WEEK 24 02 – Year II
Being like Jesus in the Body of Christ:
Memorial of St John Chrysostom
(1 Cor 12:12-31; Ps 100; Lk 7:11-17)
If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.
The readings today invite us to be like Christ in the Body of Christ.
First, the gospel reveals Jesus being himself, compassionate author of life. Approaching the community of Nain he comes across a situation of extreme distress – a woman who had lost her husband, rendering her a very vulnerable widow, has now also lost her only son, the only one who could be a source of security for her. Her future is bleak – one of certain destitution.
The response of Jesus is immediate. He feels compassion for her and her desperate situation, stops the funeral procession, speaks words of hope and encouragement to her, then speaks words of new life to the dead son, and raises him from the dead. The word “arise” that Jesus uses, has a connotation of resurrection, of life coming out of the stark darkness and nothingness of death. The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus presented him to his mother who certainly must have been overcome with unspeakable joy.
Turning to the first reading, St. Paul reminds us that we are all baptized by the Spirit into one body, the Body of Christ. As he puts it, we are many and diverse members of one body, in which there is no division. Every individual is a distinct member of this one Body of Christ. On top of this, we are all given gifts to be used to build up that body, in unison, collaboration and harmony. If one suffers, all suffer; if one is honored, all rejoice together.
Our task is to be like Christ, to encounter every situation with the compassion of Christ, and to be a source of hope, encouragement, and new life to all those in need especially. Two persons I have been reading about, Fredéric Ozanam, one of the founders of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and St. Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, are models for us. Both of them exuded the compassion of Christ, and would go to the ends of the earth to address the needs of the most abandoned and needy of their time.
In his book on Ozanam, Sticklinger writes of him that he not only worked to relieve the distress of individuals, but was also convinced that poverty could be addressed only by understanding it in all its dimensions and confronting its causes. One had to experience first what those living in poverty suffered, listening intently to their stories in order to grasp the complexity of poverty. Moreover, Ozanam recognized that those living in poverty needed not only material aid but spiritual aid. Their very souls had become desolate. Without some attention to their inner needs, their true humanity and their dignity could never be restored.
The late Fr. Al Hubenig OMI, in his book on St. Eugene, writes that it is striking to see how sure Eugene was that his vocation was to dedicate himself as a priest to serve the poor. He would progressively discover many of the other aspects of his vocation, but his option to serve the poor was a strong, deeply felt and abiding conviction from the beginning. In one of his early sermons he said, “I have been called to be the servant and priest of the poor, and hoping to devote my life to their service…”
Everything Eugene did as a young priest seemed to cry out, “Give me elbow room to take care of needs which you are not addressing. There are poor people out there whom you have abandoned.” “Abandoned’ keeps coming up, time after time. Eugene considered every soul, even the poorest, to be an infinite prize because it had been redeemed by the Blood of the Son of God. The Oblate Founder’s heightened sensitivity made him spontaneously attentive, attuned to the needs of others, especially the poor and the most abandoned.
St. John Chrysostom, whom we honor today, is an example of someone who took the teachings of St. Paul and Jesus to heart and lived them. St. John Chrysostom was born in Antioch in 347 and was trained as an orator. He became a hermit in 374 but left due to poor health. He was ordained in 386 and became papal preacher, famous for his eloquent preaching. In 398 he became Patriarch archbishop of Constantinople and began reforms for clergy and laity alike. He was firm in political and ecclesial affairs and thus created enemies, including the emperor. He was twice forced into exile to Armenia. After three years it was decided to send him further away, but he died enroute, worn out by his hardships. His sermons and writing did much to explain the Catholic faith and to encourage the living of Christian life. He was given the name “golden mouth” after his death and is honored as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Catholic churches, as well as in some others.
The Eucharist is a faith family meal we celebrate as members of the Body of Christ. As we listen to God’s word and commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus, we experience the compassion, forgiveness and healing of Christ, and are empowered to be like Jesus in the Body of Christ.