Ordinary Time 02, Year C

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See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Is. 43:19)

As I already mentioned in my previous reflection, those who do works of mercy, preaching the gospel “by words and by works,” are likened to Jesus Christ. They are “closely conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who, it would seem, made it his principal task to assist and care for the poor,” taught St. Vincent de Paul repeatedly, those who preach the gospel affectively and effectively (cf. Father Maloney’s The Way of Vincent de Paul). To assist the poor, then, and to have them assisted in every way, is to imitate Jesus Christ.

This matter of imitation goes back, of course, to the Jewish tradition, which has taught that to perform works of mercy is to walk in God’s ways and imitate him. “The Rabbis point to several instances in the Torah of divine behavior that human beings are expected to emulate,” says Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in Biblical Literacy, article 208. The fact, for example, that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve, and clothed them, puts us under obligation to provide the naked with clothes (Gen. 3:21). That God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, immediately following this patriarch’s circumcision at age ninety-nine, along with Ishmael and all the men of his house, gives us motive to visit and comfort the sick (Gen. 17:26-27; 18:1). Because God buried Moses in the valley in the land of Moab, we too are to bury the dead (Dt. 34:6). And burying the dead is regarded by the Rabbis to be both the highest ethical act, because it is done without any expectation that the deceased will repay the benefactor the good deed, and the highest form as well of imitating God, whose acts are done without either the expectation or need of repayment.

It lifts me up, this teaching, founded on both Testaments, that works of mercy, in particular, burying the dead, keep making us like God and conforming us to Jesus Christ. The teaching drives home the point that already within our reach is the new creation to which the miracle of the water turned into wine points, notwithstanding the impact the leaven of malice and evil still has, as is evident in taunts and provocation, in vengeance and war (cf. 1 Cor. 5:8). Said teaching assures me that to the extent we live up to the task proffered by the Holy Eucharist, we are given a pledge of the glory to come and we catch a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. Those who today are committed to works of mercy, being endowed for the common good with a diversity of gifts, ministries and roles by the same one Spirit, the same one Lord and the same one God, partake now of the messianic banquet, prepared by the Lord for all peoples, of rich food and aged wine in such abundance as befits a royal wedding (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1402; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 19; Is. 25:6).

I recognize that General Omar Bradley was right when he said:

The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without
conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical
infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more
about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the
mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

But I am not discouraged by Bradley’s still relevant observation, since another thing I have read has inspired me much hope. I am referring to this news item I found in the web site of the C.M.’s Madrid Province on Dec. 13, 2006:

A Mass for the eternal repose of Rafael García Morave, from
Antequera, was celebrated at 10:00 a.m in the chapel of the
Provincial House of the [D.C.] Province of St. Louise de Marillac
[in Madrid]. Rafael, better known as Rafa, died last Wednesday,
the 13th of December. Rafa was a beggar whose life had revolved
for several years around García de Paredes Street. He spent
countless hours seated by the lintel of an unused door of the
Clínica Milagrosa. He had his meals at the Dining Room of the
Daughters of Charity at 18 Martínez Campos Street. The Daughters
of Charity, as well as Father José María Martín and, perhaps,
other persons, tried and managed on more than one occasion, three
at least, to find him housing. In none of the residences did he
last more than fifteen days. Rafa was very well known in our
area. Many a García Paredes Street passer-by, especially
parishioners of the La Milagrosa Basilica, Vincentian
missionaries and Daughters of Charity, would stop to inquire
about his health and to express their sentiments of kindness and
concern. The Mass was concelebrated by Fathers Quintano, José
María Martín, Juan José González, Pedro Castillo and a Jesuit
priest. They and all of us who knew Rafa ask God to grant him
eternal rest.

I take this bit of news, reported simply and matter-of-factly, to be an eloquent testimony that, indeed, we can catch on earth a glimpse of heaven. I find in the report a revelation of Jesus’ glory, by way of works of mercy, which makes my faith grow.