Sunday Sermon for October 13, 2019, the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19
Today, as we commemorate the anniversary of the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima in 1917, we are reminded of the great love God has for us by bearing with us in our frailty and calling us back to Himself when we have wandered. At Fatima He sent His Mother, in Israel 2000 years ago, He came Himself. In the first reading we see that His mercy and His call were extended to a pagan hundreds of years before our Lord came into the world.
Our entire response, as we can see in all the readings, must be one of love firmly grounded on faith. In the first reading we hear about Naaman the Syrian who goes to Israel to be cleansed of his leprosy. He goes in good faith, urged by the servant of his wife, a little girl from Israel who had been captured in a raid, and bearing many gifts to give to the King of Israel in exchange for his healing.
The King of Israel did not receive Naaman well, nor did he act with any faith. He did not call upon God or seek the Prophet of God; rather, he tore his garments and determined the King of Syria sent this man as a pretense to start a war. When Elisha heard about the actions of the king, he told the king to send Naaman to Samaria, the home of the Prophet. At the bidding of Elisha, Naaman, although initially resistant, plunged seven times into the Jordon River and was healed.
After being healed, Naaman returned to give Elisha the gifts he had brought with him, but Elisha refused. Elisha’s response was enough to help Naaman realize that God’s gifts are given freely; the only cost to us is faith and a response of charity that flows from gratitude by giving back to God in a manner similar to what we have received from God. This is what Naaman did. He took two mule loads of dirt from Israel and, from that moment forward, worshiped and offered sacrifice only to the Lord.
We see a similar situation in the Gospel when Jesus heals ten lepers, one of them being a Samaritan while the others appear to have been Jewish. Only the foreigner returned to thank Jesus for the gift of healing. Jesus pointed out that ten were healed, in other words, all ten had the faith necessary to be healed, but only one, a non-Jewish man, had the charity to put his faith fully into action and return to give thanks.
The second reading provides another example of faith and charity that flows from gratitude. St. Paul was converted from a life of self-righteousness and persecution of the Church. After many years of fruitful labor in the Lord’s vineyard for which he accepted no payment, he was now in prison for his witness to the Gospel. Even from prison, St. Paul still displayed charity toward others, asking Christians to bear with everything so that others may be converted and saved.
Like Elisha before him, St. Paul did not accept people’s money so they would know he was doing everything for love of God and neighbor. I often wonder if the great Saint wanted to show his gratitude for our Lord’s freely given gift by giving freely to others as the Lord had given freely to him.
Regardless, St. Paul places himself lower than the two non-Jews we hear about in the readings today. He knows his own sins all too well and proclaims the mercy God has shown him. If St. Paul, a Pharisee to the core, could look at himself as less than two non-believers who demonstrated faith, then we can certainly do the same. We believe, as did St. Paul, but sometimes we do not act on our faith in the proper way.
I think St. Paul believed he was acting in good faith when he persecuted the Church. Only later could he see how erroneous his thinking was. Perhaps we might fall into a similar category. Maybe we think that because we have the fullness of the truth and we have faith in what the Lord has revealed and what the Church teaches, that we are in good shape spiritually.
It took a very powerful grace from God to wake St. Paul up to the error of his ways. But this allowed him to be merciful and compassionate to others. St. Paul knew from experience that God is faithful even if we are not, but he lived his life so that dying to self he could live with Christ and persevering to the end he could reign with Christ. Use your faith as the foundation for charity and, by remaining faithful in love with gratitude to God, you will reign forever.
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.