The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 2nd week of Easter (April 29)

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33; Jn 6:16-21
Today (April 29) is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, mystic, and a woman of unsurpassed influence in her 14th-century world. A Third Order Dominican, Catherine lived a life of exceptional austerity and holiness, a life filled with miracles. She brokered peace among the princes of the world; she was an advisor and the conscience of bishops and popes; and was largely responsible for ending the Avignon papacy and returning the pope to Rome. She was truly a remarkable woman.

Years ago, on one of our trips to Rome, Diane and I stopped by the Dominican Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Located just a block or so from the Pantheon, this beautiful church is also the resting place of St. Catherine. Her body lies in an elaborate sarcophagus beneath the high altar. I say her body, because her head is elsewhere.

Born in Siena, St. Catherine died in Rome, and so both cities claimed her. The conflict was resolved in typical late-medieval fashion, with her body remaining in Rome while her head was interred in Siena's Basilica of St. Dominic. It's all sounds a bit odd to our 21st-century ears, but it does manifest a firm belief in the resurrection of the body.

The universal Church, in Catherine's time, was no stranger to conflict, but Catherine was also a reformer who worked tirelessly to resolve many of these problems. As we heard in our first reading from Acts, the Church has always had to deal with problems, and the early Church in Jerusalem was no exception.

As the Church grew, its membership became increasingly diverse. The first disciples were Hebraic Jews, who spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. But as we saw at Pentecost other Jews, Hellenized Jews of the diaspora, had also been baptized and entered the Church. And many of these were likely fluent only in Greek, the common language of the Empire. Indeed, these were the Jews that St. Paul would later visit in their synagogues in the course of his missionary journeys.

It seems some of the Hebraic Jews of Jerusalem looked down upon these Greek-speaking Jews, and treated them rather poorly. This shouldn't surprise us. Our Lord may have founded the Church, but it is populated by sinners, by flawed human beings like you and me, and always will be.

Among those treated most poorly in the early Church were the widows. Widows were of every age, young and old, and most would never remarry. A widow's only means of support was her family, if she had one, or the charity of the community. The life of a widow was often poverty stricken and perilous. The Apostles knew this, but realized they couldn't care for everyone personally and still carry out their primary mission of evangelization.

Their solution? They delegated, applying the Principle of Subsidiarity, which stresses that matters should be handled by the smallest, lowest, least centralized competent authority. And that, brothers and sisters, is how we lowly deacons came into being. Indeed, the word "deacon" has its root in the Greek word "diakonia" which means service, a word used twice in today's brief passage.
Yes, we deacons were called to be servants, to wait on tables. Maybe that's why I enjoy working at the Wildwood Soup long as I don't revel in my service. As one deacon friend once told me, "I have to be careful that I don't take pride in my lowliness."

Yes, even humility can be sinful if becomes a source of pride. Of course, in that case, I suppose it ceases to be humility. As my father used to say, "Humility's a strange commodity; because one you know you have it, you just lost it."

Interestingly, Luke makes a point of mentioning that among those first seven deacons, one of them, Nicholas of Antioch, was a convert, not born a Jew. This highlights a major change from Judaism in which the Levites inherited their ministry by blood. But the Apostles ordained these first deacons by prayer and the laying on of hands. That one was a Gentile from Antioch, is particularly appropriate since that Syrian city would soon play a leading role in the evangelization of Gentiles.

The early Church would need to overcome much as it carried out that primary mission of evangelization. And in our Gospel passage from John we find Jesus teaching the Apostles just that: that they will soon encounter far more than rough seas.

"It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them" [Jn 6:17].  Yes, when Jesus is not present in our lives darkness and fear can overwhelm us.

But then, He comes to them, doesn't He? "It is I," He tells them, "Do not be afraid" [Jn 6:20].

And He comes to us as well and His Presence speaks to us.

Today, you will receive your Savior, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. If you truly believe and accept His Presence within you, He will remove all fear from your hearts. How did John put it in his First Letter? "Perfect love casts out fear" [1 Jn 4:18].

Don't struggle against the Lord and His gifts. Just accept His gift of love and share it with the others in your life. Let Jesus do the work and He will carry you safely to the shore.

No comments:

Post a Comment