October 29, 2021 - Friday, 30th Week in Ordinary Time

29 October 2021

Rom 9:1-5

Ps 147

Lk 14:1-6

Brothers and sisters:

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are children of Israel; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Paul's continuous pain and suffering regarding his people are very understandable: he belongs to the stock of Israel, to the tribe of Benjamin, he is a Jew, a son of Jews, and a Pharisee as regarded by the law (cf. Phil 3:5). The Israelites are his brothers according to the flesh and his strongest desire is that they also become so according to the Spirit. They are already adopted children of God, who chose them and gave them the covenant, the promises, the Law, and the Temple. What they freely received should have led them to Christ, who is the fulfillment of everything. Paradoxically, Paul expresses his affliction by saying that he would even will himself to be separated from Christ for their benefit.

In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist also recognizes the privileges with which God has enriched his people: he defended them, blessed them, made them live in peace, and satisfied their hunger. Above all, he announced his word, his decrees and his judgments to Israel - and only to Israel.

Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you. He sends forth his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word! He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.

The Gospel sounds like a rebuke to this people, to their doctors of the Law and the Pharisees, who should have understood that the gifts with which God had filled Israel were certainly not given to them solely to ensure their “first place” among the people of the earth, but to make them the witness and the messenger of God's love for all mankind. On the contrary, the Chosen People had closed themselves off in a multitude of minor prescriptions and preoccupations with defending legal minutiae. They forgot not only the essentials teachings, but also lacked common sense and the sense of compassion and solidarity. If a son or an ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, isn't there a hurry to get them out? Is it not therefore foolishness to prohibit the healing of a poor suffering man on the Sabbath? Jesus’ miracles on the Sabbath certainly do not attack the holy day’s sacredness, but aim to put the commandment of love of God and neighbor above all else.

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy.

Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question.

Even today, in our highly technical societies, there is no dearth of attachment to exclusivity for diverse and unjustified reasons, whether social, cultural, or religious. It is painful to note, for example, that coexistence between people of different races, especially in Africa and America, has given rise to so many injustices and discrimination, legalized almost to the present day. In the United States, state schools only opened up to everyone without any racial discrimination in 1954. In South Africa apartheid - racial separation - ended only with Nelson Mandela’s election as president in 1994.

But there were always men and women in the Church who loved Christ with the same love as St. Paul and fought against injustices for the sake of their brothers who were persecuted and oppressed, vilified and despised, and they in turn were persecuted and hindered in every way: Katharine Mary Drexel (United States of America - USA) was one of these.

Torn between the yearning to consecrate herself to God in the contemplative life and the mission on behalf of Native Indians and African-Americans, she left her spiritual director, Fr. O'Connor, perplexed. Finally, she obeyed the voice of the Church, which spoke to her through her Pastor: in fact she had the opportunity to be received in audience by Pope Leo XIII during a trip to Europe. She herself tells the episode:

Kneeling at his feet, my girlish fancy thought that surely God's Vicar would not refuse me. So I pleaded missionary priests for Bishop O'Connor's Indians. To my astonishment His Holiness responded, 'Why not, my child, become yourself a missionary?' (Duffy, S.B.S., Sr. Consuela. Katharine Drexel: A Biography. Philadelphia: Reilly Co., 1966, p. 100 - This is the official biography of Drexel.)

Thus it was that this American billionaire, with great desires that had always remained vague and inaccurate, in 1891 founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. She worked tirelessly for sixty years and managed to found, albeit amidst enormous difficulties, 145 missions among the Indians, 50 schools for African-Americans, 12 schools for Indians and 49 convents. In 1917 she founded Xavier's School in New Orleans, which was transformed into a university in 1932 and became the prestigious Xavier University.

On 26 September 2015, the Holy Father Francis celebrated Mass with the bishops, priests and religious of Pennsylvania in the Philadelphia cathedral. During the homily he recalled the beginning of Saint Katharine Mary Drexel’s vocation with these words:

Most of you know the story of Saint Katharine Drexel, one of the great saints raised up by this local Church. When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope – he was a very wise Pope! – asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?” Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.

“What about you?” I would like to dwell on two aspects of these words in the context of our specific mission to transmit the joy of the Gospel and to build up the Church, whether as priests, deacons, or men and women who belong to institutes of consecrated life.

First, those words – “What about you?” – were addressed to a young person, a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life. They made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part. How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! I ask you: Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?

One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.

“What about you?” It is significant that these words of the elderly Pope were also addressed to a lay woman. We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, in the life of our communities.