Homily, Easter Sunday 6C
Earlier this week on Wednesday, I went to Milbank for the wake service of one of our priests. His funeral was on the following day in the Cathedral in Sioux Falls. Fr. Dana Christensen was only 44 years old when he died last Sunday from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I had gotten to know him a little bit during my years in seminary and during my time as a priest, I think mostly through email and Facebook, but they mentioned something at his wake and at his funeral that I had forgotten. Back in October of 2019, Fr. Dana had gone on pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. During that pilgrimage, as he prayed at the very site where our Blessed Mother had appeared to the three shepherd children, Fr. Dana asked Mary to make him a saint, no matter what it would take. And it was on his drive home from the airport as he returned from that same pilgrimage that he received a call and his diagnosis with ALS.
Now it could have just been coincidence, but Fr. Dana came to accept and understand this disease as an answer to the prayer he had made to our Blessed Mother. By January of 2021, he would write these words about the disease that already taken him away from the administration of parishes. He says, “I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the answer to the prayer I prayed to Our Lady of Fatima. It’s as if Our Lady and Our Lord chose this exact disease to make me a saint. Let me explain. I, as I mentioned before, am a prideful man, so Our Lord chose for me a disease that would humble me in every possible way. He saw I was ambitious, so he laid on my shoulder a cross that would force me to retire from active ministry. He saw I was a glutton, so he gave me a disease that would slowly take away my ability to eat. He saw I often went places I ought not go, so it was a disease that would take away my ability to walk that became my cross. He saw that I was given to gossip, detraction, and foul language, so he allowed ALS to take away my ability to speak. All this and more because he loves me and wants me to become free from sin! All this because of his mercy seeks to burn out of me every stain of sin! All this because he loves me enough to make me the saint he has always longed for me to be!
“All this he desires for you too. He will choose for you the Cross that will most easily make you a saint, and a great one at that! But we would do well to ask our Lady for help. She will, as she did for me, soften the blow and prepare us to receive our cross. She is the most perfect of mothers. She will, if we give ourselves over to her as Jesus himself did, she will protect, defend, and console us. She will never leave our side. And when the moment comes, and we are called by Jesus to mount the wood of the Cross along with him, she will be there, at the foot of the Cross urging us on. And then, she stays. She will stay with us until we take our dying breath. Then, with St. Joseph, she will lead us to Jesus, the merciful and just judge.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus promises us a peace that the world cannot give. This peace of Christ is what so many saw and witnessed in Fr. Christensen, as he was humbled, disabled, and as he ultimately died from this disease at such a young age. This is the peace and trust in God’s providence that Jesus wants to give to each one of us. That no matter our ability or inability, amidst whatever triumphs or tragedies of life, that we would know His love and presence, and His desire to be with us forever. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” God longs to make His dwelling within us, and allow us to experience the peace and the joy that the world cannot give.
One way or another, at the end of our lives, each one of us will have to surrender everything we have in this world. Will we be ready to let it go? And embrace God forever? What is it we still cling to, more than we cling to God? What pride, gluttony, sins of speech, or other attachments still keep from being the saints that Jesus desires us to be? Do we have the courage to ask God and the Blessed Virgin Mary to begin to purify us, even now? To make us saints, no matter what it takes?