13th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

In weakness, power

Joseph Stalin, dictator of Soviet Russia from 1924 to 1953, was an ex-Christian who had become an utter materialist. After his death even the Russian Communists reversed his ruthless policies that had led to the "liquidation" (a nice word for killing) of millions of people who got in his way.

Materialistic dictators think in terms of power, and power usually means armies and weapons. When the papacy was brought into international diplomatic discussion in the 1930's, Stalin asked how many divisions of soldiers the Holy Father had at his disposal.

Winston Churchill told the story in his memoirs, The Second World War. It seems that in 1935 France signed a vague agreement with Soviet Russia to give mutual assistance against aggression. French Premier Pierre Laval followed up the treaty with a visit to Moscow, during which he discussed politics with Stalin. Stalin was anxious to know just how many divisions of soldiers France had on the western front. When Laval had told him, he also brought up another matter that was important to France diplomatically. "Can't you do something to encourage religion and the Catholics in Russia?" the French premier dared to ask the atheist dictator. "It would help me so much with the Pope." "Oh" Stalin replied. "The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" Laval knew he had been brushed off.

The only army the Popes have is their small ceremonial Swiss Guard. Militarily, they are powerless. But as a moral force, they are very powerful. The papacy has outlived Hitler, Stalin, and a host of "Strongmen" over the centuries. Popes can say, with St. Paul, "When I am powerless, it is then that I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10. Today's second reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q378: I don't have the gift of healing that Jesus exercised, such as in today's gospel. So how can I carry on his mission of healing activity?

One thing notable about Jesus was what we could call his "ministry of presence." When Jairus approached Jesus in today's gospel (Mk 5:21-43) about his dying daughter, Jesus immediately became present to him and left with him to visit the child. On the way, someone hemorrhaging was healed simply by touching his cloak; so he stopped to be present to that woman. When he arrived at Jairus' house, he was present to the apparently dead child. In all cases, he brought new life into dark situations.

I think that we have all known people who were dying, probably within our circle of friends, and certainly within our own family or extended family. Sometimes it can feel awkward to visit under those circumstances of impending death. Sometimes you wonder why you are there in the first place, because you know you can't change the situation and you would probably rather be somewhere else. The same scenario would apply to visiting a friend or family who has lost a parent or child to some unexpected and accidental death. You know you cannot change that situation, but something drives you to visit the hurting family.

What we are experiencing when we reach out to dying or grieving friends is the very compassion of Jesus. It is that compassion that urges us to visit those who need consoling. And our compassion finds its release in being present to others in their time of need, just like Jesus. Consoling and comforting are spiritual works of mercy, and visiting the sick and dying is a corporal work of mercy. This "mystery of mercy" is supremely revealed in the life of Jesus, and as Pope John Paul II taught us, it is our constant mission to proclaim and introduce that mercy into our daily life (Dives in Misericordia, 1980; #14).

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Just being present to those in need is healing! Coming to the aid of our neighbor in their time of need, both spiritual and physical need, is a charitable action or "work of mercy" (CCC #2447). When we serve those who are hurting, we serve Christ who identifies with them (CCC #544).

The Goodness of Creation

The Book of Wisdom reminds us today that our God desires that we enjoy life, health, and happiness not death, illness and misery. Whatever is used the way God intended is good and wholesome. The Gospel reading shows us the same thing in practice. Sickness, death and misery are the corruption of God's creation. By his frontal attack on sickness and death in today's Gospel Jesus proclaims in dramatic deed that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He cures the woman's disease and eases her anxiety; he raises the girl from death and tells them to get her something to eat. What we have been given we should enjoy, but we need to remember that we hold all possessions in trust from God, to be used according to his purposes. St. Paul reminds us that if we are to fully enjoy the good things of life, we must share them with others as Jesus shares his eternal life with us.

We praise you, Father, for creating all things in time and space. Lead us to recognize you hand in all that you have created and use it accordingly. May we be what you created us to be and may we praise your name in all that we do today.