White Mass on the Feast of St. Luke

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Saint Pius X, Granger
We celebrate this White Mass today, the feast of Saint Luke the evangelist, the patron saint of doctors. Saint Luke was a disciple and companion of Saint Paul. He was the author of the Gospel that bears his name and also the author of the Acts of the Apostles. We know from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians that Luke was a physician. Paul refers to Luke as “the beloved physician.” His medical background and education is seen in his choice of medical language in his writings. The Church recognizes Luke as the patron saint of physicians and surgeons. It is appropriate that we celebrate this White Mass on Saint Luke’s feast day. We invoke his intercession for all of you who are part of the health care profession.
The second reading today was from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, his last New Testament writing. He was writing from imprisonment in Rome shortly before his martyrdom. Paul laments the fact that we was deserted by some of his companions and coworkers, by Demas, Crescens, and Titus. But his companion Luke, the beloved physician, is with him. He writes: “Luke is the only one with me.” There’s a sense of loneliness here. All of his other close collaborators were away. This can remind us of Jesus who was abandoned by his disciples at the hour of his trial and passion. Paul was perhaps experiencing what Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane. Notice how Paul, like Jesus, prayed for the forgiveness of those who deserted him. He writes, “everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!” His is a prayer for mercy. Mercy is a principal theme of the Gospel of Luke. And here, Paul is asking for mercy for those who out of weakness and fear left him to face his accusers alone. There was no one beside him, except Luke. But then Paul writes that the Lord had not abandoned him. He writes: “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” The Lord gave Saint Paul the strength not only to defend himself, but to use the occasion to proclaim the Gospel. Paul sees his mission as completed. His impending martyrdom is not just the end of his life and mission, it is the crowning of it. He was gloriously finishing the race.
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke the physician, the faithful companion and coworker of Saint Paul, to write one of the four Gospels and also the Acts of the Apostles. We know from historical and literary research that Luke, who was not an eyewitness of Jesus, used various sources to compose his Gospel, including the Gospel of Mark. Luke’s Gospel, composed in the early 80’s, contains a number of teachings of Jesus, parables, and events not contained in the other Gospels. These include the infancy narratives, the story of the Annunciation and the story of Jesus’ birth that we hear at the Christmas Midnight Mass. If it weren’t for Saint Luke, we would not have the story of the Risen Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And we wouldn’t have many of the famous parables like that of the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we have been contemplating the mercy of God. When one reads Luke’s Gospel, we see that a major theme is that of Jesus as our Merciful Savior. The motto of this Jubilee Year is “Merciful like the Father.” This motto, chosen by Pope Francis, comes from Saint Luke. He reported the words of Jesus to the disciples: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke’s Gospel stresses the need for merciful love. Saint Luke devotes a whole chapter, chapter 15, to three parables dealing with God’s mercy: the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. As a young priest in Rome, I took a course on Jesus as the Merciful Savior in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. It was a wonderful course. It helped me to delve into Luke’s rich theology of salvation, made manifest by Jesus, the universal Savior.
Physicians seek to save lives and to heal the sick. It was natural that this physician-evangelist focused on Christ the Savior, the healer, the divine physician. God’s gift of s