Friday, October 30, 2009

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (c. 1533-1617)

Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer. Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sisters’ home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation. Years later, at the death of his son, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations. His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including St. Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’s life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems. Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (14.1-6)

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? But they remained silent. So he took the man, healed him and sent him away. Then he asked them, If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? To this they could find no answer.

Brother to all
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

There are a few details in our Gospel passage today (Luke 14: 1-6) which help us appreciate the manner, the style and the very person of our Lord. It is a Sabbath day, and the Synagogue service is over. We may presume it is our Lord who was the reader and speaker at the Synagogue. A classic description of our Lord teaching in a synagogue is given earlier in this very Gospel by St Luke. At the start of his public ministry and following his baptism and his rejection of the temptations of Satan, Jesus returns to Galilee and in due course to his home town of Nazareth (Luke 4: 16). We are told that “he went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.” The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and “when he had opened the book, he found the place” he was looking for, and read it to the people assembled. Then, we are told, “he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Then he began to speak on his theme, and the people were riveted by his discourse. That description we could take as applying to the numerous times he spoke in the various Synagogues, including on the Sabbath of our Gospel passage today. The service being over, the people went their ways back to their homes or to activities of Sabbath rest. For instance, we read that on one Sabbath our Lord was walking with his disciples through the cornfields, and they began to pick ears of corn. Presumably this happened following the Sabbath service. That is to say, our Lord was observing the Sabbath rest with a stroll through the fields with his disciples. Again, on a separate occasion (Mark 1:29) following his address and exorcism in the Synagogue at Capernaum, he and his closest disciples immediately went to the home of Simon and Andrew. There he cured Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever, and she rose up and served them. So it was in Simon’s house that they rested. On the Sabbath of our Gospel passage today, our Lord is invited to the home of a leading Pharisee. The Pharisee, hospitable to his honoured guest, watched him closely.

At times we can form the impression that there was something of a war between Jesus and all the Pharisees. Not so, it seems. John tells us in his Gospel (3:1) that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leading Jew. He was a disciple and came to Jesus by night for instruction - secretly, for fear of his colleagues. Joseph of Arimathea was, it seems, a member of the Sanhedrin and yet a secret disciple of Jesus. It looks as if the Pharisees formed the strongest knot of opposition to Jesus but this does not mean that all were opposed to him, nor that they were opposed to him to an equal degree. We read in John 12: 42 that “there were many of the rulers who believed in him, but because of the Pharisees did not acknowledge this.” In any case, we read of our Lord dining in the homes of Pharisees on different occasions. Whatever about their attitude to our Lord, it was plain to them that he himself was entirely open to their advances. He responded to their invitations and they felt able easily to approach him, if often only to attack him. All of this tells us of the heart of Jesus himself and of the style of his ministry. He was open to all. He sought all. He wished to save all, including those who were making his ministry more and more difficult. He loved all with a divine love, a love that opposed sin nevertheless, and exposed it in order to bring forth repentance. He sought out all, from the smallest to the most important. On one occasion word came from a centurion, asking that he come to heal his servant. Our Lord rose and made his way towards the centurion’s dwelling. Our Lord invited himself to dine in the home of a leading tax collector, Zacchaeus. On the request of the ruler of a Synagogue, Jairus, he went to heal his daughter. We remember the simple courtesy with which he addressed Pilate during his Passion. The point is that our Lord came to serve those who held prominent positions and those that did not — to bring life, life in abundance to all. Today his contact is with the leading Pharisee, another day it is with a poor unknown woman who is healed by her grasping at his garment. Jesus Christ is brother to all.

This is what God is like. He is not a God who is remote and withdrawn. He is not a God who threatens the helpless. He is a God who loves and is entirely accessible. If we place the image of the divine as it is in the Christian religion next to that of Islam, Hinduism, and so many of the religions of traditional indigenous societies, what stands out is the extraordinary accessibility of God. God in Christian revelation loves man. He inclines towards him and seeks him out. He is like a good shepherd. He is our Father. We can turn to him and depend on his love. Let us see our Lord’s dining with the leading Pharisee in our Gospel today as all of a piece with this wondrous revelation.

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