“Such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” 2 Timothy, 2:8-13.
Paul reminds us that even in the most challenging situations, there is nothing that can chain the word of God. Today’s gospel reading opens us to great thankfulness to people we know and those we don’t know, the stranger or foreigner.
These past few months, we’ve been following Jesus on this journey of his, and Luke’s gospel contains life lessons for us.
In this gospel passage from Luke 17, I have this question in mind: Does history repeat itself? Or, as writer Mark Twain once mused: “No, history does not repeat itself; rather, it rhymes!”
Sometimes the gospel snaps us to attention and helps us recognize a rhyming pattern in the poetry of our own lives.
Please consider these two-themes for today’s gospel reflection. Our first theme reflects the essence of this gospel and our need for a genuine attitude of gratitude. Say thanks to those who have you helped along the way.
Our second theme deals with your journey and mine. Mostly Jesus’s mission is on the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee.
So let’s begin at the borderlands, the barriers that appear to divide us.
Today’s gospel passage begins with the line, “As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.”
Even this short sentence identifies the tensions that long existed between Jews and Samaritans, on their borders, but more directly regarding arguments about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and homage given to the House of David.
So this parable about the one leper Jesus as well as the Good Samaritan story reminded his disciples that we must go beyond our tendency to look suspiciously at the foreigner or the stranger. Because even our enemies can praise and glorify God, and no one is unworthy of God’s love and ours.
So does history repeat itself, or does it rhyme?
More than fifty years ago, I recalled a comment from Jesuit Father Joseph Fitzpatrick. He was an expert on migration at Fordham University who said: “The task of the Church is to explain the new immigrants to the old immigrants.” At the time, he was studying the influx to the United States from Central and South America. Now our borders extend beyond the geography of our own hemisphere.
Last week, I was in a northwest neighborhood of Philadelphia at an annual Mass for African Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, held at Saint Raymond’s parish. This festive event gathered over 800 Catholic women, men and children from the various countries of Africa, and dressed in the national costumes of their respective counties: DR of Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Eritrea.
For two-hours, I sat in the church in pure amazement. With eight choirs and the liturgy in English, French, Swahili, and other African languages, I had never seen or heard anything like this.
This gathering was the work of one remarkable nun, Sister Florence Enechukwu, MSHR, a missionary sister of the Holy Rosary, the coordinator for the African Catholic Apostolate, and Father Chris Walsh, the pastor of Saint Raymond of Pentafort Parish.
What I came away with – was the reverence of these people for their new country. This is a place that has provided them opportunities to share their many precious gifts. For those few families, from Sudan and Somalia, this is a place of refuge from political and social turmoil.
So for me, our borders must embrace these and so many others in need, that we too may provide Christ-like healing and support. So does history repeat itself, or does it rhyme?
Here’s a second reflection that touches on the essence of today’s gospel. It’s a life lesson, that “attitude of gratitude” and how this grace becomes the pattern for our lives.
One story comes to mind.
For almost one-year, my office at Saint Mary’s College, with its window open to the lawn and courtyard nearby Sichel Hall, was dark. I had taken a period off, and after a while, I had come back to the college for January Term. On the first day of this intensive semester, I was exiting the Men’s Room when a student said:
“Hello Father Mike, I see you’re back.” I greeted the young man warmly and told him that I was teaching in Jan Term and the Spring Term.
He asked if he could speak to me, and of course, I agreed. And told him: “whenever?”
At that point, he told me his name; let me refer to him as Mark. Mark replied: “How about my talking with you in your office now, and very briefly?” “Of course, “I said.
Then Mark told me: “I want to thank you for all you did for me. I had you for the Comm 2 class, and you gave me some important advice.” “Really?” I interjected.
“Yes, I was having a problem with substance abuse, drugs, and alcohol. And after I talked with you about my absences and poor performance in your class, you advised me to see a counselor, and most especially begin talking with my parents.” “I did this?” I asked.
And yes, I realized that I had done this small favor. It was two-years ago. I learned from Mark that he took time off from college, talked honestly with his parents, entered a rehab program, and now he’s scheduled to graduate this year.
I thanked the young man. I’m reminded of the leper in the gospel who comes back to Christ after having been healed. Rarely do teachers hear how they have affected the lives of students? But they do.
The very next day, I shared this story with a colleague of mine and added the one element that says the most about my time at Saint Mary’s College.
See, I had not remembered Mark’s issue until he brought it to my attention. Maybe it is one example of what we do day to day as teachers – yes, these small, almost unnoticed, intimate stories of how we affect the lives of others, how we can make all the difference.
So does it repeat or rhyme? Front and center, person-to-person, some 3,500 students, my unofficial count in these many years, this is one such story of thanks and gratitude.
So it is with most of us. If we listen to Jesus and his gospel message often on the borderlands of our particular geography, and if the conditions are right, we can survive, thrive. Most of all, we can give thanks to this Eucharistic table of welcome.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
Today in Rome, Pope Francis raised to sainthood John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) of England. A convert to Roman Catholicism, it was Newman’s scholarship that gave voice to the Oxford Movement. His views on university education remain a lasting legacy for the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Here’s a brief selection from Newman’s “Parochial and Plain Sermons” (1908).
Christ Alone Satisfies
Life passes, riches fly away, popularity is fickle, the senses decay, the world changes, friends die.
One alone is constant; One alone is true to us; One alone can be true; One alone can be all things to us; One alone can supply our needs; One alone can train us up to our full perfection; One alone can give a meaning to our complex and intricate nature; One alone can give us tune and harmony; One alone can form and possess us.