28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Knights of Columbus Board Meeting
St. Joseph Church, Laguna Catholic Community
Oct. 12, 2019
Bishop Wall, it is a pleasure to join with you for the celebration of Holy Mass here at this venerable church dedicated to Saint Joseph. You know, back in Baltimore, there’s a pretty old basilica dating back to 1806. But compared to this church, dating back to 1699, and other churches in your diocese, the Baltimore Basilica is practically new construction! We are honored to be in a place where the holy Catholic faith has such deep roots and such ongoing vitality.
And if I may speak for a moment for the family of the Knights of Columbus, let me say how honored we are to join you, the family of the Laguna at this Mass, to be in your spiritual home and to worship with you. This evening the family of the Knights of Columbus and the family of the Laguna are joined together in the Church as one family of faith. Thank you most sincerely for your warm hospitality!
Two Themes: Thankfulness and Perseverance
Praying over today’s Scripture readings, I found myself examining my conscience on two counts: first is thankfulness and second is perseverance:
Once, when I was complaining to my dear mother about a some setback, I used these unfortunate words: “It would be just my luck if ‘such and such’ were to happen…” to which my Mom responded, “Listen here, Bill, your luck has been pretty darn good so far!” Remembering her words, I ask myself if I complain more than I give thanks to God, the giver of every good gift, and to many others who are so kind to me.
Then, there is perseverance, staying strong and true for the long haul. Sometimes I am tempted to reduce the challenges of these days to public relations, finances, marketing and the like, when, in fact, I am being called ‘to bear my share of the hardship which the Gospel entails’, as St. Paul wrote to his co-worker, Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8). As we know from experience, when difficult days come upon us, we sometimes seek the false consolation that the world offers instead of the authentic consolation of the Holy Spirit. As you can see, these readings give me plenty to think and pray about!
As I went through this spiritual exercise, however, it occurred to me that I need not be the only one to think and pray about these things. So I thought of you! And with your kind permission, I’d like to spend a moment or two looking at thankfulness and perseverance through the lens of today’s Scripture readings.
The Syrian and the Samaritan
To examine ourselves on the quality of our thankfulness, let us turn to the Syrian and to the Samaritan, to Naaman, the King of Syria, and to the Samaritan, the outsider, both of whom were cured of the dread disease of leprosy, and both of whom expressed profound gratitude to God.
So…Naaman came from Syria seeking a cure through the prophet Elisha. When the prophet told him to bathe in the waters of the Jordan, he became angry. After all, were not the waters of his own country just as curative as the Jordan? But as we meet Naaman in today’s reading from the 2nd Book of Kings, the Syrian King had changed his mind and had taken the plunge; he took the plunge into the same waters where one day Jesus would be baptized. Naaman was cleansed, as if he had been born anew, just as we were cleansed and reborn in the waters of baptism.
Once Naaman realized that he had been cleansed, he desired to give the living and true God thanks and praise. You see, not only was Naaman’s flesh cleansed, his heart was also made clean, and for that reason, wanted to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. So let us ask ourselves, when is the last time you or I gave God thanks and praise for the gift of our baptism and for its cleansing waters by which we were immersed in the Lord’s Death and Resurrection?
Turning from the Syrian to the Samaritan, we recall that he was one of ten lepers who humbly besought a cure of their leprosy from Jesus…, from Jesus whom they acknowledged, not only as their master, but also as their king. To the credit of all ten, a word of promise on Jesus’ part was enough to send them on their way to the priests who would verify their cure. It was only after they were underway that they realized they had been cured. So far so good: a story of ten persons of humble faith whom Jesus cured. But that’s not the half of it. Only one returned to Jesus, the one leper regarded as an outsider, a Samaritan. Here let us take note of the Greek word St. Luke uses to describe the Samaritan’s response of thanks and praise to Jesus: eucharisteō, from which is derived the word, “Eucharist”, the act of giving thanks. The Samaritan’s ‘eucharist’ was a profound and joyful act of thanksgiving that included an acknowledgement of who Jesus is and what Jesus had done for him. Clearly, Jesus had healed, not only the Samaritan’s flesh, but his heart as well, for we cannot adequately give God thanks and praise unless our hearts are cleansed and filled with the Holy Spirit.
In these days, when many no longer share the Church’s Eucharistic faith and when many are forsaking the practice of participating in Sunday Mass, it’s not surprising that a humble and joyful spirit of gratitude is in short supply. If only we, and those who have taken leave of the Mass, would truly understand how privileged we are to offer as our sacrifice of thanksgiving the same sacrifice that Jesus, God’s Son, offered to his Father on the Cross, the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus, whom we truly receive under the form of bread and wine. If only, amid our many complaints, we would stop and think about what it really means to be thankful and then to make our own what Pope Benedict called, ‘a Eucharistic form of life’!
This evening, we share a further cause for special gratitude to God as in this liturgy we experience the beautiful expressions of faith of the Laguna tribe. In 1987, in Phoenix, St. John Paul II gave voice to the gratitude we feel, when he said: “We should be grateful for the growing unity, presence, voice, and leadership of Catholic Native Americans in the Church today”. Here, we witness a beautiful intertwining of history and culture transformed by faith, expressions of gratitude to God that are profoundly at one with creation. In this way, as our gracious hosts, you enrich our understanding of what it truly means to give God thanks and praise – and for that we thank you!
St. Paul in Chains
Turning again to our need to persevere in the faith, I’d just add that it’s one thing to have a momentary realization that the Lord has forgiven us or answered a special prayer, but quite another to persevere in fidelity to the Cross and thankfulness. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, is the model of such perseverance. Writing to his co-worker, Timothy, St. Paul – who had been baptized after his conversion, is now in chains, in prison. With the date of execution drawing near, Paul is about to undergo a baptism of blood by which he will enter into glory. When read in that context, how poignant are his words to Timothy: “If we have died with [Christ], we shall also live with him. If we persevere, we shall reign with him.” St. Paul’s epistles are saturated with thanksgiving to God but now his text is crimson with the blood of a holy perseverance.
Not all are called to martyrdom but all of us are called to be faithful, to the very end of our lives and to do so without counting the cost. Spiritual writers warn us that we are tempted to small betrayals, to small compromises of our faith, and to the lure of sin and its false promises. It is in these small matters that our endurance as Christians is tested but bigger tests are in the offing and, in a sense, are already here. In a society which is more and more hostile to Christianity, we should expect to pay a high price for our faith, though not nearly so high as the price which Jesus paid to ransom us. So we must ask the Holy Spirit to renew in us the gift of courage, so that we will hold out to the end, just as saints did before us.
And speaking of perseverance in the faith, we have a living example of it in you, the community of the Laguna – indeed, you have persevered in the faith for over four centuries. Following the uprising, your community was lacking priests – an absence you endured numerous times over your long history. Nonetheless, your community continued to revere the Mass, train your young people to serve Mass, and keep your churches intact. What’s more you did all of this in the face of persecution and in the process many of your number became martyrs for the faith. Throughout this long history, your faith has endured and more than endured.
It has flourished and continues to flourish today, and for this, we humbly express our gratitude and take heart from you!
And speaking of gratitude and perseverance, I sometimes wonder if we realize how blessed we are to be a part of the Knights of Columbus and is leadership. What a gift, a gift for which we must also give thanks, a gift we must cherish and foster even in the midst of headwinds, even when that gift requires of us sacrifice and endurance. “For [indeed] if we have died with [Christ], we shall also live with him. If we persevere, we shall also reign with him.” Vivat Jesus!