Commentary on the Gospel of

Eileen Burke-Sullivan - Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

As is often typical of Ordinary Time liturgy, the Church provides a fountain of wisdom for those of us on the journey to the fullness of the Kingdom to drink from.  At any point, of course, we can consider the world we are living in, the culture with its graces and disgraces and the various demands on our gratitude and generosity that daily life places upon us. All three are richly presented today.

The memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe reminds us of the horrors of political power that becomes tyrannical, holding the power of life and death for citizens.  During the Second World War, under Hitler’s Nazi power, the Polish Franciscan, Fr. Kolbe was arrested and sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz where unspeakable cruelty and often murder were imposed on Jews, anyone arrested for helping Jews, for persons identified as homosexuals or persons with various handicaps, and any others deemed to be “enemies of the state.”  As a Catholic priest who was a leader of a large Franciscan community, Kolbe was both a defender of Jews and opposed to the Nazi state. Arrested in 1941, only a few months later when a fellow prisoner was randomly selected to be killed for an escape of another prisoner, Kolbe stepped in to take his place because the man was married and had small children.   In our own decade when significant numbers of women and men are being imprisoned and killed for the sake of Jesus’s mission and message, Kolbe invites reflection on our call to serve the Gospel of Justice and Mercy in both our private and public life.

The first reading reminds us of God’s constant desire to forgive us our sins and heal the wounded relationships of our lives.  Drawn from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we hear God reminding us of his covenant of love in the face of our infidelity.  Our actions, all to often lead us to exile from our relationship with God, but God wants to bring us back.  If we could but know how deeply God desires us, and how egregious even small offenses are in the face of love we would be “covered with confusion” at our heartlessness.

Matthew’s Gospel especially challenges men and women of our time to consider the social harm we cause when we violate our deepest commitments.  When a teacher of the Scriptures approaches Jesus and asks for a ruling about legally acceptable divorce, Jesus reminds him of the foundational texts of Genesis which assert that in the vow of marriage the two become one flesh and cannot be torn asunder.  “Moses allowed it” protests the religious leader, and Jesus says that is so because of human sinfulness.  But marriage is about grace.  The life of loving married persons witnesses to the goodness of human love and to the relationship between God and God’s people.  What we may not realize, of course, is that divorce under the ancient Jewish law, was only legal for the husband to declare, and that a woman without a husband or son to give her identity in that culture would be defenseless. Divorce was not only a personal violation of a covenantal bond; it was a grave social injustice that endangered further the lives of vulnerable women and their children.  Today we recognize that the real freedom of men and women to make lifetime commitments may be lacking, and we also see that women can often stand on their own feet.  But neither of these conditions erases the need for solid, healthy marriages, built on love and trust.  When divorce is necessary it is because of human sin, Jesus points out, not God’s desire.

 On this late summer day in the United States, surrounded as we are by a terrible pandemic and all its implications, as we move toward the autumn election of our national and local government leaders, and as we continue to spend more time with family because of stay at home orders – any of the invitations extended by the liturgy could become our living water.


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