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Going Deeper with the “Beloved Physician”

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”The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” ~ William Osler

There was once a very learned Harvard Professor who set out to disprove Christianity. He was largely convinced that it was a hoax, a “crutch” for the angst-ridden, uneducated, and gullible. He was recognized amongst his blue-blooded peers as a brilliant legal scholar, so naturally he decided to employ tactics that played to his strengths. He would set out to prove that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection, an event that he astutely recognized as the cornerstone of the Christian faith, would never hold up in a court of law.

But an interesting thing happened shortly after he embarked on his fact-finding mission, an endeavor that began within the confines of the printed pages of Sacred Scripture. He came upon witness after witness, all of whom testified to Jesus’ Resurrection, but not with mere words mind you. These individuals testified to this seminal event with that which was most precious to them: their very lives. Even a mediocre lawyer will tell you that viable and legitimate witnesses win (or lose) cases. Without them you have virtually no case. With them, suspects quickly become prisoners. And in the case of our Harvard Professor, it was these witnesses that prompted him to ditch his fruitless pursuit and instead convert to Christianity. Today our church celebrates a legendary witness.

Saint Luke hailed from Antioch, where he was a renowned physician. Well-versed in Greek and a skillful writer, he was one of the very first converts to Christianity. Luke accompanied Saint Paul on his missionary journeys, as mentioned in today’s 1st Reading (2 Timothy 4:10-17) wherein Paul, in something of a “last will and testament” as some biblical scholars have dubbed his second letter to Timothy, lamented “Luke is the only one with me.” (2 Tim 4:11). It was Saint Paul who referred to his friend Luke as “The Beloved Physician.” (Colossians 4:14 and elsewhere). It was Paul too who converted Luke, who remained with Paul in Rome as he languished in a squalid prison cell awaiting death. Paul was executed shortly thereafter; legend has it he was beheaded.

Luke’s Gospel, the longest book of the New Testament, showcases his surprisingly in-depth knowledge of the history of Israel. Keep in mind that Luke is the only Gentile author represented in the New Testament. Of the two Gospels that tell the story of the Birth of Jesus ~ Matthew and Luke ~ it is Luke’s rendition that tells Mary’s story. The Annunciation, the Visitation, wherein the Ark of the Covenant discourse is woven so intricately throughout, and of course the Nativity of our Lord. And then there’s the Acts of the Apostles, which records the time after Jesus’ Ascension up until around the year 62 AD.

Luke captures roughly 30 years of Jesus’ ministry in his Gospel while covering about 30 years after his Ascension in Acts. In fact 30% of the New Testament is his. Some may be surprised to learn that Luke is credited with about 5,000 more words in the New Testament than Paul. The 28 chapters that comprise the Acts of the Apostles and the 24,chapters that make up the Gospel that bears his name are profoundly rich, delving into the details of Jesus’ many physical healing miracles in a way that only a physician can.

Legend has it that Luke was also an avid painter. There are paintings of both Jesus and Mary that are attributed to him on display at Saint Mary Major Church Rome. Perhaps this is why he is the Patron Saint of artists. He is the patron of brewers, butchers, notaries, physicians and surgeons as well. This was a true Renaissance Man long before the Renaissance unfolded.

As previously mentioned, although a physician by trade, Saint Luke’s evangelical mission echoed the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who said “There is one Physician, of flesh and of spirit, originate and unoriginate, God in man, true Life in death, son of Mary and son of God, first passible and then impassible: Jesus Christ our Lord.” In a homily delivered on October 15th, 2000, then-Pope now-Saint John Paul II said of Luke’s sublime writings “An important aspect that Luke highlights is the fact that the Word of God mysteriously grows and spreads even through suffering and in a context of opposition and persecution (cf. Acts 4: 1-31; 5: 17-42; passim). The Word that St Luke points to is called to become for each generation a spiritual event capable of renewing life. Christian life, instilled and sustained by the Spirit, is an interpersonal dialogue that is based precisely on the Word which the living God addresses to us, asking us to receive it without reservation in mind and heart. In short, it means becoming disciples who are willing to listen to the Lord with sincerity and openness, following the example of Mary of Bethany, who "had chosen the better portion", because she "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching" (cf. Lk 10: 38-42).

It’s interesting to note that there is no formal “ending” to Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Stories remain unresolved and plot-lines dangle, a fact that has befuddled and frustrated many biblical scholars over the years. But I would propose that this was intentional. The story, after all, is still being written. As noted Catholic Radio personality Steven Ray has often said, “The Acts of the Apostles is in reality the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit.’” With that in mind, it is you and I and all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body that will write the denouement to this tale, fueled by the Holy Spirit and its priceless gifts.

I leave you with an intercessory prayer to Saint Luke, a prayer they does rightfully does justice to the timeless fruits of his writings. I encourage you to read an excerpt from either or both of his sacred New Testament Books, perhaps even in the silence of Eucharistic Adoration. As Charles Spurgeon so wisely said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” Allow the words of Saint Luke to transform you, to grow in your love and veneration of our Blessed Mother. To grow in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Beloved Physician to introduce you to the Heavenly Physician, He who grants eternal healing to all those who seek Him.

Saint Luke, pray for us….

“Most wonderful St. Luke, you are animated by the Heavenly Spirit of Love. In faithfully detailing the humanity of Jesus, you also showed His Divinity
 and His genuine compassion for all human beings. May the Holy Spirit, instructor of the faithful, help me to understand
 Christ's words and faithfully apply them in my life.”
~ Amen.

Artist depiction of Saint Luke painting Mary and the Baby Jesus

Artist depiction of Saint Luke painting Mary and the Baby Jesus

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