Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: 2 Kgs 2;1-2, 6-14; Gal 5:1, 13-25; Lk 9;51-62 ]
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go up to Jerusalem. Advancing with his small company of twelve disciples on the long dusty road from upper Galilee in the North to far off Judea in the South, it was not just another journey, but his final journey. He had set his face to Jerusalem where he would be crucified. He would never go home to Nazareth or Capernaum again. The prophet Isaiah, speaking for Jesus as the suffering servant says, “The Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced; I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Is 50:7) . Like soldiers in time of war, Jesus did not look back or turn away, nor should we.
In October, 1944, Private Joel Stenson's platoon was in Belgium preparing to advance against the Germans. They were briefed on what to expect. The captain said, “Many of you are never going home.” They wanted to turn back, but they didn't. Remembering his wife and family, Private Stenson felt tears well up in his eyes. “Forget about home,” they told him, “take care of your rifle and it will take care of you.” He was 22 years old. As the days rolled by he thought less about home and more about how to keep going in the face of death. The soldiers had set their faces toward Berlin. They had their orders, and many would die fulfilling them. After the war, Private Stenson said, “I was one of the lucky ones not to have been hit. The good Lord was with me through it all.”1
When Mother Teresa of Calcutta was 18 years old and leaving home to join the Loreto Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her mother said to her, “Put your hand in [Jesus'] hand, and walk with him. Look ahead, because if you look back you will go back.”
St. Bernadette of Lourdes was asked what her life was like in the convent she had joined when she was just 14, after her apparitions of Mary. She said, “I am like a broom, after the sweeping is done you but it behind the door and forget about it.” Years later, while others were being healed at Lourdes, Bernadette suffered from rheumatism, asthma, bone infections, vomiting, spitting of blood, bone cancer and a painful tumor on her knee. Mary had asked if she would offer herself on behalf of sinners, and she did. When Bernadette was dying at age 35, she asked her friend, Nathalie, for a few sips of water and to pray a Hail Mary with her. Then, repeating the words, “poor sinner, poor sinner,” she closed her eyes on earth and opened them in heaven. Bernadette became a saint not by looking back at her past visions, but by setting her face toward the heavenly Jerusalem, offering all her sufferings in union with Jesus.
Even today, the greatest miracles at Lourdes are not the physical cures, but the far more numerous and less noticeable cure of souls. On March 25, 1958, a young woman at the Grotto saw a middle aged man in obvious agony of mind and emotional distress. She was so moved by his distress that she began praying for him. Later, they were standing next to each other waiting to obtain Lourdes water. She said to him, “I noticed how distressed you were, and I have been praying for you.” The man replied, “For the last fifteen years my soul has been deeply troubled. I once committed an act of cowardice for which I can never forgive myself. During the occupation of France I failed to come forward as a witness. As a result my best friend was deported to Germany and later died in a concentration camp.” She looked intently at him and then in a trembling voice asked, “What was the name of your friend?” He told her, and with great compassion she replied, “He was my father. I know for certain that he forgave you long ago.” He was finally able to forgive himself, to stop looking back, and begin looking forward.2
Once Fr. Pius was asked if he ever wanted to go back to Ireland which he had left behind as a young man. He reflected for a moment and then said, “No, I don't want to go back, I want to go up.” May we also not look or turn back, but courageously face whatever is to come, so that we can stand with joy before the Lord when he appears.