White Mass on the Feast of St. Luke
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 salvation is made manifest in Jesus’ healing of diseases, so many recounted in Luke’s Gospel as well as healings by the apostles in the book of Acts. Of course, Luke emphasizes that the physical healings accomplished by Jesus all point to the healing of the soul, Christ healing us from the disease of sin, from the devil, and from death. It is God’s mercy that heals us, that frees us from the corruption of sin and death.
In this Jubilee Year, we have been contemplating the infinite mercy of God and also our call to be merciful like the Father, to be witnesses of Christ’s merciful love. The Church, following Pope Francis, has been emphasizing, for example, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. At the beginning of the Jubilee Year, the Holy Father expressed his hope that the works of mercy would be rediscovered. I’ve seen this happen in our diocese as so many of our parishes and schools have focused on doing the works of mercy. For you who serve in the medical profession, there is a special link to various works of mercy. I think especially of the corporal work of visiting the sick. You visit the sick to tend to their illnesses and to help them heal. I think also of the spiritual work of comforting the afflicted. The comfort you provide your patients is an important element of their healing and of their wellbeing. I thank you for living your Catholic faith in your profession by being instruments of Christ’s merciful love in your work.
In the Gospel today, we heard Saint Luke’s account of Jesus sending 72 disciples on mission. Among the instructions He gave them was to cure the sick in the towns they visited. This is also your mission – a holy mission. Your profession is more than ordinary work. You are called to be instruments of God’s healing love. You are called to be witnesses to the sanctity of life. In all you say and do, you are to affirm the life and dignity of your patients, including the tiny infants in the womb of their mothers as well as the frail elderly patients approaching the end of their earthly life. And you do so by recognizing that every one of your patients, including the disagreeable ones, is a child of God, destined to share the glory and joy of the Creator. You are called to be servants of the Gospel of life which is the also the Gospel of love and mercy. Like Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, you are called to see Jesus in every patient you treat. As Mother Teresa saw Jesus in the face of the poorest of the poor, you are called to see Jesus in the face of the sick, the suffering, and the dying. This requires a good prayer life, practicing medicine within the context of your faith, and not separated from your faith. This White Mass on the feast of Saint Luke reminds us that your profession is a vocation, a calling to live the Gospel in your work of healing, in the care of your patients, as witnesses of Christ’s love and mercy. Like Saint Luke, who did not abandon Saint Paul at the time of his suffering and impending death, may you accompany your patients in their suffering and bring them the comfort of Jesus through your merciful care.
May Saint Luke the physician and evangelist, intercede for all of you! The Church needs your witness in ou