Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to follow him. Each of the people he called wanted to follow him, but they didn’t want to do so right away. Each had some excuse for delaying their journey, but Jesus pointed out that delay was not acceptable. For example, we read, “And to another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But he answered him, ‘Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ And another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.’ To him Jesus said, ‘No one who has set a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9: 61-62).
Today, we’ll explore a few principles of God’s call in our individual lives. First, though, let’s look at the story of Henriette Delille, a Creole woman who lived from 1813 to 1862 in Louisiana.
Henriette was born in 1813 in New Orleans. Her father was a white man born in France, and her mother was a free African American woman. The family lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans, not far from St. Louis Cathedral.
When Henriette was a child, there was a system in Louisiana called placage, in which rich white men would take a woman of color to be in a non-marriage type of relationship. To prepare her to take her place in this system, Henriette’s mother taught her such subjects as French literature, music, and dancing. Further, Henriette’s mother also taught her nursing skills and how to make herbal medicines. To further prepare Henriette to enter the placage system, she also had Henriette attend quadroon balls, social events for people of mixed races.
Henriette, although she learned all her mother taught her, became an outspoken opponent of the placage system. She insisted that this system was against Catholic teaching about the sacraments, especially the sacrament of marriage.
So, instead of participating in the placage system, Henriette began teaching in a Catholic school for black girls at the age of 14. That was in 1827.
In 1835, Henriette’s mother suffered from a serious mental health illness that left her incompetent. The court made Henriette the caretaker of all the family’s riches. After providing for her mother’s care, Henriette sold her mother’s property. One year later, in 1836, Henriette founded a congregation of women called the Sisters of the Presentation. In addition to Henriette, there were seven young Creole women and a French woman in the original group.
The purposes of this new Order were to nurse the sick, help the poor, and teach children, especially children of mixed races. This group founded the first Catholic home for the elderly in the United States.
In 1837, the Holy See formally recognized Henriette’s group as a new congregation of women Religious, and in 1842 the congregation changed its name to the Sisters of the Holy Family. For the rest of her life, Sister Henriette served the poor of New Orleans until her death in 1862. When she died, her Order had 12 members. By 1950, there were 400 members.
The Sisters of the Holy Family are especially noted for their care of the sick and dying in the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.
The Sisters of the Holy Family continue to serve the poor and needy in various states of the United States. Pope Benedict XVI named her a Venerable of the Church in 2010. Currently, many people are praying for her beatification.
From today’s passage from St. Luke, and from the life of Venerable Henriette, we can glean many things. Here are just three.
First, all of are called to do something with our lives. Each of us has a purpose in life. As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus. Especially, we are to follow Christian commandments that Jesus gave us such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving our enemies, loving our neighbors as our selves, caring for the sick, instructing the ignorant, being non-judgmental towards others, and many others.
Second, we are called to give our whole selves to our vocations. We are called to keep focused on the present tasks and future goals, not get caught up in the past. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 62). In other words, we need to exhibit fidelity. That means we need to live out our vocations faithfully through time, through good times and bad times. We can’t simply flit around from one thing to another like a tumbleweed blowing wherever the wind takes us.
And third, because people today are generally living longer and longer lives, God calls us to different vocations at different times in our lives. Although we are called to follow Jesus throughout our whole lives, the specific occupational calls may be very different on our life journeys.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how God is calling us and how we are responding to that call.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2016.
- “Henriette DeLille,” Wikipedia.
- “Venerable Henriette Delille,” Sisters of Holy Family.