HOMILY WEEK 22 03 – Year I
Faithful Servant Ministers of Christ:
(Col 1:1-8; Ps 52; Lk 4:38-44)
Have you ever thought of taking Epaphras as your model for a life of faith?
In the first reading, St. Paul holds him up as a beloved fellow servant and faithful minister of Christ. That means that we are invited to also be a servant and faithful minister of Jesus Christ.
One of my dreams when I was an active archbishop of the archdiocese was to start a lay institute of women entitled Servants of the Gospel. They would meet occasionally for a retreat, community and planning, and focus on studying and teaching scripture. I guess I am not very good at founding institutes, because although I had some special people in mind, it never materialized.
It strikes me that St. Paul in the first reading, puts forward many of the characteristics that I would have wanted this secular institute to live. Here they are:
Gratitude: St. Paul thanks God for the faith of the Colossians and the way they are living that faith. Gratitude has to be one of the key elements of a life of faith. One of the mystics claimed that if the only prayer we said in our life was “Thank you,” that would be enough. I would want the members of this institute to be able to count their blessings every day and thank God for them.
Love: St. Paul commends them on the love they have for each other. Loving unity would be another key characteristic of this community. “See how they love one another” was how the first followers of Jesus were described. How beautiful it is when people live together in harmony – especially when people are put together with others they would not normally choose to live with. That is a true testimony to the power of faith.
Hope: St. Paul mentions the hope laid up for the Colossians in heaven. Faith gives us hope, an infinite horizon, a bigger picture, a meta-narrative into which we can place all the events of our lives, giving us deeper meaning and purpose, especially to our suffering. As Julien of Norwich stated, “All will be well, and all will be well, and in the end, all manner of being will be well.” That is a living hope.
And of course, a special focus on the Word of God: St. Paul speaks of the gospel of truth that is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. The Word of God is alive and active, and penetrates deeper than anything else into our very souls. What a privilege to listen to and be attentive to the very Words of Jesus. Members of this institute would have offered to others the Word of life through bible study and courses on scripture.
In the gospel, three other qualities emerge. One is a healing presence. Jesus healed all who came to him of their illnesses. Ours is also to be a healing presence to others – our faith, hope and love can touch others and inspire them, as well as our prayer for them.
An attraction to solitude and contemplative prayer is another characteristic. Jesus often went to a deserted place to commune with the Father. If he, our Lord and Master did that, how much more so should we. The members of this institute would have made Lectio Divina a central part of their day – reading scripture (lectio), meditating on it (meditatio), praying with it (oratio), and then spending time in contemplation (contemplatio), just soaking up the Father’s love as Jesus did.
Finally, the members of this institute would have modelled themselves on Jesus, who was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. What is that good news? The psalm hints at it – trusting in the kindness of God forever, and being rooted in God’s steadfast love. They would proclaim that we can truly know God and experience the eternal life of the kingdom here and now as did the Colossians.
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were faith-filled servants of Jesus who especially lived the quality of gratitude that St. Paul highlights. At the height of World War II, they were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp for sheltering Jews. Huddled in filthy, cramped barracks, their faith led them to make the best of their miserable circumstances. They thanked God that they were together, and thanked God that more women would hear them read their treasured Bible. They even thanked God for the flea infestation that they realized kept the guards from coming into their barracks and discovering their Bible.
Though my dream of an institute never was realized, the dream was picked up by Lucie Leduc, director of the Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, and with her inspiration has grown into Aurora Living, a three-year personal growth and spiritual formation process beginning in October. It brings together five points of light: Word, Creation, Contemplation, Community and Justice as right relationships (a follow-up to the TRC Calls to Action). For more information, google starofthenorth.ca/aurora.
The Eucharist would have been another mainstay of the life of this little institute had it been formed. As St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her sisters found the strength and courage each morning through contemplative prayer and the Eucharist to minister to the poorest of the poor and dying in the streets, so too we are to find our strength and consolation there, empowering us to be dedicated servants and ministers of Jesus Christ like Epaphras.