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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 6, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Please note: In 2023, The Feast of the Transfiguration, takes precedence over the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which is not celebrated this year. 

Today, we invite you to explore Jesus’s healings by examining religious historian Celia Cussen’s description of the life of a healer-saint, St. Martín de Porres; engage with Catholic Social Teaching on disability; and embody healing grounded in compassionate embrace and communal transformation, with the help of Helen Caldwell Riley and Martin House, Beloved Everybody Church, and Mary Lou Williams’s Black Christ of the Andes.

Commentary by Marjorie Corbman

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Isaiah 55:1-3

All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you will eat well,
you will delight in rich fare.
Bend your ear and come to me;
listen, that you may have life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
the faithful mercies shown to David.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 145

Response: Adonai, You are gracious and merciful.

Adonai, You are gracious and merciful, / slow to anger and of great kindness.
Adonai, You are good to all / and compassionate toward all Your works.
R: Adonai, You are gracious and merciful.

The eyes of all look hopefully to You, / and You give them their food in due season;
You open Your hand / and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
R: Adonai, You are gracious and merciful.

Adonai,You are just in all Your ways / and holy in all Your works.
You are near to all who call upon You, / to all who call upon You in truth.
R: Adonai, You are gracious and merciful.

Reading 2

Romans 8:35,37-39

What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Trouble? Calamity? Persecution?
Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence?
Yet in all this we are more than conquerors
because of God who has loved us.
For I am certain that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths
—nor anything else in all creation—
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.


Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist,
he left Nazareth by boat and went to a deserted place to be alone.
The crowds heard of this and followed him from their towns on foot.
When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast throng,
his heart was moved with pity,
and he healed their sick.

As evening drew on, the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late.
Dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy some food for themselves.”

Jesus said to them: “There is no need for them to disperse.
Give them something to eat yourselves.”
“We have nothing here,” they replied,
“but five loaves and a couple of fish.”

“Bring them here,” Jesus said.
Then he ordered the crowds to sit on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven,
blessed the food, broke it, and gave it to the disciples,
who in turn gave it to the people.
All those present ate their fill.
The fragments remaining, when gathered up,
filled twelve baskets.
About five thousand families were fed.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Healer-Saint Martín de Porres

In Black Saint of the Americas: The Life and Afterlife of Martín de Porres (2014), Celia Cussen, Professor of History at the Universidad de Chile, examines the life and legacy of  St. Martín de Porres, a 17th century Afro-Peruvian healer-saint. St. Martín was the son of a Spanish nobleman and an enslaved woman of African descent. He became a lay member of a Dominican community, as it was illegal under racist “purity of blood” laws in Spanish colonies for people of African or indigenous descent to profess vows as full members of religious orders. Cussen describes how St. Martín distinguished himself as a healer among all sectors of Lima’s society: indigenous people, free and enslaved people of African descent, and Spaniards of all social standings came to him for help (56). 

Martín trained as a barber-surgeon, a kind of medical specialization that did not require university education (it was also illegal for people of African descent to attend university). The work of barber-surgeons involved direct, physical contact with those seeking treatment, the kind of work that trained doctors viewed as “unseemly” (78). The intimacy portrayed in the stories of Martín’s healings was a result of his exclusion from official training, but it also mirrors the closeness of the encounters between Jesus and those who sought healing. This can be seen in today’s gospel, in which Jesus heals a “great throng” of sick people who have come to him at a deserted place where he had fled to pray. Jesus’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes in this gospel is an expression of the compassion that he felt for those who came to him for healing.

Martín drew upon the diversity of healing arts in Spanish colonial America, including indigenous, African, and European folk practices (73-78), but, according to the early stories about his life, he stood out from other healers precisely in the power of his touch: His “immense kindness spilled over” into the power to heal with “the touch of his hands” (111). Cussen explains that Martín’s acts of healing, in the context of the culture of his time, “extended beyond the physical to alleviate psychological and social suffering, always with the overarching aim of bringing all men and women into the realm of God and the Christian community” (57). Martín engaged not only in many acts of physical healing, but also in forms of “social healing,” reconciling conflicts and laboring to provide for those in material need without causing embarrassment (57-58). His miraculous acts included human, animal, and even plant beneficiaries (116-121). These acts were understood not merely as physical transformations but also as signs that God protected and cared for the residents of Lima in the midst of a violent and unpredictable environment (121). 

Cussen notes that early testimonies of St. Martín’s life portray his miraculous acts as deriving from his “spiritual proximity to the crucified Christ” (169). This closeness was described in ways characteristic of saintly biographies at the time, including a story in which St. Martín was found levitating up before the altar to embrace the body of Christ on the crucifix (169-170). If we read the stories of Jesus’s compassionate healing and feeding of those who came to him in the deserted place alongside the witness of St. Martín, our attention is drawn to the theological significance of healing: that in Christ, God intimately – physically and spiritually – embraces us, and responds to our deepest longings and needs.

The stories of Jesus’s healings have often been used in profoundly hurtful ways toward people with disabilities, communicating a message that disabled bodies are in need of “cures,” rather than addressing the ways in which our communities disadvantage people with disabilities. Readers of these stories should seek different frameworks for understanding Jesus’s healings which do not overemphasize bodily “cures.” The healings of St. Martín de Porres can help us understand healing in a broader sense. St. Martín, as Jesus does in the gospels, responded, compassionately and intimately, to the individuals and communities that sought him out.

In addition to Celia Cussen’s book on St. Martín de Porres, you can read more of her writings on South American religious history at her page.

Commentary by Marjorie Corbman

Marjorie Corbman is an educator and theologian who currently spends her days working with the wonderful students at Mansfield Hall, a residential learning community for neurodivergent college students in Burlington, Vermont. Her theological writing is informed by her mixed-faith Jewish and Christian background, and her experiences working with organizing/activist communities associated with both religious traditions. She lives with her wife, Meg, and their very silly dachshund in Vermont.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Bethany McKinney Fox describes in Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church (2019) how many people with disabilities feel “wounded” by churches’ use of biblical healing narratives (1-2). Interpretations of these stories often rely on a false assumption that people with disabilities want to be “cured,” while ignoring the ways social and physical structures exclude and disadvantage people with disabilities. 

In order to be life-giving and inclusive, Catholic Social Teaching must expand to include the perspectives of people with disabilities. As Pia Matthews notes in “Being Disabled and Disability Theology: Insights from and for Catholic Social Teaching” (2019), “those concerned with Catholic social teaching may wonder why there are so few references in the Compendium [of the Social Doctrine of the Church] to people with disabilities when statistics produced by the World Health Organization in 2011 show that some 15 percent of the world’s population live with some form of disability, and the numbers are growing” (296). Despite this, Matthews demonstrates that many principles of Catholic social teaching, including “the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity, option for the poor and marginalized, subsidiarity, and participation” have much to offer to the broader public conversation about disability rights (297-298). 

One of the few official documents focusing primarily on the Church’s relationship to people with disabilities is the USCCB’s Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities (1978). The document recognizes that “if persons with disabilities are to become equal partners in the Christian community, injustices must be eliminated” (4). It highlights the need for structural changes including “liturgical adaptations” (4) and making facilities and services accessible to all parishioners (6-7). It also calls for dioceses to involve themselves in education and advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities (7-8).

The statement’s description of Jesus’s healings, though, demonstrates how Catholic social teaching must develop by learning from the experiences of people with disabilities. The statement begins with a meditation on Jesus’s concern with people with disabilities witnessed through his “healing of their bodies” (2), and later reflects that “persons with disabilities can, by their example, teach the able-bodied much about strength and Christian acceptance” (5). Disability theologians note that one should not assume that people with disabilities want to be “cured,” nor that their identities are predicated on resigned, suffering acceptance. As Nathaniel Veltman, whose story is included in Fox’s book, notes, “The very idea of healing feels like something would be being taken away from me… Personally, I believe there is an opportunity for me to demonstrate God’s glory in and through my hearing loss” (78).

Healing, as Fox argues, should be understood as a broader call to enact social, communal, spiritual, emotional, and bodily transformation, rooted in direct and intimate encounters with God, rather than referring narrowly to the “curing” of specific kinds of bodies. Disability theologians offer important insights that could help reframe Catholic social thought towards a liberatory perspective on disability.


A Contemplative Exercise

Images of St. Martín de Porres typically depict him with rosary beads, reflecting the Dominican order’s long association with the rosary. St. Martín probably would have practiced this ancient form of Christian meditation frequently, reflecting on the mysteries of Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection. It is likely that, at times, the images of the people he encountered in his work of healing in the city of Lima would have come to mind as he imagined Jesus’s and Mary’s joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties. In other parts of today’s reflection, we have invited you to view Jesus’s healings through the lens of embrace and communal transformation, as seen in the life of St. Martín and as described by disability theologians. For the contemplative exercise, we invite you to meditate on the mysteries of the life of Christ through joining St. Martín in praying the rosary. Instructions on how the rosary is traditionally prayed can be found here. (If you don’t have rosary beads, you can say the prayers without them). But whether or not you pray the rosary as traditionally done, take some time to reflect on the mysteries of the rosary (episodes from the lives of Jesus and Mary) and notice if specific memories surface of individuals you have encountered in your own life. Allow yourself to see their faces, to hold them close in an embrace of care and compassion, as both Jesus and St. Martín did for those who came to them for healing.

A Witness

Helen Caldwell Day

As described in Celia Cussen’s book on St. Martín de Porres, Black Catholics in the United States in the 20th century promoted devotion to St. Martín for explicitly anti-racist motives, seeing St. Martín as a symbol of Black Catholic holiness and a sign of the irreconcilability of the Catholic faith with racial segregation and oppression. One example of this was the adoption of St. Martín (at the time, Blessed Martín) as a patron of Blessed Martin House, a Catholic Worker community in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin House provided child care to children of all races in the 1950s, during segregation and Jim Crow. The house was founded by Helen Caldwell Day (later Helen Caldwell Riley), a Black Catholic single mother who had become involved in the Catholic Worker movement while working as a nurse in New York City. In her memoir, Not Without Tears (1954), she related how she became a Third Order Dominican out of a desire to follow St. Martín into the Order. “He must have known too, and felt, I thought, the terrible loneliness of being different” as a Black Catholic (142-143). His example inspired her as she challenged the complacent violence of segregation in her Church and her country. To learn more about the life of Helen Caldwell Riley, see this article on her life by Amanda Daloisio.

A Community

Beloved Everybody Church

Beloved Everybody Church is an “ability-inclusive” Christian community in Los Angeles affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The church is “a community of people with and without intellectual, developmental, and other kinds of disabilities who strive to embody together a truly inclusive church community for people of all abilities” (“About Us”). The founding pastor of the community is Bethany McKinney Fox, the disability theologian cited earlier in this entry. On Fox’s blog, she reflects on how Christian communities can embody a vision of healing that goes beyond “bodies and curing,” and instead represents “all kinds of positive transformation a person or community may experience – emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, and in all kinds of ways” (“Creating Communities of Wholeness & Healing in the Way of Jesus”). In the above reflections, we have presented St. Martín de Porres’s acts of care and compassion for all those he encountered as an example of this conception of healing. At Beloved Everybody Church, the community puts this framework into practice today.


“St. Martin de Porres” by Mary Lou Williams

The Black Catholic jazz musician Mary Lou Williams had a devotion to St. Martín de Porres. In Black Christ of the Andes (1963), considered a classic jazz album, she translated St. Martín’s presence into music. In the first track, “St. Martin de Porres,” she describes the life of St. Martín in terms that bring to mind the broad understanding of healing as intimate embrace and communal transformation described elsewhere in this entry:

St. Martin de Porres, his shepherd’s staff a dusty broom

St. Martin de Porres, the poor made a shrine of his tomb

St. Martin de Porres, he gentled creatures tame and wild

St. Martin de Porres, he sheltered each unsheltered child

This man of love, born of the flesh, yet of God

This humble man healed the sick, raised the dead, his hand is quick

To feed beggars and sinners, the starving homeless and the stray

Oh Black Christ of the Andes, come feed and cure us now we pray