The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
There comes in each of our lives a time when - at least once - we try to run away from the troubles and frustrations of daily life (these times occur more often for some than for others). The pressures and the stressors that we encounter and even sometimes endure, become, we think, too much for us to handle and so we flee in search of a place of solitude, quiet, and peace, a place where others cannot find us, bother us, or take our attention away from our own needs, wants, and desires.
Each of us has tried to run away and hide, to greater or lesser distances and with greater or lesser effectiveness. Does it not seem, though, that each time we flee, someone manages to find us and require something of us? We carve out a few hours to ourselves and the boss calls with an emergency at work; we plan a vacation that turns out to be not quite what we at first envisioned; we sneak off to a quiet room of the house when no one is looking, but the children discover us anyway. Yes, if we are honest, it happens to us all.
We need this time to ourselves, we say, and sometimes we even like to invoke the example of the Lord Jesus to justify our frustration and irritation. Even he snuck away from the crowds “to a deserted place by himself,” we say, but the Gospel passage proclaimed for us today, on closer inspection, proves us wrong (Matthew 14:13).
Without a doubt, the Evangelists present to us several times in the Gospels in which Jesus set out for a quiet place. This, we suggest, shows Jesus getting away to "recharge" and to take time for himself, to care for himself so that he might better care for the people. While such an interpretation may not be wholly incorrect, it seems to place the wrong emphasis on the Lord's actions.
No, Jesus did not go away from the crowds for himself, but to be with the Father; because he was not focused on himself, he was not frustrated by the gathering crowd. As two commenters observed, "Jesus shows no signs of being irked" by the gathering crowd. “Instead, ‘his heart was moved with pity’ as he peered out across the vast human sea of hunger and heartache that pressed in around him. However fatigued, Jesus made himself available to the sick and suffering” (Matthew 14:14).
His going away from the crowds was not an act of selfishness, as ours often is, but was rather an act of selflessness; his attention was set not on himself, but on his Father in heaven. Whereas we often go away not to pray, but to hide, Jesus went away not to hide, but to pray. The difference in emphasis is no small matter and one that we would do well to heed.
Just a few days ago, we welcomed back to Honolulu the mortal remains of Saint Marianne Cope and enshrined them here in the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. It was a day filled with many emotions, a day of laughter and of joyful tears. Most importantly, though, it was a day for us to reflect again on what led Mother Marianne on the path of holiness and a time to ask ourselves if we are on that same path.
As he spoke of the mana of our Beloved Mother of Outcasts, Bishop Larry reminded us that the bones of this holy woman were given to us as a spiritual candy. Rather, they were given to us
so that the Holy Spirit may penetrate into our bones and lead us to feed the hungry on our streets, to welcome the stranger on our borders, to clothe those who are naked and vulnerable with the education that will adorn them with the finery of wisdom, to free those imprisoned by their own self-worship.
Are these not the same people who often inconvenience us and require something of us? This list is certainly not exhaustive.
As one simple example of what I mean, let use an everyday example. When I first came to Hawaii eight years ago, one of the things that particularly struck me was the friendliness of the drivers. If someone needed to change lines on the freeway, they were waved in and they waved back to say mahalo [thank you]. At the same time, if someone accidentally cut someone off, he would wave back to say “Sorry!” and the one cut off would wave in response to say, “No worries!” Driving with aloha was common. Now, though, just eight years later, such friendliness and aloha is not easy to find on the freeways. Certainly other drivers inconvenience us, but is this any reason for us not to love them?
I dare say that the iwi [bones] of Mother Marianne are with us to serve as a constant reminder to us that wherever there are people in need, there we must be. In his first encyclical, His Holiness Benedict XVI put it both brilliantly and simply when he answered the question, "Who, then, is my neighbor." "Anyone," he said, "who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor."
Of course, helping our neighbors sometimes proves to be something of an inconvenience to ourselves, and so we try to run away with all of our excuses of "recharging." We put the emphasis in the wrong place, on ourselves, and not on God who said, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). Like Mother Marianne, we must look to the example of Jesus and forget ourselves. "Humility," said C. S. Lewis, "is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less." Precisely by thinking of herself less and more of the patients at Kalawao and Kalaupapa, Mother Marianne progressed daily on the path of sanctity and now is rightly honored among the Saints, whose company we, too, are called to join by thinking of ourselves less and more of others. As Saint John the Baptist said, "He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30).
When Mother Marianne heard of the plight of the patients of Kalawao and of the great need for people of faith to attend to their needs and to share with them the love of God, she was the only woman religious to answer the Bishop’s call. She knew the difficulties that awaited her, the many inconveniences and the countless hours of labor she would endure on their behalf; still, she went. Following the example of Christ, she emptied herself of selfishness and selflessly gave her life for the patients.
She once said, “My heart bled for the children and I was anxious and hungry to put a little more sunshine into their dreary lives.” In the presence of her iwi, we have to ask if we are anxious and hungry to put more sunshine into our own lives, or into the lives of others. Mother Marianne would have us think of others more and of ourselves less. Today, let us ask her to intercede for us so we may learn to follow her on the path of holiness to arrive in the presence of the Lord. Amen.