Saint Luke (20th Sunday after Pentecost)—18 October AD
Saint Luke Writing His Gospel
Andrea Mantegna 1431-1506
Ordinary of the Mass
English Mass Text
Latin Mass Text
“The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.”
Saint Luke, the author of the third
Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was born in Syrian Antioch, one of the
capitals and intellectual centers of the ancient world—today located just a
few miles in from the Mediterranean at the southern end of modern Turkey.
By profession Luke was a physician; by avocation he was an artist, who may
have painted a picture of the Blessed Virgin; and is best known for his
detailed historical writings of the life of Christ and the spread of early
We are not sure whether or not Luke was
a convert to Christianity from Judaism. Saint Paul seems to exclude him
from those “who are of the circumcision,”
but there were large numbers of Jews in Antioch, and Luke seems to have been
very familiar with the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Jewish Old
Testament. Christianity came to Antioch with converts from Judaism who
fled Jerusalem to avoid the persecution that started with the martyrdom of Saint
Stephen, and later through the efforts of Saints Saul and Barnabas, and
ultimately those of Saint Peter. It was at Antioch that the followers of
Christ were first called “Christians.”
We don’t know whether Paul and Luke were previously acquainted, but they meet
(in the 16th chapter of Acts) in the city of Troas on the Hellespont (today
called the Dardanelles).
It appears that Luke had written his
Gospel prior to his association with Saint Paul, and it is clear that he did so
as an historian rather than as an eye witness.
His narrative concerning the Annunciation, Visitation, the Nativity of our Lord,
and His early life provides details not found in any of the other Gospels, and
does suggest that he obtained these details from the Blessed Virgin herself.
Of the four Gospel writers, Luke is identified by the symbol of an ox, the
animal offered in sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, to which he devotes a
goodly number of words. The good Samaritan, the lilies of the field, the
Pharisee and the publican, are among the details of our Lord’s mission that
are found only in Saint Luke’s Gospel.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke
identifies himself as the author of the Gospel bearing his name—both books are
dedicated to one named “Theophilus.”
Those sections of the Acts where Luke was personally associated with Saint Paul
are written in the first person—“he did this” or “they did that”
changes to “we did this,” and “we did that.”
Clearly, Luke shared many of the difficulties of the Apostolate with Saint Paul,
being with him for at least some of the riots, and shipwrecks, and long perilous
journeys which you have heard me refer to as “Saint Paul’s adventure
He accompanied Paul on his final journey to Rome, but, for some reason, cut
short his writing before Saints Peter and Paul faced martyrdom at the hands of
the Emperor Nero. Yet, we have Paul’s word that Saint Luke remained
steadfastly with him at Rome up until the end, even though others had deserted.
Tradition has it that Saint Luke
preached in Dalmatia, Galatia, Italy, and Macedonia; that he never
married; and that he died at the age of eighty-four in Bœotia, was buried
at Achia (both cities in the Greek Isles), and that his relics were later
brought by Constantine to his new imperial city. It is disputed whether or
not he died a martyr, but no one questions that his life was an heroic gift to
those who would be brought by his efforts to the Catholic Faith.
Now, so far, this has been a history
lesson about a wonderful saint. But sermons are supposed to exhort people
to do good things. We can do this by considering the more outstanding
characteristics of Saint Luke, and seeing if we can imitate them in our own
Saint Luke was a physician. While
most of us cannot practice medicine, we certainly can imitate him in the
performance of the corporal works of mercy. Our Lord urges us to look
after the physical needs of the “least of His brethren”: the hungry, the
thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, the naked, and the sick—and He tells us
that if we don’t do so for the very lowly it will be as though we had refused
to tend the needs of Jesus Christ Himself.
Saint Luke was not afraid to get his hands dirty to help those in need, nor
should we be.
Saint Luke lived the life of the
Apostles, very much like his companion Paul did. He certainly could have
lived a more comfortable life is he had just remained in Antioch and practiced
medicine. Instead, he through in his lot with Saint Paul—with Jesus
Christ, really—working tirelessly to promote our Lord’s mission, in spite of
heat and cold and rain, in spite of riot and shipwreck. Perhaps we are
called to a similar partnership, joining up with Jesus Christ, in spite of
adversities, to promote His mission in our modern world, as Saint Luke did in
the ancient world.
Saint Luke was a disciple of truth.
Christ, of course, is “the Truth, as well as the Life and the Way, and
no one comes to the Father but through Him.”
And Saint Luke was methodical in discovering and setting down the truths about
Jesus Christ. Indeed, this thirst for truth may be Luke’s most important
attribute. If we do not know the truth, we do not know where we are going.
All of the effort in the world will be misdirected if it is not guided by truth.
The quintessential fallacy of the modern age—both religious and civil—is
that truth is relative, that it is unfixed, that it is flexible, rather than
being anchored in the solid rock of the being of Almighty God. Together
with Saint Luke, together with Jesus Christ, we too must be disciples of the
Saint Luke is symbolized by an ox, the
symbol of sacrifice, a symbol of steadfast labor, and perhaps a symbol of
stubbornness. If we are to learn anything at all from our Saint, we must
not fail to emulate him in all of these.
“The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”