During one of the sessions of our formation program, we enjoyed the visit of an exceptional guest, Archbishop Piero Marini, who for 20 years had served the Holy Father, John Paul II as the master of liturgical ceremonies.
Today's Sunday morning was very unique! We prayed the Angelus with Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square. All the Sisters of the Formation Program for the first time participated directly in the meeting with the Holy Father!
On September 11, a two-week formation program under the title Holiness for 20 young sisters of our Congregation began in our General house in Rome. The sisters came from Poland, India, Belarus, Russia, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Cameroon.
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16—4:3; Mark 9:30-37
The Focus of Our Love
“‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent.”
In the silence that follows the simple question of Jesus, we cringe along with the disciples, almost intuiting the truth which comes then to explicit expression: “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Not having understood Jesus’ second prediction of his passion (and with it, the implication that their own lives would be drawn into that passion), they relate to one another in very human terms and according to human logic: If there’s a group, someone has to be on top!
The Gospel lesson is a simple parable. The sower scatters seed and it either produces a fine harvest or nothing at all, depending on the soil. The disciples did not understand the parable and asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus said, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.” Jesus is not saying that God destined only some people to get it. His own disciples did not get it and had to ask for help. Is that Jesus’ point? His disciples want to know so they seek his help and to them he promises understanding. To those who do not seek, do not strive to know, do not explore, think, and pray, these parables are merely nice little stories. Jesus promises that those who truly look will see and those who truly listen will understand. That is a fantastic promise but it is also a challenge for us to get beneath the surface of the stories.
The Calling of Saint Matthew, by Caravaggio c. 1600
Eph 4:1-7, 11-13; Mt 9:9-13
Imagine Matthew’s experience as today’s Gospel reading tells it. Here is he, literally minding his business, which was collecting tolls, possibly the toll paid when people transported goods, most likely fish, from the area of Galilee (Capernaum was a border town). Suddenly this man Jesus drops by. If Matthew worked out of Capernaum, he must have heard about and probably met the mysterious man from Nazareth who preached like Jeremiah and healed like Elijah. He knew that he had asked Peter, Andrew, James and John to join him. And now, though he scarcely knew him, along comes this Jesus with the simple and bold invitation, “Come, follow me.” This is most amazing. As a tax collector for the hated Roman government, most people had as little as possible to do with him, his only friends being other tax collectors and the sort of people the Pharisees labeled “sinners,” so called not because they were nasty people but because their trade or lack of learning made it unlikely that they kept the Torah properly. And yet this charismatic man of God is asking him to join him. What’s to lose? There got to be something better in this life than toll collecting. And there is something profoundly attractive about this Jesus. So he simply gets up and follows him.
"To what shall I compare the people of this generation?"
I love to watch Jesus in the midst of a messy conflict. He has encountered tremendous faith from a Roman centurian who trusts God's power. He brought the only son of a widow back to life. And then the disciples of John the Baptist bring him a question from John, who is now in jail: "Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus tells them to go back and reassure John by reminding him, "the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." After Jesus tells the crowd what an incredible person John was, Luke adds the following words:
Today’s gospel provides such a dramatic and beautiful picture of God’s love for us. There are many lessons to be found in this passage.
It is easy to imagine this woman - with hair probably to her waist or longer - weeping at Jesus’ feet in sorrow for her sins. She demonstrates such humility in her actions, to use her tears and her hair to wash the dusty, dirty feet of someone who has been walking in sandals on unpaved roads and paths, through the market places and in the fields. As a nurse I think of the contrast with how we health care providers can distance ourselves from our patients with gloves and gowns and masks. Not that I am recommending that we forego these protections for ourselves and others; it is reasonable and necessary to protect against exposure to infection. But, it might be well for us to imagine this gospel scene when ministering to a patient to remind us that God resides in that individual. Then we are humbled by His presence just as the woman in the gospel was and, despite our protective gear, there can be no distancing of our hearts and minds.
As I read and reflected on Jesus’ raising the son of the widow of Nain, I was struck by what Jesus did and how he cared for the woman who had lost her son. First, there are two groups on the road; there is the group of relatives, friends, and mourners with the widow, and then there is the group with Jesus. One group is mourning with and for a woman who has lost her only son, and the other group, led by Jesus, has been proclaiming God’s love and presence in the world by preaching that God’s reign is near and healing the sick.