Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sunday at the End of September

The end of September and beginning of October are marked by a series of memorials and commemorations that serve to highlight the catholicity of the Church. From the Bohemian ruler Wenceslaus and the Filipino layman Lawrence Ruiz (a husband and father) and his martyred companions from Japan (on September 28) to the great biblical scholar and Father of the Church Jerome (on September 30), the cloistered missionary-at-heart Thérèse of Liseux (on October 1) and Carthusian founder Bruno (on October 6), to the Indiana foundress Theodora Guerin (on October 3) and the Louisana pastor and missionary Francis Seelos (on October 5) to the beloved Francis of Assisi (October 4), these days (which also include celebrations of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael [September 29] and the Guardian Angels [October 2]) remind us that the possibility for true holiness isn’t limited to one way of life, gender, or historical epoch.

Saint Theodora Guerin (d. 1856)
The Foundress of the Indiana-based
Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

In the First Letter to Timothy, Saint Paul wrote, “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses” (6:11-12). Paul was reminding his young coworker that his position within the Church demanded total dedication to God and a faithful witness to Christ. By calling him “man of God,” Paul is also highlighting the fact that Timothy shares the vocation of Moses and the prophets (cf. Deuteronomy 33:1; 1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Kings 12:22 and 13:1; 1 Timothy 1:12-20). Although few of us are bishops like Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3), each of us shares in the pastoral and prophetic work of the Church. Because of this, Paul’s admonition to Timothy is also addressed to each one of us—we must seek those things that are of God and “compete well for the faith,” that is, persevere in living out our individual, unique vocation of service to God and the Church. Paul, Timothy, and the saints mentioned above, understood that this dedication demands something of us—perhaps not the martyrdom of Wenceslaus and Lawrence Ruiz or a cloistered life like Thérèse—but that it also takes us outside of ourselves, empowering us to live for God and for others. 

Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man offers us an insight into what is required of us. In his encyclical Spes Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote, “Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul destroyed by arrogance and opulence, who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man; the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures, the chasm of forgetting the other, of incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst” (¶44).  

The saints, who have oriented their lives toward the Other, who have realized the fullness of humanity’s capacity for love, see in the “Lazaruses” of the world friends and brothers/sisters: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all enjoy the same dignity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1934). But, this call to be with and for others isn’t mandate only for those who have been canonized or beatified—the Communion of Saints includes each of us, me and you, because, after all, “what is the Church if not the gathering of the saints?” (Saint Nicetas of Remesiana).  

Competing “well for the faith”—living our call to be disciples and to manifest the presence of Christ in the world—leaves no room for selfish ambition, apathy, complacency, or indifference to the plight of others (cf. Amos 6:1a, 4-7). This isn’t about political agendas, government budgets, or some radical/liberal ideology—this is about the Gospel which forms the starting point and is the focus of our faith.

Prayer for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time +
O God, who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening to attain your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)


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