Phmn 7-20; Ps 146:7-10; Lk 17:20-25
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. In the peaceful stillness of every heart surrendered to Divine Love the all-powerful word bounds and conquers all our fear and hesitation to become saints. Indeed, this is the only way that the Son of Man will find faith on the earth when he comes again in his glory. We are here at liturgy today so that we might hear the summons and respond more fully to the Son of Man who comes, gives us faith and fulfils our faith.
Saint Paul reveals his great rhetorical skills and his loving pastoral care in this most personal letter to Philemon. He sends this note in his own handwriting to Philemon the master of an escaped slave that Saint Paul has converted while in prison. As he grows older and in greater need of companionship and assistance, Saint Paul is honest and humble enough to admit to Philemon that he would like to have Onesimus join him in his imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel. His choice of words and turn of phrase is a model for anyone writing to seek assistance for missionary work. In justice Saint Paul sends Onesimus, “my own heart”, back to Philemon. Of course an escaped slave is useless to his master, however, Saint Paul points out how he is now twice as useful to Philemon. If he would only consider the partnership they share in the Body of Christ, Philemon would quickly forgive his runaway slave and see his return to the Apostle as an unexpected opportunity to pay back Saint Paul, to whom he owes his very soul. From the language of the letter Onesimus was owned by one of Saint Paul’s converts, and this master Philemon is now bound in all charity to refresh the heart of his Father in Christ. Is there any doubt that this slave Master was set free of his burden? How could Philemon leave his Father in Christ alone and imprisoned? Can’t you write the return letter that Onesimus carries back to prison? Doesn’t this rhetoric sound like the kind of letters Mother Cabrini would write back to Italy to invite more sisters to come over and wealthy Catholics to send their relatives and financial support for the mission of the Gospel?
Once again the Pharisees try to embarrass the Lord Jesus in public. Again they want him to make a commitment to a year, day and hour when the Kingdom will come. Perhaps they wanted to use his prediction, when it failed, as a means of disproving his mission. Indeed, one can hear a not so subtle taunt in this questioning process. The Lord’s reply is devoid of any such verbal abuse, rather, he is full of loving concern for all who would ask this question throughout history. Instead of giving specifics of time and date, the Lord Jesus gives all who ask this question a set of behaviors to avoid and an attitude to adopt. He warns them not to run in pursuit of any and all announcements of false prophets and charlatans who come down the road. He instructs them in the truth, “For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” This is the kind of good news that we should announce by our Gospel life style and in all our public discourse with skeptics of every generation. In a second rhetorical movement in today’s gospel the Lord Jesus addresses his disciples. He warns them of the great longing they will have for the days of the Son of Man, for the days of his return. This great longing must not make them even more vulnerable to the deceivers in every generation, those who announce: “Look, there he is, or look, here he is.” Indeed, the Lord Jesus will return without warning and swiftly like the lightning that flashes and lights up the sky from end to end. Indeed, the only thing we can be sure of in every age of the church’s witness is that the Body of Christ will suffer and be rejected by our generation.