ninevites did at the words of Jonah. Make an examination of conscience today. Pray an Act of Contrition.
We all love a good cliché, even one about the Church. A quote attributed Saint Augustine comes to mind here: “The church is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners.” I’ve heard this said a number of ways and used in a number of circumstances. Today’s Gospel could probably be pointed to as its origin. Here Jesus says, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.” Jesus said this after He was questioned as to why He would “eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners”.
What you do to the least…
Ministering to those who are untouchable, or undesirable is not attractive to most of us. If we are honest, we feel most comfortable ministering in socially comfortable and acceptable situations. Jesus was challenged many times for socializing with or ministering to those seen as “less than” or “unclean”.
But did the fact that Jesus served everyone from leper, to adulterer mean that he was a “live and let live” kind of savior? Did His associations mean his acceptance of clichés such as “As long as no one gets hurt what does it matter?” or “You do you.” No, quite to the contrary.
According to the folks at The Gospel Coalition, “Jesus was a friend of sinners not because he winked at sin, ignored sin, or enjoyed light-hearted revelry with those engaged in immorality. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was incredibly pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him.”
Jesus had an Invitational Open Door Policy
In many ways Jesus had an invitational open-door policy in order to bring healing to the most people possible. Eating with the tax collectors was not just a welcome aboard party for Levi, it was an invitation for all present to come and be healed. Since you are the hands and feet of Jesus present today, can you be the one to help keep the door open for all to come to Him?
Who are the “least” in my community? Am I doing a good job being the hands and feet of Christ to the people who needs Christ’s love the most?
I am a pretty literal person. To me, passages this make sense because we are reading the scriptures with post-Resurrection knowledge. We know who Jesus is and that the disciples are right to feast with the Lord – the bridegroom. We know what Jesus means when he says that “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away” (Mt 9:15).
Something more has stuck with me with this passage though, and it reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son, which we will read a little later during Lent. What comes to mind was a question a priest asked in his homily a few years ago.
If you will recall the parable, the older brother was miffed that the father had a fattened calf slaughtered in honor of his younger brother’s return from his perfidious sojourn, while he, the older son, had obeyed his father. The father tells the older brother that all they have, has always been his to enjoy.
Do you do things out of love or obligation?
The priest asked our congregation, “Do you do things out of love or only out of obligation?” The older brother was fulfilling his duty out of obligation but not love; at least that’s how I understood the question. That struck me hard especially because I’m disciplined and dutiful.
I see a parallel here. The followers of John the Baptist are asking Jesus why his disciples were not fasting in accordance with the customs of the day, but Jesus knew that the time for fasting would be once he was crucified. It’s almost as if he is stating that there is no need to fast out of obligation because there will come a time for all who believe in him to fast out of love for him.
Why do you fast?
This begs the question, are you fasting out of love for Jesus, or out of obligation? Are you attending Mass because these are days of obligation, or because you love the Lord and want to sit at his feet and partake of his banquet?
Now, acting out of obligation is not necessarily wrong. Often times we do the right thing out of obligation. We may refrain from gossip, for example, because we feel obliged not to damage another’s reputation but not because we actually have much regard for someone. It’s a harder pursuit to refrain from gossiping about someone because you love that person as a sister or brother in Christ, made in the image and likeness of God.
To act out of obligation is good. To love is better.
What have you chosen to offer during Lent? Are you fasting from something? Are you adding something more to your plate, such an increased prayer time? Or perhaps you pledged to donate to a food drive by buying a few extra groceries for the food bank each time you go to the commissary? Whatever it is you choose to do, strive to do it because of love?
Lord Jesus, During Lent I have given up or taken on (name your lenten offerings), help me to make these sacrifices out of love for you for my neighbor. When I’m weak in my offerings, remind me that you gave your entire life freely out of love for me, your unworthy servant. Bless my obedience to this lenten sacrifice and increase my love for you. Amen.
Two lines from Today’s Gospel strike me. The first is “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). The second is “What profit is there for one to gain the world yet lose or forfeit himself” (Lk 9:25). To me, these speak loudly, not only of discipleship, but also of servant leadership. This makes sense because to be a good servant leader, one must first be a disciple.
For the better part of the last 45 years, I have been mentored and guided by selfless servant leaders. Some were older than me and some younger, but all selfless and wise in their own right. Unfortunately, I also experienced some who claimed themselves as servant leaders, only to show themselves as wanting the world. The difference between the two was as clear as day. The true servant leaders understood and lived the conditions of discipleship and the others did not.
Imagine how it must have felt hearing Jesus speak of his own approaching passion and his instruction about the cost of following him. Luke 9:24 says “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Jesus showed us the cost of doing the Father’s will, and he knows that when we lose our lives for his sake, it will not be easy, but that is the only way. Dying to self to follow Jesus is exactly what we are called to do each day, and especially when we are called to serve others. When others see our service, they should see us as a “visible presence of Christ.” Our actions should be to further the kingdom, not to fulfill our own ambitions and goals. May our reflection on the conditions for discipleship lead us to rely on Jesus’ promise that as we die to ourselves we will live in Him.
How does Jesus ask you to lose your life for his sake?