The task of proclaiming the Gospel is given to all believers. St. Francis is known to have said: “preach always and sometimes use words.” The saying is a reminder that the most basic and most effective way of proclaiming Christ is to live by and in Christ.
St. Paul, in today’s second reading, reminds the Galatians that his mission comes from God and this mission is to proclaim the Son. We know of Paul’s great missionary work through the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters. At the heart of his proclamation is the great love that Paul experienced in Christ.
Later in Galatians Paul would profess his knowledge of God’s love for him and the greatness of that love. His experience of God’s loving mercy and forgiveness motivates Him to live a life worthy of the Gospel he preaches.
The living proclamation of the Gospel is fueled by compassion. There is a story of a missionary who went to India to spread the Gospel. While he was there he contracted tuberculosis and was confined to a hospital. Undeterred by his physical condition, he attempted to distribute pamphlets and bibles to the other patients. No one would take them. He tried to enter into conversations with the other patients. No one would speak with him. He could find no way to engage the others. He tried and tried but to no avail.
Then one night he woke up coughing. As he sat up, he noticed another patient struggling to get out of bed. After struggling, the man fell back into the bed and eventually fell asleep. The missionary did not know why he was trying to get out of bed. The next morning there was a stench in the room. It was then clear to the missionary that the old man had been trying to get up so he could go to the bathroom. The next night the missionary again woke coughing. Again the old man was struggling to get out of bed. At this point the missionary got up, went over to his bed and carried him to the bathroom. After the old man was finished the missionary carried him back to bed, settled him in and kissed him on the forehead. The old man said something to him but he could not understand due to the difference in language.
The next morning, when the missionary woke, one of the other patients came over to him with a hot cup of tea. He then asked to see one of his bibles.
The missionary spoke Christ’s life in his compassion and his compassion was the door through which the Gospel was proclaimed. We are reminded of Jesus’ compassion in the passage from St. Luke used for today’s Gospel reading at Mass. Jesus comes to the gate of the city of Nain when he runs across a funeral procession. The procession is moving out of the city so that the body could be buried.
Any death brings sorrow and grief. The sadness, in this particular death, is heightened as St. Luke tells us that the man who died was “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Here the mother is left all alone. She is isolated. Remember that in the ancient world, a woman in this situation (no husband or family) would most likely be destitute.
Before Jesus restores the man to life, St. Luke tells us that Jesus was “moved with pity.” In other words, Jesus had compassion for the woman. Interestingly there is a huge gathering to witness the interaction of Jesus with the woman and her son. A “large crowd” is mentioned twice. One crowd was accompanying Jesus and his disciples. The other crowd was following the woman to the burial. They witness not only the miracle but Jesus’ compassion. A compassion that would be imitated by many.
The Gospel reading echoes the story of Elijah visiting the widow of Zarephath. The widow’s response to Elijah’s healing her child was, “Now indeed I know you are a man of God. The word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.” In this case the miracle served as a witness to his prophetic authority and the woman comes to faith in the Lord through the prophet’s word.
The same can be said of the reaction to Jesus’ healing in the Gospel account. After seeing the man alive they acclaim Jesus as a prophet and say: “God has visited his people.” The Father’s love is manifest in the Son.
God’s love and mercy is continually proclaimed in the lives of the faithful. The proclamation is most effective when we strive to imitate the Lord. Today we are encouraged to imitate His compassion. The living word expressed through our lives of faith will open hearts to recognize the love of God and to know in their hearts that “God has visited his people.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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