Memorial of Saint Josephat, Bishop and Martyr
(Philemon 7-20; Luke 17:17-25)
Considering how offensive it is to human dignity, we wonder why slavery was practiced for such a long time. Only in the last two hundred and fifty years has slavery been delegalized. Still today illegal slavery is practiced, especially of young girls in the sex trade and of young boy soldiers. Almost two thousand years ago St. Paul pleaded on behalf of a slave to his master. His message is recorded in today’s first reading, but it does not condemn slavery as we might expect.
Paul obviously finds slavery offensive, or he would not ask for the slave Onesimus’ freedom. He likely sees slavery as a social evil that must be tolerated because it cannot be dismantled. But for Paul in the Church slavery is of little consequence. He writes in various places that in Christ “there is neither slave nor free person.” That is, Christians are to love everyone so that the problematic master-slave relationship loses much of its aversion. Paul will even find a positive aspect to slavery when the master is truly beneficent. Thus, he calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.”
We should take care not to slavishly bow to human authority. Christ has enlightened us with the Holy Spirit. We have to address specific issues with the general guidance of the Church and the grace from reflecting on the gospel. Doins so, we will be acting in the freedom Christ won for us.