Pharmacist Gets His Ultimate Promotion
Homily on the 22nd Sunday in OT, 28 August 2022
We Filipinos love being invited to a salu-salo. But once we are there we tend to be shy and hesitate to approach the banquet table. Two years ago when I was still serving in Lourdes Parish, we had a big salu-salo prepared for our eighty (80) employees in the social hall. However I noticed that the tables in front were left vacant and almost everyone seated themselves at the back. “Siguro nga nahihiya.” But are we Filipinos truly humble and unassuming by nature or character? Or do we prefer to sit at the back simply because it is the most strategic place “kasi malapit sa buffet table at malapit din sa exit?”
Brothers and sisters we are now on the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. And we continue listening reflectively on the Gospel according to St Luke. There are eleven Sundays left before we reach the end of the liturgical year. The gospel passage we have heard today shows Jesus teaching us an important lesson about social etiquette and humility which is expected of every follower who wants an honoured place at the banquet hall of the Lord. If you recall in last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus told us that the gate of heaven is so narrow that not all his followers will be able to enter even if they try to. Today he tells us that we can lose even the reserved seat at his banquet table if we are too proud and self-absorbed.
Being fully human like anyone of us Jesus also liked spending bonding moments with people, whether they were good or bad, rich or poor, learned or ignorant. And even if the Pharisees had always been suspicious and critical about everything he would say and do in public, Jesus still accepted the invitation to dine with them that day. I guess it was an opportunity Jesus did not want to miss so he could win their hearts and convince them that the Kingdom of God was truly in their midst.
It is good to see the proper context of today’s gospel passage taken from chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel. Jesus while inside the home of a leading Pharisee had just cured a man suffering from dropsy, and what he said about what he did had silenced the Pharisees who had been closely watching every move he would make. After that it was Jesus’ turn to watch and observe how people were choosing the places of honor at table. His simple but strong recommendation to all those invited was to take the last seats or the lowest places in the banquet hall. Otherwise they would find themselves embarrassed and humiliated when the host sees them and asks them to transfer elsewhere because the honoured seats are reserved for more distinguished guests.
Many years ago a priest who got invited to the wedding reception after having officiated the wedding of a certain couple. Since he had to change his under shirt so wet with sweat before entering the banquet hall, he came in late and started to fall in line at the buffet table just wearing ordinary clothes. At first no one recognized him. But when he was recognized by the host as the priest who presided the Mass, he was immediately told to come up to the presidential table and join the rest of the honoured guests. But the priest insisted to stay on the line assuring the host that it was okay for him to join the rest of the ordinary guests. But the host would not hear any of his humble excuses. He said to him, “Padre, usually sa isang malaking handaan ang mga tao ang lumalapit sa hapag kainan, pero para sa isang pari na katulad nyo nararapat lamang na sa punong mesa ay maupo at ang pagkain ang lalapit sa inyo.” The priest felt so humbled, but at the same time honoured. While he just wanted to show an example of social etiquette and humility according to Jesus’ teaching, the good news is unexpectedly he experienced for himself the fulfilment of what Jesus promised in the gospel “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.” And so he got his honoured seat at the presidential table. That priest eventually became a bishop, and later nominated as a Cardinal. Today we know him as Cardinal Chito Tagle, occupying one of the highest positions at the Vatican.
Last night I was able to watch by chance the live-streaming of the liturgy celebrated by the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In that solemn celebration Pope Francis created twenty new Cardinals who would be among his closest collaborators in serving the Church and giving life to the world. Among them was Archbishop Virgilio Da Silva of Dili, East Timor, a Salesian who finished his Theological studies in Don Bosco Paranaque. This move shows very clearly the Pope’s desire following the gospel teaching to choose leaders from the peripheries of the world. The Pope also gave his final approval of the decree declaring the holiness of two Blesseds in the Catholic Church, Bl Giovanni Battista Scalabrini and Bl Artemide Zatti. Allow me just to introduce to you Bl. Zatti soon to be a canonized saint on October 9 together with Bl Scalabrini.
Bl. Artemide Zatti is a noted Italian pharmacist who was born in Italy in 1880 but emigrated with his family to Argentina. Eventually when he was twenty years old he met the Salesians and got attracted to the joy and happiness they have shown in serving others. And so he left his family and the world behind him including a very promising career to enter the religious life. In 1908 he made his profession as a Salesian and dedicated his entire life for the good of the sick esp. the poor and abandoned youth, not as a priest but as a Salesian brother. He made good use of his knowledge and experience in pharmacy to help other people. In 1911 he was assigned as manager of both the pharmacy and the hospital run by the Salesians in Viedma, Argentina. He quickly became known for his typical Salesian joy and consistent prayer life. Above all his unwavering trust in divine providence enabled him to save from death so many sick among the poorest who could not pay for their hospitalization. Years later he himself contracted liver cancer and eventually died in 1951 at the age of seventy. He was beatified in 2002. His eventual canonization, his ultimate promotion in heaven, will prove to us that the path of holiness is truly open to all and that sainthood can be lived in whatever career or profession one may have.
May this Eucharist move us, whoever we are in society or in the Church, to become selflessly generous to the poor yet remaining humble and unassuming in the eyes of both God and the people. GiGsss!
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