Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homily for Class on Third Sunday of Easter

Can you hear that? Can you hear that? It’s God’s message of forgiveness and life, and it CANNOT be silenced.

The stench of dead decaying bodies fills the air. Splintered wood, broken glass, demolished concrete is everywhere. 11 days have passed since the earthquake leveled the city of Port-au-prince in Haiti. Thousands are dead. The destruction is unfathomable. Jean Pierre is on top of the rubble, grieving the apparent loss of his brother who is no where to be found. And then there is the sound. A voice. Life. A faint sign of hope beneath the destruction. Could it be a person? Below him under nearly 20 feet of concrete, wood, metal and rubble lay his brother. After 11 days of being buried he is still alive. All of the rubble, the concrete, the desperation, the wood, the depth could not consume him. His life, his voice, could not be silenced.

The shame inside of Simon Peter choked him. There was the Sea of Tiberius. There was the charcoal fire. There was Jesus. His friend. The one who had done nothing but love him. The one who called him out to be great. The one who had given him so much. The one who had risen. Yet, Peter was silent. How could he speak? When it really mattered, he failed to stand by Jesus. When it really mattered, he only could deny him.

How much are we as seminarians just like Peter. Jesus has called us his friends. He has done nothing but love us. He has called us to be priests. He has called us to life. We know that he is risen.

Yet so often we still remain silent.

We think of…

Our lives before coming to seminary….we cannot speak.
Those we have not forgiven… we cannot speak.
Our judgments of others are too great… we cannot speak.
We live for this world…we cannot speak.
The fear is too much…we cannot speak.
The media is bringing us down…we cannot speak.
Atheists blast our beliefs…we cannot speak.

Like concrete, splintered wood, metal and rubble, we are buried beneath our shortcomings, our culture, our fears. The weight is too great. But my brothers, can you hear that? Can you hear that? It is God’s message of forgiveness and life, and it cannot be silenced.

Back on the shore Jesus gazes at his friend Peter. He knows. He knows. Like the words of absolution spoken for the first time, Jesus speaks to Peter. Three questions about love say that all of this stuff, the concrete, the wood, the metal, the culture, the shame, the regret, the mistakes the sin…..IT IS ALL FINISHED. Don’t you know Peter, Jesus says, I have conquered all of that. I have conquered all of that.

Now Peter, Aaron, Stu, Andy, if you believe that. If you love me, forget all of that. Feed my sheep. Feed them with my Father’s message of forgiveness and life. For it cannot be silenced.

I was in the missions in North Carolina over Holy Week. In three whole counties there are Catholics who have no resident priest. Their churches are small. None of the furniture matches. There is no gold and no silver. They barely can afford a crucifix. They are a minority who is criticized and looked down upon by the communities. Yet when I came down there with a priest from Glenmary for Holy Week the people were not silent. Every person washed each other’s feet. They came with tears in their eyes to kiss the cross. They prepared music for over 5 hours for just one mass. They filled the churches so much that children had to sit on the floor next to the altar. They had been given so little attention, so little guidance, so little of anything in life. But they knew. They knew from the depths of their hearts of the message that Jesus wanted Peter to know on the shore. The same message that he wants us to know. Out sins, our shortcoming, our shame, our insignificance. None of that matters. Jesus has taken care of everything. Because of that, God’s message of forgiveness and life cannot be silenced.

As we journey from here, we are going to stand in front of a world that is like the officers and the Sanhedrin. It is telling us to keep quiet. To not speak of the message that we hold to be true inside of our hearts. We will have to be courageous. But be assured brothers, even if we do not speak, scripture promises us,

Every creature in heaven and on earth and in the sea, everything in the universe will be crying out, “to the Lamb be blessing, honor, glory, and might, forever and ever. Amen”

God, through Jesus has taken care of everything. His message of forgiveness and life will not silenced.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shipwrecked….in Appalachia?

The sky is clear and blue. The leaves are just starting to bud on the trees. The mountains of Appalachia are filled with new life as I make my way home from a glorious Holy Week in the missions of North Carolina. As I start my descent down one mountain, signs on the shoulder indicate that there will be construction. I navigate one steep corner and have to slam on my breaks: traffic is backed up as two lanes are being made into one.

Instantaneously in my rear view mirror I see smoke, metal and plastic blasted through the air. And there it is: a massive logging truck out of control, on top of a Chevy Equinox, dragging it down the shoulder of the interstate. It careens off of several other vehicles, one of which goes flying past me in the left lane. The truck and demolished car are barreling on top of me. They are right next to me. I try helplessly to maneuver my car between these two out of control vehicles. Guardian angels must be real!

We come to a stop. My little Civic was spared of any contact. I pull my car over and rush to the scene of the accident. I could find anything…anything in these vehicles. I go straight to the pancake of an Equinox…four people occupy it—four people who are still alive!

Gasoline, oil, antifreeze and glass litter the interstate. It is not safe for these folks to be in the car. They indicate to me that they are ok. They must get out. A fire, or even worse, an explosion is possible. I help a little 8 year old girl out. She immediately is bawling uncontrollably. Then the mother; then a little boy, bloodied and bruised. Finally, the father who was driving.

The cops show up. The ambulance. The fire trucks. How did I ever make it through this one? Thank you Lord.

On his way to Italy, the Apostle Paul found himself in a ship overtaken by wind, rain and waves. The destruction was great. Lives were lost. Miraculously, his life was spared. The mission could continue. More people would hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glenmarians really have to prepare for anything. The missionary work of the Church is alive and well today just as it was during the time of the Apostle Paul. Great adventures, and yes, many perils lay ahead for those who are willing to take up the task of bringing the message of love, forgiveness and life to a world in need.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Beauty and Needs of the Missions

The aroma of their food fills the air, exciting the senses and inviting the stomach to express its emptiness. The conversations are filled with laugher, inquisitiveness and energy, where the meeting of minds and hearts takes place amongst people from different backgrounds and cultures. Mass begins and is filled with songs indicative of the five hours of preparation completed in order to rightfully praise the Lord. Eyes are closed, mouths are moving, bodies sway and hearts are lifted to a God who loves his children so immensely that he would allow his only Son to die a horrific death on a cross in order to truly set people free. The host is raised, recognition of sin is made, and the procession begins as hands and mouths await the reception of our Lord Jesus Christ in the heart of ‘mission land USA.’

Just a few miles down the road…

Centered between gang violence and drug deals rests a house of peace and prayer. The time for Mass has come, yet the people continue to file in. Children are forced to sit on the floor in front of the altar so that everyone can fit. The smell of lilies fills the air while the risen Lord hangs watching over the masses. The furniture and decorations in the church are truly a universal representation, the products of donations from places where something newer and more developed is needed. In this tiny country parish the rituals of 2000 years are celebrated and the Lord of eternity is made present on the altar, calming the violence, destroying the addictions, healing the divisions, and renewing the faint of heart.

But who will continue on this work that God has begun???

Both of these churches are examples of the many mission areas in the United States that are without a resident priest. Lay and religious leadership continue to catechize, gather, and unite the people, but the priest is no where to be found. Sometimes courageous, retired priests drive long distances to provide the sacraments to the people, but the parishioners are left wondering how long this will really be possible. If these churches are closed down, the people are left with no other options. It is not like in a city where one can choose from any number of Catholic churches if the sad situation occurs where a church must be closed or merged; no, all that is left for these people is to wait, pray and hope.

Who will answer the call to bring the Gospel of Christ to these areas? Who will have the courage to go where others cannot go, or simply do not want to go? Who will receive the gift of serving the people of these areas—beautiful people from diverse backgrounds, with wonderful gifts and hearts longing to remain in the grace and presence of the Lord?

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”