Jesus Christ continues His life through His Body, His Church, of which we are all members. Jesus loves the poor, in all of their manifestations. The widow of Naim was one of the poor. All widows are, no matter their income. Soon, Pope Francis will release his first encyclical letter. The word encyclical means circulating letter. Reports are it will be entitled - Blessed are the Poor. Poverty is about more than money in the Catholic tradition. Those who love the poor - as Jesus loved the poor- are given to us as a gift and instruction manual. They teach us how to live and to love. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - (Editors Note: My dear friend and one of our favorite Catholic Online contributors, Fr. James Farfaglia, whom I personally dubbed "The Happy Priest" is on pilgrimage in Assisi and Rome. He wrote and explained that the internet coverage was not the best. So, I offer the homily of a Deacon. It can never subsititute for his gifts. If nothing else, may it prompt us all to thank God for priests like Fr James. He will be back next week. Deacon Keith Fournier, Editor in Chief)
Our readings on this Lord's Day reveal the meaning of the biblical term compassion. Compassion is a sign of the Kingdom of God breaking forth. It reveals the character of God. They also reveal a challenge to live our Christian vocation, no matter what our state in life, in imitation of Jesus.
The first reading at Mass (1 Kings 17:17-24) records the resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath, of Sidon. That resurrection was worked by God, working through his Prophet Elijah. It was done out of compassion. It confirmed the authenticity of the ministry of Elijah as a true man of God.
The Gospel account (Luke 7:11-17) of the resurrection of the only son of the widow of Nain reveals heavenly compassion working in and through the Incarnate Son of God, the Word Made Flesh. When Jesus saw the funeral procession and encountered the tears of a mother, He was moved with compassion. He told her "Do Not Weep".
The more accurate translation from the original Greek of the word I choose to focus upon this morning is not captured by the English translation in the New American Bible - pity. It is better rendered by the translation - compassion:
"And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young men, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother."
What is revealed in this encounter is what the compassion of God really looks like in the flesh. We see it in the response of Jesus, who is God Incarnate. It also reveals our own vocation as a Christian, no matter who we are - or what state in life or vocation we are living. In the masterful words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council:
"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes #22)
The Greek word in this passage in the Bible is also used by Luke to describe the proper response to the Samaritan on the road which the Lord commends in the Parable of the Samaritan. (Luke 10:33) It is the same word used to describe the response of the Father at the return of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:20) The Father not only welcomed the son home but was moved to a response, running out to greet Him!
The Latin root from which we derive the English word compassion actually means to enter into the suffering of another. It is about much more than pity. It is a response, an action rooted in love. This kind of response is meant to characterize those who bear the name Christian.
Christians live differently because we live now in Jesus Christ. We love differently because we love in Jesus Christ. We can truly become different, at the deepest level, when we cooperate with grace and allow the character of Christ to be formed in us, and be manifest to others.
Jesus Christ continues His life through His Body, His Church, of which we are all members. Jesus loves the poor, in all of their manifestations. The widow of Naim was one of the poor. All widows are, no matter their income. Soon, Pope Francis will release his first encyclical letter. The word encyclical means circulating letter. Reports are it will be entitled - Blessed are the Poor. Poverty is about more than money in the Catholic tradition.
Those who love the poor - as Jesus loved the poor- are given to us as a gift and instruction manual. They teach us how to live and to love. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. They love in deed and truth. Dorothy Day, a heroic witness and prophetic voice of the 20th century, grasped this mystery so well. That is why she is moving forward in the cause for canonization.
Those who waste their energies seeking to pigeonhole her life by focusing on the genre of the age - and attempting to politicize her - will miss the reason holy mother Church has placed her as an example to be emulated by all who seek to live a holy life. She will be canonized. She should be canonized. She was a sign of contradicition.
She lived in the aftermath of the industrial age where human persons were too often treated as products to be used. Though some get stuck in her circuitous and intriguing journey into the fullness of the truth as found in the Catholic Church, her heroic witness is being considered by a Church which is built upon men and women who were profoundly converted through their encounter with Jesus Christ.
She gave herself away, living with the poor, because she truly understood and embraced her own poverty with brutal honesty. She learned to love in deed and truth. So too did her brother in that work of authentic solidarity, Peter Maurin. He once wrote with utter simplicity and searing honesty: "We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can. We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can".
Another great Christian woman of the same age, Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the ecclesial movement Focolare, expressed the heart of this call to love in deed and truth: "Yes, love makes us be. We exist because we love. If we don't love, and every time we don't love, we are not, we do not exist ("Even what he has will be taken away"). There's nothing left to do but to love, without holding back. Only in this way will God give himself to us and with him will come the fullness of his gifts.
"Let us give concretely to those around us, knowing that by giving to them we are giving to God. Let's give always; let's give a smile, let's offer understanding, and forgiveness. Let's listen, let's share our knowledge, our availability; let's give our time, our talents, our ideas, our work; let's give our experience, our skills; let's share our goods with others so that we don't accumulate things and everything circulates."
"Our giving opens the hands of God and He, in his providence, fills us with such an abundance that we can give again, and give more, and then receive again, and in this way we can meet the immense needs of many."
The beloved disciple John wrote his letters to the early churches dispersed because of persecution as an old man: He wrote these words: "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him."
"The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." (I John 3: 14-18)
I knew a woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia years ago named Brenda McCormick. She touched my life and challenged me to the core concerning this truth. She was not an easy person to be around. Prophets rarely are. She went home to the Lord years ago. She once wrote these words to me:
"In the end, there are two kinds of poor people: those who already know they are poor and those who don't know yet. Here is the crisis: If the latter don't discover this before they leave this planet, they are doomed to be poor forever. What can those of us who already know we are poor do for those who don't know yet? Love them."
How extraordinary is this compassion of God. How hard it is to comprehend its invitation. The God of the entire universe came among us as a man. He emptied Himself and took upon Himself our humanity. In His sacred humanity he lived a full and complete human life, walking in intimate communion with His Father. He now makes it possible for us to do the same.
Because He was fully God, Jesus accomplished for us what we could never have accomplished for ourselves, he redeemed us, set us free from the punishment merited by our sin, bridged the separation caused by sin, and capacitated us to live our lives differently by grace. He defeated the last enemy, death and overcame the evil one. He did all of this because He is Love Incarnate and He can do nothing else but love in word and indeed.
He now invites us to walk in His way, the way of kenosis. This is a Greek word which cannot really be translated in English. It is a self-emptying love. Jesus invites us to become the least of these. St Paul writes of Jesus "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself." (Philippians 2) This emptying the Apostle refers to is kenosis in the Greek. It really gets to the heart of the meaning of compassion.
Pope St Leo the Great wrote of Jesus: "He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself."
God became the least of these. Will we? Will we allow the truth revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ to become our pattern for daily living? Will we cooperate with the grace of conversion and be emptied of ourselves for others? We are invited to experience this mystery of faith and to make it real during this Lent.
When we empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us. Then, we can become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion manifested in Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring all of us into the full communion of Love.
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