A Sermon for the Feast of St. Catherine (Transferred) + June 3, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Feast of St. Catherine of Siena (Transferred)
First Lesson: Micah 6:6-8
Psalm 15
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

34321059_1757782127646369_7588180409905577984_nWhen I first arrived at St. Catherine’s at the beginning of last year, one of the first things that caught my attention was this colorful greeting card posted on one of the bulletin boards next door in the Annex.

I later came to find out that it was a gift from our good friend, Judy Quick, who serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Alabama.

On the front of this greeting card was the following quote from Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of our parish: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

When I first saw it, I thought to myself, “How wonderfully appropriate for this parish- a quote from St. Catherine, which I think beautifully summarizes what it is that we’re called to do as followers of Jesus.” “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” That greeting card, by the way, is still posted in the Annex if you’d like to see it.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine. If you look at the calendar of the Church year, St. Catherine’s Day is normally observed on April 29, but since Catherine is our patron saint, the rubrics of the Prayer Book allow us to transfer that date to any Sunday as long as it doesn’t fall during the seasons of Advent, Lent, or Easter. That’s the reason why we’ve waited until today. Now that Easter is over, we can celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine.

I think it’s good for us, as a parish, to celebrate our patron saint together. It gives us a chance to learn more about the life and ministry of Blessed Catherine. It provides us with an opportunity to give thanks for her witness to the Gospel and to think about how we might pattern our lives on hers and all the saints who have gone before. Catherine belongs to that great “cloud of witnesses” who continue to guide us with their wisdom and inspire us to lead a life worthy of the Gospel. This occasion also allows us to pause for a moment and to recognize and give thanks for all of the wonderful work that our parish does in the building up of God’s kingdom.

Catherine of Siena was born in 1347. According to her biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, she was the youngest of twenty-five children and the daughter of a wealthy cloth dyer. It’s widely believed that, when she was only six years old, Catherine had a miraculous vision of Jesus, who was seated in glory with three of the apostles, Paul, Peter, and John. The following year, at age seven, she vowed to devote her entire life to the Lord, and as she grew older, she eventually decided to join the Dominicans, a religious order. As a Dominican, Catherine was committed to a strict prayer life, and she spent much of her time caring for the poor and the infirm. She worked as a nurse and treated patients who suffered from terrible illnesses, such as leprosy and cancer, illnesses that other nurses at the time would rather not treat. She was also known for stirring up trouble, frequently giving away food and clothing to the needy without first asking permission.

When we take a look at Catherine’s life and consider the incredible commitment she made to love and serve Christ in all persons, especially those on the margins of society, the unclean and the undesirable, it seems rather obvious to me that she not only wrote those beautiful words on that greeting card next door, but she also embodied them. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

I think these are words for all of us to live by.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Father Eric, that’s a great quote, but how does it apply to me and my life? How do I go about embodying those words just as Catherine did?”

We start by turning to the Gospels, and there’s one passage, in particular, that provides us with a helpful guide in our journey as we seek to grow more and more into who God created us to be. In our lesson today from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples that the Son of Man will one day return to judge the nations, and when he does, his judgment won’t be based on how well we treated the rich and the privileged. It’ll be based on how we treated the poor and the hungry, the stranger in our midst, those without shelter or clothing, the sick, and those in prison. His judgment will be based on how well we treated those who suffer from oppression of any kind and those who most people would rather just forget about.

The poor and the hungry. The stranger. The naked. The sick. The prisoner. These are the people whom Jesus has entrusted into our care, the people we’ve been given to care for above any other. Jesus says, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” This single, revolutionary statement conveys an eternal truth, one that is so easy for us to forget, especially when we take it upon ourselves to judge others: to love Jesus is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love Jesus. They’re inseparable.

As individuals, we have a responsibility to remember this, but we also have a responsibility to remember this as a parish, as a community of Christ followers gathered together to do the loving, liberating, and life-giving work that Jesus calls has called us to do.

As a parish, we already do so much, and as we continue to grow, we’ll be able to do even more. As I was preparing for today, I had the chance to take a moment and consider all of the great work that we do as the Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Alabama. It’s amazing. For a parish of our size, we really do a lot, and in a few minutes we’re going to recognize and give thanks for that work. Like St. Catherine, we’re responding to the needs of others in our own time and place. Her ministry was focused on the people who live in her local community, and we’re doing the same.

But, there’s always more that we can do, and we’re only limited by the power of our imaginations. So, on this day, as we celebrate and give thanks for the things that we’re already doing as St. Catherine’s Parish, let us also recommit ourselves to the work of discernment as we discover new ways that the Spirit may be guiding us to share the love of Christ with the world.

We can’t do everything, but we can do a lot.

We can care for the poor and the hungry. We can care for the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, and when we do when we do these things, we can and we will set this weary world on fire with the power of God’s love. Amen.

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