Eccl 11:9-12:8 ; Ps 90:3-6,12-14,17; Lk 9:43-45
The moneyless ones, Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, were ready to heal and comfort the sick without demanding a fee. Such Christian charity from these twin brothers endangered their lives during the persecution of Diocletian. Their popularity made them vulnerable; they stood out among the members of the Church. These martyrs continued the compassion of the Lord Jesus who was always taking time and risking exposure by his own healing ministry. The danger of popularity is not evident until someone wants you dead and your influence finished. For these brave Catholic Doctors the LORD was a rock, a fortress, a stronghold and a deliverer. They trusted that the Lord Jesus would shield them from all harm. No harm touched their souls, they were courageous and faithful even when confronted with a share in the cross of Christ. They were so completely united to Christ, the Healer, that they were willing to be generous unto death. The brothers were beheaded for their witness to Christ and their willingness to serve the sick free of charge. The LORD takes notice of the sacrifices of his beloved sons, Cosmas and Damian, and their memory summons us to be as generous as the martyrs. Then our life will be more than a breath and our days more than a passing shadow. The moneyless ones found the time to heal even as they found the timeless One deep within their hearts. Holy Job brings his just suit before the LORD and finds refuge in the wondrous mercies of his Savior. In his humility the New Job, the Lord Jesus Christ is poor in spirit, and from the totally emptiness of the Cross he fills us with costly grace. The Son of Man is indeed the Christ, but the Lord Jesus did not want anyone to expect him to fulfill their expectations of being messiah without the cross. Indeed, the cross is our only friend, and we encounter this friend every day we gather at the altar of sacrifice and become one with our Host.
Our responsorial psalm teaches us to number our days aright. This is the second time this week that we have been given the text of Psalm Ninety as our response to the first reading. Perhaps that’s because Qoheleth is teaching us again that all things are vanity, a puff of smoke, dust in the wind. The children of men have yet to find the value in our ending. If we had no natural end, we would have no urgency to gain wisdom of heart. We would have no desire to uproot vice and grow virtue in the garden of our heart. We desperately need the LORD to have pity on his servants. We need to be filled with his kindness at daybreak, otherwise we would never even get out of bed. The world seems so helpless and hopeless. Everywhere we look there are impossible promises being made, and the most uncommon commodity among us these days is common sense. The only joy and gladness that arises within us comes from the vision of future glory. Indeed, we know the end of the story; so, we do not despair. Only the gracious care of the LORD will prosper the work of our hands for us. Here at this Liturgy we are amazed that the Lord Jesus has hidden the mystery of the cross at the very center of our lives, and even when we don’t understand it still bares the blessing.
Death doesn’t make sense to the living. To the vibrant and youthful death is unimaginable. Young people in every age and in every culture always feel invincible, and the young have not death before their eyes daily. Even the somber and somewhat morbid Qoheleth instructs the young to “let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes.” In our own day the common wisdom would have us grab all the gusto life has to offer, and we must follow our passions. Yet, life without any caution is often life with much complication and overwhelming confusion. The wise man of the Old Testament summons us to pay attention to our Creator while we are yet young before everything starts to fall apart in our bodies and in our lives. Before we can no longer enjoy the abundant blessings of life and health, we need to throw ourselves into the joy and gladness all around us. Even great mystics like Saint John of the Cross, would have us drink deeply of all the pleasures that come our way, even as we totally detach ourselves from the desire to enjoy such pleasures. Indeed, the longing to have and hold sensual and spiritual delights is nothing less than slavery. To hunger for someone’s tender touch in our loneliness often leads to manipulation of others, so that a person becomes a means to an end rather than an end in himself. This kind of need to be touched or any other pressing and overwhelming desire for fulfillment in the body or the spirit keeps us captive and unavailable to be attached to God alone. So we are wise to keep death before us daily, so that we know how to live fully. This wisdom of Qoheleth and of Saint Benedict is found in the work and life of Dr. Morrie Schwartz, a history professor at Brandeis University, who died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Before he died, Morrie tried to teach the world how to die so that we could really live through his former student, Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays with Morrie. Indeed, we number our days aright so that we can gain wisdom of heart. Nothing we enjoy with the senses and nothing we delight in with the spirit is anything more than a puff of smoke. Indeed, vanity of vanities, all things are vanity and dust in the wind. Why spend our longings, our desires, our energies, for what fails to satisfy and does not last forever? God has created our senses and all that we sense with full and rich enjoyment. God has created our spirits and given us all the spiritual joys we have ever or ever will know. However, spiritual experiences are not God; they are only experiences of God. We only languish in self-pity when we long for what has been rather than longing for the LORD who gave us such delights.
Again Saint Luke is gentle with the Apostles by including them in the larger group called disciples. Everyone who followed the Lord Jesus was clueless when it came to his passion predictions, not just the Apostles. No one understood him when he proclaimed, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” They may have thought to themselves, who is this of whom the Lord speaks? Or what does it mean to be handed over? Perhaps this is another one of those enigmatic sayings that he will explain down the road. They were wise enough to know these sayings were worth remembering, but they had no idea what these things meant, and they were afraid to ask the Lord what he could possibly mean. So they continued on the way to Jerusalem in blissful ignorance, and that’s the way they preferred to walk. We of course have gained wisdom of heart and we are not afraid to talk about death, even our own death. Perhaps we have numbered our days aright and been filled with the wisdom of the Cross of Christ. Perhaps we can at least begin to walk in such wisdom.