One Small Step, One Giant Leap

Homily, Annunciation

In the 1960s, there was a lot of excitement about the missions to the moon. These missions represented the striving of all mankind to overcome our limitations. There was a sense that these events were significant, not just for America or for the astronauts involved, but for every human being. If even one human person succeeded in landing on the moon, then it became at least possible for any human being to reach the moon because we all share a common humanity. And this communal sense of accomplishment was well expressed by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon’s surface, saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the event we celebrate today on this Feast of the Annunciation is much more significant for all of us and for all of creation. As Mary took that small step in receiving the angel Gabriel’s greeting and of saying yes to God’s plans for her life, God brought about in her a giant leap for mankind. God joined to Himself a human nature like ours, which began to grow in Mary’s womb. And now that one human nature has been united with God in the Person of Christ, union with God has become possible for all of us who share in a common humanity. Everything has changed. All human limitations have been transformed in the God-Man who gives new meaning to our sufferings, who forgives our sins, and who overcomes the ultimate human limitation of death through the power of His divine Life and Resurrection.

And unlike landing on the moon, which remains merely possible for us, while most of us will never have the required training or government funding to make this trip to the moon a reality for ourselves, all of us who have been baptized into Christ have really become one with Him. We already share in the life of God through faith and through the sacraments, through the free gift of God’s grace. In Christ, God comes down to meet us. With the small step of Mary’s yes to God, we celebrate today the giant leap of mankind into God’s life and love. May we imitate Mary today in saying yes to God at this Eucharist, that we may be transformed into Jesus and bring new life to all mankind.

God Will Stop at Nothing

Homily, Lenten Sunday 2B

My family has always lived in South Dakota, but we think of ourselves as being very German. And for the most part, we like to be on time, we like to be organized, and we like to work. Now I’ve always loved my family very much, and I’m very proud to be among them, but it wasn’t always easy. Being very German, we don’t necessarily like to talk very much, especially about our feelings. And my dad, in particular, can be a very quiet man. He wouldn’t necessarily say things like, “I love you,” very often because that just wasn’t his way. And I think there were times when I was younger that he seemed distant to me. But as I grew up, I started to notice how my dad really expressed his love for us in his actions.

There were nine of us kids at home. Yeah, nine kids, and I’m the youngest, and I’m sure my parents had to work very hard to keep us well-fed, and dressed, and to buy us plenty of Christmas and birthday presents. They also taught us the value of hard work with paper routes, mowing lawns, and shoveling snow, which I’m more grateful for now than I was at the time. And they always encouraged us to do our very best in school and in everything we did. But, the most striking memories for me when it came to my dad, and what I find most expressive of his love for us, were the times when he would get a call from one of us and hear that we were in trouble, that the car had broken down, or that we’d been in an accident. He would drop everything and drive any distance to make sure that we were safe, and to bring us home. When I would see my dad go to such great lengths for us in these and in many other situations, I couldn’t doubt that my dad loved us and that he loved me.

Now, why do I go on so long about my family, and about my dad in particular? Jesus came to reveal God as our loving Father. But, the way we read the Bible and how we relate to God the Father can be influenced by own experiences. If our human father seemed distant, then God the Father might seem distant to us, and we might have trouble relating to Him in prayer. Now, none of our human fathers are perfect, so it can be a real challenge for us to experience how God is our almighty Father and how infinitely He loves us, but my experience of my dad’s love for me did give me a starting point for experiencing the love of God the Father. I hope this will become clear later on.

The Gospel today leaves us with this question: What does rising from the dead mean? The Transfiguration is sort of a preview to the Resurrection. And the Resurrection is central to the Christian faith, central to our faith in God. And it should be the source of our joy. But why? What does rising from the dead mean? It means that God, our loving Father, will stop at nothing to bring us home to Him, and that even death cannot separate us from His love and from the new life that He longs to give us.

This is the confidence in God that Abraham had in our first reading today. God had promised to make Abraham’s descendents into a great nation that would be a blessing to all the nations. And Abraham knew that nothing could stop God from keeping his promise. He was willing to sacrifice even his only son Isaac, knowing that even if God had to raise Isaac from the dead, He would keep His promises. This is the confidence in God the Father that Jesus always has in the Gospel. Jesus knows His mission. He knows that He’s headed for Jerusalem where He will be rejected, and where He will suffer and die. But He also knows that God the Father will not leave Him in death. The Father will raise Him from the dead and bring Him home to heaven.

This is the confidence in God the Father that Jesus longs to give to us. This confidence is a response to the love of God the Father that is expressed mostly in His actions, and in a few words today when He says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” In Christ, His Son, all the promises of God are fulfilled, the promises to Abraham, to Moses through the Jewish Law, and to Elijah and all the prophets. Through the Resurrection of His Son, God the Father frees us from our sins and expresses His infinite love for us.

In my own prayer, I experienced the love of God the Father in a powerful way about five years ago. I was in college seminary on retreat near Chicago. I had been asking God for the grace to experience His infinite love for me. During prayer, I imagined myself walking and being helped along by Jesus who had His arm around me to support me. He was covered with wounds and looked as if He had gone through quite the ordeal to find me. He explained that when He had found me, I was dead, so He gave me His Holy Spirit to remake my heart. God the Father had sent Jesus to find me and bring me back to Him, and the Father would not eat or sleep until He had me back home, safe and sound. As I entered heaven and fell into the arms of God the Father, His love flooded over me and all around me. I felt completely at ease, as if nothing harmful would ever be able to touch me. And I knew what great delight the Father felt at having me home, safe and sound.

This is the love that God the Father has for each and every one of us, a love that will not rest until we are reunited with Him. When we start to really experience this love and to desire it, that’s what changes our hearts. That’s what makes sin lose its power over us. Have confidence in God. As St. Paul says today, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” In this Eucharist, God gives us His infinite love, the gift of His only Son. Let our hearts be transformed by this fire of His love that we may reach our home in heaven, safe and sound.