These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
One of the strangest books in the Bible is the Book of Ecclesiastes. It reminds me of that marvelous scene from Moonstruck (1987), when Rose, Loretta’s mother (played by Olympia Dukakis), tells her cheating husband, Cosmo (played by Vincent Gardenia):
Rose: I just want you to know no matter what you do, you're gonna die, just like everybody else.
Cosmo Castorini: Thank you, Rose.
And as the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes reasons: It’s better to be a live dog, than a dead lion (Eccl 9:4). And the book concludes as it begins:
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
all things are vanity!
Jesus summoned the Twelve . . .
and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God
and to heal the sick.
The mission of the Twelve: to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. The mission hasn’t changed: to preach, to heal. My mother was a nurse. She worked 20 years in obstetrics and then 10 years in juvenile cancer. But I remember when she went to help out at Blessed Martin de Porres Hospital in Mobile (it became SAINT Martin de Porres Hospital when he was canonized in 1962). It was a maternity hospital for black women run by the Sisters of Mercy. The sisters opened the hospital to allow black doctors to admit their patients when they were refused privileges at the “white” hospital. I remember my mom telling me that the archbishop of Mobile had a suite at Blessed Martin de Porres Hospital whenever he needed hospitalization. The archbishop did NOT go to the “white” hospital. And here we are in 2020 with the same struggle: to preach and to heal “no importa la raza ni el color de la piel” (without regard for race nor the color of one’s skin) as the old song says.
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him
but were unable to join him because of the crowd.
He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside
and they wish to see you.”
He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
Luke’s version of Jesus and his family is much softer than Mark’s version where the family thinks that Jesus is out of his mind. Perhaps, family is just that . . . family. No matter how much you might want that “Kodak moment” family, it probably never existed and never will. The wonderful good news is that God doesn't have this problem. All of us get to become members of Jesus’ new family of grace—not by accident of birth, but by God’s choosing!
Today is my feast day, Saint Maurice & Companions!
The Pharisees . . . said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
The eating and drinking with sinners is a hallmark of the table ministry of Jesus. In fact, it’s probably one of the earliest memories of the Eucharist. And in a time like ours, when some folks still want to police the communion table, it’s probably good to remember that we are all called “to the Supper of the Lamb.”
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
The prophet invites us to seek the Lord. And the psalmist reminds us: The Lord is near to all who call upon him (Psalm 145). So no matter how far away we think God is from us, the truth is that God is always close. In fact, the Lord reminds us that we can never fall out of God’s hand (John 10:29).
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
(1 Cor 15:49)
That we will bear the image of the one who came from heaven is sometimes overlooked—which is understandable given our feeble struggle to overcome our fallen nature. Yet it is not something we do, but rather it is God’s grace working in and through us. We continue to struggle, but as Saint Paul goes on to say: But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57). And as Saint Therese, the Little Flower, says, “Everything is grace!"
The picture today is of Saint Therese de Lisieux.
Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another,
preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Accompanying him were the Twelve
and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza,
Susanna, and many others
who provided for them out of their resources.
The women disciples seem to take second place as far as some of the gospels are concerned. But Luke’s naming of Mary Magdalene, (the first named of the women disciples, like Peter is of the men disciples), then Joanna and Susanna, and then adding that there were “many others who provided for them out of their resources” changes the conversation somewhat. These women disciples played a very important role in the ministry of Jesus. First, they were people of means who were able to provide for the others. Second, they were accompanying Jesus and the Twelve “from one town and village to another.” The women weren’t left behind. And of course, the Lucan gospel goes on to mention two other women disciples: the sisters, Mary and Martha (Lk 1:38-42). So, perhaps there is a lot more to the gospel witness about women in ministry than the church ever led us to believe.