Memorial of St. Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church
(Philemon, 7-20; Luke 17:20-25)
As St. Ambrose is perhaps best known for bringing St. Augustine into the Church, St. Albert the Great is most famous for mentoring St. Thomas Aquinas. But Albert was more than Thomas’ teacher. When Thomas’ orthodoxy was under attack, Albert rose from retirement to defend his prize pupil. In the first reading today we read of St. Paul taking on similar roles.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is a personal entreaty to take back a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul made Onesimus a Christian. In justice he believes that Onesimus should return to his master. But being a practical person, he also knows that Philemon is likely to whip Onesimus for daring to flee his household. To help his newly made Godchild, the apostle writes a masterful letter of persuasion reminding Philemon that he owes Paul his very soul for having converted him also to Christianity.
A few commentators today wonder why Paul did not condemn slavery. Evidently the institution was brutal in Paul’s time, and there was the realization of how Christ defeated all the powers of evil. But Paul was more concerned about preparing the communities that he converted for the expected return of the Lord, then for advocating for great social changes. In any case Paul gives us example in doing what he can to lighten the heavy yoke of a brother in the Lord.