Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blessed Jacinta (1910-1920) and Francisco Marto (1908-1919)

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after. At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917. Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sister Lucia died five years later. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by up to 20 million people a year.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (5.27-32)

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow Me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Sense of sin
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel scene today is one of simple beauty. We read in the Gospel of St John (2:24-25) that our Lord did not need anyone to tell him what was in a man. He could read their hearts. In our text today we read that Jesus “went out” of the house where he had been teaching, and where he had cured the paralytic and forgiven his sins. He saw a tax collector at his workplace and simply said to him “Follow me.” We are not told that our Lord had had prior contact with him — as he had, for instance, with Simon and Andrew, and James and John, soon after his baptism by John. Our Lord uttered two words of call and Levi “got up, left everything and followed him.” It was a remarkable response, just as it was a remarkable call. We could ask why our Lord chose to call such a person as Levi — whom most identify with the author of the first Gospel — when he, Levi, had such an odious profession. It is the mystery of divine vocations and the same question could be asked of countless others in the course of history. They received a call from Christ to follow him closely when there was little to recommend them. But let us consider Levi and ask, what was it in him that helps to account for the alacrity of his response? One of our Lord’s parables may give us a clue because in that parable the most admirable character is a tax collector. The parable presents us with two people — the one who was religious by very profession, and the one who by virtue of his profession was an obvious sinner. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, each praying in the Temple. At the end of the story, the Tax Collector goes home right with God, while the Pharisee does not. The reason why the Tax Collector is in union with God is because his prayer is a humble profession of personal sinfulness, together with a heartfelt prayer for pardon. The Pharisee has no consciousness of sin. He is simply conscious of the good things he believes he is doing. He is not like the despised Tax Collector whom he sees well behind him and hidden away from obvious view in the Temple.

There are other examples of this sense of personal sin. In this same Gospel of St Luke the Pharisees and the lawyers are contrasted with the tax collectors who accepted the baptism of John (7:29). In our Gospel today (Luke 5: 27-32), Levi's tax collector friends flocked to be part of the banquet Levi put on for our Lord. He and they loved our Lord. His was not the only case. We remember how a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, responded to our Lord's friendship. Our Lord invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for dinner, and Zacchaeus responded magnificently, welcoming our Lord warmly, giving half his goods to the poor, and repaying fourfold those he had unjustly cheated (Luke 19: 8). It seems that Luke in compiling his Gospel was interested in the response of the tax collectors, well known sinners, to the all-holy Jesus. No one was excluded from friendship with our Lord. Luke’s account of the call of Levi may be regarded as a paradigm of Christ’s attitude to sinners and of the chance that they have to repent and give themselves totally to the person and mission of Jesus. Is there a key to understanding the immediacy of the response of Levi and many regarded as sinners? At least one key was their consciousness of sin and their desire for pardon. Christ with his holiness and his compassion was the manifest answer to their need. They knew they had a tremendous need for redemption, for holiness, and therefore for Jesus. They were conscious of personal sin, and Jesus exuded holiness. Their response was immediate when the invitation came. This sense of need was lacking in many of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Let us notice too that John the Baptist, the one who pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, had himself a profound sense of sin. In the one recorded conversation we have between Jesus and John, John shows his sense of personal sin. It is I who ought be baptized by you, he said to Jesus when Jesus presented himself for baptism. I am not fit to undo his sandal straps, John said in referring to the coming Messiah.

Let us learn from Levi and his immediate and total response to the call of Jesus. If this is to happen we must cultivate a deep sense of our own sinfulness and need of the friendship and grace of Jesus Christ. Lent is the time for acknowledging sin, seeking God’s pardon, and hearing the call of Christ to be his friend and share in his mission. Let us be like Levi who “got up, left everything and followed him.”

A second reflection concerning the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke

Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5.27~32)

Levi’s response
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The great and ever pressing issue of each day is the call of God to each of us that we be striving for authentic holiness. We are called to be saints, hidden, known as such only to God, but saints nevertheless. The saint is one who loves God with all his heart; who expresses this love in the generous fulfilment of daily duties; and who is prepared to struggle to bring this about — with the grace of God. Why is it that we make so little progress? All too often it is because the pattern of our life does not reflect what Levi did when our Lord said to him, “Follow me.” Levi left everything and got up and followed him. That disposition to leave all was what our Lord wanted. With that readiness to respond to his call immediately our Lord could lead Levi on to sanctity and to a total following in his footsteps. By contrast consider the rich young man. He came to our Lord and asked what he had to do to gain eternal life. Our Lord invited him to leave all and to follow him. But he went away sad.

During this Lent let us resolve to leave behind what is preventing us from a total following of the Master each day. In this lies the grandeur or ordinary life. Let what we see in Levi’s response to our Lord’s call be the pattern of our lives.

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