It’s Not Who You Know

Homily, Wednesday of Week 30II

“Will only a few people be saved?” This sounds like a yes-or-no question, and any of us would be very interested to know the answer. But Jesus doesn’t answer with yes or no. Jesus knows us too well for that. It wouldn’t actually help us much to know whether few or many will be saved. Jesus is more concerned that we know how to come to salvation. The question in today’s Gospel is basically this: Lord, what are my chances of getting to heaven? And Jesus replies: That depends. That depends on your mentality. Are we willing to strive to enter through the narrow gate? Are we willing to humble ourselves, to follow Christ in humble service? Or do we, instead, cling to our social status and family connections?  

Those who were shut out of the heavenly banquet in the Gospel say to Jesus, “We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.” They met Jesus Himself, in the flesh, but that was not enough if their encounter with Christ did not leave their own lives transformed. So even if your aunt met Padre Pio, or if we meet Pope Francis, this isn’t enough. Associating with holy people is not enough unless we ourselves become holy. The crowds in the Gospel were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets, but their family connections were not enough to get them in. And even if our family has been Catholic for 20 generations, that doesn’t automatically give us an advantage.  

We must not depend upon our status or our connections, but instead, make ourselves small enough to fit through the narrow gate, following Christ in humble service, by serving the poor in Rome, by providing for pilgrims, by caring for the sick, visiting the lonely and those in prison, by caring for aging parents and relatives, by sharing the Gospel in our homes and in our workplaces, and by treating with love and patience even those people whom we can hardly stand to be around, those who constantly rub us the wrong way.  

One of the reasons that Jesus gives Himself to us, through the words of the Bible and in Holy Communion, is so that we can be His hands and His feet in the world today, so that He can love, through us, everyone we meet, and so that we can love them with the love of Christ Himself. Jesus wants to live in us and work through us to bring His Gospel of love to the world today. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, and Christ will provide all the strength you need. 

Anticipating Our Needs

Homily, Monday of Week 30II

A few years ago I did a quick survey through the Gospel of Mark of all the times that Jesus heals someone. The most striking thing I noticed was the fervor, almost the desperation, of those who came to Jesus seeking healing. Many of them would throw themselves on the ground before Jesus and beg him to heal them, convinced that Jesus could heal them, and perhaps, convinced that Jesus was the only one who could heal them. One very moving scene involves the blind Bartimaeus calling out after Jesus at the gate of Jericho, “Son of David, have pity on me.” And when the crowds tried to silence him, he called out even louder, “Son of David, have pity on me.” 

The scene in today’s Gospel could not be more different. The crippled woman didn’t even have to ask. Instead, “when Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.” Now, granted, if she had been bent over for 18 years, it was probably pretty obvious what she needed. But think about Bartimaeus. When this blind beggar stumbled up to Jesus, it would seem pretty obvious to me what he needed, but Jesus still asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” But with the woman in today’s Gospel, Jesus anticipates her every need before she even asks. She didn’t ask to be healed on the Sabbath, but the leader of the synagogue blames her and tells her and the crowd to come on some other day to be healed. Again, before she says a word, Jesus comes to her defense against her accusers. 

Think of how many times God has answered our prayers, when we are able to cry out with the faith and the desperation of Bartimaeus. Now, think of how often God anticipates our needs, in so many unseen ways, answering our prayers before we have a chance to say them, blessing us with food, with growth, with health and healing, with a place to live, blessing us every day with the love of friendship, with sisters, with brothers, with so many people around us that can help us to grow, that can teach us to experience God’s love for us and His watchful care. Let’s not let these countless, unlooked-for blessings pass us by without glorifying God, each and every day, in every moment. And as we begin this day and the work of this day, we pray that we may anticipate each other’s needs, and come to the defense of one another, that we may be like God, ourselves, as His very dear children, 

Be Rooted in Christ or Perish

Homily, Saturday of Week 29II

Jesus descended. Jesus descended into the soil of our humanity. The humility and patience of God is amazing. Jesus is the gardener. And He is willing to get His hands dirty, to cultivate and to fertilize our soil. To till the soil with the wood of His Cross. To fertilize it, even with His own Precious Blood. To proclaim a year of favor and mercy from the Lord, the time of salvation.  

Today is the day. Now is the time of salvation. The patience of God is amazing and unmatched, but His invitation to us is very urgent. “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” …as those who did not know Christ and His salvation. Those who lived and died before Christ came were not greater sinners than the rest of us, but if we who have known Christ, and heard His words, and seen and experienced His love, if we do not repent, and continue to repent and to believe, to allow Christ to make a real difference in our lives, we will all perish just as they did. 

Let’s not waste any time. Today, we are called to return to Christ with faith, to follow Christ with love, to descend with Him into the soil, to be nourished by Him at our roots. As St. Paul says, “living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into [Christ] who is [our] head.” To grow into Christ, we must descend with Him, following Him in humble service, in love that is willing to sacrifice, and to get its hands dirty in caring for one another. Rooted in Christ, and drawing strength ever-new from His love for us, from the power of His Cross and from His Blood that was shed for us, we will then be able to bear good fruit for the praise and glory of God. Let our roots dig down deep, and drink deeply of the love of Christ. 

God’s Mighty Deeds in Your Midst

First Homily, Friday of Week 26II

Have you seen the mighty deeds done in your midst? Have you noticed what God has done for you during these days? Yesterday at St. Peter’s, 43 men laid down on the floor of the sanctuary. Forty-three men dedicated their lives to the Church. Forty-three men were conformed to Christ the Servant, but the Holy Spirit wanted to touch the heart of every person in that Basilica.  

I hope you understand now why I told many of you to wait till my diaconate ordination to visit me in Rome. Every year that I’ve been here, this diaconate ordination, seeing a whole seminary class ordained together from all over the United States, with some from Australia and Canada, has always been such a powerful experience. Seeing those new deacons, who will be sent out from here, like the Apostles, to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there’s nothing else quite like it. 

And the new deacons are only a small fraction of the story. Looking out over the crowd, and I had a pretty good view this year, seeing all the families, relatives, friends, bishops, priests, and all the others who came to celebrate this joyous occasion, you start to realize how many, and in how many different ways, other people have contributed to the formation, to the preparation of these new deacons for their sacred ministry. And those in attendance represent so many others who were not able to be here, so many back home or elsewhere, others who have died, all giving their love and support, even in unseen ways. 

You have seen the mighty deeds done in your midst because you have played a part in them. You and so many like you have been instruments of God’s love for these new deacons, teaching them to trust in God and giving them the confidence to lay down their lives in service of the Church, in service of God’s holy people. Christ continues to call men to follow Him in a life of prayer, even in a world that seems too busy to pray, to follow Him in a life of chaste celibacy, even though impurities seem to abound, and in a life of respectful obedience in the midst of a culture that often rebels against the truth to its own destruction. Christ continues to provide holy ministers for His Church through his grace working in you and in me, even though we are unworthy instruments. Every one of you has been a part of the mighty deeds that God has worked in my life, and for that, I will never be able to thank you enough. 

Continue now to fulfill the words that Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel today, “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.” Fulfill this especially for those back home, who were not able to be here for the ordination, and others who may never get the opportunity, as you and I have had, to visit Rome. Take the graces that you have received during your time here, and share them. Praise God for His mighty deeds done in your midst, and tell others about them. Share with them the good news, that God still provides for us, that God still comes to meet us in ways that we can understand, that God still works his mighty deeds through human instruments.