Dominica Decima Quinta Post Pentecosten [Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost]/St. Augustine, BpCD: August 28, 2016
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, O.F.A.
Beloved Disciple Eucharistic Catholic Church, Toronto
© 2016 Roger LaRade
Galatians 5, 25 – 26 & 6, 1 – 10; Luke 7, 11 – 16
Compassion: Bearing one another’s burdens
We gather together today to celebrate the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, and, this being August 28, we commemorate the feast of Saint Augustine, the 5th-century African bishop of Hippo, the great defender of the faith, one of the four Doctors of the Western Church, who died in the year 430. We pray especially today through his intercession for an openness of heart and soul to hear the Word of God for us this morning.
These Sundays after Pentecost instruct us on our living in Christ. Today the focus is on compassionate living.
In the Epistle, St. Paul teaches that “if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”. And that this involves the responsibility to “Bear one another's burdens”; and that, in so doing we “fulfil the law of Christ”.
We hear in the Gospel that “when the Lord had seen, being moved with mercy towards her, he said to her: Weep not.” Jesus is moved to mercy by the scene before him; he is touched in His Heart by the sight of the widowed mother weeping at the death of her only son. Jesus has compassion for her.
To “bear one another’s burdens” is to have compassion, it is to live compassionately. To this, we are called by our Christian vocation. This is not always easy. There may be instances when it comes almost naturally, but there may be other times when the call to compassion is left unheard.
In one of his homilies on the Gospel passage we hear today, St. Augustine remarks that there are two kinds of death: the death of the body and the death of the soul.[i] St. Augustine remarks that while the death of the body is seen, is noticed, the death of the soul often goes completely unnoticed, or ignored.
In our contemporary society, much is made about spiritual awakening and spiritual growth. There are many books, workshops, retreats, methods on offer to help individuals grow spiritually. Yet, it strikes me that many, if not most, of these are geared toward individual growth; that is, they focus on attaining individual wellbeing as opposed to forming the individual in compassionate living. This orientation, whether conscious or not, fits into the individualized and individualizing orientation of our contemporary society. Our own city is a striking example. It seems that more and more we behave in a very self-centered way, with little care, little connection, to others. It seems to me that civility, along with compassion, is rapidly leaving the sphere of our public interaction.
I was struck by this on Friday morning when I took a streetcar during rush hour. The car was packed of course, and I stood. A few stops further, several people boarded the already packed streetcar, among whom was an elderly gentleman with a cane. He looked rather unsteady on his feet, and it took him some time to make it up the three steps of the middle doors. The people crowding the entrance barely moved to allow him passage. Much younger people sitting on the seats nearest the doors didn’t even look up at him. Their faces were buried in their mobile devices; one of them had his earbuds in his ears, and so was nicely protected from any human interaction. But, don’t blame our mobile devices. They are only an accessory. Our urban living mitigates against connection. Our post-Christian era has priorities other than compassionate living; it has another focus than the imitation of Christ.
Lest this seem like the complaints of a curmudgeonly old man, let me state that it is the fruit of reflection on the Scripture readings for today and the preaching of St. Augustine. What I am witnessing – what I witnessed on Friday – is not simply a lack of civility (the offering of a seat to someone who clearly needed one) but rather the death of the soul (an absence of compassion; an absence of bearing one another’s burdens).
To do so requires connection: connection to one another, connection to our heart and soul, connection to new life in Christ.
Just as Jesus responds with compassion to the widow in today’s Gospel, so too are we called to respond with compassion. And compassion is about feeling another’s pain and sadness, and in that feeling, sharing that pain and sadness with them, and in so doing, perhaps relieving some of it. Our life as Christians, lived in the presence of the Holy Spirit and nourished by the Eucharist, calls us to make this choice.
Fortunately, on Friday, a young man sitting a few rows back, seeing the lack of action in the front row of seats, stood up and offered up his seat. The action was appreciated by many.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] PL 38, Sermo. XCVIII, in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, translated and edited by M.F. Toal, D.D. (Henry Regnery C0., Chicago, 1963), Vol. 4, pp. 115-120.
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