Homily for Ordinary Time-32nd Week Thursday, 11-12-20, Year A – St Josaphat Bishop & Martyr
READINGS: 1st Reading Eph 4:1-7, 11-13, Gospel Jn 17:20-26
Theme: Steadfastness in Unity of Faith
Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Josaphat Bishop and Martyr. He was born in 1580 in Ukraine but grew up in the Northern country of Lithuania in a town called Vilnius. There he joined a Basilian Monastery (St. Basil) in 1604. He was eventually ordained a Deacon, then a Priest, into the Ruthenian rite (Eastern Orthodox rite practiced in the Ukraine and Belarus countries). Shortly thereafter he became Bishop of Polastk, Belarus, a country just South East of Lithuania.
During his time as Bishop, there was a solid movement in that part of the world to join the Eastern Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church. Many Eastern Orthodox clergy and Church leaders agreed to come into union with the Roman Catholic Church and follow the Bishop and Pope of Rome.
St. Josaphat was one of the main leaders who sought this union with Rome and made agreements to follow the pope but still have the Eastern liturgical practices they had become accustom to. St. Josaphat was instrumental in revising many of the churches and practices to that of the Roman Catholic Church. This union was agreeable to most but not all.
The move to unite the two churches, though became a divisive measure in many of the Eastern European countries. Many of those loyal to the Eastern Rite became angered and began to covertly fight against St. Josaphat and those loyal to Rome. St. Josaphat fought back with great teaching and steadfastness in his belief that being united with Rome was in accord with God’s will.
Eventually, in 1623, while seeking to stop an Orthodox priest from practicing the Eastern Orthodox liturgy in his jurisdiction, Josaphat was ambushed by Orthodox faithful who conspired with their leaders to rid themselves of the union with Rome. St. Josaphat was attacked and martyred for his faith in a united church under Rome. The union with Rome was thwarted and the Eastern Orthodox Church continued in these regions, even to this day.
Today the Catholic Church has a much better relationship with the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church recognizes the Eastern Rite of Mass, in suitable circumstances and with Church authority, as valid in its practice for Catholics as a true sacrament. St. Josaphat was instrumental in helping this schism heal.
St. Josaphat’s story of his sainthood and those of the last couple of days, Pope St. Leo the Great on Tuesday, and Bishop St. Martin of Tours on Wednesday, shows us a common theme or thread we should pay attention to. That common thread is the use of talents given to these men along with steadfastness of faith to preach and hold true to the gospel of Christ.
Even in the face of great danger or impossible odds, these men practiced with one thing in mind, unity with Christ. They practiced their faith with steadfastness and courage, yet had humility and gentleness and, as St. Paul says, “with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit though the bond of peace:”
In today’s gospel Jesus is praying to the Father for his disciples, not just for his disciples but for all those who came to believe, are believing now, and those who will come to believe in future generations. Jesus wants all of us to be unified in spirit with Him and the Father. Be steadfast in your faith and do not be swayed by all kinds of strange teachings, even when they come from within our own Church.
Christ wants us to know that He himself, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, are in us and we in them. Knowing this, we can conquer anything, just like the great saints we have been celebrating these past days have done.