St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955)
If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and travelled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by reading Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonour. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. Back home, she visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Coloured.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Coloured) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centres and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.
“The patient and humble endurance of the cross—whatever nature it may be—is the highest work we have to do.” “Oh, how far I am at 84 years of age from being an image of Jesus in his sacred life on earth!” (Saint Katharine Drexel)
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (20.17~28)
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him. What is it you want? he asked. She said, Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom. You don't know what you are asking, Jesus said to them. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? We can, they answered. Jesus said to them, You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father. When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
There is something admirable about the approach to our Lord by the mother of the sons of Zebedee in our Gospel today. In his parables our Lord had given various images of the Kingdom of Heaven — that Kingdom of which he was the Messiah and King. Just before our passage today, our Lord speaks of those who will be first and last in the Kingdom. His parable describes the owner of the vineyard ( the Master or Ruler of the Kingdom) hiring workers for his vineyard. As the owner, he will at the end reward each for his service, and he warns that while “many” will be called, “few” will be chosen. That is to say, by no means all will attain what they presume to expect. There will be surprises, for “they shall be first who were last, and they shall be last who were first.” The mother of the sons of Zebedee would have heard all this and was determined that her beloved sons should be the “first” in the Kingdom. She had generous and ardent sons. Our Lord nicknamed them “Boanerges,” sons of thunder. I like to think of our Lord, in his love for them, good naturedly teasing them for their volatile love for him. On one occasion they wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans for their discourtesy to our Lord. They were among our Lord’s very first disciples, his special companions together with Simon Peter, and according to St Paul were the pillars of the infant Church at Jerusalem. But then we read in our passage today that on the way “up to Jerusalem” Jesus warned the Twelve that “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” Our Lord is repeating to them that he is going to have a terrible death, and very soon. Then he will rise again. Now, it is then, after his having said this, that the mother of the sons of Zebedee presents her request. There is something truly admirable in their asking this of our Lord when his very death has just been announced.
They loved our Lord, and were utterly convinced that he was the promised Messiah, the King who would possess the eternal Kingship, the throne of David that would last forever. His glory would come. This faith in them is admirable, and our Lord, who could read the hearts of men, knew their mettle. How different did they turn out from Judas Iscariot! I suspect that our Lord’s talk of his coming death aroused complete disillusion and even a secret disgust in Judas. It occasioned a further draining away of his allegiance to our Lord. No so with the sons of Zebedee. Jesus was the promised King, and his Kingdom and his glory would come — but we see that despite their faith and their abandon to our Lord, they did not yet get it, as we might put it colloquially. They wanted to be among the first, and indeed, at our Lord’s right and left in his Kingdom. “You do not know what you are asking, Jesus said to them. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” We may presume that they had some idea that difficulties would be part and parcel of being with our Lord in his glory. Still, it is clear — on our Lord’s word — that they did not know what they were asking. They did not understand that just as the Son of Man must needs greatly suffer in order to enter his glory, so must they. Our Lord was blunt about sharing in his glory. They must drink “his” cup — the cup of the Suffering Servant. The others of the Twelve also shared in the illusion, for when they heard James and John attempting to obtain from our Lord this special favour in advance, they were hostile to the two brothers. They too wanted the top places, places of command where, after the manner of the rulers of the world, they would be served. It was an all-too human image of the glory of the Kingdom, one that reflected the kingdoms of this world and the aspirations of fallen man. They needed to understand that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:17-28).
The great point of the passage is our Lord’s response to their question. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” he asked. In their love and generosity, they immediately said, “We can.” Our Lord saw that they had it in them to follow him to the end, and we may presume that he answered their request by granting them the grace to drink his “cup.” That is the true meaning of being at his right and at his left. We are called not to occupy the top places in glory, but to stand close to Jesus in all the suffering that is entailed in doing the will of God and serving our brothers. Let us ask Christ for the grace to remain at his right and left in his sufferings so as to share in his glory.