Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Memorial of St. Josaphat, bishop and martyr

(Titus 3:1-7; Luke 17:11-19)

The story of St. Josaphat reflects the turmoil of modern Ukraine.  Josaphat was born John Kuncewicz in an area that straddles Poland and Ukraine in the latter part of the sixteenth century.  He joined a monastery and took the name Josaphat.  Later ordained a priest of the Byzantine Catholic Church, he advocated the union of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with Rome.  Then he was successively appointed bishop of two sees in Russia where there was resentment against Catholics.  Josaphat was killed by a mob in 1623.  Two centuries later Rome canonized him the first saint from the Eastern churches.

The political divisions in the Ukraine have religious parallels.  The eastern half of the large country is closer to Russia, and its citizens are largely Russian Orthodox.  The move to secede from the Kiev government and to join Russia is fomenting there.  The western part of the country is mainly Orthodox but not under the Russian Orthodox authority.  Catholics form about ten percent of the population and live mainly in the west, near to Poland.  It is hoped that these principal churches in the Ukraine can transcend the political and ethnic differences in Christian unity.

Today’s first reading from the Letter to Titus reminds us to be obedient to the “every good enterprise” of civil authority.  We have to work with government to create a society where each member may prosper.  The challenge is especially significant in the Ukraine where divisions have been deepened now by the shedding of blood.  Yet the people there are under the same mandate of Scripture to work for peace with legitimate government.