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SJC Easter Cross

August 4th, 2018

 

Homily for Mass in Honor of St. Katharine Drexel Fellows Gathering

 

 As we gather this year to celebrate the Eucharist, we do so with a Mass in honor of Saint Katharine Drexel, the second American saint to be canonized by the Church.  I chose to celebrate Saint Katharine because of the message her life expresses which of particular significance for the moment our country is living and for the historical connection of SJC to her and the Indian Normal School in Rensselaer.  I find it interesting to note that as the Phoenix Team searches for ways to re-birth SJC, we are housed daily in Drexel Hall where it all began many years ago.

 

Katharine Drexel was born into a wealthy family of bankers in Philadelphia in 1858.  She and her siblings were raised in a very Catholic environment, privately educated and well traveled both in the US as well as in Europe. She developed a strong sense of commitment to the underprivileged, and a special concern for the education of Native Americans and African-Americans.  When her parents died, Katharine inherited a huge trust fund.

 

On a visit to Europe she had the opportunity to meet Pope Leo XIII and asked the Holy Father to urge missionaries to care for this underprivileged segment of the American population.  The Holy Father responded: “So what are YOU going to do to further the work of the Church?”

 

At the age of 31 she founded the “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament” dedicated to ministering to the Native Americans and black people.  She helped found Xavier University in New Orleans, an historically black Catholic College.  And across the US founded various schools to educate African-American and Native American children.  One of those normal schools was in Rensselaer and is what has become known today as Drexel Hall.

 

St. Katharine said:

 “If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and to them.”

 

Having said this, let´s look briefly at the readings for today´s Eucharist.

 

The first reading is from The Song of Songs and speaks of love.  It describes love as a seal on our arm, stern as death and whose flames are a blazing fire which neither deep waters nor floods can sweep away. 

 

In diverse scriptural texts from the Gospel of St. John and from his letters, a central teaching is about love.  The love of anyone of us for another is a power that can bring the other back to life, give him or her reason to live, and to awaken us from somnolent existence.

 

We have all experienced how life-giving love is.  It brings out the best in us: generosity, hope, joy and courage in those who are loved and awakens dormant potential.  Love makes people bloom who would otherwise stay stunted or undeveloped.  Warmed by love, they come out like those daring crocuses that poke their heads out of the snow in early March.

 

This is what we did so well at Saint Joe´s and is one of the beautiful results of our Core Program.  Much of the good in anyone of us is the result of parents, teachers, coaches, friends who took the time and effort to live into life some vaguely formed quality or talent of ours… to encourage what another without love would never see.

 

This was the love that motivated Katharine Drexel to dedicate her life and her fortune to touching the lives of many young men and women, African-American and Native Americans, who's potential would never have been discovered and stimulated otherwise.

 

We are all capable of giving this kind of love and to receive this kind of love and flourish!

 

However, we take another look at the life of St. Katharine so as to discover the source of this love and passion which burned within her.  The Gospel reading can shed some light on this.  We are all familiar with the story of Jesus´visit to the home of Mary and Martha.  This gospel is often used to depict two aspects of our discipleship: contemplation and action.

 

Often these two aspects are seen as separate, even contradictory.  Mary chose “the better part” and Martha was left cooking and setting the table!  Yet BOTH are SAINTS!  Jesus often speaks in ways which contrast in order to make a point.  The truth is that BOTH contemplation and action are essential in discipleship.

 

St. John Paul II put it so succinctly when he addressed the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Castelgandolfo in a General Assembly in 2004.  He told us that “contemplation must be the ground of our missionary activity” and that “we must contemplate the face of Christ until we see Christ in the suffering faces of humanity!”  Contemplation leads us to action! 

 

As disciples of Jesus we need to sit at the feet of the Master to listen to His Word and then go forth in mission.  Pope Francis calls us to be “missionary disciples.”  Both aspects are essential in our following of Christ.

 

Katherine Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and urged us to maintain a prayerful and constant friendship with the Blessed Sacrament. We must kneel before the Blessed Sacrament to fill ourselves with him, because only then can we give ourselves and our love to others in their need.  This contemplation fueled her passion and led to action and commitment.

 

The Eucharist

 

This is what we celebrate today: our call to be missionary disciples of Jesus!  We hear and meditate the Word of God, we are then nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, called to become what we celebrate and sent forth to be Christ´s Body and Blood for others, that is, a life poured out in loving service in order to love others into life!

 

John Paul II once remarked to religious: “You have a great history to celebrate, and even a greater future lies before you.”  We pray today to St. Katharine Drexel that we might capture her spirit in our own lives and that the new Saint Joe´s might carry on the rich heritage which we have received and for which we are so grateful.

 

Let us join ranks in working together to birth that future into reality!

Fr. Barry Fischer, C.PP.S.

Rector and Puma Forever