The following is the Homily of the Most Reverend David J. Bonnar, Bishop of Youngstown, at the Mass to pray for the Cause of Rhoda Wise on July 7, 2023 at St. Peter Church, Canton:
One day a tourist was taking a walk through a city and came upon a huge work site. He wondered to himself what was being built. So, he encountered a laborer and asked, “What are you doing?” The laborer responded, “I am laying brick.” The tourist walked on further and met another laborer. He asked, “What are you doing?” The worker replied, “I am building a wall.” The tourist walked further down the road and encountered another laborer. He asked, “What are you doing?” This man responded, “I am building a cathedral.” All three men were working on the same project, they were all by trade bricklayers, but each saw their effort differently. The third man got it. He saw the full picture.
We gather today in the parish church of Saint Peter, the place where Servant of God, Rhoda Wise prayed and worshipped, to remember her holy life and to mark her death which happened on this very day in 1948. Rhoda Wise was the daughter of Eli Greer and his wife Anna. Rhoda was the sixth of their eight children. As a bricklayer’s daughter, Rhoda knew a little bit about laying brick and building something even more majestic than an earthly cathedral. Rhoda Wise used her whole being as God’s co-worker in building the Kingdom of God.
Ironically, the more Rhoda Wise suffered, the more she came to see what Isaiah saw in the first reading today, “the loving deeds” and “glorious acts of the Lord.” Rhoda came to see that she was a child of God. Rhoda’s sufferings became a cross in which loving deeds were offered to God.
In the second reading from Ephesians, Saint Paul speaks about how we are called to be holy. In the living out of her journey that involved suffering on many levels, Rhoda Wise came to embrace the universal call to holiness. It appears that the more she suffered the holier she became. What a model for us in our own sufferings, for sufferings need not be an obstacle but when entered in faith, hope, and love, our sufferings can become opportunities to grow in holiness.
Finally, in the gospel Jesus issues an invitation. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest.” In the weariness of her suffering, Rhoda came to Jesus. Her life became a wholehearted RSVP to his invitation.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, what can take with us from our reflection on this Servant of God who lived in our portion of the Lord’s vineyard? It seems to me there are four things. The first lesson is to embrace the vision for us as set forth by the divine architect. Through our Christian baptism, we are called to be “living stones.” We are not here to just exist or fill a space but to help and announce and build the Kingdom of God. How and where is God calling us to lay brick for the Kingdom of God?
The second lesson from Rhoda’s life is to daily respond to the call to holiness. True holiness is not necessarily piety or even perfection as much as it is humbly and trustingly surrendering to God’s will in our lives especially when we experience suffering. Can we see the crosses in our lives not as roadblocks but as pathways to a deeper relationship with God?
The third lesson we can take with us from the life of this Servant of God is a greater appreciation and reverence for suffering. Rhoda Wise endured not just physical suffering with all of her ailments, but deep emotional suffering from the sudden death of her first husband to a cerebral hemorrhage to the disillusionment of her second marriage in which her husband was an alcoholic and could not keep a job necessitating moving over and over again, to the loss of one of her adopted daughters who died in infancy. While all suffering engenders pain and hurt, when embraced in faith all suffering can become a brick in building up the edifice of the Kingdom with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. Sadly, we live in a world that lives under the illusion that this place we call earth is to be heaven. Rhoda Wise knew that her earthly life was not heaven. This is not heaven for us either but how blessed we are to experience a foreshadowing of that eternal life every time we gather around the altar where we are joined by all the angels and saints.
The final lesson we can take with us from our meditation on this Servant of God is to become more intentional in praying for her canonization. As bishop, I travel extensively throughout the six counties of our diocese to be with our clergy, religious, and faithful. Usually, it is my honor to pray with and for them at Holy Mass. Recently, I celebrated Mass at Saint Jude Parish, Columbiana where the pastor, Father David Misbrenner, has icons and images on the altar that he often gazes at while celebrating Mass. As I looked at these same images, I was delighted to see a prayer card of Rhoda Wise with her image and prayer. I took it as a sign from the Holy Spirit to become more intentional for us as a diocese to pray for her canonization.
Together, let us go forth not just to lay brick and build a building but to help build God’s Kingdom.
Bishop David Bonnar’s Prayer for the Beatification of Servant of God Rhoda Wise
Heavenly Father, God of mercy,
we thank You for the example of Rhoda Wise, Servant of God,
whose life was marked by both profound suffering and enduring hope.
In thanksgiving for her many healings, she heroically devoted herself to You as a victim soul,
gladly accepting the painful stigmata and offering it graciously in fervent love for your priests,
for all consecrated religious, that they be always in union with the Church as the Bride of Christ.
Confirm the strength of all the faithful of your Son and keep them enclosed in His Sacred Heart.
May they be true and have the courage to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Father, we also humbly ask your blessing on those who choose the vocation
of Christian Marriage that the grace of the Sacrament will provide fertile ground for strong Catholic families and future vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Grant the Beatification of Servant of God Rhoda Wise, so that others may seek Your grace,
hear Your call, and imitate her joyful suffering. Through her intercession,
please also grant the personal favor I ask in Jesus’ name (state your intention),
if it be in accordance with Your Divine Will. Amen.
Recite OUR FATHER, HAIL MARY, and GLORY BE.
The Most Rev. David J. Bonnar, Bishop of Youngstown, July 7, 2023