Sunday Sermon for July 17, 2022, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Gen 18:1-10a; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42
Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern culture. We see the hospitality of Abraham in the first reading when he noticed three men standing by his tent. Perhaps he noticed these men were not average human beings, but we do not know that. Bowing before them, Abraham begged them for the opportunity to serve them. We see that everything else that may have been happening was suddenly dropped and serving these guests was of the utmost importance.
I always smile when I read this passage because I think of the patience of the men who were being served. They did not have refrigerators and freezers back then. Nothing was prepared or even ready to be prepared. Think of how much time it would have taken to make rolls, slaughter a cow, butcher it, and cook the meat, then get everything together and place it before these visitors. So, the great charity of Abraham is matched by the charity of his visitors as they graciously accept his offer and wait patiently while everything is being prepared.
We see this same kind of charity in the Gospel reading when Martha and Mary welcomed our Lord into their home. At first glance it might seem that Jesus does not appreciate Martha’s efforts. However, the issue at hand is not the hospitality, but Martha’s seeking attention for her service. Mary was also being hospitable by remaining with our Lord and listening to Him. Martha was attentive to the physical needs of hospitality and Mary was attentive to the relational needs.
In America we do not have such a profound sense of hospitality. This has become increasingly worse as the selfishness which afflicts our society grows. In many ways, we have forgotten even the most basic tenets of charity, let alone dying to self to serve others. It is in this vein that we must understand the second reading today. St. Paul speaks of rejoicing in his sufferings because he is filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church.
Each of us has sufferings of various kinds in our lives. When was the last time you rejoiced in your sufferings? How often do you remember to offer up your sufferings in union with the suffering of Jesus? Do you see it as a gift to be able to offer your sufferings for the good of someone else?
St. Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for several reasons. First, because he could share in the sufferings of Christ Whom he loved more than anyone else. Second, he could offer his sufferings for the sake of the Church, that is, for the people whom he loved so much. This love enabled St. Paul to willingly and joyfully accept the many sufferings that came his way, to see them as a gift, and to offer them for others. He recognized the great privilege that was given to him, not only to share in the suffering of Jesus, but to share in the fruit of that suffering: the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls.
It is interesting to note the context of these statements: St. Paul speaks first of his sufferings, but then he speaks of his ministry. We know that he told St. Timothy that he needed to accept his share in the trials which the Gospel entails. So, St. Paul understood that preaching the Gospel necessarily requires a certain amount of suffering. Elsewhere, he speaks of the virtue that comes from suffering; there is no other means to obtain some of the virtues. These latter two points are true for all of us: we will all suffer in our vocation and, if we pray and cooperate, the suffering will bear fruit in our lives in the form of growth in virtue.
However, it is the other point we must consider, that is, the offering of our sufferings for others, and even learning to rejoice that such a gift is given to us. We are saved only through the suffering of Jesus. In His mercy, Jesus loves us so much that He allows us to participate in the greatest work ever: the work of redemption and salvation of souls. Just to have an opportunity to participate in this work is not only humbling and a great privilege, but it should be cause for rejoicing!
To offer our sufferings for others is a great act of charity and, to offer our sufferings for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls is also a great act of hospitality. This is because we want others to know God’s love and to be in Heaven forever with us. So, in all our various sufferings, see them as a gift, unite them with our Lord’s sufferings, offer them for others, and rejoice!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.