Nothing for the journey but Jesus

| Father Robert Schwartz | July 12, 2018 | 0 Comments
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1987-074-16 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was in college, I spent summers working as an orderly at the old St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis. One of my duties was to care for an old priest, Father Paschal Kelly.

Father Kelly had multiple sclerosis and was almost paralyzed. We would bathe him and feed him and then move him to a special wheelchair where he would sit in the hospital lobby and talk to people as they went in and out of the hospital. Father Kelly could only talk in a low voice, and he could only move the fingers on one hand enough to use the phone. He not only had no possessions, he had mostly lost control of his own body.

I was always amazed that people would come from long distances to talk to Father Kelly. Even famous people would stop to see Father Kelly on their way through the Twin Cities. Sickness had taken almost everything the priest had, but he had a mysterious power inside of him that was very attractive to people, especially people that seemed to have everything except the presence of God in their hearts.

When Jesus sent his friends out to teach about God’s love and to heal human bodies and human relationships, he gave them very strange instructions. As the July 15 Gospel reading recounts, Jesus said, “Take nothing for the journey except a walking stick. Do not bring food, or money or a sack. Wear sandals instead of shoes, and do not take along a second set of clothes. Stay at whatever house welcomes you, and don’t look for a better place to stay.”

Admittedly, when I travel, it takes me a long time to decide what I should bring and whether I need one or two suitcases. I usually over pack. However, Jesus believed that what we need for the journey of life is inside of us, not in a suitcase or in a bank account. Jesus taught his disciples that the presence and power of God in us is the most important thing we need for the challenges of life. Father Kelly had almost nothing on the outside and all the right gifts on the inside. People came to see this broken-down man knowing that although he lacked material things, Father Kelly was filled with God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor during Adolph Hitler’s reign of horror in Nazi Germany. He was one of few church leaders, Lutheran or Catholic, who risked everything by opposing Hitler. Bonhoeffer left Germany and came to the United States in 1939, just as World War II was about to break out. In the United States, he was safe and could practice his Christian faith freely without fear of the Nazi Gestapo that was hot on his trail.

However, Bonhoeffer decided that he couldn’t hide being a follower of Jesus by running away. He said, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. … Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice from security.”

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany. In 1945 he “was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard, where he was hanged with thin wire to guarantee death by strangulation,” according to author Deborah Long. He had followed the words of Jesus to take nothing for the journey except the strength that only faith in God can provide.

The doctor at the German concentration camp said, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

We have been chosen by Christ. The source of our strength, our power and our goodness come from Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit deep within us. Fame, riches, popularity and power will all pass away. The power of God that we hold in our hearts remains forever. Father Paschal Kelly was a tower of strength for others in the midst of his extreme physical poverty because he trusted in God, not in stuff and not in his health. Bonhoeffer could face the loss of everything he had and accept death by hanging because Christ was his strength.

In a culture filled with temptations to trust in wealth, power, popularity or good health, Jesus reminds us that those who are truly rich, powerful and peaceful have hearts filled with Jesus Christ.

Father Schwartz was ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1967. He has served at St. Peter in North St. Paul, Christ the King in Minneapolis, St. John Neumann in Eagan, Our Lady of Grace in Edina, and St. John Vianney College Seminary and the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He retired in 2016.


Sunday, July 15
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures