Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

Wis 2:23-3:9; Ps 34:2-3,16-19; Lk 17:7-10

There was nowhere for Saint Josaphat to go from his enemies.  As he wrote, “You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.”  This holy bishop and martyr was well aware of the danger at the hands of his enemies, and he was even more aware of the hand of the Lord resting upon him.  Saint Josaphat was the first Eastern Saint canonized by Rome.  His life was given, literally, for the unity of the Body of Christ.  The LORD knew, probed, and scrutinized all his ways.  Before he opened his mouth to teach or preach, the LORD knew what he was to say and affirmed him in the truth. The Lord’s right hand held him fast even when his opponents became his assassins.  Even after being struck in the head with a halberd, shot, and beaten with staves on November 12, 1623, his body was thrown into the Dvina River and later recovered.  Even after all the violence he suffered the Lord’s hand was upon him, and his body was found incorrupt five years after his death. “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love”.  The witness of Saint Josaphat was faith-filled; he was a servant who sought only to praise the Lord and serve his crushed and brokenhearted children.  He sought no glory for himself or rewards in this life; his hands and hearts were filled with the glory of God and the lowly heard their praise-filled voices, and they were glad.

One of the most difficult human situations that everyone must face is death.  We are often crushed and brokenhearted by the death of a loved one.  The saints of every age have given spoken and written testimony about death.  Many of the saints have taken comfort in the book of Wisdom.  This holy book teaches us that we were formed by the LORD to be imperishable, in the image of our Creator.  This original intention of the LORD was challenged by the envy of the Devil.  Death entered the world through the original sin of our first parents who submitted to the temptation of the evil one.  This original disobedience of the human race brought death into life.  Because of the limitations of death, we are punished but not utterly destroyed.  Even during this time in the history of God’s people, there was a fledging belief in the survival of the soul after the death of the body.  This faith became the backdrop for the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  Even before the Paschal Mystery, some of the faithful in Israel believed that death was merely a sacrificial fire that purified the soul and proved its true worth.  Indeed, the souls of the just would shine brightly when the Lord became the King of all peoples.  This relatively late teaching of Judaism is amazing from our perspective after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  It is this truth, anticipated in the Book of Wisdom, that is fulfilled in the Gospel.  When confronted with the anguish of death, we can trust in the LORD and abide with him in love, “because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect”.

Not only did Saint Josaphat teach with confidence the truth of the unity of life in Christ the Lord, he also taught the message of today’s gospel.  In Saint Luke’s gospel, we read about the Lord Jesus teaching his apostles about what it means to be a servant-leader.  These future shepherds of the church had to learn the hard lesson that the Lord Jesus taught with his every breath and deed.  He came in obedience to the Father’s will.  He was not here to glorify himself.  Indeed, the Lord Jesus is the only profitable servant because he did what he was obliged to do.  In obedient love, his self-sacrifice completely destroyed the curse of the willful disobedience of our ancestors, Adam and Eve.  No longer is death the end of life.  No longer are we slaves to the fear of death.  Indeed, death itself is merely a passage from earthly life to eternal life.  We have nothing to fear because the Lord of Life has gone on before us to lead us home.  Indeed, we are the unprofitable servants who share in the life of the truly Profitable Servant, Jesus the Christ.