08 June 2013

'When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.' Sunday Reflections, Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

(First Reading, 1 Kings: 17:17-24)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 7:11 - 17 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Soon afterward Jesus went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.  Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" And this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. 

Portrait of a Widow at her Devotions, Leandro Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]

Back in the late 1970s when I was working in St Mary's Seminary, Ozamiz City, in northern Mindanao - an island that is bigger than Ireland - I used to celebrate Mass in one of the barrios (villages) nearby. There was one elderly woman who was there every Sunday but who never smiled, never greeted me. I filed her away in my mind under 'Grumpy Old Women'.

But on the Sunday that today's gospel was read the idea came into my mind of inviting all the widows in the congregation for a special blessing at the end of Mass. My 'Grumpy Old Woman' came up, along with others, with a huge smile on her face. Every Sunday after that she greeted me as if I was her long lost son.

Yesterday, Friday, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis spoke about the tenderness of GodTenderness! But the Lord loves us tenderly. The Lord knows that beautiful science of caresses, the tenderness of God. He does not love us with words. He comes close - closeness - and gives us His love with tenderness. Closeness and tenderness! The Lord loves us in these two ways, He draws near and gives all His love even in the smallest things: with tenderness. And this is a powerful love, because closeness and tenderness reveal the strength of God’s love.

On 1 June 22 children being treated for cancer in the Agostino Gemelli Hospital in Rome came to visit Pope Francis. They recited the Hail Mary together and the Pope blessed them. He explained that his blessing is like a hug from God. A friend of mine in the Philippines who is a single mother once brought her cousin to meet me and told me later that her cousin had described the blessing I gave them in those very same words.

My 'Grumpy Old Woman' through the blessing I gave the widows at the end of Mass experienced something of God's tenderness, a 'hug from God', and it transformed her. It gave her a sense that she mattered to God as did the widow in today's gospel whose only son was returned to her, as did the widow who offered hospitality to Elijah and whose son was returned to her.

Royal Door, Unknown Icon Painter, Crete, 1450-1500 [Web Gallery of Art]

On 31 May Zenith.org told the extraordinary story of Pietro Maso, a young Italian who murdered his parents, Antonio and Rosa, in 1991 and how he was reconciled with his two sisters, Laura and Nadia, whom he had also tried to kill, I was dead and forgiveness resurrected me. It's a story that shows the truth of the words of Pope Francis above, And this is a powerful love, because closeness and tenderness reveal the strength of God’s love.

Pietro was released from prison in Milan last April after serving 22 years. During his first year in jail he heard Fr Guido Todeschini speak about him on the radio: What do we do, do we abandon him, do we bury him alive as he deserves or do we stretch our hand out to him and try to rescue him, taking into account his young age? Of course, at this moment it’s easier to be executioners than to be moved to pardon. But if we leave him there in prison, forgotten, we commit the same crime.

Father Guido, who didn't know Pietro personally, came to visit him in jail shortly after the broadcast and every Saturday after that made the trip of almost two hours each way from Verona to be with the young man and to bring him the Body of Christ. This eventually led to his being reconciled with his sisters, who had to go through their own struggles to forgive. Laura said on Father Guido's radio programme in 2008, We sisters, together with the loss of two parents had also lost a brother, and so we tried to begin a new and difficult path, with very strong inner suffering, because it’s not easy to forgive such a grave thing. We thank Father Guido for his help: he was the first to go to Pietro in prison and to follow him over these years. Thus we too, slowly, slowly reconstructed a beautiful relationship with the brother we had lost, as we had lost the whole family.

The article ends with a paragraph that is a contemporary expression of today's gospel and that shows the infinite mercy and compassion of God, which Pope Francis keeps reminding us of: Evil had transformed Pietro into a monster, but the forgiveness of God, of his sisters, of Father Guido worked the miracle. They brought back to life a youth who was dead and damned.

Antiphona ad Communionem, 1 Jn 4:16

Deus cáritas est, et qui manet in caritáte 
in Deo manet et Deus in eo.

Communion Antiphon, 1 John 4:16

God is love, and whoever abides in love 
abides in God, and God in him.

The Latin text is used as an antiphon in the video above and the setting is by Henryk Jan Botor. He composed this, as far as I can make out, for the 36th International Congress of Young Singers (XXXVI Congressus Internationalis Pueri Cantores) held in Rome that began on 28 December 2010 and ended with the Solemn Mass celebrated in St Peter's Basilica for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, New Year's Day 2011. I'm not sure at which church in Rome this video was recorded.

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