Friday, August 2, 2019

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Katharine

Ecclesiastes 1-2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

(Homily for St. Patrick Parish) 
          This weekend's message in Sacred Scripture is a cautionary tale on vanity and greed. Jesus calls us all to another way.
          Instead of closely examining these two sins, I'd like to share a story about someone who spent their life devoid of vanity or greed, and instead built up treasure in heaven by pouring our their life for others.
          Katharine Maurer was a female deacon in the Methodist faith a hundred years ago. 
To thousands of people who knew her, she was called in Chinese Kaun Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. To others she was simply known as the Angel of Angel Island.
Angel Island was the Ellis Island of the West Coast from the early 1900s until 1940. Located directly behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, one million immigrants, mostly from China, came into the United States through Angel Island.
          The immigration station was mostly used to detain peoples from 84 different countries. Detentions lasted for months, even years. Many of them were family detentions
          Deacon Katharine was assigned to Angel Island upon graduation from diaconate formation in 1912.
          Protestant reformers in the 1800s envisioned a better world based on the principles of Jesus’s teachings. Some of these activist churchwomen were Methodists who launched a deaconess movement in 1888 to minister to the most-needy in society.
Deacon Katharine was initially dispatched by this movement to San Francisco to minister to picture brides sent from Asia to marry men in the United States.
But Deacon Katharine spent most of her adult years sacrificing her own life in service to immigrant sojourners who came through Angel Island.
          She served as Christ to people who didn't even believe in Him. She stood with the poor. She chose a life devoid of vanity and greed. Instead, she modeled love and mercy.
          She had no inherited wealth, but this unmarried woman gave all she had to the people to whom she ministered. 
Deacon Katharine understood what it was like to be an immigrant. Born in Canada, this German Canadian became a U.S. citizen at the height of World War One when Germans were viewed with much suspicion and contempt. This experience helped her to relate to her immigrant friends better.
Her greatest gift was an extraordinary ability to connect with people from all parts of the globe.
Deacon Katharine quickly became the station’s chief welfare or social worker, establishing English classes, a library, and organizing clothing donations for detainees.
Much of what she did was counsel people.
Maurer said in an interview, “often… there is little one can do except listening, trying to comfort, without trying to give anything, just helping to bring about that release that comes from sharing troubles, and sometimes in the telling one finds solutions.”
This is called in pastoral circles "the ministry of presence" and it's the greatest gift we can give to others.
Many left transformed by their encounter with the deaconess. Some families even honored her by naming daughters after her. 
Deacon Katharine never sought after honors in this world, but was treated like a saint by women and men who experienced her loving tenderness at Angel Island. 
She worked at Angel Island for nearly 30 years and served immigrants another 11 years in San Francisco after the detention center closed its door. She retired at age 71 and died about 10 years later in 1962.        
Deacon Katharine gave everything in service to the poor. She’s an example for us all on how to give one’s life for the Gospel and build up treasure in heaven. 
And that's Jesus' message today. 
Are we prepared to do the same?
You may ask what about women deacons in the Catholic Church?  Pope Francis asked scholars and theologians to study the issue. Pope Benedict said in 2008 the door is still open for women as deacons based on the early tradition. 
The sticking point seems to be the issue of Holy Orders and ordination.
As we know from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, there were female deacons in the early Christian  tradition. We read about a deacon named Phoebe.
Not much is known about the lives of female deacons in the early Christian tradition, but if more modern examples of female deacons, such as Deacon Katharine Maurer, are any indication, I, for one, am grateful to these women for their diaconal ministry.
          To stand in solidarity with the poor, we must be like Jesus and first pay attention. We must be like Jesus and respond. We must be like Jesus and lead others to respond in love.                    As we all strive to live Christ’s mission of solidarity with the poor and marginalized, may we come to a greater understanding of the contributions made by all cultures, all peoples and all genders to God’s Church. And may this understanding transform our Church forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment