“Brothers and sisters: indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edge sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
Our Scripture readings this morning, the living and effective Word of God, are powerful indeed. They challenge us to move beyond mediocrity and complacency to ever deeper discipleship.
“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches as nothing in comparison with her.”
There have been many times in my life that I have pleaded for wisdom, or at least to be smart enough to pass my exams. Many of us have these. (Holds up diplomas.)
This is my grade school diploma from St. Linus Catholic Grade School in Oak Lawn Illinois, June 11, 1961. This is my high school diploma from Maryknoll Junior Seminary High School, June 13, 1965. This is my college diploma for Maryknoll College, May 18, 1969. I was unable to find my Masters of Divinity diploma of May 15, 1975 when I finished graduate theology at Maryknoll, New York and was ordained. I do have this diploma though, hanging on my office wall from Loyola College, Baltimore, Maryland with a degree of Masters of Science in Pastoral Counseling, August 1979.
Yet all of these do not add up to true wisdom, wisdom that comes from God, a wisdom rooted in a life of prayer, discernment, discipleship and surrender to the will of God. Ultimately, only this kind of wisdom matters.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the wisdom question. That is where true wisdom lies — inheriting eternal life, that for which we are made and in comparison to everything else, is counted as rubbish.
Yet, this is certainly not what the world teaches today, or quite honestly, ever really taught. At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus continues his teaching on the reversal of worldly standards of greatness that began a few weeks ago. Jesus covers such things as service versus being served, right relationships and those who have true influence.
Jesus addresses the inordinate attachment to wealth and the common religious and cultural understanding that riches and wealth were a blessing from God. Jesus turns that upside down and reminds us that the kingdom belongs to the humble, the childlike and is not earned no matter how much money, how many titles, how many diplomas or how much power one might have accumulated. It all eventually passes.
What humanity has failed to realize over the centuries is that “all is gift from God” and we are meant to be stewards, caretakers of those gifts by sharing them in justice with others. This is why it is hard to enter into the kingdom of heaven when we want to call the shots; when we want to be god.
This Sunday in Rome, Pope Francis is canonizing seven individuals who will be officially recognized as saints of the Catholic Church. Two are famous, lived during my lifetime and were influential in my priesthood. The other five, quite frankly I never heard of before. Yet they too will be honored by the church as holy men and women, those who have attained eternal life, the fullness for which they were created.
A few words about each.
Bl. Maria Katharina Kasper was born in Germany in 1820. She attended very little school because of poor health. Despite this, she began to help the poor, the abandoned and the sick at a young age. Her mother taught her household chores. After father died when she was 21, she stayed at home and worked the land as a farmhand for about $.10 a day. Even though she felt the call to religious life, she stayed to help support her mother who was in poor health.
In 1851 she and four other women officially took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and formed the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Today there are over 690 sisters in 104 houses in Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, Mexico and India. She died of a heart attack in February 1898.
Bl. Nazaria Ignacia Mesa was born in Madrid, Spain in 1889. She was the fourth of 18 children. Growing up, her family was indifferent and sometimes even hostile to her desire to enter religious life. The family moved to Mexico in 1904 where she met the sisters of the Institute of Sisters of the Abandoned Elders with whom she took perpetual vows and worked in a hospice in Oruro, Bolivia for 12 years.
In 1925, she founded the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church whose mission is to catechize children and adults, support the work of priests, conduct missions and to print and distribute short religious tracks. She died in July 1943 and her sisters spread throughout South America, Portugal Spain, France, Italy and Cameroon.
Bl. Nunzio Sulprizio was born in Italy in 1817. At the age of six he lost both of his parents and was brought up by an uncle who exploited him for hard labor. Fatigued and often given dangerous assignments, he developed gangrene and eventually lost his leg. Despite his tremendous suffering, he would reportedly make statements such as: “Jesus suffered a lot for me. Why should I not suffer for him? I would die in order to convert one sinner.”
He recovered from the gangrene and dedicated himself to helping other patients before his health deteriorated again. He died of bone cancer in 1836 when he was only 19 years old.
Bl. Francesco Spinelli was born in Milan in 1853. He entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1875. He began his apostolate educating the poor and also served as a seminary professor, spiritual director and counselor for several women’s religious communities.
In 1882, Fr. Spinelli met Caterina Comensoli with whom he founded the Institute of the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. The sisters dedicated themselves to Eucharistic Adoration day and night, which inspired their service to the poor and suffering. Father Spinelli died in 1913 and today the Institute has around 250 communities in Italy, Congo, Senegal, Cameroon, Colombia and Argentina. Their ministries include caring for people with HIV, orphans, drug addicts and prisoners.
Bl. Vincent Romano was born in 1751 and ordained a priest in 1775. He studied the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori and developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He spent his whole life as a priest in Torre del Greco and was known for his simple ways in his care for parishioners, especially for orphans. He died in December 1831 of pneumonia while caring for the poor.
Bl. Pope Paul VI was born Giovanni Batista Montini in 1897 and ordained a priest in 1920. In 1954 he was named Archbishop of Milan and in 1958 was made a cardinal by Pope St. John XXIII. As a cardinal, he helped to arrange the Second Vatican Council and chose to continue the Council after he became Pope in 1963 at the age of 65.
His pontificate was a difficult time for the Church and the world. Pope Paul struggled with many contentious issues after the Second Vatican Council and wrote two famous encyclicals, Humani Vitae in 1968 and Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1973. He died in 1978.
Lastly, and one close to my heart, is Bl. Oscar Romero. Born in 1917 in El Salvador and was ordained in 1942. He became Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador in 1973 and Archbishop in 1977. He was an outspoken defender the rights of the poor in El Salvador, who were being terrorized by right-wing military death squads mainly because of protests over the extreme economic inequality in the country.
His weekly homilies, broadcasts across the country on radio, were a galvanizing force for the country’s poor as well as reliable source of news. In addition to speaking out against the government’s actions in El Salvador, he also criticized the US government for backing the military junta that seized power in 1979. He wrote to Pres. Jimmy Carter in February 1980 asking him to stop supporting the repressive regime. On March 24 1980 he was assassinated at the altar while celebrating Mass. The country soon plunged into a deadly 12-year civil war.
I encourage you to read or listen to a beautiful NPR report from this past Friday entitled, “A ‘Voice for the Voiceless’: Sainthood for El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero.” There is also a movie entitled “Romero” produced by Paulist Press that is an excellent portrayal of the Archbishop. I also encourage you to go to our parish website and under the first element of discipleship, grow, go to the Formed website to discover many materials about these new saints.
Each of these new saints, some highly educated and others not, possessed the true wisdom that comes from a deep, personal and faithful relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, the people of God. Like them, let us seek this deep wisdom through our prayer at home and here at Saint Michael Parish. Let us seek to follow Jesus when he asks us, like the man who ran up to him, for more, however that might be.