Jesus' closest friends (and wives!)

Here is the homily I shared at the opening Mass
of the 6th Congress

This is a story we (Bishops) were told last week during our plenary session in Botswana.
“This a story about a street-child, one of those children who roam our streets and many times sleep on them. 
As he was walking he stopped outside a shoe-shop and started looking at a pair of shoes. You could see the scene... His nose touching the glass and his hands on the window. It was as if there was nothing else in the world that mattered at that moment.
A woman passed by and saw him. She could immediately understand what was going on  in his mind and heart. She felt compassion. She approached him and asked: 'is there any pair of shoes that you like'? She took him by the hand and went into the shop with him. He chose his pair of shoes and she paid for them.
She then felt it was not enough to just have the shoes and took him to buy some socks and a pair of trousers at a shop nearby.
She also found a place where he could wash himself and put on his new pair of trousers. She washed his feet and helped him with the socks and shoes.
The child was not sure he was awake or dreaming. Was that all true? So much so quickly.
Something then came to his mind, the only thing that could make sense to what was happening to him. He looked at her and asked her: 'Are you Jesus' wife'?”
Probably the child never went to Sunday school or catechism. No one with at least a little religious education would dare say that Jesus had a wife.
Still, he got something right: someone who behaves like Jesus, is someone who must be very close to him. Like a wife to her husband.
Are you “Jesus' wives”? Some of you might say... “can't be, I am a man”. Fair enough. Are you Jesus' closest friends? There is a friend of mine, we've known each other for more than thirty years and I know that, even though we live in different countries (and continents!) there is a lot we have a common fruit of our friendship all these years.

* * *

We celebrate today the feast of St Bartholomew apostle. We find him in the Gospel of John under a different name: Nathanael.
In today's passage Phillip goes to Nathanael and tells him something huge: ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’
Nathanael has a very personal opinion regarding the people of Nazareth and he replies saying: ‘From Nazareth?Can anything good come from that place?’
I loved Phillip's reply. He could have reacted saying something like: “of course there are good people in Nazareth!” or “how can you say something like that?”. He does not. He does not challenge what Nathanael says. He knows there is a better way to prove it. He knows there is a better way to convince him: ‘Come and see’.
Phillip knows that being with Jesus would change Nathanael. Phillip knows that being with Jesus would change the way Nathanael thinks. Being with Jesus would convince him that Jesus is the one they have been waiting for.
Do you know how Phillip knows that? It is simple: it had already happened to him. One day Jesus called Phillip: “come, follow me”. That changed Phillip's life. It changed Nathanael's life too.

* * *

It must have changed yours because you would not be here if it was not so. You are not here just because you are nurses. You are here because you are “Christian nurses” “Catholic nurses”. What for others is just a profession or a job, for you is “God's call”. You have discovered that God put the seed of becoming nurses as the way to send you to others in His name.

You have a beautiful motto: “see Christ in every person”
Though beautiful it is, for me, half of your call. You are called to serve every person as if you were serving Jesus but you are also called to be Jesus as you serve every person. Jesus' wives, Jesus' closest friends and indeed you are.
  • You are that Good Samaritan who sees, is moved with compassion, goes up to the one suffering, bandages the wounds, pours oil and wine (not drinks it!)... (Lk 10:33) Because Jesus is that Good Samaritan coming to us in our suffering and need.
    In a world at risk of becoming more and more violent, more selfish, locked in the screen of a cellphone, you witness to God's tenderness and personal care;
  • You are that Jesus who does not even have time to eat (Mk 3:20). In your service, more than once you go beyond the time you are supposed to work. While others go home, you feel you cannot just let the people go and be back another day;
  • You are that Jesus who always looks for those that are far, that no one cares for... (Mk 1: 38) Mark tells us that when he started his ministry of preaching and healing, the people of Capernaum wanted him to remain among them but he knew his good news had to touch everyone, particularly those forgotten or abandoned by all. You help society, governments and churches to open our eyes and hearts to them;
  • You are the ones who strengthen the faith of those who spend their lives suffering and trying everything without seeing any improvement. You probably remember the woman who spent 12 years at the hands of different doctors, kept on getting worse and lost everything (Mk 5:27)  Jesus did not reject her. On the contrary, he encouraged her!
  • You are the ones who care for those our communities reject like the lepers in the Gospel. I do not know about Japan, Ireland or Kenya but we can tell our stories in Southern Africa about HIV/Aids... how they were rejected in their own families! You welcome them like Jesus!
  • You also share with Jesus the fact that many times no one thanks you. About 30 years' ago I went through a surgery in my hand. It was a one day thing. In in the morning, out in the afternoon. I was given anaesthetic and I could leave once I could stand on my own. I woke up after a few hours absolutely confused. I was restless and made the nurse's life difficult. 
    I became aware of that and I called her (once again!). She asked: “what now?!”. I said: “I am sorry. Thank you”. I guess she never saw it coming. She was probably touched because the next thing she asked me was if I had a girlfriend...! The point is that you do not do it because you expect to be thanked but because you witness to the one who had a cross for reward!

Are you Jesus' wives? Are you Jesus' closest friends? I think you are but, as the child of the story tells us, it is only by being very close to him that you can witness to his merciful unconditional love. 
As Phillip had experienced, it is only by being with Jesus that you can be transformed. 
Your daily prayer, the space you give to God's Word in your lives, the Eucharist you celebrate will bring you close to Him.
May these days be an opportunity to thank God for His call in your lives. 
May your sharing together help you deepen in the call you have received.
May you become closer and closer to him and make everyone wonder: are you...?

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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