November 10, 2016
by John Shea, S.J.
Creighton University's Biology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 492

Philemon 7-20
Psalms 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
Luke 17:20-25
Praying Ordinary Time

I’m easily distracted. I sit down to write this reflection and notice an unread email in my Inbox. After reading it I see that I forgot to reply to an earlier email. While replying to that email, a pile of old papers on my desk grabs my attention. But before I can throw them away, I find a letter that needs to be mailed. My distractions distract me and I forget what I set out to do. At an unconscious level, I seek out these distractions, hoping they will satisfy some deep longing, some unmet need, some restlessness. Perhaps my distracted seeking parallels that of all of us who seek the Kingdom of God.

Jesus reminds us today that the Kingdom of God cannot be observed. It is not here or there. It is not a place we go to or an event we attend. It’s not an activity we do. And it’s certainly not one of my countless distractions. Instead, the Kingdom of God is among us. In other words, Jesus is the Kingdom of God, dwelling here among us. Focus our attention on Christ and we will find the Kingdom of God. When our attention strays from Christ, we become distracted and restless. In contrast, we know we’re focused on Christ when our hearts are full of trust, love and mercy. We can then act with boldness.

When St. Paul writes to Philemon he knows that he’s writing to save a life. Onesimus, a slave, ran away, befriended Paul and became a Christian. At the time, Philemon could legally punish or even kill his runaway slave. Paul boldly suggests that Philemon not only pardons his runaway slave, but treats him as a brother in Christ. Only a heart full of trust, love and mercy can make such a bold demand. Only someone who is focused on the Kingdom of God can see the goodness and love in others.

History does not record what St. Leo the Great said to Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome to convince him to turn away. Perhaps Leo simply saw the goodness in Attila and made a bold appeal to his better nature. Like most saints, Leo’s heart was full of trust, love and mercy. To paraphrase St. Paul, we pray that our hearts will be refreshed in Christ and filled with trust, love and mercy.

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