The Lord Jesus worked a lot of miracles. By the time He raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead, Christ had performed exorcisms, cured lepers and paralytics, and, of course, the miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee.
But He had worked these miracles in and around the city of Capernaum, a good distance from where He grew up. The people of His hometown of Nazareth likely had not heard about these miracles, or, if they had, they were not inclined to believe that the young man they knew could actually be the Messiah. After all, He looked like them, had a beard like all the men did, wore the same tunic, robe, and sandals. He ate the same food, drank the same wine at weddings. Sure, He had a serenity and prayerfulness that certainly impressed you. But–a divine man with dusty feet? Come on.
The little town of Nain, however, sat just across the valley from Nazareth. If you climbed the tallest hill in Nazareth, you could see Nain in the distance.
So when the widow’s son got up from his funeral pallet, the townspeople of Nazareth had all certainly heard about it by sundown. They now had to confront this question: Is Jesus the Messiah? Is He the Son of God, come to save us from sin and death? Is He God made man, revealing the loving face of the heavenly Father and giving us hope for the Kingdom of God?
Well… Is He??
The Roman emperors did not make things easy on Christians during the 200’s. The Emperors kept going back and forth about whether or not you could practice the Christian faith without fines or imprisonment. Years, decades passed when you could go about your business and live openly as a Christian, and no one would bother you about it.
Then something bad would happen in Rome, and the emperor would blame the Christians–since we Christians do not offer pagan sacrifices, like the kind the Romans believed you had to offer to propitiate the gods.
So then the Christians of the Roman Empire faced a choice, not unlike the Nazerenes had faced two hundred years earlier. Is Jesus the Christ or isn’t He? Has He conquered death? Does He reign supreme in heaven? And if He does, can I betray Him?
Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian and countless other martyrs in Italy and North Africa knew the truth about Christ and chose to die rather than betray Him.
Now, chances are pretty good that, at least for today, we won’t have to choose whether or not to remain faithful to Christ in the face of certain death. But every day we face situations where we have to answer the question about who Jesus is and act in a way that reflects what we believe. May the martyrs give us grace and courage to be faithful.
[...And here is last week's school-Mass homily, dear reader, which I neglected to publish:]
Five hundred years ago, European people began to move here to America, and also to Africa. Of course, they met the people who already lived here, and in Africa. Some of the Europeans began to say, these natives are so backwards that they don’t count as human beings. It’s okay for us to enslave them.
A bishop in Spain named Bartolome de las Casas said, ‘Oh, no! What we need to do is to try to teach these fellow human beings about Jesus Christ, the gospel, and the sacraments.’ The Pope backed up this position and decreed that the idea that the native peoples don’t count as human beings–this idea comes straight from the…Devil.
Unfortunately, a lot of rich traders did not listen to Bishop de las Casas or the pope. But one person who did listen was a young Catalonian Spaniard named Peter Claver.
He came to America to become a priest for the Africans who were being brought here as slaves. He called himself the ‘slave of the Africans,’ the slave of the slaves.
St. Peter Claver made picture books to teach the Africans about Jesus. Then he learned their language. He organized people to meet the over-crowded slave ships coming in from Africa and bring food and medicine to the people. St. Peter taught them how to participate in the Mass and how to go to Confession. After doing this tirelessly for decades, after baptizing more than 300,000 African people, St. Peter Claver died on September 8, exactly 360 years ago.
In the gospel we read about how power emanated from Christ. It still does–the power of true love and respect for our fellow man. Let’s draw close to the Lord like St. Peter Claver did, so that we can live with true compassion.