A happy feast of St. Luke the Evangelist to all of you.
Last night, R. Anne reminded me that today was the splendid feast of the physician and artist, and writer!, St. Luke. Friend of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul, he often seems to be the quiet Gospel writer, receiving less fanfare than the venerable Sts. John, Mark, and Matthew; but, alas, let us remedy that today by reading about him, for he is truly a model of Christian manhood, suffering as he did for Christ and the Gospel, and sparing no efforts to make the Savior known and loved. Let us start:
First, the Church teaches us about our Catholic ancestor, St. Luke, in the texts of today’s Mass. You might read them here. At the beginning of that particular text a brief biography of St. Luke reads:
St. Luke, the inspired author of the third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, was a native of Antioch in Syria and a physician, and one of the early converts from paganism. He accompanied St. Paul on a considerable part of his missionary journeying, even companioning him in prison at Rome on two different occasions. His account of these events, contained in the Acts, is firsthand history.
Luke’s Gospel is, above all, the Gospel of the Merciful Heart of Jesus. It emphasizes the fact that Christ is the salvation of all men, especially of the repentant sinner and of the lowly. Legend says that Luke painted the Blessed Virgin’s portrait. It is certainly true that he painted the most beautiful word-picture of Mary ever written.
Expounding on the above, you might read the following by Dom Prosper Gueranger. Dom Gueranger (b. 1805- d. 1875) gives a more detailed version of the life of St. Luke; which is found in his book, The Liturgical Year:
“The goodness and kindness of God our Saviour has appeared to all men” (Titus ii. 11; iii. 4) It would seem that the third Evangelist, a disciple of Saint Paul, had purposed setting forth this word of the Doctor of the Gentiles. Or may we not rather say, the Apostle himself characterised in this sentence the Gospel in which his disciple portrays the Saviour prepared before the face of all people: “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel” (Luke ii. 31, 32). Saint Luke’s Gospel and the words quoted from Saint Paul were in fact written about the same time, and it is impossible to say which claims priority. Under the eye of Simon Peter to whom the Father had revealed the Christ the Son of the living God, Mark had the honour of giving to the Church the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God (Mark i. 1). Matthew had already drawn up for the Jews the Gospel of the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham (Matthew i. 1). Afterwards, at the side of Paul, Luke wrote for the Gentiles the Gospel of Jesus, Son of Adam through Mary (Luke ii. 38). As far as the genealogy of this First-born of His Mother may be reckoned back, so far will extend the blessing He bestows on His brethren by redeeming them from the curse inherited from their first father.Jesus was truly one of ourselves, a Man conversing with men and living their life. He was seen on Earth in the reign of Augustus, the prefect of the empire registered the birth of this new subject of Caesar in the city of His ancestors. He was bound in the swathing-bands of infancy. Like all of His race He was circumcised, offered to the Lord and redeemed according to the law of His nation. As a child He obeyed His parents. He grew up under their eyes. He passed through the progressive development of youth to the maturity of manhood. At every juncture during His public life He prostrated in prayer to God the Creator of all. He wept over His country. When His Heart was wrung with anguish at sight of the morrow’s deadly torments, He was bathed with a sweat of blood, and in that agony He did not disdain the assistance of an Angel. Such appears, in the third Gospel, the humanity of God our Saviour.How sweet too are His grace and goodness! Among all the children of men, He merited to be the expectation of nations and the Desired of them all: He who was conceived of a humble Virgin, who was born in a stable with shepherds for His court and choirs of Angels singing in the darkness of night “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.” But Earth had sung the prelude to the angelic harmonies. The precursor, leaping with delight in his mother’s womb, had, as the Church says, made known the king still resting in his bridal chamber. To this joy of the bridegroom’s Friend, the Virgin Mother had responded by the sweetest song that Earth or Heaven has ever heard. Then Zachary and Simeon completed the number of inspired Canticles for the new people of God. All was song around the new-born babe, and Mary kept all the words in her heart in order to transmit them to us through her own Evangelist.The Divine Child grew in age and wisdom and grace, before God and man till His human beauty captivated men and drew them with the cords of Adam to the love of God. He was ready to welcome the daughter of Tyre, the Gentile race that had become more than a rival of Sion. Let her not fear, the poor unfortunate one, of whom Magdalene was a figure. The pride of expiring Judaism may take scandal, but Jesus will accept her tears and her perfumes. He will forgive her much because of her great love. Let the prodigal hope once more, when worn out with his long wanderings, in every way where error has led the nations, the envious complaint of his elder brother Israel will not stay the outpourings of the Sacred Heart, celebrating the return of the fugitive, restoring to him the dignity of sonship, placing again upon his finger the ring of the alliance first contracted in Eden with the whole human race. As for Judah, unhappy is he if he refuses to understand.Woe to the rich man who in his opulence neglects the poor Lazarus! The privileges of race no longer exist: of ten lepers cured in body, the stranger alone is healed in soul, because he alone believes in his deliverer and returns thanks. Of the Samaritan, the Levite and the priest who appear on the road to Jericho, the first alone earns our Saviour’s commendation. The Pharisee is strangely mistaken when, in his arrogant prayer, he spurns the publican who strikes his breast and cries for mercy. The Son of Man neither hears the prayers of the proud nor heeds their indignation. He invites Himself, in spite of their murmurs, to the house of Zacheus, bringing with him salvation and joy, and declaring the publican to be henceforth a true son of Abraham. So much goodness and such universal mercy close against him the narrow hearts of his fellow-citizens. They will not have him to reign over them, but eternal Wisdom finds the lost groat, and there is great joy before the Angels in heaven. On the day of the sacred Nuptials, the lowly and despised and the repentant sinners will sit down to the banquet prepared for others. “In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel… and to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elilleus the prophet, and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian” (Luke iv. 25‒27).O Jesus, your Evangelist has won our hearts. We love you for having taken pity on our misery. We Gentiles were in deeper debt than Jerusalem, and therefore we owe you greater love in return for your pardon. We love you because your choicest graces are for Magdalene, that is, for us who are sinners and are nevertheless called to the better part. We love you because you cannot resist the tears of mothers but restore to them, as at Naim, their dead children. In the day of treason and abandonment and denial, you forgot your own injury to cast on Peter that loving look which caused him to weep bitterly. You turned away from yourself the tears of those humble and true daughters of Jerusalem who followed your painful footsteps up the heights of Calvary. Nailed to the Cross, you implored pardon for your executioners. At the last hour, as God you promised Paradise to the penitent thief, as Man you gave back your soul to your Father. Truly from beginning to end of this third Gospel appears your goodness and kindness, O God our Saviour! Saint Luke completed his work by writing, in the same correct style his Gospel, the history of the first days of Christianity, of the introduction of the Gentiles into the Church, and of the great labours of their own Apostle Paul. According to tradition he was an artist as well as a man of letters, and with a soul alive to all the most delicate inspirations, he consecrated his pencil to the holiest use and handed down to us the features of the Mother of God. It was an illustration worthy of the Gospel which relates the Divine Infancy, and it won for the artist a new title to the gratitude of those who never saw Jesus and Mary in the flesh. Hence Saint Luke is the patron of Christian art, and also of the medical profession, for in the holy Scripture itself he is said to have been a physician. He had studied all the sciences in his native city Antioch, and the brilliant capital of the East had reason to be proud of its illustrious son.
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The symbolical Ox, reminding us of the figurative sacrifices, and announcing their abrogation, yokes himself, with the Man, the Lion, and the Eagle, to the chariot which bears the Conqueror of Earth, the Lamb in His triumph. O Evangelist of the Gentiles, be blessed for having put an end to the long night of our captivity, and warmed our frozen hearts. You were the confidant of the Mother of God, and her happy influence left in your soul that fragrance of virginity which pervaded your whole life and breathes through your writings. With discerning love and silent devotedness you assisted the Apostle of the Gentiles in his great work and remained as faithful to him when abandoned or betrayed, shipwrecked or imprisoned, as in the days of his prosperity. Rightly then does the Church in her Collect apply to you the words spoken by Saint Paul of himself: “In all things we suffer tribulation, are persecuted, are cast down, always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus. But this continual dying manifests the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh.”
Your inspired pen taught us to love the Son of Man in His Gospel. Your pencil portrayed Him for us in His Mother’s arms, and a third time you revealed Him to the world by the reproduction of His holiness in your own life. Preserve in us the fruits of your manifold teaching. Though Christian painters do well to pay you special honour and to learn from you that the ideal of beauty resides in the Son of God and in His Mother, there is yet a more sublime art than that of lines and colours: the art of reproducing in ourselves the likeness of God. This we wish to learn perfectly in your school, for we know from your master Saint Paul that conformity to the image of the Son of God can alone entitle the elect to predestination. Be the protector of the faithful physicians who strive to walk in your footsteps and who, in their ministry of devotedness and charity, rely on your credit with the Author of life. Second their efforts to heal or to relieve suffering and inspire them with holy zeal when they find their patients on the brink of eternity. The world itself, in its decrepitude, now needs the assistance of all who are able, by prayer or action, to come to its rescue. “The Son of Man, when He comes, will He find, think you, faith on Earth?” (Luke xviii. 8). Thus spoke our Lord in the Gospel. But He also said that we ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke xviii. 1) adding, for the instruction of the Church both at this time and always, the parable of the widow whose importunity prevailed upon the unjust judge to defend her cause. “And will not God revenge His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He have patience in their regard? I say to you that He will quickly revenge them” (Luke xviii. 2‒3). (end of Gueranger quote)