THE FIRST SHALL COME LAST, AND THE LAST SHALL COME FIRST.   Repeatedly throughout his life, Jesus showed himself disconcertingly original and free. He had a view of the human situation that often contradicted expectations and violated the norms of good society. This feature of his person was manifest already in his conception, and was articulated frequently in his teaching. Even more strikingly his unsettling views were revealed in his behavior and in his relations to individuals and to society. In this way he embodied a feature of God’s dealings with his chosen people as narrated already in the early history of the Jews, as we have just heard in today’s first reading. When Gideon encounters the angel of the Lord with the greeting ‘The Lord is with you’, he replies in perplexity “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’ To the prophet Isaiah centuries later God revealed the answer to this question that was so often repeated in intervening years: “My thoughts are not your thoughts. . . . As the heavens are above the earth, my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8, 9)


Already in our Lord’s lifetime, his closest followers discovered how truly the Lord Jesus conformed to this feature of God’s relations to his children. He was at pains to bring out the fact that his view of success and happiness differed totally from conventional opinion. He states the matter starkly in today’s text in words that astonished his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Earlier on he had opened his public ministry with a similar statement that was to be the leitmotiv of his teaching and example: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)


Those who, in the long course of the intervening years, proved to be the most ardent and faithful followers of Jesus, in a wide variety of situations relating to their times and circumstances, witnessed to the fundamental importance of this character of our Lord’s teaching. Following him came to mean becoming poor with him in such a way as to share in his humiliation through accepting the risks involved in such fidelity to one who was rejected, abused, calumniated, and finally put to death. In some it meant so identifying with the unfortunate as to share their misery, as we see in the life of Maximillian Kolbe; in others, such faithfulness entailed assuming great risks of life and of character.


Saint John Eudes, whose feast we commemorate at this mass, accepted both these risks and suffered from his fidelity to the decision. At a time of plague, when others fled from those infected by the highly contagious disease spreading through Normandy, this young priest volunteered to minister to the many dying and attend the desperately ill. Later, he was misunderstood and sharply criticized as he began a new ministry and founded a new Order. He accepted the risks involved in reforming young women who had taken to prostitution, a work that continues today by the Order of sisters he inspired, originally in Northern France. They remain in that ministry today in such different surroundings as Washington, D. C. and in South Korea where they continue to find young women who choose to join them in this ministry. What makes such dedication possible and even a source of joy is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to which John Eudes witnessed so fervently in the theological and pastoral writings that merited for him the title ‘Doctor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Mary. For he understood that Mary’s heart was so much at one with that of her Son that she shared in his sufferings as none other has done, and so is at one with him in glory even now.. 


Jesus’ reputation as a prophet was severely attacked because he showed concern for the poor, the sinners, those addicted to drink, the extortionist tax collectors, indeed, for all the marginalized. He made it clear that to follow him at times entailed the risks that attach to such concern for the unacceptable members of society. In some part of our person each of us, sinners that we are, have no less need for the mercy of God and of our brothers and sisters, than those whom society marginalizes. Today as we honor at this Eucharist Saint John Eudes, may we be strengthened to imitate by our lives and our attitudes the love that Jesus offers to us if we put our faith in his mercy and follow his teaching with trust in his love. &        

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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