A Time for Courage

St. Boniface

Tobit 1:3, 2:1a-8; Mark 12:1-12

In L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wonderful World of Oz, Oz assures the lion, “There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

On a recent flight home from Europe, I had the opportunity to watch a few movies.  One of them was Patriots Day, the story of the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt and investigation told especially through the eyes of the police and other first responders.  The movie skillfully mixes actual news and camera footage into the plot, and one of the more remarkable scenes is of the immediate aftermath of the explosions near the finish line in downtown Boston.  Even as most people are fleeing in terror, police officers and others are running toward the danger. 

That image came to mind as I reflected on today’s readings and the pastor and martyr the Church remembers today.  Tobit, a Jew in exile in Assyria, insists on giving a proper burial his dead countrymen whose bodies had been thrown outside the wall of the city of Nineveh.  He does so at the risk of death and in defiance of the order of the king, who had already confiscated all of his property in punishment for doing what we today regard as a corporal work of mercy. 

In our gospel passage, the son of the vineyard owner went to collect what was due his father even though he must have known of the fate of those who had been sent before him.  Some had been beaten.  Others had been killed.  Even in the face of such danger, he went forth in his father’s name.

St. Boniface, who died in the middle of the 8th century, is known today as the Apostle of Germany.  Leaving the relative comfort of his monastery in England, he went forth as a missionary, bringing the gospel to many and serving as a generous and merciful shepherd.  He was martyred at the age of 80, and among his relics is the book he was reading when he was killed.  It is covered in his own blood.

Today the friars of the Province of St. Joseph will gather here in Chicago for our triennial chapter.  We do so at a time that tests our courage.  Foremost among the challenges that we face is our aging:  roughly two-thirds of our professed members are 70 years of age or older and fully one-third are at least 80 years old.  The expenses of healthcare and of educating our younger friars in initial and ministry formation are considerable.  We have fewer men available to do what God has called us to do.   In such situations, the common response would be to hunker down, to protect what we have, to take no risks. 

Yet God, the source of our courage, challenges us not to run away but to run toward these challenges.  During Chapter we will be asked to consider the possibility of taking on a new ministry in a new place.  We will be joined by Capuchin friars from other parts of the world who have come to the USA as missionaries, to aid in our mission of evangelization and re-evangelization and to strengthen the witness of our increasingly diverse fraternity and Church.

Given our circumstances and so much of what is going on in the world today, it’s natural to be afraid.  It’s a time for true courage.  I’m confident that, with the grace of God, that kind of courage we will have in plenty.—JC