From January 25th of 2008 to June 29th of 2009, the Catholic Church observed a special year in honor of St. Paul at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI. The year was meant to commemorate 2,000 years since the birth of St. Paul. Just a few month before the Holy Father made this proclamation, I had been asked to serve as Administrator of CUSA. So as a way of introducing myself to the members of CUSA, I decided to ask each member to indicate their favorite quotation from the Letters of St. Paul and a short explanation of what it meant to them. While there were many different submissions, the one quotation that was cited most often was a line from the passage we read today from the Letter to the Philippians. “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Many of the CUSANS wrote about the difficulties they experienced each day because of their chronic illness or disability. They found a source of strength in the fact that St. Paul also overcame many physical difficulties through his relationship with Christ. The word that identifies how St. Paul came to this realization is “distress,” which appears immediately after his bold proclamation of the strength he is given by Christ. “It was kind of you to share in my distress.” (Philippians 4:14) Paul’s distress or tribulations were not simply physical illness. He writes this letter from a jail cell where he is waiting to hear his fate at the hands of the Roman emperor. He also experiences distress because he realizes that the world has not yet accepted the Gospel to which he has devoted his life. So the burdens of his ministry are also weighing heavily upon him. Yet through all of the afflictions that he is currently experiencing, he continues to fall back on the strength he has in Jesus. He knows full well that it is only through the strength that he has found in his relationship with Jesus that he is able to persevere in the midst of trial.
Distress is an apt word to describe what we and the entire world are experiencing just now in this world-wide pandemic. The Covid 19 virus has infected the world with a virulent disease. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., in his book, The Holy Longing, noted that the word disease can be read as dis-ease; in other words, as a lack of comfort or ease. He goes on to reason that this lack of comfort is what gives birth to the holy longing to be at peace with God and with neighbor. Not only does the present pandemic present us with a disease, it has also been accompanied by a great deal of dis-ease that has manifested itself in social unrest, violence, and fierce verbal onslaughts from our government leaders.
Throughout all of the distressing events, Pope Francis has been consistent in asking us to turn to those who are suffering hunger, poverty and homelessness which have been the results of war and violence. Just as the community of Philippi came to St. Paul’s aid, we are being called to do whatever we can to come to the aid of those who are suffering from oppression, hatred, trafficking, and all the many different tribulations and afflictions which are present in our world today. Although we may be unable to offer physical assistance because of our own difficulties, we are still called upon to be preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who calls us all to be brothers and sisters to one another.
The Gospel today offers us a parable about the end-time and frames it in the familiar metaphor of a heavenly banquet. The Gospel of St. Matthew offers us a disturbing scene at the end of the parable of someone who is expelled from the banquet. At first glance, it seems totally unfair that the man should be expected to be dressed in a wedding garment when he was dragged into the banquet from the highways and streets. However, the evangelist is very careful to let us know that the man offered no excuse or apology to the king. “He was reduced to silence.” Silence was not an effective response to the king, nor is silence in the face of injustice and oppression acceptable. We must remain vigilant and constant in living out the Gospel which challenges us to love one another as we have been loved. This too we can accomplish in him who strengthens us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator