(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm; Sunday 7.30am & 9am)
8/9 June 2013
(Readings: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Ps 29; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7:11-17)
Our First Reading and Gospel today are very similar. In both, a son has died, leaving a widow alone in the world. Both sons are brought back to life, and this act causes those who witness it to express belief in God who has brought the miracle about. What is different, though, is the absence – in the Gospel – of any reference to Jesus praying. In the First Reading, Elijah turns the grief and anger of the widowed mother into a prayer of petition to God – and God acts in response to the prayer and the ritual that Elijah performs.
In the Gospel Jesus acts directly: he touches the wooden plank that the dead man is laid on, and he tells him directly to get up. The lack of reference to prayer indicates that Jesus “is not just another prophet, however great. This is the incarnate Word whose humanity has been taken into complete union with the person of God the Son, so that the human words and actions of Jesus Christ are the words and actions humanly expressed, of God himself.” (1)
We see this confirmed in the reactions to the miracles. In the First Reading, the mother of the raised son declares that she now believes that Elijah is “a man of God” and that the word of the Lord in his mouth is the truth. In the Gospel the crowd declares that “a great prophet has appeared among us,” and then they go further: “God has visited his people.”
Jesus shows us the tenderness of God, the tender mercy of our God. In many of the healing stories, the miracle is worked because the one asking for the healing demonstrates faith in Jesus’ ability to cure and heal. But no demonstration of faith is given by the widow of today’s Gospel. Rather, through Jesus’ actions we see divine compassion itself opened for this poor woman in her bereavement. This is a theme that we see in Luke’s Gospel: that God has a special care for the orphan and the widow.
This is a good reminder to us that it is through acts of compassion that God wants to show that he is visiting his people. “The world – even non-Christians – recognized the visitation of God through the compassionate acts of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity.” (2) Loving action is what speaks to people’s hearts more than anything else.
People naturally ask when considering stories like these: why isn’t the mercy of God constantly shown to widows when they suffer losses like these? If we think about it, human life would become merely a puppet show if God was to constantly and always suspend the laws of nature. But when God did appear in human flesh – and when God continues to work miracles today – the corner of a veil is lifted so that we can see the direction of God’s love and end to which God’s love leads us. These things point us to the kingdom of heaven, and help us to keep looking in that direction. In the third Eucharistic prayer in Masses for the dead we pray that in God’s kingdom “we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” (1)
In our second reading Saint Paul speaks of his conversion in his own words. We’re probably more used to hearing St Luke’s versions that we have in the Acts of the Apostles. In speaking about himself, St Paul’s version is a little more discreet, and he lets us know that it took him some time to come to grips with what had happened. He had believed he was doing a holy thing by persecuting the Christians, and he believed that God was on his side. But his conversion made him realize that God was with the Christians, not standing behind Paul. This was such an about face that it seems it took Paul about three years to come to grips with it: he went first to Arabia after his conversion, then to Damascus – and it was three years before he met any of the other Apostles.
If we are open to hearing the Word of the Lord in our lives, then we will constantly hear a call to conversion. And that means that we will come to realize that some of the things we once believed are wrong; and we will also come to realize that some aspects of our life and lifestyle are similarly wrong, and need to change. This is not easy, and it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Perhaps hearing of the three years Saint Paul spent adjusting to his conversion can give us courage to be patient with ourselves and others in the work of conversion to Christ. The work of repenting and believing the Gospel takes time, and is accomplished in small, concrete steps, even after dramatic realizations of the truth. Today we can ask the intercession of Saint Paul for us to be open to hear the truth of God’s Word to us, and for the courage to put that truth into action in our lives. God is compassionate to us as he sees our attempts to come closer to him, just as he was and is compassionate to the orphan and widows. May we live that compassion in our own lives, and be his compassion in our world today.
(1) Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3, The Temporal Cycle: Sundays through the Year (Balwyn, VIC: Freedom Publishing Australia, 2012), pp. 51-52.
(2) 365 Days with the Lord: Liturgical Biblical Diary, 2013.